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Updated: 2 hours 7 min ago

Beyond Harvey and Irma: Militarizing Homeland Security in the Climate Change Era

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 08:44

Will Chenette from Delta Co. 1-124 Florida National Guard guards a checkpoint as people return to their homes after hurricane Irma passed through the area on September 17, 2017, in Summerland Key, Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Deployed to the Houston area to assist in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, US military forces hadn't even completed their assignments when they were hurriedly dispatched to Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands to face Irma, the fiercest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. Florida Governor Rick Scott, who had sent members of the state National Guard to devastated Houston, anxiously recalled them while putting in place emergency measures for his own state. A small flotilla of naval vessels, originally sent to waters off Texas, was similarly redirected to the Caribbean, while specialized combat units drawn from as far afield as Colorado, Illinois, and Rhode Island were rushed to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Meanwhile, members of the California National Guard were being mobilized to fight wildfires raging across that state (as across much of the West) during its hottest summer on record.

Think of this as the new face of homeland security: containing the damage to America's seacoasts, forests, and other vulnerable areas caused by extreme weather events made all the more frequent and destructive thanks to climate change. This is a "war" that won't have a name -- not yet, not in the Trump era, but it will be no less real for that. "The firepower of the federal government" was being trained on Harvey, as William Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), put it in a blunt expression of this warlike approach. But don't expect any of the military officials involved in such efforts to identify climate change as the source of their new strategic orientation, not while Commander in Chief Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office refusing to acknowledge the reality of global warming or its role in heightening the intensity of major storms; not while he continues to stock his administration, top to bottom, with climate-change deniers.

Until Trump moved into the White House, however, senior military officers in the Pentagon were speaking openly of the threats posed to American security by climate change and how that phenomenon might alter the very nature of their work. Though mum's the word today, since the early years of this century military officials have regularly focused on and discussed such matters, issuing striking warnings about an impending increase in extreme weather events -- hurricanes, incessant rainfalls, protracted heat waves, and droughts -- and ways in which that would mean an ever-expanding domestic role for the military in both disaster response and planning for an extreme future.

That future, of course, is now. Like other well-informed people, senior military officials are perfectly aware that it's difficult to attribute any given storm, Harvey and Irma included, to human-caused climate change with 100% confidence. But they also know that hurricanes draw their fierce energy from the heat of tropical waters, and that global warming is raising the temperatures of those waters. It's making storms like Harvey and Irma, when they do occur, ever more powerful and destructive. "As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating," the Department of Defense (DoD) bluntly explained in the Quadrennial Defense Review, a 2014 synopsis of defense policy. This, it added, "may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities" -- just the sort of crisis we've been witnessing over these last weeks.

As this statement suggests, any increase in climate-related extreme events striking US territory will inevitably lead to a commensurate rise in American military support for civilian agencies, diverting key assets -- troops and equipment -- from elsewhere. While the Pentagon can certainly devote substantial capabilities to a small number of short-term emergencies, the multiplication and prolongation of such events, now clearly beginning to occur, will require a substantial commitment of forces, which, in time, will mean a major reorientation of US security policy for the climate change era. This may not be something the White House is prepared to do today, but it may soon find itself with little choice, especially since it seems so intent on crippling all civilian governmental efforts related to climate change.

Mobilizing for Harvey and Irma

When it came to emergency operations in Texas and Florida, the media understandably put its spotlight on moving tales of rescue efforts by ordinary folks. As a result, the military's role in these operations was easy to miss, but it took place on a massive scale. Every branch of the armed services -- the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard -- deployed significant contingents to the Houston area, in some cases sending along the sort of specialized equipment normally used in major combat operations. The combined response represented an extraordinary commitment of military assets to that desperate, massively flooded region: tens of thousands of National Guard and active-duty troops, thousands of Humvees and other military vehicles, hundreds of helicopters, dozens of cargo planes, and an assortment of naval vessels. And just as operations in Texas began to wind down, the Pentagon commenced a similarly vast mobilization for Hurricane Irma.

The military's response to Harvey began with front-line troops: the National Guard, the US Coast Guard, and units of the US Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), the joint-service force responsible for homeland defense. Texas Governor Greg Abbott mobilized the entire Texas National Guard, about 10,000 strong, and guard contingents were deployed from other states as well. The Texas Guard came equipped with its own complement of helicopters, Humvees, and other all-terrain vehicles; the Coast Guard supplied 46 helicopters and dozens of shallow-water vessels, while USNORTHCOM provided 87 helicopters, four C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft, and 100 high-water vehicles.

Still more aircraft were provided by the Air Force, including seven C-17 cargo planes and, in a highly unusual move, an E-3A Sentry airborne warning and control system, or AWACS. This super-sophisticated aircraft was originally designed to oversee air combat operations in Europe in the event of an all-out war with the Soviet Union. Instead, this particular AWACS conducted air traffic control and surveillance around Houston, gathering data on flooded areas, and providing "situational awareness" to military units involved in the relief operation.

For its part, the Navy deployed two major surface vessels, the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship, and the USS Oak Hill, a dock landing ship. "These ships," the Navy reported, "are capable of providing medical support, maritime civil affairs, maritime security, expeditionary logistic support, [and] medium and heavy lift air support." Accompanying them were several hundred Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, along with their amphibious assault vehicles and a dozen or so helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

When Irma struck, the Pentagon ordered a similar mobilization of troops and equipment. The Kearsarge and the Oak Hill, with their embarked Marines and helicopters, were redirected from Houston to waters off Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. At the same time, the Navy dispatched a much larger flotilla, including the USS Abraham Lincoln (the aircraft carrier on which President George W. Bush had his infamous "mission accomplished" moment), the missile destroyer USS Farragut, the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, and the amphibious transport dock USS New York. Instead of its usual complement of fighter jets, the Abraham Lincoln set sail from its base in Norfolk, Virginia, with heavy-lift helicopters; the Iwo Jima and New York also carried a range of helicopters for relief operations. Another amphibious vessel, the USS Wasp, was already off the Virgin Islands, providing supplies and evacuating those in need of emergency medical care.

This represents the sort of mobilization you would expect for a small war and is characteristic of how, in the past, the US military has responded to major domestic disasters like hurricanes Katrina (2003) and Sandy (2012). Such events were once rarities and so weren't viewed as major impediments to the carrying out of the military's "normal" function: fighting the nation's foreign wars. However, thanks to the way climate change is intensifying the weather, disasters of this magnitude are starting to occur more frequently and on an ever-larger scale. As a result, the previously peripheral mission of disaster relief is threatening to become a primary one for an already overstretched Pentagon and, as top military officials are aware, the future only holds promise of far more of the same. Think of this as the new face of "war," American-style.

Redefining Homeland Security

Even if no one else in Donald Trump's Washington is ready or willing to deal with climate change, the US military will be. It's already long been preparing in its own fashion to take a pivotal role in responding to a world of recurring natural disasters. This, in turn, will mean that in the coming years climate change will increasingly dominate the domestic national security agenda (whether the Trump administration and those that follow like it, or even admit it) and such domestic emergencies will undoubtedly be militarized. In the process, the very concept of "homeland security" is destined to change.

When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established in November 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, its principal missions included preventing further terrorist assaults on the country as well as dealing with drug smuggling, illegal immigration, and other similar issues. Climate change never entered the equation. Even though FEMA and the Coast Guard, major components of the DHS, have found themselves dealing with its increasingly disastrous effects, the department's focus on immigration and terrorism has only intensified in the Trump era. The president has ensured that this myopic outlook would reign supreme by, among other things, calling for a sharp increase in the number of Border Patrol agents (and greater infusions of funding for border control issues), while working to slash the Coast Guard's budget.

He has also, of course, ensured that all parts of the government other than the military that might in any way deal with climate change were staffed and run by climate-change deniers. Only at the Department of Defense do senior officials still describe climate change in a more realistic fashion, as an observable reality that will pose new dangers to America's security and create new operational nightmares.

"Speaking as a soldier," said former Army Chief of Staff General Gordon Sullivan back in 2007, "we never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield." The same, he continued, was true regarding climate change. "If we keep on with business as usual, we will reach a point where some of the worst effects are inevitable."

General Gordon's comments were incorporated into a highly influential report that year on "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change," released by the CNA Corporation (formerly the Center for Naval Analyses), a federally-funded research center that aids the Navy and Marine Corps. That report focused with particular concern on the risk of an increase in overseas conflicts from the impact of climate change, particularly if prolonged droughts and growing food scarcity inflame existing ethnic and religious schisms in a range of poor countries (mainly in Africa and the Greater Middle East). "The US may be drawn more frequently into these situations, either alone or with allies, to help provide stability before conditions worsen and are exploited by extremists," the report warned.

The same climate effects that could trigger a more embattled world would also, military analysts came to believe, produce increased risk for the United States itself and so generate a greater need for Pentagon involvement at home. "Extreme weather events and natural disasters, as the US experienced with Hurricane Katrina, may lead to increased missions for a number of US agencies, including state and local governments, the Department of Homeland Security, and our already stretched military," that CNA report noted a decade ago. In a prescient comment, it also warned that this could lead to clashing strategic priorities. "If the frequency of natural disasters increases with climate change, future military and political leaders may face hard choices about where and when to engage."

With this in mind, a group of officers -- active duty as well as retired -- endeavored to persuade top officials to make climate change a central focus of strategic planning. (Their collective efforts can be sampled at the website maintained by the Center for Climate and Security, an advocacy group former officers established to promote awareness of the issue.) These efforts achieved a major breakthrough in 2014, when the Pentagon released a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, a blueprint for Pentagon-wide remedial action in a warming world. Such an effort was needed, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel explained in his foreword, because climate change was sure to generate more conflict abroad and more emergencies at home. "The military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters." As a consequence, the DoD and its component organizations must begin "integrating climate change considerations into our plans, operations, and training."

For a time, the armed forces embraced Hagel's instructions, taking steps to reduce their carbon emissions and better prepare for just such a future. The various regional combatant commands like NORTHCOM and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which covers Latin America and the Caribbean, responded with increased training and other preparations for extreme storm events and for sea-level rise in their areas of responsibility, a change reflected in a 2015 DoD report to Congress, "National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and a Changing Climate."

In the past, such efforts, only beginning, were never allowed to distract the services from their main presumed function: contesting America's foreign adversaries. Now, as with Harvey and Irma, the military's domestic responsibilities are on the rise just as the president is assigning them yet more (or more intensified) missions in the never-ending war on terror, including a stepped-up presence in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq and Syria, more intense air campaigns across the Greater Middle East, and a heightened pace of military maneuvers near North Korea. As shown by a series of deadly collisions involving Navy vessels in the Pacific, this higher tempo of operations has already stretched the military to or even beyond its limits in various conflicts it has proven incapable either of winning or ending. The result: overworked crews and overstretched resources. With the massive response to Harvey and Irma, it is being pushed yet further.

In short, as the planet continues to heat up, the armed forces and the nation at large face an existential crisis. On the one hand, President Trump and his generals, including Secretary of Defense Mattis, are once again fully focused on the increased use of military force (and the threat of more of the same) abroad. This includes not only the wars against the Taliban, ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their numerous spin-offs, but also preparations for possible military strikes on North Korea and perhaps even, at some future date, on Chinese installations in the South China Sea.

As global warming intensifies, instability and chaos, including massive flows of refugees, will only grow, undoubtedly inviting yet more military interventions abroad. Meanwhile, climate change will increase chaos and devastation at home and there, too, it seems that Washington will often see the military as America's sole reliable response mechanism. As a result, decisions will have to be made about ending American conflicts abroad and refocusing domestically or that overstretched military will simply swallow even more of the government's dollars and gain yet more power in Washington. And yet, whatever else the armed forces might (or might not) be capable of, they are not capable of defeating climate change, which, at its essence, is anything but a military problem. While there are potential solutions to it, those, too, are in no way military.

Despite their reluctance to speak publicly about such environmental matters right now, top officials in the Pentagon are painfully aware of the problem at hand. They know that global warming, as it progresses, will generate new challenges at home and abroad, potentially stretching their capabilities to the breaking point and leaving this country ever more exposed to the ravages of climate change without offering any solutions to the problem. As a result, the generals face a fundamental choice. They can continue to self-censor their sophisticated analysis of climate change and its likely effects, and so remain complicit with the administration's headlong rush into national catastrophe, or they can speak out forcefully on its threat to homeland security, and the resulting need for a new, largely non-military strategic posture that puts climate action at the top of the nation's priorities.

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Decolonization in Action: Māori Town Revives Lost Language

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 07:58

One might mistake Otaki as a sleepy seaside town in the bucolic Kapiti Coast District of the North Island of New Zealand. That assumption would be wrong. Otaki is alive and kicking after nearly two centuries of Crown domination. This town of nearly 6,000 is experiencing a momentous resurgence thanks to a sensational revival of Māori language and culture.

"Colonization convinced Māori to stop believing in themselves. Otaki was no different," said Mereana Selby in her opening remarks at the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples Pacific Hui. The hui, a Māori word for a gathering, brought together indigenous advocates and philanthropists from the Pacific Islands and beyond. Their focus was to foster collaborative partnerships to resource indigenous designed solutions for climate change, environmental sustainability and healthy food systems.

"The loss of our native language also led to the disappearance of the Māori mind," shared Selby, one of the hui participants. Selby is the first female CEO of Te Wānanga o Raukawa, a pioneering Māori institute of higher learning in Otaki, which served as the venue of the convening.

Selby chronicled an astonishing timeline of the revival of Māori language: In 1915, all Māori in Otaki spoke their native language. By 1975, after settler colonialism had firmly penetrated its roots across New Zealand, no one under the age of 30 could speak Māori in Otaki. That same year, three tribes set the impetus for language revitalization with Generation 2000, a 25-year experiment under the visionary leadership of Māori scholar Whatarangi Winiata. The experiment proved to be a success: A language that was lost for two generations is now spoken by half of the Māori population in Otaki. "The ability to think and communicate again in the native tongue has created a pathway for us to see the world once again through Māori eyes," said Selby.

Mereana Selby is the first female CEO of Te Wānanga o Raukawa, a pioneering Māori institute of higher learning in Otaki, which served as the venue of the hui.

To many of the indigenous participants at the hui, Otaki embodied a living model of what's possible when local communities have ownership and control over development and cultural revitalization projects. Over the course of two days of the hui, indigenous scientists, doctors, scholars and activists shared with philanthropy groups their advocacy efforts on issues ranging from climate change to deep-sea mining.

"Climate change is interlinked with colonialism. This is a moral crisis, whose impact is not felt equally. The confiscation of indigenous lands led to modern capitalism and industrialization," said Dr. Rhys Jones, a Māori physician and educator. Dr. Jones emphasized that preserving indigenous knowledge and worldview was key for fighting climate change. "This battle won't be won by governments. It will be won at the local level by stopping fossil fuel explorations, oil drilling and standing by the side of Indigenous Peoples," he said.

Indigenous delegates from the Pacific island of Vanuatu shared how they are protecting their traditional lands and food culture in the face of increasing modernization and development.

"Philanthropy needs to work with Indigenous Peoples, not do to Indigenous Peoples," said Chelsea Grootveld, a Māori board member of the J R McKenzie Trust, one of the oldest philanthropic entities in New Zealand. The Trust has had a significant evolution of its philanthropic model from having zero Māori board members to four today. "We now have Māori on the table setting the strategic direction of the Trust and increasing investment for Māori development. We have realized the benefits of sharing power with Indigenous Peoples. It is clear that what works for Māori is good for all New Zealanders," she said.

One of the stirring presentations at the hui was by Woor-Dungin, an aboriginal coalition of organizations and funders from Australia. In the Gunnai language, Woor-Dungin means to share. Eight members of the coalition took the hui participants on a journey of dadirri, an aboriginal philosophy on listening deeply. "Dadirri means listening with all of the senses, not just the ears… It's a quiet contemplation. It renews us and brings us peace," said Robyn Latham, a Yamatji woman from Western Australia. The aboriginal delegation underscored that funders, too, can reap the benefits of practicing dadirri and open their minds to indigenous ideas of well-being for their communities that have survived centuries of oppression. Their message to funders in the room? "Walk with us. Not in front of us, not behind us and definitely not over us."

"Walk with us. Not in front of us, not behind us and definitely not over us," said aboriginal members of Woor-Dungin to funders in the room.

Lourdes Inga concurred. As the executive director of International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP), a funder affinity group that works to amplify grantmaking to Indigenous Peoples, she has witnessed the unequal power dynamics at play between donors and groups. "IFIP sees the profound value in bringing indigenous voices to philanthropic spaces so that funders can move away from transactional relationships to embrace a partnership model that is responsive and respectful of indigenous life plans," she said.

Some of the delegates at the hui are, from left, Numelin Mahana from Vanuatu; Lourdes Inga, who is the executive director of the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples; and Dorothy Moli from Vanuatu.

Meanwhile, Otaki is poised to reach a significant milestone as the first bilingual town in New Zealand. "Today Otaki is a different town. Our children speak Māori, and there is no confusion of our identity. We must not re-instate monolingualism. We must resist Crown surveillance and intrusion," concluded Selby. Numelin Mahana, an indigenous elder from the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, was encouraged by the Māori language revival. "Our language is our roots. The Māori are again following the path of their ancestors. It's not easy, but they are on their way."

Otaki Beach, where in the Kapiti Coast District of the North Island of New Zealand an International Funders for Indigenous Peoples Pacific Hui or gathering was recently held.

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Janet Yellen and the Fed: Progressives Should Pay Attention

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 07:46

Janet Yellen speaks at the University of Michigan on April 10, 2017, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo: Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan)

Many people think of the Federal Reserve Board as an obscure and esoteric institution that only those concerned about finance need concern themselves with. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Fed's ability to set interest rate policy directly affects the rate of growth in the economy and therefore the rate of job creation. This in turn affects the tightness of the labor market, which determines the extent to which workers have the bargaining power to achieve wage gains.

The basic story is that when the Fed raises its short-term interest rate it puts upward pressure on interest rates throughout the economy. It means higher interest rates on mortgages and car loans, on student loan and credit card debt. It also means that companies have to pay more money to borrow as do state and local governments. The result of higher interest rates in these and other areas is less borrowing and therefore less demand in the economy. This translates into less growth and fewer jobs.

There has been a major debate in recent years both at the Fed and among economists more generally on how low the unemployment rate could go. Just a few years ago, it was widely believed that if the unemployment rate fell much below 5.5 percent inflation would begin to spiral upward. Proponents of this view wanted the Fed to start aggressively raising interest rates to make sure the unemployment rate did not get too low.

In December of 2015 the Fed did start raising interest rates from the zero level set in the Great Recession, but it has been relatively cautious in its rate hikes thus far. While some of us would still argue that it raised rates more than was warranted by the economic situation, the current 1.25 percent level for the short-term rate directly under its control is still low by any historic standard.

As a result, the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.3 percent and millions more are working than if the Fed had followed the route advocated by the inflation hawks. And the beneficiaries of this drop in the unemployment rate have been overwhelmingly the most disadvantaged groups in society.

Comparing August of 2017 to August of 2015 the employment rate (the percentage of the adult population that is employed) for whites has risen by just 0.5 percentage points. The employment rate for Latinos rose by 1.4 percentage points, while the employment rate for African Americans rose by 1.7 percentage points. There is a similar story if we look at employment by education level, with the strongest gains by those with the least education.

This pattern also shows up in the wage growth data. While those towards the top end of the wage distribution saw respectable wage gains throughout the recovery, those at the middle and bottom had largely stagnant real wages. This has reversed in the last few years as the labor market has tightened. Workers at the middle and bottom of the wage distribution are now seeing more rapid wage growth than those closer to the top.

This story should be very important to anyone concerned about the plight of low and moderate income people. There would be big fights in Congress if someone proposed raising or lowering food stamp benefits by $10 billion, but Fed policy could easily redirect ten times as much money to low and moderate income households through increased employment and higher wages, with no one paying attention.

It is important that people start paying attention now. There are currently four opening on the Fed's seven-person board of governors. This seven person board, along with the 12 presidents of the district Fed banks, determines the Fed's monetary policy. Donald Trump will have the ability to fill these vacancies. (He already has already made one nomination for a vacant governor slot.)

In addition, Janet Yellen's term as Fed chair expires in February of next year. Trump will also have the opportunity to replace Yellen. While the Fed chair only has one vote, they have enormous influence over Fed policy. The rest of the group tends to defer to the Fed chair, especially when it is someone like Yellen who has established her expertise on monetary policy over several decades at the Fed and in other policy positions.

There is actually a possibility that Trump will reappoint Yellen as Fed chair in spite of her being a Democrat. There has been a tradition of presidents reappointing Fed chairs from the opposite party, so there would be plenty of precedent for this. Trump may also be looking for a way to be conciliatory to Democrats and earn himself some good press.

In addition, Yellen is likely to be good for the economy. She will try to maintain the economy on a path of stable growth and ideally falling unemployment. Most of the likely Republican picks are among the inflation hawks who have been arguing for higher interest rates for years. Trump would certainly like to be able to run for re-election with a strong economy under his belt.

The idea of doing anything that might help Trump stay in office is undoubtedly repulsive to many progressives. But it doesn't make sense to hope that the economy will tank to undermine his election prospects. The people who would pay the price for another recession are overwhelmingly the least advantaged in society.

There is a long list of reasons that Trump should not get another term in office, and the list will surely lengthen in the next three years. This should be the basis for unseating him, not the sabotage of the economy. We should all hope that Janet Yellen gets another term as Fed chair.

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Naomi Klein Warns Europe May Water Down Paris Accord to Win Support From Trump

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 21:00

President Donald Trump on Tuesday is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly. Climate change is expected to be high on the agenda at this year’s gathering. As the world leaders meet, another major storm -- Hurricane Maria -- is gaining strength in the Caribbean and following a similar path as Hurricane Irma. The current forecast shows Maria could hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm as early as Wednesday. The US Virgin Islands, which were devastated by Irma, also appear to be in line to be hit by Maria. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that the Trump administration is considering staying in the Paris climate agreement, just months after the president vowed to pull out of it. The White House denied the report. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday signaled Trump may back away from the Paris accord, but National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster gave a different message on Fox News Sunday. We speak with best-selling author Naomi Klein, a senior correspondent for The Intercept. Her most recent book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, has been longlisted for a National Book Award.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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Trumpcare Is Back, More Brutal and Deadly Than Ever

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 21:00
A group of activists rally against a GOP health care plan outside of the Metropolitan Republican Club, July 5, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)   With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.

The Trumpcare zombie has risen from the grave to terrorize the American public once more.

Progressive organizations, lawmakers, hospital groups, and healthcare specialists have issued a "red alert" as reporting over the weekend indicated that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is considering a vote by the end of this month on what Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called Sunday "yet another disastrous Republican proposal to throw millions of people off health insurance."

In an email to supporters Sunday night, Ben Wikler, Washington director of, warned that the Republican Party "is now a hair's breadth away -- closer than they've ever been -- to passing a devastating healthcare repeal bill, shredding the Affordable Care Act  (ACA), and gutting Medicaid."

"All we need is one more [vote]," Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) concluded.

The plan under consideration was authored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.). Summaries of the bill indicate that, if passed, it would be every bit as harmful as the Trumpcare proposals that failed to escape the Senate in July.

The Graham-Cassidy plan -- "Trumpcare by another name" -- has yet to be analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), but McConnell has asked for the scoring process to be fast-tracked, the Washington Post reports.

But even without a CBO score, experts have said there is enough evidence to conclude the plan would impose devastating and deadly cuts to key safety net programs and disproportionately harm America's most vulnerable communities.

In a recent analysis, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found that the Graham-Cassidy plan would "gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions," impose "damaging cuts" to Medicaid, and "cause many millions of people to lose coverage."

By 2027, the Graham-Cassidy plan "would be virtually identical to a repeal-without-replace bill," the CBPP concluded. "CBO estimated that the repeal-without-replace approach would ultimately leave 32 million more people uninsured. The Cassidy-Graham bill would presumably result in even deeper coverage losses than that in the second decade."

Andy Slavitt, who ran the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the presidency of Barack Obama, posted a bullet-point summary of the proposal on Twitter last week. The post has since garnered over 42,000 retweets -- just one indication of the groundswell of opposition the legislation will likely provoke.

JUST OUT: Here's a summary of the Graham-Cassidy repeal. Yes, it's that bad.

Spread far and wide if useful.

— Andy Slavitt (@ASlavitt) September 13, 2017

As the Post's Elise Viebeck and David Weigel observe, the GOP is working with an imposing deadline: September 30 marks the last day the Republicans can ram through budgetary legislation with merely a simple majority. Beyond that date, the GOP will need 60 votes.

Because this deadline is looming, activist groups are warning that Republicans will be under even more pressure to vote 'yes,' and that those who opposed previous measures -- like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- might ultimately flip.'s Wikler concluded that "massive, unignorable pressure" will be necessary to defeat the Republicans' "brutal and deadly" act of desperation.

Disability rights activists, who were central to the defeat of Trumpcare in July, have already begun mobilizing against Graham-Cassidy, and other organizations -- from Planned Parenthood to Indivisible and more -- are planning to ramp up resistance efforts this week.

"Defeating Trumpcare doesn't take rocket science," Wikler concluded. "What it takes is steady focus and relentless pressure. We can do this. Lives depend on it."

Democratic lawmakers -- many of whom co-sponsored Sanders's Medicare for All legislation -- joined the calls for mass mobilization.

The fight to save heath care isn't over. Sound the alarm. We need you to fight today & every day until this @SenateGOP bill is dead.

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) September 17, 2017

The Graham-Cassidy “health care" bill is just more of the same disastrous policy we’ve seen from Republicans. We must beat this thing.

— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) September 17, 2017

The threat is real! We must let our voices be heard. Don't be silent. Help stop this craven repeal of healthcare for millions.

— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) September 17, 2017

?Republican bill to rip away health care from millions is gaining steam.

— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) September 17, 2017

They only need to flip 1 vote by end of September to ruin your healthcare. Light up the phones, please. This really is their last chance.

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) September 17, 2017
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Are Hazardous Vapors Seeping Into Your Home?

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 21:00

When Jane Horton bought her dream 800-square-foot farmhouse in 1975, she thought little of the semiconductor manufacturing plant across the street. Even after the company's buildings were demolished and a chain-link fence went up around the campus, she still had no knowledge of the toxic dangers lurking beneath her feet -- let alone of the fact that they were invading her home.

(Photo: Pley / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

When Jane Horton bought her dream 800-square-foot farmhouse in 1975, she thought little of the semiconductor manufacturing plant across the street. Even after the company's buildings were demolished and a chain-link fence went up around the campus, she still had no knowledge of the toxic dangers lurking beneath her feet -- let alone of the fact that they were invading her home.

It wasn't until the early 2000s that Horton and other residents of Mountain View, California, heard about the underground plume of trichloroethylene, or TCE -- a cancer-causing liquid used at the facility to clean silicon chips. Horton learned that vapors from the TCE were seeping up from the groundwater and soil into local buildings. When investigators tested the air inside her family's house in 2004, they found concentrations of TCE exceeded a site-specific threshold set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. And that was after approximately 75 percent of the contamination had already been cleaned up.

"We'd been over the plume the whole time," says Horton, whose youngest son was still in elementary school when the vapors were discovered. "I can remember being so outraged that everything took so long. I'm wondering: Are my kids going to get cancer? Are my kids going to die? How am I going to be?" A venting system the EPA installed in her cellar now sucks toxic gases up from the soil, sending them through pipes and out a rooftop stack into the air, where they would be quickly diluted to acceptable levels. Periodic monitoring by the agency has since shown that the TCE levels at the house are safe.

"It took them about a year to get the system working right," Horton says. "It will be in the house until the house is no longer there."

Meanwhile, similar stories of toxic vapors intruding into buildings continue to surface around the country -- from a mobile home park near San Diego to sites throughout Minnesota.

The implicated contaminants -- most notoriously chlorinated solvents, such as TCE and tetrachloroethylene (known as perc), as well as benzene -- can migrate through soil and groundwater from where they have seeped into the earth from a leak or a spill. Common sources include dry cleaners, gas stations, auto repair shops, military bases and industrial sites, even those whose doors closed decades ago.

While exposure to high levels of these vapors can cause immediate effects, such as irritation and fatigue, breathing small amounts over a period of time is more concerning, according to Phil Landrigan, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "Babies and small children can especially be damaged by very low concentrations of some of these materials," he says. Long-term exposure to TCE, perc or benzene is known or suspected to raise the risk of certain cancers and other health effects, although it still remains unclear if intruding vapors reach high enough concentrations to pose a significant threat to human health. Research also hints at a link between a woman's exposure to TCE during the first trimester of pregnancy and fetal heart malformations -- a finding that has added considerable controversy and complication in addressing vapor intrusion.

Soil bacteria readily biodegrade benzene and other hydrocarbons into relatively benign products such as water and carbon dioxide, making these contaminants a lesser concern. The breakdown of chlorinated solvents, on the other hand, can be slow and generate even more toxic by-products. Perc, for example, breaks down into TCE, which in turn creates dichloroethene and vinyl chloride, a potent carcinogen that is particularly persistent and mobile in the environment.

Experts, including EPA officials, are not able to estimate the full scale of vapor intrusion. But it is likely extensive. Amy Graham, an EPA spokesperson, noted 91 existing Superfund sites where unacceptable human health risks associated with vapor intrusion triggered mitigation. Nearly 4,000 other sites are regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, of which the EPA previously estimated a quarter likely have some vapor intrusion.

The EPA does not track the occurrence of vapor intrusion for the estimated more than 450,000 brownfields, another category of contaminated properties, in the US. What's more, in 2002, the US General Accounting Office suggested 200,000 underground storage tanks then in operation were not being managed properly and so could be at elevated risk for leaking. And an estimated 75 percent of the more than 36,000 dry-cleaning facilities currently operating in the US have discharged solvents into the environment. "As more and more sampling is done, more and more vapor intrusion is found across the country," says Lenny Siegel, executive director for the nonprofit Center for Public Environmental Oversight.

"The thing about vapor intrusion is that people are exposed in their homes, their workplaces, their places of worship, their schools without their knowledge and against their will to dangerous chemicals," adds Siegel. "That's intrusion."

The movement of toxic vapors into buildings, while generally under the radar of public attention, is attracting increased scrutiny from environmental health experts, advocates and agencies. The EPA significantly lowered the level of TCE exposure it deemed safe when it published a final version of its toxicity assessment in 2011. In 2015, the EPA released voluntary guidance for state and tribal agencies on evaluating and addressing vapor intrusion. And in May of this year, the agency added vapor intrusion to the criteria used in determining whether a site qualifies for Superfund status. Still, no consensus yet exists across the country on how to deal with the issue.

Vacuuming Vapors

Regulators, as well as many scientists, didn't take much notice of vapor intrusion until the 2000s. At that time, awareness had grown about the hazards of radon, a radioactive, carcinogenic gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium or thorium in the ground and was found to be leaking into basements. People had begun to connect the dots.

"The radon problem is essentially the same phenomenon, except it has a source that is natural rather than manmade," explains Eric Suuberg, co-director of the Superfund Basic Research Program at Brown University.

As with radon, the average person is not likely to detect vapor intrusion. "You can't smell it, you can't see it," he says. "You need sophisticated instrumentation to get to the kinds of low concentrations that are involved."

Both radon and manmade vapors can enter a building in much the same way that dirt is drawn into a vacuum cleaner. Suction is created when air moves from areas of high pressure to comparatively low pressure. So just as the suction created at the floor by a vacuum cleaner pulls in small particles and traps them inside a bag or compartment, air movement can draw toxic vapors into a house through cracks or other openings in the foundation.

"It's basic physics," says William Suk, director of the Superfund Research Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. "Gases have to go somewhere, and they will find a way to go up."

In North Canton, Ohio, an even more direct connection between vacuums and vapor intrusion has emerged. The Hoover Company began making vacuum cleaners in the town during the early 1900s. Over the following decades, manufacturing led to releases of TCE and perc.

Today, redevelopment of the approximately 85-acre (34-hectare) Hoover site has prompted increased oversight by the EPA, including efforts to assess and address the historic contamination on and off the site.

Community Christian Church abuts the former factory. William Henry "Boss" Hoover, the company's founder, actually served as a president, preacher and teacher at the church more than a century ago. In 2016, when EPA contractors tested the air inside the church, which houses a Sunday school and a preschool on its lower levels, they found unacceptably high levels of TCE.

"We didn't know we had a problem until they told us we had a problem," says Jack Hartley, who serves as treasurer for the church.

Hartley suggests that "not a lot of people" at the church know about the vapor intrusion, but adds that the discovery "wasn't that alarming." The bigger concern for the congregation at the time, he says, was keeping the sanctuary cool. The church needed to replace a 40-year-old air-conditioning unit, which they did with financial help from a Hoover trust. The Hoover property developer, meanwhile, paid for the installation of a mitigation system inside the church, and TCE concentrations subsequently dropped.

"No one here wants to acknowledge or talk about it," says Chuck Osborne, a local resident and activist. "The name Hoover here is revered. It's hard for people to imagine that they left us a toxic contaminated mess."

Hunting Hazards

Horton, the Mountain View farmhouse owner, recognizes the conflicting social pressures, too. After the mitigation system was installed in her home, some parents would not let their kids come over to play with her sons. "We probably had the cleanest air in Mountain View," she says, noting that many families remain in the dark about the air quality in their own homes because they're concerned that having their air tested would lower property values.

Even with the cooperation of homeowners, regulators, polluters and other stakeholders, the challenges don't cease. Difficulties remain in knowing where, when and how to look.

Some states use the groundwater concentration of a contaminant to determine whether -- and where -- to investigate for potential vapor intrusion. But a plume doesn't necessarily stay in place. It might drift north, south, east or west from the source. Sewer lines can send vapors even longer distances. Companies have been known to empty chemicals directly into sewers, and cracks in aged lines can pick up vapors in contaminated areas. Concentrations at various depths can also change across seasons -- or even days. A heavy rain might put a layer of relatively clean water on top of the contaminated water, explains Suuberg. "You can't just willy-nilly drill a well, pull water up from any random depth and say that characterizes the problem," he says.

If a groundwater sample exceeds the screening level -- a value that can vary by state -- the next step is often to test for the gas in the soil just above the water table. But again, that depth can fluctuate. If the soil-gas concentration surpasses another threshold, investigators will sample air inside the building. Some investigators bypass soil-gas testing and go immediately indoors.

This step can be tricky, too. Consumer products, such as paints, gasoline and dry-cleaned clothes, can emit the same vapors and so can obscure results. Further complicating matters, concentrations of contaminants in indoor air can swing by an order of magnitude or more, depending on air pressure, temperature and circulation, explains Laurent Levy, a senior project manager at Gradient, an environmental and risks sciences consulting firm. Taking one 24-hour sample, as is classically done, may miss variations across days and months. Developers are looking into affordable continuous monitoring tools. The EPA now also recommends multiple rounds of sampling.

The indoor air concentration that will trigger a response varies widely by state -- despite the finalized 267-page federal guidance and updated toxicity assessments for TCE and perc. When a specified level is reached, even just how to respond is not always clear. However, it usually involves some form of ongoing monitoring or mitigation similar to systems installed at the Hortons' and Community Christian Church.

From Action to Prevention

In the face of regional inconsistencies, as well as pushback from litigation-weary companies and fearful families, Levy suggests the need to "switch from reaction to prevention." A tax credit, he says, might help incentivize preemptive installation of mitigation systems in circumstances where there is potential for vapor intrusion -- avoiding the need to spend time and money on an investigation. The EPA's Region 9 now requires that new buildings constructed over the Mountain View Superfund site include vapor intrusion control measures.

Still, he says, it's important to remember that vapor mitigation measures do not make the problem go away. "You're just cutting the pathway," says Levy. "You still need to go back and address the source."

Mountain View got a head start with cleanup because drinking water regulations had already prompted the EPA to grant Superfund status. The addition in May 2017 of vapor intrusion to the qualifying criteria for the National Priorities List, the hazardous waste sites eligible for long-term cleanup under the Superfund program, may lead to the remediation of more sources.

Fending off future contamination that could lead to more preventable cases of vapor intrusion is also critical, experts say. Updated regulations detail the proper use and maintenance of underground storage tanks, which could help prevent leaks. And the EPA, during the final months of the Obama administration, proposed bans for certain uses of TCE. But while people continue employing the culprit chemicals, fully stopping the unwelcome intruders remains unlikely.

"We're still using gasoline. We're still using chlorinated solvents. TCE is still valued as a good gun cleaner," says Suuberg. "These are not, in any sense, outlawed chemicals."

Beyond keeping vapor-emitting products out of their home and complying with vapor intrusion testing and mitigation, individuals can further lower their risks with some due diligence.

"Just as we advise people to be wary of lead paint and asbestos when moving into a new house or apartment, people also need to look at the surroundings," says Mount Sinai's Landrigan. "Are they buying a home next to where there used to be a dry-cleaning shop?"

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Demanding Affordable Medicines: Lessons From Maryland's Law Against Price Gouging

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 21:00

Rather than wait for a Big Pharma-controlled president and Congress to provide relief on exploitative drug pricing, states should follow Maryland's example. Using grassroots organizing, Maryland residents were successful in pressuring state legislators to pass HB 631.

(PHoto: Malerapaso / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

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On the campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump declared that drug companies "are getting away with murder." His first months in office, however, have shown that he is more intent on giving large pharmaceutical companies tax breaks than taking action to bring drug prices down. The Republican-controlled 115th Congress has been slow to act as prescription drug prices reach crisis levels for patients.

In lieu of federal action, state advocates across the country are achieving breakthroughs in campaigns for drug price transparency and affordability. If we look beyond the partisan gridlock of DC, we can learn from these local victories and build on them. A recent success in Maryland can teach us a lot about how to make progress at the state level and build momentum for affordable medicines.

Maryland's Surprise Victory

In April 2017, a drug-pricing bill passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in the Maryland Senate (38-7) and House (137-2). The legislation, HB 631, took a novel approach to the issue of rapidly spiking drug prices. It would allow the state's attorney general to crack down on pharmaceutical price gouging in cases of excessive and unjustified price increases that harm consumers. The attorney general can bring cases to the State Circuit Court, with possible remedies including restraining price-gouging activities, restoring money to consumers or imposing a fine of up to $10,000 for each violation. Despite strong opposition from pharmaceutical companies, HB 631 became law and presents a new tool to hold generic drug manufacturers accountable and deter price hikes in the state.

Less than two months before this victory, Maryland Health Care for All! organizer Matt Celentano did not know that this bill would move forward, never mind pass overwhelmingly. In a recent conversation, he acknowledged that the victory on HB 631 required a combination of grassroots energy, clear messaging and opportune timing. The EpiPen pricing scandal kept the issue of overpriced medicines in the headlines and put pressure on the legislature to come out of the session with a sign of progress.

The coalition also benefited from having State Attorney General Brian Frosh concerned with the problem of unjustifiable price hikes. "We've heard many complaints from folks all over our state," Frosh told Truthout. While generic drugs like Martin Shkreli's Daraprim could be raised with impunity before, Frosh believes the passage of HB 631 sends a clear message: "Not in Maryland." He worked with advocates to testify and lobby in favor of the bill. "It is not a panacea," Frosh said, "but I hope it helps." Timing and influential allies like Frosh helped, but advocates would not have achieved such an overwhelming victory without months of mobilizing voters, educating legislators and building a broad Prescription Drug Affordability Coalition that included Doctors for America, AARP and more than 60 other groups. This preparation was crucial when the legislation started to move and pharmaceutical industry groups dialed up their opposition.

Countering Pharma's Tactics

The Association for Accessible Medicines, a group representing drug manufacturers, actively opposed HB 631 in the local press and the Maryland General Assembly. With more than 15 years of experience working on health care policy in Maryland, Celentano knows from experience how skilled pharmaceutical lobbyists are at deflecting, creating uncertainty and sticking to tried and true arguments. "For five decades, they've used the same talking points over and over," he said. "And it works because they keep winning."

The familiar arguments claim that drug prices need to be raised to recoup the costs of researching and developing drugs, and that legislation to bring prices down would slow innovation and prevent new drugs from being manufactured. They leave out the fact that most big pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing or on share buybacks than they do on research. Nevertheless, these threats sow seeds of doubt and often cause concerned legislators to pump the brakes on drug-pricing legislation.

This time, however, Celentano and his coalition prepared for this opposition and used rapid response with legislators and the public to correct misleading claims from the other side. "You have to fight fire with fire," Celentano said. The advocates corrected misleading statements, but also brought up the pharmaceutical industry's high profit margins, CEO compensation and specific drugs that are overpriced. They stuck to a clear message that this legislation would make prescription drugs more affordable, which the majority of voters support. Millions of Americans have experienced sticker shock at the pharmacy, and positioning this legislation as part of the solution to that pervasive problem helped it pass overwhelmingly.

This victory can show advocates in other states how important it is to build a base of information with voters and legislators, and use rapid response to counter talking points from industry lobbyists. Celentano also recommended activists not "be afraid of creative ways." HB 631's method of cracking down on pharmaceutical price gouging was the first of its kind, and there are advantages to trying something new. If the time and political situation are right, legislatures might want to lead and be the first to pass a new policy. Now, Celentano said advocates from 29 different states had asked about the policy and how they could adapt it for their states.

Going Forward

Maryland's passage of HB 631 is one of a few victories in state drug-pricing legislation over the past year. Most recently, Nevada passed a bill in June focused on the price of drugs for people with diabetes. Advocates across the country are engaged to continue building on these successes, and new resources are being developed to share information and strategy. The Yale Global Health Justice Partnership recently released a primer for states titled "Curbing Unfair Drug Prices" that provides background, strategic considerations and recommendations for state officials and advocates. The primer recommends comprehensive laws to address unfair price increases for both generic and patented drugs, as well as transparency laws that mandate the release of information on development, manufacturing and marketing costs of a drug.

In the next few months, voters and legislatures will face more decisions on drug-pricing legislation in states across the country. The highest-profile case will be an Ohio ballot initiative on the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act this November. The bill would require the state to pay no more for prescription drugs than the Department of Veteran Affairs does (similar to California's Proposition 61, which failed 46-54 percent last November). California, Connecticut, New York, Washington and many other states also have pending legislation to address high drug prices. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a database you can use to see what is happening in your state legislature.

In closing, Celentano advised that, "The only way to win this war is little by little." Significant opposition from pharmaceutical companies has made progress difficult, but momentum is clearly increasing. As soon as one minor, limited victory happens, it makes others more likely. Continued engagement from patients, advocates and broad coalitions in states across the country will be crucial to addressing the national crisis of unaffordable medicines. We cannot count on Congress or the Trump administration to address high drug prices, but a system that puts people above profits is possible if we mobilize, learn from past efforts and make progress state by state. 

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Will Judge Overturn Arpaio Pardon?

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 21:00

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio gestures to the crowd while delivering a speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

Lawyers are arguing that Trump's pardon of racist sheriff Joe Arpaio violated due process and separation of powers. Will a federal district court judge dismiss Arpaio's contempt conviction or will she declare the pardon unconstitutional?

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio gestures to the crowd while delivering a speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

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When Donald Trump plunged a dagger through the hearts of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio's victims and all justice-loving people by pardoning the racist serial lawbreaker, many threw up their hands in resignation. The president's constitutional pardon power is absolute, they thought.

Not so, argue lawyers and legal scholars in two proposed amicus briefs filed in US District Court in Arizona. They contend the Arpaio pardon is unconstitutional.

Judge Susan Bolton convicted Arpaio of criminal contempt on July 31, 2017, for demonstrating "flagrant disregard" of a 2011 court order that he cease racial profiling. For 18 months following the 2011 order, Arpaio had continued his racist practice of detaining Latinos without reasonable suspicion in violation of the Fourth Amendment. 

While Arpaio awaited sentencing for his criminal contempt conviction, Trump granted him a pardon on August 25, 2017.

After Trump announced the pardon, Arpaio moved to have his criminal conviction dismissed. Judge Bolton vacated the date that had been set for sentencing and scheduled an October 4 hearing to rule on Arpaio's dismissal motion.

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

If the judge determines Trump's pardon was invalid, she could sentence Arpaio for his contempt conviction, thereby provoking an appeal.

The Arpaio Pardon Violates Due Process

The Protect Democracy Project (PDP), a group of former Obama administration lawyers, contend in their proposed amicus brief that Trump's pardon of Arpaio violates due process and separation of powers. Thus, Judge Bolton should declare the pardon null and void.

Arpaio was not simply convicted of committing a criminal offense. He was convicted of criminal contempt for refusing during an 18-month period to obey a court order to stop violating the Fourth Amendment. His contempt conviction stems from a civil class action lawsuit filed by Arpaio's victims.

"No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law," the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause says. It "protects the rights of private litigants to bring their claims before an impartial and empowered court and prohibits extreme and arbitrary actions of government officials, including the Executive Branch," the PDP amicus reads. 

"Due process is violated if the President can eviscerate a court's ability to ensure compliance with the law by those who wrong the rights of private parties," the PDP lawyers write in their brief. They quote the Supreme Court opinion in the 1998 case County of Sacramento v. Lewis, which says, "the Due Process Clause was intended to prevent government officials from abusing their power, or employing it as an instrument of oppression."

The Arpaio pardon, the PDP lawyers argue, violates the Due Process Clause "by limiting the protection of private rights, rendering the due process guaranteed by law an empty promise."

The Arpaio Pardon Violates Separation of Powers

PDP maintains the pardon also "unconstitutionally interferes with the inherent powers of the Judicial Branch," and thus violates the principle of separation of powers.

The PDP lawyers argue in their amicus brief that the Constitution does not grant the president power to pardon a criminal contempt conviction when (1) it stems from a matter involving the rights of private litigants, and (2) the contempt finding is "a valid and binding exercise of judicial power designed to ensure proper redress for those private litigants' rights," particularly when they are constitutional rights.

PDP cites the Supreme Court opinion in the 1987 case Young v. U.S. ex rel. Vuitton et Fils S.A., which said the criminal contempt power is so central to the judicial branch, it may not be left to the mercy of the executive branch. The power to punish those who disobey judicial orders is essential to vindicate the authority of the courts, and should not be dependent on the legislative or executive branches.

"The President may no more use the pardon power to trample the rest of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, than he may use the Commander-in-Chief power to call down airstrikes on political opponents," the PDP brief states. "The pardon power does not trump the rest of the Constitution."

Contempt Is Not a Pardonable Offense

Another proposed amicus brief was filed by Erwin Chemerinsky, constitutional law scholar and dean of the UC Berkeley Law School; Michael Tigar, prominent attorney and retired law professor; and human rights lawyer Jane Tigar. They argue that the Arpaio pardon is not authorized by the Constitution because the pardon power only extends to "offenses against the United States," and Arpaio's contempt conviction is not an "offense."

The argument distinguishes between crimes, felonies and offenses as defined by the legislature, on the one hand, and contempts, which are inherent in the judicial power. "The pardon power logically and textually refers only to the former category," they write.

Chemerinsky, Tigar and Tigar also contend the pardon runs afoul of the principle that courts created by Article III of the Constitution have a duty to provide effective redress when a public official violates the Constitution. Arpaio's victims are entitled to a remedy for violation of their constitutional rights.

The three lawyers maintain that Article III courts have the inherent authority to enforce their orders and that power "exists outside and beyond legislative empowerment and executive whim."

If Arpaio's conduct is tolerated, they write, it would undermine the court's "constitutional right and duty to protect its own processes and the lives and liberty of those who come to seek justice."

In their amicus brief, the three note, "The judiciary's counter-majoritarian functions are most often used in ways that foster and support the fundamental values of democratic government." They identify these values as "the rights of all persons regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation to participate in and benefit from equal rights." In the Arpaio case, "one fundamental value at stake is the right to even-handed treatment at the hands of law enforcement -- surely a democratic value."

Before he pardoned Arpaio, Trump told a crowd of supporters in Phoenix that rather than violating the law, Arpaio was "doing his job." But "no President till now has proclaimed that a public official who violated the Constitution and flouted orders was 'doing his job,'" the three lawyers write.

One of the most critical duties of a president is to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," under the Take Care Clause of the Constitution. But, PDP argues, "The Arpaio Pardon does not faithfully execute the law; its sends a signal that public officials, so long as they are allies of the President, need not execute the law at all." Trump granted Arpaio a pardon "to reward [him] for violating the Constitution."

Arpaio Might Feel "Outnumbered"

Judge Bolton has not yet ruled on whether she will allow these amicus briefs to be officially filed in the case. In his opposition to the filing of the proposed amicus briefs, Arpaio's lawyers wrote that the amicus briefs pose "a burden on the [defendant]," who might "feel that he is outnumbered."

Just like his victims felt "outnumbered" when they were detained by sheriff's deputies because they were brown or herded into what Arpaio called his "concentration camp"? 

Arpaio's brief calls his conviction for criminal contempt "wrongful" but cites no facts to prove he was wrongfully convicted. His brief flippantly characterizes amici's arguments as "a bitter soup that is too hard to swallow, being mixed with one part irrelevant English history, one part political bile, and a broth of 'Chicken Little syndrome,' to taste."

The Department of Justice (DOJ) supports Arpaio's request for dismissal of his contempt conviction. But the DOJ quotes the federal circuit court opinion in United States v. Surratt, which says, "absent some constitutional infirmity," an exercise of presidential pardon power "simply closes the judicial door." As the authors of the amicus briefs argue, there are constitutional infirmities with Arpaio's pardon -- specifically violations of due process and separation of powers, and contempt is not a constitutionally pardonable offense.

On September 14, Judge Bolton issued an order, citing Nixon v. United States, in which the Supreme Court suggested that a presidential pardon leaves intact the recipient's underlying record of conviction. She ordered the DOJ to submit a brief addressing whether Arpaio's conviction should be dismissed.

We shall learn on October 4 whether Judge Bolton will uphold Trump's pardon of Arpaio, or whether she will find it unconstitutional and impose a sentence on Arpaio, thereby paving the way for an appeal -- all the way to the Supreme Court.

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Trump's Tax Plan Is Indefensible

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 21:00

Although Trump has yet to reveal his plan for tax reform, he and the GOP have made it clear that it will involve tax cuts for the super-rich, paired with cuts in much-needed social services for the poor and vulnerable. Besides being totally devoid of compassion, the plan defies logic and empirical evidence on what really makes the economy grow.

President Donald Trump (C) meets with Democratic and Republican members of Congress, including Rep. Josh Gottheimer (L) (D-NJ), in the Cabinet Room of the White House September 13, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

When President Trump agreed with Democrats on a debt limit increase, there began talk about a new era of cooperation. For those foolish enough to fall for such claptrap, just wait until the tax reform train comes barreling in later this year. And make no mistake, Trump and the GOP have made it clear (for decades) that "reform" really means cuts for the wealthy. When it comes to making the super-rich super-richer, there is no negotiation.

And who exactly is advocating massive reduction in top-end marginal tax rates (MTR), a policy with dubious and arguably non-existent benefits? As for Trump, after years of attacking China over currency manipulation, early in his presidency he reportedly asked National Security Adviser Mike Flynn about the economic impact of a strong US dollar. Soon-to-be-fired Ex-General Flynn had no answer since, like Trump, he has no understanding of macro- or micro-economics. At least Flynn never claimed to have graduated at the top of his class from the greatest business school in the universe (Wharton undergraduate school of business) where, in Intro-Econ, they presumably outlined the trade implications of a strong versus weak greenback. Tragically, when it comes to understanding the impact of tax policy, most Republican politicians appear equally under-informed.

The GOP mantra is that all tax cuts -- especially those that fall disproportionately on the wealthy -- not only boost the economy, but more than pay for themselves by stimulating spending and greater levels of taxable income (a Reagan era discredited theory known as the Laffer Curve where, it was mistakenly argued, taxes may be reduced, government spending increased and the budget balanced). More remarkably, despite historically gigantic income disparity, they additionally swear the benefits of more wealth to the mega-rich will trickle down to other classes. Unfortunately for those living paycheck-to-paycheck, history suggests this is utter nonsense.

During the period from 1951 through 1963, with the highest marginal tax rates at a whopping 91 percent, the economy grew at the annual rate of 3.90 percent. In the 1990s, President Clinton raised the top MTR from 31 percent to 39.6 percent, and not only did the economy grow at 3.8 percent, but over 21 million jobs were created (and there was a budget surplus for the last time in forever). And while in the previous Reagan-Bush administration, lowering MTR from 70 percent to 28 percent resulted in a growth rate of 3.5 percent (additionally assisted by massive military expenditures), that was after President Reagan recoiled from gigantic deficits and de facto raised taxes in 1982 and 1984 (by closing loopholes and reducing tax breaks on the wealthy), in what tax historian Joseph Thorndike characterized as "the biggest tax increase ever enacted during peacetime." Though not given his due by the Right, even Reagan understood the benefit of a flexible tax policy.

And then there is Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's 2012 grand tax overhaul where he sharply cut taxes and swore this would be a blueprint for the rest of the nation: lower taxes equals an economic boom that will balance the budget and lead to prosperity for all (trickle down proof that the Laffer Curve was financial gospel). In June of this year, with the Kansas state budget blown to bits amid cuts to schools and social services, the GOP-controlled state legislature repudiated Brownback and rolled back $1.2 billion in cuts over two years (some even swore the cuts were simply not large enough: the legislature did not agree).

However, tax policy is not a one-size-fits-all cause-and-effect. Conservatives are correct in suggesting that raising taxes on the middle class -- especially in tough times -- is foolish. These individuals spend nearly every penny they earn on necessities. If they receive more in the form of lower taxes, out of necessity they consume (a behavior that has a multiplier effect as vendors receiving these outlays will, in turn, spend receipts, generating additional economic benefit). In contrast, lowering taxes on the super-wealthy -- as is a stated priority in the Trump/GOP plan -- has minimal impact. A billionaire wind-falling another $10 million will be hard pressed to find new toys. That money is more likely to be passively socked away, feeding already loaded investment accounts. In other words, the money has little impact on helping the economy and will not trickle down to anyone other than billionaire heirs (who will pay zero inheritance tax under Trump's rumored proposal).

And while arguably the government has a well-earned reputation for inefficiency, it does provide a powerful economic engine. Of all consumers, the government spends every tax dollar it collects. Outlays to defense contractors, armed forces, disaster relief, and ideally, much-needed infrastructure are stimulative and subject to the multiplier effect. Safety net expenditures -- unemployment insurance, child care, health care subsidies, Meals on Wheels, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid -- also get recycled into the economy: after all, needy people pay out everything they have for needs.

Ergo, while targeted tax cuts are humane and beneficial, the assertion that all tax cuts -- specifically in the upper income brackets -- are economically justified is empirically indefensible and intellectually illogical. And to suggest -- as is part of the conservative plan to dismantle FDR's New Deal legacy -- that it is wise to partially finance this largess with cuts to social safety nets and health care benefits to the needy is reprehensible. Did Trump skip the Wharton lecture on fiscal responsibility? He claims to be a Christian: did he not listen to the sermon on charity? Do Trump and his GOP brethren have no ability to absorb historical economic reality (a rhetorical question)? Even if it were not the case that tax cuts on the upper echelon of incomes does little more than bloat the deficit, the moral case for those at the economic pinnacle paying more is compelling. These Reverse-Robin Hood/Bible-thumping politicians and capitalists need be reminded of the passage in the Book of Luke where it is written: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."

In an ideal world where compassion and logic prevail, something like the first $50,000 a year of income would pay no taxes, offset by a modest increase in the top marginal rate. Sadly, with moral directives ignored, a president confused over basic fiscal and monetary policy (as well as crowd sizes), and a GOP beholden to wealthy special interests, spiritual directive, logic and empiricism have little sway.

As for a new era of cooperation extending to his tax plan, New Yorker Trump would say, "Fuhgeddaboudit."

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Categories: Latest News

Anti-Nuclear Groups Redouble Efforts to Prevent Unimaginable Human Catastrophe

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 21:00

As the threat of nuclear war triggers anxiety not seen since the Cold War, peace groups and those committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons are entering the public debate with renewed calls for dialogue and a reduction in nuclear arsenals in both North Korea and the US.

Nuclear resisters demonstrate in March 2017 at the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, the home port of the Trident nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet. (Credit: Fumi Tosu)

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As the threat of nuclear war triggers anxiety not seen since the Cold War, peace groups and those committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons are entering the public debate with renewed calls for dialogue and a reduction in nuclear arsenals in both North Korea and the US. Meanwhile, anti-nuclear civil disobedience is ramping up.

On September 6, six nuclear resisters were found guilty of trespass after crossing the marked property of Naval Base Kitsap earlier this year. Charley Smith -- a resident of Eugene, Oregon, and a member of the Catholic Worker movement -- carried a copy of the Nuremberg Principles when he crossed the line, as did the others. Many of those active in the Catholic Worker movement, which was founded in 1933 during the Great Depression, have been jailed for acts of protest against war, social injustice, racism and unfair labor practices. Asked to explain the Nuremberg Principles by the judge, Smith replied, "Very simply, if we remain silent or do not challenge the evils of society, we are complicit in those evils just as much as those giving the orders to commit crimes against peace, war crimes or crimes against humanity." Alexandria Addesso, the youngest of the defendants, said nuclear disarmament was a "right to life issue" for her and her generation. She noted there were many threats to her generation -- from climate change to economic inequity -- adding, "I might not have 10, 20 or 30 years of life ahead of me, and I want to work with my peers to end the threat of nuclear annihilation."

Meanwhile, other activists have taken a different approach.

Showing the Public the Reality of the Threat of Nuclear Weapons

In Washington State, where Naval Base Kitsap is home port for the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the US, peace groups and those calling for nuclear disarmament are running ads to remind the public of the humanitarian catastrophe that would ensue should the Trump administration retaliate against North Korea. One ad pleads for Trump "to extend the hand of reason and dialogue to the leadership in North Korea and other nuclear nations," while the other asks, "What will happen to our children?"

Martin Fleck, security program director for Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), says public concern over a nuclear war has spiked. The only path to safety, he says, is the total elimination of nuclear weapons. PSR calls for the United States and North Korea to step back from the brink, "cease the incendiary rhetoric, and begin direct negotiations with no preconditions."

An ad paid for by the Washington chapter of PSR running in the state's largest newspaper, the Seattle Times, states, "If this current dilemma has taught us anything, it is that the world's residents will only be free from the horrors posed by nuclear weapons when their total elimination has been achieved. We express our outrage that the threat to unleash nuclear weapons is being brandished as if these were simply an extension of more conventional weapons." The ad continues, "An attack using nuclear weapons against North Korea would produce an unprecedented and unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe. These warheads produce temperatures greater than the surface of the sun, blast forces that level all structures for miles and release levels of radiation that kill both quickly and slowly. We have all seen the wrenching images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- incinerated bodies, flesh torn loose, pathetic survivors grappling at life's edge."

Long before the North Korean crisis raised the nuclear stakes, the Obama administration set in motion plans for the US to "rebuild and recapitalize almost its entire nuclear arsenal," says Kingston Reif with the Arms Control Association. The upgrade includes the Navy's Ohio-class submarine replacement program, a replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a new fleet of nuclear-capable, air-launched cruise missiles. Trump inherited the program, and his first budget request "proposes to move full steam ahead with the Obama approach," says Reif. The cost? A trillion dollars over the next 30 years with a total cost that could reach $1.5 trillion if left unchecked.

On September 8 the House and Senate passed a short-term spending bill to keep the federal government fully funded through December 8. But House and Senate leaders have yet to agree on the full fiscal 2018 spending bill, including the proposal to rebuild the country's nuclear arsenal. Nuclear brinkmanship over North Korea, coupled with strained relations between the US and its Asian allies and with Russia, is causing groups who've worked for decades to eliminate the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons to double their efforts. "The US and Russia together possess over 90 percent of the roughly 15,000 nuclear warheads on the planet," says Reif. Both sides are engaged in full-blown modernization efforts to upgrade their nuclear arsenals and sustain those arsenals for decades to come, he adds.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) requires that the United States and Russia each reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems by 2018. The agreement, which is slated to expire in 2021, can be extended by up to five years if both Moscow and Washington agree. So far, both sides are implementing the agreement and there are no indications that they don't plan to continue to do so. Russia has indicated it's interested in beginning talks with the United States on extending the treaty, but the Trump administration has yet to respond to these overtures.

Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, a grassroots organization in Washington State, has created bus ads like this one to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons in the Pacific Northwest. (Credit: Courtesy of

Post Cold-War Nuclear Realities

After the Cold War, most of the US public thought the country was disarming. In fact, the Pentagon was silently working to advance nuclear weapons -- many of them at Naval Base Kitsap, located on the eastern shore of Hood Canal, 20 miles west of Seattle. The base is homeport for eight of the US Navy's 14 Trident ballistic missile submarines, as well as an underground nuclear weapons storage complex. Together, they're believed to store more than 1,300 nuclear warheads, according to Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.

A small nonprofit, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, which shares a land border with the naval base, has engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience over the dangers of nuclear weapons since the 1970s. When warheads began to arrive at the base on rail cars from a Pantex assembly plant in Texas -- trains known as the "white trains of death" -- momentum in the anti-nuclear movement began to build. Several thousand protesters would gather on shore, along with a flotilla of boats to meet the trains. Many were arrested and some spent months in federal prison when they entered the base where nuclear warheads were stored in bunkers guarded by Marines with shoot-to-kill orders. But by the 1990s, large-scale public outcry had subsided. The Department of Energy, which supervises the nation's nuclear weapons, stopped shipping warheads by train and began moving them via unmarked trucks and trailers. An age of secrecy had begun.

Fast forward to the 21st century when nuclear modernization efforts under Obama and Trump intensified, and Ground Zero decided it needed to up its game to enlist more public resistance. This summer, the group began running ads on Metro King County/Seattle buses to alert the public to the administration's $1 trillion plan to modernize the nuclear arsenal. "Congress wants $1 trillion for nukes. What will be left for our children? Take action here." reads the ad. Behind the text are the eyes of a child, who takes up most of the frame, and a Trident submarine.

Rodney Brunelle has worked with Ground Zero for a dozen years and helped conceive of the ad. He says that after watching US nuclear buildup go unquestioned by the public, he realized that to be effective, activists "need to take our message to where the people are." He added: "Whenever I tell people about the base and what's actually there, almost without exception their reaction is an incredulous, 'Are you serious?' 'I didn't know that' or 'God, that's awful! Why?'"

The ad agency that produced the ad estimates it will have 9.1 million "gross impressions" -- meaning it will be seen, often more than once, by the county's 2.1 million residents over a 12-week run. In 2016, Ground Zero ran its first bus ad with words that pierce the consciousness: "20 miles west of Seattle is the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the US." Behind the text was a map depicting the proximity of Seattle to Naval Base Kitsap, located on Hood Canal -- one of four main basins in Washington State's Puget Sound. Long-time Ground Zero activist Glen Milner says the ad had an important impact. It caused local media to start using the terms "largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the US."

"It sort of crept into the vocabulary," he says. "It was recognized and became an accepted fact."

Six nuclear resisters were found guilty of trespass after demonstrating in March 2017 at the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. (Credit: Clancy Dunigan)

Breaking Through "the Noise and Confusion"

"We have to break through the noise and confusion," says Milner, "and there is more now than in the 1990s." Part of that includes debunking the notion of strategic nuclear deterrence, adds colleague Leonard Eiger, Ground Zero's communications director. Deterrence gained prominence as a military strategy during the Cold War. It relies on creating doubt among enemy nations regarding nuclear capacity and is intended to dissuade an adversary from taking an action not yet started. But "it's nothing more than a theory," says Eiger, "and it has created a false sense of security that has motivated countries to develop nuclear weapons."

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, puts it like this: "To the extent that the theory of nuclear deterrence is accepted as valid and its flaws overlooked or ignored, it will make nuclear weapons seem to be valuable instruments for the protection of a country." Uncritical acceptance "provides an incentive for nuclear proliferation," he says. "If it's believed that nuclear weapons can keep a country safe, there will be commensurate pressure to develop such weapons.

At the same time, North Korea is an example of the temporary success of deterrence, counters Judith Lipton, a psychologist who writes about peace and war. "Kim Jong-un has deterred the US from invading him or trying to force regime change. But it's a deterrence run amok, because the more rhetoric and weapons, the greater the chance of a (nuclear) encounter."

Adds Ground Zero's Eiger, "It's not like we're in a situation with two essentially stable leaders saying, 'Ok, I have the weapons, you have the weapons, nobody is going to launch because it would be the end of us all.'" Instead, we have two "unstable ones," he says referring to Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, "standing on the opposite sides of a swimming pool filled with gasoline each holding a lighted match."

This summer, the first UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was signed by 122 nations -- all of which are non-nuclear nations. Proponents applauded it as the first time such a treaty had been negotiated in the seven-decade effort to avert a nuclear war. But not one of the world's nine nuclear-armed nations or those under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's umbrella voted for it. "The potential for accidental nuclear war probably hasn't been this high since the Cuban Missile Crisis," concludes Eiger.

Congress introduced a bill earlier this year to prevent the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a congressional declaration of war, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. The policy has long been debated but was never seriously pursued during the Obama administration. It's "now become anything other than abstract under Donald Trump," writes Emily Tamkin in Foreign Policy. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) passed both houses of Congress and is meant to pry the "nuclear football" out of the president's hands. The bill is backed by global disarmament groups and some former US officials like William Perry, former secretary of defense, but has languished in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Rep. Ed Royce (R-California).

For their part, Republicans in Congress are advancing legislation that would escalate a dispute with Russia over alleged violations of the only treaty to successfully eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons. The legislation encourages the United States to develop a cruise missile, which is prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Back in Seattle, meanwhile, a metro bus winds through traffic. On its flank is the ad paid for by Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action: "Congress Wants $1 trillion for nukes. What will be left for our children? Take action here." Brunelle shakes his head, saying, "It goes without saying that it's hard to build a resistance movement against something few people are even aware of. This is a way to raise public consciousness."

The question of what will be left for our children after nuclear war is an existential one, adds Eiger, but one so horrific and catastrophic, that no nation should risk finding out the answer.

Categories: Latest News

Move to Open US Atlantic Coast to Oil Drilling Meets Increased Opposition

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 21:00

A rare and endangered blue whale spouts near offshore oil rigs after a long dive near Long Beach, California. Now that the Trump administration is opening up Atlantic waters to the industry, the endangered North Atlantic right whale may soon be swimming next to oil rigs as well. (Photo: David McNew / Getty Images News)

The Trump Administration has taken steps to open up the United States' Atlantic waters to offshore oil exploration and drilling, sparking fierce resistance up and down the coast.

For instance, Timothy O'Brien, a self-described "angler and sportsman" who is president of Tycoon Tackle, Inc. and serves on the Ecosystem and Ocean Planning Advisory Panel of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, wrote in an op-ed in June that "My business and my customers' businesses will be hit hard if the exploration and drilling for oil off the Atlantic Coast goes forward. But it is not just angling that is at risk, the entire coastal economy and way of life is under threat."

O'Brien's most immediate concern is that, before any drilling can begin, surveys of the Atlantic coastal region would first be performed by seismic airgun blasting. Continually blasting intense bursts of noise into the water every 10 to 12 seconds in order to determine what resources might lie beneath the ocean floor, seismic airguns are so loud they can be heard underwater as far as 2,500 miles away — and the blasting can go on for weeks or even months straight.

"Studies have shown that this type of disturbance can decrease catch rates of commercial fish species by an average of 50 percent over thousands of square miles," O'Brien notes. "Further, these blasts are known to harm marine mammals and other species that are vital to a healthy ecosystem."

O'Brien is far from alone in his opposition to the Trump Administration's plans to open the Atlantic coast to exploitation by oil and gas companies. According to the NGO Oceana, "an alliance representing over 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families from Florida to Maine, also oppose oil exploration and/or development in the Atlantic," while the fishery management councils for the Mid-Atlantic, New England, and the South Atlantic regions have all expressed concerns about the risks posed by seismic airgun blasting.

Joining them are 131 East Coast municipalities and well over 1,000 elected officials at the federal, local, and state levels, including over 100 members of the US Congress and the governors of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

This is a fight that began long before Trump took office. The Atlantic coast has been off-limits to drilling for the past three decades, but Trump is not the first president whose administration considered opening the United States' Atlantic waters up to oil and gas development.

In the early 1980s, the US Congress enacted a prohibition on offshore drilling that effectively banned the practice in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. A presidential moratorium was later put in place by George H.W. Bush in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill. His son, George W. Bush, reversed the presidential ban on offshore drilling in 2008, however, at a time when "Drill, Baby, Drill" had become a popular presidential campaign slogan amongst Republicans. Congress would eventually follow Bush's lead and allow its ban to expire, as well.

The presidential moratorium was not reinstated under the Obama Administration, which appeared to be generally supportive of Atlantic oil exploration, even going so far as to propose opening portions of the Atlantic coast to offshore drilling in 2014, including the coasts of North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. That proposal was eventually shelved, however, and the Atlantic removed from consideration for offshore drilling following opposition from local communities and elected officials.

Permits for seismic surveys were considered by the Obama Administration, but in January 2017, before the Trump Administration came to power, all pending permits were rejected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). But then, in April, Trump issued an executive order aimed at implementing his so-called "America-First Offshore Energy Strategy," which called for a review of the 2017-2022 Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program finalized under the Obama Administration and proposed that all U.S. waters be considered for offshore drilling.

The executive order also instructed federal agencies to "streamline" the permitting process for "seismic research and data collection" and "expedite all stages of consideration of Incidental Take Authorization requests, including Incidental Harassment Authorizations and Letters of Authorization, and Seismic Survey permit applications" required under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The executive order prompted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to issue a secretarial order that instructed BOEM to reverse its previous decision to deny permits for seismic surveying activities off the East Coast.

Before those permits can be officially released, however, companies that hope to put ships in the water towing the seismic airgun arrays used for surveying what's beneath the ocean floor must secure an Incidental Harassment Authorization, or IHA, from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), as any party that wants to do something that could potentially harm or injure marine mammals is required to do under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Oceana was one of several groups that submitted comments to NMFS in opposition to the five IHAs that have been granted to companies seeking to do seismic surveys off the Atlantic coastline. "As soon as NMFS is done reviewing those comments, they can release those IHAs," Ingrid Biedron, a marine scientist and campaign manager with Oceana, told Mongabay. As for how long the review process could take, and hence how soon companies could conceivably begin seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic, Biedron said: "It could be tomorrow, it could be this fall, we really don't know how long it's going to take them and how much care they're going to put into reviewing those comments. We hope they put a lot of attention into them and take our suggestions into account. But we don't know."

Mongabay's requests for comment were not returned by BOEM or Secretary Zinke's office.

Seismic Surveys Could Threaten Critically Endangered Marine Mammal

Seismic airgun surveys are the first step toward offshore drilling, of course, but under the current five-year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas leasing program adopted by the Obama Administration, the Atlantic can not be considered for drilling. That's why the Trump Administration wants to rewrite the five-year plan: to open not just the Atlantic but also the entire Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific, and the Arctic Ocean for drilling.

"That's a longer-term process," Biedron noted. "We still care about it and want to pay attention, but that's a much longer timeline, on the order of probably a couple years."

Whether or not oil wells are ever drilled off the Atlantic coast, Biedron says that the seismic airgun surveying process that would be used to determine where best to locate any potential wells would have severe consequences. "The problem with seismic airgun surveys being proposed in the Atlantic are that peer-reviewed, published science shows that they can negatively impact marine life, including endangered whales and sea turtles, as well as commercially important fish, shellfish, even zooplankton," she said. "Research shows that the feeding activities, mating, navigational activities can all be impacted by seismic airgun noise."

BOEM itself has estimated that as many as 138,000 marine mammals could be injured by seismic airgun blasting off the Atlantic coast, while millions more animals' lives would be disrupted.

A species of particular concern is the North Atlantic right whale, which is listed as critically endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. There are only about 500 of the whales left, and their only known calving ground is off the coast of the southeast US, including the area where seismic surveying has been proposed. Conservationists worry that the impacts of seismic airgun blasting could be the final nail in the North Atlantic right whale's coffin.

That is not a risk conservationists see as worth taking, especially given how little oil and gas is actually at stake. A 2011 assessment by BOEM of the undiscovered oil and gas resources in the US Outer Continental Shelf found that the Atlantic contains less than four percent of the nation's total oil reserves and less than three percent of its gas reserves.

But it's the wellbeing and livelihoods of their constituents that appears to have led Reps. John Rutherford (R-FL) and Don Beyer (D-VA) to send a bipartisan letter co-signed by more than 100 of their fellow members of Congress to Secretary Zinke stating their opposition to the Trump Administration's moves toward opening up the Atlantic for oil and gas exploration.

"This decision to move forward with permits for seismic airgun surveys for subsea oil and gas deposits puts at risk the vibrant Atlantic Coast economies dependent on healthy ocean ecosystems, which generate $95 billion in gross domestic product and support nearly 1.4 million jobs each year," the members of Congress wrote. "Opening the Atlantic to seismic testing and drilling jeopardizes our coastal businesses, fishing communities, tourism, and our national security. It harms our coastal economies in the near term and opens the door to even greater risks from offshore oil and gas production down the road."

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Categories: Latest News

The Day I Got 23 Guns in the Mail

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 21:00

Be the lucky winner of your very own mass-murder hobby kit! (Photo: William Rivers Pitt)

There I was, minding my own business, and the postal service brings me a letter seeking to give me the means to kill every living soul in my small town three times over. It was an NRA sweepstakes form with a special bonus prize: an assault rifle and 7,200 rounds of ammunition. The letter proclaimed these guns essential for the survival of "our heritage." I want no part of the NRA's heritage.

Be the lucky winner of your very own mass-murder hobby kit! (Photo: William Rivers Pitt)

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I got 23 guns in the mail on Tuesday. Three shotguns, eight handguns, eight hunting rifles and four assault rifles, emblazoned all over the front and back of a large glossy yellow envelope from Fairfax, Virginia. Scattered in between the pictures of weapons were some ATVs, a dead buffalo, a dead elk, a shiny pile of unused bullets, and the following declarations:






How I came to be in possession of this incredible bit of correspondence has everything to do with the quality of magazines to be found in hospital waiting rooms. I spent a fair portion of June in those rooms, dealing with the aftermath of a health emergency. My reading choices ranged from periodicals like Better Throw Rugs & Window Treatments to Sconces Today to Your Lawn Sucks Quarterly, and the news-related magazines all thought Trump might win the 2016 New Hampshire primary.

One day, however, I found an up-to-date copy of Field & Stream, one of the most popular hunting/fishing/camping magazines. Having filled my quota of stories about spoons and clever potpourri, I dove right in … and came across one of the most well-written, eloquent articles on the defense of public land I've ever read.

Sure, the authors wanted to save that land from mining and drilling mainly so they could keep hunting and fishing in still-pristine protected lands -- but the writers accurately made the Republican land-grabbers sound like the Barbary Pirates, and more to the point, the activists described in the story were winning the fight in ways left-leaning environmentalists simply can't. The GOP listens to gun people, and the gun people were saying "No."

I seem to have joined a club that would never have me as a member.

So, in the spirit of weird comradeship, I dropped ten bucks on a yearly subscription to Field & Stream. Hey, I live in rural New Hampshire. The wise animal adapts to his surroundings.

Tuesday saw the Lotsa Guns NRA Sweepstakes envelope hit my PO Box. On Wednesday night, I got a fundraising call from the Republican National Committee. Methinks my new pals at Field & Stream peddled my papers to the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party. Thanks to some crummy reading choices in sickrooms, I seem to have joined a club that would never have me as a member.

Opening the seal, one imagines a whiff of cordite and freedom. The first enclosure is much like the outside of the envelope, festooned with exciting proclamations about the sweepstakes opportunities here at my fingertips. Exclamation point usage is, pardon the pun, quite liberal. First Prize: 12 guns, or come kill an elk! Second Prize: 9 guns, or come kill a bison! Third Prize: 7 guns, or come kill a bear! It continues on a sliding scale like this -- fewer guns, quail and chickadee hunts -- to the tenth prize, which is a very small red flashlight that would totally be lethal if you dropped it on someone from a tall building.

Then comes the special exhortation: "Please enter as soon as you can!" it shouts. "Because this sweepstakes also includes a very special Early Entry Bonus Prize -- a top-of-the-line LaRue Tactical rifle and 7,200 rounds of ammo!"

What a country, right? There I was, minding my own business on a Tuesday afternoon, and the postal service brought me a letter seeking to give me -- not sell, give -- the means to kill every living soul in my small town three times over. Having this capability is a moral imperative, you see, because as NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre explained in the letter I got with all this, the world is a doomed zombie bonfire and we're all kindling.

The world is a doomed zombie bonfire and we're all kindling.

"You and I know our enemies are not going away if we lay down our arms now," it reads. "They have more resolve than ever. And they're promising to fight on and never surrender. Again, you don't have to join NRA to enter the sweepstakes. It won't improve your chances of winning. But your NRA membership will definitely improve your chances of holding the line against those who would like nothing more than to destroy your freedom. Standing together under the NRA banner is the best guarantee for the long-term survival of our freedom, our heritage and our American way of life."

Ah, yes, the gilded buzzword: "heritage." What are the fruits of this heritage? Colonialism, white supremacy, fear and rage, all wound together to facilitate a national bloodbath that has killed more people than smallpox.  Mr. LaPierre would have his followers believe in a horde of liberal gun-grabbing brigands looming over the horizon, just waiting for the right time to strike. Five years ago, 20 children and 6 staff members were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School with a gun very much like the one Mr. LaPierre wants to give me today. The fact that I received this gun-swaddled sweepstakes mailer in the first place is proof positive that nothing, but nothing, has changed.

Last Sunday, a group of friends gathered at a house in Plano, Texas, to watch football together. According to reports, the estranged husband of one of the guests showed up uninvited, there was an angry verbal altercation, and then he started shooting. When it was all over, nine people were dead including the wife of the gunman. The gunman himself was killed by police.

Hurricane Harvey was over by then, Irma was in full swing, and the news media almost completely ignored yet another story of mass gun carnage. These events have become commonplace to the point of near-invisibility. It is also worthwhile to note, given the NRA's long history of racial scaremongering, that this latest gun massacre -- like most large-scale acts of gun violence in the US -- was perpetrated by a white man.

The news media almost completely ignored yet another story of mass gun carnage.

"The last time I saw her was at my sister's wedding," wrote a friend of one of the victims, "which she attended with the man who would kill her. I must have met him. It is so difficult to believe this is real; it is impossible to understand that it is common."

Imagine what the Plano shooter might have accomplished had he won Mr. LaPierre's LaRue Tactical Rifle and those 7,200 rounds of ammunition. Someone, somewhere is going to win that stuff sooner or later, and we are somehow supposed to feel safer and more free because of it.

I cancelled my Field & Stream subscription. It's a fine publication, I suppose. I'm just not comfortable with the company I'm suddenly keeping.

Categories: Latest News

Youth in Revolt: Why Millennials Are the Key to Future Social Transformation

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 21:00

Younger Americans may be more skeptical of our bipartisan political system -- a setup that they view as endangering the planet and subjecting most people to inequality -- but they often engage in actions aimed at system-wide transformation. In this, they are very much like their revolutionary counterparts of the '60s.

Young Americans are not "rebels without a cause." Rather, they share radical countercultural values that challenge the very foundation of US political and economic structures. (Photo: Vadim_Key / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Lamentations against the young are as old as history, and attacks on millennials are no exception. This age group is criticized for being lazy, self-indulgent, indecisive and unwilling to sacrifice in the pursuit of long-term occupational and life success. But these criticisms come off as unsustainable at a time when Americans find themselves working longer hours than at any time in the last four decades, and when millennials suffer from dwindling jobs prospects, skyrocketing health care costs and huge student loan burdens. These are problems that the Baby Boomers and much of Generation X never had to deal with, and they are exacting a massive cost on young people in the US.

In a time of growing corporate power, assaults on the welfare state and rising inequality, progressives I speak with are wondering just what it will take to see a mass mobilization powerful enough to roll back the reactionary changes of the last four decades. Many social movements have emerged on the political landscape, including Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15 living wage movement, not to mention the anti-Trump protests of the last year. But, as of yet, none of these movements have been powerful enough to initiate wholescale progressive structural change.

I don't pretend to have the answers for how a leftist mass insurgency can or will emerge in the future. But based on available evidence, it does seem that US youth -- including those involved in the movements mentioned above -- are the best hope for such change. Young Americans are significantly different from previous generations in terms of their experiences, beliefs and values. If there is hope for a more democratic future, it lies with them.

In his book, The Good Citizen: How a Younger Generation is Reshaping American Politics, political scientist Russell Dalton presents evidence that younger Americans are significantly more likely to engage in unconventional forms of political participation, as compared to older Americans. Recent surveys confirm Dalton's point. Young Americans today are very much like their youthful counterparts of the 1960s, who made the last era of mass political and cultural transformation possible.

While some intellectuals complain that younger Americans are less likely to vote, recent evidence suggests they are more likely to engage in other actions, aimed not at reinforcing the status quo politics of the Democratic and Republican parties, but in pursuit of system-wide transformation. More specifically, a national YouGov poll from early 2017 found 29 percent of Americans 18-29 felt that attending a "protest, political rally or demonstration" is the most effective political strategy, compared to 14 percent of those 30-44, 12 percent of those 45-64, and 8 percent of those 65 and over. These same young Americans were less likely to believe in electoral approaches to dealing with political problems. Just 30 percent of those 18-29 thought calling or writing a representative in Congress was an effective political strategy, compared to 35 percent of those 30-44, 43 percent of those 45-64, and 52 percent of those 65 and older.

Other statistical indicators also reveal significant political differences between younger and older people in the US. An analysis of the Pew Research Center's July 2012 Civic Engagement Survey finds that younger Americans were more likely than older Americans to have signed an online petition for a social or political cause, to have attended an organized protest, and to have called in to a live radio program to share a political or social opinion. Keeping with their alienation from the political system, younger Americans were less likely to contact their political officials and less likely to vote. Age was a significant predictor of behavior across all these activities, even after statistically controlling for other factors, such as survey respondents' sex, race, education, income, political party and ideology.

Young Americans are not "rebels without a cause." Rather, they share radical countercultural values that challenge the very foundation of US political and economic structures. According to the Pew Research Center's April 2010 poll, younger Americans were significantly more likely to reject capitalism as an economic system, and more likely to support socialism. Of those aged 18-29 who expressed an opinion one way or the other, 45 percent said they supported socialism, compared to 35 percent of those 30-44, 24 percent of those 45-64, and just 15 percent of those 65 and older. In contrast, 49 percent of those 18-29 supported capitalism, compared to 62 percent of those 30 to 44, 62 percent of those 45-64, and 67 percent of those 65 and older. Again, age was a significant predictor of opposition to capitalism and support for capitalism after controlling for respondents' sex, race, education, income, political party and ideology.

One might look at youth support for "socialism" suspiciously, since pollsters don't provide respondents a definition of the term when they survey Americans. Still, the rejection of capitalism is particularly noteworthy, as is the finding that younger Americans are significantly less likely than older Americans to value consumerism. As a 2016 Harris poll documents, Americans from 18-34 are increasingly interested in personal and community-based experiences with friends, rather than focusing on accumulation of consumer goods. As Harris finds: 78 percent of millennials would rather spend money on an experience than buy a product; 55 percent say they're spending more now on events and experiences than consumer goods compared to in the past; and 82 percent report attending some sort of live experience -- be it a concert, art performance, sporting event or festival -- in the last year. Importantly, 69 percent of millennials report that participating in experiences and live events helps them feel more connected to other people and to their community, and this commitment is fueling a "fear of missing out" mentality, shared by nearly 70 percent of millennials.

In his important book What Really Happened to the 1960s, political historian Edward Morgan writes that the corporate media, aided by political, business, cultural elites and an older generation of Americans were responsible for a "backlash" against young Americans who protested in favor of civil rights, women's rights and against the Vietnam War. American youth were chastised for their countercultural values, heightened sense of communal politics, and willingness to challenge official corruption, propaganda and lies. Those who participated in the mass social movements of the 1960s were often depicted as severely maladjusted, extremist, naïve and immoral, and condemned for fueling the rise of crime, drug use and single-parent families.

There was never much of an effort from conservatives leading the anti-60s backlash to document their claims with empirical evidence. As with the past, fears today about the extremist nature of youthful rebellion lack a credible empirical foundation. Recent data from the US Census, the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Justice find that younger Americans are significantly less likely to commit homicides and property felonies than youths of the past. Tracking crime rates among California youths, these governmental organizations find a rapid decline in murder rates and property felonies from the 1990s through the 2010s, in addition to a rapid rise in college enrollment. This parallels the national trends, with juvenile incarceration falling 41 percent in the last decade-and-a-half.

There's a lot of hand-wringing about young Americans as lacking the conviction to work for political change via voting and formal participation in politics. This criticism would be more compelling if the Bernie Sanders revolt didn't demonstrate that young Americans are enthusiastic about engaging in electoral politics when the conditions are right and when the system demonstrates an interest in representing the needs of the young. But in a political party system dominated by the wealthy and corporate power, there is less room in "mainstream" politics for accommodating the needs and wishes of the less fortunate, the working class or even the middle class. So long as the US political system marginalizes the vast majority of Americans, and so long as policy continues to enhance corporate power and increase inequality, there is little reason to think young Americans will embrace the bipartisan political system or the corporate economy that controls it.

Young Americans will continue to feel alienated from a political and economic system that does little to improve their life prospects. And youth will be even less likely to defend status quo politics as the ecological costs of unregulated capitalism intensify in an era of unchecked global warming. Why would young Americans protect a morally bankrupt political system that endangers human life and doesn't even provide for their basic wants and needs?

Rather than bemoaning the decline of American youth, we should recognize that millennials represent the best of what this country has to offer. They express a serious moral concern with the mounting ecological crisis -- far more so than older groups of Americans, who are pushing off the costs of environmental degradation on the young and future generations. And millennials are significantly more likely to support the kinds of government action necessary to limit the worst impacts of climate change that are just down the road. They are far more likely to recognize the importance of community over narrow concerns with personal gratification and consumerism. And millennials are far more likely to recognize the social injustices perpetrated against themselves and most Americans by a political-economic system that increasingly benefits the wealthy few, while minimizing democracy and marginalizing the masses. Indeed, millennials are the key to any humane and democratic future for this country.

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Categories: Latest News

Cholera Fears Rise Following Atlantic Hurricanes: Are We Making Any Progress?

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 06:13

As hurricanes barrel through some of the most impoverished communities in the Western Hemisphere, and as floods ravage Yemen, Sierra LeoneBangladesh and India, now is the time to rethink and prioritize cholera epidemic prevention and response.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, a surge of cholera in Haiti increased the death toll from the disease. Officials in Haiti this week are already urging people to add bleach to their drinking water to prevent the spread of cholera in the aftermath of Irma. 

I am a medical anthropologist, and I've worked for over a decade in parts of the Horn of Africa regularly affected by outbreaks of cholera and other infectious diseases. I am concerned about cholera in the Caribbean in the aftermath of Irma and other hurricanes on the horizon. But there is some good news -- if we take action. 

Rare in Wealthy Nations, but too Common in Impoverished Ones

Cholera is an infamous scourge, particularly in impoverished, flooded and war-torn areas. It causes a severe form of diarrhea and can quickly lead to death if left untreated. 

In books detailing its historical and social significance and in recent media reports from YemenSudan and Kenya, cholera is depicted as a symbol of savagery, state failure and filth. However, these portrayals and the sensationalism of cholera in our popular culture and news media obscure the fact that today, with concerted efforts, we can actually prevent, detect and stop its emergence and spread.

Cholera is caused by the ingestion of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which is often present in water or food that is contaminated with fecal matter. Cholera outbreaks occur when water pipes or sewage systems fail or do not exist at all, and where cholera already exists in the environment. 

Epidemic outbreaks of cholera typically happen in impoverished countries also affected by conflict or disasters: Today this includes South SudanSudanHaitiKenyaall the countries in the Horn of AfricaYemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2010 United Nations peacekeepers reintroduced cholera to Haiti during the disaster response there, subsequently killing over 10,000 people. And in just the last four months in Yemen, about 2,000 cholera deaths have been reported. Most of the people who die of cholera today are children. 

Symptoms of cholera typically begin anywhere from two to five days after infection, but patients who are already malnourished or sick with other ailments can actually die within hours. Cholera is far more deadly than other diarrheal diseases, and it is not simply caused by people failing to properly wash their hands. It is a highly pathogenic, frightening, fast-moving, killer bacterium that can spread like wildfire in crisis-affected communities.

A Case of Denial?

To make matters worse, in recent years, due to the stigma of cholera and fears of its potential effects on tourism and trade, public health authorities in several countries have euphemistically classified suspected cholera cases as "acute watery diarrhea" or "AWD." For example, this year, in the weeks preceding the election of the new director general of the World Health Organization, accusations surfaced that Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, then a leading candidate for the position, repeatedly covered up cholera outbreaks in his home country. By not providing laboratory tests for suspected cholera cases, public health officials in Ethiopia and elsewhere have effectively hidden its emergence and spread.

But there is good news: Cholera is now more easily detectable, preventable and controllable than ever before.

Even in areas without adequate or functioning laboratories, a new Crystal VC dipstick rapid test can enable disease surveillance and provide early warning that an outbreak of cholera is unfolding. These rapid diagnostic tests were designed specifically for use in resource-constrained environments and humanitarian emergencies.

Plus, killed oral cholera vaccines (kOCVs) are now a proven tool for cholera prevention and control. Thanks to the vaccines' efficacy and herd immunity, only two doses of kOCVs have an average of 76 percent effectiveness in outbreak situations, and can provide protection for at least three years, if not longer. Even just one dose of a kOCV can provide short-term protection, making it a practical option in outbreaks in which a rapid reduction in short-term risk is needed.

With these new and inexpensive technologies, we as a global health community should now work to realize the potential for cholera early interventions and outbreak prevention -- even before floods, hurricanes, wars and other crises unfold. The World Health Organization has led the way in developing surveillance mechanisms and ready-to-go kits for first responders, but more must be done.

There are still far too few investments in infrastructure projects in the places at highest risk of cholera outbreaks. Cholera provides undeniable evidence of people's longstanding -- not just sudden -- lack of clean water and sanitation facilities. Refugee camps and makeshift shelters are rarely only temporary habitations; people usually end up living there for years if not decades. 

And WHO's kits -- while incredibly useful for aid workers -- are designed to last for only the first month of a response. Cholera outbreaks will never cease if we focus only on technological fixes and temporary humanitarian solutions, and ignore the structural inequities that result in contaminated water sources and outbreaks of infectious diseases. 

Cholera was a problem until the 19th century in impoverished and flood-prone parts of the southern United States. How was it finally eliminatedin the places now ravaged by hurricanes Harvey and Irma? Only through hefty investments in water and sewage treatment systems. 

Solutions Are Available

In the wake of the 2014 Ebola response and after much reflection, the WHO is attempting to cast itself as an organization that can prevent and identify outbreaks of disease as well as coordinate global epidemic responses. But the international community cannot simply wait for the next Ebola outbreak or ignore the existence of Vibrio cholerae in the world's most vulnerable and disaster-affected communities.

This is the chance for the WHO to fulfill this mission and make right mistakes of the past. Cholera has been eliminated from disaster-affected Texas and Florida. The same can happen elsewhere too. Thousands of lives are at stake. 

The WHO and its partners should lead a vigorous appeal to donors and humanitarian organizations working in several locations -- in the paths of Atlantic hurricanes, in flooded regions of South Asia, and in war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa -- where cholera still kills and the risk of an outbreak is high. The new director of the WHO, Dr. Tedros, is perfectly positioned to counter his recent detractors and demonstrate his capacity for swift action by mounting the WHO's first coordinated, multi-country cholera epidemic response.

Categories: Latest News

South Asia: 1,300 Dead, 40 Million Impacted in Climate Change-Linked Flooding

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 21:00

We turn to the devastating floods in South Asia, where more than 41 million people have been battling floods and displacement. More than 1,300 people have died in Bangladesh, India and Nepal in recent months, after the region was hit by the worst flooding in at least 40 years. Some 40 million more people have seen their homes, businesses or crops destroyed. In the coming decade, devastating floods are expected to increase as changing weather patterns worsen risks in the region, climate researchers say. Flooding accounted for 47 percent of all weather-related global disasters between 1995 and 2015, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said in a report. Of the 2.3 billion people affected, 95 percent were in Asia. We speak with David Molden, the director general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu, Nepal. The group works in eight countries across South Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We turn to the devastating floods in South Asia, where more than 1,300 people have died in Bangladesh, India and Nepal in recent months, after the region was hit by the worst flooding in 40 years. The impact of the flooding is staggering. Some 40 million people have seen their homes, businesses, crops destroyed—one-and-a-half million homes destroyed. Thirty to 40 percent of those killed were children. Vast swaths of farmland have been destroyed. In Bangladesh, a third of the country is underwater. In Nepal, local residents said entire villages have been destroyed.

So we're going to go to the capital of Nepal now, to Kathmandu, where we're joined by David Molden, director general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. The group works in eight countries across South Asia: in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Burma, Nepal and Pakistan.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, David Molden. Can you describe what's happening in Nepal? It just sounds unspeakable.

DAVID MOLDEN: It is indeed staggering, with the flood event that happened. I was in the plains of Nepal. Nepal is famous for the mountains, but connected to it is this vast plains that stretches from the mountains to the seas. And it looked like the monsoon was failing. But then, on the 11th of October, some massive rains hit. So we got about 20 inches of rain in 40 hours. And the floods started up in Nepal and in Assam. They moved into India and then finally moved into Bangladesh, inundating large areas of land, as you have just said.

Now, one factor is that this area, South Asia, has about 40 percent of the world's poorest people. And actually, most of those poor people live in that flood-affected areas. And most of them are dependent on agriculture and the environment for their livelihoods. So what you saw is—and you had the statistics there—the loss of lives, the loss of houses, the rice fields, the animals. So their whole livelihoods are really damaged by this storm. So it's been in an immense tragedy in the region.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the connection between these floods and climate change, David?

DAVID MOLDEN: Yeah. So, you know, this region, the Himalayas, is really a hot spot for climate change. So, temperatures rise faster at higher elevations. So, if we're seeing a 2-degree world in the future, as we hope for, it might be 3 or 4 degrees up high on the mountains. So we see glaciers melting already due to climate change.

But what I really worry about is the effects on the monsoon patterns—right?—which are hugely important for the region. So, what the climate science tells us is that we're likely to see more extreme events, more floods and droughts in the future. So this event was caused by rainfall, for sure. It's always hard to pin that event with climate change, but, for sure, in the future, we're bound to see more events like this, and even worse, due to climate change. So there's a direct link.

Now, in addition to that, who bears the brunt of that climate change? It is the poor people, as we saw in the most recent floods. Those poor people are the ones who are really not the ones who are emitting greenhouse gases into the world, but they are the ones that have to bear the burden. Finally, you know, it's a driver of human mobility, of people movement, of migration from the region. So we'll see all kinds of knock-on effects from this kind of flood event.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you're in Nepal right now, but you've just come back from the United States. Your thoughts on President Trump, a well-known climate change denier, proud climate change denier? You know, as Hurricane Irma was pummeling the Caribbean, heading to the US last week, and Houston was underwater, he was in Mandan, North Dakota, in front of a refinery, celebrating the fact he had pulled the country out of the Paris climate accord.

DAVID MOLDEN: Well, you know, that pulling out of the Paris climate accord is certainly bad news for our region. Like I said, it's already impacted by climate change. I feel very much we have a global responsibility to put actions in place to prepare for climate change, and, of course, actions to actually slow it down. So what we do need is the world coming together, and Paris was doing that for us. And people in the mountains were very much behind the Paris accord and even wanted more than we're seeing. So, I feel that if there's any message, yes, please, let's get back in the game.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds. The US, the historically greatest greenhouse gas emitter's responsibility, you feel, to where you are in Nepal? Ten seconds.

DAVID MOLDEN: Yes, yes. The people who are emitting greenhouse gases are indeed impacting glaciers, impacting the weather system in Nepal. So there is a shared responsibility to do something about that, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: David Molden, we'll talk again, director general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu, Nepal.

That does it for the show. Democracy Now! co-host Juan González is speaking in Austin tonight. Check our website. And a very happy birthday to Sam Alcoff.

Categories: Latest News

Investigators' Knives Out for Equifax After Massive Data Breach

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 21:00

(Photo: Chuyn / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) became the first economic regulator to formally announce an investigation into Equifax's handling of a cyber intrusion that left more than 100 million Americans vulnerable to identity theft.

An FTC spokesman confirmed the probe one day after dozens of lawmakers urged the agency and other government bodies to look into the behavior of the credit reporting company before and after the breach was discovered.

"The FTC typically does not comment on open investigations," said Peter Kaplan on Thursday. "However in light of the intense public interest and the potential impact of this matter, I can confirm that FTC staff is investigating the Equifax data breach."

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and several state attorneys general are also looking into Equifax, according to unattributed statements to journalists.

The company announced earlier this month that the breach resulted in the possible theft of 144 million Americans' personal information, including social security numbers, dates of birth, and drivers' license numbers.

On Wednesday, Equifax claimed to USA Today that the compromise was due to a website vulnerability. Cybersecurity professionals told the outlet, however, that Equifax's failure to install "security updates provided in a timely manner" was responsible for the breach.

Most interesting to lawmakers, and perhaps other investigative bodies, are the actions of company executives prior to the incident. Equifax's Chief Financial Officer and two other top executives dumped $1.8 million in company stock shortly before the company claims it discovered the breach. The public wasn't notified until six weeks later.

"Hey, @equifax, just following up. Why did your execs sell stock before your company told the public of security breach? LMK ASAP," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted on Tuesday.

Schatz was part of a bipartisan group of 36 Senators that wrote a letter to the FTC, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Department of Justice on Wednesday calling for an investigation.

"We request that you conduct a thorough examination of any unusual trading, including any atypical options trading, for violations of insider trading law," the lawmakers wrote.

The SEC and the DOJ have not publicly announced any actions.

The company's post-breach actions are under scrutiny also. After announcing the data loss, the company set up a web portal for customers to find out if they were affected. Before singing up, however, customers were required to agree to a forced-arbitration clause, preventing them from joining a class action suit against the company.

After an intense public backlash, including a push from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the company clarified that the forced-arbitration provision does not apply to the "cyber security incident."

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Categories: Latest News

Economic Update: Corporate Capitalism in Decline

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 21:00

This week's episode discusses capitalism and hurricanes, poverty, how hookworm has returned in the US, the economics of elite universities' tax avoidance and more.

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Deregulated and Unaccountable: For-Profit Nursing Homes in Florida Face Scrutiny After Irma Deaths

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 21:00

Authorities in Florida have obtained a search warrant to investigate the deaths of eight elderly residents at a nursing home in Hollywood in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The victims ranged in age from 71 to 99 years old. They died in the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after a transformer was knocked out following the hurricane, causing the nursing home’s air conditioning unit to shut down. Authorities say that the administrators of the nursing home were aware that the air conditioning unit had failed, and that they installed fans and portable air coolers inside the facility. But the remedies did little to protect the residents from the sweltering heat. At 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning, one nursing home resident was rushed to the emergency room of Memorial Regional Hospital, a Level I trauma center just down the street. By 5 a.m., when the hospital received a third rescue call, some hospital workers went down the street to check on the nursing home. They found a situation so critical, the hospital sent in more than 50 medical workers under a mass casualty protocol. At least 150 people were evacuated, many with severe dehydration and other heat-related symptoms. We speak with Dale Ewart, vice president of 1199SEIU, the United Healthcare Workers East union. We also speak with Stephen Hobbs, a reporter for the Sun Sentinel who has been covering the eight deaths.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Natural Disasters Agree: It's Climate Change

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Why Climate "Alarmists" Should Not Be Ignored

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 21:00

Even those who take climate change seriously have largely bought into the idea that the worst we have to fear is failing to keep global warming below an increase of 2 degrees Celsius. We should not let corporations and conservative government agencies prevent us from countenancing the possibility that the Earth could warm by 7.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Hurricane Harvey, as seen from the International Space Station on August 19, 2017. (Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

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In a December 2011 article, Noam Chomsky noted that in addition to those preaching skepticism of climate change, there exists another group of climate commentators whose input is ignored by the mainstream media: those who insist that the dangers of climate change go far beyond what we are told is the scientific consensus.

This latter group has grown increasingly vocal, especially outside the US, but it is still not being paid enough heed.

In a recent Vice article, Nafeez Ahmed broke the story of Schroders, a British investment firm with US $542 billion under management, privately advising its clients that global temperatures could reach 7.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century. Of course, as is well known, the safe limit for warming is generally considered to be 2 degrees Celsius.

As Ahmed puts it, a temperature increase of 7.8 degrees "would make Earth basically uninhabitable for humans."

Schroders is not alone in this outlook. A lengthy treatment of the idea was published by New York Magazine in July of this year, beginning with arresting words that may well one day mark out a distinct moment in time: "It is, I promise, worse than you think." The author, David Wallace-Wells, goes on to offer some 8,000 words that give the reader every opportunity to trust that promise, weaving a narrative around 4 degrees warming, 6 degrees warming, millions dead and humanity fundamentally devastated.

Notwithstanding all of this, we seem to have become entrenched in a public understanding of climate change based on 2 degrees as a "magic" number, as if the only two possible end-game scenarios for this century are 2 degrees of warming or the happy aversion of mass tragedy.

As the Schroders report makes appallingly clear, however, the reality of the planet's struggle against us is far more fluid and uncertain than the 2 degrees paradigm suggests. A recent study estimated that there is only a 5 percent chance that the 2-degree target will be met; it may well be that the most likely situation at this point is warming far in excess of 2 degrees.

Conservative climate estimations have predominated largely because the terms of the debate are dictated by those who benefit most from climate models and estimations that fall toward the more moderate end of the spectrum. Corporate and governmental hegemonies, no longer able to retreat from the plain fact of human-induced global warming, now devote their time to cultivating a more savory reality in which 2 degrees is what we can expect of our gently simmering planet.

Seizing the narrative in this way allows executives and lawmakers the latitude to make symbolic gestures toward preventing ecological disaster while preserving their ordinary ways. What seems an act of contrition -- yes, we are causing climate change; our company is both at risk and responsible, and we will do better -- is also a means to enforce the status quo. Such narratives stop us from being able to properly address the potential consequences of our (and primarily their) actions.

If precipitous warming above the 2 degrees limit is the worst-case scenario for the world, containing the discussion within a 2 degrees paradigm is (now) the best-case option for those with an interest in obfuscating the sound of the planet's potential death-knell.

The leaked Schroders report shows that behind closed doors, however, corporations are considering a greater-than-two-degrees reality with honesty.

Hypothetical situations such as considered here are easy to dismiss as doomsday prophesying. But uncertainty is a crucial part of the conversation, albeit one that is overlooked. In another recent piece, Josh Floyd goes into significant detail on how poorly we are actually able to model climate change, advocating for what he calls "knowledge humility" on the topic.

Simply put, while we know a large amount about human interference with the climate, we are missing much minute detail with which to refine that understanding and produce similarly nuanced predictions. What is a "safe" amount of warming? What will slow our seemingly inevitable parade to that limit? What human intervention will happen, and what will its effects be? Each, for now, remain unknown and unknowable.

David Wallace-Wells's article was controversial because it was honest on those points we do not entirely understand and made a compelling argument against reducing ourselves to complacency in the name of not troubling our pretty little heads. There is no rationale, no rhyme or reason, in calls to avoid serious discussions of very real possibilities just because we do not like the thought.

We should prefer to assess the abyss with a clear mind and know the awful truths of the future as best we can. Those who some call "climate extremists" should not be ignored. They may hold the keys to the future.

Categories: Latest News