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A New International Advice Line Will Help American Women End Their Pregnancies

Mother Jones

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Concerned about President Trump’s promise to drastically roll back legal access to abortion, an international feminist group launched a project on Thursday that aims to help women in the US safely end their own pregnancies.

Since 2014, Women Help Women has responded to over 100,000 emails from women around the world seeking abortions in countries where the procedure is highly restricted or outright banned. Among other services, the group sometimes arranges to have the abortion-inducing drugs misoprostol and mifepristone sent internationally and then counsels the recipient on their safe usage.

“We know there are different barriers that prevent people from being able to access the abortion care that they need,” says Jessica Shaw, a professor at the University of Calgary in Canada and a Women Help Women board member. “This is already going on, and we’re stepping up in anticipation that things likely will get worse with new laws coming in over the next few years.”

Women Help Women—whose new American project is called Self-Managed Abortion, Safe and Supported (SASS)—won’t be sending misoprostol or mifepristone to women in the United States for fear, says Shaw, of litigation. Instead counselors will advise the small but significant number of women in the US who manage to obtain the drugs without the assistance of a health care provider on how to successfully administer them. For added protection, WHW counselors responding to queries from American women will be working abroad, including from Canada.

Misoprostol and mifepristone are both prescription-only in the United States and are only used early-on in pregnancy. But as state legislatures continue to make it harder to access abortions—over 300 state-level anti-abortion laws have been enacted since 2010—advocates and medical experts expect that more women will look underground for ways to self-induce. Several surveys studying the approximately 900,000 women in the US who get clinical abortions in a given year indicate that many are already using misoprostol, as well as other methods, to end their pregnancies without medical supervision. In one, 2.6 percent of patients surveyed said they’d taken drugs, herbs, or vitamins in an attempt to end their pregnancy before seeking an in-clinic abortion. In another, researchers at the University of Texas estimated that as many as 240,000 women in the state had tried to self-induce at some point in their life.

Since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States, more than a dozen women have faced prosecution or jail time after self-inducing an abortion, sometimes after taking misoprostol. Shaw says that most women who call WHW from know what the legal risks are where they live. “That’s how the end up on our website in the first place,” she says. “But for many people, the legal risk is far less than the risk of having a pregnancy and carrying it to term.”

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A New International Advice Line Will Help American Women End Their Pregnancies

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North Carolina Republicans Are Trying to Keep Residents From Suing Hog Farms

Mother Jones

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Modern hog farms make pungent neighbors. In North Carolina’s hog-wild Duplin county, an average-sized operation holds more than 7,000 pigs, each generating about 10 times the fecal waste of a person. This massive manure gusher falls through slats and is shunted into open cesspools, known, rather delicately, as “lagoons.” When the pits reach capacity, the untreated fecal slurry is sprayed onto nearby farmland as fertilizer.

A recent analysis of satellite data by Environmental Working Group found that around 160,000 North Carolinians, representing more than 60,000 households, live within a half mile of a CAFO or a manure pit. In Duplin County alone, more than 12,000 people—about a fifth of the county’s population—live within sniffing distance of one of these fragrant facilities, EWG found. A growing body of research, summarized here, shows that these operations “pollute local ground and surface water,” and “routinely emit air pollutants that negatively impact the quality of life and health of nearby residents.” High levels of the air-borne toxins hydrogen sulfide and ammonia can trigger eye irritation, difficulty breathing, and feelings of stress and anxiety, research shows.

The NC legislature is working to stick it to the very people who live under these conditions. Bills are pending in the state House and Senate that would severely limit the amount money that can be awarded in lawsuits by property owners who live near “agricultural or forestry operations.” If the bills pass, people who live near CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) will be barred from suing hog growers for making it deeply unpleasant and even dangerous to hang out outside, open their windows, hand their clothes out to dry, etc.

The legislation amounts to a move to protect the state’s powerful hog interests and maintain a classic example of environmental injustice, says Naeema Muhammad, organizing co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. She calls the push to limit these nuisance lawsuits a “direct attack on people’s Constitutional rights.” She points to a 2014 paper by University of North Carolina researchers finding that North Carolina’s hog CAFOs “disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents.”

As the late University of North Carolina researcher Steve Wing has demonstrated, the operations are tightly clustered in a few counties on the coastal plain—the very part of the state that housed the most enslaved people prior to the Civil War. In the decades since, the region has retained the state’s densest population of rural African-American residents—and starting in the early 1980s, experienced a massive CAFO boom. In Duplin County alone, hog CAFOs now churn out 2.3 million million hogs annually—more than 30 for every one of the county’s 60,000 residents, and more than were raised in the entire state as recently as 1982.

The bills’ sponsors openly seek to protect a company called Murphy-Brown from about two dozen pending lawsuits by filed by people who live near hig facilities. Murphy-Brown is the hog-raising subsidiary of pork-processing giant Smithfield, now owned by the Chinese state-owned firm WH Holdings, which calls Smithfield the “largest port company in the world.” As originally written, House Bill 467 would have applied even to those pending suits. Republican state Rep. Jimmy Dixon, the retired hog farmer who sponsored the House bill, called complaints about the operations “at best exaggerations and at worst outright lies,” and accused plaintiffs of “being prostituted for money” by opportunistic lawyers, The Raleigh News and Observer reports.

According to an analysis of campaign-finance records by the Durham-based weekly IndyWeek, “over the course of his career Dixon has received more than $115,000 from Big Pork,” including $36,250 from “donors associated with Murphy-Brown, the company facing more than two dozen federal lawsuits that this legislation would effectively negate.”

In a 2014 Mother Jones piece on the origin of those suits, Bridget Huber reported from the ground:

“It’s like being held prisoner,” says Elsie Herring, a Middleton and Speer client from Wallace, North Carolina in Duplin County, who has been dealing with hog stench for years. The odor means her family can no longer enjoy sitting on the porch, having cookouts, or even hanging laundry on the line. “We were here before the pork industry even came in here, so what about our rights?” she asks. “It’s as if we have none.”

Earlier this month, Dixon’s bill passed the NC House—but with an amendment exempting pending lawsuits from the restrictions on damages. Its companion bill, SB 460, remains under consideration by the NC Senate, and it still contains the provision that would essentially nullify existing lawsuits. North Carolina Environmental Justice Network’s Muhammad says it’s anyone’s guess whether the legislation will make into law. After all, this is a state that recently repealed one odious “bathroom bill” under pressure, only to replace it with “new legislation that LGBT rights advocates say is just as bad,” as Mother Jones’ Ashley Dejean recently reported. “We’re in a fix here in North Carolina,” Muhammad told me. “It’s just one bad thing coming from the legislature after another.”

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North Carolina Republicans Are Trying to Keep Residents From Suing Hog Farms

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If There’s Going to Be a Wall, Let It Be This Collaboration Between American and Mexican Designers

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by Fusion and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

When President Trump appealed to the public to submit proposals for his “big, beautiful” border wall, you can be pretty sure that the plan presented by the Mexican American Design and Engineering Collective (MADE) was not what he had in mind.

In response to the president’s mad quest to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, the group of 14 designers, engineers, builders, and architects from the US and Mexico proposed something entirely different—a high-tech “ecotopia” called Otra Nation.

“Otra Nation will be the world’s first shared co-nation open to citizens of both countries and co-maintained by Mexico and the United States of America,” the group says in their proposal. “Besides sharing the same geographical conditions, the continuous exchange of information, knowledge, artistic expression and migration between sides will produce fertile ground to bring forth a hybrid sense of identity.”

Reflecting their ideology, the group is an even mix of US and Mexican professionals, and while they prefer to keep their identities anonymous, MADE spokesman, Memo Cruz, says that members of the group have worked with the last four US presidents and the last two Mexican ones. “We came together as people who wanted to come up with a solution to a broken system,” Memo said. “And sometimes to break a broken system is to make a new one.”

Far from the wall Trump envisions, the MADE collective wants to build a high-speed, electric hyperloop connecting different parts of Otra Nation. According to the group’s proposal, the new co-nation would be six miles wide and span the 1,200 miles from San Diego/Tijuana to the Gulf Coast. The land would be “drill free,” and used for a “regenerative agricultural system that will become a bread basket for the two countries.” To top it off, the whole thing would be powered completely by solar and other renewable energy sources, creating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in trade.

Courtesy of Otra Nation

Among the 200-plus proposals submitted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by the April 4th deadline, Otra Nation was definitely one of the more idealistic.

At the other end spectrum were walls made of wire mesh impossible to climb or cut, or constructed with one-way plexiglass panels so that US citizens could look into Mexico, but not the other way around.

Other designs were so whimsical that they could only be interpreted as a mockery of Trump’s ambitions—a wall made of organ pipes or a line of trees with hammocks strung between them.

From comical to xenophobic, the range of ideas submitted to DHS highlighted just how divided the US is when it comes to issues of immigration and border security. But while many of these proposals included green technology like solar panels or windmills, none acknowledged the true environmental consequences of building a wall along the border.

The border wall’s environmental footprint

That may be in part because we don’t really know. The last and only environmental review of US border security policy was conducted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service—the precursor to the DHS—in 2001. Effective for five years, the review has never been updated, and since then the size of the US Border patrol has more than doubled and hundreds of miles of fences and walls have been built.

This is the basis of a legal challenge by Arizona Congressmen Raul M. Grijalva and the Center for Biological Diversity put forth in early April. Citing the the Environmental Policy Act, the lawsuit calls upon federal agencies to conduct an environmental analysis of the proposed wall before any construction takes place.

“American environmental laws are some of the oldest and strongest in the world, and they should apply to the borderlands just as they do everywhere else,” said Rep. Grijalva in a statement. “These laws exist to protect the health and well-being of our people, our wildlife, and the places they live. Trump’s wall—and his fanatical approach to our southern border—will do little more than perpetuate human suffering while irrevocably damaging our public lands and the wildlife that depend on them.”

Even without a review, it’s clear to environmentalists that Trump’s wall would be a disaster. “It would be the end of jaguars and ocelots in North America,” Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate for the Center of Biological Diversity, said, naming only two out of the hundreds of animals whose migratory patterns and natural habitats would be jarringly broken by a 30-foot tall wall.

And, while information on the environmental impact of the US Border wall is scarce, a recent European study on the security fencing dividing countries in Eastern Europe and Asia confirms Serraglio’s fears. The study conducted by Norwegian scientists showed that the 15,000 to 19,000 miles of fence, much of which was erected in response to Europe’s growing refugee crisis, poses a “major threat” to wildlife.

Much more than just a security fence, Trumps wall will cross at least four wildlife refuges, potentially impacting 111 endangered species like jaguars, ocelots, black bears and Mexican grey wolves. Beyond imperiling sensitive animal populations, conservationists also argue that of the wall would cause flooding, erosion, and irreparable damage to countless acres of public lands like Big Bend National Park and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

“We’ve invested millions of dollars in establishing and protecting these areas over the years,” Serraglio said. “It makes absolutely no sense to throw that all away because Donald Trump wants to wall off the border.”

We only need to look at 654 miles of barriers that have already been erected along the border under the Clinton and Bush administrations to see just how bad things can get, said Serraglio. He points to instances like the destruction of the Tijuana Estuary system by erosion, and the 2008 flash flood in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument that occurred because the border barrier inhibited the natural flow of rain water. The same storm led to two deaths and $8 million dollars of damage on the other side of the barrier in Nogales, Mexico.

There’s got to be a better way

Of all the designs submitted for Trumps wall, Otra Nation may be the only one advocating for a dismantling of the existing fence line. “We actually think that we can remove the physical borders that have already been put up,” said Cruz.

According to the MADE spokesman, Otra Nation would provide better border security than any physical wall could by using a high-tech system of biometric surveillance and universal smart ID cards. “The ID system that we are proposing is the toughest ID system in the world,” Cruz said. “It is far more stringent than anything the US government has right now.”

The idea may have some Orwellian undertones, but for environmentalists Otra Nation’s wall-less border is a welcome alternative to Trump’s vision. Still, many conservationists stress that it’s not just the wall, but the roads, the vehicles, the buildings, the noise, the high-powered lights, and other security installations, all of which will take its toll on the land and its inhabitants.

For now though, Trump’s wall seems about as far from reality as Otra Nation’s vision of a new age “ecotopia.” The administration has yet to figure out who will pay for the project that the DHS now estimates will cost nearly $22 billion dollars, nor has Trump answered how he intends to build the wall when 1,255 miles, or 64% of the border, runs right down the middle of the Rio Grande. Barring the unlikely scenario that Mexico will elect to host the wall on their side of the river, the US will have to effectively cede a large section of the Rio Grande to Mexico, a move which would undoubtedly affect ranchers, landowners, energy companies, and the local communities that rely on the Rio Grande for water.

Despite these inconsistencies, the president seems hellbent on fulfilling his campaign promise to build a “great” wall to keep immigrants out of the United States. His budget already sets aside $1.4 billion for the initial development of the project, and the bid process is moving forward with the DHS expected to announce a shortlist of 20 proposals by the summer. Those chosen will then build 30 ft. prototypes of their design in the Otay Mesa Community outside of San Diego.

“I know we’ve got a million to one chance of getting selected,” said Cruz. Still, he hopes that MADE’s Otra Nation proposal will at least generate conversation between members of the US and Mexican governments about alternative ways of looking at the border that don’t involve a wall. “Even if we’re not selected, to get the two governments to sit down and look at what we’ve done with these solutions, that will be a huge win for us.

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If There’s Going to Be a Wall, Let It Be This Collaboration Between American and Mexican Designers

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I Met the White Nationalist Who Says Trump Made Him Rough Up a Protester

Mother Jones

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For once, liberals and white supremacists agree on something: President Donald Trump’s rhetoric incites right-wing violence. On Monday, Matthew Heimbach, a notorious 26-year-old white nationalist who was filmed shoving an African American woman at a Trump campaign rally in March 2016, filed a lawsuit claiming that he had simply been acting “pursuant to the directives and requests of” Trump himself.

At the rally in Louisville, Kentucky, three African American protesters drew jeers from the crowd, prompting Trump to shout from the stage, “Get ’em outta here!” Heimbach, standing nearby, began shoving Kashiya Nwanguma, a student at the University of Kentucky. Nwanguma also claimed she was called a “nigger and a cunt” (Heimbach denies it was him). After the incident, Heimbach wrote on his blog, “White Americans are getting fed up and they’re learning that they must either push back or be pushed down.”

A month later, Nwanguma filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing Heimbach and another man of assault and battery, and sought to hold Trump liable for inciting the violence. On April 1, 2017, a judge squashed a challenge to Nwanguma’s case filed by Trump, writing that because violence had broken out at previous rallies and known hate-group members were in attendance in Louisville, Trump’s directive for attendees to remove the protesters was “particularly reckless.”

Acting as his own attorney, Heimbach has filed a counterclaim denying the charges. If he is found guilty, he said in his claim, he was only acting on Trump’s orders. Citing among other incidents the February 1, 2016, Trump rally in Iowa where the then-presidential candidate instructed a crowd to “knock the crap out of disrupters”—”I promise you,” the president said, “I will pay for the legal fees”—Heimbach argued that the president’s campaign should be held financially responsible for any penalties levied against Heimbach. “Any liability,” he wrote, “must be shifted to” Trump.

I met Heimbach in 2013, while directing a documentary for Vice about the White Student Union he had formed at Towson University outside Baltimore, Maryland. The WSU patrolled the suburban campus in search of “black predators.” “White Southern men,” Heimbach said, “have long been called to defend their communities when law enforcement and the state seem unwilling to protect our people.” While I accompanied Heimbach’s crew, the only crime we witnessed was a drug deal by two white students—which the WSU members ignored. They did, however, celebrate the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Heimbach exemplifies and has ridden the wave of white-extremist radicalization since Barack Obama’s election in 2008. During our interviews, he denied being an outright white supremacist or racist. “I hate Hitler,” he told me, explaining that he despised the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. “They’re just low-rent thugs trying to make themselves feel better. Frankly, they’re an embarrassment.”

But over the next several years, Heimbach came out as a full-on white nationalist. He made common cause with members of the National Socialist Movement, the Aryan Terror Brigade, and the Imperial Klans of America. He formed a new group, the Traditionalist Youth Network, which openly advocated partitioning the United States into mini-“ethno-states” based on race. He battled with anti-fascists in Indiana. “The political establishment has made an entire generation of young white men and women into fascists, and that’s a beautiful thing!” he told a New York Times reporter in 2016.

Heimbach rallied behind Trump’s candidacy, and started wearing a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap everywhere. The footage of him shoving Nwanguma in Louisville was emblematic of how Trump’s nativist dog whistle was pulling extremist sentiment into the mainstream. “Now there’s some viral footage of several heated moments in Louisville,” Heimbach wrote in a blog post on the Traditionalist Youth Network website after the incident:

One features yours truly helping the crowd drive out one of the women who had been pushing, shoving, barking, and screaming at the attendees for the better part of an hour. I’ll avoid any additional Trump events to ensure that I don’t become a distraction, but the entire point of the Black Lives Matter movement’s tactics is to push people until they push back. It won’t be me next time, but White Americans are getting fed up and they’re learning that they must either push back or be pushed down.

Even if the odds that Heimbach’s lawsuit will succeed are infinitesimal, the case is a revealing indication of the far right’s symbiotic relationship with Trump. White nationalists, apparently, really do believe the president has been nudging them to commit violence, or at least promising to tolerate it if they do. When in February sources inside the White House told reporters that Trump planned to no longer target white supremacists as part of the government’s anti-terrorism efforts, the editor of the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer cheered, “Yes, this is real life…Donald Trump is setting us free.” Others were heartened by Trump’s silence in the wake of the murder of six people at a mosque in Quebec City by a white nationalist that same month. The rioters in Berkeley, California, last weekend—some wearing MAGA hats—seem to have heard the same music that Heimbach did last March.

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I Met the White Nationalist Who Says Trump Made Him Rough Up a Protester

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Jeff Chang’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We recently asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to suggest the books that bring them solace or understanding in this age of political rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here’s what the acclaimed hip-hop writer and cultural critic Jeff Chang brought to the table.

Latest book: We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation
Also known for: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
Recommended Reading: Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit’s essential collection of essays, written at the darkest moment of our despair amid the Iraq War, was republished last year when it seemed we needed it most—again. Solnit is our angel of hope, always pointing us through the haze of fear and confusion toward faith and trust in our own collective possibility. Every time I read her I’m reminded that “the unimaginable is ordinary.” Then there’s The Next American Revolution, by Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige. Steve Bannon and the racist right hope to pull the nation into a final, inexorable “clash of the civilizations”—between white Christian Americans and the rest of the world. Working from within the ruins of Detroit, Boggs reframes revolution as not a bloody, destructive process but a set of soulful, creative acts that grow community and consciousness. Her vision of hope, freedom, and sustainability guides us now as we bring together justice movements and build the resistance.
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Tracy K. Smith. (New posts daily.)

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Jeff Chang’s Resistance Reading

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