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Chaos on the Clearwater River: Second Night of Megaload Blockades

One day after a three-hour blockade involving upwards of 150-200 people from the Nez Perce Nation, Idle No More, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide, more than 50 activists once again dedicated themselves to stopping megaload shipments through Idaho.

Omega Morgan, the company responsible for the transport of the 200-ton megaload, has been warned by the Forest Service that the shipment is unauthorized, and the Nez Perce tribe is seeking an injunction. However, Omega Morgan is trying to sneak the megaload through against the law, so direct action must be taken.

The Nez Perce put out a call yesterday for activists to join them in renewed efforts to stop the tar sands equipment from moving through Highway 12. More than 50 protestors came out. They were met by a force of 40-50 police officers in a fleet of cars.

Police gave protesters 15 minutes to speak out as they blocked the roadway, before being forced to move to the shoulder. Some young activists decided to maintain the presence of the blockade by heaving boulders and large rocks into the streets, which held traffic up further.

Several Nez Perce tribe-members were arrested, adding to the 19 arrested on Monday night (including the entire executive committee).

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Despite Historic Conviction, Genocide Continues in Guatemala

On May 10th, the Guatemalan Court of Justice convicted the ex-dictator General Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for the massacres of indigenous people during the 1980s [1]. Many Guatemalans hope that the judicial process against the criminals of the country’s “dirty war” will continue [2].

But while the Guatemalan people celebrate the conviction, the processes of genocide initiated 30 years ago by Ríos Montt’s massacres still continue by other means.

In the last decade, the expansion of oil palm plantations and sugarcane production for ethanol in Northern Guatemala has displaced hundreds of Maya-Q´eqchi´ peasant families, increasing poverty, hunger, unemployment and landlessness in the region, confirms Alberto Alfonso-Fradejas in the new Food First report, "Sons and Daughters of the Earth: Indigenous Communities and Land Grabs in Guatemala" [3]. There is a tremendous contradiction here: at the same time that the ex-General Ríos Montt is convicted for genocide, the state allows the oligarchy, allied with extractive industries, to displace entire populations without taking into account the human cost, and in many cases, resulting in the murder and imprisonment of rural people who resist the assault. The genocide against the indigenous peasant population in Guatemala no longer has the face of a military dictatorship supported by the United States…. Now it is the corporations, the oligarchy and the World Bank who push peasants off their lands.

The fourteen families of the oligarchy who control the country’s sugarcane-producing companies (AZAZGUA), the five companies that control the national production of ethanol, along with the eight families that control the production of palm oil (GREPALMA) [4] and members of the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (CACIF) are accumulating land and wealth with the support of investment from international institutions such as the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI). The convergence of multiple global crises: finance, energy, food and environment, has directed corporate investment into land-based resources such as agrofuels, minerals, pasture and food. The situation in Guatemala is extremely violent; this is due to the global trend in which agrarian, financial and industrial interests converge to grab control of peasant lands and resources.

In many ways, land grabbing is a new form of genocide. Ricardo Falla’s study “What Do You Mean There Was No Genocide?” analyzes the definition of genocide and its characteristics [5]. According to Falla, of the five acts that define genocide, two were most prominent in Guatemala: “the massacre of the members of a group” and “the intentional subjection of a group to living conditions which will lead to their total or partial physical destruction.” The first genocide was against the Ixil peoples during the time of Ríos Montt. This second genocide is enacted through the privation of the Q´eqchi´ peoples’ means of survival through land grabs. Hundreds of families have been displaced; they do not have land on which to produce or live and they are denied their cultural and community identity. These are conditions that lead to their physical destruction.

The conviction against a person who committed genocide is an historic victory, but it is not enough [6]. Ríos Montt was convicted only after he was no longer useful to the system of exploitation and subjugation. The oligarchy, which benefitted from the genocide, continues to commit genocide against the indigenous peasant population. They are supported by international investment and hidden by a legal system that favors land grabs to the detriment of the Guatemalan people.

Filed under guatamala food water green environment genocide human rights love peace paix paz article news liberal un united nations capitalism socialism occupy

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Obama betrays country by appointing big corporate donors to important offices

In the last week, President Obama announced three critical appointments tarnished by banking scandals, bailouts, lobbying and bundling.  Penny Pritzker, a billionaire heiress embroiled in banking failure and labor abuse, was named to head Commerce. Michael Froman, a managing director at Citigroup during its collapse and bailout, was appointed to take on the job of U.S. Trade Representative. And Tom Wheeler, venture capitalist and former communications-industry lobbyist, has been named to chair the Federal Communications Commission.

The appointments exemplify the corporate-government revolving door, political payback for fundraisers, and the domination of big business over our democracy. Once again, Obama has given everyday Americans good reason to groan about the government we’ve got, and to demand the better government we deserve.

To head the Commerce Department, Obama appointed Penny Pritzker.  Pritzker has been a long-time funder of President Obama’s political career. Open Secrets reports that in 2012 she bundled at least $500,000 for Obama’s re-election campaign, and that in 2008, she raised up to that amount. Pritzker is among the 300 wealthiest Americans according to Forbes magazine, with a fortune estimated at $1.85 billion.

Her wealth comes from the Pritzker family’s ownership of Hyatt Hotels, known for exploiting its workers. Some examples: In Boston, Hyatt fired its entire housekeeping staff and replaced them with temporary workers earning minimum wage. In Baltimore, only 9 of the 30-40 housekeepers working at the Hyatt Regency are full-time and directly employed by Hyatt. The rest are subcontracted temp workers earning minimum wage.

In addition to unfair treatment of workers, Pritzker’s track record as owner and chair of the failed Superior Bank in Chicago should disqualify her from the role of Commerce Secretary, by any common sense standard. As investigative reporter Dennis Bernstein put it, “if you traced today’s sub-prime crisis back to its origins, you would come upon the role of the Pritzkers and Superior Bank of Chicago….[Their] pioneering work… helped set the stage for the current sub-prime meltdown.”

Pritzker’s management of Superior Bank was also “tainted with the hallmarks of a mini-Enron scandal” according to business writer David Moberg in a 2002 In These Times article. “Using a variety of shell companies and complex financial gimmicks, Superior’s managers and owners exaggerated the profits and financial soundness of the bank.… Many individuals—disproportionately low-income and minority borrowers with spotty credit records—had apparently been exploited through predatory-lending techniques, including exorbitant fees, inadequate disclosure and high interest rates.” These concerns about Pritzker were voiced in government investigative reports and consumer complaints, including a RICO class action suit for over 1,400 depositors, who initially lost over $50 million of their life savings. In 2001, Pritzker’s Superior Bank was taken over by Federal Regulators and then closed. This occurred with the requirement that the owners pay $435 million, as well as harsh criticism of Superior’s promotion of sub-prime mortgages. 

As a plutocrat with a history of banking scandal and labor abuse, Pritzker will do nothing to correct the imbalance in the economy between workers and owners and nothing to shrink the wealth divide. 

We urgently need a forward looking Secretary of Commerce who will work toward a new economy that serves working people, not just the wealthy. Such an economy must encourage local, community-based small businesses and cooperatives. Local enterprises recirculate wealth and make every dollar worth more, (the so-called “multiplier effect”). Employee ownership ensures that the wealth generated by workers is shared, not sent to the top.  See for example the work of members of the Green Shadow Cabinet, including our Secretary of Commerce, Marc Armstrong, our Secretary of the Treasury, Ellen Brown, our New Economy Advisor, Gar Alperovitz and our Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Richard Wolff.

Obama has appointed Michael Froman – a former managing director at Citigroup and major bundler in Obama’s first campaign - to take on the critically important job of U.S. Trade Representative.  The job is particularly important right now as the administration completes negotiations for a global corporate coup, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will greatly empower big banks like Citigroup.

In addition to being a managing director at Citigroup from 1999-2009, Froman was President and CEO of CitiInsurance.  Froman’s tenure coincided with the economic collapse caused by the subprime mortgage crisis and casino investing of the big banks in derivatives. During his tenure, Citigroup went insolvent and received federal government bailout with a $20 billion investment and $306 billion loan guarantee in November, 2008. With this dubious achievement behind him, Froman departed to join Obama’s transition team. Citigroup’s failure of a 2012 federal stress test suggests it’s not out of the woods yet.

We need a trade representative like the Green Shadow Cabinet’s appointment, economist Richard McIntyre. McIntyre would put protection of the people and planet before profit; and recognize the dangers of the big banks, not empower them further.  Froman is exactly the wrong choice for this position as his instincts continue the neo-liberal approach of unregulated big finance that puts privatization and profits for transnational corporations first.

In his third appointment, Obama has named a faithful bundler-lobbyist, Tom Wheeler, to become the chair of the FCC. Wheeler raised between $200,000-500,000 in 2008 and in 2012 raised $500,000. Wheeler lobbied for the communications industry serving for 13 years as president of the National Cable Television Association and as former CEO of Cellular Telecom and Internet Association where he served 12 years. Since 2005 he has been a venture capitalist with Core Capital Partners where he served as managing director when he was appointed. 

As Reuters reports, “All of the senators in the Commerce Committee know Tom as a lobbyist who funnels funds to them, not as a stand-up guy from a regulatory agency who is able to take heat.” The FCC agenda should be making rural broadband a reality, providing broadband access throughout urban areas especially among low-income communities, lowering the costs of cable with fair billing and ensuring net neutrality. This is a time when competition, not consolidation and mergers are needed.  A long-time industry lobbyist and venture capitalist will not provide the type of leadership the people need.

The concentration of the communications industry is a central problem in the U.S.. We need an FCC that will break up the few big business interests that dominate communication. Wheeler has supported more concentration, supporting the merger of AT&T with T-Mobile which was fortunately stopped by a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission. Essentially, Obama has put in place someone from the industry that the FCC is supposed to regulate. The appointment makes clear that the Foxes are in charge of the Hen House.

In November, 2007 President Obama said: “I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over”. But his appointments of big business interests to key cabinet posts throughout his presidency, have created one of the most big business centric administrations in history – at the cost of consumers, small businesses and the overall economy.

In short, President Obama’s Cabinet appointments are re-enforcing the stranglehold of the economic elite over our economy and democracy. As the bipartisan establishment in Washington continues to sell out the American people, there is no question that a new government is necessary.

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Even in the best-case scenario, climate change will kick our asses

Ask Andrew Guzman, a professor of international law at U.C. Berkeley, why he decided to write a book about climate change, and he says it’s simple: It’s the biggest issue of our time.

“If I didn’t write about it,” he says, “for my grandkids, I’d sound like somebody who wasn’t interested in Nazi Germany in 1939.”

Guzman doesn’t want to be painted as an alarmist. That’s why, for the book, Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change, he assumes that we will see a modest (and increasingly optimistic) 2 degrees C of warming. You know, so as to stay on the conservative side of things.

But it turns out that 2 degrees is enough to sound some serious fucking alarm bells.

Guzman’s main goal, he says, was to look at the social, economic, and political costs of global warming. Most books focus on physical and environmental changes. Guzman wanted to examine human consequences.

Guzman spends a significant portion of Overheated exploring how troubled parts of the world will be affected by food and water scarcity vis-à-vis climate change. But some of the scarier parts of the book are about the overabundance of water that’s coming our way: 2 degrees warming probably equates to about a one-meter rise in sea level this century. That’s enough to displace hundreds of thousands to millions of people in low-lying nations, and, as of now, there is no plan to deal with environmental refugees.

“I think the question is whether the exit will be orderly or emergency crisis,” Guzman says. “If a storm comes at the wrong time and the international community is then plucking these people out of the sea, it’ll be horrible.”

The environmental-refugee problem becomes eye-poppingly scary when you look at the 150 million people living in Bangladesh. A one-meter sea level rise would swamp about 17 percent of the country.

“We know where people go when they lose their land: They go to cities, and they go to refugee camps,” Guzman says. “So the Bangladeshi cities that remain are going to be overrun and crumbling. Just think of the sewage system alone.”

Lest you think no one has considered what might happen next, in recent years India has increased security along the border with Bangladesh. “But fences are only so good up to a point,” Guzman says. “So how much violence are you prepared to use to keep that border secure? It’s not at all clear to me that the border can remain intact.”

Global warming is often couched as an environmental problem, but for Guzman, this misses the point. He’s skeptical that drowning polar bears and acidified coral reefs will mobilize the public into action. He’s a realist appealing to self-interested Americans. This isn’t about hugging trees and saving whales. This is about international security, global pandemics, terrorism — and a moral imperative.

Overheated is a fascinating read in part because Guzman goes out of his way not to be hyperbolic. But if you buy his book as you’re boarding a plane, it’s more likely than not that you’ll land feeling alarmed.

Filed under climate climate change divest divestment divest fossil fuels green security economy politics liberal conservative democrat gop republican energy global warming Forward on Climate kxl KeystoneXL peace paix paz

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Corporate Colonialism: The Ethnic Cleansing of the Maasai People of Tanzania

In late March 2013 it was announced that ‘the government of Tanzania is establishing a corridor of 1,500 sq Km for both public and international interests’. The “international interests” are the United Arab Emirate’s Otterlo Business Corporation Ltd (OBC) that plans to use the land for big game hunting. The purpose of this project has been introduced under the noble banner of “conservation” but in reality the plan is for the land to be used to create yet another location for rich Arabs to hunt big game. Putting aside the obviously disgusting sport of hunting animals: the forced eviction of the Maasai people from their own land is defined as a crime against humanity and ethnic cleansing by both United Nations (UN) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). This collaboration of east-African governments and corporate colonialists that is sweeping the continent – as foreign empires did previously – must not continue to be permitted.

Since 1992, the Maasai in Loliondo (Northern Tanzania) have been fighting to prevent their land from being stolen and used by members of the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) royal family. Now OBC, with co-operation of the Tanzanian government, are taking a further 600 square miles of land to establish a wildlife corridor for “conservation” purposes. The proposal is, that by taking this land from the Maasai and banning them from using it for cattle grazing, it will allow wilder beast to roam freely between wildlife reserves. However, this is simply a misdirection in order to try and get the public and NGO’s on side.

The Maasai people of Loliondo ‘have already been removed from much of their lands in the name of conservation’ but this latest attempt to take even more land will result in the displacement of 30,000 Maasai people. These thefts of land have ‘brought poverty to the majority of Maasai’ and this further attempt to take even more could result in the ‘end of the Maasai’ in Loliondo. This would cause the Maasai people to join the growing numbers of ‘conservation refugees’.

These under-reported refugees have become the dark and untold story of the climate change crisis. The Maasai, who still get 90% of their livelihoods from Cattle grazing, are accused of damaging the environment despite living in harmony with the environment long before the industrial revolution began.

In 2009, living conditions for the Maasai people in Loliondo became unbearable when 3,000 people were brutally evicted from their homes leaving them without ‘food, water or shelter’. Tanzanian riot police burnt eight Maasai villages to the ground and raped several Maasai women. After the 2009 raid on Maasai villages, five people were arrested and imprisoned for sixth months without legal representation or bail. Regardless of situation or crime every person is guaranteed the right to a fair trial and proper legal representation under the Universal Declaration of Human and Peoples’ Right that Tanzania has signed and ratified. It is up to the International community (the UN) to hold the Tanzanian government and OBC accountable for these gross breaches in international law.

Beyond the initial international law violations comes the climax of injustice: the violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Here we see that the treatment of the Maasai people in Loliondo violates multiple articles of the declaration that the Tanzanian government has signed. This is especially abhorrent because this convention was specifically designed to stop situations like this from arising. Specific violations of the declaration include article 8 (section A, B and especially C), which states that ‘Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources’ is a violation. Article 10 takes this further by clearly stating that ‘indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands’. One infraction of the Declaration would be enough to class the Tanzanian government’s actions in breach of international law; currently they are in breach of five articles contained in the UNDRIP.

Overall, these breaches of different treaties of international law culminate in a clear violation: any expulsion of a people from their lands including violence and humiliation towards the population (as was seen in 2009) is considered ethnic cleansing. International Law is indeed a ‘pitifully weak tool’ (Noam Chomsky, How the World Works) against the world’s most powerful states but Tanzania does not fall into this category. The UN should enforce the laws it was founded on in order to stop these disgraceful injustices being further inflicted on the Maasai people of Loliondo.

Filed under rights human rights humanity genocide crime ICC un united nations government tanzania africa refugees peace paix paz politics love compassion news green liberal