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Six families who own cottages next to Chris Christie's private beach were ordered to leave their homes under threat of arrest while the governor lounged in the sun

Citizens for Legitimate Government - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 00:55

Six families who own cottages next to Chris Christie's private beach were ordered to leave their homes under threat of ARREST while the governor lounged in the sun | 04 July 2017 | Six families were left fuming after they were ordered out of their cottages located next to Chris Christie's private beach under the threat of being arrested while the New Jersey governor and his family soaked up some sun.

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“We’ve Got No Choice”: Interview with Elise Gerhart of Camp White Pine

It's Goin Down - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 00:49

The post “We’ve Got No Choice”: Interview with Elise Gerhart of Camp White Pine appeared first on It's Going Down.

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In May, Unicorn Riot visited Camp White Pine, a direct action encampment on the Gerhart family’s property in the hills of Huntingdon County, PA. Several tree-sits currently sit on the easement for the Mariner East 2 pipeline, where Sunoco has claimed eminent domain to build the pipeline against the property owner’s consent. Read our report here.

We spoke with Elise Gerhart for almost two hours about the history of her family’s property, their struggle against encroachment by Sunoco, and what she expects in the fight ahead. We also discussed regulatory corruption in Pennsylvania, law enforcement responses to pipeline resistance, and the implications for climate activism in the post-Standing Rock era.

TRANSCRIPT:

Elise Gerhart: “My family lives here in south central Pennsylvania and we are part of the resistance to the Sunoco Logistics Mariner East 2 pipeline, and the fossil fuel industry in general. This property where Camp White Pine is, my family moved here in 1982. I was born in 1987 and I’ve lived here ever since. The plan as far as my family was concerned was to manage the majority of t a conservation area, to engage in forest stewardship, which we have done since the ’80s.

And so this place has become a pretty diverse and vibrant piece of forestland, probably been at least 80 years since it had been clearcut given the size of the white pines that are left. It’s pretty important wildlife habitat, there’s all kinds of critters here. We’ve got vernal pools in the wetlands that are critical habitat for amphibians, we’ve got a pond that supports other types of aquatic wildlife, there’s migratory birds that come in and use that area. We’ve got pileated woodpeckers, black bears, general Pennsylvania wildlife I would say… We’ve seen some flying squirrels, flocks of turkeys pass through here from time to time…

Up until this whole thing with Sunoco happened it had the feeling of kind of a sanctuary in a way. It was never going to be developed, not on my mother’s watch, not on my watch. We do have a homestead up the hill here, but we try to minimize the impact of that, we’re not too into the idea of lawns or things like that. We have a small patch where we grow our own food, but other than that this place was left kind of to its own devices, left to continue re-wilding itself, so Sunoco kind of came in and disrupted those plans a bit, with wanting to turn a space like that into an industrial zone.

We’ve got two streams on the property that are part of the Juniata watershed, which is part of the Susquehanna watershed. We’re kind of in the western reaches of the Susquehanna river watershed, the springs for those streams are actually on this property, and so to us that seems pretty important to care for those streams and maintain them. I mean not that we’re doing anything to maintain them but trying to prevent them from being destroyed seems pretty important. Part of this is human-centric, it’s about rights, it’s about safety, it’s about having the right to defend yourself from harm and having the right to have a peaceful life, but another part of it is environmental. Very much so. Growing up on a property like this, it’s not very surprising that I became an environmentalist, but that was my plan, to continue stewarding this land and protecting it, so I’m just trying to follow through with that obligation at this point.

We have a handful of large white pine trees that are still standing in the easement due to defense that was done last year to protect them. And those trees have now been fortified into a pretty elaborate tree village, if you will, with platforms, traverses…capacity to support a small village of forest defenders. We’ve got a few banners that we’ve put up specific to the pipeline resistance but we’ve also used this installation as an opportunity to express solidarity with other campaigns and raise awareness about other issues such as the recent release of two political prisoners, Oscar and Chelsea, and solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers.

So we got a lot going on here, it’s become kind of a vibrant little spot of intense resistance, but also there’s a lot of positivity here, and there’s lot of love and there’s a lot of community. So we’ve not only built a tree village but we’re building that community too.­

Sunoco Logistics approached my family more than two years ago seeking an easement for the Mariner East 2 pipeline. In the first discussion about it, they threatened to use eminent domain to take the land if we wouldn’t give it to them for the amount of money that they decided it was worth. And since then, we have been fighting it in court, we were sued for the property through a condemnation (also known as the eminent domain process). We went through county court doing that, and the local judge, George Zanic, he ruled against us in favor of the company, even though the project didn’t really meet the criteria for the use of eminent domain – it’s not serving the public good, it’s not serving us, our neighbors, anyone in Pennsylvania or really anyone domestically except for the corporations involved – it’s all for export and use in the plastics industry.

So, yeah, that fight didn’t go well, it kinda went as expected though, the state of Pennsylvania is extremely corrupt and in favor of industry, not just for pipelines, but the fracking industry as a whole…[Pennsylvania] has a history of being in favor of industries like coal and things like that, and generally against the regular working class people.

We fought permits for about two years as well, there were a lot of people that were fighting permits across the state – organizations, individuals, grassroots community groups, nonprofits – litigating against both the use of eminent domain and the permitting for the project, because even based on existing laws (even though the legal system in this country is far from perfect and far from being able to uphold people’s rights, human rights, and rights of the environment), even within that framework, this project is illegal, and shouldn’t be allowed to use eminent domain.

It doesn’t meet environmental regulation standards, yet those regulatory agencies like the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] have just allowed it to happen there – and not just allowed it to happen, they’re facilitating it, they’re permitting it, they’re talking about how great it is, and actually sitting down at the table with these industries, excluding regular people from those talks, and figuring out how they’re gonna not only build the Mariner East 2 pipeline, but they’re figuring out how they’re gonna build 30,000 miles of pipeline in Pennsylvania over the next 10 years. And this, 2017, is actually the first year of the implementation of that plan, that’s a collaboration between the state of Pennsylvania and many different entities within the fossil fuel industry and plastics industry.

Based on all those things, we tried to contact regulatory agencies from the county level up to the federal level. I had phone conversations with US Fish & Wildlife, with the DEP, with the county conservation district, went to all the meetings we could, did petitions, letter writing, phone calls, litigation, all of that…and yet here we are and Sunoco is building the Mariner East 2 pipeline right now.

Last year, in March of 2016, a few months after Judge Zanic ruled against us in the eminent domain case in county court, Sunoco decided they were going to come down and do clear cutting for the project. And back then, they did not have a single permit for the project. They had no permission to build the pipeline, even as far as the state was concerned. But they just independently decided that they were going to start clear cutting.”

Unicorn Riot: They already had eminent domain on your property at that point?

Elise Gerhart: “They had eminent domain on this property but they had no permits for the project. And so it was really really preemptive, but they came to do it anyway, and the reason that I believe they came to do it was as an intimidation tactic. They didn’t have all the easements secured for the pipeline at that point and they wanted to scare people into signing easements. And so we decided that we weren’t just gonna stand by and let them do that. We organized a series of tree-sits along the easement – on this property, my family’s property, its a three acre easement, at some points 150 feet wide – its a pretty big area. And so we had three tree sits along that area. I occupied one of them.

The company came in, they brought a lot of police and they arrested the property owner, my mother, even though she wasn’t standing on the easement, she was standing on her own private property that isn’t even being disputed. They arrested two other supporters, one of whom was put on $200,000 bail, another person was put on $100,000 bail, for really doing nothing more than advocating for the safety of the people in the trees, telling Sunoco that what they were doing was wrong…I mean no-one who was arrested did anything but have conversations with the police and the workers and yet they were hauled off to jail and put on these ridiculous bails.”

Unicorn Riot: They weren’t like physically obstructing their movements or anything?

Elise Gerhart: “No, none of the people arrested during that clear cutting were physically obstructing anything.”

Unicorn Riot: What were they charged with?

Elise Gerhart: “They were charged with disorderly conduct and contempt of court. Two separate counts of disorderly conduct, one is a misdemeanor, one is a summary offense – and then another summary offense of contempt of court. Which, people were warned or threatened by the judge before this all happened that [contempt of court] would mean an automatic six months in jail, no conviction, no trial, no jury, no nothing, straight to jail for six months. That didn’t happen, thankfully, but people were subjected to an eight month-long court process only to have those charges then dropped.

I was not arrested during that tree clearing, I was occupying one of the trees. They didn’t try to extract me, they never told me to come down. I was charged about a month later and went through the court process with the other people who had been arrested. We were in the end let off the hook because from what the district attorney said, after a rigorous investigation during that time, they determined that we were on private property and those charges did not apply. Which they obviously knew from the beginning, from before they even decided to come here, because this whole thing is regarding issues of property rights. It was never unclear to them that this was private property.”

 

Unicorn Riot: What different kinds of police or sheriffs came in? Can you describe their demeanor and attitudes and the interactions when they were here?

Elise Gerhart: “So on the first two days that they came to clear cut, they showed up right off the bat with more than a dozen police. I was told that there was about 16 police on those days, and that was the sheriffs department, the Huntingdon county sheriffs. And their demeanor was pretty callous and smug, like they didn’t really understand the situation that we were in, and they didn’t really care. When Sunoco was doing this clear cutting, you can see how close to the trees were are still standing that they were cutting. All of those trees are down around them, and some of them were being felled into the trees that people were sitting in, into lines that were, you know, life support lines for safety. And we were trying to explain that to the workers and the police, and they seemed to take it as a joke.

We were telling the police that what Sunoco was doing was very dangerous. That felling into lines that are actually holding someone up someone’s life when they’re fifty feet up in a tree, felling trees into large branches above a platform that somebody’s sitting in, those are very dangerous things to be doing. And we were telling them that, and they did nothing. The police said “oh, they [Sunoco] know what they’re doing, they’re professionals, don’t worry about it.” They claimed that they were here looking out for people’s safety, but when real safety concerns were coming up, they weren’t doing anything about it. And what they indeed did do, was – so they’re doing that, there’s one very large tree up there on the hill above the place where I was [tree]sitting. They were getting ready to cut it, and I’m screaming at them like, hey, are you out of your minds, that’s uphill from this tree, and I’m just sitting up there and I couldn’t come down if I wanted to, there was no way for me do that safely with all those trees being felled all over the place.

So I’m pretty much trapped up there, and they’re getting ready to fell this giant tree above me, and I’m yelling at them and they’re not listening. So that’s when our one friend walked very calmly partway up the hill to try and tell them “hey, that’s really dangerous, don’t do that, you could kill somebody right now.” And she was arrested and put on $100,000 bail. And when I was yelling down to the police (I wasn’t yelling at the police, I was yelling to them) saying “Why won’t you help us? Why are you letting them do this?”, their response was to smile at me smugly and wave. And so that was incredibly frustrating, not only just given what was happening, but where this is. This is my home. I have lived here since my parents brought me home from the hospital, and you’re just gonna let these thugs come in and put my life in danger on that property, and then claim that you’re protecting and serving the public? That just doesn’t add up. You’re letting them put my life in danger and my friends’ lives in danger – people who have our permission to be here – yet you’re here enforcing these people who we’re very adamantly telling “no, you’re trespassing, you can’t be here, you have no right to do this”…and so that’s kind of the way it went.”

Unicorn Riot: Did the police or Sunoco notify you that they were going to come cut trees on your property on that day?

Elise Gerhart: “They did that day… we knew in court – there was a short court proceeding before that happened and so we were aware of the date they were gonna come that time. They clearcut for two days then, they cleared almost all of this – everything except the trees that were occupied or tied into trees that were occupied. And then, everybody left – the police left, the workers left, the majority of the supporters left. And then a week later, we’re just sitting up at the house, me and my family and one friend, and we hear chainsaws. I was actually on the phone doing an interview – and we just hear chainsaws and we come running down here – and we find them down here trying to cut down these trees – that one tree in the middle there has a notch in it at the bottom, you can go up there and see it, from where they were cutting into it.

And I had to run up and say “no, what are you doing?” and they were trying to explain to us what they were doing here, that they had a right to be here, and don’t we want to listen to them, and I just kept telling them “no, you have no right to be here”- because according to their own injunction, which they used to come in the week before, they said they had to be done by March 31st because they didn’t want to violate the migratory bird act and blah blah blah, and they care so much about hibernating bats and whatever… so we told them ‘you guys said by your own accord that you were gonna be done by March 31st and that we were gonna cause irreparable harm if you didn’t get it done by March 31st ‘..and then you just show up, they just showed up…and these are big trees, right? That is a dangerous thing to come onto somebody’s property and do with zero warning – zero warning we had when they came back on April the 7th.”

Unicorn Riot: So that was after the endangered species deadline they [Sunoco] were expressing concern about?

Elise Gerhart: “Yeah, that deadline is March 31st to not violate the Migratory Bird treaty act, I cant remember exactly what its called but its this thing put in place to protect migratory birds, nesting birds, bats coming out of hibernation, things like that. So, we were telling them no, they were trying to explain to us how they determined that this isn’t bat habitat – even though there is a protocol for determining if certain trees or forests are bat habitat, and they didn’t do any of that. It has to do with observing at certain points in the day, and they didn’t do any of that. They didn’t know if there was any endangered species in this area. They never bothered to do any kind of study like that.

That’s another big misconception with these pipelines, is that the companies are really forced to do environmental studies. They’re not. They never came out here on the ground with any kind of wildlife experts or anyone like that to document what type of wildlife lives here. They just get on a database that is incomplete, because noone has ever come out here to do that study. They just do ‘guess-timations’ basically, and never identified plant life here…they just come in and start destroying stuff and it’s not even on record what’s being destroyed.

And so they did that, that was after the people who had been arrested the week before were out of jail. When they came back that second unexpected time, they arrested my mother again, they arrested my friend. I was able to get back up that tree before the police arrived so they again didn’t arrest me that time. My mom was held in solitary confinement for three days on a supposed suicide watch even though she’s not suicidal, never expressed any suicidal ideations or anything like that. She’s fighting for life here, she doesn’t have a death wish, but they just wanted to restrict her ability to speak to a lawyer, to speak to anyone else. She had contact with her elderly husband cut off, she’s his primary caregiver and was just unexpectedly taken away for three days from him and couldn’t even call anybody else to come and take care of him because she couldn’t call anybody on this restricted suicide watch. They put her on $5,000 bail that time, which it took us three days to get that together…until we were able to pay the bail she was stuck in there, and then the friend was also bailed out by a family member for another $5,000.

So, that happened…and that was all before they had permits for this project. All of that. Five people criminally charged, people being put in isolation, people’s lives being put in danger, this just complete harassment, arresting landowners on their own property…without any guarantee that the project was even gonna move forward. So that’s the way it happened.

The second time they came, I guess I’ll note that that was the State Police that came that time, because it was kind of on the fly, the first time was more organized, the sheriffs had been authorized by Judge Zanic to come out and escort the pipeline company and arrest anybody who got in the way. And then the second time, I don’t think that Sunoco told anyone they were coming here, informed anybody, because it came as surprise to the police I think too that time.

The State Police actually got pulled off of a drug bust to come here and arrest my mother and a friend, which is absolutely ridiculous. I mean, where are the priorities there? You’re going to come and arrest a retired special education teacher who’s being harassed and abused by this multi-billion dollar corporation instead of dealing with the serious drug problems that we have in this state? Not that I’m advocating for the state to deal with those, but they say that that’s their priority, they say that dealing with the heroin problem is a major problem because we have a lot of people dying, in the state of Pennsylvania, in West Virginia, from heroin and other opiates. The state claims that dealing with that is a priority but when they say they’re out there busting these drug dealers or whatever they’ll just stop what they’re doing and come arrest retired teachers instead.”

Unicorn Riot: The local sheriffs or the state police, have they called ahead or tried to have any conversations with you at all, or has that been few and far between? Is it fair to say that they aren’t communicating with you very much but they seem to be actively coordinating with Sunoco?

Elise Gerhart: “Yeah, I would say that the sheriffs and the state police are coordinating with the company and they’ve made zero effort to reach out to us, they’ve made zero effort to defend our rights against a company harassing us, abusing us, violating environmental laws, violating property rights…they seem completely disinterested in doing any of that. And not even just turning a blind eye, like I said, we had a situation where my life was imminently in danger from a giant tree being dropped on me, and my friend went to quietly and calmly tell them that that was not okay, and she wound up in jail with a $100,000 bail because the police arrested her.”

Unicorn Riot: So it seems like the basis for the police, the sheriffs or local courts essentially enforcing Sunoco’s will onto your property is based on the classification of the pipeline as a public utility?

Elise Gerhart: “Yeah, I would say that’s what the courts would say. What Judge Zanik would say is that Sunoco is an established public utility, which I disagree with. What’s happening with the Mariner East 2 pipeline is that back in 1932, this pipeline, which is now called Mariner 1, was built. I don’t know what it was called back then, I believe it was owned by a different company at that time. And the purpose of that pipeline was to transport oil from refineries in the Philadelphia area out to areas like this [Huntingdon in central PA] and western Pennsylvania. And they had easements for that pipeline, which is a half mile north of here, not on our property at all. What Sunoco is doing is saying, “well, we were granted public utility status for that pipeline, for the Mariner East 1, so that means that in all circumstances, whatever we do, whatever product we’re shipping, wherever it’s going, we are a public utility.”

But in reality, there’s a huge difference between an oil pipeline that is actually bringing a product from a refinery to people in Pennsylvania for their use, and a pipeline that starts in Ohio and ends at an export facility in southeastern PA and is going overseas to be used for plastics manufacturing. And the courts are refusing to acknowledge that difference. They’re refusing to make Sunoco get certified as a public utility on a case-by-case basis, on a project-by-project basis. They’re just allowing them to use these antiquated easements to build this entirely new project that has an entirely different purpose.”

Unicorn Riot: So, the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission…did they specifically classify Mariner East 2 as a public utility?

Elise Gerhart: “No.”

Unicorn Riot: So it was carte blanche, like because Sunoco is a ‘public utility corporation’ and they’re building it? Did Sunoco already have the public utility classification under law before they came onto your property in 2016?

Elise Gerhart: “Sunoco applied to the Public Utilities Commission [PUC] for a Certificate of Public Convenience for the Mariner East 2 pipeline, and then they withdrew that application. It was never decided one way or the other by the PUC. And so then instead of applying for a new certificate for this new project, they then just turned around and said “well, we’ll just use our existing certificates.” And the PUC never found an issue with that, the DEP never found an issue with that, the courts don’t care, so, that’s what they’re doing. They’re saying “once a public utility, always a public utility.” Which makes no logical sense – if you have a company that bakes cupcakes, and then you suddenly retrofit your kitchen to become a pizza place, that doesn’t mean that you’re still a cupcake factory, you know what I mean? It just doesn’t make sense. So, that’s the truth as I understand it and the twisting of the process as it’s happening in Pennsylvania.

And beyond that, the Mariner East 2 Pipeline is an interstate pipeline. Even Sunoco admits that it starts in Ohio. You look at their maps on their website, there’s a generic map of it staring at Scio, Ohio and ending at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia. And yet the federal government, the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) has been hands off of this project and that doesn’t make any sense to me either. Not that the FERC is a beneficial agency to be regulated by as far as the people are concerned and the earth is concerned, but it just doesn’t make sense to me why this project isn’t federally regulated, how in the heck they’re just going state by state for an interstate pipeline and how they’re going going county by county to get eminent domain. The reason they’re doing that is that it is easier to buy off local politicians, local judges than it is to buy off the whole federal government I suppose. But again, that doesn’t make sense with the nature of the project and the laws that are on the books. There’s nobody enforcing the laws of Pennsylvania and the United States right now when it comes to pipelines. So that puts the people and the land in a really precarious place, because there’s noone looking our for us – noone but ourselves and our communities and this sort of spread-out resistance to pipelines. There’s noone else that’s doing it.

The Pennsylvania DEP can impose fines and indeed has imposed fines on Sunoco Logistics in the past, in the recent past. They’ve fined them for a 2008 spill into Turtle Creek, where there was a bunch of gasoline that was spewing out of a pipeline directly into the creek. They fined them for doing work on Mariner East 1 without any permits. When Sunoco was retrofitting Mariner East 1 to start carrying NGLs (natural gas liquids) and to start carrying the product in the opposite direction, they just went ahead and did the work in five counties, including this county, without any permits. And so they got fined $60,000 by the DEP, which is chump change – it means nothing to Sunoco, nothing to Energy Transfer partners.

So there is sort of regulation in place but it’s so ineffective that it does not keep these companies in check. Putting fines of five, six figures doesn’t do anything. Imposing fines after the environment is already damaged doesn’t really do any good for the environment. The Pennsylvania DEP is underfunded, understaffed – but that’s not an excuse for issuing permits and then not having the capacity to oversee those projects, to regulate those projects. But that’s what’s happening in Pennsylvania right now. The DEP admits ‘we don’t have the staff to properly permit, but here we are handing out permits like candy and not sending our people out on the ground to make sure that environmental laws are followed’…[they’re] not listening to the public when they report things- problems with the industry environmental violations, health and safety violations.

Those things get reported all over Pennsylvania and nothing seems to ever be done about it. Like the fracking industry in Pennsylvania, they’ve been terrorizing people for over a decade, polluting water, killing people – with pollution, with contamination, with stress. There were 9,400 complaints related to fracking made to the DEP that were just shoved into in a box, put in a closet, and ignored. They’re still unanswered. There’s still people desperate for clean water that aren’t getting any help getting it. The industry is just not taking responsibility for their accidents. The state, the DEP is not forcing them to. So people are just left to fend for themselves and try to pick up the pieces and try to carry on their lives and try to survive with contaminated water.

So, now, with this pipeline boom, they haven’t even dealt with what’s come before, and they’re allowing all these pipelines to come through and further destroy the environment and the watersheds and the air quality, when it comes to compressor stations and things like that…The DEP’s not out here with their clipboard taking notes. They’re not watching for spills. They’re not watching for violations of the Clean Water Act or the Clean Streams Act. We’re just left out here to fend for ourselves, and try to not only resist this, but at the same time train ourselves to look out for environmental violations, like try to somehow enforce that ourselves with no resources and no authority.

So in Pennsylvania it’s kind of just happening that supposedly the Mariner East 2 Pipeline is regulated by the state but the state has no capacity and no political will to actually do that. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Mariner East 2 is an interstate pipeline and therefore should have federal oversight, but the FERC is not regulating this pipeline. They do plan to regulate other pipelines in Pennsylvania, such as the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, which is planned to go north to south through Pennsylvania and carry natural gas. But Mariner East and this whole NGL pipeline just seems somehow to not fit into any of that regulatory framework, and I couldn’t tell you why exactly its not being federally regulated. I don’t think that Sunoco would have any trouble getting permitted by FERC for this project, so I don’t know why they weren’t required to go through that process, but they weren’t.”

Unicorn Riot: Have there been any violations or accidents in the process of constructing Mariner East 2?

Elise Gerhart: “Yeah, well, to backtrack a little bit, they had the existing Mariner 1 pipeline which I was explaining was retrofitted in the recent past to ship the same product, NGLs [natural gas liquids], from western PA to Marcus Hook near Philadelphia. It went into operation last year; it has had three reported spills in that time period. So there’s that. And one of [the spills] clearly shows that the emergency protocols that are in place failed, because the leak was not detected by the company. It was detected by a resident on the ground who saw that the ground around the pipe was turning black. So Sunoco’s computers didn’t tell them that there was a leak, or maybe they did, and they didn’t feel like it was important enough to deal with, maybe they thought it was too small to expend the resources to deal with it, that maybe they wouldn’t get caught if they just ignored it. So there we have a pipeline in operation for less than a year with three leaks.

Now with the construction of Mariner East 2, which is a much larger diameter pipeline, we’re talking about a 120-inch pipeline going in right now, Sunoco plans to tear the entire right of way through Pennsylvania up again next year and place a second pipe in which would be a 16-inch pipe… lets see, it was a few weeks ago in Chester County, they were drilling underneath I believe its called Chester creek, its in Brook Haven, PA, they were doing horizontal directional drilling, and they had a leak of that drilling fluid, which they try to play off like “oh, its just clay, its just bentonite clay, its nothing to worry about,” but its actually clay mixed with chemicals and the amount of drilling fluid that they use in those operations, and all that clay, can be deadly to aquatic wildlife.

It happened in Ohio shortly before that on the Rover pipeline, which is another ETP (Energy Transfer Partners) project- there was a massive spill on bentonite clay and chemical slurry. According to the Ohio EPA director, that slurry does kill aquatic life. I would trust his opinion on that particular matter… And so what happened in Ohio with the Rover pipeline was there was a five million gallon leak of that bentonite clay and chemical slurry, and it did kill wildlife. It is a huge deal. And yet that pipeline isn’t stopped because of something like that, and the only thing that’s put on hold for them was new HDD projects, any HDD (horizontal directional drilling) projects that they were currently working on, they were permitted to finish, but new ones are on hold, I think there’s about eight of them that because of that spill were put on hold, but there rest of the pipeline construction is allowed to continue. And so its just kind of like they’re putting a pause on certain parts of it, but in no way shape or form is that stopping Rover Pipeline from being completed. They have plenty of other areas where they can be trenching and laying pipe while they’re waiting for the smoke to clear.

So, in a similar or slightly smaller way, what happened with Sunoco in Pennsylvania is that they had a leak of the clay and chemical slurry into Chester Creek, and they put up a bunch of sandbags around it, to supposedly contain it, but there’s photos showing the slurry just leaking out from those sandbags. And then we had a lot of rain in that time period (you know, in spring, it rains a lot) and the creek rose up, and it rose up over all those sandbags and was just washing that slurry downstream. And so that happened in Pennsylvania, yet none of Sunoco’s HDD projects are being put on hold because of that, because we don’t have a regulatory agency or a head of a regulatory agency like they do in Ohio who’s willing to step up and say “hey, this is a major problem, this company is doing whatever they want and they’re killing wildlife and it’s my job to stand up to that”… we’re not as lucky here in Pennsylvania to have someone n one of those positions who’s willing to take that stance.

Just to be clear, it’s not permitted county-by-county, the pipeline is permitted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, statewide. What’s happening county-by-county is eminent domain decisions. It started, the first eminent domain case was lost in Cumberland County, there were cases lost in Washington County, we lost our case here in Huntingdon…Beyond that, in southeastern PA which is the most populated segment of Pennsylvania, the most populated region, there are a lot of residents who were not informed about the plans to put this pipeline through their community because they weren’t directly along the right-of-way, they weren’t asked for an easement, but they live right next to one, or a thousand feet away from one, or their children go to school at a place like Glenwood Elementary, for example, where the installation of the pipeline would put that elementary school in a blast zone if there were to be a leak that was then ignited.

So, an area like that, where you’re talking about three thousand people or so per square mile, they call it a “high consequence area” and people are scared and upset that their lives, their children’s lives, are being put at risk by Sunoco’s desire to export fossil fuels for the plastics industry. So there’s been a lot of parents coming out, health professionals, engineers who understand the structural layout of the pipeline and things like that, who have been really breaking it down to show how dangerous this is and exactly why it’s dangerous and what could happen in a scenario. And those concerns have been presented locally to school boards, to townships, borough councils, and also on the state level there was a panel of citizens from that area who went and made a case to the [PA state] Senate Committee on Emergency Preparedness. And they really know what they’re talking about, they’re educated people who have done their research, people who have worked in disaster relief, worked for the FFA, work in aerospace engineering, they understand these concepts, and so they’ve done work to educate other people in their community about that, who maybe don’t have that specialized knowledge.

And people have come out and demanded that these townships or towns come up with safety plans, emergency preparedness plans. Same with the school district – I think it was Rose Tree Media school district recently held a drill at one of the elementary schools for a pipeline leak scenario. It was really surreal to see these kids coming out and doing this practice run for like “if there’s a pipeline leak, here’s what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna calmly walk out of the school and get on these buses and go to safety” but the problem with that emergency drill is that you can’t bring in busses if there’s a leak of natural gas liquids, because those engines could ignite the gas. Cell phones could ignite that gas. A water heater kicking on could ignite that gas. Little, normal, everyday things could result in a massive explosion.

So it really seems like kind of a “duck and cover” scenario that’s going on, giving a sort of false sense of hope to people, and a false sense of safety, because there is nothing safe about putting an elementary school being next to a massive natural gas liquids pipeline. That can never be safe. Sunoco has the worst safety record of any pipeline company operating in the United States. Out of 1,500 or more operators or more they are number one. You can find that info through PHMSA, that they have I think its now more 280 spills in this instance, in the past decade. Like I said, they had three spills or leaks on Mariner East 1 in the past year, on a pipeline that hasn’t even been in operation for a year. And that’s an eight-inch pipeline – we’re talking about these massive pipelines so we’re talking about the potential for a much larger explosion. So, yeah, down that way in the more populated areas there are hundreds of residents coming out and trying to get their townships, their towns, their school districts, to force Sunoco to help them come up with an emergency plan, or just for the emergency management for the area to come up with it.

But there’s really no good way to manage something like that. We witnessed that last year with the Texas Eastern pipeline explosion that happened in Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, which is southwestern Pennsylvania. The fire company that responded, the emergency responders were at the mercy of the pipeline company. They had to just sit back and wait for the line to be shut off and the fire to burn out, because they couldn’t get anywhere near close enough to it to do anything about it. The fire chief had said that he had to stop his vehicle about a quarter mile away, and in his full firefighter gear he couldn’t get out of the vehicle – it was too hot. That fireball incinerated a house that was about five hundred feet from the pipeline. A man who was there nearly escaped with his life, he was burned on seventy-five percent of his body, he had amputations due to those injuries, a lifelong thing he is going to have to deal with, he’s a new dad now since that incident, his wife was pregnant at the time, luckily she wasn’t home…

But that’s the kind of thing we’re talking about that could potentially happen, and across the state there’s no plan on how to deal with something like that. There’s no resources on how to deal with that. Out here, there’s even less motivation for emergency preparedness plans, because rural areas in Pennsylvania are considered ‘low consequence’ which means that if a pipeline explodes, maybe only a few people will be killed, as opposed to possibly hundreds of people being killed if it happened in a more populated area. And so that doesn’t seem to matter to anyone except to people that live here, and that understand those risks, that support us. Rural Pennsylvania has been a sacrifice zone for a really long time, to many different industries. And so what we’re experiencing is just a continuation of that.

The fire company we have out here, I appreciate them so much, I am glad that they’re ready to respond in the case of an emergency every day out here, to come to our aid, we’ve had to make 911 calls in the past and they’ve been here for us. But they can’t respond to a pipeline explosion; they can’t help us in that kind of circumstance. I wouldn’t expect them to. It’s not safe for them to try to respond to an incident like that. And we’re talking about a volunteer fire company who doesn’t get enough funding for their operation, and has to hold fundraisers to be able to stay in operation. They rely on donations and bingo and cornhole tournaments and fish frys and things like that to just be able to do their regular day-to-day like responding to car accidents, responding to house fires, things like that. There’s no way they can respond to a giant natural gas liquids fireball burning out of control that can’t be turned off by anybody but Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners.”

Unicorn Riot: Before you mentioned that Sunoco has by all accounts a pretty troubled history of accidents, health and safety violations, leaks and stuff like that….and Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners recently announced their merger, so they’re like the same company now, whereas before they were definitely involved with each other… Energy Transfer Partners, most people would know them as the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline which is almost finished (or is finished but isn’t operating yet, I guess it could be operating by the time we publish this)… So you’ve been dealing with Sunoco trying to come onto your land for what, about two years?

Elise Gerhart: Yeah, two years.

Unicorn Riot: What are your observations on the dynamic, or the attention being paid to your situation before the movement against DAPL took off…what went down at Standing Rock and the aftermath of that, how has that affected your situation? Has it changed in terms of more attention or more support, or do the company or law enforcement seem more nervous? How would you say things were before, and now are after, DAPL coming into the spotlight?

Elise Gerhart: “Well, I wouldn’t say that we were resisting before anybody at Standing Rock. I mean, in simple terms, we had a tree sit about the same time that the camp was getting started at Sacred Stone, but that struggle has been going on for so much longer, probably 525 years of resistance. So I would say we never had national media coverage until after the #NoDAPL movement, the resistance at Standing Rock…I think that that fight really mobilized a lot of people and spread a lot of awareness, I mean there was so much attention on it, it was on the news every day (I mean if you’re looking at the right type of news). And the media, the grassroots media that was put out every single day to really show what was going on, and people telling their own stories, was really really important to get that truth out, to not have it twisted by CBS News or whoever else.

That kind of aspect has been really helpful because people are just more aware of what’s going on and how brutal the pipeline companies and the police can be to people who resists and how legitimate the fight against fossil fuel infrastructure is. Especially when its an indigenous-led resistance. And that’s something that we’re really aware of, is how our resistance here is really hypocritical in a lot of ways because we’re not indigenous. This resistance, this fight for property rights, is happening on stolen land. And I think that when we put that kind of message out, people understand that more now than they would have if we were saying that before people knew about Standing Rock. Like they understand what that means more so. It’s a little hard to say how Standing Rock has changed this, I mean we’re still a pretty small operation around here, still struggling to get media attention for the most part. But I think that when people do hear about us, that there is more of a context there, having been educated by people from Standing Rock, from the #NoDAPL movement. Like we don’t have to start at square one with everybody. A lot of people have some sense of what’s going on.

I think that because of that fight [at Standing Rock] we’re able to do more national networking. Like for instance there’s the ‘Stop ETP’ movement that’s getting off the ground right now, which is a collaboration of organizers across many different pipeline fights that are all under that ETP umbrella, they’re all different Energy Transfer Partners projects. We have Mariner East 2, Sabal Trail, Bayou Bridge…you were saying before how DAPL is basically done, but it’s my understanding that Bayou Bridge is actually a southern leg of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has not even moved into the construction phase yet. So people from those fights are able to get connected with each other now, find each other through social media and pipeline resistance networks, and so the main way I think our fight is changing is we’re able to access that, access a broader network of people resisting fossil fuel infrastructure. And I think that that is kind of the next era of these fights, is they’re getting organized, so we’ve gotta get organized. They’re working on a national or global level, so we’re gonna do that too. We’re gonna fight this all the way from the frack fields to the pipelines, the plastics industry, the pollution that’s a result of that…we can fight them at all those points, we can bring people together from all of those struggles and make them one struggle, I think.”

Unicorn Riot: So you mentioned how theres a lot more networking between different pipeline fights, and in this new ‘Stop ETP’ campaign, people are specifically connecting fighting different pipelines being built by Energy Transfer Partners…We were chatting a little bit earlier about how Sunoco is basically interchangeable with Energy Transfer Partners at this point. So Sunoco, ETP, whoever, has been working pretty directly with local and state law enforcement to come on your property, for instance – [police] working with the pipeline companies to bring their crews on and cut trees or do whatever they’re doing. And with the Lancaster Stand, another camp in Pennsylvania against the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, I was reading about how: North Dakota officials had been contacted by local officials in Lancaster asking for help on how to keep pipeline protests under control. I’m curious what your read is, on locally in your area, either messaging that Sunoco is using, or how- I mean they haven’t come on to your property very recently – but do you have any sense of how they’re preparing? Are they gaining support from locals? What methods or tactics do you see them using?

Elise Gerhart: “Yeah, we’re aware that North Dakota law enforcement is coming to Pennsylvania to educate the police force about what they deem is an appropriate way to deal with pipeline protests. And that doesn’t just apply to protests in Lancaster, it obviously applies to any forms of civil disobedience or direct action to fight a pipeline. And even groups that don’t use direct action do get surveilled, have tactics applied against them to try and stop their resistance.

I think that the biggest tactic used against people is fear. Always has been, probably always will be. They threaten people’s livelihoods, they make examples out of people like they tried to do with us last year with arrests. And that’s freaked some people out, they’re like “well if I go to jail for three days, what’s gonna happen with my kid?” I have had people express to me personally that they would get involved but they’re literally worried about their children being taken away from them if they wind up in jail. They don’t know what they’re going to be charged with. So I’d say that that’s probably the biggest thing.

I don’t know what to expect here when the police actually show up. I would expect them to be more forceful than when they were here last year, because last year was just kind of a show of force, an intimidation tactic. It was done preemptively as far as pipeline construction is concerned, but right now they’re actually trying to get the pipe in the ground and get the NGLs pumping. So I would say that the company is much more desperate now, so they will use greater force to get what they want. And I expect the police, both local and state, to do their bidding. I couldn’t tell you specifically what kind of training they’re getting; I know that the local police force before they came here last year did get some kind of training on direct action tactics. They were talking about things that I know that hey really had no idea what they were talking about but they were using words related to direct action. They clearly had some kind of training because this kind of thing has never been seen in Huntingdon County before, there’s no way that the local police, the Huntingdon County Sheriffs knew anything about tree-sitting or blockades or anything but they were talking about it in a way that showed they did receive some type of training before they came here last year.

What else is happening in Pennsylvania right now is there is currently a bill proposed by a senator whose name is Scott Martin. It’s a bill that’s titled something about like protecting critical infrastructure, I forget the name and the number of the bill right now. But the gist of it is they want to up penalties for protests on infrastructure sites. They don’t want them to be misdemeanors anymore. They don’t want trespassing to be considered a misdemeanor, they want to up it to a felony. Certain offenses would be a first degree felony, others would be a second degree felony. For the second degree felonies they want to impose a minimum fine of $5,000 and for the first degree felony offenses they want to impose a minimum fine of $10,000. And this is a bill being discussed in the Pennsylvania senate, right now. So I feel like there is truly a conspiracy happening against the people of Pennsylvania right now, by our own government in favor of the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries.”

Unicorn Riot: I know in PA, a few years ago, an anti-fracking activist went undercover at an Anadarko Petroleum conference, and there was a presenter who had done PSYOPS (psychological operations) for the US Army in the middle east and now works for Anadarko, saying “we’re dealing with an insurgency, you have to use counterinsurgency tactics against people who are opposing your company”…. Other than actually using violence and force, a main component of counterinsurgency is managing people’s perceptions, a lot of it overlaps with PR… Have you seen, has Sunoco tried to do any local outreach or tried to curry favor? I know other landowners in the area have signed easements and received checks from Sunoco. How have you seen them trying to give themselves a sunny image in your area?

Elise Gerhart: “Yeah, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars on PR, and that’s always something that we’re having to fight an uphill battle against. We don’t have those kinds of resources to spread lies…not that we would spread lies, we would spread the truth, but…They take out ads in local papers to say how many jobs they’re providing, and don’t bother to disclose that when they say 30,000 jobs they actually mean 30,000 job years, which is a different measurement, and means less actual jobs provided. They just go really hard on basically the jobs thing and pretend like they’re boosting local economies. They always say that these pipelines have no impact on people or the environment, which we can pretty easily disagree with, with photos, videos, testimonials of people telling the real truth.

Recently, I want to say maybe a month ago, if that, Sunoco made it a point to have a non-publicized meeting with the Huntingdon County Commissioners, where it was basically just the same thing, it was a PR stunt, but it was directed at the Huntingdon County Commissioners specifically. I am sure that we are not the only county who has experienced that. There was evidence found in another county through a FOIA request that Sunoco had paid off the county conservation district with a $50,000 grant. (I cannot disclose what county that is, but that happened.) They spend all this money to tell people how great they are; if they were so great they wouldn’t have to spend all that money. They would just do what they do and people would love them for what they do, but that’s not how it is – they do use a lot of PR.

I couldn’t tell you exactly how they enact psyops, how the industry enacts that, but clearly it’s happening. If Anadarko’s using that tactic, why not Sunoco? And the fact that they even think they have to go to those lengths against Pennsylvania citizens is pretty out of control, I mean we’re not the enemy to be fought against but that’s what we get treated like. We get slammed like we’re anti-progress, anti-development, anti-modern life, anti-everything, but really what we’re doing is for our communities, for our lives, for the environment, we’re defending what we love. We don’t wanna fight, I mean nobody wants these fights. This is a horrible position to be in. It’s stressful, it’s time consuming, it’s expensive. It’s terrible to experience this pipeline infrastructure buildout and infrastructure buildout in general, but they bring these fights to us, they literally come knocking on your door, they literally come in your backyard or in your state forest or wherever it is. And yet we’re treated like we’re the ones who are attacking someone. When all we’re trying to do is defend ourselves, defend our families, stand up for the environment, protect our future.

I’ve had people say the most ludicrous things to me because they’re hearing these PR campaigns and they’re believing them. I have people trolling me on Facebook saying “well you need to just shut up until you aren’t using gasoline in your car and you aren’t having home heating” or this or that, and it’s just so missing the point because as I was explaining, nothing about these new pipelines is about domestic consumption. It’s not about putting gas in your car to go to work; it’s not about using it for your home hearing. But people have these misconceptions about it because of all the advertising put out there by the companies. And people turn against people in their own communities because of it, because they wanna believe this apparent authority that’s coming from the corporations. Authority doesn’t mean legitimacy anymore, it just means that you have power and money and that’s what gives you authority. And people are manipulated by that, they turn against their own neighbors sometimes, and that is the reality of what you have to deal with.

In addition to that, on the state level and soon to be on the federal level, we have…I’m blanking out on his name right now but one of the public utility commissioners of Pennsylvania came out with a statement calling people working against pipelines ‘jihadists’, implying that we are terrorists. And he is now nominated for the FERC and there are confirmation hearings coming up on May 25th in DC for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And that’s going to be a very bad day if he is put in that federal position. It’s bad enough to have him in a state position if that’s his attitude, that farmers and teachers and parents trying to defend themselves and their families are terrorists to him, that doesn’t bode very well. And it’s really awful to be treated like that, and to see people treated like that, who are just trying to mind their own damn business. That’s usually what we do in rural Pennsylvania, we mind our own damn business. And they won’t let us do that. They won’t let us live in peace.”

Unicorn Riot: You mentioned earlier how there’s some sort of statewide ‘anti-terrorism’ task force that is based on surveillance, or trying to prevent actions against the fossil fuel industry… and also there’s this public utilities commissioner in Pennsylvania you mentioned who’s called people who protest pipelines ‘jihadists’ who might be now in a federal position… we were also talking a little bit earlier, Sunoco has merged with Energy Transfer Partners, who built the Dakota Access Pipeline…

Elise Gerhart: “And used terror to to it….”

Unicorn Riot: …yeah, that pipeline was built with brute force as its entry mechanism, so in terms of where we are now, I know there’s probably certain details you might not want to discuss and that’s fine… So right now where were sitting is on your property, not on the easement, is that correct?

Elise Gerhart: “Yeah, this is my family’s property here.”

Unicorn Riot: A few yards across the stream from where we’re sitting, there’s all these felled trees, and this is the easement that is already under eminent domain for the Mariner East 2 pipeline. There’s a few active tree-sits here, and then its a pretty short walk to the road and right on the other side of the road is where the right-of-way is already torn up, there’s pipe sitting on the ground, last night we saw them put up floodlights…What do you see happening when they do decide they wanna finish their work here? How do you see that playing out?

Elise Gerhart: “I expect them to come with brute force. That’s how they’ve done it in the past, that’s what we saw at Standing Rock…that’s the way that they do it. If they can’t trick you, they bully you. If they can’t bully you, then they attack you. So, that is what I expect. I don’t know in detail what they’re planning. I’m not necessarily afraid of it, because there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. We’re not gonna get out of the way because what they’re doing is wrong and someone has to stand up to them. We’re doing what we can to just be peaceful, remain peaceful, but put our foot down at the same time and stand up to them.

And they want to build this pipeline and we’ve seen, when Energy Transfer Partners wants to build a pipeline, they’re willing to physically hurt people to get them out of the way. And we’ve seen how the police are complicit with that. At this point I am expecting to go to jail, potentially for an extended period of time, I’ve been trying to prepare for that. All I can say is that sometimes you just have to do what’s right. You have to try and protect yourself from harm, and we’re just trying to do everything we can to do that.”

Unicorn Riot: So with the almost guaranteed certainty of Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners completing their project on your land against your consent, probably some degree of police violence involved in allowing that to happen…you and other people here seem to have no illusions about where this will probably go. Why do you think it’s important, or what do you see being the lasting value of choosing to be here and stand in the way, even though you know what’s coming?

Elise Gerhart: “We have no choice because what they’re doing with these projects is leading us towards and endgame – with the climate, with access to clean water, clean air – so we’re in trouble already if we don’t put a stop to the fossil fuel industry, we are going to lose anyway. So why don’t we just try to set things up for the future, for future generations, and if we don’t do that there’s no hope there. And I think a lot of that was expressed in Standing Rock too. It’s not really much of a choice as far as I see it, to let them do it. We’re gonna hurt either way. People who aren’t resisting this pipeline actively are going to suffer from it also. So its like, well you can suffer and let them do it, or suffer and put up a fight. We just chose the latter is all.

“You don’t fight fascists because you’re going to win, you fight fascists because they’re fascists.” And maybe we’ll win, you never know. It’s not good odds but I don’t think it’s completely out of the question. But it’s also not really about winning. This is part of a constant struggle of humanity versus destruction. Its the battle, or the war, that has been going on for ages, and this is just part of that ongoing struggle. There was a woman who told me once that looking at things in terms of winning and losing is not the way to look at it. Because there is no winning and losing, there’s pretty much just the struggle. And if you look at history, it’s there. We’re not the first to put up a fight and we won’t be the last.”

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Camp White Pine Blockades Mariner East 2 Pipeline in Central Pennsylvania

It's Goin Down - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 00:33

The post Camp White Pine Blockades Mariner East 2 Pipeline in Central Pennsylvania appeared first on It's Going Down.

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After receiving all necessary permits from state regulatory agencies in February, Sunoco Logistics has been pushing ahead with construction of the Mariner 2 East Pipeline. Sunoco Logistics Partners and Energy Transfer Partners, announced the completion of their corporate mergeron April 28.  President Donald Trump is an investor in the company.

Mariner 2 follows the route of Mariner 1, a repurposed oil pipeline which carries natural gas liquids (NGLs) to the east coast for export.  Mariner 2 would follow roughly the same route, stretching over three hundred miles across the state of Pennsylvania from frack fields in Scio, Ohio to bring propane, ethane and other fracking byproducts to Marcus Hook, a refinery and export hub just south of Philadelphia. While Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners promotes the pipeline with rhetoric about American energy independence, the natural gas liquids transported by Mariner East 2 are primarily for export to the European plastics industry.

Many counties and municipalities have contested the pipeline’s route through their communities, only to be overruled by state officials, who claim that their decision to classify the pipeline as a “public utility” means it is in the state’s interest to make sure the pipeline is completed, and that townships and municipalities may not act against the interests of the Commonwealth. The highly explosive nature of the natural gas liquids carried by the pipeline means that the various homes, businesses, and schools could be incinerated in a natural gas fireball in the event a leak occurs and then is ignited by a motor, cell phone, or many other everyday appliances.

Despite being an interstate pipeline, Mariner East 2 is not regulated by any federal agency. It is primarily regulated by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, an industry-friendly agency known for issuing permits despite not having enough staff or funding to properly oversee permitted projects.

The primary obstacle to the completion of the Mariner East 2 pipeline has been the Gerhart family in rural Huntingdon, whose property has been condemned for eminent domain. In March 2016landowner Ellen Gerhart and several supporters of the Gerhart family were arrested by Pennsylvania State Police after people climbed trees to prevent them from being cut, in violation of a court order telling the Gerharts to not interfere with any pipeline work being done under her property.  (See video from that day here.)

All charges against those arrested on the Gerhart’s land in 2016 were eventually dismissed after 8 months of court proceedings.  The 80-year-old forest, now mostly clearcut by pipeline workers, was a treasured part of the Gerhart family’s home, as they had placed the land into forest stewardship with the hopes of preserving it for generations to come.

The combination of tree-sits, defensive measures, and supporters gathered on the Gerhart’s land has come to be known as ‘Camp White Pine’ – an homage to the numerous white pine trees which still populate the area.

A rare “Writ of Possession” was granted to Sunoco Logistics by a local judge, allowing them greater authority to enforce their eminent domain rights on the Gerhart’s property- including using law enforcement to remove landowners from their own property.  Ignoring orders from County Judge George Zanic made on behalf of the pipeline company, the Gerharts and their supporters have created what is said to be the most complex tree-sit operation on the east coast.

While construction crews have not yet encroached this year on the fortified tree-sits where Camp White Pine still stands, despite having been granted eminent domain for the area, construction on Mariner East 2 continues in surrounding areas.

On Monday May 22, pipeline work crews arrived without notice on Ralph Blume’s farm near Newville, PA and began cutting trees.  The Cumberland County Sheriff was there to intercept Mr. Blume when he came to confront workers who he said promised him they would give advance notice before working on his property, which they did not.  The sheriff told Mr. Blume he would not arrest him, which Resist Sunoco PA speculated was “because Sunoco didn’t want the bad publicity that would come with arresting a 77 year-old man.”

Energy Transfer Partners has already had accidents and spills while constructing the Mariner East 2 Pipeline in Pennsylvania.  On May 3, a large slurry of drilling fluid spilled into Chester Creek as drilling for Mariner East 2 was being done in Delaware County, PA. Work crews placed sandbags around the slurry, which was an ineffective means of containing the spill as the water simply rose above the sandbags and spread the slurry downstream.  The drilling fluid contains bentonite clay, which is known to be deadly to aquatic wildlife.  The original Mariner East 1 pipeline also leaked 20 barrels of ethane and and propane on in Berks County on April 1.

On June 29, Huntingdon County George Zanic issued a new injunction requested by Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners authorizing the arrest of anyone on the Gerhart property who impedes pipeline construction.  Neither Judge Zanic or any employee of his court informed the Gerharts of the injunction made against them on behalf of the company, they only heard about it after being questioned by news reporters.

The new injunction means pipeline workers, accompanied by police who may target and arrest landowners on their own property, could arrive on the Gerhart’s land any day now. When we asked Elise Gerhart what she expected, she told us,

I expect them to come with brute force. That’s how they’ve done it in the past, that’s what we saw at Standing Rock… that’s the way that they do it. If they can’t trick you, they bully you. If they can’t bully you, then they attack you. So, that is what I expect…they want to build this pipeline and we’ve seen, when Energy Transfer Partners wants to build a pipeline, they’re willing to physically hurt people to get them out of the way. And we’ve seen how the police are complicit with that. At this point I am expecting to go to jail, potentially for an extended period of time, I’ve been trying to prepare for that. All I can say is that sometimes you just have to do what’s right. You have to try and protect yourself from harm, and we’re just trying to do everything we can to do that.        

 -Elise Gerhart

An investigation by The Intercept into the private security firm Tigerswan, now known for their illegal operations in North Dakota to protect the Dakota Access Pipeline, shows the mercenary contractor is also monitoring opposition to Mariner East 2. Tigerswan advisory board member James Marks was also found to have written an editorial for PennLive.com attacking opponents of Mariner East 2, without disclosing his personal connections to a firm employed to harass pipeline opponents.

lawsuit by Clean Air Council, set for trial this December in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, could possibly stop the pipeline based on issues with its permitting and use of eminent domain.  In the meantime, construction continues, and local authorities (the Huntingdon County Sheriff and Pennsylvania State Police) have historically been quick to respond to the pipeline company’s requests to repress their opposition. The Huntingdon County Sheriff has not yet responded to our request for comment.

We spoke at length earlier this year with Elise Gerhart about her family’s fight against Mariner East 2 on their property, the direct action tree sits at Camp White Pine, and how the pipeline fight in Huntingdon connects to broader struggles across the state and the country.  Read or listen to the interview here.

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ADYE, Exarcheia’s Free Self-Organized Healthcare Clinic

It's Goin Down - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 00:06

The post ADYE, Exarcheia’s Free Self-Organized Healthcare Clinic appeared first on It's Going Down.

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As the healthcare debate in the United States crescendos with both dominant political parties sparring over how best to ensure not everyone has health insurance, Unicorn Riot journalists visited Greece, where austerity measures imposed by the bailout of 2010 have ravaged the healthcare system by capping healthcare spending.

Clinics and hospitals have been lacking medicines, supplies, and doctors. Some locals say the healthcare system is slowly getting better, and that patients can receive help even with no insurance. Yet others, such as members of the ADYE health clinic operating out of self-organized K Vox squat, have taken it upon themselves to organize patient-centered healthcare for the greater community, free of charge.

Unicorn Riot spoke to Lefteris and Manoulis, respectively a doctor and a dentist who both provide their services free of charge at ADYE health clinic, about the origins of ADYE and what it is, as well as what is provided there and why they are in existence.

ADYE operates out of K Vox, where they are not required to pay rent. The free clinic provides a wide range of free healthcare services, including dental, mental, and physical care, and is often open during times of riots in Athens to provide first-aid.

“It’s an attempt by the community to build first-aid primary healthcare for the neighborhood of Exarcheia … It was created for the neighborhood but it is open to everyone, except for fascists.” – Lefteris, a volunteer doctor at ADYE

The Assembly of ADYE is a self-organized working group that began four years ago, consisting of a wide range of workers including physical therapists, psychologists, doctors, nurses, dentists, and more. Their goal has been to help provide the community with healthcare during the crisis. The Assembly meets regularly to discuss the needs of the clinic, but also to discuss agenda points, such as giving access to media organizations like Unicorn Riot to document their alternatives.

Lefteris, one of the doctors of ADYE

Lefteris has been volunteering time and working with the ADYE Assembly for over three years now.

I offer my time and my knowledge to help people manage with daily health problems.” – Lefteris

Medical supplies and equipment used inside of ADYE are all taken in as donations. Solidarity is shown from people in Greece and from around the world. As an example of years of solidarity, convoys of vehicles from France, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, and beyond, continually make their way into Exarcheia and ADYE to bring supplies. This international solidarity has been directly attributing to creating better conditions for the worst affected by the economic crisis and the ‘refugee crisis’.

With the opportunity of the economic crisis, we wanted to give another example of help, in general. So, this means that this is free with no exchange unit.” – Lefteris

In the first two years of ADYE’s existence, the patients were mainly Greeks. Lefteris said that since the ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, the majority of the patients treated at ADYE are some of the 1,600-plus refugees who are provided free housing by anarchists in self-organized squats in the area. ADYE has a working relationship with a multitude of squats in the Exarcheia district.

The outside wall of ADYE

Anarchists and others throughout Greece, specifically in Exarcheia, have been providing mass amounts of support to many refugees in the area even though the crisis has slowed recently with the 2016 EU – Turkey Refugee Deal. This support extends to these healthcare services, which also includes important psychological care as many of the refugees are fleeing from trauma and war.

It didn’t change the way we provide health [care]. Health [care] is the same thing for Greeks, Americans, and fellow brothers from Iran or Syria.” – Lefteris elaborating on treating the large influx of refugees

Doctors at ADYE attempt to “provide a different approach” than hospitals and seek to understand their patients before applying any remedy to their situation. As Lefteris stated, “The main problem is poverty, is insecurity, is loneliness in the community.” Those issues can exacerbate one’s health, and ADYE has experienced good results from caring about and taking time with their patients.

Manoulis, one of the dentists within ADYE, said that he has been practicing dentistry in the Exarcheia area for decades, and volunteers his time once a week to provide free dental care. He has been involved in the Assembly of ADYE for two years now.

Manoulis, one of the dentists of ADYE

Generally we believe as the self-organization grows, the healthcare system could be improved and must be patient-centered, not driven by money.” – Manoulis, a volunteer dentist at ADYE

Manoulis also explained that the Assembly of physical therapists, psychologist, doctors, nurses, dentists, and more meet to make decisions together on how the clinic operates.

Because ADYE is a self-organized structure, all decisions are taken by a majority within the Assembly. We have a horizontal structure, we are all equal, there are no leaders or presidents.” – Manoulis

Lefteris said that he wants to see free health clinic cells in operation around the world:

I hope that this multiplies and spreads through the society. I think it’s a way that society self-organizes against all of the things that suppress them. It is another way of making connections to the community. It’s a way of making connections without money.” – Lefteris

As far as creating the health clinic, Lefteris said that if people have the will to make it, they can easily create their own.

If people really come together and discuss and really talk about the problems, solutions are there. And they were always there, but sometimes you cannot see what’s obvious.” – Lefteris

ADYE has provided a blueprint for communities around the world to self-organize and create better healthcare and a healthier citizenry on the whole. With Greece going through a massive economic depression, witnessing the compassion, solidarity, and care that ADYE provides for its patients is beyond commendable, and vastly outshines in comparison to the United States healthcare system driven by profit.

Authored by Niko Georgiades | Edited by Lorenzo Serna and Jenn Schreiter

To help our volunteer-operated, horizontally-organized, non-profit media collective please consider a tax-deductible donation:

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Categories: News

Hollywood, FL: Neo Nazis & Confederates Easily Defeated Again

It's Goin Down - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 23:45

The post Hollywood, FL: Neo Nazis & Confederates Easily Defeated Again appeared first on It's Going Down.

As previously reported, Alt-Right supremacists tried, and failed, to rally support around Confederate symbols in Orlando, and again more recently in Hollywood. On Monday, July 3rd, The City of Hollywood bowed to pressure and announced it would vote to change the Confederate Street signs of Hollywood on August 30th.

This development marks the latest in a humiliating series of defeats when it comes to white supremacists’ fever dreams about uniting with neo-Confederate sympathizers, especially in the Southern half of Florida. Much like when the “Johnny Reb” statue came down in Orlando, these outside provocateurs were nowhere to be seen Tuesday in Hollywood as the City Commissioners mulled the final steps needed to transition the streets back to the names they originally had when the City was founded.

We’d like to take the time to thank super-charged neo-Nazi moron Jake Phillip Loubriel. He finally successfully organized a protest on June 21st – too bad the naked bigotry and hatred on display at this demonstration arguably propelled Hollywood to rush to this decision rather than deal with neo-Nazis at City Hall for much longer. (We were going to post glowering screenshots about him declaring “total victory in Hollywood” after that demonstration, but it appears the entire event page for that hate rally was “zuck’ed”.) Indeed, Loubriel has already set protests for July 19th and August 30th, the day of the final vote. Unfortunately there’s no way for them to unwind the damage done. Even Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was decrying the street signs as a consequence of their stupid, racist actions.

The level of unanimity amongst the political class around these issues as a result of 7.21 was absolutely unthinkable for years as the street sign campaign went virtually unnoticed. If anything, it was a total victory for the radical anti-racist, anti-white supremacist, and anti-fascist activists who brought this campaign from a seemingly trivial issue to a point that humiliated one of the most liberal cities in Florida, their police department, the alt-right, and the “legacy of the Confederacy” all in one swoop.

They should stick to trying to find cops to hug.

Categories: News

Support Philly Anti-Fascist Arrestees!

It's Goin Down - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 23:38

The post Support Philly Anti-Fascist Arrestees! appeared first on It's Going Down.

Donate Here

Five people were arrested by the Philadelphia Police Department today while acting against MAGA white supremacists in center city. It is still unclear what charges they will face, but they will need financial support both to get out and afterward.

All funds will go directly to bail and legal fees for arrestees. Any additional funds will go to the PHL Anti-Repression fund to support future arrests. Please help our friends taking action against white supremacy and fascism!

Categories: News

Proud Boys & Alt-Knights Try To Invade San Diego’s Impeachment March

It's Goin Down - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 23:06

The post Proud Boys & Alt-Knights Try To Invade San Diego’s Impeachment March appeared first on It's Going Down.

A small group of antifascist and anti-racist activists decided to attend the Impeachment March in San Diego. We attended with the message that the impeachment of Trump will not solve the problem of racism, fascism, capitalism, sexism or trans-phobia. We do not want Pence – a crusading Christian intent on dismantling human rights, or another neo-liberal candidate who speaks highly of human rights yet bombs civilians and robs us blind in the name of the free market. People need to wake up and realize the two party system is broken and doesn’t benefit anybody except the ruling class. To be blunt, we were heavily outnumbered the whole time. We did not expect there to be these numbers of Proud Boys and other Alt-Knights, including “Last Revolution Media” an alt-right media source in California.

Upon arrival we noticed a large patch of fascist Proud Boys mingling on the outskirts of the rally. Three of us arrived with two antifascist flags and we were immediately confronted by police and told that flag poles were not allowed (despite the multiple American flags on aluminum poles and blue lives matter flags on wooden dowels).

Proud Boys started throwing up white power hand-signs and stalking us while the police continued to tell us to leave. After a few more minutes of Proud Boys pacing in front of us the police forced us to put the flags back in the car, or get kicked out. We were outnumbered by 20 heads. When we got back from the car, the march had begun and the Proud Boys were massing on the other side of the park. Two of us walked right by them and were confronted immediately. We began yelling at them and they kept. Masked militia wannabes and Proud Boys donned speed boxing gloves, helmets, and Kekistan flags. It was obvious they were there for a fight and confrontation. We attended the impeachment march with one goal and that was to confront fascists, the fact that they outnumbered us does not deter or hinder our goals at all. We will continue to show up in the same areas as them and continue to confront them. Their hateful message is not welcome on our streets.

During the march we were thanked by multiple liberals for being there to confront the right-wing provocateurs. When the march ended the right-wing weirdos posted up on the northern side of the park behind the police. A lone Proud Boy targeted two of our members via his handheld radio claiming: “He had found two Antifa cucks.”

Liberals noticed him and he was then escorted out of the rally. He then shouted “Where’s your comrades? Where’s your comrades?,” from the middle of the park. One of our members approached the 20+ Proud Boy side only to be asked to leave the entire rally. The fact that the police were protecting fascists is no surprise. Nevertheless, the harassment towards people standing up to the fascists was disgusting.

As we were pressed by the pigs to leave the park, right-wing extremists followed us up the street. Standing our ground we confronted them yet again, they hurled their 4chan arguments at us and told us they were going to escort us to our ride…to which we replied, “Get the fuck out of here.” These were a few of the same clowns from Berkeley and L.A. Proud Boys looking for a fight. Before we could give them one the pigs turned the corner and hassled us.

We were highly outnumbered and weren’t ready to get jumped by 50 Proud Boys so we decided to not engage them physically. We will continue to stand up to these racists at every chance we get. Southern California has a long history of neo-Nazi activity; Proud Boys are no different. They are Nazis. We will continue to fight white supremacy every chance we get. Being outnumbered by a bunch of YouTubers and a fraternity of bootlickers will not stop our wave of racial unity in San Diego.

Categories: News

Denver, CO: Hundreds of Flyers Put Up For June 11th

It's Goin Down - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 22:55

The post Denver, CO: Hundreds of Flyers Put Up For June 11th appeared first on It's Going Down.

Throughout the month of June we’ve put up over 100 flyers around the city in solidarity with long term anarchist prisoners!

IMG_20170622_234431.jpg

We hope these flyers help to bring attention and awareness to the struggles and sacrifices of each of these brave fighters!

IMG_20170622_234530.jpg

FIRE TO THE PRISONS!

LONG LIVE ANARCHY!

– some anarchists

 

Categories: News

Kingston, Ontario: Anti-Canada Day March

It's Goin Down - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 22:47

The post Kingston, Ontario: Anti-Canada Day March appeared first on It's Going Down.

For the last few years, anarchists, Indigenous people and anti-colonial activists in Kingston have been pushing back against what has always been a particularly strong Canadian nationalist spirit that exists here in town, heavily promoted by the city and local heritage enthusiasts. Much of this push-back has focused on the celebration of John A. MacDonald, Canada’s ultra-racist, colonizing first prime minister. Canada Day has also seen a bit of anti-Canada activity in recent years – two years ago, a banner was dropped over the parade, and last year a small group of people burned a Canadian flag while the parade passed by.

This year, with patriots celebrating Canada’s “150th birthday” and a lot of groundwork laid by years of anti-Canada activities, a group of us decided to try for a street march up the main street to meet and confront the annual Red and White People Parade. It seemed ambitious – street marches are rare here and many of us are scared ourselves to openly express our feelings about Canada in a town where a lot of our neighbours, bosses, friends and coworkers are likely to be right there at the July 1st parade, all dressed in red and white and waving their flags. Most of us wondered if anybody at all would dare to show up, if the thing would be a disaster, if we’d experience it as a setback rather than a victory. We spread the word with a small flyer and by word of mouth, hoping to maintain some element of surprise, and called for people to come dressed in black to express a spirit of mourning, grief and rage in opposition to the festive, celebratory red and white parade.

#ygk protesters walking up Princess in the opposite way of the parade. pic.twitter.com/S5U3WzSoVg

— Steph Crosier (@StephattheWhig) July 1, 2017

It turned out better than our expectations. About 50 people showed up, most dressed in black and bearing their own banners, flags, and giant puppets, and ready to take to the streets. We kept to the street the entire time, moving in the opposite direction to the parade, and passed through it successfully with our numbers intact despite unexpectedly forceful opposition from the police and a larger-than-usual crowd of patriotic citizens. Some people gave out flyers, zines and Canadian flags marked “burn me,” some chanted, and everyone stayed together and kept moving. Two people, one adult and one child, were injured by an overzealous horse cop but at the end of the march spirits remained mostly high.

A more detailed report-back by a local Indigenous organizer can be read here, corporate media coverage with some great photos of the day is here, and a video of the march meeting up with the parade is here.

Categories: News

Declaration of Independence: The 56 Patriots who put it all on the line for FREEDOM

Off Grid Survival - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 21:11

Today when we talk about Patriotism, a lot of people fail to understand what that actually means. But on this day in 1776, 56 brave men put their lives on the line when they signed their names to an enlarged copy of the Declaration of Independence. [...]

The post Declaration of Independence: The 56 Patriots who put it all on the line for FREEDOM appeared first on Off Grid Survival - Wilderness & Urban Survival Skills.

Categories: News

FRR Audiobooks: The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, pt. 2

Anarchist News - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 19:00

listen here: http://freeradicalradio.net/the-infernal-desire-machines-of-dr-hoffman-p...

“In these regions, you may observe Man in his constitutionally vicious, instinctively evil and studiously ferocious form – in a word, in the closest possible harmony with the natural world.” — The King

Angela Carter’s Count is back, but not for long. In this chapter, his tempestuous will faces difficult challenges – slavery imposed by the law, chaotic nature, and finally, his mirrored self (and only one of those even has a chance of bringing about his demise).

The morality of this novel suggests that a will of pure negation only has one possible end. Negation leads its beholder to a sort of numbness, a distancing, cutting oneself off from the world surrounding you, seeing it only as a trick to be manipulated. How could you find pleasure engaging with anything weaker than yourself, after all? And if all of reality bends to your will – what could possibly bring you pain?

The Count manifests his own end in the form of himself. He creates and meets the King, a being of unlimited power, who lived his life similarly to the Count, another expert in cruelty. The women of his army devour their first-born children in order to pass “far beyond all human feeling”; their clitorises are “brutally excised” so they “are entirely cold and respond only to cruelty and abuse”. All, of course, in accordance with nature and harmony, which cares nothing for those without strong will.

What happens next is inevitable. Negation, ultimately, must turn in upon oneself in order to feel.

Words, audio, editing and production by September

Tags: fictionFRRnihilismnegationwillslaverycrueltycategory: Projects
Categories: News

The Black Bloc Which Was Not/ Comments on the Hamburg G20

Anarchist News - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 18:36

From Non Copyriot - By Jose Rosales

Could she be a member of the black bloc?

In the 1 July copy of the German newspaper Taz one finds the statements of two leftist organizations – Campact and Interventionistische Linke – each of which expresses their desire to be distanced from anything seen as ‘criminal’, and especially anything that can be associated with the black block. In the words of one Interventionistische Linke representative:

‘We want a colorful event. [But] Black is too colourful.’ A scene such as this seems to be something of a tradition within the German (reformist) left and rehearses a similar situation when, during the 1988 convention of the World Bank and IMF in Berlin, the Greens sought out discussions with world leaders while the Autonomen rejected any type of cooperation/reformism. Unlike today, one opens the September 1988 issue of Der Spiegel with a different tone being expressed regarding the arrival of world financial leaders to the capital: “While the Greens met to discuss alternatives to the existing world financial system…the Autonomen declined to cooperate with reformists vis-à-vis the IMF. Der Spiegel quoted one radical as saying: “A death machine can only be combated.” Just as it was the case for this ‘radical’ in 1988 so too is it the case for those of us in Hamburg. In light of all the media attention leading up to the G20 summit, all one can really gather from these reports is the anticipation of any agreement between the Merkel-Macron alliance and Trump, and the arrival of the ‘black block’ and their riots. However it must be said: against the temptation of treating riots as something that detracts from the legitimate form of peaceful protest, or as something doomed from the start due to a perceived limitation inherent to the riot-form, Hamburg should receive the G20 and its affiliates in nothing but riotous fashion. As Joshua Clover has helpfully shown in his study on the historical relation between the riot and the strike, riots are a mode of struggle that simultaneously address themselves to police, the state, and capital. That is to say, riots are not simply ephemeral and spontaneous expressions of discontent but are ‘a mode of survival that seeks to resolve the crisis of the reproduction of labor within the spheres of circulation and consumption.’ To détourn Stuart Hall’s formulation: riots are a mode through which class struggle is lived.

Regarding the police, however, riots respond to the reality of the function of policing understood as ensuring the security of an economic system that was born from, and needs to maintain, the subjugation of people of color, the poor, queers, women, migrants, and refugees. That is, the job of the police isn’t to ‘protect and serve’, or to help any citizen whatsoever when they are in danger, but rather, to secure, defend, and maintain lucrative economic conditions at the national level for value production, as well as enforcing the illegality of subsistence outside the legally acceptable market of waged-labour. Again, it is this defense of capital and criminalization of those who resist becoming part of surplus populations that is being encountered once more in Hamburg. And as if to corroborate this claim of the police’s inherent role in the protection of capital, Timo Zell, a spokesman for the Hamburg police helpfully puts to rest any remaining doubts: this year’s G20 will be “the biggest operation in the history of Hamburg’s police.” It is because riots are a form of struggle that is equally anti-state, anti-police, and anti-capitalist, that the particular combination of police and capital at this week’s G20 summit should be nothing short of a riotous affair.

So if riots should break out, don’t be fooled into thinking that these are the problematic ‘far left elements’ of this week of protests; that there has ever been such a thing as a ‘good’, as opposed to a ‘bad’, demonstrator. It is the State that divides the masses between the good-citizen and bad-criminal, especially since it is with these so-called ‘bad’ and ‘criminal’ elements that anti-police and anti-state struggles are most effective. And, in fact, there has never been such a thing as a good protester as opposed to a bad one, just as there has never been such a thing as a good cop as opposed to a bad cop: in the confrontation with 20 world leaders there are only those who are for and against the G20’s raison d’état (securing the existence and relative stability of global capital); there are only those who aim to preserve this world and those who want nothing short of bringing about its swift end. Even though it was the Invisible Committee who recognized the emerging consensus among various leftist currents regarding slogans such as ACAB or tactics such as riots, it is them who have also made recent attempts to reiterate the need for bringing about an end to this world with other slogans such as tout le monde déteste la police. While this slogan in English would read ‘everyone hates the police’, we find that a more literal translation is appropriate: the whole world hates the police.

The whole world hates the police because the police are the ones who, anywhere and everywhere, ensure the ‘stability of the global economy’, who call for ‘peaceful and reasonable protest’, and who even claim that hosting the G20 in a big city shows the world Germany’s celebration of liberal rights despite the fact that the police have built detention centers and prisons specifically for those arrested during the protests and at the camps. If police officers can prepare spaces of confinement for those who exercise their state sanctioned ‘rights’ (the right to voice dissent through public assembly being the most relevant liberty in question vis-à-vis Hamburg) it is only because the kind of society afforded by Capital and its nation-states is one where the State claims to act as the guarantor of a set of universal rights while simultaneously arresting its citizens when the exercise of these rights conflict with the interests of the State. Thus, what should be obvious by now is the fact that everyone on the streets of Hamburg are all potential criminals from the point of view of the police, the state, and of capital. It is for this reason that we should not be duped by a discourse on the ‘good’ as opposed to ‘bad’ elements of the demonstration, since everyone is potentially already one of the ‘bad ones.’ And what of the reports predicting the biggest black bloc in history? Surely those individuals who are only recognizable by their all black, masked up, attire would qualify as the rogue elements of civilized protest? For us, however, it would be better to ask the following: is there really such a thing as this so-called ‘black bloc’ that we hear of so often and have allegedly witnessed on our computer screens? We ask this for the simple reason that, to this day, we are not certain if we have ever seen a black bloc.

THE BLACK BLOC WILL NEVER HAVE BEEN IN HAMBURG

Already in 2007, the ready-made artist Claire Fontaine identified why we feel the need to inquire into the existence or non-existence of this thing called black bloc. As Fontaine writes, ‘the black bloc is you, when you stop believe in it.’ And what led Fontaine to draw such a conclusion about this thing we hear so often about are the very reasons that allow us to say, in good faith, that we haven’t seen a black bloc. For us as well as Fontaine, the black bloc is defined as ‘that which exists insofar as everyone stops believing in its existence’ because, today, it seems one can encounter the black bloc everywhere one goes. This includes everything from the evening news („4 February 2007, on the 8 o’clock news I see what appears to be a male figure…throwing stones in a night lit by flames. He is wearing a very elegant Dolce & Gabbana bomber-jacket with a big silver D&G on the back and an immaculate white ski-mask“) to mundane yet unexpected places such as the storefront signs at the Palais de Tokyo („While my eyes follow the footsteps of customers going to the Black Bloc boutique at the entrance to the Palais de Tokyo…Agamben’s words about the souls in Limbo automatically pops into my head: ‚like letters without addresses…they remained without destiny“).

While not in Hamburg, one can still find the black block at the Palais de Tokyo

In other words, the black bloc exists insofar as we understand that it is a word without image, a word that can be tied to any number of images and regardless of whether the images we associate with this term contradict the very things it comes to signify. If it is to be anything, the black bloc primarily exists as a word without image:

…giving a place like that a name that evokes transgression or even the destruction of merchandise, while here we are selling our merchandise at high prices and we’re loving it. Or maybe the black bloc sounded a bit like the opposite of the white cube, or the idea of a block bloc is suggestive, martial, what do I know?…It’s not just appearances one shouldn’t trust, one shouldn’t trust words either. Or more specifically, the link we imagine exists between words and images…For example, we believe we’ve found the illustration of this concept in photographs of marching people dressed in black, black bloc is a word with an image. The term black bloc alludes to a manifestation of desire for collective opacity, a will not to appear and to materialise affects that are increasingly hard to take. The black bloc is not a visual object, it’s an object of desire.

Thus, it is not a question of what black bloc really means, in essence or in the final analysis, and rather a question of subjective utterance: who is it that speaks about a so-called black bloc, and by doing so conjures up a correlating image to give meaning to their discourse? And for Fontaine, it is the State that has a vested interest in constructing a discourse that connects word with image; a discourse that thereby ensures that when we speak of the black blocs we are speaking of a particular image of existence:

Instead let’s ask what ‚this is the black bloc‘ means? Who says that? Wouldn’t that be a definition like an imaged filmed from a window, like the one from the 8 o’clock news…a definition shot from above, taken from the viewpoint of a watchtower, from some panopticon? What we are describing is always a block of ant-men, cockroach-men, a black block, which is black like the earth because it is seen from afar. But the carabinieri, they are also a black bloc. Baudelaire said that his contemporaries dressed in dark clothes that no painter enjoyed depicting, were an army of undertakers, that they were all celebrating some funeral. Enamoured undertakers, revolutionary undertakers.

Just as we shouldn’t be fooled by the State’s discourse on ‘riots’ and its participants from the ‘hardcore fringe of the left’, we shouldn’t be duped into the State’s paranoia surrounding the arrival of the black bloc as well; especially since it is the State that has constructed what this term has come to be known as in the popular imagination. That is, the ‘black bloc’ that we have come to know through news reports and media outlets are the images of window smashers characterized as rogue individuals acting opportunistically in the midst of the majority of good, peaceful, law abiding citizens. And, according to the State, it is these individuals that come to stand in for what it once meant to dress in all black. If this is so, then what it means to dress in all black, to wear masks, to de-arrest friends and fight to ensure their safety, what it means to engage in our mutual defense and a collective attack against the various ways this world does violence to us, this too, means that these modes of composition are not the black bloc. It means that this thing we do with each other in the night where all demonstrators look alike isn’t and in fact never was the black bloc. Today, then, it would be better to say that the ones who arrive in Hamburg dressed in all black, who take to the streets to protect their friends and comrades, that they too are not the black bloc. And if these actions and images are not the black bloc, then, we would do well to recognize the fact that, perhaps, the black bloc will never have been in Hamburg at all. So, the next time you read some article about the black bloc at this years G20, or when you overhear some strangers talking about masked up hooligans destroying the city, or when you see images taken by helicopter of far away bodies shown to be causing chaos in the streets, remember that you are hearing about something other than what dressing in all black actually meant; and particularly what it meant not for the ‘black bloc’ but for what, at one time, went by another name:

On the other hand, schwarze Block means something, it roots us in a history of resistance bound with the two 20th century Germany’s […] I could tell you that schwarze Block was a tactical form, that it was a means of preventing the police from identifying and isolation who committed what gesture during a riot. I could tell you that dressing in black meant: we are all comrades, we are all in solidarity, we are all alike, and this equality liberates us from the responsibility of accepting a fault we do not deserve; the fault of being poor in a capitalist country, the fault of being anti-fascist in the fatherland of Nazism, the fault of being libertarian in a repressive country. That it meant: nobody deserves to be punished for these reasons, and since you are attacking us we are forced to protect ourselves from violence when we march in the streets. Because war, capitalism, labour regulations, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, those things are not violent, however you see those of us who want to freely live our homosexuality, the refusal to found a family, collective life and abolition of property as the violent ones. So, if you want to arrest me instead of my comrade just because we are wearing the same clothing, go ahead, I accept that, I don’t deserve to be punished because he doesn’t deserve it either… I could go on like this, and even provide you with more specifics, by supplementing it with the history of demonstrations, of victories, with dates to back it all up and everything, like the time a band was playing around the rioters in the deserted streets, or the time when the police took off running… I could go on for pages and pages, but that’s not the issue here. All this isn’t the black bloc.

Tags: germanyg20black blocsocietycategory: Actions
Categories: News

The Nation, the Idea and the Will of Good People

Truth Out - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 14:12

 GetUpStudio / iStock / Getty Images Plus)(Image: GetUpStudio / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

This is the first July 4 of the Donald Trump era, and I am at a loss. At bottom, this nation is an idea held together only by the will of good people. I do not intend to let Donald Trump or anyone else doom that idea, not within reach of my good right arm.

 GetUpStudio / iStock / Getty Images Plus)(Image: GetUpStudio / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

This is the first July 4 of the Donald Trump era, and I am at a loss. It hasn't been six months since his inaugural carnage, and already I feel like I'm a mile underwater with a boulder tied to both feet. You can't even see the daylight when you're down this deep. The pressure is crushing, and my lungs are screaming for air.

His every spoken word is a punishing humiliation. "I have, seem to get very high ratings," he told the Associated Press not long ago. "It's the highest they've ever had. On any, on air, [CBS 'Face the Nation' host John] Dickerson had 5.2 million people. It's the highest for 'Face the Nation' or as I call it, 'Deface the Nation.' It's the highest for 'Deface the Nation' since the World Trade Center. Since the World Trade Center came down. It's a tremendous advantage."

That's one comment. Just one. In it, he brags about getting high ratings as if he were still a reality TV star instead of the president of the United States before going on to say that getting more viewers than the attacks of September 11 did is a "tremendous advantage." In the middle, he coughed up that hairball of a joke about the show's name like a little kid who thinks he just invented something. This kind of thing has been happening every day since he slithered into office, and every time it does, we are all diminished like Donne's promontory.

Trump didn't know about all the tax cuts for rich people in the Senate's latest Affordable Care Act-repeal bill. He believes "internet taxes" exist. He gleefully gives away incredibly sensitive intelligence data to visiting Russian swells while sitting in the Oval Office, and all on camera. He probably couldn't find North Korea on a map. He leers like a lecher at Irish reporters who are just trying to do their job. Visiting dignitaries and world leaders approach him as if he were a bag of live snakes. The man quite literally appears entirely incapable of shame.

A slice of the population cheers this on because, as Alfred said of the Joker, some just want to see the world burn. He plays to them like the jolly wrecker he is while his friends in Congress conspire to steal as much as they can scrounge for their wealthy benefactors. Whenever his cratering approval ratings have him down in the dumps, he holds medieval pep rallies and whoops it up with stream-of-consciousness gibberish generously flecked with bile.

Thanks to this small fraction of a man, the caricature of dominant US culture that Hunter S. Thompson produced almost 50 years ago is gaining new relevance every day: "We are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable."

Donald Trump is our salesman-in-chief, his absurd comb-over a capstone stacked upon the gruesome dark side of our worst collective attributes: Greed, fear, spite, malice, rage, hate, disdain and cheerfully willful ignorance. This is his core essence, and our cross to bear.

I am at a loss, so I choose to take today and ruminate on some beliefs I have held close and dear for a very long time. Here's what I think; your mileage may vary: The United States is not entirely limited by its history as a settler colony, a dumping ground for England's poor and unwanted or as a society built on slavery. It's also more than a geographic location or a place on a rock in space.

The US is indeed all of these things, but it's also an idea. Some words on old parchment we could choose to live by, created in a time of extreme violence and brutality. The idea began and remains deeply flawed, but it was gifted with the capacity for self-improvement right alongside its capacity for self-destruction. We have seen our fair share of both over the years; for every Dred Scott decision there is a Civil Rights Act, for every Dick Cheney there is an Archibald Cox.

The only thing holding the idea together is the thing that makes it beautiful and so terribly vulnerable: The will of good people to hold to the idea and their desire to let no one be above it or undermine it. If we have that, we can hope for a future that begins to address some of the harms engrained in the founding of the United States. If we lose this idea, we are doomed.

I do not intend to let Donald Trump or anyone else doom that idea, not within reach of my good right arm. It is bigger than he is, bigger than all of us and very much worth fighting for. When I watch my daughter gasp in awe at the bursting colors in the sky tonight, that is what I will be celebrating: A flawed idea with a strong heart, and the will of good people to keep it alive.

Happy Fourth of July.

Categories: News

Foreclosures Lead to Flippers' Profits

Truth Out - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 14:11

The United States has entered a new phase of residential foreclosure. The basic narrative is shocking: House-flippers are being allowed to push troubled homeowners out of their houses. As a neighbor of mine said, succinctly, "It's cheaper for them." 

In an ugly way, house flipping is a sweet deal in any area where the house market has rebounded, as in metropolitan Washington, DC, where I live, with eager buyers and reduced home inventory.

Instead of waiting for a house to come on the market and negotiating with a voluntary seller who could make decent terms for the sale, the house flippers enter the foreclosure pipeline. Once the homeowner is pushed out, the flipper gets the house for a song. The price tends to be even lower than the price of a house already foreclosed, and vacant, where the seller would be the bank. The flipping company is already in touch with the lender (see below), so the process is fairly red-tape-free, especially when the company makes hundreds of these foreclosures. Then the flippers can sell the house quickly, because they sell below market price. They still make a handsome profit. And the houses -- having been lived in -- tend to be in better shape than vacant properties; often there is good equity to boot, since reluctant sellers may have been living in their home for some time. Selling the houses at a below-market price then depresses local house values.

How does all this happen? In a hideous irony, house flippers are allowed into the foreclosure process as "substitute trustees." The bank or lender holding the mortgage is often based out of state. When a homeowner falls into financial difficulties -- such as job loss or medical bills -- the lender may, in effect, turn the delinquent account over to an in-state firm. Whether advertising as law firms, real estate investment facilitators, "creditors' rights" companies or foreclosure attorneys, the firms are in effect debt collectors -- agencies that buy up delinquent credit-card accounts on the cheap, and then try to recoup from the small debtors.

They are also, in effect, house flippers. The national passion for "house-flipping" has been fueled by television, where it is entertainment as well as finance. (Disclosure -- while I myself have not done any flipping, I support home renovation and/or home improvement, preferably keeping as much debris as possible out of landfill.) But this is a different process than going into a vacant, derelict house and fixing it up to sell.

The practice is national, with some variation by local real estate market. For me, it is also personal and local, direct from a sixtyish neighbor of mine, weeping in my living room. From a hard-working immigrant family, she has lived in her home since 1998. She has been trying to stave off foreclosure since 2014. I know her; I have seen and copied some of the legal documents; I've been in her house. She is the rightful owner; she has a relative who can make terms on the payments. But a house flipper wants the house, and once the bank turns over the mortgage to a "substitute trustee" there is little legal obligation for him to make terms. My neighbor is not even upside-down on her mortgage, so this flipper -- if he wins in court -- will get substantial equity as well as a house in a good neighborhood.

The process is toxic. 1.) The homeowner gets into trouble and falls behind on payments -- like my neighbor, who paid many thousands in medical bills for her late parents instead of just defaulting on the bills. 2.) The bank turns the mortgage over to a real estate-flipping company as "substitute trustees." 3.) The house flippers work first with the lender and then with some too-friendly judges to push out the homeowner via court action.

It goes without saying that the substitute trustees have better access to lawyers and courts than do the troubled homeowners. Legal aid for the indigent may not be available for someone who still owns her house -- ironically. Help from friends and relatives, and the occasional pro bono legal work, may well be the only options. The option offered by advocacy groups or other realtors is too often only an unwanted "short sale," i.e. loss of the house she is trying to keep.

Yet more ironically, the trustees are supposed to be assisting the courts and thus the public; hence the term "trustee." Instead, as said, they have a direct pecuniary interest in getting persons out of their home instead of helping them stay in it. This process can involve illegal tactics as well as borderline legalities. But when the homeowner is already troubled, there is far too little redress even for open and apparent, documented illegality. 

For the record, reducing the "foreclosure backlog" is not the same as reducing foreclosures. Cutting the Gordian knot is not always the best idea or in the public interest.

Tactics that this writer has seen and heard include posting a fake abandoned-property notice on the door of a house the owner is living in; filing fraudulent claims of ownership in courts which lack jurisdiction in foreclosure cases; getting court orders from courts which lack jurisdiction to grant foreclosure motions; and appearing in court claiming to be a third-party "intervenor" while actually a party (the house flipper) in the foreclosure.

Some foreclosure firms have become notorious, and on some there is information online. One source is attorney Neil Garfield's website titled Living Lies (Livinglies.wordpress.com), which includes a list of known "foreclosure mills" (though somewhat outdated) by state. The non-profit Pro Publica (ProPublica.org) has also published information on foreclosure mills, as have the magazine American Prospect and the website Above the Law (AboveTheLaw.com). Some material has gone out of date, now that the immediate consequences of the 2008 mortgage-derivatives debacle are less feverish.

But the long-term consequences are still with us. One foreclosure group in Maryland is involved in hundreds of foreclosures, largely in Prince George's County (DC suburbs). The county's diverse population is officially "majority-minority" and the real estate market includes many immigrant families, first-time home buyers and members of historically excluded groups. And, as mentioned, this is a region where the real estate market is picking up and house hunters are eager to buy. All in all, it's the perfect storm -- houses easy to pick up, from a population easy to pick on, by judges who largely did not get picked by the public.

Categories: News

Youth Sentenced to Life in Prison Get a Second Chance

Truth Out - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 14:11

Antonio Espree's ear-to-ear smile is the biggest I've ever seen. It nearly outshines the radiance I heard in his voice over the phone when scheduling the interview for this article. "Anytime. I'm free!" he exclaimed when I asked about a good time to meet.

His response was loaded with meaning. At 17, when most of his peers were preparing to graduate from high school, a judge was sentencing Espree to natural life in prison without the possibility of parole.

After serving nearly three decades of that time, he stands -- a middle-aged man -- on the front porch of his attorney's Ann Arbor, Michigan, home, waiting to greet me as I exit my car. Espree, now 46, is indeed free.

But his freedom has come at a steep price.

Just 45 minutes up the highway is his hometown of Detroit, where a dysfunctional and abusive childhood led to an incident that would rob him of 29 years of his life.

Espree's story is a textbook case of what can happen when children lack love and attention in an abusive home. And the evolution of his case reflects a nationwide movement to address the way underage offenders are treated in the justice system.

For a teenage Espree, street life provided what home life with parents addicted to drugs and booze did not -- the feeling that he mattered. By age 15, he was skipping school and had run away from home.

Within months of being released from a center for delinquent boys, he became involved in drug-related activity that led to a shootout with rivals. A bystander was killed -- struck by a bullet from Espree's gun. And at 16, he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

"I couldn't comprehend it," Espree said of his teen years. "I was still thinking 'I'mma get out.' I really didn't understand the magnitude of everything. Somehow I equated prison to the youth home."

A Model in New York, but Not in Michigan

Espree is one of 364 individuals who were age 17 or younger when the state of Michigan sentenced them to life without parole. That represents almost 15 percent of the 2,500 juvenile lifers in the United States. Only the state of Pennsylvania has more. 

Across the country there is a movement -- in communities, in the courts, and in legislatures -- to not only raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and end the practice of trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, but also to give second chances to those who've served time, or are currently incarcerated.

In New York, where 16-year-olds facing criminal charges are automatically placed in the adult system, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a bill supporting the Raise the Age campaign, to set the adult criminal responsibility age at 18 and prohibit minors from being held in any adult facility.

Cuomo has also created a youth pardon program for former offenders who committed a nonsexual, nonviolent crime when they were 16 or 17 and who remain conviction-free for at least 10 years.

Recipients of the pardon have their criminal records sealed from the public, creating greater opportunities for them to obtain employment and housing. More than 10,000 people in New York qualify for pardon and more than 100 have received it.

Angel Rodriguez, who's been working with juvenile offenders in New York City for more than 30 years, said he's glad that under the Raise the Age bill, 16- and 17-year-old will no longer be held on Rikers Island. "That place is a hellhole for kids," said Rodriguez, executive director of Avenues for Justice Andrew Glover Youth Program in New York.

Alternative-to-incarceration programs like his have benefited thousands of young people since the late 1980s, when states began cracking down on juvenile crime. And while Avenues' focus is on incarcerated youth, its work also includes prevention. About 350 youth a year benefit from workshops and education programs that keep them from going to jail.

It takes only two minutes for a kid to get into the kind of trouble that could alter his life. And with such easy access to drugs and gang violence in inner cities, Rodriguez said, his organization tries to steer kids from such activity.

From getting youth back in school to work training and drug rehabilitation, he said, his agency is helping young people move their lives forward.

"I get a lot of kids out of jail," Rodriguez said. "I think it's important to society and the system, but I think that prevention is as important as anything else we do."

Supreme Court Rulings Pave the Way

What's happening in Michigan, meanwhile, is a model for what states should not do, said attorney Deborah LaBelle, a crusader for that state's juvenile lifers. "We've had some pretty repressive politics here for a number of years that have caused a lot of problems," said LaBelle. "We've actually been pretty recalcitrant to addressing these issues."

In 2010, LaBelle led an ACLU's lawsuit against the state of Michigan to overturn the juvenile lifer law. Her case was helped by a US Supreme Court ruling two years later in Miller v. Alabama that held that life without the possibility of parole for children constituted cruel and unusual punishment and was unconstitutional.

Despite that ruling, Michigan prosecutors chose to adhere to state law, which restricts the number of juveniles whose cases can be reheard for re-sentencing, and allows for prosecutors to select those cases. It was among several states that refused to rehear cases dating back to before 2012.

Last year, in another landmark case, Montgomery v. Louisiana, SCOTUS held that the Miller ruling retroactively applied to all those sentenced prior to 2012. This meant those who had been incarcerated for decades were eligible for re-sentencing. Approximately 2,100 juvenile lifers in 28 states were affected. 

While Michigan county prosecutors have been slow to comply -- nearly 300 cases are still in review -- LaBelle is banking on a package of bills in the state legislature that would bring quicker results, by raising the age for life sentences to 18 and prohibiting the state from putting youth in adult prisons. It would also prevent youth under 21 from being put in solitary confinement. "So, if you're going to look at a model, it would be helpful to look at the package of youth bills that Michigan hasn't voted on yet," LaBelle said.

If passed and signed into law, LaBelle said, the policies would save money and lives, adding that "we fail kids and then punish them for our own failures.

"It would address the fact that a hugely disproportionate percentage of the youth are youth of color … reflective of who doesn't have the resources to get out of the harshest sentences," she said.

Although the future of most of the bills in the package is uncertain, one piece of legislation was signed into law last fall. Senate Bill 251, sponsored by state Sen. John Proos, a Republican, expands diversion opportunities for juveniles in the criminal justice system to more quickly direct them to treatment services. Public Act 185, as it's called, gives judges the flexibility to find more age-appropriate penalties for young offenders that could enhance and expedite rehabilitation.

"The intent is to allow individuals a second chance," Proos said. The law allows a judge to decriminalize court proceedings, and ensures victims are notified, in compliance with the Victims' Rights Act. All parties, "the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, juvenile and the juvenile's guardian, work together so that [the case] doesn't become a matter of record," Proos said.

All public records of the proceedings are destroyed and the state police is given a non-public record of the case. "So, it's not as if the juvenile isn't noted as having had a run-in with the law," Proos said.

It's not retroactive.

Rehabilitation to Reentry Is Possible

In response to Miller ruling, Michigan has so far re-sentenced 62 young people and released 15 -- including Espree. 

Things began to turn around for him after he'd served almost 14 years of his life sentence. That's when he received a letter from LaBelle, accompanied by a questionnaire asking about his background and his case.

While he eventually answered and returned it, "I really wasn't even interested," Espree said.

He had been locked up for so long, he said, he couldn't see how the information LaBelle shared with him about re-sentencing youthful offenders who were serving life sentences could benefit him. The idea of being released from prison seemed surreal.

He recalled five years in when the full meaning of "life behind bars" had first hit him, when older lifers would tell him, "You need to do something with yourself because you got a bit to do in here; you gone die in here." They would then ask, "How you gone do it?"

He figured it out. Seven years in, he completed his GED. He signed up for every class that he could, including some college courses. He has over 20 certificates of completion. And he read a lot -- Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning; Dr. Wayne Dyer, The Power of Intentions, Khalil Gibran Muhammad's The Condemnation of Blackness, and others.

Espree pulled from what he read to form curricula for workshops and classes he was called on to facilitate. A Michigan Department of Corrections' program he's most proud of facilitating is Cage of Rage, an anger management program. Traditionally, it is designed for white people, but his success in culturally adapting it earned him recognition, he said.

From No Chance to a Second Chance

But one of Espree's greatest rewards came not from what happened within those prison walls, but from what happened within himself: forgiveness for what he had done 30 years before. First he had to forgive himself, he said. But even more rewarding was the forgiveness from his victim's family. "It was essential for me to have and receive, and once it happened I was taken in a whole other place," he said.

His victim's mother was the first to speak in favor of him being re-sentenced. But the daughter, was initially hesitant. "She hated me," he said. However, after a lengthy conversation where she shared the hurt and pain of her father's absence, and how she missed out on so much by not having him in her life, "she wanted to hear about [my] life."

In the legal narrative presented to the court to support not just Espree's re-sentencing but also his release, his victim's mother said, "I feel sorry for him because I believe he came from a very poor background in which the parents did not take time for him." She added that while she favored a lengthy incarceration, she envisioned his release, and "hoped he could receive some sort of help that would prevent him from leading a life of crime."

Espree's aunt, Evelyn, who tried to get custody of him when he was young, is quoted as saying that, in his childhood, "Antonio didn't have a chance."

Espree feels fortunate that LaBelle connected him with attorney Richard Soble, who worked on Espree's case for four-and-a-half years and allowed Espree to stay at his Ann Arbor home until his parole was reassigned to Arizona, where a cousin lives.

He has spent almost every day of his freedom speaking to young people, as he awaits acceptance to Arizona State University, where he will participate in a work-study program. He's been invited to speak at the national convention for The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth in November. He wants to go beyond talking just to teenagers about how to avoid trouble, but to those empowered to help youth steer clear of trouble in the first place. Ultimately, he said, he wants to change legislation at the local, state and federal levels.

"I understand [the] purpose and reason for [my] being free," Espree said. "I'm trying to be an example because I know juveniles are still stuck in prison because prosecutors … want to keep that natural life sentence on them. Judges don't want to seem soft. [But] some of these guys have made true transformation. … And so if I'm out here being an example, I want some attorney to say Antonio Espree done it, my client can too."

Categories: News

Major New Study Shows Pesticide Risk to Honey Bees

Truth Out - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 14:10

Scientists have found for the first time that neonicotinoid pesticides can harm honey bees in the real world.

The major new study from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) found that pesticides called neonicotinoids can cause harm to bees, a development that is likely to increase calls for a ban of the chemicals across Europe.

The UK -- which has long lobbied against a ban -- could make its own rules on pesticide use after Brexit.

Conservative MEP Julie Girling recently tried unsuccessfully to derail the Commission's efforts to introduce an outright ban in the EU Parliament.

Industry Funding

The finding is particularly significant because the study was funded in part by pesticides giants Bayer and Syngenta.

The hotly anticipated research, published in the journal Science this evening, also discovered that exposure to the nicotine-based chemicals can reduce the reproductive success of three different bee species -- honey bees, bumblebees and the red mason bee.

With £3 million in funding from the chemical companies and additional money from Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the researchers were able to conduct a large scale, field-realistic experiment across three different European countries -- UK, Germany and Hungary.

Previous experiments showing that neonicotinoids cause harm to bees have been criticised by industry because of their limited scope and test conditions not mimicking real life.

The researchers exposed three bee species to winter oilseed rape crops treated with two types of neonicotinoids, manufactured by Bayer and Syngenta.

The researchers found that neonics affected bees in different ways from country to country, with the impact of the chemicals more marked in Hungary and the UK than in Germany, where neonics were found to have no impact on honey bees.

Overall, clothianidin, manufactured by Bayer, was found to have a more profound impact on bee health.

Complex Results

CEH scientists acknowledged that the results of the study were nuanced.

In a press release, CEH lead author Dr Ben Woodcock explained: "The neonicotinoids investigated caused a reduced capacity for all three bee species to establish new populations in the following year, at least in the UK and Hungary."

Professor Richard Pywell, the co-author of the study, said in a statement that the results of the research were complex.

"Neonicotinoids remain a highly contentious issue with previous research on both honeybees and wild bees inconclusive.

"This latest field study was designed, as far as possible, to reflect the real world due to its size and scope. We therefore believe it goes a considerable way to explaining the inconsistencies in the results of past research, as we were better able to account for natural variation in factors like exposure to the pesticide, bee food resources and bee health for different bee species.

"Our findings also raise important questions about the basis for regulatory testing of future pesticides."

Industry Response

A Bayer spokesperson told Energydesk the company was disappointed with way the results had been presented.

He said: "This study is one of a number of landscape studies carried out recently. The results of the CEH study are inconsistent and therefore inconclusive with variability of effects over both the bee species and the countries in which they were studied.

"We believe that had environmental factors (colony strength and landscape effects) other than exposure to treated oilseed rape been appropriately taken into account in the analysis, the results would have been similar to, for example, recent landscape studies conducted with clothianidin in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, a state in northern Germany which demonstrated the safety of clothianidin seed treatments in oilseed rape for bee pollinators under realistic conditions."

In a statement sent to Energydesk, Syngenta were keen to highlight the findings of the study in Germany where neonics had no impact on honey bees.

Dr Peter Campbell, head of research collaborations at the company said: "We welcome the fact that the study concludes that 'neonicotinoid residues were detected infrequently… [and] direct mortality effects by exposure to high concentrations of neonicotinoids are likely to be rare'. We were also pleased to see that in Germany during crop flowering, the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments has a positive and beneficial impact for both honeybees and bumblebees."

The statement continued: "It is also important to better understand the small number of potentially harmful effects reported in Hungary and the United Kingdom and how these differ from Germany where the results were positive."

UK Lobbying

Neonicotinoids are the most widely used pesticides in the world.

A partial ban on neonicotinoids has been in place across the EU since 2013, due to concerns about the pesticide's impact on bee health.

Recent news reports suggest that the European Commission will call for a complete ban later this year.

The UK has long lobbied against the ban against neonics in Brussels. Back in 2015, the government allowed some uses of the chemicals on UK fields, following pressure from the National Farmers Union, but a similar request was turned down last year.

Uncertainty surrounds what the UK's position will be on the controversial pesticides post-Brexit.

In response to the release of the CEH study, a spokesperson from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs failed to back an outright ban:

"Bees and other pollinators are vital to the diversity of our environment and food production which is why we are leading a nationwide strategy to better protect them.

"We are encouraging farmers to provide the food and habitats pollinators need on their land, as well as promoting simple actions the public can take to help such as cutting grass less often and growing pollen-rich plants."

This study follows on from research published last summer by CEH, which linked neonics to the long-term decline of the wild bee population in the UK.  

Back in September, Energydesk uncovered private studies commissioned by Bayer and Syngenta which showed that their neonicotinoid pesticides can cause serious harm to bees.

Categories: News

Why Market Competition Has Not Brought Down Health Care Costs

Truth Out - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 13:39

Whether the Affordable Care Act remains in force or it's replaced by something else, I believe we won't be able to control health costs until we revamp the system with something like single-payer. Largely by reducing administrative costs within the insurance industry and to providers, a single-payer program could save enough money to provide health care to all Americans.

 iStock / Getty Images Plus)We won't be able to control health costs until we revamp the system with something like single-payer. (Photo: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

It is easier than ever to buy stuff. You can purchase almost anything on Amazon with a click, and it is only slightly harder to find a place to stay in a foreign city on Airbnb.

So why can't we pay for health care the same way?

My research into the economics of health care suggests we should be able to do just that, but only if we say goodbye to our current system of private insurance -- and the heavy administrative burden that goes along with it. Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would take us in the wrong direction.

What Makes Health Care So Complicated

In a way, the reason buying health care is different than shopping for a garden gnome or short-term apartment seems obvious. Picking the right doctor, for example, involves a lot more anxiety and uncertainty and concerns matters of life and death.

But that's not really the reason we can't purchase health care the same way we buy an iPhone. In 1969, this would almost be true (for a rotary phone anyway). Back then, the bill for a birth in a New Jersey hospital looked a lot like the receipt you'd get for buying pretty much anything else: customer name, amount and a box to be checked for payment by check, charge or money order.

Today, paying for even the simplest office visit can become a nightmare, requiring insurance preauthorization, reimbursements adjusted for in-network or out-of-network copays and deductibles and the physician "tier" (or how your prospective doctor is evaluated for cost and quality by the insurance company).

Prescriptions require even more authorizations, while follow-up care necessitates coordinated review -- and it goes without saying that many forms will have to be completed. And this doesn't end when you arrive at the doctor's office. A large chunk of any visit is spent with a beleaguered nurse, or even the physician, filling out a required checklist of insurance-mandated questions.

The growing complexity of health care finance explains why it's becoming more and more expensive even though there has been little or no improvement in quality. Since 1971, the share of our national income spent on health care has doubled.

We can blame a significant part of the soaring cost of health care on the ever-increasing burden of administrative complexity, whose cost has climbed at a pace of more than 10 percent a year since 1971 and now consumes over 4 percent of GDP, up from less than 1 percent back then.

Lemons and Cherries

So if the rising cost of administration is a primary force driving health care inflation, why don't we do something about it?

That's because administrative complexity and waste are no accident but rather are baked into our private health insurance system and made worse by continuing attempts to use competitive market processes to achieve social ends other than maximizing profit.

Paying a doctor was relatively simple in the 1960s. Most people had the same insurance policy, issued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which back then was a private company but operated like a non-profit under strict regulation.

But in hopes of controlling steadily rising costs, policymakers encouraged insurers besides Blue Cross to enter health insurance markets, beginning with the HMO Act of 1973. The proliferation of for-profit companies with competing plans raised billing costs for health care providers, which now had to submit claims to a multitude of different insurers, each with its own codes, forms and regulations.

Not only that, but insurers quickly discovered the dirty secret of health care finance: Sick people are expensive and make up most costs, while healthy people are profitable.

In other words, the vital lesson for an insurer looking to make money is to identify the few sick people and get them to go away ("lemon dropping") and find the healthy majority and do things that attract them to your plan ("cherry picking").

Insurers are happy to offer discounts on fitness club memberships to attract healthy people, for example. But they punish the sick with higher copays and deductibles, as well as increasingly restrictive and intrusive regulations on preauthorization.

Economists call it adverse selection. Regular people call it paperwork hell. Whatever the name, it's the purpose of increasingly complicated insurance plans and reimbursement forms.

A Failure to Fix

The public and government authorities figured this out quickly, but too often the cures have been as bad as the disease.

We could, and I believe should, have abandoned the use of for-profit private insurance to adopt a simple single-payer system, in which a government agency would provide coverage to everyone in the US Instead, in forging the ACA and in every other health reform enacted in the past 40 years, policymakers decided to work with private insurance while trying to fix some of its evils.

We adopted the "Patient's Bill of Rights" around the turn of the century and created processes to allow patients and providers to appeal medical decisions made by insurers. State health commissioners now have considerable power to supervise insurers, while the ACA mandates certain essential benefits be provided in all insurance plans.

Yet each of these efforts to protect the sick from abuses inherent in the for-profit insurance system only added to the administrative burden, and the costs, on the entire industry.

Some perceived the problem as a lack of market competition so governments freed hospitals and other health care providers from regulations on prices and restrictions on mergers, advertising and other practices. Far from reducing administrative complexity or lowering prices, research has shown that deregulation made both problems worse by allowing the formation of networks of hospitals and providers who use advertising and other business and financial practices to control markets and stifle competition.

Simply put, each attempt to fix a problem has led to more administration because we have kept intact the system of private health insurance -- and for-profit medicine -- that is at the root of at the dual problems of rising health care costs and growing complexity.

It's Time to Take a Step Back

Clearly, our experiment in market-driven health care has gone awry.

Before we introduced competition and deregulation into health care, things were relatively simple, with . We could save a lot of money if we went backwards and adopted a single-payer system like Canada's, where insurers do not engage in systematic preauthorization or utilization review and hospitals and pharmaceutical companies do not form monopolies to profit at the expense of the public.

Largely by reducing administrative costs within the insurance industry and to providers, a single-payer program could save enough money to provide health care to all Americans.

Compared with Canada's single payer system, American doctors and hospitals have nearly twice as many administrative staff workers.

So whether the ACA remains in force or it's replaced by something else, I believe we won't be able to control health costs -- and make health care affordable for all Americans -- until we revamp the system with something like single payer.

Disclosure statement: Gerald Friedman belongs to the Massachusetts Society of Professors (a National Education Association affiliate) and Democratic Socialists of America. He has done some consulting work for the Vermont State Employees and has written reports on single-payer plans for several states, including Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York.

The Conversation

Categories: News

The Future of US Education Is Standing Rock

Truth Out - Tue, 07/04/2017 - 13:27

Faced with devastating debt, dangerous climate change and unprecedented inequality, the US should rethink its education system. Mainstream schools can look to the "Defenders of the Water School" in Standing Rock for inspiration: It engaged a curriculum centered in Indigenous knowledge and grounded not in a culture of extraction, dispossession and elimination but in the ethics of relationship and accountability to each other, as well as to future generations.

 Jeremy Garcia, Assistant Professor, University of Arizona)The four main teachers at Mní Wičhóni Nakíčižiŋ Owáyawa, Defenders of the Water School: Jose Zhagnay, Blaze Starkey, Alayna Eagle Shield and Teresa Dzieglewicz. (Photo: Jeremy Garcia, Assistant Professor, University of Arizona)

As a professor of education, an Indigenous scholar and member of the NYC Stands with Standing Rock Collective, I was ecstatic to learn that the Wallace Global Fund recently named the Standing Rock Sioux the inaugural recipient of the Henry A. Wallace Award, a $250,000 prize that includes up to an additional $1 million to support the tribe's transition to renewable energy.

To be sure, such recognition and capital investment will go a long way in eradicating dependence on fossil fuel. But if the Fund's broader aim to "lift up the extraordinary courage and will it takes to stand up to oppressive corporate and political power" is to be realized, then a commensurable investment in education will be needed.

As it stands, Wall Street billionaires, hedge fund managers and corporate think tanks are driving education reformnot out of concern for the environment, but in the interest of profit and -- still -- land. Indeed, historically, US schools were designed for Native erasure and little has changed.

The dominant narrative about Native American students and tribal schools remains that they are "failing." The evidence? The so-called achievement gap as measured by standardized test scores. Beyond the specious nature of the tests, Native student "failure" should not be confused with the refusal to trade one's culture and ways of being for a form of "success" marked by individualist modes of competition and an "American Dream" fundamentally reliant upon property ownership and resource exploitation.

Neither Native peoples nor the planet can afford systems of education that are built upon the reduction of life to transactional relationships, whether for profit or individual advancement. So, without an educational paradigm shift, there will always be a next Standing Rock (see: Bears EarsLancaster County, central Florida).

Toward this end, Native education -- centered in Indigenous knowledge and decolonial curricula -- has much to teach mainstream schools. For example, the Defenders of the Water School, founded by Alayna Eagle Shield at the Oceti Sakowin camp, engaged a curriculum centered on Lakota language, culture and intergenerational knowledge as a practice of Indigenous sovereignty. Students at the school spent their days in song, dance and prayer, as well as learned the history, math and science embedded in their surroundings. Most importantly, however, they witnessed the courageous actions taking place in defense of water and their peoples. And, in so doing, they learned about what it means to be a good relative, to be accountable to each other as well as to the generations to come.

In other words, the children of Standing Rock learned that the resistance was not just about a pipeline or even unchecked corporate power, but rather about their right to defend themselves, their land and relatives, including the Missouri River. It was about the history of US settler colonialism -- based on the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from land and Black peoples from labor -- and the ongoing impact of these relations of power on their communities. They learned to question and contest alternative facts: that we need more fossil fuel, more extraction, more oil; that climate change is a myth; that we can trust a multibillion-dollar industry to tell the truth about renewable energy; that history doesn't matter; and that actions of the people don't make a difference.

In short, they learned that Standing Rock was, and is, about a broader struggle for liberation.

So, what is needed is an education for liberation, one that begins with examining the knowledge systems that gave rise to the dispossession of Native peoples and Black enslavement in the first place. Such an education would not only offer a more accurate, complex and nuanced understanding of the history of the United States as a settler nation, but also help to strengthen solidarities between Black, Indigenous and other colonized peoples working to bring an end to violence and injustice in all forms.

Particularly as the US faces devastating debt, dangerous climate change and unprecedented inequality, understanding settler colonialism as a structure defined by processes of extraction, removal, elimination and consumption is not only instructive, but also imperative for defining alternative ways of being. Henry A. Wallace's broader vision for a more democratic US that places well-being ahead of profits needs and deserves an analogous vision for education; one grounded in the ethics of relationship so we would no longer need to make the case that #BlackLivesMatter or "water is life." Enough is enough.

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