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Whose Bread I Eat, His Song I Sing: An International Education Nonprofit and a Devil’s Bargain

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2019 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Institute of International Education (IIE), a well-known US-based private nonprofit that focuses on international student exchange and aid, foreign affairs, and international peace and security. IIE refers to itself as “a world leader in the international exchange of people and ideas.”

While IIE has numerous achievements to its credit, there are also many missed opportunities and built-in constraints that are the result of its status as a quasi-US governmental organization. The organization describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit” but the former adjective is in name only.

At the February 2019 IIE Summit, which included the Centennial celebration, one of the rather large elephants in the room was Donald Trump, who really doesn’t care about international students, at best.  Naturally, no one at IIE can say that because one of the golden rules in the NGO world is don’t bite the hand that feeds you.  Since IIE received 78.2% of its 2017 revenue from “government grants,” silence, at best, or muted criticism, at worst, is de rigueur.

Close official ties and overreliance on one source of funding limit what IIE can say and do. Think of it as internal self-censorship that results from having one hand tied behind its institutional back.

While this nonprofit is private, its outlook is necessarily US-centric. Its long-time slogan, Opening Minds to the World, belies a harsh institutional reality also focused on selectively keeping minds closed by avoiding discussion of certain hot button issues that may raise the ire of its primary benefactor in D.C. As a former insider, I have firsthand experience with the origins and impact of this paranoid, “circle the red, white, and blue wagons” mindset.

What About Nationalism?

In the US, at least, nationalism is often confused with patriotism. The former is defined as loyalty and devotion to a nation with this nasty add-on: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.

There is truth to the quote from Stephen Duggan, IIE’s co-founder and first president, that “irrational nationalism was the cause of war,” then, i.e., World War I, and now, which raises the question: when and to extent in its 100-year history has IIE attempted to substantively and systematically address the issue of US nationalism and what to do about it? It is, after all, an albatross around the neck of a nation facing seemingly insurmountable problems.

Many US colleagues, including those at well-known establishment organizations like IIE, are like fish who are unaware they are swimming in water. On the other hand, there is awareness at the highest levels, both conscious and subconscious, that nationalism, the dominant mindset in the US for more than a century, is something that is not spoken of in polite company, to paraphrase George Orwell.

In the draft preface to the first edition of Animal Farm Orwell wrote about the silencing of unpopular ideas, the suppression of inconvenient facts without the need for an official ban, and the “prevailing orthodoxy,” which I described in a 2016 article entitled US nationalism – The elephant in the room:

US nationalism is such an orthodoxy, falsely understood and mislabelled by many US Americans as patriotism. To speak of it is to be perceived as an outsider, an outlier, the other. To draw attention to it in ‘polite company’, that is, even among self-proclaimed intellectuals, is to risk being branded un-American, an opponent or even a traitor.

Censorship for a Cause

One vivid memory from my final months at IIE was of sitting with its president and CEO and its chief operating officer in their ninth floor offices, looking out over the United Nations headquarters across the street, arguing over words, phrases, and names in a page proof chapter entitled Developing Globally Competent Citizens: The contrasting cases of the United States and Vietnam, which I had written with a Vietnamese colleague, Dương Thị Hoàng Oanh. (Later that year, our contribution appeared in The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence, edited by Darla K Deardorff. The chapter has been widely cited.)

After an hour’s worth of back-and-forth, I walked away with a minor victory, i.e., a basically intact chapter that was only mildly censored. Tellingly, one of the items I was asked to delete was an introductory quote from Rosa Luxemburg about false consciousness and ideology (Those who do not move, do not notice their chains), which I first saw spray painted on a wall during my initial study abroad experience in Germany, ironically. Another one was a reference to the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative organization best known for formulating the blueprint for the disastrous foreign policy of the Bush/Cheney administration, and a textbook political manifestation of US nationalism.

I was asked to delete the quote because Luxemburg was a Marxist (a Polish Marxist, theorist, philosopher, economist, anti-war activist and revolutionary socialist who became a naturalized German citizen and was assassinated in 1919 at the age of 47 in Berlin because of her beliefs and actions, to be exact). The recommended deletion of a reference to PNAC was supposedly because “someone from the Project might go after me,” meaning might go after the organization.

Ironically, as I observed in the aforementioned article, it is the mindset of nationalism, in part, that has created the policy conditions in the US for the destabilization, invasion and occupation of a long and growing list of countries – by proxy or directly – including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.  That glaring fact was most likely lost on the powers that be, or was it? Perhaps free speech was simply viewed as a necessary casualty in the war for continued funding and fiscal stability. (That’s why it was crickets at IIE after the crime that was the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.) Eyes on the prize, truth and justice be damned.

A few years prior to that sobering experience, I had submitted two draft articles for pre-publication review, in accordance with IIE policy. One was a critique of the US invasion, occupation, and destruction of Iraq and the other an open letter to US veterans of the war in Vietnam, subsequently published by The Huffington Post. Both were slated to be published by a major regional US newspaper. I received a panicked call the following morning from the president and CEO asking me to assure him by “close of business” that neither article would see the light of day. That was code for “obey or else”. I acquiesced because I knew that exercising my right to free speech would mean unemployment a year into the job.

What was the organization’s leadership so afraid of? God forbid someone from the US government would read the articles, link the author, whose professional affiliation would not have appeared in the credit, to his employer, and punish IIE by cutting its budget. Fear and paranoia led not only to censorship but to a two-article publication ban. As I have written about US nationalism and the reluctance to engage with it, Being silenced comes in many shapes and forms but the end result is always the same – important issues worth discussing remain invisible and cloaked in darkness except to a small circle of concerned individuals.

One of Life’s Many Perverse Ironies

Speaking of things that are not spoken of in polite company, why is it that one of the premier international education organizations in the US had Henry Kissinger, now a “life trustee,” on its board of trustees?

Knowing more than most of my fellow citizens about Kissinger’s direct involvement in the death and suffering of millions of people in Southeast Asia during the US war in Viet Nam, including the bombing of Cambodia and Laos, having personal ties to many of his victims, and knowing that he is probably responsible for more human misery than any other living former US government official, I viewed his appointment as a deal with the devil struck by IIE’s leadership.

In case you’re counting, it is estimated that US executive branch leaders, including Kissinger, have killed, wounded and made homeless over 20 million people in the last half century, mostly civilians, including 3.8 million in the US war in Viet Nam alone, of whom 2 million were civilians. (President Jimmy Carter’s recent characterization of the US as “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” having been at peace for only 16 of its 243 years as a nation, is spot-on.)

Years ago, I remember chatting with a Vietnamese student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., who excitedly told me he had met Henry Kissinger at a reception. He proudly showed me a picture of the two of them, smiling broadly, wine glasses in hand. Student and master teacher? More like victim and victimizer, I thought glumly. I wondered how much he knew about Kissinger’s involvement in the destruction of his country and region, not to mention US interventions in Angola, Argentina, Chile, and East Timor which, as the late Bill Blum noted it in Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, “brought unspeakable horror and misery to the peoples of those lands.”

Life is full of trade-offs, some of which involve fatally flawed moral compromises and hefty doses of personal and institutional soul-selling. It was Senator J. William Fulbright, an outspoken critic of the US war in Viet Nam that Henry Kissinger prosecuted with such hubris and zeal, who spoke out against the ignorance and arrogance of (US) power. It was Fulbright who once had this to say about President Lyndon Johnson: “I’m sure that President Johnson would never have pursued the war in Viet Nam if he’d ever had a Fulbright to Japan, or say Bangkok, or had any feeling for what these people are like and why they acted the way they did. He was completely ignorant.”

Henry Kissinger and IIE, an organization created in the aftermath of World War I to foster greater understanding between nations as a means of achieving “lasting peace” and the primary administrator of the US government’s flagship international exchange program that bears Senator Fulbright’s name: one of life’s many perverse ironies.

The Drawback of Being a US Government Surrogate

While international education in its myriad incarnations is an indispensable part of any educational system, it alone will not make the world a safer place. Organizations like IIE should be taking the lead in devising creative and effective ways to counteract and combat nationalism by embracing global citizenship education, which is fully compatible with patriotism.

As I wrote in 2016, unless we possess the courage to find ways of opening the minds of young US Americans, citizens of “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, true then as now, sadly, and of a country that the international community views as the greatest threat to world peace, we will continue to miss the forest for the trees.

IIE’s vision speaks of education transcending borders, opening minds, “enabling people to go beyond building connections to solving problems together” with the goal of creating “a peaceful, equitable world enriched by the international exchange of ideas and greater understanding between people and cultures.” Surely, this includes speaking truth to power, when the occasion demands, which it invariably does when power is being abused, and playing an active role in the all-important task of moving young US Americans on a path away from nationalism towards global citizenship – with or without national affiliation.

The post Whose Bread I Eat, His Song I Sing: An International Education Nonprofit and a Devil’s Bargain appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Starved for Five Days, Disabled Child Succumbs in Indian Province

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Starved for five days, Goutam Behera, 17, a disabled child from Odisha, an eastern state of India, finally succumbed on July 8, 2019. Was it a starvation death? Government is evasive; but the activists say, ‘yes’. If there are so many food related schemes in the state, then why the starvation deaths? That’s the moot question.

Goutam’s death is a story of state apathy and callousness, and breakdown of the social systems. His father and stepmother abandoned this disabled child as his disability became crippling in nature. Goutam was from Sargimunda village of Karlakot Panchayat under Boden block of Nuapada district in Odisha.

Goutam’s life

He has disabilities from childhood, but he studied till 5th class in the village school and then completed 7th class in a special school meant for disabled children in the Khariar block. But he had to discontinue his studies owing to increasing degree of disability. When he was about 13, he was limited to his tricycle as the part of the body below the waist became paralytic. The ordeal of Goutam started when his mother died and father married to another lady. Back in home from the school, he was beaten and tortured by the parents (Step-mother and father) for his inability do his daily-works. After driven out of his house, he took shelter under a tree for some year before he finally returned to his parental house after his parents shifted to another house. His elder sister Debanti, 22 was his caregiver.

Eventually, when Goutam and Debanti were completely separated from their parents, they were on their own. They were beneficiaries of some government schemes. They had a priority ration card, which fetched them 10 kg of subsidised rice per month from the public distribution system, which came irregularly. Goutam got the disability pension of rupees 500 ($7) per month. Insufficient these benefits were, Goutam would go out to beg on a daily basis to feed both of them. Debanti has also some disabilities and has dermatological problems.

Some activists had approached the administration to provide them an Antodaya card, which fetches 35 kg of subsidised rice per month, for which Goutam and his sister were eligible for being in the category of poorest of the poor and being disabled. But they were denied. And they were also denied a house under the Prime Minister housing scheme for the poor.

Conditions before the death

Owing to disability, Goutam developed a bedsore on his back and was admitted to a government hospital in April 2019. After being discharged from the hospital, he spent his pension money to buy his medicines. He could no more use the tricycle to go out for begging, Debanti tried to fetch some food from the neighbours for both of them. But it did not continue for more days. Last quota of rice they received was on May 25. Sameet Panda, member of Odisha Khadya Adhikar Abhiyan (Right to Food Campaign), who visited the village as part of a fact-finding team, narrates “Debanti felt ashamed to beg more as the neighbours also denied help after some days. The general condition of people in the village is also not well enough to support them for long.”

Attempts to cover up by the authorities

Both the brother and sister did not take any food for five days before Goutam died in evening on July 8. The next day the Manoj Mohanty, Additional Block Development Officer (ABDO) of Boden block reached the village and persuaded the villagers to cremate the body at the earliest despite request by the villagers to send the body for post-mortem. As per the legal norms (Odisha Relief Code), in case of alleged starvation death, the body should mandatorily be sent for post-mortem. The act of this officer was an attempt to cover up the case. Debanti has now been shifted to a government run rehabilitation center in nearby block headquarters.

Post the death; some damage-control measures have taken by the district administration. Debanti was issued with an Antodaya card hurriedly on 9th of July along with 70 kg of rice. The Irony is, explains Ajit Panda, the local activist “They withdrew the card issued on 9th July and then re-issued a card with a previous date mentioned on it i.e. 6th July!” This is another attempt of covering up.

Some money was deposited in June 2019 in Debanti’s bank account from Chief Minister Relief fund before Goutam’s death, but Debanti was not aware about it as no authority informed her. It came to knowledge only after the death. It remained unutilized. She does not have a mobile to fetch any Sms-alert service from the banks and the branch is far off to make too many visits.

Where does the buck stop?

Agenda 2030 has been adopted by the member states of United Nations in September 2015 promising achieving 17 ambitious goals. The sustainable development goals 2 (SDG 2) aims to end hunger by 2030. Both the central and state governments are expected to work in tandem to achieve these goals. Sameet Panda says that about 13 alleged cases of hunger-deaths have taken place in last four years in Odisha. Both the state and central government owe an answer to the state of affairs vis-à-vis the SDGs.

The Supreme Court, in an interim order in October 2002 in PUCL vs. Union of India and Others fixed the responsibility on the Chief Secretary for any starvation death occurring in a state. In Odisha, further order by the Chief Secretary makes the entire administration responsible mentioning the Collectors as the key functionaries. By implication, the district collectors and the Chief Secretary ought to be responsible, and of course then the entire administration.

But this arrangement has not worked. In none of the cases, any such functionary has been fixed, as government has never accepted them as starvation deaths. In this case also, sources suggest, official inquiry report refuses to accept it as a case of starvation death.

Repeated attempt by this reporter to reach out to the district Collector, Madhusmita Sahu to get her reaction on the matter, went in vain.

How to stave off the starvation deaths

Rajkishor Mishra of Rupayan, a NGO working in food issues says “Earlier we had an emergency feeding programme under which the destitute would get free cooked meal from the Anganwadis once in a day. This has been discontinued since April 2015. Similar programme with a better focus should be launched forthwith.”

In view of the fast crumbling social systems, foolproof mechanism should be developed to stop hunger deaths. The village Panchayats should prepare and regularly update a roster identifying the families in vulnerable condition and suffering from chronic hunger. These families should be given Antodaya cards. In every Panchayat, there must be hoardings explaining the parameters for identification of such individuals and families and schemes meant for them.

Post the death; the Chief Minister’s Office woke up to the cause and doing a survey in backward districts to identify the vulnerable families and individuals. In Balangir district of the province, such people have been included all possible government schemes. These are good moves, but reactionary in nature. Government ought to be proactive in addressing issues of starvation.

The government should adopt a “graduation approach” to deal with such families and individuals. When immediate relief should be provided to a starving family, long term support for their livelihood and linking to the health facilities will stave the people to slip into same situation again.

Pradeep Baisakh is a senior journalist based in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India. He can be reached through email: 2006pradeep@gmail.com

 

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Sparking Change: How Movements Pass on Inspiration

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Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Resistance is a continuum. Nonviolent movements arise amidst the efforts of many other struggles. The knowledge of how to organize for change is a global legacy passed between movements and generations of activists through lineages of inspiration that stretch through hundreds of years. (The first recorded strike happened in 1170 BC when Egyptian pyramid builders refused to work until they were paid; they’ve been happening much the same way ever since.) We learn from one another both directly and indirectly. We mimic creative tactics. We replicate strategies. We learn from mistakes. We are emboldened by others’ courage.

I collect 30-50 stories of nonviolence in action each week for Nonviolence News, a news round-up that shows how people around the globe are making change. In the news articles, I often notice clear examples of knowledge-sharing and inspiration passing between global movements.

Wunseidel, Germany’s 2014 involuntary walkathon pledged money to social justice causes for every alt-right marcher that showed up for the march, thereby making them fundraise for causes they hate. This inspired a similar action in Portland, OR, that raised $36,000 for immigrants’ rights groups during a mass rally for the alt-right. Recently, Hong Kong protesters deliberately organized a 28-mile human chain inspired by the 1989 Baltic Way – a human chain involving 2.2 million people that stretched hundreds of kilometers across Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. They even named it the Hong Kong Way. When migrant rescue boat captain Carola Racketewas arrested for saving lives, the crew of a second ship, the Alex,was inspired to defy the law as well.

While the Internet has aided this phenomenon, the way ideas leap from one movement to the next is not new. Throughout history – albeit at a slightly slower pace – this has occurred. The word “boycott,” for example, was coined in 1880 when Irish tenants launched a campaign of social ostracizing against Captain Charles Boycott for his role in brutal evictions. Within six weeks, newspapers as far away as New York City were using the term. A few years later, as the term continued to rise into popular usage, guess which student in Britain was reading the British newspaper reports on the Irish and other struggles? A young guy named Mohandas K. Gandhi.

This was far from Gandhi’s only inspiration as he mobilized mass strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience in the struggle for India’s independence from British rule. He was both highly innovative and a deep thinker and strategist. He clearly learned from the struggles of his time. He drew ideas for nonviolent action and philosophy from a wide range of global writers and thinkers, both Eastern and Western. His unique stamp would have, in its own turn, global impact.

Some of this was spontaneous – but much of it occurred through direct connection. African-Americans, for example, had a long and well-documented exchange with both Gandhi and his successors. Letters and essays on nonviolent struggle were published in African-American newspapers and journals.

In the early 1950s, Rev. James Lawson traveled to India just after Gandhi’s assassination to deepen his study of nonviolent resistance. Upon his return, he became one of the foremost strategic architects of the US Civil Rights Movement. In later years, he has worked with numerous labor justice and other movements. He has also taught countless organizers throughout his long life and emphasizes the importance of training and study to movement success.

Movements share tactics and strategies, and they also share artistic themes. When I wrote my novel, The Dandelion Insurrection, using the dandelion as a symbol of resistance, numerous readers wrote to me about its use by movements as disparate as Norway’s resistance to joining the European Union, the United States’ 1970s Movement for a New Society, the recent Black Lives Matter Movement, and even the global climate justice movement. Like its namesake, it’s a symbol that continues to pop up all over the place.

Music, art, slogans, and imagery circulate between movements in innumerable ways. To highlight one example, the iconic song of the Civil Rights Movement, We Shall Overcome, has had many incarnations. The first version was written in 1900 by African-American Rev. Joseph Tidley under the name, I’ll Overcome Some Day. This version was well-known throughout the labor movement of that decade. A second version, I Will Overcome, was sung in a 1945 cigar workers strike in Charleston, South Carolina. Pete Seeger and Zilphia Horton (music director of the Highlander Center) included this version in a book of folk songs they published. It was rekindled within the Civil Rights Movement at the Highlander Center. Guy Carawan is credited with selecting it as the closing song of a training attended by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. From there, they and many other folksingers helped to popularize it in the movement.

There are dangers with superficially mimicking movements, however. One of the assessments of the Arab Spring uprisings is that later movements failed because they learned largely from watching television and Internet footage of Tunisia and Egypt’s mass demonstrations. Replicating only the mass street protests, movements in other countries failed to see – and use – the strikes, boycotts, and mass noncooperation campaigns that had effectively eroded the regimes’ power in the first two countries. When protesters flooded the streets in subsequent countries, the brutal repression of police and military was able to crush the movements because other strategies – especially economic resistance – that could have been shifted to had not been developed.

Some important aspects of struggle – such as organizational infrastructure, widespread training programs, acts of noncooperation, and covert resistance – tend not to be as visible to people from the outside. Studying nonviolent movements helps to illuminate these aspects beyond what we see in the news.

It is undeniable that media coverage of movements helps to inspire subsequent uprisings. The Arab Spring is cited as one of the main inspirations for the Occupy protests in the United States. The Occupy protests launched in New York City in September 2011, in part because of an Adbusters Magazinecall-to-action. Within two weeks, 951 Occupy encampments had sprung up across 82 countries, 600 in the United States . . . and a new phrase had entered movement organizing circles: multi-nodal actions. In a country with the geographic expanse of the United States, the notion – while not new – was a revelation for many. Instead of organizing people to go to big city demonstrations, actions in every city and town were organized.

In the United States, this tactical approach has been replicated continuously since the Occupy protests of 2011. The 2017 Women’s March, for example, mobilized one million people in the streets of DC and another 2.7 million across 500 other locations. One out of every 100 Americans participated in either the Women’s March or the Sister Marches (as the multi-nodal actions were called). This multi-nodal organizing approach also lies at the heart of the Student Climate Strikes, which organize weekly student walkouts and days of larger mobilizations.

The stories continue: global labor movements; women’s suffrage movements in the UK and US; Indigenous solidarity movements around the globe; intersectional movements of the 70s and 80s; anti-globalization protests at major trade conferences that shared tactical philosophies; environmental movements that adapted blockades and tree-sits from forest protection to blocking pipelines; and so much more. Each one of these examples deserves a full article. Both contemporary and historical strands of learning and inspiring can be traced through movements.

The circulation of texts, books, and manuals on nonviolent struggle has played a major role in the ways movements share tactics and strategies. The works of M.K. Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gene Sharp have had global impacts. The advent of the Internet made accessing knowledge and following contemporary movements even more common. Current campaigns seem to draw knowledge from a wide variety of sources, including traditional cultural references, organized training programs, current and recent movements, previous campaigns in their history, and local innovation.

In collecting and circulating the weekly Nonviolence News, one of my goals is to help light the sparks between people working for change. By reading about creative actions, wise strategies, and courageous resistance, we can learn from the endeavors of our fellow human beings. The more we learn, the more the sparks of inspiration lead to robust, strategic, and powerful movements for change.

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Revolution or Death 

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Revolution or Death 

Apropos Atropos
Who, with her sisters,
Determined existence
According to myth
Even Zeus was constrained
By Atropos, Clotho,
and Lachesis —
Pegasus, Eddie Pus,
All of us, they say
By the Fates,
You know…

Though the Romans called her
Morta — Death —
Atropos means the negation of Tropos

No turning — so, no revolution
id est:
Revolution or death

As we’ve known all along
As Siberia melts
And the Amazon burns —
And the world doesn’t turn
So much as it’s thrown

Though, as history’s shown,
So often,
it does

The post Revolution or Death  appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Profiles in Absurdity: Remembering the ‘Terror’ Wars

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It has taken me years to tell these stories. The emotional and moral wounds of the Afghan War have just felt too recent, too raw. After all, I could hardly write a thing down about my Iraq War experience for nearly ten years, when, by accident, I churned out a book on the subject. Now, … Continue reading "Profiles in Absurdity: Remembering the ‘Terror’ Wars"

The post Profiles in Absurdity: Remembering the ‘Terror’ Wars appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Trump Is Not a ‘Russian Asset’

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President Trump stirred some controversy when he attended the G7 summit in France last weekend and suggested that Russia should rejoin the group. Trump’s critics in the mainstream media and intelligence community were quick to say his suggestion was a sign that he’s a "Russian asset" or "Putin’s puppet." The evidence for these accusations are … Continue reading "Trump Is Not a ‘Russian Asset’"

The post Trump Is Not a ‘Russian Asset’ appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Bibi Netanyahu, Ingrate

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As Israel’s Netanyahu government continues its customary pre-election bombardment of “Iranian threats” (including at least one in Iraq that, by angering the Iraqi government, may put US troops in danger), fans of Bibi in the “nationalist” Trump administration may want to reflect that he is certainly not an American nationalist. During a previous campaign, Bibi … Continue reading "Bibi Netanyahu, Ingrate"

The post Bibi Netanyahu, Ingrate appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

‘Too Frail To Even Cry’: The War in Yemen and Its Bounty of Suffering

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Many articles about the ongoing war in Yemen are available online. But few, at least in my estimation, provide a space where the voices of the Yemeni people can be heard. In this article, in addition to giving an overview of the conflict, I have included the words and stories of civilians caught up in … Continue reading "‘Too Frail To Even Cry’: The War in Yemen and Its Bounty of Suffering"

The post ‘Too Frail To Even Cry’: The War in Yemen and Its Bounty of Suffering appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Videos From Bahamas Show Devastation Left by Hurricane Dorian

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Videos posted online late Sunday and early Monday provided the first glimpse of the scale of destruction Hurricane Dorian—a historic Category 5 storm—left in its wake in the Bahamas as it slowly moves toward the southeastern coast of the United States, forcing nearly a million residents of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas to evacuate.

“I have seen utter devastation here … We are surrounded by water with no way out,” said ABC News correspondent Marcus Moore, who was on the ground in Marsh Harbour.

“Absolute devastation, there really are no words,” said Moore, surveying destroyed homes and buildings. “It is pure hell here on Marsh Harbour on Aboca Island in the northern part of the Bahamas.”

Hurricane Dorian’s destruction in the northwestern Bahamas (Video: Alicia Nesbitt/ FB) pic.twitter.com/yyNVZaYAVa

— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) September 1, 2019

"Please someone, please come help us": Bahamas residents survey devastated apartment building after Hurricane Dorian hit Abaco Islands. https://t.co/P3RbMFtW2G pic.twitter.com/BpF3DINXCu

— ABC News (@ABC) September 2, 2019

Walk through storm-hit Elbow Cay shows extent of destruction in Hope Town as Hurricane Dorian lashes the Bahamas. https://t.co/cH8sAKuRWQ pic.twitter.com/WSNORsZu4o

— ABC News (@ABC) September 2, 2019

The Guardian characterized Dorian as “the biggest storm to hit the Caribbean island chain in modern times,” with wind gusts reaching as high as 220 mph.

During a press conference Sunday, Bahamian prime minister Hubert Minnis said Dorian “will put us to a test that we’ve never confronted before.”

“This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people,” said Minnis. “I just want to say as a physician I’ve been trained to withstand many things, but never anything like this.”

According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm remained at Category 5 strength Monday as it drifted over Grand Bahama Island, unleashing heavy rainfall and severe wind.

“This is a life-threatening situation. Residents on Grand Bahama Island should not leave their shelter when the eye passes over, as winds will rapidly increase on the other side of the eye,” the center said. “These hazards will continue over Grand Bahama Island during most of the day, causing extreme destruction on the island.”

Forecasters on Monday said the storm could get “dangerously close to the Florida east coast” as early as Monday night.

Hurricane #Dorian continues to track south of due west during the overnight hours, leftward of the official forecast and increasing the chances of an eventual landfall in Florida. https://t.co/stvdXMwCfv

— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) September 2, 2019

Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina have declared a state of emergency as the hurricane crawls toward the U.S. coast.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster on Sunday issued a mandatory evacuation order for 830,000 people along the state’s coastline. The order is set to take effect Monday at noon.

The post Videos From Bahamas Show Devastation Left by Hurricane Dorian appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Texas’ New Firearms Laws Are a Gift to the Gun Industry

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Texas experienced its second mass shooting in a month on Saturday. A gunman, stopped by police for a traffic violation, killed seven people and injured 22 in a drive-by rampage outside Odessa. Less than a day after the murders, new legislation went into effect, not to limit the prevalence of firearms, but, as CNN reported Sunday, to “make it easier to have guns just a month after a shooter stormed a Walmart in El Paso and killed 22 people.”

House Bills 1143, 1387, 2363, 302 and 1177 will, collectively, allow licensed gun owners to store (concealed) guns inside parked cars on school grounds, store guns in foster homes, have guns in all rental properties, and carry handguns during a disaster. Schools will also be allowed to appoint more armed marshals. Last, but not least, Texas Senate Bill 535 will let licensed gun owners carry firearms in houses of worship.

Other states, when confronted with mass shootings, have tended to strengthen gun control laws, according to a 2016 working paper from Harvard Business School, which counted 20,400 pieces of gun legislation in the last 25 years, of which 3,000 were passed. According to researchers, state legislatures are typically quicker to act than Congress. California’s state legislature, in response to a 2015 mass shooting, passed six gun control bills in 2016. After the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Fla., state legislatures passed 50 new gun control laws, according to the Pew Charitable Trust’s 2018 Stateline Legislative Review.

“It’s not that nothing changes after a mass shooting,” Deepak Malhotra, one of the paper’s authors, told NPR in 2016, adding, “A lot of the action on [gun control] happens across states instead of at the federal level.”

When the state legislatures are controlled by Republicans however, those laws tend to look more like the recent bills from Texas, loosening gun restrictions rather than enacting gun control.

“It makes no sense to disarm the good guys and leave law-abiding citizens defenseless where violent offenders break the law to do great harm,” State Sen. Donna Campbell, co-sponsor of SB 535, said in a statement, explaining that the new law improved on unclear and “clunky” previous legislation.

During a press conference, after a reporter asked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, “What do you say to people who look at [the new laws] and say that Texas went in the wrong direction”? Abbott answered with a defense of the new legislation: “Some of these laws were enacted to make our communities safer,” referring specifically, as as Vox reported, to the law that will add more armed marshals to Texas schools.

Gun control advocates like Kris Brown, president at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, were horrified. “Many states took the opportunity in the last two years to learn lessons from the tragedies in Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, and the everyday gun violence that plagues our citizens, and enacted new laws to protect public safety through expanded background checks and extreme risk laws,” Brown told CNN.

After the Odessa shooting was first reported, Julián Castro, presidential candidate and former mayor of San Antonio, said on Twitter that he wanted to ask Senate Republicans, “How many Americans are you willing to sacrifice to the NRA?”

Texas has been the site of four of the ten deadliest mass shootings in recent decades.

The post Texas’ New Firearms Laws Are a Gift to the Gun Industry appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Happy Labor Day From Donald Trump!

Mother Jones Magazine -

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

A new wave of tariffs by the Trump administration…is likely to hit American households in the most direct way yet. By how much? About $460 over a year for the average family.

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

In an interview ahead of Labor Day, AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka said workers across the nation are suffering under President Donald Trump’s supposedly “booming” economy….”He’s opposed every increase in the minimum wage. He’s changed the regulation to take overtime away from a couple of million people. He’s proposed a trillion dollar cuts to Medicare and Medicaid… He’s rolled back health and safety standards towards workers.”

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

President Trump confirmed Tuesday that he plans to nominate Eugene Scalia — son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — to head up the Department of Labor….Scalia has a decades-long record of challenging Labor Department and other federal regulations, winning praise from business interests but condemnation from unions and other labor advocates….Most of his career has been spent as a partner in the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he has run up a string of victories in court cases on behalf of business interests challenging labor and financial regulations.

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will soon propose a $35,000 salary threshold for overtime pay requirements….The reported dollar figure is lower than that proposed by the Obama administration — $47,476 annually.

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

The minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is nearly 40% lower than in the 1970s, adjusted for inflation — and Trump has done nothing to lift it….Trump is also moving to strip unions representing federal workers of bargaining power

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

On January 25, 2019, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held that airport SuperShuttle drivers who were seeking to unionize at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport are independent contractors, rather than employees, and therefore do not have the right to collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)….The NLRB ruling will further empower businesses at the expense of the millions of employees who are currently misclassified as independent contractors.

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

When President Donald Trump came into office pledging to cut regulations “massively,” he made a point of exempting regulations that protected workers’ health. But almost two years in, the Trump administration has done the opposite, rolling back worker safety protections affecting underground mine safety inspections, offshore oil rigs and line speeds in meat processing plants, among others.

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

Trump’s Labor Day Attacks on Workers

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Labor Day is a holiday designed to honor America’s workers. Instead, Donald Trump continues to attack them. Indeed, his administration is in the midst of a stealth effort that not only attacks workers but also our earned Social Security benefits and our federal government. The long-term goals of Trump and his Congressional allies are to destroy the labor movement, wreck the federal government, and end Social Security.

That may sound hyperbolic, but it is not. Trump’s latest stealth attack is not only anti-union, it will eventually make it so difficult to access Social Security benefits that some beneficiaries (particularly those attempting to qualify for their earned Social Security disability benefits) never receive them at all. Others will eventually claim their benefits, but only after an unnecessarily burdensome process of visiting field offices that are rarely open and have hours-long lines when they are.

For Republicans, that’s all according to plan. Trump and his Congressional allies are intentionally breaking our government so they can turn around and say that it doesn’t work.

Trump’s war on workers is extremely well documented. It is perhaps best illustrated by his anti-worker nominees to be Secretary of Labor, a pack of wolves in the hen house. The first nominee was guilty of scores of labor law violations and forced to pay millions of dollars in settlements to workers he cheated. He was ultimately rejected because even many Republicans decided that they couldn’t vote for an ethically challenged nominee who was also an accused domestic abuser.

Trump’s second anti-worker nominee was Alex Acosta, best known for his sweetheart deal with the billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. His current acting Secretary of Labor is, if anything, more anti-worker than the first two. And his newest nominee for the job has spent his career defending businesses seeking to roll back labor protections.

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Trump’s war on the federal government is also well-documented. His administration is upending the lives of career civil servants by telling those based in Washington to move to the Midwest and those based around the country to relocate to Washington. Just before the beginning of the school year, these workers have been given virtually no time to decide if they will relocate or resign. This is having the desired effect: Most are quitting.

The Trump administration’s actions are intended to shrink government to the size where they can, in the words of Republican activist Grover Norquist, “drown it in the bathtub.”

Trump’s hostility to Social Security and Medicare is equally clear. He recently floated a proposal to reduce Social Security’s funding. Days later, he gloated over his intentions to cut Medicare as a “fun second-term project.”

The American people did not vote for these benefit cuts. In fact, Trump ran on a promise to protect Social Security and Medicare. This was a shrewd political strategy, given that voters of all political stripes strongly value our Social Security and strongly oppose cutting its modest but vital benefits. They strongly value our Medicare, as well. But as with his promise to raise taxes on the rich, to provide quality health care for everyone, even to act presidential, Trump has done the exact opposite now that he’s in the White House.

Despite their claims, the GOP elite’s hostility to Social Security and Medicare — indeed, to anything the government does to help us improve our lives — doesn’t have anything to do with the debt or deficit. It has everything to do with the donor class trying to avoid paying their fair share toward the common good.

Yet because Social Security and Medicare are so popular, Republicans know that direct benefit cuts will be impossible to pass into law, as long as all of us pay attention. That is why Trump and his Congressional allies are conducting a stealth war, using guerilla warfare tactics against our earned benefits.

One of their most nefarious tactics is undercutting the Social Security Administration (SSA), the agency charged with ensuring that workers receive their earned Social Security benefits in a timely and stress-free manner. SSA has suffered nearly a decade of budget cuts from Congressional Republicans. These cuts have resulted in office closures, staff reductions, and a years-long wait for disability hearings.

Attacks on SSA don’t just hurt the agency and its 60,000 workers. They hurt all Americans by making it increasingly difficult to collect the Social Security benefits we earn with every paycheck. That’s why all of us should fight to defend it.

At SSA and across the federal government, the Trump Administration is playing hardball. It has issued anti-worker executive orders. It has failed to negotiate in good faith with those representing federal workers. And recently, the Trump administration launched a new assault. It arbitrarily and unilaterally sought to impose a new contract on SSA workers. That imposed contract would effectively destroy the ability of the workers’ union to represent them.

The Trump administration’s goal is to make conditions at SSA so intolerable that demoralized workers will quit in droves, taking essential institutional knowledge with them. This will directly affect the hundreds of millions of us who call SSA or visit a local field office regarding our earned Social Security benefits.

Federal workers are fighting back in the courts. Their Democratic allies in Congress are seeking to come to their aid, but they do not control the White House and Senate. The only way to protect the hard-working civil servants at the Social Security Administration, and thereby protect our Social Security and Medicare, is to make Donald Trump a one-term president.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!

The post Trump’s Labor Day Attacks on Workers appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Lunchtime Photo

Mother Jones Magazine -

I don’t have any suitable Labor Day pictures, so here’s a picture of the Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Everyone told me I had to see it, and I suppose people used to labor here, so it’s at least minimally appropriate.

The weird smoothness of the water is due to the fact that I used a long shutter speed. I normally do this for waterfalls to produce a silky look, but for some reason I felt like doing it here. The change it produced compared to a normal shot is small, but kind of interesting.

May 8, 2019 — Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

Large Blast in Afghan Capital Targets International Compound

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KABUL, Afghanistan — A large explosion rocked the Afghan capital Monday night, targeting an area home to several international organizations and guesthouses, officials said. The blast came just hours after a U.S. envoy briefed the Afghan government on plans for the first 5,000 U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan within five months’ time under a deal with the Taliban that’s been reached “in principle” but still needs President Donald Trump’s approval.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahmi confirmed that the Green Village compound was the target of the blast, which sent a plume of smoke into the night sky over Kabul. Another interior ministry official, Bahar Maher, told the local TOLO news channel that the blast was caused by a car bomb.

There was no immediate word of casualties.

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The Green Village has been a frequent target of attacks. Many foreigners live in the compound, which is heavily guarded by Afghan forces and private security guards.

The compound was also targeted by a suicide car bomber in January who killed at least four people and wounded scores. That blast also occurred when the U.S. envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, was visiting the capital to brief the Afghan government on his negotiations with the Taliban on ending America’s longest war.

Earlier on Monday, Khalilzad showed the draft U.S.-Taliban to the Afghan president after declaring that they are “at the threshold of an agreement.”

Khalilzad has met twice with President Ashraf Ghani after arriving Sunday evening from Qatar, where the ninth round of U.S.-Taliban talks ended. However, reflecting the sensitivity of the negotiations and the Afghan government’s sidelined role in the talks so far, it was not clear whether Ghani was given the draft to keep.

“We have reached an agreement with the Taliban in principle but of course until the U.S. president agrees with it, it isn’t final,” Khalilzad told the local TOLO news channel. He said that under the deal, the first 5,000 U.S. troops would withdraw within 135 days from five bases in Afghanistan. Between 14,000 and 13,000 troops are currently in the country.

Trump last week told Fox News the U.S. plans to reduce its troop presence to 8,600 and then “make a determination from there.” He has been eager to withdraw troops before next year’s election and the draft deal easily meets that deadline.

The reduction would bring troop levels down to roughly where they were when Trump took office in January 2017.

A further troop withdrawal is expected to depend on the Taliban meeting conditions of the deal, including a reduction in violence.

The Taliban are at their strongest since the U.S.-led invasion to topple their government after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, and now control or hold sway over roughly half the country.

For its part, the U.S. seeks Taliban assurances that Afghanistan will not be a safe haven for extremist groups to plan and launch global terror attacks.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks in recent months to strengthen their negotiating position. The United Nations and others say Afghan civilians have suffered, often caught in the crossfire as government forces, backed by the U.S., have pursued the militants with airstrikes and raids. Afghanistan was the world’s deadliest conflict in 2018.

Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told reporters the government would study the deal to make sure it addresses the goals of a lasting ceasefire and direct talks with the Taliban in the near future. “It will take couple of days, probably, that we will get back to them and give them our observations,” he said.

A deal on ending nearly 18 years of fighting is closer to reality, even as the Taliban attacked the capitals of Kunduz and Baghlan provinces in the north over the weekend. Violence continued in Kunduz on Monday as a suicide bomber targeted a police checkpoint and killed at least four officers and wounded 17 people, including 10 civilians, said provincial health director Esanullah Fazeli.

The Afghan government has been shut out of the U.S.-Taliban negotiations, as the militant group dismisses it as a U.S. puppet, but intra-Afghan talks that include the government are meant to follow a U.S.-Taliban deal. The Kabul government says its negotiating team is ready but refuses to say who is on it.

The Taliban want all of the estimated 20,000 U.S. and NATO forces to leave Afghanistan and already portray their departure as the insurgents’ victory.

“We are on the verge of ending the invasion and reaching a peaceful solution for Afghanistan,” the Taliban spokesman in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, said over the weekend.

A U.S. official with Khalilzad’s negotiation team recently said that “any potential peace deal will not be based on blind trust, but will instead contain clear commitments that are subject to our monitoring and verification.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

The official added that a deal would lead to “intra-Afghan negotiations where the Taliban will sit with other Afghans and together they will commit to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”

___

Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Guelph, Canada, contributed.

The post Large Blast in Afghan Capital Targets International Compound appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Here’s Why I’m No Longer Thrilled by Carbon Tax Plans

Mother Jones Magazine -

I’ve gotten a few emails asking why I’m not thrilled with the “tax-and-dividend” proposal that’s part of Andrew Yang’s climate change plan. Tax and dividend is a hot topic these days, so my skepticism probably deserves to be teased out a bit. Here it is.

Tax-and-dividend starts out with a carbon tax. In Yang’s case, it starts at $40/ton and gradually increases to $100/ton. To give you an idea of what this means in real life, it’s equivalent to a gasoline tax of about 36 cents per gallon, rising over time to 88 cents per gallon. There are three obvious things to say about a carbon tax at this level:

  • It’s pretty small. An increase of 10 percent in the price of gasoline would have a tiny effect. Even 88 cents wouldn’t do much. Nor is this just a guess: we know a fair amount about the price-elasticity of gasoline, and we know that it’s quite modest.
  • It’s a regressive tax. Obviously a flat gasoline tax hurts the poor more than the rich.
  • It affects different regions differently since the effect on electricity prices depends on how carbon-heavy your electricity is currently. In California, for example, electricity prices would likely increase by only about 50 percent because California already relies heavily on renewable sources. In the South, by contrast, the price of electricity would triple because of the region’s heavy reliance on coal. The map at the top of this post, from the Carbon Tax Center, gives you an idea of which states would probably be hardest hit by a carbon tax.

This is where I start: a smallish carbon tax would generate a lot of opposition—from anti-taxers, from advocates for the poor, from states that are hardest hit—but wouldn’t produce a big effect. It’s not clear that it’s worth it.

So maybe we make it bigger? How about $400 per ton? That would add three or four dollars to the price of gasoline and would increase the price of electricity by 10x or more. That would have an effect. Needless to say, it would also generate massive opposition. This is probably not the hill we want to die on, because die we would.

But wait. How about a middle approach? Yang proposes that we impose a carbon tax but then give back some of the money. He’s vague on how this would be done, but presumably the money would be doled out mostly to low-income families. Maybe some would also be earmarked for regions that pay an especially high price.

But now you have a different problem. The whole point of a carbon tax is to make energy more expensive so that people will use less of it. But if you just give the money back, it means people can use their dividend to offset that higher cost. They can go on using the same amount of energy as always without any pain.

Of course, there would still be middle-class and high-income people who would have to pay higher prices and wouldn’t benefit from the dividend. That’s no big deal for those with high incomes, who can absorb the modest price increase without even feeling it. So that leaves the middle class: too rich to qualify for dividends but still poor enough to feel the pinch of the carbon tax.

Is that what we want? A carbon tax that, in practice, is shouldered almost exclusively by the middle class? It’s not what I want. Not that it matters anyway: put some meat on a plan like this and Republicans will instantly start producing ads showing precisely how much it will cost real American families struggling over their real American bills at a real American kitchen table. It’s not as if you can wave your hands and hope that nobody notices. Even a modest carbon tax would be a very big political lift.

I should be clear here: this is a change in my thinking. Ten years ago I wrote a piece for Mother Jones extolling the virtues of cap-and-trade, which is basically just a variant of a carbon tax. Everything I said then is true: carbon taxes are economically efficient; they’re fairly easy to implement; they produce funding for green initiatives; and they spur technology innovation. But those were more optimistic times, a brief period when it seemed like people were finally taking climate change more seriously and Barack Obama’s charm might be able to put a deal over the finish line. Needless to say, that’s not what happened.

What happened instead was that hard-hit states in the South and the Midwest rebelled. Obama himself had other, higher priorities. The bill got larded up with exceptions and subsidies for every interest group you can think of. And then it failed anyway.

What I failed to pay enough attention to was basic politics. Politically, the key to any climate change policy is simple: it’s all about pain vs. effectiveness. You definitely want to support policies that are low-pain but highly effective. You might want to support policies that are high-pain but also highly effective. But high-pain combined with only modest effectiveness? That’s a killer. The public just won’t support it, no matter how convinced the rest of us are about its righteousness. You should run away.

So that’s where I am with carbon taxes. From a white-paper point of view, they’re great, but from a real-world point of view they just don’t cut it. Progressives won’t support a regressive tax so they fiddle with it. But in fiddling with it they make it less effective. Then states that would be heavily hit get in on the action and demand some concessions of their own. The Senate being what it is, there’s no choice but to cave in. Special interests chime in and get some concessions. Negotiations bring the original tax rate down a few notches. By the time you’re done there’s not much left. You’ve got a smallish incentive and a large group of middle-class voters who are pissed off. It’s quite possible that when it’s all said and done, you could end up with a carbon tax that accomplishes little and produces less net support for climate change action than you had going in.

Now, my analysis could be wrong. I’m wide open to opposing arguments. But I fundamentally think that if progressives truly want to fight climate change, we need to focus on initiatives that produce low pain but have the potential to be highly effective. That’s not easy. But nobody ever promised that it would be easy.

The Era of Cheap and Abundant Clean Energy Is Just Around the Corner

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US and European researchers have shown the way to an era of cheap and plentiful renewable energy on a massive scale.

Canadian scientists have worked out how to extract pure, non-polluting fuel from spent or unexploited oil wells at a fraction of the cost of gasoline.

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And British and Danish scholars have worked out that, in principle, Europe could generate enough onshore wind energy to supply the whole world until 2050.

Neither technology is likely to be exploited on a massive scale in the very near future. Wind energy development depends on national and local decisions, and the new study is a simple atlas of possible sites across the entire continent.

And although hydrogen is already driving trains, cars and buses in many nations, the technology is still essentially experimental and the infrastructure for a hydrogen economy has still to be built.

“The study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe”

But both are instances of the sustained ingenuity and imagination at work in research laboratories and institutions as scientists confront the challenge of a world no longer dependent on the fossil fuels that drive global heating and the climate emergency.

The technology that can take hydrogen straight from existing oil reserves was presented at an international geochemistry conference in Barcelona and depends on university-patented technology now being developed by a scientific start-up.

In essence, the bedrock becomes the reactor vessel for a high-temperature reaction involving hydrocarbon molecules and water: oxygen-enhanced air is pumped downwards at the wellhead and injected deep into a reservoir of tar, bitumen or oil to begin a process that raises subterranean temperatures.

At 500°C the hydrocarbons fracture, and a patented system intelligently locates the hydrogen and filters it: the carbon stays in the ground.

“What comes out of the ground is hydrogen gas, so we don’t have the huge, above-ground purification costs associated with oil refining: we use the ground as our reaction vessel.

Steep cost cut

“Just taking Alberta as an example, we have the potential to supply Canada’s entire electricity requirement for 330 years,” said Grant Strem, of Proton Technologies, which is to commercialise the process at – the technology’s begetters say – a cost per kilo of hydrogen of between 10 and 50 cents. This is a fraction of the cost of gasoline extraction.

Hydrogen is in theory the ideal fuel: the visible universe is made of it. The only product of its combustion with oxygen is water. It is already being exploited as a battery fuel: surplus solar and wind power could be used to split water and store hydrogen as a reserve for electricity generation.

Researchers have proposed a hydrogen-powered bicycle, engineers have calculated that hydrogen could replace the world’s natural gas supplies in the next 30 years, and designers have even proposed a safe global bulk carrier hydrogen delivery system by automaton airships more than 2kms long.

Wind power, by contrast, is now a highly developed technology that is already advanced in Europe and the US, and, like solar power, it could supply national grids almost anywhere in the world.

One of the bigger remaining questions is: what is the right place to put a battery of wind turbines? European scientists report in the journal Energy Policy that the ideal of a European grid powered entirely by renewables is now within the collective technological grasp.

Hundredfold increase

A new map based on wind atlases and geographic information identifies 46% of the land mass of the continent that would be suitable for wind turbine generation. If all such space were exploited, the turbines could amplify the existing onshore wind supply a hundredfold and could generate energy equivalent to roughly a megawatt for every 16 European citizens.

That adds up to more than 11 million additional turbines over 5 million square kilometres in large parts of western Europe, Turkey and Russia.

“Our study suggests the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector,” said Benjamin Sovacool, of the University of Sussex in the UK, one of the authors.

“Obviously, we are not saying that we should install wind turbines in all the identified sites, but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe.”

The post The Era of Cheap and Abundant Clean Energy Is Just Around the Corner appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Some Deaths, 34 Missing in California Boat Fire

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OXNARD, Calif. — As many as 34 people are feared dead after a dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast, according to the Coast Guard.

Five crew members who jumped off the dive boat Conception were rescued, and Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll told The Associated Press the Coast Guard was searching for others who may have been able to escape the same way.

He added, however, that they were feared dead. Two of the crew suffered minor injuries, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney.

Capt. Brian McGrath of the Ventura County Fire Department confirmed some deaths to The Associated Press but said he could not give an exact number.

“Right now they’re conducting shoreline searches for any available survivors,” Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester told reporters at a brief news conference at Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard.

“The crew was actually already awake and on the bridge and they jumped off,” she said, adding they were rescued by a good Samaritan vessel called The Grape Escape.

Asked if the crew tried to help others aboard, Rochester said, “I don’t have any additional information.”

A woman who came to the harbor said, “My son was on that boat.” She was led away by a Ventura County firefighter.

Rochester said the 75-foot (20-meter) commercial scuba diving vessel was anchored in Platt’s Harbor, about 20 yards (18 meters) off the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island, when the fire ignited around 3 a.m.

She said the vessel sank in 64 feet of water, adding its bow is still visible above the waterline.

The Conception was on the final day of a Labor Day weekend cruise to the Channel Islands when the fire erupted.

“At 3:15 this morning the Coast Guard overheard a mayday call. The call was garbled, it was not that clear, but we were able to get some information out of it to send vessels on scene,” Barney said.

Rochester said that call indicated the boat was already fully ablaze.

The Conception was operated by Worldwide Diving Adventures, a respected Santa Barbara-based company that says on its website it has been taking divers on such expeditions since the 1970s.

Asked if the boat operator has a history of any violations, Rochester said, “The vessel has been in full compliance.”

The National Transportation Safety said it is sending a team to investigate.

The Conception had departed at 4 a.m. Saturday with plans to return at 5 p.m. Monday.

Divers sleep in a single room of bunk beds, according to a diagram of the Conception posted on the website for Truth Aquatics, the Santa Barbara company that owns the ship.

The website says the vessel, launched in 1981, has rafts and life jackets for up to 110 passengers and exits on the port, starboard and bow that provide “easy water entry.”

The trip promised multiple opportunities to see colorful coral and a variety of marine life.

___

Associated Press Writers John Antczak, John Rogers and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this story.

The post Some Deaths, 34 Missing in California Boat Fire appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Hurricane Dorian Triggers Massive Flooding Across Bahamas

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FREEPORT, Bahamas — Hurricane Dorian unleashed massive flooding across the Bahamas on Monday, pummeling the islands with so much wind and water that authorities urged people to find floatation devices and grab hammers to break out of their attics if necessary.

The fearsome Category 4 storm slowed almost to a standstill as it shredded roofs, hurled cars and forced even rescue crews to take shelter until the onslaught passed.

Officials said they received a “tremendous” number of calls from people in flooded homes. A radio station received more than 2,000 distress messages, including reports of a 5-month-old baby stranded on a roof and a grandmother with six grandchildren who cut a hole in a roof to escape rising floodwaters. Other reports involved a group of eight children and five adults stranded on a highway and two storm shelters that flooded.

Forecasters warned that Dorian could generate a storm surge as high as 23 feet (7 meters).

Police Chief Samuel Butler urged people to remain calm and share their GPS coordinates, but he said rescue crews had to wait until weather conditions improved.

“We simply cannot get to you,” he told Bahamas radio station ZNS.

On nearby Abaco Island, Parliament member Darren Henfield said he received reports of deaths but officials had not been able to confirm them.

Meanwhile in the United States, the National Hurricane Center extended watches and warnings across the Florida and Georgia coasts. Forecasters expected Dorian to stay off shore, but meteorologist Daniel Brown cautioned that “only a small deviation” could draw the storm’s dangerous core toward land.

By 2 p.m. EDT Monday, the storm’s top sustained winds fell slightly to 150 mph (240 kph). It was crawling along Grand Bahama Island at just 1 mph (2 kph).

The water reached roofs and the tops of palm trees. One woman filmed water lapping at the stairs of her home’s second floor.

In Freeport, Dave Mackey recorded video showing water and floating debris surging around his house as the wind shrieked outside.

“Our house is 15 feet up, and right now where that water is is about 8 feet. So we’re pretty concerned right now because we’re not at high tide,” said Mackey, who shared the video with The Associated Press. “Our garage door has already come off. … Once we come out of it with our lives, we’re happy.”

On Sunday, Dorian churned over Abaco Island with battering winds and surf and heavy flooding.

Henfield described the damage as “catastrophic” and said officials did not have information on what happened on nearby cays. “We are in search-and-recovery mode. … Continue to pray for us.”

A spokesman for Bahamas Power and Light told ZNS that there was a blackout in New Providence, the archipelago’s most populous island. He said the company’s office in Abaco island was flattened.

“The reports out of Abaco as everyone knows,” spokesman Quincy Parker said, pausing for a deep sigh, “were not good.”

Most people went to shelters as the storm neared. Tourist hotels shut down, and residents boarded up their homes. Many people were expected to be left homeless.

On Sunday, Dorian’s maximum sustained winds reached 185 mph (297 kph), with gusts up to 220 mph (354 kph), tying the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to make landfall. That equaled the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, before storms were named. The only recorded storm that was more powerful was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 190 mph (305 kph) winds, though it did not make landfall at that strength.

The Bahamas archipelago is no stranger to hurricanes. Homes are required to have metal reinforcements for roof beams to withstand winds into the upper limits of a Category 4 hurricane, and compliance is generally tight for those who can afford it. Risks are higher in poorer neighborhoods that have wooden homes in low-lying areas.

Dorian was likely to begin pulling away from the Bahamas early Tuesday and curving to the northeast parallel to the southeastern coast of the U.S. The system is expected to spin 40 to 50 miles (64 to 80 kilometers) off Florida, with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 35 miles (56 kilometers) to the west.

An advisory from the hurricane center warned that Florida’s east-central coast could see a brief tornado sometime Monday afternoon or evening.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an order Sunday for the mandatory evacuation of his state’s entire coast. The order, which covers about 830,000 people, was to take effect at noon Monday, at which point state troopers were to make all lanes on major coastal highways one-way heading inland.

“We can’t make everybody happy, but we believe we can keep everyone alive,” McMaster said.

A few hours later, Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, ordered mandatory evacuations for that state’s Atlantic coast, also starting at midday Monday.

Authorities in Florida ordered mandatory evacuations in some vulnerable coastal areas. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned his state that it could see heavy rain, winds and floods later in the week.

A hurricane watch was in effect for Florida’s East Coast from Deerfield Beach north to Altamaha Sound in Georgia. A storm surge watch was extended northward along the Georgia coast to the Savannah River. Lake Okeechobee was under a tropical storm watch.

Weekend traffic was light in Florida despite the many evacuation orders, unlike during the chaotic run-up to Hurricane Irma in 2017, when the unusually broad storm menaced the entire state.

___

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press writers Tim Aylen in McLean’s Town Cay, Seth Borenstein in Washington and Michael Weissenstein in Havana contributed to this report.

The post Hurricane Dorian Triggers Massive Flooding Across Bahamas appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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