Thursday, July 30, 2015

Earth's Most Famous Climate Scientist Issues Bombshell Sea Level Warning

A new study shows greatly increased chances for catastrophic near-term sea level rise. Here, Miami Beach, among the most vulnerable cities to sea level rise in the world. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)
A new study shows greatly increased chances for catastrophic near-term sea level rise. Here, Miami Beach, among the most vulnerable cities to sea level rise in the world. (photo: Joe Raedle/Getty)

By Eric Holthaus, Slate

n what may prove to be a turning point for political action on climate change, a breathtaking new study casts extreme doubt about the near-term stability of global sea levels.

The study—written by James Hansen, NASA’s former lead climate scientist, and 16 co-authors, many of whom are considered among the top in their fields—concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, brings new importance to a feedback loop in the ocean near Antarctica that results in cooler freshwater from melting glaciers forcing warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate. Hansen, who is known for being alarmist and also right, acknowledges that his study implies change far beyond previous consensus estimates. In a conference call with reporters, he said he hoped the new findings would be “substantially more persuasive than anything previously published.” I certainly find them to be.

To come to their findings, the authors used a mixture of paleoclimate records, computer models, and observations of current rates of sea level rise, but “the real world is moving somewhat faster than the model,” Hansen says.

Hansen’s study does not attempt to predict the precise timing of the feedback loop, only that it is “likely” to occur this century. The implications are mindboggling: In the study’s likely scenario, New York City—and every other coastal city on the planet—may only have a few more decades of habitability left. That dire prediction, in Hansen’s view, requires “emergency cooperation among nations.”

We conclude that continued high emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.

The science of ice melt rates is advancing so fast, scientists have generally been reluctant to put a number to what is essentially an unpredictable, nonlinear response of ice sheets to a steadily warming ocean. With Hansen’s new study, that changes in a dramatic way. One of the study’s co-authors is Eric Rignot, whose own study last year found that glacial melt from West Antarctica now appears to be “unstoppable.” Chris Mooney, writing for Mother Jones, called that study a “holy shit” moment for the climate.One necessary note of caution: Hansen’s study comes via a nontraditional publishing decision by its authors. The study will be published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, an open-access “discussion” journal, and will not have formal peer review prior to its appearance online later this week. [Update, July 23: The paper is now available.] The complete discussion draft circulated to journalists was 66 pages long, and included more than 300 references. The peer review will take place in real time, with responses to the work by other scientists also published online. Hansen said this publishing timeline was necessary to make the work public as soon as possible before global negotiators meet in Paris later this year. Still, the lack of traditional peer review and the fact that this study’s results go far beyond what’s been previously published will likely bring increased scrutiny. On Twitter, Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist whose work focuses on Greenland and the Arctic, was skeptical of such enormous rates of near-term sea level rise, though she defended Hansen’s decision to publish in a nontraditional way.

In 2013, Hansen left his post at NASA to become a climate activist because, in his words, “as a government employee, you can’t testify against the government.” In a wide-ranging December 2013 study, conducted to support Our Children’s Trust, a group advancing legal challenges to lax greenhouse gas emissions policies on behalf of minors, Hansen called for a “human tipping point”—essentially, a social revolution—as one of the most effective ways of combating climate change, though he still favors a bilateral carbon tax agreed upon by the United States and China as the best near-term climate policy. In the new study, Hansen writes, "there is no morally defensible excuse to delay phase-out of fossil fuel emissions as rapidly as possible."

Asked whether Hansen has plans to personally present the new research to world leaders, he said: “Yes, but I can’t talk about that today.” What’s still uncertain is whether, like with so many previous dire warnings, world leaders will be willing to listen.
+12 # shraeve 2015-07-24 10:52
Let's say we are not absolutely certain that alarmists like Hansen are right. Shouldn't we just play it safe and reverse the CO2 and methane in the atmosphere anyway?

It won't hurt us to re-forest the Earth.
+1 # Glen 2015-07-24 12:08
Don't know how anyone could argue with that, shraeve, but they will. Too much money is being made by those who pollute and they will never back off on their plans. SERIOUS warnings have been announced for years, to no avail.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bernie Sanders: Corporate Greed Must End

Bernie Sanders. (photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Bernie Sanders. (photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

By Bernie Sanders, The Boston Globe
ere is the reality of the American economy. Despite an explosion in technology and a huge increase in worker productivity, the middle class continues its 40-year decline. Today, millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and median family income is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest people and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well. Today, 99 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent, while the top one-tenth of 1 percent own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. In the last two years, the wealthiest 14 people in this country increased their wealth by $157 billion. That increase is more than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans – combined.

Over the last 40 years, the largest corporations in this country have closed thousands of factories in the United States and outsourced millions of American jobs to low-wage countries overseas. That is why we need a new trade policy and why I am opposed to the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership now before Congress.

Large corporations and their lobbyists have created loopholes enabling corporations to avoid an estimated $100 billion a year in taxes by shifting profits to the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens. That is why we need real tax reform which demands that the very wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.

Corporate America has mounted vigorous anti-union campaigns, making it harder for workers to collectively bargain for decent wages and benefits. That is why we must make certain that workers are given a fair chance to join a union.

Stock buybacks bear major responsibility for today’s income inequality.

Meanwhile, US companies are buying back billions of dollars of their own stock in a way that manipulates stock prices, hurts the economy and, by the way, used to be against the law.

Instead of putting resources into innovative ways to build their businesses or hire new employees, corporations are pumping their record-breaking profits into buying back their own stock and increasing dividends to benefit their executives and wealthy shareholders at the expense of their workers. It is a major reason why CEOs are now making nearly 300 times what the typical worker makes. We must demand an end to stock buybacks.

We also must do a lot more to rebuild the middle class, check corporate greed, and make our economy work again for working families.

We need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next several years. With 70 percent of the economy dependent on consumers buying goods and services, the best way to expand the economy is to raise wages and create good jobs to increase the purchasing power of the American people.

We need to pass pay equity for women workers. It is not acceptable that women receive 78 cents on the dollar compared to male workers doing the same job.
We need to make certain that every worker in this country receives guaranteed paid sick leave and vacation time.

We need to encourage business models that provide employees the tools to purchase their own businesses through Employee Stock Ownership Plans and worker-owned cooperatives. Workers at employer-owned companies are more motivated, productive, and satisfied with their jobs.

It is time to say loudly and clearly that corporate greed and the war against the American middle class must end. Enough is enough! 

Bernie Sanders is a senator from Vermont and a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.


+4 # A_Har 2015-06-24 11:01
"Instead of putting resources into innovative ways to build their businesses or hire new employees, corporations are pumping their record-breaking profits into buying back their own stock and increasing dividends to benefit their executives and wealthy shareholders at the expense of their workers...."

Bernie, they are packing up to LEAVE the USA.
-10 # Roland 2015-06-24 11:59
Do you think we are giving them any reasons to leave?
+4 # dsepeczi 2015-06-24 13:14
Quoting Roland:
Do you think we are giving them any reasons to leave?

No, not at all. American business is thriving like never before even if the country's own finances are incredibly bad. Corporations could easily survive a higher minimum wage and for all of those large multinational corporations that pay less of a percentage of their income than I do or in some cases pay no taxes at all ... I'd say goodbye and good riddance if they want to pack up and leave.
-4 # Roland 2015-06-24 13:38
Some businesses could survive a higher min. wage and some couldn't. The ones that do survive will raise prices (in turn raising inflation) or cut jobs, possibly by automating.

And the least skilled people will have less of a chance to get their first job. As you raise the min. wage more people with some skills come into the work place displacing the least skilled. Without a chance for a min. wage job those people will never have the chance to prove themselves and move up the ladder.
+5 # dsepeczi 2015-06-24 13:41
Quoting Roland:
Some businesses could survive a higher min. wage and some couldn't. The ones that do survive will raise prices (in turn raising inflation) or cut jobs, possibly by automating.

And the least skilled people will have less of a chance to get their first job. As you raise the min. wage more people with some skills come into the work place displacing the least skilled. Without a chance for a min. wage job those people will never have the chance to prove themselves and move up the ladder.

So, your solution is to leave the minimum wage as is so the skilled workers will remain laid off and the unskilled workers can work jobs that don't pay them enough to make a living ? Even to take your argument at it's word, I don't think this would be good for anyone but, of course, the wealthy.
-4 # Roland 2015-06-24 13:49
You are implying you want the skilled workers to do menial work. You want to fill jobs that need little to no skills with people that are better skilled and pay them more. That isn't an answer.
+7 # Working Class 2015-06-24 13:40
Quoting Roland:
Do you think we are giving them any reasons to leave?

Well actually Roland we have given some great reasons to leave. In fact "they" meaning the large corporations, helped draft those reasons. The "reasons" can be found in the numerous trade agreement, including NAFTA, that allows multi-national companies to move factories, often with US supplied tax incentives, overseas where the labor is cheap and environmental laws non-existent or not enforced if they do exist. So yes "we" have given them reasons - the American worker refuses to work for 50 cents an hour in slave-like sweat shop conditions. We did that up through the early 1900's and it was not exactly the way to the American Dream.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Trump: Pope’s Call to Save Planet Masks Even More Reckless Call to Feed Poor

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – The Presidential candidate Donald Trump blasted Pope Francis on Friday, arguing that the Pontiff’s recent call to save the planet had largely overshadowed his “far more reckless” call to feed the poor.“Look, if the Pope wants to spout off about climate change, that’s his prerogative, I guess,” Trump said.

“But when he starts talking about feeding the poor, that is totally dangerous and irresponsible.”

“Every other candidate is ripping the Pope’s comments about climate change,” he added. “I’m the only one in this race who seems to have noticed his truly crazy talk about feeding people.”

Trump said that, as President, it would be his job not to feed the poor “but to keep them from getting into the country in the first place.”

“We need to build a wall they’re too hungry to climb,” he said.

The reality-show host argued that the Pope should stay out of politics, saying, “Let’s face it, the guy is not rich.”

Sunday, July 26, 2015

5 Signs Historic Drought Is Getting Much Worse

The 'Portland, Oregon' sign in downtown Portland, Oregon. (photo: Don Ryan/AP)
The 'Portland, Oregon' sign in downtown Portland, Oregon. (photo: Don Ryan/AP)

Meanwhile, Payson, Arizona is guaranteeing 50 years of potable water for use on two private golf courses

By Lorraine Chow, EcoWatch
he drought is bad. Really bad. While the water catastrophe is usually associated with California, many other water-pinched states are also reeling from this historic drought. Here are five ways the devastating drought has affected lives, rural towns and even fish populations the American West.

1. It’s reached Portland. While fairing better than its neighbors, the entire state of Oregon is feeling some degree of drought, including normally wet Portland. The city is experiencing a moderate drought for the first time due to its “abnormally hot and dry conditions” this summer, OPB reported. “Washington had their warmest and third driest June ever, and Oregon was warmest and seventh driest,” Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Monitor, told OPB. “A lot has happened in June, on top of a warm and fairly snow-free winter.”

2. The West Nile virus is spreading. California, now in its fourth year of drought, is seeing numbers of the mosquito-borne disease. There were 801 reported human cases of West Nile virus in the state last year, with 31 people who succumbed to the disease, the Los Angeles Times reported. And according to the San Jose Mercury News, 152 dead birds and 348 mosquito samples across the state have also tested positive for the virus already this year.

Scientists suspect that rising temperatures and drought have exacerbated conditions in the parched state, since the dwindling number of watering holes have brought mosquitoes and birds into closer contact. “The lack of water can cause some sources of water to stagnate, thus making the water sources more attractive for mosquitoes to lay eggs,” Gil Chavez, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health, told the Mercury News.

3. The poor are relying on water bottles and drinking toxic water. As wells and groundwater dry up due to the ongoing drought and nearby agricultural and mining operations, some families in California’s rural San Joaquin and Coachella valleys have (for years) been subsisting on bottled water and consuming potentially hazardous levels of arsenic-laden water, The Washington Post reported. While county officials and local nonprofit groups such as Coachella’s Pueblo Unido are finding ways to generate potable water for their communities, the efforts are expensive and only temporary.

4. Seattle isn’t getting any rain. The typically rain-soaked city hasn’t seen more than a tenth of an inch of rain in 42 days, according to local news affiliate KIRO 7. (Fingers crossed that El Nino brings much-needed reprieve to the West).

Making matters worse, local firefighters have warned that the lack of rain caused by drought is only causing homes to light up faster. “Just like the brush that’s around the area [referring to a mobile home that burned down at Empire View Mobile Home Park], homes are also starting to dry up,” Dave Nelson, public information officer for Skyway Fire Department told the news station.

5. River fish are dying from heat and disease. Record low snowpacks and record high temperatures have caused low-flowing, extra-warm rivers this summer, leading to salmon and trout deaths. As the Associated Press reported, a Wild Fish Conservancy survey of 54 rivers in Oregon, California and Washington revealed that three-quarters were warmer than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that could be fatal for salmon and trout. In fact, “scores” of dead salmon were found in the Willamette River in June, and about 50 dead sockeye salmon, infected with gill rot disease associated with warm water, were found this week in the Deschutes River, the news agency reported.


+5 # Buddha 2015-07-14 11:01
Yeah, but Exxon-Mobil, Koch Industries, and FAUXNews says that anthropogenic Climate Change is a hoax, so why worry, right? /sarcasm.
+4 # Kootenay Coyote 2015-07-14 11:14
What will it take till there's real action?
+2 # Billbb 2015-07-14 11:36
The Earth is dying to wake us up!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sandra Bland Was Murdered

A Texas state trooper said Sandra Bland assaulted him with her elbows and feet during her arrest, after which she was found dead in a jail cell. (photo: Tom Pennington/Getty)
A Texas state trooper said Sandra Bland assaulted him with her elbows and feet during her arrest, after which she was found dead in a jail cell. (photo: Tom Pennington/Getty)

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
25 July 15
Suicide or not, police are responsible for Sandra Bland's death

o news broke yesterday that authorities in Waller County, Texas, have "full faith" that Sandra Bland committed suicide. They said there was "no evidence of a struggle" on the body of the 28-year-old African-American woman who was ludicrously jailed last week after an alleged lane change violation.

In related news, the Texas Department of Safety ruled that Brian Encina, the officer who arrested Bland, pulled her from her car, and threatened her with a Taser, had merely violated the state's "courtesy policy." The state said there was "no evidence" yet of criminal behavior on Encina's part.

So barring something unexpected, we know now how this is going to play out in the media.

Many news outlets are going to engage in an indirect version of the usual blame-the-victim game by emphasizing the autopsy finding of suicide, questioning Bland's mental health history, and by highlighting the reports of marijuana found in her system.

Beyond that, we can expect a slew of chin-scratching "legal analyses" concluding that while there may have been some minor impropriety on officer Encina's part, the law governing police-motorist encounters is too "complicated" to make this anything more than a tragic accident.

Media scandals are like criminal trials. They're about assigning blame. Because Bland may have technically taken her own life, the blame is now mostly going to fall on a woman with a history of depression and drugs, instead of on a criminal justice system that morally, if not legally, surely murdered Sandra Bland.

Backing up: It's been interesting following conservative news outlets after the Bland case. They've been conspicuously quiet this week, holstering the usual gloating backlash of the "He'd be alive today, if he'd just obeyed the law" variety.

After the Garner, Brown and Freddie Gray cases, of course, law-and-order commentators flocked to the blogosphere to explain the secret to preventing police brutality.

It was simple, they explained. There's no police corruption problem. The real issue is that there are too many people who don't know how to behave during a car stop. Don't want to get murdered by police? Be polite!

A writer named John Hawkins took on the subject for in a piece last year carrying the not at all joking headline "How to not get shot by police." After revealing that his only real experience in this area involved speeding tickets, Hawkins lectured readers that "the first key to not getting shot" is to not think of the police as a threat:

"They're really not going to randomly beat you, arrest you or shoot you for no reason whatsoever. It's like a bee. Don't start swatting at it and chances are, it's not going to sting you.

"In fact, when a cop pulls you over, you should have your license and registration ready, you put your hands on the steering wheel so he can see them when he arrives, and you say 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir.'"

It's hard to wrap one's head around the absurdity of someone like Hawkins imagining to himself that black America has not already tried using the word "sir" as a strategy to avoid beatings and killings. But over and over again, we heard stuff like this from the Fox/Real Clear crowd, which as time passed flailed around with increasing desperation in search of a non-racial explanation for all of these violent episodes.

After Eric Garner was killed, for instance, a New York Post columnist named Bob McManus argued that we should only blame – the word "only" was actually used – the "man who tragically decided to resist." Michigan's even dumber Ann Coulter wannabe, Debbie Schlussel, countered that Garner would still be alive if his parents had raised him better, and if he wasn't a "morbidly obese asthmatic."

After Ferguson, it was the same thing. Editorials insisted that the solution to the brutality problem lay in "less criminality within the black community." The officer who shot Michael Brown, Darren Wilson – the same guy who called Brown a "demon" – insisted that Brown would still be alive "if he'd just followed orders."

But nobody yet has dared to say Sandra Bland would still be alive today, if only she'd used her blinker. That's a bridge too far even for types.

Suddenly even hardcore law-and-order enthusiasts are realizing the criminal code is so broad and littered with so many tiny technical prohibitions that a determined enough police officer can stop and/or arrest pretty much anybody at any time.

Bland was on her way to a new job at Prairie A&M university when she was pulled over for failing to signal when changing lanes, something roughly 100 percent of American drivers do on a regular basis. Irritated at being stopped, she was curt with Encina when he wrote her up. He didn't like her attitude and decided to flex his muscles a little, asking her to put out her cigarette.

She balked, and that's when things went sideways. Encina demanded that she get out of the car, reached for his Taser, said, "I'll light you up," and eventually threw her in jail.

Many editorialists following this narrative case suddenly noticed, as if for the first time, how much mischief can arise from the fact that a person may be arrested at any time for "failing to obey a lawful order," which in the heat of the moment can mean just about anything.

But this same kind of logic has underpinned modern community policing in big cities all over America for decades now. Under Broken Windows and other "zero tolerance"-type enforcement strategies, police move into (typically nonwhite) neighborhoods in big numbers, tell people to move off corners, and then circle back and arrest them for "loitering" or "failing to obey a lawful order" if they don't.

Some cities have tried to put a fig leaf of legal justification on such practices by creating "drug-free" or "anti-loitering" zones, which give police automatic justification for arrest even if a person is guilty of nothing more than standing on the street. Failing to produce ID – even in the halls of your own building, in some cases – or being seen in or around a "known drug location" can similarly be grounds for search or detention.

A related phenomenon is the policy governing "consent searches." Police stop people on the highways, in airports, on buses, really anywhere at all, and ask for their consent to search their property or their persons. Sometimes they do the asking with a drug-sniffing dog standing beside them.

Studies have consistently shown that black and Hispanic people are pulled over at a far higher rate than white people, usually more than double, even though white people are statistically more likely to have illegal drugs on them.

Add to this the whole galaxy of stop-and-frisk type behaviors, also known as "Terry stops," in which any police officer with an "articulable suspicion" that a crime of violence might be committed can pat down and question any person.

The end of New York's infamous program notwithstanding, there are millions of such stops every year. In Chicago, for instance, recent data showed a rate of about a million stops per year, with roughly 72 percent involving black people – and this in a city that's only 32 percent black.

You add all this up, and we're talking about millions upon millions of stops, searches and misdemeanor arrests and summonses that clearly target black people at a far higher rate than the rest of the population.

And if you're continually handcuffing people, sitting on them, putting knees in their backs and dragging them to jail in cases when you could have just handed over a summons, a certain percentage of these encounters are going to end in fights, struggles, medical accidents and other disasters. Like the Bland case.

We'd call it murder if a kidnapping victim died of fright during the job. Of course it's not legally the same thing, but a woman dying of depression during an illegal detention should be the same kind of crime. It's especially true given our long and sordid history of overpolicing misdemeanors.

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander described how white America re-seized control after slavery by instituting a series of repressive "vagrancy laws," under which nonwhite Americans could be arrested for such absurdities as "mischief" and "insulting gestures."

In an eerie precursor to the modern loitering laws, many states even had stringent rules against "idleness." There were even states where any black male over 18 could be thrown in jail for not carrying around written proof that he had a job.

What exactly is the difference between being arrested for "idleness" and being arrested for "loitering in a designated drug-free zone"? What's the difference between an arrest for "mischief" and an arrest for "disorderly conduct" or "refusing to obey a lawful order"? If it's anything more than a semantic distinction, it's not much more of one.

Law-and-order types like to lecture black America about how it can avoid getting killed by "respecting authority" and treating arresting cops like dangerous dogs or bees.

But while playing things cool might prevent killings in some instances, it won't stop police from stopping people without reason, putting their hands on suspects or jailing people like Bland for infractions that at most would earn a white guy in a suit a desk ticket. That's not just happening in a few well-publicized cases a year, but routinely, in hundreds of thousands or even millions of incidents we never hear of.

That's why the issue isn't how Sandra Bland died, but why she was stopped and detained in the first place. It's profiling, sure, but it's even worse than that. It's a systematic campaign to harass people, using misdemeanors and violations as battering ram – a campaign that's been going on forever, and against which there's little defense. When the law can be stretched to mean almost anything, obeying it is no magic bullet.


+47 # Barbara K 2015-07-25 09:50
I saw the video earlier on just once. Just prior to him pulling Ms. Bland over, he had pulled over a white female college student. Was very polite to her and told her several times that he was just giving her a warning and that it would not cost her anything. Never raised his voice or threatened the white girl. Then along came Ms. Bland, just the same as the other girl, same driving lane, etc. Then for some reason, he just speeded up and pulled her over. She was doing nothing wrong and complied with pulling over right away. The video they show picks up here. They don't bother showing how polite he was to the other girl.

+54 # Wally Jasper 2015-07-25 09:53
Nice analysis, Matt. But why are you even going along with the official story of suicide? They're cops. They know what investigators would look for. They'd certainly be quite capable of stringing Ms. Bland up and make it look like suicide. I wouldn't believe anything the Texas justice (so-called) system says.

+10 # randyjet 2015-07-25 10:35
Jasper, Ordinarily, I would agree with you, but the problem is that there is a tape of the entrance to her cell which shows nobody entering it. That tape can and I assume IS being checked for erasures and tampering. Absent that tape my belief would be that it would be damned near certainty she was murdered.
+8 # Texas Aggie 2015-07-25 12:00
In order to find her hanging, someone would have had to enter the cell. There is reason to suspect that someone going by the cell without entering saw her body lying on the floor where she'd died from a cerebral hemorrhage after having her head pounded on the pavement a couple days previously. They then went into the cell and "found" her hanging there.

+13 # keenon the truth 2015-07-25 10:25
Yes. I was just thinking the same. I can't visualise how she is supposed to have killed herself.

+20 # Jump Off Joe 2015-07-25 10:32
Well said, Matt!

Has anybody (yet) suggested that she would still be alive if only she'd been born to white parents?

By the way. How do you spell "jail cell suicide"?

Answer: "C.O.V.E.R-U.P. "

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bland is latest victim of marijuana smear

Memorial for Sarah Bland. (photo: Pat Sullivan/AP)
Memorial for Sarah Bland. (photo: Pat Sullivan/AP)

By Ian Millhiser, ThinkProgress
andra Bland was high on marijuana — while she was incarcerated in the Texas jail where she eventually died — according to Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis. Mathis reportedly said in a text message to an attorney representing the Bland family that “[l]ooking at the autopsy results and toxicology, it appears she swallowed a large quantity of marijuana or smoked it in the jail.”

If true, this allegation suggests that security in this jail facility is extraordinarily lax. How does marijuana make its way to an incarcerated individual in the first place? And how does that individual manage to smoke or eat a “large quantity” of it without jail officials noticing?

The allegation that Bland used pot shortly before her death, moreover, fits a pattern in high-profile cases involving the questionable death of a black man or woman that has become so common that it is practically a cliché. During the uncertain period where investigators and reporters are trying to figure out just why someone died, news suddenly leaks that this individual was a marijuana user. Generally, the alleged marijuana use is raised to discredit someone is is no longer able to speak for themselves, and to imply that the marijuana use somehow contributed to their death.

At George Zimmerman’s trial for the killing of Trayvon Martin, for example, Zimmerman’s lawyer pointed to traces of marijuana in Martin’s blood. One conservative blogger claimed, without evidence, that Martin was a drug dealer.

Similarly, the lawyer representing Theodore Wafer — who was convicted of shooting Renisha McBride while she stood outside on his front porch, apparently seeking help after she was in a car accident — told that jury that McBride was out a friend’s house before she was killed drinking and smoking marijuana. Jonathan Ferrell, a former college football player who was killed by cops after he also sought help after a car wreck, was accused of drinking and smoking. Toxicology reports later found no drugs in Ferrell’s system and his blood alcohol level was below the legal limit.

The reported allegation that Bland used marijuana while incarcerated adds to the haze of uncertainty surrounding her death. Although Mathis says that his office’s inquiry into Bland’s death is “being treated like a murder investigation,” the sheriff’s office claims that Bland was discovered “in her cell not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation,” and a preliminary autopsy announced on Thursday corroborates this claim. Jail intake forms released on Wednesday indicate that Bland answered “yes” when asked if she had previously attempted suicide, although there are discrepancies between two different forms asking about whether she has attempted or contemplated suicide.

If investigators ultimately conclude that Bland’s death was a suicide — and not a homicide — Mathis’s reported claim that Bland used marijuana while she was in jail suggests that something still went horribly wrong while Bland was behind bars. If it was indeed possible for Bland to consume a “large quantity of marijuana” while incarcerated, that suggests that the jail may have lacked other important safeguards, such as procedures to ensure that suicidal inmates do not act on these impulses.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Meet the Apache Activists Opening for Neil Young

Apache Stronghold activists. (photo: Joseph Huff-Hannon)
Apache Stronghold activists. (photo: Joseph Huff-Hannon)

By Joseph Huff-Hannon, Rolling Stone
23 July 15
On his Rebel Content Tour, Young's invited Native activists to speak out against a mining industry land grab

izhoni Pike and her friends had the best seats in the house for the Neil Young concert in Jersey last week – better than front row.

In fact, they've had an incredible vantage point at several of the shows on Young's Rebel Content Tour this summer.

"It's been pretty awesome to be up on stage and look out and see so many people supporting us, yelling for us," Pike tells Rolling Stone. "And we know some of his songs. We've been singing along!"

Pike is part of a cross-country caravan called the Apache Stronghold, made up of dozens of activists and supporters of the Arizona San Carlos Apache tribe who are calling out a mining industry land grab rammed through Congress last December – and who have made an unconventional opener for Young.

Starting at Red Rocks earlier this month, and in venues across the country since, the Apache have been linking up with Young on the road, sharing their stories and singing prayer songs to thousands of audience members.

The activists are trying to preserve a stretch of canyon land in Tonto National Forest called Oak Flat, an hour east of Phoenix, where young Apache women like Pike have celebrated coming-of-age ceremonies for generations. "I became a woman at Oak Flat, I had my sunrise dance there, so it's like my heart is there," she says.

Business interests see treasure in those hills, too; a company called Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of the Australian-British mining giant Rio Tinto, has long wanted to get at the massive copper deposits buried under Oak Flat. Last December the company got a step closer to its goal, when the two senators from Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake, slipped a last-minute rider into the National Defense Authorization Act authorizing a land swap long favored by the company. A recent New York Times op-ed described how, "by doing this, Congress has handed over a sacred Native American site to a foreign-owned company for what may be the first time in our nation's history."

What would induce Congress to do such a thing? The mining industry says thousands of jobs will be created by digging up Oak Flat, and Sen. McCain touted the deal's value to national security, saying in a statement, "To maintain the strength of the most technologically-advanced military in the world, America's armed forces need stable supplies of copper for their equipment, ammunition, and electronics."

And then, of course, there's the money. Sen. Flake is a former lobbyist for the mining industry, who's received almost $200,000 from mining interests, including Rio Tinto, since his election, and Sen. McCain is one of the top Congressional recipients of campaign contributions from Rio Tinto, according to

But the senators and their friends in the mining industry may have underestimated their opposition, which is low on funds but high on morale and tenacity. For months now, Apache activists have been occupying Oak Flat campground, and more and more people across the country and the world have gotten behind their cause. As of this writing, more than 600,000 people have signed a petition at Avaaz calling on Congress to repeal the rider, and to apologize to the Apache for putting their cultural heritage up for sale. Rock climbers and outdoor enthusiasts who don't want to see this corner of the West turned into a moonscape have been raising a ruckus as well.

And then there's the very musical ruckus being raised by the Apache Stronghold caravan, of course. Rolling Stone caught up with Pike and about two dozen other members of the caravan last week at a drum circle in New York's Columbus Circle, the day after they opened for Young in nearby Camden, New Jersey. For many in the caravan, this marks their first visit to New York City. ("Not even a single statue to honor the Native people who used to live here, but a big old statue of Columbus," drummer and caravan member Rudy Red Dog says. "Go figure.")

They walk down Broadway toward the theater district and Times Square for a noon flash mob to raise awareness for their campaign. There, in the middle of a scrum of curious tourists, flanked by billboards for Coca-Cola and Broadway shows, teenage caravan member Naelyn Pike dances around a circle of drummers, her fist full of arrows. "If the government can do this to us, they can do it to everybody else," she says. "This isn't just an Apache fight, or a Native American fight, it's an American fight. This affects all of us."

The girl's grandfather, Wendsler Nosie Sr., a former tribal chairman and one of the chief organizers of the caravan, explains how the canyons of Oak Flat fit into the historical and spiritual life of the Apache. "For the Apache, it's a sacred site, a holy site, the identity of our people," he says. "What would Congress say if they wanted to mine on Mount Sinai? For us it's the same."

This week the Apache Stronghold caravan makes its last stop, in Washington, D.C. They're planning a midday rally outside the Capitol on July 22, and are meeting with members of the House and the Senate, looking to recruit more Congressional allies to overturn the rider that gave away their land. A drum circle outside Sen. McCain's office isn't out of the question. They've also found an ally in Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, a progressive champion in the House who's introduced the Save Oak Flat Act, for which he is rustling up co-sponsors.

"We've broken faith with Native American communities time and time again. Giving away a sacred site of the First Americans to a foreign-owned corporation strikes me as especially cruel," Rep. Grijalva says in an email. "Oak Flat should be preserved on its own merits – President Eisenhower was right to prohibit mining on these lands – and also to show the respect we have always owed Indian Country and too often failed to demonstrate."

It's a David and Goliath fight, but after weeks on the road, meeting with other tribes, talking at churches and community centers, and sharing the stage with one of the world's most iconic rebel rockers, Wendsler Nosie Sr. is optimistic. "People are finally waking up to this dirty deal," he says. "We believe there's conscience in America, and we decided to take our fight on the road to reach out to the power of this country. And the power's not Congress. It's the people."

As for Neil Young, he tells Rolling Stone in an email that he was motivated to get involved in the Apache fight because he hopes that "by watching our Native American brothers and sisters" – who have taken care of their own land "since time immemorial" – "we can learn how to take better care of our precious gift."