News

BREAKING: Senate Votes to End US Role in Yemen War

Truth Out - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 20:44

In a resounding rebuke of the Pentagon, President Trump and the Saudi crown, the Senate voted 56-41 on Thursday to end United States participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, where an estimated 14 million people are on the brink of starvation. It’s the first time in history that the Senate has approved a War Powers Resolution to withdraw US forces from foreign hostilities.

The vote is a major victory for peace activists who have lobbied Congress to curb US support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen since the war escalated in 2015. However, it may not be enough to stop the US participation in the conflict, at least not right away. Republicans House leaders doomed the war powers resolution in the lower chamber, and activists are pushing Democrats to move quickly when they assume the House majority in January.

“Why wait, when a child is dying every ten minutes? Why wait another day?” asked Kate Gould, the legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, in an interview.

As the Senate prepared to vote, news came of a breakthrough in the UN-brokered peace talks happening in Sweden, between the Saudi coalition and the Iran-backed Houthis. Negotiators from both sides of the conflict agreed to a ceasefire around the Red Sea port of Hodeida, which is crucial for delivering food and aid, and an exchange of more than 15,000 by January 20, according to reports.

Hassan El-Tayyab, a co-director of Just Foreign Policy who has lobbied Congress on Yemen, said the Senate vote is “absolutely” having an effect on Riyadh at the peace talks.

“The pressure we are putting on Congress, and as a result, the pressure Congress is putting on Saudi Arabia, is a huge piece of leverage for the UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to use when he sits down with the Saudis and Houthis in Sweden,” El-Tayyab told Truthout.

The US considers Saudi Arabia a strategic ally in the region and has supported the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen with weapons, targeting and fuel, despite mounting civilian casualties and widespread famine.

The United Nations has estimated that up to 85,000 children have died from starvation and disease in Yemen, where pro-government forces led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have reportedly blocked rebel-held territories from receiving humanitarian aid, creating the world’s worst hunger crisis. Data is hard to come by, but international observers estimate more than 60,000 people may have been killed in the war.

The Trump administration has resisted fraying strategic ties with the Saudis, but President Trump angered members of Congress in both parties when he defended Saudi Crown Price Mohammad bin Salman despite evidence linking the monarch to the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist James Khashoggi.

While the Senate’s vote is largely symbolic — at least for now — peace groups say the breakthrough in negotiations in Sweden is proof that US lawmakers can help bring an end to the civil war in Yemen by making their stance toward Saudi Arabia clear.

“It’s clear that the Saudis are getting the message that they do not have unconditional support from Congress, and they have relied on this so much,” Gould said.

The vote is also a major victory for the peace movement, which has worked with Yemeni activists to pressure Congress to take a stand on the conflict in Yemen.

“It sets a really important precedent that Congress is willing to take back its constitutional responsibility to vote on war and peace, and it sends a really important message that Congress can be compelled by grassroots activists to end an unauthorized war,” Gould said.

El-Tayyab said the vote shows that the war powers resolution can be used to “move the conversation forward” and force Congress to debate foreign entanglements, which could have a direct impact on US foreign policy. Peace activists will be using it again, he said.

“What are we doing in Syria, what are we doing in Afghanistan … that to me is where we are going with this,” El-Tayyab said.

Peace activists will now turn their eyes to the incoming Democratic majority in the House, where outgoing Republican Speaker Paul Ryan used a procedural maneuver to dash any hopes that a war powers resolution would pass the lower chamber before the end of 2018 session.

On Tuesday, the House narrowly approved rules for passing the Farm Bill, a must-pass piece of legislation that funds agriculture subsidies and nutrition assistance for millions of people in the US. Ryan reportedly slipped language into the rules agreement preventing lawmakers from fast-tracking the war powers resolution on Yemen for the remainder of the 2018 congressional session.

“This is legislation that is supposed to keep Americans fed … and the irony is that we have House Republicans stopping Congress from having a say on the world’s greatest hunger crisis,” Gould said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle slammed Ryan for using the Farm Bill to prevent the Yemen vote from coming up before the end of the year, one of his last moves as speaker. Ryan’s Washington, DC office closed on Monday and attempts to reach his staff were unsuccessful.

As this Congress invests in food for America, we pour tax dollars into stripping Yemeni children of theirs,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said on the House floor Wednesday.

Gould said there are enough votes to pass the resolution in the House, and that is why Ryan maneuvered to prevent legislation from being fast-tracked under the War Powers Act. That’s a big change from two years ago, when many lawmakers were not even aware that US was providing military support for the war in Yemen. House Democrats will now face grassroots pressure to prioritize Yemen in January.

“We have the votes now to end the war,” Gould said.

The post BREAKING: Senate Votes to End US Role in Yemen War appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Permit Hearing for Taiwanese Plastic Plant in Louisiana Turns into a Referendum on Environmental Racism

deSmog - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 20:43
Read time: 9 minsSt. James Parish resident Rita Copper holds a photo of a friend who died of cancer

“You don’t give a shit about brown and black people,” Louisiana activist Cherri Foytlin told government officials during a heated public permit hearing for a proposed plastics plant in St. James Parish. The parish is a predominately African-American community on the banks of the Mississippi River and has undergone rapid industrialization in recent years.

“This is a dog-and-pony show and everybody in this room knows it,” she asserted, after the hearing officer cut off the sound system while Foytlin was giving her public comments. The officer, O.C. Smith, attorney for the Louisiana Office of Coastal Management, did this declaring that the hearing was no longer on the record.

Tags: cancer alleyCherri FoytlinSt. James ParishLouisiana Department of Natural ResourcesU.S. Army Corps of EngineersFormosapetrochemical development
Categories: News

Hunger Strike Ends with March on U.S. Consulate

Unicorn Riot - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 20:03
Tijuana, Mexico – After fourteen days of an ongoing hunger strike to bring attention to human rights violations against the migrant caravan, members of Pueblos Sin Fronteras met with Mexican officials at the National Institute of Migration (INM).  They also met with U.S. Officials at…

The post Hunger Strike Ends with March on U.S. Consulate appeared first on UNICORN RIOT.

Categories: News

Judge Sentencing General Flynn Demands to See FBI 302 Documents on Flynn Ambush Interview

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 18:44

Judge Sentencing General Flynn Demands to See FBI 302 Documents on Flynn Ambush Interview | 12 Dec 2018 | Judge Sullivan, who is assigned to General Flynn's case, is demanding to see the FBI summary 302 report about the Flynn interview according to a new court filing. Counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok showed up to the White House on January 24th, 2017, along with Special Agent Joe Pientka to interview General Flynn; the meeting was arranged by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Flynn was told not have his lawyer with him and soon after the FBI agents began to question him, he realized he was being ambushed over his phone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak. The FBI agents who questioned General Flynn on January 24th, 2017, didn't write their 302 reports on their interview until August 22nd.

Categories: News

We Must Challenge Capitalist “Solutions” to Climate Change

Truth Out - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 18:04

Climate activists have described this month’s Conference of the Parties on climate change (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, as a make-or-break opportunity to avert disastrous climate change.

The COP21 in Paris was similarly cast as a make-or-break moment in 2015, as well as the 2009 COP15 in Copenhagen. Since 1995, when the states that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Berlin, Germany, there have been COPs every year. As the COP is the treaty’s supreme decision-making body of the treaty, it has final decision-making authority over how the treaty will be interpreted and implemented.

However, this year’s summit garnered exceptional attention because just two months before its opening, it was preceded by the release of a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sounding the alarm on climate change. Thus, we were told, the effects and costs of warming up the planet by 2.7° Fahrenheit (1.5° Celsius) will be much greater than the ultra-cautious, fossil-fuel-friendly IPCC has led us to expect up until now. Worse, we may reach this point in 10 to 12 years.

The report’s urgent tone was highly gratifying to those who had for years been trying, to no avail, to convey just such urgency, and the document elicited a substantial response everywhere, even in the mainstream media.

However, there is no cause for rejoicing; on the contrary, for behind the urgent tone of the October report, barring a popular revolt, COP24 portends business as usual. In short, it is old Kool-Aid in new bottles, and we are being asked to drink, copiously.

A thorough reading of the report reveals a profoundly disturbing underlying assumption: All measures taken to avoid the cataclysm that we have so long and so assiduously been preparing will be carried out within the parameters of the very parasitical, predatory capitalist paradigm that has brought us precisely to the brink. Envisioning another, humane world order seems to be out of the question, much less proposing serious ways to dismantle the current planetary death cult.

Instead, according to the report, we must slowly, gently, over the decades to come, “transition” to new ways of generating the energy we need to keep on the same path that is poisoning the Earth, exhausting its resources and massacring its irreplaceable biodiversity.

Take for example, the following paragraph from the report’s “Summary for Policy Makers”:

C.2.4. The urban and infrastructure system transition consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would imply, for example, changes in land and urban planning practices, as well as deeper emissions reductions in transport and buildings compared to pathways that limit global warming below 2°C (medium confidence). Technical measures and practices enabling deep emissions reductions include various energy efficiency options. In pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot, the electricity share of energy demand in buildings would be about 55–75% in 2050 compared to 50–70% in 2050 for 2°C global warming (medium confidence). In the transport sector, the share of low-emission final energy would rise from less than 5% in 2020 to about 35–65% in 2050 compared to 25–45% for 2°C of global warming (medium confidence). Economic, institutional and socio-cultural barriers may inhibit these urban and infrastructure system transitions, depending on national, regional and local circumstances, capabilities and the availability of capital (high confidence). {2.3.4, 2.4.3, 4.2.1, Table 4.1, 4.3.3, 4.5.2}

The suggestion in this paragraph about low-emission energy playing an increasing role within the transport sector supposes that we are going to continue to move about as we do today, still manufacturing automobiles, still paving over the Earth, still burning – what? Gasoline? But we’ll be emitting less greenhouse gas.

Behind the urgent tone of the October report, COP24 portends business as usual.

None of this takes into account the current capitalist paradigm’s need for unlimited, exponential growth – and waste.

And the use of 2050 as a reference point for setting goals belies the basic claim underpinning the report’s sense of urgency; to wit, that a decade is all we have (for a goal that even the report admits is arbitrary). Anybody who has been reading Dahr Jamail’s Climate Disruption Dispatches that Truthout has been publishing monthly for several years knows that.

Absent from the report is any acknowledgement that we are already at 1.5°C and even over. This additional half-degree – if not an entire degree – is being held at bay by the cloud of sulfates enveloping the Earth generated by burning fossil fuels. If we are to decarbonize our way of life, that means stopping the burning of fossil fuels and letting the sulfates settle to the ground and letting the sun shine in – to add to the heat.

In an excellent article Truthout published shortly after the October report, Rachel Smolker laid out some of the problems with the IPCC’s modus operandi. She started by pointing out that “there are some major sources of emissions we are aware of, but have been granted exclusion from consideration, such as the vast quantity of emissions from military activities.”

Indeed, the United States military is the biggest single polluter and user of fossil fuels on the planet. If one requires an introduction to its inveterate environmental depredations, Jamail has chronicled numerous examples in the Pacific Northwest. Failing to take those depredations into account invalidates any attempt at realistic assessment of the problem.

But Smolker continues:

The choice of authors plays a significant role in shaping the nature of IPCC reports. The emphasis on maintaining economic growth and minimizing costs of mitigation reflects the engagement of many economists and physicists. The somewhat [she is too kind] garbled manner in which IPCC addresses ecosystem-based approaches reflects a lack of engagement of ecologists.

In May 2017, a letter to the IPCC chair from 108 civil society organizations expressed deep concern over the selection of authors who are or were senior employees from major oil companies (ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco), the second- and third-largest corporate emitters of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The letter pointed out that Exxon holds the most patents and financial interests relating to carbon capture and sequestration (or “clean coal” technology) of any company worldwide, and has, to put it mildly, blatant conflict of interest.

In other words, the IPCC is linked to the fossil-fuel sector, which, given its wealth (and remember, money is power) means that it is calling the shots.

The report reveals a profoundly disturbing underlying assumption: All measures taken to avoid the cataclysm will be carried out within the predatory capitalist paradigm.

This is attested to from another quarter, with another report — this one utterly absent from even the alternative media yet central to COP24.

On November 21, the Geneva Press Club played host to a major press conference entitled, “Is the Paris Agreement on Climate Dead?”

Since Emmanuel Macron has designated France as a sort of guarantor of the Paris Agreement, his ambassador, François Rivasseau was sent to speak in his stead. Along with him, among others, were Zbigniew Czech, the Polish ambassador, representing the host country of COP24, and Deputy Secretary-General Elena Manaenkova of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). None of them had anything to say worth listening to, although Manaenkova gave the game away by referring to COP24’s basic document. It was not the October report.

Rather it was the Talanoa Dialogue, submitted to the United Nations on April 1, 2018. Intentionally or not, the date of submission was appropriate, for if ever there were a bad April Fool’s Day joke, this was it.

The 76-page document starts out quite promising:

While supportive of the efforts and proposed commitments to date to reduce emissions of both long- and short-lived greenhouse gases as a means to limit the increase in the global average temperature to no more than 1.5 to 2ºC above preindustrial [level], the scientific and economic evidence that is available makes clear that: (a) Greenhouse gas emissions are not on a pathway to accomplish the stated objective and, indeed, given economic realities, technological capabilities, and the world’s present reliance on fossil fuels for ~80% of its energy, there will be significant temperature overshoot…. reducing risks back to levels that society and the environment can accommodate will require bringing the global average temperature back to no more than 0.5ºC above its preindustrial level as rapidly as possible.

Thus, the movers and the pushers running COP24 are aware not only of how far off the mark the October report is, but also of what is really needed as a goal.

However, the above passage is from the five-page introduction. A careful reading of the report itself, which starts on page six, makes clear that its authors, just as much as the authors of the October report, are counting on squaring the circle: all this, including the geoengineering necessary to pull it off, will be carried out by capitalism’s international organized crime syndicates otherwise known as transnational corporations. One cannot escape the conclusion that, if the situation is being diagnosed as being as dire as it actually is, it is to fatten the contracts for those who are being called upon to fix it.

A glance at the roster of donors to the Climate Institute that issued the report explains it all, for there one finds, among others, American Gas Foundation, American Honda Motor Company, BP, Ford Motor Company Fund, GE Foundation, Goldman Sachs, PG&E [Pacific Gas and Electric] Corporation, Shell Foundation, Toyota Motor Company, US Agency for International Development, US Department of Energy, US Army Corps of Engineers and the World Bank.

This journalist, appalled by the non-substance of the presentations at the Press Club, put the speakers on the spot, asking, in essence, what they were proposing in order to bring the transnational corporations to heel since these corporations control the governments that are running the IPCC and are the biggest obstacle to dealing with planetary warming.

Ambassador Rivasseau denied that they needed to be brought to heel or that they try to manipulate the situation in their favor, claiming that they seek only to make a good impression by each trying to outdo the other. He also came out strongly in favor of involving the private sector in any effort to deal with planetary warming. Manaenkova, speaking for the WMO, claimed that the IPCC is “robust” in its independence.

After the conference, I approached Ambassador Czech. He thanked me for the question, and stated that he knew many, many politicians who agree with what I was saying, but, he added, “They lack courage.”

Change rarely comes from above, and, as Frederick Douglass insisted, “Power concedes nothing without a struggle.” May we find the courage to struggle, for the hour is late.

The post We Must Challenge Capitalist “Solutions” to Climate Change appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Wall Street, Banks and Angry Citizens: The Inequality Gap Is Growing

Truth Out - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 17:41

As we head into 2019, leaving the chaos of this year behind, a major question remains unanswered when it comes to the state of Main Street, not just here but across the planet. If the global economy really is booming, as many politicians claim, why are leaders and their parties around the world continuing to get booted out of office in such a sweeping fashion?

One obvious answer: the post-Great Recession economic “recovery” was largely reserved for the few who could participate in the rising financial markets of those years, not the majority who continued to work longer hours, sometimes at multiple jobs, to stay afloat. In other words, the good times have left out so many people, like those struggling to keep even a few hundred dollars in their bank accounts to cover an emergency or the 80% of American workers who live paycheck to paycheck.

In today’s global economy, financial security is increasingly the property of the 1%. No surprise, then, that, as a sense of economic instability continued to grow over the past decade, angst turned to anger, a transition that — from the US to the Philippines, Hungary to Brazil, Poland to Mexico — has provoked a plethora of voter upheavals. In the process, a 1930s-style brew of rising nationalism and blaming the “other” — whether that other was an immigrant, a religious group, a country, or the rest of the world — emerged.

This phenomenon offered a series of Trumpian figures, including of course The Donald himself, an opening to ride a wave of “populism” to the heights of the political system. That the backgrounds and records of none of them — whether you’re talking about Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, Rodrigo Duterte, or Jair Bolsonaro (among others) — reflected the daily concerns of the “common people,” as the classic definition of populism might have it, hardly mattered. Even a billionaire could, it turned out, exploit economic insecurity effectively and use it to rise to ultimate power.

Ironically, as that American master at evoking the fears of apprentices everywhere showed, to assume the highest office in the land was only to begin a process of creating yet more fear and insecurity. Trump’s trade wars, for instance, have typically infused the world with increased anxiety and distrust toward the US, even as they thwarted the ability of domestic business leaders and ordinary people to plan for the future. Meanwhile, just under the surface of the reputed good times, the damage to that future only intensified. In other words, the groundwork has already been laid for what could be a frightening transformation, both domestically and globally.

That Old Financial Crisis

To understand how we got here, let’s take a step back. Only a decade ago, the world experienced a genuine global financial crisis, a meltdown of the first order. Economic growth ended; shrinking economies threatened to collapse; countless jobs were cut; homes were foreclosed upon and lives wrecked. For regular people, access to credit suddenly disappeared. No wonder fears rose. No wonder for so many a brighter tomorrow ceased to exist.

The details of just why the Great Recession happened have since been glossed over by time and partisan spin. This September, when the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the global financial services firm Lehman Brothers came around, major business news channels considered whether the world might be at risk of another such crisis. However, coverage of such fears, like so many other topics, was quickly tossed aside in favor of paying yet more attention to Donald Trump’s latest tweets, complaints, insults, and lies. Why? Because such a crisis was so 2008 in a year in which, it was claimed, we were enjoying a first class economic high and edging toward the longest bull-market in Wall Street history. When it came to “boom versus gloom,” boom won hands down.

None of that changed one thing, though: most people still feel left behind both in the US and globally. Thanks to the massive accumulation of wealth by a 1% skilled at gaming the system, the roots of a crisis that didn’t end with the end of the Great Recession have spread across the planet, while the dividing line between the “have-nots” and the “have-a-lots” only sharpened and widened.

Though the media hasn’t been paying much attention to the resulting inequality, the statistics (when you see them) on that ever-widening wealth gap are mind-boggling. According to Inequality.org, for instance, those with at least $30 million in wealth globally had the fastest growth rate of any group between 2016 and 2017. The size of that club rose by 25.5% during those years, to 174,800 members. Or if you really want to grasp what’s been happening, consider that, between 2009 and 2017, the number of billionaires whose combined wealth was greater than that of the world’s poorest 50% fell from 380 to just eight. And by the way, despite claims by the president that every other country is screwing America, the US leads the pack when it comes to the growth of inequality. As Inequality.org notes, it has “much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1% than any other country.”

That, in part, is due to an institution many in the US normally pay little attention to: the US central bank, the Federal Reserve. It helped spark that increase in wealth disparity domestically and globally by adopting a post-crisis monetary policy in which electronically fabricated money (via a program called quantitative easing, or QE) was offered to banks and corporations at significantly cheaper rates than to ordinary Americans.

Pumped into financial markets, that money sent stock prices soaring, which naturally ballooned the wealth of the small percentage of the population that actually owned stocks. According to the Fed’s own Survey of Consumer Finances, “It is hardly a stretch to conclude that QE exacerbated America’s already severe income disparities.”

Wall Street, Central Banks and Everyday People

What has since taken place around the world seems right out of the 1930s. At that time, as the world was emerging from the Great Depression, a sense of broad economic security was slow to return. Instead, fascism and other forms of nationalism only gained steam as people turned on the usual cast of politicians, on other countries, and on each other. (If that sounds faintly Trumpian to you, it should.)

In our post-2008 era, people have witnessed trillions of dollars flowing into bank bailouts and other financial subsidies, not just from governments but from the world’s major central banks. Theoretically, private banks, as a result, would have more money and pay less interest to get it. They would then lend that money to Main Street. Businesses, big and small, would tap into those funds and, in turn, produce real economic growth through expansion, hiring sprees, and wage increases. People would then have more dollars in their pockets and, feeling more financially secure, would spend that money driving the economy to new heights — and all, of course, would then be well.

That fairy tale was pitched around the globe. In fact, cheap money also pushed debt to epic levels, while the share prices of banks rose, as did those of all sorts of other firms, to record-shattering heights.

Even in the US, however, where a magnificent recovery was supposed to have been in place for years, actual economic growth simply didn’t materialize at the levels promised. At 2% per year, the average growth of the American gross domestic product over the past decade, for instance, has been half the average of 4% before the 2008 crisis. Similar numbers were repeated throughout the developed world and most emerging markets. In the meantime, total global debt hit $247 trillion in the first quarter of 2018. As the Institute of International Finance found, countries were, on average, borrowing about three dollars for every dollar of goods or services created.

Global Consequences

What the Fed (along with central banks from Europe to Japan) ignited, in fact, was a disproportionate rise in the stock and bond markets with the money they created. That capital sought higher and faster returns than could be achieved in crucial infrastructure or social strengthening projects like building roads, high-speed railways, hospitals, or schools.

What followed was anything but fair. As former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen noted four years ago, “It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority.” And, of course, continuing to pour money into the highest levels of the private banking system was anything but a formula for walking that back.

Instead, as more citizens fell behind, a sense of disenfranchisement and bitterness with existing governments only grew. In the US, that meant Donald Trump. In the United Kingdom, similar discontent was reflected in the June 2016 Brexit vote to leave the European Union (EU), which those who felt economically squeezed to death clearly meant as a slap at both the establishment domestically and EU leaders abroad.

Since then, multiple governments in the European Union, too, have shifted toward the populist right. In Germany, recent elections swung both right and left just six years after, in July 2012, European Central Bank (ECB) head Mario Draghi exuded optimism over the ability of such banks to protect the financial system, the Euro, and generally hold things together.

Like the Fed in the US, the ECB went on to manufacture money, adding another $3 trillion to its books that would be deployed to buy bonds from favored countries and companies. That artificial stimulus, too, only increased inequality within and between countries in Europe. Meanwhile, Brexit negotiations remain ruinously divisive, threatening to rip Great Britain apart.

Nor was such a story the captive of the North Atlantic. In Brazil, where left-wing president Dilma Rouseff was ousted from power in 2016, her successor Michel Temer oversaw plummeting economic growth and escalating unemployment. That, in turn, led to the election of that country’s own Donald Trump, nationalistic far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro who won a striking 55.2% of the vote against a backdrop of popular discontent. In true Trumpian style, he is disposed against both the very idea of climate change and multilateral trade agreements.

In Mexico, dissatisfied voters similarly rejected the political known, but by swinging left for the first time in 70 years. New president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, popularly known by his initials AMLO, promised to put the needs of ordinary Mexicans first. However, he has the US — and the whims of Donald Trump and his “great wall” — to contend with, which could hamper those efforts.

As AMLO took office on December 1st, the G20 summit of world leaders was unfolding in Argentina. There, amid a glittering backdrop of power and influence, the trade war between the US and the world’s rising superpower, China, came even more clearly into focus. While its president, Xi Jinping, having fully consolidated power amid a wave of Chinese nationalism, could become his country’s longest serving leader, he faces an international landscape that would have amazed and befuddled Mao Zedong.

Though Trump declared his meeting with Xi a success because the two sides agreed on a 90-day tariff truce, his prompt appointment of an anti-Chinese hardliner, Robert Lighthizer, to head negotiations, a tweet in which he referred to himself in superhero fashion as a “Tariff Man,” and news that the US had requested that Canada arrest and extradite an executive of a key Chinese tech company, caused the Dow to take its fourth largest plunge in history and then fluctuate wildly as economic fears of a future “Great Something” rose. More uncertainty and distrust were the true product of that meeting.

In fact, we are now in a world whose key leaders, especially the president of the United States, remain willfully oblivious to its long-term problems, putting policies like deregulation, fake nationalist solutions, and profits for the already grotesquely wealthy ahead of the future lives of the mass of citizens. Consider the yellow-vest protests that have broken out in France, where protestors identifying with left and right political parties are calling for the resignation of neoliberal French President Emmanuel Macron. Many of them, from financially starved provincial towns, are angry that their purchasing power has dropped so low they can barely make ends meet.

Ultimately, what transcends geography and geopolitics is an underlying level of economic discontent sparked by twenty-first-century economics and a resulting Grand Canyon-sized global inequality gap that is still widening. Whether the protests go left or right, what continues to lie at the heart of the matter is the way failed policies and stop-gap measures put in place around the world are no longer working, not when it comes to the non-1% anyway. People from Washington to Paris, London to Beijing, increasingly grasp that their economic circumstances are not getting better and are not likely to in any presently imaginable future, given those now in power.

A Dangerous Recipe

The financial crisis of 2008 initially fostered a policy of bailing out banks with cheap money that went not into Main Street economies but into markets enriching the few. As a result, large numbers of people increasingly felt that they were being left behind and so turned against their leaders and sometimes each other as well.

This situation was then exploited by a set of self-appointed politicians of the people, including a billionaire TV personality who capitalized on an increasingly widespread fear of a future at risk. Their promises of economic prosperity were wrapped in populist platitudes, normally (but not always) of a right-wing sort. Lost in this shift away from previously dominant political parties and the systems that went with them was a true form of populism, which would genuinely put the needs of the majority of people over the elite few, build real things including infrastructure, foster organic wealth distribution, and stabilize economies above financial markets.

In the meantime, what we have is, of course, a recipe for an increasingly unstable and vicious world.

The post Wall Street, Banks and Angry Citizens: The Inequality Gap Is Growing appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Senators Press for Expanded Probe of FEMA Over Hurricane Maria

Truth Out - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 17:40

Senators Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Bernie Sanders, and Dick Durbin last week sent a letter to John Kelly, acting inspector general (IG) of the Department of Homeland Security, asking him to expand the ongoing investigation into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) contracting in Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

The senators asked the acting IG to probe new reports of waste and abuse associated with the contractors hired to execute and manage the $1.2 billion Tu Hogar Renace (Your Home Reborn) program, created in October 2017 to provide temporary and immediate repairs for hurricane-damaged homes that would “return the home to safe, habitable and functional conditions, “ according to a press release issued by Warren’s office on 6th December:

In their letter to the DHS IG, the senators expressed concern about a recent New York Times report that “more than 60 percent of what FEMA is spending in the program” to repair up to 120,000 homes is not paying for these repairs but is instead “going toward overhead, profit and steep markups.” The report also found that that while homeowners were approved for “up to $20,000 each in aid,” a review of hundreds of invoices and contracts indicates that-in nearly every case-they received less than half of that.

The Bezzle

Regular readers are well aware of what a debacle the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria has been (see, for example. my previous post, Puerto Rico: 1427 Hurricane Maria Deaths, which includes several links to Lambert’s thorough and wide-ranging coverage of this catastrophe). The island was a neoliberal casualty long before the storm hit (and that assault predated the Trump administration).

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Senators Warren and Sanders have previously introduced legislation to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt (as I discussed in the post cited above). Yves succinctly cut to the crux in a previous post, Wall Street Got a Bailout, Why Not Puerto Rico?

The Grey Lady’s expose — cited in the Senators’ letter– must be read to be believed, $3,700 Generators and $666 Sinks: FEMA Contractors Charged Steep Markups on Puerto Rico Repairs:

Homeowners, who were approved for up to $20,000 each in aid, in nearly every case received less than half of what they were approved for, while layers of contractors and middlemen took the rest, a review of hundreds of invoices and contracts associated with the program shows.

The significant costs of transportation, warehousing, insurance and other services that are built into the prices for repairs are not unusual for FEMA disaster relief programs, which reflect the substantial expense of operating in disaster zones. But in Puerto Rico those costs were often so much greater than what would have been possible if homeowners had done the work themselves that they caused a public uproar.

A local opposition legislator, Luis Vega Ramos, called the housing program, which is operated by the Puerto Rico Department of Housing with FEMA funding, a mixture of “incompetence and corruption.” He called for federal investigators to examine the contracts awarded to repair companies to make sure the government was getting what it paid for.

The Grey Lady dug into the details, which document stunning examples of hogs feeding at the trough:

Contractors have said that the rates they collect cover a variety of expenses, including shipping fees, workers’ compensation insurance, vehicle and warehouse rental, taxes and profit. But prices charged for equipment and appliances often bore little relation to what was charged on the retail market, even in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

According to Department of Housing records, FEMA paid for about 12,400 people to receive generators at a cost of $3,700 each. The 5,500-watt portable devices and supplies they came with cost the contractors about $800 each, other documents show. FEMA paid $666 apiece for new bathroom sinks, but the contractors who actually bought and installed them paid $260 apiece. FEMA paid almost $4 a square foot to repair roofs; the work was done by subcontractors for $1.64 a foot.

The deal the Department of Housing signed required smoke detectors in every sleeping area, so each of the 122,000 houses in the program was equipped with the devices, for which FEMA was billed $82 apiece. A receipt reviewed by The New York Times showed that one subcontractor ordered them in bulk from an Ace Hardware store in the city of Aguadilla for $6.99 each.

I encourage readers who have access to the NYT to read the article in full – there’s a limit to what I can quote, and I selected only the juiciest bits.

What Is to Be Done

I’ve left off describing the political connections of the successful contractors, and will turn now to the McClatchy account, Senators want broader probe of FEMA contracts in Puerto Rico:

The senators also want the inspector general to dig deep on FEMA’s contracting practices that have allowed inexperienced bidders to win large and often vital contracts, an area on which McClatchy’s reporting shined a light. And they want the inspector general to review contracts with two winning bidders in the Tu Hogar Renace program that they said have connections to the Trump administration.

One of them, Adjusters International, whose senior vice president is Daniel Craig, who had been the administration pick to be FEMA’s deputy director. He withdrew from consideration last year after NBC revealed that a secret government report concluded that while serving in the Bush administration he falsified government travel and timekeeping records.

Excel Construction, the other company of concern to the senators, donated $100,000 in 2016 to the Trump Victory Committee and later was one of seven companies awarded a lucrative Tu Hogar Renace contract.

FEMA had no immediate reaction, nor did Excel’s parent company in Baton Rouge, La. Calls to Adjusters International in Utica, NY, were not returned.

Senators’ Previous FEMA Inquiries

In addition to the Sanders/Warren debt restructuring proposal mentioned above, these Senators have also otherwise reacted to the Trump administration’s botched response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico:

The letter is the senators’ latest inquiry into FEMA’s contracting process for the relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria. Last year, the Senators called for an investigation of FEMA’s decision to award over $30 million in contracts to Bronze Star LLC for temporary roofing materials in Puerto Rico that were never delivered. In February 2018, the senators sent a second letter regarding the botched $156 million contract awarded to Tribute Contracting LLC for emergency meals provided after the hurricane, and in October 2018, Senators Blumenthal and Warren sent the DHS IG another letter regarding FEMA’s awarding of contracts to companies with little or no experience in conducting the work assigned to them.

Whether these efforts will trigger an expanded IG investigation – or more importantly, better FEMA policies – is unclear, however. George W. Bush paid a political price for his administration’s inept response to Hurricane Katrina. So far, the Trump administration’s spectacular incompetence in Puerto Rico hasn’t attracted nearly the same level of scrutiny.

The post Senators Press for Expanded Probe of FEMA Over Hurricane Maria appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Congratulations to Rebecca Dunn!

Grassroots Economic Survival - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 17:37
Link: Congratulations Rebecca!

Congratulations Rebecca on retirement from CFNE.

 

Go to the GEO front page

Categories: News

US Seeks to Dilute Pact to Cut Carbon Emissions

Truth Out - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 17:35

UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a dire warning Wednesday that nations must act now to save humanity from devastating climate change. Despite this call to action, talks here in Katowice have been hindered by the United States and the world’s other biggest polluters, who are promoting fossil fuels and focusing on reducing emissions in developing countries but not their own. Talks are supposed to conclude Friday, but negotiators have expressed little hope in meeting the deadline. “It’s really hypocritical that the United States is here, negotiating in what I would characterize as bad faith,” says Meena Raman, of the US role in climate talks at COP24. “[The US] is seeking to dilute further what was a very delicate treaty that was concluded.” Raman is coordinator of the climate change program at Third World Network.

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, where UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a dire warning Wednesday that nations must act now to save humanity from devastating climate change.

SECRETARY–GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: To waste this opportunity in Katowice would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change. It would not only be immoral, it will be suicidal. … Failing here in Katowice would send a disastrous message to those who stand ready to shift to a green economy. So I urge you to find common ground and to allow us to show the world that we are listening, that we care. Developed countries must scale up their contributions to jointly mobilize $100 billion US annually by 2020.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite this call to action, talks here in Katowice have been hindered by the United States and the world’s other biggest polluters, who are promoting fossil fuels and focusing on reducing emissions in developing countries but not their own. Talks are supposed to conclude on Friday, but negotiators have expressed little hope in meeting that deadline. Meanwhile, climate experts warn inaction on global warming will devastate developing nations, that are the most affected by climate change but have done the least to cause it.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Meena Raman. She’s coordinator of the climate change program at Third World Network and is honorary secretary of Friends of the Earth Malaysia.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Meena. It’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about the progress in the talks, in these summits, and who you feel is getting in the way of where you want these talks to be?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, I think we are acting far too slowly. Those of us who were in Paris wanted movement much faster. And we are here negotiating guidelines to implement the Paris Agreement. And here, what we see, unfortunately, is the United States, which has announced that it has no intention to be a party to the Paris Agreement, negotiating the rules for implementation.

So, it’s really hypocritical that the United States is here, negotiating in what I would characterize as bad faith. And the reason why I say this is that the deal was already done. The political deal was done in 2015. Here, the governments are supposed to help each other implement the agreement that was achieved. Now, what you see the United States do is to renegotiate the Paris Agreement. It’s seeking to dilute further what was a very delicate treaty that was concluded.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the US is doing here? Trump has said that the US is pulling out. He’s pulling the US out of the agreement, although it takes a few years to do that.

MEENA RAMAN: Yes, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, they clearly are behind the scenes here, here in force, beginning with — and this wasn’t behind the scenes — working with Saudi Arabia. They’re a close ally, despite what it’s done in Yemen, despite its dismemberment of a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, working hand in hand with Saudi Arabia to undercut the UN’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientific body, the IPCC, and their new report on the devastating effects of climate change.

MEENA RAMAN: Well, the US has very clearly said, in Songdo, when the IPCC report was adopted, that it doesn’t agree with the scientific findings. And yet it is here. And it has already announced that it’s going to pull out, and yet it’s negotiating. So, the confusion for us is: What is the US up to?

And what it’s trying to do here is to deny those countries who are asking for climate finance, where the — under the Paris Agreement, it was already agreed that climate finance will be provided. So they come here, and they say, “We are not willing to commit to any new discussion on finance if the donor base is not widened.” So this is renegotiating. I think what they mean is that if China doesn’t come on board, the US is not willing to put any money on the table. But it’s not even clear whether the US will do anything at all, because it is a climate denier.

So, what we worry is for those nations who have already put their climate actions on the table as to what they would do when the Paris Agreement kicks off in 2020, post-2020, and they very clearly indicated that we can do more, but we will need technology transfer, we would need finance. But these are non-negotiable as far as the US is concerned. So there’s no money on the table, no indication of any discussion for new money. There is no commitment to discuss real technology transfer.

AMY GOODMAN: What do mean by “technology transfer”?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, it means that this is a global problem. Developing countries would need to transition from dependence of fossil fuels to a low-carbon future. Now, in order to do that, they will have to shift dramatically and not repeat the mistakes of the developed world. So, in order to do that, we need renewable energies of massive scales. We need all the technologies that are environmentally sound, that are able to allow the developing countries to move from fossil fuel dependence to non-fossil fuel dependence.

AMY GOODMAN: Meena, can you talk about what survival emissions are?

MEENA RAMAN: Yeah. For the poor of the world, who had no contribution to emissions — for instance, large amounts of people in India are denied any access to energy — now they are being told that they have to reduce their carbon emissions. Now, these are people who emit nothing. They have to survive. They have to eat. They have to go to school. They have to have healthcare. But all this is not possible, because they don’t have access to energy. Now, we are saying that these people, who have very little contribution to any emissions, they are being asked to contribute to reducing emissions. I mean, it’s hypocritical, because the United States does not want to acknowledge that it is the largest historical emitter in the world. Now, you don’t have enough carbon space to allow countries like the United States to continue to emit. You need the survival emissions for people who actually are able to transition and develop. And this is what the big fight is about.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the comparison of what a US citizen expends in using emissions versus people in India, for example, or in the developing world?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, you know, all the cars and the gasoline —

AMY GOODMAN: How much bigger is the carbon footprint?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, I don’t know the latest numbers, but I know for a fact that the US per capita emissions is something like 24 tons or so, and you have countries like India who are less than one. So you see the scale is massively different. And so you do need to — the poor — this is like a deal —

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re not talking about the whole population of India; you’re talking about the poor in India and other countries.

MEENA RAMAN: No, no, I’m talking about the poor, the large numbers of poor, in India, who actually have very little to live on. And so, you see, if you want to limit temperature rise, there is a finite carbon space that is left. So, for countries like the United States, who have grown wealthy due to their emissions, without any constraint on their carbon, they have become wealthy. And for the poor, who remain poor, and for them, you say, “No, you cannot emit, and you can’t have any alternative,” you are condemning these people to poverty, condemning them even to death, actually. So this is why what we say is, the climate problem has to be addressed in a differentiated manner: Those with greater historical responsibility must act.

AMY GOODMAN: What role is China playing?

MEENA RAMAN: China is playing a very constructive role.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s the largest polluter now, is that right?

MEENA RAMAN: Yes. Yes, it is. But —

AMY GOODMAN: As opposed to the US being the largest historical.

MEENA RAMAN: Correct, correct. But if you take per capita emissions, China is still much, much, much lesser than the United States. So this is why you do need to acknowledge that you cannot treat all people in the same way, because this is where the common but differentiated responsibility from Rio — you remember when George Bush, when, in 1992, he said that the lifestyles of the Americans are not up for negotiations. But —

AMY GOODMAN: George H.W. Bush, who just died.

MEENA RAMAN: George H.W. Bush. What you have to remember is, there is finite resources. The rich cannot continue to take and take. And so, if you remember what Gandhi said: If we all follow the American lifestyle, we will need another six planets. And so, this is not how the future of the world should be. So the poor have to be able to survive. They have to be enabled to move to a transition in a way that doesn’t replicate the lifestyle of the Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: Meena Raman, you’ve said that approaches such as carbon markets are rooted in colonialism and environmental racism. What do you mean by that?

MEENA RAMAN: The carbon markets, as far as we are concerned, are mechanisms to actually not do the real domestic reductions that are needed.

AMY GOODMAN: What are carbon markets?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, these are just markets which trade in carbon, where they believe that — like, for instance, in Malaysia, we are a massive forest country. And so, there are companies that go around our part of the world and say that the more that you protect the forest, those credits that allow the saving of the carbon dioxide, we will quantify them, and then we will trade them in the international market so that you will get money for them. And the offsets, the reductions that we do, will count to the domestic reductions of the developed countries. So what they’re really telling us is, we will pay you cheaply to do the emissions reductions for us, and the developed world doesn’t have to do the domestic reductions that they have to do. So this is actually not the solution. The solution is everyone has to decarbonize.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what needs to come out of these talks?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, we must have rules that are fair and just. For instance, the Paris Agreement cannot just be about reporting. The United States just wants everyone to report better, in terms of what actions they are doing. But what we actually need to do is to see finance on the table, a real commitment to deliver on finance. For instance, the Green Climate Fund is in need of massive replenishment. The United States pledged $3 billion initially, under the Obama administration. Only $1 billion is there. The $2 billion that was committed under the Obama administration is no longer there. So, developing countries is looking at the Green Climate Fund to deliver on the kind of actions that they need to do. So, if the Green Climate Fund is a vehicle for undertaking the transformation in developing countries, then massive replenishment of resources has to happen now, has to happen today.

The other thing that has to happen is, basically, the technology that needs to be transferred. Here, what the United States says is that technology is in the hands of the private sector, so it’s a commercial venture. This is not about a commercial venture. This is a global problem. And so we need affordable, accessible technologies, so that developing countries don’t have to go in the same pathway as the developed world. So, the United States is halting progress on all of this, and it’s a climate denier, and it’s preventing those who want to do action from taking action.

AMY GOODMAN: Meena Raman, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Meena Raman is the coordinator of the climate change program at Third World Network, and she’s the honorary secretary of Friends of the Earth Malaysia.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by Nnimmo Bassey, a leading environmental activist from Nigeria. Stay with us.

The post US Seeks to Dilute Pact to Cut Carbon Emissions appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Costa Rica Is Pursuing Decarbonization Despite Global Inaction

Truth Out - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 17:32

As world leaders struggle to agree on a plan to curb global emissions at the UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland, we look at Costa Rica’s plan to go fossil-free beginning next year. It will be the first country in the world to decarbonize its economy. Costa Rica generates more than 90 percent of its electricity using renewable energy. Costa Rican officials have announced they want to host UN climate talks in 2019, since Brazil rescinded its offer to host the summit following the election of right-wing climate change denier President-elect Jair Bolsonaro. We speak with Monica Araya, a Costa Rican climate activist who works with the president of Costa Rica on sustainability issues. She is the director of Costa Rica Limpia, an NGO that promotes carbon neutrality and clean energy.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Costa Rica Is Pursuing Decarbonization Despite Global Inaction appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Facilitators’ guide to keeping a meeting on track

Grassroots Economic Survival - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 17:29
Link: Facilitators’ guide to keeping a meeting on track

The best system does not help if we can’t do it in our groups. How can we keep our teams on track?

I assume that we’re talking about a scenario where the group has been trained on process. As colleague Jerry Koch-Gonzalez says: sociocracy depends more on good followers than on good facilitators. Culture training does not change overnight, and none of us have grown up in non-coercive systems. It takes practice and more practice to replace our internalized coercive patterns by non-coercive, truly collaborative ones.

So, let’s say you facilitate a meeting where everyone has received some basic training. The group still has a tendency of getting off track — which basically describes any group. What can you do?

Read the rest at Medium  Go to the GEO front page
Categories: News

The Trump Administration Is Getting Sued for Failing to Protect Giraffes

Truth Out - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 17:21

Animal advocacy and conservation organizations are taking the Trump administration to court for failing to protect giraffes who are suffering from what’s been dubbed a “silent extinction.”

Although they might be one of the most easily recognizable and beloved animals on earth, giraffes have been quietly disappearing at an alarming rate. Since the mid-1980s, their population has declined by a startling 40 percent, leaving only an estimated 97,560 individuals in the wild.

Last year, concerns about the threat of extinction prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to change their status from a species of Least Concern – skipping right over Near Threatened – to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Unfortunately, things have only gotten worse since then with the latest update this November that highlighted how much trouble they’re in.

“Whilst giraffe are commonly seen on safari, in the media, and in zoos, people – including conservationists – are unaware that these majestic animals are undergoing a silent extinction,” said Dr. Julian Fennessy, co-chair of the IUCN SSC GOSG, and Director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. “While giraffe populations in southern Africa are doing just fine, the world’s tallest animal is under severe pressure in some of its core ranges across East, Central and West Africa. It may come as a shock that three of the currently recognized nine subspecies are now considered ‘Critically Endangered’ or ‘Endangered’, but we have been sounding the alarm for a few years now.”

Unfortunately, they continue to face mounting pressure from a growing human population, human-wildlife conflicts, disease, habitat loss and fragmentation, predators, civil unrest, drought, climate change, being killed for their meat and parts and trophy hunting.

In an effort to ensure the US isn’t complicit in their further decline, a coalition of organizations petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect all four distinct species of giraffe as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act in April of last year.

Even though they exist far away, the US has played a major role in their decline. At the time, they found that nearly 40,000 giraffe parts and products had been imported into the US over just the past decade, while a recent investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) found that, on average, more than one giraffe is imported by a US trophy hunter every single day.

However, listing them would ban most imports of trophies and parts coming into the country, and regulate domestic trade, in addition to helping raise much-needed awareness about their plight. It would also generate funding for more research and in-situ conservation efforts to protect them in the wild.

The FWS had 90 days to respond, but it’s been 19 months and the agency has yet to do anything. Now, it’s getting sued by the HSUS, Humane Society International, Center for Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The organizations ultimately hope to get a court to compel the agency to respond to the petition, which it will hopefully do in favor of moving towards protecting them.

“The Trump administration would rather allow its rich donors to mount giraffe trophies on their walls than protect giraffes,” said Elly Pepper, deputy director of NRDC’s Wildlife Trade Initiative. ”Giraffes are headed toward extinction, in part due to our country’s importation of giraffe parts and trophies. It’s shameful — though unsurprising — that the Interior Department has refused to protect them under the Endangered Species Act and I hope the courts will agree.”

You can help show your support for these iconic animals by signing and sharing the petition urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Secretary of the Interior to protect them as endangered species.

The post The Trump Administration Is Getting Sued for Failing to Protect Giraffes appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Donald Trump Is Under the Bus

Truth Out - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 16:19

Just after noon on Wednesday, the personal lawyer to the president of the United States was sentenced in federal court to 36 months in prison.

Think about that.

“Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s long-time consigliere and Man Who Knows All Secrets had his world turned inside out like a laundered sock on Monday morning,” I wrote on April 11 of this year, “when the FBI basically raided every place he’s ever spent more than five minutes. Cohen’s home, office and hotel all got the treatment courtesy of the office of the United States attorney for the southern district of New York, operating off a tip from special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigative team.”

Eight months and a day later, here we are.

The day of reckoning finally arrived for Donald Trump’s long-time attorney, fixer and bagman. Cohen, who once walked the streets of New York with the strut of a man who thought he could knock over buildings, finally had the building fall on him. Everyone whose arm Cohen ever twisted on behalf of Trump likely watched the network coverage of his sentencing as if it were the last 10 seconds of the Super Bowl and their team was on top.

Today’s ruling will go on the books as a sentencing for multiple crimes, including lying to Congress about Trump’s dealings in Moscow and paying hush money to two women during the presidential campaign. On top of the prison time, Cohen was ordered to pay more than $1 million in restitution. Cohen’s legal team had asked the judge for no jail time given his cooperation, but the prosecutors took the position that “even powerful and privileged individuals cannot violate these laws with impunity.” That view carried the day.

“While Mr. Cohen is taking steps to mitigate his criminal conduct by pleading guilty and volunteering useful information to prosecutors,” said US District Judge William H. Pauley III, “that does not wipe the slate clean. Mr. Cohen selected the information he disclosed to the government. This court cannot agree with the defendant’s assertion that no jail time is warranted. In fact, this court firmly believes that a significant term of imprisonment is fully justified in this highly publicized case to send a message.”

Cohen wept as the sentence was read, and then, with solemn piety and grim solicitude, threw his former client under the crosstown bus. “Time and time again,” he told the judge, “I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds. I stand before your honor humbly and painfully aware that we are here today for one reason, because of my actions that I pled guilty to. I take full responsibility for each act that I pled guilty to, the personal ones to me and those involving the president of the United States of America.”

“At the appropriate time,” Cohen attorney Lanny Davis told CBS News, “after Mr. Mueller completes his investigation and issues his final report, I look forward to assisting Michael to state publicly all he knows about Mr. Trump – and that includes any appropriate congressional committee interested in the search for truth and the difference between facts and lies. Mr. Trump’s repeated lies cannot contradict stubborn facts.”

And so much for “Individual 1.”

The ultimate impact of Wednesday’s courtroom drama is anyone’s guess. Prosecutors were clear on the fact that Cohen did not reveal absolutely everything he knows, and whatever he does know is heavy enough to make 36 months in prison a better alternative for him than full disclosure. Suspicious minds like mine are forced to wonder if there might be a bullet out there somewhere – Russian mob perhaps, or old school New York Mafia – with his name on it if he spills too much, but that line of thought veers almost too close to the realm of fantasy to truly entertain… or does it? The best spelunkers in the world couldn’t find the bottom of this barrel, and Mueller’s report is still in the offing.

Speaking of the bottom of the barrel, one of the most famous purveyors of actual fake news has also rolled on the president. American Media Inc. (AMI), parent company of the National Enquirer, made public on Wednesday a deal they cut with the Southern District of New York back in September. As part of the deal, AMI admits to paying $150,000 in hush money to former model Karen McDougal in order to kill her story about an affair with Trump.

Prosecutors were clear on the fact that Cohen did not reveal absolutely everything he knows.

Working directly with Cohen at the behest of Trump, AMI buried McDougal’s story specifically to “prevent it from influencing the election.” According to The Washington Post, “The deal signaled the unraveling of the deep relationship Trump and AMI chief executive David Pecker had forged over decades. The deal also made clear that Pecker, whose tabloid strongly supported Trump’s candidacy, has turned on the president.”

As for President Tantrum, the Thunderdome finally erupted on Thursday morning:

I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called “advice of counsel,” and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid. Despite that many campaign finance lawyers have strongly……

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018

….stated that I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, if they even apply, because this was not campaign finance. Cohen was guilty on many charges unrelated to me, but he plead to two campaign charges which were not criminal and of which he probably was not…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018

….guilty even on a civil basis. Those charges were just agreed to by him in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence, which he did-including the fact that his family was temporarily let off the hook. As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2018

    I was nearly convinced these were written by some beleaguered White House staffer who got dragooned into the unenviable task of channeling Trump into print, until I got to that last line, which is pure Donald: “As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!” No one, but no one, has the first “smocking” clue what that means. Cohen is going to jail to embarrass Trump? The bats in the Trumpian belfry may have finally reached peak bat. No mention, of course, of AMI, Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort. That would spoil the fiction.

    Manafort is set to be sentenced on March 5, and Flynn will be seeing the judge this coming Tuesday. Cohen has been ordered to surrender for incarceration on March 6, one day after Manafort is sentenced. The last lingering shoe to drop is the final release of the full Mueller report. Will he wait until Manafort is sentenced before unveiling it?

    That’s a tall gamble; in political terms, March is a thousand years from now. Once the new Congress is seated, there is likely to be a race in the Republican-controlled Senate to confirm William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, in the hope that Barr will save Trump’s hide the way he saved George H.W. Bush’s back in 1992 and trash the whole investigation. Perhaps Mueller is simply waiting until after the first week of January, when he will have a new army of House allies with subpoena power to back him up.

    The wild days are getting wilder, to be sure. On top of everything else, Trump stapled personal responsibility for any looming government shutdown to himself on live television with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer seated not two feet away. The White House is about to have no chief of staff – the first choice wisely turned them down, Trump wants the second choice to keep being awful in the House and no third choice apparently exists – which means there is no traffic cop for an administration that is already careening toward calamity.

    Hats over the windmill, I say. The avalanche has begun.

    The post Donald Trump Is Under the Bus appeared first on Truthout.

    Categories: News

    How We Stop the World From “Burning Up”

    Truth Out - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 16:12
    With each successive report on the crisis of climate change, the necessity of a rapid and total transformation of our energy systems becomes increasingly apparently. In Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, author Simon Pirani examines how the runaway growth in greenhouse gas emissions is driven by the social and economic organization of our society. In this excerpt, Pirani argues that whether we transition away from fossil fuels is dependent on how deeply we transform society as a whole.

    One way or another, society will move away from fossil-fuel-dominated systems. There are dystopian scenarios in which natural phenomena – the climate changes arising from global warming, resource constraints and so on – compel a collectively paralysed society to change. It is much more likely, though, that society will react, somehow, to the crisis it faces. This discussion of how it might do so starts from two questions. First, what is meant by ‘transition’ away from fossil fuels: a move to new technological systems, within existing social and economic ones – or the transformation, too, of those social and economic systems? Second, given what we know about global warming and other changes in natural systems, how long might, and/or should, the transition take?

    Climate scientists have drawn parameters within which to discuss this second question: there is a consensus among them that humanity collectively has, in the period starting in 1870, a ‘carbon budget’ of about 3200 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions to work with, if the most dangerous effects of global warming are to be avoided. At the current rate at which greenhouse gases are being emitted, this budget would be used up entirely, well before the middle of this century. Beyond that, global warming effects (in particular, sea level rise, higher temperatures and weather volatility) could play havoc with humans’ living conditions on an unprecedentedly destructive scale. These forecasts suggest the need for a transition away from fossil fuels within two or three decades – over a much shorter period than is usually envisaged. One damaging aspect of the public discourse around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process is that this contradiction is constantly ignored, downplayed or, worse, normalised.

    What might the history of previous transitions from one energy system to another tell us about the character, and speed, of the transition now facing us? A recent research project pointed to four conclusions:

    1. That such transitions are ‘predominantly characterised by changing types and amounts of energy end-use services’ – that is, the way that energy is supplied depends on how it is used by final consumers. For example, industry’s thirst for motive power (steam) drove the transition to coal in the early nineteenth century.
    2. Technological innovations ‘tend initially to be crude, imperfect and expensive’. Neither the steam engine in the nineteenth century nor the solar panel in the twenty-first could easily become cost-competitive with incumbent technology.
    3. Technological change from innovation to widespread diffusion ‘is generally slow, lasting as a rule many decades,’ and technologies come in clusters, with their infrastructure.
    4. The ‘transformative potential of energy technologies arises through clusters and spillovers,’ not through ‘eureka’ moments, implying, again, ‘slower potential rates of change.’

    During the second Industrial Revolution, electricity for industry, and fuel for car-based transport systems, were among the drivers of fossil fuel demand; demand for these forms of useful energy was in turn determined by social and economic systems. In the late twentieth century, fossil fuel demand was driven by these, and other, technologies, underpinned by urbanisation, industrialisation, growth of mass consumption and so on. Much public discussion about future energy systems takes for granted that these trends will continue. It is often framed by ideas of ‘progress,’ according to which ever-expanding US-style personal consumption (car-based cities, detached homes with multiple energy-guzzling possessions, and so on) and China-style industrial consumption (production of energy-intensive materials, such as steel and aluminum, with export of manufactured goods at great energy cost for energy-inefficient use), are inevitable, if not desirable. This, after all, is ‘economic growth.’ These ideologised assumptions need to be challenged. The prospect of changes not only to technological systems, but also to social and economic ones, opens up bolder and more attractive scenarios for the energy transition.

    An energy transition could not leave untouched the inequality inherent in present social, economic and technological systems. Arnalf Grubler and Charlie Wilson, lead researchers on the programme referred to, argued that the post-second-world-war transition to an oil- and electricity-dominated system was ‘incomplete,’ in that it left behind 1 billion people with no electricity access and a larger number with limited access. But this transition was not directed at providing electricity access or improving lives; if we can speak of an aim or direction, it was to do with capital accumulation and the concentration of wealth and power; the inequalities were reproduced and deepened by the dominant social relations. A future transition that leaves these social relations intact, while switching technologies, will surely not tackle inequalities.

    Prospects for Social, Economic and Technological Change

    Potential future changes to technological, social and economic systems, in the course of a transition away from fossil fuels, may be grouped in three types.

    First, there are changes to, or adaptations of, existing technological systems that could reduce fossil fuel use rapidly. One such change, deployment of electricity generation from non-fossil sources, has begun. Other technologies have for decades amounted to unrealised potential – what Amory Lovins in the 1970s called ‘roads not taken’: ways of changing energy transformation and distribution (such as CHP [Combined Heat and Power or cogeneration] and decentralised electricity grids), or of conserving energy in consumption (for example, in industrial processes, construction methods, or car manufacture and fuel use). Abundant reports from official bodies and researchers contain details. At numerous turning points, such changes could have been made, and were even under discussion by political and business elites, but either did not happen or happened only in a watered-down form. Experience shows that governments can either push, or obstruct, such changes; civil society can also intervene.

    A second type of change, which borders on and overlaps with the first type, would amount to superseding the technological systems in their current form. These systems are only likely to be dislodged as a result of far-reaching social change and, where necessary, breaking the resistance of incumbent interests that control them. Four such changes are:

    1. Remaking the relationship between cities and countryside, by making the divisions between them less extreme, and moving urban built infrastructure away from the currently dominant energy-intensive model. This could end construction of energy-inefficient buildings using energy-intensive materials, and cut sharply the demand for fossil-fuelled space heating and other energy-intensive practices. Land ownership patterns would have to change.
    2. Transforming urban transport infrastructure, (a) to decentralise goods distribution, and (b) to gear cities and towns to public transport, bicycles, walking and other modern transport technologies, thereby superseding the age of car-based transport systems. This would involve overcoming the resistance of corporate interests (fossil fuel, car, steel and aluminium makers, road builders, and so on).
    3. Moving to fully integrated, decentralised electricity networks, geared to multiple small electricity producers, managed by ‘smart’ technology, thereby reducing or ending the need for centralised fossil-fuel-fired power stations. This would be (is being) resisted by electricity companies.
    4. Changing the character of widely diffused energy consumption technologies (household heating and electricity systems), and other products, to make them repairable by users, thereby reducing waste, overproduction and the effects of planned obsolescence – changes that are incompatible with current profit-based marketing.

    These deeper-going shifts, involving technological change together with social and economic change, point towards the third and most thorough-going type of change, the transformation of the social and economic systems that underpin the technological ones. We can envisage forms of social organisation that supersede corporate and state control of the economy, advance collective and community control, and, crucially, in which employed labour – a central plank of profit-centred capitalism – is superseded by more meaningful types of human activity. This is what I understand by socialism: a future social form antithetical to twentieth-century state ‘socialisms.’

    Changes associated with this could include:

    1. Transformation of productive activity (industry) beyond the constraints of the wage labour system, and corporate control, unleashing human creative capacities to make things that are truly useful and desirable. Such production, coordinated with twenty-first century information technology, would supersede the production of little-needed or unneeded goods, waste in processes, and the egregious use of energy-intensive materials.
    2. The continued transformation of domestic labour with energy-efficient technologies.
    3. A transition away from industrial agriculture, reversing the tendency towards the production and transportation of fossil-fuel-intensive meat and luxury foods for a minority at others’ expense; and reversal of the trend towards long-distance and international bulk transportation. This could enhance human health, minimise waste and slash fossil fuel inputs.
    4. A society where employed labour is superseded by useful and creative activity (production for use) could move away from consumerism and ideas that material goods are essential means to happiness and fulfilment.

    These are speculations, not blueprints. Their purpose is to indicate the gigantic potential opened up by thinking about the transition away from fossil fuels in the larger contexts of developing sustainable technological systems better to meet human need, and changing technological systems together with social and economic ones.

    Forces for Change

    An obvious objection is that this sounds like a long process, and that the timescales set by climate science do not allow that luxury. An obvious riposte is that we have 25 years of evidence that this problem is beyond the capacity of political processes to resolve. Together with that, we have very clear evidence of how the world’s most powerful governments are likely to react to the effects of global warming as it advances. Here are three examples:

    1. The flooding of New Orleans in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina. It is not known whether this was caused by global warming, but it is known that such extraordinary weather events are becoming more common as a result of global warming. Although the victims were citizens of the world’s most powerful country, hundreds perished and thousands lost everything, sharing the fate of the much more numerous victims of natural disasters in countries outside the rich world. Hopes were expressed at the time – and again during the extraordinary storms in the USA in 2012 and 2015, and the flooding of southern states in 2017 – that these events might push the political elite into revising its stance on global warming. They did not.
    2. The effects of hotter weather and flooding on tropical-zone agriculture in recent years. Global warming is among the underlying causes of the hardships, in many cases fatal, visited on agricultural communities in Africa and southeast Asia as a result. The international political reaction has been one of indifference.
    3. The sharp increase in 2016–17 in the number of refugees travelling to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. This was caused primarily by military conflict, not global warming – but it prefigured the type of migratory movements researchers see as likely to be caused by future climate change. The grim response of many European governments – that in various degrees allowed refugees to drown en masse, confined them to detention camps, and used them as a cynical bargaining chip in geopolitical haggling with the government of Turkey – indicates how they might deal with future effects of global warming: by building walls, real (as commended by president Trump) or virtual.

    So we do not need to imagine the future international political response to global warming effects. The prototypes are here: handing the transition away from fossil fuels to the markets, with disastrously ineffective results; and cordoning off the rich world from the most violent and damaging consequences. For civil society to take matters into its hands cannot possibly be a simple or easy answer — but it can and will find better answers to problems than these. In a study of social responses to disasters, the writer Rebecca Solnit demonstrated convincingly that people tap into resources of solidarity and collective action that they might not have known they had. The global warming disaster — which has been produced socially, on a much greater scale and over a much greater time span, than other disasters — demands a collective response from us all that we, too, might not have thought possible.

    The post How We Stop the World From “Burning Up” appeared first on Truthout.

    Categories: News

    The White House Is Working on a Plan to Deport Vietnam War Refugees

    Truth Out - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 14:59

    In what critics described as a “consciously racist” and immensely cruel move that has the fingerprints of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller all over it, the Trump administration is reportedly working to make Vietnam War refugees who have lived in the United States for decades eligible for deportation.First reported by The Atlantic on Wednesday, the White House plan seeks to reinterpret a long-standing agreement with Hanoi that protects from deportation all Vietnamese people who arrived in the US before July 12, 1995 — the date the two nations officially reestablished diplomatic relations after the Vietnam War, in which the US killed millions of people and inflicted damage that lives on to this day.

    “In essence, the administration has now decided that Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in the country before the establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Vietnam are subject to standard immigration law — meaning they are all eligible for deportation,” The Atlantic noted.

    Winnie Wong, progressive organizer and founder of People for Bernie, offered a succinct translation of the proposed policy change: “Trump wants to deport Vietnamese grannies who have been living here for more than 40 years.”

    “Donald Trump’s cruelty knows no bounds,” declared Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

    In addition to the sheer Trumpian cruelty of the policy shift, several commentators were quick to note that the plan also bears all the signs of Miller’s pernicious influence.

    “Let’s see here. This is 1) Unnecessary 2) Cruel 3) Trolls the Libs 4) Secures the existence of our people and a future for white children,” author Mike Duncan wrote on Twitter. “Yes, we see you Stephen Miller.”

    The Week’s Ryan Cooper also argued that Miller is clearly a key force behind the “despicable” proposal.

    “If there is a hell Stephen Miller will be fed magma-hot ethnic food for eternity,” Cooper added.

    “You don’t need need to be the child of Vietnamese immigrants, like me, to find this shameful,” concluded Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Mac. “Considering the deportation of people who have lived in this country for decades, and who are largely here because of the US’s involvement, is an utter disgrace.”

    The post The White House Is Working on a Plan to Deport Vietnam War Refugees appeared first on Truthout.

    Categories: News

    Rename Coal to Save It, Suggests UN Climate Talks Sponsor

    deSmog - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 14:08
    Read time: 3 mins

    JSW, the coal company sponsoring the UN climate negotiations in Poland, has a plan to revive the coal industry: rename coal.

    Daniel Ozon, CEO of JSW, believes that coking coal has been tainted by association with thermal coal, and that investors are backing away as a result.

    But he thinks a “fancy new name” for coking coal could help.

    Tags: COP24UNFCCC climate conferencecoalPoland
    Categories: News

    French Yellow Vest Protests Spread Through Europe To Belgium And The Netherlands

    The Organic Prepper - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 12:15
    by Robert Wheeler

    Editor’s Note: When I watch the Yellow Vest protests in France, and now in other parts of Europe, I can’t help but wonder if this is where

    Read the rest

    The post French Yellow Vest Protests Spread Through Europe To Belgium And The Netherlands appeared first on The Organic Prepper.

    Categories: News

    Inside the Tent: Big Polluters Work to Shape Paris Agreement Rules at the UN Climate Talks

    deSmog - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 11:52
    Read time: 8 minsIETA at COP24

    Should fossil fuel companies that knew their products contributed to climate change for nearly 40 years and did nothing about it now be allowed to have their say inside the UN climate talks?

    For the International Trade Emissions Associations (IETA), a business lobby comprised of some of the world’s largest fossil fuel producers and greenhouse gas emitters such as BP, Chevron, Rio Tinto, Eni, Total and Shell, the answer is yes.

    “Fundamentally,” the IETA writes, “we believe that our businesses should be part of the climate negotiations — because we intend to be part of the solution”.

    Tags: COP24UN climate talksKatowicecorporate captureCarbon Markets
    Categories: News

    Cut Holiday Clutter: Give Preparedness Skills for Christmas Gifts

    The Organic Prepper - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 11:42
    by Melonie Kennedy

    It’s that time of year again – the stores have been running ads since Halloween telling us about all the glorious Things we should give the people … Read the rest

    The post Cut Holiday Clutter: Give Preparedness Skills for Christmas Gifts appeared first on The Organic Prepper.

    Categories: News

    Pentagon denounces any unilateral military action in 'their' part of Syria as unacceptable

    Citizens for Legitimate Government - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 05:33

    Pentagon denounces any unilateral military action in 'their' part of Syria as unacceptable | 13 Dec 2018 | The US is worried that "unilateral" military action against its proxy forces might jeopardize its foothold in Syria, claiming that the Kurds are vital in the battle against IS, as Turkey vows to get rid of "separatist terrorists." Despite major breakthroughs in the battle against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL [but still I-CIA-SIS]) terrorists and in the ongoing reconciliation process in Syria, the US has repeatedly made clear its intention to remain in the country indefinitely, pledging to continue to back the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to counter Bashar Assad and Iranian influence in the Kurdish-dominated part of Syria. The presence of some 2,000 US military 'advisers' in the country has not only angered Damascus, but has also placed Ankara in direct confrontation with its NATO ally, especially after US-backed fighters attempted to set up parallel government structures.

    Categories: News

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