The atrocities of ISIS and the US wars of sociocide

1280px-Temple_of_Baal-Shamin_Palmyra-e1440367160118-635x357

26 August 2015

Images posted Tuesday on social media have confirmed the destruction by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) of the 2,000-year-old temple of Baal Shamin in the Syrian city of Palmyra. The images show ISIS fighters planting explosive charges throughout the ancient structure and then detonating them, reducing the temple to rubble.

The willful demolition of this site, one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world and one of the best preserved Greco-Roman ruins in existence, followed the savage murder a week earlier of Professor Khaled Assad. The 82-year-old Syrian archeologist had participated in the excavation and restoration of Palmyra’s ruins and had remained there as the head of antiquities for nearly half a century. He was beheaded for refusing to assist ISIS in looting the site.

UNESCO, the United Nations cultural and educational agency, justifiably denounced these atrocities as “war crimes,” adding that “their perpetrators must be accountable for their actions.”

There is no question that those responsible for these acts and for far bloodier atrocities against the Syrian people are criminals and should be held accountable. The obstacle to bringing to justice those principally responsible, however, is the fact that they are the former and current chief officials in the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA.

It was they who laid waste to one Middle Eastern country after another, while working with the Islamist forces that comprise ISIS to carry out their wars of regime-change against a series of secular Arab governments.

The systematic destruction of a cultural heritage carried out by ISIS has a historical precedent in the crimes carried out by the Pol Pot regime and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. This regime set out to erase the country’s cultural heritage, while carrying out a reign of terror and mass murder against the population.

The similarities between ISIS and the Khmer Rouge do not end with their barbaric assaults on culture and human life. In both cases, the preconditions for these atrocities had been created through the destruction of entire societies by US imperialism.

In Cambodia, a US bombing campaign dropped some 532,000 tons of explosives on the country in four years—more than three times the tonnage dropped on Japan during all of World War II. The resulting death toll is estimated as high as 600,000, while 2 million people out of a population of 7 million were made homeless and economic life was shattered.

ISIS and the current bloodshed across Syria and Iraq are the direct products of similar acts of sociocide on the part of US imperialism. In Iraq, the illegal US invasion of 2003, the subsequent occupation and the systematic destruction of what had been one of the most advanced health and social infrastructures in the Arab world claimed the lives of over 1 million Iraqis, while turning another 5 million into refugees. The divide-and-rule strategy pursued by the Pentagon stoked a sectarian civil war by deliberately manipulating tensions between Iraq’s Shia and Sunni populations.

The ramifications of this policy have long since spilled across national borders, with increasingly catastrophic consequences, all driven by Washington’s resort to militarism to advance its aim of hegemony over the energy-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia.

To this end, the US has been involved in wars for over 35 years, beginning with the CIA’s orchestration of the war for regime-change against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan, where it allied itself with Islamist forces, including Osama bin Laden and the other founders of Al Qaeda.

Nine months before the last US troops withdrew from Iraq in December 2011, Washington and its NATO allies launched another unprovoked war of aggression to topple the government of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and impose their own puppet regime over the oil-rich North African country. The destruction of the Libyan state and the murder of Gaddafi plunged the country into chaos and bloodshed that continues to this day. Islamist militias used as US proxies in the Libyan war, along with tons of captured Libyan weapons, were subsequently funneled—with the aid of the CIA—into the civil war in Syria, strengthening ISIS and helping create the conditions for it to overrun more than a third of Iraq.

In the name of the never-ending “war on terrorism,” Washington is prosecuting another military campaign in alliance with the Shia-based government in Baghdad against ISIS in the predominately Sunni regions of Iraq, while in Syria it is stepping up military operations in alliance with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni Gulf monarchies, while attempting to find “moderate” Sunni Islamists it can utilize as proxies in the war to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The New York Times Tuesday published a lengthy article reflecting an internal debate within the Obama administration over whether to provide more direct US support to Ahrar al-Sham, a Sunni Islamist militia with multiple links to Al Qaeda. The group already receives extensive backing from key US allies Turkey and Qatar.

The horrific consequences of decades of US wars are now spilling into Europe, with the increasingly desperate flight of hundreds of thousands of refugees—in many cases at the cost of their own lives—from homelands that Washington has turned into killing fields.

Politically and morally, the US government and its top officials, starting with Bush and Obama, are totally responsible for all of the crimes, atrocities and human suffering resulting from the multiple wars of aggression they initiated.

None of them have been held to account. Representatives and defenders of an oligarchy of corporate billionaires, they are not, under the present political setup, answerable to the American people, whose opposition to war they routinely defy.

The task of bringing these war criminals to justice and putting an end to the succession of wars and growing threat of a new world war lies with the working class. It must mobilize its independent strength in a mass international antiwar movement.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/08/26/pers-a26.html

Chris Hedges: How Black Lives Matter is Part of a Larger Historic Rebellion

“What we seem to be moving toward in the United States is a kind of de facto apartheid.”

On the second episode of his new teleSUR show Days of Revolt, former New York Times reporter-turned-polemicist Christopher Hedges sat down with long time New Jersey civil rights activist Lawrence Hamm to discuss the current state of African-American rebellion and how it fits into the larger historical continuum. The conversation is very illumnating, and like much of Hedges’ writing attempts to show the intersection between poverty and race.

“Half of the prison population is African-American.” Hamm pointed out. “There’s no father for the children, no husband for the wife, and on and on and on. And it has a rippling effect that just never ceases to stop. Poor black folk live in a daily state of crisis. Daily life is one crisis after another.”

The theme of on-going crisis is reflected in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a broad-based effort defined by urgency and a resistance to typical political structures. For Hamm, the situation is a matter of real democracy vs. race-based illegitimate government — marked by bourgeois white liberals and a “bought off” black middle class working to keep poor blacks poor.

“What we seem to be moving toward in the United States is a kind of de facto apartheid”. Hamm said. “The United States is beginning to look and will look more and more like South Africa. You will have a white minority, very small minority controlling most of the wealth, and everybody else, including white lower class and elements of the white working class, on the outside.”

Watch the interview below:

Adam Johnson is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter at@adamjohnsonnyc.

 

http://www.alternet.org/media/chris-hedges-how-black-lives-matter-part-larger-historic-rebellion-video?akid=13397.265072.ls_vEa&rd=1&src=newsletter1041165&t=6

Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?

By Thomas Swann On July 31, 2015

Post image for Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?Social media are monitored and controlled by large corporations. Can they also facilitate the kind of self-organization that defines radical politics?

When I started my PhD in 2011 there was a strong feeling that radical politics was changing. On the one hand, there was more of it. The Arab Spring, theindignados, Occupy: they all made it seem like direct action and direct democracy, were moving out of the ghettos of what remained of the alter-globalization movement. With mass assemblies and a radical DIY (or even DIO: Do It Ourselves) politics, something was changing across the world. In the face of austerity and totalitarianism, an actual alternative was being prefigured.

At the same time, the tools of these protests and uprisings came into the spotlight. Not only the democratic mechanisms of decision-making but also the digital infrastructures that, many argued, were facilitating what was so promising in these movements.

Social media was increasingly seen as an essential element in how large groups were able to organize without centralized leadership. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter were allowing people to mobilize not as hierarchical structures like trade unions and political parties but as horizontal networks. Individual activists and sub-groups enjoyed a tactical autonomy while remaining part of a larger whole.

Almost four years have passed, and now at the end of my PhD the gloss to this narrative has to a large extent worn off. Some elements of the 2011 uprisings have been consumed by the tragedy of civil war and renewed dictatorships, while others have dispersed.

But of course, four years is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, and the examples of Podemos and Syriza suggest that perhaps these movements are in fact evolving and developing new strategies. While the story of mass mobilization and radical social movements is by no means over, what has been disputed perhaps more than anything else in the last four years is the promise that lay in the tools of the 2011 uprisings.

Social media, once held up by some as the very essence of contemporary radical politics, is now seen in a harsher, less forgiving light. A number of experiences have underlined the implicit hierarchies and inequalities that were reinforced by social media.

Others have pointed towards the ways in which social media exploit, for profit, our online behavior. The Edward Snowden saga has shown how vulnerable our online organizing is, as has the repression of social media-based activism seen inTurkey and elsewhere.

But among these critiques of social media, is there something that can be salvaged? Can platforms like Facebook and Twitter be useful in radical politics, and if so how? Perhaps we don’t need to abandon social media just yet. Perhaps it can, in one form or another, still facilitate the kind of organization that was so promising in 2011 and that continues, in many ways, to define radical left politics.

The promise of social media

Social media platforms are often discussed as means of communication, self-expression and forming public discourse. As well as this, however, social media platforms — and communication practices more generally — also act as infrastructures that support the actions we take. They allow us to share information and resources, and to make decisions that can then be enacted.

In this way, communication practices can also be understood as information management systems. This is a concept borrowed from the world of business and management and refers to any system, normally electronic and increasingly digital, that facilitates organization. Work email and intranets are of this sort. They don’t just let people talk to one another but also contribute to getting tasks completed.

What social media might offer when viewed as information management systems, as platforms that facilitate certain forms of action, is a way to make radical and anarchist forms of organization more like the participatory and democratic structures that characterized the 2011 uprisings and radical left politics since at least the Zapatista rebellion, the alter-globalization movement in the 1990s and, even earlier, the radical feminism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Social media can provide the infrastructure for both democratic decision-making and autonomous action, with activists given access to resources and information that may enable them to act in ways that more hierarchical communication structures reduce to command and control processes.

While there are significant critiques of social media from activists and scholars alike (focusing on privacy and surveillance, corporate and state control, the political economy of free labor and the psychology and behavior that is encouraged by the architecture of mainstream platforms), I want to suggest that there is still a potential inherent in social media owing to the nature of the communication practices it supports.

These practices can be described as many-to-many communication. They are potentially built on conversations with multiple actors that reflect some of the necessary foundations of the participatory democracy of radical Left politics. Social media can, therefore, be seen as systems that facilitate radically democratic forms of organization and that can support the kinds of autonomy and horizontality that have in part been seen in the 2011 uprisings.

This is the promise of social media. And it is a promise that may yet be fulfilled. If social media present opportunities for horizontal, conversational communication, and these types of communication are consistent with the ways in which we try to imagine non-hierarchical social relationships and decision-making structures, then social media can be considered as having at least the potential to be a part of a radical left politics.

Internal and external communication practices

As part of my PhD research I interviewed a number of activists involved in the Dutch radical left and anarchist scene. The pictures they provided of the communication practices of the groups they were involved in can be used to work through some of the ideas around many-to-many communication, its relationship to radical politics and the promise of social media.

Internally, the radical left groups in question all more or less conform to the many-to-many communication model. Much of this communication is done through face-to-face meetings at which members aim to reach consensus on the topics being discussed and the decisions that need to be made.

In terms of social networking technologies, however, activists spoke of the email listservs and online forums that have been common to radical left politics at least since the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and the beginnings of the alter-globalization movement.

While none of the groups used newer, mainstream platforms like Facebook in their internal communication practices, one of the groups did use the alternative social networking site Crabgrass as a core part of their discussion and decision-making infrastructure. Crabgrass was developed by people connected to the RiseUp collective that provides secure email addresses for activists. It aims to facilitate social networking and group collaboration with a specifically radical, left-wing bent.

Externally, many-to-many communication practices became much rarer. While most of the groups use Facebook and Twitter, they use them primarily as extensions of their websites, which in turn act mainly as extensions of their printed newspapers.

The three exceptions to this highlight the abilities of both mainstream and alternative social media platforms to play this role. One group, involved in community organizing, was active on Facebook not only in sharing articles and announcements but also in responding to comments and engaging in discussions with other users.

Another made use of crowd-sourced mapping in a way that reflects the scope of many-to-many communication to support autonomous action. The third example of using social media in line with this participatory ethos came from one group that printed comments and responses from Facebook and Twitter in their newspaper, facilitating some level of conversation between the group and those outside it.

Institutionalizing autonomy

The many-to-many communication social media facilitates, insofar as it allows for conversation rather than merely the broadcast of information (or even orders), is intimately connected to a radical left and anarchist vision of organization. If prefiguration, the realization of the goals of politics in the here and now, is taken as one of the core concerns of radical social movements, then a commitment to many-to-many communication might need to be seen as just as important as the commitment to democracy and equality.

It has the potential to empower activists to take autonomous action and the bedrock of participatory democracy. In this way, social media platforms can contribute towards freeing activism from the top-down structures of political parties and trade unions.

But is there another way of looking at these types of organization and of the structures suggested by social media and many-to-many communication? I mentioned at the start of this article that social media and the examples of the 2011 uprisings have lost some of what made them so attractive at the time. Activists are, it seems, increasingly (and perhaps rightly given the limitations) wary of both networked organization and networked communications. In the last year or so, however, radical politics has shifted somewhat.

In place of social movements that are completely opposed to, and autonomous from political parties, the rise of Podemos and Syriza, and indeed the surge of support for the Greens in England and Wales and the Scottish National Party in Scotland, might point to a return of the mass party as an element of radical left social movement strategy.

Podemos and Syriza, by many accounts, have become the institutional articulations of mass social movements. They haven’t replaced them and are clear that they aim to act as parliamentary wings subservient to those movements (although the current tensions in Syriza suggest that this is much more problematic that some might make out).

In the case of Podemos, this has meant a continuation of the radical, direct democracy of the 15-M movement and the party has relied on social media and many-to-many communication not in getting its message across to voters but in defining the very content of that message and of its policies.

Social media might continue to have a role in radical left politics after all. The many-to-many communication practices it supports can be, at their best, prefigurative of the goals of radical politics, of democratic and participatory decision-making. As information management systems, facilitating concrete action, the examples of the radical left groups involved in my PhD research point towards this conclusion.

Both mainstream social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and alternative platforms, such as Crabgrass and n-1, can be an important part of radical left politics, whether in the form of mass social movement mobilizations or the articulation of those movements in more democratic political parties.

Thomas Swann is a PhD student in the University of Leicester School of Management and member of the Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy. His research focuses on radical left organization, social media and organizational cybernetics. Follow him on Twittter via @ThomasSwann1.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/social-media-organization-movements/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

The PAH: defending the right to housing in Spain

By Timothy Ginty On July 23, 2015

Post image for The PAH: defending the right to housing in SpainIn Spain, where the government bails out banks, the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) bails out families and defends their right to housing.

In February 2009, after the Spanish government had shown itself incapable of enforcing Article 47 of the Spanish Constitution — declaring that “all Spaniards have the right to enjoy decent and adequate housing” — a citizens’ assembly was held in Barcelona to establish the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages, or the PAH (Spanish: Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca), a social movement which would wait for neither government action nor market corrections for this right to be enforced.

The PAH’s immediate aims are simple — the prevention of the systematic eviction of tens of thousands of debtors across Spain — but its larger dream is bolder: the achievement of the socio-economic conditions in which the human right to housing may be secure.

It is the ceaseless energy of this grassroots platform, its repertoire of organizing tactics, and its ability to bring disaffected and disadvantaged people together that has made it so popular amongst Spain’s mass of indignados and so feared by its minority class of bankers, developers and investors whose interests are secured by the casta suits of the governing PP and the opposition PSOE — or the PPSOE, as one PAH organizer put it.

It is this movement of people which we in the international left should look to for both inspiration and instruction in the fight against austerity. And it is for this reason that this article has been written: to paint us a portrait of the PAH and to give us a glimpse at how it operates — how it feels, how it looks, how it speaks — in its oldest branch of Barcelona.

No one left behind

Most people’s first encounter with the PAH will be through its weekly welcome assemblies held in Barcelona’s tightly-knit barrio of Hostafrancs, where upon entry you’ll be greeted with a friendly smile and, if you’re a first-timer to the meetings, you’ll be given a paper rose made with a Catalan flag tied to its stem. As you adjust to the sweaty heat generated from the  80 or so people squashed into the PAH headquarters, all waving their hand-held fans to keep the heat at bay, you might notice that a good deal of the participants and a large majority of the organizers are women.

On a letter printed and placed onto the doors of the assembly hall, a PAH participant thanks her new friends for providing the warmth and love that only a mother knows, for helping her to help herself and then to help others, for bringing dignity and hope back into her life. These are the elements — dignity, respect, mutual-aid — which define a welcoming assembly, and are seen by the PAH to be absolutely integral to the participants’ struggle to reclaim their right to housing.

Tears are not uncommon in these assemblies, especially when the veterans are invited to stand up to tell the newer participants of a recent victory they’ve had: their stories are always moving, the responses always touching, and you see that the PAH really is a family, a place where the pain and gain of one is felt by all.

For those most in need of emotional support there is a smaller closed assembly where people may come to tell their story in an open environment of mutual respect and listening, where people may come to see that others are experiencing and feeling the very same as they do, where they can see that the guilt is not theirs, that they can still hold their heads high.

If the heart of the PAH is the welcoming assembly, then the head must be its actions and coordinating assembly, which meets once a week to keep the gears of the movement oiled. But before this assembly even begins to discuss the host of actions the movement has in gestation, it must decide on the day-to-day responsibilities of the attendees. Everyone present is asked to contribute to one small but essential part of the PAH — one pair to help out with cleaning, another to update the calendar, someone else to record minutes, another to keep track of time while someone else moderates — and all are rotated every week.

For anyone schooled in more bureaucratic forms of social and political groups, this process — which is as true of the more routine tasks as those duties with more responsibility — may seem tedious and unimportant, but it is of course the process which matters here; the process of participation, of mutual support and of self-organization which define the PAH as an organization where everyone has a role to play, where everybody leads and none are left behind.

Tom Joad’s inheritors

Once into gear the assembly can cover much ground, and within a couple of hours of one particular meeting the group had already discussed three major campaigns. First was the Citizens’ Legislative Initiative, or the ILP, a major joint campaign between the Barcelona PAH, the Alliance Against Energy Poverty and the Observatory for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has gathered around 140,000 signatures in Catalonia calling for emergency measures to combat the social crisis created by mortgage evictions and utilities cut-offs.

The ILP draws on a mechanism allowing citizens’ proposals to be voted on by Catalan parliament, requiring 50,000 signatures to be effective, meaning that the Barcelona ILP has nearly tripled the required amount of petitioners. The ILP, which will be voted on today, July 23, proposed five measures which could stem the flow of around 50 families per day from their houses to the streets or to precarious housing. They demand that any remaining debt of the evictees be liquidated, allowing them a second chance to rebuild their lives.

They furthermore demand that empty apartments held by banks be used as emergency housing for evictees, while for those facing eviction they demand the right to a ‘social rent’, which means that indebted homeowners may pay only what they can pay, and that cut-offs of water, gas and electricity must end immediately, with the state stepping in to assure access if the companies cannot respect the rights of their customers. If the ILP passes parliament this July, the PAH and its social partners will have scored a truly enormous victory for thousands and thousands of families across Catalonia.

It will be an important victory because the PAH knows that their fight is one which must also confront the myriad of factors that compound Spain’s housing crisis, including the squeeze of rising energy bills arriving in the mail from private utility companies (‘monstrous’ organizations, as one PAH organizer described them) and the cuts in healthcare and education that have accompanied previous cuts in wages and benefits. Meanwhile, the explosion of ‘flexible’ contracts means that credit is impossible to get by for many, endangering people’s ability to pay their monthly rents or mortgage payments on time.

What’s more, this crisis exists in a global context where international investment and financial companies like Blackstone (see the video #BlackstoneEvicts) and Goldman Sachs buy up tens of thousands of empty apartments at heavily discounted prices from banks. One of the largest deals secured by Blackstone involved some 40,000 apartments in Catalonia alone, with a real value somewhere near 6.4 billion euros, which were purchased for the sum of 3.6 billion euros: if the banks can give Blackstone a discount, the PAH asks, then why can’t they give the people one?

This is why the PAH has begun organizing alliances with similar movements in the UK, the US and soon perhaps in Brazil, where the Movement of Workers without Roofs is facing the same investment banking foes as its counterparts in Spain. The fight being fought from Barcelona’s barrios, from London’s New Era Estate, from the US boroughs, from anywhere where “there’s a fight so hungry people can eat,” Tom Joad’s inheritors will be there.

The PAH’s Obra Social

But far away from the negotiations with the banks, from the political labyrinth of the Catalan parliament, from the long hard work of building national and international alliances, the bread and butter of the PAH remains the prevention of eviction and homelessness.

When all efforts of the debtor fail, when all negotiations and offers are rejected, after lies are told and myths are spread to scare people into making strangling payments (that, for example, the debt may be paid by the children; that, for instance, a migrant might be forced to return to their home country for a failed mortgage), then the PAH’s Obra Social (Social Work) will step in to ensure that the family will not end up on the street — sleeping, perhaps like so many thousands of others in Barcelona, in the ATM vestibules of the very banks that evicted them.

The Obra Social is the body which — when the bank is not prepared to find alternative housing for the tenant, when there is no room at anyone’s inn — will help the evicted family occupy one of the thousands of empty apartments owned by the banks. But to say that the banks actually ‘own’ these empty flats is, as one PAH organizer put it, entirely misleading, for it was the Spanish people who bailed out these banks during the crisis, and it is therefore the Spanish people who own these properties.

The PAH has a simple slogan: the government bails out banks, our platform bails out people. Here the shibboleth of private property becomes particularly naked and grotesque when, as in Spain, you have one of Europe’s greatest number of empty apartments and its greatest rate of evictions. Can we still imagine a world where this does not occur, where human rights finally come to trump contractual rights? The members of the PAH certainly can.

Timothy Ginty is a freelance writer completing a master’s degree in World History at the University of Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. You can read his blog, Lives and Times, here.

:::::::::::::::::::::

To learn more about the PAH, the documentary Seven Days with the PAH (Siete Días en la PAH), is available (with English subtitles) here, and you can download the book Vidas Hipotecadas (in Spanish) here.

 

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/pah-human-right-housing-spain/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

How “Big Data” can help save the environment

Journalists, scientists & techies must work to translate data into the knowledge needed to address climate change 

How "Big Data" can help save the environment
A rider attached to the appropriation bill that funds the EPA would end the moratorium on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon which could contaminate the Colorado River
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific American

A recent study using NASA’s CALIPSO satellite described how wind and weather carry millions of tons of dust from the Sahara desert to the Amazon basin each year – bringing much-needed fertilizers like phosphorus to the Amazon’s depleted soils.

To bring this story to life, NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization team produced a video showing the path of the Saharan dust, which has been viewed half a million times. This story is notable because it relies on satellite technology and data to show how one ecosystem’s health is deeply interconnected with another ecosystem on the other side of the world.

Stunning data visualization like this one can go a long way to helping communicate scientific wonders to the wider world. But even more important than the technology driving the collection and analysis of this data is how the team presented its findings to the public – as a story. NASA’s CALIPSO data offers a model of how scientists, technologists and journalists can come together and make use of data to help us respond to this a slow-motion crisis like air pollution.

Being able to see the dust blowing in the wind has broad implications. Today, one in eight people in the world dies from exposure to air pollution, which includes dust. This stunning fact, issued by the World Health Organization last March, adds up to 7 million premature deaths per year. Air pollution is now the single largest environmental risk in the world, and it occurs both indoors and outdoors.

The WHO report, which more than doubles previous estimates, is based on improved exposure measurements including data collected from satellites, sensors and weather and air flow information. The information has been cross-tabulated with demographic information to reveal, for example, that if you are a low- to middle-income person living in China, your chances of dying an air pollution-related death skyrockets.

These shocking statistics are hardly news for people living in highly polluted areas, though in many of the most severely affected regions, governments are not eager to confirm the obvious. The availability of global scale particulate matter (dust) monitoring could change this dynamic in a way that we all can see.

In addition to the volume of satellite data generated by NASA, sensor technology that helps create personal pollution monitors is increasingly affordable and accessible. Projects like the Air Quality EggSpeck and the DustDuino (with which I collaborate) are working to put tools to collect data from the ground in as many hands as possible. These low-cost devices are creating opportunities for citizen science to fill coverage gaps and testing this potential is a key part of our upcoming installation of DustDuino units in Sao Paulo, Brazil later this summer. Satellite data tend to paint in broad global strokes, but it’s often local details that inform and motivate decisions.

Satellites give us a global perspective. The official monitoring infrastructure, overseen by large institutions and governments, can measure ambient air at a very high resolution and modeling exposure over a large area. But they don’t see everything. The nascent field of sensor journalism helps citizen scientists and journalists fill in the gaps in monitoring networks, identifying human exposures and hot spots that are invisible to official infrastructure.

As program officer of the Earth Journalism Network, I help give training and support to teams of data scientists, developers and environmental journalists around the world to incorporate this flood of new information and boost local environmental coverage. We have taken this approach because the skills that we need to communicate about slow-motion crises like air pollution and climate change require a combination of experts who can make sense of data and journalists who can prioritize and contextualize it for their readers.

Leveraging technologies, skills and expertise from satellites, sensors and communities alike, journalists, scientists and technologists need to work together to translate data into the knowledge needed to address environmental crises.

 

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/07/18/how_big_data_can_help_save_the_environment_partner/?source=newsletter

The First Woman President: Jill Stein?

10252011_25notebook_photo-8078257

Of late, this writer, too, has begun to share some enthusiasm about the possibility of a woman in the White House, and as he has studied the platform and policies of the candidate, his excitement grows. As recently as July 14 he listened to an interview with this candidate, Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party, and his enthusiasm increased. A few points will highlight the reasons for this excitement.

Foreign Policy

Stein stated clearly that the U.S.’s current policies in the Middle East are destructive, and calls for an immediate end to drone attacks. She further states that U.S. foreign policy should be based on international law, and points to the recent agreement with Iran which, although far from perfect, is a good example.

* Support for governments that violate international law would immediately end under a Stein presidency. This includes all funding to Israel.

* The U.S. continues to ‘fix’ problems by doing more of what caused them in the first place. By changing the policy of funding and supplying weaponry to any repressive government or rebel group that seems to support U.S. interests, to one of adherence to international law, the creation of such groups as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) will cease.

Domestic Policy

* Under a Stein presidency, the military economy would transition to a green economy, with decreased dependence on fossil fuels, and an end to subsidies for military contractors. The U.S. makes more money from weapons sales than any other nation on the planet. This, of course, stimulates the economy, but a green alternative would also create jobs, and do so without causing the deaths of countless millions around the world. Additionally, the justified hatred that much of the world feels towards the U.S. would fade, as the U.S. becomes a more responsible player on the world stage.

* The minimum wage would immediately be raised to $15.00 an hour. As Dr. Stein pointed out, more money in the hands of workers will enable them to put more of that money back into the economy, by purchasing items that are currently out of their financial reach. So an increased minimum wage would not be a ‘job killer’, as the corporate-owned members of Congress continually claim.

* Today, tens of millions of U.S. citizens are burdened by crushing student loan debt. Dr. Stein would forgive that debt, again freeing those citizens to put more of their money back into the economy. It would have the additional benefit of showing the citizenry that the U.S. does, indeed, value education, and that the government sees higher education as something more than just another cash cow.

Every four years, the U.S. government supplies its citizens with the farce of elections between two candidates bought and paid for by corporate America. As much as people decry the similarities between the Democratic and Republican Parties, and highlight the need for a third party, such a move is not what the elite rulers of the U.S. want. Dr. Stein does not accept corporate donations; that, in and of itself, may be seen as sufficient to sink her candidacy into oblivion. Her platform says this: “Enact electoral reforms that break the big money stranglehold and create truly representative democracy….” With corporate ‘personhood’ enshrined in the U.S. by a truly bizarre decision of the Supreme Court, Dr. Stein will have no support from those who see her as threatening to their power.

During her interview on July 14, Dr. Stein quoted Alice Walker: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” A look at both recent history and current events demonstrates that people do have more power than they may generally believe. The U.S. fought the Vietnamese people for years, and it can reasonably be argued that that pointless, illegal and immoral war would have lasted years longer, if citizens of the U.S., and around the world, had not made their opposition known, not just at the ballot box, where there was little opportunity ever to do so, with one war-mongering candidate running against another, but in the streets. South Africa may have remained an apartheid nation, if people around the world had not condemned its racist policies, with effective boycotts. Today, Israeli government spokespeople have stated that the ‘Boycott, Divest and Sanction’ (BDS) movement is a threat to its very existence; the mighty U.S. fully supports apartheid Israel, but people in the U.S. and around the world are recognizing their power, and using it to further the cause of human rights.

The nomination and election of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may appear to be a foregone conclusion. After all, in a country whose elections rely on money, Mrs. Clinton is expected to raise close to $2 billion dollars to purchase the presidency; a very tidy sum, provided by the corporations that own her, and that will have every reason to expect her complaisance to their every wish, should she move into the White House. And the alternatives in the multi-ring circus known as the Republican Party are no different; they all owe their allegiance to the wealthy individuals and corporations that support them, who have no interest in human rights at home or abroad, but only seek to increase the size of their own bank accounts, or rearrange society according to their own misogynist, racist and homophobic views.

No candidate can be seen as the new messiah; many saw candidate Barack Obama in that role in 2008, and, with just a few notable exceptions, it has been business as usual for the last six years. One hesitates to say that change is possible in the United States; that combination of words sounds ridiculously naïve, but the Stein candidacy does show some potential. It is long past time for the public to look beyond the Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee of the Republican and Democratic Parties, and look for real change. Perhaps, in 2016, the Green Party can help to usher in such a change.

Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/17/the-first-woman-president-jill-stein/