Tuesday, December 8, 2015


December 8, 2015, Issue #222
Contact us or subscribe to Newsletter at jacdon@earthlink.net
The Hudson Valley Activist Calendar will be sent soon.

1.   Quotes of The Month — Eugene V. Debs
2.   Photos of The Month —Window On Poverty
3.   The Fate of The Earth is at Stake
4.   Coalition or Cold War With Russia?
5.   Putin Excoriates Turkey's Leader
6.   Trump: America's Marine Le Pen?
7.   France Cracks Down on Muslims & Marchers
8.   The Battle to Militarize Space has Begun
9.   Lest We Forget: A Hero's Birthday
10. NATO to Keep 12,000 Troops in Afghanistan
11. Supreme Court to Rule on Abortion
12. Richest 10% Produce 50% of Carbon Emissions
13. Big Jump in Fossil Fuel Divestment
14. System Change, Not Climate Change
15. Climate Change Weather Uproots Millions
16. Problems of the White Male Working Class
17. Capitalism is Concerned About Bernie
18. America, Refugees and Absolute Security
19. Books: The Amazing Inner Lives Of Animals
20. America's Dubious Exceptionalism
21. Germany: 'What's Happening To My Country?'
1.   QUOTES OF THE MONTH — Eugene V. Debs (I855-1926)

In an article below (#17 ) the Wall Street Journal compares Bernie Sanders to the late union leader and
five-time Socialist Party candidate for president Eugene V. Debs. Sanders has expressed the highest regard for Debs, but undoubtedly recognizes that his own politics and actions are of a quite different caliber, though he identifies himself as a socialist. These few quotes are a reminder of what an extraordinary American political figure Debs was.

I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.

While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

The Republican and Democratic parties... represent the capitalist class in the class struggle. They are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles.

Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.

They who are animated by the unconquerable spirit of the social revolution; they who have the moral courage to stand erect and assert their convictions; stand by them; fight for them; go to jail or to hell for them, if need be — they are writing their names, in this crucial hour — they are writing their names in faceless letters in the history of mankind.

I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world.

Foolish and vain indeed is the workingman who makes the color of his skin the stepping-stone to his imaginary superiority.... The man who seeks to arouse prejudice among workingmen is not their friend. He who advises the white wage-worker to look down upon the black wage-worker is the enemy of both.

2.   PHOTOS OF THE MONTHWindow on Poverty

Amid the haze of toxic fumes from burning refuse in a garbage dump in Cambodia, a young garbage scavenger searches for scraps of recyclables in newly dumped loads of rubbish. His picture is framed by a broken TV screen in the dump. Writes Yap Kh, the National Geographic photographer who took this recent picture: “Covered in filthy rags, the children in this dump were scruffy, sickly, and sad. They earned $1 a day, if they were lucky,”

 This child works in a factory in India, and may earn less  than a dollar a day. Well over 300 million Indians of all ages live in deep poverty. Photographer, Akshay Gupta, Pacific Press, Getty Images.

One billion children worldwide exist in poverty today. According to UNICEF, "22,000 children die each day due to poverty. Preventable diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia take the lives of 2 million children a year who are too poor to afford proper treatment. As of 2013, 21.8 million children under 1 year of age worldwide had not received the three recommended doses of vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Oxfam estimates that it would take $60 billion annually to end extreme global poverty — that's less than 1/4 the income of the top 100 richest billionaires."


By the Activist Newsletter

This issue contains five articles about climate change and the important UN meetings that will to a large extent define the future of life on Earth. It's obvious that the outcome next Saturday will be inadequate, but we cannot say much more about the meeting until the final agreement is available.

Negotiators from 195 countries adopted a draft text Dec. 5 but National Geographic reported "the document left so many huge questions unanswered that the real work is only just beginning."

One of the main problems concerns the fossil fuel/greenhouse emissions reductions nearly all the countries have already submitted. For one thing, these estimates are not binding on the various countries and there is no penalty for failure to attain goals. Another is that that combined promised reductions are not sufficient to prevent a drastic temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over future decades — the goal of the conference. It's probably closer to a calamitous increase 4 degrees Celsius.

Ironically, the goal itself is insufficient. It should be no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to obtain the rational goal of 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The ppm has already risen to 400. Twenty years ago it was 361; 100 years ago 306 ppm.  By comparison, in 1950 global anthropogenic gigatonnes of CO2 was 10. Today, 65 years later, it's 38 and growing exponentially.

Dr. James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist says: "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced... to at most 350 ppm."

Obviously climate change is already here and worsening swiftly, judging by the storms, droughts, melting ice, rising seawater and declining drinking water, etc. Unless there is a swift and sharp decline in the use of fossil fuel a long-term disaster will ensue.

Reflecting the views of the U.S. plutocracy and big corporations that fear the loss of profits and are working to to delay action, congressional Republicans are creating obstacles to undermine any agreement that emerges from Paris.

The New Yorker reported that on the day President Obama addressed the conference, "The House approved two resolutions aimed at blocking regulations to curb U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. The first would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing rules aimed at cutting emissions from new power plants; the second would prevent the agency from enforcing rules targeted at existing power plants. Together, these rules are known as the Clean Power Plan, and they are crucial to the Americans’ negotiating position in Paris. The Plan is central to the pledge, made in advance of the summit, to cut U.S. emissions by 26%."

Writing Dec. 6, social critic Chris Hedges surmised: "The charade of the 21st United Nations climate summit will end, as past climate summits have ended, with lofty rhetoric and ineffectual cosmetic reforms. Since the first summit more than 20 years ago, carbon dioxide emissions have soared. Placing faith in our political and economic elites, who have mastered the arts of duplicity and propaganda on behalf of corporate power, is the triumph of hope over experience. There are only a few ways left to deal honestly with climate change: sustained civil disobedience that disrupts the machinery of exploitation; preparing for the inevitable dislocations and catastrophes that will come from irreversible rising temperatures; and cutting our personal carbon footprints, which means drastically reducing our consumption, particularly of animal products."

While we await the final declaration from Paris here are some painful statistics of interest from the website of the Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists. There are various causes in all these situations, but climate change is involved in just about all of them:

50% of forest bird species will go extinct in 50 years.

60% of flower species will go extinct in 50 years.

50% of mega cities will go extinct in 50 years.

90% of soil will go extinct in 50 years.

40% of humanity will not have enough water in 15 years.

99% of Rhinos gone since 1914.
 97% of Tigers gone since 1914.

90% of Lions gone since 1993.
90% of Sea Turtles gone since 1980.

90% of Monarch Butterflies gone since 1995.
90% of Big Ocean Fish gone since 1950.
80% of Antarctic Krill gone since 1975.

80% of Western Gorillas gone since 1955.

60% of Forest Elephants gone since 1970.

50% of Great Barrier Reef gone since 1985.
40% of Giraffes gone since 2000.

40% of ocean phytoplankton gone since 1950.

100% - Ocean acidification doubles by 2050, triples by 2100.
30% of Marine Birds gone since 1995.

70% of Marine Birds gone since 1950.
28% of Land Animals gone since 1970.

28% of All Marine Animals gone since 1970.

97% - Humans/livestock are 97% of land-air vertebrate biomass.

0.01%. 10,000 years ago humans/livestock were 0.01% of land-air vertebrate biomass.

1,000,000 humans, net, are added to earth every 4½ days.

Other than that everything is fine.


[The White House, Congress and the U.S. mass media have been demonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin for several years, as they do to virtually all important country leaders who do not submit to Washington's wishes. The following article critiques this practice, particularly in relation to the crisis in Syria. The authors are Katrina vanden Heuvel, the Editor and Publisher of The Nation — the most influential liberal magazine in  the U.S.; and Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies, history, and politics at New York University and Princeton University. A Nation contributing editor, he has written nine books, the most recent being Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War.]

By Stephen F. Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel

The 130 people murdered in Paris on Nov. 13 and the 224 Russians aboard a jetliner on Oct. 31 confront America’s current and would-be policy-makers, Democratic and Republicans alike, with a fateful decision: whether to join Moscow in a military, political, diplomatic, and economic coalition against the Islamic State and other terrorist movements, especially in and around Syria, or to persist in treating “Putin’s Russia” as an enemy and unworthy partner.

If the goal is defending U.S. and international security and human life, there is no alternative to such a coalition. The Islamic State (IS) and its only “moderately” less extremist fellow jihadists are the most dangerous and malignant threat in the world today, having slaughtered or enslaved an ever-growing number of innocents from the Middle East and Africa to Europe, Russia, and the United States (is Boston forgotten?) and now declared war on the entire West.

Today’s international terrorists are no longer mere “nonstate actors.” IS alone is an emerging state controlling large territories, formidable fighting forces, an ample budget, and with an organizing ideology, dedicated envoys of terror in more countries than are known, and a demonstrated capacity to recruit new citizens from others. Nor is the immediate threat limited to certain regions of the world. The refugee crisis in Europe, to take a looming example, is eroding the foundations of the European Union and thus of NATO, as is the fear generated by Paris since Nov. 13.

This spreading threat cannot be contained, diminished, or, still less, eradicated without Russia. Its long
experience as a significantly Muslim country (1), its advanced military capabilities, its special intelligence and political ties in the Middle East, and its general resources are essential. Having lost more lives to terrorism than any other Western nation in recent years, Russia demands — and it deserves — a leading role in the necessary coalition. If denied that role, Moscow, with its alliance with Iran and China and growing political support elsewhere in the world, will assert it, as demonstrated by Russia’s mounting air war in Syria, whose advanced technology and efficacy against terrorist forces are being under-reported in the U.S. media.

France and much of Europe quickly made their decision. Following the tragic events of Nov. 13, French President François Hollande called for “a grand coalition,” specifically including Russia, against the Islamic State. Still more, on Nov. 17, his unprecedented appeal to the European Union —not US-led NATO— to activate its own “mutual assistance” provision was unanimously approved, implicitly endorsing his proposed alliance with Russia. Hollande, rising to lead Europe, then departed to meet with President Obama and Russian President Putin.

A few clear-sighted American political figures across the spectrum have echoed Hollande’s call for a coalition with Russia, among them former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, and, most importantly, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. Overwhelmingly, however, the American political-media establishment — crucially, the Obama Administration and Congress — has taken the recklessly myopic editorial position of The Washington Post: “An alliance with Russia would be a dangerous false step for the United States.” Columnists and reporters of the policy establishment’s other two leading newspapers, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, similarly, to quote Rohrabacher, “continue to denigrate Russians as if they were still the Soviet Union and Putin, not Islamic terrorists, our most vicious enemy.”

Our policy elite’s disregard for America’s national security is a result of the new US-Russian Cold War under way at least since the Ukrainian crisis erupted two years ago. We have argued repeatedly that Washington policy-makers bear more than their reasonable share of responsibility for this exceedingly dangerous and unnecessary development. Now is not the time to recapitulate those arguments but instead to rethink political attitudes toward Putin’s “pariah” Russia in order to join Moscow in Hollande’s proposed coalition.

There are woefully few signs of such rethinking, even after Paris. Like most of the Republican would-be presidents, Hillary Clinton continues to speak derisively about Putin’s leadership, insisting he “is actually making things somewhat worse.” Inexplicably, unless she wants war with Russia, she also continues to call for an “imposed” no-fly zone over Syria, which would mean attacking Russian war planes flying there daily. Strobe Talbott and John Bolton, each reportedly an aspiring secretary of state in the next Democratic or Republican administration, respectively, agree (uncontested, as usual, in the Times) that Putin’s Russia remains “part of the problem.” Indeed, Paris scarcely diminished the Cold War demonizing of Russia’s president; as Clinton did months ago, a Post editorial and a Journal columnist equated Putin with Hitler.

In addition to persistent Putinphobia (and perhaps Russophobia), other ominous factors have been at work since Nov.13. On Nov. 22, ultra-right Ukrainians destroyed Crimea’s source of electricity, sharply re-escalating conflict between Moscow and Kiev. Two days later, NATO-member Turkey shot down a Russian warplane in still murky circumstances; jihadists waiting below machine-gunned the pilot as his parachute descended over Syria. Whether these two events were coincidence or provocations to prevent a Western rapprochement with Russia, both testify that the new Cold War, which has spread from Ukraine to Europe and now to Syria and Turkey, risks actual war between the two nuclear superpowers.

Islamic State fighters march in Raqqa, their "Capital."
In such perilous circumstances, only the American president can provide decisive leadership. Over the years, Obama has repeatedly treated and spoken of Putin in ways unbefitting the White House — and detrimental to U.S. national security. He did so again after Paris. Putin told Hollande, “We are ready to cooperate with the coalition which is led by the United States.” Obama, however, who endorsed Turkey’s inexplicable shoot-down of the Russian warplane, used his press conference with the French president to again demean Putin and Russia’s contributions: “We’ve got a global coalition organized. Russia is the outlier,” adding condescendingly that Moscow might be permitted to participate, but only on U.S. terms.

Those terms call for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as soon as possible rather than abiding by the multinational plan for an evolutionary political transition in Damascus. Unlike Putin and many other observers, President Obama (and then-Secretary of State Clinton) have not learned the real lesson of Libya, which is not “Benghazi.” It is the 2011 decision to overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and abet his assassination, which turned Libya into a terrorist-ridden failed state and now a major base for the Islamic State. Imposed “regime change” in Damascus may have the same consequences, while imploding the Syrian army, currently the main “boots on the ground” fighting the Islamic State. (As Putin candidly acknowledges, Russian warplanes seek to protect and bolster Assad’s army, not Assad’s questionably “moderate” enemies on the ground.)

In times of historic crisis, great leaders often have to transcend their own political biographies, as did FDR and Lyndon Johnson and, 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. It’s time for President Obama — and every candidate who wants to succeed him — to do so.

— From The Nation, Nov. 30.

— (1) ) There are 20 million Muslims in the Russian Federation, 15% of the population of 140 million. There are 2.75 million Muslims in the U.S. in a population of 320 million, less than 1%. Both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have called on Russian Muslims to launch a jihad against the state. This is one of the reasons behind Moscow's engagement in Syria — to help defeat both organizations before they can make more trouble in Russia. In recent years there have been several major terrorist incidents in Russia. Wikipedia reports: "Islamic terrorism is considered a major threat to the security of the nation[Russia] with most terrorist activity taking place in Chechnya and Dagestan. Since October 2007, the Caucasus Emirate has withdrawn its nationalist goals of creating a sovereign state in Chechnya. It has since fully adopted the Islamic fundamentalist ideology of Salafist-takfiri jihadism whose enemies not only include Russia and its citizens, but all non-Muslims, including the local Sufi population."


       Turkey destroyed Russian jet. Pilot parachuted  but ground forces shot him dead before he landed.

(Moscow, Reuters) President Vladimir Putin said Dec. 3 that Turkey's shooting down of a Russian military jet was a war crime and that the Kremlin would punish Ankara with additional sanctions, signaling fallout from the incident would be long-lasting and serious.

Putin, who made the comments during his annual state of the nation speech to his country's political elite, said Russia would not forget the Nov. 24 incident and that he continued to regard it as a terrible betrayal.

"We are not planning to engage in military saber-rattling (with Turkey)," said Putin, after asking for a moment's silence for the two Russian servicemen killed in the immediate aftermath of the incident, and for Russian victims of terrorism.

"But if anyone thinks that having committed this awful war crime, the murder of our people, that they are going to get away with some measures concerning their tomatoes or some limits on construction and other sectors, they are sorely mistaken." Turkey would have cause to regret its actions "more than once," he said, promising Russia's retaliatory actions would be neither hysterical nor dangerous.

The rhetoric Putin used will dash hopes of any early rapprochement and deepen a rift between the two countries. "It appears that Allah decided to punish the ruling clique of Turkey by depriving them of wisdom and judgment," he said.

Repeating a call for a new broad international coalition against terrorism, Putin, in an overt reference to Turkey, called on countries to avoid "double standards, contacts with any terrorist organizations, and any attempts to use them for their own ends." Turkey has strongly rejected Russian allegations it has any links with Islamic State militants. On Dec. 2 Russia made it personal, saying Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's family was directly profiting from Islamic State oil smuggling.

Russia has already banned some Turkish food imports, including selected fruit and vegetables, as part of a wider retaliatory sanctions package. Minutes after Putin had finished speaking, his energy minister, Alexander Novak, said Russia was halting talks with Ankara on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, a symbolic move designed to emphasize the strength of Kremlin anger.

Turkey insists the SU-24 fighter bomber violated its air space and was warned repeatedly before being shot down. Russia says the plane, which was taking part in the Kremlin's air campaign against militants in Syria, had not strayed from Syrian air space.

Erdogan sought a meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a climate change conference in Paris last week, but was snubbed. Nor has the Russian leader taken his phone calls.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Dec. 7 that most oil smuggled by the Islamic State is being transported through Turkey and that it must be stopped. Mohsen Rezaei, the secretary of Iran's Expediency Discernment Council, has also accused Turkey of aiding militant smuggling operations, saying he has images of Islamic State oil trucks in Turkey.

Agence France Presse reported Dec. 5 from Moscow: "When U.S. officials say they don't see how the terrorists' oil is smuggled to Turkey... it smells badly of a desire to cover up these acts," the ministry said "The declarations of the Pentagon and the State Department seem like a theatre of the absurd," the statement added, suggesting that Washington "watch the videos taken by its own drones which have recently been three times as numerous over the Turkey-Syria border and above the oil zones."


Now he wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States because, he stated in a speech, they possess “no sense of reason or respect for human life.” Is he crossing the line to fascism?

By John Cassidy

On Dec. 5 Donald Trump took his rabble-rousing Presidential campaign to Davenport, Iowa, and, naturally enough, he addressed the attack that took place in San Bernardino on Wednesday, and the fact that the two perpetrators appear to have been inspired by the Islamic State. “That shit is not going to happen any more,” Trump told a cheering crowd. “We’re going to be so vigilant. We’re going to be so careful. We’re going to be so tough and so mean and so nasty.”

Just how mean and nasty? Trump didn’t say. He did, though, point out that his support has grown since last month’s terror attack in Paris — a fact confirmed by a new poll, released on Dec. 5, by CNN, that shows him more than 20 points ahead of his nearest Republican rival, Ben Carson. “Every time things get worse, I do better,” Trump said. “People want strength.”

That might be true, but the number of people who respond positively to the windy brand of toughness that Trump is offering shouldn’t be overestimated. About 40% of voting-age Americans identify themselves as Republicans or leaning Republican, and the latest polls show him garnering about 30% of their support. This suggests that perhaps 12% of the American electorate can be counted as members of the round-’em-up/put-’em-on-a-watch-list/send-’em-back brigade. (It should be noted, however, that the poll was carried out before the attack in San Bernardino.)

Meanwhile, France has supplied a disturbing example of how terror attacks can generate support for an authoritarian backlash against immigrants and Muslims. On Dec.6, the ultra-right-wing National Front made big gains in the country’s regional elections. Exit polls suggested that the party, which is led by Marine Le Pen, had won about 30% of the vote, well ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right Republican Party and President François Hollande’s center-left Socialist Party. Depending on what happens in the run-off elections, next month, the National Front could end up controlling local governments in vast swaths of France.

While rising support for the National Front predates the two major terrorist strikes that took place this year in Paris, concerns about Islamic radicalism and rising antagonism toward immigrants undoubtedly helped Le Pen and her colleagues. In the wake of last month’s coordinated attacks on the Bataclan theatre and other sites, Le Pen restated her earlier call for an end to all immigration into France, legal and illegal. She said that the mainstream parties had failed to protect the French people and demanded an immediate police crackdown. “Islamist fundamentalism must be annihilated,” she said. “France must ban Islamist organizations, close radical mosques, and expel foreigners who preach hatred in our country as well as illegal migrants who have nothing to do here.”

Is he waving, or saluting?

In some ways, Trump hasn’t gone as far as Le Pen. He still favors legal immigration, for example. But, in other ways, his message is uncannily similar to Le Pen’s; on one issue, he’s even outdone her. On Dec. 6, he issued a statement calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” In typical fashion, Trump didn’t provide any details or background material to support his proposal, which came hours after polls showed Sen. Ted Cruz leading him in Iowa. “Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Trump said in the statement. “If I win the election for President, we are going to Make America Great Again.”

Appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Trump stepped up his attacks on President Obama for failing to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” and said that the United States wouldn’t defeat the Islamic State until Obama “gets the hell out” of the White House. Trump also called for stepped-up surveillance of Muslim communities and institutions, such as mosques, and he endorsed police profiling of Muslim individuals.

“I think there can be profiling,” Trump said. And, he went on, “A lot of people are dead right now. So everybody wants to be politically correct, and that’s part of the problem that we have with our country.” He later added, “You have people that have to be tracked. If they’re Muslims, they’re Muslims.”

For now, at least, some of the other Republican candidates are distancing themselves from Trump’s most incendiary statements. “The fact is, we don’t need to be profiling in order to be able to get the job done here,” Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, said, also on “Face the Nation.” He cited what happened after 9/11 in New Jersey and other states, where the authorities created closer relationships with Muslim communities and mosques but didn’t engage in overt profiling. “What you need is a President who’s had the experience and the know-how to do this,” Christie said, “and not someone who’s just going to talk off the top of their head.”

On ABC News’s “This Week,” Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, expressed similar sentiments. “We don’t have to target the religion,” Bush said. “We just have to target those that have coopted the religion and make sure that we’re fully aware of the radicalizations taking place, not just here but all around the world.” On the evening of Dec. 7, in response to Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Christie and Bush criticized him again. “This is the kind of thing that people say when they have no experience and don’t know what they are talking about,” Christie said on a radio show. “We do not need to resort to that type of activity, nor should we.” Bush tweeted, “Donald Trump is unhinged. His ‘policy’ proposals are not serious.”

It remains to be seen whether this measured attitude will survive contact with the GOP’s base. As I write this, the Real Clear Politics poll average shows Christie and Bush garnering the backing of 6.8% of potential Republican voters, between them. Trump has 29.5%With the American public increasingly alarmed about the possibility of future terrorist attacks, and with conservative commentators baying for blood, it is far from clear that reason and restraint will be rewarded.

Trump, on the other hand, is in his element. During and after Obama’s address to the nation Dec.6, he kept up a derisive commentary on Twitter: “Is that all there is? We need a new President — FAST!” “Well, Obama refused to say (he just can’t say it), that we are at WAR with RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISTS.” “Obama said in his speech that Muslims are our sports heroes. What sport is he talking about, and who? Is Obama profiling?”

The mocking tone is one of Trump’s defining characteristics. Another — as the New York Times pointed out last weekend, in an analysis of his public comments — is a relentless focus on the threat to America, and to American values, presented by outsiders of various kinds: Mexican immigrants, Syrian refugees, radical Muslims. A third trait of his campaign is the constant refrain that he will restore American greatness.

Mockery of the political establishment, an “us versus them” attitude, the myth of national regeneration: all of these things have long been associated with political movements of the far right, course, and among the commentariat there is now a lively debate about whether or not Trump can be regarded as fascist or proto-fascist. Since there is no generally agreed-upon definition of fascism, this discussion is unlikely to be resolved. What can be said without fear of contradiction is that Trump represents a long-standing and deep-rooted strain of American nativism and parochialism, which, in earlier eras, was exploited by such figures as Father Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, and George Wallace.

How far can Trump push it? To repeat, the polls suggest that his support is limited, however vocal it may be. And unlike Marine Le Pen, he doesn’t have a separate political party behind him. Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, formed the National Front in 1972, and it has spent more than four decades agitating and building up its presence at the local level. But it wasn’t until the telegenic Marine took over as the Party’s leader, in 2011, and set out to “de-demonize” its public image that the National Front became a serious threat to the mainstream parties.

For now, Trump is trying to coopt the Republican Party, some elements of which regard him as a cancer. If, as remains the most likely outcome, the Party unites around somebody to defeat him in the upcoming primary, he could still end up running in the general election as an independent or third-party candidate. (Just last week, he repeated that his earlier pledge to support the Republican ticket even if he doesn’t win the nomination depended upon him being treated “fairly.”) But given Trump’s self-centeredness and lack of interest in organizational details, it seems unlikely that he will bequeath to
America a new right-wing party.

In any case, though, he is successfully demonstrating how far celebrity, riches, demagoguery, and favorable circumstances can take an ambitious and unscrupulous individual. Even a couple of months ago, it was clear that his campaign was tapping into deep veins of economic disappointment, ethnic resentment, and political disaffection. To that febrile mix, the fear of domestic terrorism has now been added. Hopefully, the President is right, and the country will overcome the threat of ISIS without ditching the values and liberties it claims to represent. Like France, though, America stands at a perilous political moment.

— From the New Yorker blog, Dec. 7, 2015.  John Cassidy is a  staff writer at The New Yorker.


French police plow into crowd of demonstrators to end banned climate march in Paris Nov. 29.
By The Activist Newsletter

The French government trampled on civil rights in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 terror attack in Paris that killed 130 people. The main victims were Muslim individuals and families and activists who planned to demonstrate against climate change in Paris and the nearby site of the UN COP21 talks seeking an international agreement on cutting the use of fossil fuels.

Al Jazeera reports: "A surge in arrests, house arrests and raids on homes and private property in the wake of the Paris attacks — including at mosques and Muslim-owned businesses — has raised alarm among rights organizations that France's extended state of emergency could curb civil liberties.

"The general prohibition put in place in the wake of the attacks came to an end on Nov. 22 but the ban was extended until Dec. 13 around the Champs-Elysees in central Paris and in Le Bourget, where the COP21 meeting is taking place." The gathering is due to end on the 13th.

Democracy Now noted Dec. 3: "French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that authorities had carried out more than 2,200 raids since a state of emergency was declared following the Paris attacks. Under the state of emergency, French police can raid any home without judicial oversight. In addition, police have held 263 people for questioning — nearly all have been detained. Another 330 people are under house arrest, and three mosques have also been shut down."  There are numerous report of excessive use of police force.

French Police breaking into apartments in order to question Muslim residents.

The drastic State of Emergency has also been used to ban peaceful protests that were planned for months to begin in Le Bourget at the beginning of the UN climate conference, followed by smaller actions throughout the conference.

Hundreds of thousands of climate protesters from France and around the world were planning to take part in a historic march demanding significant changes in restricting greenhouse gas emissions that probably will not be part of the final agreement.

On Sunday Nov. 29, police arrested 317 protesters out of thousands who defied the ban on marches after they were forcefully dispersed by police at the Place de la Republique — a main location for commemorations following the terrorist shootings.

There was nothing about the planned demonstrations that justified the ban. They would have had a positive impact on the climate deliberations, providing public backing for a more extensive final agreement. This was obviously not welcomed by certain countries.

Worldwide, the Guardian reported that just before COP21 began "More than 600,000 people have taken to the streets in 175 countries of the world to call for a strong deal in Paris that will see a swift transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Melbourne and London led the way, with 60,000 people and 50,000 people, respectively, joining marches.

Commenting on the global demonstrations, May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said: “The scale and diversity of today’s events are astounding. Worldwide people are ready for the end of fossil fuels and the dawn of renewables. World leaders can no longer ignore this urgent call for action as the climate crisis continues to unfold. It is time for them to stand on the right side of history.”


By Stratfor, 11-11, 2015

In the same way that control of the skies added a new dimension to combat in the great wars of the 20th century, the military exploitation of space will be a defining characteristic of the 21st century. German rocket technology propelled the first unmanned systems into space during the latter stages of World War II. These systems traveled beyond the Karman line — the commonly accepted boundary between Earth and space, at around 100 kilometers altitude (62 miles). From the late 1950s onward, the ability to routinely launch manned and unmanned systems into orbit heralded a new era of competition between the Soviet bloc and the West, led by the United States. As the Cold War progressed, the utilization of the near-Earth environment shaped a new strategic aspect to the conflict and added another battlefield in which the world's superpowers could compete.

In the standoff between the post-war powers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were the only weapons to enter space. They were projected on an arc that took them beyond the Earth's atmosphere before deploying warheads carried by re-entry vehicles to their targets. There were no existing defensive systems that could be stationed in space or close enough to ensure the destruction of the ballistic missiles themselves or of their deadly payloads. The development, staging and maintenance of space-based weapons and bases was untenable at the time, so treaties limiting what could be done in Earth's immediate vicinity were relatively uncontroversial and easy to pass.

These pacts also hoped to address some of the prevalent fears of the time, including concerns about nuclear explosions in space and about debris descending back to Earth. UN.-brokered regulations were based on existing Cold War technologies, capabilities and expectations, influenced by the fact that emerging space law was particularly ambiguous. Therefore, existing international law considers the lowest perigee attainable by an orbiting craft: Anything in orbit is taken to be in international space, and anything not orbiting is accepted to be in national airspace. The problem with legal ambiguity, however, is the extent to which gray areas can be exploited for gain.
Model of military space  rocket fired from Earth.
Yet, as technology improved and countries' strategic imperatives evolved, so did the consideration given to the domination of space. The announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1983 was heavily criticized, but it proved that the logical evolution of missile defense involved orbital platforms as well as ground-based systems. Although the initiative — known by its more popular moniker Star Wars — did not reach fruition, the United States still achieved global military superiority in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In achieving military dominance, the United States came to increasingly rely on space-based infrastructure to wage war. While Washington adhered to the prohibition on placing offensive weapons — including kinetic kill systems, directed energy weapons platforms and missile-carrying satellites — in space permanently, the United States installed a huge portion of its electronic networking capability in orbit, enabling it to intervene in conflicts around the globe. Military satellites were the lynchpin of a network-centric approach to operations, comprising command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance structures, better known as C4ISR. The evolution of C4ISR coincided with the advent of precision-guided munitions and the drone revolution, enabling the free movement of near real-time data. Everything from GPS, early warning monitoring, weather tracking, tactical and strategic communications, and full-spectrum intelligence gathering is facilitated through the United States' expansive network of military satellites.

However, the U.S. military is not the sole operator of space-based infrastructure. Countries with advanced space programs, such as China, Russia, Israel, Japan and some NATO alliance members, all rely on some military space-based capability. And the trend is only increasing. As much as the United States leads the field, however, it is increasingly reliant on its space-based systems — of which a significant percentage are highly vulnerable and largely indefensible. This vulnerability has not escaped the notice of the United States' biggest competitors. By finding a way to disable space-based systems, a potential antagonist could disconnect the multiple interlocking U.S. military systems, plunging it into information darkness and delivering a critical blow ahead of any physical strike — and to do so would not violate any existing space treaty.

Artists depiction of space war.

The single biggest example of this threat to U.S. military orbital systems comes from China. A progression of Chinese anti-satellite missile tests carried out over the past few years has alarmed the Pentagon. Though there are still limitations to the effectiveness of ground-based anti-satellite weapons — namely the tracking and accuracy requirements, given the speed, size and altitude of satellites — the technology is rapidly advancing. For countries that are still developing militarily, there is a strong incentive to pursue anti-satellite technology in the hope it could neutralize or disrupt one of the greatest advantages that the United States has: its C4ISR infrastructure.

Most other countries do not have the same vulnerabilities as the United States, which makes it difficult for Washington to impose the kind of retaliatory deterrence structure that worked so well during the nuclear arms race. In other words, the United States cannot use the threat of disabling other countries' space-based communications infrastructure to prevent attacks because other countries do not rely as heavily on the technology. So U.S. Space Command faces a conundrum: How does it cover what is a largely exposed and defenseless flank?

Perhaps partly because of concerns over Chinese anti-satellite tests — the most recent of which was conducted Oct. 30 — the Pentagon has recently started to talk about "space control." And the shift in language could indicate a change to the U.S. defense approach. Washington knows that to be proactive may mean stepping beyond the boundaries of the Outer Space Treaty, and the move would not be without precedent: Reagan showed a willingness to overstep the treaty with his Star Wars program, though he was ultimately stalled because of a lack of political will and technological capability.

As Washington works to secure its orbital technology, it also realizes that competitors are catching up. This is not to say that the U.S. military has been negligent in developing and expanding its capabilities. The United States leads the field in ballistic missile defense (BMD), and many of its maturing systems are designed to operate outside of the Earth's atmosphere. The United States also dominates space-tracking infrastructure: Being able to see other countries' space-based systems is beneficial from both a defensive and offensive perspective. 

The U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system has the ability to reach into space and to attack ICBMs in the middle of their flight trajectory. A key component of GMD is something known as an exoatmospheric kill vehicle, which separates from its boost vehicle in space and collides with an incoming projectile. This technology does not violate existing space treaties but is revealing of the way military planners — and the defense industries that serve them — are thinking.

Regulation and enforcement is not clear, but the trend is. As militaries around the globe expand their capabilities, so will they increase their reliance on space-based systems. Thus space will become increasingly militarized. The push to expand, occupy and dominate space will eventually erode the efficacy of the current treaty structures set in place decades ago. Currently, all space-based military infrastructure supports terrestrial operations. But long-term considerations about the eventual exploitation of resources in the broader solar system factor into current debates. When space exploration and the collection and refinement of resources become economically feasible, competition will inevitably ensue.

History tells us that such opportunities for resources rarely go smoothly or unchallenged, though deep-sea mining shows us that peaceful competition is possible. Still, generally, competition on Earth has led to perpetual conflict and military posturing, so it is logical that competition for resources elsewhere could inevitably lead to more conflict and could necessitate the ability to project military power there in one form or another. Closer to home, we can look to the opening of the Arctic for comparison: There is no clear precedent for ownership, there are mineral resources present, and only certain countries have the technological know-how to explore and exploit such an inhospitable environment. Countries have already staked their claims and military posturing has begun. As the ability to capture the riches of the solar system becomes more viable, it is highly likely that similar disputes will emerge in the more forbidding environment of space.

By the Activist Newsletter

This is written on Dec. 7 to commemorate the day in 1941 the U.S entered the war against fascism and imperialism. We selected one person, a European woman, as our focus:

Lepa Svetozara Radić, a young Serbian woman resident in Yugoslavia, would have been 90 years old this Dec. 17. But she was 17 years old when executed by the Nazis in 1943. Lepa was a partisan fighter against the occupying German army. Her crime was shooting at German soldiers during World War II.

Lepa was born in the village of Gašnici. After finishing middle school she became an activist with the Communist Youth League, and a year later became a member of the Yugoslavian Communist Party, the principal organization fighting the Nazis in that country.

As the noose was about to be put around her neck she cried out, "Long live the Communist Party and the partisans!" As her captors then tightened the noose, they offered her a last minute way out of the gallows by revealing her comrades and leaders identities. She responded that she was not a traitor to her people and they would reveal themselves when they avenged her death. She was the youngest winner of the Order of the People’s Hero of Yugoslavia, awarded posthumistly  in 1951.

We will take a private moment to salute her on her birthday — a gesture to all those who participated, or suffered or died in the battles against fascism and imperialism. Long may they be remembered.

A Taliban soldier undefeated after all these years.

By Agence France-Presse, 12-1-15

The U.S. and NATO will keep some 12,000 troops in Afghanistan for an extra year through 2016 to prevent the country again becoming a terrorist safe haven, alliance head Jens Stoltenberg said.

NATO's mission was supposed to end this year but Taliban battlefield successes, especially their recent brief capture of the northern city of Kunduz, prompted a radical re-think. President Obama announced in October after the Kunduz attack that he would keep the bulk of the some 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan for another year because Afghan forces "are still not as strong as they need to be."

U.S.-led NATO invaded Afghanistan in 2001 shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks to oust the Taliban from Kabul, the capital. U.S. troop numbers peaked at around 90,000. Taliban militants are still mounting attacks while the Islamic State is gaining a foothold in the country.

At the moment the 28 NATO allies were also reviewing how to provide fresh funding for the Afghan armed forces for the period 2017-20, after they put up $4 billion previously.

[Activist Newsletter:  After lasting 14 years it is evident the war will continue indefinitely. Washington has spent a trillion dollars in efforts to dominate the country but has failed, as it did in Iraq. In all probability American troops will still be fighting in Afghanistan for years to come, and the White House will continue paying billions annually to sustain the Afghan army and police. The American people, including the peace movement, have basically forgotten the war.

From Reuters and Democracy Now

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Nov. 13 to hear a challenge to tough abortion restrictions in Texas raises questions about the legal fate of similar laws in more than a dozen other states.

The court's ruling, due by June, could spell out the extent to which states can impose clinic regulations likely to restrict access to abortion as an outpatient procedure. If the court upholds the Texas law, similar laws would also fall. But if the court rules in favor of the state, then more states would be able to follow suit.

"Broadly speaking, the rule the Supreme Court crafts will impact all different types of regulation," said Steven Aden, a lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group that supports abortion restrictions. A number of conservative-leaning states have passed laws in recent years governing abortion providers and clinics — all of which restricted abortion rights.

Democracy Now reported Nov. 18: "A new report reveals at least 100,000 women in the state of Texas have attempted to self-induce an abortion. The groundbreaking study by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project comes as the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to a sweeping Texas anti-choice law.  Since the law passed in 2013, about half of the state’s 41 abortion clinics have closed. The study found as many as 240,000 Texas women have tried to end a pregnancy without medical assistance, citing restrictions including a lack of funds to travel to a clinic or the fact their local clinic had shut down.

"In Kentucky, the state’s last remaining full-time abortion clinic has been vandalized for the second time in less than a month. Last week, a man threw a rock through the glass door of EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, just two weeks after another man hurled himself into the clinic’s window, shattering it. The clinic’s executive director told Insider Louisville: "We’re not angry, we’re not afraid, we’re just really sad that the mentality out there isn’t more understanding and compassionate for women."

The case before the Supreme Court focuses on two provisions of a 2013 Texas law. One requires clinics providing abortions to have costly hospital-grade facilities and the other requires abortion clinic physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (50 km).

Ten of the 50 U.S. states have imposed admitting-privilege requirements similar to those in Texas, while six have enacted laws requiring hospital-grade facilities that mirror the Texas law, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents abortion providers in the case before the Supreme Court.

In total, 22 states have specific licensing standards for abortion clinics, although not all are as strict as Texas', according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports the right to an abortion, but whose research is cited by both sides in the debate.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said that if the Texas law is upheld, "copy cat laws around the nation will proliferate, creating disparities in access to care."
Courts have blocked six of the Texas-like admitting privileges laws, including measures in Wisconsin and Alabama.
A Mississippi law mandating admitting privileges, which would have led to the only abortion clinic in the state closing down, was put on hold by a lower court in 2012. That case is pending at the high court and will likely be put on hold until the justices rule in the Texas case.

Courts have been more favorable toward tightened rules for clinics providing abortions. Four of the six laws similar to Texas', including measures in Missouri and Virginia, have been allowed, at least in part, to go into effect. 12 other states including Florida, South Carolina and Arkansas, have this year considered enacting similar laws but the bills did not pass, according the Guttmacher Institute.


By Reuters news agency

The richest 10th of the world's people produce half of all carbon emissions, while the poorest half — most threatened by droughts and super storms linked to climate change — produce only 10%, Oxfam reported Dec. 2.

The richest 10% have, on average, carbon footprints 11 times that of the poorest 3.5 billion people on the planet, the campaign group said in a report to coincide with talks in Paris this month on a global deal to slow climate change.

"Climate change and economic inequality are inextricably linked and together pose one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century," Tim Gore, Oxfam's head of food and climate policy, said in a statement.

"Paris must be the start of building a more human economy for all — not just for the 'haves,' the richest and highest emitters, but also the 'have-nots', the poorest people who are the least responsible for and most vulnerable to climate change.... Rich, high emitters should be held accountable for their emissions, no matter where they live..

Oxfam said a select group of billionaires, who had made many of their fortunes in fossil fuels, were the only people to stand to gain from a weak deal in Paris.

Experts say the world's poorest, regardless of the country they are living in, are often the least prepared in terms of coping with the effects of climate change, and women, especially in rural areas, are the most vulnerable.



New York City activists protesting outside bank rrecently demanding divestment from fossil fuels.

By Wendy Koch, National Geographic, 12-2-15

An increasing number of cities across the globe, including Norway’s capital Oslo, are pledging to divest from fossil fuels. Some are going even further by cutting their use of oil, coal, or natural gas.

They're boosting a divestment campaign that began as a millennial crusade on college campuses three years ago but has quickly spread to churches and foundations, including one created with the fortune of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller.

The divestment campaign now includes more than 500 institutions representing at least $3.4 trillion in assets, up from $50 billion just 14 months ago, according to 350.org. Only a small fraction of those assets are likely invested directly in fossil-fuel stocks, but participants are noteworthy: Dutch pension fund PFZW is divesting from coal companies, the London School of Economics from coal and tar sands, and Germany’s Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau from all fossil fuels.

The campaign is the fastest growing divestment movement in history and could damage coal, gas and oil companies, says a 2013 study by the University of Oxford. It follows prior U.S.-originated efforts against tobacco, violence in Sudan's Darfur, and apartheid in South Africa. Desmond Tutu, who fought apartheid, also opposes fossil fuels: “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.

In late November at UN climate talks in Paris, campaign activists announced that Paris and 18 other French municipalities have approved steps to divest from companies that produce fossil fuels. The cities, encouraged to divest by a recent French Parliament resolution, include Bordeaux, Dijon, Lille, and Saint-Denis.

At least 60 other cities, including Melbourne and San Francisco, and local governments in 10 wealthy countries support full or partial divestment. Some focus solely on the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, which emits twice as much carbon dioxide when burned as natural gas.

 “Cities are moving to the forefront in the fight against climate change,” says Jamie Henn, co-founder and spokesperson of 350.org, the grassroots group coordinating the divestment campaign along with the Divest-Invest coalition. “They know firsthand the problems brought about by fossil fuels, from urban air pollution to rising seas,” he says, adding they’re setting an example for state and national governments.

Some cities are shifting not only their investments but also their power mix. The California cities of San Francisco and Santa Monica, which have pledged divestment, have set targets of getting all their electricity from renewable energy. Two others, Oslo and Seattle, now get 98 percent from non-fossil fuel sources, primarily hydropower, according to a survey this year by CDP, a not-for-profit group formerly known as Carbon Disclosure Project.

Even capitals not divesting are nixing fossil fuel. Australia's Canberra has committed to getting 90 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020 and Sweden's Stockholm aims to use zero fossil fuels by 2040, reports CDP.

By Liberation News

As we approach the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, much of the world is hopeful that some meaningful binding resolution will come out of the talks. All scientific evidence supports that climate change is here, it is caused by human behavior and if we don’t take measures immediately to drastically curb greenhouse house gas (GHG) emissions and consumption levels, we will face catastrophic climate change.

While the EU is pushing for a legally binding climate deal to come from the Paris talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated, there is “definitively not going to be a treaty” and there are “not going to be legally binding reduction targets like Kyoto.”

This means more empty promises and little action coming from the biggest per capita polluter — the United States—with over two times that of China per capita.

Of course even if a legally binding agreement comes out, who will enforce it? The United States has a long history of defying international law and acting unilaterally in imperialist wars and interventions around the globe.

The U.S. in past climate talks has pointed the finger at China in particular and other developing countries as guilty of polluting and not matching the commitments of the developed world. But this June, China committed to cut emissions by 65% of 2005 levels and pledged $3.1 billion in aid to developing countries to combat climate change. Compare this to the United States’ comparatively weak pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 32% of 2005 levels by the year 2030. With power plants accounting for only one third of overall U.S. emissions, this pledge falls short of any sincere effort.

Last year, China spent $83.3 billion on renewable energy development with the U.S. in a distant second place at $38.3 billion. China is leader in hydro and wind capacity and comes in second after Germany’s solar program. Despite the demonization of China for coal use, China reduced coal use by 2.9% last year on top of a 7.4% growth in the economy.

Any commitments by the United States ring hollow as Obama attempts to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress.

Jason Kowalski, policy director of 350.org stated, “The TPP is an act of climate denial. While the text is full of handouts to the fossil fuel industry, it doesn’t mention the words climate change once.” It gives “fossil fuel companies the extraordinary ability to sue local governments that try and keep fossil fuels in the ground.... If a province puts a moratorium on fracking, corporations can sue; if a community tries to stop a coal mine, corporations can overrule them. In short, these rules undermine countries’ ability to do what scientists say is the single most important thing we can do to combat the climate crisis: keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

Under the free trade model that exploded in the 1990s, emissions from trade have increased by 400% along with shipping of materials and goods, part and parcel of outsourcing production from the developed world to the developing world. (“This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,” Naomi Klein)

These same agreements allow corporations to violate local environmental regulations and labor laws going so far as to sue governments if they in any way impede their ability to make profits. This model is at its core irreconcilable with the path to a sustainable world.

The latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin states that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 397.7ppm in 2014 with carbon levels increasing by 143%, nitrous oxide by 121%, and methane by 254 percent since 1750.

2015 is on the path to being the hottest year on record as we reach the threshold of 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) of warming since the industrial era began.

Scientists warn that in order to stay below 2 degrees Centigrade of warming (3.6 F) total emissions must leave more than 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Going beyond a 2 degree C increase is predicted to be catastrophic for life on Earth.

But capitalism marches on. For fossil fuel companies it is business as usual. “In 2013, fossil fuel companies spent some $670 billion on exploring for new oil and gas resources. One might ask why they are doing this when there is more in the ground than we can afford to burn,” says University College London Professor Paul Ekins, who conducted a study on current corporate and government investments.

California has the most aggressive GHG reduction plan in the nation. Initiated with Assembly Bill 32, California is required to reduce GHG’s to 1990 levels by 2020, but California is one state in one country trying to address a global problem. These measures, while they hope to inspire other regions to change, are powerless to implement the immediate widespread measures that are necessary to avert climate catastrophe.

A 2010 Stanford study by Mark Jacobson shows that with current technology we can provide all the energy needs of the planet using wind, water and solar power. The report states, “We suggest producing all new energy with WWS by 2030 and replacing the pre-existing energy by 2050. Barriers to the plan are primarily social and political, not technological or economic.”

The opening for incremental changes and modest regulations ended decades ago. Over those decades, the corporations which mine and burn coal and oil, and which dump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere have been unresponsive to calls to transform, to do anything significant that could damage their “competitive edge.” We cannot wait for the corporations — that in reality hold power over the government — to give up their massive profits from fossil fuels and the over production of unnecessary goods, to decide that the planet and people are more important.

Regulatory agencies are weak in the face of Big Oil, gas and coal with their fleets of lawyers and lobbyists that all the environmental groups combined can never match. Additionally, regulation takes a piecemeal approach combined with a lack of coordination and political will between various agencies and the private sector. For example, government agencies that regulate air pollution have no control over how many cars are on the road, which is the main source of GHG emissions. They have no control over accessibility to public transit, smart growth, all things that play into the need for individuals to drive cars. They have no control over the auto manufacturing companies and the affordability of zero emission vehicles.

How can we globally resolve the issue of climate change before it becomes a catastrophe? Can we completely change our system from one of competition and consumption to one of cooperation, sustainability and adaptation? The scientists and engineers of the world have the solutions and are showing that incremental changes and voluntary incentives are now too little and too late. How can we foment the political will of our governments to implement the necessary changes?

We need a globally coordinated effort between the world’s leading scientists and engineers working with global leaders and communities to make the best use of technologies and resources. We need a system of planned economy and production to reduce waste and curb over-consumption and to funnel resources toward global change adaptation and renewable technologies.

We need to take control from the corporations who only seek to maximize profits at the expense of the planet. We cannot solve this crisis through the corporate model and the capitalist system that relies on the whim of the market to determine what is produced and in what quantity; where corporations compete for cutting edge technologies and undermine each other’s research and patent new discovers as private property to be profited from.

In socialist Cuba, there is cooperation and a pooling of knowledge and resources within all sectors of society and with the outside world. Through this model, Cuba has repeatedly been the only nation to achieve sustainable development despite the 53-year-long devastating economic blockade imposed by the U.S. that severely restricts Cuba’s ability to trade.  Sustainable development is determined by ecological footprint combined with a country’s Human Development Index (HDI) which rates nation on life expectancy, literacy and education.

Urban organic vegetable garden adjacent to Havana apartment house.

Cuba has implemented extensive polyculture organic agriculture and urban gardens that eliminate the emissions from transport of food from rural to urban centers. Organic urban farms provide100% of Havana’s consumption needs for produce along with 60,000 urban patios.

Cuba has the largest and best preserved wetland area in the Caribbean and reforestation programs as well as reclamation of discarded industrial areas in Havana. (http://www.treehugger.com/environmental-policy/why-cuba-sustainability-not-accident.html.)

An area once a garbage dump in the neighborhood of Poglotti is now a woodland area. “The reforestation project was an initiative of the community itself, and was supported from the outset by local authorities and the Metropolitan Park of Havana, the institution in charge of environmental management of part of the city’s “green belt.”

Cuba demonstrates another way. Their grassroots participatory democracy along with centralized planning and distribution of resources is an efficient means to address the needs of society. In 2006, the government implemented the Year of Energy Revolution and distributed 10 million energy efficient light bulbs and over 6 million rice cookers and pressure cookers free of charge to the population along with other energy efficient appliances. Under capitalism, this would not be possible, and the corporations would likely sue the government for inhibiting their profits.

There is a living model for how sustainability can be achieved. If the world is serious about taking action on climate change, world leaders should be studying the Cuban system and adopting it.

We cannot rely on our politicians to save us from climate change or wait for the richest 1% to stop destroying the planet out of greed. Only the masses of people have the collective power and the skills to reorganize society in a sustainable way. We need a system  that utilizes the world’s resources to sustain and improve life for everyone on the planet; that puts life over profit. We need to continue to build and strengthen the global people’s movement to demand “System Change, Not Climate Change!”

— Liberation Newspaper is at http://www.liberationnews.org.

By Democracy Now

The historic flooding in India this week comes as new figures show that worldwide, an average of one person is displaced by climate-related weather events every single second.

The data revealed by the United Nations refugee agency shows that since 2008, 22.5 million people have been displaced by floods, storms and other climate-related weather events – the equivalent of a person per second over the last eight years.

Speaking at the United Nations climate summit Dec. 2, Marine Franck of the UN refugee agency said the climate talks must help solve the problem of massive climate displacement:

"The Paris agreement must address human mobility. In the current draft of the negotiations the issue is addressed under 'loss and damage,' but it’s also important to address this issue under adaptation. Preventing and minimizing displacement must be a priority. Enabling people to migrate in dignity, to seek alternative opportunities when living conditions deteriorate and crisis comes knocking at their door is also an important measure."


The white working class in large number turns out at  Trump's big rallies (above).  In the 2014 mid-term elections, 61% of these voters backed republicans; about 26%  voted Democratic.
By Barbara Ehrenreich

The white working class, which usually inspires liberal concern only for its paradoxical, Republican-leaning voting habits, has recently become newsworthy for something else: according to economist Anne Case and Angus Deaton, the winner of the latest Nobel Prize in economics, its members in the 45- to 54-year-old age group are dying at an immoderate rate. While the lifespan of affluent whites continues to lengthen, the lifespan of poor whites has been shrinking. As a result, in just the last four years, the gap between poor white men and wealthier ones has widened by up to four years. The New York Times summed up the Deaton and Case study with this headline: “Income Gap, Meet the Longevity Gap.”

This was not supposed to happen. For almost a century, the comforting American narrative was that better nutrition and medical care would guarantee longer lives for all. So the great blue-collar die-off has come out of the blue and is, as the Wall Street Journal says, startling.”

It was especially not supposed to happen to whites who, in relation to people of color, have long had the advantage of higher earnings, better access to health care, safer neighborhoods, and of course freedom from the daily insults and harms inflicted on the darker-skinned. There has also been a major racial gap in longevity — 5.3 years between white and black men and 3.8 years between white and black women — though, hardly noticed, it has been narrowing for the last two decades. Only whites, however, are now dying off in unexpectedly large numbers in middle age, their excess deaths accounted for by suicide, alcoholism, and drug (usually opiate) addiction.

There are some practical reasons why whites are likely to be more efficient than blacks at killing themselves. For one thing, they are more likely to be gun-owners, and white men favor gunshots as a means of suicide. For another, doctors, undoubtedly acting in part on stereotypes of non-whites as drug addicts, are more likely to prescribe powerful opiate painkillers to whites than to people of color. (I’ve been offered enough oxycodone prescriptions over the years to stock a small illegal business.)

Manual labor — from waitressing to construction work — tends to wear the body down quickly, from knees to back and rotator cuffs, and when Tylenol fails, the doctor may opt for an opiate just to get you through the day.

But something more profound is going on here, too. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman puts it, the “diseases” leading to excess white working class deaths are those of “despair,” and some of the obvious causes are economic. In the last few decades, things have not been going well for working class people of any color.

I grew up in an America where a man with a strong back — and better yet, a strong union — could reasonably expect to support a family on his own without a college degree. In 2015, those jobs are long gone, leaving only the kind of work once relegated to women and people of color available in areas like retail, landscaping, and delivery-truck driving. This means that those in the bottom 20% of white income distribution face material circumstances like those long familiar to poor blacks, including erratic employment and crowded, hazardous living spaces.

White privilege was never, however, simply a matter of economic advantage. As the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1935, “It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage.”

Some of the elements of this invisible wage sound almost quaint today, like Du Bois’s assertion that white working class people were “admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools.” Today, there are few public spaces that are not open, at least legally speaking, to blacks, while the “best” schools are reserved for the affluent -- mostly white and Asian American along with a sprinkling of other people of color to provide the fairy dust of “diversity.” While whites have lost ground economically, blacks have made gains, at least in the de jure sense. As a result, the “psychological wage” awarded to white people has been shrinking.

For most of American history, government could be counted on to maintain white power and privilege by enforcing slavery and later segregation. When the federal government finally weighed in on the side of desegregation, working class whites were left to defend their own diminishing privilege by moving rightward toward the likes of Alabama Governor (and later presidential candidate) George Wallace and his many white pseudo-populist successors down to Donald Trump.

At the same time, the day-to-day task of upholding white power devolved from the federal government to the state and then local level, specifically to local police forces, which, as we know, have taken it up with such enthusiasm as to become both a national and international scandal. The Guardian, for instance, now keeps a running tally of the number of Americans (mostly black) killed by cops (as of this moment, 1,209 for 2015), while black protest, in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement and a wave of on-campus demonstrations, has largely recaptured the moral high ground formerly occupied by the civil rights movement.

The culture, too, has been inching bit by bit toward racial equality, if not, in some limited areas, black ascendency. If the stock image of the early twentieth century “Negro” was the minstrel, the role of rural simpleton in popular culture has been taken over in this century by the characters in Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. At least in the entertainment world, working class whites are now regularly portrayed as moronic, while blacks are often hyper-articulate, street-smart, and sometimes as wealthy as Kanye West. It’s not easy to maintain the usual sense of white superiority when parts of the media are squeezing laughs from the contrast between savvy blacks and rural white bumpkins, as in the Tina Fey comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. White, presumably upper-middle class people generally conceive of these characters and plot lines, which, to a child of white working class parents like myself, sting with condescension.

Of course, there was also the election of the first black president. White, native-born Americans began to talk of “taking our country back.” The more affluent ones formed the Tea Party; less affluent ones often contented themselves with affixing Confederate flag decals to their trucks.
All of this means that the maintenance of white privilege, especially among the least privileged whites, has become more difficult and so, for some, more urgent than ever. Poor whites always had the comfort of knowing that someone was worse off and more despised than they were; racial subjugation was the ground under their feet, the rock they stood upon, even when their own situation was deteriorating.

If the government, especially at the federal level, is no longer as reliable an enforcer of white privilege, then it’s grassroots initiatives by individuals and small groups that are helping to fill the gap -- perpetrating the micro-aggressions that roil college campuses, the racial slurs [10] yelled from pickup trucks, or, at a deadly extreme, the shooting up of a black church renowned for its efforts in the Civil Rights era. Dylan Roof, the Charleston killer who did just that, was a jobless high school dropout and reportedly a heavy user of alcohol and opiates. Even without a death sentence hanging over him, Roof was surely headed toward an early demise.

Acts of racial aggression may provide their white perpetrators with a fleeting sense of triumph, but they also take a special kind of effort. It takes effort, for instance, to target a black runner and swerve over to insult her from your truck; it takes such effort — and a strong stomach — to paint a racial slur in excrement on a dormitory bathroom wall. College students may do such things in part out of a sense of economic vulnerability, the knowledge that as soon as school is over their college-debt payments will come due. No matter the effort expended, however, it is especially hard to maintain a feeling of racial superiority while struggling to hold onto one’s own place near the bottom of an undependable economy.

While there is no medical evidence that racism is toxic to those who express it -- after all, generations of wealthy slave owners survived quite nicely -- the combination of downward mobility and racial resentment may be a potent invitation to the kind of despair that leads to suicide in one form or another, whether by gunshots or drugs. You can’t break a glass ceiling if you’re standing on ice.

It’s easy for the liberal intelligentsia to feel righteous in their disgust for lower-class white racism, but the college-educated elite that produces the intelligentsia is in trouble, too, with diminishing prospects and an ever-slipperier slope for the young. Whole professions have fallen on hard times, from college teaching to journalism and the law. One of the worst mistakes this relative elite could make is to try to pump up its own pride by hating on those — of any color or ethnicity — who are falling even faster.

— From TomDispatch, Dec. 1, http://www.tomdispatch.com 2015. Socialist, feminist and activist Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 13books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed.

Most union unions will support Clinton but the National Nurses UInited backs Sanders.
[The Wall Street Journal is watching Bernie Sanders' campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination very carefully. The daily news organ of the U.S. capitalist system does not believe he will gain the candidacy, much less the presidency. But his popularity is obviously a product of mass misgivings about the raw deal workers are getting from capitalism. In this article the WSJ compares Sanders with two famous socialist leaders of early in the last century. The comparison is superficial — they were to Bernie's left and dedicated their entire lives to the cause, not to a single essentially liberal primary campaign. But what concerns the Journal is a self-described socialist getting the support of multitudes of American despite 100 years of continuous government propaganda against socialism and communism.]

By Emma Court, Nov. 27

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s upstart presidential candidacy is being fueled by voter sentiment that hasn’t been so prominent for nearly a century: a fight between the economic haves and have-nots.

It’s a stewing sense of unfairness last tapped to broad affect by a couple of his political heroes: socialist presidential candidates Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas, each of whom lost five times in the early part of the 20th century. [Activist Newsletter: In 1920 Debs received nearly a million votes despite the fact that he was in prison serving a 10-year sentence for opposing the military draft.]

While they faltered on Election Day, they did succeed in pushing the Democratic Party to the left, and some of their policy proposals found their way into President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

History might repeat itself as Mr. Sanders’s passionate attacks on big corporations and the wealthy could influence the policies of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton on trade and regulating Wall Street investors.

“Only once in a great while does a figure like Bernie Sanders come along,” said Paul Buhle, a retired Brown University American studies professor and Sanders supporter. “Whether he wins or loses, he still has made a great impression.”

Candidates aligned with the socialist movement tend to gain the most attention during times of increased income inequality, and particularly on the heels of a stock-market crash, historians said....

Mr. Sanders harkened back to the New Deal in a recent speech dedicated to explaining what it means to him to be a self-described Democratic socialist today. He highlighted some of the key elements of the New Deal legislative package — including the passage of Social Security, housing assistance and a jobs program — and drew parallels between that era and the present. In a reference to Mr. Roosevelt, Mr. Sanders noted: “By the way, almost everything he proposed was called ‘socialist.’ ”

Mr. Debs is a legendary figure in the U.S. socialist movement. He led a railroad workers union strike, dubbed the Pullman Strike, and traveled the country during one election cycle campaigning on a train called “the Red Special.” Mr. Sanders called him “the greatest leader in the history of the American working class” in an admiring 1979 documentary that Mr. Sanders directed about Mr. Debs’s life.  Like Mr. Sanders, audiences came out in the thousands to hear Debs speak.

“Sanders is picking up some of that anti-corporate spirit,” said James Green, emeritus history professor at University of Massachusetts at Boston. “What ties him to Debs is a sense that corporate America, big-time capitalism, is inherently corrupt and destructive to American democracy and the American people.”

Of course, workforce trends have changed since the early and mid-20th century. Both Mr. Debs and Mr. Thomas rose to prominence during a time of union ascendancy, while now the labor movement’s hold on the workforce has been in decline for decades. Meanwhile, corporations have grown exponentially in size and scale since Mr. Debs’s day.

That means socialism today has a different meaning, said Nick Salvatore, an American history professor at Cornell University and author of a book about the labor leader. “Debs’ generation actually remembered a time before corporate capitalism was deeply embedded in the culture,” he said. “Nobody today has any remembrance.”

Rather than talk of national ownership of corporations, Mr. Sanders’s proposals are for Social Security increases, free college tuition and breaking up big banks, or what Mr. Green called “21st century socialism.” He has also railed against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal negotiated by President Barack Obama.

That Mr. Sanders’s campaign, even if it fails, could play an important role long after the 2016 election has been acknowledged by the candidate himself. “This campaign really is not about Bernie Sanders,” the candidate often says on the campaign trail. “It’s about transforming America.”


By Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, Nov. 20 

Watching the debate on terrorism from the U.S. has been a bizarre experience. The attacks took place in France — but it seems to be the U.S. where the political demands for ever-tougher border controls are taking hold.

On Nov.19 the House of Representatives passed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act (SAFE – get it!) which would stop resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the U.S. indefinitely. By contrast, President Hollande has just reaffirmed that France will take 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years.

You might say that, in the current fearful climate, reasonable people can disagree about the right approach to Syrian refugees. But the current U.S. debate is framed by some distinctly unreasonable rhetoric particularly on the campaign trail. On the same day that the House passed SAFE, Donald Trump — still comfortably the front-runner in the race to be the Republican nominee — came out in favor of a database to track all Muslims in America. Meanwhile Ben Carson, who is running second to Trump, likened management of Syrian refugees to the handling of a rabid dog.

It was in this climate that the House passed SAFE. The Senate will debate the bill in a couple of weeks time. President Obama has said he will veto the measure, if it lands on his desk.

In reality, the numbers of Syrian refugees, arriving in the U.S. are minuscule. America has accepted 1,200 Syrian refugees this year, three-quarters of which are women and children. Vetting is already so extensive that it takes an average of two years for a refugee to be accepted.

The current argument reflects deeper trends in American thought and politics. Protected by two vast oceans, Americans  can and do still aspire to absolute security. The idea that the troubles of the world can simply be excluded, is still attractive and popular. That is the more comforting explanation of what is going on. But there is also no avoiding the ugliness of much of the current debate — in which distortions and untruths peddled on talk radio are pandered to, by unscrupulous politicians such as Trump.

— Gideon Rachman is the chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times.


"The similarities between wolves and humans are arguably more extensive than those between humans and any other."

By Tim Flannery

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
by Carl Safina, Henry Holt, 461 pp., $32.

The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins
by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell
University of Chicago Press, 417 pp., $35.

The free-living dolphins of the Bahamas had come to know researcher Denise Herzing and her team very well. For decades, at the start of each four-month-long field season, the dolphins would give the returning humans a joyous reception: “a reunion of friends,” as Herzing described it. But one year the creatures behaved differently. They would not approach the research vessel, refusing even invitations to bow-ride. When the boat’s captain slipped into the water to size up the situation, the dolphins remained aloof. Meanwhile on board it was discovered that an expeditioner had died while napping in his bunk. As the vessel headed to port, Herzing said, “the dolphins came to the side of our boat, not riding the bow as usual but instead flanking us fifty feet away in an aquatic escort” that paralleled the boat in an organized manner.

The remarkable incident raises questions that lie at the heart of Carl Safina’s astonishing new book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. Can dolphin sonar penetrate the steel hull of a boat — and pinpoint a stilled heart? Can dolphins empathize with human bereavement? Is dolphin society organized enough to permit the formation of a funeral cavalcade? If the answer to these questions is yes, then Beyond Words has profound implications for humans and our worldview.

Beyond Words is gloriously written. Consider this description of elephants:
"Their great breaths, rushing in and out, resonant in the halls of their lungs. The skin as they moved, wrinkled with time and wear, batiked with the walk of ages, as if they lived within the creased maps of the lives they’d traveled."

Not since Barry Lopez or Peter Matthiessen were at the height of their powers has the world been treated to such sumptuous descriptions of nature.

Safina would be the first to agree that anecdotes such as Herzing’s lack the rigor of scientific experiments. He tells us that he is “most skeptical of those things I’d most like to believe, precisely because I’d like to believe them. Wanting to believe something can bias one’s view.” Beyond Words is a rigorously scientific work. Yet impeccably documented anecdotes such as Herzing’s have a place in it, because they are the only means we have of comprehending the reactions of intelligent creatures like dolphins to rare and unusual circumstances. The alternative — to capture dolphins or chimpanzees and subject them to an array of human-devised tests in artificial circumstances — often results in nonsense. Take, for example, the oft-cited research demonstrating that wolves cannot follow a human pointing at something, while dogs can. It turns out that the wolves tested were caged: when outside a cage, wolves readily follow human pointing, without any training.

Safina explains how an evolutionary understanding of the emotions helps us to see even humble creatures as individuals. The chemical oxytocin creates feelings of pleasure and a craving for sociality. So widespread is it that it must have originated 700 million or more years ago. Serotonin, a chemical associated with anxiety, is probably equally ancient: crayfish subjected to mild electrical shocks have elevated serotonin levels, and act anxiously. If treated with chlordiazepoxide (a common treatment for humans suffering from anxiety) they resume normal behavior.

The basic repertory of emotions evolved so long ago that even worms exhibit great behavioral sophistication. After a lifetime studying earthworms, Charles Darwin declared that they “deserve to be called intelligent,” for when evaluating materials for plugging their burrows, they “act in nearly the same manner as a man under similar circumstances.” Emotions are the foundation blocks of relationships and personalities. Driven by the same complex mix of emotion-inducing chemicals as ourselves, every worm, crayfish, and other invertebrate has its own unique response to its fellows and the world at large.

Worms and crayfish may have distinct personalities and emotional responses, but their brains are far simpler than ours. Humans fall within a small group of mammals with exceptionally large brains. All are highly social, and it is upon this group—and specifically the elephants, killer whales, bottlenosed dolphins, and wolves—that Safina concentrates. The last common ancestor of these creatures was a primitive, small-brained, nocturnal, shrew-sized mammal that lived around 100 million years ago. The brains, bodies, and societies of these “animal intelligentsia,” as we might call them, are each very different, making it hard to understand their lives.

Safina sees and describes the behaviors of the animals he’s interested in through the eyes of researchers who have dedicated their lives to the study of their subjects. What is it like to be an elephant? Cynthia Moss, who has lived with the elephants of Amboseli National Park in Kenya for four decades, sums them up as “intelligent, social, emotional, personable, imitative, respectful of ancestors, playful, self-aware, compassionate.” It all sounds impressively human, but elephant societies are very different from our own. Female elephants and their young live separately from males, for example, so they have no conception of romantic love or marriage (though the females can be very interested in sex, enough to fake estrus in order to attract male attention).

Much published behavioral science, incidentally, is phrased in a neutral language that distances us from animals. Safina argues that we should use a common language of grief, joy, friendship, and empathy to describe the equivalent responses of both human and other animals. To this I would add the language of ceremony: What other word but “marriage” should be used to describe the ritual bonding, followed by lifelong commitment to their partners, of creatures like the albatross?

Sometimes it is the small things that best reveal shared life experience. When baby elephants are weaned they throw tantrums that rival those of the wildest two-year-old humans. One youngster became so upset with his mother that he screamed and trumpeted as he poked her with his tiny tusks. Finally, in frustration, he stuck his trunk into her anus, then turned around and kicked her. “You little horror!” thought Cynthia Moss as she watched the tantrum unfold.

Clans of female elephants, led by matriarchs, periodically associate in larger groups. As a result, elephants have excellent memories, and are able to recognize up to one thousand individuals. So strong is elephant empathy that they sometimes bury their dead, and will return repeatedly to the skeleton of a deceased matriarch to fondle her tusks and bones. Indeed, an elephant’s response to death has been called “probably the strangest thing about them.” When the Amboseli matriarch Eleanor was dying, the matriarch Grace approached her, her facial glands streaming with emotion, and tried to lift her to her feet. Grace stayed with the stricken Eleanor through the night of her death, and on the third day Eleanor’s family and closest friend Maya visited the corpse. A week after the death the family returned again to express what can only be called their grief. A researcher once played the recording of a deceased elephant’s voice to its family. The creatures went wild searching for their lost relative, and the dead elephant’s daughter called for days after.

Elephants have been known to extract spears from wounded friends, and to stay with infants born with disabilities. In 1990, the Amboseli female Echo gave birth to a baby who could not straighten his forelegs, and so could hardly nurse. For three days Echo and her eight-year-old daughter Enid stayed with him as he hobbled along on his wrists. On the third day he finally managed to straighten his forelegs and, despite several falls, he was soon walking well. As Safina says, “His family’s persistence—which in humans facing a similar situation we might call faith—had saved him.”
Most of us will never see a wild elephant, much less spend the time observing them that is required to understand them as individuals. But there are animals that share our lives, and whose societies, emotional depth, and intelligence are readily accessible. Dogs are often family to us. And it is astonishing how much of a dog’s behavior is pure wolf.

The Canidae—the family to which wolves and dogs belong—is a uniquely American production, originating and evolving over tens of millions of years in North America before spreading to other continents around five million years ago. The American origins of the wolf family did not save them from frontier violence. By the 1920s they had been all but exterminated from the contiguous forty-eight states of the U.S. Their reintroduction into Yellowstone National Park in January 1995 offered a unique opportunity to follow the fortunes of wolf families as they made their way in a new world. Yellowstone’s wolf research leader Doug Smith says that wolves do three things: “They travel, they kill, and they are social—very social.” But wolves are also astonishingly like us. They can be ruthless in their pursuit of power, to the extent that some will kill their sister’s cubs if it serves their ends. But they will also at times adopt the litters of rivals.

The best wolves are brilliant leaders that pursue lifelong strategies in order to lead their families to success. According to wolf watchers, the greatest wolf Yellowstone has ever known was Twenty-one (wolf researchers use numbers rather than names for individuals). He was big and brave, once taking on six attacking wolves and routing them all. He never lost a fight, but he was also magnanimous, for he never killed a vanquished enemy. And that made him as unusual among wolves as did his size and strength. He was born into the first litter of Yellowstone pups following the reintroduction of wolves in the park. Twenty-one’s big break came at age two and a half when he left his family and joined a pack whose alpha male had been shot just two days earlier. He adopted the dead wolf’s pups and helped to feed them.

A telling characteristic of Twenty-one was the way he loved to wrestle with the little ones and pretend to lose. The wolf expert Rick McIntyre said, “He’d just fall on his back with his paws in the air. And the triumphant-looking little one would be standing over him with his tail wagging.” “The ability to pretend,” McIntyre said, “shows that you understand how your actions are perceived by others. It indicates high intelligence.” That many humans recognize this in dogs, but have failed to see it in wolves, speaks strongly of the need for Safina’s book. For dogs are wolves that came to live with us.

The similarities between wolves and humans are arguably more extensive than those between humans and any other animal. Tough, flexible in social structure, capable of forming pair bonds and fitting into ever-shifting hierarchies, we were made for each other. And when we out-of-Africa apes met up with the arch-typical American canids a few tens of thousands of years ago, a bond was created that has endured ever since. Just who initiated the interspecies relationship is hotly debated. The traditional view is that humans domesticated dogs, but Safina makes a convincing case that the process was driven as much by the wolves as by the humans. The wolves that were better able to read human tendencies and reactions, and were less skittish of human contact, would have gotten access to more food scraps from human camps. And human clans willing to tolerate the wolves would have obtained valuable warnings of the presence of danger from other animals (and other humans). Eventually, Safina says, “we became like each other.” The partnership, however, has had some puzzling effects. The brains of dogs, as well as humans, have shrunk since we began living together, perhaps because we came to rely on each other rather than solely on our own wits.

Bottle nose  Dolphins. All together now — jump.

Sperm whales have the largest brains on earth—around six times larger on average than our own—while bottlenosed dolphins have the largest brains relative to body size, with the exception of humans. Along with killer whales, these species have a place beside the elephants, dogs, and great apes in the animal intelligentsia. The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins is a comprehensive academic work by researchers who have devoted their careers to studying sperm and killer whales. Ocean-going and deep diving, sperm whales are difficult to study, and researchers can as yet offer only a bare sketch of their societies. But it’s already clear that their social organization has remarkable parallels with that of elephants. Like elephants, sperm whale females and young often live in “clans” of up to thirty individuals, while adult males, except when mating, live separate lives.

Sperm whale clans possess distinctive “dialects” of sonar clicks. These are passed on by learning, and act as markers of clan identity. They are an important part of the whale’s communication system, which enables the creatures to synchronize their diving, feeding, and other activities. So social are sperm whales that females share the care of the young of their clan, for example by staying at the surface with a young whale while its mother dives for food. Clan members are so closely bonded that they spend extended periods at the surface, nuzzling one another or staying in close body contact. As with elephants, clans can gather in large congregations, so it seems reasonable to assume that sperm whales have the capacity to memorize large social networks.

Killer whales (otherwise known as orcas) have a very different social organization. Without doubt their most unusual characteristic is that all male killer whales are deeply involved with their mother. They never leave their mother’s clan, and despite their enormous size (growing to twice the weight of females), their fates remain deeply intertwined with those of their mothers. If their mothers should die, even fully adult males over thirty years old (they can live to over sixty) face an eight-fold increase in their risk of death. Just how and why the orphaned adult males die remains unclear.

Another striking feature of killer whales and near relatives is the extraordinary length of lactation. Short-finned pilot whales lactate for at least fifteen years after birth, even though puberty occurs at between eight and seventeen years. Sperm whales reach sexual maturity at nine to ten years of age, but traces of milk have been found in the stomachs of thirteen-year-olds. Killer whales and humans are unique in that they experience menopause (for the whales typically at around age forty). Because female killer whales can live up to eighty years, around a quarter of females in any group are post reproductive. Yet they remain sexually active. Grandmothers are evidently very important in killer whale societies, almost certainly because of the wisdom they have gathered over a lifetime.

An equally odd aspect of killer whale culture concerns food taboos and ways that whales observe them. In this they offer an extraordinary parallel with some human cultures. One clan of killer whales eats only a single species of salmon. Another kills only one species of seal. When members of a mammal-eating clan were captured for the aquarium trade in the 1970s, they starved themselves for seventy-eight days before eating the salmon being proffered, and then they ate the fish only after they had performed a strange ceremony. The two whales held gently onto either end of a dead salmon, and swam a single lap around their pool with it in their mouths, before dividing the fish between themselves and consuming it.

Killer whales are strongly xenophobic. Clans of salmon eaters never mix with mammal eaters, for example. Genetic studies show that clans with different food taboos don’t interbreed, leading to slightly different appearances and genetic makeup. Each clan has a distinctive dialect of vocalizations (perhaps we should call them languages), which facilitates coordination of their work, division of their labor, and care of one another.

At times, killer whales have developed special relationships with people. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, at Twofold Bay south of Sydney, Australia, killer whales and humans set up a mutually profitable whaling enterprise. The killer whales would notify the whalers of the presence of humpback whales by performing a ritual in the waters of the bay fronting the whaler’s cottagers. The men would harpoon the humpbacks, and the killer whales would hold on to the harpoon ropes to tire the prey.

Comparative size — sperm whale and human,
After a humpback was lanced and killed by the men, they observed the “law of the tongue.” The whalers would leave the humpback body for twenty-four hours so that the killers could feast on the lips and tongue. Remarkable proof of this partnership persists, in the form of the skeleton of “Old Tom”—a killer whale whose teeth were worn flat on one side while holding onto harpoon ropes—which can be seen in the killer whale museum in the town of Eden, Australia.

With the exception of our species, killer whales are earth’s most capable predators. When they evolved ten million years ago, half of earth’s whales, seals, and dugong species became extinct. Because they specialize in a particular food type and are so intelligent, killer whales continue to have a huge impact on their prey. As a result of global warming, killer whales have appeared in Arctic waters. Horrified Inuit describe them as voracious and wasteful killers that have reduced populations of some Arctic mammals by a third.

Safina comes to an unfamiliar but empirically based conclusion: prior to the domestication of plants and the invention of writing, the differences between human societies and those of elephants, dogs, killer whales, and dolphins was a matter of degree, not kind. Why, he asks, has it taken us so long to understand this? Are our egos “threatened by the thought that other animals think and feel? Is it because acknowledging the mind of another makes it harder to abuse them?”

The discovery of nonhuman societies composed of highly intelligent, social, empathetic individuals possessing sophisticated communication systems will force us to reformulate many questions. We have long asked whether we are alone in the universe. But clearly we are not alone on earth. The evolution of intelligence, of empathy and complex societies, is surely more likely than we have hitherto considered. And what is it, exactly, that sets our species apart? We clearly are different, but in light of Beyond Words we need to reevaluate how, and why.

Beyond Words will have a deep impact on many readers, for it elevates our relationships with animals to a higher plane. When your dog looks at you adoringly, even though he or she cannot say it, you can be as sure that love is being expressed as you can when hearing any human declaration of eternal devotion. Most of us already knew that, but have withheld ourselves from a full surrender to its implications. Along with Darwin’s Origin and Richard Dawkins’s Selfish Gene, Beyond Words marks a major milestone in our evolving understanding of our place in nature. Indeed it has the potential to change our relationship with the natural world.

— From The New York Review of Books, Oct. 6.  Reviewer Tim Flannery new book, Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis, was published in October 2015.


By Vaclav Smil

Belief in "American exceptionalism" — that unique blend of ideals, ideas, and love of liberty made so powerful by great technical and economic accomplishments — is alive and well. Even President Obama, a reluctant endorser to begin with, announced last year: I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”

But such proclamations mean nothing if they cannot stand up to the facts. And here what really matters is not the size of a country’s gross domestic product or the number of warheads or patents it may possess but the variables that truly capture its physical well-being and educational standard. These variables are simply life, death, and knowledge.

Infant mortality rate, 2010. Sources: CDC/NCHS, linked birth/infant death data set (U.S. data); OECD 2014 (all other data). Infographic: Erik Vrielink

Infant mortality is an excellent proxy for a wide range of conditions including income, quality of housing, nutrition, education, and investment in health care. Very few babies die in those affluent countries where people live in good housing and well-educated parents (themselves well nourished) feed them properly and have access to medical care. How does the United States rank among the world’s roughly 200 nations? The latest available comparison (for 2010) shows that with 6.1 of every 1,000 live-born babies dying in the first year of life, the United States does not figure among the top 25 nations. Its infant mortality is far higher than in France (3.6), Germany (3.4), and Japan (2.3). And the U.S. rate was 60% higher than in Greece, a country portrayed in the press as an utter basket case.

Life expectancy gives an almost identically poor result: In 2013, U.S. life expectancy ranked 34th worldwide, an average of 79 years for both sexes, which is, behind Greece (81), as well as Portugal (81) and South Korea (82). Canadians live three years longer on average, Italian men four, and Japanese women (at 87) six years longer compared to their U.S. counterparts.

Educational achievements of U.S. students (or a lack thereof) are scrutinized with every new edition of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The latest results for 15-year-olds show that in math, the United States ranks just below Russia, Slovakia, and Spain, but far lower than Canada, Germany, and Japan. In science, U.S. schoolchildren place just below the mean PISA score (497 versus 501); in reading, they are barely above it (498 versus 496) — and they are far behind all the populous, affluent Western nations. PISA, like any such study, has its weaknesses, but large differences in relative rankings are clear: There is not even a remote indication of any exceptional U.S. educational achievements.

— From IEEE Spectrum, Oct. 27, 2015


An anti-immigrant demonstration in Germany.  PEGIDA stands for (in English) 
Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident.

By Markus Feldenkirchen

Recently, I just returned to Germany after spending a couple of years in the United States as a foreign correspondent. In that time that I've been back, I've become concerned, wrought with worry that my own country is losing its civility.

In America, I was often appalled by the brutality of a society where the majority support the death penalty and police are allowed to shoot people in the back even if they don't present an immediate threat. I can't change the fact that I am German, but for some time, I was pleased with that destiny. I was proud -- not proud of Germany, but proud to be from a country that had apparently succeeded in becoming more empathetic and civil.

But the country I have returned to is a different one. It's a country in which the state chairman of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AFD) party in North Rhine-Westphalia has declared that, if need be, Germany's borders must be "protected using the force of arms," which would mean no less than allowing refugees to be shot at.

It's a country in which journalist Helmut Schümann could be clobbered from behind and disparaged as a "filthy leftist pig" because, a few days earlier, he had written a critical column in the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel entitled "Is this still our country?"

It's a country in which the candidate for mayor in Cologne, Germany's fourth largest city, could be seriously wounded with a knife because her assailant didn't like her refugee policies.
It's a country in which 30 Germans hunted down and beat up Syrian refugees using baseball bats in the eastern city of Magdeburg.

It's a country where the language used to foment against foreigners -- both on the ground and online -- makes even Donald Trump's tirades against immigrants seem harmless.

I suspect that one of the first reader comments after this gets posted will be, "Get lost you traitor."

A protester against the weekly gathering of the anti-immigration rightwing movement PEGIDA
in Dresden waves flag that reads: "
Nazis no, thanks." 
On a recent Sunday, a group of taxi drivers was waiting in the military area of Berlin's Tegel airport, the terminal used for flights by high-ranking government officials. The German defense minister had just arrived from Bahrain in an official government jet, but the taxi drivers apparently thought the plane was carrying Chancellor Angela Merkel. One proudly told me that he and his colleagues had half-joked that if one of them received Merkel as a passenger, that he would drive her to a nearby lake, tie stones to her feet and let her sink to the bottom. Because of her refugee policies.

What has happened to Germany? Does the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees justify forgetting almost everything that used to be important to us? The refugee crisis is, of course, a challenge. Solving it will take time, money and energy. But Germany has all the resources it needs to manage this crisis without surrendering its civility. Instead the mood in the country is akin to a drunken rage of the kind last seen in the beer halls of the 1920s Weimar Republic -- that period of crude, uncivilized behavior that paved the way for Hitler's rise and the most brutal decade in world history.

Then, too, criticism and anxiety wasn't put forth in the form of discourse. It was expressed in the form of fist fights on the streets. We know today that this culture of brutality played a considerable role in the failure of Germany's first attempt at democracy. Ultimately, the loud and the brutal severed society's vulnerable ties. We are obviously not anywhere close to that point today. Those threatening our society today are not in the majority, but there is still a large number of them. The Federal Republic of Germany established a functioning democracy in the decades after Hitler and its people had good reasons to be proud of the country's political culture. But no one should take it as a certainty that this achievement is safe forever.

It's also, incidentally, highly paradoxical that many of the people who are expressing this anti-social behavior today have adopted terms like "the cultural nation Germany" or "the land of poets and thinkers" to justify their actions, because nothing would be more shameful to the dead poets and thinkers than the gentlemen who are fueling xenophobic sentiment, issuing orders to fire at refugees or calling for Angela Merkel to be drowned or hanged.

In his "Winter Tale," the great German poet and thinker Heinrich Heine once wrote: "O how I detest the trumpery set, Who, to stir men's passion heated, Of patriotism make a show, With all its ulcers fetid."

— From Spiegel online. Markus Feldenkirchen is a political reporter for Der Spiegel in Berlin and heads the Opinion Desk.