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VIDEO: Chipmunks Shut Down Utah Tar Sands

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday October 1, 2014 2:41 pm
An activist wearing a full-face chipmunk mask and gogges, gives a double thumbs up sign in front of a construction vehicle, against a background of a blue sky with a few clouds.

A “chipmunk” from Utah Tar Sands Resistance gives the thumbs-up in front of a construction vehicle at Utah’s Book Cliffs, the first domestic tar sands mine, September 23, 2014.

Activists dressed as chipmunks shut down construction at the first US tar sands mine on September 23. It was the latest in a series of actions by Utah Tar Sands Resistance targeting the 213 acre Book Cliffs tar sands mine.

A video released by the group shows chipmunks spreading rapidly through through the camp site where they block construction equipment with their bodies. Though the finale of the video playfully describes the chipmunks fates as “poisoned by tar sands waste water,” activists actually shut down construction for part of a day, resulting in five arrests. There have been 27 total arrests since the beginning of the campaign to halt construction.

Music: “Unscorch The Earth” by Sole and DJ Pain 1

A bellweather project

Anti-tar sands activists in Utah believe that if construction at Book Cliffs is allowed to continue, it will result in more tar sands extraction in the state and elsewhere in the country.

“This project is a bellweather project,” said Raphael Cordray, an organizer with Utah Tar Sands Resistance. “If they can make this project successful than it will open up the flood gates for a whole lot of other tar sands and oil shale strip mining projects in the area and in America in general.”

According to Cordray, the site was chosen because it is public land administered by the state, letting US Oil Sands, the firm constructing the mine, take advantage of the state’s comparatively lax environmental regulations.

“They’re pursuing it in the easiest place they can with the least amount of regulation. The [United States] Bureau of Land Management identified 860,000 acres within Utah, Wyoming and Colorado that’s available in the future.”

The group has hope that continued direct action can shut down the mine.

“It’s a good place to focus on because it’s not an operating mine and because they leased this land in 2005 and they’ve yet to produce a commercially successful product,” Cordray told Mint Press News.

Other tactics being considered include lawsuits over water pollution and pressuring the EPA to enforce their strictest standards, because this public land actually belongs to indigenous people.

“It’s considered Indian country so there’s a whole new standard that [...] the state of Utah pretended like they didn’t know applied.”

Global crisis, local action

One of the concerns local activists have raised about the recent massive Climate March in New York City is that it might take energy from local environmental issues and direct action.

In “I Think I’ll Just Stay In Texas (But Bring Me Back A Bagel)“ on Rising Tide North America’s Growing Deep Roots blog, Eric Moll writes:

The only problem is that can’t seem to find the real frontline. Those of us who were in New York during and after Sandy know the frontlines: the Rockaways, Coney Island, Staten Island, Redhook. What will the so-called “People’s Climate March” do for the people who were most affected by Sandy and are most threatened by the next big storm?

Did anyone ask these communities what [thousands of] climate activists could do for them? Logistical nightmares aside, do they have any buildings that need repairing, any gardens that need expanding? Is there anything the marchers could do to oppose local forces of gentrification, police violence, or racism in a way that might actually improve some lives? Some local target with a bit more relevancy than the United Nations?

Mint Press News asked Cordray what activists can do to find targets for direct action and climate justice in their own communities. One possibility are Environmental Protection Agency lawsuits.

“The good news is that the EPA is citizen enforceable. It’s one of the few things in government where a citizen can sue to enforce a regulation. It’s uncommon for citizens to be able to enforce government laws on other entities.”

It’s also important for activists to plan for the future, as many destructive environmental projects require years of infrastructure construction before extraction begins.

“If you look closely at what’s going on in local communities, there are a lot of activities lining up to support local industry that aren’t the best for the community. Things like refineries are constantly in violation of the law but nobody has the energy to follow up. [...] Just a few phone calls could start a lot of action in your community.”

Chipmunk communique and legal support fund

The chipmunks issued the following statement through Utah Tar Sands Resistance:


Nigeria: Rebels without a paycheck?

By: Jane Stillwater Wednesday October 1, 2014 9:42 am

Author’s note:  Who among our founding fathers way back in 1776 would ever have guessed that, just two hundred and thirty eight years later, America’s main driving force, highest ideal, most efficient function and top-priority goal would be to sell weapons and hoard oil.

I recently dared to ask a Nigerian-American friend of mine the same dreaded question that I had asked him the last time we had talked. “How are things going over in Nigeria right now?” 

“Bad.  Really bad,” he once again replied.  “I’m sure you don’t even want to hear about it.”  Yeah I do.

“There have been lots of bombings over there lately.  And not just any kind of bombs either.  Definitely not the old-fashioned home-made pipe bombs and glorified Molotov cocktails that one would expect.  These are sophisticated, well-placed and expensive bombs being set off by so-called Muslim terrorist groups.  And hiring and training mercenaries like that doesn’t come cheap.  Many of them may be misinformed fanatics but still — they still need to be trained and equipped and fed.  A whole lot of money is involved.  Billions.”

“But from what I had learned from studying about Nigeria in college, its Muslim population, the Fulani, mostly used to herd cows,” I replied.  Apparently that’s no longer true.

“The Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in Nigeria today have amazingly well-equipped and well-trained troops — and their main goal seems to be to de-civilize the country.  Farmers and herders who should only have been able to stage revolutions with blunderbusses at best, are now expert sappers and know the advanced operation mechanisms of RPGs by heart.”

Now why do these techniques sound so familiar?  Well-trained troops?  Expensive equipment?  Causing chaos?  Attempting to destabilize countries?  Oh, right.  The “rebels” who seized the government in Libya, the “rebels” who tried to seize the government in Syria and the “rebels” who seized the government of Ukraine and parts of Iraq — not to mention the “rebels” who had seized Chile, Vietnam, Indonesia, Iran, Honduras, Guatemala, Afghanistan and the Congo back in the day. 

These rebels are definitely getting paychecks!

And we are definitely not talking about the idealistic, poorly-trained and ill-equipped rebels fighting for freedom and their lives against despots and madmen who have seized control over places like eastern Ukraine, Palestine, East Timor, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (or the American colonies in 1776 for that matter).  Those rebel chumps are only trying to protect their families, homes, lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness.  Those kinds of rebels don’t matter.  The CIA doesn’t equip or train those kinds of chumps.  They don’t count.

“And aside from the constant threat from terrorists,” my friend continued, “we also have to deal with the highest level of corruption in the world.  For instance, one storefront lawyer with almost no clients was suddenly promoted to governor of a Nigerian state — and suddenly he’s spending $150 million on a private jet and socking away millions more in a private bank account offshore.

“And now if he wants any money, he just transfers it out to the state’s coffers and into his own.  And it’s all perfectly legal to do that.”

This sounds like what a U.S. Army officer once told me about Afghanistan.  “The corruption here is amazing, sure, but leaders do the same thing in America too — the only difference being that in America, they pass laws to make the corruption legal first.”  Citizens United comes to mind.  And a whole bunch of shady oil and weapons deals too.

“And here’s another bad thing,” said my Nigerian-American friend.  “In the river-delta area of Nigeria, land that used to grow produce is now hopelessly and dangerously polluted by American oil concessions.”

“But what about the Ebola virus?” I asked next.

“That’s a problem in Liberia, not in Nigeria.  Yet.”  Nope, too late.  It’s already arrived at the airport.

And then he told me about another situation — one that I am sadly familiar with myself, having spent a lot of time in Africa and the Middle East.  “Here in America, I am leading a double life.  Part of me goes to Target to shop and eats at Olive Garden and feels perfectly happy and safe.  But the other part of me just constantly marvels at how my fellow Americans can be so completely unaware of all the pain and killing and hunger that exists in other parts of the world — and that are the direct result of brutal and monstrous actions done in their name.”

I too feel the same way — torn between utter gratitude that I have electricity and my children are safe, on the one hand, and on the other hand, knowing that all across the world, the CIA is arming mercenaries to kill and maim children in far away places with names like Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq and Nigeria; names that many Americans couldn’t even find on a map.

“The powerful people in Nigeria will do anything for money,” said my friend sadly.

“And so will the powerful people of America too,” I sadly replied.

The Great White Lie

By: Deena Stryker Wednesday October 1, 2014 7:59 am

I must have been six or seven years old when I first heard the words ‘white lie’. My mother explained that it was ok to tell a lie to spare someone’s feelings. At present a gigantic white lie is being perpetrated on the American people. The government warns that the war against Islamic terrorism will go on for years, but fails to tell us why. That white lie spares us the feeling of despair we would experience if we knew that we’re not only fighting ISIS and its acolytes in Syria and Iraq, but eventually like-minded groups that stretch across entire swathes of the world.

As long as the public is only aware of ISIS and Al Queda, it can resign itself to the idea of the Untied States having ‘one more enemy’ in the long list of enemies it has faced  Were people aware of the fact that the convictions that motivate ISIS and AQ are shared by ever rising numbers of Muslims around the world, they would be so distraught that they might actually begin to wonder what those convictions are, so that perhaps an open-ended war could be averted.

I’ve always disputed Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ because it implies that Western civilization is superior to all others. Now it’s precisely that conviction that is being challenged ever more forcefully and ever more broadly by Muslims, at a time when many Westerners have arrived at the same con-clusion.

There are two strands to Muslim opposition to the West: the one we hear about is religious, focusing on sexual freedom and attitudes toward women, however, the Muslim world counts a growing cohort of secular young people. As we saw with the Tamarod movement against President Mubarak, many of these youth are attracted to neo-liberal ‘democracy’, with its accent on ‘progress’ and ‘making it’. But there is another group, epitomized by the young Turks who demonstrated for weeks in Istanbul’s beloved Gezi Park to prevent it from being razed to build a shopping mall. This group rejoins a growing number of Westerners who see consumerism as detrimental both to the planet and the soul.

Now just imagine that the religious majority of the world’s Muslim population of 1.6 billion (23% of the world’s population), is affected by the spread of Islamist groups. That is what is being hidden from Western publics, as governments gear up for another round of war.

Aymenn Jawad Al Tamimi, a graduate of Oxford University and a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum, has analyzed support for radical Islamist leaders, including Baghdadi, in countries across the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific.

Over Easy: NASA’s Terra Satellite Documents Aral Sea Disappearance

By: Crane-Station Wednesday October 1, 2014 4:40 am

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite began documenting the decline of the Aral Sea in 2000. NASA now says that eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely dried for the first year in modern times.

“This is the first time the eastern basin has completely dried in modern times,” said Philip Micklin, a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University and an Aral Sea expert. “And it is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since Medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya to the Caspian Sea.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, the government of the former Soviet Union diverted the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya—the region’s two major rivers—to irrigate farmland. The diversion began the lake’s gradual retreat. By the start of the Terra series in 2000, the lake had already separated into the North (Small) Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and the South (Large) Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. The South Aral had further split into western and eastern lobes.

The Aral Sea was actually an immense fresh water lake, located between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The lake was fed by the region’s two major rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. Prior to the early 1960s, the Aral Sea supported a thriving commercial fishing industry. The diversion of the rivers for irrigation depleted the water levels and resulted in increased salinity and mineral deposits in the lake, altering the ecology and killing the fish. By the early 1980s, commercial fishing had been eliminated.

Although the dams, canals, and other water works that were “built in order to transform the desert” into agricultural fields for cotton and other crops did cause the desert to bloom for a time, the price in the end appears to be an ecological disaster. Not only has the once-fourth-largest inland body of water dried up, but as it has diminishes, sandstorms now affect the area.

References and Links to the NASA images:

The Aral Sea Loses Its Eastern Lobe September 26, 2014
NASA Terra-MODIS Image of the Day

World of Change Aral Sea
NASA images showing the progression, from 2000 to 2014.

Satellite images show Aral Sea basin ‘completely dried’

When Corporate Sponsors Leave ALEC and Rush, What We Learn

By: spocko Tuesday September 30, 2014 5:07 pm

The other day Google announced it will be leaving ALEC. “Google becomes latest company to abandon right-wing ALEC.”

This is a big deal. It comes on the heels of a number of other corporations like Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Yahoo! having left ALEC.

These things don’t just happen magically. There are a lot of people who have worked very hard to make that happen. Here is a list of just some of them from the letter they sent to the Google folks earlier this month.

I don’t know all the people behind those groups, although I can personally point to my friends at both the Center for Media and Democracy for their steller Alex Exposed work, and my friends at Color of Change, who earlier got corporations to peel off ALEC following the Trayvon Martin shooting.

I think it’s important to acknowledge this success and see what we can learn from it. Like the actions used to get advertisers to leave Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and other RW radio hosts, part of this is educating sponsors and advertisers about the person or entity’s comments and actions so people can decide they don’t want to taint their brand with the association.

We often think that if we just give people the facts they will make the right decision. That does apply in some cases, especially when dealing with Vulcans. Other times we think people only make decisions to maximize revenue, and that’s true when dealing with Ferengi. But humans are more complex, and we need to look at and combine multiple methods to persuade, convince or pressure.

I listened to the Diane Rhem show where Eric Schmidt talked about ALEC. Here is his actual ALEC comment:

Mining the Earth: 30 Sep 2014

By: KateCA Tuesday September 30, 2014 4:12 pm


*Everywhere. Last ditch efforts by some utilities around the globe to halt renewables include taxes on “solar energy-equipped houses and offices”, vigorous lobbying to stop governments providing incentives to “green energy”, much heftier “daily connection” fees rather than billing for units of energy used, etc. Will alternative energy users be subsidizing traditional utilities in the future?

*AZ. (See also Mexico). Authorities are testing the water in the San Pedro River (which flows north from Mexico into AZ) to make sure the on-going disaster at Grupo Mexico’s Buenavista mine in Sonora, Mexico has not resulted in contamination of the San Pedro.

*IA. Two towns in IA—Bloomfield and Algona—dependent on coal-fired plants for electricity, could cut their costs [and charges to customers] “substantially . . . if they invest in deep efficiencies and, to a lesser extent, in renewable sources of generation.” The Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities participated in the study.

*NV. Canadian-based Veris Gold will pay a $182,000 penalty to the US Environmental Protection Agency “for failing to correctly report . . . the release of millions of pounds of toxic chemicals—including arsenic and cyanide [and lead, mercury, nickel, zinc, copper, and cobalt]—into the air and ground.” That occurred at the Jerritt Canyon mine, which last year received 49 citations and 12 safety orders.

*WV. 84 years ago this month, 5,000 coal miners confronted some 3,000 company-backed men in “the largest armed labor conflict in the nation’s history”. After five days of intense struggle, then-President Harding sent in federal troops. For decades the Blair Mountain Battlefield was on the National Register of Historic Places—until 2009, when the government removed it. The Sierra Club and local historical associations sued, lost the first round, appealed and have won.


Cutting Taxes on Rich, Raising Them for Others Won’t Boost Wisconsin Economy

By: WI Budget Project Tuesday September 30, 2014 3:02 pm

The best way to create jobs and build a broad-based prosperity in Wisconsin is to invest in excellent schools, safe communities, and a solid transportation network.

But a new report released today takes a different approach, claiming that giving big tax cuts to the rich and raising taxes for others would help the Wisconsin economy. The report, released by the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, repeats the myth that tax cuts create jobs, despite growing evidence to the contrary.

The report advocates changing the state’s tax mix to rely less on the income tax and more on the sales tax, a change the group says would boost the state’s economy. But what the report fails to mention is that the result would be big tax cuts for people with the highest incomes and higher taxes for everyone else. If Wisconsin eliminated the income tax and raised the sales tax to make up for the resulting revenue loss, the top 1% of earners in Wisconsin – a group with an average income of $1.1 million – would get a tax cut of a whopping $44,000 on average. Meanwhile, taxpayers in the bottom 20% would be paying $750 more in taxes on average.

The report urges lawmakers to broaden the base for the sales tax by increasing the number of goods and services subject to tax. While that sounds fairly innocuous, reading the fine print reveals that this includes applying the sales tax to grocery purchases. That’s one of the most damaging tax moves you can make for families with low incomes who are struggling to put food on the table. The report shrugs off the concern, noting that a refundable tax credit could provide tax relief for people with low incomes. That’s fine in theory, but Wisconsin lawmakers have shown little interest in expanding refundable tax credits, choosing to cut them instead.

As for tax cuts, they haven’t been contributing much to job growth in Wisconsin. State lawmakers have passed tax cuts totally nearly $2 billion over four years, but job growth in Wisconsin has been slower than the national average, and the overall size of Wisconsin’s economy has grown slower than the U.S. average as well.

Tax cuts haven’t done much to spur job growth in other states either. Lawmakers in Kansas and North Carolina made deep tax cuts, and both states have experienced disappointing levels of subsequent job growth. And as a result of the tax cuts, these states have fewer resources to support investments in public schools, higher education, and a healthy workforce – investments that, unlike tax cuts, have a proven track record for creating jobs.

To construct a strong economy in Wisconsin, we need to create opportunities for everyone to thrive. That means making the kinds of investments in our schools and communities that create shared prosperity and help make Wisconsin a good place to do business and raise families. We can’t create jobs and prosperity for Wisconsin with additional tax cuts, or by raising taxes on most people to pay for tax cuts to the rich.


How do you fight?

By: joe shikspack Tuesday September 30, 2014 1:09 pm

Lately I’ve been getting deluged with emails from politicians like President Obama, various Democratic Party fundraisers and political organizations that go a little like this:

Dear Joe,

Evil Republicans!

Koch Brothers!

The Senate!

I want to fight for you!

Can you help me out with $3, $5, $10 or more?

Really? These folks want to fight for me?


Look Honey, there’s a fella in a thousand dollar suit who wants to fight for me!

Were these guys fighting for me when they failed to meaningfully address climate change, or when Mr. Obama created and doggedly stuck to his disasterous “all of the above” energy policy? Were these guys fighting for me when they extended yet again the endless war – draining the blood and treasure of America despite the fact that those we are wasting trillions to incinerate pose no imminent threat to the United States? How about when they set up the Catfood Commission and tried to grand bargain away some part of my Social Security benefits? Was “my team” fighting for me when they set up secret trade deals that give corporations vast powers to force their demands on communities and destroy the environment with impunity?