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  • You Might Not Know Where Chad Is, But the US Military Has Big Plans For It

    This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

    Admit it. You don't know where Chad is. You know it's in Africa, of course. But beyond that? Maybe with a map of the continent and by some process of elimination you could come close. But you'd probably pick Sudan or maybe the Central African Republic. Here's a tip. In the future, choose that vast, arid swath of land just below Libya.

    Who does know where Chad is? That answer is simpler: the US military. Recent contracting documents indicate that it's building something there. Not a huge facility, not a mini-American town, but a small camp.

    That the US military is expanding its efforts in Africa shouldn't be a shock anymore. For years now, the Pentagon has been increasing its missions there and promoting a mini-basing boom that has left it with a growing collection of outposts sprouting across the northern tier of the continent. This string of camps is meant to do what more than a decade of counterterrorism efforts, including the training and equipping of local military forces and a variety of humanitarian hearts-and-minds missions, has failed to accomplish: transform the Trans-Sahara region in the northern and western parts of the continent into a bulwark of stability.

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  • If You're White and Feel Discriminated Against, Jose Antonio Vargas Wants to Talk to You

    "Do you think some people treat you unfairly because you're white?"

    "Do you feel you're missing out on an important job, school, or other opportunity because you're white?"

    These questions were included in a recent casting call for an MTV documentary in Washington DC. It swiftly raised eyebrows across the internet: Do white people really need yet another medium to showcase, well, white people problems? 

    But when it came out that the man behind the documentary was actually journalist and prominent immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas and his organization Define American, the initial scorn quickly disappeared; the questions suddenly became legitimate.

    "Race is uncomfortable for everybody," Vargas told Mother Jones. "But when you bring in race and whiteness, I think you're really laying it on thick for people. And that's why I think we're getting the reaction we're getting."

    Vargas says he expected the Craigslist post to elicit some controversy—indeed, it's exactly this tendency to immediately call out others for racial bias, without attempting to seek understanding, he hopes to explore. "I'm not interested in that 'gotcha' moment, where in the age of Twitter we over-communicate without ever actually connecting." he said. "I am going to let the work speak for itself." 

    In recent years, those "gotcha" moments have dominated countless headlines. And the news cycle is a familiar one: It starts with the internet discovering a person doing something, at best, racially insensitive, and at worst, blatantly racist. Outrage moves to social media where users are quick to ridicule the offender in question. The mounting anger is only quelled by a forced apology, firing, etc. But what happens after the hashtags stop trending? The conversations that follow don't exactly have the same viral potential and are rarely discussed.

    "Critical analysis is of utmost importance whenever we talk about race in America," he said. And for Vargas, the way Americans currently discuss race is "superficial and oversimplified." But in a time when race is such a loaded topic, this is increasingly problematic. That's exactly where the "Untitled Whiteness Project" comes in.

    The film is currently in its beginning stages and aligns with MTV's larger "Look Different" campaign, which explores hidden prejudices among millennials. The campaign recently partnered with David Binder Research for a study to examine how young people view their own identities and biases. Among the white 18 to 24 year-olds who participated in the study, 48 percent said discrimination against white people has emerged as just a serious problem as discrimination against people of color. Only 39 percent believed white people had more advantages than people of color.

    Vargas wants to discuss these perspectives, shed light on hidden biases, and perhaps even more importantly, create an open discourse for young people to talk comfortably talk about race and their own identities without judgment.

    "This isn't about making anyone feel bad, "Vargas said. "I want to create a safe place where people can actually explore this conversation."

    "It's so easy to hate something you don't know. What's harder is to actually scratch the surface."

    So expect to see similarly uneasy Craigslist posts to emerge all over the country—Vargas is here to shake things up and get young people to start talking.

  • "Food Chains" Looks at the Real Cost of Your Cheap Tomatoes

    Food Chains opens at the break of dawn, as tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida, hustle onto buses and out to the fields where they spend long hours trying to pick enough fruit to survive. Late in the evening they return to cramped trailers, with barely enough wages to purchase groceries for a family meal. Though Florida's rich soil generates hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tomatoes, those harvesting them make around $12,000 a year. And the worst part, as tomato picker Gerardo Reyes Chavez points out, at the end of the day there's only the realization of "how little you mean to the people you are working for."

    "We're not poor in this country—we're screwed," remarks farm advocate Lucas Benitez in Food Chains, an illuminating documentary about ag workers that hits theaters today. Directed by Sanjay Rawal (Ocean Monk), the film sheds light on how our produce depends on the labor of workers who are paid by the piece and are twice as likely to live beneath the poverty line as salaried employees.

    Food Chains - Trailer from Screen Media Films on Vimeo.

    But Food Chains isn't just a typical tale of helpless peons getting swallowed by an oppressive system. The film, produced by Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Eva Langoria and narrated by Forest Whitaker, highlights the progress that's been achieved. Much of the movie traces the arduous and ultimately triumphant push by Florida's Coalition of Immokalee Workers. After years of organizing, the CIW convinced consumers and companies to pay a "penny-per-pound" premium to tomato pickers and established a code of conduct that bans on-the-job harassment and unpaid labor.

    Since 2011, national brands like Burger King and Subway have signed on to the CIW's Fair Food Program. In January, Walmart joined. And last month, a "Fair Food" label debuted on tomatoes in Whole Foods. Ninety percent of tomato pickers in Florida now benefit from the program. In a state once deemed "ground zero for modern-day slavery," the CIW reports finding no incidents of forced labor since the program's inception. So far, buyers have funneled $15 million into the Fair Food Program through the premium, which shows up as a bonus on each worker's paycheck. "The fact that the CIW was able to create this program in the most hostile environment for farm workers in the US shows me that it's a model," says Rawal. "If it works in Florida, it can work anywhere else."

    Food Chains' underlying message is that foodie-ism must encompass more than just a concern for how dinner looks and tastes. People always ask, "Where was the pig raised? What food did it eat?" says Rawal. It's time to start asking: "What were the conditions of the workers who slaughtered that pig?"

    Sanjay Rawal Courtesy Food Chains

    I caught up with Rawal to discuss the social cost of cheap food and his own connection to where our food comes from.

    Mother Jones: Your dad has a career as a tomato geneticist. Did you guys grow tomatoes?

    Sanjay Rawal: My dad worked for Del Monte and then for Monsanto as one of the chief scientists on the Calgene Flavr Savr Tomato. But it was a huge disaster because the tomato didn't taste good. And then my dad started his own genetics company and I began doing that with him. He and I ran a genetics company for 10 years. And so I sold seeds to Florida.

    MJ: The tomato your dad worked on was all about taste, right?

    SR: Yeah. The Flavr Savr wasn't about taste at all; that was just the name. It was about the shape and the shipability of it. My dad's company was all about flavor. His tomatoes are some of the best selling at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Other people grow them and sell them. My dad was a breeder. Most of his work happened in little test plots and didn't require much labor. He tried growing them for a while, and realized that farming is hard. It's just brutally hard. We didn't have the interest or fortitude to farm.

    MJ: Why do you think you started to pay attention to workers' issues when you did?

    SR: I worked on human rights projects in Haiti, Cameroon, and East Asia, and the bigger ones tended to do with agriculture. My role was to make sure that there was equity that remained at the base of those projects, with the workers. I had a couple of different lives. I had the human rights life, and I had the family business life. I remember being at this tomato seed conference in Fort Meyers, Florida. This was like three months after Barry [Estabrook's] book came out. So I'm reading Tomatoland, and I'm literally 30 minutes away from Immokalee, Florida. It all hit home.

    In Florida, then, and for farm workers for the most part in the US, there's a real sense of economic segregation. In the South, the structures of economic segregation still existed. Now those people are no longer African-American; for the most part, they're Latino. In California, it's different. We saw people sleeping in homeless encampments in Napa Valley and Sonoma. Horrific ones in Watsonville. It's different because you're looking at homelessness and the lack of housing, less than something that's institutionalized.

    MJ: The Immokalee workers are central to the film and their story is so rich. Why did you feel the need to also include voices from all over the country, especially California, for this film?

    SR: Farm work is a very difficult job, no matter what state you're in. California is an important state in the history of farm work because it was the only one that let unions flourish. California is the largest agricultural state in the country, in terms of fresh produce. You can't make a movie about farm labor without including California.

    At the same time, what's happening in Florida is revolutionary. César Chavez and Dolores Huerta spent 20 years building the United Farm Workers. A lot of the progress they achieved has been rolled back slowly. Florida was deemed by one prosecutor from the Department of Justice as "ground zero for modern-day slavery in the United States." Horrific. And this is seven or eight years ago. But the Coalition, with a couple of farmers, and now a lot of farmers, started the Fair Food Program. They've gone from ground-zero for slavery to no slavery. There hasn't been a case of slavery in the last four years since the Fair Food Program's been in action.

    Now, four years into it, they've got data, which showed initially a huge spike in sexual harassment complaints. That meant that, for the first time, people felt like they could complain. And now they're showing a pretty steep decline [in complaints] because the perpetuators of those abuses are now not in the system anymore. The fact that the CIW was able to create this program in the most hostile environment for farm workers in the US shows me that it's a model. If it works in Florida, it can work anywhere else. It's a beautiful thing.

    MJ: How is this Fair Food Program different from past efforts to reform agricultural labor standards?

    SR: California state law is better than any other state law, but no one will say that the enforcement of labor laws in California is up to par with the law itself. There's the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, but that's a code of conduct developed by politicians. In Florida, the code of conduct was written by the farm workers. In Florida, when you harvest tomatoes, you put them in a bucket. And that bucket holds 32 pounds with a flat top. But in the old days they made you "cup" [overfill] the bucket. So you were getting paid for 32 pounds, but you were putting in 35 pounds. And if you didn't cup it, they would throw it back at you. So one of the first things the farm workers said was, 'We don't need to have a single tomato above the rim of the bucket.' There's no way anyone in Tallahassee or Sacramento would have been able to figure that out. But it's critical for the workers.

    MJ: Why do you think the largest grocery store retailers have been slower than fast-food chains and food-service providers to adopt the Fair Food Program?

    SR: Walmart's been the only big one that's signed on and that doesn't even represent a quarter of the whole market. The grocery store business is different. They have a control over the supply chain that no other business is allowed to have legally. It's the concept of "monopsony." There are clear laws to indict a company for monopolistic practices. But a monopsony means you control the supply chain. You control the terms under which you do business. A farm is not a direct employee of, let's say, Kroger. And Kroger might only buy a quarter of that farm's cucumbers. But if that farm wants to have any hope of selling to Kroger, they've got to make sure that every single cucumber meets Kroger's terms. So that means Kroger effectively sets the terms for every single farm that wants to sell to it. That's why when you go to any single store, all the cucumbers look the same. All the tomatoes look the same. This uniformity is key.

    There is a law against monopsonies. And according to one economist in our movie, Shane Hamilton, it's the most confusing law in the entire US. No one can even understand it, much less enforce it.

    MJ: The film focuses on the Publix grocery store chain in Florida, which still hasn't signed on to the Fair Food Program. You mentioned that Publix has never even agreed to speak to the CIW. You have to wonder about the psychology behind refusing to talk to a group of people who have been protesting so long.

    SR: Publix is a private company. It's still owned by the Jenkins family that lives in Central Florida. Corporate cultures are slow to change. In my opinion, one of the hardest things for Walmart to do in joining the Fair Food program was pay the extra penny. It's not because the people that ran the program on the side of Walmart didn't know that it was the right thing to do. But Walmart's philosophy is shave pennies off of everything. Everyone's measured by shaving pennies. You're not taught to add pennies to anything.

    MJ: You navigate some pretty depressing territory in this film. What were some of the moments of light during the shooting process?

    SR: We really struggled with including immigration as a reality on the ground, and not just as a political reality. We were at a camp of workers in Watsonville, and this one guy started talking to us and he spoke really good English. He said, "My wife and I have a chicken farm. You should come see it." He told me about his border crossing—super depressing—but he was like, "My wife is American." I'm thinking, "Yeah, she's Mexican-American." We go to his house, and she's blonde-haired and blue-eyed. It's not your usual story. It wasn't like she had some sympathy towards a certain class of immigrants; it was just love. Their first date, he didn't speak English. If degrees weren't an issue, he could have a very high-level job like doctor or lawyer. He's pouring his energy into organic chicken farming. Hopefully people will go like, "Yeah, he should have a future in this country." His wife said it: "We should feel gratitude towards the people who bring us our food. It's hard work."

    MJ: Why were Napa's vineyard workers a group you wanted to include?

    SR: If we pick on any issue in the film it's inequality. The progressive liberals in Napa just happen to be extremely rich. Their attitudes towards farm workers are more a function of class rather than party. You see multi-million dollar homes ringed by vineyards with people who can't make a living wage and who live far away. There are Mexican farm workers everywhere, Latinos in every restaurant in Napa Valley, but they aren't part of the narrative. It's as if the narrative of Napa Valley wine can't be cheapened by the notion that somebody poor contributed to it.

    That to me is emblematic of the tremendous interest we have in food these days, where we take pictures of it. I was at a screening with Chef Jose Duarte, a well-known chef in Boston, and he was saying that in the six years he's had the restaurant, he's been asked every question: "Where was this pig raised? What kind of food did it eat? Where did this lettuce come from?" Nobody ever asked: "What were the conditions of the workers who slaughtered that pig?" When you look at the pinnacle of foodie culture that drives the foodie networks, that drives the "Top Chefs"—the question isn't being asked. Which is unusual, because Alice Waters and Michael Pollan are passionate about food-worker rights. The elders of the food movement are all about labor, and it hasn't trickled down yet.

    MJ: Did your eating habits change after making this film?

    SR: I've always tried to buy local, and I only occasionally shop at grocery stores. Unfortunately, it's impossible to buy everything certified fair labor. I think I've changed more in terms of attitude: a deeper sense of gratitude. Am I grateful for the food? Will that make me more connected to workers? Yeah, it does. Will it make me more receptive to hear that there are certain programs that workers are doing that I can support? Yeah. The first step is gratitude, as wishy-washy as that seems.

  • 4 Stupid Conservative Arguments Against Net Neutrality, Debunked

    Last week, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas set off a firestorm of ridicule when he took to Twitter in an attempt to mock the concept of net neutrality:

    The comparison, so stupid on so many levels that it isn't worth debunking, is not just an isolated example of partisan idiocy. In recent weeks, Republican operatives have trotted out a steaming heap of similar malarkey in an effort to ward off a popular revolt against the cable industry, which wants to charge big companies such as Google or Netflix for faster internet service while slowing it down for the rest of us. Here are four other ludicrous conservative arguments for why the Federal Communications Commission shouldn't prevent this from happening:

    1. You'll pay more taxes!

    The reality: To prevent broadband companies from discriminating against certain types of internet traffic, President Obama's wants the FCC to regulate them as a public utilities. This is something it already does with telecommunications providers. While it's true that the Communications Act subjects telecoms to a 16 percent service fee—which helps provide phone service to rural communities—this doesn't mean broadband providers would automatically have to pay a similar tax.

    2) Regulating the internet will stifle innovation and job creation.

    The reality: The internet we know and love is already built on the concept of net neutrality. Obama's proposed "regulation" would simply maintain the status quo by preventing monopolistic broadband providers from charging content providers tiered rates for different speeds of internet service. Far from stifling innovation, net neutrality encourages it by allowing startups to compete on the same footing as giants like Google and Facebook. That's why it has overwhelming support among Silicon Valley's "job creators."

    3) Letting big companies hog bandwidth will encourage cable companies to create more bandwidth

    The reality: America ranks 31st in the world (behind Estonia) in its average download speeds. But that's not because we're preventing Comcast from cutting deals. Quite the opposite: Deregulation of the telecommunications industry has allowed Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, and AT&T to divide up markets and put themselves in positions where they face no competition.

    4) It's all a secret plot to hype the risks of global warming

    This claim made by Andy Kessler in a 2006 Weekly Standard story has been making the rounds recently on conservative blogs:

    [T]he answer is not regulations promoting net neutrality. You can already smell the mandates and the loopholes once Congress gets involved. Think special, high-speed priority for campaign commercials or educational videos about global warming. Or roadblocks—like requiring emergency 911 service—to try to kill off free Internet telephone service such as Skype.

    The reality: Regulating broadband providers as utilities does not give the FCC more authority to tell them how to treat specific types of content. In fact, preventing discrimination against certain types of content by ISPs is the whole point. That's why net neutrality is popular with everyone from John Oliver to porn stars.

  • Scientists Want to Make a Malaria-Resistant Mosquito

    Malaria has long bedeviled those who have sought to eradicate it, particularly in Africa. According to the World Health Organization, in 2012, the disease caused an estimated 627,000 deaths—the majority of those were African children. But now scientists are focusing on a promising new line of research: genetically manipulating the mosquitoes that carry the deadly illness.

    On this week's Inquiring Minds podcast, George Church—a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and the author of Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves—described the cutting-edge mosquito research that's taking place at his university in Massachusetts and around the world.

    In the past, scientists have attempted to control certain insect populations in part by irradiating the males, rendering them sterile. But that hasn't worked as well with mosquitoes as it did with other species, such as the Mediterranean fruit fly. Genetic engineering, Church says, offers a new, faster tool to more precisely target and create specific mutations. In June, a team of researchers published a paper in the journal Nature Communications that detailed a method by which mosquitoes were made to produce primarily male offspring. Male mosquitoes feed on plant nectar, not human blood, and thus don't transmit malaria. These mosquitos were shown to be able to interbreed with wild mosquitos (in cages), passing on their genetically engineered traits. Because they produce so few female offspring, whole mosquito populations could simply die off within a few generations.

    And in August, Church and his colleagues published papers in the journals Science and eLife describing how a new genetic engineering procedure called Crispr—a tool borrowed from bacteria that enables much speedier and more precise genetic manipulation—could be used to develop mutations in mosquitoes that could be spread throughout wild populations. One approach, for instance, is to create malaria-resistant mosquitoes, which would then pass the mutation down to subsequent generations. "You don't have to affect that many species or sub-species," said Church, "because not that many different types of mosquitoes carry the most dangerous types of malaria." This technique could also be useful for other insect-borne diseases, such as sleeping sickness, dengue fever, and Lyme disease.

    Church acknowledges that these ideas are controversial, to say the least. In-depth ecological research and detailed mosquito studies will be necessary to understand any potential unforeseen consequences before releasing genetically engineered mosquitoes into the wild. Such studies will evaluate what plants the mosquitoes (or other vectors) pollinate and whether other animals also pollinate the same plants. And they'll look at which fish, amphibians, and birds feed on the mosquitoes, and whether these animals have other food sources. Church hopes that the promise of a new weapon against malaria will motivate funders to support these kinds of studies. "We need to fund these basic ecological studies at a higher level," he says. In addition, the initial attempts to implement this type of malaria-eradication system could take place in a bounded location, such as on an island.

    The technology poses other potential dangers, as well. As Church explains, genetic engineering tools are becoming so easy to use that they're accessible to practically any researcher who wants to utilize them. That's why Church and his colleagues have produced a series of journal articles that focus on precautionary policy components and specific regulations for the technology. "Almost everybody has some species that they don't like," he says. "Maybe it killed someone in their family. It doesn't mean you know immediately what to do with this powerful technology. Even if your goal is to rectify the situation, there are many ways to do it. We just need to be sure that people are thoughtful."

    To hear more from Church on everything from HIV/AIDS research to efforts to engineer an animal that will closely resemble the long-extinct woolly mammoth, listen to Inquiring Minds below:

    Inquiring Minds is a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas. This week's episode was guest-hosted by Cynthia Graber, an award-winning journalist who co-hosts the Gastropod podcast. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. We are also available on Stitcher. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Inquiring Minds was also singled out as one of the "Best of 2013" on iTunes—you can learn more here.

  • 29 Coal Miners Died in a 2010 Explosion. Congress Still Hasn't Fixed the Problem.

    Last week, a federal grand jury indicted former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship for allegedly conspiring to violate mine safety standards in the run-up to the 2010 explosion that killed 29 workers at the Upper Big Branch Mine. The four-count indictment describes a culture of negligence under Blankenship's watch, in which essential safety measures were ignored as the company sought to squeeze every last cent out of the ground. Blankenship, who left Massey in 2010, pleaded not guilty Thursday.

    But the indictment also came as a sobering reminder: In the four years since the disaster, little has been done to make the mining industry safer. Legislation designed to rein in the worst offenders and give regulators teeth was beaten back by big business. Meanwhile, tens of millions of dollars in safety fines have gone uncollected.

    "We've taken some actions after the various accidents that have taken place, but unfortunately, Congress can apparently only legislate in this area after someone dies," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who sponsored mine-safety legislation in the wake of the Upper Big Branch explosion.

    "I've been there after the accidents, I've been standing with many of these politicians—they all pledge they're gonna do something for the families, that they care about the miners. And then everybody goes back to business as usual."

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  • Meet the Fortune 500 Companies Funding the Political Resegregation of America

    Over the past four to five years, the United States has been resegregated—politically. In states where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans and presidential races can be nail-biters, skillful Republican operatives have mounted racially-minded gerrymandering efforts—the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts—that have led to congressional delegations stacked with GOP members and yielded Republican majorities in the state legislatures.

    In North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, to name just three, GOPers have recast state and congressional districts to consolidate black voters into what the political pros call "majority-minority districts" to diminish the influence of these voters. North Carolina is an especially glaring example: GOP-redistricting after the 2010 elections led to half the state's black population—1.1 million people—being corralled into one-fifth of the state legislative and congressional districts. "The districts here take us back to a day of segregation that most of us thought we'd moved away from," State Sen. Dan Blue Jr., who was previously North Carolina's first black House speaker, told the Nation in 2012.

    A major driving force behind this political resegregation is the Republican State Leadership Committee, a deep-pocketed yet under-the-radar group that calls itself the "lead Republican redistricting organization." The RSLC is funded largely by Fortune 500 corporations, including Reynolds American, Las Vegas Sands, Walmart, Devon Energy, Citigroup, AT&T, Pfizer, Altria Group, Honeywell International, Hewlett-Packard. Other heavyweight donors not on the Fortune 500 list include Koch Industries, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the US Chamber of Commerce. At the same time these big-name firms underwrite the RSLC's efforts to dilute the power of black voters, many of them preach the values of diversity and inclusion on their websites and in corporate reports.

    As part of its Redistricting Majority Project—which, tellingly, is nicknamed REDMAP—the RSLC, starting in 2010, poured tens of millions of dollars into legislative races around the country to elect new GOP majorities. Next it provided money and expertise to state officials redrawing political boundary lines to favor the Republican Party—and to shrink the clout of blacks, Hispanics, and other traditionally Democratic voters. Unlike its Democratic equivalent, the RSLC has vast sums at its disposal, spending $30 million during the 2010 elections, $40 million in 2012, and $22 million in 2014.

    Here is a partial list of RSLC donors—how much they donated to the group in the past four years and what they each have had to say about their own efforts to foster diversity. (All the companies on this list did not respond to requests for comment except for Altria Group, Citigroup, and Reynolds American, which declined to comment.)

    Altria Group
    "[W]e foster diversity and inclusion among our workforce, consistent with our leadership responsibilities and core values." (Source)

    "AT&T’s 134-year history of innovation is a story about people from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds coming together to improve the human condition. It is our diversity, coupled with an inclusive culture that welcomes all points of view, which makes us who we are: a great place to work, a desired business partner and a committed member of the communities we serve." (Source)

    Blue Cross/Blue Shield
    "Let's get there together—with one perspective we can go far, with many perspectives we can move beyond all limits. Join an organization that values diversity." (Source)

    "We see diversity as a source of strength." (Source)

    "We recognize, celebrate, and support diversity and inclusion, which is at the very heart of our culture." (Source)

    Devon Energy
    "Devon believes diversity, the collective mixture of similarities and differences of our employees, is a valued asset." (Source)

    Reynolds American
    "Reynolds American and its operating companies have long recognized, valued and enjoyed the many benefits that diversity brings to both our employees and our businesses. Our commitment to diversity is a strong demonstration of the core values that our companies share." (Source)

    US Chamber of Commerce
    "Diversity and inclusion programs can provide valuable resources to recruit and retain a strong employee base that will generate novel ideas." (Source)

    "Diversity has been at the core of our culture since Sam Walton opened our doors in 1962…We can only help our associates, customers and partners live better if we really know them. And that means understanding and respecting differences and being inclusive of all people." (Source)

  • Obama's Executive Action Will Protect 5 Million Undocumented Immigrants

    On Thursday evening, President Barack Obama announced his hotly anticipated executive action on immigration, which will keep nearly 5 million undocumented residents from being deported. Even though the sweeping measure has elicited threats of retaliation from congressional Republicans, Obama said he moved forward because comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely to go anywhere in the GOP-dominated Congress next year.

    "I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty," the president said in his speech. "Well, it's not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today—millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time. That's the real amnesty—leaving this broken system the way it is."

    A year and a half ago, a bipartisan immigration bill passed in the Senate but died in the House. The bill likely had enough Republican and Democratic votes to pass in the House, but Speaker John Boehner, catering to his tea partiers, refused to bring the measure to the floor. If signed into law, the legislation would have provided legal status to about 11 million undocumented immigrants. Here's a look at who benefits most from Obama's executive action—and who has lost out, thanks in part to GOP obstructionism.

    Undocumented parents of children who are US citizens or permanent residents: "Undocumented immigrants…see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart," the president said. "It's been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven't done much about it." His executive action will offer temporary legal status to the undocumented parents of children who are US citizens or permanent residents and allow them to apply for work permits—as long as they have lived in the United States for at least five years, pass a background check, and pay taxes.

    DREAMers: The president's move will broaden the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which had temporarily protected from deportation some 1.2 million young people who were brought into the country illegally as children—as long as they entered the country before June 15, 2007. Now, children who came to the United States before January 1, 2010, will be eligible to apply for deferred-action status. The so-called DREAMers (named after the proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) can apply for employment visas, though there is no direct path for them to lawful permanent residence or citizenship. To the dismay of immigration activists, the executive action does not extend benefits to the hundreds of thousands of parents of DREAMers.

    Families: Often US citizens and legal permanent residents are separated for long stretches of time from family members who are awaiting legal permanent resident status. The executive action will expand a waiver program that will reduce the time these families spend apart.

    Noncriminal undocumented immigrants: Obama's executive action shifts all of the Department of Homeland Security's enforcement resources toward deporting undocumented immigrants who are criminals—instead of deporting undocumented immigrants who pose no such threat. "We're going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security," Obama said. "Felons, not families." The president's order also guts an existing program called Secure Communities, which requires police to share arrestees' fingerprints with federal immigration officials, who can use the information to deport suspects who are here illegally, even if they turn out to be innocent. The program will be replaced with another devoted to deporting only those convicted of criminal offenses.

    Highly skilled workers: Skilled workers who have had their legal permanent resident application approved often wait years to receive their visas. Obama's order will allow these people to move and change jobs more easily.

    Immigrants with pending cases: As part of the president's executive action, the Justice Department will implement immigration court reforms to quickly process the massive backlog of cases.

    Immigrant victims of crime: Obama is directing the Department of Labor to expand the number of visas available for victims of crimes and human trafficking.

    The Border Patrol: Obama's executive action shifts resources to the border, though it doesn't specify how much more money will be flowing to Customs and Border Patrol agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement along the southern border. (The Senate bill would have allotted some $30 billion over 10 years to hiring at least 19,200 extra border patrol agents.)

    Entrepreneurs: The executive action will make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs—who show a potential to create jobs in the United States and attract investment—to immigrate to the US, though there was no mention how the administration will achieve this.

    Undocumented immigrants who have been here since 2011: The failed Senate immigration bill would have allowed immigrants without papers—and their children and spouses—to apply for provisional legal status, if they have been in the United States since the end of 2011. These immigrants could have eventually applied for citizenship.

    Undocumented agricultural workers: Under the Senate bill, undocumented agricultural workers would have been eligible for legal immigrant status if they had worked at least 100 full days between 2010 and 2012. The bill would have created a path to citizenship for these farmworkers.

    Ag workers with papers: The Senate bill would also have created a new temporary work visa called the W visa for farmworkers. The new program would have permitted these laborers to eventually apply for permanent resident status without an employer's sponsorship. Less-skilled non-farmworkers could have also applied for a W visa.

    Other types of legal immigrants: The Senate bill would have set up a new system that would grant visas to up to 250,000 foreigners a year. Foreign nationals would have accumulated points based on their skill level, education, and employment background. The new system would have cleared the current backlog of applicants for family-based or work visas.

    Foreigners attending American universities: More foreigners graduating from American universities in the fields of science, math, and technology would have been able to apply for permanent visas.

    Immigrant detainees: If the Senate bill had okayed by the House, unaccompanied minors, mentally disabled immigrants, and other vulnerable people going through the detention and deportation process would have been granted free legal representation. The bill would have limited the use of solitary confinement in immigrant detention facilities.

  • New York Times Signals More Newsroom Layoffs Are Imminent

    The New York Times indicated today that it's getting close to a round of forced layoffs of its journalists.

    The newsroom-wide email sent Thursday morning, obtained by Mother Jones, details responses to employee questions about a scheduled buyout program from Janet Elder, a deputy executive editor at the company. The email states that, "the most frequently asked question is about scale and whether or not there will be enough buyouts to avoid layoffs. Given that the buyout window is still open, it's hard to have an absolute answer to that question just yet. Early efforts to handicap the outcome regrettably point to having to do some layoffs."

    The email says the buyout window for newsroom employees closes on December 1, 2014. Danielle Rhoades Ha, a director of communications at the New York Times Company, confirmed the email from Elder and said there would be no further information made public at present about the buyout program or layoffs.

    The Times announced a plan in October to cut 100 newsroom jobs starting with a buyout program. Dean Baquet, the executive editor, wrote to staff then that layoffs were possible if not enough volunteers stepped forward: "We hope to meet this number through voluntary buyouts. But if we don’t get there we will be forced to do layoffs.​" At the end of October, the New York Times Company reported lower-than-expected quarterly revenue, and projected a further slowdown in ad sales, according to Reuters.

    The Times had some other bad news for employees who are considering taking a buy-out package: Certain perks are going away, including free access to MoMA. "We've been asked a lot of questions about everything from "Can I keep my laptop?"... to "Does my retiree ID card allow me free access to museums?" (Most of the museums we've asked have said yes except for MoMA.)"

    Rhoades Ha added in response to Mother Jones: "The company supports certain cultural institutions and as a result, employees get discounted entry fees. It's not part of anyone's 'employment package.'"

    The full email is reproduced below:

    Date: Thu, Nov 20, 2014 at 10:01 AM
    Subject: A Note From Janet on Buyouts

    Dear Colleagues,
    The window for voluntary buyouts closes on Monday, Dec.1, at 5 p.m. We've been asked a lot of questions about everything from "Can I keep my laptop?" (it depends, talk to Walt Baranger) to "Does my retiree ID card allow me free access to museums?" (Most of the museums we've asked have said yes except for MoMA.)
    But the most frequently asked question is about scale and whether or not there will be enough buyouts to avoid layoffs. Given that the buyout window is still open, it's hard to have an absolute answer to that question just yet. Early efforts to handicap the outcome regrettably point to having to do some layoffs.
    For the most part, we've been trying to review and either accept or reject voluntary buyout applications as they come in. Not all applications can be approved. Some jobs are too critical to our mission to let go. Many of you may still be contemplating the buyout. If you think it works well for you and your family, we urge you to give it serious consideration.
    It is worth repeating here that if we do go to layoffs, there will not be any taps on the shoulder. Throughout this process, Dean has urged everyone to have a frank conversation with his or her supervisor about whether or not their goals match those of The Times. That's still a good idea.
    If you have any questions in the coming days please do not hesitate to reach out to Dean, Ian, Susan, Matt or me.

    -- Janet

  • Republicans Said China Wouldn't Follow Through on its Climate Pledges. Looks Like They Were Wrong.

    Almost as soon as President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping announced their landmark climate deal last week, there was a torrent of criticism that the pact let China off the hook. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) complained that "the agreement requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years." The argument goes like this: The US committed to deeper, faster cuts than it had before—reducing carbon emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. But under the deal, the Chinese are allowed to spew greenhouse gases unabated, only committing to stop increasing those emissions "around 2030."

    Indeed, exactly how China will begin to "peak" its emissions around 2030 without a legally binding agreement is still an open question. Historically, there's been widespread suspicion about China's intentions on the issue—the country has, after all, been a thorn in the side of international climate negotiations for years. And even the White House appeared to raise an eyebrow at the staggering scale of the cleaner energy sources China would need to install to reach its goals: the non-fossil fuel equivalent of the "total current electricity generation capacity in the United States" over the next 16 years, the White House said.

    But this week, China's leadership has begun to answer that question. According to reports in state-controlled media, China's State Council—essentially its cabinet—unveiled a new cap on annual coal use Wednesday. Under the new targets, China will limit coal consumption to 4.2 billion tons in 2020. That's an increase from 3.75 billion tons last year. But relative to the country's overall energy consumption mix, it's a reduction; last year, coal accounted for around 67 percent of China's energy consumption. Under the new plan, that figure would fall to 62 percent in 2020. The Xinhua report also says that the share of non-fossil fuels will rise to 15 percent by 2020 (from 9.8 percent in 2013)—a significant advance towards the goal of reaching 20 percent by 2030 outlined in the US-China deal.

    While the cap represents a big step politically—coming from the State Council—the new promises are consistent with current trends in China. Many provinces have recently introduced air quality policies that seek to reverse the rapid growth in coal use, according to a Greenpeace report released in April. Twelve of China's 34 provinces, accounting for 44 percent of the country's coal consumption, have already pledged to implement coal control measures, according to the report.

    Twelve Chinese provinces have already pledged to implement coal control measures. Click to view a larger version. Greenpeace.

    This week's announcement is likely to cement China's plans at the very highest levels of government—and it sends a signal to the international community that the country means business. The South China Morning Post reports that the new targets announced this week are likely to make their way into China's official "five year plan"—a kind of economic development master plan that will be formalized next year and will dictate top-down strategy for 2016-2020.

    While the climate benefits are obvious, and global in scope, the drivers behind the high profile announcement are far more domestic. The newspaper quotes Lin Boqiang, director of Xiamen University's China Centre for China Energy Economics Research, as saying the early announcement can be linked to China's desperation to do something about its air quality: "The smog crisis has forced China's government to change its views on the country's energy structure in the past several years. That's why they want to release this blueprint now."

    Environmentalists have cautiously welcomed the plan but are pushing for more. "We think it's definitely a positive sign, in line with what they've said they're going to do," Alvin Lin, an energy expert with Natural Resources Defense Council, told the New York Times. "We'd like to see it a bit lower than that, if you're trying to meet the air pollution and air quality targets that they have set, and if you consider all the other environmental and health impacts of coal and the greenhouse-gas emissions of coal."


Green Facts

  • Americans use 100 million tin and steel cans every day.

  • Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial fleet of airplanes every 3 months

  • A tree that provides a home with shade from the sun can reduce the energy required to run the air conditioner and save an additional 200 to 2,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime.

  • Turning off the tap when brushing your teeth can save as much as 10 gallons a day per person.

  • Recycling 1 million laptop computers can save the amount of energy used by 3,657 homes in the U.S. over the course of a year.

  • Bamboo absorbs 35% more carbon dioxide than equivalent stands of trees.

  • Recycling 100 million cell phones can save enough energy to power 18,500 homes in the U.S. for a year.

  • 77% of people who commute to work by car drive alone.

  • Recycling for one year at Stanford University saved the equivalent of 33,913 trees and the need for 636 tons of iron ore, coal, and limestone.

  • One recycled aluminum can will save enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours, a computer for 3 hours, or a TV for 2 hours.

  • Rainforests are being cut down at the rate of 100 acres per minute.

  • A steel mill using recycled scrap reduces related water pollution, air pollution, and mining wastes by about 70%.

  • Washing your clothes in cold or warm instead of hot water saves 500 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, and drying your clothes on a clothesline six months out of the year would save another 700 pounds.

  • A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to 2,000,000 gallons of fresh water.

  • Nudge your thermostat up two degrees in the summer and down two degrees in the winter to prevent 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

  • Less than 1% of electricity in the United States is generated from solar power.

  • Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year.

  • For every 38,000 bills consumers pay online instead of by mail, 5,058 pounds of greenhouse gases are avoided and two tons of trees are preserved.

  • Due to tiger poaching, habitat destruction, and other human-tiger conflicts, tigers now number around 3,200a decrease in population by about 70% from 100 years ago.

  • Current sea ice levels are at least 47% lower than they were in 1979.

  • American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year.

  • The World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people die prematurely worldwide every year due to air pollution.

  • In California homes, about 10% of energy usage is related to TVs, DVRs, cable and satellite boxes, and DVD players.

  • Shaving 10 miles off of your weekly driving pattern can eliminate about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

  • Glass can be recycled over and over again without ever wearing down.

  • It takes 6,000,000 trees to make 1 year's worth of tissues for the world.

  • An aluminum can that is thrown away instead of recycled will still be a can 500 years from now!

  • Americans throw away more than 120 million cell phones each year, which contribute 60,000 tons of waste to landfills annually.

  • Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy used to make the material from scratch.

  • If every U.S. household turned the thermostat down by 10 degrees for seven hours each night during the cold months, and seven hours each weekday, it would prevent nearly gas emissions.

  • States with bottle deposit laws have 35-40% less litter by volume.

  • Every week about 20 species of plants and animals become extinct.

  • In the United States, automobiles produce over 20 percent of total carbon emissions. Walk or bike and you'll save one pound of carbon for every mile you travel.

  • You will save 100 pounds of carbon for each incandescent bulb that you replace with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL), over the life of the bulb.

  • A laptop consumes five times less electricity than a desktop computer.

  • Youll save two pounds of carbon for every 20 glass bottles that you recycle.

  • 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from burning fossil fuels.

  • You will save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive if you always keep your cars tires fully inflated.

  • Refrigerators built in 1975 used 4 times more energy than current models.