Truthout Stories Sun, 01 Feb 2015 06:44:32 -0500 en-gb You've Heard of Hip-Hop, but What About Krip-Hop?

You've heard of hip-hop, but what about krip-hop? That's the name for the international movement of disabled artists, poets, musicians and MCs.

On this edition of Making Contact, we hear the story of krip-hop from hate mail to worldwide phenomenon.

Leroy Moore, co-founder of Krip Hop Nation, poet, activist, journalist;
Joy Elan, poet

Opinion Sat, 31 Jan 2015 14:07:13 -0500
Pentagon Finally Identifies the Remains of a POW Lost Since 1942

Missing overseas for 73 years, an American POW who perished in World War II is finally going home.

Last week, the Pentagon officially identified the remains of Pvt. Arthur "Bud" Kelder, who died as a Japanese prisoner in the Philippines in 1942. After the war, the U.S. government buried him and thousands of others as "unknown" soldiers in a war memorial cemetery there.

The identification is vindication for Kelder's family, who had discovered evidence of which gravesite contained Kelder's remains and then spent years trying to persuade the Pentagon to investigate. John Eakin, Kelder's cousin, finally sued in late 2012.

ProPublica and NPR wrote about Eakin's struggle last year as part of an investigation into the Pentagon's failing efforts to find and identify long-lost MIAs like Kelder. Our investigation found that the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command was mired in problems, failing to embrace the latest science and paralyzed by poor management. Infighting, overlapping bureaucracy, and excessively risk-averse policies also contributed to meager results. On average the Pentagon has identified just 72 men a year out of the tens of thousands missing from Vietnam, Korea and World War II—despite spending about $100 million a year to do the job.

After our investigation last March, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced sweeping changes. Advocates are watching closely to ensure that those changes are more than superficial bureaucratic shuffling.

In August, the Pentagon also reversed course on Kelder's case, finally agreeing to exhume the grave that the family believed contained his remains of Kelder and those of nine other soldiers to identify with DNA. Eakin had used historical and medical documents to track down the location of Kelder's remains after he died at the Cabanatuan prisoner camp.

Meticulous records kept by the POWs themselves show that Kelder's body had initially been buried at the POW camp in common grave 717. After the war, the U.S. military dug up the common graves. The government identified four of the 14 men from grave 717 and sent them home to their families for burial. But it was unsuccessful in identifying Kelder's remains as well those of more than 900 others from the camp. They were all re-buried as "unknowns." Eakin figured out that Kelder was likely in a grave labeled as unknown "X-816."

Eakin said it's been an emotional rollercoaster since he got word about the official identification.

"It's relief and anger that it has taken this long, and at the same time we know that we have to start planning a funeral," Eakin told ProPublica. "Maybe the worst part is knowing that the government doesn't care and isn't doing this for the right reasons. They simply want the lawsuit to go away."

The Army casualty office plans to formally present the family next month with the evidence that led to the identification. However, at this point, Eakin is unsatisfied with the government's work. He doesn't dispute the identification but rather how much of Kelder's remains will be returned to the family.

The Pentagon has identified pieces of Kelder's skull, his left humerus, right fibula, and left tibia. Eakin is concerned that more of Kelder's skeleton could be identified but the Pentagon is avoiding doing so because it would reveal that past identifications from grave 717 were incorrect.

Last summer, when the government exhumed Kelder and the other nine remains associated with grave 717, they found bones from at least 11 people, not just the 10 they expected.

The Pentagon has not said yet whether any of the other men exhumed this summer have been identified.

Kelder won't be formally checked off the MIA list until the family accepts the identification, said Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Should the family accept the identification, Kelder will be buried in the family plot outside Chicago.

News Sat, 31 Jan 2015 13:53:36 -0500
Progressive Policies Are Popular - So Why Should Democrats Be Afraid of Them?

CNN's post-speech discussion of Barack Obama's State of the Union address included anchor Wolf Blitzer's reaction to colleague Jake Tapper's view that the president had outlined a liberal economic agenda. Blitzer's analysis illustrates the logic behind corporate media's longstanding efforts to dissuade politicians from advocating for progressive policies:

TAPPER: Of course, most of the speech, the body of the speech, was a very progressive, very liberal economic message about trying to help the middle class.... [It] was about new tax cuts, about the $3,000 per child per year, paid sick leave or paid maternity leave, raising the minimum wage, lowering the cost of community college to zero.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say, had he put forward all these new initiatives before the midterm elections–was afraid to do so, because he feared it could hurt Democrats who were up in a tough reelection or election season. As a result, he didn't do any of those things before the midterms, but now after the midterms, [with] two years to go, he feels emboldened, almost liberated, ready to move on with these new very progressive or very liberal initiatives.

According to Blitzer, policy proposals such as paid sick leave and maternity leave, an increased minimum wage and free community college are all liabilities to pragmatic Democrats concerned with winning elections–which explains Obama's reticence prior to November's midterm elections. However, public opinion polls show widespread support for those measures, including, in many cases, from Republican voters.

A CNN poll (6/9/14) found 71 percent of the public supporting an increase in the minimum wage, including a majority of Republicans and conservatives. In November, voters in the Republican-leaning states of Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Alaska passed ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage by large margins (Huffington Post, 11/4/14).

A HuffPost/YouGov poll (6/20/13) found that 74 percent of the US public supports requiring companies to offer paid sick leave to their employees; paid maternity leave garnered 61 percent approval. In a number of recent polls, the idea of free community college received majority support (The Hill, 1/20/15)–one poll found that more Republicans favored the measure than opposed it, rather remarkable given that the idea was only recently popularized by President Obama himself.

So it's not voters' preferences that, in Blitzer's words, "could hurt Democrats" facing elections. A likelier reason is election funding. Political scientists Walter Dean Burnham and Thomas Ferguson observed that politicians largely depended on financing from economic elites (AlterNet, 12/18/14) in what were probably the most expensive midterms in history (Washington Post, 10/22/14)

The president and the Democratic Party are almost as dependent on big money–defined, for example, in terms of the percentage of contributions (over $500 or $1,000) from the 1 percent–as the Republicans. To expect top-down, money-driven political parties to make strong economic appeals to voters is idle.

In the context of low-turnout elections largely financed by economic elites, policies such as minimum wage increases and paid sick leave, which force financial concessions from the wealthy, do indeed "hurt Democrats." It is in part this conflict that explains high-profile Democrats' lack of advocacy on those measures. As The Atlantic reported (6/18/14), "Hillary Clinton isn't against federally mandated family leave–she just doesn't think it's politically feasible":

"I think, eventually, it should be [implemented]," Clinton said at CNN's town-hall meeting Tuesday to promote her new book, Hard Choices. But she immediately qualified her position: "I don't think, politically, we could get it now."...

A bipartisan poll conducted on behalf of the National Partnership for Women and Families, a pro-leave group, just after the 2012 election, found that 86 percent of Americans supported leave–including 96 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans. The poll inspired new hope that President Obama might take up leave in his second term.

Instead–vindicating Clinton's opinion that leave is politically impossible right now–the issue has all but disappeared.

Although congressional Democrats had crafted the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which provided employees with 12 weeks of paid leave, President Obama did not endorse the bill (The Week, 6/27/14). The Washington Post (6/23/14) found that "five and a half years after taking office, Obama has no proposal on the table for paid family leave."

Now that Barack Obama faces Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, Blitzer characterizes the president as "liberated" and "emboldened" to stake out a policy agenda that is now safely off the table. Policies that promote economic justice, which are broadly popular, are considered divisive within the corporate media until they're rendered impossible. Then media pundits can wink at one other about how politicians are shrewdly courting voters with agendas they cannot possibly fulfill.

And what does it look like when politicians heed the corporate media's call for bipartisanship? Obama's full-throated advocacy for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in his State of the Union is one example. The highly secretive, pro-corporate trade agreement threatens to exacerbate the very inequality that the president sought to highlight in his speech, and is opposed by leading economists and many top legislators of own party (Huffington Post, 1/20/15, 1/21/15).

In an article headlined "Poll Finds Agenda Gap Between Leaders, American People," the Wall Street Journal (1/21/15) noted President Obama's priority of signing the trade deal was met by a public "virtually yawning at the prospect." Only 20 percent considered it an "urgent priority," the paper noted.

Thomas Ferguson offered a simple commentary on this agenda gap (Real News Network, 12/27/14): "You've been running these sort of big money-driven elections for quite some time, and it's policy disappointment that's driving down the voter turnout." A far better strategy, he suggested, would be "to do something for the population instead of the 1 percent."

If politicians were to ignore corporate pundits and instead energized otherwise-apathetic voters with an actual commitment to popular policies, they would offer a solution to voters' yawns.

Opinion Sat, 31 Jan 2015 13:27:24 -0500
Young Navajos Stage 200-Mile Journey for Existence

At dawn on January 6, 2015, a group of young Diné (Navajo) women and their supporters gathered at sunrise near the fire department at the base of Dził Na'oodiłii (Huerfano Mountain). From there the group embarked on a 200-mile trek through eastern New Mexico—a tribute to the 150th anniversary of the tragic "Long Walk." Throughout this journey they have been raising awareness about the historical and present day challenges faced by Diné people and inspiring hopeful solutions to address these issues.

Idle No More Communications volunteers have been in contact with some of the walkers and will feature images and reflections from their powerful walk in the next grassroots newsletter. Keep reading to learn more about the beginning of their journey.

Organizers are calling out for community support in the form of walking, hosting or helping to garner basic materials. This first journey will end at Tsoodził (Mount Taylor), their southern sacred mountain. Three more walks are scheduled for spring, summer and fall so that each of their four sacred mountains is visited. The walkers intend to cover more than 1,000 miles in 2015.

The commemorated event occurred in 1864 that Colonel Christopher "Kit" Carson – under the command of General James Carleton – enforced a merciless, scorched earth policy to bring Diné people into submission. During this time nearly 9,000 Diné and 500 Mescalero Apache men, women, children, and elderlies were marched at gunpoint for 300 miles to a small patch of arid land known as Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. Many perished along the way.

During their four-year internment at this reservation "experiment"—known in Diné as Hwééldi or "the place of suffering"—hundreds died due to starvation, illness and physical violence. In 1868, high costs of rations and soldier commissions caused the federal government to disband the experiment and release them back to Diné Tah, the Navajo homeland.

"We are walking to honor the resiliency of our ancestors who 150 years ago were forced to march hundreds of miles in the dead of winter on a genocidal death march," says Dana Eldridge, one of several female organizers of the walk. "They sacrificed and suffered so much so that we could live within these four sacred mountains. So we're walking to honor them."

According to the organizers, the walk is not simply a re-enactment of The Long Walk, but their return to a traditional lifestyle.

"It's something that people don't do anymore. We have the convenience of vehicles. But walking an entire journey is something that's revolutionary in a way," says young organizer Nick Ashley of Gallup, New Mexico.

"Our ancestors walked so that we could be here on our homeland singing, dancing and praying the songs they did. But now everyone is chasing the American Dream and neglecting our homeland, our language and way of life," says Kimberly Smith of St. Michaels, Arizona.

Several Diné elders, including Larry W. Emerson, think present day problems might be due to an abandonment of self: "One purpose of the walk might be for us to come back into ourselves via our traditional knowledge—into our homes, families, relations, communities and earth-sky knowing. Ké and k'é hwiindzin—to be conscious of our interdependent relationships based on compassion, love, and nurturing—are vital to our survival and we cannot come home to ourselves without these vital teachings. [We] offered several teachings [to the walkers] that might address the practice of coming home to ourselves, including some prayer songs."

According to organizers, land-based prayer is an important part of their journey. "Everything we do is a prayer to return to our original selves," says Laura Red Elk of Pueblo Pintado, New Mexico. "The mountains were our original naat'áanii [leaders] before IRA governments or the tribal council. Since our government is failing to protect us, we are returning to our original leadership by letting the mountains determine how we walk on the land."

Organizers and their elders have chosen to name their movement as "Nihígaal Bee Iiná" or "Our Journey for Existence." Due to the widespread presence of uranium, coal and gas extraction throughout Diné Tah, organizers feel that their environmental situation has reached a boiling point.

"One hundred and fifty years ago our ancestors stared their extinction in the face. And today, we young people are staring our extinction in the face. Our home will become an unlivable toxic wasteland if nothing is done," Eldridge said.

According to the EPA, nearly 4 million tons of uranium have been extracted from Diné Tah since 1944. With over 500 abandoned uranium mines throughout the region, both homes and water sources are contaminated with high levels of radiation.

Additionally, over 20,000 tons of coal are strip-mined from Diné and Hopi lands every day by Peabody Coal Company alone. This coal feeds Navajo Generating Station, rated by the EPA as the highest emitter of toxic nitrous oxide in the country.

Organizers forecast that the next major threat is the onset of a boom in natural gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing—a process now banned in the state of New York.

Navajo Generating Station, one of three major power plants in the area (Wikimedia)
Navajo Generating Station, one of three major power plants in the area (Wikimedia)

Erin Konsmo of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network in Alberta, Canada, says that resource extraction is not only a threat to the environment: "Some of the highest rates of missing and murdered women are in the tar-sands extraction areas. This is related to worker's camps and the lack of jurisdictional protection for women on tribal lands." Organizers state that the heavy presence of extractive industries is having a similar effect on Diné women.

"We give life and we nurture life just like the land does. Our traditional leadership structure is matrilineal because we are the spinal chord of society, the first teachers of the children. We are journeying back to our original selves including our responsibility as women to protect the land and take care of it," says Red Elk.

"It's all the more reason for this walk to be led by majority women. As traditional caretakers of the land, their physical presence is in and of itself a resistance to resource extraction," comments Konsmo.

Weekly paychecks for Diné miners and generator operators are a constant reminder of their economic dependence on the fossil fuel industry. Walkers hope to raise awareness about self-sufficiency as an alternative to the extraction economy. They will disperse heirloom corn seeds to communities along the way and speak on the importance of food sovereignty and self-reliance.

"We are being told to invest in our own destruction in the name of the economy," says Eldridge. "People say we need these jobs, but we don't. To take care of ourselves it will take a tremendous amount of work, but it is a beautiful dream and it is so possible."

Organizers are urging others to join them, especially Diné people, for all or part of the walk.

Smith encapsulates the spirit of the walk by saying, "We have to go back to where the wisdom is embedded. We have to reintroduce ourselves to those places. It is our inherent right and responsibility. The uplifting that our people need is there. We want to bring it back for our people, we want to honor our elders, our children and most importantly, we want to honor the earth."

For more information on "Our Journey for Existence," contact

News Sat, 31 Jan 2015 13:10:24 -0500
Mourners for Black Queer and Trans Lives Attacked by Castro Bar

"We are here because the gay community has been silent. We need you in the streets with us. We honor the lives of murdered black trans women and queers."

These were the words that Toad Hall, a bar in San Francisco's Castro District, chose to silence this Saturday. These were the words that provoked a white bar patron to hurl a trashcan at a group of queer and trans people of color.

This group of queer and trans people of color, supported by white allies, had taken to the bars and the streets to challenge mainstream gay communities and organizations to take action against anti-Black racism. The Castro, specifically, is known for being hostile to queer and trans people of color, perpetuating anti-black racism through its cultural norms and practices. Similarly, mainstream gay organizations continue to align themselves with white, middle-class experiences at the expense of their most marginalized community members. And despite having radical roots in the struggles of queer and trans people of color, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, mainstream gay organizations continue to de-center race and racism from their work. Except when it is convenient and profitable, that is.

We entered Toad Hall and the SF Badlands Bar to invite the mostly white clientele of these bars to join us in affirming that Black Lives Matter. Instead, we were met with unabashed hostility. We chose Toad Hall because of its history of displacing Black gay community from the Castro. Wearing red for blood—red for STOP—we held photos of murdered Black trans women and queers next to flameless candles and led a ritual of mourning. Forming a circle in the middle of the dance floor, we looked outward to face the bar patrons whom we wanted to challenge, speak to, and move. In the faces of the crowd, we saw a sea of mixed responses— ambivalence, rage, compassion, confusion, and discomfort.

"Toad Hall, which side are you on? Whose lives matter? Black lives matter!"

We began to chant the message we came to share. The DJ gave us the middle finger and cranked up the music to an ear-splitting level. The energy shifted. It became tense. Our bodies and voices were taking up necessary space. Our presence was threatening the bar management's complicity with histories of racism in the Castro. Our words were unsettling the leisure of Toad Hall patrons who have through inaction been complicit with a society that condones state-sponsored violence against Black lives.

As we called out the mainstream gay community's complicity with white supremacy and transphobia, we experienced violence and aggression. Things escalated over the course of the ten minutes we were on the dance floor. What began as micro-aggressions, such as turning up the music, turned into physical violence and verbal attacks. Bar patrons yelled derogatory names. Someone threw a glass. Doors slammed. Finally, a white bar patron hurled a large trashcan into the center of our circle, hitting two of us in the back and on the head.

We wanted to mourn. We wanted to draw connections between the radical history of the Castro and current struggles for Black liberation. We wanted to reveal how silence and complicity align with state-sanctioned violence against Black queer and trans people. And it was clear Toad Hall was not on the freedom side. Our presence revealed the deep rifts between the movement for queer and trans people of color liberation—which is intimately entwined with the broader struggle for Black liberation—and white mainstream gay communities.

The hostility we faced has not deterred us. We will continue to make space for our mourning and resistance. And we will continue to challenge white-dominated LGBT institutions to recognize their role in this movement along the way.

Whether or not you are able to join actions in the streets, join us in this effort by signing our open letter to LGBT organizations nationwide. Our letter stands next to other nation-wide efforts to put pressure on mainstream LGBT organizations to take concrete action against anti-black racism. And while some mainstream LGBT organizations have publically offered their condolences and support for Michael Brown and his family, these gestures are not enough. We need LGBT organizations to be committed to challenging anti-black racism and violence in every aspect of their work; we need LGBT organizations to be invested in a movement in which all Black lives matter.

News Sat, 31 Jan 2015 12:09:59 -0500
Dispatch From Sundance: "How to Change the World"

A ragged band of Canadians took a fishing boat into the frigid waters of the North Pacific Ocean in 1971 to try to stop a nuclear weapons test on the island of Amchitka. With that action, they started the environmental group Greenpeace and, in addition to saving many a whale, revolutionized political activism and advocacy journalism.

Greenpeace crew aboard the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace boat. (Photo: crew aboard the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace boat. (Image:

Long before Twitter's Arab Spring images helped topple governments or Al Gore's laser pointer alerted us to the earth's spiraling temperatures, a ragged band of Canadians took a fishing boat into the frigid waters of the North Pacific Ocean in 1971 to try to stop a nuclear weapons test on the island of Amchitka. With that action, they started the environmental group Greenpeace and, in addition to saving many a whale, revolutionized political activism and advocacy journalism.

How to Change the World, a new documentary directed by Jerry Rothwell, tells that history with reams of archival footage, first-person interviews, and narration using the words of the deceased activist/journalist Robert Hunter, a guiding force of the organization. The film, like the subject it covers, is not candy-coated; it includes the foibles of these pioneers who erred along the way, especially when they succeeded. This past week, the documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where Rothwell discussed How to Change the World over email.

Tom Roston: Why did you get involved in this subject?

Jerry Rothwell: A project I was doing involved me doing research in the Greenpeace archives and I realized there were multiple old cans of 16mm shot on the original campaign boats that had pretty much not been opened for 40 years. I'm really interested in the way groups and movements grow, and Greenpeace went from a few people in a boat in 1971 to a global organization by 1978. So I started wondering how much that footage could tell the story of the group; a few individuals who had a massive impact on defining the modern environmental movement and methods of protest. That took me to the books of Robert Hunter about that period in Greenpeace's history. Hunter's books are a searingly honest, and often comic, take on events, and they provided me with a narrative shape for the film.

Roston: Have you ever been politically active?

Rothwell: Yes, in my youth I was involved in nuclear disarmament and other activist groups and I guess I see all my filmmaking as political, in the broadest sense of the word.

Roston: You co-directed the superb Deep Water, which follows a man's misadventures at sea. Are you drawn to maritime tales or is this just a coincidence?

Rothwell: I think it's a coincidence. Both films were made without really getting wet. But the sea is obviously a great space for cinematic stories — a boat is a hothouse for drama between people or between an individual and nature.

Roston: The dynamic between activism and journalism is embodied by the life of Bob Hunter. Which do you think is more effective at changing the world? Have you had to reconcile the two in your career? How?

Rothwell: Hunter went from being a journalist to becoming an activist and the leader of a movement. I think by that time, for him, journalism was secondary to the larger purpose of the environmental movement. For me, I don't set out for my films to have a campaign message or a call to action, which I think diminishes their meaning and relevance. I'm interested in the kind of filmmaking that draws an audience into a complex story, where they have to make their own judgments about what forces are at work in the story (and in the world), and how to respond to them when they leave the cinema. You have to analyze, empathize with and understand a situation before you can act, and I think that's the role of cinema. Films on their own don't change things, until people take action as a consequence of them.

Roston: Could you describe what you consider to be one of the greatest accomplishments of Greenpeace? And one of its greatest failures?

Rothwell: I think without Greenpeace's work in the 1970s many species of whale would be extinct. The moratorium against whaling in 1982 was achieved directly because of the way the early whale campaigns had changed global consciousness about whales. It drastically reduced the number of whales being killed from the 7000 a year quotas of the time, which were pushing species towards extinction.

I guess a failure is that it has created a model of protest that superficially seems over-biased towards capturing images. In fact, Greenpeace has always campaigned upon many fronts — through political lobbying, mass media and direct action. But in the public mind, the power of the images it created in the '70s might leave us to believe that 'bearing witness' is enough.

Roston: I am no fan of spoilers but it may be better for viewers to know before they see the film that you don't refer to the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior. Why?

Rothwell: The Rainbow Warrior bombing by the French secret service happened in 1985. My film takes place between 1971-78 (with an epilogue about what some of the individuals involved have done since) — so, as historians say, the bombing, though great drama, was 'not my period.'

Roston: Your inclusion of interstitial titles ("Fear success"), along with the title of the film, suggest you are giving directions to today's activists, whether they're Occupy Wall Street types or climate change activists. Is this film a how-to guide for today's activists?

Rothwell: No. The title is a little tongue in cheek, as are the interstitials, drawn from Bob's writings, which act as chapter headings. I think there's a lot to learn from the early Greenpeace experience but the film isn't intended to be a how-to guide. It's an exploration of one attempt to effect change by a small group of people and of the impact of their success on the people in that group and their relationships.

Roston: Could you compare how today's media landscape has either amplified or minimized grassroots activism since the birth of Greenpeace?

Rothwell: Whereas Greenpeace in the '70s was focused on capturing single images (for example, of people risking their lives to save a whale from a harpoon) which would be networked around the world on television, I don't think it's possible for an image to have the same impact in today's media landscape, because of the sheer quantity of images we are subjected to. Our tool today has to be the network rather than the image and our ability to create and share ideas, data, opinions and images across those networks to mobilize them is more where the power lies.

Roston: Is the Greenpeace organization involved in any way in the film? What is its take on it?

Rothwell: Greenpeace was hugely helpful in allowing us to access its archive from the 1970s. But part of our agreement with them was that they had no editorial control over the film (or funding of it). We couldn't have financed the documentary if funders had thought it was a Greenpeace promotional piece. It's critical of Greenpeace in parts, though I think overall audiences are inspired by what the founders of Greenpeace achieved.

Roston: Are you optimistic about the current state of climate change and our hopes of curtailing it?

Rothwell: It's hard to be optimistic, because of the political inertia in dealing with the problem, and the set of interests aligned against changing the way we do things in order to protect the climate. In the end, we won't have any choice but to act, but the later we leave it, the more chaos and human suffering will be caused.

Roston: If you have any of the activists who are in the film nearby with you at Sundance, would you mind having them answer the following: what's one of the biggest misperceptions of the birth of Greenpeace and does this film help correct that?

Emily Hunter (Daughter of Robert Hunter): That it was male dominated; there were a lot of women behind the scenes... The film shows the crucial roles of Carlie Truman and Bobbi Hunter, two of the early women activists in the group.

Bobbi Hunter: I think we were looked upon as hippie rabble-rousers, but the reality was that we were all accomplished people in out own right — doctors, lawyers, scientists, journalists, etc.

Here's a clip from the film that shows how the crew consulted the I Ching before going out to sea in search of the Russian whalers.

Opinion Sat, 31 Jan 2015 11:58:26 -0500
Say It Ain't So

What should sports fans do when our heroes turn out to be frauds?

Maybe you grew up watching Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire breaking home run records, as I did, only to find out that they (and just about everyone else in professional baseball) had been using performance-enhancing drugs.

Perhaps you also remember the 2000 Spanish Paralympics basketball team. Ten of the 12 members of the team feigned mental disabilities to win gold medals in a sports scandal that will likely go down as one of the most depraved and insidious in history.

Further back, maybe you even watched the point-shaving scandal of the 1978-'79 Boston College basketball team unfold.

Even if you don't like sports, you've probably heard about "Deflategate."

NFL officials recently found that the New England Patriots' game footballs were inflated to levels below the league's required minimum during a 45-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts. That win sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

Under-inflated footballs are easier for quarterbacks and running backs to grip and for wide receivers to catch, especially in cold weather. By letting a little air out of the balls that only they used, someone in the Patriots' organization (yet to be determined) gave them a little boost.

Given the score, that maneuver almost certainly didn't impact the final outcome of the game.

But this scandal raises an even more troubling question than if the cheating had been more flagrant: Is there any length to which certain players, coaches, and administrators won't go to gain an unfair advantage?

This isn't even the first major Patriots' scandal of the decade, after all.

Whether it's George Brett violating regulations for smearing pine tar on baseball bats, or Rosie Ruiz jumping out of the crowd to "win" the 1980 Boston Marathon, it seems like there's no corner that can't be cut.

Fans and players alike tout "love of the game" as the primary motivator for athletes. But playing fair and square has become an exception rather than the rule.

So, league officials and regulators in all sports must tackle this quandary: Will they crack down on cheating once and for all in the name of fair play?

The sports community is standing at a fork in the road. Which path they choose will speak volumes about their priorities.

One is a system that works tirelessly to enforce rules and create accountability so that everyone has a fair shot and nice guys don't always finish last.

The other looks more like professional wrestling, where fans understand that the game is rigged from the get-go. It's entertainment, not sports.

As a lifelong sports fan, I want to believe that championships are rewarded to those who played the best, not who cheated the best.

Opinion Sat, 31 Jan 2015 11:47:21 -0500
Texas Town at Center of Latest Earthquake Swarm Questions Fracking Impact

January has been a shaky month for Irving, Texas. Twelve earthquakes rattled the city during a 48-hour period at the end of the first week of the new year.

"It was very scary. I was at my job on the 4th floor in a cubicle surrounded by glass," Tonya Rochelle Tatum, a loan specialist who works in Irving, told DeSmogBlog. "One quake seemed like it lasted five minutes. No one knew what to do."

The earthquake swarm shows no sign of stopping. On January 21, five more quakes struck.

The quakes are relatively small, all of them registering under 4 on the Richter Scale. None has caused significant damage to property or resulted in bodily harm — but that hasn't stopped people from worrying about their personal safety and property.

A Dallas suburb, Irving sits atop the Barnett Shale, a geologic formation rich in natural gas. Seismic activity is not something the region is known for, and the fact that the earthquakes are now in the news has many fearing their home values will drop.

Residents want to know what is causing the quakes, the likelihood they may increase in size and if anything can be done to stop them. A public meeting held January 21 by city officials to address the earthquakes and other issues overflowed the 250-person capacity of the Irving Arts Center.

"Everywhere they're fracking they have earthquakes," someone in the audience yelled out, according to the Dallas Morning News.

As in Oklahoma, where over 400 quakes rattled the state last year, officials had no answers for anxious residents and no plan of action. Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne simply reminded residents that there hasn't been fracking in Irving for years and that the city had never permitted wastewater to be injected underground.

Crack that opened in a home in Edmond, Oklahoma after an earthquake hit. (Photo: ©2014 Julie DermanskyCrack that opened in a home in Edmond, Oklahoma after an earthquake hit. (Photo: ©2014 Julie Dermansky

However, earthquakes do not respect municipal boundaries, and fracking industry activities — including the use of waste disposal wells, where wastewater from fracking sites is injected at high pressure into wells deep underground — is commonplace throughout the region surrounding the Dallas-Fort Worth metro center.

Texas Railroad Commission Refuses To Investigate

Earthquakes began in the Barnett Shale region only after the start of the fracking boom in 2008. Seismic activity has been reported in Arlington, Fort Worth, Cleburne and the Azle area, where last year they experienced an earthquake swarm.

The Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, came up with new rules for wastewater injection wells in October 2014. However, the regulators don't believe there is scientific proof the wells have caused the earthquakes, rejecting a moratorium on their use in the Azle area, which was called for by some citizens.

The Commission decided not to investigate the seismic activity around Irving, according to StateImpact Texas, although spokesperson Ramona Nye says the Commission is monitoring the situation. "Specifically, there are no disposal wells in Dallas County, and there is only one natural gas well in the vicinity, and it is an inactive well," Nye said.

If approved, the latest budget proposal by Joe Strauss, Republican Texas Speaker of the House, would fund a "TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program" at the University of Austin. The program would improve Texas' seismic monitoring network and help get to the bottom of what is causing the surge in earthquakes.

Tonya Rochelle Tatum and Kyev Tatum outside the Harmony Missionary Baptist Church. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Tonya Rochelle Tatum and Kyev Tatum outside the Harmony Missionary Baptist Church. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Tatum has no doubt that the quakes are being caused by the fracking industry. Her husband, pastor and civil right activist Kyev Tatum, has been doing community outreach on the consequences of fracking for years. The Fort Worth church they worship in has cracks they believe were caused by seismic activity.

Pastor Frank Douglas Lawson Sr. points out a crack in the wall of his church that opened after the fracking started. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Pastor Frank Douglas Lawson Sr. points out a crack in the wall of his church that opened after the fracking started. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Irving sits above dormant fault lines. "Wherever we live, there are faults in the earth, so there is always a risk of earthquakes," Brian Stump, a Southern Methodist University seismology professor, told Fox News. He is part of a team tasked with determining whether the earthquakes in Irving are the result of the fracking industry or natural events. Stump concedes that wastewater disposal can trigger small earthquakes, but the question of the cause of the quakes in Irving is still open.

"It is not a good sign we are having this many earthquakes at this frequency," Mohamed Veya, a software engineer who works in Irving, told DeSmogBlog. Whenever he feels a quake, he confirms it on the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) site. He is waiting to see what the USGS concludes the cause to be before passing judgment.

Concerns About Quakes In Oklahoma

The U.S. Geological Survey has not yet determined if the Irving quakes are industry related, either, but has stated that wastewater injection into deep geologic formations is a likely contributing factor to the increase in seismic activity.

The phenomenon known as "injection-induced seismicity" has been documented for nearly half a century, according to the USGS. In a recent report, the agency warned that the chances of a magnitude 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma are rising due to the increasing seismic activity.

Already this year, 65 quakes over magnitude 3 have rattled Central Oklahoma, according to the tally kept by Stop Fracking Oklahoma. Concerns about the quakes are increasingly raised by residents.

A motion to ban oil and gas drilling in some parts of Stillwater was considered at a recent council meeting, but ultimately the council was split on rezoning an area to prevent mining activity including oil and gas.

Meanwhile, politicians in Oklahoma have introduced a new bill that would eliminate home rule to prevent municipalities from banning any facet of the fracking industry. Home rule gives municipalities control over zoning, and has been citied as a legal argument in fracking bans passed in New York State.

Anti-fracking Oklahoma activist Angela Spotts at a fracking industry site near her home on the outskirts of Stillwater, Oklahoma  (Photo: ©2014 Julie Dermansky)Anti-fracking Oklahoma activist Angela Spotts at a fracking industry site near her home on the outskirts of Stillwater, Oklahoma (Photo: ©2014 Julie Dermansky)

"The new bill shows they are scared of us because our numbers our growing," Angela Spotts, Oklahoma homeowner and one of the founders of Stop Fracking Payne County," told DeSmogBlog.

Almost no one Spotts meets has any doubt the fracking industry is the cause of the quakes. However, many of these same people are unwilling to speak out since they or their family members work in the oil and gas industry. The same is true for those living in the Barnett Shale region in Texas.

Pastor KyevTatum, an anti fracking and civil rights activist next to a fracking site in Fort Worth Texas. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Pastor KyevTatum, an anti fracking and civil rights activist next to a fracking site in Fort Worth Texas. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Pastor Tatum has no doubt that the quakes are connected to the fracking industry, either. Referring to those in the area unwilling to make the connection, Tatum says, "It is like you are in a bad relationship that you know is bad but you just don't do anything about it. God is a simple god. He made nothing complicated. We have made it complicated, so when you mess with his earth you cause things to happen." Twelve earthquakes in less than 48 hours is his proof.

News Sat, 31 Jan 2015 09:31:48 -0500
Shut It Down Now! Former Nuclear Plant Technician Bob Rowen on Nuclear Power

Bob Rowen was a Humboldt PG&E IBEW 1245 nuclear control technician at the power plant. He talks about being a control technician at the plant and what happened when he began to stand up for health and safety as a whistleblower. His fight to protect the workers and the community cost him his job when he raised health and safety concerns and he along with another nuclear control technician Forrest Williams were retaliated against and illegally terminated. He also recounts an effort to set up a criminal conspiracy frame-up by PG&E to charge him with planning to blow up the plant and a false document was sent to the FBI to blacklist him throughout the country to prevent him from working in any other nuclear plant in the US. He also reports on the role of his union IBEW 1245 and the media when a reporter from NBC Donald Widener tried to cover the story and was retaliated against by PG&E in actions that destroyed his career.

Rowen has written a book about his struggle called My Humboldt Diary: A True Story of Betrayal of the Public Trust, Nuclear Power at Humboldt Bay.

News Fri, 30 Jan 2015 12:12:03 -0500
"It Started as Just a Hope": Robert Redford on Founding the Sundance Film Festival

We speak with director, actor and Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford about the festival’s history, now celebrating its 31st anniversary. Sundance is now among the largest film festivals in the country, with some 50,000 attendees. However, it looked very different when it began more than three decades ago. "The first year, there was maybe 150 people that showed up. We had one theater, maybe 10 documentaries and 20 films, and now it’s grown to the point where it’s kind of like a wild horse," Redford says. We also discuss the festival’s efforts to promote women, people of color and young people — on both sides of the camera. This comes as the latest "Celluloid Ceiling" report from researchers at San Diego State University has found men directed 93 percent of the 250 highest-grossing films of 2014. Women directed just 7 percent, a decrease of 2 percent compared to 1998.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have a film, Robert Redford, that is premiering here at the Sundance Film Festival, and that’s pretty rare for you. I mean, you’re constantly—

ROBERT REDFORD: It’s very rare. Wasn’t my idea.

AMY GOODMAN: —premiering in Hollywood.

ROBERT REDFORD: It wasn’t my idea.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about this film that—well, you were supposed to do this with Paul Newman?

ROBERT REDFORD: Once upon a time, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And you chose the person who most reminded you of Paul Newman to replace him?

ROBERT REDFORD: No, no, it was originally—look, the history of this project goes back about 14 years—that’s how far—right after 2000. When I read the book by Bill Bryson, I literally laughed out loud, and I saw it as a possible third picture for Paul and I to do, because it had the same—it had the same tone, but a different environment. So I thought, "Well, that would be good." But then, as time went on, getting a script, that took a long time; getting a director, that took a long time; and then Paul’s health declined. And so, pretty soon it was obvious that he couldn’t do it. He said, "I can’t do it."

So the first thing that came to my mind was Nick Nolte, because I think that Nick—Nick and I are roughly the same age. I think we started—I personally think he’s a good actor, and I think he’s smart. He’s really interesting. Maybe a little undisciplined, but that’s sort of what makes it fun. So, he and I, I think, had very similar backgrounds when we were both young. I was—I was off the rails when I was young, and I pulled it together.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you pull it together?

ROBERT REDFORD: I just got—I came back from Europe. I went to Europe to study art, and it was a dark period. And I came back, and I decided I really needed to focus on a healthier life, got married, had children, started a career. That’s what did it.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we talk more about the film, mentioning Paul, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it’s where you got the name for this festival?

ROBERT REDFORD: Well, yeah. I did not want it. I didn’t want it. I thought it was too self-serving. And so, the group that I was involved with, we were looking for a name for the area. And Sundance came up, and I said, "Well, it’s a great name, but I don’t want to use it, because it looks like it’s self-serving, because of the film." They said, "Well, it’s just a great name. It’s just a great name," and tried to use all kinds of reasons why it should be used. "If you get up to the top of the mountain, the sun dances on the snow." And I said, "Ugh, I don’t think it’s a good idea." But I was outvoted. I think it is a great name. I was just afraid of there being too much association, that I was looking to capitalize on the film. I said, "What if the film is a disaster?"

AMY GOODMAN: Can you believe that the Sundance Film Festival is 31 years old?


AMY GOODMAN: Do you think of it as one of your children?

ROBERT REDFORD: You know, it’s interesting. I think of it—because it started—it was a big idea back in 1985. It was a big idea with a small start, because there was no support. There was only one theater in Park City. Sundance, the place, is not here in Park City; it’s 40 miles away, higher up in the mountains, tucked away. It’s where our lab programs are. That’s where the development process is. That’s where our nonprofit, Sundance Development, for the documentaries and the film and the theater and so forth, music. Park City works out for us because they have something we need, which is theatrical distribution capability, and we give them something they need, which is a venue to attract people. So, the first year, there was maybe 150 people that showed up. We had one theater, maybe 10 documentaries and 20 films. And now it’s grown to the point where it’s kind of like a wild horse. I can’t begrudge it. I mean, that was the dream. It started as just a hope. Then, when it became a reality, it started to have its own momentum.

AMY GOODMAN: And the point of it? Since you certainly, you know, have great acclaim in Hollywood, you didn’t need another venue, as all the creative ways you participate in the film industry, as director, as an actor. So why Sundance? You had it made.

ROBERT REDFORD: Well, it wasn’t so much about me. It was what I saw happening with the industry. During the '60s and ’70s, particularly during the ’70s, studios controlled film. And in those days, many studios would allow smaller films to be made under their banner. And I was very fortunate because some of the stories that I wanted to tell, about the country that I grew up in, went into the gray area. You know, during the Second World War, which is my first memory, it was a lot of red, white and blue. You know, we were—there were a lot of slogans, and we were supporting the soldiers off to war. I had family that was in the war, family that had died in the war. So when it was over, there was such a lot of propaganda about what a wonderful country we were to have this and to have that. I thought, it is a great country, and I'm pretty lucky to live in it, but as I grew up and heard slogans like "It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, but it’s how you play the game," and I realized that was a lie. Everything mattered, just if you won or not. And I realized that this was a country that is very much about winning.

And so, I decided I wanted to make a—I wanted to make a film about what I would call the grayer area of America, where it’s more complex, issues are more complex. So, the first one was Downhill Racer. And I was able to do that because I was doing a larger film at Warner Bros. And then The Candidate. I wanted to do a film about—back in 1970, that said we elect people not by substance, but by cosmetics, and it’s how you look, and that had a lot to do with it. And I wanted to make that point—a person not at all qualified, but he looked like he was, but he wasn’t. And so, it was about that. And then other films about the American West, the settling of the American West by mountain men, then All the President’s Men. So those were films that I was allowed to make if I was doing a larger film.

But then it changed. In 1980, the industry began to be more centralized, and they were following the youth market, because that’s where the money was, which I understand. But it looked like it was going to be at the expense of some of those other films that were more about the humanistic side of cinema, stories about America, American way of life, complex stories. And so, in my mind, I thought that was very valuable. I thought that’s a wonderful use of film. You can have the big blockbusters. You can have—with technology coming along, creating more special effects possibilities, you knew that they were going to use that, and that’s great. But I felt it was going to be at the expense of giving up those other kinds of films, so that’s what led to Sundance.

And I thought, "Well, what if we can start a development process where young artists can have a voice, but we can help them develop their skills so they can at least get their films made?" That was the labs that started in 1980. Then, once that happened and we started a development process at Sundance, suddenly we realized that we were helping them develop their skills so that they could get their films made, but there was nowhere to go, because the mainstream had not allowed any space for them. And that led to the idea of a festival. So, originally, it was just an idea that maybe we can have a community of filmmakers coming together and share each other’s work. And maybe if we were lucky, somebody will come, and somebody else will come.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about diversity in all sorts of ways. There’s a big discussion at Sundance in promoting women, for example, in the film industry—

ROBERT REDFORD: Very much so.

AMY GOODMAN: —on both sides of the camera. One of the women who talks about how important Sundance has been in her life is Ava DuVernay. In 2012, she won best director, the first African-American woman to win best director. That was—

ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah, she’s on our board.



AMY GOODMAN: And now the controversy over Selma. I mean, she has been nominated—the film, for best film, for the Oscars. As for best director, she didn’t get it. David Oyelowo did not get nominated for best actor. And it led to this hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite. And many have cited the 2012 survey conducted by the L.A. Times that found Oscar voters are 94 percent white, 76 percent male and an average age of 63 years old. Your thoughts about this?

ROBERT REDFORD: I’m older than that. That’s my first thought. I don’t occupy myself with what the Academy is doing or what its criteria is. I’m a member of the Academy, but I don’t really occupy myself with what its thinking is, because if it gets controversial, I don’t know that I know enough about what prompts it. I do believe in diversity. I think diversity is healthy. I think diversity in film is really healthy. And I remember—

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the Academy needs to diversify?

ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah, I do, yeah. I think it’s only healthy. I mean, there was a while when you didn’t have any women directing. Now you have women stepping up, which I think is really important. I think the future would be quite well—do quite well with focusing on women and young people. I think the youth of tomorrow, I think we need to spend time thinking about them, particularly on the environment. You know, if we’re going to be polluting this planet, what are we doing for the new generation? What are we giving them to work with? And the same thing in film. You know, young people have new ideas, and you want to create space for them to develop. And women, I think, have a lot to bring [inaudible]. The country needs more nurturing, that’s for sure.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Robert Redford, Oscar-winning director, actor, environmentalist, founder of the Sundance Film Festival, now in its 31st year. I spoke to him Wednesday night here in Park City, Utah. Here at Sundance in 2013, for the first time, women directed 50 percent of films in the U.S. dramatic competition. That stands in stark contrast to Hollywood, where women filmmakers actually appear to have lost ground over the last 17 years. The latest "Celluloid Ceiling" report from researchers at San Diego State University found men directed 93 percent of the 250 highest-grossing films of 2014. Women directed just 7 percent, a decrease of 2 percent compared to 1998. Again, that was 17 years ago. Sundance alumni Laura Poitras, director of Citizenfour, and Gillian Robespierre, director of Obvious Child, and Ava DuVernay, director of Selma, were among just 17 women directors whose films broke into the top 250 highest-grossing films this past year. When we come back, we speak to Robert Redford about his new film here at Sundance, A Walk in the Woods. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: That’s "Glory" from the film Selma. The song sung by John Legend and Common has been nominated for an Academy Award. The film Selma has been nominated for best film.

News Fri, 30 Jan 2015 11:42:51 -0500