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Woodley 1012wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)Shailene Woodley, star of The Fault in Our Stars and the Divergent series, was arrested Monday morning while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in Sioux County, North Dakota.

Woodley was streaming live on her Facebook page Monday during a peaceful protest at Standing Rock. The protest was in response to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Monday that lifted a temporary injunction on the pipeline, allowing construction to resume.

The actress and environmental activist was trying to head back to her RV to go back to camp, when she noticed it was surrounded by police and a riot vehicle. As she approached her RV, she was stopped by police dressed in riot and military gear. After speaking with them, she was told on camera that she was being arrested for criminal trespassing. A spokesman for the Morton County Sheriff's Department said she was also arrested for engaging in a riot. Her mother was with her at the time.

When she asked why she was being arrested and no one else, and whether it was because people know who she is, the officer who appeared to be in charge said it was because she was identified.

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 07 October 2016 07:48

Is the Media to Blame for Climate Inaction?


Heat 1007wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)For years climate reporting had two strands: climate science got more alarming as we got closer and closer to exceeding various warming thresholds, and climate diplomacy and public policy were a relatively unbroken saga of disappointment and delay.

The media flocks to bad news, conflict, grid-lock, failure. Both strands of the pre-2014 climate story nourished this appetite. Since 2014, however, the climate story grew more complex, hopeful—but harder for the media to summarize. Greenhouse gas concentrations continue to grow at an alarming rate; projections of the risks of these concentrations become steadily graver, more bad news. So this week we were told that the planet was hotter than it has been in the last 100,000 years.

Current climate commitments fall far short of what is needed to avoid catastrophe—which causes concerned observers to argue that the world is not taking the problem seriously.

But on the solutions front, progress is accelerating. Climate diplomacy and public policy are not only galloping ahead at an unprecedented speed, their pace is increasing. We are in danger of not realizing that.

The media doesn't know how to cover a story that is headed in two directions, so it's unlikely that this week will be reported as a huge turning point in the fight for climate protection—but it was.

Published in Guest Commentary


praying in hell 1 opt(Photo: Courtesy of Rev. Billy Talen)Last summer, in Prospect Park near our Brooklyn home – two park workers sprayed a fire hydrant near a playground where our daughter Lena climbs monkey-bars for hours on end.   I walked up to the truck and saw Monsanto boxes ripped open in the back of their pickup.  One of the workers was pouring RoundUp into a white plastic barrel. That was the one who talked to me. His voice had a raw, low sound like he was saying confession. He began to recite a list of the organic herbicides that he wished he was using but wasn't.

The nano-commons around and within our bodies and our children's bodies is a dumping ground for corporate poison.  Some of us are vaguely aware of this molecular-level world. We have read a few summary sentences at the top studies that link Monsanto's RoundUp to non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and other cancers, endocrine and immunity disruptions and birth defects.

The pollution that we cannot touch, see or smell does show itself this way: illness in ever-younger victims.  We have found from our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed with dozens of cities and towns – that the location of spraying is frequently near ball-fields, schools and park playground. Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to glyphosates and the "inert" chemicals in the RoundUp mix, which help the toxin bind to target plants. Target plants!

The Glyphosates of Monsanto are banned throughout much of the world, like Bayer's Neonicotinoids. The mass-killing of beloved honeybees and songbirds by that powerful neuropath, a more lethal version of nicotine – has aroused a nightmare in the public mind. And now here comes Neonicotinoid and Glyphosate, the Big Merger. The communities that make these two famous toxins are joining up, the older company buying the newer one, in the biggest cash buy-out in history. Bernie Sanders called the merger, "A marriage made in Hell."

Published in Guest Commentary


TrumpSimper 0921wrp opt(Photo: Gage Skidmore)There was a time – and it wasn’t all that long ago -- when “compassionate conservatism” was a bellwether term for conservatives. While some conservatives argued that they were always compassionate, Team George W. Bush made a special effort to emphasize the meme in the 2000 presidential election, going so far as to use it as a campaign slogan. In reality, however, “compassionate conservatism” never really translated itself into public policy – save for a deeply flawed faith-based initiative -- as such issues as income inequality, poverty, gay rights, and racial inequities, never rose to preeminence in the eight years of Bush – and fact were the subject of regressive policies. Nevertheless, in the late nineties, and early two thousands, “compassionate conservatism” was on the table as a political slogan. This of course was before the Obama administration, the Tea Party, the alt-right, and Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party. In 2016, “compassionate conservatism” has morphed into “cutthroat conservatism.”

Over the past several decades, especially since the founding of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, and its subsequent rise as a powerful political force, conservative Christian evangelicals have played a significant role in presidential elections. While many on the Religious Right were less than satisfied with either Senator John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012 and stayed home, those that did turn out to vote, basically closed ranks around both candidates.

The Pew Research Center pegs the number of born-again evangelical Christian American at around the 60 million mark.

This year, however, has witnessed a sort of breaking of the ranks amongst conservative evangelical leaders over whether to support Trump, and concomitantly encourage the troops to work for his election. Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, the nation’s most high-profile evangelical college, was an early and enthusiastic Trump supporter. Popular evangelist Paula White and James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family are also on board the Trump train. On the other side, Michael Farris, a longtime conservative activist and home schooling advocate, isn’t convinced, and has steadfastly refused to endorse Trump, despite receiving a personal visit from Pence.

Published in Guest Commentary


Bradley 1003wrp opt(Photo: Brody2786)Just before Election Day in November 1982, according to most polls, Tom Bradley, the first African American mayor of Los Angeles, appeared poised to become governor of California. Despite leading in the polls, Bradley lost the election to Republican George Deukmejian. Instead of becoming the first African American governor of California, Bradley became the namesake of something called The Bradley Effect.

The Bradley Effect -- also known as The Wilder Effect -- proposed that voters that said they would vote for the African American candidate were either too embarrassed, or ashamed for fear of being labeled racist, to admit to pollsters that they wouldn’t vote for a Black man as Governor.

According to Ballotpedia, “A related concept is social desirability bias, which describes the tendency of individuals to ‘report inaccurately on sensitive topics in order to present themselves in the best possible light.’ According to New York University professor Patrick Egan, ‘Anyone who studies survey research will tell you one of the biggest problems we encounter is this notion of social desirability bias.’ Some researchers and pollsters theorize that a number of white voters may give inaccurate polling responses for fear that, by stating their true preference, they will open themselves to criticism of racial motivation.”

While most of the above appear to apply particularly to elections where African Americans are facing off again white candidates, this year’s presidential election may contain some of those same dynamics. Some pundits are claiming that a Bradley Effect-like situation might be in play with voters who support Donald Trump, but are un-willing to admit it to pollsters.

Published in Guest Commentary


Breadline 1003wrp opt(Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)There are at least three major American ​obstacles​ that are too entrenched in our society to undergo change with anything less than ​a revolutionary program.

Corporations Continue to Ignore Their Responsibility to Education

The Wall Street Journal says, "Many workers who were laid off in recent decades...don’t have the skills to do today’s jobs. An Apple executive recently lamented, "The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need."

But opportunities for young people have diminished as corporations have rejected their obligation to society. Public colleges and universities have suffered major cuts in funding over the last ten years, while the largest American corporations have avoided hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes by stashing their profits overseas.

Corporate leaders blame government, they blame society, they blame the poor for their own misfortunes. But they don't acknowledge their responsibility to pay for the people and research provided by higher education, especially during the technological boom of the 1990s. Instead they seem to agree with Donald Trump about skipping out on taxes: "That makes me smart." Higher education is one of the main victims of this narcissistic way of thinking.

Published in Guest Commentary


InFrack 0930wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the state's controversial Act 13 is unconstitutional, calling it a special law that benefits the shale gas industry. The massive Marcellus Shale formation, which underlies a large area of Western Pennsylvania, provides more than 36 percent of the shale gas produced in the U.S.

The Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 13 in 2012 and it was almost immediately challenged by seven of the state's municipalities along with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and a private physician. The onerous law enabled natural gas companies to seize privately owned subsurface property through eminent domain, placed a gag order on health professionals to prevent them from getting information on drilling chemicals that could harm their patients, and limited notification of spills and leaks to public water suppliers, excluding owners of private wells that supply drinking water for 25 percent of Pennsylvania residents. Act 13 also pre-empted municipal zoning of oil and gas development.

"The decision is another historic vindication for the people's constitutional rights," stated Jordan Yeager, lead counsel on the case representing the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Bucks County municipalities on the case. "The court has made a clear declaration that the Pennsylvania legislature cannot enact special laws that benefit the fossil fuel industry and injure the rest of us."

On Dec. 19, 2013, the state Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling on the grounds that the law violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. That ruling returned local zoning rights to municipalities. It also ordered the state Commonwealth Court to reconsider other provisions. The ruling by the Supreme Court issued Wednesday addresses those rulings and should end the litigation.

Published in Guest Commentary


Tigers 0928wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)In legal tiger farms across China, some 6,000 caged cats are kept in filthy conditions and will be killed for dubious medicinal uses and as home decor for the country's newly-rich elite. The sordid business is mostly legal, but hides behind carefully-worded agreements and pretensions of conservation. The issue is expected to be addressed at this week's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Johannesburg.

It is estimated that 60 percent of China's 1.4 billion people use so-called traditional medicines made from tiger bones, rhinoceros horn, bear gall bladder and other exotic animal parts. As China has grown in recent decades, creating a larger middle class and many newly rich entrepreneurs, demand for tiger parts has grown.

"The use of endangered tiger products and their medicines is seen as a symbol of high status and wealth," states Tigers in Crisis.

China signed on to CITES, but maintains about 200 tiger farms, where tigers are bred to serve this growing market. Claiming that these tiger parts are for domestic consumption, and therefore not subject to the treaty on international trade, China also defends the tiger farms as a captive breeding program that actually helps the species.

However, in 1993, China banned trading in tiger bone, and a 1988 wildlife law that purports to protect endangered species sets forth a policy of "actively domesticating and breeding the species of wildlife."

Published in Guest Commentary
Wednesday, 28 September 2016 06:44

Jim Hightower: Laboratories of Democracy


Lab 0928wrp opt(Photo: Tweenk)In a 1932 dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis noted that the benefit of America's federal structure is that "a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."

During my two terms as Texas Agriculture Commissioner, I was lucky enough to get the chance to put the Brandeis proposition into practice. There, we succeeded in establishing a broad network of farmers markets, providing state certification and labeling for organic products, promulgating comprehensive pesticide protections, creating food marketing co-ops, encouraging farmers to grow high-value nonconventional crops (from apples to wine grapes), financing and developing locally-owned ag processing facilities, opening the doors of corporate-controlled commerce so small farmers and food artisans could sell their products in supermarkets and even in international markets, and promoting both water conservation and the use of renewable energy sources, Brandeis' "laboratory" realized!

But — oops — meet unintended consequences of Brandeisian theory: The gaggle of small-minded, far-right extremists who've grabbed the levers of gubernatorial power and established notoriously regressive regimes in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Kansas, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Arizona, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Texas. These governors share an uncanny uniformity in the policies (written by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC) they push and the political language they use — as if operating from a common plan, advancing the same duo of governmental goals:

— To increase the power and profits of the corporate interests that put up the campaign cash that keep the governors in office by delivering subsidies, no-bid contracts, special tax breaks, regulatory benefits, etc.

— To knock down working-class and poor people by such despotic actions as suppressing voter turnout, destroying unions, bashing immigrants, militarizing police forces, slashing education budgets, corporatizing government programs, cutting human services for the needy, holding down wages, using theocratic piety to invade women's bodies and rights, and autocratically pre-empting the democratic authority of activist citizens and local governments.

Published in Guest Commentary
Monday, 26 September 2016 07:50

Readers Want News, Not Fluff


Type 0926wrp opt(Photo: Willi Heidelbach)The New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch tabloid publication that isn’t likely to win a Pulitzer Prize anytime soon, splashed a full page picture of a smiling Jennifer Anniston on its Sept. 21 front cover. In the upper left-hand space it placed all-capitals text: “BRANGELINA 2004–2016.” Inside the Post were four full consecutive pages, and a half page and part of a column deeper in the newspaper, all devoted to one of the most critical social issues facing the country—Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are getting a divorce.

People magazine put the multi-million dollar couple on its cover, and teased us with the text: “WHY SHE LEFT” and “THE REAL STORY.” US magazine had an “EXCLUSIVE.” ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX NEWS, MSNBC, and NBC evening newscasts all devoted air time to the divorce. “Entertainment Tonight,” “TMZ,” dozens of entertainment-fueled TV programs, Reuters and AP news services, hundreds of daily newspapers and countless online blogs all had coverage of the epic event. The news also dominated the social media, especially Twitter and Facebook.

Barely covered that day by the establishment media was in-depth coverage and analyses of President Obama’s speech the day before at the United Nations general assembly. Also lightly covered was a petition to the UN Human Rights Council by the Standing Rock Sioux sovereign nation to halt construction of a $3.8 billion 1,150 mile pipeline that would not only disturb that nation’s sacred burial grounds and could possibly pollute the Missouri River, but would be built on ground seized by eminent domain by Energy Transfer Partnersof Dallas, Texas.

Why there was negligible coverage of public affairs issues and maximum coverage of a celebrity divorce is based upon economics and poor business practices.

Media profits, once running anywhere from 5 to 30 percent, depending upon the medium, declined significantly in the Great Recession during the last two years of the Bush–Cheney administration. Businesses significantly cut their advertising budgets; consumers stopped subscriptions.

Published in Guest Commentary
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