Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and more.
Haven't heard about the Tar Sands?
The Tar Sands, also known as the oil sands, are one of the largest remaining deposits of oil in the world, and efforts to extract the resource from a mix of clay and other materials underneath Canada’s Boreal forest have created the biggest, and by the accounts of numerous scientists and environmental groups, the most environmentally devastating, energy project on earth.
TransCanada, one of the largest companies involved in tar sands exploration, has proposed a 1,661 mile, 36-inch extension of the newly built Keystone Pipeline from Alberta, Canada to oil refineries of the United States. This would expand the capacity for refining oil produced from Alberta tar sands by approximately one million barrels per day.
Time for the fight-back.
A group of leading environmental activists, many associated with the grassroots group 350.org, and many of them Nation writers, have issued a call and invitation for concerned citizens to take part in a campaign of non-violent direct action this summer in Washington, DC, in all likelihood, organizers say, during the last two weeks of August.
Why DC in the sweltering summer? That's when the State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a certificate of ‘national interest’ to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth, some of whom want to build the so-called ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ from Canada’s tar sands to Texas's refineries.
The guidelines for participation are strict. Participants must pledge to:
1) Be utterly peaceful in all aspects of this action–physical and verbal.
2) Be dignified in dress and demeanor – these are serious issues, and we want to be taken seriously.
3) Attend an action training and briefing before I join the action. Knowingly and freely assume all risks, even if arising from the negligence of others, and assume full responsibility for my participation in this action.
Read the full letter below, signed by Maude Barlow, Wendell Berry, Tom Goldtooth, Danny Glover, James Hansen, Wes Jackson, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, George Poitras, David Suzuki and Gus Speth. The missive clearly makes the case for the campaign and details the horrific consequences if TransCanada's plan proceeds.
Check out how to take part in the actions or otherwise support them and please post the letter to your social networks, forward it to your email list and talk about it with your friends and family.
This will be a slightly longer letter than common for the internet age—it’s serious stuff.
The short version is we want you to consider doing something hard: coming to Washington in the hottest and stickiest weeks of the summer and engaging in civil disobedience that will likely get you arrested.
The full version goes like this:
As you know, the planet is steadily warming: 2010 was the warmest year on record, and we’ve seen the resulting chaos in almost every corner of the earth.
And as you also know, our democracy is increasingly controlled by special interests interested only in their short-term profit.
These two trends collide this summer in Washington, where the State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a certificate of ‘national interest’ to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth. These corporations want to build the so-called ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries.
To call this project a horror is serious understatement. The tar sands have wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities—First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease. The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Oglalla Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous—and though the pipeline companies insist they are using ‘state of the art’ technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year. These local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.
How much carbon lies in the recoverable tar sands of Alberta? A recent calculation from some of our foremost scientists puts the figure at about 200 parts per million. Even with the new pipeline they won’t be able to burn that much overnight—but each development like this makes it easier to get more oil out. As the climatologist Jim Hansen (one of the signatories to this letter) explained, if we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate “the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.” In other words, he added, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” The Keystone pipeline is an essential part of the game. "Unless we get increased market access, like with Keystone XL, we're going to be stuck," said Ralph Glass, an economist and vice-president at AJM Petroleum Consultants in Calgary, told a Canadian newspaper last week.
Given all that, you’d suspect that there’s no way the Obama administration would ever permit this pipeline. But in the last few months the president has signed pieces of paper opening much of Alaska to oil drilling, and permitting coal-mining on federal land in Wyoming that will produce as much CO2 as 300 power plants operating at full bore.
And Secretary of State Clinton has already said she’s ‘inclined’ to recommend the pipeline go forward. Partly it’s because of the political commotion over high gas prices, though more tar sands oil would do nothing to change that picture. But it’s also because of intense pressure from industry. TransCanada Pipeline, the company behind Keystone, has hired as its chief lobbyist for the project a man named Paul Elliott, who served as deputy national director of Clinton’s presidential campaign. Meanwhile, the US Chamber of Commerce—a bigger funder of political campaigns than the RNC and DNC combined—has demanded that the administration “move quickly to approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” which is not so surprising—they’ve also told the U.S. EPA that if the planet warms that will be okay because humans can ‘adapt their physiology’ to cope. The Koch Brothers, needless to say, are also backing the plan, and may reap huge profits from it.
So we’re pretty sure that without serious pressure the Keystone Pipeline will get its permit from Washington. A wonderful coalition of environmental groups has built a strong campaign across the continent—from Cree and Dene indigenous leaders to Nebraska farmers, they’ve spoken out strongly against the destruction of their land. We need to join them, and to say even if our own homes won’t be crossed by this pipeline, our joint home—the earth—will be wrecked by the carbon that pours down it.
And we need to say something else, too: it’s time to stop letting corporate power make the most important decisions our planet faces.
We don’t have the money to compete with those corporations, but we do have our bodies, and beginning in mid August many of us will use them. We will, each day through Labor Day, march on the White House, risking arrest with our trespass. We will do it in dignified fashion, demonstrating that in this case we are the conservatives, and that our foes—who would change the composition of the atmosphere are dangerous radicals. Come dressed as if for a business meeting—this is, in fact, serious business. And another sartorial tip—if you wore an Obama button during the 2008 campaign, why not wear it again? We very much still want to believe in the promise of that young Senator who told us that with his election the ‘rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal.’ We don’t understand what combination of bureaucratic obstinacy and insider dealing has derailed those efforts, but we remember his request that his supporters continue on after the election to pressure the government for change. We’ll do what we can.
And one more thing: we don’t want college kids to be the only cannon fodder in this fight. They’ve led the way so far on climate change—10,000 came to DC for the Powershift gathering earlier this spring. They’ve marched this month in West Virginia to protest mountaintop removal; Tim DeChristopher faces sentencing this summer in Utah for his creative protest. Now it’s time for people who’ve spent their lives pouring carbon into the atmosphere (and whose careers won’t be as damaged by an arrest record) to step up too. Most of us signing this letter are veterans of this work, and we think it’s past time for elders to behave like elders. One thing we don’t want is a smash up: if you can’t control your passions, this action is not for you.
This won’t be a one-shot day of action. We plan for it to continue for several weeks, to the date in September when by law the administration can either grant or deny the permit for the pipeline. Not all of us can actually get arrested—half the signatories to this letter live in Canada, and might well find our entry into the U.S. barred. But we will be making plans for sympathy demonstrations outside Canadian consulates in the U.S., and U.S. consulates in Canada—the decision-makers need to know they’re being watched.
Winning this battle won’t save the climate. But losing it will mean the chances of runaway climate change go way up—that we’ll endure an endless future of the floods and droughts we’ve seen this year. And we’re fighting for the political future too—for the premise that we should make decisions based on science and reason, not political connection. You have to start somewhere, and this is where we choose to begin.
If you think you might want to be a part of this action, we need you to sign up here. As plans solidify in the next few weeks we’ll be in touch with you to arrange nonviolence training; our colleagues at a variety of environmental and democracy campaigns will be coordinating the actual arrangements.
We know we’re asking a lot. You should think long and hard on it, and pray if you’re the praying type. But to us, it’s as much privilege as burden to get to join this fight in the most serious possible way. We hope you’ll join us.
p.s.—Please pass this letter on to anyone else you think might be interested. We realize that what we’re asking isn’t easy, and we’re very grateful that you’re willing even to consider it.
Shifting priorities toward a more sensible approach that offers treatment rather than punishment for addicts may seem like a daunting task but public opinion is increasingly opposed to the war on drugs, and many states facing tight budgets are de-emphasizing expensive criminalization in favor of strategies that decrease the penal population.
As Sasha Abramsky explained in an extensively reported and still-timely 2009 piece, "out of economic necessity and because of shifting mores, the country will likely get more selective, and smarter, about how it uses incarceration and whom it targets for long spells behind bars."
Last week, the Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a report declaring unreservedly: “The global war on drugs has failed.” This strong criticism of the status quo was endorsed by the three former Latin American presidents who organized the commission — Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico — along with 16 other prominent world leaders, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former head of NATO Javier Solana, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson.
Meanwhile, in the US, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of police officers, judges and related professionals, held a well-attended DC rally this past Tuesday, citing its own report criticizing the Obama Administration for doing precious little to reframe drug abuse as a matter of public health rather than one of criminal justice. The report calculates that the war on drugs has brought us 40 million arrests at a cost of one trillion dollars without making even a tiny dent in drug use.
The transpartisan coalition of people who want to end the drug war is one of the most diverse, broad-based alliances in America today, drawing from all regions and most spots on the political spectrum. Join the growing call by signing the Drug Policy Alliance's national petition, and by contacting your member of Congress imploring him or her to help end the war on drugs. Drug Policy Alliance staff will hand deliver your letter to your representative on Capitol Hill.
In less than three days, close to one million people have viewed an online spoof video featuring the moment Ken discovers, to his horror, that Barbie is involved in rainforest destruction, and almost 200,000 e-mailers have swamped Mattel’s offices complaining about the company’s use of packaging products from Indonesian rain forests.
Indonesia has one of the fastest rates of forest destruction in the world. The Indonesian government estimates that more than one million hectares of rainforests are being cleared every year, so time is not on our side.
The campaign is being led by Greenpeace International after the organization's investigators used forensic testing, “in country” investigation, mapping data and the tracing of company certificates to reveal that Barbie’s packaging is being produced by Asia Pulp and Paper, Indonesia's most notorious rainforest destroyer.
Greenpeace says that Barbie's manufacturer Mattel, the world's biggest toy company, has failed to take the steps required to remove products linked with deforestation caused by Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) from its supply chain. The group says that a promised “investigation” is inadequate and that without a tough new paper and packaging policy Mattel will continue to be directly responsible for the destruction of tropical rainforests.
In short, Asia Pulp & Paper, a subsidiary of the Sinar Mas Group has been rapidly accelerating Indonesian rainforest destruction, which is hastening dangerous climate change, and pushing wildlife like the Sumatran tiger towards extinction. Less than half of Indonesia’s rainforests remain intact because of companies like Asia Pulp & Paper.
But it doesn't have to be this way. In 2008, Staples, the world's largest office products company, made clear that remaining a customer of APP would be “a great peril to our brand” and committed to the use of sustainable forest products. Moreover, Unilever, Kraft and Nestle have all stopped sourcing palm oil from Sinar Mas affiliates, while Carrefour, Office Depot and Woolworths (Australia) have stopped buying or selling any paper products connected to APP.
Send your letter today imploring Mattel to become a leader in the use of sustainable forest products by dumping Asia Pulp & Paper and implementing a new procurement policy for all pulp and paper products that precludes the use of timber from deforestation.
This post was researched and co-written by Kevin Gosztola.
From Marmet to Blair, West Virginia, hundreds of activists are marching across the Appalachian region this week to honor the historic Battle of Blair Mountain of 1921. This event, designed to mark one of the biggest civil uprisings in the United States history and the largest armed insurrection since the American Civil War, however, is not just about history. Appalachia Rising and Friends of Blair Mountain are using the five-day march to protest the controversial practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.
“Mountain ridges and peaks are clear-cut, stripped of all trees and other flora. Explosives are buried underground, and enormous blasts dislodge millions of tons of rock, dirt, soil, and animal and plant life. That ‘overburden’ is then carted away or dumped into the stream and creek beds in the mountain hollows below, destroying or polluting thousands of miles of running water. Huge 20-story-tall draglines pull away the rock to expose coal seams. Similarly huge machines then yank the coal out and dump the remaining waste down into those streams.”
A coalition that seeks to ignite a major uprising against mountaintop removal, Appalachia Rising declares on its website that it “supports non-violent direct action to build the movement to end strip mining and support sustainability and self-determination in Appalachia.” Through the “March on Blair Mountain,” the coalition hopes to move one step closer to abolishing mountaintop removal, strengthening labor rights, creating sustainable jobs for Appalachian communities and ensuring the preservation of Blair Mountain.
The other major organizational component of this week’s actions, Friends of Blair Mountain, describes itself as a “core group of people involved in preservation efforts at Blair Mountain.” Members, who come from states like West Virginia and North Carolina, constitute a “grassroots group of scholars, activists, concerned citizens, and union workers” committed to commemorating the memory of the miners involved in the Battle of Blair Mountain. (In March 2008 the mountain was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Pressure from coal operators had it removed from the list and now it is under threat.)
Organizers describe mountaintop removal coal mining as “an extreme form of coal mining that involves blasting off the tops of mountains in order to extract the seams of coal underneath.” Those living near mountains that coal companies are permitted to blow up for coal often leave their homes instead of enduring the conditions the mining creates—conditions that often include increased flooding and polluted air and water.
As author and activist Jeff Biggers, who has been reporting on MTR for years, explains today in a post at Alternet, “While providing less than five to eight percent of our national coal production, the millions of pounds of daily explosives detonated for mountaintop removal operations in West Virginia, Kentucky, southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee account for the most egregious human rights and environmental violations in our nation—and the unrecognized reality of regulated manslaughter.”
Nearly three days into the march, thus far, activists have been harassed by cars, coal trucks and “emergency” vehicles that at one point made laps around them blasting their sirens and horns. They have been forced to leave their camp site because a county commission decided to violate a prior agreement and demand they pack up and leave or face “mass arrests.” And they have faced sweltering heat along with a big storm.
Despite obstacles, the marchers are determined to march all fifty miles and make it to Blair Mountain by Saturday for a culminating rally that will feature Emmylou Harris, Ashley Judd and other performances by artists along with a speech from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Here’s a recent call to action from the march:
Thanks to Peter Daou, activist and political and digital media consultant, for alerting me to a growing global 'super-epidemic' of a merged form of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
The human toll is staggering. In some sampled populations, fatality rates approach 100 percent. Drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB), virtually impervious to even the most effective drugs, has now been reported in 45 countries, including all the G8 nations.
This video from Doctors Without Borders, from Khayelitsha township in South Africa which has one of the highest rates of TB (tuberculosis) and HIV in the world, makes clear the depths of the problem.
The good news is that new scientific modeling shows that these trends can be reversed, saving a million lives from TB-HIV disease between now and 2015 with technology and knowledge we already possess. The goal is to convince governments and NGOs to act.
That's where the Advocacy to Control Tuberculosis Internationally (ACTION), a project of advocates working to mobilize resources to treat and prevent the spread of TB, comes in. ACTION's premise is that more rapid progress can be made against the global TB epidemic by building increased support for resources for effective TB control among key policymakers and other opinion leaders in both high TB burden countries (HBCs) and donor countries.
Read the ACTION Brochure to find out more about the group, and learn what you can do to help prevent the spread of infectious disease among the global poor.
I first saw Gil Scott-Heron perform in 1985 at the Brazilian club SOB's in Manhattan, which during that period functioned as his home-base. His unique musical fusion of jazz, blues, rap, funk, and soul was captivating and his radical political vision was transformative, not just for me, but for a generation of musicians and activists especially in the hip-hop community.
The pioneering poet and musician is often credited as one of the progenitors of hip-hop with Public Enemy's Chuck D, Aesop Rock, Talib Kweli, Kanye West and Common all citing the poet/songwriter as a chief influence.
Tragically, Scott-Heron died Friday afternoon in New York at the tender age of 62.
Best known for the song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" which firmly entered the cultural lexicon after appearing on his 1971 album Pieces of a Man, Scott-Heron later battled drug problems and was incarcerated for a period during the 2000s, but he never stopped touring, and in 2010 he released the well-received I'm New Here.
His political legacy was vast and his connections to social movements deep. He was particularly active in the civil rights struggle and the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s and 1980s. He wrote probably the most moving song ever about the perils of nuclear power ("We Almost Lost Detroit"), undoubtedly the catchiest tune decrying the exploitation of mine workers, ("Three Miles Down,") and what became the anthem of the anti-Apartheid movement, ("Johannesburg.")
In 1979 he performed alongside Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and many others at the MUSE benefits at Madison Square Garden, and in 1985 he led the protest anthem "Sun City" in a star-studded line-up featuring Bob Dylan, Steve Van Zandt, RUN DMC, Lou Reed and Miles Davis.
His writing also touched on domestic violence, addiction, the increasing gap between rich and poor, political disillusionment and what a bad actor Ronald Reagan had been.
It's impossible to select a top ten from Scott-Heron's vast canon but the choices below represent an effort to highlight his astonishing musical range, his incisive political commentary and his incendiary live performances.
We'll be compiling additional written and musical tributes in the next few days.
Home is Where the Hatred Is
We Almost Lost Detroit
Three Miles Down
Winter in America
Whitey on the Moon
Shut 'Em Down
A Toast to the People
As my colleague George Zornick reports from Congress, in a surprisingly close contest today, the House rejected an amendment sponsored by Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) which called for a withdrawal plan from Afghanistan, preferably one that outlines an “aggressive" drawdown of troops. It lost by only eleven votes, 215-204.
Nonetheless, the vote is the strongest yet for McGovern’s exit initiative and sends a united Democratic message to the president and people that momentum may finally be shifting toward some sort of organized withdrawal plan.
As Paul Kawika Martin, the political and policy director of Peace Action, which organized over twenty organizations to support amendments that would speed up bringing troops home from Afghanistan, said today, “Congress is catching up with voters who believe It’s time to transition from extremely expensive and counterproductive Pentagon strategies in Afghanistan to political negotiations and Afghan-led aid and development.”
It's high time. As we approach Memorial Day, the number of US troop deaths in the Afghanistan War now exceeds 1,500. No more troops should die in this extraordinarily expensive war that's not making us safer.
The death toll from the Missouri tornado on Sunday now stands at 122, making it the single deadliest tornado in the US since at least 1950.
The greatest destruction was in the small city of Joplin, Missouri, where at least a quarter of the city's homes and businesses were damaged and much of the city was left isolated and in the dark, with telephone connections largely cut off and many homes without electricity. Joplin authorities still can't estimate how many residents are missing.
As organizations and first responders take advantage of the first sunny days since the tornado hit to comb through debris and crumbled buildings and to provide emergency relief, food and shelter, there are many ways people across the country can help.
The Missouri State Emergency Management Agency is providing details on donating and volunteering.
Feeding America is seeking donations to distribute non-perishable food, emergency cleaning supplies, and personal hygiene items. You can call (800) 771-2303 or donate online.
AmeriCares is working with the National Conference of Community Health Centers to assess needs and mobilize a response for affected communities. This expands AmeriCares' tornado relief operation in numerous Southern states recovering from their own recent disasters. Donations to AmeriCares can be made online or by phone at 1-800-486-HELP. Those interested in volunteering should list their availability and expertise on their Joplin Storm Recovery Volunteer Form.
Heart to Heart International has sent volunteer medical professionals and their mobile medical clinic to the devastated communities in Kansas and Missouri. The group is also sending hygiene kits for people displaced by the storms. You can donate or sign up to be a volunteer online or by phone at 1-913-764-5200.
The American Red Cross has opened shelters in Missouri and Minnesota. The shelter in Joplin is located at Missouri Southern State University and is offering food, cleanup supplies and comfort kits along with immediate care by healthcare workers. Text "REDCROSS" to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or visit the website to donate, give blood or volunteer.
Finally, OzarksFirst.com, a local community and news site, has put together a comprehensive resource with help hotlines, phone numbers and web pages for volunteers and victims. It provides emergency numbers, the state senator’s office number and special hotlines for nurses and doctors looking to lend a hand. Help pages include the Show-Me Response for medical professionals, a Facebook Page for the local hospital, which was badly damaged in the twister, and even resources for locating and reuniting with lost pets.
Please use the comments field below to let us know about other groups and initiatives I've missed.
Bob Dylan turns 70 on Tuesday. To mark the occasion I've assembled a (highly debatable) list of what I consider his top ten protest songs with accompanying videos, a surprisingly difficult task given Sony's Music's aggressive online policing of Dylan's catalogue.
Needless to say, Dylan is far more than a protest singer, a guise he purposefully rejected early in his career, most famously with the song Maggie's Farm, commonly considered to be a protest against protest songs.
It's complicated, as the eminent historian and Dylanologist Sean Wilentz explained in a recent interview: "Politics are inescapable for any writer of Bob Dylan’s human and humane scope. His work, I think, shows that around 1963, he abandoned any idea that conventional politics of any kind could really change the world. He’s said more than once that he puts no store in the political game. But he writes, bitingly, that 'we live in a political world,' so it’s always there."
Most importantly, Dylan did write some of the most affecting and evocative songs ever conceived about racial injustice, unnecessary war and the threat of nuclear peril.
Bob Dylan's Top Ten Protest Songs
1. Masters of War
2. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
4. A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall
5. With God on Our Side
6. George Jackson (Performed here by the British reggae band Steel Pulse because Sony has made it impossible to find a video of Dylan doing the song.)
7. The Times They Are a Changin'
8. Only a Pawn in Their Game
9. Senor, Tales of Yankee Power
10. Chimes of Freedom
In 1965, the US made Medicare law. Today, Medicare provides primary healthcare for 46 million Americans, more than half of whom subsist on less than $28,000 a year. Now, Republicans, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, want to privatize the system and give more say -- and money -- to the insurance industry.
The problems with this plan are legion: It would use Medicare funds to enrich the private insurance firms that have generously donated to Ryan's campaigns through a system of vouchers and block grants to the states. Vouchers may sound like a great idea. Why not allow people to go to whatever healthcare provider they want? The catch is that there is no assurance in Ryan's plan that companies will provide insurance at a reasonable rate to everyone, especially senior citizens.
In other words, Medicare, a free-for-service program which itself pays for healthcare procedures for most beneficiaries and stipulates a range of services, procedures and cap costs, would be replaced by a privatized system to be determined by the health insurance industry.
Moreover, as Paul Krugman recently contended, Ryan's economic rationale for the plan is equally specious: "The point is that privatizing Medicare does nothing, in itself, to limit health-care costs. In fact, it almost surely raises them by adding a layer of middlemen. Yet the House plan assumes that we can cut health-care spending as a percentage of G.D.P. despite an aging population and rising health care costs."
As Erica Payne, founder and head of The Agenda Project and a good friend of The Nation, aptly summarized, “Paul Ryan’s plan will give health care decisions for elderly Americans to insurance corporations. Spreadsheets with plus and minus signs have no business being in charge of the health of our grandmothers and grandfathers.”
To further highlight the regressive nature of the plan, the Agenda Project just released a striking new video dramatically illuminating the consequences of the plan on our nation's elderly population.
After watching the video, please post it to your Facebook page and/or Twitter feed and then call Ryan's Congressional office at 202-225-3031 and politely implore him to call off his effort to eliminate Medicare.