News http://www.truth-out.org Sat, 30 Apr 2016 18:52:01 -0400 en-gb The War on Drugs Failed, So Why Isn't It Over? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35842-the-war-on-drugs-failed-so-why-isn-t-it-over http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35842-the-war-on-drugs-failed-so-why-isn-t-it-over

A man is arrested after police found drug paraphernalia in a suspicious home in Camden, N.J., Oct. 22, 2006. Many activists agree that drug decriminalization is necessary, but not all see legalization as the best course of action. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times) A man is arrested after police found drug paraphernalia in a home in Camden, New Jersey, October 22, 2006. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)

Global health experts agree that the war on drugs has done more harm than good, but millions of people continue to be arrested for nonviolent drug offenses each year, including 1.5 million in the US alone. Why are politicians so far behind, even as calls for legalization go mainstream?

A man is arrested after police found drug paraphernalia in a suspicious home in Camden, N.J., Oct. 22, 2006. Many activists agree that drug decriminalization is necessary, but not all see legalization as the best course of action. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times) A man is arrested after police found drug paraphernalia in a home in Camden, New Jersey, October 22, 2006. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)

At the request of Latin American leaders who have grown weary of bloody battles over drugs, the United Nations held a summit last week on the "world drug problem" at its headquarters in New York City. For a moment, it seemed as if the global war on drugs was beginning to crumble under its own weight.

Before the summit even began, the UN officials were under fire for making concessions to powerful countries with harsh drug control regimes and failing to push the global discourse beyond the decades-old treaties that laid the foundation for international drug prohibition. Hundreds of political leaders and policy groups condemned the summit's guiding statement for refusing to recognize that decades of prohibition have done more harm than good, fueling mass incarceration, organized crime, infectious diseases and general bloodshed across the world while failing to reduce supply or demand.

At a press conference during the summit, Nick Clegg, a former deputy prime minister of the UK and a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, said the UN system is "increasingly divorced from reality." Former Columbian president and commission member César Gaviria, whose country has been violently ravaged by the drug war, said the idea that governments can rid society of drugs is "totally unrealistic" because 50 years of prohibition have "totally failed." The commission, which supports drug decriminalization, is made up of current and former leaders from several countries, including Mexico, Switzerland, Canada and the United States.

Clearly, the global conversation around drugs has changed since the last drug summit in 1998. There, UN leadership declared that a "drug-free world" could be achieved within 10 years, a goal that now seems laughable. Since then, drug decriminalization in countries like the Czech Republic and Portugal has been linked to improvements in public health, and marijuana legalization efforts in major UN member states, including the United States and Canada, have caused political fissures throughout the stubborn institutions of prohibition. These efforts may well be undermining the international drug control framework altogether.

Calls for drug legalization are going mainstream, but millions of people continue to be arrested for nonviolent drug offenses each year, including 1.5 million in the US alone. Political leaders are only starting to catch up, at least on paper. Shortly before the UN summit, Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, along with 1,000 political and cultural leaders, signed a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling for "a new global response to drugs" and declaring 20th century drug control regimes to be "disastrous for global health, security and human rights."

The signatures of two major US presidential candidates on an international statement effectively condemning the global drug war mark a stark departure from decades of US policy. However, the letter appeared to have had little impact on the summit beyond a kerfuffle between UN security and activists dressed in prohibition-era costumes who showed up to distribute copies of it. The US served as the de facto leader of a global drug crackdown for decades after President Richard Nixon first declared the war on drugs, with the intention of crushing the Black liberation and antiwar movements. Yet recent changes in policies at home have left the United States in an awkward position on the current global stage.

Daniel Raymond, a spokesman for the Harm Reduction Coalition, a US-based group that sent advocates to the summit, told Truthout that the US diplomats have found themselves in a "double bind." The US, Raymond said, must convince its international partners that a multibillion-dollar legal and medical marijuana industry in nearly half of US states can be reconciled with responsibilities to longstanding international drug control agreements.

"The US seems to have taken a middle-of-the-road approach in these negotiations: They are trying to play nice with everybody and keep all parties at the table," said Raymond, who added that the US is more focused on UN procedure than real policy goals. "Because the United States has skin in a lot of different games, they have taken a less proactive role in the UN negotiations and occupied the middle."

Hillary Clinton and Obama's Drug War Legacy

Beyond a handful of outspoken progressive Democrats and libertarian Republicans, drug policy reform never enjoyed much political capital in Washington, until recently. The movement for Black lives and widespread protests against law enforcement have drawn national attention to the drug war's contributions to mass incarceration and racism in the criminal legal system. Meanwhile, the nation's "opioid crisis" has put a whiter, wealthier and more politically salient face on drug addiction.

President Obama has responded by reducing sentences for some federal drug war prisoners and declaring the opioid crisis a public health challenge instead of a criminal problem. His current drug czar, Michael Botticelli, has been praised for prioritizing treatment over incarceration, when it comes to people charged with drug possession, but the White House continues to support law enforcement crackdowns on drug trafficking, which can drag marginalized people perceived as dealers into the criminal legal system. The administration has also been less than transparent about efforts to allow certain addiction medications in prisons, where people with opioid addictions are often cut off from prescribed regimens.

If elected, Hillary Clinton is expected to take a similar path. President Obama has asked Congress to appropriate $1 billion to combat the opioid crisis with treatment and prevention, and Clinton has proposed to spend $10 billion over the next decade. Clinton touts her support for reducing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and has said she would prioritize treatment over prison time for low-level offenders, but she has said nothing about defanging drug war institutions like the scandal-ridden US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Bernie Sanders says that the war on drugs has "failed" and proposes to go even further than Clinton by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and removing marijuana from the list of federally outlawed drugs, but his chances of winning the Democratic nomination are increasingly slim.

Critics of the drug war predicted years ago that state laws prohibiting marijuana would slowly fall like dominos despite federal prohibition. These state-level initiatives provide perfect political cover for Clinton and the Republican candidates, who fear alienating older, socially conservative voters but know that the majority of people in the US now support marijuana legalization.

Clinton does not support legalizing weed, but she has promised not to interfere with state marijuana reforms, and to direct federal agents to focus on violent criminals instead of pot smokers. Republicans Donald Trump and even archconservative Ted Cruz, who have said little about drug policy beyond the debate over securing the US-Mexico border, agree that states should be free to decide the issue on their own, even if they personally oppose legalization. Only Ohio Gov. John Kasich has expressed firm opposition to legalization.

Marijuana has long been the media's drug policy bellwether, but legal weed alone will not stop the violence ravaging Mexico, Latin America and cities across the United States. Allowing the vast marijuana industry to go legit would certainly put a dent in the profit margins of drug cartels, but it may also increase competition in black markets for drugs like cocaine and heroin, making those trades even more dangerous and bloody than they already are.

Still, localized marijuana legalization flies in the face of federal law and longstanding international drug control agreements, which continue to label marijuana as dangerous and illegal. US diplomats affirmed the three major drug prohibition and anti-trafficking treaties last week along with the rest of the UN, suggesting that these agreements are open to interpretation or can simply be ignored by policy makers on the ground.

"Once you start to say there is a place for legalization in controlled markets, then the [UN drug control] conventions can mean anything that you want them to," Raymond said. "At the same time, you are pretending that they say something solid."

How to End the War on Drugs

To end the war on drugs, the conversation around the uppers, downers and psychedelics with tougher reputations than weed must change as well. Politicians must accept a few facts, and not just behind closed doors, where drug reform lobbyists often find sympathetic lawmakers who claim their hands are politically tied.

First of all, humans have used psychoactive drugs for thousands of years and won't be stopping anytime soon. From caffeine to codeine, drug use is inevitable in all realms of society, whether drugs are legal or not. We know this because prohibition has failed so miserably at its stated goal. Criminalizing drugs does not reduce the amount of harm they can cause; in fact, it has the opposite effect. Proven harm reduction strategies and medical treatments for addiction, on the other hand, can help make drug use safer for everyone.

We must also change the way we view drug users, who are much less dangerous than the drug warriors, as it turns out. Last month, an international team of experts sponsored by Johns Hopkins University pointed to the UN's own data showing that only 11 percent of drug users worldwide are considered "problem users" because they have an addiction or drug abuse disorder. Drug prohibitionists, however, wrongly assume that there is no difference between use and abuse, and total abstinence is the only acceptable way to approach certain drugs. This mentality has fueled sensational and racist myths about "crack babies," "bath salt zombies" and "reefer madness."

Meanwhile, anti-drug laws have contributed to lethal violence, forced displacement, human rights abuses and an increase in the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C, according to the team sponsored by Johns Hopkins. The researchers called on governments to embrace harm reduction strategies like syringe exchange and decriminalize all minor drug offenses, suggesting that doctors and public health experts, not cops and politicians, should be guiding our personal and political decisions about drugs. Every day, people use drugs of all kinds without seriously hurting themselves or others, while the police are busy locking people in cages and reinforcing stigma that drives users underground and away from social services.

Research continually shows that drugs become much less dangerous when users can access health care and knowledge about how drugs work. That's why honest public drug education based around reality, not just abstinence, is so crucial to ending the drug war.

Dr. Carl Hart, a neurologist who has studied the effects of illicit drugs for years, argues that drugs often deemed too dangerous to be legal could actually improve the quality of some people's lives if used correctly. Many artists and writers could safely use amphetamines, for example, to boost their creativity and focus, as long as they stay hydrated, remember to eat and get enough sleep afterward. If we replace stigma with science and common sense, drugs begin to look more like complex tools than vice when used properly.

The global war on drugs will end when all nations agree that drug users have human rights, including the right to get high if they want to, as humans have always done. What happens after that is still up for debate. Activists agree that decriminalization is necessary, but not all agree that legalization is advisable. Decriminalization removes criminal penalties for using and possessing drugs, while legalization allows for some form of drug market regulated and sanctioned by the government. Governments could choose to regulate drugs for quality control and divert tax revenues to health care and addiction treatment, but they could also set up corporate monopolies on production and distribution and use drugs as a source of profit and social control.

Luckily, there are people all around us who can inform our political decisions on drugs: drug users. People who use drugs are best positioned to explain their own needs and provide insight on the real-life impacts of drugs and drug policy, so we can all decide what's best for our own bodies and communities. Drug users and doctors, not diplomats and drug warriors, should be leading the conversation. Until that happens, the war on drugs -- and on the millions of human beings who use, produce and sell them -- is certain to continue.

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News Sat, 30 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Dark Money Attacking Consumer Financial Protection Bureau http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35826-dark-money-attacking-consumer-financial-protection-bureau http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35826-dark-money-attacking-consumer-financial-protection-bureau

Since it formed in 2011, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been under siege from financial institutions. Senate Republicans tried very hard to stop it from functioning at all, and since then they've tried to "tighten the leash" on the agency. Nearly five years since it officially opened, a new dark money group is taking aim at the agency -- and no one has any idea who's behind it.

Protect America's Consumers is a 501(c)(4) group that incorporated in November 2015. Its registered agent is North Rock Reports LLC, located at the same address in Warrenton, Va., as the law firm Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky. According to Politico, "The firm specializes in untraceable pressure groups for conservative causes." In 2012, Bloomberg News reported that the firm was tied to groups that had spent more than $250 million on the 2012 election, including Karl Rove's American Crossroads. In 2015, the firm represented the super PAC Pursuing America's Greatness before the U.S. District Court in D.C., defending its right to use Mike Huckabee's name in its communications. Jill Vogel, a partner at the firm, is also a Virginia state senator; her website describes the firm as "a law firm that specializes in charity and nonprofit organizations, election law, and ethics."

Another anti-CFPB organization, the U.S. Consumer Coalition (USCC), has distanced itself from Protect America's Consumers, describing the group as an "attempt to trade on USCC's successful CFPB reform campaign, the Consumer Protection Initiative."

That might be because Protect America's Consumers ads are controversial. They hit the CFPB for spending lavishly on a new renovation, though that's up for debate, and for alleged racial discrimination. Their most-viewed ad on YouTube is titled "#SaveCFPB," saying, "The intentions of the CFPB were good." The ads include quotes from Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters, Calif., Keith Ellison, Minn., and Al Green, Texas, but all three have said their quotes were taken out of context. As Sam Brodey of MinnPost wrote:

Ellison thinks the ads are bogus -- especially for the implication that he has some major problem with the bureau -- and he'd like to let the people behind the ads know as much. There's just one problem: Nobody knows who's paying for them.

Because of Protect America's Consumers' 501(c)(4) status, we know very little about who actually runs this group. Its press releases list Steve Gates as the spokesman; Gates was the senior communications director at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal advocacy group that has spent millions on lobbying in the past. (It has since downsized.) According to Mother Jones:

ACCCE is best known for its ties to Bonner & Associates, the lobbying firm that got caught sending forged letters to Democratic members of Congress this summer. The letters, putatively written on behalf of military veterans and local chapters of civil rights groups, opposed the Waxman-Markey energy bill. In late October, congressional investigators found that ACCCE knew that Bonner was sending out phony letters on its behalf, but waited to tip off lawmakers until after they'd voted on the bill.

According to his LinkedIn page, Gates also works for Atlas Advocacy, where he "provides executive-level strategic guidance for multiple communications and social media projects in support of diverse public affairs clients." Its website boasts of a "multi-level integrated advocacy approach" and warns of "increasing transparency demands":

Spend smarter, not bigger. We use advertising as a surgical tool designed to take your message to a targeted audience, not the masses. We create messaging that slices through today's oversaturated media environment to stand out from the crowd. Our media planning team focuses on finding unique pathways so that your message is delivered to the audience that matters.

Gates initially indicated he would be willing to comment for this story, but stopped responding after I sent him a list of questions.

Other than Gates and the ties to Holtzman Vogel, we know nothing about who runs the group, who funds it or what their goal is. Gates told Politico that the site "doesn't have any information about the group's sponsors, because 'we don't want this to be seen as a partisan issue.'" He also denied that there was any link to the Koch brothers, who have heavily funded other groups that were incorporated by Holtzman Vogel, saying he's a registered Democrat.

It's also very difficult to find out how many ads Protect America's Consumers is running and where. According to a press release on its site, the group is running ads in Montana, North Dakota, Indiana and West Virginia. The ads "urge the taxpayers in those states to contact Senators Donnelly, Tester, Heitkamp and Manchin to encourage them to reform the CFPB." All but Manchin are on the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and Donnelly is on the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection.

But no FCC disclosures have been posted online about these ads, meaning the group hasn't run any ads on broadcast TV. A spokesperson for Kantar Media, a company that tracks advertising, said, "[Protect America's Consumers] appear to be limiting their ad campaign to the most popular cable news networks in a handful of markets." I visited Comcast's D.C. public file location and found the group spent $22,172 on ads in D.C. on Comcast stations since February. Tim Kay, director of political strategy at NCC Media, which tracks cable news, told me the group has spent $9,000 on ads in each of the four states listed in the press release, purchasing amounts between 56 spots (Indiana) and 425 spots (Montana). The ads ran on the same channels in every state: Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and the History channel. All of this means it spent about $58,000 on TV ads overall. The group's also been buying promoted tweets on Twitter.

Another campaign has popped up in response to Protect America's Consumers: Protect Consumers From Protect America's Consumers. A joint project of Allied Progress and American Family Voices, the website criticizes Protect America's Consumers as "a shady front group," calling it an "astroturf" campaign against the CFPB. The site debunks some of Protect America's Consumers' claims and includes a form to write your senator and tell them you support the CFPB. The site states: "Unlike the shadowy insiders behind the astroturf group 'Protect America's Consumers,' we're proud of who we are."

Compared to Protect America's Consumers, that's certainly true. Allied Progress and American Family Voices both have publicly listed addresses and phone numbers, easily identified executive directors and a range of issues that they work on -- meaning that, unlike Protect America's Consumers, they weren't set up solely to campaign on one issue. Protect America's Consumers doesn't even make the name of the person who registered their website public; their site is registered to "Whoisguard Protected" in Panama City, a firm that exists to protect the identity of domain owners. And I was able to reach by phone both Karl Frisch and Mike Lux, the executive directors of Allied Progress and American Family Voices respectively.

But they aren't perfectly transparent. Allied Progress is too new to appear in any nonprofit databases because, like Protect America's Consumers, they haven't filed a 990 yet, the form that lists out essential information on 501(c) groups. And as a nonprofit like Protect America's Consumers, it isn't required to disclose its donors. That's also true of American Family Voices, though that group has existed since 2000.

Reps. Waters, Ellison and Green have written to the Federal Trade Commission asking them to investigate Protect America's Consumers and its nonprofit status; that might be our only hope of finding out who's behind the organization. Aside from that, unless the group tells us, we might never find out who's spending this money to take down the CFPB.

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News Sat, 30 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Efficiency Could Provide Big Benefits to Low-Income Renters http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35825-efficiency-could-provide-big-benefits-to-low-income-renters http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35825-efficiency-could-provide-big-benefits-to-low-income-renters

Low-income households spend up to three times as much of their income on energy costs as higher-income households do, and would benefit significantly from efficiency upgrades, according to a new report.

Since their total income is lower, it's not surprising that such households would see a higher proportion of it spent on energy. But these households are often paying more than they should be for energy because they are more likely to live in inefficient buildings, often where they don't have control over heating and cooling or the power to make efficiency upgrades.

On average, the report found, low-income households spend 7.2 percent of their income on energy while higher-income households spend only 2.3 percent. But the study found that increased efficiency measures could close this energy burden gap by about one-third.

Researchers also found that minorities pay a larger portion of their income for energy.

The report, released Wednesday by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and the coalition Energy Efficiency for All, examined data from 48 U.S. cities.

Southern cities -- Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta and New Orleans -- ranked the highest in terms of energy burden on low-income people, with Kansas City and Cleveland also in the highest 10.

When cities were ranked by energy burden on African American households, more Midwestern cities were among the 10 highest: Kansas City, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cleveland and Cincinnati. For Latino households, Kansas City and Detroit were in the top 10.

The report found that efficiency measures could reduce energy costs even more for African American and Latino households than for low-income households as a whole. Latino households could see their burden cut by a full 68 percent with efficiency measures, the report found.

African American and white households paid similar amounts for energy but that made up a greater portion of income for African Americans. Latinos actually paid lower bills but still carried a greater energy burden as a portion of their income.

Energy and Affordable Housing

Most tenants of multi-family buildings make less than $50,000 per year per household. Yet state and local efficiency programs tend to be focused on single-family, owner-occupied homes, the report notes.

"Nearly half of very low-income renters live in multifamily buildings," said Julia Friedman, senior policy manager for the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a member of the Energy Efficiency for All coalition. "And delivering energy efficiency to multifamily buildings is difficult when the energy savings accrue to the renters who may not have the legal or financial ability to make improvements to their units or the incentive due the fact that the payback for the improvements may be longer than the terms of their lease."

Stacie Young is director of a collaborative based at the Community Investment Corporation in Chicago that aims to preserve quality affordable rental housing in multi-family buildings. She noted that energy efficiency plays a direct role in determining rent costs, especially in a city like Chicago where the utilities are included in rent in many multi-unit buildings.

If an owner invests in energy efficiency and sees energy bills decrease, they are less likely to have to raise the rent, she said, and they also have more money to invest in maintaining the building.

"We have a lot of great old rental stock in the city of Chicago," Young said. "Doing a retrofit is a super easy, low-cost way to get savings between 25 to 30 percent for an investment of about $3,000 per unit. It's a really cost-effective way to save money in the long term, it means not increasing rents and keeping the building in good condition," said Young.

The Community Investment Corporation makes loans for acquisitions and rehabs of affordable multi-family rental buildings. They partner with the non-profit organization Elevate Energy in the Energy Savers program, doing energy audits and facilitating efficiency overhauls in affordable buildings. The CIC has made about 7,000 loans for energy retrofits through this partnership, Young said.

"The owners in the low- and moderate-income neighborhoods operate on pretty narrow margins, there's a good chance the buildings in those markets have not been retrofitted, whereas rentals in stronger markets where the owner has earned more profit have probably done that already," Young said.

"With retrofits the owners can also save money on maintenance, and the tenants are less likely to leave because they are uncomfortable," she added, noting that uneven heating from old boilers may leave some tenants too cold in the winter while others resort to opening windows.

The report authors and advocates also note that an inability to maintain a comfortable temperature can exacerbate health problems and stress levels. And when people can't afford their bills and have their utilities shut off, they face serious risks from fires caused by space heaters to heat stroke in sweltering rooms.

"There are direct health impacts if you live in a drafty home in the winter and sauna in the summer," said Jim Chilsen, spokesman for the Citizens Utility Board (CUB),which hosts about 500 outreach events per year educating people about energy efficiency. "It's just not good for you. However, I think the indirect health impacts can be just as devastating.

"An electric bill can devour a lot of resources for a family, and suddenly you might be forced to skip quality of life investments, like healthy meals and prescriptions, to keep the lights on."

Focus on Large Buildings

In general, people in multi-family buildings and renters experienced higher energy burdens. Larger buildings and rentals are often more likely to be poorly maintained and inefficient. Residents are often unlikely to have the ability to weatherize or otherwise improve the efficiency of their unit, and as Young noted they often cannot even control the thermostat. Renters pay almost 20 percent more for energy per square foot, compared to homeowners, the report found.

Public housing and senior housing buildings are often multi-unit, older buildings that are inefficient and where residents have little control of their surroundings. Cities including Chicago are taking measures to increase efficiency and educate residents about energy specifically in such structures. The Energy Efficiency for All was involved in the Chicago efforts and members are also working on bench-marking energy use in public housing in Cincinnati and Kansas City, Mo.

The coalition also released a program design guide for promoting efficiency in affordable multi-family buildings.

The authors also urge greater investments in efficiency and particular attention to efficiency in low-income communities. They advise states to emphasize efficiency in their Clean Power Plan compliance plans, and encourage opting in to the Clean Energy Incentive component of the plan, which offers early credit for efficiency investments in low-income households in the two years prior to the compliance period of the Clean Power Plan.

"Cutting energy waste by improving energy efficiency leads to more comfortable homes; healthier, more prosperous communities; and is the quickest and most cost-effective way to reduce the dangerous carbon pollution fueling climate change," said Khalil Shahyd, a representative of the Energy Efficiency for All coalition and project manager of the Urban Solutions program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement.

"Energy efficiency works best when everyone has access to it," said Chilsen. "Robust efficiency opportunities lead to lower market prices for everyone. It just drives home the point that we need better programs for everyone, across society."

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News Sat, 30 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How to Prevent Food Waste: 27 Tips for Community Leaders http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35824-how-to-prevent-food-waste-27-tips-for-community-leaders http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35824-how-to-prevent-food-waste-27-tips-for-community-leaders

Food waste has become an enormous global problem, with an estimated one third of the world's current food supply for human consumption being lost or wasted every year. And the solutions aren't simple, as food waste is as complex a problem as it is dire. Food waste occurs at every step along the supply chain, including producers and distributors who reject imperfect food, stores and restaurants that discard uneaten food, and consumers who throw away leftovers or allow food to spoil. In a world where 795 million people go hungry every day, food waste is unacceptable.

In addition, 97% of food waste ends up in landfills, and the methane gas released from rotting food -- the same thing that's released in your refrigerator drawers causing perishables to expire faster -- is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. So reducing food waste has an environmental impact as well, playing an important role in curbing climate change. 

Addressing food waste through prevention, redistribution and composting is an emerging focus for city leaders. Inspired, in part, by the report Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, by Dana Gunders, staff scientist at the NRDC, food waste is a hot topic.

Despite the magnitude of the problem, solutions exist to prevent food waste -- many of them fairly easy and inexpensive to implement. In fact, a great deal of food waste prevention can be accomplished simply by changing people's habits.

Everyone can help reduce food waste and there are steps that elected officials, city managers and other leaders can take to make food waste prevention a widespread practice. Countless resources, tools and initiatives to prevent waste and draw attention to the issue have already been created:

  • France became the first country to ban supermarkets from disposing of unsold food. Supermarkets in France now donate unsold food to charities and food banks.
  • The Food Too Good to Waste toolkit provides families and communities both strategies and tools resulting in a nearly 50% reduction in preventable food waste.
  • Just Eat It, a documentary film about food waste, is screened around the world.
  • National Geographic features the ugly foods movement in its cover story, How 'Ugly' Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Solve World Hunger.
  • ReFED -- a collaboration of more than thirty business, nonprofit, foundation and government leaders committed to reducing United States food waste -- creates numerous resources, including a Solutions to Food Waste interactive chart and the Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent.
  • WRAP, a UK organization that works in "the space between governments, businesses, communities, thinkers and individuals," creates the Love Food Hate Waste program to educate and instruct people about food waste prevention strategies.
  • SHARECITY is crowdsourcing information about food sharing activities enabled by Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). They're creating a searchable database of 100 cities around the world.
  • Save Food, a joint initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Messe Düsseldorf, and interpack, forms to fight world food waste and loss through a global alliance of all stakeholders.
  • Italy offers tax breaks to supermarkets that donate their waste food to charity.
  • FoodCloud announces a ground-breaking partnership with Tesco Ireland to redistribute surplus food from 147 grocery stores to charities and community groups.
  • The Real Junk Food Project creates cafés in the UK that serve restaurant-quality food from produce headed to the landfill.
  • The Think.Eat.Save campaign of the Save Food Initiative is created to "galvanize widespread global, regional and national actions, and catalyze more sectors of society to be aware and to act."
  • LA Kitchen recovers healthy, local food from the waste stream to feed the hungry and provide culinary training to unemployed adults, particularly adults exiting prison as well as foster kids aging out of the system.
  • A growing number of apps are created to reduce food waste, including Waste No FoodCopiaZero PercentPare UpSpoiler AlertFoodKeeperFood Cowboy and many more.
  • Imperfect Produce launches to deliver ugly fruits and vegetables in the Bay Area.
  • End Food Waste's Ugly Foods movement grows into a global community connected by social media platforms.

For city officials, reducing food waste remains a matter of educating residents, providing the necessary infrastructure and creating a consistent messaging strategy that addresses both sides of the issue: preventing food waste and recycling organic matter once there is waste.

Shareable connected with three food waste reduction experts to get their recommendations for city leaders in the effort to help reduce food waste on a municipal level. We spoke with Cassie Bartholomew and Jeff Becerra from Stop Waste in Alameda County, California, which has one of the largest food scrap recycling programs in the country, and Veronica Fincher, Waste Prevention Program Manager at Seattle Public Utilities in Seattle, Washington, where it's now illegal to throw food and food waste into the trash.

Their responses include great tips to prevent food waste, strategic partnerships for food redistribution and recycling options for food waste once it is generated. Here are their top 27 recommendations.

1. Look to Prevention First

Just as the materials recycling hierarchy places reduction as the best option, ahead of reusing and recycling, food waste has a similar hierarchy. Preventing food waste is a far more desirable option than dealing with it once it's been created.

Composting is certainly better than letting food waste rot in the landfill. But it's also important to remember that when food is wasted, all of the resources used to produce the food, including water, are also wasted.

As Fincher explains, at the municipal level they're trying to reduce the tonnage of materials going to the landfill through both composting and prevention.

"It saves everybody money if we don't have stuff going into the waste stream period," she says. "It's a matter of trying to use resources wisely, conserve, keep rates as low as possible, and help our customers reduce the amount of food waste they throw out."

2. Raise Awareness of Food Waste Reduction Strategies

One of the biggest challenges of reducing food waste is breaking people's habits and automatic behaviors. If someone has thrown away food scraps and uneaten food for decades, composting requires a complete behavioral shift.

The best way to accomplish this shift in thinking is to create awareness regarding the massive amounts of organic waste. The Food Too Good to Waste toolkit is designed to help families both track and reduce their individual food waste. It includes instructions and messaging and marketing materials as well as research conducted on reducing household waste. Numerous cities are already utilizing this toolkit for broader campaigns and food waste challenges, and it can be customized to work with any community or family.

Communities can also include food waste prevention with their municipal messaging, supplying tips and resources to help citizens implement food waste prevention strategies in their own daily lives.

3. Bring the Problem Home

Food waste prevention requires everyone to do their part. Programs that people can easily implement at home and that involve the entire family bring food waste awareness to people of all ages. Therefore, it's essential to find and create ways to work with families to minimize food waste.

4. Reduce the Ick Factor

Some people already understand the benefits of composting, while others push back with concerns about cleanliness and rodents. As Becerra points out, compost consists of the same waste that people are already generating, they're just sending it to a different location.

"When you have a new waste stream like this, people don't necessarily get it," he says. "There's sort of this ick factor that people need to get over."

Becerra suggests creating simple behavioral changes, such as designating a small pail in the kitchen to collect vegetable trimmings and disposing of food-soiled paper in an outdoor organic bin.

5. Support the Growing Community Composting Movement

Community composting programs use previously wasted resources as local assets and reinvest them back into the same community. Many of these food waste prevention programs are powered by bicycle. City officials can support community composting programs and partner with them to further engage the community.

6. Educate Composters About Prevention

One of the challenges that Stop Waste faces is getting people who are already composting to make a deeper commitment to food waste prevention. Composting is the fifth tier of the EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy, so it's important to educate seasoned composters about the importance of reducing food waste in the first place.

"People may feel like they're already doing their green duty," says Bartholomew. "They feel good about [food] recycling. It's easy to do. It doesn't take as much thinking and analysis as prevention."

7. Look at the Big Picture

Because food waste is a complex issue, it's important to look at the big picture as well as the steps toward ideal solutions. Stop Waste did some strategic planning to assess the whole waste management cycle -- how materials are produced, consumed and ultimately discarded in their area -- to create a closed-loop cycle.

"That's where the prevention and reduction piece came in," says Bartholomew, "from looking at the EPA's food recovery hierarchy and trying to develop resources and best practices around reducing waste through prevention, reduction and donation, then composting the rest."

8. Work on a Community Level

Raising awareness of food waste prevention and recycling should be part of a top-down messaging effort, including mailers, posters and websites. But the message should also be community based, reaching community members in familiar places. Where are people in the community gathering? What messaging will they respond to? What kind of hands-on education can you provide? These are key questions to ask.

9. Develop Culturally Appropriate Materials

Developing culturally appropriate materials for community members works hand in hand with community outreach efforts.

Determine your target market, then work with community organizations to find the best ways to spread food waste messaging and disseminate resources. Be culturally sensitive. Work closely with neighborhood organizations to determine the most effective strategies for their specific community, then support them in doing the work. A marketing message has far greater impact when it comes from someone within a community.

"We work with community organizations and nonprofits so they can help educate their communities," says Becerra. "They work in conjunction with us, but in a way that resonates with them. We've been visiting nonprofit groups over the last couple of years and have worked closely with them to find the best ways to reach their constituents."

The resulting projects include a community mural about composting and a door-to-door canvassing campaign.

"It's a little more of a grassroots community effort," says Becerra.

10. Create Food Waste Reduction Requirements for the Garbage Franchise

Cities typically control the garbage franchise, so they can require garbage haulers to pick up the organic stream. That organic stream can be set up to allow for food waste, including food scraps from preparation, uneaten food and food-soiled paper, such as paper coffee cups and takeout containers.

"If the city is able to site a commercial composting facility, that helps a tremendous amount as well," Becerra says, "because you're generating this new waste stream, so you need to have a place fairly close by to process it. The city can assist by making sure the permitting process is not too cumbersome for setting up a commercial composting facility relatively close to the city."

Becerra stresses that waste haulers need to be on board and invested in the fact that recycling organic matter is worthwhile, and not simply meeting the requirements of their agreement.

11. Find the Right Location for Industrial Composting

Neighbors will likely push back against proposed locations for commercial composting facilities because they don't want it in their neighborhood. Finding an agreeable location will be different for every city, but Becerra advises finding an area that is close to the city, but not necessarily in an urban setting. Many of the Alameda County composting facilities are in fairly remote areas.

12. Create Diverse Strategies and Messaging

In your communications about reducing food waste, offer a variety of options. Not every food waste prevention technique will work for every family or individual. In a small pilot study in Seattle, residents received a list of possibilities to reduce waste and tested three options over the course of a month.

"We were hoping it would settle on a few key, top strategies," says Fincher.

However, they discovered a mix of 15 different strategies that worked for different people.

"It's so individual," Fincher explains. "We recognized that we need to allow for a lot of flexibility in our messaging so people can pick what's going to work for them."

13. Leverage Waste Management Funding to Raise Prevention Awareness

Cities may have robust budgets and resources available for food scrap recycling, but fewer resources available for food waste prevention. Bartholomew advises leveraging the recycling budget to raise awareness about food waste prevention.

"When rolling out a new recycling program, for example," she says, "see if you can you pair the messaging to use this as an opportunity to teach people how to reduce the amount of food waste they're generating in the first place, then compost the rest." She adds, "It's a complex message and you're teaching multiple behaviors. Clearly there's an opportunity to leverage that funding that already exists for outreach by adding in the prevention messaging."

14. Create Food Waste Challenges

Building on the resources from the Food Too Good to Waste toolkit, you can create food waste challenges in households, neighborhoods and cities to bring awareness to the issue of food waste. Rally community members around the cause, and introduce a competition where people can challenge themselves and each other.

15. Utilize the UK's Love Food Hate Waste Resources

Love Food Hate Waste is a project of the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). Their website offers a number of resources to reduce food waste, including an app to help people waste less and save money, a perfect portion tool, a two-week meal planner and hints and tips about date labels, freezing food, storing food and more.

16. Create Partnerships

Partnerships play an important role in solving food waste at a grassroots level.

"If communities are going to be successful," says Becerra, "multiple parties need to be on board. Working together is critical to making it happen, whether it's food waste prevention or food scrap recycling."

Potential partners include industrial kitchens, restaurants, school cafeterias, supermarkets, local community organizations and nonprofits. To facilitate these partnerships, there's a growing need for companies to create software and increase efficiency.

Food recovery -- taking surplus food from one business and delivering it to organizations working to curb hunger -- also requires key partnerships.

In Orange County, California, they found that restaurants didn't understand the Good Samaritan Act, which protects businesses from criminal and civil liability when they donate food to nonprofit organizations. Concerns about liability had been preventing restaurants from donating food.

To educate restaurant owners, local health inspectors, who regularly visit the restaurants, were trained to discuss how to safely donate excess food.

The county then partnered with Yellow Cab and local 7-11 stores: Yellow Cab picks up the food during off-hours and takes it to the convenience stores to refrigerate overnight until pick up.

"These are innovations that are specific to that community," says Bartholomew, "and they took a handful of partners to really think through and come up with."

17. Sell or Donate the Compost

Compost can be sold, donated to local schools and organizations or used for public projects, such as parks and gardens.

"One thing you can do," says Becerra, "is have free compost giveaways. It's a way to show residents, who are essentially the customers, that their work is creating a useful product, and not just disappearing."

One school district in Alameda County has language built into the city's franchise agreement to donate a percentage of the finished compost to the school district for school gardens. One of the haulers also has a donation program where they donate directly to community groups and school groups that can promote the use of local compost.

18. Do a Local Study

Gathering sample data can help determine next steps toward sustainable consumption in cities. Officials in Seattle conducted a small food waste study of 119 households. They asked each household to weigh their organic waste to help determine how much of their total waste stream was organic matter.

"That gave us some data that we didn't have from any other source," says Fincher. "It showed that a third of our food waste is edible food waste, and that reducing it is actually something that is worthwhile."

19. Create and Support Food Recovery Programs

Food waste recovery is an important, socially responsible aspect of reducing food waste. Businesses may be inclined to adopt food waste recovery practices, since production is unaffected.  Encourage local stores and restaurants to join existing food recovery programs or to create a new program.

20. Create and Support Food Redistribution Tech Tools

Preventing food waste requires smart systems. Develop and use local tech platforms, such as online portals or mapping platforms, to connect those with surplus food to those who need food. In Seattle, for example, 200 different agencies pick up and redistribute food, but, as Fincher explains, "There are a lot of other generators and people who need the food."

21. Celebrate Wins and Showcase Businesses Taking a Leadership Role

One of the best ways to get businesses and organizations on board with food waste reduction is to spotlight the ones that are already doing it well. This inspires and encourages other enterprises to find ways to participate.

"We're always trying to share success stories and best practices," says Bartholomew, "by highlighting businesses that are doing the right thing or highlighting how they overcame some barriers."

22. Set Food Waste Reduction Goals

In keeping with the nationwide goal to reduce 50 percent of food waste by 2030, city officials can create local goals to keep leaders and residents on track.

"By setting some sort of goal, tracking how much pre-consumer food waste is being generated, then categorizing why it's being generated and whether that food gets composted or goes to the landfill," says Bartholomew, "we can see where that food waste is generated and where it goes."

Stop Waste will be gathering data for the next few years to yield better insight into the county's larger waste generators. Once they've pinpointed the largest problems, they can work to reduce food waste in those areas.

23. Include Food Scrap Pickup in Mandatory Recycling Programs

Alameda County has a mandatory recycling program for businesses that includes organics collection. Recycling Rules Alameda County states the rules and gives information on both the expectations and best practices.

24. Support Food Waste Reduction Legislation

There's an increasing amount of legislation addressing food waste reduction -- particularly regarding date labeling. Advocates aim to create a standard labeling system to help reduce food waste. The NRDC report The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America is a "first-of-its-kind legal analysis of federal and state laws related to date labels across all 50 states." The report presents recommendations for a new labeling system.

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree from Maine recently introduced the Food Recovery Act. The bill is aimed at reducing the amount of food wasted each year in the United States and includes nearly two dozen provisions to reduce food waste.

Supporting legislation around food waste issues is critical for city leaders working to prevent food waste.

25. Provide Food Waste Awareness Outreach in Schools

As Bartholomew explains, it's easier to instill positive waste reduction behaviors in children than to change existing behaviors in adults. To facilitate this behavior change, city leaders can create and support programs designed specifically for local schools and youth organizations.

Organizers should work with an existing recycling coordinator or find the resources to integrate food waste education into existing programs. To create consistency, Bartholomew recommends setting up a consistent infrastructure, so kids have the same recycling bins at school that they have at home.

Stop Waste's Student Action Project visits 5th grade and middle school classrooms to train teachers about recycling and food waste. Their team also helps families with the Food Too Good to Waste program, which works with them for four to six weeks. Bartholomew finds the citizen-science aspect to be particularly effective because students are bringing the same messaging home to their families.

26. Get Other Officials On Board

The best way to get other officials on board with a food waste reduction program is to show them projects that are successful in other cities.

"City officials have to deal with many of the same issues," says Becerra. "It's helpful for elected officials to know that it is possible to do these things." He adds, "Sometimes it takes a while for people to understand that this can be done fairly easily, and that it is important."

27. Connect with Successful Food Waste Reduction Programs

Are you ready to get started on a food waste reduction strategy? The Stop Waste team is available to advise and share its best practices. Services and programs are well established in Alameda County, and the Stop Waste team stresses that they can help connect the dots for other leaders, too.

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News Sat, 30 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400
This Could Be the Death of the Fossil Fuel Industry -- Will the Rest of the Economy Go With It? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35817-we-could-be-witnessing-the-death-of-the-fossil-fuel-industry-will-it-take-the-rest-of-the-economy-down-with-it http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35817-we-could-be-witnessing-the-death-of-the-fossil-fuel-industry-will-it-take-the-rest-of-the-economy-down-with-it

In just two decades, the total value of the energy being produced via fossil fuel extraction has plummeted by more than half.In just two decades, the total value of the energy being produced via fossil fuel extraction has plummeted by more than half. (Photo: Chris Campbell / Flickr)

It's not looking good for the global fossil fuel industry. Although the world remains heavily dependent on oil, coal and natural gas -- which today supply around 80 percent of our primary energy needs -- the industry is rapidly crumbling.

This is not merely a temporary blip, but a symptom of a deeper, long-term process related to global capitalism's escalating overconsumption of planetary resources and raw materials.

New scientific research shows that the growing crisis of profitability facing fossil fuel industries is part of an inevitable period of transition to a post-carbon era.

But ongoing denialism has led powerful vested interests to continue clinging blindly to their faith in fossil fuels, with increasingly devastating and unpredictable consequences for the environment.

Bankruptcy Epidemic

In February, the financial services firm Deloitte predicted that over 35 percent of independent oil companies worldwide are likely to declare bankruptcy, potentially followed by a further 30 percent next year -- a total of 65 percent of oil firms around the world. Since early last year, already 50 North American oil and gas producers have filed bankruptcy.

The cause of the crisis is the dramatic drop in oil prices -- down by two-thirds since 2014 -- which are so low that oil companies are finding it difficult to generate enough revenue to cover the high costs of production, while also repaying their loans.

Oil and gas companies most at risk are those with the largest debt burden. And that burden is huge -- as much as $2.5 trillion, according to The Economist. The real figure is probably higher.

At a speech at the London School of Economics in February, Jaime Caruana of the Bank for International Settlements said that outstanding loans and bonds for the oil and gas industry had almost tripled between 2006 and 2014 to a total of $3 trillion.

This massive debt burden, he explained, has put the industry in a double-bind: In order to service the debt, they are continuing to produce more oil for sale, but that only contributes to lower market prices. Decreased oil revenues means less capacity to repay the debt, thus increasing the likelihood of default.

Stranded Assets

This $3 trillion of debt is at risk because it was supposed to generate a 3-to-1 increase in value, but instead -- thanks to the oil price decline -- represents a value of less than half of this.

Worse, according to a Goldman Sachs study quietly published in December last year, as much as $1 trillion of investments in future oil projects around the world are unprofitable, effectively stranded.

Examining 400 of the world's largest new oil and gas fields (except U.S. shale), the Goldman study found that $930 billion worth of projects (more than two-thirds) are unprofitable at Brent crude prices below $70. (Prices are now well below that.)

The collapse of these projects due to unprofitability would result in the loss of oil and gas production equivalent to a colossal 8 percent of current global demand. If that happens, suddenly or otherwise, it would wreck the global economy.

The Goldman analysis was based purely on the internal dynamics of the industry. A further issue is that internationally-recognized climate change risks mean that to avert dangerous global warming, much of the world's remaining fossil fuel resources cannot be burned.

All of this is leading investors to question the wisdom of their investments, given fears that much of the assets that the oil, gas and coal industries use to estimate their own worth could consist of resources that will never ultimately be used.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative, which analyzes carbon investment risks, points out that over the next decade, fossil fuel companies risk wasting up to $2.2 trillion of investments in new projects that could turn out to be "uneconomic" in the face of international climate mitigation policies.

More and more fossil fuel industry shareholders are pressuring energy companies to stop investing in exploration for fear that new projects could become worthless due to climate risks.

"Clean technology and climate policy are already reducing fossil fuel demand," said James Leaton, head of research at Carbon Tracker. "Misreading these trends will destroy shareholder value. Companies need to apply 2C stress tests to their business models now."

In a prescient report published last November, Carbon Tracker identified the energy majors with the greatest exposures -- and thus facing the greatest risks -- from stranded assets: Royal Dutch Shell, Pemex, Exxon Mobil, Peabody Energy, Coal India and Glencore.

At the time, the industry scoffed at such a bold pronouncement. Six months after this report was released -- a week ago -- Peabody went bankrupt. Who's next?

The Carbon Tracker analysis may underestimate the extent of potential losses. A new paper just out in the journal Applied Energy, from a team at Oxford University's Institute for New Economic Thinking, shows that the "stranded assets" concept applies not just to unburnable fossil fuel reserves, but also to a vast global carbon-intensive electricity infrastructure, which could be rendered as defunct as the fossil fuels it burns and supplies to market.

The Coming Debt Spiral

Some analysts believe the hidden trillion-dollar black hole at the heart of the oil industry is set to trigger another global financial crisis, similar in scale to the Dot-Com crash.

Jason Schenker, president and chief economist at Prestige Economics, says: "Oil prices simply aren't going to rise fast enough to keep oil and energy companies from defaulting. Then there is a real contagion risk to financial companies and from there to the rest of the economy."

Schenker has been ranked by Bloomberg News as one of the most accurate financial forecasters in the world since 2010. The US economy, he forecasts, will dip into recession at the end of 2016 or early 2017.

Mark Harrington, an oil industry consultant, goes further. He believes the resulting economic crisis from cascading debt defaults in the industry could make the 2007-8 financial crash look like a cakewalk. "Oil and gas companies borrowed heavily when oil prices were soaring above $70 a barrel," he wrote on CNBC in January.

"But in the past 24 months, they've seen their values and cash flows erode ferociously as oil prices plunge -- and that's made it hard for some to pay back that debt. This could lead to a massive credit crunch like the one we saw in 2008. With our economy just getting back on its feet from the global 2008 financial crisis, timing could not be worse."

Ratings agency Standard & Poor (S&P) reported this week that 46 companies have defaulted on their debt this year -- the highest levels since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009. The total quantity in defaults so far is $50 billion.

Half this year's defaults are from the oil and gas industry, according to S&P, followed by the metals, mining and the steel sector. Among them was coal giant Peabody Energy.

Despite public reassurances, bank exposure to these energy risks from unfunded loan facilities remains high. Officially, only 2.5 percent of bank assets are exposed to energy risks.

But it's probably worse. Confidential Wall Street sources claim that the Federal Reserve in Dallas has secretly advised major U.S. banks in closed-door meetings to cover up potential energy-related losses. The Federal Reserve denies the allegations, but refuses to respond to Freedom of Information requests on internal meetings, on the obviously false pretext that it keeps no records of any of its meetings.

According to Bronka Rzepkoswki of the financial advisory firm Oxford Economics, over a third of the entire U.S. high yield bond index is vulnerable to low oil prices, increasing the risk of a tidal wave of corporate bankruptcies: "Conditions that usually pave the way for mounting defaults -- such as growing bad debt, tightening monetary conditions, tightening of corporate credit standards and volatility spikes -- are currently met in the U.S."

The End of Cheap Oil

Behind the crisis of oil's profitability that threatens the entire global economy is a geophysical crisis in the availability of cheap oil. Cheap here does not refer simply to the market price of oil, but the total cost of production. More specifically, it refers to the value of energy.

There is a precise scientific measure for this, virtually unknown in conventional economic and financial circles, known as Energy Return on Investment -- which essentially quantifies the amount of energy extracted, compared to the inputs of energy needed to conduct the extraction. The concept of EROI was first proposed and developed by Professor Charles A. Hall of the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York. He found that an approximate EROI value for any energy source could be calculated by dividing the quantity of energy produced by the amount of energy inputted into the production process.

Therefore, the higher the EROI, the more energy that a particular source and technology is capable of producing. The lower the EROI, the less energy this source and technology is actually producing.

A new peer-reviewed study led by the Institute of Physics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico has undertaken a comparative review of the EROI of all the major sources of energy that currently underpin industrial civilization -- namely oil, gas, coal, and uranium.

Published in the journal Perspectives on Global Development and Technology, the scientists note that the EROI for fossil fuels has inexorably declined over a relatively short period of time: "Nowadays, the world average value EROI for hydrocarbons in the world has gone from a value of 35 to a value of 15 between 1960 and 1980."

In other words, in just two decades, the total value of the energy being produced via fossil fuel extraction has plummeted by more than half. And it continues to decline.

This is because the more fossil fuel resources that we exploit, the more we have used up those resources that are easiest and cheapest to extract. This compels the industry to rely increasingly on resources that are more difficult and expensive to get out of the ground, and bring to market.

The EROI for conventional oil, according to the Mexican scientists, is 18. They estimate, optimistically, that: "World reserves could last for 35 or 45 years at current consumption rates." For gas, the EROI is 10, and world reserves will last around "45 or 55 years." Nuclear's EROI is 6.5, and according to the study authors, "The peak in world production of uranium will be reached by 2045."

The problem is that although we are not running out of oil, we are running out of the cheapest, easiest to extract form of oil and gas. Increasingly, the industry is making up for the shortfall by turning to unconventional forms of oil and gas -- but these have very little energy value from an EROI perspective.

The Mexico team examine the EROI values of these unconventional sources, tar sands, shale oil, and shale gas: "The average value for EROI of tar sands is four. Only ten percent of that amount is economically profitable with current technology."

For shale oil and gas, the situation is even more dire: "The EROI varies between 1.5 and 4, with an average value of 2.8. Shale oil is very similar to the tar sands; being both oil sources of very low quality. The shale gas revolution did not start because its exploitation was a very good idea; but because the most attractive economic opportunities were previously exploited and exhausted."

In effect, the growing reliance on unconventional oil and gas has meant that, overall, the costs and inputs into energy production to keep industrial civilization moving are rising inexorably.

It's not that governments don't know. It's that decisions have already been made to protect the vested interests that have effectively captured government policymaking through lobbying, networking and donations.

Three years ago, the British government's Department for International Development (DFID) commissioned and published an in-depth report, "EROI of Global Energy Resources: Status, Trends and Social Implications." The report went completely unnoticed by the media.

Its findings are instructive: "We find the EROI for each major fossil fuel resource (except coal) has declined substantially over the last century. Most renewable and non-conventional energy alternatives have substantially lower EROI values than conventional fossil fuels."

The decline in EROI has meant that an increasing amount of the energy we extract is having to be diverted back into getting new energy out, leaving less for other social investments.

This means that the global economic slowdown is directly related to the declining resource quality of fossil fuels. The DFID report warns: "The declining EROI of traditional fossil fuel energy sources and its eventual effect on the world economy are likely to result in a myriad of unforeseen consequences."

Shortly after this report was released, I met with a senior civil servant at DFID familiar with its findings, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity. I asked him whether this important research had actually impacted policymaking in the department.

"Unfortunately, no," he told me, shrugging. "Most of my colleagues, except perhaps a handful, simply don't have a clue about these issues. And of course, despite the report being circulated widely within the department, and shared with other relevant government departments, there is little interest from ministers who appear to be ideologically pre-committed to fracking."

Peak Oil

The driving force behind the accelerating decline in resource quality, hotly denied in the industry, is 'peak oil.'

An extensive scientific analysis published in February in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy & Environment lays bare the extent of industry denialism. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews (WIRES) is a series of high-quality peer-reviewed publications which runs authoritative reviews of the literature across relevant academic disciplines.

The new WIRES paper is authored by Professor Michael Jefferson of the ESCP Europe Business School, a former chief economist at oil major Royal Dutch/Shell Group, where he spent nearly 20 years in various senior roles from Head of Planning in Europe to Director of Oil Supply and Trading. He later became Deputy Secretary-General of the World Energy Council, and is editor of the leading Elsevier science journal Energy Policy.

In his new study, Jefferson examines a recent 1865-page "global energy assessment" (GES) published by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis. But he criticized the GES for essentially ducking the issue of 'peak oil."

"This was rather odd," he wrote. "First, because the evidence suggests that the global production of conventional oil plateaued and may have begun to decline from 2005."

He went on to explain that standard industry assessments of the size of global conventional oil reserves have been dramatically inflated, noting how "the five major Middle East oil exporters altered the basis of their definition of 'proved' conventional oil reserves from a 90 percent probability down to a 50 percent probability from 1984. The result has been an apparent (but not real) increase in their 'proved' conventional oil reserves of some 435 billion barrels."

Added to those estimates are reserve figures from Venezuelan heavy oil and Canadian tar sands, bringing up global reserve estimates by a further 440 billion barrels, despite the fact that they are "more difficult and costly to extract" and generally of "poorer quality" than conventional oil.

"Put bluntly, the standard claim that the world has proved conventional oil reserves of nearly 1.7 trillion barrels is overstated by about 875 billion barrels. Thus, despite the fall in crude oil prices from a new peak in June 2014, after that of July 2008, the 'peak oil' issue remains with us."

Jefferson believes that a nominal economic recovery, combined with cutbacks in production as the industry reacts to its internal crises, will eventually put the current oil supply glut in reverse. This will pave the way for "further major oil price rises" in years to come.

It's not entirely clear if this will happen. If the oil crisis hits the economy hard, then the prolonged recession that results could dampen the rising demand that everyone projects. If oil prices thus remain relatively depressed for longer than expected, this could hemorrhage the industry beyond repair.

Eventually, the loss of production may allow prices to rise again. OPEC estimates that investments in oil exploration and development are at their lowest level in six years. As bankruptcies escalate, the accompanying drop in investments will eventually lead world oil production to fall, even as global demand begins to rise.

This could lead oil prices to climb much higher, as rocketing demand -- projected to grow 50 percent by 2035 -- hits the scarcity of production. Such a price spike, ironically, would also be incredibly bad for the global economy, and as happened with the 2007-8 financial crash, could feed into inflation and trigger another spate of consumer debt-defaults in the housing markets.

Even if that happens, the assumption -- the hope -- is that oil industry majors will somehow survive the preceding cascade of debt-defaults. The other assumption is that demand for oil will rise.

But as new sources of renewable energy come online at a faster and faster pace, as innovation in clean technologies accelerates, old fossil fuel-centric projections of future rising demand for oil may need to be jettisoned.

Clean Energy

According to another new study released in March in Energy Policy by two scientists at Texas A&M University, "Non-renewable energy" -- that is "fossil fuels and nuclear power" -- "are projected to peak around mid-century ... Subsequent declining non-renewable production will require a rapid expansion in the renewable energy sources (RES) if either population and/or economic growth is to continue."

The demise of the fossil fuel empire, the study forecasts, is inevitable. Whichever model run the scientists used, the end output was the same: the almost total displacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy sources by the end of the century; and, as a result, the transformation and localisation of economic activity.

But the paper adds that to avoid a rise in global average temperatures of 2C, which would tip climate change into the danger zone, 50 percent or more of existing fossil fuel reserves must remain unused.

The imperative to transition away from fossil fuels is, therefore, both geophysical and environmental. On the one hand, by mid-century, fossil fuels and nuclear power will become obsolete as a viable source of energy due to their increasingly high costs and low quality. On the other, even before then, to maintain what scientists describe as a 'safe operating space' for human survival, we cannot permit the planet to warm a further 2C without risking disastrous climate impacts.

Staying below 2C, the study finds, will require renewable energy to supply more than 50 percent of total global energy by 2028, "a 37-fold increase in the annual rate of supplying renewable energy in only 13 years."

While this appears to be a herculean task by any standard, the Texas A&M scientists conclude that by century's end, the demise of fossil fuels is going to happen anyway, with or without considerations over climate risks:

… the 'ambitious' end-of-century decarbonisation goals set by the G7 leaders will be achieved due to economic and geologic fossil fuel limitations within even the unconstrained scenario in which little-to-no pro-active commitment to decarbonise is required… Our model results indicate that, with or without climate considerations, RES [renewable energy sources] will comprise 87–94 percent of total energy demand by the end of the century.

But as renewables have a much lower EROI than fossil fuels, this will "quickly reduce the share of net energy available for societal use." With less energy available to societies, "it is speculated that there will have to be a reprioritization of societal energetic needs" -- in other words, a very different kind of economy in which unlimited material growth underpinned by endless inputs of cheap fossil fuel energy are a relic of the early 21st century.

The 37-fold annual rate of increase in the renewable energy supply seems unachievable at first glance, but new data just released from the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency shows that clean power is well on its way, despite lacking the massive subsidies behind fossil fuels.

The data reveals that last year, solar power capacity rose by 37 percent. Wind power grew by 17 percent, geothermal by 5 percent and hydropower by 3 percent.

So far, the growth rate for solar power has been exponential. A Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions report from September 2015 noted that the speed and spread of solar energy had consistently outpaced conventional linear projections, and continues to do so.

While the costs of solar power is consistently declining, solar power generation has doubled every year for the last 20 years. With every doubling of solar infrastructure, the production costs of solar photovoltaic (PV) has dropped by 22 percent.

At this rate, according to analysts like Tony Seba -- a lecturer in business entrepreneurship, disruption and clean energy at Stanford University -- the growth of solar is already on track to go global. With eight more doublings, that's by 2030, solar power would be capable of supplying 100 percent of the world's energy needs. And that's even without the right mix of government policies in place to support renewables.

According to Deloitte, while Seba's forecast is endorsed by a minority of experts, it remains a real possibility that should be taken seriously. But the firm points out that obstacles remain:

"It would not make economic sense for utility planners to shutter thousands of megawatts of existing generating capacity before the end of its economic life and replace it with new solar generation."

Yet Deloitte's study did not account for the escalating crisis in profitability already engulfing the fossil fuel industries, and the looming pressure of stranded assets due to climate risks. As the uneconomic nature of fossil fuels becomes ever more obvious, so too will the economic appeal of clean energy.

Race Against Time

The question is whether the transition to a post-carbon energy system -- the acceptance of the inevitable death of the oil economy -- will occur fast enough to avoid climate catastrophe.

Given that the 2C target for a safe climate is widely recognized to be inadequate -- scientists increasingly argue that even a 1C rise in global average temperatures would be sufficient to trigger dangerous, irreversible changes to the earth's climate.

According to a 2011 report by the National Academy of Sciences, the scientific consensus shows conservatively that for every degree of warming, we will see the following impacts: 5-15 percent reductions in crop yields; 3-10 percent increases in rainfall in some regions contributing to flooding; 5-10 percent decreases in stream-flow in some river basins, including the Arkansas and the Rio Grande, contributing to scarcity of potable water; 200-400 percent increases in the area burned by wildfire in the US; 15 percent decreases in annual average Arctic sea ice, with 25 percent decreases in the yearly minimum extent in September.

Even if all CO2 emissions stopped, the climate would continue to warm for several more centuries. Over thousands of years, the National Academy warns, this could unleash amplifying feedbacks leading to the disappearance of the polar ice sheets and other dramatic changes. In the meantime, the risk of catastrophic wild cards "such as the potential large-scale release of methane from deep-sea sediments" or permafrost, is impossible to quantify.

In this context, even if the solar-driven clean energy revolution had every success, we still need to remove carbon that has already accumulated in the atmosphere, to return the climate to safety.

The idea of removing carbon from the atmosphere sounds technologically difficult and insanely expensive. It's not. In reality, it is relatively simple and cheap.

A new book by Eric Toensmeier, a lecturer at Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, The Carbon Farming Solution, sets out in stunningly accessible fashion how 'regenerative farming' provides the ultimate carbon-sequestration solution.

Regenerative farming is a form of small-scale, localised, community-centred organic agriculture which uses techniques that remove carbon from the atmosphere, and sequester it in plant material or soil.

Using an array of land management and conservation practices, many of which have been tried and tested by indigenous communities, it's theoretically possible to scale up regenerative farming methods in a way that dramatically offsets global carbon emissions.

Toensmeier's valuable book discusses these techniques, and unlike other science-minded tomes, offers a practical toolkit for communities to begin exploring how they can adopt regenerative farming practices for themselves.

According to the Rodale Institute, the application of regenerative farming on a global scale could have revolutionary results:

Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term 'regenerative organic agriculture'… These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.

This has been widely corroborated. For instance, a 2015 study part-funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that "replacing chemical fertilizer with organic manure significantly decreased the emission of GHGs [greenhouse gases]. Yields of wheat and corn also increased as the soil fertility was improved by the application of cattle manure. Totally replacing chemical fertilizer with organic manure decreased GHG emissions, which reversed the agriculture ecosystem from a carbon source… to a carbon sink."

Governments are catching on, if slowly. At the Paris climate talks, 25 countries and over 50 NGOs signed up to the French government's '4 per 1000' initiative, a global agreement to promote regenerative farming as a solution for food security and climate disaster.

The Birth of Post-Capitalism

There can be no doubt, then, that by the end of this century, life as we know it on planet earth will be very different. Fossil fueled predatory capitalism will be dead. In its place, human civilization will have little choice but to rely on a diversity of clean, renewable energy sources.

Whatever choices we make this century, the coming generations in the post-carbon future will have to deal with the realities of an overall warmer, and therefore more unpredictable, climate. Even if regenerative processes are in place to draw down carbon from the atmosphere, this takes time -- and in the process, some of the damage climate change will wreak on our oceans, our forests, our waterways, our coasts, and our soils will be irreversible.

It could take centuries, if not millennia, for the planet to reach a new, stable equilibrium.

But either way, the work of repairing and mitigating at least some of the damage done will be the task of our childrens' children, and their children, and on.

Economic activity in this global society will of necessity be very different to the endless growth juggernaut we have experienced since the industrial revolution. In this post-carbon future, material production and consumption, and technological innovation, will only be sustainable through a participatory 'circular economy' in which scarce minerals and raw materials are carefully managed.

The fast-paced consumerism that we take for granted today simply won't work in these circumstances.

Large top-down national and transnational structures will begin to become obsolete due to the large costs of maintenance, the unsustainability of the energy inputs needed for their survival, and the shift in power to new decentralized producers of energy and food.

In the place of such top-down structures, smaller-scale, networked forms of political, social and economic organization, connected through revolutionary information technologies, will be most likely to succeed. For communities to not just survive, but thrive, they will need to work together, sharing technology, expertise and knowledge on the basis of a new culture of human parity and cooperation.

Of course, before we get to this point, there will be upheaval. Today's fossil fuel incumbency remains in denial, and is unlikely to accept the reality of its inevitable demise until it really does drop dead.

The escalation of resource wars, domestic unrest, xenophobia, state-militarism, and corporate totalitarianism is to be expected. These are the death throes of a system that has run its course.

The outcomes of the struggles which emerge in coming decades -- struggles between people and power, but also futile geopolitical struggles within the old centers of power (paralleled by misguided struggles between peoples) -- is yet to be written.

Eager to cling to the last vestiges of existence, the old centers of power will still try to self-maximize within the framework of the old paradigm, at the expense of competing power-centers, and even their own populations.

And they will deflect from the root causes of the problem as much as possible, by encouraging their constituents to blame other power-centers, or worse, some of their fellow citizens, along the lines of all manner of 'Otherizing' constructs, race, ethnicity, nationality, color, religion and even class.

Have no doubt. In coming decades, we will watch the old paradigm cannibalize itself to death on our TV screens, tablets and cell phones. Many of us will do more than watch. We will be participant observers, victims or perpetrators, or both at once.

The only question that counts is, amidst this unfolding maelstrom, are we going to join with others to plant the seeds of viable post-carbon societies for the next generations of human beings, or are we going to stand in the way of that viable future by giving ourselves entirely to defending our interests in the framework of the old paradigm?

Whatever happens over coming decades, the choices each of us make will ultimately determine the nature of what survives by the end of this pivotal transitional century.

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News Sat, 30 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Upton Sinclair and the Democrats' Dirty Tricks http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35818-upton-sinclair-and-the-democrats-dirty-tricks http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35818-upton-sinclair-and-the-democrats-dirty-tricks

Upton Sinclair, photographed in 1934.Upton Sinclair, photographed in 1934. (Photo: International)After decades of asserting his independence from the two capitalist parties in the U.S., one of the best-known socialists in the country registers as a Democrat to run in the party primaries. He campaigns on a program of pro-working class policies, taxing the rich and putting the unemployed to work. He wins mass support, with thousands of first-time voters coming out to cast a ballot for him.

No, this article isn't about Bernie Sanders. It's about Upton Sinclair, the famed muckraking author of The Jungle, The Flivver King and Oil!, who ran for governor of California as a Democrat in 1934 and won nearly 1 million votes. His frank left-wing message resonated amid the Great Depression, and he easily won the Democratic nomination to run for governor.

But what happened next is a telling example of how the Democratic Party actually works -- and of the lengths its leaders will go to keep the party from becoming a vehicle for a radical political program.

For more than three decades, Sinclair had been a best-selling author of such books as The Jungle, The Flivver King, The Brass Check and Oil! (the inspiration for the 2007 film There Will Be Blood). He was well known as a proponent of socialism and a member of the Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs -- he ran for elected office as a Socialist several times, including a 1930 campaign for California governor that won him 60,000 votes.

For the next campaign, Sinclair decided to run as a Democrat. In September 1933, he walked into City Hall in Beverly Hills, changed his party registration to Democrat and filed to run for governor of the state in the 1934 election. The next month, he published I, Governor of California, and How I Ended Poverty, a short book that stated his plan to "End Poverty in California" -- a program that came to be known by its acronym EPIC.

The EPIC program called for the state to take over closed factories and idle farmland, and turn them into cooperatives that would employ jobless workers and destitute farmers. Sinclair conceived of this network of cooperatives as the underpinning of a new economy based on "production for use." Other aspects of the EPIC program advanced more traditional reforms such as a guaranteed income and old-age pensions.

Sinclair's campaign came as the U.S. was near the low point of the Great Depression. Extreme class polarization and working-class militancy -- shown dramatically in the 1934 San Francisco general strike -- would shake the state's political system as well.

At the time, the Democratic Party in California was clearly the minority party. In the 1920s, the Republicans held a three-to-one voter registration advantage over the Democrats. As late as 1931, the Republicans held 12 of the state's 13 congressional and Senate seats and 111 of 120 seats in the legislature. In large parts of the state, the Democratic Party barely existed.

That began to change in 1932, when the national landslide election put Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the White House. The Democrats swept the Golden State. The House delegation flipped from 10-to-1 Republican to 11-to-9 Democrat, including nine new seats apportioned after the 1930 Census. Californians even elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate: William Gibbs McAdoo, a transplanted Southerner and corporate lawyer who had been U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Woodrow Wilson.

Still, the Democrats were institutionally weak and divided. Though first dismissing Sinclair's chances for 1934, party leaders realized too late that the socialist writer was serious. While they were still trying to figure out who among the Democratic regulars would run against him, the EPIC movement was signing up a slate of state legislative candidates to run with Sinclair.

Sinclair's I, Governor of California became the best-selling book in the state, and by the summer of 1934, as many as 800 EPIC clubs had sprung up around California. As James Gregory's introduction to a 1994 reprint of I, Governor described, Sinclair's EPIC campaign:

built up a political organization the likes of which California had never seen, before or since. Operating out of a huge headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, scores of volunteers coordinated the network of over 50 district organizations and nearly 800 EPIC clubs. In addition to the weekly newspaper, which in localized editions was distributed by the hundreds of thousands, the campaign operated speakers bureaus, research units, women's clubs, youth clubs and drama groups. It put on radio broadcasts, plays, rodeos, was making a film, and drew big crowds to a lavishly staged EPIC pageant that depicted the lessons of production for use. All this in addition to a heavy schedule of campaign speeches and rallies.

Sinclair himself described his campaign as "a spontaneous movement which has spread all over the state by the unpaid labor of tens of thousands of devoted workers. They were called amateurs, but they have put all the professional politicians on the shelf."

Eventually, Democratic leaders settled on George Creel, an uninspiring party apparatchik who had headed the office of wartime propaganda under Woodrow Wilson and more recently served as West Coast director for FDR's National Recovery Administration. Creel mocked Sinclair's supporters as followers of a cult, like that of the Southern California religious revivalist Aimee Semple McPherson.

Party leaders met at the Hollywood studios of the Warner brothers and subsequently told Roosevelt's (and the national Democratic Party's) patronage chief, Postmaster James Farley, what they wanted from the president. "Everyone out there wants you to come out against Sinclair," Farley told FDR. But Roosevelt officially (and shrewdly) refused to take sides in the party primary.

The result, delivered in August 1934, was an overwhelming victory for Sinclair. With more than 436,000 votes, he got more than all of his Democratic opponents combined, and more than the Republican incumbent Gov. Frank Merriam won in his primary. In fact, Sinclair's total was the highest ever attained in a primary election in California to that point.

Sinclair had profited from an EPIC-spearheaded voter registration drive that had added 350,000 voters to the Democratic rolls. By the time of the general election in November, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans for the first time in California history.

While Republicans and regular Democrats tried to belittle Sinclair's support as coming from bohemians and drifters, voting patterns showed that voting for the socialist came overwhelmingly from blue-collar areas, according to an analysis by University of Washington historian James Gregory.

Sinclair's strongest bases were the working-class neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and industrial suburbs like Lynwood, South Gate near LA, and the East Bay in the San Francisco Bay Area. Creel's core support lay in the middle-class "hill" areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Faced with this popular outpouring for Sinclair, the politicians who were used to running the state of California as they pleased recoiled in horror.

At a three-day meeting in September in Los Angeles, leading Republican businessmen -- convened by the movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, C.C. Teague of Sunkist and Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times -- mapped out a scorched-earth slander campaign against Sinclair. Hiring an advertising firm and mobilizing Hollywood behind them, they embarked on the first modern negative media campaign.

The anti-Sinclair smears knew no bounds. All but a few state newspapers became organs of anti-EPIC propaganda, running cartoons and editorials depicting a Sinclair government as either fascism or Russian-style collectivism. The Los Angeles Times ran a daily front-page feature highlighting decades-old Sinclair quotes -- many of them plucked from the dialogue of characters in his novels -- intended to show Sinclair as an enemy of God, family and country.

But the most effective propaganda in the campaign -- estimated by some to have cost as much as $10 million, a huge sum at the time -- were newsreels shown in movie theaters around the state. Mayer and his Hollywood friends, using actors and selectively edited interviews with "real people," created a series of these short films. Purporting to be objective reporting, they were, in fact, anti-EPIC propaganda.

The most effective showed "hoboes" and "bums" riding the rails to California, where they looked forward to living high off the hog in Sinclair's California. While complete fiction in every respect, the newsreels played into a standard attack line on EPIC -- that it would bring a deluge of the unemployed from across the country into the state.

While the right geared up its fear-and-smear campaign, the institutional Democratic Party deserted the man who had won its nomination fair and square. The businessmen and corporate lawyers who ran the state party decided they would rather lose the governorship than win it with a socialist heading the ticket -- so behind the scenes, they looked for any way they could to undermine Sinclair.

At the party's state convention in October, Sinclair, Democratic leaders staged a lovefest to emphasize party unity. Sinclair and his chief rival for the nomination, George Creel collaborated on a party platform, in which Sinclair dropped his plans for old-age pensions and repeal of the sales tax. As New York Times reporter George P. West wrote, "[Sinclair] has abandoned his plan to establish communal farms...and his project of state-owned and operated factories is now little more than a plan to aid the barter groups of unemployed."

Sinclair agreed to accept a regular Democrat, Sheridan Downey, as his running mate for lieutenant governor -- creating a ticket of "Uppie and Downey."

"We have put life into the old donkey," Sinclair told reporters after the convention.

Unfortunately, Sinclair was right about this. Democratic Party officials were happy to take the new voters and the enthusiasm that the Sinclair and EPIC had generated -- as long as they could sideline Sinclair and EPIC themselves, at least for the future, if not before the coming election.

Looking back more than 80 years, it's hard to say if Sinclair's campaign was so innocent about the ways of down-and-dirty politics that it didn't recognize what was happening. But in some way, that question is immaterial. Sinclair's campaign was forced into the same situation as other liberal Democratic insurgents -- as "true believers" championing the "party of the people," while the real leaders of the party actually have contempt for "the people."

While Sinclair and his supporters bent over backward to show their loyalty to the Democrats and the New Deal, the party leadership and apparatus -- at both the state level and the national level -- were willing to throw the election rather than let Sinclair win.

Some Democratic leaders and their money defected openly to the Republican, Frank Merriam. Others breathed life into the candidacy of Raymond L. Haight, the runner-up in the Republican primary who ran a third-party campaign in the general election as the nominee of the Commonwealth-Progressive parties.

In general, Democratic Party officials kept their distance from Sinclair. As Carey McWilliams reported in the New Republic:

Sinclair headquarters have announced speeches by Secretary [of the Interior Harold] Ickes and [liberal Republican] Senator [George W.] Norris, only to be embarrassed by subsequent refusals. [California's Democratic Sen. William Gibbs] McAdoo, the gallant, hides in Mexico while his law partner campaigns for Merriam; long before George Creel repudiated Sinclair his organization, to a man, was supporting the Republicans.

The anti-EPIC campaign even plastered McAdoo's description of EPIC as "utter and hopeless impracticality" on billboards across the state.

Sinclair thought he had one ace in the hole -- the popularity of President Roosevelt, then in the midst of putting in place New Deal social program.

Sinclair's campaign tried multiple times to win FDR's endorsement. In response to one request, Roosevelt's appointment secretary said the president would meet with Sinclair if Sinclair happened to come east -- but the condition for the meeting was that Sinclair not discuss politics or current events in California!

In September, Sinclair did get an audience with FDR at his home in Hyde Park, New York. Roosevelt, the master politician, met with Sinclair for two hours. Apparently convinced that he had the president's support for not only his campaign but his "production for use" plans, Sinclair emerged from the meeting "all smiles" for the press -- but he had agreed not to disclose what he and Roosevelt had discussed.

As it turned out, Roosevelt never endorsed Sinclair. And he never mentioned "production for use" during one of his radio "fireside chats" -- though Sinclair was convinced he'd won a promise from FDR to do just that. As leader of the Democrats, Roosevelt deployed the party's money and resources in support of other candidates around the country. Sinclair got a well-wishing form letter from James Farley.

Yet FDR's aloofness wasn't an indication of indifference toward the California election. On the contrary, FDR and his political operation were very much engaged -- in opposition to Sinclair.

A few weeks before the November election, a Democratic Party official, J.F.T. O'Connor, acting as an emissary from Roosevelt, visited Sinclair. O'Connor delivered the president's message: Sinclair should drop out of the race and support Haight. Sinclair refused. The next day, O'Connor met with Republican Gov. Merriam and promised him Democratic support in exchange for Merriam's endorsement of the New Deal.

The official rationale for this deal was protecting FDR's push to get a broad package of reforms, like the Social Security Act, through Congress. FDR couldn't afford the possibility that Sinclair would cost the Democrats seats in Congress, so he negotiated with Sinclair's Republican opponent.

At a time when all signs pointed toward a historic Democratic landslide in the midterm election, producing filibuster-proof majorities for the New Deal in both houses of Congress, this explanation stretched credibility. But it illustrated how the Democratic Party acts to police the boundaries of the "possible" in the American political system.

In the end, Merriam won the November election with 1.1 million votes. Sinclair got more than 879,000, and Haight won a little over 300,000 -- more than the margin of difference between the two main candidates.

Voters chose 27 pro-EPIC, pro-New Deal state legislators, including Augustus Hawkins and Jerry Voorhees, two future fixtures among liberal Democrats in Congress. That was certainly an achievement in a state that had been reliably Republican a few years before, but the sad fact is that a few years after 1934, EPIC was dismantled, and Sinclair had returned to writing.

As Greg Mitchell -- whose The Campaign of the Century is the definitive work on the anti-Sinclair campaign -- explained in a Nation magazine article:

Sinclair lost in November, but the inspiring success of his mass movement -- among other things, it basically created the liberal wing of the state's Democratic Party, which also endures to this day -- and its powerful influence on a wavering new president deserves close study.

It does indeed. One of those liberals, Culbert Olson, defeated Merriam in 1938 to become the first Democratic governor of the state in four decades. After compiling a record as a pro-labor reformer, Olson became a reluctant -- and then a committed -- supporter of FDR's policy of interning Japanese-Americans after the Pearl Harbor attacks of 1941 and the U.S. entry in the Second World War.

The EPIC campaign provided one of the more dramatic examples of the time-honored role of the Democratic Party: absorbing and taming populist movements. Watered-down pieces of EPIC's program found their way into the New Deal Democratic canon, but the political figures elected to state office in the fervor of the 1934 campaign later acclimated themselves to decades of work as loyal members of the party that had betrayed their leader.

As the Nation concluded after the 1934 election, Sinclair's loss showed "what will happen to any radical who attempts to challenge the existing order through the medium of an old-party machine." That's a lesson that the left will do well to remember today.

An essential source for this article was the website dedicated to EPIC as part of the "Mapping American Social Movements" project at the University of Washington.

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News Sat, 30 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Is Donald Trump's Rhetoric Reigniting Anti-Immigrant Legislation in Arizona? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35854-is-donald-trump-s-rhetoric-reigniting-anti-immigrant-legislation-in-arizona http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35854-is-donald-trump-s-rhetoric-reigniting-anti-immigrant-legislation-in-arizona

Amid a presidential election cycle marked by anti-immigrant rhetoric, we take a look at how the national campaigns are affecting state politics in Arizona. A number of anti-immigrant bills are currently making their way through the Arizona state Legislature. On Thursday, House lawmakers gave initial approval to a measure that would require undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes to serve maximum prison terms without the possibility of probation or early release. Other bills under consideration here would withhold money from sanctuary cities and bar state funds from being used to resettle refugees. Last month, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed another measure that requires undocumented people convicted of crimes to serve a longer portion of their prison sentences before they are turned over to immigration authorities for deportation. For more, we speak with Isabel Garcia, co-chair of Coalición de Derechos Humanos, or Coalition for Human Rights, based here in Tucson. She just retired from her post as Pima County legal defender last July after more than 22 years.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We're on the road in Tucson, Arizona. We turn now to the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the 2016 presidential race and how it could be impacting state policy right here in Arizona.

DONALD TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump speaking last June. Is his rhetoric now becoming policy? Here in Arizona, a number of anti-immigrant bills are making their way through the state Legislature. On Thursday, House lawmakers gave initial approval to a measure that would require undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes to serve maximum prison terms without the possibility of probation or early release. The bill has already passed the Arizona state Senate. Other bills under consideration here would withhold money from sanctuary cities and bar state funds from being used to resettle refugees. On March 30th, the Arizona governor, Doug Ducey, signed another measure that requires undocumented people convicted of crimes to serve a longer portion of their prison sentences before they're turned over to immigration authorities for deportation. Back in 2010, Arizona faced boycotts and national condemnation for its sweeping anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. But advocates say the state saw a lull in anti-immigration bills -- until Trump's rhetoric helped reignite the issue.

To talk more about the landscape here in Arizona, we're joined by Isabel Garcia. She's co-chair of Coalición de Derechos Humanos, or Coalition for Human Rights, based here in Tucson. She just retired from her post as Pima County legal defender last July after more than 22 years.

Great to have you with us, Isabel.

ISABEL GARCIA: Good to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: And unlike Bill O'Reilly a number of years ago when you went on, we will not shut off your mic as you speak.

ISABEL GARCIA: Good.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what's happening here in Arizona.

ISABEL GARCIA: Well, if you recall, I was with you in New York City a week before 1070 was signed back in 2010. And here we are again. The state, of course, has been the leader in anti-human measures to be applied to immigrants. And there was a lull after the boycotts. We've got to be very clear that the only reason that this Legislature stopped in 2011 was because of the boycotts. They were --

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who was pushing them.

ISABEL GARCIA: The boycotts were being organized by the communities all over Arizona -- in Phoenix, lots of organizing; here in Tucson, lots of organizing. And there were even politicians that called for a boycott of Arizona because of the repressive measures that were included within 1070.

AMY GOODMAN: Did corporations join in?

ISABEL GARCIA: Corporations were on the outside until 2011. 2010 is when it was signed. In 2011, they passed -- they had another bill that was about to pass. The night before passing, 60 CEOs of the top corporations in Arizona authored a letter and had it delivered to the Legislature that morning, telling them to stop it, that the boycotts had caused lots of damage here in Arizona, that they understood the issues, you know, cause problems, but that it was time to stop. So, yes, the 60 top companies in Arizona put a stop to it, after the fact. I'd like to say that they joined in our humanitarian concerns. They were not involved in that. They were involved with their bottom dollar.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what these laws are now that have passed parts of the Legislature.

ISABEL GARCIA: So, as you've stated, the one that is being the closest to being passed right now is the one that violates equal protection. In other words, saying that undocumented immigrants would face totally different range -- the same range of penalties, but would have to serve the maximum, not be allowed to be released in any kind of form, and would have to serve the maximum allowable. So if it's a misdemeanor, you know, punishable by six months, you get the six months. If you're punishable by five years, you would get the maximum. I don't see how that can pass constitutional muster.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's go to what the Arizona governor said. On March 30th, Governor Doug Ducey signed HB 2451, which requires undocumented people convicted of crimes to serve a longer portion of their prison sentences before they're turned over to immigration authorities for deportation. In a statement, Governor Ducey said in part, quote, "Public safety is the number one role of government, and in light of reports that criminals released early without serving their full sentence are committing crimes in our communities, we must stand for the rule of law." This is a different law.

ISABEL GARCIA: That is a different one, and that has been signed. This is a law that permits undocumented people to be considered for release after serving half of their term, if they have a final order of deportation. So nobody's staying in the community. And, of course, we cut -- through Governor Symington, we cut parole for other people to 85 percent, so already we're in -- causing mass incarceration. And now we had an opportunity with Mexicans to be deported after serving half their time. Now this new legislation is for people who are being charged right now. They would be convicted -- if they're convicted, they would have to serve the maximum allowable. They would not be allowed, you know, consideration for either probation or any kind of early release. Or let's say the judge wants to give you a minimum sentence; they would have to give them the maximum.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the killings by Border Patrol here in Arizona and how legislation SB 1070 plays a role.

ISABEL GARCIA: Well, 1070 plays a role in the fact that people are deported. Once people are whisked away -- you go to a school to leave your child, and all of a sudden you don't come back. Two hours later, you're in Mexico. We have cases where people, trying to come back, die in the desert. After being here 15 years, have [inaudible] died crossing back to be with his five children here in Tucson. So, the racism that has been engendered with 1070 --

AMY GOODMAN: And again, 1070 is?

ISABEL GARCIA: SB 1070 is the bill that we call "Show Me Your Papers, Please." Although the Supreme Court was wise enough to really reject other portions, they did not reject Section 2B, which says if a police officer has reasonable suspicion that you're in the country in violation of federal immigration laws, he or she can detain you. Now, the Supreme Court said they couldn't detain you longer than it takes to give you a ticket, but we have many cases where they detained them 40 minutes, 50 minutes, waiting for the police department. In other words, it's legalized racial profiling.

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News Fri, 29 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400
After Student Occupation, University of California at Davis Chancellor Is Put on Leave http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35853-after-student-occupation-university-of-california-at-davis-chancellor-is-put-on-leave http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35853-after-student-occupation-university-of-california-at-davis-chancellor-is-put-on-leave

This week, University of California President Janet Napolitano placed the chancellor of University of California, Davis, Linda Katehi, on investigatory administrative leave, pending an investigation into a number of infractions, including her decision to spend at least $175,000 to try to scrub the internet of criticism following the 2011 pepper-spraying of student protesters by campus police. The school made national headlines after the video showing police spraying seated students directly in the face at close range went viral. Earlier this spring, students at the University of California, Davis, occupied the office of Chancellor Katehi and staged a 36-day sit-in calling for her resignation, to protest her handling of student protests and allegations of conflicts of interest. Democracy Now! recently spoke with Parisa Esfahani and Kyla Burke, two of the students who took part in the sit-in.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are on the road in Tucson, Arizona, as part of our 100-city 20th anniversary tour. We begin today's show looking at student protests here in Arizona and in California. Earlier this spring, students at the University of California, Davis, occupied the office of school chancellor Linda Katehi for five weeks, calling for her resignation over her mishandling of student protests and allegations of conflicts of interest. Well, this week the students won a victory of sorts, as the University of California President Janet Napolitano placed Katehi on administrative leave, pending an investigation into a number of infractions, including allegations of nepotism and her decision to spend at least $175,000 to try to scrub the internet of criticism following the 2011 pepper-spraying of student protesters by campus police. The school made national headlines after this video showed police spraying students directly in the face at point-blank range.

PROTESTERS: Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students!

AMY GOODMAN: In 2012, the University of California reached a $1 million settlement with 21 protesters who were pepper-sprayed. Earlier this month, The Sacramento Bee reported that the UC Davis, University of California, Davis, paid consultants $175,000 to improve its online image, in part by scrubbing negative search results related to the pepper-spray incident. That news came to light while students were occupying the office of Linda Katehi. Well, I was recently on the campus of UC Davis, on this 100-city tour, and spoke to two of the students involved in the five-week sit-in.

PARISA ESFAHANI: My name is Parisa Esfahani. I'm a fourth-year at UC Davis studying women and gender studies, Middle East and South Asian studies. I was a part of the 36-day sustained sit-in of the fifth floor of Mrak Hall, where the chancellor's office is. We left on Friday. I was there because there are serious concerns that not just us that sustained that sit-in, but many students have, but never feel empowered to voice on our campus. We pay a hefty tuition to be at this school. We are supposed to be the voices and the faces of the university. It's an institution of education, but it's become an institution of money making and lack of accountability. And we want our voices to be on the front. And it's become -- oh, we're tired. We're tired of like wondering why that's not happening, and we're tired of the normalization of the privatization of the university, and we're tired of the kind of campaign that the university runs.

PROTESTERS: Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Linda Katehi's got to go! Hey, hey!

KYLA BURKE: My name is Kyla Burke. I'm a fifth-year environmental science and management student at UC Davis. We were calling for the resignation of Katehi and for the process to be changed and democratized so students and workers have an active say in who runs their university. We're calling Katehi to resign for -- there's a lot of reasons. Recently, there were the three moonlighting scandals that came out, with her working for DeVry and Wiley & Sons textbook and King Abdulaziz University, which all, for different reasons, represent conflict of interest or unethical decisions to work for them. But it's not only that. There's a long history of Katehi messing up, going back to 2011 and the pepper-spray incident. Personally, I thought she should have resigned then. But since then, as a student here, I've just watched a pattern of administration messing up and not being held accountable. And we wanted to change that and to be involved.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the latest issue that was uncovered by The Sacramento Bee?

KYLA BURKE: Yeah. So the latest -- the latest issue that The Sacramento Bee discovered was that the university had spent $175,000 to try and wipe references to the pepper spray and to Katehi off the internet. And it really shows how concerned -- what their concerns are, with like protecting administration and maintaining good PR, and not actually holding anyone accountable or making the changes, after that kind of incident, they should have.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what happened in November of 2011?

KYLA BURKE: Yeah. In November of 2011, students were peacefully protesting tuition hikes in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. And they were in the Quad, and the university decided they wanted to remove them. And so, Officer Pike pepper-sprayed students at point-blank range.

AMY GOODMAN: This was the Davis police officer.

KYLA BURKE: A Davis -- UC Davis police officer, I believe.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to Officer Pike?

KYLA BURKE: Officer Pike actually received more compensation than the students that were pepper-sprayed, for emotional distress from the incident. So, yeah, I believe he got like --

AMY GOODMAN: How much did the students get?

KYLA BURKE: I think they got --

PARISA ESFAHANI: Somewhere between $11,000 -- like $20,000 each.

KYLA BURKE: And he got $38,000.

PARISA ESFAHANI: Was that it?

KYLA BURKE: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And is he there any longer?

KYLA BURKE: No, he no longer works for the school.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you end the sit-in at the administration offices?

KYLA BURKE: So, we had been in the sit-in for five weeks, and we had reached the point where we thought it was time to do something new. We had done a lot by that point. It had -- it was like an in-depth activist training. Everyone who was in there, we created a community and solidarity, and learned a lot about like how to organize and how to work together. And we had brought a lot of national attention. I doubt The Sacramento Bee would have been putting in those records requests and finding out that information, if there wasn't a 36-day sit-in going on to bring that kind of media attention in. So we thought it was a good point to leave and to try something different and to continue our protest in new ways. We didn't -- we don't see it so much as an end as the beginning of a new phase.

PARISA ESFAHANI: And now we need to build our relationship to the rest of the student body, because there's still -- most students don't know what's happening. They didn't know that we were in Mrak for five weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: How many of you were there?

KYLA BURKE: So, there was about like, total, I would say about like a hundred students that were involved. There were about 40 students who were like sleeping there regularly and doing shifts in Mrak. I don't know. I'm not great with like guessing numbers, but that's --

PARISA ESFAHANI: But our numbers -- like, those were people that showed up physically in the space. But on Facebook, for example, on social media, there were like over a thousand students from Davis who were in support of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain this first issue of the conflict of interest.

KYLA BURKE: Yeah, so, there are three like conflict of interests or unethical moonlighting positions that Katehi had. The first was with DeVry University, which she broke policy by taking it. She didn't get the approval that she was required to.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was that position?

KYLA BURKE: For --

PARISA ESFAHANI: Just on the board.

KYLA BURKE: On the board of DeVry University, which, additionally, DeVry University is being investigated by the federal government for like unethical practices and essentially lying to their students.

AMY GOODMAN: This a for-profit university?

KYLA BURKE: A for-profit university. And so, there was that. So it's like taking -- making the choice to be involved with that company that's being investigated for like unethical practices, for how it treats its students. And additionally, like, she broke the policy and didn't do what she was supposed to do and just did what she wanted to. And then there was Wiley & Sons textbook, which is a fairly obvious conflict of interest.

AMY GOODMAN: What did she do?

KYLA BURKE: She got a position on the board of Wiley & Sons textbook, which is --

PARISA ESFAHANI: They're all board positions.

KYLA BURKE: They're all board positions, yeah -- which is a textbook company, which is a fairly obvious conflict of interest, because what's in the best interest of the students is lower textbook prices, and what's in the best interest of that company is not. And UCs are like one of their biggest customers, and prices went up while she worked for them. So...

PARISA ESFAHANI: Specifically, UC -- John Wiley & Sons is -- UC Davis is John Wiley & Sons' biggest client. And there is another conflict of interest in that Chancellor Katehi's husband is a professor in chemistry, I believe, and his class used John Wiley & Sons textbooks last quarter. So she's serving on the board, and he's making his students get those textbooks. That's a pretty clear -- yeah.

KYLA BURKE: And then, additionally, there was King Abdulaziz University, which is a Saudi Arabian university, that was essentially buying citations. They were paying like prominent professors at universities to, like, include them on their papers, so that they would be -- like, show up as working there. So it went from a university that no one had ever heard of to being ranked above MIT in one year, which, as like a prominent research university, that's like an unethical research practice. So...

AMY GOODMAN: And what did Chancellor Katehi have to do with that?

KYLA BURKE: She was on the board of that, as well, she said, to bring diversity to the school, although we couldn't figure out what that exactly meant.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Parisa Esfahani and Kyla Burke, two students at UC Davis who took part in a recent 36-day sit-in calling for UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi to resign.

On Wednesday, the University of California President Janet Napolitano placed Katehi on administrative leave. In a statement, she said, quote, "Information has recently come to light that raises serious questions about whether Chancellor Katehi may have violated several University of California policies, including questions about the campus's employment and compensation of some of the chancellor's immediate family members, the veracity of the chancellor's accounts of her involvement in contracts related to managing both the campus's and her personal reputation on social media, and the potential improper use of student fees. The serious and troubling nature of these questions, as well as the initial evidence, requires a rigorous and transparent investigation." Those, again, the words of UC President Janet Napolitano, who is the former governor of Arizona.

In a statement released earlier today, student protesters said, quote, "The collective efforts of UC Davis students, faculty, staff, and community members are responsible for yielding this result. It is crucial to note that it was not Janet Napolitano, or University of California Office of the President, who led us to this moment of justice, but our uncollapsing spirit and belief in political protest," they said. The letter goes on to say, quote, "Katehi is but a cog in the UC machine. We are aiming to scrap the prototype and create a new system that both works for and is run by students, faculty, workers, and the community at large. Until system-wide change takes place, our demonstrations will continue," they wrote.

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News Fri, 29 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Will Pennsylvania Cut Oil and Gas Air Pollution? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35849-will-pennsylvania-cut-oil-and-gas-air-pollution http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35849-will-pennsylvania-cut-oil-and-gas-air-pollution

Oil and gas field residents ask important questions, such as "Are the wells and facilities polluting the air?" and "Is that why I'm sick?" Unfortunately, industry representatives and some elected officials often give dismissive answers, like "Natural gas is clean" and "There's only anecdotal evidence of health problems."

Well, hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and much community air testing later, it's getting harder to hide an essential fact: oil and gas development causes air (and water) pollution and harms health. Increasingly, there's also visual evidence, thanks to infrared cameras that make pollution invisible to the naked eye, visible to the world.

On April 28, Earthworks released a video that clearly demonstrates why stronger protections against oil and gas air pollution are needed. It shares the stories of three Pennsylvania residents living with wells, compressor stations, and pipelines. David Brown of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project also weighs in on the risks of exposure to air pollution.  

Earthworks created the video as part of a broad effort with partner organizations to secure state and federal protections against oil and gas air pollution. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced a proposal to curb methane emissions from gas wells, equipment, and processing and transmission facilities. The state clearly has a problem: in 2014 alone, oil and gas producers reported releasing 100,000 metric tons of methane pollution, enough to heat nearly 65,000 homes.

Addressing methane also means curbing a host of health-harming pollutants released along with it. There's nitrogen oxide, which causes smog and in turn respiratory problems, as well as hazardous substances such as benzene, a known carcinogen, and toluene, which is related to kidney and liver problems. And at 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, methane reductions are necessary to combat climate change.

"As a mother living with fracking in my community, I'm deeply concerned about the impacts that air pollution from shale gas development has on the health of children -- who are particularly vulnerable, as they are still developing," says Patrice Tomcik of the Mars Parent Group in Butler County. "Harmful pollution can be emitted during all stages of gas development. My children and all families living near existing gas development will benefit from cutting methane along with toxic co-pollutants. Pennsylvania's children deserve a healthy environment today and for years to come."

It remains to be seen when Pennsylvania's methane proposals will be finalized, what they will accomplish, and the degree to which operators will be held accountable for the pollution they cause. Strong public involvement will be necessary to ensure that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issues binding measures covering both existing and new sources of pollution and a wide range of processes and facilities, and is empowered with the staff and resources needed to enforce them. 

The oil and gas industry and some Pennsylvania legislators are currently hoping to derail popular well site regulations that have been in the works for over four years. They could try to do the same and stop any new air pollution rules as well -- which is why there's no time to waste in taking action.

"The gas and oil industry likes to paint communities and the people that speak out against environmental violations, half truths, and health impacts as radicals," says Lois Bower-Bjornson of Washington County, PA. "I ask you, who are the radicals? The oil and gas industry is being allowed to radically alter our lives, properties, and health forever. It's high time the state takes action." 

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News Fri, 29 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Pragmatic Impacts of Bernie Sanders' Big Dreams http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35848-the-pragmatic-impacts-of-bernie-sanders-big-dreams http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35848-the-pragmatic-impacts-of-bernie-sanders-big-dreams

US Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks at a town hall at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, on January 25, 2016. (Photo: Alex Hanson)US Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks at a town hall at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, on January 25, 2016. (Photo: Alex Hanson)

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination has pitted a dreamer against a realist, right? Bernie Sanders is the unrealistic one, and Hillary Clinton, the pragmatist, is the candidate who can get things done.

That's what many pundits say. But, even with Tuesday's setbacks to the Sanders campaign, it's worth examining which is actually unrealistic -- Bernie's pledge to make the country more equitable and sustainable? Or Hillary's progressive talking points, given her deep ties to corporate power players?

One way to see if Sanders really is a dreamer is to look at his record as mayor of the city of Burlington, Vermont.

As a candidate for mayor in 1980, Sanders focused on economic fairness just as he does today, and then, too, he was dismissed as a fringe candidate. He squeaked into office, winning by just 10 votes. But he was re-elected three times, each time by a larger margin. His accomplishments won over even many of his early opponents, according to professors and authors Peter Dreier and Pierre Clavel, writing in The Nation. And six years into his term, US News and World Report named him one of the top mayors in the country.

When Sanders took office, he quickly became known as a pragmatist. At the time, rising rents threatened to displace lower-income residents. Sanders supported and helped fund the housing groups that later become the Champlain Housing Trust, which, at about 2,800 units, is now the largest, and reportedly the most successful, land trust in the country. The land trust buys and builds single-family homes and apartments, then sells or rents the homes, but holds on to the land so that the homes remain permanently affordable.

Even more than housing, the economy was a major focus of the Sanders administration, and his approach differed from that in most US cities. Instead of competing with other cities to attract big corporations, his administration supported and encouraged local businesses.

The city helped Seventh Generation, a cleaning products company, start up in the 1980s; the company now has $300 million in annual sales.

Will Raap's Gardener's Supply Co., is another case in point. With Sanders' encouragement, Raap moved his company to the site of an old dump in the Intervale area of Burlington. There, the company used leftover heat from a nearby wood-waste-fired generating plant to heat its greenhouses. Over time, and with city support, Raap, the Intervale Center, and others cleared the junk from the land, launched a major composting operation, and formed an incubator where would-be farmers could try their hand at growing food. Now, that original dumpsite has been restored to fertile land, and 12 urban farms are located there, supplying 10 percent of the food sold in Burlington, according to The Nation. And Gardener's Supply, still located in Burlington, has grown to a 250-person, worker-owned business.

Sanders left office in 1989, but the policies and partnerships he created continue to shape the city. Today, Burlington's unemployment rate is 2.6 percent -- the lowest of any city in the United States. Kiplinger's Personal Finance named Burlington one of its "great places to live" in 2013.

Skeptics say Sanders would be unable to get any of his agenda through a recalcitrant Congress. But the US Congress has an approval rating of just 14 percent, according to an April CBS poll, while Sanders, according to an Atlantic/PRRI poll, has the highest favorability rating of any current presidential candidate, at 47 percent. If he's elected, members of Congress might find they will need to either get on his bandwagon or get voted out.

Pundits and establishment politicians like to call visionary candidates unrealistic. If bringing in big campaign contributions from lobbyists and support from political insiders is what makes a candidate realistic, then Sanders falls behind. But if what counts are low unemployment and high quality of life, then Sanders' approach hits the pragmatic target.

The stage is set for a big change, even if Sanders ends his candidacy. His example of working for the common good and his willingness to stand up to corporate interests resonate with Americans, nearly 2 million of whom have contributed to the Sanders campaign. His success shows that an authentic populist can raise money, win races, take office, and, in collaboration with constituents, make real change.

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News Fri, 29 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0400