Monthly Archives: October 2015

Seething With Anger, Probe Demanded into Exxon’s Unparalleled Climate Crime

‘Very few things truly piss me off,’ says Bill McKibben, but no corporation has ever ‘done anything bigger and badder’ than what ExxonMobil has done in this case.

By Jon Queally, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-30-2015

Photo: Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A broad coalition of community groups along with prominent leaders from the nation’s top civil rights, environmental, and indigeneous people’s movements on Friday sent a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Justice demanding a federal investigation into allegations that oil giant ExxonMobil knew about the role fossil fuels played in driving climate change since the 1970s but concealed that information—and later sought to discredit those issuing warnings—in order to protect its own financial interests. 

Addressed to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the letter cites recent reporting by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News—both of which offered devastating details into the manner and scope of the decades-long public deceit—and argues that a DOJ probe is warranted to determine whether criminal charges should be brought against the energy behemoth. Continue reading

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Whistleblower Accuses USDA of Censorship Over Anti-Pesticide Reports

‘Bureaucracies under political pressure from corporate stakeholders routinely shoot the messenger, even if they are wearing a lab coat.’

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-29-2015

A USDA researcher says he was censored and punished for reporting on the harmful effects of pesticides like clothianidin. (Photo: jetsandzeppelins/flickr/cc)

A USDA researcher says he was censored and punished for reporting on the harmful effects of pesticides like clothianidin. (Photo: jetsandzeppelins/flickr/cc)

A top scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) filed a whistleblower complaint Wednesday that accuses the agency of harassment and retaliation for his work showing harmful effects on monarch butterflies from a class of widely used insecticides know as neonicotinoids, or neonics.

The department reportedly imposed a 14-day suspension (pdf) on Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, a senior research entomologist at the USDA, for publishing an unapproved report manuscript in a science journal on the “non-target effects” of a widely used neonic strain and for travel violations ahead of a presentation on the results to a scientific panel. Continue reading

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Amid Flood of Dark Money, Groups Make Simple Request of FEC: ‘Do Your Job’

Existing regulations are “woefully inadequate to address today’s political environment”

Written by Deirdre Fulton for Common Dreams. Published 10-28-15.

"Today's flood of dark money in federal elections is almost wholly the creation of the Federal Election Commission," says the coalition, "and the Commission should take responsibility for correcting this problem." (Photo: 401(k) 2012/flickr/cc)

“Today’s flood of dark money in federal elections is almost wholly the creation of the Federal Election Commission,” says the coalition, “and the Commission should take responsibility for correcting this problem.” (Photo: 401(k) 2012/flickr/cc)

Decrying the unprecedented flow of so-called “dark money” into the U.S. political process, a coalition of civic and religious organizations, environmentalists, and academics on Tuesday submitted comments to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), calling on the agency to—put simply—do its job.

“Since the 2010 Citizens United decision, each election cycle has seen dramatic changes in the campaign finance environment,” the groups declared in comments (pdf) that press the FEC to address critical regulatory shortfalls. “Yet, the rules and regulations of the Federal Election Commission have not kept pace.”

In fact, they continued, “Today’s flood of dark money in federal elections via both electioneering communications and independent expenditures is almost wholly the creation of the Federal Election Commission and the Commission should take responsibility for correcting this problem.”

While Citizens United undoubtedly “opened a floodgate of outside spending,” the groups wrote, the FEC’s failure to update its rules accordingly—or, in the case of disclosure rules, to actually defy both the law and the Supreme Court decision itself—has only intensified the problem.

Noting that the cost for the 2016 election cycle is expected to exceed $10 billion, the coalition—which includes Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, and the Center for Media and Democracy, among others—specifically calls for the FEC to update its rules in order to:

  • reestablish the excellent disclosure regime that had existed prior to recent erroneous rulemaking by the Commission;
  • strengthen its rule to require that foreign nationals receive written assurances from any organization that conducts electioneering activity that the foreign funds will not be used for campaign purposes;
  • update its coordination rule to ensure that unregulated super PACs and other outside electioneering groups are truly independent of candidate and party committees.

On that last point, the groups stated that the FEC’s existing regulation “is woefully inadequate to address today’s political environment.”

While super PACs—which can solicit unlimited donations and have thus far raised $211 million in this election cycle—are ostensibly independent from the candidates and campaigns they support, watchdogs say the reality tells a much different story.

“Frequently, the coordination between super PACs and their candidates is laughable and the subject of televised comedy acts,” the coalition wrote, making it “indisputably obvious” to both the public and election experts that “the lax coordination rules enable candidates to evade the contribution limits by setting up a closely coordinated super PAC.”

Furthermore, by essentially throwing up its hands—FEC chief Ann M. Ravel told the New York Times in May that the agency’s internal gridlock made it “worse than dysfunctional”—the agency is only inviting further wrongdoing.

To that end, separate comments also filed Tuesday by pro-democracy groups Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center call on (pdf) the FEC to reject a request from two Democratic PACs that are seeking guidance from the agency itself on how to follow the lead of a number of GOP super PACs “in breaking a variety of laws through coordinated activities with candidates.”

“These super PACs are seeking FEC permission to break the law, as other candidates and committees have done, knowing full well that the Commission will deadlock on the questions, and announcing that they will break the law if they do not get a yes or no answer from the FEC,” said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, in a press statement.

But, Ryan warned, super PACs “are mistaken…in implying that an FEC deadlock amounts to approval of their proposed lawbreaking. The laws passed by Congress are the laws of the land despite the complete breakdown of campaign finance law enforcement at the FEC and we will not hesitate to urge the Department of Justice to criminally investigate what would be knowing and willful violations of the law if these groups proceed with their plans.”

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‘Codifying’ Government Surveillance, Senate Passes CISA

“If President Obama does not veto this bill, he’ll be showing that his administration never truly cared about the open Internet,” rights group says

Written by Nadia Prupis. Published 10-27-2015 by Common Dreams.

The U.S. Senate approved CISA on Tuesday. (Screenshot)

The U.S. Senate approved CISA on Tuesday. (Screenshot)

Update:
The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) without any of the proposed amendments that would have strengthened user protections. The bill passed 74-21 (see the roll call here).

Rights groups immediately called for President Barack Obama to veto the bill and vowed to keep pressure up.

“Every senator supporting #CISA today voted against a world with freedom, democracy, and basic human rights,” tweeted digital rights organization Fight for the Future. “If President Obama does not veto this bill, he’ll be showing that his administration never truly cared about the open Internet.”

“This vote will go down as the moment Congress codified the US government’s unconstitutional spying. A sad day for the Internet,” the group added.

In their response to CISA’s passage in the Senate, the Electronic Frontier Foundation marked its disappointment and said: “The bill is fundamentally flawed due to its broad immunity clauses, vague definitions, and aggressive spying authorities.”

With the bill now moving to conference committee, but EFF expressed no confidence that the bill would be improved.

“The passage of CISA reflects the misunderstanding many lawmakers have about technology and security,” EFF continued. “Computer security engineers were against it.  Academics were against it. Technology companies, including some of Silicon Valley’s biggest like Twitter and Salesforce, were against it. Civil society organizations were against it. And constituents sent over 1 million faxes opposing CISA to Senators.”

EFF vowed that the fight against the bill would continue through the conference committee process, where it will urge lawmakers to add pro-privacy provisions. “We will never stop fighting for lawmakers to either understand technology or understand when they need to listen to the people who do,” the group said.

The official Senate roll call to the vote follows:

Alphabetical by Senator Name

Alexander (R-TN), Yea
Ayotte (R-NH), Yea
Baldwin (D-WI), Nay
Barrasso (R-WY), Yea
Bennet (D-CO), Yea
Blumenthal (D-CT), Yea
Blunt (R-MO), Yea
Booker (D-NJ), Nay
Boozman (R-AR), Yea
Boxer (D-CA), Yea
Brown (D-OH), Nay
Burr (R-NC), Yea
Cantwell (D-WA), Yea
Capito (R-WV), Yea
Cardin (D-MD), Nay
Carper (D-DE), Yea
Casey (D-PA), Yea
Cassidy (R-LA), Yea
Coats (R-IN), Yea
Cochran (R-MS), Yea
Collins (R-ME), Yea
Coons (D-DE), Nay
Corker (R-TN), Yea
Cornyn (R-TX), Yea
Cotton (R-AR), Yea
Crapo (R-ID), Nay
Cruz (R-TX), Not Voting
Daines (R-MT), Nay
Donnelly (D-IN), Yea
Durbin (D-IL), Yea
Enzi (R-WY), Yea
Ernst (R-IA), Yea
Feinstein (D-CA), Yea
Fischer (R-NE), Yea
Flake (R-AZ), Yea
Franken (D-MN), Nay
Gardner (R-CO), Yea
Gillibrand (D-NY), Yea
Graham (R-SC), Not Voting
Grassley (R-IA), Yea
Hatch (R-UT), Yea
Heinrich (D-NM), Yea
Heitkamp (D-ND), Yea
Heller (R-NV), Nay
Hirono (D-HI), Yea
Hoeven (R-ND), Yea
Inhofe (R-OK), Yea
Isakson (R-GA), Yea
Johnson (R-WI), Yea
Kaine (D-VA), Yea
King (I-ME), Yea
Kirk (R-IL), Yea
Klobuchar (D-MN), Yea
Lankford (R-OK), Yea
Leahy (D-VT), Nay
Lee (R-UT), Nay
Manchin (D-WV), Yea
Markey (D-MA), Nay
McCain (R-AZ), Yea
McCaskill (D-MO), Yea
McConnell (R-KY), Yea
Menendez (D-NJ), Nay
Merkley (D-OR), Nay
Mikulski (D-MD), Yea
Moran (R-KS), Yea
Murkowski (R-AK), Yea
Murphy (D-CT), Yea
Murray (D-WA), Yea
Nelson (D-FL), Yea
Paul (R-KY), Not Voting
Perdue (R-GA), Yea
Peters (D-MI), Yea
Portman (R-OH), Yea
Reed (D-RI), Yea
Reid (D-NV), Yea
Risch (R-ID), Nay
Roberts (R-KS), Yea
Rounds (R-SD), Yea
Rubio (R-FL), Not Voting
Sanders (I-VT), Nay
Sasse (R-NE), Yea
Schatz (D-HI), Yea
Schumer (D-NY), Yea
Scott (R-SC), Yea
Sessions (R-AL), Yea
Shaheen (D-NH), Yea
Shelby (R-AL), Yea
Stabenow (D-MI), Yea
Sullivan (R-AK), Nay
Tester (D-MT), Nay
Thune (R-SD), Yea
Tillis (R-NC), Yea
Toomey (R-PA), Yea
Udall (D-NM), Nay
Vitter (R-LA), Not Voting
Warner (D-VA), Yea
Warren (D-MA), Nay
Whitehouse (D-RI), Yea
Wicker (R-MS), Yea
Wyden (D-OR), Nay

Earlier:

As the U.S. Senate gears up for a vote on the controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) on Tuesday, privacy advocates are galvanizing an 11th-hour push against the bill they say does nothing more than expand government spying powers.

A slew of digital rights groups including Fight for the Future and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, along with whistleblower Edward Snowden and outspoken CISA opponent Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), joined forces Monday night for an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit, which has also come out against the bill. The session was the latest action by civil society groups, activists, and tech companies calling on Congress to reject CISA for its anti-privacy provisions.

“CISA isn’t a cybersecurity bill,” Snowden wrote during the Q&A. “It’s not going to stop any attacks. It’s not going to make us any safer. It’s a surveillance bill.”

Supporters of CISA—including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.)—say the bill would make it easier for tech companies to share data in cases of security breaches and other digital attacks. But critics say there aren’t enough safeguards in place to protect user privacy and the bill only works to serve intelligence agencies in domestic surveillance operations.

“What it allows is for the companies you interact with every day—visibly, like Facebook, or invisibly, like AT&T—to indiscriminately share private records about your interactions and activities with the government,” Snowden wrote on Monday. “CISA allows private companies to immediately share a perfect record of your private activities the instant you click a link, log in, make a purchase, and so on—and the government with reward for doing it by granting them a special form of legal immunity for their cooperation.”

Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer said the Senate’s vote on Tuesday “will go down in history as the moment that lawmakers decided not only what sort of Internet our children and our children’s children will have, but what sort of world they will live in.”

The campaigns, which are being waged under the hashtag #StopCISA, urge senators to oppose the bill and protect civil liberties.

Greer added, “Every Senator who votes for CISA will be voting for a world without freedom of expression, a world without true democracy, a world without basic human rights. And they will be voting for their own removal from office, because the Internet will not forget which side of history they stood on.”

Follow the #StopCISA hashtag Twitter feed for more.

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Choke points for the preservation of our liberty

Press freedom is only where we should start as activists, not where we should stop

Written by Dan Gillmor. Published 10-26-15 by Open Democracy.

Telegraph newsroom by antony_mayfield, via flickr

Telegraph newsroom
by antony_mayfield, via flickr

The following is based on the speech given by the author at the Global Editors Network Summit in 2014. Thanks go to the author for allowing us to republish it here.

This happened earlier this year: New York Times investigative reporter James Risen used Twitter to denounce the Obama administration’s attitude toward journalists in general, and national security journalists in particular. Of all recent administrations, he said–accurately, I think—this one has been the “greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”

Risen’s tirade set off a brief debate in the community of people who watch and comment on journalism. Some said a reporter shouldn’t be expressing such thoughts publicly, because it might cause readers to question his–and his newspaper’s–commitment to “objective” reporting. But the newspaper’s editor in charge of journalism standards told Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor, that Risen had done the right thing.

“In general,” this editor said, “our reporters understand that they don’t and shouldn’t editorialize on issues we cover….I would put this in a different category.”

This was an important moment in the history of the New York Times. It was officially admitting that it is not neutral, not objective – isn’t pretending to be neutral or objective–on this topic. The Times, as an organization, was taking an activist stance. And of course it should.

So what I’d like to suggest to you today is that all journalists need to think of themselves as activists in the world we now live in, a digital age that has created enormous new challenges to free speech and other liberties. But press freedom is only where we should start, not where we should stop.

Before I go on, let’s define our terms. Journalism can include so many things, ranging from deep investigative work to fluffy entertainment. For our purposes, let’s think of it as helping people understand the world they live in, so that they can make better decisions about how they live. When we do it right, we have to tell truth to the rich and powerful, and uncover things that the rich and powerful would prefer to keep secret. We have to be thorough, accurate, fair, independent and–this is not done enough–transparent. Everyone in this room knows that journalism is vital to liberty, and its cornerstone is free speech.

For activism, I’ll start with the dictionary definition: “the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” I’d add a corollary–sometimes activism means campaigning to stop certain things from happening.

In many parts of this world, journalists are activists by definition—because truth telling in repressive societies is an act designed to bring about change. I’m humbled by the people who risk their freedom, and sometimes their lives, to tell their fellow citizens and the rest of the world what is happening where they live.

In the western democracies with a more robust tradition of free speech and a free press, the idea of journalists as activists is often seen as taking sides in contravention of journalistic norms. But there’s a long and honorable history of what we call “advocacy journalism”–we could easily call it “activist journalism”–exposing injustices with the absolute goal of stirring public anger, and then public action to bring about change. The muckrakers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did brilliant journalism of this kind. Today filmmaker Laura Poitras, director of “Citizen Four” about Edward Snowden, is among many others who are carrying on that tradition.

Also today, we have a new category of journalism in the advocacy realm. It’s being done by people who are advocates first, and media producers second. I’m talking, for example, about Human Rights Watch, which consistently does phenomenal reporting on human rights issues around the world.

I’m talking about the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that consistently does some of the best reporting about threats to our fundamental liberties including free speech. In the interest of transparency, I should mention that my fantastically talented nephew, Daniel Kahn Gillmor, works with the ACLU.

In the past, these organizations and NGOs like them around the world were doing the reporting. Now, in the digital age, every organization of any kind is also a media enterprise, and can go more directly to the public. Collaborations with traditional journalists are still helpful, but no longer as absolutely necessary as they were.

We should welcome the advocates to the journalism ecosystem–and recognize them for their work. By the way, the American Civil Liberties Union probably litigates more open-records cases on issues related to liberty, including free speech, than all traditional news organizations put together.

Now, I’m not saying all advocates are doing journalism–far from it. In many cases we’re getting untrue, unfair propaganda. We need to know the difference, as journalists and as members of the public–that’s another talk entirely.

So we have a baseline of journalistic activism–all around us and often incredibly valuable–on a variety of topics. It makes many traditional journalists uncomfortable. Why? Because we’re told, again and again, that one of journalism’s core values is objectivity and/or neutrality.

But now I’m coming back to my main point. Even journalists who worship at the altar of objectivity should recognize that on some issues, they cannot possibly be objective. Or at least, they should not be. On some issues we have to take stands, even though those stands may put us at policy odds with the people and institutions we cover.

What are these issues? The New York Times has picked one: freedom of the press. I hope no one here would dispute the need to take a stand for press freedom.

Yet this is just one of several policy issues where journalists who do not take activists stands aren’t doing their jobs. These issues come under larger topics at the core of our liberty, among them: freedom of expression, freedom to associate, freedom to collaborate, freedom to innovate.

On those, at least, we should be biased, and open about it.

We need to take these stands because powerful people and institutions, notably governments and corporations, are attacking these core values in the Digital Age. They’re typically doing this in the name of protecting us or giving us more convenience, and there’s some truth in that. But in the process, these powerful entities are creating a host of choke points. They’re locking down more and more of our computing and communications, and creating a system of control over what we say and do.

This is a betrayal of the Internet’s decentralized promise, where speech and innovation and collaboration would often start at the edges of this network of networks, where no one needed permission to do those things. Choke points mean we have to ask permission.

first-amendmentChoke points

What are these choke points? Here are just a few of many.

Start with direct censorship of the Internet, a growing trend in far too many parts of the world. I trust no one here would object to journalistic activism on this front. The New York Times last year did just that by publicly telling China it wouldn’t be intimidated by the regime’s heavy-handed media control.

The Digital Age has become a golden age for something else: surveillance. And wholesale spying on everything that moves has become a method for government—often working with big companies— to keep track of what journalists and activists are doing. This goes way beyond the mission of stopping terrorism and solving major crimes, and it goes to everyone’s liberty, not just journalists’ privilege.

Surveillance has a measurable chilling effect on freedom of expression, and no society that exists under pervasive surveillance can claim to enjoy basic liberty. We know from history that it deadens innovation and culture. Journalists need to actively oppose the surveillance state, if we truly believe in free expression.

Another choke point is the telecommunications industry. In America and many other countries–and often in concert with governments–big telecoms say they should have the right to decide what bits of information get to people’s devices in what order and at what speed, or whether they get there at all. This is what the network neutrality debate is all about in the US: whether we, at the edges of the networks, or the cartel of telecom companies that provide the access to the Internet, get to make those decisions.

Another choke point is what’s called ‘intellectual property’–a useful concept but widely abused. Hollywood and its allies are relentless in their wish to lock down or control innovative technologies that threaten incumbent companies’ business models. They’re abusing the patent and copyright systems, among other tactics. And they never, ever quit. Their latest sneak attack is embedded in a secretly negotiated treaty called the Trans Pacific Partnership. (We know about some of this because Wikileaks has published drafts of several chapters of this immense treaty.)

Speaking of Wikileaks, let’s mention another choke point: the major payment systems  like Mastercard, Visa and PayPal. They almost shut down Wikileaks with a funding blackout. Only a few news organizations noticed, much less complained. Yet if you can’t get paid for your work, how do you plan to put food on your table? The centralized payment industry holds enormous power, by proxy, over journalists’ ability to make a living.

Now we’ve helped create some of the choke points—by choosing convenience over liberty in relying on centralized technology and communications platforms like Facebook and Google and Apple and Twitter. I have to note that these companies do provide useful services. And they are often trying to be advocates for free speech, though not consistently.

But do journalists understand that the Internet is getting new editors, namely the people who work for some of those companies? Do journalists understand that by feeding Facebook they are feeding a company that will be their biggest financial competitor? If this was only a business issue I wouldn’t raise it. But it’s much more than that. This is about whether the terms of service at a tiny number of giant companies, as opposed to the First Amendment and other laws like it, will effectively determine our free speech rights.

The corporate online powers are also spying on us. It’s their business model. Journalists are waking up to this, more so in Europe than in the US, but we all need to be thinking harder about how companies can use and abuse big data. We need to help people understand what’s happening, and then campaign for privacy from corporations, not just governments.

Education—of journalists, first, and then audiences—is just the start of what we need to do. More editorials like the Times broadside will help, but news organizations need to reflect a commitment to free speech in their coverage, and beyond.

When it comes to taking action, the revelations of pervasive US government spying have spurred some journalists to pay more attention to security and, in a few cases, deploy countermeasures. (Appallingly, some journalists are kowtowing to government’s growing attacks on basic liberties.)

We need to do much more.

We should hold events to help others learn about countermeasures they, too, can use. And we should overtly lobby—to persuade the public, and Congress, that liberty does carry some risks but is worth preserving.

On network control, news organizations should be shouting from the rooftops about the telecom industry’s power grab. They should be warning the public about what’s at stake. They should be lobbying for federal rules that protect speech and innovation, and at the state level against the telecom giants’ pernicious campaign to bar communities from deploying their own networks.

In all kinds of ways, we should be working to re-decentralize the Internet—both for our own sakes and the public good. The centralized powers won’t be tamed anytime soon, and they’re not all bad by any means. But let’s do what we can to help innovators at the edges of networks, because that’s where free speech starts and ultimately where it is heard.

I’m not asking journalists to ignore nuances in any of this; life and business and policy truly are complicated. But when it comes to things that directly threaten perhaps our the most fundamental liberties—without which journalism is vastly more difficult if not impossible—there’s no excuse for failing to explain what’s at stake. Nor is there any excuse for failing to take a more activist role in preserving liberty.

Core freedoms – of expression, association, and more – should be everyone’s right. Journalists, and journalism educators, have a duty to be their active defenders.

Because unless you prefer a world of choke points and control by others, this is part of our job.

About the author

Dan Gillmor teaches digital media literacy at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. A writer of books, articles and commentary, Dan speaks widely about tech and media issues, and has been a co-founder, investor and advisor in a number of media-related startups.

This article is published as part of an openDemocracy editorial partnership with the World Forum for Democracy. The insights gathered during the annual Strasbourg World Forum for Democracy inform the work of the Council of Europe and its numerous partners in the field of democracy and democratic governance.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

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US and Russia vying for Kurdish attention in Syria

The Syrian Kurds are seen as IS’ most formidable enemy. Now that Russia has joined the Syrian war, its competing with the US for the Kurds’ attention.

By Joris Leverink. Published 10-23-2015 by ROAR Magazine

Photo showing female Kurdish YPJ fighter, by Kurdishstruggle via Flickr.

Photo showing female Kurdish YPJ fighter, by Kurdishstruggle via Flickr.

Last week, the US announced it had dropped 50 tons of ammunition to rebel groups in northern Syria. Despite its public announcements proclaiming the contrary, most, if not all, of the ammunition ended up in the hands of the Syrian Kurds fighting under the banner of the Peoples’ Protection Forces, or YPG.

Sensitive about the negative disposition of the Free Syrian Army and their Turkish allies towards the Syrian Kurds, the US declared loud and clear that the support was intended for a number of Arab rebel groups in the Raqqa province who had organized themselves under the umbrella of the newly established Syrian Democratic Forces.

Regardless of the public discourse, there is little doubt that the US intended for the ammunition to end up in Kurdish hands from the start. Continue reading

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Leaked Doc Shows ‘Toxic Trade Deal’ Putting Environmental Safeguards on the Chopping Block

‘This sustainable development proposal is anything but sustainable.’—Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-23-2015

Demonstrators at a TTIP protest in Brussels. (Photo: Friends of the Earth Europe/Lode Saidane via flickr)

Demonstrators at a TTIP protest in Brussels. (Photo: Friends of the Earth Europe/Lode Saidane via flickr)

A leaked of draft of negotiating text from a pending EU-U.S. trade deal shows that the bloc is ready to empower corporate polluters while going back on its promise to uphold environmental protections, groups on both sides of the Atlantic warn.

The text is of the sustainable development chapter of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and was published Friday by the Guardian—the same day negotiators wrapped up the 11th round of talks on the deal in Miami. Continue reading

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Minority Rules

Billboard for António Costa, leader of the PS. Photo by El-Kelaa-des-Sraghna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Billboard for António Costa, leader of the PS. Photo by El-Kelaa-des-Sraghna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On October 4, Portugal had a general election. The results were mixed, with the center-right Forward Portugal alliance (PAF) winning the most seats, but losing its actual majority in parliament. The majority of the seats were won by left of center parties, the largest of which is the Socialists (PS) followed by the Left Bloc (BE) and Communist (PCP) parties.

Thursday night, President Anibal Cavaco Silva said that he would not allow a coalition of the PS, BE and PCP to form a government, arguing that it was too risky to let the Left Bloc or Communists come close to power. He said:

“In 40 years of democracy, no government in Portugal has ever depended on the support of anti-European forces, that is to say forces that campaigned to abrogate the Lisbon Treaty, the Fiscal Compact, the Growth and Stability Pact, as well as to dismantle monetary union and take Portugal out of the euro, in addition to wanting the dissolution of NATO.

“This is the worst moment for a radical change to the foundations of our democracy.” Continue reading

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US Government Accused of Stifling Medical Marijuana Research

With its widespread usage and support, research into the drug has never been so critical

Written by Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-21-15.

A marijuana grow in Colorado, which voted to legalize the drug in 2012. (Photo: Brett Levin/cc/flickr)

A marijuana grow in Colorado, which voted to legalize the drug in 2012. (Photo: Brett Levin/cc/flickr)

Government bias and schizophrenic marijuana policy in the U.S. are stifling research into its medical uses, charges a new paper published Tuesday by researchers with the Brookings Institution, which in turn could heighten public policy and health risks as more and more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana usage.

While information about the possible benefits and harms of the drug has never been so critical, “the U.S. government has held back the medical community’s ability to conduct the type of research that the scientific community considers the experimental gold standard in guiding medical practice,” argue (pdf) Brookings fellow John Hudak and senior research assistant Grace Wallack, both with the Washington D.C. think tank’s Center for Effective Public Management.

“Of all the controlled substances that the federal government regulates, cannabis is treated in a unique manner in ways that specifically impede research,” continue Hudak and Wallack. “Statutory, regulatory, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers have paralyzed science and threatened the integrity of research freedom in this area.”

The report credits President Obama with introducing some reforms but it argues that marijuana policy as it stands “is inconsistent and often contradictory,” and thus deters important scientific study.

The report looks at various proposals to overcoming the stigma of marijuana research and argues that moving the drug from a Schedule I to Schedule II classification—a move long-sought by drug reform advocates—would be a notable starting point as rescheduling would designate cannabis as possibly having “accepted medical use.”

Such a move “would signal to the medical community that FDA and NIH are ready to take medical marijuana research seriously, and help overcome a government-sponsored chilling effect on research that manifests in direct and indirect ways,” Hudak and Wallack write.

Other roadblocks cited include the current Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)-mandate that marijuana for research comes only from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which contracts exclusively with the University of Mississippi.

Also, the paper calls on relevant government agencies—including the DEA, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the IRS, and the National Institute of Health (NIH)—to clarify the many “legal gray areas” surrounding cannabis.

Public support for marijuana use is at its highest level, according to a Gallup survey released Wednesday, with 58 percent of the population backing full legalization.

What’s more, a study of National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism statistics also released Wednesday found that its use among adults has doubled in the years between 2001 and 2013, amounting to as many as 22 million mostly recreational users today.

With recreational marijuana now legal in four states and medical marijuana programs in 23, the public has made it clear that it is interested in exploring the drug as an alternative remedy for a host of ailments including pain, nausea, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, and neurological problems, among others.

Government bias, Hudak and Wallack argue, should not stand in the way. “The proper role of government, we would argue, would be to fund science without imposing answers to scientific questions,” they write.

Greater research is an issue that people on both side of the marijuana debate should support, the paper concludes.

“If you believe that cannabis is an elixir that can be used to treat a variety of ailments with very few side effects or risks of overdose, then you should support the scientific community validating your perspective,” it states. “Alternatively, if you believe cannabis is a gateway drug, inappropriate for pharmaceutical (or any) use because it is a source of addiction and has no medicinal value, then you should also support a scientific validation of your views. Finally, if you believe cannabis’ medicinal value is an open, unanswered, empirical question, then you should embrace the medical community’s ability to provide definitive evidence.”

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Landmark Look at US Charter System Reveals Waste, Fraud, ‘Ghost Schools’

‘The bottom-line is taxpayers know far too little about how much their federal tax dollars are being used to fund charters,’ says Center for Media and Democracy

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-21-2015

No one even knew how much the federal government had spent on its program designed to boost the charter sector until CMD started poking around. (Photo: GotCredit/flickr/cc)

No one even knew how much the federal government had spent on its program designed to boost the charter sector until CMD started poking around. (Photo: GotCredit/flickr/cc)

A year-long investigation by the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy has revealed a severe dearth of public information about how federal and state taxes are being spent to fuel the charter school industry in the U.S.

According to the report released Wednesday—Charter School Black Hole (pdf)—no one even knew how much the federal government had spent on its program designed to boost the charter sector until CMD started poking around. Now, after filing close to 50 open records requests and reviewing more than two decades of federal authorizations and appropriations, the national watchdog group has calculated that sum to be a whopping $3.7 billion.

Furthermore, how those billions were spent was equally difficult to discern. Continue reading

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