Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ecuador leads the way; now it's our turn to protect the environment

Bucks County Courier Times
Oct. 12, 2008
By Cyril Mychalejko

Ecuadorians made history on Sept. 28 when they overwhelmingly voted to pass a new constitution which grants inalienable rights to nature.

The new constitution gives nature the "right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution" and mandates that the government take "precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles."

"We cannot continue on the path we are on," Mari Margil, Associate Director of the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, said about our current relationship with the environment. "We need to do something fundamentally different."

Ecuadorians share Margil's concerns. This is why they decided to invite Margil and other members of the Defense Fund to Ecuador to help draft legally enforceable "Rights of Nature" in the new constitution. The Defense Fund has worked with municipalities all over the country drafting and adopting local laws to protect the environment.

In an interview via email, Dr. Mario Melo, an Ecuadorian lawyer specializing in Environmental Law and Human Rights, told me that the new constitution redefines people's relationship with nature by asserting that nature is not just an object to be appropriated and exploited by people, but is rather a rights-bearing entity that should be treated with parity under the law.

"In this sense, the new constitution reflects the traditions of indigenous peoples living in Ecuador, who see nature as a mother and call her by a proper name,Pachamama," said Melo.

Pennsylvanians should pay close attention, and follow Ecuador's example.

On Oct 1. the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a report, "Climate Change in Pennsylvania: Impacts and Solutions for the Keystone State," that states that if we don't adopt significant policy changes we will likely see more intense summer heat waves, a decrease in air quality, outbreaks of infectious diseases, a decrease in crop yield, and the disappearances of tree species and wildlife.

According to Melanie Fitzpatrick, UCS's Northeast impacts science coordinator, Pennsylvania is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than 47 other states, and most countries.

"And if we continue to rely primarily on coal, oil and natural gas, by late this century the annual average temperature in Pennsylvania could rise 12 degrees above the long-term average," said Fitzpatrick. "But if we reduce our emissions, we may cut projected warming by half. Temperatures are going to go up, but there is still time to avoid the worst."

According to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the UCS's report emphasizes the need for the state to adopt a strong Climate Change Action Plan, which is currently being written.

"Climate change will impact our economy, our environment and our quality of life, leaving long-lasting impacts for our children and grandchildren," said JohnWalliser , Vice President for Legal and Governmental Affairs at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. "We must embrace the need for prompt and deliberative action to address the impacts that are already happening in every city and every field and forest across the Commonwealth."

We are fortunate to have forward looking representatives in our state government who saw the need to pass the "Pennsylvania Climate Change Act" which mandated the forthcoming action plan. Bucks County is also fortunate to have Congressman Patrick Murphy fighting for alternative energy policies in Washington and bringing "green collar" jobs back home to our district.

But there are two things we must keep in mind as we try to build a sustainable future for our state, country and world.

First, there are fundamental difference between the Republican and Democratic tickets for the White House. While the Obama-Biden ticket embraces clean energy and "green collar" jobs as cornerstones for future economic and energy policies, Republican Vice Presidential candidate SarahPalin doesn't believe it is important whether global warming is man made, while her running mate Senator John McCain has opposed increasing fuel economy standards and tax incentives for purchasing hybrid vehicles.

Second, we must be willing to challenge preconceived ideas about our relationship with nature and our consumer culture. Ecuadorians were brave enough to demand more from their government and themselves, and were willing to try something different.

Now it's our turn.

Cyril Mychalejko is a writer living in Levittown. He lived in a cloud forest in Ecuador's Tropical Andes last year working as a human rights observer, monitoring a conflict over mining.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Action Alert! Spread Some Truth About McCain/Bush Energy Plan

The Center for Economic and Policy Research just released a damning report indicting the so-called "liberal media" of irresponsibly and falsely perpetuating the Republican invented Fairy Tale that drilling in environmentally sensitive areas in the U.S. and offshore will lower prices at the pump and alleviate out dependence on foreign oil. (Read it here: )

The report cites The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Agency. It States: "There is no empirical basis for believing that drilling in environmentally sensitive offshore zones would significantly affect gas prices. The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Agency (EIA) projects that such drilling would add some 200,000 barrels of oil per day at peak production in about 20 years. This is about 0.2 percent of world production, and the EIA describes this as too small to have any significant effect on oil prices."
Read the EIA's findings for yourself here:

If instead we had raised fuel efficiency standards, something Republicans oppose, at a rate of 1.5 mpg in cars and 1.1mpg in trucks annually since 1985, we would be saving 3,300,000 barrels per day. Read this policy brief here:

Write a letter to your local newspaper using these facts and others to help sway public opinion back on the side of reason and fact!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Some Truth on the Georgia Conflict

The Office of Strategic Information has successfully infiltrated the Corporate Media. Now granted, this isn't the Washington Post or NY Times, but we've got to start somewhere--in this case the Bucks County Courier Times Letters to the Editor section (08/24/08).

But don't worry, I've got big plans. My goal is to find my own Judith Miller to covertly propagate the truth as convincingly as she peddled Rumsfeld's lies about Iraq in The Times.

Here's my letter about one-sided coverage on the Georgia conflict:

I have found the coverage of the Georgia-Russia conflict one-sided and misleading. Here are some facts.

On July 31, the U.S. military just completed "Immediate Response 2008", providing combat training to Georgian Troops on Georgian soil. Then, just days later, Georgian troops launched a military offensive in South Ossetia (which should raise some eyebrows). Keep in mind that South Ossetia is a province that voted overwhelmingly for independence in a 2006 referendum, something Georgia refuses to recognize.

As Reuters reported, Russia immediately went to the UN Security Council in an attempt to quell the fighting. Moscow proposed a resolution for both sides to "renounce the use of force," but the Bush Administration nixed it because it didn't want the Georgian government to take any responsibility. As a result of not immediately halting the conflict, Human Rights Watch points out that the Georgian military has shelled civilian targets, caused scores of deaths, and helped create thousands of refugees. But I guess these are facts that the Courier Times doesn't find necessary to critique, maybe because it doesn't fit into the false narrative concocted by the Bush Administration and parroted by most journalists and pundits.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

RNC: Exporting the "Miami Model" to St. Paul

Five years ago this November, the Miami Police Department, with the assistance of Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal government agencies, unleashed a violent para-military occupation of the city in order to quash protests against the now defunct proposal to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Police officers, some of whom had no visible identification, fired rubber bullets, tear gas, concussion grenades, and stun guns indiscriminately at the estimated 25,000 protesters, which included 20 busloads of senior citizens retired from the AFL-CIO.

One of the many low points for police occurred when Elizabeth Ritter, a local lawyer weilding a sign that read 'Fear Totalitarianism', was shot repeatedly by police aiming for her head.

A local videographer captured Broward Sheriff's Office Sgt. Michael Kallman addressing a group of officers afterwards congratulating them for their sharp-shooting. "The good news about watching you guys live on TV was the lady in the red dress. I don't know who got her, but it went through the sign and hit her smack dab in the head," said a "pumped up" Kallman, to applause and cheers.

Later, another unidentified officer referred to protesters as "scurrying cockroaches," further revealing a culture of violence and contempt towards not only the citizens the police are responsible to protect, but to the U.S. Constitution.

A month later, State Circuit Court Judge Richard Margolius, while presiding over the cases of free trade protesters, said in court that he saw "no less than 20 felonies committed by police officers." Margolis went to the protests and commented that it was "pretty disgraceful what I saw with my own eyes."

But Miami Mayor Manny Diaz saw it differently. Diaz, echoing a sentiment surely shared by many in the Bush Administration, declared the security operation "a model for homeland defense." And what has become infamously known as the "Miami Model" offers a preview of what protesters can expect at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul this September.

Apocalypse Now?

As St. Paul prepares for the upcoming RNC and the 100,000 citizens expected to protest, the hysteria and calls for militarization of security operations are surpassing what occurred in Miami.

The city is in a legal battle with protest organizers seeking to change the time and route of an anti-war march scheduled for Sept. 1, the opening day of the Convention. The city filed a legal brief in June to support its decision to limit the route and time of the march. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported that included in the brief was a memorandum from John A. Kolerno, the Secret Service coordinator for the convention.

"In planning security measures for the RNC," Kolerno wrote, "the Secret Service is considering a wide array of potential security threats, including terrorist attacks, lone gunmen, fire, environmental hazards, chemical or biological attacks, structural safety concerns, and suicide bombers."

While the Bush Administration used the "war on terrorism" as a pretext for a war in Iraq, it is now being used to justify a "war on dissent" within our own borders. Kolerno's dangerous, if not ridiculous claims far exceed the usual cries of apocalyptic anarchist scenarios or WTO-Seattle type "riots". And with a $50 million federal grant to pay for officers and "supplies", "the most liveable city in America" could be turned into a war zone.

What's next? Calls for the use of extraordinary rendition to prevent this ticking time bomb scenario we find ourselves in these last few weeks before the convention. Given that two former top advisers to Republican nominee John McCain have ties to the military junta in Burma, we'll know where to look first. That may not be far off.

Back in April, the Minneapolis Police Federation was up in arms over plans to limit the use of "security tools," such as tasers and pepper spray, in an effort to lessen the potential for abuse. Federation President John Delmonico suggested that inhibiting the use of weapons such as tasers could force officers to use deadly force if deemed necessary. Nevermind that tasers can and have killed people, or that the UN declared that the use of tasers is "a form of torture." So according to Delmonico, if police can't use weapons that can potentially kill people, they'll be forced to use weapons that could potentially kill people.

Feeling safe?

Well, St. Paul's police department recently purchased 230 additional tasers so that none of its officers will be without one. It's uncertain whether each of the estimated 3,500 additional officers and secret service agents expected to "protect and serve" will have these weapons as well, to complement their guns loaded with rubber bullets (we hope) and pepper spray.

Which brings us back to Miami. After all the injuries, filed complaints of police brutality, hundreds of hours of video footage, baseless arrests, and sheer terror unleashed on the protesters advocating, of all things, fair trade, the city of Miami was forced to carry out a formal investigation of the security debacle. Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel, charged with providing independent oversight of the Miami Police Department, issued a report that stated distorted and sensationalist media coverage helped foster an environment that allowed police to use indiscriminate force, that "more time and attention was devoted to training personnel to protect property rather than persons and even less time was spent addressing the constitutional protections guaranteed to all," and there was and continued to be no accountability for police abuses.

But what inhibited the investigative panel from actually conducting a more thorough review was that legal attempts to acquire the Miami Police Department's Operational Plan for the FTAA protests were shot down in court. According to police officials, information in the Plan could jeopardize future security operations, not only in Miami, but nationally. Which brings us back to the RNC.

Ironically, an original printing of the Declaration of Independence will be in St. Paul for public viewing just in time for the convention. The Declaration states:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

Maybe something to think about.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Disinformation on Anti-Occupation Violence in Iraq

On Monday Aug. 8, Radio Times, a very intelligent and entertaining talk show aired on 90.9 WHYY in Philadelphia, had Farhanni Ali on as a guest. Ali, an International Policy Analyst with the Rand Corporation, was invited on to talk about the rise of female suicide bombers in Iraq.

On July 30, Ali published an article in Newsweek,"Dressed to Kill: Why the number of female suicide bombers is rising in Iraq." Ali offers some insightful analysis in both her article and radio interview.

Ali wrote, "Women in Iraq today are either using violence to protest the loss of their society or the loss of their country to an occupation they don't believe in. Recall that the first two female bombers in March 2003, who detonated themselves days after U.S. forces entered Baghdad, declared on television that their primary motive was to protect Iraq from a foreign invader."

Another reason Ali points to is that many Iraqi women who choose this path do so to avenge the loss of their husbands or sons. A report in 2006 revealed that 90 Iraqi women become widows each day.

On the radio program, Ali even informed listeners that before the occupation, Iraqi women enjoyed more rights than anywhere else in the region--contrary to claims by the Bush Administration who charged that we would be "liberating" the women of Iraq.

But where Ali strays from both reason and the truth is her attempt to label this spike in violence strictly as an Al Qaeda phenomenon--rather than part of a widespread and popular anti-occupation insurgency.

Ali writes in Newsweek, "...women had carried out more than 20 missions in Iraq this year—the most violent one yet for the women of Al Qaeda...For almost 10 years, we have warned that women would start playing a more aggressive role in groups like Al Qaeda."

On Radio Times she repeatedly referred to female suicide bombers as Al Qaeda and took phone calls from people asking about how Al Qaeda might be "brainwashing" these women--never mind the sound reasoning she offered earlier on what motivates these women to resort to violence.

So what I wanted to know, and was able to ask her, was how did she know that these women were Al Qaeda. Because by suggesting they were paints anti-occupation resistance into a small box, contrary to the popular, country-wide sentiment that it actually is. Now, this is not to say that some may not be, but what are the facts that she is basing the use of this label on?

Here is her answer:

"Because I'm speaking to a largely Western audience I use the term Al Qaeda loosely. When I'm speaking to a Muslim audience I never use the word Al-Qaeda and the reason why is...because it is such a vague term and because it is interpreted in so many different ways. I will say that why I use this term is because...I'll just be quite honest with you, the U.S. military uses this term. And so in any kind of feedback that I've gotten from commanders there, and I'm talking about heads of intelligence operations who are working in the Diyala province, this is the terms they are most comfortable with because they view, and probably naively, that all these attacks that are being perpetrated fall under the Al Qaeda rubric..."

Ali then goes on to say that when she uses the Al Qaeda label, "in the case of Iraq I am referring to the overall insurgency...But you can't use the same term Al Qaeda in other parts of the world."

So Ali only uses the Al Qaeda label because the military does, whom she admits are naive in doing so (though maybe it's just calculated manipulation). In addition, by using this term only to Western audiences, Ali is keeping the American public naive and misinformed--just in time for our upcoming election.

Regardless, Ali probably should have pointed these facts out in the article, as well as in the beginning of the radio program. And she probably should have known better. Instead, she fell into the trap of being used by the military and the Bush Administration to parrot their narrative about Al Qaeda being largely behind the violence in Iraq, thus reinforcing the false notion that Iraq is another battleground in the so-called "War on Terror."