Around the World
Local News from All Over
"We are no longer writing the rules of interaction among separate national economies. We are writing the constitution of a single global economy."
Cellphones or Gorillas?
Democratic Republic of Congo - The 100 to 130 surviving Grauer's gorillas (Gorilla berebgei graueri) in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, are facing extinction because of growing demand for cellphones. The critical cellphone capacitors are made from the mineral colombo tantalite (coltan) and one of two known deposits of the mineral lies inside the park. The demand for 500 million new cellphones in 2001 has driven up the cost of coltan to the point that smugglers are now building illegal airstrips in the forests to spirit the coltan to foreign buyers. The Kahuzi-Biega Park, a United Nations World Heritage Site, is occupied by the invading armies of Rwanda and Uganda. Uganda has acted to protect the park; Rwanda has allowed thousands of miners to pillage the park, slaughtering wild monkeys and antelope for food.
Planet of the Apes No More?
Kenya - The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has announced a major global campaign to save the world's great apes from imminent extinction. The Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) hopes to stem the tide of habitat destruction that threatens gorillas, orangutans, chimps and other great apes in 23 countries, including Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria and Indonesia. "Too few people... are aware of the role gorillas play in regenerating woodlands by dispensing seeds and pruning trees," notes Heather Eves of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force. "Along with elephants, they are the gardeners of the African and Southeast Asian forests." "The clock is standing at one minute to midnight for the great apes," says UNEP's Klaus Toepfer. "Local extinctions are happening rapidly and each one is a loss to humanity... and a hole torn in the ecology of our planet. We can no longer stand by and watch these wondrous creatures, some of whom share over 98 percent of the DNA found in humans, die out."
Africa: Sea Turtle Heaven
Gabon - A comprehensive study of sea turtles has revealed that the largest concentration of Leatherback turtles is to be found on the southern beaches of Gabon. The Convention on Migratory Species reports that the Atlantic coast of Africa hosts some of the planet's most critical turtle feeding and nesting sites. Other findings: Mauritania is the most important feeding ground for Green turtles; the largest congregation of Loggerhead turtles in the Atlantic is found on Boa Vista in the Cape Verde Islands; Olive Ridley turtles nest from Guinea-Bissau south to Angola.
Villagers Out on a Limb
Uganda - The Norwegian forestry company Tree Farms has started planting a 5,000-hectare pine and eucalyptus plantation through a local subsidiary, Busoga Forestry Company Ltd. But the project, in the Bukaleba Reserve on the shores of Lake Victoria, has drawn the attention of NorWatch, a Norwegian non-governmental organization (NGO). NorWatch estimates that as many as 8,000 people could be evicted from 13 villages to make way for the plantation. They will be allowed to return and cultivate food among the trees, but they will have to pay rent. Under the "clean development mechanism" (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the Norwegian government will gain emissions credits for the carbon dioxide (CO2) stored by the plantation. This future carbon credit will permit Norway to build a controversial gas power plant. In exchange, the Panos Institute reports, Uganda will receive "a modest annual rent which, at its present rate, will amount to around $300,000 over 25 years."
Bujagali Dam Imperils Nile
Uganda - The International Finance Corp. (IFC) has given the go-ahead for construction of the Bujagali Dam on the White Nile. The US-based AES Corp., the world's largest independent power broker, is in line to build the $530 million river-breaker. According to the International Rivers Network [1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94703, www.irn.org], the dam will drown Bujagali Falls, a national treasure. Ugandan and international NGOs have appealed to the World Bank to halt the project calling it "too flawed to go forward." The NGOs fear the construction of the Bujagali could "set off a wave of dam building on the White Nile whose cumulative impacts could be catastrophic." The World Bank is set to give AES $70 million from the International Development Agency (which is supposed to channel low-cost loans to the world's poorest nations). AES openly boasts that it is "the biggest private [user] of World Bank money through the IFC."
Mowing Down Forests and People, Too
Liberia - The Danish timber company, DLH Group [www.dlh-group.com], has been accused of doing business with two Liberian logging companies alleged to be involved in arms trafficking. A UN investigation has charged Oriental Timber Co. (OTC) and the Royal Timber Corp. of providing Charles Taylor's Liberian government with "unrecorded extra-budgetary income" (read: "bribes"). The UN report also claimed that logging tucks were used to ship arms and provisions to rebel units of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Global Witness Director Patrick Alley claims the RUF is "responsible for the murders of hundreds of innocent people in Sierra Leone." The UN report specifically named Gus Van Kouwenhoven, the Dutch national who heads OTC, as the man "responsible for the logistical aspect of many of the arms deals." Arms trafficking and murder aside, these two companies are also responsible for destroying the Upper Guinean Forest, one of the planet's most threatened biological treasures and home to the world's last surviving populations of Pygmy hippopotamus and West African forest elephants.
ExxonMobil Sued For Atrocities
Indonesia - A June 20 lawsuit filed in Washington D.C. names the oil giant ExxonMobil as responsible for murder, torture and kidnapping in Aceh, a region on the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia. [A copy of the filing is available at www.laborrights.org.] The suit, filed on behalf of 11 Aceh residents, claims that Indonesian military troops hired by ExxonMobil to provide security for the corporation's liquefied natural gas facilities, committed numerous human rights offenses. According to the filing by the International Labor Rights Fund, villagers were kidnapped and tortured in buildings on ExxonMobil property. "While oil companies and the Indonesian government reap enormous profits, the people are suffering at the hands of the very security forces employed by ExxonMobil to protect its assets," said Kurt Biddle, Washington Coordinator for the Indonesia Human Rights Network. Since January 2000, Kontras-Aceh, a local human rights organization, has reported more than 670 killings and 161 disappearances in Aceh. The Indonesian military and police act with impunity in the resource-rich region. Prominent civic leaders and humanitarian workers have been executed. The Indonesian military's complicity in the brutal attacks that followed the August 30, 1999 independence vote in East Timor prompted the US Congress to place a ban on US military assistance to the Indonesian military. The Bush administration recently restored military aid to Indonesia.
Trade Rep Pushes Deadly Drug
South Korea - US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick [600 17th St., NW, Washington, DC 20508] has pressured the South Korean government to reduce tariffs on US cigarettes from 40 percent to a mere 10 percent. This marks a departure from the Clinton administration's policy not to use US trade and foreign policy to support the spread of deadly tobacco products. As the watchdog group CorpWatch [PO Box 29344, San Francisco, CA 94129, www.corpwatch.org] notes, the Bush administration "appears to be returning to the bad old days of the Reagan and Bush [Senior] administrations, when the US actively pushed Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Thailand to open their markets to US cigarettes."
Odd Allies: Tigers & Guerrillas
India - Officially, there are 4,500 tigers in India, but former Indian Environment Minister Maneka Gandhi fears the actual number of surviving tigers now is less than 800. While the Indian government is loath to admit it, one of the tigers' greatest human allies is the Naxalites, a Marxist-oriented rebel army that has plagued the central government for decades. According to the Deccan Chronicle there have been no reports of poaching in the jungles controlled by the Naxalites. "The people who kill tigers for their skin and bones are afraid to venture into sanctuaries and other areas populated by the big cat," the Chronicle explains, because "they fear that the Naxalites would attack them for their weapons." In the past, Naxalites have been known to attack and kill hunters for their weapons.
Traveling Circuses Told to Fold
Singapore - The Singapore government has issued a ban on circus performances, effective January 1, 2002. As Singapore's Straits Times put it: "[circuses with] or elephants coming to Singapore with travelling circuses have been told to pack their trunks as they will no longer be welcome here. Nor will lions, tigers and other animals." Sweden, India and Israel have banned traveling animal circuses and Great Britain is considering similar legislation. Animal performances at the Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park won't be covered. The last travelling wild-animal show to visit Singapore was The Great Moscow Circus, which set up tent in 1998.
Who'll Stop the Rain?
India - With drought raging across India, a group of resourceful villagers in Rajasthan State banded together to create a community-owned rainwater harvesting system. After much preparation and volunteer labor the Lava Ka Baas Recharge Structure was constructed. Ordinarily that kind of self-reliance would be commended. Instead, the Rajasthan Irrigation Minister stepped in and declared such rainwater harvesting schemes illegal. According to the Centre for Science and Environment [41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi, 110 062, www.cseindia.org], the minister "has declared that every drop of rain that falls belongs to the government and that [anyone] who captures the rain can be arrested."
Reva Set to Rev
India - A September deadline required New Delhi's commercial vehicle owners to exchange their polluting gas and diesel buses and cars for compressed natural gas vehicles. Electric vehicles are also showing up on India's roads. The country now has six electric car manufacturers and the Bangalore-based Maini Group [www.revaindia.com] has produced a spiffy compact called the Reva that can travel 50 miles per charge.
Sweetening the Pot
India - For years, Indian activists have been trying without success to convince the government to remove the cancer-causing oxygenate MTBE from gasoline and diesel fuel. MTBE, which was introduced into India's gasoline 10 years ago, threatens to contaminate the country's drinking water supplies. According to Anil Agarwal, chair of the Center for Science and Environment, the main reason the petroleum-based compound continues to be used is that it enjoys "the blessings of the petroleum ministry babus." Suddenly, in June, Petroleum Minister Ram Naik announced that ethanol would not only be an "environment-friendly" alternative to MTBE, it would help farmers and avoid costly imports of foreign MTBE. Indian environmentalists had been arguing for ethanol for years. So what happened? "The answer is simple," Agawal reports. "The sugar lobby... has been breathing down the necks of the petroleum ministry. Naik and his babus have basically caved in to this lobby."
China Outperforms US in CO2 Cuts
China - Within the next five years, reports a joint World Energy Council/UN Environment Programme [www.unep.org] study, renewable, clean energy systems can "save the equivalent of 1 billion tons of CO2 annually." A survey of 91 countries disclosed that clean energy projects already underway and planned "could raise the global CO2 savings to as high as 2 billion tons" by 2005 - a 6 percent reduction in current global CO2 emissions. China, despite an economic growth spurt of 36 percent, has cut its CO2 emissions by 17 percent. China accomplished this by promoting energy conservation, ending coal subsidies and supporting more efficient power generation technologies. China's emissions are now as much as 900 million tons below anticipated levels and on par with Germany and Canada. In the US, CO2 emissions have increased from 4.8 billion tons in 1990 to more than 5.4 billion tons in 1998.
Frankenfood Battles Abroad
Thailand - In May, Thailand became the first country in Asia to ban the release of genetically engineered (GE) crops into the environment. Within days, the government of Sri Lanka banned the sale of all genetically modified foods. The US immediately condemned Sri Lanka's decisions and vowed to have the country's safe-food laws challenged before the World Trade Organization (WTO). India, meanwhile, continues to promote genetically engineered cotton and "Vitamin A" rice. Indian activists [www.makingindiagreen.org] report that field trials of gentically engineered crops in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka "are being conducted in a completely haphazard and undemocratic manner." Greenpeace India has drafted a petition calling for a ban on imports of GE crops.
Waste into Power
UK - The town of Holsworthy (infamously in the news as the site of the mass-incineration of cattle exposed to foot-and-mouth disease) now has a new claim to fame, reports Green Futures [Unit 55, 50-56 Wharf Road, London N1 7SF, http://www.greenfutures.org.uk]. Since October, slurry from Holsworthy's farms (400 tons a day) has been trucked to a biogas plant which extracts the methane to produce 1.6 MW. The processed slurry is then returned to the farmers as free, clean "biofertilizer." Meanwhile, 20 miles away, the town of North Tawton hopes to use farm wastes and leftovers from the local cheese factory to supply 5.25 MW - enough electricity to power the entire town.
Flavored, Fizzy Milk with BGH?
UK - Not satisfied with attempts to market bottled water, the Coca-Cola Company now wants to muscle its way into the milk market. According to The Ecologist, the Atlanta-based multinational "wants to develop a new line of milk drinks aimed at the under-12s." Coca-Cola has already begun test-marketing "milka-cola" in Europe and Latin America under the corporate code name "Project Mother." The Ecologist warns that the "Cola-nization of the dairy industry" could speed the destruction of small dairy farms in favor of corporate-owned factory farms. Today's corporate dairy cow produces 100 times more milk that a traditional dairy cow. Fifty years ago, a dairy cow lived 25 years; today's corporate cow only lives five years. The implications of "Project Mother" are disturbing, The Ecologist notes: "it could lead to the domination of the global milk industry by the world's most powerful drinks company."
Spain - The Belearic Islands - Mallorca, Ibiza, Minorca and Formentera - are a Mediterranean Mecca for the rave-age tourist crowd. But with the tourist trade now bringing 9 million visitors a year to these sun-washed islands, Spain's Constitutional Tribunal is mulling the idea of imposing a "tourist tax" on visitors to raise funds to help the local roads and beaches recover from the onslaught.
Britain Says 'No' to GM Java
UK - Integrated Coffee Technologies, Inc. (ICTI), a US-based company, is hard at work on a scheme to genetically re-jigger coffee beans so that they all ripen at the same time when sprayed with a chemical "activator." This would mean that coffee could be mass-harvested by machine, instead of slowly gathered by hand. Mechanized coffee-plucking would enrich large corporate-owned plantations. It would also destroy the lives of millions of small farmers who currently provide 70 percent of the world's coffee. The trade watchdog group ActionAid [Freepost BS4868, Chard, Somerset, TA20 1BR, www.actionaid.org] warns that "up to seven million poor farmers won't be able to afford the chemical or compete with the big companies." ActionAid, fearing that some 60 million people could be driven from their farms and plunged into poverty, has called on British markets to refuse to stock GM java. [You can send a letter to ICTI through www.purefood.org]
Having Your Cake and Kyoto Too
Belgium - According to a report from the European Climate Change Program (ECCP), the European Union could cut annual emissions of CO2 by 715 metric tons - twice the 8 percent cut needed to comply with the Kyoto Protocol on Greenhouse Gas reductions. Existing technologies, if implemented, could exceed 70 percent of the Kyoto goals. And meeting these goals is affordable. The ECCP estimates the cost of complying with Kyoto would be less than 20 euros per ton or less than 0.1 percent of the EU's Gross Domestic Product. EU Environment Minister Margot Willström says "It is now a matter of political will."
No Money for a Security 'Milestone'
Russia - When Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton were leaders of their respective countries, they agreed that it would be a good idea to build a shared nuclear "early warning center" to guard against the accidental launch of a nuclear weapon. In the years since, the collapse of the Russian economy and the crumbling military infrastructure has only increased the need for such a security measure. When Clinton met with Putin in September 1998, the Russian President called the project "a milestone in enhancing strategic security." So where does the joint command center stand today? As the Washington Post reported in June, "this 'milestone' remains nothing more than an abandoned kindergarten building surrounded by overgrown shrubbery on the outskirts of Moscow." On January 25, 1995, Russia came within eight minutes of launching a nuclear attack on the US when a ground radar sent a false alarm. The Center for Defense Information suggests a simple arrangement to reduce the danger: taking US and Russian strategic nuclear missiles off "high alert" status would provide added time to verify potentially bogus computer warnings.
Olive Oil on Troubled Waters
Spain - European Union subsidies that prop up olive farms are responsible for the loss of 80 million tons of topsoil in the Andalucia region every year. The expansion of olive farms has destroyed natural habitat in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece. Olive farms consume vast amounts of increasingly scarce water. Meanwhile, the erosion from the farms has filled reservoirs with silt. "Intensive olive farming is a major cause of one of the biggest environmental problems facing Europe today," charges World Wildlife Fund spokesperson Elizabeth Guttenstein. "EU subsidies for olive farming are driving the Mediterranean environment to ruin."
Putin Puttin' Russia on Road to Ruin
Russia - Despite massive popular opposition, Russian President Vladimir Putin, has dictated that his country will become the world's nuclear wastebasket. In exchange for $21 billion, Putin would open the doors to 20,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Spain and Germany. "The import of radioactive waste will pose a threat to Russians for hundreds of thousands of years," warned Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia. A Greenpeace survey found nearly 80 percent of the public opposed to the nuclear waste imports. Even Germany, which Russia had hoped to court as a nuclear disposal client, has denounced the plan. Germany's environment minister has called Putin's plan "an irresponsible gamble with the health and safety of the Russian people."
Czech Republic - On July 26, Philip Morris officials apologized for hiring Arthur D. Little International to compile a study to convince the Czech Republic that encouraging cigarette smoking would have "positive effects" on the Czech economy. The reasoning: the costs of lost work days, hospitalization, healthcare and cigarette-caused fires would be offset by revenues from sales taxes. One of the biggest savings, the report claimed, would come from old-age pensions, retirement benefits and social security benefits that the government would never have to pay since so many citizens would be dying at a younger age.
Tithe to Fly
UK - Air travelers leaving London's Luton Airport are being asked to cough up as much as £3 ($4.24) to a "carbon offset fund" to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of their flights. Luton's Environment Director Mark McClennan explained that the money would go to plant trees that would suck up some of the CO2 generated by the jet engines. "We are raising awareness how aviation contributes to the greenhouse effect and climate change," McClennan told BBC Radio. "It doesn't quite work like that," countered Jeff Gazzard of the Aviation Environment Federation. "The odd tree does not soak up your CO2. The problem is that CO2 is just one of the emissions that comes out of the back of an aircraft and it is only 30 percent of the problem."
Will Ford Have a Better Idea?
The Netherlands - Greenpeace International has challenged the CEOs of the Fortune 100 companies to state their position on the Kyoto Treaty to control CO2 pollution. Many companies claim to have "no position" but remain active members of the anti-Kyoto US Council for International Business. The campaign is targeting the Big Five oil companies (ExxonMobil, Texaco, Chevron, Conoco and Phillips) that backed George W. Bush and the GOP with nearly $30 million in campaign donations. Greenpeace's efforts have inspired tens of thousands of citizens to write letters asking the Ford Motor Company to publicly support the Kyoto Treaty.
You Deserve a Bed Today
Ireland - Government cutbacks are bad news for social services but great opportunities for private industry. In Ireland, the public was recently polled to determine their feelings about corporate sponsorship of healthcare facilities. Only one-third of those surveyed liked the idea. Nearly one-quarter thought it was a terrible idea. Undeterred, one Belfast hospital has signed a deal to have McDonalds' sponsor the beds in its healthcare unit. Perhaps hospital administrators have forgotten the judge's verdict in Britain's long-running McLibel Trial [Winter '94-95 EIJ]: If you eat at McDonald's everyday, it will put you in the hospital.
Amazon Gone in 20 Years?
Brazil - Pennsylvania State University Professor of Environmental Sciences James Alcock has used a sophisticated mathematical model to project the Amazon forest's future. That future is bleak, indeed. "The destruction of the Amazon rainforest could be irreversible within a decade," BBC News reports. In an article in Science, Alcock suggests that rates of deforestation caused by logging, mining and agricultural clearing could reach 42 percent by 2020. Previous estimates had concluded the Amazon would reach total ecological collapse in 75 to 100 years. Alcock's figures suggest that the death of the Amazon could come as early as 2040 with the point-of-no-return occurring within 10 to 15 years. A quarter of the Amazon river basin has already vanished, Alcock notes, which means a serious loss of evapotranspiration that will lead to a drier future climate in the region. Alcock, whose research was presented before the Geology Societies of America and London conference in Scotland in June, believes his model could also serve as a prophesy for the fate of the tropical forests of southeast Asia and the Congo River Basin.
World Bank to Cuba: 'Great Job!'
Cuba - "Cuba has done a great job on education and health," World Bank President James Wolfensohn exclaims, "and it does not embarrass me to admit it." Wolfensohn's burst of praise followed the publication of the bank's annual edition of World Development Indicators, which showed that Cuba has reduced infant mortality to seven per 1,000 births and the mortality rate for children under five to eight per 1,000 births - ranking sixth in the world. World Bank Vice President Jo Ritzen called this achievement "just unbelievable." Latin America's illiteracy rate stands at seven percent. In Cuba, the rate is zero. Net primary school enrollment in Cuba is 100 percent, higher than in the US. Cuba spends about 6.7 percent of its gross national income on education and 9.1 percent of its gross domestic product on health care. Cuba's ratio of 5.3 doctors to every 1,000 citizens is the highest in the world. And in Cuba, healthcare and education are free to everyone. As Wayne Smith, former head of the US Interests Section in Havana told InterPress Service, "One would hope that political barriers would not prevent the use of the Cuban experience in other countries."
A Park is Born
Chile - The forests of towering alerce trees have been compared to California's ancient redwoods. In July, Chile created its own Yosemite - Pumalin Park, a 700,000-acre tapestry of land that sweeps from coastal fjords to snow-topped Andean peaks. Pumalin Park is the dream of US mountaineer and entrepreneur Doug Tompkins, who has spent more than 10 years and $30 million buying parcels of land that now form Pumalin Park. The home of the Andean condor and the pudu (the world's smallest deer) is now safe from the timber companies that had hoped to log the alerce. Pumalin's crystalline fjords will no longer face the prospect of being sullied by commercial salmon farms. Doug Tompkins operates organic farms and ecotours in Pumalin. To experience this amazing park for yourself, contact: Alsur Tours [www.puertovaras.com/alsur]. For more information, contact the Foundation for Deep Ecology [Bldg. 1062 Ft. Cronkhite, Sausalito, CA 94965, (415) 229-9339, http://www.deepecology.org].
Rocky Mountain Front Saved
US - A grassroots campaign to save Montana's Rocky Mountain Front (RMF) from mining was successful. All national forest lands along the RMF have been placed off-limits to hardrock mining for 20 years. More good news: On May 7, 2001, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 1997 US Forest Service decision to ban new oil and gas leasing on national forest lands along the RMF for 10 to 15 years. The decision had been appealed by the Rocky Mountain Oil & Gas Association and the International Petroleum Association of America. The industry's appeal was denied but the debate over oil drilling in the RMF continues. The oil industry still holds leases in certain parts of the RMF, including the Badger-Two Medicine, Native American sacred site. Montana Senator Max Baucus and Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth have urged the Bush administration to leave the Front wild. The Rocky Mountain Front is an integral part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness/Glacier National Park - the "crown of the continent" ecosystem and the largest, most intact undeveloped landscape in the 48 contiguous states. As one crusty Montana native says, "Some places on earth should be left alone even if solid gold lies under them. The Rocky Mountain Front is such a place." [Friends of the RMF, PO Box 763, Choteau, MT 59422, (406) 466-2750, email@example.com]
Can't See the Forest for the Bombs
US - For the past 50 years, the US Navy has been dropping bombs into the 150,000 hectare Ocala National Forest in Florida. The US Forest Service's (USFS) permit gave the Navy the right to bombard the forest's scrub oak, sand pine scrub and giant palms until December 31, 1999. The USFS extended the permit to July 31, 2001. Now the USFS wants to let the Navy keep on bombing until 2021. At least two federally protected species - the Florida scrub jay and the sand skink - have been forced to share the Ocala under an onslaught of as many as 8,000 bombs a year despite the endangered Species Act prohibition against the "take" (i.e., killing) of a listed species. The Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice [www.fcpj.org] has demanded that the USFS test the Ocala's water and soil for unexploded bombs and chemical and heavy metal pollution before even considering an extension of the Navy's lease.
Free the 'Star Wars 17'!
US - On July 14, 2001, anti-nuclear protestors gathered at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast to challenge a test of the Pentagon's trouble-plagued anti-missile system. The protests only delayed the test for two minutes but 17 protestors (from Britain, India, Australia, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Spain and the US) wound up facing six years in prison and $250,000 fines. Fifteen Greenpeace activists and two journalists who floated into Vandenberg waters on a rubber boat were arrested, placed in leg shackles and thrown into a maximum security prison. In past demonstrations, nonviolent protestors were cited for trespassing, a misdemeanor. In this latest case, the activists were charged with conspiracy counts that carry long prison sentences. "These charges are politically motivated," reports Duncan Campbell of The Guardian (London), the harsh new "policy on felony charges has come from Washington." According to Greenpeace's William Peden, "It should be Star Wars on trial, not Greenpeace." [Greenpeace, 965 Mission St., No. 625, San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 512-7713]
The Teddy Bear Prisoner
Canada - During the height of the anti-globalization protests in Quebec City last April, a group of protesters mounted an aerial assault on police lines outside the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas conference perimeter. Using a medieval catapult, the activists pelted the police with... stuffed teddy bears. The police were not amused. Undercover police in an unmarked van arrested an activist named Jaggi Singh and charged him with possession of a deadly weapons (the catapult, not the teddy bears). "They hit me three times in the chest with a telescopic baton," Singh reported from his jail cell. "It still hurts when I sneeze." Of the 463 protesters arrested, Singh was the only one still in custody as of May. And international "Free Jaggi Singh" campaign lead to "teddy bear" actions in New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, the Czech Republic and the US. Thousands of activists have protested Singh's lengthy detention by mailing teddy bears to Canadian officials.
US - Seattle's Great Canadian Goose Hunt was called off on July 13, when government goose eradicators gave up the chase in the face of massive citizen resistance - including several noisy "Honk-Ins" outside the Seattle Parks Department. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) dispatched agents to trap the geese which were molting and unable to fly. But plans to gas the geese were torpedoed by the appearance of The Goose People, teams of activists who stalked the hunters with binoculars and digital cameras, sent out action calls via cellphones, paddled kayaks between the birds and the hunters and chased the geese away from "authorized kill zones" and onto private property. Public sympathy turned massively against the USDA when a Goose People videotape of a government goose execution was aired on local TV stations. Even the local police turned sympathetic. "Despite being stopped by police more than a dozen times," Goose Person Bob Chorush reports, "activists were never charged."
US - According to "Clean Tech: Profits and Potential," an investment study prepared by Clean Edge, the $7 billion clean energy market for solar and windpower, fuel cells, geothermal and microturbines is expected to expand 28 percent annually. By 2010, clean energy companies will constitute a $82 billion market. "A real, sustainable new economy is emerging around clean technologies," says Clean Edge co-founder Ron Pernick. "Today's emerging clean-tech companies will be the Microsofts of the future." Among the clean-tech firms cited in the report: Active Power, AstroPower, Ballard Power, Capstone Turbine, Evergreen Solar, FuelCell Energy and Plug Power. The report is available online at www.cleanedge.com.
Vieques, Si! Padre Island, No!
US - The US Navy plans to vacate its bombing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in 2003 and needs to find a new stretch of coastal land to pummel. The San Antonio Express News reports that a leading candidate is a remote section of Texas coast directly across from the Padre Island National Seashore, a refuge for thousands of migrating birds and home to the endangered Kemp's ridley turtle. A spokesperson for the Sierra Club in Austin calls the plan "environmentally disastrous." A consultant for the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, however, foresees "some very positive environmental impacts." He did not elaborate.
The Face of the Enemy?
Canada - Student organizer Allison North criticized Prime Minister Jean Chretien for cutting funding for education. Next thing she knew, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were demanding to know if she planned to stage a violent demonstration against Chretien. "Suggesting that I am a threat to the Prime Minister is absurd," North told the Times Colonist. Recently the Mounties and Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents have taken an interest in the words of union members, students, church groups and social activists who simply "want to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly," the Times Colonist notes. "The tactic of police or spies arriving unannounced on the doorsteps of demonstration organizers... represents a hardening of the security establishment's dealings with those who openly voice their opinions." In Quebec, intelligence agents grilled Lethbridge University Professor Tony Hall about his articles criticizing "free trade agreements and their effects on indigenous peoples." Hall was asked to provide the names of other people who shared his views. The Canadian Association of University Teachers has condemned these tactics as a threat to academic freedom and open debate.
Defending Florida's Panthers
US - Earth Island's Bluewater Network and a coalition of eco-groups are threatening legal action against the National Park Service over the use of off-road vehicles (ORVs) in Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve. The coalition maintains that allowing ORVs in Big Cypress would violate the Endangered Species Act since the preserve is a refuge for the endangered Florida panther. Speeding ORVs could flush the animals out of their protected habitat toward roads and highways. Since January 2000, 15 panthers have been killed by cars.
Shahtoosh Seller Censured
US - Maxfield Enterprises, Inc, a high-toned fashion store in Beverly Hills, has been ordered to pay a $175,000 fine for importing and selling shahtoosh shawls. Shahtoosh scarves are made from the fine fur of the Tibetan chiru, whose population has been decimated by poachers feeding the shahtoosh trade. Justin Lowe of Earth Island's Tibetan Plateau Project called the fine, the largest such penalty to date, "encouraging news, because it demonstrates that shahtoosh dealers are becoming aware of the potential liability that they face." Maxfield Enterprises has also agreed to pay for a series of public service ads in Vanity Fair and/or Harper's Bazaar, describing the threat the shahtoosh trade poses to the chiru.
Bluewater Bites McDonald's
US - In August, Bluewater Network (BWN) and 25 other green groups challenged McDonald's to halt its "Monopoly Sweepstakes," which offered snowmobiles, jet skis and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) as prizes. As Bluewater points out, in 2000, snowmobile accidents seriously injured 14,000 people while ATVS sent 95,000 people to emergency rooms. Jet skis comprise only 10 percent of the US boating craft, but they account for more than 40 percent of watercraft accidents. McDonald's was asked to substitute "safe, nonpolluting" alternative prizes.
Greens Go National
US - Green Party leaders from several states have voted unanimously to form the country's newest (and third largest) national political party. The Green Party has grown an estimated 35 percent since the historic Ralph Nader/Winona LaDuke presidential campaign," says Jo Chamberlain of the Green Party Steering Committee. In 2001, she noted, "more than half of our Green candidates for office have been elected." Green politicians now hold 91 elective offices in 21 states. The announcement was made in Santa Monica, California, where Green Mayor Mike Feinstein has signed the first private sector living wage ordinance, more than doubling the US minimum wage from $5.15 to $10.50. Feinstein vowed that Green candidates would challenge "Democrats and Republicans at every level of government" and would work "to change our undemocratic winner-take-all electoral system to a fair and inclusive system of proportional representation. [www.green-party.org]
US - During the 2001 "river restoration season," nearly 40 aging dams were removed in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Washington. "Since the nation declared its independence in 1776, it has built more than one dam per day," according to American Rivers [www.americanrivers.org/damremoval]. "By 2020, 85 percent of US dams will be more than 50 years old" and ready for retirement. A Stanford University study reported more than 1,000 dam failures in one recent two-year span.
A Global Oil Grab?
US - The Bush/Cheney Energy Plan expects to see oil consumption rise to 25.8 million barrels per day by 2020 with US dependence on foreign imports rising 61 percent. Deep in the massive report, Michael Klare (the author of Resource Wars) discovered a plan to use US energy firms to dominate foreign energy sectors, especially in Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil. To co-opt what's left of the world's vanishing oil reserves, the Bush/ Cheney plan would promote the ascension of US oil companies in Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and the Persian Gulf.
US Enters the Killer-Seed Biz
US - In August, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would be joining forces with its private industry partner, Delta & Pine Land (DPL) to produce and promote genetically engineered "Terminator" seeds. Terminator seeds, designed to produce sterile seeds, make it impossible for farmers to save seeds for future use. Hope Shand with the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) noted that "Terminator technology has been universally condemned by civil society, banned by international agricultural research institutes, censured by United Nations bodies, even shunned by Monsanto." The licensing was even opposed by the USDA's own Biotech Advisory Committee. RAFI's Silvia Ribeiro called the USDA's decision to license the technology to DPL, the world's ninth largest seed company, "a disgraceful example of corporate welfare involving a technology that is bad for farmers, dangerous for the environment and disastrous for world food security." Terminator technology, which will be used to control the production of three major food crops - soybeans, rice and wheat - is set to be commercialized in December 2002. An attempt to ban Terminator technology will be mounted at the World Food Summit in Rome. There is little question where the US will stand. As RAFI observes: "In keeping with its image as a rogue, isolationist state in international treaty negotiations on global warming and biological weapons, the US also appears to stand alone on Terminator.
Stage Your Own Armageddon
US - The US has 10,000 nuclear warheads and the Pentagon insists that it would be irresponsible to cut our atomic arsenal to less than 2,500 bombs. But when members of Congress sought to justify this number by reviewing the Pentagon's nuclear war plan, they were told that the Single Integrated Operation Plan (SIOP) was classified.
Now, after an amazing two-year effort, researchers with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have pulled the veils from "the last secret" and put the Pentagon's war plan on the Internet. Using sophisticated computer programs, satellite imagery and hundreds of documents compiled from public sources, the NRDC website now allows anyone to "fire" US missiles at any one of 6,795 Russian targets and assess the damage. The revelations are stunning.
While an attack on the Kola Peninsula would destroy Russia's nuclear submarine base, the fallout would kill 250,000 civilians living downwind in Murmansk. An attack on Russian cities with the 192 warheads from a single Trident submarine would cause 49 million deaths. Launching just 51 high-yield W88 warheads could kill 25 percent of the Russian population and destroy half of the country's industrial capacity (the Cold War level of damage known as "Mutually Assured Destruction" or MAD). Using less than 3 percent of our atomic arsenal could cause more than 50 million casualties.
When Gen. George Lee Butler took charge of the Strategic Air Command in 1991, he was appalled by the redundancy of targeting. One above-ground radar station on the perimeter of Moscow was set to be hit by no fewer than 69 nuclear bombs!
"Why do we have to take out the Russian Army when it can't win a war in Chechnya?" asks NRDC Project Director Tom Cochran. "Bush tells us that Russia is no longer our enemy," adds the NRDC's Robert S. Norris. "If he means it, he'll need to do some things differently." [www.nrdc.org]
Boise Cascade's "Dirty Tricks"
US - On July 25, Julia Butterfly Hill, Bonnie Raitt and 18 others were arrested following a peaceful sit-in at the headquarters of Boise Cascade near Chicago. The Rainforest Action Network [RAN, (415) 398-4404, www.ran.org] has called Boise Cascade "America's Worst Logging Company." Boise and the anti-environmentalist Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, has tried to covertly smear RAN as a "terrorist" organization in order to destroy its funding sources and its federal nonprofit status. "Boise Cascade has launched a covert campaign designed to limit free speech and muzzle critics of its old-growth logging operations," said Greenpeace Executive Director John Passacantando. This corporate attack on a nonviolent activist group, is an attack on our most fundamental democratic freedoms."
Who's Doing the Talking?
US - A Focus on the Corporation study by Justin Elga and George Farah has discovered that one of the least-discussed topics on TV political talk shows is... corporate power.
A review of 18 months of broadcast transcripts for Meet the Press, Face the Nation and The Mclaughlin Group revealed who got on these programs: "Presidential candidates, high administration officials, Congressional leaders [and]... former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed." Who didn't get invited? "Guests from the ranks of labor, environmental, consumer, anti-corporate globalization or other public interest groups." Ironically, while the guests represented the corporate elite their discussions rarely touched on corporate control.
During the period from June 1995 to June 1996, Colin Powell was the main topic 47 times, O.J. Simpson 16 times and the Christian Right nine times. Not one show was devoted to the environment, consumer issues or corporate crime. The shows never analyzed the impacts of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund or foreign aid.
Instead of investigating environmental degradation or social inequity, the shows covered such burning issues as Jerry Springer's possible senatorial campaign, Tina Brown's Talk Magazine kickoff party, mail order brides and football player Reggie White's religious views.
Elga and Farah conclude with a rhetorical question: "Is The Mclaughlin Group really likely to talk critically about GE's... controversial effort to block cleanup of the Hudson River of toxic PCBs - given General Electric's sponsorship?" [http://www.corporatepredators.org]