Friday, March 24, 2017

War, human rights and biodiversity: turning conflict into conservation

Go to Original
By Alex Reid

Over 90% of major armed conflicts between 1950-2000 occurred in countries containing biodiversity hotspots,writes Alex Reid, and more than 80% of these took place in the hotspot areas themselves. This poses a major challenge to the conservation community: to work in combat zones to strengthen environmental protection before, during and after conflicts. Or better still, to defuse incipient conflicts and resolve those under way, to reduce their toll on people, and nature.

The full enjoyment of human rights afforded by a healthy environment is entirely dependent on the services provided by our local, regional and global ecosystems. In turn, the health of these ecosystems depends on the richness of their biodiversity.
Biodiversity hotspots cover just 1.4 percent of the planet's surface, yet 80% of major armed conflicts between 1950 and 2000 occurred in these areas.
This figure should be striking, but the connections between the environment and conflict continue to be overlooked.
With the recent release of a UN Report stressing the direct relationship between biodiversity and human rights, is it time for us to reassess our understanding of the links between armed conflict, human rights and conservation?
In 2010, Lord Robert May asked an unusual question for a world-renowned ecologist: "If some alien version of the Starship Enterprise visited Earth, what might be the visitors' first question? I think it would be: How many distinct life forms - species - does your planet have?"
Lord May suggested that we would embarrass ourselves before our alien guests: we do not yet have the means to accurately measure the number of species populating our planet. What we could confidently tell them, however, is that each species is part of the vibrant ecosystems on which our human rights depend.
The direct connection between human rights and biodiversity is the subject of UN Special Rapporteur Professor John Knox's latest report, which was recently delivered to the current session of the UN Human Rights Council, which concludes today.
Knox has used his time as Special Rapporteur to drive home the connection between a healthy environment and the attainment of human rights standards, and his latest report focusses specifically on biodiversity's role in creating and sustaining that environment.
It's hard to find a more direct challenge to human rights than the immediate violence and displacement that comes from armed conflict. However, Knox's report should also help draw attention to the more indirect relationship between conflict, biodiversity and human rights.
Over 90% of major armed conflicts between 1950-2000 occurred within countries containing biodiversity hotspots, and more than 80% of these took place within hotspot areas.
Thor Hanson, Guggenheim Fellow and independent conservation biologist, suggests that these statistics underscore "the urgency of understanding the effects of warfare in the context of biodiversity conservation" - and he's right.
Biodiversity and human rights
The full enjoyment of human rights afforded by a healthy environment is entirely dependent on the services provided by our local, regional and global ecosystems. These ecosystem services, defined by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment as "the benefits people obtain from ecosystems", can be broken down into four categories:
  1. Provisioning services, such as food, water, timber and fibre.
  2. Regulating services which affect climate, floods, disease, and water quality.
  3. Cultural services associated with the recreational, aesthetic and spiritual benefits of nature.
  4. Supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis and nutrient cycling on which all other services ultimately depend.
In turn, the health of these ecosystems depends on the richness of their biodiversity. A diverse biosphere is essential to secure the productivity and stability of almost all services, from food and water down to soil formation. The more diverse a biological population, the more disaster-resilient an ecosystem becomes.
Greater biodiversity also enables an ecosystem to survive and weather longer-term threats such as climate change.
It is easy to see these services reflected in the understanding of the entitlements provided by our fundamental human rights:
  • the right to life and to health is secured mentally and physically by a diverse range of natural medicinal products;
  • the right to shelter is only guaranteed by a sustainable source of timber derived from multiple tree species;
  • the right to food is perhaps the most evident connection: genetic diversity increases crop yields; and
  • species richness is associated with more productive fisheries, both of which are essential for a hungry and growing population.
Drivers of ecosystem degradation: the hidden role of armed conflict
Knox's report identifies several direct drivers of biodiversity loss, including the overexploitation of flora and fauna, pollution, invasive alien species and, of course, climate change. However, the direct contribution of armed conflict to all these drivers cannot be ignored.
Armed conflict is more than just violence. It also entails societal transformation that changes the way that local and regional communities interact with their environment. This in turn cannot help but have a profound effect on biodiversity.
One clear example of the negative impact of warfare on biodiversity is the mass exodus of more than 2 million Rwandan refugees following the 1994 genocide into Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC)), Uganda and Tanzania. High demand for firewood among desperately displaced populations with few other resources deforested more than 300km2 in the DRC's Virunga National Park.
Today, the Virunga National Park is an infamous hotbed for the overexploitation of flora and fauna, including poaching, and a booming charcoal industry. Decades of mineral-funded civil war in the DRC have burdened the resource-rich country, and both the population and the land bear the scars. Studies have also shown that the presence of soldiers and rebels also contributes to deforestation and the bushmeat trade.
Connections between human rights, the environment and armed conflict are of course easier to make in some situations than others. The Niger Delta is classified as one of the top ten most polluted environments in the world, yet it still counts as a biodiversity hotspot because it is populated by a unique range of flora and fauna, hosting up to 60-80% of all the species found in Nigeria.
The Delta's mangrove forest is the largest in Africa, and the third largest in the world, providing food, medicines, and wood for fuel and shelter to the populations residing there. It's also on the 'tentative list' to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet conflict and insecurity in the Delta continues to impact its biodiversity and the human rights of its population.
As early as 2001, the African Commission (AC) recognised the threat that oil and large-scale water pollution posed to the enjoyment of the human rights of populations in the Niger Delta. The AC found that the Nigerian government had "fallen short of the minimum conduct expected of governments" by failing to protect the ethnic Ogoni people in the region from the gross environmental degradation caused by oil-extraction.
The belief that the Nigerian government has consistently fallen short of its responsibilities has been shared by armed groups in the Niger Delta for decades. Confrontations between violent movements with environmental grievances resulted in what Michael Watts called a constant cycle of "petro-violence".
It is a cycle that cripples the economy of the Nigerian state, and releases huge volumes of oil into a fragile ecosystem through oil-bunkering - a technique used by non-state actors to steal oil to fund rebel activities.
Recognising this pattern, the Nigerian government partnered with the UN Environment Programme in 2016 to launch what was hailed as the "largest terrestrial clean-up ever seen". But it could still take more than 25 years before ecosystems are re-established in the Delta.
The long term threat: brain-drain and institutional collapse
But conflict's greatest threat to biodiversity may be a more indirect one: institutional collapse. This runs counter to the common assumption that the more immediate tactical consequences of conflict are the most serious threat to the environment.
In research published last year, scholars from UC Berkeley reviewed the ecological, social, and economic pathways that lead to both negative and positive environmental outcomes in conflict.
Their study identifies both the direct and indirect ways in which conflict affects the environment, and concludes by suggesting that one of the greatest indirect threats is the brain-drain of talented individuals, including conservationists themselves, from militarised environments.
This is not to say that all conflict is bad for biodiversity. The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea is effectively an untouched incubator for biodiversity, on a peninsula which has experienced almost 100 years of continual conflict.
One might add that this is precisely because the Korean institutions on each side keep humans at bay - though their motivation is not strictly conservational. Nevertheless, projects that do have an explicit environmental motivation have successfully transformed conflict into conservation.
The Sierra del Condor, a mountain range between Peru and Ecuador, is an example of turning a decade long territorial dispute into a peace park, a project partly motivated by bolstering conservation efforts.
Similarly, while altered patterns of human activity associated with displacement from conflicts may have localised benefits - allowing a recovery period for depleted resources - this can come at a high cost for the biodiversity in the areas that populations are displaced to. For example, providing temporary shelter for the displaced can quickly lead to the overuse of local resources.
Cases like the DMZ are the exception rather than the norm, and it's clear that the positive effects of armed conflict for biodiversity shouldn't be overstated. UC Berkeley's study suggested that in 94% of their case studies, at least one pathway in conflict led to negative outcomes for wildlife, whereas only 33% percent showed a positive pathway.
The way forward?
Given the findings of Knox's report, it's clear that the importance of biodiversity must be incorporated into the way we discuss and think about human rights. But in so doing, it's clear that we also have an opportunity to enrich our understanding of the relationship between armed conflict, human rights and the environment.
With more than 90% of major armed conflicts between 1950 and 2000 occurring within countries containing biodiversity hotspots, the way forward should be clear: strengthening environmental protection before, during and after conflict must be a primary goal for both NGOs and governments that support conservation and the protection of human rights.

With the sixth mass extinction already underway, the alliance between conservationists and conflict specialists must begin now.

Palestine slams Israeli Database Targeting Israelis Who Support Boycott

Go to Original

On March 21st, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, Gilad Erdan, announced that his ministry seeks to create a new database of Israeli citizens who support the grassroots Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to secure Palestinian human rights.

In response, Mahmoud Nawajaa, the General Coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), said:
“This new database is consistent with the Israeli government’s ongoing efforts to suppress the BDS movement for Palestinian rights, precisely because support for the movement is growing both inside Israel and around the world. This new database targeting Israeli citizens who support BDS is in addition to another database that the Israeli government is already preparing, which targets BDS supporters from other countries, and which a recently-passed Israeli law seeks to use to bar international supporters of Palestinian rights from entering into Israel and occupied Palestinian Territory. It’s also in addition to a law passed in 2011 that allows civil suits to be filed against Israeli citizens who call for boycotts related to Israeli human rights abuses. Now, the Israeli government seeks to further repress Israeli citizens for their political thought and human rights work.
It is not at all surprising that Mr. Erdan and his government should spy on Israeli citizens, whether Jewish or Palestinian, or set up a database of those supporting BDS in order to target anyone working for the freedom, justice and equality of Palestinians. Support for the BDS movement has been growing around the globe in recent years, as more and more people recognize the brutal reality of Israel’s apartheid regime and nearly 50-year-old military occupation of Palestinian lands. Israel’s repressive efforts to suppress the BDS movement further illustrate the justice of our cause and will thus only strengthen worldwide support for our nonviolent struggle for our freedom and rights.”

Ex CIA director says Michael Flynn may have gone too far in a meeting with Turkish officials

Go to Original

President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn discussed removing a controversial Muslim cleric from US soil in a meeting with Turkish government ministers in September, former CIA Director James Woolsey told The Wall Street Journal on Friday.
Flynn disclosed the meeting to the Justice Department in his FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) filing late last month. The filing acknowledged that Flynn's lobbying group, Flynn Intel Group, conducted research that "focused on" the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, for Inovo — a Dutch consulting firm owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin.
Alptekin is a member of a Turkish economic relations board run by an appointee of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Flynn's firm was tasked with lobbying the US government to extradite Gulen — a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania who Erdogan believes is responsible for planning last year's attempted coup and generally fomenting dissent inside Turkey.
Flynn raised eyebrows when he wrote an op-ed article for The Hill, published November 8, alleging that Gulen helmed a "vast global network" that "has all the right markings to fit the description of a dangerous sleeper terror network."
At that point, Flynn's work for Inovo had not yet made news so the op-ed seemed out of place amid his work with the Trump campaign. Flynn's DOJ filing says the op-ed "was not written or published at the request of, or under the direction or control of, Inovo, the Republic of Turkey, or any other party."
Woolsey, a Flynn Intel Group board member who was present at the September meeting, said that Flynn and the Turkish ministers went further than talking about how to lobby for Gulen's extradition, however, and discussed how they could physically remove Gulen from the country.
The idea was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away,"Woolsey said, adding that he thought it was "naive" of them to think they could bypass the US' "legal process" and people's constiutional rights.
"You don’t send out folks to haul somebody overseas," Woolsey told The Journal.
Price Floyd, a spokesman for Flynn, strongly denied that such a discussion ever took place, telling Business Insider on Friday that Flynn was contracted by Inovo, in part, "to gather information on Gulen and turn it over to legal authorities to take action."
"At no time did they discuss anyillegal actions, nonjudicial physical removal or any other such activities," Floyd added.
Reached for comment, Woolsey's spokesperson, Jonathan Franks, said that the former CIA director stands by his story. Franks confirmed that Woolsey had notified Vice President Joe Biden, through a mutual friend, of what he thought could be an illegal discussion. The Obama administration said it would not extradite Gulen until Turkey provided the necessary evidence of his complicity in the coup, but Trump has not said how he plans to address the issue, if at all.
Alptekin, who paid Flynn's firm just over $500,000 for the four months of lobbying, told the Associated Press earlier this month that he did not agree with Flynn's decision to register as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice for his work with Inovo.
"It would be different if I was working for the government of Turkey, but I am not taking directions from anyone in the government," Alpetkin said.
Still, Flynn said in his filing with the DOJ that his work for Inovo “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey."

A 2-for-1 for Racists: Post Hateful Fliers, and Revel in the News Coverage

White supremacists have targeted college campuses, causing upset and gaining attention.

Go to Original
By Ken Schwencke

The Houston man laid out the details of his triumphant plan during a podcast last July: He told listeners that he had wanted to paste white nationalist fliers across the city’s downtown, and, just as importantly, he had wanted the Free Press, a local news and arts website, to write about the fliers.
“I want to trigger them into writing an article about me,” the man said in the podcast.
He got what he wanted. On July 6, 2016, the Free Press posted, “White Nationalists Bring Hateful Garbage to Houston,” noting the fliers downtown and printing their contents in their entirety.
“Achievement unlocked,” the man said of the coverage. “They succeeded in promoting our message.”
The nationalistic sentiment evident since the presidential campaign, complete with calls for mass deportations, Muslim bans and economic nationalism, has led in recent months to intense media coverage of a clearly emboldened array of white supremacist groups across the country. It’s a degree of attention that the groups seem to be enjoying.
In another recent podcast, a different figure in the far-right movement, Greg Johnson, publisher of the website Counter-Currents, spoke bluntly about the benefits of gaining media coverage.
“We have very little in the way of force, but our enemies have all kinds of power,” Johnson claimed during his podcast. “If we can get their neurosis working for us, that can multiply the effects of our activism tremendously. I think that’s a really valuable form of asymmetrical cultural warfare.”
The pasting of fliers in public places — especially college campuses — looks like a core tactic for that kind of warfare.
Since September 2016, white supremacists groups have draped college campuses with fliers at least 118 times, according to data released by the Anti-Defamation League. The groups advocate for a whites-only country and to bring fascism or Nazism to the United States.
They’ve left their propaganda at campuses ranging from Clemson University in South Carolina to the University of Minnesota to the University of California in Los Angeles. In response, they’ve gotten coverage from local newspapers as well national outlets like CNN and the Washington Post. Universities have felt compelled to respond as well, like the University of Michigan, which unveiled an $85 million diversity and inclusion program just days after racist fliers were found on its Ann Arbor campus.
While many of the supremacist groups appear to be small, they claim to be growing. Traffic to their websites are up — including one apparently read by Dylann Roof, who killed nine black people in a South Carolina church in 2015 — and many of the online spaces where they congregate are urging real-world meetings.
From online discussions documented by ProPublica and conversations with those in the white power movement, the groups are counting on the media to serve as their amplifier and appear to cultivate and collect reports of their activities.
In an email interview, Kathleen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said journalists had some basic obligations, including reporting as accurately as possible how popular or marginal the groups are.
“First, don’t overstate the number or impact of people with hate in their minds and hearts,” she said.
“Extremist groups have always been good at propaganda, and journalists have an obligation to understand that and not become part of any stream of misinformation or disinformation.”
According to the ADL’s data, Identity Europa is the chief source for fliers promoting white supremacist groups. It’s unclear how many members the organization has. They claim supporters across the country, but in multiple photos released by the group there appear to be only the same handful of people.
In a video, the group’s founder, Nathan Damigo, an Iraq War veteran who went to prison for robbing a cab driver at gunpoint in late 2007, called for people to download the group’s fliers and plaster their cities.
“We would actually invite everyone to do this. To get out to these students what they’re not being told,” he said, referring to his belief that university professors are telling students lies about diversity.  
Damigo’s group sells its propaganda for between $1.50 a sticker and $30 for a glossy poster. The posters make vague statements on civilization and European identity over photos of classic sculpture. At least one references President Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” They make no mention that Damigo once chaired the National Youth Front, which the Southern Poverty Law Center says was tied to a Southern California skinhead group.
“It ends up a lot of times that the stuff that would end up in a garbage can ends up as a free disseminated advertisement,” said Brian Levin, Director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino. “Damigo and all these other folks know that they’ll get publicity.”
Damigo did not respond to interview requests.
Another white nationalist faction called Atomwaffen Division, associated with an online Nazi forum, produces grainy recruitment-style videos of their flier campaigns. The posters they leave behind are much more stark: radioactive symbols, swastikas, guns and the call to action, “Join your local nazis.”
On their website, testimonial-style quotes from news coverage tops every page, and some of their recruitment videos contain clips of news anchors describing their flier campaigns.
The site has sections dedicated to the downloadable propaganda that’s found its way onto telephone poles, cork boards and other public places, as well as another section of the site for collecting news coverage about themselves.
Other popular white supremacist factions have their own propaganda corners. For Vanguard America — neé American Vanguard, not to be confused with National Vanguard, or the Vanguard News Network — one simply needs to click the “posters” link on the homepage to choose a printable flier. Their posters feature anti-immigrant sentiment and promote white identity, while their website calls for fascism to replace U.S. democracy and for the creation of a whites-only nation.
In two instances, the posters even seemed to print themselves. In a pair of well-publicized exploits, Andrew Auernheimer, known by his online moniker “weev,” wrote code to loop through vulnerable printers across the country, forcing them to spit out reams of racist propaganda linking to The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website he helps run. Later in the year, he did it again, this time with a letter saying that he supports the murder and rape of non-white children. In blog posts, he gleefully pointed out the social media and news coverage of the hacks.
“I began the modern era of white supremacist fliers,” Auernheimer said by email. “I showed everyone at massive scale how easy it is to send an entire campus into apoplexy with only a few pieces of paper.”
Auernheimer went on to point out that posting such fliers is useful for local recruitment, and puts university administrators and journalists in a bind.
“We will still be posting fliers no matter what. If they don’t get investigated, we can wholesale turn urban centers and campuses into recruitment centers for white supremacy and fascism with no resistance,” he said.
The media campaigns don’t end with fliers. In late 2015, the Daily Stormer’s owner, Andrew Anglin, urged his readers to create social media pages claiming to represent white student unions at universities, regardless of whether such groups existed.
“Make more of these White Student Union pages on Facebook for various universities. You don’t have to go there,” he wrote. “Get it up, then forward links to the local media.”
As news reports from local papers and national outlets like the Washington Post picked up — and then debunked — that a wave of white student unions were cropping up at schools, Anglin denied that he was responsible for prompting fake groups.
“The fact that I said, ‘You don’t have to actually go there’ does not somehow translate into these groups are a hoax, it simply means that some of them could potentially have been started by a person not attending the school,” he wrote on his site. Anglin did not respond to a request for comment.
Around the same time, Damigo, writing on his personal site, said, “A media storm promptly hit, and with it, increasing interest in our new movement, which has become the typical unintended consequence of anti-White shrieking.”

Introducing Biochar: Climate Change Solution or Greenwash Nightmare?

Go to Original
By Steve Horn

After years of investigating biochar, which promoters have touted as a potential climate change fix, DeSmog is releasing its findings on the science, claims, and controversy surrounding this approach to sequestering carbon. 
Biochar is the product of plant or animal products (biomass) undergoing pyrolysis, a high-heat chemical reaction, to convert the carbon-containing biomass to a stable, non-decomposing form of charcoal. Introduced to mainstream audiences in a Time Magazine article from December 2008, biochar as a climate geoengineering technology has hit a number of peaks and valleys since then. In that time, its best chances at reaching commercial scales so far have failed, according to a new DeSmog report, Biochar: Climate Change Solution or False Hope?
Biochar's failure to date is due to a number of reasons, such as the lack of scientific consensus surrounding its ability to sequester carbon indefinitely, the vast amounts of land needed to produce biochar at a large enough scale to affect the climate, and the lack of legislative or regulatory frameworks required for investment in commercial-level production. 
While some big money is pouring into biochar, particularly via the start-up Cool Planet Energy Solutions, the efforts to market the product as a climate solution appear stronger than the current scientific evidence on its CO2 sequestration capabilities. In fact, when the American Carbon Registry, which exists to promote carbon trading markets, analyzed the nascent biochar industry's business protocol for scaling up, the registry rejected the plan due to lack of scientific support surrounding its claims.
Released in March 2015, the registry's protocol review concluded that “the scientific literature does not provide sufficient evidence of the stability of soil carbon sequestration in fields.” A 2011 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report also poured cold water over the technological feasibility of scaling up biochar production.
Led by the trade association and lobbying group, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI), biochar has faded into the background in the two years since that report came out, and IBI's budget has plummeted.
The new DeSmog report shows that among the most enthusiastic supporters of biochar have been the oil and gas industry, which sees biochar as a tool to “offset” its fossil fuel emissions, particularly in North America.
For example, in Alberta, Canada, the biochar industry and the tar sands industry have attempted to team up to create a carbon offset scheme through the Alberta Offset System. IBI also led a lobbying effort to insert biochar into the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009 (best known as the Waxman-Markey carbon offsets bill), and into another stand-alone bill called the WECHAR Act
Cool Planet's business plan, meanwhile, appears to be the biochar industry's best hope of scaling up in the U.S. However, its science remains unproven, lacks the scientific standard of peer review, and is considered proprietary business information.
The other major effort to scale up biochar in the U.S., led by the company Mantria, ended in a major federal fraud lawsuit. The U.S. Department of Justice charged the company's executives with promulgating what has been described as the “biggest green scam to date in the United States.”
These details and much more can be found in DeSmog's new six-part report on biochar:
Momentum on biochar as a climate salvation, for now, has reached a relative standstill. But the industry has already written the playbook for pushing its product, and should that momentum turn around in the months and years ahead, the biggest question will be: Can research confirm biochar's potential as a climate change solution, or is it just another form of greenwashing?
Find out in the DeSmog biochar report.

Forget Trump's 'Immigrant Crime List' - Here's a Shortlist of US Government Crimes This Week

Trump's "immigrant crime list" serves to divert attention away from borderline-criminal actions committed by the U.S. government.

Go to Original

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday released its first “weekly list of crimes” committed by undocumented immigrants.

The list, called the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Declined Detainer Outcome Report, is one of his central mandates. On the campaign trail, he promised conservative supporters that he would release the list to “better inform the public about safety threats.”
The report catalogs the legal status, nationality, location and criminal activity of undocumented immigrants. 
As many critics have pointed out, however, the list seems more like an excuse for a witch hunt rather than a public service. 
It also serves to divert attention away from borderline-criminal actions committed by the Trump administration. Here are a few examples from this week alone.
Killing 230 Iraqi's in Air Raid
Some 230 Iraqi civilians were feared dead, buried in collapsed buildings in the Iraqi city of Mosul after a U.S. airstrike Mar. 22, civil defense agency officials and locals said.
At least 137 people, mostly civilians, were killed when a bomb hit a building in western Mosul, with another 100 innocent people thought to have died in nearby areas, according to Rudaw, a Kurdish news agency operating in northern Iraq. “Some of the dead were taking shelter inside their homes,” Hevidar Ahmed, an eyewitness told press.

The U.S. Central Command, which coordinates U.S. military action in Iraq said in a statement, "We are aware of reports on airstrikes in Mosul resulting in civilian casualties. The Coalition conducted several strikes near Mosul and we will provide this information to our civilian casualty team for further investigation."
Approving the Keystone Pipeline

Trump on Friday announced the official approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, touting the US$8 billion project for “creating jobs” and “reducing the United States’ dependency on foreign oil.” The pipeline, however, presents disastrous challenges for both the environment and Indigenous nations existing alongside it. 
Dozens of environmental groups, politicians and scientists have raised the high likelihood of oil spills and contamination along its route. University of Nebraska professor John Stansbury recently conducted a study of its potential damages, revealing that the pipeline will likely experience more than two major oil spills per state during its estimated 50-year lifetime. Each of these spills, according to Stansbury, could let out as much as 180,000 barrels of oil. 
These spills would not only devastate the environment. They would also affect the health and wellbeing of Indigenous groups, like the Lakota people, who have lived in the area for hundreds of years. 
Moving forward with the Keystone XL oil pipeline despite knowing its potential environmental and health risks certainly warrants criminal investigation. 

Placing Sanctions on Iran

Trump’s administration is close to announcing a new set of economic sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic of Iran over its defensive ballistic missile activities, the Washington Times reports. 
The sanctions, supported by 14 senators from both the Democratic and Republican parties, claim to oppose Iran’s alleged “human rights abuses” and “destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East.” Trump, who has called Iran the “world's biggest sponsor of terrorism” without providing any evidence, has also called for regime change in the Middle Eastern country.
Renewed U.S. sanctions would have devastating consequences for Iran.
Al-Monitor, a Washington-based Middle East investigative news site, reports that new sanctions could raise the price of basic goods like food and water tenfold, making it impossible for Iranians to survive. The site also says they could deplete key areas of Iran’s infrastructure, making it unsafe to live in and travel across the country. 
Moreover, renewed sanctions could provoke political unrest in the country, purposefully destabilizing the sovereignty and independence of the Islamic Republic. 
Trump’s plans to subvert Iran with new sanctions not only violates the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement signed between the U.S. and the Middle Eastern country. They also present humanitarian challenges to millions of Iranians that could result in mass catastrophe. 

Continued Support for Saudi War on Yemen

Trump recently met with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose country is responsible for killing thousands of Yemenis in U.S.-backed air strikes. The two met at the White House in what Saudi Arabia described as a “turning point” from Riyadh's often-fraught relationship with the Obama administration, especially in the wake of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Trump, promising to sign new economic and military deals with the wealthy Middle Eastern country, essentially legitimized its war on the region’s poorest country. Moving forward, Saudi Arabia will have the support of U.S. in its regional imperialist endeavors.
Weeks before former president Barack Obama left office, he suspended the sale of U.S.-made precision guidance munitions to the Saudis, a reaction to thousands of civilian casualties from Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen.
The Saudis now expect such bans to be lifted under Trump. U.S. officials have said the President is considering ending that ban and approving the sale of guidance systems. The State Department has approved the move, which is currently awaiting a final White House decision. 
An average of 100 Yemeni civilians a month are dying because of U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.

Hate to Break It to Steve Mnuchin, But AI’s Already Taking Jobs

Go to Original

TODAY, IN 2017, the president’s top economic advisor said he had no worries about robots putting people out of work. “In terms of artificial intelligence taking over the jobs, I think we’re so far away from that that it’s not even on my radar screen,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told an audience in Washington. “I think it’s 50 or 100 more years.”
Great! That’s a relief! President Trump can go back to horsing around on his big rig confident in the knowledge self-driving trucks won’t replace millions of drivers in a few years.
Except Mnuchin’s wrong. Like super-wrong. Artificial intelligence is not only coming for jobs, the jobs it’s coming for are the precious few left over after old-school automation already came for so manyothers. Technologists and economists know this. People who’ve lost jobs to robots and computers already know this. The only people who apparently don’t know it are in the White House.
“Mnuchin’s saying newfangled computers aren’t going to have any kind of big effect on the economy for the next 50 or 100 years,” says Andrew McAfee, an expert on business and technological change who co-founded MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy. “I don’t talk to anyone in the field who believes that.”
In a room at MIT overlooking the Charles River a few weeks ago, McAfee polled 140 of these experts in artificial intelligence on automation and employment. He asked the attendees the same question Mnuchin got this morning: When will the robots take all the jobs? Which was really another way of asking: How worried are you?
Turns out the issue is a flashing red alert on their radars. The conference included engineers and scientists, industry types from the likes of Toyota and IBM, and policymakersrecently exiled from Washington by the 2016 election. They concluded, among other things, that by 2032, half the trucks on the road would not have human drivers. At the trucking industry’s current size, that transition to automation equals 1.75 million lost driver jobs over the next 15 years.

And that’s just one sector. The room was even more convinced that automation would soon sideline humans who interpret medical records for a living. The experts estimated that by 2026, most of those jobs would be done by machines. They guessed that robots would handle 95 percent of air traffic control jobs by 2028. Most factories in the US would have fewer than 20 humans working in them by 2034. Just fewer than half said they expect robots will perform most surgeries by 2036, and that Fortune 500 companies will have more robots performing managerial tasks than humans by 2034.
McAfee’s own research shows that automation is already hollowing out the middle class. This phenomenon has disproportionately hit men, since traditionally male manual labor is easier to automate than traditionally female service and care jobs. “The American middle class was built on the back of routine work. Lots of those jobs have already been automated,” McAfee says. Now, AI could come for the rest. Artificial intelligence is really, really good at the kinds of jobs that involve recognizing and matching patterns—in other words, what doctors and accountants do. Hell, a robot can even write pretty good news articles.
“Driverless cars to drive blind people around? This is amazing, science fiction stuff,” McAfee says. But policymakers and technologists need to think carefully about how to do it right. Over the course of the day at MIT, the conversation ping-ponged from bleak to impassioned. But the theme stayed consistent: Participants wanted to figure out how to ensure automation helps rather than hurts people. In other words, the exact kind of discussion Mnuchin dismissed this morning as unnecessary.
“When you are outside of Washington, this is often the most significant issue, but it’s not back in DC,” says Gene Sperling, former chief economic advisor in both the Obama and Clinton administrations.
As McAfee notes, the best players of Go and no-limit Texas Hold `Em poker are pieces of technology. Will it really be another 50 years before that same technology unleashes big changes in the global economy? Even if those changes are good for the economy in the long run, they will also hurt. And that pain should probably be on Mnuchin’s radar.