11 million. That's the estimated number of people living in the US who are undocumented. During his first weeks in office President Donald Trump signed orders to build a border wall, ban travel from countries with largely Muslim populations, and deny federal funds to sanctuary cities and states. In this show we'll look to previous administrations to see how they treated people who were undocumented, and how immigrant movements of the past responded. Special thanks to the Beacon journalism crowdfunding platform, and all the individuals who contributed to our campaign for our Immigrants and Elections coverage. Thanks also to the Berwick-Degel Family foundation.
- Father Richard Estrada, Sanctuary Movement
- Angelica Salas, Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)
- Mizue Aizeki, Deputy Director of the Immigrant Defense Project
- Ghita Schwarz, Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights
- Carlos Alvarez, Education and Immigration Activist
Ordinary US taxpayers are subsidizing excessive CEO pay through a variety of channels. These five reforms could help end these perverse incentives for executive excess. (Photo: Pixabay)
1. Close the "Performance Pay" Loophole
The more corporations pay their executives, the less they pay in federal taxes, thanks to a tax code loophole that lets corporations deduct unlimited amounts of executive compensation from their taxable income -- as long as they label the pay "performance-based." This loophole stems from a 1993 Clinton administration reform meant to address widespread public outrage over runaway CEO pay. The reform -- Section 162(m) of the federal tax code -- placed a $1 million cap on the deductibility of executive compensation. But by exempting "performance pay," the reform invited an explosion of executive compensation in the form of deductible stock options, performance shares, and other bonuses designed to meet the exemption criteria.
A recent Institute for Policy Studies analysis has found that America's top 20 banks paid out more than $2 billion in fully deductible performance bonuses to their top five executives between 2012 and 2015, a windfall that translates into a taxpayer subsidy worth more than $725 million, or $1.7 million per executive per year.
Senators Jack Reed and Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Lloyd Doggett have recently introduced the Stop Subsidizing Multimillion Dollar Corporate Bonuses Act (S. 82 and HR 399), which would eliminate the "performance pay" loophole. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates this legislation would generate $50 billion over 10 years.
2. Limit Tax-Deferred Compensation
Most CEOs at large companies now legally shield unlimited amounts of compensation from taxes through special deferred accounts set up by their employers. In these accounts, their money can grow tax-free until they withdraw it. By contrast, ordinary taxpayers face strict limits on how much income they can defer from taxes via 401(k) plans.
A December 2016 Institute for Policy Studies report found that Fortune 500 CEOs have nearly $3 billion in these special tax-deferred compensation accounts. In 2015 alone, these CEOs saved $92 million on their annual tax bill by putting $238 million more in these accounts than they could have if they were subject to the same rules as other workers.
A University of Virginia Law School analysis points out that corporations also have a tax incentive to encourage executives to defer their compensation because the $1 million cap on deductibility of non-performance-based compensation (see #1 above) no longer applies after an executive has retired or otherwise ended their employment.
In 2007, the Senate passed a minimum wage bill that would have limited annual executive pay deferrals to $1 million, but the provision was dropped in conference committee.
3. Link Tax Rates to CEO-Worker Pay Ratios
In December 2016, Portland, Oregon adopted the first-ever tax penalty on corporations with extremely wide gaps between their CEO and worker pay. Such gaps, supporters of the new tax point out, both contribute substantially to our overall economic inequality and undercut enterprise effectiveness. Portland has had a 2.2 percent business license tax. Under the city's new business tax policy, companies with CEO-worker pay ratios of more than 100-to-1 will pay a 10 percent surtax on their business license tax liability. Companies with ratios of more than 250-to-1 will pay a 25 percent surtax. Revenue from the surtaxes will go for homeless services. For more information, see this IPS fact sheet. Elected officials in Rhode Island and San Francisco are moving ahead with similar proposals.
At the federal level, the CEO Accountability and Responsibility Act (H.R. 6242), introduced in 2015, would increase tax rates on companies with larger than a 100-to-1 ratio, while giving a slight tax rate break to companies whose CEO-to-worker ratios fall below 50-to-1. These efforts build on Dodd-Frank Section 953b, which requires annual reporting of the ratio between CEO and median worker pay and is scheduled to go into effect starting with 2017 pay figures.
Meanwhile, defenders of overpaid CEOs have been working to protect executives from this potentially embarrassing information. In the past few congressional sessions, Republicans have called for repeal of the pay ratio disclosure rule, citing absurdly inflated compliance costs generated by corporate lobby groups. Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga, now chair of the House Financial Services subcommittee on capital markets, has led the crusade against this regulation. In the last two sessions, he introduced bills for repeal (H.R.414 in the 114th session and H.R.1135 in the 113th).
In 2016 Huizenga introduced an amendment to prohibit the SEC from enforcing the disclosure rule. On the Senate side, Mike Rounds also introduced a repeal bill (S.1722) in the last session. The broader Republican proposal to roll back Wall Street reforms, the Financial CHOICE Act, would also repeal this pay ratio provision.
Just this week, Michael Piwowar, the acting chair of the SEC, re-opened public comment on the pay ratio rule and said he may ask staff to review it. Piwowar expressed his intense opposition to the disclosure rule when the Commission voted on it in 2015.
4. Close the Carried Interest Loophole
This loophole allows private equity and hedge fund managers to pay a 20 percent capital gains rate on the bulk of their income, rather than the 39.6 percent ordinary income rate. As a result, some of the wealthiest Americans pay taxes at lower rates than millions of teachers, firefighters, and nurses. Many tax and finance experts from across the political spectrum argue that the profit share -- commonly known as "carried interest" -- investment fund managers now receive amounts to pay for services rendered and should not be treated as capital gains.
The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that closing this loophole would generate $15.6 billion over 10 years. Other tax experts predict far larger amounts. Polls show a strong majority of Americans are opposed to this unfair loophole -- by 68 to 17 percent, according to Bloomberg News, and by 68 to 28 percent, according to Hart Research Associates. Democratic reform proposals have passed the House several times, only to fail in the Senate. The Carried Interest Fairness Act of 2015 (HR 2889/S 1689) represents the latest such effort.
Lawmakers are also pursuing actions to close the loophole at the state level through surtaxes on investment management fees. Connect legislators introduced such a bill on January 31, 2017 and their counterparts have introduced or are considering introducing such proposals in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island as part of a regionally coordinated effort.
5. End the Stock Option Accounting Double Standard
Current accounting rules allow companies to claim deductions for stock options that run much higher than the option value they report in their financial statements. The high deduction claim saves corporations on their taxes. The low valuation reported on financial statements inflates profits and raises share values, numbers that pump up executive "performance" rewards. In the 113th Congress Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) included a provision in the Cut Unjustified Tax Loopholes Act (S. 268) that would require corporations to value options for tax purposes no greater than their financial statement book expense. In 2011, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated this reform would raise $24.6 billion over 10 years.
Gerardo handed the colorful baston de mando to Carlos, following the Andean tradition of passing wood staffs representing authority from old to new representatives. The Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas (Andean Network of Indigenous Organizations), which goes by the acronym CAOI, is little known and the inauguration ceremony of its new council went almost unnoticed. That day, all eyes were turned to another less colorful presidential inauguration in Washington DC. CAOI's new council members were elected at the organization's Fourth Congress last November and started a three-years mandate this January 20, 2017.
CAOI was created in 2006 as an umbrella organization that represents the indigenous organizations across the Andean highlands. It comprises the largest indigenous organizations from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru: the Confederation of Kichwa Peoples of Ecuador (ECUARUNARI), the Organization of Indigenous Nationalities of Colombia (ONIC), Bolivia's National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), and the National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining in Peru (CONACAMI). Although it is a pan-Andean organization, some lowlands communities are members because of their affiliation with national organizations, like for instance the Wayuu people in Colombia.
The newly elected council follows CAOI's norm of two elected delegates per country: two from Bolivia, two from Peru, two from Ecuador, and two from Colombia. However, it is the first time that the council has an equal presence of women and men delegates.
The two head coordinators are Carlos Pérez Guartambel (ECUARUNARI / Ecuador) and Toribia Lero Quispe (CONAMAQ / Bolivia). He is a Kichwa-Kañari lawyer engaged in the defense of water against extractive industries in Ecuador. She is a historic activist in the reconstitution of ayllus, a political unit based on an enlarged family dating back to Inka times that remains a powerful signifier of self-determination in Bolivia.
The other six delegates hold specific agendas. Yaneth del Pilar Suarez (ONIC/ Colombia) is the human rights coordinator. Armando Valbuena Woriyu coordinates economics issues and Andean reciprocity (ONIC / Colombia). Tata Javier Lara Lara (Bolivia / CONAMAQ) articulates continental relations among indigenous and social organizations. Rosa Elena Jerez Masaquiza (CONAIE / Ecuador) oversees youth issues and Blandina Contrearas Yances (CIAP / Peru) women, family, and intergenerational issues. Mario Palacios Yanes (CIAP /Peru) manages communication.
CAOI's two former coordinators maintain a foot in the organization. Gerardo Jumí Tapias (ONIC /Colombia) stays as CAOI's observer in Colombia's peace process. Benito Calixto Guzmán (Peru) continues his coordination of the Indigenous Forum of Abya Yala, which gathers six leading organizations from Central and South America--COICA, ONIC, the Continental Network of Indigenous Women (ECMIA), the Indigenous Council of Central America (CICA), the Indigenous Council of Meso-America (CIMA), and the Network of Indigenous Women for biodiversity.
Indigenous Women Ahead of the Curve?
CAOI's first election counted only one female delegate, and today's gender equal council shows the significance of women's political contributions. Benito Calixto Guzmán, CAOI's former co-coordinator, says that women are ahead of the curve in indigenous politics, pointing at the organizing capacity of the Continental Network of Indigenous Women (ECMIA) and the Network of Indigenous Women for biodiversity within the Indigenous Forum of the Abya Yala.
But Toribia warns that it was not always so, and that women's presence is still fragile.
For long, there were no space for indigenous women to participate in an autonomous manner in formal politics. Toribia recalls being one of the few indigenous women participating in indigenous activism since the early 1980s. For instance, the reconstitution of the ayllus was a broad political project based on territory that protected culture and identity as tools of political representation. But there were very few indigenous women visible in this process, and she mostly interacted with those who joined women organizations like Bartolina Sisa.
For Toribia, the challenge is to consolidate indigenous women's ability to occupy spaces of political participation with decision making power. She inherited her political activism from her mother, and hopes to create the conditions for many more indigenous women to gain political decision-making power. "It has not been easy to enter political spaces," she says, "but here we are. We must keep on expanding our presence." She wants to give continuity to struggles for self-determination that consolidate women's authority. She aspires to combine the voices, struggles and dreams of indigenous women from the highlands and the lowlands to be part of global conversations about climate change.
Although women are pleased with CAOI's gender equal cabinet, they know how much work awaits them. During his inauguration speech, Carlos said that the extractive industries were not developing anybody if they destroyed territories and justified dispossession. Toribia, in turn, emphasized the notion of co-responsibility with mother earth. "It's not only about making women visible in politics, it's about changing existing structures of participation", said Toribia. She believes that women can push for a paradigm shift: "some of our brothers work for the mining companies, negotiate territoriality with the government… But our territories are not negotiable; they are about life and death to us; they are food security."
Indigenous Diplomacy as Self-Determination
CAOI's former council engaged in international diplomacy, and the prior coordinators consider the organization more equipped than ever to participate in global forums, given that it now has a consultative status at the United Nations.
The new council is already preparing to attend UN meetings. Toribia and Rosa are registered to attend the UN commission on the status of women in March. Carlos plans to testify at the UN commission on racial discrimination. Then, the entire council hopes to attend the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues that takes place every May in New York City.
Yet international diplomacies are not sufficient and this council is equally committed to defending struggles for self-determination in the Andes. The new coordinators hope to support claims for prior and informed consultation for extractive projects on indigenous territories. They want to shed light on the criminalization of indigenous resistance, the use of legal warfare, and the assassinations that silence indigenous authorities defending collective rights.
Water has already become one of CAOI's core agendas. Less than a month after their inauguration, council members gathered for their first meeting in Cuenca, Ecuador, to attend a summit on water and pachamama (mother earth) organized by ECUARUNARI. Nearly 800 people attended the summit, and local communities took the CAOI council on a visit of their territories. The event inspired Toribia to organize a similar summit in the Bolivian highlands later this year.
This first year in office will also present major challenges, since CAOI's responsibilities include not only to attend but also to organize international meetings for indigenous diplomacies. One of CAOI's responsibilities is to help organize the Continental Summits of Indigenous Peoples of the Abya Yala. These continental summits takes place every three years, and the sixth edition was planned to happen in Honduras in October 2017. However, the assassinations of various indigenous leaders including Bertha Cáceres have severely undermined local organizational capacity, creating a leadership vacuum in Central America. This means the summit needs to be re-articulated, perhaps relocated.
The Andes has a solid legacy of indigenous politics. Now its umbrella organization faces a call for support way beyond its regional scope.
Data on workplace discrimination in 2016 has been released, and the numbers are grim. Across the board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that discrimination complaints rose yet again, and disability-based discrimination appears to be steadily increasing.
This is bad news for America's disability community, which simply wants equal access to a fair, respectful workplace -- just like everyone else.
A little over 30 percent of charges in 2016 involved cases of disability discrimination, despite the fact that disabled people only make up about 20 percent of the population and a very small percentage of the workforce.
Just 17.5 percent of disabled people were employed in 2015, the most recent year with available statistics. This low number occurs for a variety of reasons. Some can't work or aren't interested in working, while some must remain unemployed to retain benefits. And others very much want to work, but can't find jobs.
Disabled people who are employed tend to be more likely to work in low-wage settings, especially temporary or part-time jobs that may not offer benefits or stability.
And this is where employment discrimination comes in -- many disabled people report trouble getting interviews and being hired and fear their disability status may be a factor.
At work, people may be subjected to harassment, denials of accommodation, retaliation, refusal to grant promotions and other forms of discrimination. Employers and managers may have a variety of reasons for discriminating against disabled employees, including a belief that they aren't as capable, doubts about their intelligence or the idea that hiring them is an act of charity or kindness, rather than a business decision.
Some disabled people may also face discrimination based on other aspects of who they are, and that makes things even more complicated. For example, disabled people of color are at increased risk of discrimination, especially if they're women. Likewise, disabled LGBQT people can have trouble finding and retaining work. This may mean facing multiple forms of discrimination at the same time, making it difficult to untangle the origins of an employer's discriminatory practices.
Of the 28,073 charges brought in 2016, the EEOC found evidence of discrimination in 5,680 and collected $131 million in penalties. The agency's robust enforcement of workplace discrimination often relies on finding patterns and processing cases together. Thus, some legitimate cases of discrimination may have fallen through the cracks.
The rise in disability-related EEOC charges may be attributable to several different factors. It's possible that workplace discrimination targeting disabled people is simply increasing, but that's likely not the whole story.
Some people may feel more confident about identifying and reporting discrimination than they did in the past, believing that they're more likely to be heard when they file complaints. It's also possible that a small uptick in the disability employment rate could account for the increase in discrimination charges.
This data does show that workplaces clearly have room for progress in terms of identifying and reducing discrimination against disabled employees. For some, training to provide information about working with disabled people and the benefits they bring to the workplace -- while also familiarizing managers with the law -- may be helpful.
Adding disability to diversity and inclusion efforts both internally and externally may also help. After all, working from within to address potential sources of discrimination can make workplaces more disability-friendly.
House Speaker Paul Ryan arrives back at his office for a meeting at the Capitol in Washington, January 9, 2017. Republicans are rigging the system to transfer tens of billions of dollars a year from ordinary workers to their rich friends. (Photo: Al Drago / The New York Times)
We all know how hard it is to be rich. After all, it takes a lot of money to keep up multiple homes, pay for first class air travel, expensive cars and the like. For this reason, most people would naturally support a Republican plan to make workers pay higher fees on their retirement accounts so that the Wall Street crew is better able to maintain their standard of living.
Unfortunately, this is not a joke. One of the major problems facing workers today is the inability to save for retirement. Traditional defined benefit pensions are rapidly disappearing. Roughly half the workforce now has access to a 401(k) defined contribution plan at their workplace, but we know that these generally are not providing much support in retirement.
Most workers manage to accumulate little money in these accounts over the span of their working career. Part of this is due to the fact that they often change jobs. They may go several years without being able to contribute to a 401(k) plan at their workplace. And they often cash out the money that they saved in a plan when they leave a job.
In addition, many of these plans charge high fees. This is often overlooked by workers since the financial companies operating the plans usually don't like to advertise their fees. The average fee is close to 1.0 percent of the money saved, with many charging fees of 1.5 percent of higher.
If this sounds like a small matter, imagine that you were able to save $100,000 in a 401(k). That would put you way ahead of most workers, since the median accumulation among the 60 percent of the workforce who have 401(k)s was just $26,000 in 2015, but $100,000 is certainly a plausible amount for a worker earning $60,000 a year.
A fee of 1 percent means that this worker is giving $1,000 a year to the financial industry. If they are paying 1.5 percent, then they are giving the financial industry $1,500 a year. But this is not a single year story. Suppose you average $100,000 in your account over a 20-year period. You might have handed over $30,000 to a bank, brokerage house or insurance company for basically nothing. Feel good now?
Several states, most notably Illinois and California, are in the process of opening up their public retirement plans to workers in the private sector to allow people to save without giving so much money to the financial industry. Under this plan, workers in private firms would have the option to contribute to a state managed system.
This would have the advantage of keeping the same plan even as someone changed jobs and the fees would be far lower. Instead of fees of 1 to 1.5 percent, workers would likely be seeing fees in the range of 0.2 to 0.3 percent. Did I mention this was voluntary?
Okay, so we're talking about giving workers the option to save for their own retirement in individual accounts. If the Republican Party stood for anything other than giving money to rich people, this would be it.
But the Republicans are up in arms against making it easier for workers to save. Paul Ryan and his gang are planning to deny states the right to offer such plans. The trick they are using is in a ruling by the Labor Department which gives the individual employers exemptions from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements when their workers contribute to the state sponsored plan. The ERISA requirements are designed to ensure that an employer operating a pension plan for their workers is doing proper bookkeeping and is handling the money appropriately.
In this case, it doesn't make sense for the ERISA rules to apply to individual employers since all they are doing is sending a check for their workers' contributions to the state-operated system. The individual employer plays zero role in what happens to the money.
This is the reason the Labor Department ruled last year that ERISA did not apply to individual employers who had workers taking part in the state-sponsored system. It is this ruling that Paul Ryan's gang wants to reverse. They argue, incredibly, that workers need safeguards with their savings and that the government must have oversight over employers sending checks to the state system.
This one is too ridiculous even for Washington politics. Everyone knows that there is nothing the Republicans in Congress hate more than government regulations that protect workers. This is why they were so anxious to repeal the fiduciary rule requiring financial advisers to act in the interest of their clients. This is why they want to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The story here is about as simple as it gets. Republicans' buddies in the financial industry will lose a lot of money if workers can put their money in these state-sponsored retirement systems instead of having to rely on their rip-off outfits. The Republicans are rigging the system to transfer tens of billions of dollars a year from ordinary workers to their rich friends. The only principle here is giving more money to the rich.
The Rock Islands of Palau. Palau is on the front lines of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). (Photo: August Rode / Flickr)
Global temperatures rose 0.4°C in the last three years and the impacts are evident on the small island nation of Palau in the Western Pacific. As vehement climate deniers took over the US government, the "Doomsday Clock" moved the closest it's been to midnight since the height of the Cold War.
The Rock Islands of Palau. Palau is on the front lines of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). (Photo: August Rode / Flickr)
Babeldaob Island, Palau -- The Gaia principle, formulated by chemist James Lovelock, proposes that Earth is essentially a synergistic self-regulating complex system that actively perpetuates the conditions for life on the planet.
The Republic of Palau, a small island nation of roughly 22,000 people in Micronesia, in the far Western Pacific, is what I would refer to as an altar of Gaia. Here, diving into the waters, which contain in excess of 700 species of fish and more than 1,000 species of hard and soft corals, one's senses can barely keep pace with the kaleidoscope of life swimming/growing/floating/being in front of one's eyes.
I'm now writing from the northern coast of the Babeldaob Island in the archipelago, an area not too many humans on the planet will ever see, simply due to the amount of effort it takes to get there.
I stand atop a hill looking north. The Pacific Ocean is to the east and the Philippine Sea to the west, and I feel truly on the edge. Solitude, quiet, birdsong, a steady warm tropical wind, lush vegetation -- away from human civilization, I feel the pull of the crystal blue turquoise waters and want to dive in and remain enveloped within them as long as possible. The place is so beautiful it is difficult to bear.
Truthfully, part of me wants to submerge into these waters and never come up for air again, to remain away from what is happening above their surface.
Even in the midst of deep beauty, the reality of a human-caused global crisis is all too clear. I'm here doing research for articles, and a book. Although I'm here during the "dry" season, it is raining buckets outside, and has been doing so the majority of the time I've been here.
While I'm interviewing plenty of scientists about what is happening here, anecdotal evidence abounds. In December 2012 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather reports called Super Typhoon Bopha "a one in a million typhoon" that hit Palau. With 35-foot waves, it devastated many reefs in this UNESCO World Heritage site that is world-renowned for its rich marine habitat in the scuba world.
Only three typhoons had threatened the Palauan archipelago with serious damage over the previous 60 years. However, less than one year after Super Typhoon Bopha hit, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the island of Kayangel in Palau's north.
"Normally we only have a typhoon, on average, every 20 years," Jeffrey Nestor, a local boat captain in Palau told Truthout. "But we just had these two major typhoons. Not only that, we're seeing major changes in our weather patterns."
As rain poured down around us while we spoke, Nestor laughed and pointed to it, adding, "We are in our dry season now, but now our wet season is becoming our dry season."
He went on to tell me that the strategies Palauans have long used to track and adapt their lives to the weather "no longer work," and that "everything is flipping around," as far as the weather goes.
Remote, exquisite Palau is on the front lines of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).
During the last month, NASA released data confirming that globally, 2016 was the hottest year on record -- the third consecutive year this record has been broken. Even more disturbing, in the last three years alone global temperatures rose 0.4°C: an extreme acceleration of planetary warming that has been unmatched in 136 years of record keeping.
Planetary warming continues to make itself the most obvious in the polar regions.
In Antarctica, a British research station located on an ice shelf is being shut down over the upcoming southern hemisphere winter due to fears of it floating off on an iceberg.
Simultaneously, the Arctic is clearly in crisis as ACD impacts there are leaving scientists in a state of bleak amazement. Ice pack growth has been brought to a halt, and at times reversed. In the last six weeks, parts of the Arctic have seen temperatures reaching nearly 50°F above normal, even nearing the melting point near the North Pole itself during December.
Scientists have said that 2016 in the Arctic was "beyond even the extreme" as ACD is literally remaking the region. Sea ice was at a record low maximum last winter for the second year in a row, and recorded the second-lowest minimum extent last fall.
January showed the Arctic was up to 35°F above normal in some locations, and in Greenland, the ice sheet is melting away rapidly and pushing up sea levels in the process.
A study in the journal Science, released in January, showed that sea-level rise could be far greater than expected, with levels increasing by 20 feet over the course of centuries, even if governments somehow succeeded in putting a cap on ACD. The study is based on clues from an ancient warming period, 125,000 years ago, when conditions were, according to the study, "indistinguishable" from today.
A report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the last day of the Obama administration showed that sea-level rise could reach eight feet by 2100, a level far higher than even the worst-case prediction by the International Panel on Climate Change. As usual, in many cases, the trend of each new scientific study showing dramatically increased impacts when compared to the previous study continues.
Such is life on Earth now, as ACD advances amid a climate of extreme denial within the US government. This, paired with global capitalism, will keep us lurching full steam ahead down the path of fossil-fuel oblivion, unless we change course soon.
The Earth's flora and fauna continue to bear the impact of runaway ACD.
In the UK, bird species are vanishing due to warming temperatures and habitat loss, according to a recent report. While some species are shifting their habitats to different regions, other species have already vanished entirely.
Meanwhile, forests continue to fare badly.
A recent report revealed that during the 2015-16 El Niño, the Amazon rainforest experienced record-breaking high temperatures and severe drought. As in past severe droughts in the Amazon, tree mortality has increased, while growth of trees decreased, which has dire implications for the global carbon cycle. The severe drought reduces the capacity of the Amazon rainforest to store CO2, and over time, this could result in the Amazon shifting away from being a carbon sink that pulls CO2 from the atmosphere to being a carbon source, which would contribute greatly to atmospheric warming.
A recent and disturbing report has revealed that, at current rates of deforestation around the globe, rainforests will vanish altogether within a century. Scientists emphasize that any real efforts geared towards mitigating the impacts of ACD, without the rainforests to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere, would be utterly futile.
Meanwhile, the planet has lost 7 percent of its intact forests in just the last 16 years, according to another recent study. This shocking statistic demonstrates the dramatic implications of ACD on biodiversity.
A recent US Fish and Wildlife Service report warned that polar bears are not likely to survive without dramatic and "decisive" interventions on a global level.
Finally in this section, when we consider the impacts of ACD on humans, we must remember that Indigenous peoples are often the ones experiencing its impacts first and most deeply.
In Canada, Indigenous peoples on Lennox Island have lost more than 400 acres to rising seas in just a few generations. "That bay has claimed a lot of people," one of the elders there told The Guardian. "Now it's claiming land." And now, this First Nations community is unsure if it will have a future.
Despite Alaska having a colder winter than last year (which saw record-setting warm winter temperatures), the famous Iditarod sled dog race has again had to move its starting point to Fairbanks, rather than its traditional starting point of Anchorage, due to lack of adequate snow cover on the trail.
At the recent Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage, plenty of bad news came from scientists studying how warming ocean waters off Alaska's coast are bringing widespread ecological changes, with more to come, the vast majority of which are bad. Arctic Cod are suffering from the heating waters, the Bering Sea is warming faster than previously expected, and toxic algae blooms that have been blamed for huge bird die-offs are expected to continue and possibly increase.
Another obvious sign of warming in the North comes in the form of recent data that show that January's Arctic Sea Ice volume is the lowest it has ever been in recorded history, by a wide margin. We have never seen a winter when the sea ice in the north was as weakened and reduced as it is right now.
Waters are warming in the Antarctic as well. A recently published study in the journal Science Advances showed that over the last decade, an accelerated freshening of deep Antarctic waters [overabundance of fresh water being added] could alter ocean circulation and contribute further to sea level rise. "If you change the circulation, you change everything in the ocean," the study's lead author Viviane Menezes of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) said on the WHOI website.
As global ocean waters warm, coral bleaching events continue to wipe out reefs.
Recently released data from Japan's Environment Ministry revealed that coral bleaching has killed 70.1 percent of that nation's largest coral reef, off the coast of Okinawa, as of the end of 2016. That is up from 56.7 percent, merely a few months earlier.
As the atmosphere warms, it can hold more moisture, so extreme flooding is becoming the norm across the globe.
According to the reinsurance giant Munich Re, the US had more floods in 2016 than any year in recorded history with 19 different floods swamping the nation.
Meanwhile, sea level rise continues.
In Louisiana, as seas rise the coastline is rapidly disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico, and as it does, it is taking ancient Native American historic sites with it.
In Florida, the city of Miami Beach is about to break ground (so to speak) on its most ambitious anti-flooding project to date: a $100 million flood prevention project aimed at raising streets in an attempt to stay ahead of rising seas.
Across the Atlantic in Denmark, "once-in-a-century" flooding events are already becoming far, far more frequent than that. "The historically abnormal weather we see today following one low-pressure system after another low-pressure system, which can result in flooding, is a reminder that climate change is in full vigor," Jens Hesselbjerg, a climate professor at the University of Copenhagen, told the Metroxpress newspaper.
"We can't rule out that climate change's effect on flooding is accelerating even more swiftly than we had anticipated."
And speaking of flooding in Europe, another recent report from the aforementioned Munich Re has shown that devastating flood disasters across that continent have more than doubled in the last 35 years.
Lastly in this section, here's a very sobering view of what Earth looks like when all the land ice melts.
A recent mega-drought in Chile that has now lasted more than a decade has led to "an unprecedented drought," according to the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, fueling more than 85 wildfires that have consumed over 750 square miles of land there. It is the worst fire disaster in the history of that country.
"We have never seen something of this size, never in Chile's history," Chilean President Michelle Bachelet told Reuters.
The drought that has led to the fires has now surpassed historic low records of precipitation and stream flow reconstruction. In fact, scientists estimate that -- beyond the historical record -- precipitation has not been this low in Chile in at least the last 1,000 years.
And Chile is not alone. Huge swaths of the rest of South America, according to NOAA, are also experiencing severe drying which, of course, leads to escalated wildfire risk.
2016 marked the first time in several million years that global atmospheric CO2 concentrations passed 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time there was this much CO2 in Earth's atmosphere, the world was several degrees hotter and melted ice found sea levels tens of meters higher than they are today. "We're in a new era," Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography's CO2 Program, told Yale 360. "And it's going fast. We're going to touch up against 410 pretty soon."
At the current rate of growth, CO2 levels will reach 500 ppm less than five decades from now.
A new study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has documented patterns of "thermal expansion," a process in which greenhouse gases cause atmospheric temperatures to increase, which then causes the oceans to warm, and their warmed waters expand in volume. In this way, greenhouse gases are leaving a lasting impact deep within the planet's oceans.
Meanwhile, atmospheric temperature records continue to be broken.
Recent data showed that 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded for the entire state of Alaska, by a very wide margin. The average temperature for the entire state was a jaw-dropping 5.9°F above the long-term average.
In the Northeast, climate scientists with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst recently showed that their region will experience significantly accelerated warming compared to much of the rest of the planet over the next decade, as well as beyond. Second only to Alaska, New England is warming faster than anywhere else in the US, and the study showed that temperatures there will increase 3.6°F above preindustrial baseline levels by the year 2025.
Lastly in this section, a recent heat wave gripped Eastern Australia, leading to fire bans across vast swaths of the country which were sweltering amidst their hottest January ever recorded.
Denial and Reality
With Donald Trump and his cabinet of jackals now mostly in place, the levels of ACD denial have ventured into record territory. Less than a week after being sworn in as president, Trump ordered all references to ACD to be deleted from the White House website, and they were.
Furthermore, the Trump administration is looking into shutting down the EPA's enforcement office, while a GOP crony in Florida has even gone as far as proposing a bill titled, literally, "Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency."
Many state leaders now fear that Trump and his GOP-dominated Congress could also begin working to put a halt to state actions geared towards mitigating ACD impacts.
In fact, in Wisconsin, state agencies are already deleting any mention of ACD from state websites.
Meanwhile, as a response to the instantaneous and draconian measures of denial taken by the Trump administration, large numbers of government scientists from the EPA, NASA and at least 10 other government agencies went rogue on Twitter, demanding the president get real about the facts and issuing other calls to action.
Additionally, a website established and run by the Columbia Law School now sends out an alert anytime Trump or Congress acts to change a rule involving ACD or energy policy.
Also on the reality front: A top NASA scientist recently debunked the idea that ACD has "paused" by pointing to the record-setting warm temperatures over the last three years, and noting that he expects the rate of increase in global heating to accelerate even further.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that the GOP on the whole continues to deny the reality of ACD, the US military is pushing ahead with plans to protect its bases and assets across the globe from sea-level rise and other ACD-related impacts.
Trump's buddy Vladimir Putin even has Russia beginning to work on a national ACD adaptation strategy, and various governmental ministries and regional officials are already working to assess the risks of adverse impacts and produce adaptation measures.
Lastly, one week after Trump was inaugurated, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced they had moved the "Doomsday Clock" 30 seconds closer to midnight. The membership of the Bulletin, which includes 15 Nobel laureates, decided to move the clock closer to midnight because of concerns about "a rise in strident nationalism worldwide, President Donald Trump's comments on nuclear arms and climate issues, a darkening global security landscape that is colored by increasingly sophisticated technology, and a growing disregard for scientific expertise."
The clock, which is now set at two and a half minutes to midnight, is the closest it has been to midnight since 1953, when it was two minutes before midnight.
Meanwhile, here in Palau, 3,500-year-old taro fields on the coast are being overrun by rising seas, and local environmental conservation groups are working with residents to assist in adapting to the growing impacts of ACD.
Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, during a confirmation hearing with the Senate Environmental and Public Works committee in Washington, January 18, 2017. (Photo: Gabriella Demczuk / The New York Times)
Valerie Branyan is thankful that she and her husband were together with their two children when the 5.3 magnitude earthquake struck the city of Cushing, Oklahoma, early in November. The couple clutched their kids, eyed the ceiling, and waited. While there were no injuries and only minor damage to their home, properties they own near downtown didn't fare so well. The brickwork of one building toppled to the street, while a third building housing their family business suffered more than $100,000 in ruined walls and structural damage.
Then, a few days later, residents reported another tremor. And then another, and another. More than 2,350 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater rocked Oklahoma between 2010 and 2016, making the state the most seismically active in the U.S., outpacing even California.
This isn't tectonics. This is tampering. Studies link the recent flurry of Oklahoma earthquakes to oil companies injecting 160 million barrels of caustic wastewater into underground disposal wells every month. They saturate the sedimentary Arbuckle formation atop Oklahoma's main fault zone, lubricating it and stuffing centuries worth of geologic activity into a cluster of turbulent years.
The havoc is hardly subtle, and residents' cries for intervention have not been quiet, yet former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who was just confirmed to head the EPA, did nothing to discourage well injections while soaking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from industry polluters. State officials know the science, but oil revenue drives the state; disposal-well operators are still applying for approval of new injection sites. Meanwhile, Oklahoma residents are getting impatient.
Andrew Knife Chief is the executive director of the Pawnee Nation, which took a beating from a 5.8 magnitude tremor that caused $250,000 in damages to Pawnee Nation government buildings in September. This does not include additional damage to Pawnee homes.
"The state of Oklahoma has vehemently denied the link between modern drilling techniques and earthquakes," Knife Chief said. "These guys are beholden to the energy companies. The energy companies provide a lot of jobs for the state of Oklahoma; however, there comes a point when common sense and reason should outweigh your efforts to delude the public."
That common sense never reached Pruitt, a self-described "leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda" who closed the environmental enforcement unit in his office and established a legal team to challenge federal agencies, according to EPA sources. He has sued the EPA 14 times to challenge environmental regulations. He even reprinted industry arguments under his agency letterhead and forwarded them to the EPA.
Insurance companies, unlike Pruitt, acknowledge the tremors' cause, evidenced by the way they jettisoned coverage for earthquakes "not naturally occurring." Some homeowner policies also contain "anti-concurrent causation provisions," which allow insurance companies to deny a covered loss, like fire, if it resulted from a human-caused earthquake. Since the federal government never declared a state of emergency on Oklahoma quakes, local families have few options.
"We pay as we go," Branyan said. "Everything we've earned has gone back into making our business better and hiring new people. We can't afford the repairs we've got to do next. Meanwhile, these oil companies get rich. We employ people and contribute to the economy, too. What about us?"
Knife Chief said many residents are not sure whether they should repair because of the tremors' unrelenting frequency.
"Heck, a half hour before you called … we had another earthquake hit us. We have about two a day. This last one that hit just this afternoon was pretty big," Knife Chief said. "We're still having earthquakes all the time, which means the adjuster has to keep running back out and making a new adjustment."
Scott Poynter, an attorney with Arkansas law firm Poynter Law Group, said that without vital repairs, each tremor -- however small -- still inches buildings closer to collapse. Eventually, even a small tremor could drop a ceiling.
High bills, limited options, and risks pressed Poynter Law Group to join Weitz & Luxenberg attorneys in representing Pawnee, Cushing, and Prague residents in a class action lawsuit to collect reparations for home repairs. The suit against Cher Oil Company, Crown Energy Company, Petrowarrior LLC, FHA Investments LLC, White Star Petroleum LLC, and 25 other Oklahoma oil and gas companies seeks damages and home value loss. Renown environmental activist Erin Brockovich partnered with Weitz & Luxenberg last year and now hosts town hall meetings across the state raising awareness.
Jeff Zanotti, general counsel with White Star Petroleum, said the company would not comment on matters in litigation.
The suit for damages is just one example of litigation facing oil companies. Poynter Law Group is also working with the Oklahoma Sierra Club on an injunctive relief case they hope will reduce future damage. The Sierra Club suit argues that oil companies' well-injection methods violate national waste-management law.
"We want them to do what's necessary to stop the earthquakes and eliminate the substantial risk of even more damaging earthquakes," Poynter said. "We're asking for lower [injection] volume, lower [injection] pressure, moratoriums in places with reactivated faults, better regulation and development of proper infrastructure."
The Pawnee Nation in November filed their own suit against the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management.
Knife Chief said the agencies issued permit approvals without complying with tribal natural resource protection laws or consulting with the Pawnee Nation. He claims agencies ignored both a 2015 Pawnee moratorium on new oil and gas permits and the consequences of drilling in problem areas.
"We as a nation have the right to know who is on our land and what they're doing, and we have a right to know the impact of this behavior," Knife Chief said. "We are a tribal government of laws. We have our own environmental regulatory codes and the ability to enforce codes. We also have a tribal court and everything in place to make sure these [drillers] are doing what they say they're going to do."
As attorneys get prepared, people inside the quake zone are bracing for the next toppled chimney or fallen wall.
Though the freedom of owning a small business can be exhilarating, going at it alone can be a tough ride. Operating costs can be higher for independent veterinary practices and hospitals (thanks to pricey equipment, medicine, and supplies) compared to large veterinary hospital chains, which can access discounts through bulk purchasing. So when veterinarians Ronald Anders, Donald Holst, Amir Shanan, and veterinarian practice business owner Scott Carlin founded The Veterinary Cooperative (TVC) in 2012, they hired co-op consultant Rich Morris to get it off the ground. Headquartered in Evanston, Illinois, TVC is the only veterinary co-op operating throughout the U.S. today. It has 1,500 members located in 49 states, as well as in Puerto Rico.
Shareable spoke with TVC Vice President Allison Morris to find out more about how her organization is helping its members thrive.
Why is there a need for a veterinary co-op?
Corporate organizations have a lot of great things going for them. They have centralized buying, so whenever they need to purchase anything -- like pet food, vaccines, and syringes for 800 hospitals, for example -- they can do it in bulk and get a good deal. They can have competitive pricing for services and they have a true business team running how these 800 hospitals should function, which helps the efficiency of these hospitals. The hospitals can charge less for services. That has started to make it harder for independently owned hospitals to compete.
And before the internet was around to price shop and before corporate organizations didn't exist, veterinarians were taught in school to just double the price for everything you purchase and you'll get a good margin. But these big corporate hospitals have found a way to make everything cheaper. That made independent hospitals [realize] they need to change how they do things to stay in business -- and that's what we're trying to show them. We can show them how to continue to make a margin and a profit and also stay in business. This allows the pet owner to feel that the [independent veterinarians] can help them get nearly the same rates that these corporate hospitals are getting.
At the same time, the veterinarians can benefit from the great thing about being independent, which is controlling the business in the way they want to. They will still have a little bit of the personal touch that you hope to get when you bring your loving furry animal baby into a hospital for care.
What do you want to achieve?
Our goal is really to make sure that the independent veterinarian stays independent and in business. There's certainly been a lot of corporate roll up in the industry -- large corporations buying out small independent clinics. I think it's really important for consumers who have pets to choose whether they want to go to a corporate or an independent hospital. And there are certain positives and negatives to each, but we think the choice is better than no choice.
So our overall goal is to keep independents around and that's what co-ops truly help do. We also want to have a 20 percent share of the industry as part of our co-op because we believe it will give us the strength to truly have power and make change and stick around for a long, long time. We're also trying to create a place on our website on transitioning a business to another owner so that when members want to retire or sell their business, they can keep it independent and not sell it to a corporation.
How does the co-op work?
TVC doesn't have any membership fees, which is an exciting thing for our members when they join. We do have a one-time joining fee of $1,000. We're governed by a board of directors. They're voted in by the membership at the annual meeting. The board really helps decide the direction, goals, and salaries that the staff has, as well as how we split up the leftover profits. Anyone can apply to be a board member of the co-op.
We make deals with our vendor partners where they do give us money for marketing their products or services to our members, and that's where we get our money from. The deals need to be enticing for our members, so this works for our members. Since we are a true co-op, if we have leftover profits we distribute them back to our members.
Our product committee (which is made up of a group of our members) are the ones who review the vendors who want to work with us. I help collect the requests for proposals and present them to the committee. They tell me which ones they want to pursue. So for example, let's say there's a pet food vendor who is offering us 20 percent off their pet food. If the product committee says yes we like the offer, then I make a Powerpoint slide of the proposal and let the board of directors all the details [of the proposal] and say the committee would like you to give the final approval for this vendor. I first talk to the vendors in person and over the phone to make sure they’re a good fit before their proposals go to the product committee.
Tell me about the impacts you've made.
In 2016, we were able to save our membership about $10 million in costs. That comes from rebate programs from purchases of supplies like pet food, discounts programs from vendors and promotions we run with our members.
We've also continued to help our members grow their sales and profits through TVC University, our business education program. Last year we did about 12 webinars with our vendors so they can understand products and services better. As a group, our members billed about $1.5 billion in revenue in 2016. But we're really building towards having a few in-person educational events. Our CEO Rich Morris, who used to be a college professor in Illinois, is putting together a program on good business practices in general. We're also are working on a way to get continuing education credits certified for our education programs so they can use these credits to keep up with their license.
What sort of goals have your veterinarians been able to accomplish that they wouldn't have been able to do if they weren't co-op members?
The biggest draw initially is the buying power through discounts and rebates. That's the biggest hook, since they don't get that purchasing power on their own. The education we have is always free, and I think it's very valuable. It’s only open to our members. I also think our co-op is a community. We have a social network online where members can talk to each other and be part of and something more powerful than a single practice. It allows them the ability to run their medical practice unlike any other business because they have that personal touch where they can treat each patient individually, yet they still have that advantage from discounts. It's a very unique way to run their business indeed.
What have your challenges been, and how have you addressed them?
One of our biggest challenges in the beginning was the chicken or the egg. We needed some great vendor deals to attract members to join our group, but our vendors didn't want to partners with us until we had enough members. At that time, we were selling more of a vision than a reality, but we go the job done. It was those early adopters from the member and the vendor side to help us become who we are. They trusted our vision.
Another challenge that we've had to face is we started growing so fast that it was hard to keep up with it. We started by using Excel spreadsheets and what really helped us get over those growing pains was implementing technology when it was needed -- we created a TVC database to make it run smoother and faster. We also do have a very small staff, which is challenging, but as we continue to grow we make more money and we can bring in more people.
What are your future goals and endeavors?
One of our overall goals is that for as long as the veterinary industry is around, we hope that the vet co-op exists as well. Without a co-op, I don't know if independents can continue to exist. Our overall goal is for them to exist so consumers can have kind of care they want to get for their pets. We will continue to keep growing our membership and keep independents in the marketplace. Another goal that's important to use is to keep money local. When consumers purchase from big veterinary corporations or big box stores, that money is going back to the corporate offices. But if consumers are purchasing from local businesses, it helps to support the community they're in.
Military recruiting -- the beast that feeds the US military empire -- is a despicable pursuit that pits carefully selected and highly trained soldiers against vulnerable children, says Pat Elder, director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy. Likening recruiters to child predators with monthly quotas, Elder says it's time this shameful practice was stopped.
Recruiters from the Harrisburg Recruiting Company assisted with the Youth and Education Services (Y.E.S.) October 8, 2010, at the Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Christine June / Harrisburg US Army Recruiting Batallion)
Delving into the underbelly of the US military, longtime antiwar activist Pat Elder reveals how military recruiters are assisted by the Department of Education, the film industry, the video game industry and mainstream media in order to fuel never-ending war -- using the country's most vulnerable young people as fodder. Get the book Military Recruiting in the United States by donating to Truthout now!
Military recruiting is the beast that feeds the US military empire that spans the globe. It is unacceptable that many US schools allow military recruiters extensive access to young people who will become fodder for the Pentagon's acts of war around the world, Pat Elder argues in this interview with Truthout.
Mark Karlin: Is it safe to say that like the Roman Empire, the United States military is the power that futilely tries to secure the US as an empire in its waning days of hegemony?
Pat Elder: Our military, like Rome's, secures a dying empire while accelerating its demise.
The behemoth US military is a cancer on the national body politic. It has led to financial ruin while contributing to the destruction of our cherished constitutional separation of powers. We've become a violent people, addicted to war.
America is witnessing the "grave implications" of the "economic, political and even spiritual" influence of the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about. A single F-35 fighter jet costs more than the budget of a medium-sized city's school system and the US is building 2,500 of them while the schools crumble.
Pat Elder. (Photo: Counter-Recruit)Our military is a double-edged sword. One side of the blade is the unconscionable use of force to "protect" American investments. Major General Smedley Butler framed it so eloquently: "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service, and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism."
The sword’s back edge hangs precariously over us like the sword of Dionysius dangling from a horse hair, ready to sever Damocles’ head. America's military largess will be its sudden undoing. Rome took centuries to collapse. America's demise is upon us.
Given that the US has a volunteer army, military recruitment is essential to the military's survival. You state in one chapter that military recruiting is "psy-ops at home." How so?
It's a coerced, recruited Army as much as it is a volunteer Army.
American military recruiting is a despicable, psychological pursuit that pits carefully selected and highly trained soldiers against vulnerable children. The American Public Health Association, (APHA) calls for the cessation of military recruiting in the nation's schools, claiming recruiters engage in aggressive behaviors to gain a child's confidence and trust. They say recruiters are exceptionally charming while failing to honor clear boundaries. It is despicable public policy, and it's time to end it.
Nearly 40 percent of all Army enlistees never complete their first term. Imagine the torment.
Recruiters are child predators. They have monthly quotas, and they're signing up kids who have no business joining the military. Kids with anxiety disorders, ADHD and severe learning disabilities are being coerced to sign up. They're crushed and spit out as broken souls in a few months by a malicious system.
There were more than 20,000 deserters from the Army alone during the period from 2006 to 2014. Most got a slap on the wrist. The way the Army sees it, it's easier for recruiters to chill with kids in high school cafeterias to drum up new recruits than it is to chase down and reintegrate the deserters. Still, most kids are resistant because they have far better options.
From electronic trolling of social websites, recruiters know intimate details about our children and they use them to prepare a psychological dossier before first contact. It is insidious.
What role do Madison Avenue and Hollywood play in military recruiting?
It seems everything these days carries a military insignia, including banks, credit card companies, hats (made in China), toys, models, games, watches, jewelry -- the list would fill this page. The Marines have their own "Devil Dog" cologne for $45 a bottle. The America's Army Comic Book app has a five-star rating from the Apple App store, apparently for its sterilized glimpse of Army life produced for recruiting purposes.
Producers who desire access to military bases, soldiers and weapons in the production of motion pictures and television shows are directed to contact the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs (OCPA) to submit their scripts and plans for editorial approval. Censors regularly edit the scripts of thousands of productions, [such as] "American Idol," "Cupcake Wars," and hundreds of movies. The Pentagon rejects productions they don't like and rewrites scripts to enhance the military image to "safeguard recruiting and retention numbers."
Failure to submit to the process forces filmmakers and others wanting to tell a story involving the military to potentially spend additional millions in production costs, effectively eliminating low-budget filmmakers not content with toeing the line.
Movies like Top Gun have enjoyed complete access to men, machines and bases. It's unlikely that a movie based on a script by Howard Zinn or Chalmers Johnson would receive the same treatment. This ideologically-rooted discrimination by the government, in which it favors one form of speech over another, is a blatant violation of the First Amendment.
Can you expand on the role of video games in both recruiting and glorification of the military?
Fourteen-year-old Michael Carneal fired eight rounds in fast succession at a high school youth prayer group, killing three and wounding five. In the words of author Lt. Col Dave Grossman, "He fired just once at each person's head, as one would do to rack up bonus points in a video game." Carneal spent a good portion of his life playing first-person shooter games.
For many, there's an undeniable appeal to taking virtual human life. Although the wildly popular America's Army video game (rated Teen, Blood, Violence) can't quite match the gore of Mortal Kombat or the splattering brains in Manhunt 2, it's not bad for a free download, children contend. According to a study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the game has had more impact on recruits than all other forms of Army advertising combined.
Many of America's child mass murderers spent significant portions of their lives playing first-person shooter games: Jared Lee Loughner (Arizona), Adam Lanza (Newtown), Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris (Columbine), Evan Ramsey (Alaska), Devin Moore (Alabama), Kip Kinkel (Oregon), James Holmes (Colorado). The list goes on ...
First-person shooter games have the propensity to attract and nurture killers, especially those who spend significant portions of their lives immersed in this virtual netherworld. Meanwhile, the real world places a premium on securing the services of those who are wired to kill.
What role do our schools play in enabling military recruiting?
The answer to this question depends on multiple socio-political variables, the most important of which is the location of the school. For instance, youth from Georgia are about three times more likely to enlist in the armed services than are youth from Rhode Island. Georgia's culture and schools are far more militarized than Rhode Island's.
According to the Army's School Recruiting Program Handbook, "The objective of the Army's school recruiting program is to assist recruiters with programs and services so they can effectively penetrate the school market. The goal is school ownership that can only lead to a greater number of Army enlistments." The access military recruiters enjoy on a given high school campus is largely determined by the principal. Although the military is chipping away at its goal of school influence, local communities are still legally empowered to exercise day-to-day control over their schools.
Many high schools allow recruiters unfettered access to kids. The recruiters are often free to roam the hallways and "chill" with kids. On campus, they may perform the following functions:
- Career and academic counseling
- Coaching teams, conditioning athletes
- Providing interactive recruiting vans with shooting simulators
- Presentations to the Student Government, PTA and School Board
- Training the school color guard and facilitating flag raising/Pledge of Allegiance
- Helping with school registration
- Assuming a leading role in the homecoming parade
- Chaperoning at homecoming dance and other dances throughout the year
- Presenting reactionary views to history and government classes
- Attending home football games and officiating halftime football ceremonies
- Recruiter vs. Faculty basketball games
- On stage at graduation
- Security -- recruiters carry concealed weapons
Why does "military enlistment ruin lives," as you write?
Excruciating musculoskeletal injuries, many that last a lifetime, account for 2 million medical encounters yearly. Forty-five percent of the 1.6 million veterans of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have filed injury claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Furthermore, the veterans are claiming an average of eight to nine physical or mental injuries each. The VA still has a list of a half million veterans who must wait more than a month to be seen by medical staff. People have died while waiting.Truthout Progressive Pick
Pat Elder reveals the tactics used by military recruiters to lock the US's most vulnerable young people into contracts of life and death.Click here now to get the book!
Suicide is at or near record levels, and so are rapes and assaults. Most victims don't report their attacks to their commanders. Nearly half of the survivors who had the courage to report sexual assaults on four of the country's largest bases dropped out of the military "justice" process. Toxic leadership is endemic in the military's chain of command.
Looking back at the question, I answered how the military ruins lives. You asked why. That answer is simple. The US maintains a world empire with 800 foreign military bases in 70 nations, while the rest of the world combined has a few dozen. The US has killed more than 10 million people in 35 nations since the end of World War II. Some say it's three times that number. The US is the world's judge, jury and executioner.
The US military is a monstrous institution in desperate need of reform, but the public fails to hold it responsible for the staggering level of human death (including the recruited themselves) and misery it causes, thanks to one of the most expensive and sophisticated propaganda campaigns in human history.
Even as Trump continues to promote hatred and xenophobia through his appeals to an imagined past, growing civic movements in Europe and the Americas are looking toward a future of collaborative social-economic traditions to counter the destructive ethos of globalized neoliberal capitalism.
Each group of speakers at the Open Labs fora on "Cities that Learn" in Mexico City explained their unique methodology and shared success stories for political organizing. (Photo: Michael Meurer)
In the wake of the most backward-looking presidential campaign in modern US history, it is now clear that we live in what the late sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman described as a "retrotopia," a society in which fear of the future has caused mass nostalgia for a past that never existed. The current retrotopian movement is a reaction to an institutional politics, on both the left and right, that for nearly four decades has posited the future as an inevitable continuation of globalized neoliberal capitalism.
In spite of being packaged in the guise of 24/7 wired modernity, this vision of the future is horrifying to voters because it is a formulation in which they do not matter. Tayyab Mahmud, director of the Center for Global Justice at Seattle University School of Law, notes that as the "iron hand of the state works in concert with the hidden hand of the market" to maximize profits worldwide, people increasingly feel like pawns at the mercy of deeply impersonal global forces over which they have no control. Nearly 1 billion people, Mahmud reports, are already considered to be a form of "surplus humanity" for whom modern capitalism has no use. Even for those who might not feel immediately threatened, incessant resource wars, the seemingly ubiquitous threat of terrorism and apocalyptic environmental degradation create a sense of subliminal dread about the future.
Donald Trump was the first major US political figure to talk consistently in the hyper-nostalgic language of retrotopia, and he did so using overtly racist, sexist and xenophobic appeals to paint a vision of a society in which the power of white men would once again be resurgent. This strategy, though not sufficient to secure the popular vote, resonated with tens of millions of anxious voters who heard in Trump's retrotopian fantasies a rejection of the idea that the only political option was a suffocating extension of the neoliberal present into the indefinite future. Rather than accept this neoliberal version of the future, even if it was sweetened with tepid incremental reforms, many of them chose to invest their hopes in the imaginary glories of an idealized past conveniently scrubbed of civil rights and environmental activism.
Alas for their delusions. Trump is the ultimate globalist. He simply wants the world to return to the US-led colonial order of 1950s Eisenhower-era capitalism, albeit under a fascistic cult of personality rather than with an avuncular retired general and war hero as national figurehead. It is a fantasy that will be dissolved by acid reality with unpredictable consequences.
On the Road to Hope for an Authentic Future
Realizing early on that it was not possible for the election to end well, I began traveling the world in August 2016 after months of planning, on a journey of educational discovery that in addition to the US, has taken me to 12 nations in Europe and Latin America so far. With an eye on the future, I wanted to learn about projects that are reimagining what is politically possible, so I went looking for fresh ideas and success stories.
The inspiring projects I found exceeded my most optimistic expectations. They consistently exhibit a focus on responding to local conditions with solutions that have the potential to be scaled to connect with larger movements. Among these initiatives, VIC (Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas/Nursery of Citizen Initiatives) in Madrid, Spain, and a national movement to preserve heritage seeds among Mexican campesinos stand out as having enormous global potential. In addition to these two projects, which were the focus of a previous Truthout report, I also encountered inspiring micro-initiatives everywhere else that I traveled, especially in Mexico, where the impact of US policies is felt so strongly.
In Chiapas, Mexico, for example, Antonio de Jesús Anaya Hernández runs a project called Hacking Diem that is creating a global network of hackers who educate university students on truly disruptive tech social innovation to address economic inequity. he has committed to running the project without funding for the first 18 months to ensure the growth of an internal culture grounded in values other than profit.
In Mexico City, architect Jesús López founded the ATEA (Arte Taller Estudio Arquitectura/Art and Architecture Workshop), a nonprofit collaborative platform and workspace for experimentation by architects, artists and urbanists to practice what they call "urban acupuncture." During a tour of ATEA's capacious industrial space in the oldest part of central Mexico City, López introduced me to members who were painters, bicycle builders, urban designers, architects and porcelain artists, among many others, all focused on provocative urban innovation and experimentation.
Founder Jésus López of ATEA (Arte Taller Estudio Arquitectura/Art and Architecture Workshop) in Mexico City shows the project's bicycle workshop to Javier Esquillor, member and co-Founder of VIC (Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas/Nursery of Citizen's Initiatives) of Madrid. (Photo: Michael Meurer)
In Guadalajara, human rights attorney Ana Paula Barragan Gutiérrez is running a non-profit pilot project through her Aurora Global organization in one of the poorest barrios in the city in which residents partner with tech experts to solve problems specific to their barrio with locally appropriate technology. The methodology is being documented to ensure that this kind of localized tech transfer can be replicated in other barrios across Latin America.
In Argentina, attorney and historian Sergio Carciofi started a project called Pasos Previos Casares in his hometown of Carlos Casares to teach young people civic responsibility. Carlos Casares is a unique city with a population split almost evenly between residents of Catholic Italian heritage and Jews. The common civic religion that has always bound them is Peronismo, so his project uses Peronismo as a vehicle for civic engagement. In a little more than 18 months, Pasos Previos activists have managed to pass a citywide ban on the use of plastic bags and implement a ban on dangerous fireworks, all with broad public approval. Now the city of Buenos Aires is consulting with Carciofi and his young cohorts to implement similar measures in the nation's largest city.
Argentine historian, activist and attorney Sergio Carciofi is creating highly effective new civic initiatives based on popular tenets of Peronismo. (Photo: Michael Meurer)
In Medellín, Colombia, language teacher Milena Palacio started a volunteer program with no funding called Stairway to English in Comuna 13, teaching English, art and dance gratis to residents four times weekly. Comuna 13 has been one of the most violent barrios in Latin America in the past. Three years after starting, Palacio's project has empowered residents to start their own tiny film festival, mount public dance performances and give guided tours of the Comuna in English for socially-conscious tourists.
Milena Palacio, founder of the "Stairway to English" project in Medellín, Colombia, poses with schoolchildren in Comuna 13, the at risk barrio where she teaches English. (Photo: Michael Meurer)
From Diego Pizarro Martínez, an activist in Chile who lived among the native Mapuche for three years, I learned about the resurgence among tribes of an ancient concept called "trafkintu" that mirrors the seed exchanges I found in Mexico. In premodern Mapuche culture, there were regular trafkintu to allow different tribal branches to share knowledge and goods, including food and seeds. In this native economic model, seeds were considered to be gifts, and the exchange was an expression of friendship to build communal bonds among tribes. There was no quid pro quo. This native social-economic tradition is being revived across the Andes as a de facto counterweight to the corrosive ethos of modern consumer culture.
Artifacts from the Museum of Pre-Columbian history in Santiago, Chile, display the kinds of handicrafts that the Mapuche tribe in Chile is once again exchanging, along with seeds, as part of their reinvention of the ancient "trafkintu" economic tradition. (Photo: Michael Meurer)
While the large number of promising social initiatives that can be found across the globe is heartening, there is serious work ahead that requires major changes in the way political strategy is conceived and executed on the left. Creating a civic life strong and diverse enough to counter and supplant the current destructive ethos of globalized neoliberal capitalism requires full political engagement of a kind that is very different from simply voting.
Reimagining Work and Rediscovering Joy
Mexican farmer and organizer Alan Carmona Gutiérrez, a cofounder of a civic organization named Un Salto de Vida (A Leap of Life), describes the way that cynically hip capitalist modernity has made the word "peasant" an archaic term of opprobrium and backwardness, but he finishes his thought with the declaration that it is nonetheless better to aspire to be a peasant (campesino) than a worker (obrero), because the former suggests a way of inhabiting the Earth that does not imply its destruction "for the profit of a few."
A poster at the National Library for a series of Open Labs fora on the theme of "Cities that Learn." (Photo: Michael Meurer)The worker is part of the monetized economy. The modern peasant is part of civic society. He or she is not alienated from his or her own history, but connected to the future through the prism of a lived past.
This is an important distinction that the modern left must understand if it is to grow. The joyless, decades-long, quasi-Marxist fixation on the language of factory labor, workers and jobs is out of date. It is its own kind of retrotopianism.
In this era of distributed workforces and digital mobility, services account for more than half of all global economic output. Even in China, manufacturing accounts for less than 15 percent of employment, and global manufacturing has been declining as a percentage of GDP for decades.
Outdated industrial-era thinking that insists on using assembly-line factory models as the primary reference point does nothing to inspire or illuminate the kinds of small scale, often joyful civic actions and creative mindset that are necessary to advance humanity's cause. In this one sense, the anarchists who insist that life is ludic make a valuable point. To play is to create, and more people need to be empowered to think and act creatively. This crucial, foundational element of human life cannot simply be ceded to the market, where it inevitably morphs into disempowering consumer spectacle.
A photo of Mexican poet Octavio Paz is displayed at an Open Labs forum on new civic initiatives in Mexico City in tribute to the creative spirit in politics. (Photo: Michael Meurer)Unless the modern left can understand human desire and imagination in new ways, it cannot be successful at energizing and inspiring people in a different direction from the endless stream of ephemeral excitements offered by advanced late-stage capitalism. As Lacanian philosopher and film analyst Todd McGowan says,
Capitalism writes itself on top of the logic of desire, which is why it has been so successful as a socioeconomic system and why it appears eternal. But at the same time, capitalism hides from us the trauma inherent in our desire.... The satisfaction that capitalism produces stems from the incessant failure of desire to realize itself ...
The paucity of new ideas about work and play on the left is already at a crisis point. Global capital has outflanked ossified leftist political theory by inventing a so-called "sharing economy" in which human subjectivity itself has become the product. Under this new "cognitive capitalism," even the interactions of friendship and hospitality have been monetized as commodities.
In sharp distinction to this financialization of subjective life, the emerging collaborative civic sensibility symbolized by many of the projects that I learned about throughout Europe and the Americas, and the national campaign to protect heritage seeds and sacred Mother Earth among Mexican campesinos, are predicated on authentic sharing and vibrant communal attachment to life in the elaboration of a common cause with others. They are also the opposite of retrotopianism.
As Alan Carmona Gutíerrez eloquently stated in a recent newsletter from his organization, the goal is to neither abandon nor idealize our history, but to "listen, observe and understand the past in order to construct a future full of life and dignity."
It all started decades ago with the local resistance against the construction of a second airport near the city of Nantes in western France. Eight years ago, this resistance culminated in the establishment of a self-organized autonomous zone, commonly known as the ZAD (Zone à Défendre, or "Zone to Defend"). Since then, the ZAD has been under constant threat of eviction and has withstood multiple attacks by militarized police forces set on clearing the area. With the support of individuals and collectives across France and from abroad, the occupation continues to this day.
Half a Century of Planning and Resistance
Plans to build a second airport in Nantes were first developed in the mid-1960s. The authorities wanted to decentralize economic activity away from Paris to other cities in France. In the 1970s, the regional council designated the town of Notre-Dames-des-Landes, north of Nantes, as the site for the construction of the airport. At the time, farmers and local producers started to organize to resist the construction and raise awareness.
The construction of a rail network for high-speed trains in the late 1980s pushed the plans to build an airport north of Nantes to the bottom of the agenda until 1994, when the government revitalized the project in order to reduce air traffic at the two Parisian airports of Roissy and Orly.
In the 2000s, the government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin reaffirmed aspirations to decentralize economic activity and to turn Nantes into an international hub. After being pushed by political elites at both state and regional levels, the project was recognized as "promoting the public interest" in 2008. Two years later, the multinational corporation Vinci was selected to build and run the airport.
As early as 2000, a network of groups and organizations was created to organize an awareness campaign and to undertake actions in the area. In 2009, local activists and residents invited the French climate action camp, resulting in hundreds of activists visiting the zone. They occupied buildings that had been left empty by the authorities and built their own yurts and shacks.
Little by little, self-organization and collective decision-making structures were put in practice. Soon, support collectives were set up in various cities across the country and beyond: it was the beginning of one of the longest struggles in the recent history of French social movements.
The Radical Struggle to Defend the ZAD
The ZAD is sometimes home to activist training camps where participants are introduced to the particular aspects of the resistance in Notre-Dames-des-Landes -- for example, how to move quietly through the countryside without being spotted by the police, who have set up check-points in the area.
Rallies and political meetings are organized on a regular basis to connect, educate, participate and to exchange experiences, but also to make sure that whenever the time comes, a vast network of people will be at the ready to protect the autonomous zone if it is threatened by the authorities.
From the pensioners involved with the Citizen's Organization Against the Construction of the Airport (ACIPA) articulating their defense around environmental concerns, to young radicals who were also on the front-lines of the Nuit Debout protests in Paris and elsewhere -- they all agreed to be ready to physically defend the zone in case the police arrives; a tactic that has already proved its worth in the past.
In the fall of 2012, during the so-called "Operation Caesar," more than one thousand troops aided by helicopters and armed vehicles invaded the area. They were met with multiform and determined resistance. While small groups of zadistes built barricades and threw rocks, others ran the communal kitchens. Demos were regularly organized outside of the zone blocked by the police. After several glorious weeks of struggle, the police eventually canceled the operation and the ZAD called for a massive rally to rebuild the facilities destroyed by the cops.
In a recent article for Strike! Magazine, Ina Fever attempts to explain the strong and diverse resistance that took root in Notre-Dame-des-Landes. The author argues that current political struggles have been very successful in mobilizing people to block useless and harmful developmental projects when it articulates an ethical position: "no, there won't be an airport."
This echoes the strategy promoted by the Invisible Committee, which suggests that in contemporary capitalist societies, direct action should be focused on the networks and infrastructures that allow for the flow and circulation of capital rather than on institutions and national assemblies.
Against the Airport and Its World
Following Fever's idea, it can be said that the occupation of land against the construction of the airport is in fact a struggle that is structured along two axes: it is against a certain type of society, and it is also for the ZAD -- an alternative form of collective life, a different world.
The occupation of the construction site is fundamentally anti-capitalist, as it blocks the creation of another site -- the airport -- that would be used by French authorities and corporations to brand the region as "innovative" and "business friendly" and to attract investments. Therefore, it could be compared to what Mehmet Dosemeci has called "social arrest" in an earlier piece for ROAR Magazine, referring to society's refusal to let the state keep the flows of capital accelerating:
Slow Food, Conservationism (be it ecological or local-cultural), Anti-War, Anti-Globalization, Radical Environmentalism -- all of these sites and banners of contentious politics are directed not at a static state structure that arrests movement, but are themselves in fact about stopping or arresting an unbridled and accelerating capitalist system.
These types of resistance have been going strong all over Europe, often targeting "big, useless projects" (the NoTAV in Italy for example), or in the US (the Standing Rock occupation against the construction of a pipeline in North Dakota clearly resonates with the struggle at the ZAD).
Moreover, the desire to stop the normal functioning of capitalist society by people and to think and decide together -- without the leadership of any party or institution -- on what a better organization of society could look like, lies at the root of square occupations that multiplied across Europe, the United States and the Arab world in 2011-'12. Nuit Debout, which could be seen as France's version of the "movement of the squares," drew heavily on the experience of the ZAD. In fact, in the Place de la République in Paris and hundreds of other cities across the country, similar slogans to the one used by the ZAD were often seen in demos against the downsizing of workers' rights. Banners in the streets and the occupied squares of Nuit Debout often declared "No to the loi travail and its world."
"A Life That Is Possible Without Them"
The different sections of society that have gathered around the struggle at the ZAD have a clear objective: building a world without states and beyond capitalism. As the Collectif Mauvaise Troupe sums up in the introduction of their last book, "if it has become so crucial for the political classes to crush the ZAD, it is because the ZAD constitutes an insolent demonstration of a life that is possible without them."
There are around 200 people living permanently on the zone, in addition to some 2,000 people coming and going. Some residents lived in the area before the struggle started, others came here afterwards to join the fight or simply to find a place to live free from state harassment. Some even say that many migrants have found a quiet place to stay at the ZAD on their way to the UK. In the past eight years, all these people have been cooperating according to principles of mutual trust and solidarity.
The ZAD also has its own production networks. Vegetables and fruits, flour and bread can all be found at the "non-markets," where these products are given away for free or in exchange for a voluntary contribution, called a prix libre. Wholesome meals are prepared and served every time larger meetings and rallies are organized, and any newcomer will certainly find a space to sleep in one of the several dormitories.
In its recent book, Defend the ZAD, the Collectif Mauvaise Troupe powerfully describes the spirit that animates participants, and how it contrasts to life in modern societies: "Here, where we are, the expression 'lawless zone,' which they intend to be frightening, has taken on a radically positive set of associations. For unlike what takes place in the streets of 'well-policed' cities, in the ZAD no one sleeps outside and everyone eats their fill." What's more, with the aid of its supporters across the country, the zadistes also produce and publish their own books, pamphlets and videos, while the ZAD's own radio station, Radio Klaxon, will soon be broadcasting in both French and English.
However, this space of free living also has limits. The collective organization of life requires patience, determination and mutual support -- things that are sometimes lacking, especially in times of crisis. For example, at a recent debate at the ZAD, one resident was reading texts written during the confrontation with police in 2012 and warned participants that sexism during confrontation with police was very high and unbearable with the return of a toxic "masculinity of the barricades."
Additionally, a few years back, tensions surrounding the use of weapons against police were also rife. Learning to live and agree on the forms of the struggle is always difficult, as contemporary capitalist societies trap us in a state of dependency on state institutions and market mechanisms or, following Cornelius Castoriadis, in heteronomy: the submission to a sacred superior entity dictating the rules and customs of everyday life.
A Vital Struggle in a Bleak Atmosphere
As the French presidential elections are approaching fast, Prime Minister Valls's government seems to have nothing to lose. Its legitimacy and popular support -- especially among left-wing voters -- has plummeted due to a clear pro-business line and racist attacks against its non-white citizens. Who hasn't heard of the disgrace caused by the "burkini affair"? The government is trying to win the support against the rising far right and it seems obvious to many that the state has clearly took an authoritarian turn in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Paris and Cannes.
In the last few months, we have also seen a reinforcement of state apparatuses and the criminalization of social movements following the four-month mobilization against the Loi travail. During the demonstrations against the state attack on workers' rights, many were injured by police forces in Paris, Nantes and Rennes and other cities across France.
This violence echoes the police killing of Remi Fraisse, who died resisting the eviction of another ZAD camp in Sivens in 2014. What's more, the police murder of Adama Traoré, a young man living in a Parisian banlieue, as well as the very recent eviction of the "Jungle" -- the autonomous migrant camp in Calais -- reminds us that racialized populations and migrants are seen as disposable by a xenophobic state that continues to protect the image of a white European society.
The following weeks and months will be crucial for the ZAD and other struggles around France. Although some sources argue that the airport project could be scrapped because it has become too costly for Vinci to pursue, other commentators have said that the government had nothing to lose, and that after clearing the Jungle, the ZAD of Notre-Dames-Des-Landes is next on the list.
In this troubling environment, we are left to wonder if the ZAD will manage to resist another attempt by the state to destroy this inspiring experiment of communal life and collective decision-making that has been burgeoning in the green fields of Notre-Dame-des-Landes. One thing is certain: the hundreds of people that have been visiting and staying in the zone seem to be determined and ready to defend it.
Guantánamo prisoner Mohammad Saleh Al Hanashi died on June 1, 2009, in an alleged "suicide." Information released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that a key computerized system for tracking prisoner actions was shut down after the body was discovered. Subsequently, other computer files also went missing, which raises serious questions.
Why did key evidence concerning the alleged ''suicide'' of Guantánamo detainee Al Hanashi go missing? (Image: Lance Page / Truthout; Adapted: christophe dune / Flickr)In January 2002 the US government started incarcerating "war on terror" prisoners at specially built facilities at the Naval base at Guantánamo Bay. On January 25, 2017, a draft executive order by Trump proposed reversing President Obama's January 2009 executive order to close the Guantánamo detention site.
The Cuba-sited camp was chosen precisely to keep operations there as secret and unaccountable as possible. What happens inside the facility is carefully hidden from public view, and this is especially true when prisoners have died.
Officially, the fifth person to die at Guantánamo was a Yemeni prisoner, Mohammad Saleh Al Hanashi. Authorities ruled his death a suicide, but government documents from the investigation into his June 2009 death, released in May 2015, reveal serious tampering with documentary evidence at the scene, calling into question the legitimacy of the investigation into how he died.
Furthermore, similar tampering seems to have occurred in relation to other detainee deaths. This article will, for the most part, concentrate on the investigation into Al Hanashi's death, following earlier reporting on his case at Truthout.
Files "Missing and Unrecoverable"
According to a partial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) release from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, into their investigation into the June 1, 2009, death of Al Hanashi at Guantánamo, key evidence from a computer detainee tracking and database system was ordered suppressed in the very first minutes after his body was discovered.
Numerous documents in the FOIA release relate how in the first minutes after Al Hanashi's body was discovered, an unidentified NCIS agent told Guantánamo staff to turn off the computer database, known as the Detainee Information Management System (DIMS), which monitors all interactions with detainees by camp staff. The question of who ordered this became the object of an internal NCIS investigation that has never been revealed in the press until now.
As NCIS agents discovered that the order came from someone within NCIS itself, an internal investigation was begun to discover why this violation of standard operating procedure took place. No final conclusion concerning this investigation was part of the FOIA release, and while NCIS's FOIA office told this author all materials were in fact released, the NCIS Public Affairs office failed to return multiple requests for further comment about the shutdown of DIMS.
Further irregularities, amounting to evidence of a possible cover-up surrounding Al Hanashi's death, appear to have taken place later in relation to the computer database files from Guantánamo's Behavioral Health Unit, where Al Hanashi was incarcerated at the time of his death. Nearly eight months after a FOIA request was filed on the investigation into his death, a July 23, 2012, NCIS memo titled "Missing Material from Dossier" found, "[a]fter an exhaustive search of all sources," that all the DIMS logs from the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) for the day of and the day after Al Hanashi's death were "missing and unrecoverable." (See Part One, page 5, in documents on this linked page.)
NCIS memo, July 23, 2012, "Missing Material from Dossier." (Photo: Jeffrey S. Kaye)
Some idea of what was deleted surfaced in another NCIS investigation report from January 2010 -- written before all the DIMS records for the day of Al Hanashi's death and the day after went missing. In this report, the investigating agent noted that the final entry from the DIMS record on the evening Al Hanashi died was "Received medication" (apparently for sleep). The time was 2118, or 9:18 pm. After that, the DIMS record went silent.
The fact that official notification of the missing computer database logs at Guantánamo came only after a FOIA request was filed with NCIS into its investigation of Al Hanashi's death seems, at least on the surface, suspicious. It suggests that evidence was possibly destroyed after the fact, once deeper journalistic interest in the case was shown.
The missing logs may have included the identity of the person who ordered the DIMS entries turned off, but short of a full-scale investigation with subpoena powers, we will likely never know who that was now.
The NCIS FOIA materials, which are at times heavily censored, discuss other irregularities with the investigation, including the failure to properly maintain the security of evidence central to a verdict of suicide, which was sent by US mail for laboratory analysis.
A Pattern of Suppressing Evidence?
A failure to document key entries into the DIMS computer database during the crucial period surrounding a detainee's death also occurred during the hours surrounding the September 2012 death of another detainee, Adnan Farhan Abd Al Latif, who, like Al Hanashi, also died in the BHU at Guantánamo. A special Army investigation, called an AR 15-6 report, cited the failure to make entries into the DIMS record at the time of Latif's death as a violation of camp standard operating procedures.
The Army report said, " ... the lack of entries did make it difficult after the fact to re-create the immediate events leading up to the point that the guards found [Latif] unresponsive."
Was there a pattern to suppress information from Guantánamo's computer surveillance and database system in instances of detainees' deaths?
DIMS is a facility-wide computer logging system used by guards and other Guantánamo personnel to keep copious and detailed notes on every prisoner at the Cuba-based facility. Turning off DIMS entries was a serious violation of Guantánamo procedures. The 2004 Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual, released by Wikileaks, has detailed instructions for what should be recorded on DIMS.
Guantánamo authorities watched over detainee behavior very closely. Literally anything of interest was supposed to be recorded in DIMS. The SOP states, "There is always significant activity occurring on a block. There should be no DIMS SIGACT [significant activities] sheet filled out with 'Nothing to report.'"
The manual notes, "How the detainee reacted, observation by other detainees, and other potentially relevant observations will be annotated in DIMS."
"Relevant observations" of detainee behavior to be recorded include requests for copies of the Koran; refusals to let their cell be searched; refusal of a meal; visits by non-block personnel; and anything deemed a "significant activity."
A list of "significant activities" include banging on the cell, "showing reverence to another detainee," displays of "extreme emotion," requesting an interpreter, and harming oneself, among others. The SOP notes, "All data entries via DIMS must be specific and complete."
The system goes back to the early years of the Guantánamo prison. According to a February 17, 2005, statement by then-commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo, Army Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, the DIMS system "allows us to keep track of nearly every aspect of a detainee's daily life."
The Army report on Latif's death explained, "DIMS is the primary tool used to track day-to-day information about detainees, and is made up of electronic entries regarding each detainee." Army investigators looking into the Latif case relied on the veracity of DIMS entries as more reliable than eyewitness memories.
Army investigators had much the same to say regarding the DIMS system in an AR 15-6 report on possible Camp Delta SOP violations in the wake of the three Guantánamo "suicides" in 2006.
In late August 2006, the Army's AR 15-6 report was completed. Its section on DIMS was as follows:
The Detainee Information Management System (DIMS) is the primary system for Camp Delta guards to record everything related to detainee and events that occur in the blocks, as well as the primary system employed by the JDG staff in performance of staff duties....
At the cell block level, guards enter log entries into DIMS at the beginning of each shift, and throughout the shift. These entries are reviewed by Platoon Leaders, Sergeants of the Guard, Block NCOs, and sometimes the FGIW officer, before and during the watch. Because DIMS entries are mandatory, continually updated, and thorough, they provide a significant source of information to the events that occurred on 9 June 2006. (See pages SJA 37-39, and SJA 83 in the Army report.)
In a June 22, 2006, NCIS Investigative Action report on the detainee deaths earlier that month -- a "Review of Standard Operation Procedures for Camp Delta, JTF-GTMO" -- the NCIS reporting agent explained that DIMS was "used to annotate everything related to a Detainee.... Items to be recorded in DIMS are 'Meal refusals, conversations, behavioral problems, leadership, prayer leadership, teaching, preaching, rule breaking, coordination with other detainees, movements, requests, everything.'" (See page SJA 237 of Army report.)
The computer database also contained important documents by the guard force (the Joint Detention Group), including a "Daily Block NCO checklist, Random Headcount reports, and Significant Activity Sheets."
Falsified Computer Data in Earlier "Suicide" Cases
The old computer-related adage -- "garbage in, garbage out" -- is worth considering as well when it comes to DIMS entries. So, for instance, and crucially, according to the Army AR 15-6 report on the 2006 "suicides," investigators found that the 2350 (or 11:50 pm) random headcount of detainees the night of the 2006 "suicides" had been "falsely reported" by "an unknown member of the Alpha Block guard team." Such headcounts, recorded in DIMS, "required immediate visual confirmation of detainee [two or three words redacted] in each cell."
According to the Army's investigation, "no guard remembers performing the 2350 headcount." Yet, the report was there in DIMS.
This is a crucial finding of falsification of evidence contemporaneous to events in the 2006 detainee deaths. It should have been a red flag. But Army investigators minimized the fact that someone was lying about the headcount of cellblock prisoners, three of whom would soon be found dead. Instead, they found the falsification of the cellblock census (which is what a random headcount is) to be "insignificant." Their reasoning? Medical teams had concluded the bodies were already dead an hour before the 2350 headcount was made.
Army authorities never asked why the headcount was falsified, or explained how they knew it was.
In fact, the falsified headcount is not "insignificant" at all if one concludes the detainees did not die the way the government said they did. That was the conclusion of former Guantánamo guard Joseph Hickman, who maintains in public press accounts and in his own book, that the detainees were brought back dead or nearly dead from a black site from within Guantánamo.
The problems with DIMS that surfaced in the 2006 "suicides" are worth remembering as we turn back to the situation surrounding the death of Al Hanashi.
The Investigation Into Who Shut Down DIMS
The DIMS database documented the "Who, What, When, Where, Why and How" of what went on in Guantánamo's cell blocks and detainee hospital, and could have provided a contemporaneous timeline of events immediately following the discovery of Al Hanashi's body, free from the vagaries of memory or dissembling.
The shutdown of the detainee database was no small event. The situation surrounding DIMS was so sensitive that no one I approached would speak to me on the record about it.
An NCIS interim report, dated as early as two days after Al Hanashi died, described the shutdown of DIMS at the time of Hanashi's death: "The chronology of events surrounding the death of V/Al Hanashi were not logged into the DIMS system allegedly due to an NCIS agent requesting no additional logging take place." ("V/Al Hanashi," a term used throughout NCIS reports, stands for Victim Al Hanashi.) Without the DIMS records, there is no way to test the timeline or the veracity of the observations of guards or medical personnel.
The order to halt all logging on the Guantánamo computer database apparently came once Al Hanashi was found unresponsive in his cell and before he was pronounced dead. The individual who made the request was "undetermined."
By November 2, 2009, five months after his death, Al Hanashi's case had progressed to initial review by a "Death Review Panel" convened at NCIS's Southeast Field Office in Mayport, Florida. The panel determined "additional investigative leads should be conducted." Besides further documentation from the autopsy and the death scene, the panel tasked investigators to "contact NCIS Special Agent [redacted] and clarify her actions during her initial response to V/Al Hanashi's death and the utilization of the detainee's Information Management System Database (DIMS)."
On January 8, 2010, another "Investigative Action" memo reported on two telephonic interviews with a female NCIS agent at the scene of Al Hanashi's death, presumably the same Special Agent mentioned by the Death Review Panel.
This agent told the investigating NCIS agent "she did not instruct any JTF GTMO personnel to cease making entries into the DIMS pertaining to V/Al Hanashi." Furthermore, investigators said the agent told them "she would not have issued such an order even if she had the authority to do so citing her efforts to encourage documentation."
This same agent added she didn't know of any other NCIS agent who would have given such an order.
Interestingly, there were members of other agencies present at the time. According to the female NCIS agent, when she arrived at the death scene along with another NCIS agent, there were two agents of the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) and an FBI Special Agent "already present at the BHU."
The female agent making the telephonic statement to NCIS added that she "doubted that any of the aforementioned personnel would have issues [sic] such a directive."
Who Made the Last DIMS Entry?
Despite all the missing information, in the first weeks of the investigation, NCIS determined via witness interviews of guard and medical staff, as well as "death scene processing," that the investigation had "failed to identify any suspicious circumstances surrounding V/Al Hanashi's death."
Despite the claims of no suspicious circumstances, the mystery over who turned off DIMS entries was never cleared up, even after months, and even years of further investigation.
NCIS investigation reports stated, "None of the aforementioned NCIS Special Agents that processed the death scene and/or initiated investigative actions pertaining to captioned investigation claimed that they instructed any JTF GTMO personnel to cease making entries into DIMS of V/Al Hanashi on 01/02 JUN09. In addition, all the aforementioned NCIS Special Agents advised that they would not have given such an instruction."
And yet, someone gave the instruction.
One person at Guantánamo, whose name was redacted in the FOIA release, was asked to provide the name of the person who made the last DIMS entry for Al Hanashi. This person told the NCIS investigator "he would have to send the request through his chain of command."
Why NCIS thought this individual might know who the last person was to make a DIMS entry for Al Hanashi has not been explained, but the NCIS Agent investigating the matter did tell this person to contact NCIS "if he had difficulty obtaining the requested information."
The FOIA record does not show that any name was ever obtained or reported back to NCIS. There is no record of this request up the chain of command ever being further discussed or acted upon.
Author's Note: All NCIS investigation documents into the death of Al Hanashi, and other government documents referenced in this article are available online at GuantánamoTruth.com. The material in this article was adapted from the book, Cover-up at Guantánamo: The NCIS Investigation into the "Suicides" of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri.
Speakers at a seed exchange near the Río Santiago in México share planting tips. (Photo: Michael Meurer)
The current oppressive neoliberal economic philosophy and its destructive regime of globalized capital is not inevitable. Just as the collapse of the Berlin Wall came out of small local civic movements, many powerful new political and civic movements are growing in Latin America, Europe and the US, offering a future of radical hope.
Speakers at a seed exchange near the Río Santiago in México share planting tips. (Photo: Michael Meurer)
There was much bluster about US job losses under NAFTA in the 2016 election, but walking along the banks of the Río Santiago in the pueblo of Juanacatlán, Mexico, the larger impact of the agreement immediately becomes a searing reality. One's eyes and skin burn after only a few minutes' exposure to the toxic spray and sulfurous stench as foaming waves of chemical pollution cascade over a once pristine falls known only a few decades ago as the Niagara of Mexico.
The pollution, which includes large concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, zinc and other heavy metals used in electronics fabrication, is partly driven by unregulated NAFTA and domestic manufacturing, and also by toxic runoff from export-oriented agribusiness that, unlike traditional campesino farming, relies heavily on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Fusion magazine dubbed the Santiago the "river of death." Vice magazine describes it as a "toxic hell" that caused 72 deaths in 2015 alone.
Compliance with barely existent environmental regulations in Mexico is voluntary under NAFTA, something that is rarely mentioned in the US. NAFTA's Chapter 11 even allows foreign corporations to sue the Mexican government for imposing regulations they consider to be unfair or burdensome.
On November 20, 2016, Mexico's Revolution Day, I was invited by my friend Miyuki Takahashi, a native Mexican-Japanese doctor who runs the educational Jardín de Vida project (Garden of Life) in Juanacatlán, to accompany her and nearly 400 residents from towns and villages located near the river as an independent journalistic observer during a protest against its poisoning. The protest action was organized in part by Un Salto de Vida (USV), or A Leap of Life, a civic organization formed by local farmers near the town of Salto, which is across the river from Juanacatlán.
A table at a seed exchange near the Río Santiago in México displays heritage seeds. (Photo: Michael Meurer)
After the protest, we were invited to the 14th annual reunion and seed exchange organized by USV and the local Jalisco chapter of the Red de Alternativas Sustenables Agropecurias (RASA), or Network of Sustainable Agricultural Alternatives, made up of small farmers who live along the Santiago watershed. They come together annually to celebrate the culture of sacred corn, water and trees and to "sow seeds of rebellion," per the email recap to attendees, on which they graciously copied me.
Mexican campesinos share crop information at the 14th annual seed exchange along the Río Santiago in México. (Photo: Michael Meurer)
About 80 small farmers met this year in Juanacatlán to share success stories from their use of heirloom seeds that have often been in their families for generations. The focus was corn (maíz), which is a historic and sacred staple crop of Mexican rural culture that has been undercut by mass imports of subsidized, genetically modified corn from the US since NAFTA was signed in 1994. After many speeches, attendees spent several hours exchanging heritage seeds and talking, then shared a meal of roasted pig, beans, organic corn and rice.
Varietal heirloom corn is displayed at the 14th annual seed exchange along the Río Santiago in México. (Photo: Michael Meurer)
One of the speakers, a young man named Alan Carmona Gutiérrez who is a cofounder of USV, gave a speech that started with this remarkable statement: "Seeds are the arms that can win the war against capitalism." ("Las semillas son las armas que pueden ganar la guerra contra capitalismo.")
Alan Carmona Gutiérrez of civic group Un Salto de Vida speaks at the group's annual seed exchange. (Photo: Michael Meurer)
Alan did not mean capitalism in the abstract. He meant the kind of capitalism that has made the 433-kilometer (269-mile) Río Santiago one of the most lethally toxic and polluted waterways in the world, and that under NAFTA forced Mexico to amend its constitution to allow foreign land ownership. This change opened small landholders, upon whom organic crop diversity depends, to the whims of banks and foreign creditors. These campesinos had been deeded their property for life by the constitution of 1917. NAFTA wiped that legal protection away with the stroke of a pen, leading to a doubling of export farming by large-scale agribusiness by 2015.
Out of necessity, campesinos in nearly every state in Mexico are quietly and irrevocably walking away from this lethal model to create their own alternatives. Small local seed exchanges, such as the one in Juanacatlán, happen across Mexico every year, unheralded by the media. USV, RASA and other farmers' groups like them are engaged in a cooperative, ongoing initiative called the "National Campaign in Defense of Mother Earth and the Territory." The USV announcement of the seed exchange states the goals of this national campaign:
It will not be ideologies that guide us but the desire for freedom, common sense, the sun, the moon and the wind. Against their technology is the knowledge of our ancestors. Against their factories are our spaces for the reproduction of life. Against their repression is our organization.
It is time to exchange our seeds and sow the land with the nobility and tenacity of those who love their mother, it is time to share our knowledge with the transmission of our collective memory of our identities and to recover our own lives, to be guardians and warriors who strive to forge together the world we want, here and now, today and forever.
They fight for all of us, not just themselves, and with good reason. According to the Center for Food Safety, just five companies -- Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Dow and Bayer -- account for 62 percent of world seed sales. As Rachel Cernansky recently reported, these same companies own multi-decade patents on many varieties of crop seeds for staple agricultural items found in daily diets worldwide. Alan is not exaggerating at all when he says that seeds are the new arms in the fight for sustainable democratic self-governance.
Micro and Macro Hope
The seed exchange along the Río Santiago is one of many similar experiences with local micro-initiatives that I have encountered during my travels. Having seen these kinds of localized efforts in the US, Europe and Latin America, I knew that a connecting mechanism was still badly needed, something beyond corporate social media platforms, which are essentially large-scale data mining operations.
Enter VIC (Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas/Nursery of Citizen Initiatives), a new open source, Creative Commons project that is finding, mapping and connecting local micro-initiatives, such as Alan's USV. Their work reveals some of the most hopeful signs I have seen that underneath the media radar, people are taking matters into their own hands, reinventing and rebuilding civic life.
VIC was started by a group of architecture and urban design students in Madrid who won an open bid by the city government to design and build a memorial in honor of 191 victims of the horrific terrorist bombings at the central Atocha Train Station in 2004. The resulting memorial is a 36-foot-tall glass cylinder that is illuminated from below at night. Floating inside the cylinder is a colorless film that is inscribed with thousands of messages of condolence from citizens of Madrid that visitors see in lighted motion above them.
In addition to allowing citizens to become a living, interactive part of the memorial, the messages provide an illuminating glimpse of an alternative city that is vibrantly alive with unsuspected interconnections and pulsing with an underground civic life that no one knew existed.
This brilliant memorial eventually led to the VIC initiative, which is focused on developing and disseminating what Medialab-Prado calls "collective intelligence for real democracy" ("Inteligencia colectiva para una democracia real."). Medialab-Prado is an award-winning "citizen laboratory" funded by the City of Madrid for the production and dissemination of citizen-driven projects that embody collaborative cultural exploration using digital networks. VIC's work mirrors and expands this sensibility, and it has now spread across Spain and Latin America, while I am helping with political and academic introductions in the US.
VIC's deceptively simple and powerful central idea, which is both diagnostic and descriptive, is to find and map local citizen-driven initiatives at the micro level and to connect them at the macro level, with all information available interactively to the public under Creative Commons licensing.
The micro-initiatives that are being mapped have always existed. They are what might be called the non-monetized social economy, and VIC field work over the past decade shows that their numbers increase during times of economic or social duress. What has been missing among the motive elements of the non-monetized economy is rigorous diagnostic analysis, mapping of interrelationships, mutual awareness of other civic actions and an easy, collaborative, citizen-managed way to connect, collaborate and endure.
In spite of the formal analytic rigor they bring to their work, VIC members and their network of collaborators across Europe and the Americas often talk in a language that seems vital and primal compared to the stilted, scripted jargon of the neoliberal media. There is incessant discussion about honoring the "affective environment" of particular social-political projects, of "doing politics with pleasure" in "open spaces of unforeseen possibility," etc.
Their sources of inspiration are too eclectic to be pigeonholed ideologically. I would describe the underlying beliefs as forming a non-ideological politics of joy, collaboration and discovery, but undergirded by rigorous diagnostic research and hard data.
Paul Hawken, a long-time advocate of natural capitalism (an imperfect concept that nevertheless has value) once described the hundreds of thousands of citizen's initiatives across the world as "humanity's immune response to resist and heal political disease, economic infection and ecological corruption." Despite the eloquence of Hawken's description, it lacks a deeper diagnostic understanding of motive force and a clear means for interconnection and collaboration. VIC social mapping and diagnostics, along with their highly collaborative open methodology, have the potential to solve this problem.
During just one afternoon amid a 12-day series of Open Labs fora titled "Cities that Learn" ("Ciudades que Aprenden") held from November 28-December 9, 2016, at the National Library in Mexico City, 10 initiatives were showcased to reflect the characteristics of thousands of similar micro-initiatives VIC has mapped in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Brazil and Spain over the past decade.
I watched the presentations for all 10 of these beautiful citizen's initiatives, which ended in a candlelit singalong in the library's grand, open-air Octavio Paz salon. The leaders of these projects are working, often with very little funding, to improve and democratize education, public transportation, public art, historic cultural preservation and much more. And now, in a wonderful development, they are tangibly connected to one another with common open-source tools.
Rebuilding Civic Life
Civic life worldwide has been in decline for decades. From the publication of the original Bowling Alone thesis by Robert Putnam in 1996, to Planet of Slums, Mike Davis's survey of global shantytowns in 2006, there is an enormous and growing body of academic literature and field work documenting a radical decline in the range, variety and frequency of the kinds of free civic associations that used to bring people together face-to-face to solve community problems, teaching tolerance, civility and political maturity in the process.
Open-source projects, such as VIC alone cannot rebuild this lost civic life. But they can provide a connecting vision, a model, inspiring examples, tools and social mapping for those who are already doing so. As VIC member and cofounder Javier Esquillor explained to me recently over dinner in Guadalajara, this kind of social mapping and open source collaboration could even reinvent tourism as a force for civic good.
The UN World Tourism Organization estimates that more than 1.1 billion people traveled internationally in 2015. Ignoring questions about ecological impact, the UN celebrates this tourism as a great economic stimulus and simply makes tepid recommendations that encourage tourists to "buy local."
Yet, what if a billion people wandering aimlessly around the planet with their tourist guides and selfie sticks were instead empowered to connect with people running local micro-initiatives in areas of mutual interest? The municipal government of Madrid is already using VIC maps as their official city tourist-map-cum-guide.
Having the Courage to Dream
Civic life cannot flourish in an atmosphere of dread over the future. In order to thrive politically, we need dreams, romance, entertaining stories, a bold and engaging vision of a just and sustainable future that is still anchored in our collective history, cultural diversity and the courage to pursue these things most passionately when it is hard. In a world filled with corporate propaganda and miserabilist doomsayers on both the left and right, the joy of doing so is proportionate to the challenge.
Like all newborns, the emerging open-source civic movement that reflects this hopeful sense of experimentation and possibility is tiny and fragile. But it is also scalable because it is focused on empowering actions and initiatives that are already organically embedded in, or growing out of, the non-monetized part of people's daily lives worldwide. It therefore has the potential over time to reimagine and recreate an open, collaborative civic society of sufficient strength and diversity to dramatically expand the range of what is politically possible.
The destructive ethos of rapacious, late-stage neoliberalism and its regime of globalized capital is not inevitable. In many ways, it exhibits signs of imminent collapse and derangement. Like the Soviet regime symbolized by the Berlin Wall, what seems insurmountable one day can collapse the next. But that collapse started years earlier with small local civic movements among workers and citizens in Poland, Czechoslovakia and across the Eastern Bloc. Former Polish President Lech Walesa called it the "Power of the Powerless."
Although the technological and social environments are very different today, the world is at a similar crossroads against an oppressively monolithic neoliberal economic philosophy that is losing both its ability to adapt and the reluctant faith of its population. In this crisis of political legitimacy, the success of the open-source civic movement exemplified by VIC and the enormous potential of hundreds of thousands of micro-initiatives with the ability to connect worldwide, take on a much greater sense of urgency. They may soon be required to engage at a higher level.
Note: The author thanks Ana Paula Guitiérrez Barragán, Javier Esquillor and Miyuki and Kei Takahashi for their invaluable introductions, suggestions and spirit of openness.
Two tribes, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux, filed new motions to halt the Dakota Access pipeline's construction and operation. After an initial hearing on those motions, the federal judge on the case allowed construction to proceed but will be considering the tribes' claims before oil will pass through the pipeline under Lake Oahe.
Protesters at the Oceti Sakowin camp face off with police, just outside the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on December 2, 2016. (Photo: Cassi Alexandra / The New York Times)
On Feb. 8 the US Army Corps of Engineers reversed course and issued an easement allowing the installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. That decision followed a presidential memorandum indicating that construction and operation of the pipeline would be in the "national interest," and set the stage for a final showdown over the pipeline's fate.
In response, two Indian tribes, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux, filed new motions to halt the pipeline's construction and operation. After an initial hearing on those motions, the federal judge on the case allowed construction to proceed but will be considering the tribes' claims before oil will pass through the pipeline under Lake Oahe. That means, unlike the voices of thousands who joined the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in protest against the pipeline, the next chapter of this fight will be argued by a few lawyers in the pin drop silence of a federal courtroom.
Although the details of those arguments will be complex, as a legal scholar focused on Native American law I see the case addressing an essential question at the heart of our legal system: namely, how does federal law and judicial process protect the fundamental values and structure of the Constitution?
The central issues in the case are now whether the US Army Corps of Engineers' approval of the pipeline and easement illegally interferes with the tribes' religious beliefs and whether the corps adequately considered the tribes' water and other treaty rights before issuing that approval.
Religious Freedom Restoration Act
According to the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, oil running through the pipeline would represent the fulfillment of a generations-old prophesy, passed down through the oral traditions of tribal members, that warned of a Black Snake coming to defile the sacred waters necessary to maintain the tribes' ceremonies. Beyond the environmental concerns often at the center of the pipeline protests, the tribe's motion for an injunction squarely defines final authorization of the pipeline by the corps as an existential threat: destruction of the tribes' religion and way of life.
The Constitution's First Amendment guarantees the exercise of religion free from governmental interference. But the Supreme Court, in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protection Association, in 1988 upheld the Forest Service's approval of a road across an area on federal land sacred to local tribes even while recognizing the road could have devastating effects on their religion.
Then in 1993, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which requires that the government demonstrate a compelling interest and use the least restrictive means to achieve that interest if its actions will substantially burden religious practice.
In other words, even if approving the Dakota Access Pipeline served a compelling governmental interest, RFRA may require the US Army Corps of Engineers to show that the pipeline easement under Lake Oahe would have the least impact on tribal religion. That approach would be consistent with the Supreme Court's broad application of RFRA in a 2014 case not involving tribal interests or federal lands and may pose a significant challenge to the corps, which considered but rejected a different route that did not pose the same threat to the tribes.
Both the corps and company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline argue that the risk of spill from the pipeline is minimal and that the tribes failed to raise these religious concerns in a timely manner. In addition, the US Army Corps of Engineers contends that, consistent with the Lyng case, governmental action on federal land should not be restricted because of religious concerns raised by local tribes.
Thus, resolution of the case will turn upon whether the court recognizes the legitimacy of the tribal religious concerns and broadly applies RFRA or, instead, chooses to prioritize federal authority over federal land to the detriment of those concerns. The parties will argue whether the religious freedom issues support an injunction on Feb. 27.
Arbitrary or Capricious Decisions?
In addition to their religious concerns, the Sioux tribes challenge the corps' decisions based on the rights they reserved in treaties made with the federal government in 1851 and 1868.
The Constitution recognizes treaties as the "supreme law of the land" and, according to a 2016 analysis done by the solicitor of the US Department of the Interior, both the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux retain treaty-reserved water, hunting and fishing rights in Lake Oahe.
Importantly, federal law generally allows courts to set aside arbitrary or capricious agency decisions. In a Feb. 14 filing, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe asks the court to review the corps' about-face under that standard and argues that the federal trust responsibility, recognized by the Supreme Court since the early 1800s, demands more than just a cursory review of tribal treaty rights.
The parties will be briefing the treaty rights issues into March, but the judge is keeping a close eye on Dakota Access' progress in the meantime.
The ultimate fate of the pipeline will turn on how the courts recognize the rights asserted by the Sioux tribes, rights rooted in the Constitution's values and structure -- precisely the type of rights our rule of law and federal courts are meant to protect.
Janine Jackson: Any administration would like to restrict what the public knows about its actions -- an unpopular one, all the more so. Combine that with a frank hostility to government regulations and you have the present moment, with Trump White House efforts to make federal agencies limit what they tell the public, and efforts to give them less to talk about in the first place. It may not get the same sort of headlines, but the White House's war on science could well yield casualties as great as other violent acts more traditionally defined.
Here to tell us about the pressures and the resistance is Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He joins us now by phone from Cambridge. Welcome to CounterSpin, Andrew Rosenberg.
Andrew Rosenberg: Thank you very much, Janine.
The Washington Post says for a new White House to take centralized control of PR is fairly typical, but "the sweeping nature of some of the new controls is unusual." Well, the hostility to science, to intractable facts, you know, fairly wafts off this new cabinet. But what are some of the particular moves that worry you right now?
Well, what we've seen in the first days of the administration, and it's hard to believe that it's only been a few days, but we've seen the rollout of bans on scientists -- as well as other employees -- being on social media, speaking to the press, releasing any reports or other products. And while I would agree that it might be typical to hold off on making policy pronouncements for a new administration, it is not at all typical to stifle scientific products -- which is basic scientific information, coming out to the public -- from public employees.
So that's one thing we've seen, which has been announced and then walked back. We've seen a hold on grants and contracts, which was touted as being the usual course of business. I've never seen that before, and I've been involved in several transitions before. So it is an extraordinary level of not only control, but of pushback on federal scientists.
And in addition to that, all of the messaging around the transition, as well as the new administration, has been very negative towards public employees generally, and in some cases toward scientists in particular.
I wanted to draw you out on just that, because it isn't just pressure on science, the product, but of course on scientists themselves. And I wonder if you could talk about the re-introduction that we saw in January of the Holman Rule and what implications that may have for government scientists.
Well, the Holman Rule was -- in some sense, we hope it's symbolic, but it says that Congress can target an individual employee and reduce their salary down to one dollar. This is something that is a holdover from the 19th century and has been revived in the House of Representatives. They would have to do that through appropriations, but the very idea that Congress should target individual employees for doing their jobs if somebody doesn't like the answer -- so this is not personnel action where somebody isn't doing their job, this is, you did your job but I didn't like the answer and, therefore, we may be able to target you. So whether it actually gets implemented in an appropriations bill or not, it's sending the signal to every public employee: Beware, we're going to come after you.
And further than that, when State Department employees raised concerns about the immigration actions, using a channel that's been used since the 1960s and has been designated for that purpose -- in other words, a specific communication mechanism that's been set up by the State Department to voice their concerns -- they were effectively told by the White House press secretary if you don't like it, then get out. If you tell technical experts -- and, frankly, foreign service officers are technical experts, but not scientists -- you have to only give us information that we like, then you're not getting technical advice. You're telling them not to do their jobs. And so that level of disrespect, I think is incredibly alarming.
And, of course, from the point of view of the public, we can imagine the sorts of findings that this administration will be inclined to dislike, and they will have to do with pollution and fuel emission standards and things like that. I mean, there definitely are public health and safety implications of these sorts of moves; they're not, strictly speaking, about mere information, if you will.
Absolutely. And, you know, I think this is an incredibly important point, because the rhetoric from the administration and from Congress has all been about rollback of regulations, because these regulations impose costs on businesses, and we really need to get rid of these useless regulations because of the costs. Two things I point out there. First is, never in those discussions is anyone pointing out the benefits to the public from reducing pollution or providing safe water or providing product safety, food safety, all of those things are benefits to the public. And secondly I point out, yes, there are costs to businesses from doing this, and if the businesses don't bear those costs, who do you think bears them? The public bears them, and so it's not like they just go away.
There is a false narrative that implies there's thousands of regulations out there that are just totally unneeded and they're there because nobody can be bothered to remove them. And that's a completely false narrative; it's just not the case.
Tell us about what the Union of Concerned Scientists is doing, and in fact has been doing since before this administration came in. And then also maybe a little more broadly about what you see as the role of the scientist in the resistance.
Union of Concerned Scientists has been very active at trying to strengthen the case for science-based policy-making across a wide range of areas. The institution was formed in the 1960s by scientists who were concerned that the discussion of the Vietnam War and the nuclear weapons program really was not getting the proper information out to the public. And since then, we've gone on to work on major issues: climate, energy, food and the environment broadly, clean vehicles, and we continue to work on global security. And we also work on just the role of science generally, the program I lead for the role of science generally, in public policy and democratic discussion.
So we have seen an incredible level of energy in the science community since the election. So while we have in the past worked to try to ensure that the scientific information coming out of government agencies followed what are called scientific integrity policies, that you were hearing from the scientists, not someone's political spin, and so on, we have ramped up those efforts very substantially for the new administration, because of the level of attacks that have come out from both the administration and Congress.
And the response that we've seen from our 20,000-strong network of scientists -- so those are credentialed scientists who've said that they want to do specific work with us; this is not just membership -- is really extraordinary. And people are helping us watchdog what will be going on in Congress and in the administration, and reaching out to their elected officials as constituents and saying, I'm a scientist, I'm very concerned about these issues.
I think it's important to bring scientific information to the fore. And some of the actions that are being taken -- particularly in Congress, but some also in the new administration -- will undermine that role of science. This is not about science funding. That's an important issue, too, but we're focusing on the way that science is treated in our public policy and our public discussion.
We've been speaking with Andrew Rosenberg of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. You can find their work online at UCSUSA.org. Andrew Rosenberg, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
Thank you very much, Janine.
Since the Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the ocean, you might guess that it is safe from the impact of humans, but you would be wrong. Scientists have found that, despite its depth and remoteness, the deep sea contains levels of toxins that match some of the most polluted marine systems on earth.
According to a new study just published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, man-made pollutants have reached the depths of two of the world's deepest ocean trenches -- the Mariana Trench in the North Pacific and the Kermadec Trench in the South Pacific, which are each miles deep and are separated by thousands of miles.
For the study, researchers from Newcastle University, the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute sent deep-sea landers to collect samples of small organisms living in the deepest level of the trenches and found troubling levels of toxic pollutants in small crustaceans, or amphipods.
The level found wasn't the only concern. The types of toxins they found are considered persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are known for staying in the environment for a long time. In this case, the two most prevalent ones were Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
Even though PCBs have been banned and PBDEs are heavily restricted, they're still clearly a pervasive environmental problem that are making their way through the food chain.
In the Mariana trench alone, the highest concentrations of PCBs found were approximately 50 times greater than the levels that have been found in crabs living near the Liaohe River, one of most polluted waterways in China.
"The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants in one of the most remote and inaccessible habitats on earth really brings home the long term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet," said Dr. Alan Jamieson, lead author of the study, who is based in the School of Marine Science and Technology at Newcastle University. "It's not a great legacy that we're leaving behind."
It's not exactly clear how these pollutants made their way to the depths of the trenches, but scientists speculate that they came from contaminated plastic debris floating at the surface -- possibly from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch -- and from animals who have died and sank to the bottom, where they are consumed by amphipods, who are later consumed by larger animals. Scientists also hope to see more research into how these pollutants will impact the entire ecosystem, but for now it's a harsh reminder about how we're negatively affecting the planet.
To get a sense of the depth of Mariana Trench, consider that Mount Everest would fit into it with over a mile to spare. Alluding to that imagery, Dr. Jamieson wrote:
Of course, the pressure and depth are immense, which do require incredible physiological adaptations for survival, and equally clever engineering solutions for exploration, but the 11km that so easily swallows Mount Everest is still only 11km. Think of it like this: 11km is only half the length of Manhattan Island, I could legally drive it in less than six minutes, and Mo Farah could run it in less than 30 minutes.
The reality is that the deep sea just isn't that remote, and the great depth and pressures are only an imaginary defence against the effects of what we do "up here." The bottom line is that the deep sea -- most of planet Earth -- is anything but exempt from the consequences of what happens above it, and it's about time we appreciated that.
President Trump has named longtime Republican lawyer Alex Acosta to be his new nominee to head the Labor Department after his first pick, fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder, withdrew Wednesday. We look at Acosta's record with Alan Pyke, an editor with ThinkProgress, who argues Trump's backup choice "has skeletons in his closet, too." Acosta has drawn scrutiny for his time as a division leader at the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush, where he oversaw a senior official who hired conservative lawyers who were actively opposed to the division's mission, including the prosecution of voting rights violations and police abuse. In 2004, he played a key role in Bush's final push to win the state of Ohio by backing Republican election officials accused of seeking to suppress voter turnout among blacks and Latinos.
Please check back later for full transcript.
We go inside the First Unitarian church in Denver to interview Jeanette Vizguerra, an immigrant mother of four children who has taken refuge there out of fear she would be arrested and deported to Mexico if she went to her scheduled check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Vizguerra came to the US from Mexico in 1997 and is one of the founders of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition. She previously won five postponements of deportation, but said she doubts she could win a similar reprieve under the Trump administration.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Two girls sit in a holding area for immigrants at a jail in Nogales, Arizona, on June 18, 2014. (Photo: Ross D. Franklin / Pool via The New York Times)
We have a moral responsibility to put an end to the torture and abuse of undocumented trans women like Ms. Gonzalez, who was detained by ICE when she tried to seek protection from domestic violence in El Paso, Texas.
Two girls sit in a holding area for immigrants at a jail in Nogales, Arizona, on June 18, 2014. (Photo: Ross D. Franklin / Pool via The New York Times)
Violence against transgender women is on the rise. Last year, the transgender community was hit with the worst murder rate in recent history. We lost 26 transgender women. Most of the victims were Black and Latina trans women. This year, we have already lost three of our sisters due to transphobic violence. And we continue to be targeted by violence by the police state and Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) state.
Undocumented trans women make the difficult journey to come to the United States because of the daily violence they face back in their home countries. It is so devastating to hear that ICE has detained Ms. Gonzalez, an undocumented trans woman, after she tried to seek protection from domestic violence in El Paso, Texas, last week. Ms. Gonzalez's arrest by ICE is another clear example of the ways transgender women of color continue to be targeted and criminalized.
We as a community need to fight back and protect all undocumented immigrants, including transgender undocumented women, against deportation and detention.
No detention centers can guarantee the safety and protection of transgender undocumented women. There have been numerous reports of sexual and physical violations inside detention centers -- including at the transgender pod in the Santa Ana City Jail, which is the country's first official separate unit for trans people who are detained for immigration.
Last year, Human Rights Watch released an 80-page report entitled "Do You See How Much I'm Suffering Here?" It includes interviews and testimonies from transgender immigrant women about abuses that occurred in detention centers. It is important for people to understand that transgender undocumented women are subjected to harassment, physical abuse and sexual abuse while in detention. These cages cannot provide the protection that many ICE officials claim they do.
When ICE arrested Ms. Gonzalez, she was at the El Paso Courthouse in order to obtain a protective order against a man who was abusing her. (In fact, reports indicate that the abuser may well have been the person who informed ICE that Gonzalez would be at the courthouse that day.) As we navigate this hostile society, many of us seek protection to stop violence and abuse we experience in our lives. It is alarming that any one who is seeking protection from any type of abuse is met with an arrest and a possible order of deportation. This is state-sanctioned violence.
We have a moral responsibility to put an end to the torture and abuse of undocumented trans women. And we have an obligation to join in solidarity and protect Ms. Gonzalez.
This is a call to all caring people to listen and pay attention to what is happening to undocumented transgender women. We especially need the backing of the mainstream immigrant and LGBTQ communities right now. We are one of the most vulnerable populations, and we need real support from our communities and organizations. You have a duty to support Ms. Gonzalez, all the transgender undocumented women currently detained in immigration detention centers, and all undocumented immigrants, until we dismantle ICE and the police state.