Monday, August 31, 2015

ANS -- passing along

Here is a link to an article about how hot it is really going to get.  It was sent to me by one of our readers for you all.  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

ANS -- Debrief: FEMA chief Craig Fugate

Here's a light article.  the important thing is the interviewer asks about the worst disaster and he replies:  the drought!

Debrief: FEMA chief Craig Fugate

Ten years after Katrina, what keeps the nation's top emergency responder up at night?


On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the southeastern United States, killing more than 1,800 people and causing more than $100 billion in damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), then run by Michael Brown, was slow to rescue stranded residents and faced shortages of food and water. The agency was widely believed to have failed in its response to storm.

Brown was summarily fired. In May, 2009, President Obama nominated Craig Fugate for the job. Fugate previously was the director of the Florida Emergency Management Agency under then-governor Jeb Bush. Since Fugate took control, things have turned around remarkably. The agency received high marks for its handling of Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

But with cyberattacks becoming more frequent and a historic drought crippling California, FEMA's job is never done. Last week, The Agenda's Danny Vinik sat down with Fugate at FEMA's headquarters to talk about how the agency has improved in the decade since Hurricane Katrina and how it is preparing for future emergencies. The 56-year-old Fugate ripped into the media's coverage of science, arguing that there is a "war on science" underway in the United States, and warned that, in the future, competition for water has the potential to be the most destabilizing emergency that the U.S. and world face.

Danny Vinik: Ten years after Katrina, how has FEMA changed so it's not caught out by something on the scale again?

Craig Fugate: Most people look at organizations, they looked at individuals and say, "You failed." But why did we fail? The challenge was both at the local, state, and federal level. We found ourselves too often planning for what we were capable of managing and then hoping it never was any worse. And we thought that if those systems could respond to the day-to-day challenges, we'll scale up in a larger response. And what Katrina demonstrated is you don't scale up. So, you either build for the big events or you're going to fail.

DV: Have sequestration and Congress weakened your ability to prepare and protect America from some of these disasters?

CF: Sequestration and budget cuts are just facts of life that we have to operate in. But we also recognize the better we work as a nation and we look at leveraging the investments we've made across all of the states, the jurisdictions, and engage in the private sector, we actually build more resilience in there. So, while everybody says they want to point to a specific budget issue and say that will cause this, that doesn't work in disasters. It's very hard to go one-to-one.... The measure isn't always how many dollars you can spend on it. The real measure is, have you built the team and capabilities respond to that? Because most of what sequestration would potentially impact really would come about after an event occurred, and that would be the process of looking at things such as supplemental [funds] like we did for Sandy to pay for the extraordinary cost.

DV: How much are you embracing new technology to leverage your ability to respond in these situations?

CF: Well, let's be clear: Everybody thinks social media is great—and I'm a big fan of it—but social media doesn't stop bleeding. So, we have to be real about what it can and can't do. And what social media really does for us [is] allow us to communicate with the people at risk during a disaster in forums and formats that people use.... I'll give you an example: When Joplin hit, I was on travel. So, I'm talking to the team. We're getting the initial reports of it, but it wasn't clear how bad it was, and the state had not requested any assistance, yet. But when we started seeing some of the first images that were coming up on Facebook and Twitter … and you start seeing the hospital and some of the devastation and you're going, "We don't need to wait for Governor Nixon to say he needs help. They're going to need help." They're so busy in response they haven't even gotten to the next step of, "What else are we going to need?"

DV: What are some of the efforts that you've done to prepare for emergencies?

CF: If you just talk about we need to be prepared, well, what does that mean? Now, let's talk about a specific threat that is likely to occur. So, whether it's the current ongoing wildfires and drought in California or it's preparing for blizzards, or the Pope's visit, which will be a national security event, involve large scale assemblies of people that we have to prepare for, work, and partner with both the Secret Service, which has the lead on the federal side for protection, [and] with the local and state governments who have to deal with the consequences of when you put that many people in that limited area. It won't take much to trigger events that would require large scale coordination. You name it, we plan for it.

To get people thinking that way, we've moved away from a lot of our prepared exercises, and started doing no-notice exercises, with limited advance notice and limited knowledge of the exercise, and we call them thunderbolts, but we do them at all levels and we do them all the time, and it keeps our staff focused on you're not always going to get a forecast.

DV: A lot of people have become alarmed by the New Yorker article this summer about the potential of a massive earthquake hitting the Pacific Northwest, and how unprepared we are for it. Is that right?

CF: We were doing this well before the article came out. We've been doing planning with the states. In fact, both the states of Oregon and Washington State have rather detailed plans. Some of these problems, quite honestly, are going to be of such a challenge there's no easy answer and it won't be immediate. The response may not be what you would like, but it is what is possible in that event. So, there's been detailed planning going on well before this article. And this is one of the things I find that the media does do that I find kind of amusing. They find a new hazard that they weren't aware of and suddenly it's like the disaster du jour. We oftentimes have been dealing with it long before the media even finds out about it.

DV: You've faced pushback from Republicans for requiring states to prepare for climate change if they want access to certain funds. How do you convince states been willing to take the necessary steps to receive those funds?

CF: You can debate climate change until the cows come home, but the best indicator of future risk I've ever seen is the reinsurance industry's willingness to invest capital into providing insurance for your structure. And if they're not going to insure it, or it's not affordable, why is the taxpayer doing it without some mechanism to move the taxpayers' burden into the private sector and use capital decision to drive risk investment decisions?

And what we do know is most of our calculations on risk are based upon past data. The challenge we've had with that is it's too limited, does not tell us about the future, and oftentimes understates risk. And we in government have not had a good track record of predicting future risk and driving investment strategies to either buy down risk or make sure that risk does not get transferred to the taxpayer unless the taxpayer is seeing a benefit to that risk.

So, if you're going to talk about climate impacts, climate change, what's driving it, I deal with consequences. And the consequences I'm trying to address are, we go back into a community and we rebuild substantially damaged or destroyed buildings. Should we build to the data we have from the past? Because that data would also mean it would get destroyed next time. Or do we build to the future?

DV: Do you think it's a moral hazard problem, where people make risky decisions because they know they'll be taken care of?

CF: Yes. We underwrite risk in this nation below which behavior changes and we see it over and over and over again. … And this goes back to very basic capitalism: Investment should be based upon those that are willing to make the investments and make the risk, and the winners and losers should be clearly identified. But when you allow growth and development to occur without those market forces, you will see development and growth in areas that is only because we underwrite it with federal assistance.

DV: What are you doing about the risk of cyberattacks, such as an attack on the power grid?

CF: So you don't have power, that's what we would respond to. [It] doesn't matter if it's an earthquake, a hurricane, or, my favorite example, a suicidal squirrel that shorted out a transformer and knocked out power through a lot of the Western states one day. You deal with the consequences. So, we generally find ourselves in the physical world of cyber, of the impacts. There are other areas that we see more of that are, quite frankly, disturbing to me, but our role is less clear. When there's not a physical aspects—so, you're talking about financial transactions, privacy information, security information. It's like we might as well just get billboards and put all the information out there. But that's not what FEMA is designed to do. We are primarily, on behalf of the administration, responsible for coordinating the federal response to state and local governments to the consequences of a disaster.

DV: What's the scenario that keeps you up at night? 

CF: In my business, you'd never go to sleep if you were like that—I don't worry about it. I know it can happen.... And oftentimes, what can happen in the real world exceeds what most people think can happen.

DV: Are there areas where you don't think we understand the risk as well as we should?

CF: Drought. … And of all the risk that we face, a drought's the hardest one to address, because [if] you have a big flood, it eventually stops raining. It doesn't always start raining when you have a drought. And so, if you think about the response to droughts, mainly it's about buying time until the rains come back. What happens if the rains never go back to what you thought was normal? So, droughts don't keep me awake, but I will tell you, droughts have the potential, of all the hazards we face, to be the most destabilizing, both to our nation and to the earth because of food shortages, food insecurity, water wars.

People just think the oil wars have been interesting. But if you get into a changing climate where the narrow bands of the growing areas of this world are threatened by drought, food prices go up, and migrations are based not just upon economics anymore, but just pure survival. It's an entirely different world we have to be prepared for.

DV: Are climate skeptics in Washington frustrating to deal with?

CF: I take a step back and go the bigger issue is the challenge to science itself. You guys report on this all the time. Our way of covering science-based issues is to get two opposing experts—whether or not the experts are actually qualified to speak—to present a subject. And therefore, the public thinks that we're not biased and that we have both views, although one view is junk science and one is based upon science with peer-review. … Science is not easy, it's not always pretty, and it's not always going to be 100 percent. But we have cheapened science in this country to the point where we think it's debatable whether the sun comes up. As long as I have an expert that says we orbit the sun versus somebody who says the sun orbits the earth, we'll report that as fair and equal treatment.

They're not buzzwords. This isn't party-specific. This is an issue that we've gotten a war on science when it doesn't agree with our political positions. … That is something, as a nation, we have created. We have cheapened science to the point of as long as I get some hack out there to say it's different or I don't agree with your views no matter what your data says, I'm going to attack you personally and vilify you.

We used to be the country—both parties—we were the country of intellectuals, using reason and science to solve our problems. Where did that that go?

DV: How do we fix this?

CF: I think you have to take the responsibility that reporting a story and providing two views isn't reporting. You have to understand your subject and you have to know that just because somebody's opposing it doesn't give them a voice equal to the person that's presenting the conflicting or sometimes controversial information that people don't like.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Danny Vinik

ANS -- The Case for Universal Basic Income

Here is a very interesting article on a basic income.  I wish it were better written, but it's pretty clear.  I know Canada did a big experiment on a basic income in the 60s or 70s, and they found that the only people who quit working were women with children under school age.  That's a good thing.  
The comments are thought-provoking too.  

Print this item

The Case for Universal Basic Income

Posted on Aug 26, 2015

By Daniel Raventós and Julie Wark

This piece first appeared at Counterpunch.


Support for a universal basic income (defined here) is growing. In Europe, for example, the City of Utrecht is about to introduce an experiment that aims "to challenge the notion that people who receive public money need to be patrolled and punished," in the words of a project manager for the Utrecht city council. Nijmegen, Wageningen, Tilburg and Groningen are awaiting permission from The Hague in order to conduct similar programmes. In Switzerland, the necessary 100,000 signatures have been obtained for holding a referendum on whether Swiss citizens should receive an unconditional basic income of €2,500 per month, independently of whether they are employed or not. On 16 June, the centre-right government of Finland, where 79% of the population is in favour of a universal basic income, made good on its electoral promise and ratified the implementation of an "experimental basic income". A recent survey in Catalonia (13 to 17 July) shows that 72.3% of the population (basically excepting the right-wing and wealthiest sectors) would support a basic income of €650 per month, and, contrary to a tiresomely hackneyed claim, 86.2% say they would continue working if the measure were introduced. More notably, 84.4% of the unemployed say they'd still want to work.

These are tentative or incomplete measures but they're also significant because they mean empowering individuals, economically – and also politically – in a situation where global power is largely in the hands of unelected institutions and other obscure organs, as the recent mauling of Greece has made more than clear. However, growing interest in basic income doesn't mean smooth sailing ahead towards implementation. Long-disproved arguments are still being raised against it and dubious "alternative" proposals such as "guaranteed work", "full employment" and conditional minimum guaranteed income are brandished. With a basic income people won't engage in wage labour, women will be confined to the home, immigrants will "swarm" in (as British Prime Minister David Cameron would say), it would take a revolution to introduce it, and it would kill off the welfare state. Never mind that these assertions have been soundly rebutted in several different languages, they still rear their silly heads. There are still other misunderstandings (or downright lies) that need to be addressed because social and economic inequalities are increasing so fast, and basic income is an ideal measure for combating them.


First is the question of financing. There's not a lot of detailed material on this key aspect yet but a recent studycarried out in Spain, based on two million income tax declarations made in 2010 (in the midst of the economic crisis) is eloquent. The study was based on three criteria: 1) the basic income of €623 per month should be self-financing and not affect public spending in health, education, etc.; 2) the distributive impact should be highly progressive so that over 80% of the population would benefit; and 3) that effective tax rates after the reform should not be very high. The basic income has to be at or above the poverty line (€623 in Spain). It would not be subject to personal income tax and would replace all welfare benefits of a lesser sum than €623, while people receiving more than this in benefits would still get the full amount.

Financing this basic income for all adults in Spain – 43.7 million people – is possible with a single tax rate of 49% which, combined with a tax-exempt basic income, would be highly progressive. For the poorest decile, this 49% would effectively become -209% (negative because, in this case, it would be a net transfer). Approximately 80% of the population would gain and the total amount transferred from rich to non-rich would be some €35,000 million. This is not to take into account the problem of tax evasion (calculated at some €80,000 million) in Spain.

Ah yes, they say, but this model of financing would "adversely affect the middle classes". Middle classes? In Spain, a person earning just €3,500 per month is in the top two deciles, while those earning €4,500 are in the top 5%. These figures come from official tax declarations! Whether from ignorance or bad faith, many people won't recognise that this points to a huge problem of tax fraud, which needs urgent attention, especially if any tax reform in favour of the non-rich population is to be undertaken.Data published by the Swiss global financial services company UBS AG reveals that just 22 Spanish billionaires have a total fortune equalling 5% of Spanish GDP (or about 60% of the national healthcare budget, for example). If the real richest members of the population were detected through personal income tax, basic income financing would be easier, the tax rate lower and sectors that might lose in the present model would end up gaining. This stubborn idea that basic income would be an assault on the middle classes encourages some farcical fence-sitting postures. Hence, the PSOE (Socialist Party) claims it supports "basic income" (but means guaranteed minimum income), while others on the more or less postmodern left have entered the premier league of intellectual contortionism when asserting that basic income and guaranteed minimum income are "more or less the same". These misconceptions are politically damaging because they've led progressives to support "more moderate" proposals.

Unfortunately, the new left-wing party Podemos is trying to dodge the basic income question. Although its grassroots members are pushing quite hard for a basic income, Podemos has put forth a Guaranteed Minimum Income Plan, without apparently doing the sums. Our calculations show that 50% of the population would be adversely affected because of changing the present income tax structure without compensating with a basic income. This is very different from a policy affecting the richest 20%. It seems that some Podemos leaders, turning a deaf ear to the views of its grassroots members, are saying that basic income is "too radical". But, really? Is guaranteeing the material existence of the whole population too scary when Spain's wealth gap is the biggest in Europe and, in global terms, the top 1% will own more than the 99% by 2016?

What's really scary is the general acceptance of a status quo in which most people are getting poorer and poorer, even while recent studies demonstrate that so-called "trickle-down" economics actually means an upwards flow of income until it stagnates as hoarded wealth. This stymies wealth creation in the economy, as the Institute for Policy Studies concluded after using standard economic multiplier models to show that every extra dollar paid to low-wage workers adds about $1.21 to the US economy. If this dollar went to a high-wage worker it would add only 39 cents to GDP. In other words, if the $26.7 billion paid in bonuses to Wall Street punters in 2013 had gone to poor workers, GDP would have risen by some $32.3 billion.

Money at the bottom is over three times more effective at driving economic growth than money at the top. It's common sense, though the theory has the fancy title of "marginal propensity to consume": people with small incomes spend their money quickly and the rich hoard theirs. With today's monstrous wealth gap, the velocity of the dollar in the total money supply is lower than it has ever been. Also logical. Indeed,a new model produced by Ricardo Reis and Alistair McKay shows that "tax-and-transfer programs that affect inequality and social insurance can have a large effect on aggregate volatility". Even IMF data suggest that increasing the share of the top 20% by just 1% of total wealth lowers economic growth by 0.08 points. But if the bottom 20% receives the same 1% share, economic growth increases by 0.38 points. So wouldn't it be a good idea to introduce a universal basic income? Scott Santenscalculates that, in the United States, redistribution in the form of a basic income of $1,000 per month for every adult citizen and $300 for under-eighteens would cost about $1.5 trillion – about 8.5% of GDP – taking into account the elimination of benefits that are no longer required once a basic income is operational. The total cost of child poverty alone is around 5.7% of GDP.

If inequality is killing economic growth, then neoliberal economics have surely failed. The OECD finds that, "Rising inequality is estimated to have knocked more than 10 percentage points off growth in Mexico and New Zealand over the past two decades up to the Great Recession. In Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, the cumulative growth rate would have been six to nine percentage points higher had income disparities not widened…." The key point here is that anti-poverty programmes can never be enough because the, "impact of inequality on growth stems from the gap between the bottom 40 percent with the rest of society, not just the poorest 10 percent". If the cash transfer programme is to be effective about half the population must benefit. This sounds very like the universal basic income proposal that has been presented in Spain. Reducing income concentration at the top where money makes money to hoard is more than a moral issue or matter of justice but is economic savvy, as increasing numbers of reputable economists are now realising, for example (Baron) Robert Skidelsky.

However sound the economic arguments may be and however long they've been around in Spain, partial solutions keep being touted as "alternatives" to basic income. Guaranteed work is one, pushed, inter alia, by the left-wing party Izquierda Unida (IU), although it's much more expensive (€10 gross per hour would cost the state €233,422 million) in the long term and less effective than a basic income, which would come into immediate effect to alleviate the distressing working (or non-working) and living conditions of the poorest sector. Worse, "guaranteed work" (which doesn't take domestic or voluntary work into account) has a pathetic notion of freedom. It assumes that people must work for a salary, the inference being that if people have a basic income they'd hang around all day twiddling their thumbs. Spain has the worst unemployment figures in the OECD countries (over 15% for 25 out of the last 37 years, while the second-worst showing, by Ireland, has hit this figure in only nine of these 37 years) and, moreover, guaranteed work proposals have been devised for economies with relatively small numbers of unemployed workers. In short, the idea is pure codswallop, especially when it is demonstrated that a basic income would strengthen workers' bargaining positions and stimulate more small businesses.

One outlandish (but no less widespread for that) criticism of basic income is that it wouldn't combat the "sexual division of labor". Neither would the public health system put an end to the sexual division of labour! Basic income would tackle quite a few social problems but not this one. What it can do is give women a lot more autonomy in many aspects of their lives, which is no small thing. Basic income isn't a whole economic policy. It would be part of an economic policy favouring the non-rich population. Other social problems like the sexual division of labour, generalised indifference to scientific knowledge, private powers imposing their Weltanschauung on everyone else, corruption, human trafficking, brutality towards refugees and immigrants… must also be dealt with, but with specific, appropriate instruments. It could be argued that a society with less inequality and more concern for human beings would be more likely to produce such instruments.

Then we get to some more economic argy-bargy. Wielding Austrian School arguments, some right-wingers proclaim the advantages of low tax rates on a broad base. An increased tax rate for a basic income, they say, would reduce the tax base, the tax collected and the elasticity of the tax base, adding that not taking this elasticity into account would annul any conclusion. In fact, the empirical evidence from studies in Spain shows that increased taxes wouldn't cause lower elasticity with a negative effect on economic activity but would give higher elasticity: more tax, more GDP, and higher tax collection. Higher taxes for the rich allow for more public spending, which has a positive effect on economic activity, generating more income and compensating for possible disincentives. It was beyond the scope of the Spanish basic income study to calculate in detail the positive effects the basic income might have on economic activity and hence tax collection but, clearly, the poorer 80% of the population which gains would consume more than the richer 20%, so a strong welfare state, financed by taxes and with a system of social benefits, including a basic income, would achieve higher labour force participation and employment rates and, it follows, greater equality and general well-being, as well as a much more resilient economy in an unstable global system.

Basic income isn't just a measure against poverty but would be an integral part of an overall economic policy which would stimulate economic growth and give a guaranteed material existence and hence effective freedom to all members of society. This effective freedom of the non-rich bears the seed of subversive political power, which is why the right presents sops such as the minimum guaranteed income which Hayek enthusiasts, who believe that taxes are robbery, support as a kind of charity. But charity is the antithesis of justice. It depends on the freely determined whims of the better-off giving to the unfree poor who are denied human dignity precisely because they're forced to be on the receiving end of charity. Basic income doesn't benefit everyone but is concerned to improve the lot of the non-rich part of the population. Its anti-neoliberal foundations are to be found in classical republican thought and its insistence that a person can't be free if the means of his or her material existence are not guaranteed. One of the main advantages of a universal basic income is that it would free people from the tyranny of the job market in which they are mere commodities by guaranteeing the most basic human right of all, that of material existence. A basic income upholds not just the right to a dignified life but, in practical terms, would allow people to expand their lives and defend themselves against assaults on their freedom and dignity.

Finally, since these basic human rights are declared as universal, there's one more basic income myth that should be knocked on the head, namely that it's a policy that only rich countries can contemplate. Experiments in Brazil, Namibia and South Africa, Mexico, India, Kenya and Malawi show that modest, partial, basic income projects have impressive economic and social results. In Namibia, for example, a two-year pilot project (2007–2009) in Otjivero-Omitara, a low-income rural area, where 930 inhabitants received a monthly payment of 100 Namibian dollars each (US$12.4), reduced poverty from 76% to 16%; child malnutrition fell from 42% to 10%; school dropout rates plummeted from 40% to almost 0%; average family debt dropped by 36%; and local police reported that delinquency figures were 42% lower; and the number of small businesses increased, as did the purchasing power of the inhabitants, thereby creating a market for new products.

The main obstacle to basic income today is political (and psychological if greed is understood as pathological) because, no, it doesn't favor the rich but, rather, in moral terms and sound economics, it calls on them to contribute just a smidgen of their wealth to safeguard the right of a dignified existence for everyone. But, it's not just a matter of getting the rich to pony up. The real snag is that people at the bottom, instead of helplessly holding out their hands to catch the non-existent trickle, might start transforming society and the economy according to their own lights and in defence of their own dignity. It's unlikely that the 1% of revoltingly rich people will sit back and let their own extinction happen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

ANS -- Scientists Find Way to Turn Cancer Back Into Healthy Tissue in Lab

Here's a brief article about a new advance in cancer research.  

Home  Health  Scientists Find Way to Turn Cancer Back Into Healthy Tissue in Lab

Scientists Find Way to Turn Cancer Back Into Healthy Tissue in Lab

by  - August 26, 2015


A new discovery could eventually slam the brakes on cancer and shift it into reverse.

Mayo Clinic researchers in Jacksonville, Florida believe they've discovered a way to turn cancer cells back into healthy tissue.

The research is only lab-based for now, but the researchers are hopeful they've discovered a new mechanism for fighting — or even curing — cancer.

As cells get older, they're supposed to quit dividing, but that doesn't happen with cancer cells; they continue multiplying to form tumors. The researchers discovered a breakdown in communication within the body that allows cancer cells to continue dividing–and they've found a way to reprogram those cells.Melanoma-CT-Scan-NewEnglandJournalofMedicine

In Successful Cancer Trial, Therapy "Dissolves" Stage IV Tumor in 3 Weeks

They have identified a previously unknown link between two parts of cell growth — cell adhesion and microRNA (miRNA).

Cell adhesion holds cells together and sends information to miRNA to control their growth. When that communication breaks down, cancer cells can grow out of control.

The Mayo Clinic researchers discovered that if they pumped more miRNA into the cells, it re-established that communication and reversed the process. Lead researcher, Dr. Panos Anastasiadis, said it's like applying "the brakes" to restore normal cell growth.African-Am-black-lab-worker-teen-Kevin Stonewall-IntelVideo

Meet the Chicago Teen Who May Cure Colon Cancer

"It's a significant step forward in understanding how certain cells in our body know when to grow, and when to stop," Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research UK's senior science information manager told the Telegraph. He, and the Mayo Clinic researchers, say there is still a lot of work to be done before they'll know if their discovery can work in actual cancer patients.

The research findings were published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

(READ more at the Telegraph) — Photo: fotosinteresantes, CC

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

ANS -- Not Waiting for Paris: Northern Manhattan Residents Develop Climate Action Plan

Here's a story about a community taking the bull by the horns, and not waiting for politicians to agree on what to do about climate change.  I feel they are on the right track.  We have to do something, now!

Not Waiting for Paris: Northern Manhattan Residents Develop Climate Action Plan

Monday, 10 August 2015 00:00By Aurash KhawarzadSpeakout | Op-Ed

Community members work on the climate action plan. (Photo: Laurie Mazur)Community members work on the climate action plan. (Photo: Laurie Mazur)In December, world leaders will meet in Paris for the UN Climate Conference (COP21). Some say the fate of our planet depends on the outcome.

For local activists working on climate change, that's a chilling thought (even in a time of record breaking heat). The fact is, world leaders are not likely to deliver the changes that frontline communities need to prevent - and survive - the climate crisis. That's why we need to take action on our own, in our communities.

In the best-case scenario, the Paris conference will produce an international agreement that regulates global CO2 emissions. It may even provide scant resources for infrastructure and other improvements in "developing" countries. But no one expects that agreement to transform political and economic systems - and power dynamics - that cause climate change to have a disproportionate impact on poor and working class people.

To provide an alternative vision for climate policy, WE ACT for Environmental Justice has partnered with local residents to create the Northern Manhattan ClimateAction Plan (NMCA), which emphasizes political and economic democracy as a means of achieving climate justice. By putting communities in charge of energy infrastructure, communications, governance and other key systems, advocates for justice can mesh climate change actions with efforts to eliminate poverty and build community. In this sense, the NMCA seeks to protect people - not just places and profits.

Download the plan here.

The plan focuses on four key areas:

1. Energy Democracy: Commonly owned and managed green energy infrastructure - such as cooperatively owned microgrids - can create more resilient energy systems, while providing much-needed capital for low-income residents. Tenant organizations and property owners can use shared space to house energy infrastructure and develop co-management systems that meet residents' needs.

2. Emergency Preparedness: Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy showed our lack of preparedness for severe weather events. To prepare for the next storm, we must revise design guidelines and other urban development policies to harden our infrastructure. At the same time, we must build new transportation systems, public spaces, urban gardens and other features that can reduce carbon emissions, address the urban heat island effect and create gathering spaces for democratic activity.

3. Social Hubs: To do this work, we need space. By building a network of temporary, semi-permanent and permanent spaces that can host meetings, store equipment/supplies and even incubate cooperatively owned enterprises - such as a restaurant, media production facility and/or food coop - community members will have centralized hubs to build social networks and produce/store physical resources.

4. Participatory Governance: To transform political and economic systems, we need to increase democratic participation. That means upping voter turnout, building partnerships with progressive legislators, educating constituents on political processes/theories, taking direct action and implementing proposals for public policies, developments, etc. At the same time, we must build systems of decision making that are open to all, regardless of class, race, gender, language, etc.

The four steps listed above seek to shift power dynamics so that local communities can play a greater role in producing their economy and built environment, while creating a new commons, in which life and equity are valued more than accumulating money and power.

Here in New York City, even in the De Blasio era, socio-economic inequality remains above the national average. But we have an opportunity to actually do something about it. The City government has set a goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2050. That will require a substantial investment, which some have put at more than $5 billion per year between now and 2050 - enough to create over 80,000 jobs annually. Depending on City policy, those employment opportunities and investments could go to dispossessed communities, which tend to be in the most geographically vulnerable areas, or they could wind up in the pockets of executives and corrupt politicians.

The stakes are high. The NMCA offers a blueprint for investments and social structures that would foster greater democracy. But, ultimately, we need deeper participation from residents to successfully confront power. We hope this plan is a meaningful step toward a future in which the power over our environment is in our hands.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Monday, August 03, 2015

ANS -- Lawsuit alleges: 7-year-old quizzed on religion, ordered to sit alone at lunch for telling classmates he didn’t believe in God

This is shocking that it still happens in the twenty-first century.  And It certainly shows that these religious people are more unkind than they are spiritual.  

Lawsuit alleges: 7-year-old quizzed on religion, ordered to sit alone at lunch for telling classmates he didn't believe in God


The allegations from the Complaint, which claims the teacher's actions violated the child's First Amendment rights:

1. In February of 2015, A.B. was a second grader at Forest Park Elementary School, a school that is within Fort Wayne Community Schools. During a discussion with classmates on the playground he responded to a question by indicating that he did not go to church because he did not believe in God. This resulted in his teacher interrogating the child as to his beliefs and requiring the child to sit by himself during lunch and not talk to his classmates during lunch for three days. This violates the First Amendment. The defendant's actions caused great distress to A.B. and resulted in the child being ostracized by his peers past the three-day "banishment." No meaningful attempt has been made to remedy these injuries and the child seeks his damages. . . .

7. In February of 2015, A.B. was a second-grade student at Forest Park Elementary School. . . .

9. On or about February 23, 2015, A.B. and his classmates were on the playground during the school day immediately before lunch when A.B. was asked by one of his classmates if he attended church.

10. A.B. responded by stating that he did not go to church and did not believe in God. He also stated that it was fine with him if his inquiring classmate believed in God.

11. The classmate said that A.B. had hurt her feelings by saying that he did not believe in God and started to cry.

12. A playground supervisor reported to [A.B.'s teacher] what had happened.

13. At that point the students were going to lunch and [the teacher] asked A.B. if he had told the girl that he did not believe in God and A.B. said he had and asked what he had done wrong.

14. [The teacher] asked A.B. if he went to church, whether his family went to church, and whether his mother knew how he felt about God.

15. She also asked A.B. if he believed that maybe God exists.

16. [The teacher] told A.B. that she was very concerned about what he had done and that she was going to contact his mother — although she never did.

17. This was very upsetting to A.B. as he was made to feel that he had done something wrong.

18. A day or two after the initial incident, A.B. and his fellow-student who had become upset with his comment on the playground were sent to another adult employed at Forest Park Elementary School.

19. This person asked them what the problem was and A.B. indicated that his classmate had become upset when, in response to her question, he had said he did not go to church and did not believe in God.

20. Upon hearing this, the adult employee looked at A.B.'s classmate and stated that she should not be worried and should be happy she has faith and that she should not listen to A.B.'s bad ideas. She then patted the little girl's hand.

21. This was, again, extremely upsetting to A.B. as it reinforced his feeling that he had done something very wrong.

22. On the day of the incident and for an additional two days thereafter, [the teacher] required that A.B. sit by himself during lunch and told him he should not talk to the other students and stated that this was because he had offended them. This served to reinforce A.B.'s feeling that he had committed some transgression that justified his exclusion.

23. When V.S. was told by A.B. what had happened she called the Assistant Principal of the school and demanded an explanation.

24. The Assistant Principal set up a three-way telephone conversation with V.S., [the teacher] and himself.

25. [The teacher] confirmed her involvement in this matter as noted above.

26. V.S. demanded that the school not isolate her son or punish him for his beliefs.

27. After three days A.B. was allowed to join his classmates for lunch and all sanctions and restrictions were lifted.

28. After this three-day period, and after V.S. complained, A.B. was told by [the teacher] and other teachers that he could believe what he wants.

29. But this was after A.B. had been publicly separated from his classmates and informed that he could not speak to them. All the students in his class heard and were aware of this. He was publicly shamed and made to feel that his personal beliefs were terribly wrong.

30. No efforts were made to correct the damages that had been done.

31. A.B. came home from school on multiple occasions crying saying that he knows that everyone at school — teachers and students — hate him.

32. Even now there are some classmates who will not talk to A.B.

33. Even now A.B. remains anxious and fearful about school, which is completely contrary to how he felt before this incident.

34. At all times defendant acted, and refused to act, under color of state law.

The school district released a statement saying, "It is clear that it is not the province of a public school to advance or inhibit religious beliefs or practices. Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, this remains the inviolate province of the individual and the church of his/her choice. The rights of any minority, no matter how small, must be protected." So far, the court hasn't decided any substantive matters in the case, but it did issue a decision last Tuesday allowing the child's mother (as the child's legal guardian) to proceed anonymously, so as to preserve the child's anonymity to the extent possible:

A.B. is a young child and this suit involves religion and public schools-a topic that "has a tendency to inflame unreasonably some individuals" in most communities, including Fort Wayne. Accordingly, at this time, the Court finds that the risk to A.B.'s health and safety, if his mother is identified by name, outweighs the public's interest in judicial openness and overcomes the presumption against anonymous litigation.

The complaint was filed by the ACLU of Indiana.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.