Activists Urge USDA to Block ArborGen's Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus Trees

Written by stephanie case on . Posted in Front News

Over a quarter of a million people submitted public comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, urging the organization to say no to the possibility of ArborGen Inc.'s genetically engineered eucalyptus trees in the United States.

The project, if approved, would create the country's first GE tree plantations, a move that would have a negative impact on the environment.

Our guest is Anne Petermann, Executive Director of the Global Justice Ecology Project and Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees.

Listen to past shows here.

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Advocates want #MeToo debate to include immigrant detention

Written by Super User on . Posted in Front News


Advocates want #MeToo debate to include immigrant detention

HOUSTON (AP) — While she waits at a detention center in Texas to find out if she can stay in the United States, Laura Monterrosa fears that she put herself in danger by coming forward about sexual abuse.

Months after accusing a female guard at the facility of groping her and suggesting they have sex, Monterrosa says she still sees the guard in the dining hall and other parts of the facility. She recalled in a recent interview what the guard had said to her.

“I told her that I was going to tell the supervisor what was happening,” Monterrosa said in a recent phone interview from the facility. “She sarcastically said, ‘Do you think they’ll believe you or me?’”

As the national discussion of sexual misconduct grows, advocates for immigrants say they hope the conversation will include immigrant detention facilities. They point to the FBI announcing in December that it had opened a civil rights investigation into Monterrosa’s case as a positive sign.

“Our immigrant prison system thrives on secrecy,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, or CIVIC. “If more people knew what was truly happening behind locked doors, I think there would be an outcry against the immigrant detention system.”

Fialho’s organization sent a complaint to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in April that listed 27 allegations of sexual abuse in immigration detention over the last three years. The complaint also says that another 1,016 people reported sexual abuse in detention to the Department of Homeland Security between May 2014 and July 2016.

Fialho said many more cases go uncounted because victims are afraid to come forward or, when they do, their cases aren’t fully investigated.

Based on CIVIC’s analysis of federal data released through a Freedom of Information Act request, DHS investigated less than 3 percent of the sexual abuse complaints it received during that same time period.

Like many of the roughly 35,000 adults in immigration detention, Monterrosa, 23, has requested asylum. She arrived at the southern U.S. border in May after fleeing El Salvador, where she says she was forced into prostitution by her family and that an uncle raped her. The uncle was a policeman, she said.

If her asylum claim is denied, she could be deported. She is currently appealing a denial of her claim in October.

The Associated Press typically does not name victims in sexual assault investigations, but Monterrosa has come forward to encourage other women to report their stories.

The advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, which publicized Monterrosa’s case, says two other women in the same facility have since written letters describing sexual harassment.

“Women are forced to do what they say or stay silent out of fear,” Monterrosa said.

Bethany Carson, an immigration researcher at Grassroots Leadership, called on authorities to release Monterrosa so “she can live in peace and recover from this new trauma she experienced at the hands of those responsible for ensuring her safety.”

Monterrosa is being held at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, a rural town outside of Austin. Hutto has been the target of lawsuits and criminal investigations since shortly after it opened in 2006, having been converted from a medium-security prison.

Hutto was a facility for women and children until 2009, when the U.S. government transferred families elsewhere and settled a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union over how children were being confined. It’s now a 512-bed facility holding only women.

In 2011, a guard was accused of groping multiple women while he was supposed to be taking them to the airport or bus station. He pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges and received 10 months in prison.

Advocates say problems inside immigrant detention have persisted despite years of calling attention to the topic, in part because the facilities themselves can be impenetrable to the public.

Hutto is operated by the private prison company CoreCivic, formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs detention centers across the country under contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE said it received four reports of sexual abuse at Hutto during the past government fiscal year, which ended in September.

Under policies posted on CoreCivic’s website, any detainee who reports sexual violence should have “no contact with the alleged perpetrator.” Both ICE and CoreCivic prohibit retaliation against a detainee who files a report.

But CoreCivic declined to answer questions about Monterrosa’s report that she had seen the guard in the dining hall and referred comment to ICE, as it’s required to do under its federal contract, which stipulates that private prison operators must consult with ICE before speaking to the media.

ICE previously issued a statement saying that it concluded Monterrosa’s allegations “could not be corroborated and the case lacked evidence to pursue any further action.” The agency says it is now referring to the FBI’s statement that it had opened an investigation.

In a statement, ICE said it has implemented “strong protections” against sexual assault in its detention facilities.

“It is ICE policy to provide effective safeguards against sexual abuse and assault of all individuals in ICE custody, including with respect to screening, staff training, detainee education, response and intervention, medical and mental health care, reporting, investigation, and monitoring and oversight,” the statement said.

ICE has not posted sexual abuse data for all of its detention facilities, despite the commitment it made in 2014 to publish that information online at least once a year, as part of its compliance with a federal law on prison rapes. ICE said that it was “currently working on finalizing such information.”

The agency also committed to third-party audits of its detention centers. While it has released the audits of more than 20 facilities this year, Hutto has not yet been examined, though an audit is scheduled for next year.

Seventy-one members of Congress sent a letter to federal officials last month calling on the Department of Homeland Security to “be held accountable for rampant complaints of sexual assault, abuse and harassment within their immigrant detention facilities.”

“Immigrants are among the most vulnerable people — many of whom are children away from their families,” said Rep. Judy Chu, a California Democrat who signed the letter. “And being detained puts them completely at the mercy of others.”

Follow Nomaan Merchant on Twitter at @nomaanmerchant.

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African-American unemployment hit record low in December

Written by Super User on . Posted in Front News


African-American unemployment hit record low in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — Years of steady hiring and economic growth have delivered a cumulative benefit for at least one group that hasn’t always shared in America’s prosperity.

The unemployment rate for African-Americans fell to 6.8 percent in December, the lowest level since the government began tracking such data in 1972. The reasons range from a greater number of black Americans with college degrees to a growing need for employers in a tight job market to widen the pool of people they hire from.

Still, the rate for black workers remains well above those for whites and some other groups, something experts attribute in large part to decades of discrimination and disadvantages.

Robust job creation has lowered unemployment for all Americans. U.S. employers added nearly 2.1 million jobs in 2017 — the seventh straight year that hiring has topped 2 million. The U.S. economy gained a hefty 5.7 million jobs in 2014 and 2015 alone.

But there are also less-happy reasons for the lower unemployment rates: Fewer Americans are either working or looking for work. (People who aren’t actively seeking a job aren’t counted as unemployed.) An aging population means there are more retirees. Young Americans are also staying in school longer before job-hunting.

And some people, perhaps discouraged about their prospects, have given up looking for work and so aren’t included in the unemployment rate.

Here are some questions and answers about African-Americans’ record-low unemployment rate:


A. Not necessarily. As with nearly all demographic groups, a smaller proportion of blacks have jobs now than before the Great Recession, in part because of retirements, more people staying in school and discouraged would-be workers.

The best job market for African-Americans might actually have been in 2000, when 61.4 percent of black adults were employed, the highest proportion ever. That figure fell below 52 percent in the depths of the recession, and is now 57.9 percent.

The same pattern occurred for other groups. Two-thirds of Latinos were employed in 2000; now, only 62.5 percent are. About 65 percent of whites were working in 2000, far higher than the current 60.4 percent. (The data for Asians goes back only to 2003.)

Q. Why is the African-American unemployment rate higher than the rate for whites?

A. The main reason is discrimination, according to most research. Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s program on race, ethnicity and the economy, notes that even when African-Americans have similar levels of education or experience, their chances of being unemployed are higher.

“That’s what begs the question of what else could be the major reason,” Wilson said.

Nancy DiTomaso, a business professor at Rutgers University, says her research has found that whites likely benefit from networks of family and friends that don’t intentionally exclude blacks or other minorities. Yet, nevertheless, their networks have the effect of helping whites get jobs more readily than blacks.

Q. What about other ethnic and racial groups?

A. Everyone is benefiting from the healthy job market. The unemployment rate for Latinos was 4.9 percent in December, just above the record low of 4.8 percent reached in June.

And the jobless rate for Asians was 2.5 percent in December, just above the record low of 2.4 percent set in 2006.

Q. What factors have helped lower unemployment for African-Americans?

A. One major reason, Wilson says, is that many more black Americans are college graduates than in the past. That doesn’t completely offset the effects of discrimination. But among all groups, college graduates have lower unemployment rates than those with less education.

Another driver is economic: When the national unemployment rate falls to ultra-low levels, employers typically cast wider nets to find the workers they need. As they do so, they typically start pulling in more people from historically disadvantaged groups. These include job-seekers with less education as well as racial minorities.

With the current U.S. unemployment rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, that appears to be what’s happening.

Some economists want the Federal Reserve to hold off on raising the short-term interest rate it controls for exactly this reason: Raising that rate could slow growth just as the benefits of the economy’s expansion are spreading to disadvantaged groups.

Q. Where might the unemployment rate for African-Americans go from here?

A. It depends on the economy. Most economists expect healthy growth this year, fueled in part by the Trump administration’s tax cuts for individuals and companies. That should lower unemployment for all Americans.

The African-American unemployment rate is highly volatile and could rise or fall noticeably in the months ahead. It’s down from 7.9 percent a year ago.

Typically, the African-American unemployment rate is about twice the rate for whites and is more volatile. Wilson calculates that for each percentage-point change in the rate for whites, up or down, the rate for African-Americans will swing by about 1.6 points.

Follow Christopher Rugaber on Twitter at

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Ahead of #NoMuslimBanEver March, Federal Judges Block Trump's Latest Travel Ban

Written by Super User on . Posted in Front News

by Jessica Corbett, staff writer,  October 18, 2017

Ahead of #NoMuslimBanEver March, Federal Judges Block Trump's Latest Travel Ban

"Is anyone else seeing a pattern here? Muslim ban issued, courts strike it down."


After a federal judge in Hawaii temporarily halted President Donald Trump's third travel ban Tuesday afternoon, a second judge in Maryland issued a similar ruling Wednesday morning, calling the latest iteration the "inextricable re-animation of the twice-enjoined Muslim ban."

The latest ban, which was scheduled to take effect Wednesday, attempted to make permanent the restrictions targeting most of the Muslim-majority nations from the past two versions while also adding rules for travelers from Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.

Judge Derrick K. Watson of Hawaii wrote (pdf) in his 40-page decision that Trump's third executive order is "simultaneously overbroad and underinclusive," "does not reveal why existing law is insufficient to address the president's described concerns," and "contains internal incoherencies that markedly undermine its stated 'national security' rationale." Watson's ruling impacted restrictions on travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, but not those imposed on travelers from North Korea and Venezuela.

In Maryland, Judge Theodore D. Chuang, as the Washington Post reports, "issued a somewhat less complete halt on the ban than his counterpart in Hawaii did a day earlier, blocking the administration from enforcing the directive only on those who lacked a 'bona fide' relationship with a person or entity in the United States, such as family members or some type of professional or other engagement in the United States."

Chuang's ruling, however, reportedly cited the president's comments on Twitter and during the campaign as evidence that the order was an unconstitutional ban on Muslims. He asserted that the order made "certain subjective determinations that resulted in a disproportionate impact on majority-Muslim nations" while offering "no evidence, even in the form of classified information submitted to the Court, showing an intelligence-based terrorism threat justifying a ban on entire nationalities."

Rights groups celebrated the pair of rulings ahead of a #NoMuslimBanEver March they planned to take place in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.

New York Immigration Coalition executive director Steve Choi said blocking the third ban confirms "it is un-American to discriminate against people based on race or religion," adding, "we will not make this country safer or greater by defying the founding principles on which it was built: liberty and justice for all."

"We're glad, but not surprised, that President Trump's illegal and unconstitutional Muslim ban has been blocked once again," said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, after the first ruling. The ACLU was one of the organizations that launched the legal challenge in Maryland.

"Is anyone else seeing a pattern here? Muslim ban issued, courts strike it down," the National Immigration Law Center tweeted Tuesday, later adding: "The third Muslim ban may be blocked, but the fight continues. Join a #NoMuslimBanEver rally or vigil tomorrow!"

In addition to the D.C. rally, several rights organizations have banded together to create a campaign and website to oppose the ban, which includes a search tool to find events across the country.

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Air Pollution Is Killing Millions Around The Globe Each Year

Written by Super User on . Posted in Front News

By Erin Schumaker, 01/23/2018

Air Pollution Is Killing Millions Around The Globe Each Year

It’s not listed on death certificates, but it’s still considered “one of the great killers of our age.”


A thick smog settled over New Delhi as winter began in India last year, forcing medical professionals to declare a public health emergency. Residents swarmed local hospitals complaining of respiratory problems. Cricket players were forced to put on anti-pollution masks during a national match between India and Sri Lanka. And United Airlines canceled flights into the city, citing the air-quality concerns. 

Air pollution isn’t among the causes of death that medical examiners list on death certificates, but the health conditions linked to air pollution exposure, such as lung cancer and emphysema, are often fatal. Air pollution was responsible for 6.1 million deaths and accounted for nearly 12 percent of the global death toll in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

“Air pollution is one of the great killers of our age,” Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai wrote in an article published in the medical journal The Lancet. 

India’s late environment minister, Anil Madhav Dave, made headlines last year for denying there was proof that air pollution was singularly responsible for death in India. Dave conceded that air pollution “could be one of the triggering factors for respiratory associated ailments and diseases,” but he blamed the negative health effects on other issues: poor diet, occupational hazards, socioeconomic status and genetics. 

Dave died in May 2017 from cardiac arrest. The new environment minister, Harsh Vardhan, has also said that “to attribute any death to a cause like pollution, that may be too much.”

But there are numerous studies linking air pollution to morbidity around world. 

“There is a huge amount of data linking outdoor and indoor air pollution with adverse health effects, including acute and chronic disease, exacerbations of chronic disease and death,” said Dr. Barry Levy, adjunct professor of public health at Tufts University School of Medicine.

    The right to breathe is, you would think, the most fundamental right ― more than food, more than water. And that right is being seriously compromised right now. Mayur Sharma, TV personality 

Of the 6.1 million air pollution death in 2016, 4.1 million are attributable to outdoor, or ambient, air pollution, according to IHME. Such pollution comes from sources like vehicles, coal-fired power plants and steel mills. Household, or indoor, air pollution is a more pressing problem in low-income countries due to the use of indoor fires for cooking and heat, and it’s linked to an estimated 2.6 million deaths per year. (In India at least, the total air pollution death rate has declined since 1990 even as the outdoor death rate went up in recent years ― due largely to a decrease in the number of deaths attributable to indoor air pollution. Scientists don’t completely understand how ambient and household air pollution deaths interact, and there’s some overlap between them, which is why the sum of ambient and household air pollution deaths exceeds total air pollution deaths.)

Developing countries bear the brunt of the world’s pollution problems.  

Air pollution is undoubtedly a global public health problem, but not all countries are equally affected. 

As many as 1.6 million deaths were attributable to air pollution in India in 2016, according to IHME. That same year, all air pollution was linked to almost 123 out of every 100,000 deaths in the country ― among the highest in the world. 

“When it comes to the number of deaths from air pollution, India is No. 1,” Landrigan told HuffPost. 

Afghanistan and several African countries have higher ambient air pollution death rates than India, likely because of the extremely dusty conditions in those countries, combined with other pollution sources, like vehicle emissions and crop burning.

“With globalization, mining and manufacturing shifted to poorer countries, where environmental regulations and enforcement can be lax,” Karti Sandilya, one of the authors on the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, told Reuters. “People in poorer countries ― like construction workers in New Delhi ― are more exposed to air pollution and less able to protect themselves from exposure, as they walk, bike or ride the bus to workplaces that may also be polluted.” 

    Delhi has become a gas chamber. Every year this happens during this part of year. We have to find a soln to crop burning in adjoining states

    — Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) November 7, 2017

North India’s topography makes its pollution problem worse, Vox noted in November. The region acts as a basin, trapping pollution from crop burning outside the city and mixing it with industrial pollution from within city limits. And that mix of pollution sources is most intense during the coldest months of the year.

In fact, the problem is getting so bad that some people are moving out of New Delhi altogether. Television personality Mayur Sharma is perhaps the most notable example: He left his job and moved his family out of the capital to escape the pollution. 

“The right to breathe is, you would think, the most fundamental right ― more than food, more than water. And that right is being seriously compromised right now,” Sharma told NPR. 

As India’s economy has expanded, the country has struggled to keep up with the environmental costs of that growth. Premature deaths from air pollution have stabilized in China, which rivals India in terms of pollution problems and population. That stabilization occurred partly because China has used fines and criminal charges to crack down on pollution. India’s government, however, seems more focused on economic growth than on protecting air quality and the environment.

Air pollution ― and climate change ― link the global community in deadly ways

Because air pollution and related health problems can travel, no country can solve its air pollution problem alone.

Air pollution from Chinese consumption was linked to an estimated 3,100 premature deaths in the U.S and Western Europe in 2007, according to an article published last year in the journal Nature. At the same time, nearly 110,000 premature deaths in China were linked to pollution prompted by consumption in the U.S. and Western European.

“Air pollution can travel long distances and cause health impacts in downwind regions,” Qiang Zhang, co-author of the article and a researcher at Tsinghua University in Beijing, explained to Popular Science. 

    Air pollution doesn’t care about political boundaries. Kirk Smith, professor of global environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health 

Climate change will likely exacerbate those global concerns, according to public health experts. 

They anticipate that climate change will trigger a host of public health problems, including heat- and cold-related deaths, increased disease risk and mental health problems from climate displacement and extreme weather conditions. 

Climate change also contributes to air pollution trends ― hotter temperatures increase wildfire risk, and wildfires create ambient air pollution. It also increases ground-level ozone, which is a main ingredient in urban smog, and can trigger health problems like chest pain, throat irritation and lung inflammation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Higher temperatures are expected to increase the rate of ozone formation,” Levy said.

This makes it even more crucial for local, national and intergovernmental organizations to join forces to address air pollution.  

As Kirk Smith, a professor of global environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, put it, “Air pollution doesn’t care about political boundaries.” 




Erin Schumaker

Senior Reporter, HuffPost

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