Sunday, January 26, 2014

ANS -- Laborem Exercens: the liberal legacy of Pope John Paul II

This is about another Pope's take on economics.  He says the purpose of economics is people.  People do not exist for economics.  There's some really interesting ideas in here.  Analysis by Doug Muder. 
find it here:   

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Laborem Exercens: the liberal legacy of Pope John Paul II

Recently I was telling a friend about a post I wrote on Daily Kos several years ago, and I noticed that software changes over the years had wrecked the formatting, so that it was now hard to read. Worse, the system wouldn't let me fix it. So I'm reposting it here.

Last week, as I watched conservative politicians and pundits try to wrap themselves in the mantle of the late pope, I found myself wondering how many of them had read his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens.
Here's why: If you believe religion is mainly about sex and gender, Pope John Paul II was a conservative. He opposed not only abortion, but contraception as well. He wouldn't allow women to be ordained as priests. But Laborem Exercens is about the moral foundations of economics, and it reveals a very different pope - a radically liberal one.
I'm not inclined to surrender anything to the religious right without a struggle, and that includes Pope John Paul II. He left behind a significant liberal legacy, and I refuse to let the conservative media bury it.

Asking the Social Question
Laborem Exercens (my high school Latin is rusty, but I translate the title to mean Working) revisits "the social question," which Pope Leo XIII had raised 90 years before in the encyclical Rerum Novarum (literally Of New Things). Pope Leo was responding simultaneously to the excesses of 19th century capitalism and the rising spectres of anarchism, socialism, and communism. John Paul's encyclical updated this thinking to the age of Reagan and Brezhnev.
Fittingly for a spiritual leader (and unlike many Democratic politicians), John Paul did not produce a litany of small policy proposals. Instead, Laborem Exercens re-examined the most basic assumptions of our economic system - assumptions we usually take for granted. The Pope rejected the commoditization of labor, denounced the separation of capital from labor, and even challenged the basis of the property system itself.
The Subjective Dimension of Work
Laborem Exercens' primary distinction is between the objective dimension of work (in which the focus is on the goods being produced, and the worker is merely one of the many factors of production) and its subjective dimension (as one of the fundamental experiences of human life). The importance of this subjective dimension is, in my view, the encyclical's main theme.
[H]uman work has an ethical value of its own, which clearly and directly remains linked to the fact that the one who carries it out is a person, a conscious and free subject ... The sources of the dignity of work are to be sought primarily in the subjective dimension, not in the objective one. [endnote 1]

The economy, in other words, exists for the sake of people, not people for the sake the economy. Failure to understand this point is an error the Pope called economism.
In the modern period, from the beginning of the industrial age, the Christian truth about work had to oppose the various trends of materialistic and economistic thought.

For certain supporters of such ideas, work was understood and treated as a sort of "merchandise" that the worker - especially the industrial worker - sells to the employer ... [T]he danger of treating work as a special kind of "merchandise" ... always exists, especially when the whole way of looking at the question of economics is marked by the premises of materialistic economism.

If we look at the economy from a purely objective and economistic perspective, we see that the development of technology since the Industrial Revolution has made possible an astronomical increase in production. And so we might think that tools are the primary factor of production, and the workers who wield the tools of secondary importance. We might even put natural resources (like oil or metals) in the second place, and rank workers third or even lower. Consequently, we might award the bulk of production to the owners of the tools and the natural resources, rather than to the workers.
Today, this view often passes for common sense - if it is noticed at all. The Pope not only rejected this assumption, but questioned the whole validity of separating and comparing capital and labor.
We must emphasize and give prominence to the primacy of man in the production process, the primacy of man over things. Everything contained in the concept of capital in the strict sense is only a collection of things. Man, as the subject of work, and independently of the work that he does - man alone is a person. This truth has important and decisive consequences.

In the light of the above truth we see clearly, first of all, that capital cannot be separated from labour; in no way can labour be opposed to capital or capital to labour, and still less can the actual people behind these concepts be opposed to each other, as will be explained later. A labour system can be right, in the sense of being in conformity with the very essence of the issue, and in the sense of being intrinsically true and also morally legitimate, if in its very basis it overcomes the opposition between labour and capital through an effort at being shaped in accordance with the principle put forward above: the principle of the substantial and real priority of labour.

The Two Inheritances
So what, in the Pope's view, happened to those other two factors of production: tools and natural resources?
Working at any workbench, whether a relatively primitive or an ultramodern one, a man can easily see that through his work he enters into two inheritances: the inheritance of what is given to the whole of humanity in the resources of nature, and the inheritance of what others have already developed on the basis of those resources, primarily by developing technology, that is to say, by producing a whole collection of increasingly perfect instruments for work.

This is a very radical statement: The natural world and the human civilization built on top of it are the common inheritance of humankind, not the sole possession of those who hold deeds and patents. Contrast this with an equally radical opposing view - an excerpt from John Galt's speech in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged:
The machine, the frozen form of a living intelligence, is the power that expands the potential of your life by raising the productivity of your time. If you worked as a blacksmith in the mystics' Middle Ages, the whole of your earning capacity would consist of an iron bar produced by your hands in days and days of effort. How many tons of rail do you produce per day if you work for Hank Rearden? Would you dare to claim that the size of your pay check was created solely by your physical labor and that those rails were the product of your muscles? The standard of living of that blacksmith is all that your muscles are worth; the rest is a gift from Hank Rearden.

In Rand's view, only the capitalist is the heir to the technical advances of prior generations. The worker has been disinherited, except for his opportunity to receive a "gift" from his employer. But the Pope views the worker as an equal inheritor to the capitalist, not only of the work of previous generations, but of the Earth itself.
But if the Earth is the common inheritance of everyone, doesn't that bring the whole property system into question? The Pope was well aware of this implication.
In London, not far from one of the many sites that can claim to be the birthplace of modern capitalism, stands the Royal Exchange. Carved above its entrance is the first verse of Psalm 24: "The Earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." Generations of traders have bought and sold the produce of the World under this ironic motto, but John Paul took it seriously.
Christian tradition has never upheld this right [to own property] as absolute and untouchable. On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone.

God, in other words, did not create the World solely for the benefit of those who currently hold title to it.
[T]he position of "rigid" capitalism continues to remain unacceptable, namely the position that defends the exclusive right to private ownership of the means of production as an untouchable "dogma" of economic life. The principle of respect for work demands that this right should undergo a constructive revision, both in theory and in practice.

Conservatives are probably wondering at this point whether the Church learned anything at all from the 20th century. John Paul's native Poland, after all, was still under the Soviet thumb when Laborem Exercens was published. And yet in these quotes John Paul himself sounds suspiciously like a Marxist from the era of Leo XIII.
Clearly the Pope was conscious of this potential criticism, and went to some length to distance himself from Marxism as well as capitalism. Marx may have sided with the workers against the capitalists, but in objectivizing work and setting labor against capital he repeated the error of economism.
In dialectical materialism too man is not first and foremost the subject of work and the efficient cause of the production process, but continues to be understood and treated, in dependence on what is material, as a kind of "resultant" of the economic or production relations prevailing at a given period.

John Paul also had learned the same lesson that George Orwell put into Animal Farm, that bureaucrats can have all the vices of owners.
[The Church's teaching on ownership] diverges radically from the programme of collectivism as proclaimed by Marxism and put into practice in various countries in the decades following the time of Leo XIII's Encyclical. ... [M]any deeply desired reforms cannot be achieved by an a priori elimination of private ownership of the means of production.

Taking the means of production away from the capitalists and giving it to the commissars, he recognized, does not solve the problem.
This group in authority may carry out its task satisfactorily from the point of view of the priority of labour; but it may also carry it out badly by claiming for itself a monopoly of the administration and disposal of the means of production and not refraining even from offending basic human rights. Thus, merely converting the means of production into State property in the collectivist system is by no means equivalent to "socializing" that property.

Property Subordinated
So if the Pope was not proposing collectivization, and yet he held the private property system suspect, where was he going? The previous quote continues:
We can speak of socializing only when the subject character of society is ensured, that is to say, when on the basis of his work each person is fully entitled to consider himself a part-owner of the great workbench at which he is working with every one else.

The workbench image seems key to the Pope's thinking, key to understanding why the opposition of capital and labor must be a mistake. For how can the tools on the workbench (i.e., capital) be against the worker?
[I]n the Church's teaching, ownership has never been understood in a way that could constitute grounds for social conflict in labour. As mentioned above, property is acquired first of all through work in order that it may serve work. This concerns in a special way ownership of the means of production. Isolating these means as a separate property in order to set it up in the form of "capital" in opposition to "labour" - and even to practice exploitation of labour - is contrary to the very nature of these means and their possession. They cannot be possessed against labour, they cannot even be possessed for possession's sake, because the only legitimate title to their possession - whether in the form of private ownership or in the form of public or collective ownership - is that they should serve labour, and thus, by serving labour, that they should make possible the achievement of the first principle of this order, namely, the universal destination of goods and the right to common use of them.

Within this worldview, private property may still play an instrumental role. Private property is not a moral right, or part of the natural law, but it may (in certain circumstances) be the best social device we can come up with. In particular, a private property system can address the problem of worker alienation by allowing the worker to own some or all of his produce.
[T]he person who works desires not only due remuneration for his work; he also wishes that, within the production process, provision be made for him to be able to know that in his work, even on something that is owned in common, he is working "for himself". This awareness is extinguished within him in a system of excessive bureaucratic centralization, which makes the worker feel that he is just a cog in a huge machine moved from above, that he is for more reasons than one a mere production instrument rather than a true subject of work with an initiative of his own. The Church's teaching has always expressed the strong and deep conviction that man's work concerns not only the economy but also, and especially, personal values. The economic system itself and the production process benefit precisely when these personal values are fully respected. In the mind of Saint Thomas Aquinas, this is the principal reason in favour of private ownership of the means of production. ... If it is to be rational and fruitful, any socialization of the means of production must take this argument into consideration.

An Image and a Challenge
John Paul did not bring Laborem Exercens to an exciting climax with a clarion call to action and a catchy slogan for a 30-second campaign ad. He apparently did not feel the need for such an ending, but I find that I do. Unlike, however, many of the pundits I saw on television during the nine days of mourning, I am unwilling to put my words into the mouth of a dead religious leader. And so in this section, though I write under the inspiration of Laborem Exercens, I write for myself.
Eventually, the Pope did manage to say a few nice things about international law, unions, workers' rights, and worker-ownership plans, but I am left with the impression that John Paul saw macro-economics as an unsolved problem. What stands out in Laborem Exercens, for me at least, is not any particular system or doctrine or policy, but an image and a challenge.
The Great Workbench. The image is the Great Workbench, where all the work of humanity is done. The Great Workbench always has space for one more, and there's always something that needs doing. Tools are waiting there to be used, and they belong to whomever can wield them. You  are not chained to the Great Workbench, but you can take pride in the work you do there and claim some part of it for your own.
John Paul's message, as I receive it, isn't that any particular human Ism will give us the Great Workbench - not capitalism, not socialism, and certainly not communism. It is, instead, a standard by which all the Isms should be judged and found wanting. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
And that, in this age of triumphant capitalism, is a message worth repeating. The Market, no less that the Politburo, is a fallible human institution. Its makings and its judgments should never be taken for granted, and never exempted from criticism.
Justifying property. The challenge is to justify the property system - not just the who-owns-what of it, but also the why-anybody-owns-anything. As property owners - and even the poorest of us owns something - we stand between our fellow humans and their divine inheritance. We stand, in essence, between the Creator and his other creatures. How do we justify that position? Do we stand as mediators that transmit divine grace, or as idols that block it? [2]
To challenge the property system, as John Paul did, is not to deny that it can be justified. Capitalism and private property have won out over rival systems for good reasons, as the experience of the Pope's native Poland undoubtedly made him well aware. But we can't justify the economic system in one way, and then use it in another.
If, for example, we believe (as at some level I do) that the capitalist system in the long run can provide everyone with the opportunity for a better life than they could have under any rival system, then we must carry that promise with us and judge ourselves by it. We cannot justify our appropriation of humanity's inheritance in this manner, and then treat the world's crushing poverty and hopelessness as mere collateral damage. It indicts us. It strikes to the heart of our self-justification.
The Papal Legacy.
This image and this challenge are themselves part of our second inheritance - the one we receive from those who have gone before. In his time at the Great Workbench, Pope John Paul II did more than etch a few conservative thoughts about sex and gender. He left a liberal economic legacy as well. We need to preserve that legacy, and make sure that it isn't forgotten.
[1] All quotations are from the Vatican's own translation
The Pope tended to write sentences of unwieldy length which refer to each other in ways that make them hard to quote concisely -  hence my apparently excessive use of ellipses and bracketing. He also over-used italics. All italics in the quotes are original: I have added none, but I have taken out some of the more distracting ones. In wielding these editorial tools, I have done my best to remain faithful to the spirit of the text, and not to take John Paul's words out of their proper context. The reader is invited (and even urged) to check up on me by reading the encyclical end-to-end.
[2] Christian theology describes two ways of standing between God and humanity - one good, one bad. The good way is to be a mediator. A venerated icon, for example, can mediate meditation and worship. By standing between humanity and God, it makes the presence of God easier to imagine. The bad way is to become an idol, as the icon does when it stops pointing to God and starts replacing God.
Property owners can, and sometimes do, mediate by caring for their property and developing its best use. But they can also be idols - walls that block the flow of divine grace. The property system itself can be an idol. We can worship it and serve its needs, regardless of whether it serves any purpose beyond itself.
One translation of the name of the old-testament idol Baal is "the Owner." We can, through the property system, worship this aspect of Baal and set ourselves up as little Baals. Or not.
Posted by Doug Muder at 8:08 AM No comments: []

ANS -- Developed cancer drug for 'western patients' who could afford, not 'for Indians': Bayer's CEO

Here is [part of] an interesting article wherein a CEO slips up and tells the truth. 
Find it here:   

Developed cancer drug for 'western patients' who could afford, not 'for Indians': Bayer's CEO

By AFP | 25 Jan, 2014, 09.17PM IST
66 comments |Post a Comment

Read more at:

NEW DELHI: Global medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres slammed on Friday a statement by Bayer's chief executive that the giant German firm only developed its cancer drug Nexavar for people who could afford the medicine, not "for Indians".

India's controller general of patents angered Bayer in March 2012 when he authorized a local drugmaker to produce a generic copy of Nexavar, saying the German company charged a price that was too costly for most Indians.

[There's more to the article, but it wouldn't let me copy any more of it.  I had to do it several times to get those two paragraphs... Go to the website to read more.]

Saturday, January 25, 2014

ANS -- Amid Abortion Debate, the Pursuit of Science

Here's an interview with a person who is doing scientific research on abortion and the issues surrounding abortion.  She really tells it like it is. 
Find it here:   

Amid Abortion Debate, the Pursuit of Science

by Nina Martin
ProPublica, Jan. 7, 2014, 4:33 p.m.


Tracy Weitz, chair of Breast Cancer Action's board of directors (Photo courtesy of Breast Cancer Action)

Jan. 8: This post has been corrected.

For the last decade or so, Tracy Weitz has been one of the most prominent abortion researchers in the United States.

As director of the University of California at San Francisco's Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), part of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, she has co-authored seven studies in major journals in the past year alone, on topics ranging from how low-income women pay for abortions to why some women who want an abortion delay until it is too late.

This summer, one of the studies she oversaw persuaded California lawmakers to allow trained non-doctors (nurse practitioners, certified midwives, physician assistants) to perform first-trimester abortions, possibly the biggest expansion of abortion access since the Food and Drug Administration approved the abortion pill in 2000.

Now, just as some of ANSIRH's most ground-breaking work is starting to see the light of day, Weitz is leaving the world of clinical research. She has taken a job at an organization she declined to name but where she hopes her impact on women's reproductive health issues will be broader and deeper.

Weitz recently spoke with ProPublica's Nina Martin. This conversation has been edited and amended for clarity and brevity.

* * *

NM: How did abortion become the main focus of your work? What is your background?

TW: I'm a medical sociologist by training. I started off trying to figure out how to deliver health care services. I did that for many years as an administrator and was frustrated that we seemed to just be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I also have a real interest in policy and politics. Abortion for me has always been the natural place in which all of those things come together. It is a political issue. It is a social issue. It is a health care issue. It is a feminist issue.

NM: What are some of the main challenges to doing abortion research in this country?

TW: The federal government has a prohibition on funding any research that involves abortion care. You cannot get funding from the National Institutes of Health to study, say, abortion techniques ­ how to make it safer. But this ban has been interpreted very, very broadly to preclude funding anything involving abortion, even a topic like women's emotional responses. That has left the funding of research on abortion to the philanthropic community.

Now, it's very unusual for foundations to fund clinical research. It's not historically what they do ­ research is the domain of government. But in the last 10 years, there's been recognition in the philanthropic community that in order to make progress [on reproductive rights], whether culturally or politically or in the service-delivery arena, there are research questions that we need to answer.

This [private funding] has opened up an enormous avenue for researchers who are interested in questions about abortion care, abortion policy, and abortion in American culture. But it comes with its own downside, which is that people are very suspect of research that is funded by organizations that have particular ideological agendas.

NM: As researchers, what kind of hurdles and antagonism do you face?

TW: There's definitely a difference between the social scientists who do the research and the MDs who actually do abortions. Abortion doctors have had assassinations, barricades and constant protesters. As researchers, our safety hasn't really been in question.

Most of the harassment comes at the level of trying to discount our academic reputation­ suggesting that anyone who does abortion-related research who believes that abortion should be legal shouldn't be trusted. That somehow our science is tainted, that we haven't used good methods. That's why we have a strong interest in being published in the peer-reviewed literature. We think that the science should be open to scrutiny. It should be put through the same kind of rigor that other clinical or social research is.

NM: Let's talk about the study that has probably had the greatest impact so far: the one looking at whether trained non-doctors ­ nurses, midwives, physicians assistants ­ can safely perform vacuum-aspiration abortions in the first trimester. That study included nearly 20,000 patients throughout California ­ one of the largest studies on abortion ever done in the United States. The study had two key findings. First, it found almost no difference in complication rates in abortions done by doctors versus non-doctors. Second, the overall rate of complications for both groups was very low ­ much lower than abortion opponents claim. Has the study shed light on other abortion-related issues as well?

TW: Yes. One has to do with hospital transfers [patients who require hospital care after having an abortion]. We were interested in this topic, of course, because it's a category of complication, and you want to track it. But it wasn't something we intended to focus on.

Then states [including Texas] started passing new laws that require physicians who offer abortion care to have admitting privileges to hospitals. And we realized that, thanks to [the non-doctor] study, we had very good data showing that complications requiring transfers to hospitals are actually exceedingly rare.

Of about 20,000 patients over several years, only four were directly transferred.

NW: There's a second study I want to talk about, which is known as the Turnaway Study. It's a long-term study looking at what happens when women who want an abortion can't get one. They show up at a clinic too late and are turned away.

TW: First some background. At the Bixby Center and ANSIRH, we are driven by three sets of issues and concerns. One is: How can care be best delivered? That's the question underlying the non-physician study. We're very interested in safety in general. Do you need to be in an ambulatory surgery center? Do you need to have a nurse who administers anesthesia? Which kinds of cervical preparations are safe and do the least damage to the cervix?

Two, we care a lot about women's experiences. We know that 1 in 3 women are going to have an abortion in their lifetime. And choosing to be a parent or not is a big decision. Whatever a woman decides, we want to know what can improve their outcomes. What do they need from their social networks and their friends? What are the long-term effects of silence and secrecy?

The third area of interest is social inequities. Where is there uneven distribution of services, uneven distribution of economic outcomes?

The Turnaway Study arose out of the second and third set of concerns. Abortion opponents have been pushing the idea that abortion hurts women, that they feel regret. With 1.3 million women having an abortion every year, it's likely that a certain number do feel regret. That's the natural curve of any kind of big decision. What we want to know is: Who are those women and what do they need?

But another of our questions was: what happens to women who wanted an abortion but couldn't get one? What happens to her economically, what happens to her psychologically, what happens to her other kids? That was the underlying question behind the Turnaway Study.

NM: Can you summarize the findings so far?

TW: The take-home from that study is that most women are having an abortion because they say they can't afford to have a child. And it turns out that they're right: Two years later, women who had a baby they weren't expecting to have, compared to the women who had the abortion they wanted, are three times more likely to be living in poverty. They knew they couldn't afford a kid and it turns out they were correct.

NM: Can you give some specifics about how the study was designed?

TW: The principal investigator is Diana Greene Foster, who was trained as a demographer. It is an eight-year study and includes about 30 abortion facilities in every region of the country. The sole criteria was that the clinic had to be isolated ­ it had to be the only one within 150 miles that was willing to do abortions up to whatever it set as its gestational limit [the latest point at which it will terminate a pregnancy]. So if a woman was turned away from that facility, she really had no other option. She probably was going to have that baby.

We recruited about 1,000 women ­ that alone took us three years. About a quarter were women who had been turned away and had a baby they weren't expecting. Approximately 500 were women who happened to be just under the gestational limit when they arrived at the clinic so were able to get the abortion they wanted. They were the comparison group.

We also wanted to know if women receiving earlier abortions were somehow different. So the remaining participants ­ about 250 ­ are women who received first-trimester abortions.

We followed the women every six months for five years ­ a phone interview with a very lengthy survey that includes every question we could think of about their mental health, their economic circumstances, using routine and standardized tools, so we have some basis for comparison. Everyone in the study has finished at least two years, and some women have completed their five years and are rolling off.

NM: What has been your most eye-opening finding?

TW: The study has really exposed how hard it is to be a parent in this country. It is a huge economic investment. And if you don't have the economic resources to be a parent, there's nothing to help you.

Data from the study is also helping to answer other questions for which we have no good research until now ­ for example, how women feel about mandatory ultrasounds before an abortion and what factors contribute to some women feeling regret afterwards.

NM: Finally, I want to talk about some preliminary research you presented at a conference last fall, looking at how state and federal courts view the kind of research you are working on.

TW: ANSIRH was started specifically to ensure that health policy is grounded in evidence. Because many laws aimed at restricting abortion were ending up in the courts, I became interested in how judges were interpreting the science in their legal decisions. We focused on four abortion-related issues where the science is pretty clear ­ whether women are at risk for suicide after abortion, gestational bans based on the presumption that the fetus feels pain, ultrasound-viewing mandates, and medical abortion regimens.

We looked through over a thousand documents ­ including lawsuits, briefs, rulings by courts at every level, the scientific studies that are referenced, the CVs of the medical experts whose work was cited. We analyzed not just the court decisions, but their language about the scientific claims, how expert knowledge is referenced, the quality of the research, whether the studies appeared in peer-reviewed journals ­ that kind of thing. We've really just scratched the surface ­ we had no idea how much there would be out there.

NM: What have you found?

TW: There is no consistent standard for how science is or is not incorporated into the legal decisions. Across the decisions, the same scientific studies are adjudicated very differently. Overwhelmingly what we do see is political ideology substituted for objective standards in adjudicating scientific claims. We were very disheartened to find that many of the judicial decisions were discounting the science altogether. I think I was a little naive. I had this idea that the courts were more objective.

Since I started this work, I've been intrigued to discover that there's a whole body of criticism ­a lot of it around climate change ­ over whether courts should have anything to do with science. When the D.C. federal court was set up, all the patent cases went there. There was a recognition that these issues were really complicated ­more science-y ­ and you needed to have judges who had specific expertise to decide them. Now, whether they're about environmental science or, in our case, health-related science, these cases are being spread out across multiple courts, and judges with absolutely no scientific training are being asked to make adjudications about science. Should we be training judges to review science? Should we be thinking about specialty courts with scientific expertise?

One of the more troubling findings is the way that controversy has become a reason to discount science. There's a great book called "Merchants of Doubt" [Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Bloomsbury, 2011]. It's about the production of scientific controversy as a way to discount legitimate scientific research and clear-cut consensus about tobacco or climate change, but it also applies to abortion. As the book points out, you don't need to disprove science anymore. All you need to do is suggest that the science is actually in doubt. Courts will then look at and say, "It's a controversy, so deference should go to the Legislature," or "It's a controversy, so we'll do whatever we want."

A contributing problem is that, in the legal context, medical experts and scientists who do abortion or study abortion have been seen as suspect. Lisa Harris, at the University of Michigan, has written some great stuff on what she calls "The Legitimacy Paradox." It goes like this: By virtue of doing an abortion, you're not a real doctor. Therefore, real doctors don't do abortions. Therefore, you have the right to regulate them because they're not real doctors.

NM: That brings me to the last thing I want to talk about, which is the issue of stigmatization. That's a major thread in your research and writings. Why is this issue is so important to you?

TW: A stigma is a mark that makes you seen as morally suspect.It's not just bad. It's bigger than bad.

In the abortion context, stigmatization means that your position on abortion says everything about you as a human being. To do abortion means that you are morally corrupt. The fact that you would have an abortion means you're a different kind of person. And the consequences associated with disclosure ­ whether it's "I support legal abortion," "I do abortions," "I've had an abortion" ­ now carry huge social weight. That leads to silence.

Now, I'm a person who fundamentally believes in doing anything that I can to help women have their families when they want to have their families. If I can help her figure out how she gets the contraception she wants and she picks the partners she wants and she has the money she wants so that she never has to have an abortion, then I've been a success.

But if she needs an abortion, she needs an abortion. And I'm there for her with that support. I've never met a woman who said, "It's on my bucket list to have an abortion."

I want everyone to have every tool in their tool-box to be able to have a family, when and if they want to. Any of those strategies are legitimate strategies. That includes abortion.

Correction: This post originally stated that the FDA approved the morning-after pill in 2000. The abortion pill was approved in 2000.

Friday, January 24, 2014

ANS -- Industry Awakens to Threat of Climate Change

Well, it appears the business world is finally starting, just starting, to awaken to the fact that climate change is going to be bad for business.  Maybe we'll see something happen now....
Find it here:  


Industry Awakens to Threat of Climate Change

Launch media viewer
A Coke bottling plant in Winona, Minn. The company has been affected by global droughts. Andrew Link/Winona Daily News, via Associated Press

WASHINGTON ­ Coca-Cola has always been more focused on its economic bottom line than on global warming, but when the company lost a lucrative operating license in India because of a serious water shortage there in 2004, things began to change.

Today, after a decade of increasing damage to Coke's balance sheet as global droughts dried up the water needed to produce its soda, the company has embraced the idea of climate change as an economically disruptive force.

"Increased droughts, more unpredictable variability, 100-year floods every two years," said Jeffrey Seabright, Coke's vice president for environment and water resources, listing the problems that he said were also disrupting the company's supply of sugar cane and sugar beets, as well as citrus for its fruit juices. "When we look at our most essential ingredients, we see those events as threats."

Coke reflects a growing view among American business leaders and mainstream economists who see global warming as a force that contributes to lower gross domestic products, higher food and commodity costs, broken supply chains and increased financial risk. Their position is at striking odds with the longstanding argument, advanced by the coal industry and others, that policies to curb carbon emissions are more economically harmful than the impact of climate change.

"The bottom line is that the policies will increase the cost of carbon and electricity," said Roger Bezdek, an economist who produced a report for the coal lobby that was released this week. "Even the most conservative estimates peg the social benefit of carbon-based fuels as 50 times greater than its supposed social cost."

Some tycoons are no longer listening.

At the Swiss resort of Davos, corporate leaders and politicians gathered for the annual four-day World Economic Forum will devote all of Friday to panels and talks on the threat of climate change. The emphasis will be less about saving polar bears and more about promoting economic self-interest.

In Philadelphia this month, the American Economic Association inaugurated its new president, William D. Nordhaus, a Yale economist and one of the world's foremost experts on the economics of climate change.

"There is clearly a growing recognition of this in the broader academic economic community," said Mr. Nordhaus, who has spent decades researching the economic impacts of both climate change and of policies intended to mitigate climate change.

In Washington, the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, has put climate change at the center of the bank's mission, citing global warming as the chief contributor to rising global poverty rates and falling G.D.P.'s in developing nations. In Europe, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Paris-based club of 34 industrialized nations, has begun to warn of the steep costs of increased carbon pollution.

Nike, which has more than 700 factories in 49 countries, many in Southeast Asia, is also speaking out because of extreme weather that is disrupting its supply chain. In 2008, floods temporarily shut down four Nike factories in Thailand, and the company remains concerned about rising droughts in regions that produce cotton, which the company uses in its athletic clothes.

"That puts less cotton on the market, the price goes up, and you have market volatility," said Hannah Jones, the company's vice president for sustainability and innovation. Nike has already reported the impact of climate change on water supplies on its financial risk disclosure forms to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Both Nike and Coke are responding internally: Coke uses water-conservation technologies and Nike is using more synthetic material that is less dependent on weather conditions. At Davos and in global capitals, the companies are also lobbying governments to enact environmentally friendly policies.

But the ideas are a tough sell in countries like China and India, where cheap coal-powered energy is lifting the economies and helping to raise millions of people out of poverty. Even in Europe, officials have begun to balk at the cost of environmental policies: On Wednesday, the European Union scaled back its climate change and renewable energy commitments, as high energy costs, declining industrial competitiveness and a recognition that the economy is unlikely to rebound soon caused European policy makers to question the short-term economic trade-offs of climate policy.

In the United States, the rich can afford to weigh in. The California hedge-fund billionaire Thomas F. Steyer, who has used millions from his own fortune to support political candidates who favor climate policy, is working with Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, and Henry M. Paulson Jr., a former Treasury secretary in the George W. Bush administration, to commission an economic study on the financial risks associated with climate change. The study, titled "Risky Business," aims to assess the potential impacts of climate change by region and by sector across the American economy.

"This study is about one thing, the economics," Mr. Paulson said in an interview, adding that "business leaders are not adequately focused on the economic impact of climate change."

Also consulting on the "Risky Business" report is Robert E. Rubin, a former Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. "There are a lot of really significant, monumental issues facing the global economy, but this supersedes all else," Mr. Rubin said in an interview. "To make meaningful headway in the economics community and the business community, you've got to make it concrete."

Last fall, the governments of seven countries ­ Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, South Korea, Norway, Sweden and Britain ­ created the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and jointly began another study on how governments and businesses can address climate risks to better achieve economic growth. That study and the one commissioned by Mr. Steyer and others are being published this fall, just before a major United Nations meeting on climate change.

Although many Republicans oppose the idea of a price or tax on carbon pollution, some conservative economists endorse the idea. Among them are Arthur B. Laffer, senior economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan; the Harvard economist N. Gregory Mankiw, who was economic adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign; and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the head of the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, and an economic adviser to the 2008 presidential campaign of Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican.

"There's no question that if we get substantial changes in atmospheric temperatures, as all the evidence suggests, that it's going to contribute to sea-level rise," Mr. Holtz-Eakin said. "There will be agriculture and economic effects ­ it's inescapable." He added, "I'd be shocked if people supported anything other than a carbon tax ­ that's how economists think about it."

A version of this article appears in print on January 24, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Industry Awakens to Threat of Climate Change. Order Reprints |Today's Paper | Subscr

ANS -- Physicist says he’s solved the big mystery ­ how life came from matter ­ and he may be right

Here is a news article about a guy who thinks he has a new idea about the inevitability of life and how it starts.  The comments are a bunch of people arguing that he's daft.  I don't think they have enough information to make that determination.  Have a look. 
Find it here:    

Physicist says he's solved the big mystery ­ how life came from matter ­ and he may be right

By Travis Gettys
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 15:17 EST
3D rendering of a sun rising over craggy peaks of a newly forme
Topics: Jeremy England massachusetts institute of technology mathematical formula mathematical standpoint

The origin of life is basically inevitable from a mathematical standpoint, according to one physicist, and "should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill."

Jeremy England, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he's developed a mathematical formula to explain his theory that matter necessarily acquires the key attributes for life if placed under certain conditions.

The 31-year-old England theorized that a group of atoms driven by an external energy source, such as the sun, and placed in a heat bath, such as the ocean or atmosphere, will eventually restructure itself to disperse heat – a defining characteristic of life.

"You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant," England told Quanta Magazine.

Many scientists believe a primordial soup, lightning and extraordinary luck sparked the formation of life and its subsequent evolution, but England says his theory follows the fundamental laws of nature and complements Darwin's theory of natural selection.

"I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong," he said. "On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon."

But if England's idea can be demonstrated, it would allow biologists to stop seeking a Darwinian explanation for every adaptation and view organisms more generally as energy dissipators.

Although his idea is controversial among other physicists, England's theoretical results are generally considered to be valid – even if his formula remains unproven.

Researchers are eager to test whether his formula, based on the second law of thermodynamics that helps explain the transfer of heat from a source, might represent the driving force that created life.

"We can show very simply from the formula that the more likely evolutionary outcomes are going to be the ones that absorbed and dissipated more energy from the environment's external drives on the way to getting there," England said.

For example, a plant absorbs sunlight energy, uses it to create sugars and disperses infrared light, another form of energy.

Biological reproduction is a logical process for dispersing more and more energy over time, he theorized, adding that the theoretical minimum amount of dissipation that occurs during the replication of RNA molecules and bacterial cells is very close to the actual amount measured during that process.

"A great way of dissipating more is to make more copies of yourself," England said.

Scientists have already observed self-replication in nonliving systems, such as vortices in turbulent fluids that replicate by drawing energy from surrounding liquid, and England said snowflakes and sand dunes also demonstrate an internal order using condensation and wind.

"He is making me think that the distinction between living and nonliving matter is not sharp," said Carl Franck, a biological physicist at Cornell University.

[Image: 3D rendering of a sun rising over craggy peaks of a newly formed, volcanic landscape via Shutterstock]

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fwd: cartoon

One of our readers sent this in and I thought I'd pass it on....

Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 06:50 AM PST

Cartoon: Ignoring the warnings

by Jen Sorensen Follow for Comics
attribution: Jen Sorensen

(Click to enlarge)

Monday, January 20, 2014

ANS -- What Happens when Poor People get Cash? An Empirical Study.

This is an interesting article about how gambling money benefited the Cherokee nation.  It shows that poverty is debilitating.  There's some interesting stuff in the comments too. 
Find it here:   

Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 12:14 PM PST

What Happens when Poor People get Cash? An Empirical Study.

by Dave in Northridge Follow

Remarkably important article in Saturday's New York Times, by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, "What Happens When the Poor Receive a Stipend?" It tells the story of what happened to the lives of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians after they opened a casino in the Great Smoky Mountains in 1997. Admittedly, this is because the casino made a profit, but the lessons learned by scholars from Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UCLA who studied the Cherokees have significant implications for why Lyndon Johnson was right to enlist government forces to combat poverty.

This is Harrah's Cherokee Casino, which opened November 13, 1977 on the Cherokee reservation.
Some fascinating findings, and the debate that ensued, below the fold.

We are all qualitatively aware that the establishment of Indian casinos, as provided for in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 has been good for the Indian nations that have opened them. But the quantitative information detailing the social consequences of "having been good" and its impact particularly on children have not been widely disseminated, and that puts us at a disadvantage when we try to explain why something like welfare works. Fortunately, the announcement that this casino would be built spurred action among academics: 
Jane Costello, an epidemiologist at Duke University Medical School, saw an opportunity. The tribe elected to distribute a proportion of the profits equally among its 8,000 members. Professor Costello wondered whether the extra money would change psychiatric outcomes among poor Cherokee families.

When the casino opened, Professor Costello had already been following 1,420 rural children in the area, a quarter of whom were Cherokee, for four years. That gave her a solid baseline measure. Roughly one-fifth of the rural non-Indians in her study lived in poverty, compared with more than half of the Cherokee. By 2001, when casino profits amounted to $6,000 per person yearly, the number of Cherokee living below the poverty line had declined by half.

The impact on psychiatric outcomes? By 2003, she was ready to publish. The psychiatric community was still debating whether poverty caused mental health problems or vice versa, so her results, she said, surprised her. What she found was that
The frequency of behavioral problems declined by 40 percent, nearly reaching the risk of children who had never been poor. Already well-off Cherokee children, on the other hand, showed no improvement. The supplements seemed to benefit the poorest children most dramatically.

She continued following the children, and the next time she published her results, she found something even more startling: the earlier these payments arrived in a child's family, the better the child's mental health as he or she grew up.

So applying money to the problem of native poverty DOES work as far as native children are concerned. But let's see what an actual Cherokee has to say about this:
Vickie L. Bradley, a tribe member and tribal health official, recalls the transition. Before the casino opened and supplements began, employment was often sporadic. Many Cherokee worked "hard and long" during the summer, she told me, and then hunkered down when jobs disappeared in the winter. The supplements eased the strain of that feast-or-famine existence, she said. Some used the money to pay a few months' worth of bills in advance. Others bought their children clothes for school, or even Christmas presents. Mostly, though, the energy once spent fretting over such things was freed up. That "helps parents be better parents," she said.

Quod erat demonstrandum, no? More studies confirm this. The UNC at Chapel Hill's Family Life Project (run jointly with Penn State), which quantifies not just income but neighborhood safety and maternal education, among other stressors, as well, have found in 11 years of research that the stressors are cumulative. Further, parents under stress rarely manage high levels of nurturing. Thus, a theme has emerged:
Early-life poverty may harm, in part, by warping and eroding the bonds between children and caregivers that are important for healthy development.

Why would this be important? Researchers at the Washington University Medical School in St. Louis followed a group of preschool children for the next ten years of their life and tracked the stressful events for each child; MRI scans taken in adolescence showed that early life stress and poverty impeded the healthy development of the hippocampus and amygdala, regions in the brain (the article says, and I'm not a scientist) that regulate memory and emotional well-being.

Naturally, these observational studies don't allow us to assume causality, because they don't solve the chicken-or-egg problems that accompany research into these sorts of issues, especially if they have political implications. To mitigate this, Randal Akee, an economist at UCLA,has calculated
the supplements actually save money in the long run. He calculates that 5 to 10 years after age 19, the savings incurred by the Cherokee income supplements surpass the initial costs ­ the payments to parents while the children were minors. That's a conservative estimate, he says, based on reduced criminality, a reduced need for psychiatric care and savings gained from not repeating grades.

What do we know now, when we divorce this from the complicated issue of Indian gaming? Extra money might provide poor children with long-lasting benefits. Admittedly, the Cherokee example might be unique, because the cash supplements came from a business owned by the tribe which had determined how to help its members, and this might avoid incentives not to work. Besides,
about half the casino profits went to infrastructure and social services, including free addiction counseling and improved health care. Ann Bullock, a doctor and medical consultant to the Cherokee tribal government, argues that these factors together ­ which she calls the exercising of "collective efficacy" ­ also may have contributed to the improved outcomes. She describes a "sea change" in the collective mood when the tribe began to fund its own projects. A group that was historically disenfranchised began making decisions about its own fate.

Professors Costello and Akee continue to think that cash made the difference, and THAT has social and political implications, because if it DOES, withholding cash that not only helps poor families but also saves society money isn't exactly rational policy. It torpedoes the ideas that if you're poor or if you're sick, you did something to make yourself deserve that.

So use this the next time one of your Facebook friends or your congresscritter or the editorial board of your local newspaper brings up the Hoover-era notions that poverty only happens to people who deserve it and that the last thing government should do is to alleviate poverty. Not so, says legitimate research. This also supplements the arguments for Indian gaming with the knowledge that the benefits gaming provides the tribes with are positive for society.

UPDATE: Despite what I said in the last sentence, this diary is supposed to be about the public policy implications of these studies in terms of the value of welfare and cash in alleviating the social problems caused by poverty, not an assessment of the ways in which people in poverty should get the cash.

Originally posted to Dave in Northridge on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 12:14 PM PST.

Also republished by Native American Netroots.

Monday, January 13, 2014

ANS -- Fwd: How You Can Support the Workers in Your Favorite Restaurants

Hi ANS group -- Here's a brief explanation and a link to a guide to ethical eating.  It's about whether workers in restaurants are paid more than the $2.13 the law calls a minimum, and whether they get sick leave, etc.  (I feel it's particularly important that food workers get paid sick leave -- I don't want sick people making and serving my food!)
Find the guide here: they also have a phone app. 

Dear Kim,

[] Unfortunately, many of the people who cook, prepare, and serve food in our country's restaurants often suffer from poverty wages, a lack of basic benefits like paid sick days, and typically  have little or no chance to move up to better positions. Our friends at Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) have been hard at work to improve conditions for our country's restaurant workers: servers, bussers, cooks, dishwashers, hosts, among others.

ROC United's Diners Guide & app provides information on wages, benefits, and the promotion practices of the 100 most popular restaurants in America and highlights what they call "high road" restaurants -- restaurants that invest in their staff through fair labor practices -- in 10 major cities across the country, from Los Angeles to D.C. to New York City and your city.

We are excited to be working with ROC and encourage you to get more involved in your dining experience. We all care about the quality of the food we order, where it comes from, and perhaps if it is organic. We should also care about the working conditions of those who prepare and serve the food in our favorite restaurants.

We want the workers to get fair wages. We do not want them to have to come to work sick, while preparing and serving us, because they have no sick days to take off, and can't afford to miss the money they make.

ROC's Diners Guide gives consumers the tools to speak up for fair wages every time they dine out.

Please visit to download the free app or print the guide. There you can also find a short but very useful video on how to communicate as a valued customer with the owners and managers of restaurants you visit.

I hope you are as excited as we are to be working with ROC and supporting the workers where we dine.

Here is to a great meal and fulfilled restaurant workers,




Don Hazen

Executive Editor,








AlterNet | 1881 Harmon St. | Berkeley CA 94703



You can unsubscribe from this mailing list at any time.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

ANS -- Economic Prosperity and Economic Democracy: The Worker Co-Op Solution

Here's a good summary of why worker-owned cooperatives is the wave of the future -- it's a way to supercede capitalism without the downfalls of socialism.  His writing is a bit dry. 
Find it here:   

Economic Prosperity and Economic Democracy: The Worker Co-Op Solution

Sunday, 12 January 2014 00:00 By Richard D Wolff, Truthout | Op-Ed
Workers building (Image: Workers building via Shutterstock)

Workers' self-directed enterprises (WSDEs) are a response to capitalism's failure to deliver economic prosperity and socialism's failure to deliver economic democracy.

Among factors impeding formation of an organized, politically effective new left in the United States are deep frustrations among activists interested in doing that. The decline since the 1970s (and since 2008 especially) of capitalism's ability to "deliver the goods" to most citizens has opened many minds to question, criticize and challenge the capitalist system. The remarkable Pew Research Center poll of December 2011 showed large percentages of Americans favorably disposed toward socialism. Many more would agree today. Yet left activists are increasingly frustrated by their lack of a viable systemic alternative that could attract those disaffected from capitalism.

Leftists are further frustrated because the traditional socialist alternatives fail to inspire the public or even mobilize leftists themselves. The implosions of Soviet and eastern European socialisms, coupled with major shifts in China and beyond, have fueled that frustration. So too, in different ways, did western European socialist parties' embraces of neoliberalism since the 1970s and austerity policies since 2007-2008. The Greek socialist party's collapse and likewise serious declines in electoral support for the German and other socialist parties reflect frustrations with the traditional socialisms they advocate.

Traditional socialist programs of major government economic intervention (via varying mixtures of regulation of enterprises and markets, state ownership and operation of enterprises, central planning, etc.) no longer rally much support. When sometimes they seem to (e.g., France's last presidential and legislative elections), traditional socialism proves thinly rhetorical and symbolic. Because French socialists failed to define or pursue a genuine alternative to a deeply unpopular capitalism, their support melted quickly.

Audiences offered traditional socialist visions have increasingly responded with skeptical indifference translatable as "been there, done that." Many have formed the judgment that traditional socialisms, where achieved, exhibited too many shortcomings, were unsustainable, or both. Provoked by the capitalist crisis since 2008, rapidly rising public interest in alternatives to capitalism has confronted falling confidence in traditional socialism.

The frustration of the left, given this exhaustion of traditional socialisms' appeal, arose from having no other broadly agreed-upon vision of an attractive alternative to capitalism. The left could not provide what mass audiences craved as they deepened their criticisms of capitalism's longer-term decline and short-term crisis.

Enter the notion of workers' cooperatives or, better, the awkward but more specific term: workers self-directed enterprises (WSDEs). This centuries-old idea has been revived, redesigned and applied to go well beyond traditional socialism. The result is a new vision of an alternative to capitalism that could help to mobilize a new left.

WSDEs replace hierarchical, top-down capitalist enterprises run by major shareholders and the boards of directors they select with a democratic enterprise directed by all its workers. The latter, collectively and democratically, make all the key decisions of what, how and where to produce. Most importantly, they decide how to use the enterprise's net revenue.

Governments' dependence (at municipal, regional and national levels) on enterprise tax payments thereby becomes dependence on the people as workers. No longer will a separate interest - capitalists within enterprises - use taxes or any other distributions of net revenues to shape government policies against workers or citizens. Enterprise decisions on what, how and where to produce will likewise no longer be capitalists' decisions, but instead will reflect enterprise workers' democratic choices.

The importance of such micro-level transformations of enterprises into WSDEs cannot be overstated. Because it had located key economic powers in state hands (regulating or owning enterprises and imposing planning above or in place of market exchanges), traditional socialism usually accumulated too much power in the state alone or in the state together with the major capitalist businesses it "regulated." Far too little real, institutionalized countervailing power resided with the workers inside enterprises. As a result, accountability and transparency were absent from economic life, as was economic democracy. That in turn undermined real political democracy.

WSDEs could solve that problem. In economies where WSDEs prevail, key financial resources of the state - its taxes on and/or borrowings from enterprises - represent distributions of those enterprises' net revenues made by their workers. Likewise, the use of any enterprise's net revenues to fund political parties, politicians, lobbying efforts and think tanks would reflect its workers' democratic decisions. A key structural feature of capitalism - capital's dictatorship inside enterprises - always generated the incentives and provided the resources for capitalists to bend government to the service of capital against labor. In contrast, a WSDE-based economy would abolish that dictatorship and thus its political effects.

By establishing democracy inside the enterprise, WSDEs make government responsible and accountable to the people as workers. Political democracy remains merely formal when governments' direct dependence on people as voting citizens is not matched by governments' direct dependence on people - in large part the same people - as workers. Real political democracy requires its integrated partnership with economic democracy as envisioned in economies where WSDEs prevail. Traditional socialisms' over-emphases on macro-level differences from capitalism (substituting state-regulated or state-owned for private property and state planning for market exchanges) would be radically corrected by the micro-level transformation of enterprise organization from capitalist to WSDE.

Of course, democratized enterprises would need to share powers with democratic, residence-based political structures at all government levels (municipal, regional, and national). The political consequences of enterprise decisions, like the enterprise consequences of political decisions, would require that decision-making at both social sites (enterprise and residential community) be co-respective and interdependent. Enterprise-based democracy would co-determine with residence-based democracy the full spectrum of social decisions, including any state apparatus's functions and policies.

Transforming capitalist enterprises into WSDEs in this context would radically change workplaces, residential communities, and hence, the daily life of virtually everyone. It could realize the systemic change that traditional socialisms pointed toward but never achieved: a viable and attractive alternative preferable to capitalism. It offers leftists a means to overcome their frustrations and a focus around which to regroup, existing, as well as building, new left movements and organizations.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

ANS -- Green Giants Profit From the Planet's Destruction

We are back from our vacation and I was cleaning out some old emails and ran across this important article from last May.  It's about which big "green" groups are still investing in fossil fuel companies' stock.  You need to read this. 
However, remember that when you buy a stock, unless it is from an initial stock offering, the money does not go to the company, it goes to the former owner of the stock.  What it does is, it gives the company whose stock it is a valuation.  Maybe what we need to do is to figure out how to make a stock go down in value?
Naomi Klein, the author, is a really important person in the field of progressive thinking. 
You might consider reading the comments too.  Some are pretty good. 

Find it here:   

Author and activist Naomi Klein. (photo:  
Author and activist Naomi Klein. (photo:

go to original article

Green Giants Profit From the Planet's Destruction

By Naomi Klein, Guardian UK

03 May 13

A new movement has erupted demanding divestment from fossil fuel polluters - and Big Green is in their sights

[] he movement demanding that public interest institutions divest their holdings from fossil fuels is on a serious roll. Chapters have opened up in more than 100 US cities and states as well as on more than 300 campuses, where students are holding protests, debates and sit-ins to pressure their to rid their endowments of oil, gas and coal holdings. And under the "Fossil Free UK" banner, the movement is now crossing the Atlantic, with a major push planned by People & Planet for this summer. Some schools, including University College London, have decided not to wait and already have active divestment campaigns.

Though officially launched just six months ago, the movement can already claim some provisional victories: four US colleges have announced their intention to divest their endowments from fossil fuel stocks and bonds and, in late April, 10 US cities made similar commitments, including San Francisco (Seattle came on board months ago).

There are still all kinds of details to work out to toughen up these pledges, but the speed with which this idea has spread makes it clear that there was some serious pent-up demand. To quote the mission statement of the Fossil Free movement: "If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage. We believe that educational and religious institutions, city and state governments, and other institutions that serve the public good should divest from fossil fuels." I am proud to have been part of the group at that worked with students and other partners to develop the Fossil Free campaign. But I now realise that an important target is missing from the list: the environmental organisations themselves.

You can understand the oversight. Green groups raise mountains of cash every year on the promise that the funds will be spent on work that is attempting to prevent catastrophic global warming. Fossil fuel companies, on the other hand, are doing everything in their power to make the catastrophic inevitable. According to the UK's Carbon Tracker Initiative (on whose impeccable research the divestment movement is based), the fossil fuel sector holds five times more carbon in its reserves than can be burned while still leaving us a good shot of limiting warming to 2C. One would assume that green groups would want to make absolutely sure that the money they have raised in the name of saving the planet is not being invested in the companies whose business model requires cooking said planet, and which have been sabotaging all attempts at serious climate action for more than two decades. But in some cases at least, that was a false assumption.

Maybe that shouldn't come as a complete surprise, since some of the most powerful and wealthiest environmental organisations have long behaved as if they had a stake in the oil and gas industry. They led the climate movement down various dead ends: carbon trading, carbon offsets, natural gas as a "bridge fuel" - what these policies all held in common is that they created the illusion of progress while allowing the fossil fuel companies to keep mining, drilling and fracking with abandon. We always knew that the groups pushing hardest for these false solutions took donations from, and formed corporate partnerships with, the big emitters. But this was explained away as an attempt at constructive engagement - using the power of the market to fix market failures.

Now it turns out that some of these groups are literally part-owners of the industry causing the crisis they are purportedly trying to solve. And the money the green groups have to play with is serious. The Nature Conservancy, for instance, has $1.4bn (£900m) in publicly traded securities, and boasts that its piggybank is "among the 100 largest endowments in the country". The Wildlife Conservation Society has a $377m endowment, while the endowment of the World Wildlife Fund-US is worth $195m.

Let me be absolutely clear: plenty of green groups have managed to avoid this mess. Greenpeace,, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network, and a host of smaller organisations such as Oil Change International and the Climate Reality Project don't have endowments and don't invest in the stock market. They also either don't take corporate donations or place such onerous restrictions on them that extractive industries are easily ruled out. Some of these groups own a few fossil fuel stocks, but only so that they can make trouble at shareholder meetings.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is halfway there. It has a $118m endowment and, according to its accounting team, for direct investments "we specifically screen out extractive industries, fossil fuels, and other areas of the energy sector". However, the NRDC continues to hold stocks in mutual funds and other mixed assets that do not screen for fossil fuels. (The Fossil Free campaign is calling on institutions to "divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years".)

Purists will point out that no big green group is clean, since virtually every one takes money from foundations built on fossil fuel empires - foundations that continue to invest their endowments in fossil fuels today. It's a fair point. Consider the largest foundation of them all: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As of December 2012, it had at least $958.6m - nearly a billion dollars - invested in just two oil giants: ExxonMobil and BP. The hypocrisy is staggering: a top priority of the Gates Foundation has been supporting malaria research, a disease intimately linked to climate. Mosquitoes and malaria parasites both thrive in warmer weather, and they are getting more and more of it. Does it really make sense to fight malaria while fuelling one of the reasons it may be spreading more ferociously in some areas?

Clearly not. And it makes even less sense to raise money in the name of fighting climate change, only to invest that money in, say, ExxonMobil stocks. Yet that is precisely what some groups appear to be doing. Conservation International, notorious for its partnerships with oil companies and other bad actors (the CEO of Northrop Grumman is on its board, for God's sake), has close to $22m invested in publicly traded securities and, according to a spokesperson, "we do not have any explicit policy prohibiting investment in energy companies".

The same goes for Ocean Conservancy, which has $14.4m invested in publicly traded securities, including hundreds of thousands in "energy", "materials" and "utilities" holdings. A spokesperson confirmed in writing that the organisation does "not have an environmental or social screen investment policy". Neither organisation would divulge how much of its holdings were in fossil fuel companies or release a list of its investments. But according to Dan Apfel, executive director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, unless an institution specifically directs its investment managers not to invest in fossil fuels, it will almost certainly hold some stock, simply because those stocks (including coal-burning utilities) make up about 13% of the US market, according to one standard index. "All investors are basically invested in fossil fuels," says Apfel. "You can't be an investor that is not invested in fossil fuels, unless you've actually worked very hard to ensure that you're not."

Another group that appears very far from divesting is the Wildlife Conservation Society. Its financial statement for fiscal year 2012 describes a subcategory of investments that includes "energy, mining, oil drilling, and agricultural businesses". How much of WCS's $377m endowment is being held in energy and drilling companies? It failed to provide that information despite repeated requests.

The WWF-US told me that it doesn't invest directly in corporations - but it refused to answer questions about whether it applies environmental screens to its very sizable mixed-asset funds. The National Wildlife Federation Endowment used to apply environmental screens for its $25.7m of investments in publicly traded securities, but now, according to a spokesperson, it tells its investment managers to "look for best-in-class companies who were implementing conservation, environmental and sustainable practices". In other words, not a fossil fuel divestment policy. Meanwhile, the Nature Conservancy - the richest of all the green groups - has at least $22.8m invested in the energy sector, according to its 2012 financial statements. Along with WCS, TNC completely refused to answer any of my questions or provide any further details about its holdings or policies.

It would be a little surprising if TNC didn't invest in fossil fuels, given its various other entanglements with the sector. A small sample: in 2010, the Washington Post reported that TNC "has accepted nearly $10m in cash and land contributions from BP and affiliated corporations"; it counts BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell among the members of its Business Council; Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, one of the largest US coal-burning utilities, sits on its board of directors; and it runs various conservation projects claiming to "offset" the carbon emissions of oil, gas and coal companies.

The divestment question is taking these groups off guard because for decades they were able to make these kinds of deals with polluters and barely raise an eyebrow. But now, it appears, people are fed up with being told that the best way to fight climate change is to change their light bulbs and buy carbon offsets while leaving the big polluters undisturbed. And they are raring to take the fight directly to the industry most responsible for the climate crisis.

Hannah Jones, one of the student divestment movement organisers, told me: "Just as our college and university boards are failing us by not actively confronting the forces responsible for climate change, so are the big corporate green groups. They have failed us by trying to preserve pristine pockets of the world while refusing to take on the powerful interests that are making the entire world unliveable for everyone." But, she added, "students now know what communities facing extraction have known for decades: that this is a fight about power and money, and everyone - even the big green groups - is going to have to decide whether they are with us, or with the forces wrecking the planet."

It doesn't seem like too much to ask. I mean, if the city of Seattle is divesting, shouldn't WWF do the same? Shouldn't environmental organisations be more concerned about the human and ecological risks posed by fossil fuel companies than they are by some imagined risks to their stock portfolios? Which raises another question: what are these groups doing hoarding so much money in the first place? If they believe their own scientists, this is the crucial decade to turn things around on climate. Is TNC planning to build a billion-dollar ark?

Some groups, thankfully, are rising to the challenge. A small but growing movement inside the funder world is pushing the big liberal foundations to get their investments in line with their stated missions - which means no more fossil fuels. It's time for foundations to "own what you own", says Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund. According to Dorsey, her foundation, which has been a major funder of the coal divestment campaign, is now "99% fossil free and will be completely divested by 2014".

But convincing the biggest foundations to divest will be slow, and the green groups - which are at least theoretically accountable to their members - should surely lead the way. Some are starting to do just that. The Sierra Club, for instance, now has a clear policy against investing in, or taking money from, fossil fuel companies (it once didn't, which caused major controversy in the past). This is good news for the Sierra Club's $15m in investments in publicly traded securities. However, its affiliated organisation, the Sierra Club Foundation, has a much bigger portfolio - with $61.7m invested - and it is still in the process of drafting a full divestment policy, according to Sierra Club's executive director, Michael Brune. He stressed that "we are fully confident that we can get as good if not better returns from the emerging clean energy economy than we can from investing in the dirty fuels from the past".

For a long time, forming partnerships with polluters was how the green groups proved they were serious. But the young people demanding divestment - as well as the grassroots groups fighting fossil fuels wherever they are mined, drilled, fracked, burned, piped or shipped - have a different definition of seriousness. They are serious about winning. And the message to Big Green is clear: cut your ties with the fossils, or become one yourself.