The surprising history of the Malheur wildlife refuge

The refuge’s creation helped support nearby ranchers.

Nancy Langston   Feb. 2, 2016
Reprinted with permission from High Country News

National wildlife refuges such as the one at Malheur near Burns, Oregon, have importance far beyond the current furor over who manages our public lands. Such refuges are becoming increasingly critical habitat for migratory birds because 95 percent of the wetlands along the Pacific Flyway have already been lost to development.

In some years, 25 million birds visit Malheur, and if the refuge were drained and converted to intensive cattle grazing – which is something the “occupiers” threatened to do – entire populations of ducks, sandhill cranes, and shorebirds would suffer. With their long-distance flights and distinctive songs, the migratory birds visiting Malheur’s wetlands now help to tie the continent together.

This was not always the case. By the 1930s, three decades of drainage, reclamation, and drought had decimated high-desert wetlands and the birds that depended upon them. Out of the hundreds of thousands of egrets that once nested on Malheur Lake, only 121 remained. The American population of the birds had dropped by 95 percent. It took the federal government to restore Malheur’s wetlands and recover waterbird populations, bringing back healthy populations of egrets and many other species.


Sandhill crane in Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Yet despite the importance of wildlife refuges to America’s birds, not everyone appreciates them. At one recent news conference, Ammon Bundy called the creation of Malheur National Wildlife refuge “an unconstitutional act” that removed ranchers from their lands and plunged the county into an economic depression. This is not a new complaint. Since the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1980s, rural communities in the West have blamed their poverty on the 640 million acres of federal public lands, which make up 52 percent of the land in Western states.

Rural Western communities are indeed suffering, but the cause is not the wildlife refuge system. Conservation of bird habitat did not lead to economic devastation, nor were refuge lands “stolen” from ranchers. If any group has prior claims to Malheur refuge, it is the Paiute Indian Tribe.

For at least 6,000 years, Malheur was the Paiutes’ home. It took a brutal Army campaign to force the people from their reservation, marching them through the snow to the state of Washington in 1879. Homesteaders and cattle barons then moved onto Paiute lands, squeezing as much livestock as possible onto dwindling pastures, and warring with each other over whose land was whose. Scars from this era persist more than a century later.

In 1908, President Roosevelt established the Malheur Lake Bird Reservation on the lands of the former Malheur Indian Reservation. But the refuge included only the lake itself, not the rivers that fed into it. Deprived of water, the lake shrank during droughts, and squatters moved onto the drying lakebed. Conservationists, realizing they needed to protect the Blitzen River that fed the lake, began a campaign to expand the refuge.

But the federal government never forced the ranchers to sell, as the occupiers at Malheur claimed, and the sale did not impoverish the community. In fact, it was just the opposite: During the Depression years of the 1930s, the federal government paid the Swift Corp. $675,000 for ruined grazing lands. Impoverished homesteaders who had squatted on refuge lands eventually received payments substantial enough to set them up as cattle ranchers nearby.

John Scharff, Malheur’s manager from 1935 to 1971, sought to transform local suspicion into acceptance by allowing local ranchers to graze cattle on the refuge. Yet some tension persisted. In the 1970s, when concern about overgrazing reduced – but did not eliminate – refuge grazing, violence erupted again. Some environmentalists denounced ranchers as parasites who destroyed wildlife habitat. A few ranchers responded with death threats against environmentalists and federal employees.

But violence is not the basin’s most important historical legacy. Through the decades, community members have come together to negotiate a better future. In the 1920s, poor homesteaders worked with conservationists to save the refuge from irrigation drainage. In the 1990s, Paiute tribal members, ranchers, environmentalists and federal agencies collaborated on innovative grazing plans to restore bird habitat while also giving ranchers more flexibility. In 2013, such efforts resulted in a landmark collaborative conservation plan for the refuge, and it offers great hope for the local economy and for wildlife.

The poet Gary Snyder wrote, “We must learn to know, love, and join our place even more than we love our own ideas. People who can agree that they share a commitment to the landscape – even if they are otherwise locked in struggle with each other – have at least one deep thing to share.”

Collaborative processes are difficult and time-consuming. Yet they have proven that they have the potential to peacefully sustain both human and wildlife communities.


LangstonNancy-colorNancy Langston is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She is a professor of environmental history at Michigan Technological University, and the author of a history of Malheur Refuge, Where Land and Water Meet: A Western Landscape Transformed.

 


Today’s Syrian Refugees Are Yesterday’s Irish

Immigrants have built the United States — and that includes Syrians.

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Four months after I arrived to Chicago in 1989, my colleague at the hospital, Dr. Nancy Nora, invited me to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I was homesick in a new country after graduating from medical school in Damascus. Nancy Nora was an Irish American from a large Catholic family. Her father was a respected local physician.

Nancy told me that it was a tradition in her family to invite a newcomer to the city. After all, Thanksgiving, I learned, celebrated Native Americans welcoming European refugees who fled their homelands due to religious and political persecution.

I came to Chicago from the ancient Syrian city of Homs to pursue advanced medical training. Syrians look to the US as the best place to pursue this training. In fact, almost half of one percent of American doctors are of Syrian origin. There are also famous Syrian actors, playwrights, rappers, chess players, entrepreneurs, scientists, businessmen, and even Republican governors. Every Syrian American is proud that Steve Jobs is the son of a Syrian immigrant. Syrian immigrant Ernest Hamwi inventedthe ice cream cone during the St. Louis World fair in 1904.

“Everyone who enjoys ice cream and an iPhone should feel indebted to Syrian immigrants,” I remind my children. All three have been born in Chicago. The eldest, Adham, ran his first marathon this year—to raise awareness about domestic violence—and aspires to a career in politics. Mahdi is involved in his university’s Students Organizing for Syria (SOS) chapter as well as the Black Lives Matter campaign. Marwa, a high school freshman, is a budding pianist and ran for her school’s cross-country team. They all volunteer in local charity events and for Syria. My wife, Suzanne, the daughter of a Syrian civil engineer and Canadian mother with Irish-Scottish roots, founded theSyrian Community Network (SCN) to help support newly resettled Syrian refugee families in the Chicago area.

Darkness in Syria

To many Syrians, America symbolizes the values that we lack at home: freedom, rule of law, and the respect for human rights. In Syria, my generation knew only one president, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled for 30 years with “iron and fire,” as they say in Arabic. He detained and tortured thousands of people who dared to speak out against his rule. He committed massacres, the worst of which in the city of Hama the same year I graduated from high school.

I still remember the atmosphere of fear in Syria. We dared not speak. We were told that the “walls have ears.” My family even prevented me from going to the mosque to pray. Many of my high school friends and relatives disappeared into the dark cells of the infamous Palmyra prison, the site of another infamous massacre by Assad’s ruthless security men.

When Hafez died in 2000, his son Bashar, a classmate of mine from medical school, was appointed to the presidency by a token parliament. People expected change. After all, Syria had a well-educated middle class, a diverse economy, and a reasonably vibrant nonprofit sector. It also had a tradition of democracy, which had its ups and downs between 1920 and1970. Bashar, inexperienced but equally ruthless, disappointed us all. When hundreds of thousands of young Syrians demonstrated peacefully in 2011, thinking naively that the Arab Spring had turned at last to Syria, Assad and his cronies responded with what they knew best: brutality and oppression. More than 250,000 people have been killed. Tens of thousands have disappeared into the prisons. Half of the population has been displaced. And barrel bombs, cluster bombs, and all kinds of weaponry have leveled entire cities and neighborhoods .

Besides meager humanitarian assistance and empty rhetoric, the international community has stood by mostly idle, watching darkness descend on Syria. It has become one of the worst humanitarian crises in our lifetime. In the ensuing chaos, extremist groups like the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and Hezbollah filled the vacuum. But the snowballing refugee crisis only captured the world’s attention when it reached the shores of Europe. With the drowning of the Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, who tried to flee with his family to Greece from Turkey across the Aegean Sea, suddenly Syrian lives mattered.

With the Refugees

I just returned from my last medical mission with my organization, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), to the Greek island of Lesbos. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are making the desperate boat trip from Turkey to Lesbos and other Greek islands. The unfortunate ones are drowning, while the lucky ones must carry on through another 1,200 miles of borders, humiliation, and misery to reach whoever opens the door to them. Germany and Sweden have been the most hospitable, while others are building walls and barbed wire fences along their borders. The Syrian refugees I met were fleeing the recent Russian bombings and Assad’s barrel bombs, while some are fleeing the brutality of the Islamic State. I saw several women, some with toddlers Aylan’s age, who lost their husbands to the war. One woman was crying as she described a public execution by IS that she was forced to witness with her five-year-old son. He has had nightmares since then.

I heard from a Syrian volunteer doctor about a boat with a capacity of 30 people that was stuffed with more than 80 refugees. Each refugee had to pay the smugglers 1,000 to 2,000 euros. It was a cold night when the boat crashed onto the rocky shores and split in half. Children got stuck underneath the boat. Many simply drowned. The Syrian doctor, himself a victim of Assad’s torture and now a refugee in France, described to me how he performed CPR on two small children. One was dead, and one died later. The US presidential candidates and governors who slammed the door in the faces of helpless Syrian refugees should hear these stories. These refugees deserve our sympathy and hospitality.

Since 1975, Americans have welcomed over 3 million refugees from all over the world.Refugees have built new lives, homes, and communities in towns and cities in all 50 states. Since the war began, however, only 2,034 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the entire United States. This is a shameful number, considering that there are 4.2 million Syrian refugees. The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would impose additional security measures on refugees from Syria, making it nearly impossible to accept more refugees from Iraq and Syria. A similar bill is awaiting a Senate vote.

Nancy Nora’s father, surrounded by his large extended family at the dinner table on that Thanksgiving many years ago, explained to me how Irish Americans were demonized when they first arrived to the United States as refugees. They were maligned by politicians and by the public, and were perceived as a threat. During dark times in our history, the United States has treated newly arriving Jews, Italians, Japanese, and Latinos as a threat. .

As I was leaving the Nora household after that memorable evening, her family wished me good luck with my studies and my new life in America. Suddenly, the cold Chicago night felt very warm. I felt at home.


 

M. Zaher Sahloul, a medical doctor, is the former head of the Syrian American Medical Society, @www.sams-usa.net. Follow at Twitter @sahloul


By Funding Foreign Militaries, the U.S. Is Spreading Terrorism

Nothing recruits terrorists like corrupt security forces committing human rights abuses with impunity.

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The War on Terror is at a stalemate.

Recent, disparate terrorist attacks have shown that far from being “degraded and destroyed,” the Islamic State’s reach is growing. Unwilling to commit large numbers of U.S. boots on the ground, policymakers have instead doubled down on a “small footprint” approach of military aid to foreign governments. But this strategy is failing.

Contrary to what one might expect, U.S. military aid doesn’t produce willing, cooperative, or effective security partners. Instead, it incentivizes bad behavior and drives the sources of terrorism: corruption, violence, and poor governance. Unwittingly, this policy is creating its own enemies.

The logic of military aid — or security assistance, as it is euphemistically referred to — is twofold: U.S. military equipment, training, and support will build strategic relationships with partner nations and then empower them to fight terrorists on our behalf.

This thinking has led to explosive growth of military aid since 2001. According to theSecurity Assistance Monitor, the United States is poised to spend almost $20 billion on foreign military assistance in 2016 alone, through programs scattered between the State Department and the Pentagon.

In practice, this logic is severely flawed. Rather than creating cooperative partners,research shows that military aid produces reverse leverage: The more aid given to a recipient country, the less likely it is to do what we want. For example, Pakistan receives$1.6 billion in U.S. military aid every year, but the Pakistani government still supports extremist groups in Afghanistan and has deep ties to the Haqqani terrorist network.

The reason lies with the incentives that U.S. military aid creates.

Limitless and beyond the view of the public, U.S. military aid is a tap foreign governments don’t want to turn off. The longer they’re “fighting terrorists,” the more “security assistance” they get. There’s no reason for them to actually defeat terrorists, because if they did, the cash would go away. Instead, foreign security partners are incentivized to maintain a form everlasting instability, wherein nobody wins and everybody loses.

Unfortunately, the U.S. taxpayer isn’t the only victim. The crimes committed by U.S.-funded security forces are too many to list, but they include bombing weddings in Yemen, sexually abusing children in Afghanistan, and blowing up tourists in Egypt. Western support of these outrages is seldom lost on the local victims.

The perverse irony is that this type of behavior — underwritten and enabled by the United States — is perpetuating terrorism. Research has shown that nothing recruits terrorists like corrupt security forces committing human rights abuses with impunity.

Kenya illustrates this dynamic well. After the horrific attack at the Westgate Mall in 2013, Kenya responded with aggressive policing tactics, arresting and mistreating thousands of Kenyan Somalis and Muslims. That brutal response, however, helped al-Shabaab by inciting anger across the country.

After last month’s attack in Paris, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called for a more aggressive strategy to counter terrorism. Days later, the State Department finalized a $1.29 billion sale of targeted bombs to Saudi Arabia. It’s hard not to note the irony: Howexactly would extending the coercive arm of oppressive states like Saudi Arabia improve counterterrorism efforts?

After 15 years of letting the military take the lead in fighting terrorism, policymakers need to accept that political problems demand political and diplomatic solutions, which are seldom found on the path of least resistance. But the tools needed — robust diplomacy, accountability mechanisms, democracy support — are starved of funding.

As U.S. military assistance grows every year, support for democracy shrinks. During Obama’s tenure in office, democracy assistance funding has declined by almost 30 percent. And while the Pentagon is slated to receive over $600 billion in funding, the State Department and foreign aid account will be lucky to get $50 billion.

By relying on military aid, the United States is fostering a world of endless war and insecurity. For the United States’ so-called security partners, that’s good for business.


 

Jeremy Ravinsky is a program assistant at the Open Society Foundations, working on issues relating to security assistance and human rights.


The Vast Majority of Muslims HATE ISIS and Terrorism

The Times of India reported yesterday:

Nearly 70,000 [Muslim] clerics [from around the world] came together and passed a fatwa [i.e. Islamic legal decree] against terrorist organizations, including IS, Taliban and al-Qaida. These are “not Islamic organizations,” the clerics said to a sea of followers, adding that the members of these outfits were “not Muslims”.

Surprised?

As documented  by Metrocosm, what Americans assume about Muslim support for ISIS is very different from reality:

American perceptions of isis

According to a Brookings report from last January:

  • 40% of Americans believe most Muslims oppose ISIS.
  • 14% think most Muslims support ISIS.
  • And 44% (the plurality) of Americans believe Muslim views are evenly balanced on the issue.

***

Last month, the International Business Times cited a study from Pew Research Center concluding ISIS is “almost universally hated.”

***

What the Muslim world actually thinks of ISIS

Looking only at scientific opinion polls, the results are actually very consistent.

The figures in the map below come from surveys conducted by six different research organizations, covering a combined 20 countries in the Muslim world.

what muslims really think of isis

In the Muslim world, support for ISIS is low across the board.

In 15 of the 20 countries shown, support for ISIS is in the single digits. And with the exception of Syria, in no country is it greater than 15%.

Sources

Pew notes:

In Lebanon, a victim of one of the most recent attacks, almost every person surveyed who gave an opinion had an unfavorable view of ISIS, including 99% with a veryunfavorable opinion. Distaste toward ISIS was shared by Lebanese Sunni Muslims (98% unfavorable) and 100% of Shia Muslims and Lebanese Christians.

Israelis (97%) and Jordanians (94%) were also strongly opposed to ISIS as of spring 2015, including 91% of Israeli Arabs. And 84% in the Palestinian territories had a negative view of ISIS, both in the Gaza Strip (92%) and the West Bank (79%).

Indeed, as we’ve previously point out, Muslim leaders have been speaking out against Islamic terrorismfor years … but we never hear about it from the mainstream American media.

Father Elias Mallon of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association remarks:

“Why aren’t Muslims speaking out against these atrocities?” The answer is: Muslimshave been speaking out in the strongest terms, condemning the crimes against humanity committed by [extremists] in the name of Islam.

And Rabbi Marc Schneier notes in the Washington Post that the moderate Muslim majority isspeaking out against the extremists … but “we’re just not listening.”

Sadly, the U.S. and West are backing the two main countries that support ISIS and Islamic terrorism: Saudi Arabia and Turkey.


Lawsuit Filed to Block Permit for Blue Lead Mine

Blue_Lead_Vicinity_MapA new local non-profit, the Bear Yuba Watershed Defense Fund (BYWDF), filed a lawsuit on June 3rd to block Nevada County from issuing a use permit for the Blue Lead Mine. The suit, according to the BYWDF press release (below) is based on the contention that Nevada County, as the lead agency, violated CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act), because “it did not adequately address water quality issues due to the presence of mercury on the Blue Lead Mine site, a legacy mining site.”

Here’s the press release in full:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 13, 2015

Non Profit BEAR YUBA WATERSHED DEFENSE FUND Established

A non-profit organization established to protect the two watersheds in this area was formed last month and is launching a fund-raising campaign to fully fund its first project and continue ongoing as an environmental defense organization specifically for the Bear and Yuba watersheds.

Filling a lawsuit on June 3 naming the County of Nevada, the Bear Yuba Watershed Defense Fund is asking the court to set aside the April 28 decision of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors to approve, without a full Environment Impact Report, a use permit for the Blue Lead Mine, which was permitted as a 20-year, open-pit gold mining operation, located approximately 3.5 miles east of the Nevada County Air Park and adjacent to Greenhorn Creek.

In fact, the momentum to found BYWDF was launched after communications among area young people, the millennial generation, who typically asked…”what can we do to stop the Blue Lead?” And thus, the Bear Yuba Watershed Defense Fund found its reason to be.

In consideration of next generation’s concern for our water and to protect the watersheds, BYWDF filed this lawsuit contending that the County as lead agency violated CEQA, a State environmental law, because it did not adequately address water quality issues due to the presence of mercury on the Blue Lead site, a legacy mine site; nor did the County adequately address water quantity issues with knowledge the Blue Lead Mine will use copious amounts of water. The Blue Lead as designed will pump during dry years two groundwater wells, 24-7, 365 days all year to obtain enough water to operate this open-pit placer gold mine (see Water Study at link following).

It’s about the water…let’s NOT be stupid” is the mantra of the Bear Yuba Watershed Defense Fund.

When a governing agency circumvents laws intended to protect our home lands, sometimes We, the People must resort to using the law–to test and force compliance with any State or Federal laws. Approval of the Blue Lead Mine is one of those times; and the founding directors of BYWDF along with several individuals and organizations in this area who are already aligned with the efforts of BYWDF thank everyone, in advance, who can contribute any dollar amount towards this grass roots effort to protect our watersheds, and thus our home lands, from water-hogging projects and projects which threaten exposure of toxic or hazardous materials.

Learn More About It

• The Bear River Watershed is Number 76, and the Yuba River Watershed is Number 77 on Watershed Maps from the California Department of Conservation:

http://www.conservation.ca.gov/dlrp/wp/Documents/CALFED_Watershed_Map%5B1%5D.pdf

• For the effects of Mercury and methylated mercury on your health read Diagnosis: Mercury, Money, Politics and Poison by Jane M. Hightower, M.D.:

• For background documents including the water study on the Blue Lead Mine, a search on “Blue Lead Mine” at: http://www.mynevadacounty.com/search/pages/Results.aspx?k=Blue%20Lead%20Mine

• For an education about the effects of legacy mining in the Sierra go to the website for The Sierra Fund at: https://www.sierrafund.org

For additional information contact:

Bear Yuba Watershed Defense Fund
P O Box 262
Chicago Park, CA 95712
BYWDFInfo@gmail.com


Tomgram: Gottesdiener and Garcia, How to Dismantle This Country

Introductory Comments by Tom Engelhardt (Reprinted from Tomdispatch.com)

They say that imperial wars come home in all sorts of ways. Think of the Michigan that TomDispatch regular Laura Gottesdiener describes today as one curious example of that dictum. If you remember, in the spring of 2003, George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of that country’s autocratic ruler, Saddam Hussein. The invasion was launched with a “shock-and-awe” air show that was meant to both literally and figuratively “decapitate” the country’s leadership, from Saddam on down. At that time, there was another more anodyne term for the process that was also much in use, even if it has now faded from our vocabularies: “regime change.” And you remember how that all worked out, don’t you? A lot of Iraqi civilians — but no Iraqi leaders — were killed in shock-and-awe fashion that first night of the invasion and, as most Americans recall now that we’re in Iraq War 3.0, it didn’t get much better when the Bush administration’s proconsul in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, disbanded the Iraqi military and Saddam’s Baathist Party (a brilliant formula for launching an instant insurgency), appointed his own chosen rulers in Baghdad, and gave the Americans every sort of special privilege imaginable by curiously autocratic decree in the name of spreading democracy in the Middle East.

It now seems that a version of regime change, Iraqi-style, has come home to roost in parts of Michigan — but with a curious twist. Think of Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, as the L. Paul Bremer of that state. He’s essentially given himself regime-change-style powers, impermeable to a statewide recall vote, and begun dismissing — or, if you will, decapitating — the local governments of cities and school districts, appointing managers in their place. In other words, his homegrown version of regime change involves getting rid of local democracy and putting individual autocrats in power instead. What, you might ask yourself, could possibly go wrong, especially since the governor himself is going national to limn the glories of his version of austerity and autocratic politics?

As it happens, TomDispatch dispatched our ace reporter, Laura Gottesdiener, who has been traveling the underside of American life for this site, to check out what regime change in Michigan really looks like. As with all her reports, this time with photographer Eduardo García, she offers a grim but startling vision of where this country may be headed. Tom

A Magical Mystery Tour of American Austerity Politics 
One State’s Attempt to Destroy Democracy and the Environment 
By Laura Gottesdiener, with photos and reporting by Eduardo García

Something is rotten in the state of Michigan.

One city neglected to inform its residents that its water supply was laced with cancerous chemicals. Another dissolved its public school district and replaced it with a charter school system, only to witness the for-profit management company it hired flee the scene after determining it couldn’t turn a profit. Numerous cities and school districts in the state are now run by single, state-appointed technocrats, as permitted under an emergency financial manager law pushed through by Rick Snyder, Michigan’s austerity-promoting governor. This legislation not only strips residents of their local voting rights, but gives Snyder’s appointee the power to do just about anything, including dissolving the city itself — all (no matter how disastrous) in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

If you’re thinking, “Who cares?” since what happens in Michigan stays in Michigan, think again. The state’s aggressive balance-the-books style of governance has already spread beyond its borders. In January, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appointed bankruptcy lawyer and former Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr to be a “legal adviser” to Atlantic City. The Detroit Free Press described the move as “a state takeover similar to Gov. Rick Snyder’s state intervention in the Motor City.”

And this spring, amid the hullabaloo of Republicans entering the 2016 presidential race, Governor Snyder launched his own national tour to sell “the Michigan story to the rest of the country.” His trip was funded by a nonprofit (fed, naturally, by undisclosed donations) named “Making Government Accountable: The Michigan Story.”

To many Michiganders, this sounded as ridiculous as Jeb Bush launching a super PAC dubbed “Making Iraq Free: The Bush Family Story.”  Except Snyder wasn’t planning to enter the presidential rat race. Instead, he was attempting to mainstream Michigan’s form of austerity politics and its signature emergency management legislation, which stripped more than halfof the state’s African American residents of their local voting rights in 2013 and 2014.

As the governor jaunted around the country, Ann Arbor-based photographer Eduardo García and I decided to set out on what we thought of as our own two-week Magical Michigan Tour. And while we weren’t driving a specially outfitted psychedelic tour bus — we spent most of the trip in my grandmother’s 2005 Prius — our journey was nevertheless remarkably surreal. From the southwest banks of Lake Michigan to the eastern tips of the peninsula, we crisscrossed the state visiting more than half a dozen cities to see if there was another side to the governor’s story and whether Michigan really was, as one Detroit resident put it, “a massive experiment in unraveling U.S. democracy.”

Stop One: Water Wars in Flint

Just as we arrive, the march spills off the sidewalk in front of the city council building.

“Stop poisoning our children!” chants a little girl as the crowd tumbles down South Saginaw Street, the city’s main drag.  We’re in Flint, Michigan, a place that hit the headlines last year for its brown, chemical-laced, possibly toxic water.  A wispy white-haired woman waves a gallon jug filled with pee-colored liquid from her home tap. “They don’t care that they’re killing us!” she cries.

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A Flint resident at the march demanding clean water. Photo credit: Eduardo García

We catch up with Claire McClinton, the formidable if grandmotherly organizer of the Flint Democracy Defense League, as we approach the roiling Flint River.  It’s been a longtime dumping ground for the riverfront factories of General Motors and, as of one year ago today, the only source of the city’s drinking water.  On April 25, 2014, on the instruction of the city’s emergency manager, Flint stopped buying its supplies from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and started drawing water directly from the river, which meant a budgetary savings of $12 million a year. The downside: people started getting sick.

Since then, tests have detected E. coli and fecal bacteria in the water, as well as high levels of trihalomethanes, a carcinogenic chemical cocktail known as THMs. For months, the city concealed the presence of THMs, which over years can lead to increased rates of cancer, kidney failure, and birth defects. Still, it was obvious to local residents that something was up. Some of them were breaking out in mysterious rashes or experiencing bouts of severe diarrhea, while others watched as their eyelashes and hair began to fall out.

As we cross a small footbridge, McClinton recounts how the city council recently voted to “do all things necessary” to get Detroit’s water back.  The emergency manager, however, immediately overrode their decision, terming it “incomprehensible.”

“This is a whole different model of control,” she comments drily and explains that she’s now working with other residents to file an injunction compelling the city to return to the use of Detroit’s water. One problem, though: it has to be filed in Ingham County, home to Lansing, the state capital, rather than in Flint’s Genesee County, because the decision of a state-appointed emergency manager is being challenged. “Under state rule, that’s where you go to redress grievances,” she says. “Just another undermining of our local authority.”

In the meantime, many city residents remain frustrated and confused. A few weeks before the march, the city sent out two notices on the same day, packaged in the same envelope. One, printed in black-and-white, stated bluntly: “Our water system recently violated a drinking water standard.” The second, in flashy color, had this cheery message: “We are pleased to report that City of Flint water is safe and meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines… You can be confident that the water provided to you today meets all safety standards.” As one recipient of the notices commented, “I can only surmise that the point was to confuse us all.”

McClinton marches in silence for a few minutes as the crowd doubles back across the bridge and begins the ascent up Saginaw Street. Suddenly, a man jumps onto a life-size statue of a runner at the Riverfront Plaza and begins to cloak him in one of the group’s T-shirts.

“Honey, I don’t want you getting in any trouble!” his wife calls out to him.

He’s struggling to pull a sleeve over one of the cast-iron arms when the droning weeoo-weeooo-weeoo of a police siren blares, causing a brief frenzy until the man’s son realizes he’s mistakenly hit the siren feature on the megaphone he’s carrying.

After a few more tense moments, the crowd surges forward, leaving behind the statue, legs stretched in mid-stride, arms raised triumphantly, and on his chest a new cotton T-shirt with the slogan: “Water You Fighting For?”

Stop Two: The Tri-Cities of Cancer 

The next afternoon, we barrel down Interstate 75 into an industrial hellscape of smoke stacks, flare offs, and 18-wheelers, en route to another toxicity and accountability crisis. This one was caused by a massive tar sands refinery and dozens of other industrial polluters in southwest Detroit and neighboring River Rouge and Ecorse, cities which lie along the banks of the Detroit River.

Already with a slight headache from a haze of emissions, we meet photographer and community leader Emma Lockridge and her neighbor Anthony Parker in front of their homes, which sit right in the backyard of that tar sands refinery.

In 2006, the toxicity levels in their neighborhood, known simply by its zip code as “48217,” were 45 times higher than the state average. And that was before Detroit gave $175 million in tax breaks to the billion-dollar Marathon Petroleum Corporation to help it expand its refinery complex to process a surge of high-sulfur tar sands from Alberta, Canada.

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The Marathon tar sands refinery in southwest Detroit. Photo credit: Eduardo García

“We’re a donor zip,” explains Lockridge as she settles into the driver’s seat of our car. “We have all the industry and a tax base, but we get nothing back.”

We set off on a whirlwind tour of their neighborhood, where schools have been torn down and parks closed due to the toxicity of the soil, while so many residents have died of cancer that it’s hard for their neighbors to keep track. “We used to play on the swings here,” says Lockridge, pointing to a rusted yellow swing set in a fenced-off lot where the soil has tested for high levels of lead, arsenic, and other poisonous chemicals. “Jumping right into the lead.”

As in other regions of Michigan, people have been fleeing 48217 in droves. Here, however, the depopulation results not from deindustrialization, but from toxicity, thanks to an ever-expanding set of factories.  These include a wastewater treatment complex, salt mines, asphalt factories, cement plants, a lime and stone foundry, and a handful of steel mills all clustered in the tri-cities region.

As Lockridge and Parker explain, they have demanded that Marathon buy their homes. They have also implored the state to cap emission levels and have filed lawsuits against particularly toxic factories. In response, all they’ve seen are more factories given more breaks, while the residents of 48217 get none. Last spring, for example, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality permitted the AK Steel plant, located close to the neighborhood, toincrease its toxic emissions as much as 725 times. The approval, according to the Detroit Free Press, came after “Gov. Rick Snyder’s business-promoting agency worked for months behind the scenes” lobbying the Department of Environmental Quality.

“Look at this cute little tree out of nowhere over here!” Lockridge exclaims, slowing the car in front of a scrawny plant whose branches, in the midst of this industrial wasteland, bend under the weight of white blossoms.

“That tree ain’t gonna grow up,” Parker responds. “It’s dead already.”

“It’s trying,” Lockridge insists. “Aww, it’s kind of sad. It’s a Charlie Brown tree.”

The absurdity of life in such an environment is highlighted when we reach a half-mile stretch of sidewalk sandwiched between a massive steel mill and a coal-fired power plant that has been designated a “Wellness Walk.”

“Energize your Life!” implores the sign affixed to a chain-link fence surrounding the power plant. It’s an unlikely site for an exercise walk, given that the state’s health officials considerthis strip and the nearby park “the epicenter of the state’s asthma burden.”

After a sad laugh, we head for Zug Island, a Homeland Security-patrolled area populated by what look to be giant black vacuum cleaners but are actually blast furnaces. The island was named for millionaire Samuel Zug, who built a lavish mansion there only to discover that it was sinking into swampland. It is now home to U.S. Steel, the largest steel manufacturer in the nation.

On our way back, we make a final stop at Oakwood Heights, an almost entirely vacant and partially razed subdivision located on the other side of the Marathon plant. “This is the white area that was bought out,” says Lockridge. The scene is eerie: small residential streets lined by grassy fields and the occasional empty house. That Marathon paid residents to evacuate their homes in this predominantly white section of town, while refusing to do the same in the predominantly African American 48217, which sits closer to the refinery, strikes neither Lockridge and Parker nor their neighbors as a coincidence.

We survey the remnants of the former neighborhood: bundles of ragged newspapers someone was once supposed to deliver, a stuffed teddy bear abandoned on a wooden porch, and a childless triangle-shaped playground whose construction, a sign reads, was “made possible by generous donations from Marathon.”

As this particularly unmagical stop on our Michigan tour comes to an end, Parker says quietly, “I’ve got to get my family out of here.”

Lockridge agrees. “I just wish we had a refuge place we could go to while we’re fighting,” she says. “You see we’re surrounded.”

Stop Three: The Great White North

Not all of Michigan’s problems are caused by emergency management, but this sweeping new power does lie at the heart of many local controversies. Later that night we meet with retired Detroit city worker, journalist, and organizer Russ Bellant who has made himself something of an expert on the subject.

In 2011, he explains, Governor Snyder signed an emergency manager law known as Public Act 4. The impact of this law and its predecessor, Public Act 72, was dramatic. In the city of Pontiac, for instance, the number of public employees plummeted from 600 to 50. In Detroit, the emergency manager of the school district waged a six-year slash-and-burn campaign that, in the end, shuttered 95 schools. In Benton Harbor, the manager effectively dissolved the city government, declaring: “The fact of the matter is, the city manager is now gone. I am the city manager. I replace the financial director, so I’m the financial director and the city manager. I am the mayor and the commission. And I don’t need them.”

So in 2012, Bellant cancelled all his commitments in Detroit, packed his car full of chocolate pudding snacks, canned juices, and fliers and headed north to support a statewide campaign to repeal the law through a ballot referendum in that fall’s general election. For two months, he crisscrossed the upper reaches of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the part of the state that people say looks like a hand, as well as the remote Upper Peninsula that borders Wisconsin and Canada.

“Seven or eight hours a day, I would just knock on doors,” he says.

In November, the efforts paid off and voters repealed the act, but the celebration was short-lived. Less than two months later, during a lame-duck session of the state legislature, Governor Snyder pushed through and signed Public Act 436, a broader version of the legislation that was referendum-proof. Since then, financial managers have continued to shut down fire departments, outsource police departments, sell off parking meters and public parks. In Flint, the manager even auctioned off the plastic Santa Claus that once adorned city hall, setting the initial bidding price at $5.

And here’s one fact of life in Michigan: emergency management is normally only imposed on majority-black cities. From 2013 to 2014, 52% of the African American residents in the state lived under emergency management, compared to only 2% of white residents. And yet the repeal vote against the previous version of the act was a demographic landslide: 75 out of 83 counties voted to nix the legislation, including all of Michigan’s northern, overwhelmingly white, rural counties. “I think people just internalized that P.A. 4 was undemocratic,” Bellant says.

That next morning, we travel north to the city of Alpena, a 97% whitelakeside town where Bellant knocked on doors and the recall was triumphant. The farther north we head, the more the landscape changes. We pass signs imploring residents to “Take Back America: Liberty Yes, Tyranny No.” Gas stations feature clay figurines of hillbillies drinking moonshine in bathtubs.

It’s almost evening when we arrive. We spend part of our visit at the Dry Dock, a dive bar overseen by a raspy-voiced bartender where all the political and demographic divides of the state — and, in many ways, the country — are on full display. Two masons are arguing about their union; the younger one likes the protections it provides, while his colleague ditched the local because he didn’t want to pay the dues. That move became possible only after Snyder signed controversial “right-to-work” legislation in 2012, allowing workers to opt-out of union dues and causing a sharp decline in union membership ever since.

Above their heads, the television screen projects intentionally terrifying images of the uprising in Baltimore in response to the police murder of Freddie Gray, an unarmed African American man. “The Bloods, the Crips, and the Guerrillas are out for the National Guard,” comments a carpenter about the unarmed protesters, a sneer of distain in his voice. “Not that I like the fucking cops, either,” he adds.

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The bartender of the Dry Dock plays pool with other regulars. Photo credit: Eduardo García

Throughout our visit, people repeatedly told us that Alpena “isn’t Detroit or Flint” and that they have absolutely no fear of the state seizing control of their sleepy, white, touristy city. When we press the question with the owner of a bicycle shop, the hostility rises in his voice as he explains: “Things just run the way they should here” — by which he means, of course, that down in Detroit and Flint, residents don’t run things the way they should.

Yet, misconceptions notwithstanding, the county voted to repeal Public Act 4 with a staggering 63% of those who turned out opting to strike down the law.

Reflecting Bellant’s feeling that locals grasped the law’s undemocratic nature in some basic way, even if it would never affect them personally, one resident offered this explanation: “When you think about living in a democracy, then this is like financial martial law… I know they say these cities need help, but it didn’t feel like something that would help.”

Stop Four: The Fugitive Task Force

The next day, as 2,000 soldiers from the 175th Infantry Regiment of the National Guard fanned out across Baltimore, we head for Detroit’s west side where, only 24 hours earlier, a law enforcement officer shot and killed a 20-year-old man in his living room.

A crowd has already gathered near his house in the early summer heat, exchanging condolences, waving signs, and jostling for position as news crews set up cameras and microphones for a press conference to come. Versions of what happened quickly spread: Terrance Kellom was fatally shot when officers swarmed his house to deliver an arrest warrant. The authorities claim that he grabbed a hammer, prompting the shooting; his father, Kevin,contends Terrance was unarmed and kneeling in front of him when he was shot several times, including once in the back.

Kellom is just one of the 489 people killed in 2015 in the United States by law enforcement officers. There is, however, a disturbing twist to Kellom’s case. He was not, in fact, killed by the police but by a federal agent working with a little known multi-jurisdictional interagency task force coordinated by the U.S. Marshals.

Similar task forces are deployed across the country and they all share the same sordid history: the Marshals have been hunting people ever since the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act compelled the agency to capture slaves fleeing north for freedom. One nineteenth-century newspaper account, celebrating the use of bloodhounds in such hunts, wrote: “The Cuban dog would frequently pull down his game and tear the runaway to pieces before the officers could come up.”

These days, Detroit’s task force has grown particularly active as budget cuts have decimated the local police department. Made up of federal Immigration and Customs officers, police from half a dozen local departments, and even employees of the Social Security Administration office, the Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team has nabbed more than 15,000 people. Arrest rates have soared since 2012, the same year the local police budget was chopped by 20%. Even beyond the task force, the number of federal agents patrolling the city has risen as well. The Border Patrol, for example, has increased its presence in the region by tenfold over the last decade and just two weeks ago announced the launch of a new $14 million Detroit station.

Kevin Kellom approaches the barricade of microphones and begins speaking so quietly that the gathered newscasters crush into each other in an effort to catch what’s he’s saying. “They assassinated my son,” he whispers. “I want justice and I’m going to get justice.”

Yet today, six weeks after Terrance’s death, no charges have been brought against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who fired the fatal shot. Other law enforcement officers who have killed Michigan residents in recent years have similarly escaped punishment. Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley was videotaped killing seven-year-old Aiyana Jones with a submachine gun during a SWAT team raid on her home in 2010. He remains a member of the department. Ann Arbor police officer David Reid is alsoback on duty after fatally shooting 40-year-old artist and mother Aura Rosser in November 2014. The Ann Arbor police department ruled that a “justifiable homicide” because Rosser was holding a small kitchen knife during the encounter — a ruling that Rosser’s family members and city residents are contesting with an ongoing campaign calling for an independent investigation into her death.

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Residents march during a #BlackLivesMatter protest on May 1, 2015, in Ann Arbor to call for an independent investigation into Aura Rosser’s death. Photo credit: Eduardo García

And such deadly incidents continue. Since Kellom’s death, law enforcement officers have fatally shot at least three more Michigan residents — one outside the city of Kalamazoo, another near Lansing, and a third in Battle Creek.

Stop Five: The Unprofitable All-Charter School District

Our final stop is Muskegon Heights, a small city on the banks of Lake Michigan, home to perhaps the most spectacular educational debacle in recent history. Here’s the SparkNotes version. In 2012, members of the Muskegon Heights public school board were given two options: dissolve the district entirely or succumb to an emergency manager’s rule. On arrival, the manager announced that he was dissolving the public school district and forming a new system to be run by the New York-based for-profit charter school management company Mosaica Education. Two years later, that company broke its five-year contract and fled because, according to the emergency manager, “the profit just simply wasn’t there.”

And here’s a grim footnote to this saga: in 2012, in preparation for the new charter school district, cryptically named the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System, the emergency manager laid off every single school employee.

“We knew it was coming,” explained one of the city’s longtime elementary school teachers. She asked not to be identified, so I’ll call her Susan. “We received letters in the mail.”

Then, around one a.m. the night before the new charter school district was slated to open, she received a voicemail asking if she could teach the following morning. She agreed, arriving at Martin Luther King Elementary School for what would be the worst year in her more than two-decade career.

When we visit that school, a single-story brick building on the east side of town, the glass of the front door had been smashed and the halls were empty, save for two people removing air conditioning units. But in the fall of 2012, when Susan was summoned, Martin Luther King was still filled with students — and chaos. Schedules were in disarray. Student computers were broken. There were supply shortages of just about everything, even rolls of toilet paper. The district’s already barebones special education program had beenfurther gutted. The “new,” non-unionized teaching staff — about 10% of whom initially did not have valid teaching certificates — were overwhelmingly young, inexperienced, and white. (Approximately 75% of the town’s residents are African American.)

“Everything was about money, I felt, and everyone else felt it, too,” Susan says.

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The smashed glass of the front entrance of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, which closed after students fled the charter school district. Photo credit: Eduardo García 

With her salary slashed to less than $30,000, she picked up a second job at a nearby after-school program. Her health faltered. Instructed by the new administration never to sit down during class, a back condition worsened until surgery was required. The stress began to affect her short-term memory. Finally, in the spring, Susan sought medical leave and never came back.

She was part of a mass exodus. Advocates say that more than half the teachers were either fired, quit, or took medical leave before the 2012-2013 school year ended. Mosaica itself wasn’t far behind, breaking its contract at the end of the 2014 school year. The emergency manager said he understood the company’s financial assessment, comparing the school system to “abroke-down car.” That spring, Governor Snyder visited and called the district“a work in progress.”

Across the state, the education trend has been toward privatization andincreased control over local districts by the governor’s office, with results that are, to say the least, underwhelming. This spring, a report from The Education Trust, an independent national education nonprofit, warned that the state’s system had gone “from bad to worse.”

“We’re now on track to perform lower than the nation’s lowest-performing states,” the report’s author, Amber Arellano, told the local news.

Later that afternoon, we visited the city’s James Jackson Museum of African American History, where we sat with Dr. James Jackson, a family physician and longtime advocate of community-controlled public education in the city.

He explains that the city’s now-failing struggle for local control and quality education is part of a significantly longer history. Most of the town’s families originally arrived here in the first half of the twentieth century from the Jim Crow South, where public schools for Black students were not only abysmally underfunded, but also thwarted by censorship and outside governance, as historian Carter Goodwin Woodson explained in his groundbreaking 1933 study, The Mis-Education of the Negro. Well into the twentieth century, for example, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were barred from grade-school textbooks for being too aspirational. “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions,” Woodson wrote back then.

More than eight decades later, Dr. Jackson offered similar thoughts about the Muskegon Heights takeover as he led us through the museum, his bright yellow T-shirt reminding us to “Honor Black History Every Day 24/7 — 365.”

“We have to control our own education,” Jackson said, as we passed sepia newspaper clippings of civil rights marches and an 1825 bill of sale for Peggy and her son Jonathan, purchased for $371 by James Aiken of Warren County, Georgia. “Until we control our own school system, we can’t be properly educated.”

As we leave, we stop a moment to take in an electronic sign hanging in the museum’s window that, between announcements about upcoming book club meetings and the establishment’s hours, flashed this refrain in red letters:

The education of
Muskegon Heights
Belongs to the People
Not the governor

The following day, we finally arrived back in Detroit, our notebooks and iPhone audio records and camera memory cards filled to the brim, heads spinning from everything we had seen, our aging Prius-turned-tour-bus in serious need of an oil change.

While we had been bumping along on our Magical Michigan Tour, the national landscape had, in some ways, grown even more surreal. Bernie Sanders, the independent socialist senator from Vermont, announced that he was challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic ticket. Detroit neuroscientist Dr. Ben Carson — famous for declaring that Obamacare was “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery” — entered the Republican circus. And amid the turmoil, Governor Snyder’s style continued to attract attention, including from the editors of Bloomberg View, who toutedhis experience with “urban revitalization,” concluding: “His brand of politics deserves a wider audience.”

So buckle your seat belts and watch out. In some “revitalized” Bloombergian future, you, too, could flee your school district like the students and teachers of Muskegon Heights, or drink contaminated water under the mandate of a state-appointed manager like the residents of Flint, or be guaranteed toxic fumes to breathe like the neighbors of 48217, or get shot like Terrance Kellom by federal agents in your own living room. All you have to do is let Rick Snyder’s yellow submarine cruise into your neighborhood.


Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and the author of A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home. Her writing has appeared in Mother Jones, Al Jazeera, Guernica, Playboy,Rolling Stone, and frequently at TomDispatch.

Eduardo García is an Ann Arbor-based photographer and researcher focused on indigenous peoples in México, Mexican and Central American migration, disappearances, and social movements in Latin America.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Laura Gottesdiener


This Billionaire Governor Taxed the Rich and Raised the Minimum Wage. Now, His State’s Economy Is One of the Best in the Country

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

Mark_Dayton_MinnesotaThe next time your right-wing family member or former high school classmate posts a status update or tweet about how taxing the rich or increasing workers’ wages kills jobs and makes businesses leave the state, I want you to send them this article.

When he took office in January of 2011, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton inherited a $6.2 billion budget deficit and a 7 percent unemployment rate from his predecessor, Tim Pawlenty, the soon-forgotten Republican candidate for the presidency who called himself Minnesota’s first true fiscally-conservative governor in modern history. Pawlenty prided himself on never raising state taxes – the most he ever did to generate new revenue was increase the tax on cigarettes by 75 cents a pack. Between 2003 and late 2010, when Pawlenty was at the head of Minnesota’s state government, he managed to add only 6,200 more jobs.

During his first four years in office, Gov. Dayton raised the state income tax from 7.85 to 9.85 percent on individuals earning over $150,000, and on couples earning over $250,000 when filing jointly – a tax increase of $2.1 billion. He’s also agreed to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2018, and passed a state law guaranteeing equal pay for women. Republicans like state representative Mark Uglem warned against Gov. Dayton’s tax increases, saying, “The job creators, the big corporations, the small corporations, they will leave. It’s all dollars and sense to them.” The conservative friend or family member you shared this article with would probably say the same if their governor tried something like this. But like Uglem, they would be proven wrong.

Between 2011 and 2015, Gov. Dayton added 172,000 new jobs to Minnesota’s economy – that’s 165,800 more jobs in Dayton’s first term than Pawlenty added in both of his terms combined. Even though Minnesota’s top income tax rate is the 4th-highest in the country, it has the 5th-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.6 percent. According to 2012-2013 U.S. census figures, Minnesotans had a median income that was $10,000 larger than the U.S. average, and their median income is still $8,000 more than the U.S. average today.

By late 2013, Minnesota’s private sector job growth exceeded pre-recession levels, and the state’s economy was the 5th fastest-growing in the United States. Forbes even ranked Minnesota the9th-best state for business (Scott Walker’s “Open For Business” Wisconsin came in at a distant #32 on the same list). Despite the fearmongering over businesses fleeing from Dayton’s tax cuts, 6,230 more Minnesotans filed in the top income tax bracket in 2013, just one year after Dayton’s tax increases went through. As of January 2015, Minnesota has a $1 billion budget surplus, and Gov. Dayton has pledged to reinvest more than one third of that money into public schools. And according to Gallup, Minnesota’s economic confidence is higher than any other state

Gov. Dayton didn’t accomplish all of these reforms by shrewdly manipulating people – this article describes Dayton’s astonishing lack of charisma and articulateness. He isn’t a class warrior driven by a desire to get back at the 1 percent – Dayton is a billionaire heir to the Target fortune. It wasn’t just a majority in the legislature that forced him to do it – Dayton had to work with a Republican-controlled legislature for his first two years in office. And unlike his Republican neighbor to the east, Gov. Dayton didn’t assert his will over an unwilling populace by creating obstacles between the people and the vote – Dayton actually created an online voter registration system, making it easier than ever for people to register to vote.

The reason Gov. Dayton was able to radically transform Minnesota’s economy into one of the best in the nation is simple arithmetic. Raising taxes on those who can afford to pay more will turn a deficit into a surplus. Raising the minimum wage will increase the median income. And in a state where education is a budget priority and economic growth is one of the highest in the nation, it only makes sense that more businesses would stay.

It’s official – trickle-down economics is bullshit. Minnesota has proven it once and for all. If you believe otherwise, you are wrong.


Carl Gibson, 27, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nonviolent grassroots movement that mobilized thousands to protest corporate tax dodging and budget cuts in the months leading up to Occupy Wall Street. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary We’re Not Broke, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Carl is also the author of How to Oust a Congressman, an instructional manual on getting rid of corrupt members of Congress and state legislatures based on his experience in the 2012 elections in New Hampshire. He lives in Sacramento, California.


A Man You’ve Never Heard of Saved Your Life

Reprinted from WashingtonsBlog (Posted on February 6, 2015

 Vasili Arkhipov
Covert mission: In a game of high stakes cat and mouse it wasn't long before the Russian's were spotted

On October 27, 1962, a man you’ve never heard of saved your life …

It was at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the U.S. and Soviet Union were on hair trigger alert for World War Three.

And an order to launch a nuclear missile against Americans was actually given by the commander and political officer of a Soviet nuclear submarine.

One man stopped global nuclear war.

Edward Wilson explains in the Guardian:

An American spy plane had been shot down over Cuba while another U2 had got lost and strayed into Soviet airspace. As these dramas ratcheted tensions beyond breaking point, an American destroyer, the USS Beale, began to drop depth charges on the B-59, a Soviet submarine armed with a nuclear weapon.

The captain of the B-59, Valentin Savitsky, had no way of knowing that the depth charges were non-lethal “practice” rounds intended as warning shots to force the B-59 to surface. The Beale was joined by other US destroyers who piled in to pummel the submerged B-59 with more explosives. The exhausted Savitsky assumed that his submarine was doomed and that world war three had broken out. He ordered the B-59’s ten kiloton nuclear torpedo to be prepared for firing. Its target was the USS Randolf, the giant aircraft carrier leading the task force.

If the B-59’s torpedo had vaporised the Randolf, the nuclear clouds would quickly have spread from sea to land. The first targets would have been Moscow, London, the airbases of East Anglia and troop concentrations in Germany. The next wave of bombs would have wiped out “economic targets”, a euphemism for civilian populations – more than half the UK population would have died. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s SIOP, Single Integrated Operational Plan – a doomsday scenario that echoed Dr Strangelove‘s orgiastic Götterdämmerung – would have hurled 5,500 nuclear weapons against a thousand targets, including ones in non-belligerent states such as Albania and China.

***

The decision not to start world war three was not taken in the Kremlin or the White House, but in the sweltering control room of a submarine. The launch of the B-59’s nuclear torpedo required the consent of all three senior officers aboard. Arkhipov was alone in refusing permission. It is certain that Arkhipov’s reputation was a key factor in the control room debate. The previous year the young officer had exposed himself to severe radiation in order to save a submarine with an overheating reactor. That radiation dose eventually contributed to his death in 1998.

PBS’ The Man Who Saved the World adds details:

Just how close the world came to complete destruction during those dark October days has only recently come to light.

***

“I now believe that it could have meant the end of humanity.”

***

“I saw Defence Secretary McNamara, take Dean Rusk to the side and said, ‘The sun is setting, it could be the last sunset we will ever see.’ And that’s when I got scared.”

***

“There is a specific signal that we have, and that is 3 explosions, grenade explosions, which means you have to surface.

I don’t know what the Americans were doing, but it wasn’t three…”

The American signal to surface is different from the Russians …

***

[The commander and political officer of the Russian nuclear sub both command the launch of a nuclear weapon against the Americans. But Arkhipov said:]

“We don’t know that this is an attack – for all we know they are trying to surface us…”

The future of the world now rests on Vasili Arkhipov’s shoulders…

***

[Gary Slaughter, signalman aboard the American destroyer USS Cony:] “God only bless the man because err, what would have happened after that? We would have been a nuclear war with Soviet Russia, and there would maybe perhaps not be a world.”

The following is a 60-minute video of the PBS program, “Secrets of the Dead: The Man Who Saved the World.”

We only avoided a nuclear war because one man – Arkhipov – put down his foot and said no.

Postscript: We are also grateful to American military heroes – many of them anonymous – who have blown the whistle on things which could also have led to nuclear war.

Unfortunately, Michel Chossudovsky documents In Towards a World War III Scenario that the U.S. is currently so enamored with nuclear weapons that it has authorized low-level field commanders to use them in the heat of battle in their sole discretion … without any approval from civilian leaders.

Given that top Russians, Americans and Poles say that we’re once again drifting towards a nuclear confrontation with Russia, cool-headed, ethical commanders may be our best chance of preventing catastrophe.


Right-to-carry gun laws linked to increase in violent crime, study shows

Stanford research reaffirms that right-to-carry gun laws are connected with an increase in violent crime. This debunks – with the latest empirical evidence – earlier claims that more guns actually lead to less crime.

Vartanov Anatoly/ShutterstockgunResearch co-authored by law Professor John Donohoe finds that right-to-carry gun laws are linked to an increase in violent crime.

New Stanford research confirms that right-to-carry gun laws are linked to an increase in violent crime.

Right-to-carry or concealed-carry laws have generated much debate in the past two decades – do they make society safer or more dangerous?

While there is no federal law on concealed-carry permits, all 50 states have passed laws allowing citizens to carry certain concealed firearms in public, either without a permit or after obtaining a permit from local government or law enforcement.

Recently published scholarship updates the empirical evidence on this issue. Stanford law Professor John J. Donohue III, Stanford law student Abhay Aneja and doctoral student Alexandria Zhang from Johns Hopkins University were the co-authors of the study.

“Trying to estimate the impact of right-to-carry laws has been a vexing task over the last two decades,” said Donohue, the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, in an interview.

He explained that prior research based on data through 1992 indicated that the laws decreased violent crime. But in 2004, he noted, the National Research Council issued a report that found that even extending this data through 2000 revealed no credible statistical evidence these particular laws reduced crime.

‘Totality of the evidence’

Now, Donohue and his colleagues have shown that extending the data yet another decade (1999-2010) provides the most convincing evidence to date that right-to-carry laws are associated with an increase in violent crime.

“The totality of the evidence based on educated judgments about the best statistical models suggests that right-to-carry laws are associated with substantially higher rates” of aggravated assault, rape, robbery and murder, said Donohue.

The strongest evidence was for aggravated assault, with data suggesting that right-to-carry (RTC) laws increase this crime by an estimated 8 percent – and this may actually be understated, according to the researchers.

“Our analysis of the year-by-year impact of RTC laws also suggests that RTC laws increase aggravated assaults,” they wrote.

The evidence is less strong on rape and robbery, Donohue noted. The data from 1979 to 2010 provide evidence that the laws are associated with an increase in rape and robbery.

The murder rate increased in the states with existing right-to-carry laws for the period 1999-2010 when the “confounding influence” of the crack cocaine epidemic is controlled for. The study found that homicides increased in eight states that adopted right-to-carry laws during 1999-2010.

Research obstacles, next step

“Different statistical models can yield different estimated effects, and our ability to ascertain the best model is imperfect,” Donohue said, describing this as the most surprising aspect of the study.

He said that many scholars struggle with the issue of methodology in researching the effects of right-to-carry laws. But overall, his study benefits from the recent data.

Donohue suggested it is worth exploring other methodological approaches as well. “Sensitive results and anomalies – such as the occasional estimates that right-to-carry laws lead to higher rates of property crime – have plagued this inquiry for over a decade,” he said.

Media Contact

John J. Donohue III, Stanford Law School: (650) 721-6339, donohue@law.stanford.edu

Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224, cbparker@stanford.edu


Fish still contaminated with phased-out Scotchgard chemical

Reprinted from Environmental Health News under a Creative Commons License

smallmouth_bass

Smallmouth bass are one of many freshwater fish species contaminated with PFOS in U.S. rivers and the Great Lakes.

By Brian Bienkowski

A persistent chemical formerly used in Scotchgard still contaminates most fish in U.S. rivers and the Great Lakes despite a phase-out a dozen years ago, a new federal study shows.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency researchers found perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) in all of the 157 fish sampled from nearshore waters in the five Great Lakes and in 73 percent from 162 rivers.

The study, the largest of its kind in freshwater fish, suggests that eating bass, trout, walleye and catfish could be a major source of exposure for anglers and their families. The chemical remains widespread in wildlife, people and water around the world.

“This just shows that PFOS still dominates. Even though production stopped more than a decade ago, it’s still the main perfluorinated acid in the environment,” said Craig Butt, a Duke University chemist who was not involved in the study.

PFOS and other perfluorinated compounds are used in oil and water resistant coatings for pots and pans, clothes, paper, carpet and flame retardant foams.

The 3M Company, the major manufacturer of PFOS, voluntarily stopped its production in 2002 after scientists discovered that it was building up in water, wildlife and people.

“This just shows that PFOS still dominates.” –Craig Butt, Duke UniversityNevertheless, “every single human being we test has levels of PFOS in them,” Butt said. The compound “doesn’t break down in light, it doesn’t oxidize. Once it’s in the environment it’s not going anywhere.”

Most health studies have focused on communities with drinking water contaminated by PFOS. But people are exposed in many ways, said Sarah Knox, a professor and epidemiologist at West Virginia University. “Routes of exposure are multiple – things like linings of food containers, stain resistance sprays, fire-proofing and non-stick cookware,” she said.

The EPA estimates that “contamination in food may account for more than 90 percent of human exposure to PFOS and PFOA” and that fish may be a major source of PFOS.

“It should be noted that the higher the fish is in the food chain, the greater the concentration of toxic compounds,” Knox said.

In the rivers 25 fish species were tested, with smallmouth and largemouth bass and channel catfish the most prevalent. In the Great Lakes, 18 species were tested, mostly lake trout, smallmouth bass and walleye. The study did not name the rivers but the sites were mostly east of the Mississippi River.

3M Company has switched from PFOS and PFOA to other perfluorinated compounds in its products.

3M Company has switched from PFOS and PFOA to other perfluorinated compounds in its products.

“It should be noted that the higher the fish in the food chain, the greater the concentration of toxic compounds.” –Sarah Knox, West Virginia UniversityPFOS, a suspected endocrine disruptor, has been linked to low birth weights, reduced immune system function in children and high blood pressure during pregnancy.

In addition, a study of about 47,000 people in West Virginia whose drinking water was contaminated by a DuPont plant linked PFOS to changes in liver function, early menopause in women and high cholesterol. Animal studies with rats and mice also have shown PFOS causes developmental, reproductive and immune system problems.

PFOA, another perfluorinated compound, was found in just 19 of the Great Lakes samples and none of the river samples. It has been linked to heart disease, suppressed immune systems in children and cancers.

Despite repeated requests, EPA officials would not allow the scientists who conducted the study to be available for an interview.

Of 13 compounds measured, PFOS was detected at the highest levels: In urban river fish it was measured at 4.8 to 127 parts per billion, and at 1.9 to 80 parts per billion in Great Lakes fish.

Channel catfish in many U.S. rivers were found contaminated with PFOS.

Channel catfish in many U.S. rivers were found contaminated with PFOS.

The EPA hasn’t established a “safe dose” of PFOS. However, Minnesota health officials recommend eating only one meal of fish per week if PFOS concentrations are 40 to 200 parts per billion, and only one meal per month if 200 to 800 parts per billion. About 11 percent of the fish samples from U.S. rivers and 9 percent of the Great Lakes samples exceeded 40 parts per billion.

Keri Hornbuckle, a professor at the University of Iowa who studies Great Lakes contaminants, said researchers suspect that wastewater treatment plants are an ongoing source of PFCs.

The compounds also travel on ocean and wind currents. “The animals with the highest levels of PFOS we know of are polar bears from the Arctic,” Butt said.

New compounds have emerged after 3M’s phase-out of PFOS and PFOA, which the company eliminated in 2008. 3M has touted perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS) as a safe alternative, and the compound was not found in any of the river or Great Lakes samples. 3M did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Michael Murray, a scientist for the National Wildlife Federation, said that the key to addressing emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes is to look upstream now, before it’s too late.

“We don’t want to be dealing with the next round of perfluorinated compounds in five years,” Murray said. “The key is pollution prevention, practices like green chemistry, to reduce the need for these chemicals in the first place.

“Because once they’re here, they don’t go away,” he said.


Follow Brian Bienkowski on Twitter.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Editor in Chief Marla Cone at mcone@ehn.org.


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