AuthorTopic: Knarf's Knewz Channel  (Read 1873166 times)

Offline knarf

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« Reply #30 on: August 28, 2014, 01:48:24 PM »


We are in the early stages of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, according to a study from Stanford University. And while previous extinctions have been caused by natural planetary transformations or asteroid strikes, it seems that humans may be responsible for this one.

Biologists have drawn a chilling connection between the decline of animal populations and the knock-on effects it could have on human health – with risks including plague epidemics in densely populated areas.

Up to 33% of all vertebrates species are estimated to be threatened or endangered globally. Now a team of scientists, led by Stanford biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo, has revealed how, through a complex chain of cascading effects, human lives in large numbers could be at stake if we don’t ensure the survival of these animals.

“We tend to think that extinction is a phenomenon that will affect a particular population,” says Dirzo, who coined the term ‘defaunation’ describing the decline of animals as a consequence of human impact. But if one animal population is driven to local extinction, the effects on the ecosystem could scale up all the way to a global level, the scientist warns.

Experiments conducted by Dirzo and his colleagues in Kenya have studied how the absence of large animals such as zebras, giraffes and elephants impacts on the ecosystem. They observed that rather quickly, affected areas will be overwhelmed with rodents as seeds and shelter from grass and shrubs become more easily available and the risk of predation drops.

Consequently, the number of rodents doubles – as does the number of disease-carrying ectoparasites they harbour. Many of the pathogens the researchers found on the rodents in Kenya pose a threat to human health, including the bacteria that cause plague.

This could cause a disastrous chain of effects, particularly in densely populated areas, says Dirzo. “Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission.”

So what can we do to prevent an apocalyptic scenario of human populations being eradicated by rodents carrying the plague?

Defaunation is driven directly by hunting, poaching and illegal trade of animals and indirectly by changes in land use, which can reduce or isolate natural habitats, preventing native species from maintaining healthy populations. In an earlier study Dirzo and colleagues estimated that 50% of all mammal species could be placed under serious risk of extinction in the next 200 years.

Finding a solution is tricky, the scientist admits. Immediately reducing rates of habitat change and overexploitation would help. But these approaches need to be tailored to individual regions and also need do address rural poverty which often drives hunting, poaching and illegal trade.

While reforestation projects are already working to reverse the catastrophic effects of declining rainforests, Dirzo says we need to create a similar process of ‘refaunation’ – the restoration of endangered animal species and their habitats.

Clearly, such a process will take time and significant changes in human habits and activities. But maybe the awareness that the ongoing mass extinction will not only affect large, charismatic animals but could also wipe out human populations will provide the incentive to spur change.

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Offline JRM

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Re: Knarf's Knewz Channel
« Reply #31 on: August 28, 2014, 02:09:24 PM »
Unless we reverse trajectory on the anthropogenic climate catastrophe, all other efforts to save Earth species (biodiversity) will be rather pointless. But, if we should get a handle on the climate situation, we'll certainly be needing to do all else we can do to help save the many, many endangered species and habitats.
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The U.S. Southwest Could Soon Experience Decades-Long "Megadroughts"
« Reply #32 on: August 28, 2014, 02:38:02 PM »
By George Dvorsky 8/28/2014

During the 1930s, America's High Plains were ravaged by an 8-year long drought, resulting in the dreaded Dust Bowl. Scientists now warn that, owing to global warming, this could happen again — and that by next century many parts of the world could experience "megadroughts" lasting for several decades.

The new study, which was conducted by Cornell University, the University of Arizona, and U.S. Geological Survey researchers, used climate model simulations and paleoclimate data to predict that the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decade-long drought is at least 50%. The analysis suggests that the risk is at least 80%, and possibly as high as 90%, in certain areas.

Frighteningly, the chances of a megadrought — one that lasts up to 35 years or more — ranges from 20% to 50% over the next century. And the risk of an unprecedented 50-year megadrought was assessed at 5% to 10%, but under the most severe warming scenarios.

A Preview of the Future

Indeed, portions of the United States could already be in the early stages of a prolonged drought. As of August 12th, most of California is in the midst of an exceptional D4 drought — the most severe category.

Other areas of the U.S., including Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, are currently experiencing a substantially less severe category D1 moderate drought. According to lead author Toby Ault, climatologists aren't sure whether the severe western and southwestern drought will continue, but "with ongoing climate change, this is a glimpse of things to come. It's a preview of our future," he noted in a Cornell statement.

Related: Just How Bad Is California's Drought? Here's A Scary, 10-Second Answer | California's terrifying drought, summed up in two satellite images

Worse Than Anything Seen in the Past 2,000 Years

Megadroughts do happen, but not very often — about every 400 to 600 years or so. Australia recently suffered a "Big Dry" period, as did sub-Saharan Africa. Back in the 1150s, a megadrought struck the Colorado River area. But these events fall within the "natural" period; owing to the advent of the anthropocene era and the cumulative influence of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, drought models are now in a state of flux.

The models suggest that California, Arizona, and New Mexico will face severe drought conditions, while the chances for drought in parts of Washington, Montana, and Idaho are likely to decrease.

It's difficult to predict what a 35-year-long drought would look like, but it's safe to assume that it would be tremendously disruptive. It could spark a mass population migration on a scale never before seen in the United States — one that would dwarf the Dust Bowl conditions of the 1930s. It's important to note, however, that antiquated farming practices contributed (in-part) to the dust storms. But a drought that lasts for nearly 40 years — as opposed to eight — is an order of magnitude greater than what was experienced back in the 1930s.

"For the southwestern U.S., I'm not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts," said Ault. "As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven't put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought conditions."

The researchers say that the West and Southwest must look for mitigation strategies to cope with the dreaded prospect, including better ways of using and preserving water.

"This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years and would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region," he said.

Related: This Map Reveals Where Our Future Water Wars Will Begin

Around the World

Needless to say, the U.S. is not the only country at risk. The climate models suggest that southern Africa, Australia, and the Amazon basin are also vulnerable to megadroughts.

Owing to increased temperatures, drought severity will worsen, "implying that our results should be viewed as conservative," the study concludes.

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« Last Edit: August 28, 2014, 02:40:13 PM by knarf »
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Tierney Smith 8/28/2014

Climate change is here, man-made and already having dangerous impacts, according to leaked drafts of the upcoming UN climate science report.

The leaked IPCC report warns it is increasingly likely the world will shoot past this point, and that limiting warming to within this level would require dramatic and immediate cuts in carbon pollution.

The 127-page final draft of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows the effects of global warming are already being felt across all continents and the oceans.

It warns that further emission rises will increase the likelihood of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

The report will be a synthesis of the IPCC’s three comprehensive reports released in the past year, which examined the science of climate change, its impacts and potential mitigation options.

The report will be finalised after governments and scientists go over it line-by-line at a meeting in Copenhagen in October.

The leaked report, which has been circulated to several media outlets, shows temperatures have already increased by 0.85°C since 1880—a more rapid shift in the climate than that which heralded the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago.

The report mentions several impacts that could “already be considered dangerous” including extreme weather including heat waves, flooding and drought and rising sea levels.

It also raises the risk that climate change and its impacts could worsen violent conflicts and refugee problems, hinder efforts to grow more food and threaten public health.

Ocean acidification, which comes from the added carbon absorbed by the oceans, could also harm marine life, the draft warns.

“Climate change risks are likely to be high or very high by the end of the 21st century” without sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it says.

It is hoped the new report will focus minds ahead of the global UN climate talks to take place in Lima, Peru in December, where governments are expected to lay the groundwork for the crucial Paris Summit in late 2015.

It is here where countries have agreed to finalise a new global treaty on climate change.

In 2009, countries had agreed to set a goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C—the international agreed danger threshold for climate change.

However, the leaked IPCC report warns it is increasingly likely the world will shoot past this point, and that limiting warming to within this level would require dramatic and immediate cuts in carbon pollution.

Without action to limit the levels of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, it warns temperatures could increase by 2°C by mid-century compared to 1986 to 2005.

But the end of the century, that scenario could bring temperatures that are 3.7°C warming, it warns.

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The Biggest Tax Scam Ever: How Corporate America Avoids Billions in Taxes
« Reply #34 on: August 29, 2014, 05:07:49 AM »
The Biggest Tax Scam Ever: How Corporate America Parks Profits Overseas, Avoiding Billions in Taxes

As Burger King heads north for Canada’s lower corporate tax rate, we speak to Rolling Stone contributing editor Tim Dickinson about his new article, "The Biggest Tax Scam Ever." Dickinson reports on how top U.S. companies are avoiding hundreds of billions of dollars by parking their profits abroad — and still receiving more congressionally approved incentives. Dickinson writes: "Top offenders include giants from high-tech (Microsoft, $76 billion); Big Pharma (Pfizer, $69 billion); Big Oil (Exxon­Mobil, $47 billion); investment banks (Goldman Sachs, $22 billion); Big Tobacco (Philip Morris, $20 billion); discount retailers (Wal-Mart, $19 billion); fast-food chains (McDonald’s, $16 billion) – even heavy machinery (Caterpillar, $17 billion). General Electric has $110 billion stashed offshore, and enjoys an effective tax rate of 4 percent – 31 points lower than its statutory obligation to the IRS."


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

AMY GOODMAN: Well, some are calling for a boycott of Burger King because of the merger. Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio issued a statement that, quote, "Burger King’s decision to abandon the United States means consumers should turn to Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers or White Castle sliders. ... Burger King has always said 'Have it Your Way.' Well, my way is to support two Ohio companies that haven’t abandoned their country or customers," the senator said. Both Wendy’s and White Castle are based in Ohio. Brown also called for the creation of a global minimum tax to eliminate incentives for companies to move. And I would like Tim Dickinson to comment on this. Tim Dickinson has written extensively about these kinds of deals and others for Rolling Stone, where he’s a contributing editor. Talk about this and then what you call the "biggest tax scam ever," Tim.

TIM DICKINSON: Well, so the inversion trend is just the tip of a very destructive iceberg that’s seen the hollowing out of our corporate tax base. And so, the inversions, you know, is just basically a legal scam that lets a company technically offshore itself for a lower tax rate. And it goes sort of hat in hand with companies shipping massive quantities of corporate profits overseas through sort of elaborate accounting schemes. And while it’s overseas, it sits there tax-free, accumulates tax-free kind of like a 401(k) does. And so, right now there’s about $2 trillion in corporate profits that are stockpiled overseas, on which the U.S. government is technically owed something like half a trillion dollars. So, at the same time that we’re cutting food stamps, that we’re cutting home heating aid to the elderly, you know, there’s literally a jackpot of half a trillion dollars that politicians on both sides of the aisle just won’t go after, because there’s just an imbalance of power there. The corporate power has grown much greater than state power in this case.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tim Dickinson, one thing that many of these companies that are parking their profits overseas keep quietly lobbying for is amnesty, right? They want a tax amnesty, where the government would lower their taxes temporarily, so they could bring this money back. Could you talk about that and who in Congress champions that?

TIM DICKINSON: Well, I mean, it’s like a bailout, basically. It’s a bailout on the tax bill. And this was done in the Bush administration in 2004. The nominal U.S. tax rate, nobody really pays it, but the nominal rate is 35 percent. And in the Bush era, corporations were allowed to bring their money home at a rate of five-and-a-quarter percent, 5.25 percent, so basically 30 points shaved off of the tax rate. And so, politicians in both parties really kind of are attracted to this idea. There are few folks who have raised enough of a stink about it that it hasn’t happened. But both really—literally, both sides of the aisle—most recently, Harry Reid and Rand Paul were shopping a bill that would allow corporations to bring cash home at a low rate of 9.5 percent; Dave Camp, the chief tax writer in the House, Republican side, as low as 3.25 percent, I believe; and then on the Senate side, Ron Wyden’s bill would again allow a 5.25 percent tax holiday, is what the jargon is.


JAMES HENRY: I was just going to say, the 2004 experiment with this idea is illustrative. I mean, about a third of the benefits from that went to one company, Pfizer, and they proceeded to lay off their employees. It produced no jobs. Essentially, management got rich, because they used the money for management buyouts and for shareholder share repurchases. So it’s a good example of how bad this idea is.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Dickinson, you write about Google. You write about the company that makes Viagra. You write about Apple. Tell us about what they take advantage of.

TIM DICKINSON: Well, so, there are a myriad tax schemes by which U.S. profits are funneled out of the country in ways that make them look like costs. So, to take Pfizer, for example, on Viagra, they had transferred at a very early stage of drug development the economic rights to the intellectual property behind Viagra to a shell company in Liechtenstein, which is a tax haven in Europe. And so, on every sale of the drug here, the Liechtenstein company would charge a very steep royalty. And so, the American company would appear to not only not make any profit on those sales, but actually be creating a business loss here in America, because they had to pay this business expense to its own subsidiary. And so, you’re lowering the tax bill on the American side, even as you’re increasing the profits on the Liechtenstein side. So, it’s this incredible racket, basically.

And it appears to be legal. This is not, you know, something that has been cracked down on by Congress. But the white-shoe accountants have figured out a way to sort of disappear this money and put it overseas. And I should mention that the U.S. has a global system of taxation, so that corporate profits around the world from an American-based multinational are supposed to be taxed. And that reflects the idea that the U.S. Navy secures shipping lanes, that our courts protect intellectual property across the world. And this has been practiced for more than a century, Supreme Court-approved since 1924. So this is not a new idea. But there’s sort of an incredible amount of accounting innovation that has gone into figuring out how to make profits disappear and in fact appear as losses in the United States, as the cash piles up in foreign subsidiaries, which in turn bank their money right back here in the United States. And then, when the CEOs need to use that money here in the United States, there’s something called "synthetic cash repatriation," where they’re able to use the same sort of accounting tricks either through short-term revolving loans or through bond offerings here in the United States, as Apple has done. And so, the cash can sort of—the power of the cash can reappear here in the United States. And the only one cut out of the loop is Uncle Sam, who’s supposed to get, you know, 35 percent the moment the money returns to the country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, James Henry, I’m curious why there isn’t a greater public outcry over this. You essentially have American companies who take advantage of the protections that the American government provides—the patent laws, the intellectual property laws, as you say, the military that assures international commerce goes on—they take advantage of all the benefits of the government, but then they shift their money overseas where they don’t have to pay taxes to finance the very government that provides them that protection.

JAMES HENRY: Well, that’s exactly right. And small business is not benefiting from all these tax games that multinationals are able to play, and they’re having to compete with these companies here. You know, it really has been a growing movement, I think, in the tax justice movement. We made a film called We’re Not Broke, which is on Netflix and is about this very issue of corporate tax dodging, you know, the outrageous behavior of these companies offshoring their intellectual property, that was paid for by U.S. R&D subsidies here, to places like Ireland and Bermuda, where they have no research labs, and then paying themselves royalties tax-free. You know, the outrages are clear. The issue is, these are very powerful lobbies. The corporate tax lobby employs 1,800 tax lobbyists full-time in Washington working on these issues, night and day. I mean, I assume they take time off for Burger King once in a while. But the issue is, you know, we’re just outgunned on the level of the substance and the—you know, the—

AMY GOODMAN: So it’s three per every legislator in Washington, Congress and senators.

JAMES HENRY: Absolutely. And, you know, they—

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, much more.

JAMES HENRY: I mean, this lobby has actually grown in power as the tax rates have actually fallen since the 1980s. I mean, we now have cut corporate tax rates in the United States roughly in half. There’s a race to the bottom worldwide. And this just has to be seen as part of that global phenomenon. So, if the United States persists in cutting its tax rates, it’s going to have terrible impact on other countries, developing countries in particular. If there’s no corporate income tax in the United States, there’s no tax credit for the taxes that American companies pay abroad, and so those countries will be forced to reduce their tax rates, as well. So, you know, this is not just about inversions. It’s part of a growing, I think, very radical movement on the right to essentially get rid of the corporate income tax.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, last point. I asked you about Google and Apple, Tim Dickinson. If you could just explain what they do, as we wrap up?

TIM DICKINSON: So, Apple has this amazing deal, where they’ve got essentially a shadow company in Ireland. And it’s incorporated in Ireland, but for Irish purposes, it’s an American company, and for American purposes, it’s an Irish company. And so you end up with this black hole of taxation where in fact this Apple subsidiary files a tax return to no government in the world. And so, it can use all kinds of accounting tricks to funnel money to this company, and they sit there essentially absolutely untaxed. Just there’s no tax return. And so you have billions of dollars sitting there. And again, when Apple needs billions of dollars to fund its American operations, it has bond offerings, and its cost of borrowing here in the United States is incredibly low. Just investors are virtually paying Apple to raise this money, because it’s secured by these massive piles of cash, technically abroad, although they’re actually banked reportedly in Manhattan. And so, you know, I believe that this is a phenomenon—really, I mean, we talk about it as a right-wing phenomenon, but it has infected both parties, that there is no meaningful party out there that is trying to address this. In fact, both parties now agree that there should be a—we should shave 10 percentage points off the tax rate, get the American corporate tax rate down to 25 percent. That’s a race to the bottom that America can’t win. There’s no way to run a global superpower and compete with low-tax nations like Ireland. But I just need to emphasize that this is truly a bipartisan scenario. Both parties are pushing corporate tax holidays. Both parties are pushing to lower the corporate rate, even though the rate that—effective rate that companies pay here on their profits is actually, in many cases, lower than the efective rate they pay in other countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Dickinson, we want to thank you for being with us, covering national affairs for Rolling Stone, where he’s contributing editor. We’ll link to your latest piece, which is called "The Biggest Tax Scam Ever," speaking to us from Portland, Oregon. And thanks so much to James Henry, the former chief economist for McKinsey & Company, lawyer and senior adviser with the Tax Justice Network.

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Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Monty Python State Department
« Reply #35 on: August 29, 2014, 08:20:55 AM »
By davidswanson - Posted on 28 August 2014

Scene:  A cafe.  One table is occupied by a group of Vikings wearing horned helmets.

Whenever the word "war" is repeated, they begin singing and/or chanting.

A man and woman enter.  The man is played by Eric Idle, the woman is played by Graham Chapman (in drag), and the Secretary of State is played by Terry Jones, also in drag.

Man:   You sit here, dear.   

Woman:          All right.

Man:   Morning!

Secretary of State:     Morning!

Man:   Well, what've you got?

Secretary of State:     Well, there's sanctions and prosecutions; sanctions drone strikes and prosecutions; sanctions and war; sanctions prosecutions and war; sanctions prosecutions drone strikes and war; war prosecutions drone strikes and war; war sanctions war war prosecutions and war; war drone strikes war war prosecutions war cyber war and war;

Vikings:           War war war war...

Secretary of State:     ...war war war sanctions and war; war war war war war war targeted assassinations war war war...

Vikings:           War! Lovely war! Lovely war!

Secretary of State:     ...or a United Nations resolution combined with infiltration, a USAID fake Twitter application, a CIA overthrow, trained enhanced interrogators and with crippling sanctions on top and war.

Woman:          Have you got anything without war?

Secretary of State:     Well, there's war sanctions drone strikes and war, that's not got much war in it.

Woman:          I don't want ANY war!

Man:   Why can't she have sanctions prosecutions war and drone strikes?

Woman:          THAT'S got war in it!

Man:   Hasn't got as much war in it as war sanctions drone strikes and war, has it?

Vikings:           War war war war... (Crescendo through next few lines...)

Woman:          Could you do the sanctions prosecutions war and drone strikes without the war then?

Secretary of State:     Urgghh!

Woman:          What do you mean 'Urgghh'? I don't like war!

Vikings:           Lovely war! Wonderful war!

Secretary of State:     Shut up!

Vikings:           Lovely war! Wonderful war!

Secretary of State:     Shut up! (Vikings stop) Bloody Vikings! You can't have sanctions prosecutions war and drone strikes without the war.

Woman:          I don't like war!

Man:   Sshh, dear, don't cause a fuss. I'll have your war. I love it. I'm having war war war war war war war targeted assassinations war war war and war!

Vikings:           War war war war. Lovely war! Wonderful war!

Secretary of State:     Shut up!! Targeted assassinations are off.

Man:   Well could I have her war instead of the targeted assassinations then?

Secretary of State:     You mean war war war war war war... (but it is too late and the Vikings drown her words)

Vikings:           (Singing elaborately...) War war war war. Lovely war! Wonderful war! War w-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-r war w-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-r war. Lovely war! Lovely war! Lovely war! Lovely war! Lovely war! War war war war!

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Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Samsung supplier factory found to use child labor, watchdog says
« Reply #36 on: August 29, 2014, 08:25:32 AM »
But Samsung says allegations China-based supplier HEG Electronics employes children under the age of 16 at its facility are false.

by Don Reisinger 8/28/2014

Updated at 11:10 a.m. PT, with Samsung denying allegations and again at 1:50 p.m. PT with further comment from China Labor Watch.

Samsung and Lenovo are under scrutiny on Thursday after a report surfaced from a China labor watchdog claiming that children were working at a facility that contributes to the companies' product.

China Labor Watch, an organization that investigates Chinese production facilities to ensure proper working conditions and regulations, issued a statement Thursday saying that HEG Electronics employed over 10 children under the age of 16 at a facility in Huizhou, Guangdong Province. The youngest child was 14 years old, according to China Labor Watch. The facility is used to produce components for Samsung and Lenovo, according to the organization.

Samsung, however, said in response to the allegations from the watchdog group, it conducted an onsite investigation on the production line in question, including one-on-one interviews, and found no child or student workers there.

"We immediately notified our findings to CLW and also proposed that Samsung and CLW conduct a joint onsite investigation for more precise verification. Furthermore, we proposed briefing Samsung's recruitment process that includes ID verification and face to face interviews," a Samsung spokeswoman said.

"We find it regrettable that CLW issued the allegations today without any mention of our statement," the spokeswoman added. "At Samsung Electronics, we deeply care about the health and safety of all our employees and employees at our suppliers and strictly maintain a zero tolerance policy on child labor."

Li Qiang, CLW's founder and executive director, responded to Samsung's statement by saying their were confidentiality clauses associated with Samsung's statement so it held off mentioning it. And CLW was disappointed Samsung didn't verify the IDs of the reported child workers. "HEG had already dismissed these child workers before Samsung arrived," Qiang said.

Samsung has been facing increased scrutiny over child labor at some of the facilities owned by its suppliers. Over the last couple of years, in fact, it has been hit with several complaints against suppliers that have allegedly used child labor. Just last month, Samsung announced that it would sever ties with one of its suppliers, Shinyang Electronics, after word came that the company was allegedly violating child labor regulations.

"Following the investigation, Samsung decided to temporarily suspend business with the factory in question as it found evidences of suspected child labor at the worksite," the company said at the time. "The decision was made in accordance with Samsung's zero tolerance policy on child labor."

In 2012, HEG Electronics was charged by China Labor Watch with violating child labor regulations in its facilities. Samsung at that time promised to address the issue with HEG and "correct child labor and other violations throughout its supply chain." The latest investigation, which was conducted over the last several weeks, shows that "conditions at HEG failed to improve, they have worsened," China Labor Watch said.

In this most recent investigation, China Labor Watch found that in addition to underage labor, HEG had over 100 student workers working without overtime or a night-shift subsidy.

"CLW has contacted a number of student workers directly by phone," the organization wrote Thursday. "Some made Samsung products at HEG while others made Lenovo products. One of those was a 19-year old female college student who told CLW Executive Director Li Qiang that while working on the Samsung production line at HEG, she worked four hours of overtime a day in addition to the normal eight hour workday, but she paid 8.5 RMB ($1.38) per hour for all work even though Chinese law requires overtime pay at 1.5 or 2 times normal wages."

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Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Students at the Barricades
« Reply #37 on: August 29, 2014, 08:32:06 AM »
by Christy Thornton

Around the country, graduate students aren’t just unionizing — they are reforming the conservative, top-down unions they’ve joined.

Last December, NYU graduate student employees won recognition for our union, GSOC-UAW, from the university administration. With an overwhelming 98.4% of votes cast in favor of the union, NYU became — for the second time — the first private university in the country to recognize the rights of its graduate student employees to collective representation.

After more than fifteen years of organizing, NYU’s graduate student workers had won a major victory, and the voluntary recognition of the union by the administration had the potential to set a new kind of precedent for other graduate student organizing campaigns around the country. But recognition was the start of a new round of struggle: one around what kind of a contract we could win, and what kind of union GSOC would be.

In July, a group of bargaining committee members — graduate students elected by their peers to represent us in our negotiations with the NYU administration — released a statement highlighting the “concessionary strategy, demobilization of our membership, and opacity of the bargaining process” on the part of UAW staff that they had witnessed over the course of the previous semester.

That statement, which charged union leadership with failing to adequately communicate with the membership and with the marginalization of activist members who sought to create an campaign to support the bargaining process, called for a new strategy to win a strong contract: one based on transparency, accountability, and building democratic structures within our unit.

In so doing, the dissenting bargaining committee members, and the nearly 120 members who signed a statement supporting their demands, joined a growing mobilization of graduate student workers around the country who are building member-led unions that can win real gains in their working conditions and forge strong links with other movements and unions fighting for social justice. We are helping to create a movement working from within union structures to push for internal democratization in the UAW as the only way to rebuild the strength of our union and the labor movement more broadly.

At the forefront of this movement is Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, a reform caucus that has been organizing in the University of California system for the past four years. After sweeping the elections for Local 2865 executive board positions statewide, AWDU leaders then radically reoriented the bargaining process and staged a contract campaign that sought to prove that there didn’t need to be a trade-off between so-called “bread and butter issues” — compensation, healthcare costs, teaching conditions — and social justice issues, such as support for undocumented students, working mothers, and trans* and gender non-conforming people.

Their opponents in the executive board elections argued that participation in the union by rank-and-file members was decreasing, and that AWDU actions were divisive and made the union “look weak” in the eyes of the management. But after AWDU overwhelmingly won the elections, they went on to win a contract, through their first open bargaining process, that includes wage increases of seventeen percent over four years, increased parental leave, higher childcare subsidies, and a provision on union input regarding class size. AWDU members say the deal proves that a strategy that prioritizes rank-and-file mobilization can not only win a strong contract, but can do so while forging connections and building solidarity across campus and across movements.

Similarly, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, representatives of the radical slate Workers for Respect, Action, and Democracy have assumed leadership not only of their unit, but also won leadership positions within their amalgamated local, which also includes healthcare and childcare workers. Building solidarity across shops is vital in Local 2332, where graduate workers on nine-month contracts are, in fact, more highly paid than some of the other full-time workers in the unit — and yet, according to union activists, they were not seen as true “workers” by former leadership (a curious stance for an organization increasingly relying on dues paid by academic workers).

And graduate workers oriented toward social-justice unionism can make a real political difference beyond the university: it was the Teaching Assistants Association, an AFT affiliate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that organized the first protests against Governor Scott Walker’s 2011 budget bill to strip collective bargaining rights from public sector workers in that state, sparking the largest protest in Wisconsin history.

The setback to collective bargaining rights in that state is a huge blow to the labor movement in Wisconsin and around the country, but it should be remembered it was radical graduate students who led the fight back against it.

Of course, back at NYU, the recognition of GSOC was won in the context of crucial cross-issue organizing, when the administration was feeling pressure from faculty, student, and community groups around its financial priorities. The changes occurring in the academic workforce mirror those occurring in other sectors: Increasing casualization and reliance on low-wage contract work have eroded job security at the university, just as in the auto plants.

Our struggle in GSOC was part of a larger struggle to reorient the priorities of one of the most expensive universities in the country, and in so doing push back against the neoliberalization of higher education more broadly. I participated as a GSOC member in a number of collective actions, from the center of campus to the steps of City Hall, to work with and support other activists to force NYU to offer concessions as a university, neighbor, and employer.

But many members feel that during our first few months of negotiations, the UAW has prioritized expediency over engagement with the membership and the larger community, and has promoted a conciliatory stance toward management that has failed, thus far, to win economic gains.

The NYU administration is pushing for a six-year contract with insufficient wage increases for the lowest-wage workers in our unit, many of whom make $10 an hour and have to cover their own health care premiums. Such a long contract would be devastating for member mobilization in our unit: As graduate students, our time in this workplace is limited, and anyone involved in the struggle to win this contract would be long gone by the time it came up for renegotiation.

As a result of the strategy pursued over the last few months, many long-time GSOC activists, including core organizers who have dedicated years to card-check campaigns, found ourselves excluded, ignored, and, in the worst cases, derided by our leadership. We found ourselves without mechanisms for participation, let alone decision-making. And when we tried to create democratic, participatory structures — by establishing an organizing committee for a sustained contract campaign, for example — UAW staff squashed them.

Tired of hearing staff accuse members of being “process-oriented radicals” from departments that were “unreasonably entitled” to union participation, and unable to resolve problems of transparency and accountability internally, the dissident members of the bargaining committee spoke out. Now, thanks to their efforts and sustained pressure from the rank and file, a new strategy is taking hold.

Many of the demands of the dissenting bargaining committee members are being met: more frequent communication with members, the creation of committees to formulate an escalation strategy, and the cessation of bargaining during the summer while most committee members and graduate workers have been away. (Off-the-record meetings between UAW and the administration, however, have continued, but thanks to pressure from the membership, they now include members of the bargaining committee.)

Elections will soon be held to fill bargaining committee vacancies for the coming semester, and the new spirit of transparency and member engagement will hopefully preclude some of the problems produced when the UAW handpicked a slate of members to run against radicals, only to see half of them dissent or resign after a semester of bargaining that failed to secure a contract. The bargaining committee needs committed, experienced organizers in its ranks; exclusion of members based on their political orientations won’t be tolerated.

Our attempt to build a stronger, more democratic union isn’t an attack on the UAW — it’s an attempt to make our union as strong as possible, to win the best contract, and to most effectively play a role in ongoing struggles for social justice. It demonstrates not weakness or a division within our ranks, but a deep well of support on campus for a stronger stance with management.

During AWDU’s campaign in California, the fear that “division” would make the union look weak in the eyes of management was a constant refrain from the previous leadership, but AWDU’s principled stance won not only a strong contract, but energized members and connected them to struggles beyond their workplace. Charges of divisive actions within grad student unions are a cover to maintain the top-down status quo — and they’ve been proven wrong.

At NYU, we have the opportunity to set an important precedent for other private universities. We can be much stronger if we work together with other campaigns. According to union activists, however, building connections here in the Northeast — between schools like UMass, UConn, Yale, Columbia, and NYU — has actually been impeded by the regional UAW leadership. As UMass GEO Co-Chair Anna Waltman put it, “It’s extremely challenging to cultivate genuine, mutual support and solidarity with other graduate workers at the rank-and-file level in the UAW, largely due to calcified hierarchies and a maze of bureaucracy.” She noted that rank-and-file leaders at these institutions have been “made to feel that the leaders of our own union do not trust us to talk to one another without supervision,” concluding, “I love the UAW, but I also believe that we can do better than this.”

We are doing better. Graduate workers across the country are coming together to build networks through the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions and other grassroots groups. The history of the US labor movement over the past century shows that unions that are democratic and establish ties with other social movements are best able to win — and yet UAW leadership seems interested in neither.

But together, radical graduate student workers are beginning to change that culture, and in so doing, begin a process of revival from below.

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Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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With Gaza War, Movement to Boycott Israel Gains Momentum in Europe
« Reply #38 on: August 29, 2014, 11:45:58 AM »

LONDON — A branch of Sainsbury’s grocery store removed kosher products from its shelves, it said, to prevent anti-Israel demonstrations. The Tricycle Theater in north London, after hosting a Jewish film festival for eight years, demanded to vet the content of any film made with arts funding from the Israeli government. George Galloway, a member of Parliament known for his vehement criticism of Israel, declared Bradford, England, an “Israel-free zone.”

Mr. Galloway, in comments being investigated by the police, said, “We don’t want any Israeli goods; we don’t want any Israeli services; we don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or college; we don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford.”

The war in Gaza and its aftermath have inflamed opinion in Europe and, experts and analysts say, are likely to increase support for the movement to boycott, disinvest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS.

“We entered this war in Gaza with the perception that the Israeli government is not interested in reaching peace with the Palestinians,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private university. “Now, after the casualties and the destruction, I’m very worried about the impact this could have on Israel. It could make it very easy for the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and call for more boycotts.”

Demonstrators in London this month protesting Israel’s operations in the Gaza Strip. Emotions are running high.

Gilead Sher and Einav Yogev, in a paper for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, warn that Gaza means Israel pays “a much heavier price in public opinion and in erosion of support for its positions in negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Along with reports of “familiar anti-Semitic attacks on Jews,” they said, “the movement to boycott Israel is expanding politically and among the public.”

Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations points to the debate over halting arms exports to Israel, which has been given new momentum in Britain and Spain by the asymmetry of the Gaza war.

“You’re beginning to see the translation of public sympathy into something politically meaningful,” he said. He noted two tracks — the governmental one, which distinguishes between Israel and the occupied territories, and the social one of academic, commercial and artistic boycotts.

But for all the new attention around the BDS movement, the economic impact has been small, experts say. The European Union, which has been looked to for leadership on the issue, does not support the idea.

Instead, the Europeans are drawing a legal distinction between Israel within its 1967 boundaries and Israeli towns and settlements that are beyond them in occupied land. Brussels regards all Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines, including those in East Jerusalem, as settlers living in illegal communities whose status can be regulated only through a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians.

In matters such as scientific cooperation, funding for research, import duties and labeling requirements, Brussels has sought a strong relationship with pre-1967 Israel, while demanding a different status for institutions and products from beyond the Green Line, the armistice lines that ended the 1967 fighting but did not fix borders or create a Palestinian state.

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Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said before the Gaza conflict that “there is no boycott” of Israel by the European Union, citing trade and scientific cooperation. “The European Union defends the right of existence of Israel with all its means,” he said. “The view that the Europeans are against Israel, I repeat it, is wrong.”

Some members of the 28-nation European Union are closer to Israel than others, but the bloc is united on Israel within its 1967 boundaries.

“Our relationship with Israel is close and one of the best we have in the region, but only with Israel in its 1967 lines unless there is a peace agreement,” said a senior European Union official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with diplomatic protocol. “We are clear, however, that what came under Israeli control in 1967 is not a part of Israel, so the settlements are illegal under international law and not helpful in the peace process.”

To that end, the European Union has demanded that all products produced by Israelis beyond the 1967 lines be labeled differently, and they are excluded from the duty-free trade agreement the bloc has with Israel proper. Goods from settlements are imported, but under different labels and tariffs. “There is no question of a boycott,” the European official said.

In an agreement last December on scientific exchanges and funding, known as Horizon 2020, Brussels insisted, despite fierce opposition from the Israeli government, on keeping Israeli institutions in the West Bank, like Ariel University, out of the deal. Since European funding is so important to Israeli academic institutions, the Israeli government gave in, attaching a legally meaningless appendix opposing the distinctions.

While some Israeli companies label goods produced in the West Bank as Israeli, the Europeans have tried to crack down, insisting that permits have a physical address attached and not simply an Israeli post office box. Goods can be labeled “West Bank” or as coming from a particular place, but cannot say “Made in Israel.”

The European Union has gone considerably further than the United States, declaring that Israeli settlements over the Green Line are “illegal” under international law; the United States simply calls them “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace.”

Israel says its settlement activity is consistent with international law, although it accepts that some settlements are built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land and says that all will be resolved as part of a final deal with the Palestinians.

The United States also has no regulations requiring separate labeling of products from Israeli-occupied land.

The recent fuss over SodaStream and one of its spokeswomen, the actress Scarlett Johansson, was indicative of the passions raised. Oxfam insisted she quit SodaStream, which has a factory in the large West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, or quit her work with Oxfam; Ms. Johansson chose to quit Oxfam. SodaStream defended itself by citing the number of jobs it was providing for Palestinians, who were being paid the same wages as Israeli workers.

The debate was indicative of shifting attitudes. During the period around the Oslo Accords, in the early 1990s, when peace seemed close and economic cooperation between Israel and the new, interim Palestinian Authority was considered an important part of a future relationship built on mutual dependency and confidence, factories in occupied territory were praised.

With the failure of Oslo to produce a Palestinian state, the tone has changed, and companies once seen by many as in the forefront of economic cooperation are now being seen by some as colonial occupiers undermining a future Palestinian state.

But the interconnection of Israel with the settlements is difficult to untie — every major Israeli bank has a branch in the settlements.

Some countries, like Britain, have gone further. Britain issued voluntary labeling guidelines in December 2009 “to enable consumers to make a more fully informed decision concerning the products they buy,” according to the UK Trade and Investment agency, because “we understand the concerns of people who do not wish to purchase goods exported from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

More troubling to Israel, in December the agency warned companies and citizens to be “aware of the potential reputational implications” of investments in settlement areas. “We do not encourage or offer support to such activities,” it said.

But even these concerns should be distinguished from the organized BDS campaign against the state of Israel itself. Begun in 2005, the campaign is supposed to last, the Palestinian BDS National Committee says, until Israel “complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”

Its three goals are “the end of Israeli occupation and colonization of Arab land and dismantling the Wall,” “full equality” for “Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel,” and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Israelis see the first two as compatible with two states, but the third as the end of the Jewish state.

Then there is the associated effort at an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, which has attracted well-known figures like Stephen Hawking and Sinead O’Connor. Others defend artistic freedom or the unifying nature of culture, or believe, as the writer Ian McEwan said, “If I only went to countries I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed.”

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Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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California’s drought: What losing 63 trillion gallons of water looks like
« Reply #39 on: August 29, 2014, 11:56:06 AM »
By Nick Kirkpatrick August 28

The Enterprise Bridge passes over a section of Lake Oroville that is nearly dry on Aug. 19  in Oroville, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A new study says that California’s drought is so severe it’s causing the ground to rise. Angela Fritz of The Washington Post reported scientists estimate 63 trillion gallons of water have been lost in the past 18 months.

What happens when 63 trillion gallons of water disappear? “As it turns out, 63 trillion gallons of water is pretty heavy,” Fritz wrote. ” … That incredible water deficit weighs nearly 240 billion tons, and as it evaporated, the ground began to shift” — in California’s mountains, by as much as half-an-inch.

What about California’s water supply? The Los Angeles Times reported California’s three largest reservoirs are at roughly 30 percent capacity. Other reservoirs are doing better — far better than the statewide average of 41 percent in 1997, when a devastating drought struck the state, said Ted Thomas, spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources.

As of last week Lake Oroville, one of California’s largest reservoirs, was at only 32 percent of its capacity. That’s pretty close to a record low.

The pairs of photographs below show the stark difference at Lake Oroville between 2011 and 2014.

The Green Bridge of Lake Oroville near the Bidwell Marina. Top: 2011; bottom August 2014. (Top: Paul Hames/California Department of Water Resources via Getty Images; Bottom: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville. Top: 2011; bottom: August 2014. (Top: Paul Hames/California Department of Water Resources via Getty Images Bottom: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Enterprise Bridge of Lake Oroville. Top: July 2011; bottom: 2014. (Top: Paul Hames/California Department of Water Resources via Getty Images Bottom: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville. Top: July 201; bottom: August 2014. (Top: Paul Hames/California Department of Water Resources via Getty Images Bottom: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville. Top: July 2011; bottom: August 2014. (Top: Paul Hames/California Department of Water Resources via Getty Images Bottom: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

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Losing Ground: Southeast Louisiana is Disappearing, Quickly
« Reply #40 on: August 29, 2014, 12:05:23 PM »
A football-field size of land is being washed away every hour, and lawsuits are being filed to hold oil and gas companies responsible for the destruction

Aug 28, 2014 |By Bob Marshall

At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — would be underwater.

In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy.
And it’s going to get worse, even quicker.

Scientists now say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion over the next 50 years, so far unabated and largely unnoticed.

At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — would be underwater.

The effects would be felt far beyond bayou country. The region best known for its self-proclaimed motto “laissez les bons temps rouler” — let the good times roll — is one of the nation’s economic linchpins.

This land being swallowed by the Gulf is home to half of the country’s oil refineries, a matrix of pipelines that serve 90 percent of the nation’s offshore energy production and 30 percent of its total oil and gas supply, a port vital to 31 states, and 2 million people who would need to find other places to live.

The landscape on which all that is built is washing away at a rate of a football field every hour, 16 square miles per year.

For years, most residents didn’t notice because they live inside the levees and seldom travel into the wetlands. But even those who work or play in the marshes were misled for decades by the gradual changes in the landscape. A point of land eroding here, a bayou widening there, a spoil levee sinking a foot over 10 years. In an ecosystem covering thousands of square miles, those losses seemed insignificant. There always seemed to be so much left.

Now locals are trying to deal with the shock of losing places they had known all their lives — fishing camps, cypress swamps, beachfronts, even cattle pastures and backyards — with more disappearing every day.

Fishing guide Ryan Lambert is one of them. When he started fishing the wetlands out of Buras 34 years ago, he had to travel through six miles of healthy marshes, swamps and small bays to reach the Gulf of Mexico.

“Now it’s all open water,” Lambert said. “You can stand on the dock and see the Gulf.”

Two years ago, NOAA removed 31 bays and other features from the Buras charts. Some had been named by French explorers in the 1700s.

The people who knew this land when it was rich with wildlife and dotted with Spanish- and French-speaking villages are getting old. They say their grandchildren don’t understand what has been lost.

“I see what was,” said Lloyd “Wimpy” Serigne, who grew up in the fishing and trapping village of Delacroix, 20 miles southeast of New Orleans. It was once home to 700 people; now there are fewer than 15 permanent residents. “People today — like my nephew, he's pretty young — he sees what is.”

If this trend is not reversed, a wetlands ecosystem that took nature 7,000 years to build will be destroyed in a human lifetime.

The story of how that happened is a tale of levees, oil wells and canals leading to destruction on a scale almost too big to comprehend — and perhaps too late to rebuild. It includes chapters on ignorance, unintended consequences and disregard for scientific warnings. It’s a story that is still unfolding.

Speck by speck, land built over centuries
The coastal landscape Europeans found when they arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi River 500 years ago was the Amazon of North America, a wetlands ecosystem of more than 6,000 square miles built by one of the largest rivers in the world.

For thousands of years, runoff from the vast stretch of the continent between the Rockies and the Appalachians had flowed into the Mississippi valley. Meltwater from retreating glaciers, seasonal snowfall and rain carried topsoil and sand from as far away as the Canadian prairies. The river swelled as it rushed southward on the continent’s downward slope, toward the depression in the planet that would become known as the Gulf of Mexico.

Down on the flat coastal plain, the giant river slowed. It lost the power to carry those countless tons of sediment, which drifted to the bottom. Over thousands of years, this rain of fine particles gradually built land that would rise above the Gulf.

It wasn’t just the main stem of the Mississippi doing this work. When the river reached the coastal plain, side channels — smaller rivers and bayous — peeled off. They were called “distributaries,” for the job they did spreading that land-building sediment ever farther afield.

The delta had two other means of staying above the Gulf. The plants and trees growing in its marshes and swamps shed tons of dead parts each year, adding to the soil base. Meanwhile, storms and high tides carried sediment that had been deposited offshore back into the wetlands.

As long as all this could continue unobstructed, the delta continued to expand. But with any interruption, such as a prolonged drought, the new land began to sink.

That’s because the sheer weight of hundreds of feet of moist soil is always pushing downward against the bedrock below. Like a sponge pressed against a countertop, the soil compresses as the moisture is squeezed out. Without new layers of sediment, the delta eventually sinks below sea level.

The best evidence of this dependable rhythm of land building and sinking over seven millennia is underground. Geologists estimate that the deposits were at least 400 feet deep at the mouth of the Mississippi when those first Europeans arrived.

By the time New Orleans was founded in 1718, the main channel of the river was the beating heart of a system pumping sediment and nutrients through a vast circulatory network that stretched from present-day Baton Rouge south to Grand Isle, west to Texas and east to Mississippi. As late as 1900, new land was pushing out into the Gulf of Mexico.

A scant 70 years later, that huge, vibrant wetlands ecosystem would be at death’s door. The exquisite natural plumbing that made it all possible had been dismantled, piece by piece, to protect coastal communities and extract oil and gas.

Engineering the river
For communities along its banks, the Mississippi River has always been an indispensable asset and their gravest threat. The river connected their economies to the rest of the world, but its spring floods periodically breached locally built levees, quickly washing away years of profits and scores of lives. Some towns were so dependent on the river, they simply got used to rebuilding.

That all changed with the Great Flood of 1927.

Swollen by months of record rainfall across the watershed, the Mississippi broke through levees in 145 places, flooding the midsection of the country from Illinois to New Orleans. Some 27,000 square miles went under as much as 30 feet of water, destroying 130,000 homes, leaving 600,000 people homeless and killing 500.

Stunned by what was then the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928, which ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent such a flood from ever happening again. By the mid-1930s, the corps had done its job, putting the river in a straitjacket of levees.

But the project that made the river safe for the communities along the river would eventually squeeze the life out of the delta. The mud walls along the river sealed it off from the landscape sustained by its sediment. Without it, the sinking of land that only occurred during dry cycles would start, and never stop.

If that were all we had done to the delta, scientists have said, the wetlands that existed in the 1930s could largely be intact today. The natural pace of sinking — scientists call it subsidence — would have been mere millimeters per year.

But we didn’t stop there. Just as those levees were built, a nascent oil and gas industry discovered plentiful reserves below the delta’s marshes, swamps and ridges.

At the time, wetlands were widely considered worthless — places that produced only mosquitoes, snakes and alligators. The marsh was a wilderness where few people could live, or even wanted to.

There were no laws protecting wetlands. Besides, more than 80 percent of this land was in the hands of private landowners who were happy to earn a fortune from worthless property.

Free to choose the cheapest, most direct way to reach drilling sites, oil companies dredged canals off natural waterways to transport rigs and work crews. The canals averaged 13 to 16 feet deep and 140 to 150 feet wide — far larger than natural, twisting waterways.

Effects of canals ripple across the wetlands
Eventually, some 50,000 wells were permitted in the coastal zone. The state estimates that roughly 10,000 miles of canals were dredged to service them, although that only accounts for those covered by permitting systems. The state began to require some permits in the 1950s, but rigorous accounting didn’t begin until the Clean Water Act brought federal agencies into play in 1972.

Researchers say the total number of miles dredged will never be known because many of those areas are now underwater. Gene Turner, a Louisiana State University professor who has spent years researching the impacts of the canals, said 10,000 miles “would be a conservative estimate.”

Companies drilled and dredged all over the coast, perhaps nowhere more quickly than the area near Lafitte, which became known as the Texaco Canals.

This fishing village 15 miles south of New Orleans had been named for the pirate who used these bayous to ferry contraband to the city. For years, the seafood, waterfowl and furbearers in the surrounding wetlands sustained the community. As New Orleans grew, Lafitte also became a favorite destination for weekend hunters and anglers.

Today those scenes are only a memory.

“Once the oil companies come in and started dredging all the canals, everything just started falling apart,” said Joseph Bourgeois, 84, who grew up and still lives in the area.

From 1930 to 1990, as much as 16 percent of the wetlands was turned to open water as those canals were dredged. But as the U.S. Department of the Interior and many others have reported, the indirect damages far exceeded that:

Saltwater creeped in
Canal systems leading to the Gulf allowed saltwater into the heart of freshwater marshes and swamps, killing plants and trees whose roots held the soils together. As a side effect, the annual supply of plant detritus — one way a delta disconnected from its river can maintain its elevation — was seriously reduced.

Shorelines crumbled
Without fresh sediment and dead plants, shorelines began to collapse, increasing the size of existing water bodies. Wind gained strength over ever-larger sections of open water, adding to land loss. Fishers and other boaters used canals as shortcuts across the wetlands; their wakes also sped shoreline erosion. In some areas, canals grew twice as wide within five years.

Spoil levees buried and trapped wetlands
When companies dredged canals, they dumped the soil they removed alongside, creating “spoil levees” that could rise higher than 10 feet and twice as wide.

The weight of the spoil on the soft, moist delta caused the adjacent marshes to sink. In locations of intense dredging, spoil levees impounded acres of wetlands. The levees also impeded the flow of water — and sediments — over wetlands during storm tides.

If there were 10,000 miles of canals, there were 20,000 miles of levees. Researchers estimate that canals and levees eliminated or covered 8 million acres of wetlands.

All this disrupted the delta’s natural hydrology — its circulatory system — and led to the drowning of vast areas. Researchers have shown that land has sunk and wetlands have disappeared the most in areas where canals were concentrated.

In the 1970s, up to 50 square miles of wetlands were disappearing each year in the areas with heaviest oil and gas drilling and dredging, bringing the Gulf within sight of many communities.

As the water expanded, people lived and worked on narrower and narrower slivers of land.

“There’s places where I had cattle pens, and built those pens … with a tractor that weighed 5,000 or 6,000 pounds,” said Earl Armstrong, a cattle rancher who grew on the river nine miles south of the nearest road. “Right now we run through there with airboats.”

There are other forces at work, including a series of geologic faults in the delta and the rock layers beneath, but a U.S. Department of Interior report says oil and gas canals are ultimately responsible for 30 to 59 percent of coastal land loss. In some areas of Barataria Bay, said Turner at LSU, it’s close to 90 percent.

Even more damage was to come as the oil and gas industry shifted offshore in the late 1930s, eventually planting about 7,000 wells in the Gulf. To carry that harvest to onshore refineries, companies needed more underwater pipelines. So they dug wider, deeper waterways to accommodate the large ships that served offshore platforms.

Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to dredge about 550 miles of navigation channels through the wetlands. The Department of Interior has estimated that those canals, averaging 12 to 15 feet deep and 150 to 500 feet wide, resulted in the loss of an additional 369,000 acres of coastal land.

Researchers eventually would show that the damage wasn’t due to surface activities alone. When all that oil and gas was removed from below some areas, the layers of earth far below compacted and sank. Studies have shown that coastal subsidence has been highest in some areas with the highest rates of extraction.

Push to hold industry accountable
The oil and gas industry, one of the state’s most powerful political forces, has acknowledged some role in the damages, but so far has defeated efforts to force companies to pay for it.

The most aggressive effort to hold the industry accountable is now underway. In July 2013, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, which maintains levees around New Orleans, filed suit against more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies.

The lawsuit claims that the industry, by transforming so much of the wetlands to open water, has increased the size of storm surges. It argues this is making it harder to protect the New Orleans area against flooding and will force the levee authority to build bigger levees and floodwalls.

The lawsuit also claims that the companies did not return the work areas to their original condition, as required by state permits.

"The oil and gas industry has complied with each permit required by the State of Louisiana and the Corps of Engineers since the permits became law,” said Ragan Dickens, spokesman for the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.

State leaders immediately rose to the industry’s defense. Much of the public debate has not been about the merits of the suit; instead, opponents contested the authority’s legal right to file the suit and its contingency fee arrangement with a private law firm.

“We’re not going to allow a single levee board that has been hijacked by a group of trial lawyers to determine flood protection, coastal restoration and economic repercussions for the entire State of Louisiana,” said Gov. Bobby Jindal in a news release demanding that the levee authority withdraw its suit.

“A better approach,” he said in the statement, “to helping restore Louisiana’s coast includes holding the Army Corps of Engineers accountable, pushing for more offshore revenue sharing and holding BP accountable for the damage their spill is doing to our coast.”

The industry’s political clout reflects its outsized role in the economy of one of the nation's poorest states. The industry directly employs 63,000 people in the state, according to the federal Department of Labor.

Many of those employees live in the coastal parishes that have suffered most from oil and gas activities and face the most severe consequences from the resulting land loss.

Legislators in those areas helped Jindal pass a law that retroactively sought to remove the levee authority’s standing to file the suit. The constitutionality of that law is now before a federal judge.

Consequences now clear
Even as politicians fought the lawsuit, it was hard to deny what was happening on the ground.

By 2000, coastal roads that had flooded only during major hurricanes were going underwater when high tides coincided with strong southerly winds. Islands and beaches that had been landmarks for lifetimes were gone, lakes had turned into bays, and bays had eaten through their borders to join the Gulf.

“It happened so fast, I could actually see the difference day to day, month to month,” said Lambert, the fishing guide in Buras.

Today, in some basins around New Orleans, land is sinking an inch every 30 months. At this pace, by the end of the century this land will sink almost 3 feet in an area that’s barely above sea level today.

Meanwhile, global warming is causing seas to rise worldwide. Coastal landscapes everywhere are now facing a serious threat, but none more so than Southeast Louisiana.

The federal government projects that seas along the U.S. coastline will rise 1.5 to 4.5 feet by 2100. Southeast Louisiana would see “at least” 4 to 5 feet, said NOAA scientist Tim Osborn.

The difference: This sediment-starved delta is sinking at one of the fastest rates of any large coastal landscape on the planet at the same time the oceans are rising.

Maps used by researchers to illustrate what the state will look like in 2100 under current projections show the bottom of Louisiana’s “boot” outline largely gone, replaced by a coast running practically straight east to west, starting just south of Baton Rouge. The southeast corner of the state is represented only by two fingers of land – the areas along the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche that currently are protected by levees.

Finally, a plan to rebuild — but not enough money
Similar predictions had been made for years. But Hurricane Katrina finally galvanized the state Legislature, which pushed through a far-reaching coastal restoration plan in 2007.

The 50-year, $50 billion Master Plan for the Coast (in 2012 dollars) includes projects to build levees, pump sediment into sinking areas, and build massive diversions on the river to reconnect it with the dying delta.

The state’s computer projections show that by 2060 — if projects are completed on schedule — more land could be built annually than is lost to the Gulf.

But there are three large caveats.

The state is still searching for the full $50 billion. Congress so far has been unwilling to help.

If the plan is to work, sea-level rise can’t be as bad as the worst-case scenario.

Building controlled sediment diversions on the river, a key part of the land-building strategy, has never been done before. The predictions, then, are largely hypothetical, although advocates say the concept is being proven by an uncontrolled diversion at West Bay, near the mouth of the river.

Some of the money will come from an increased share of offshore oil and gas royalties, but many coastal advocates say the industry should pay a larger share.

In fact, leaders of the regional levee authority have said the purpose of the lawsuit was to make the industry pay for the rebuilding plan, suggesting that state could trade immunity from future suits for bankrolling it.

That idea is gaining momentum in official circles, despite the industry’s latest win in the state Legislature.

Kyle Graham, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said recently that the industry understands its liability for the crumbling coast and is discussing some kind of settlement. “It's very difficult to see a future in which that [such an agreement] isn't there,” he said he said.

Graham has said current funding sources could keep the restoration plan on schedule only through 2019. He was blunt when talking about what would happen if more money doesn’t come through: There will be a smaller coast.

“There are various sizes of a sustainable coastal Louisiana,” he said. “And that could depend on how much our people are willing to put up for that.”

A vanishing culture
Trying to keep pace with the vanishing pieces of southeast Louisiana today is like chasing the sunset; it’s a race that never ends.

Lambert said when he’s leading fishing trips, he finds himself explaining to visitors what he means when he says, “This used to be Bay Pomme d’Or” and the growing list of other spots now only on maps.

Signs of the impending death of this delta are there to see for any visitor.

Falling tides carry patches of marsh grass that have fallen from the ever-crumbling shorelines.

Pelicans circle in confusion over nesting islands that have washed away since last spring.

Pilings that held weekend camps surrounded by thick marshes a decade ago stand in open water, hundreds of yards from the nearest land — mute testimony to a vanishing culture.

Shrimpers push their wing nets in lagoons that were land five years ago.

The bare trunks of long-dead oaks rise from the marsh, tombstones marking the drowning of high ridges that were built back when the river pumped life-giving sediment through its delta.

“If you’re a young person you think this is what it’s supposed to look like,” Lambert said. “Then when you’re old enough to know, it’s too late.”

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Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

Offline knarf

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UN Climate Chief: 'Not Very Far' from Considering 'Climate Change as a Public Health Emergency'
By Patrick Goodenough 8/28/1914

U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres speaks to reporters in New York on September 26, 2013. (U.N. Photo/Sarah Fretwell)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry has called climate change “the biggest challenge of all that we face right now,” and his French counterpart has warned of climate “chaos” in 500 days, and now the U.N. climate change chief is implying that climate change can be viewed on a par with the deadly Ebola outbreak.

Christiana Figueres told a World Health Organization (WHO)-hosted event in Geneva Wednesday that “we are not very far” from the point where climate change should be declared an international public health emergency, according to her prepared remarks.

Addressing a three-day global conference on health and climate – the first of its kind – Figueres said in remarks directed at WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, “Dear Margaret, as much as would like you to, I am fully aware of the fact that you have not convened the international health regulations emergency committee to consider climate change as a public health emergency of international concern.”

“However, we are not very far from this,” she added.

The committee referred to by Figueres is the expert body on whose advice the WHO three weeks ago declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC).

Under international health regulations, a PHEIC is declared in a case where “an extraordinary event” is determined to constitute a public health risk through the international spread of disease; and “to potentially require a coordinated international response.”

In her speech Figueres, who is executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said that while it was easy to view climate change as “the equivalent of a disease” it was actually the symptom.

“The disease is something we rarely admit,” she said. “The disease is humanity’s unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels, deforestation and land use that depletes natural resources.”

“At the heart of an effective response to climate change is the challenge of taking responsibility for our actions and above all, making tough decisions to change the patterns that have been at the base of our development over the past 100 years, if we are to prevent severe worsening of health and quality of life conditions over the next 100 years.”

The U.N. says climate change is having an impact on health in numerous ways, including malnutrition due to crop failures arising from changing weather patterns; water scarcity; the spread of water-borne disease resulting from rising temperatures; and the effect of carbon emissions on rates of cancer and respiratory disease rates.

Speaking at the conference Wednesday, Chan linked climate change to the emergence of new human diseases. She said many of these originate in wild animals, whose populations, concentration and incursion into areas where humans live are impacted by climate variables.

But she cautioned against speculation that Ebola may be affected by climate.

“I am aware of speculation that climate change may influence the frequency of outbreaks of Ebola virus disease,” she said. “I must emphasize we have no evidence that this is the case.”

Paris agreement will be ‘universal and applicable to all countries’

Like a number of other events around the world, the conference in Geneva is looking ahead to the next major U.N. climate megaconference, in Paris, France in November 2015, when efforts will be made to finalize a global agreement on cutting “greenhouse gas” emissions.

Next month U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host a summit in New York where world leaders will be urged to make commitments ahead of the Paris conference.

“This agreement will be universal and applicable to all countries,” Figueres said in Geneva. “It will address current and future emissions. If strong enough, it will prevent the worst and chart a course toward a world with clean air and water, abundant natural resources and happy, healthy populations, all the requirements for positive growth.”

“Seen in this light,” she added, “the climate agreement is actually a public health agreement.”

This week the administration has come under fire over claims that President Obama is working on reaching an agreement in Paris in a way that will enable him to sidestep Senate ratification, which is constitutionally required for international treaties.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Wednesday called a New York Times report on the issue “completely speculative.”

“Our goal, of course, is to negotiate a successful and effective global climate change agreement that can help address this pressing challenge, but anything that is eventually negotiated and that should go to the Senate will go to the Senate,” she said.

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said, “Because that agreement is not written, it’s not yet clear exactly what sort of role Congress would be required to play.”

It remained to be seen whether the agreement would be a “political agreement” or be one that would “require congressional approval in terms of acceding to a treaty,” he said.

Earnest stressed that Obama has identified climate change as a priority issue, saying he had taken steps to address it at home and “hasn’t been shy about trying to lead on the international stage as well.”

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Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'

Offline Ka

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Re: Knarf's Knewz Channel
« Reply #42 on: August 29, 2014, 02:47:47 PM »
Can I make a recommendation? That you just give the headlines as a link to the article, maybe plus a comment or the first paragraph or a picture or something, like Surly does, so the readers can select which they want to read. When you paste in the entire articles it takes a long time to scroll down through articles. Also, it makes sure you aren't reprinting without permission, though I'm not sure anyone cares about that anymore.

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Re: Knarf's Knewz Channel
« Reply #43 on: August 29, 2014, 03:21:55 PM »
Can I make a recommendation? That you just give the headlines as a link to the article, maybe plus a comment or the first paragraph or a picture or something, like Surly does, so the readers can select which they want to read. When you paste in the entire articles it takes a long time to scroll down through articles. Also, it makes sure you aren't reprinting without permission, though I'm not sure anyone cares about that anymore.

Let me hasten to add that as someone who sifts through several different  aggregators each day for content, I am deeply grateful to knarf for posting his content up in any form whatsoever. The "digest" form I stole whole cloth from JoeP, who did it best. Some credit where credit is due.

 The Diner Forum is much more valuable when a number of people are posting up articles and links of interest.  Sometimes it's difficult to know exactly where to put something, so somebody with the interest and motivation to post up news should do so with the greatest encouragement.

And some articles just day to be posted in their entirety.

 In terms of permissions/creative Commons licensing, if you're reposting something inside what is essentially a private for, you're probably okay. I can tell you that RE and I are scrupulous about obtaining the permission of the authors crossposted here before anything goes up on the blog.
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Offline knarf

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Re: Knarf's Knewz Channel
« Reply #44 on: August 29, 2014, 03:54:17 PM »
Thnx Ka, and Surly for the interest in how am starting to get the hang on posting important articles I find. I post nothing that has any sign of needing permission, and they do exist. As far as just posting the headlines like Surly does, ( I check to see what you have found for the day Surly so i do not duplicate it) i prefer to give the whole article with pictures. It might take a little longer to review but the pictures especially are attention focal points and even the language in the middle of articles contain vital information sometimes. I really do not want this to cost more for RE if I post the whole article but I do not know how that works...if that is a problem i will be sure to trim the knewz down.  :) I do notice that algelbert uses a lot of space to convey what he has to say, so unless it is a problem in any way i will continue the way i have been doing this.
Thank you both for chiming in to discuss with me, it has been a concern of mine also.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2014, 03:59:08 PM by knarf »
Mark Twain — 'There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.'