Latest News

Exxon Denied Waiver From Russia Sanctions: Greenpeace Response

Commondreams - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 12:39
Greenpeace

In response to the Treasury Department’s denial of Exxon’s filing for a waiver to work in Russia despite United States sanctions, Greenpeace USA Spokesperson Cassady Craighill said,

Categories: Latest News

Civil Rights Groups File Brief with Florida Supreme Court in Support of State Attorney Ayala’s Opposition to Death Penalty

Commondreams - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 11:29
ACLU

A group of civil rights and civil liberties groups have filed an amicus brief with the Florida Supreme Court in support of Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala in her lawsuit challenging Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to remove 23 capital felony cases from her office as a result of her decision not to seek the death penalty. The brief is joined by The American Civil Liberties (ACLU) of Florida, the nationwide ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the Sentencing Project, and Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP).

Categories: Latest News

Public Records Sought on Dow’s Efforts to Pressure Trump Administration Over Pesticides, Endangered Species

Commondreams - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 09:18
Center for Biological Diversity

The Center for Biological Diversity submitted Freedom of Information Act requests this week seeking public records from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Commerce to illuminate reports about how Dow Chemical is pressuring the Trump administration to abandon efforts to protect endangered species from pesticides. 

Categories: Latest News

Detroit Needs Affordable Water, Not More Shutoffs

Commondreams - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 08:56
Food & Water Watch

“Nearly three years after it started an aggressive plan to shut off water service to households that are delinquent on their water bills, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is at it again. This week it announced it would once again deny service to people who cannot afford their water service. This is absolutely unacceptable, but a sad and unavoidable reality when federal funding for community water systems declines.

Categories: Latest News

Arkansas Kills Prisoner in First of Horrific Spate of Executions

Commondreams - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 07:56
Amnesty International - USA

Arkansas executed Ledell Lee today, the first of four prisoners scheduled to be executed before the state’s supply of lethal injections expires at the end of the month. This was the first execution in the state since 2005. Lee’s final appeals had requested DNA testing that could potentially prove his innocence, but those appeals were denied.

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Empire Files: Silencing Palestine With Prison and Repression

Truthout - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 21:00

Israel's occupation of the West Bank is an internationally-recognized human rights crime -- but those being impacted are harshly punished for not only acts of resistance, but even mere advocacy for their rights. 

Getting detailed facts about Israel's imposition of Military Law in the West Bank, Abby Martin visits the Ramallah offices of Addameer -- the most prominent prisoners' rights organizations in Palestine -- for a shocking investigation into the use of Israeli jails and arbitrary laws as a weapon. 

Chronicling this history of resistance and repression from the First Intifada through the 2015 uprising, this episode shows what brutal lengths the Israeli occupation will go to silence any and all advocacy for freedom.

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Largest Charter School Chain in LA Raises Millions in Dark Money to Fight Union Drive

Truthout - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 21:00

(Photo: Wokandapix; Edited: LW / TO)

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The extraordinary lengths to which Los Angeles' largest charter school chain will go to defeat a union drive were revealed in a new California State Auditor report that found it raised nearly $1 million for the effort and broke federal privacy law by giving alumni information to industry lobbyists to augment their union-busting campaign.

The efforts by Alliance College-Ready Public Schools (Alliance) to stop the union drive that began in March 2015, when 67 teachers and counselors said they wanted to join United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), also included $2.2 million in donated legal fees, hiring an array of campaign consultants routinely seen in political fights and coordinating with the California Charter School Association (CCSA), which used the private alumni files to recruit former students to their side.

The audit report did not say who gave the money or legal work worth $3.2 million to Alliance, which operates 25 schools in the LA region with 12,000 students and has more than 600 teachers and counselors. The state auditor's goal was to determine if any of the anti-union funds spent by Alliance had been diverted from taxpayer funds. It concluded that Alliance set up separate accounts and had not dipped into the $157 million it got from state, federal, and local sources in fiscal year 2015-16.

While that finding sparked the "did not use public funds to fight unions" headline in local news that Alliance wanted, the audit noted that Alliance's anti-union effort clearly violated federal privacy laws by giving information about former students to CCSA, which, in turn, recruited and paid some to deliver scripted messages. The report also stated that California law permits union drives at public schools, noting Alliance and UTLA have been in court where the chain has been ordered to cease illegal intimidation and threats.

But because auditors are state government's accountants, their report mostly stuck to fiscal and privacy issues. As it parsed Alliance's $3.2 million in anti-union expenses, it withheld a lot of details, such as not naming donors, who did the pro bono legal work or saying if these contributions were tax-deductible as the chain is a non-profit corporation.

However, UTLA officials have said Alliance retained Proskauer Rose LLP, a firm whose anti-union work has been documented at T-Mobilemajor league sportsColumbiaYale and Duke universities. Some of the "$426,000 in consulting fees for public relations and other services" described in the audit went to Mercury LLC, UTLA said, the PR firm with many anti-union clients from Michigan GOP Gov. Rick Snyder to David Koch.    

While the state auditor's report said Alliance kept anti-union funds separate from academics, it did note that of the $914,759 "Alliance Home Office" funds paid out that $204,540 was for reimbursements to schools "for expenses related to the time spent by school personnel in response to the unionization effort, and a $3,000 grant to each school for any future response to unionization efforts." The report also said that Alliance senior management held anti-union conference calls with principals and other staff.

"I am glad that this audit has been completed, but additional clarification is needed," California Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, a former LA teacher who requested the state audit last May, said in a statement. "I would like more information on the reimbursement of school employees, specifically if anti-unionization activities took place during school hours." 

Stepping back, it is remarkable that the largest charter chain in California's largest school district, which last year received 94 percent of its funding from taxpayers, was raising millions in dark money to undermine a legal activity -- union organizing. This is not money for computers, libraries or learning centers. This is not business as usual unless you're in the business of union busting, which, of course, has long been a national goal of the K-12 privatization movement. 

As you might expect, Alliance's spokespeople and UTLA officials talked past each other when commenting on the report.

The chain all-but denied it had done anything wrong, even as the audit report stiffly noted its anti-union bias, saying, "Alliance expressed its opinion that UTLA has been funding and supporting efforts to interfere with the freedom and flexibility that charter schools like Alliance have in tailoring programs for the needs of their students."

"There's no there there," Alliance spokeswoman Catherine Suitor told LAschoolreport.com, speaking of the ongoing litigation around their anti-union organizing tactics and the state auditor's report. "Our goal again is to stay focused on educating kids, running great schools and making Alliance a really great place to work for our educators."

Needless to say, those supporting the Alliance union drive see things very differently. 

"Alliance is spending resources to run a campaign against their own teachers and counselors," UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement. "Raising funds for a war chest to fight your own employees is just plain wrong. Operators of publicly funded schools should be working to see that every available dollar is spent to further quality education for students."

"All we want is a fair, neutral process so we can make up our own minds about forming a union without our employer interfering, and violating our rights under the law," said Alisha Mernick, an Alliance Teacher, in a UTLA article on the audit report. "When your employer is raising and spending millions of dollars to try to prevent you from having a union rather than working with teachers through collective bargaining to improve our students' education -- that's a pretty good sign you need a union."

Categories: Latest News

Making United Great Again

Truthout - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

EPA Considers Gutting Lead Regulations While Scott Pruitt Visits East Chicago

Truthout - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 21:00

Just as its administrator, Scott Pruitt, was meeting with residents of a neighborhood contaminated by lead, the Environmental Protection Agency announced upcoming reviews of its lead standards under President Trump's executive order requiring federal agencies to gut regulations. East Chicago residents have been waiting weeks for Pruitt to respond to their emergency petition for federal aid.

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaks at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, February 25, 2017. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent out a notice on Wednesday announcing a series of upcoming public meetings in which it will consider gutting rules and regulations meant to protect the public from lead and hazardous chemicals, including training programs designed to prevent children from being exposed to lead paint.

The notice went out at 2:30, just as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was meeting with residents of a neighborhood in East Chicago, Indiana, that has been contaminated with lead for decades. Six weeks after beleaguered residents petitioned his agency to take emergency action to protect them from lead contamination in their drinking water, Scott Pruitt was visiting East Chicago as part of the kick-off tour for his term as administrator of the EPA.  

"That timing is discouraging, obviously," said Debbie Chizewer, an attorney at an environmental law clinic at Northwestern University who works with East Chicago residents and was present during Pruitt's visit.

The EPA said the it scheduled the reviews of the lead standards in order to comply with President Trump's executive order requiring federal agencies to identify regulations that should trimmed or eliminated. Trump tapped Pruitt to run the EPA earlier this year, praising a long list of legal challenges he filed against federal environmental regulations as attorney general of Oklahoma.

Chizewer said the residents who met with Pruitt had a chance to share their concerns about cleanup plans and their stories about living with legacy industrial pollution. She hopes their input will be the start of a "steady stream of information" that will convince the EPA not to repeal or weaken its standards and rules for lead.

"Pruitt did not make any specific commitments, but did indicate that he would make sure the cleanup was done right," Chizewer told Truthout. "And now our job is to make sure that he follows through on those promises." 

Pruitt's visit to East Chicago comes as the White House and Republicans in Congress work to gut environmental protections and make deep cuts to the EPA's budget. Pruitt is currently pushing his "back-to-basics" agenda, a plan to trim the scope of the EPA's mission and return enforcement power to state regulators.

Environmentalists say the crisis in East Chicago is a textbook example of why state and local governments can't always be relied on to protect public health, and sometimes federal intervention is necessary.

"It's important that he showed his faced in the community," said Anjali Waikar, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who filed the emergency petition on behalf of residents. "The troubling part is, the EPA is essentially offloading responsibility to the states without the resources necessary for the states to do their jobs and ensure basic protections for public heath."

Activists and residents rallied in East Chicago before Pruitt arrived, demanding more federal assistance for East Chicago and, in particular, for the residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex.

Rev Rivera (Comm Strategy Grp) opens the rally demanding that Pruitt send more funding & support for EC residents pic.twitter.com/KFh5y5Y9Jo

— The People's Lobby (@peopleslobbyusa) April 19, 2017

West Calumet is located on a site that used to host a lead smelter and other heavy industries decades ago, and is listed as a national priority for environmental cleanup. The soil in the area is still contaminated with dangerous levels of lead, and residents of the housing project were recently ordered to evacuate, although some have been unable to afford to leave.

While studying the soil contamination at the site, the EPA discovered in December another serious public health danger: Lead is leaching into East Chicago's drinking water because the water supply has not received proper anti-corrosion treatments. A lack of treatment caused a lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, where authorities recently agreed to replace the city's drinking water lines completely.

Flint and East Chicago are both majority-Black cities with a high number of lower-income residents, and their lead troubles have brought national attention to the movement for environmental justice. During his confirmation hearings, Pruitt pledged that, if faced with a situation similar to Flint as administrator, he would swiftly take emergency action where a state government failed to act.

However, the EPA has yet to accept East Chicago's petition for emergency action, and Waikar said Pruitt did not address the petition during his visit on Wednesday.

In a statement, the EPA said that, under Pruitt's leadership, the agency has pledged to coordinate efforts with the city and state to clean up the contaminated soil in East Chicago and replace the lead service lines that have made the city's water unsafe to drink. The agency also announced it would allocate $16.5 million in funding for water infrastructure upgrades.

The EPA also provided bottles of water and filters to 54 nearby homes while working on the Superfund site. However, Waikar said the EPA's study confirmed that lead contamination in drinking water is citywide. The EPA, she said, needs to ensure that everyone in East Chicago has access to safe drinking water while cleanup continues and water lines are replaced.

She added that the agency should also provide oversight of water quality, because "it's clear that the city and the state have not done a sufficient job" protecting public health.

"EPA can't just come in, identify a problem and not take active measures to address that problem," Waiker said. "Simply identifying a public health threat is not enough, especially in a community like East Chicago, which [is] among the most vulnerable communities in the country." 

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Categories: Latest News

French Elections: Alt-Right, Total and Gold Mines, the Story Behind the Candidates' Environmental Policies

Truthout - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 21:00

The birthplace of the Paris Climate Agreements, the first round of France's presidential election on starts on Sunday, April 23. Throughout the campaign debates on the environment have often been sidelined, with the three leading candidates showing no sign of real climate leadership.

The backdrop to the election campaign has been full of "fake news," Brexit and Donald Trump. It has also been mired in scandals over corruption claims and growing concerns of Russian interference.

Many in France are still deciding who to vote for in one of the most unpredictable elections yet. If no candidate wins a majority on April 23, a second election round featuring the top two candidates will take place on May 7.

Far-right Marine Le Pen's rise through the polls shows the populist pulse of Brexit and Trump's election continues to resonate on the continent.

But Le Pen's efforts to give the Front National (FN) a new, greener image is tainted by the party's ongoing magnet effect with alt-right groups which reject climate science.

Conservative Francois Fillon denies any wrongdoing in a never-ending corruption scandal. Meanwhile his friendship with the head of oil giant Total raises questions over who will really benefit from his environmental policies.

The fragmentation of the political scene has left the door open for frontrunner Emmanuel Macron. Yet, his support for gold mines in French Guiana, in South America, has raised concerns over the protection of the territory's unique biodiversity.

With seven days until the polls open, DeSmog UK looks at how alternative facts and the three main candidates' links with powerful groups and corporations may have shaped their environmental policies.

DeSmog UK's analysis shows:

  • Le Pen has developed links with alt-right news website Breitbart 

  • A Front National elected representative has links with major energy and chemical company Air Liquide

  • Heads of multinationals Airbus and Total maintain a friendly relationship with Fillon 

  • Fillon has personal ties with Russia's President Vladimir Putin

  • Frontrunner Macron's support for gold mine exploitation on the edge of France's largest biological reserve in French Guiana

  • Former Minister of the Economy has a history of issuing oil and gas permits

 

Le Pen: Environment and French Identity

Over the last few years, the FN has strived to green its party image to widen its appeal, making the environment an issue of national identity.

But taking a closer look to her new green image, Le Pen's skeptic views are not far behind her. In 2012, in an interview for Terraeco, Le Pen declared: "I am not sure human activities are the main source behind the [climate change] phenomenon … The world has seen changes in the climate that had nothing to do with human activity."

Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the Front National party, is himself a known climate denier.

In 2010, he slammed the environment as the new religion of well-off urban classes and accused climate science of being "inaccurate and alarmist" during a conference called "Global Warming: myth or reality."

Le Pen has tried to move the party's image away from her father's denial of the Holocaust, anti-Semitic and climate skeptic views through a process known in France as "destabilisation," which means "casting out the devil."

But in spite of the creation of a new far-right movement designed to reframe the party's environmental policies, and Le Pen declaring during a 2012 interview that she is "greener than the Green Party," the FN leader has never explicitly accepted the extent of human agency in climate change.

In January, she said she "believed human activity does play a role, which extent I cannot measure, in climate change." That is as much as she has said.

In recent campaigns, Le Pen dropped her surname on posters to be known only as Marine. And yet, the alt-right movements which gravitate around the FN are a stark reminder of the party's roots.

"Destabilization" and Alt-Right Media

Last summer, alt-right news platform Breitbart announced its intention to launch in France in time for the presidential election. (So far, though, there are no signs of a French Breitbart.)

Breitbart promotes climate skeptic views questioning the extent of human agency in climate change and opposing environmental regulations as a barrier to growth. In 2015, it ran a story saying abundant carbon dioxide was good for the environment and beneficial for humanity. And just last week it ran an article arguing the Great Barrier Reef isn't in danger from mass coral bleaching.

The website has shown plenty of support for Le Pen ahead of the election. A quick search on their website give 158,000 results for Le Pen compared with 442 for right-wing Fillon and 340 for Macron.

Former CEO of Breitbart and Donald Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon told Radio Londres that France was "the place to be" and that Le Pen's niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, was its "rising star."

In a tweet following Trump's election, Maréchal-Le Pen said she accepted Bannon's invitation to work with him to set-up Breitbart in France.

I answer yes to the invitation of Stephen Bannon, CEO of @realDonaldTrump presidential campaign, to work together. https://t.co/tPSoY5A2vS

— Marion Le Pen (@Marion_M_Le_Pen) November 12, 2016

At the end of February, Breitbart ran a story with the headline "Establishment admits Le Pen might just win presidential election."

It read: "A Le Pen victory would continue the populist trend set by Brexit and the election of Donald J. Trump as US President last year, neither of which were forecast by insiders and industry pundits."

Breitbart's principal owner is the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who has pumped millions into organisations, which push climate science denial. The single biggest donor behind Donald Trump's campaign, Mercer also has a connection with data analytics company Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica, which has offered its services to Leave.Eu and backed the Trump campaign, carries out "election management strategies" for clients by profiling groups and individuals, including political beliefs and voting affiliations, and creating tailored content to boost the campaign's message.

There is no evidence the company has brought its support to the FN, which publicly said it was in need of financing, but it is clear that Breitbart has been in contact with the party. DeSmog UK has received no answer from the FN to its questions on the issue.

France also has its own far-right platforms. Known as the "fachosèphre" or literally the "sphere of fascists," these are promoting the FN's views of the environment as an emblem of French identity.

The anti-Semitic and homophobic website Egalité et Réconciliation, was founded by activists with connections to the far-right Groupe Union Defense (GUD), known for its violent actions in the 1970s.

Although Le Pen is keen to disassociate the FN from extremist and violent movements such as the GUD, the party continues to draw in some of its members. As such, one of the FN's main donors, who navigates in Le Pen's close but unofficial circles, is Frederic Chatillon, a former member of the GUD.

The website re-posts articles from different sources. This includes one story slamming climate change scientists as "the sect of the end of the world" and another accusing climate change of being a pretext "to feed the globalization machine."

But more recently, the website has also been promoting the work and lifestyle of Nicolas Fabre, a former Parisian graphic designer, who left his urban lifestyle to start growing food using permaculture techniques in the south of France.

Fabre lives in complete autarky with the rest of the world and praises his lifestyle as anti-system and anti-globalisation.

In 2014, Le Pen launched a new movement within the FN called "New Ecology." It promotes the idea of "environmental patriotism" and quickly became popular among some farming communities.

Opposing international treaties and advocating "short circuits" between local production and distribution, Le Pen has made her protectionist policies the heart of her environmental program.

She is not interested in solving the global climate crisis. Instead, she wants to be a strong voice for rural France with a motto of "think local and act local." Her environmental concerns stop at the French border.

Le Pen's Propositions 

Among Le Pen's 144 campaign pledges, 12 points are dedicated to the environment under a section called "Sustainable France," from which terms such as "biodiversity" and "air pollution" are absent.

Le Pen defends an energy transition based on the French renewable sector excluding wind farms, she previously described as "hideous" and on which she would impose a blanket ban.

She wants to "maintain, modernize and secure" France's nuclear energy sector in opposition to President Francois Hollande's plan to reduce nuclear energy from 75 per cent to 50 per cent of the energy mix by 2025.

Meanwhile, she wants to give a huge boost to the hydrogen industry -- she specifically calls "clean energy" -- through subsidies for research and development.

Four major French companies are currently leading research in hydrogen, including Air Liquide, Alstom, Engie and Total. It is also the case that an FN representative for the Isère area, Bruno Desies, was a former employee of Air Liquide, and worked to expand the company's activities in Asia.  

Le Pen backs a ban on shale gas exploitation until "satisfactory environmental, safety and health conditions" are met. France currently has a moratorium on shale gas exploration and exploitation using hydraulic fracking techniques, which it considered highly polluting.

She vows to make animal protection a national priority by forbidding animal killing without prior anesthesia, directly targeting halal and kosher slaughter techniques.

Greenpeace France has accused the FN of having "restored the face of the project, but at its heart, it [FN] still relies on principles that have remained unchanged since the far-right party's creation by Jean-Marie Le Pen."

Fillon's Friendship With Total 

While Le Pen uses climate change to promote closed borders and protectionist measures, on the other side, the ultra-liberal and conservative candidate Fillon puts growth at home and abroad at the heart of his project for the environment. 

Speaking during the first TV debate, Fillon said he wanted to "reconcile economic growth and environmental protection."

A staunch advocate of nuclear energy, Fillon wants to alleviate environmental regulations and encourage companies to carry out "responsible investments."

Among those in Fillon's close circle is President of Airbus' board of directors, Denis Ranque, and oil giant Total's Managing Director Patrick Pouyanné. It would seem the interests of France's multinational corporations rank high on Fillon's agenda.

A key element in his program is the withdrawal of the "precautionary principle," which favors public health and environmental protection over activities which could pose a risk to the environment. Such measure is likely to benefit people with vested interests in natural resources such as Pouyanné.

The head of Total since 2014, Pouyanné first had a career as a politician. In 1995, he was appointed technical advisor for the environment and industry and worked with Fillon, then Minister of Technology and Information, as his director of cabinet.

Last month, French newspaper Le Canard Enchaine revealed Fillon received $50,000 (£40,000) for acting as the intermediary between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pouyanné and Lebanese billionaire and Fouad Makhzoumi, the head of Future Pipe Industries, which provides infrastructure for the oil and gas industry.

Fillon has denied having been involved in any deal either with Total or with Russia.

But Fillon's links to the Kremlin have come under the spotlight after France's polling commission issued a warning over a news report published by Russian news agency Sputnik.

The story, published at the end of March, falsely claimed that Fillon was leading in the polls, contradicting all other mainstream pollsters, which were ranking Fillon in third place.

The source for Sputnik's story was a Moscow-based online audience research company, Brand Analytics, whose study was based on an analysis of French social media.

The polling commission said the social media study could not be called "a poll" because it did not comply with the criteria defined under a 1977 French law.

According to the law, a poll is a survey using data, which aims to give a quantitative indication of opinions or behaviors through the questioning of a representative sample.

In this case, the polling commission said Brand Analytics' survey showed the political weight of each of the candidates as captured by social media but had been wrongly presented as a poll.

Both Le Pen and Fillon, who is known to have personal ties with Putin, have called for an improvement of bilateral relations with Russia and they have respectively been given spacious coverage by Sputnik.

In addition to the cozy relationship with Total's chief and some strong ties to Russia, Fillon is close to a host of people within his own party, Les Republicains, who do not hold environmental concerns as a priority.

Among them is Bruno Retailleau, the party's group leader in the Senate, is a leading advocate of a controversial new airport in Notre Dame des Landes. There is also Laurent Wauquiez, who came under fire from environmental groups for slashing subsidies for environmental protection projects in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region.  

Les Republicain's delegate in charge of the seas and the environment, Maud Fontenoy, is a former sailor, who crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific and made a solo trip to the Antarctic before taking the wind into politics.

Her foundation, raises awareness about protecting the oceans through a range of education initiatives for young people and in schools.

Among the foundation's 30 sponsors is billionaire and industrialist Vincent Bolloré.

The Bolloré Group has previously been criticized by Greenpeace for refusing to push for the adoption of a no deforestation policy by Luxembourg-based firm Socfin, which it owns at 40 per cent and is taking part in palm oil production across eight African countries.

According to its website, the Maud Fontenoy Foundation "would like to suggest another view of ecology. Let's be realistic and stop saying things that make people feel frightened or guilty. It's time for action and sustainable investment!"

Joining the new Les Republicains party in 2015, Fontenoy said she wanted to promote "a moderate and realistic ecology."

In an interview with Le Figaro, she revealed she supports research on shale gas exploitation and GM crops and backs nuclear energy -- a move which led to a wave of resignations from her foundation, according to French magazine L'Obs.

Some of France's biggest multinationals have found a comfortable seat at Fillon's table.

In his program, Fillon wants to simplify the decision-making process by devolving environmental matters to the regional level and repealing any additional regulations to European directives.

Fillon also opposes a shift away from nuclear energy, which he calls "a dogmatic choice," "untenable and contrary to the general interest" but wants to boost the French renewables sector and supports research into energy storage.

He wants to set up a minimum carbon price in France and Europe, with a price of at least €30 (£25) per ton and eventually bring fossil fuel use close to zero.

Although Fillon may be right to say there are economic opportunities in tackling climate change, this rhetoric should not be used as means to protect the carbon intensive activities of big multinationals at the expense of robust environmental regulations.

Emmanuel Macron: For Gold in French Guiana  

In contrast to Le Pen, Macron emphasizes France's role within global climate action. He also goes beyond Fillon by pledging not to issue any more oil and gas exploration permits. Yet, his policies lack ambition for France to do its fair share to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. 

Favorite to win the second round of the election, the former investment banker and former Minister of the Economy, Macron has come out in support of developing gold mines in French Guiana.

Previously a member of the Socialist party who quit to launch his own movement En Marche!, Macron supports the development of a site known as the Montagne d'Or, where an estimated 150 tons of gold could be extracted.

Environmental groups have opposed the controversial project, which is located at the heart of the Amazon forest and on the edge of France's largest biological reserve the Lucifer Dékou-Dékou reserve.  

Activists have repeatedly raised the alarm over mineral and chemical waste pollution of the soil and underground water, the risk of deforestation and the project's impact on biodiversity.

In an interview with WWF, Macron defended the development of "responsible mines," which would "create employment and economic diversity without destroying biodiversity." But he failed to specify what he meant by "responsible."

Greenpeace France has described Macron's plan for the environment as "bland," accusing him of "surfing on the most consensual waves with a bit more organic, a bit more renewable … without questioning the role of the economic model and of its impact on the environment."

Macron says he "will make the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions the priority of [his] energy policy."

He pledged to double France's wind and solar capacity by 2022 but favours more theoretical research on shale gas. He would carry through President Hollande's plan to reduce the proportion of nuclear to 50 percent of the energy mix by 2025.

Macron also said he will grant "no new hydrocarbon exploration permits" during his mandate. Although the announcement is welcomed by environmental organizations, this comes in stark opposition with his record as Minister of the Economy.

Weeks away from the UN climate talks in Paris in 2015, Macron issued three permits for hydrocarbon exploration, including oil and natural gas, and extended two. Environment Minister Ségolène Royal told Le Monde she managed to block four others.

In his program, Macron sets out a vision for new consumptions habits regarding agriculture and food, but also energy and transport.

Yet again, Macron's flagship pro-business law during his time as minister did little to change consumption habits. Instead, he proposed the creation of touristic shopping hubs, which could open until midnight and planned to allow large advertising board being set-up in towns of less than 10,000 residents, a proposal later blocked by Royal.

He also pledged to increase the carbon tax to €100 (£85) per ton of CO2 in 2030.

The last part of his program includes a commitment to pursue trade sanctions at the European level against countries that do not respect the environmental clauses of trade agreements with the European Union (EU). This includes a direct warning to President Trump saying that "France will have to weigh in so that Europe ensures the US faces its responsibilities."

Where the Candidates Stand

The countdown is underway for French voters to make up their minds ahead of the vote. Yet, none of the three main candidates leading the campaign so far have proved to be climate leaders.

There are a total of 11 candidates running in the election but no Green Party candidate after Yannick Jadot decided to rally Socialist Benoit Hamon's campaign.

Director of Greenpeace France, Jean-Francois Julliard, said that for the first time, all candidates felt compelled to include an environmental element in their program, an improvement from 2012 although he claimed that for some this was just lip-service.

"We have to differentiate between real propositions and wishful thinking. We can see that this is a topic that some candidates do not master very well and that others don't care about at all," he said in an interview for Actu Environnement.

Shortly before publication, a fourth candidate managed to find a place in the battle for the second round after steadily rising through the polls.

Radical far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon is now neck-and-neck with Fillon according to the polls while Le Pen and Macron are tied as they lead the polls. Pollsters anticipate Le Pen and Macron to battle it out in the second round on May 7. 

Mélenchon, a veteran of French politics, is wary of the EU and vehemently opposes the dominance of the financial sector, and he has recently scaled-up his environmental policies.  

He wants to see a green transition through the evolution of production, consumption and exchange patterns with social and environmental rights as core pillars of a new constitution.

He pledged to completely move away from nuclear energy and achieve 100 per cent renewable by 2050. He wants to ensure quality food by rejecting industrial-size agriculture but embraces sustainable and eco-friendly farming.

Yet, for Mélenchon, this can only be achieved through the renegotiation of EU treaties and he is ready to call for an exit of the union in case of failure -- a move which, like Brexit, could have significant consequences for France's environmental regulation.

In the last leg of the campaign, uncertainty over who will become France's next president persists. A Le Pen win is bound to see France take a back seat in global climate negotiations while a Macron President could see little change with the country's existing track record on the environment.

But what will become of climate policy, only the French can decide.

Categories: Latest News

Economic Update: Enabling Worker Co-ops

Truthout - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 21:00

This week's episode discusses capitalism and Earth Day, how the Chinese movie industry is overtaking Hollywood, small businesses using cooperatives to compete better with big business. Also included is special guest Richard Bartlett, cofounder of Loomio, powerful software worker-cooperative facilitating collective decision-making.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

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Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact profwolff@rdwolff.com to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

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So Much for "Draining the Swamp": Wall Street's Power Soars Under Trump

Truthout - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 21:00

Our action at Goldman Sachs on Tax Day was to draw attention to the 1% who profit from exploiting tax loopholes, criminalizing our bodies and cutting our services, says Renata Pumarol, deputy director of New York Communities for Change. Activists are moving beyond just rallying to more militant actions to shed light on the "swamp dwellers" who make Trump's economic policies.

Members of New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and other groups protest outside of Goldman Sachs in New York City on April 18, 2017. (Photo: Courtesy of NYCC)

Since election night 2016, the streets of the US have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this ongoing "Interviews for Resistance" series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn't, what has changed and what is still the same. Today's interview is the 31st in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Renata Pumarol, the deputy director of New York Communities for Change.

Sarah Jaffe: You guys had an action on Tuesday at Goldman Sachs on official Tax Day. Can you tell us about that and about what the theme of that action was?

Renata Pumarol: On actual Tax Day, April 18, we headed to the headquarters of Goldman Sachs here in New York to call them out for avoiding $10 billion in taxes, or for rather extracting $10 billion from our tax dollars. [They do this] by exploiting loopholes or their roles in company mergers and acquisitions. We really wanted to send a message that it is not only about Trump releasing his taxes, but it is also about the 1% and companies like Goldman Sachs that really continue to exploit tax loopholes and avoid massive amounts of taxes that could be going to pay for basic services.

Tell us about the action on Tuesday.

Tuesday we had New York Communities for Change, Resist Here and Democratic Socialists of America join us. We had about 50 people there, including members of the community who are directly impacted by service cuts and who will be impacted by the massive cuts in funding that Trump is going to implement. We headed there with a clear message that Goldman has avoided $10 billion in taxes and that they should be not only paying their fair share, but also ending their influence on the American government.

This connects to the Tax March that was held on Saturday, right?

Yes, absolutely. We also participated in the Tax March that was demanding that Trump release his taxes. We wanted to also talk about Goldman who is actually part of our government. They have completely infiltrated our government. Gary Cohn, as you know, who is a former president of Goldman Sachs, is the top economic advisor of Donald Trump and is now the number two guy in this administration. He has a tremendous amount of power in this administration and [over] how our economy is going to be run. We thought it was very fitting to also target them for the extraction of wealth that they continue to do while pushing for massive cuts to services.

An activist displays a sign at a protest outside of Goldman Sachs in New York City on April 18, 2017. (Photo: Courtesy of NYCC)

My friend David Dayen wrote a piece the other day, "President Bannon is dead, long live President Gary Cohn," about this shift in Trump's policies toward a more typical Republican approach: "Extract as much wealth from the government as you can and slash services to working people." I am thinking about when you had the action at Goldman Sachs in January and I met a gentleman who was there who was joining it who had actually voted for Trump because he thought he was going to "drain the swamp." I am wondering if you are hearing any more from people like that who are really surprised at the turn this administration is taking toward the Wall Street Republican style.

We haven't, personally, heard of any. I think that was a very special case.

I hope that we continue to hear from them as we continue to organize with MHAction, which is an organization doing amazing work organizing mobile home communities that are predominately white working class. I do hope that they continue to see the sham populism that was sold to them by Donald Trump. That really is the main objective of going after Goldman Sachs and going more on the offense, because we do see this as a weak point in the Trump administration. He ran under this fake populism promising to get rid of Goldman and the 1% while doing the complete opposite. We now have Goldman with tremendous power ...

I think this is going to be neoliberalism on steroids. They are starting very quickly to implement this, to run an economy that is going to give massive tax breaks to corporations. Goldman, as you can see, immediately after Trump was inaugurated, their stock doubled. It is doing tremendously well. This is what you are going to see. The top people, the most powerful, the richest people doing very well, while they continue to cut services, slash services to the most vulnerable.

What were some of the things your members were speaking about at the action on Tuesday?

They were speaking, for example, about the fact that they are now at risk of losing crucial services like housing. As you know [Housing and Urban Development]'s budget is going to be slashed. That really would have terrible outcomes. We don't know yet, but a lot of our folks are on Disability. For example, we have a member that is on Disability, receives a Section 8 voucher. There is no other way that she can continue to live in this city, the city she grew up in, if she doesn't get a Section 8 voucher, and that is now currently at risk. We don't know what is going to happen. She might lose the service completely or as Paul Ryan was saying, now he wants to set a term limit so that it is five years or three years, or she might have to pay more in rent. Right now she pays 30 percent. She might pay more. Folks were also talking about NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority public housing]. NYCHA, right here in the city has a $17 billion backlog in repairs. Now that is going to get even worse. We are going to have people continue to live under terrible conditions. Those conditions are probably going to get worse. Honestly, it is really, really terrifying when you start thinking about all of the outcomes.

In terms of what are next steps, what are people moving toward? Are your members taking part in the May 1 actions? What are you looking toward as next steps for this?

We are going to be fighting against HUD cuts. We are going to have members that will be directly impacted doing civil disobedience. That is going to be on April 20 at noon.

Of course, we are going to be participating in May Day actions. We are more interested in ... rather than just rallying, really thinking of more militant actions and how we can shed light on the corporations that are profiting off criminalizing our communities and deporting immigrants. We are right now planning an action, which I don't think I can disclose, targeting a huge corporation that profits from detention centers. We need to continue to shed light on the people who are really profiting from this, from human misery.

I think we need to understand that it is not only Trump, even though he is a horrible human being that we all love to target, but it is also about the economic powers behind him, like Goldman and like Wells Fargo who are profiting from criminalizing our bodies, from exploiting our people, and from cutting our services.

Anything else that people should know about the work you are doing right now?

I think it is more important than ever to continue to organize our communities, to continue to hold people accountable. Not only corporations, which we know are behind these terrible policies, but also the politicians, the local politicians, the mayors, the governors ... for example, in New York we still have Broken Windows that is not only criminalizing Black and Brown bodies, putting them in jail for minor infractions, but also putting immigrants at risk of deportations. It is more important than ever in the Trump administration to also look at "Who are real allies? Who are the Democrats that are betraying our communities?" and really hold [the latter] accountable and un-elect them.

How can people keep up with the work you are doing?

You can keep up by going to our Facebook, NYChange, and Twitter @NYChange. You can also learn about all of our work by going to our website NYCommunities.org. You should also sign up to our list and sign up to our rapid response program. Right now, we have a rapid response program so that you can find out about actions and rallies, but also find out if someone from our community is at risk and you are able to do something to prevent them from being deported or being sent to a detention center.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

Grassroots journalism relies on support from people like you. If you value what you just read, make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout!

Categories: Latest News

Trump Is the Endpoint: Henry A. Giroux on Cruelty and Isolation in US Politics

Truthout - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 21:00

Also see: The Culture of Cruelty in Trump's America

Under the Trump regime, an ideology of hardness and cruelty runs through American culture like an electric current, sapping the strength of social relations and individual character, moral compassion and collective action. As civic culture collapses under the weight of a ruthless mix of casino capitalism and a flight from moral responsibility, crimes against humanity now become normalized in a rush of legislation that produces massive amounts of human suffering and misery while widening the scope of those considered disposable. What is new about the culture of cruelty is that its blend of hate, suffering and spectacle has become normalized. Matters of life and death are now being determined by a neo-fascist government that relies increasingly on punishing apparatuses such as the criminal justice system and budgetary policies that bear down ruthlessly on the poor, undocumented immigrants, Muslims and Black youth. In this interview, Henry Giroux argues that it is crucial to understand how matters of life, death and politics converge in a country marked by a rabid notion of individualism, the celebration of profit over human needs and an addiction to violence.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Categories: Latest News

Federal Communications Commission Votes Push Monopolist Agenda

Commondreams - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 10:33
Common Cause

Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to entrench monopoly in broadcasting and business broadband. The FCC majority eliminated price restraints on Business Data Services (BDS), allowing incumbent carriers to charge exorbitant rates on small businesses across the country. In a separate proceeding, the same majority voted to reinstate a legal loophole that broadcasters exploit to monopolize ever more of the airwaves.

Categories: Latest News

ACLU Statement on Florida Supreme Court Approving Voting Rights Restoration Ballot Language

Commondreams - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 10:24
ACLU

The Florida Supreme Court has given its approval for the ballot language for a proposed amendment to the state constitution which would automatically restore the right to vote for many people with past felony convictions.

Responding to the decision, ACLU of Florida Political Director Kirk Bailey stated:

Categories: Latest News

Hundreds of 'Wildlife Warriors' Bring Trump Resistance to Earth Day

Commondreams - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 10:23
Center for Biological Diversity

More than 250 Center for Biological Diversity volunteers will be at Earth Day festivals, rallies and other events across the country this week as part of the growing resistance to partisan attacks on the climate, public lands and endangered species. The volunteers, called Wildlife Warriors, will be at 145 Earth Day events in all 50 states encouraging communities to take action to save the environment.

Categories: Latest News

March for Science & Peoples Climate March are Inherently Connected

Commondreams - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 07:59
350.org

This Saturday’s March for Science is inherently connected to the April 29th Peoples Climate March, climate scientists and environmentalists say: one march is about listening to science, the other is about acting on it.

Categories: Latest News

Dow Pressures Trump Administration to Abandon Work to Protect Endangered Species From Pesticides

Commondreams - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 07:58
Center for Biological Diversity

Buoyed by the Trump administration’s recent decision to scrap a ban on the brain-damaging pesticide chlorpyrifos, Dow Chemical is now pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon legally mandated efforts to protect endangered species from this dangerous pesticide, as well as two other highly toxic insecticides.

Categories: Latest News

Proposals to Strengthen Pollution Control Program Fall Short

Commondreams - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 06:45
Environment America

This week, nine northeastern states presented three possible options for strengthening the best regional clean air and climate protection program in the country, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This program limits dangerous pollution from power plants across the region – helping to slow the warming of our planet and clean up our air. It also fuels investment in clean energy by making polluters pay to pollute. 

Categories: Latest News

Legalization Is Great, if You Live in the Mainstream

Truthout - Wed, 04/19/2017 - 21:00

Like gun laws, there are distinctions of access that dictate who marijuana becomes legal for. (Photo: DrugPolicy.org)

I am very much on the #LegalizeIt bandwagon, but like most things that become mainstream, the progress that's been made on the cannabis front is leaving a lot of people behind. It's no accident that most of my friends who have a lot to say about legalization -- and most writers and activists I respect who push for legalization -- are white. That's because white people are the ones who benefit the most when pot becomes "legal." I put legal in quotes here because legalization, as it has been constructed around marijuana, does not have a blanket effect. Not enough cages are being emptied, and too many continue to be filled.

With police making more arrests for drug possession, nationally, than for all other crimes combined, there is clearly a crisis to be addressed, but is that crisis being addressed in the culture of legalization work in the United States?

Like gun laws, there are distinctions of access that dictate who marijuana becomes legal for. I, for example, am medically eligible for medical marijuana under Illinois state law, but if you looked into the particulars of how that law is applied, you would quickly understand why it's a process I won't engage with. Put simply, as a criminalized person who departs from respectability, medical marijuana policies in our state were not designed to facilitate my participation. But these distinctions of access run disturbingly deeper than whether I can make use of legalized, medicinal cannabis.

States that have legalized marijuana have not legalized home-growing or street sales. Basically, pot is getting more legal for those with access -- for those who can afford to buy into access -- and for those who can afford to live where there's access. That's right: Legal pot is a highly gentrifying phenomenon, as Denver has tragically discovered, with skyrocketing rates of homelessness.

As my own state considers legalization for recreational use, I find myself weighing the potential positives of legalization against the threat of being priced out of my home. In my own city, the criminalization of Black and Brown youth is one of my deepest concerns -- one that goes wholly unaddressed by the presence of posh dispensaries. And what of the youth who've already been ground under by the system because they dared to smoke a joint? What of the lives shattered by a war on drugs most now acknowledge was pointless? Some in my state are touting legalized, recreational marijuana as an answer to our state's budget woes, but if a massive influx of cash is generated by a transition away from caging people for cannabis, should that wealth not be redirected as reparations to those who were robbed of their liberty for a now-normalized recreational activity?

None of this means people shouldn't enjoy one of life's little pleasures -- or tend to our cannabis-related medical needs. I'm a "smoke if you got 'em" kind of person. But let's not allow the desire to make a thing mainstream, and thus more safe for those living in the mainstream, to take the reality of the drug war out of focus. Every major drug prohibition in the United States was hatched to target a marginalized community. Here in 2017, we see marijuana on the verge of being legalized for those with sufficient economic and social privilege. But simply removing a product from the grips of street economies -- and thus, the survival incomes of many marginalized people -- is not an act of liberation. It is a perhaps necessary, but wholly flawed and questionable start, and we need to demand more.

We must demand an end to all drug prohibition, and the severing of every tentacle of the drug war. We must not allow the same harms that have always been embedded in anti-drug rhetoric to be inflicted on people living in the margins, while those with more access pick out their favorite cannabis gummy worms in polished dispensaries. Because in truth, there is nothing new or remotely liberating about people with more resources facing fewer risks when it comes to smoking pot.

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