Why China Is Running Circles Around America

A highway interchange in Yanan, China. (David Leo Veksler / CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Ellen Brown (truthdig.com)

“One Belt, One Road,” China’s $1 trillion infrastructure initiative, is a massive undertaking involving highways, pipelines, transmission lines, ports, power stations, fiber optics and railroads connecting China to Central Asia, Europe and Africa. According to Dan Slane, a former adviser in President Trump’s transition team, “It is the largest infrastructure project initiated by one nation in the history of the world and is designed to enable China to become the dominant economic power in the world.” In a Jan. 29 article titled “Trump’s Plan a Recipe for Failure, Former Infrastructure Advisor Says,” he added, “If we don’t get our act together very soon, we should all be brushing up on our Mandarin.”

On Feb. 12, Trump’s own infrastructure initiative was finally unveiled. Perhaps intending to trump China’s $1 trillion megaproject, the administration has now upped the ante from $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion, or at least that’s how the initiative is billed. But as Donald Cohen observes in The American Prospect, it’s really only $200 billion, the sole sum that is to come from federal funding. And it’s not even that after factoring in the billions in tax cuts in infrastructure-related projects. The rest of the $1.5 trillion is to come from cities, states and private investors, and because city and state coffers are depleted, that chiefly means private investors. The focus of the administration’s plan is on public-private partnerships, which, as Slane notes, are not suitable for many of the most critical infrastructure projects, because they lack the sort of ongoing funding stream—such as a toll or fee—that would attract private investors. Public-private partnerships also drive up costs, compared with financing through municipal bonds.

In any case, as Naked Capitalism blogger Yves Smith observes, private equity firms are not much interested in public assets, and to the extent that they are, they are more interested in privatizing existing infrastructure than in funding the new development that is at the heart of the president’s plan. Moreover, local officials and businessmen are now leery of privatization deals. They know that the price of quick cash is to be bled dry with user charges and profit guarantees.

The White House says its initiative is not a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, but the start of a negotiation, and that the president is “open to new sources of funding.” But no one in Congress seems to have a viable proposal. Perhaps it is time to look more closely at how China does it.

China’s Secret Funding Source

While American politicians argue endlessly about where to find the money, China has been forging full steam ahead with its megaprojects. A case in point is its 12,000 miles of high-speed rail, built in a mere decade, as American politicians were still trying to fund much more modest rail projects. The money largely came from loans from China’s state-owned banks. The country’s five largest banks are majority-owned by the central government, and they lend principally to large, state-owned enterprises.

Where do the banks get the money? Basically, they print it. Not directly. Not obviously. But as the Bank of England has acknowledged, banks do not merely recycle existing deposits but actually create the money they lend by writing it into their borrowers’ deposit accounts. Incoming deposits are needed to balance the books, but at some point these deposits originated in the deposit accounts of other banks. Because the Chinese government owns most of the country’s banks, it can aim this funding fire hose at its most pressing national needs.

China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, issues money for infrastructure in an even more direct way. It has turned to an innovative form of quantitative easing, in which liquidity is directed not at propping up the biggest banks but at surgical strikes into the most productive sectors of the economy. Citigroup chief economist Willem Buiter calls this “qualitative easing” to distinguish it from the quantitative easing engaged in by Western central banks. According to a 2014 Wall Street Journal article:

In China’s context, such so-called qualitative easing happens when the People’s Bank of China adds riskier assets to its balance sheet—such as by relending to the agriculture sector and small businesses and offering cheap loans for low-return infrastructure projects—while maintaining a normal pace of balance-sheet expansion [loan creation]. …

The purpose of China’s qualitative easing is to provide affordable financing to select sectors, and it reflects Beijing’s intention to dictate interest rates for some sectors, Citigroup’s economists said. They added that while such a policy would also put inflationary pressure on the economy, the impact is less pronounced than the U.S.-style quantitative easing.

Among the targets of these surgical strikes with central bank financing is the One Belt, One Road initiative. According to a 2015 Bloomberg article:

Instead of turning the liquidity sprinkler on full-throttle for the whole garden, the PBOC is aiming its hose at specific parts. The latest innovations include plans to bolster the market for local government bonds and the recapitalisation of policy banks so they can boost lending to government-favoured projects. …

Policymakers have sought to bolster credit for small and medium-sized enterprises, and borrowers supporting the goals of the communist leadership, such as the One Belt, One Road initiative developing infrastructure along China’s old Silk Road trade routes.

‘Nonperforming Loans’ or ‘Helicopter Money’?

Critics say China has a dangerously high debt-to-gross domestic product ratio and a “bad debt” problem, meaning its banks have too many “nonperforming” loans. But according to financial research strategist Chen Zhao in a Harvard University study titled “China: A Bullish Case,” these factors are being misinterpreted and need not be cause for alarm. China has a high debt-to-GDP ratio because most Chinese businesses are funded through loans rather than through the stock market, as in the U.S., and China’s banks are able to engage in massive lending because the Chinese chiefly save their money in banks rather than investing it in the stock market, providing the deposit base to back this extensive lending. As for China’s public “debt,” most of it is money created on bank balance sheets for economic stimulus. Zhao writes:

During the 2008-09 financial crisis, the U.S. government deficit shot up to about 10 percent of GDP due to bail-out programs like the TARP. In contrast, the Chinese government deficit during that period didn’t change much. However, Chinese bank loan growth shot up to 40 percent while loan growth in the U.S. collapsed. These contrasting pictures suggest that most of China’s four trillion RMB [RMB refers to renminbi, the official currency of the People’s Republic of China] stimulus package was carried out by its state-owned banks. … The so-called “bad debt problem” is effectively a consequence of Beijing’s fiscal projects and thus should be treated as such.

China calls this government bank financing “lending,” rather than “money printing,” but the effect is very similar to what European central bankers are calling “helicopter money” for infrastructure—central bank-generated money that does not need to be repaid. If the Chinese loans get repaid, great; but if they don’t, it’s not considered a problem. Like helicopter money, the nonperforming loans merely leave extra money circulating in the marketplace, creating the extra “demand” needed to fill the gap between GDP and consumer purchasing power, something that is particularly necessary in an economy that is contracting due to shrinking global markets following the 2008-09 crisis.

In an article last December in the Financial Times, titled “Stop Worrying about Chinese Debt, a Crisis Is Not Brewing,” Zhao expanded on these concepts, writing:

[S]o-called credit risk in China is, in fact, sovereign risk. The Chinese government often relies on bank credit to finance government stimulus programmes. … China’s sovereign risk is extremely low. Importantly, the balance sheets of the Chinese state-owned banks, the government and the People’s Bank of China are all interconnected. Under these circumstances, a debt crisis in China is almost impossible.

Chinese state-owned banks are not going to need a Wall Street-style bailout from the government. They are the government, and the Chinese government has a massive global account surplus. It is not going bankrupt any time soon.

What about the risk of inflation? As noted by the Citigroup economists, Chinese-style qualitative easing is actually less inflationary than the bank-focused quantitative easing engaged in by Western central banks. And Western-style quantitative easing has barely succeeded in reaching the Fed’s 2 percent inflation target. For 2017, the Chinese inflation rate was a modest 1.8 percent.

What to Do When Congress Won’t Act

Rather than regarding China as a national security threat and putting our resources into rebuilding our military defenses, we might get further ahead by studying its successful economic policies and adapting them to rebuild our own crumbling roads and bridges before it is too late. The U.S. government could set up a national infrastructure bank that lends just as China’s big public banks do, or the Federal Reserve could do qualitative easing for infrastructure as the People’s Bank of China does. The main roadblock to those solutions seems to be political. They would kill the privatization cash cow of the vested interests calling the shots behind the scenes.

What alternatives are left for cash-strapped state and local governments? Unlike the Fed, they cannot issue money directly, but they can establish their own banks. Fifty percent of the cost of infrastructure is financing, so having their own banks would allow them to cut the cost of infrastructure nearly in half. The savings on infrastructure projects with an income stream could then be used to fund those critically necessary projects that lack an income stream.

For a model, they can look to the century-old Bank of North Dakota (BND), currently the nation’s only publicly owned depository bank. The BND makes 2 percent loans to local communities for infrastructure, far below the 12 percent average sought by private equity firms. Yet, as noted in a 2014 Wall Street Journal article, the BND is more profitable than Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. Before submitting to exploitation by public-private partnerships, state and local governments would do well to give the BND model further study.

Thomas Piketty says Bernie Sanders’ electoral strategy is the way to beat back the right

New paper explores how both parties were captured by the “elite,” leaving a politically rudderless underclass

KEITH A. SPENCER 03.27.2018 (salon.com)

In a new paper, French political economist Thomas Piketty, author of the bestselling 2013 book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” argues that Western political parties on the right and left have both become parties of the “elites.”

Yet the 65-page paper from the notoriously punctilious economist — titled “Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict” — is more surprising for the lessons it has for the political left in the Western world. Indeed, the left-populist wing of Western political parties, including the American progressive movement restarted by Bernie Sanders, has reason to celebrate: Piketty’s paper aligns with their somewhat counterintuitive strategy that shifting the Democratic Party platform more to the left is actually a winning electoral strategy that can help bring back disenfranchised working-class voters and less educated voters who currently may not vote at all or identify with right-wing populism.

“Using post-electoral surveys from France, Britain and the US, this paper documents a striking long-run evolution in the structure of political cleavages,” Piketty writes in the abstract. He goes on to explain the political changes that have happened since the 1950s and 1960s, when “the vote for left-wing (socialist-labour-democratic) parties was associated with lower education and lower income voters” — in other words, the Labour Party of the United Kingdom, the Socialist Party of France and the Democratic Party of the United States were considered parties that supported and helped destitute and less-well-educated voters.

Yet over time, those parties, Piketty explains, “gradually become associated with higher education voters,” which he describes as creating a system of “multiple-elite” parties where “high-education elites now vote for the ‘left,’ while high-income/high-wealth elites still vote for the ‘right’ (though less and less so).” In other words, both sides of the spectrum became parties of the elite, with no party for less educated folks or the working class.

Piketty argues that this situation “contributes to rising inequality and lack of democratic response to it,” as well as the rise of populists like Trump, Marine Le Pen in France and Nigel Farage in Britain. “Without a strong egalitarian-internationalist platform, it is difficult to unite low- education, low-income voters from all origins within the same party,” he writes.

If the Democratic Party was wise, it might see Piketty’s paper as a chance to improve its electoral strategy. Indeed, the Democratic Party seems to be locked in a battle for its own soul, a fight long-presaged that erupted during the 2016 presidential primary. In one corner sits the Clintonite corporate wing of the party, who believe that the key to Democratic Party strategy is to move to the center in order to pick up moderate conservatives voters who feel left behind by the Republican Party’s far-right shift.

This was Clinton’s strategy to a T: in her election campaign, she bragged about her connections to Henry Kissinger and her support from billionaire Republicans like former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, while being famously dismissive of social democratic policies like single-payer health care.

In the other corner there are those who argue that the Democratic Party will win more voters if it appeals explicitly to class interests and concerns. As Steve Phillips wrote in a Times op-ed last year:

If Democrats had stemmed the defections of white voters to the Libertarian or Green Parties, they would have won Michigan and Wisconsin, and had they also inspired African-Americans in Pennsylvania, Mrs. Clinton would be president.

If progressive whites are defecting because they are uninspired by Democrats, moving further to the right will only deepen their disillusionment.

This “go left” strategy hints at what Piketty calls the “class-based party system” that dominated Western democracies in the 1950s and 1960s. In those decades, “lower class voters from the different dimensions (lower education voters, lower income voters, etc.) tend[ed] to vote for the same party or coalition, while upper and middle class voters from the different dimensions tend[ed] to vote for the other party or coalition.”

Similar as the Democratic factions may seem to the right, which seem unable to distinguish a liberal billionaire like Warren Buffett from a “communist,” they represent radically different positions and have different constituencies. The Clintonite coalition tended to rely on pandering to identity groups and a sort of vague multiculturalism that posited that billionaires, corporations and the poor could live in some kind of perfect harmony, even though the former rely on the exploitation of the latter to exist.

Critics like Phillips argue that Clinton and her DNC lackeys failed to grasp that her milquetoast liberalism lacked a comprehensible ideology: There were no scapegoats, and “America was already great,” in Clinton’s words. Those words appeared tone-deaf to the millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet, who sought a scapegoat and heard a more sensible explanation for their woes from Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, the strategy of Bernie Sanders — mirrored in other left organizing groups in the United States that seek to push the Democratic Party to the left, including Our Revolution and Democratic Socialists of America — is to offer a more serious material analysis of the underpinnings of oppression and suffering in the United States and to scapegoat income inequality caused by an unjust economic system propped up by the elite. Sanders and his counterparts overseas, particularly U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, offer that aforementioned “strong egalitarian-internationalist platform” that has the potential to “unite low-education, low-income voters from all origins,” as Piketty describes.

Though Sanders came up short in the primaries, he was vindicated in the aftermath of the general election in several ways: First, many of the Rust Belt states that Trump carried — states Hillary Clinton had banked on winning — were won by Sanders in the primary, including Michigan and Wisconsin. Second, post-election studies suggested that had Sanders been the Democratic nominee, he would have defeated Trump by a wide margin. Third, Sanders remains the most popular politician in the United States, despite an ongoing bile-spitting campaign orchestrated by Democratic insiders like Sally Albright (who called Sanders “racist” for proposing free college) or Peter Daou (who blames Sanders for Clinton’s loss). Finally, Clinton’s victory was aided considerably by a corrupt party apparatus that was already in the bag for Clinton, as former interim DNC chair Donna Brazile has described.

For Berniecrats, democratic socialists and those even further left, there’s much to love in Piketty’s paper. His conclusion, one echoed by the Sanders wing of the Democratic party, is essentially that ostensibly “left” parties — e.g. the Democrats in the United States, Labour in the U.K. or the Socialist Party in France — have lost the constituencies they once supported and now appeal to the elite, leaving a vast underclass politically unrepresented and rudderless. Piketty is giving them a rudder, if the parties can seize it.

KEITH A. SPENCER

Keith A. Spencer is a cover editor at Salon who writes about the politics of science, technology and culture. Follow him on Twitter at @_kaspencer.

Berkeley Occupation Update

First they came for the homeless

March 28, 2018

9th circuit Federal Judge Alsup came, he saw the camps, he left. I will update, if possible. His instructions were that neither camp be notified. The visit was not a surprise to me, but it was to the camps.

The judge saw our reality. He saw no preparation for his visit. We succeed or fail, based on the model, and the homeless that are participating.

My fingers are crossed.

–Mike Zint

Santiago Siri: “Crypto Politics: Beyond the Nation-state” | Blockstack Berlin 2018

Throughout the world, we are seeing a decline in democracy. China’s 🇨🇳 Xi Jinping has named himself president for life. In Russia 🇷🇺, Vladimir Putin runs unopposed while state employees vote at multiple polling stations to swell voter turnout statistics. In Spain 🇪🇸, five Catalan leaders are jailed. In Venezuela 🇻🇪, hyperinflation of more than six thousand percent spurs thousands of starving citizens daily across the border to Colombia 🇨🇴 in search of food and crucial medicines.

  

Replace the State with Bitcoin
Despite this dark picture, there is hope, as Santi Siri points out in his hugely popular appearance at the at BlockstackBerlin 🇩🇪 conference earlier this month.  Bitcoin blockchain technology already offers people a way to fight back against the rampant corruption at the core of democracy’s demise. It enables people in developing nations with corrupt governments and fraudulent banking practices to not be held captive to a tyrannical reality – to fight back by opting out. In this sense, Bitcoin is already saving lives. 

But there are also grave challenges. None other than Edward Snowden sounded a clear warning to the world’s leading blockchain developers gathered in Berlin: any technology or innovation that humans are able to create will end up being abused by corrupt actors.  At this writing, powerful, energy-rich nations including Turkey 🇹🇷 and Iran 🇮🇷 are announcing plans for Initial Country Offerings. Venezuela was the first to launch a cryptocurrency – the Petro – and has demonstrated how a state can enact a systematic plan to attack Bitcoin miners and violently appropriate their technology to retain its iron grip on a catastrophically failing economy and the helpless citizens trapped within it.

     

Cryptopolitics
Democracy Earth coined the phrase cryptopolitics because as an organization and movement we are sitting at the intersection of technology and politics.  We believe that blockchain as a censorship-resistant technology that is borderless and can reach any place in the world, can act as a liberating force for communities that need it the most.  The kind of default transparency and permissionless accountability blockchains bring to any organization – even nonprofits like Democracy Earth Foundation – is how governments should be run. It is the promise of democracy made real. 

Token Sale Update
Democracy Earth will hold a token sale in 2Q 2018.  If you are an accredited investor interested in the pre-sale, there is still time to participate – just click the button below to visit our ICO website and download the SAFT (Simple Agreement For Tokens) for review. Investor accreditation is verified by CoinList.  Though SEC regulations prohibit investors from New York or China from participating in the pre-sale, the public sale will be open to all investors, globally.  Join the DEF Telegram channel to stay updated on token sale details and Q&A with the founders.

Democracy Earth Ambassadors
We have recently announced our new Ambassador in Brazil 🇧🇷, Diogo Busse, who will stand for election for Brazil’s House of Representatives as a liquid democracy “Trojan Horse” candidate. In May we will have four more candidates for the City Council of Birmingham, organized by our UK Ambassador Sunny Sangha through his People Power Brum initiative. 

After launching this past December, we have brought the Democracy Earth Ambassadors program up to full speed, announcing Ambassadors in Brazil 🇧🇷Thailand 🇹🇭Sri Lanka 🇱🇰, andEngland 🇬🇧.  The response to our call for Ambassadors has been truly overwhelming! We are continuing to process applications from the US 🇺🇸, Belgium 🇧🇪, Mexico 🇲🇽, Australia 🇦🇺, Costa Rica 🇨🇷, Panama 🇵🇦, Israel 🇮🇱, Uruguay 🇺🇾, Netherlands 🇳🇱, and Wales and will formally re-open the application process at Ambassadors.Democracy.Earth in the second quarter.

More Ambassador activity:

  • Watch Ambassador Sunny Sangha interviewed on television here 
  • Due to strong demand among university students, we will launch later this year a branch of the program that will build our movement on college campuses. Stay tuned!

Social, Community, Media

  • We launched our Meet The Team interview series on Medium, where the most recent post turns the spotlight on the Democracy Earth Embassies director, Paula Berman
  • Venezuelan-born developer Eduardo Medina talks about the challenges facing his countrymen and the promise blockchain-based democracy holds for their future in this Tales From The Crypt podcast 🎧
  • Our Ambassador in SriLanka writes compellingly about the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal triggering a national emergency social media shutdown in this article How Facebook is Killing Sri Lankan Democracy in Hacktivism
  • Democracy Earth community contributor Avital Balwit published this fascinating article for the Virginia Review of Politics, Democracy Decentralized; How Blockchain Voting Will Revolutionize Government  
  • Pressed for time? Santi Siri gives a tightly-packed 20 minute overview of presentations made earlier this month at the BlockstackBerlin and Fast Forward Accelerate Good events on thisDemocracy Salon podcast 🎧

Thank you for reading, and thank you as always for being part of the Democracy Earth community!
🌎

Santiago Siri
Founder & President

Democracy Earth Foundation
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit in San Francisco, California.
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After the shooting November 11, 2011 Emily Palen


Brian Castellani

Published on Dec 7, 2011

Occupy Oakland November 11, 2011, Emily Palen, “the day we witnessed the shooting”

November 11th, 2011 Occupy Oakland Shooting.

Emily Palen #OO supporter and musician. Emily plays violin professionally for event’s, for yoga teachers and yoga studios, art openings, and also in downtown San Francisco. She has been a part of Occupy Oakland since day one of the encampment. The day was particularly moving for the both of us, and her violin added an analog depth to the situation.

Occupy Oakland November 11, 2011, Emily Palen, Occupy Oakland, OccupYOGA, “the day we witnessed the shooting,” analog

How Australia All But Ended Gun Violence

By CLIFTON LEAF  (fortune.com)

February 20, 2018

On April 28, 1996, a 28-year-old man named Martin Bryant drove his yellow Volvo to a popular tourist spot in Port Arthur, Australia, a former penal colony on the island state of Tasmania, and opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon. Before the day was through, he had shot dead 35 people and wounded 18 others. Twelve of those deaths came at the Broad Arrow Café, where Bryant first ate lunch and then sprayed bullets with his Colt AR-15 SP1, which he had stowed in a tennis bag. At the gift shop next door, he murdered eight more people. Later, he shot a young mother running away with her two children—all three at close range.

He was a loner, with a clean-shaven face and wavy blond hair. His IQ was said to be 66. By all accounts, he was a terrible shot. But with the weapons he carried—the AR-15 and a second, self-loading military-style rifle—aim was almost immaterial. The SP1 could fire several rounds per second with little recoil. Pointing the gun at a crowd of tourists, it was hard not to hit somebody.

If all this sounds too horrifically familiar—an estranged loner, an AR-15, dozens dead in a matter of minutes—there is a remarkable twist to the story. In the wake of the Port Arthur massacre, Australian lawmakers did something about it.

Within just weeks of that tragedy, elected officials in each of Australia’s six states and two mainland territories—pressed forward by police chiefs across the continent and by the then-newly elected prime minister—banned semi-automatic and other military-style weapons across the country. The federal government of Australia prohibited their import, and lawmakers introduced a generous nationwide gun buyback program, funded with a Medicare tax, to encourage Australians to freely give up their assault-style weapons. Amazingly, many of them did. (Simon Chapman, an emeritus professor in public health at the University of Sydney, and an influential proponent of the original firearms legislation, has a very good summary here. You can also read his free ebook here.)

A land of roughneck pioneers and outback settlers, Australia had never embraced much government regulation and certainly not about their guns. This was a land of almost cartoonish toughness and self-reliance, home of Crocodile Dundee and Australian rules football. Here even the kangaroos box. But Port Arthur had followed too many prior deadly shooting sprees and Australians were clearly sick to death of them.

So what happened after the assault-weapon ban? Well therein lies the other half of the story twist noted above: Nothing.

Nothing, that is, in a good way.

Australian independence didn’t end. Tyranny didn’t come. Australians still hunted and explored and big-wave surfed to their hearts’ content. Their economy didn’t crash; Invaders never arrived. Violence, in many forms, went down across the country, not up. Somehow, lawmakers on either side of the gun debate managed to get along and legislate.

As for mass killings, there were no more. Not one in the past 22 years.

In 2002, a mentally impaired student at Monash University in Melbourne shot two people dead and injured five others. He came to his rampage with six handguns, not an assault rifle. Had he been carrying an AR-15, the toll would have been far worse. But even so, Australian lawmakers added a new National Handgun Agreement, a separate buyback act, and a reformulated gun trafficking policy to their legislative arsenal.

There has been no similar shooting spree since.

But it wasn’t just the murderous rampages that faded away. Gun violence in general declined over the following two decades to a nearly unimaginable degree. In 2014, the latest year for which final statistics are available, Australia’s murder rate fell to less than 1 killing per 100,000 people—a murder rate one-fifth the size of America’s.

Just 32 of those homicides—in a nation of 24 million people—were committed with guns. By comparison, more than 500 people were shot dead last year in the city of Chicago alone. (Chicago has about 2.7 million residents.)

Perhaps most remarkable is what happened with gun suicides in Australia in the wake of the post-Port Arthur firearm legislation. They dropped by some 80 percent, according to one analysis.

What stopped many of those would-be suicides—quite straightforwardly, it seems—was the lack of access to a gun, a generally immediate and effective method of killing. (Nine out of 10 suicide attempts with a firearm result in death, a far higher share than attempts by other methods.) Public health experts call such an effect “means restriction.” Some Australians found other ways to take their own lives—but for many, that acute moment of sadness and resolve passed in the absence of a gun.

Suicide “is commonly an impulsive act by a vulnerable individual,” explain E. Michael Lewiecki and Sara A. Miller in the American Journal of Public Health. “The impulsivity of suicide provides opportunities to reduce the risk of suicide by restricting access to lethal means.”

Which brings us back to the here and now. In 2015, an unthinkable 22,103 Americans shot themselves to death with a gun (see Table I-21)—accounting for just over half of the suicides in the country that year.

It isn’t hard to imagine what would happen without all those guns at the ready. In a world of raging hypotheticals, we actually have some good, hard answers for this. All we have to do is look down under. There are millions of American families begging us to do it.

Democracy Now! March For Our Lives Special Broadcast


Democracy Now! was on the ground broadcasting live from the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C. on March 24, 2018, a historic event created, inspired and led by students. The four-hour special program featured the voices of students and people of all ages who converged on the capital and over 800 other cities around the world to demand action on gun control.

Trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Has Quadrupled, Maybe Even 16-upled

Trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Has Quadrupled, Maybe Even 16-upled
A whopping 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic are afloat in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Credit: The Ocean Cleanup Foundation

This story was updated March 22 at 2:44 p.m. EDT.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is getting denser. The enormous plastic soup floating in the vast North Pacific spans more than 617,000 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers), and its density is now between four and 16 times greater than previous estimates, scientists have found.

Researchers made the discovery by looking at the accumulation of plastic trash in the Pacific between California and Hawaii. They found that the patch has more than 87,000 tons (79,000 metric tons) of plastic in it. That equates to 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, or roughly 250 pieces for every person on the planet, the researchers said.

Moreover, the concentration of tiny pieces of plastic, known as microplastics, has exponentially increased since the 1970s, like a person adding more pulp to a glass of orange juice. In the 1970s, the patch housed 2.28 lbs. of plastic per square mile (0.4 kilograms per square kilometer), but by 2015, that number had grown to 7.02 lbs. of plastic per square mile (1.23 kg per square km), the researchers found. [In Images: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch]

The researchers also looked at the size of the plastics in the water. While debris larger than 2 inches (5 centimeters) across accounted for more than 75 percent of the total weight of the plastics, there were far more microplastics, which represented the majority of the 1.8 trillion pieces inside the patch, said Laurent Lebreton, the lead researcher of the Ocean Cleanup Foundation and the lead author of the study. The foundation aims to develop technologies that can extract the plastic from the garbage patch.

This floating garbage was too big to fit into the Manta Trawl, which was used to sample trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
This floating garbage was too big to fit into the Manta Trawl, which was used to sample trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Credit: The Ocean Cleanup Foundation

 

Plastic pollution in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is more severe than expected,” Lebreton told Live Science in an email, adding that the study results “are alarming and support the urgency of the situation and the necessity to take action rapidly.”

The Ocean Cleanup was founded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat in 2013, when he was just 18 years old. The new study was paid for, in part, by a crowdfunding campaign in 2014 that raised more than $2 million, according to Slat, who is the study’s second author.

In addition to thanking their donors, the researchers also tipped their hats to Taylor Swift, a fisherman who helped construct the mega nets used during the first expedition and deployed onboard the RV Ocean Starr. Funnily enough, Swift owns the Taylor Swift gmail address, and “regularly receives love (and hate) letters in his mailbox,” for the singer, Lebreton said.

Once the foundation had the money and equipment, its scientists conducted reconnaissance missions into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between 2015 and 2016 to get a more accurate picture of the plastic out there, Lebreton said. These missions included 652 net tows carried out by 18 vessels, as well as a reconnaissance trip on a C-130 Hercules aircraft

The RV Ocean Starr trawled two devices that allowed the team to sample medium-to-large objects in the Pacific Ocean area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The RV Ocean Starr trawled two devices that allowed the team to sample medium-to-large objects in the Pacific Ocean area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Credit: The Ocean Cleanup Foundation

 

After collecting water samples, “we also carried out laboratory experiments to quantify, characterize and understand physical properties of buoyant plastic collected at sea,” Lebreton said. “Finally, we developed a numerical model to supplement our field data, allowing us to provide more insights on the patch’s dynamics and composition.” [Infographic: Take a Tour from the Tallest Mountain to the Deepest Ocean Trench]

The results showed that plastics made up 99.9 percent of the debris in the patch. Fishing nets accounted for at least 46 percent of the plastic, the researchers found. Smaller items had broken into fragments, but researchers still managed to identify quite a few objects, including containers, bottles, lids, packaging straps and ropes. Fifty items even had discernable dates, including one from 1977, seven from the 1980s, 17 from the 1990s, 24 from the 2000s and one from 2010.

“Debris were predominantly made of hard, thick polyethylene and polypropylene fragments and derelict fishing gear,” Lebreton said.

The plastic in the patch comes from both land and marine sources, as well as from the 2011 Tohoku tsunami that hit Japan.

Discarded fishing gear (ghost nets) floats in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Discarded fishing gear (ghost nets) floats in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Credit: The Ocean Cleanup Foundation

 

“On land, implementing better waste management practices and diverting consumption away from single-use plastics [such as water bottles] may help stem the tide of plastic at sea in the coming years,” Lebreton said. “In the ocean, developing better technologies for the fishing and aquaculture industries to retrieve lost gear may also help mitigate the problem.”

These plastics can harm marine life, which can get tangled up in the debris. Animals can even chow down on small bits of trash, which can lead to starvation because the plastic takes up room in their stomachs but offers no nutritional value. The plastics can also contaminate the animals with persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which were found in 84 percent of the ocean plastic collected by the trawls, Lebreton said.

The fact that the garbage patch is growing is also supported by research coming out soon by Capt. Charles Moore, who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997.

He noted that the large disparity in the density of the patch now compared with previous estimates — that is, four to 16 times higher than previously thought — is due to different methods researchers have used to calculate the patch’s innards in the past. Some researchers have looked at larger pieces of plastic, which led them to underestimate the density of the patch, he said. In contrast, others measured as many plastic bits as possible, especially the microplastic pieces, which gave a more realistic view of the patch’s magnitude, said Moore, who was not involved with the new study.

Despite these differences, the key point is that research shows the patch is getting denser as time marches on. “We are destroying [the oceans] with our trash,” Moore told Live Science.

The study was published online today (March 22) in the journal Scientific Reports.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify that the garbage patch is getting denser, not larger in size.

Original article on Live Science.

The Gun Control Debate: What Debate?

By focusing on the love and care that we have for one another, we can bring about real change.

Activist and poet Johnny Soto paints a sign to be carried at the upcoming March for Our Lives Los Angeles on March 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. More than 500,000 are expected to march for gun control at rallies nationwide on March 24. The marches have been organized by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed in a mass shooting February 14. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

 

Too often, when you raise the issue of guns in this country, it sparks highly divisive rhetoric with both sides drawing lines in the sand and pointing their arrows at each other. Caught in the middle, we see the faces and hear the voices of children who’ve witnessed the slaughter of their friends and teachers and who are crying out for action. The question is, will we hear them? Will we care enough to do something about it?

Horrific tragedies like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School just over one month ago is something that touches every one of us, regardless of political party or ideology. Sadly, it is something that could happen to any community, family, or school. This is why it’s so important that the humanity and aloha (respect and care) that unites us all must come to the forefront of our dialogue as we try to prevent these tragedies from ever occurring again.

On February 14th, 17 lives were lost in Parkland when a former classmate brought an AR-15 to school and opened fire on the students and teachers. He used a weapon that he had purchased legally – but he shouldn’t have been able to.

There have been more shootings since that day, and there will be more in the coming weeks and years if we don’t come together and find solutions. Survivors and allies across the country have gathered in a show of solidarity, calling for change – to do whatever possible to prevent more of these horrific tragedies from occurring and taking innocent lives. They have organized country-wide protests and walk-outs, and on March 24th thousands will march on Washington and at marches across the country. We are proud to stand with these courageous young people today and every day.

But Congress has yet to act.

The majority of people across this country believe that we need to pass common sense gun safety legislation. A Gallup poll found that two thirds (67%) of Americans feel that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict; A Quinnipiac University poll found that over six in ten Americans (63%) support stricter gun laws in the United States; And a CNN poll found that seven-in-ten Americans (69%) favor stricter gun control laws.

There are a number of legislative actions that have been proposed but have yet to see the light of day on the House floor. Passing this legislation would be a step in the right direction to protecting our kids and innocent people across this country:

Restrict Access to Assault Weapons

Assault weapons have been, by far,the most used weapon in mass shootings in recent history. They are used for a number of reasons: they are easy to acquire, and they aredesigned to kill a lot of people in a short amount of time. The shooter who killed 59 people in Las Vegas on October 1st last yearused a semi-automatic gun modified with a bump stock, turning it into an automatic rifle. The 19-year-old shooter who killed 17 people at his former school on February 14th of this yearused an AR-15, a semi-automatic weapon.

The fact assault weapons are so frequently used to kill enormous numbers of people in this country, and that bump stocks are not illegal, are issues that we must address. AQuinnipiac University poll found that six in ten Americans (61%) support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, and an NPR-Ipsos poll found that 82% support banning bump stocks.

Restrict Access to High Capacity Ammunition Magazines

High-capacity ammunition magazines are frequently used by mass shooters in the United States.The Giffords Law Center explains that “shooters with such magazines can fire at large numbers of people without taking the time to reload, those in the line of fire do not have a chance to escape, law enforcement does not have the chance to intervene, and the number of lives shattered by senseless acts of gun violence increases dramatically.”

“Despite the public’s lack of trust in Congress, the American public has not given up hope that change can happen.”

A majority of Americans believe that access to these high-capacity ammunition magazines should be banned. A CNN poll found that over six-in-ten (63%) Americans favor a ban on the sale and possession of equipment known as high-capacity or extended ammunition magazines. A Quinnipiac University poll similarly found that over six in ten (63%) of Americans support a nationwide ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Increase Legal Age to Buy A Gun

In America, licensed firearm dealers are allowed to sell a gun to an18-year old, before a bartender is legally allowed to sell that person an alcoholic drink or before they are able to rent a car. To make matters worse, unlicensed persons are legally allowed to sell, deliver, or otherwise transfer a long gun (rifles and shotguns) to a person of any age. This irony is not lost on Americans, causing a vast majority of respondents to believe that the legal age to buy a gun should be increased to 21. ACNN poll found that seven-in-ten (71%) Americans favor preventing people under the age of 21 from buying any type of gun, while aQuinnipiac University poll found that almost 8-in-10 (78%) of Americans support requiring individuals to be 21 years of age or older in order to purchase a gun.

Universal Background Checks

Currently, there is a gaping loophole in federal firearm laws regarding background checks.   While federal laws require licensed gun dealers to perform background checks, federal law does not require unlicensed sellers (like private sellers, and those who sell online and at gun shows) to run background checks. According to theGiffords Law Center, “A 2017 study estimated that 42% of US gun owners acquired their most recent firearm without a background check.” This allows people who might otherwise have been prevented from accessing a gun, to easily acquire one.

In addition,The Washington Post reported in 2017 that “The FBI’s background-check system is missing millions of records of criminal convictions, mental illness diagnoses and other flags that would keep guns out of potentially dangerous hands.” In addition to requiring universal background checks, we must make sure that the database is complete and those who should be flagged, are. For example, I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation to close a loophole that has allowed those who’ve been convicted of domestic violence charges to purchase firearms.

AMonmouth University poll found that over eight-in-ten (83%) Americans support requiring comprehensive background checks for all gun purchasers. AQuinnipiac University poll found that almost all Americans (97%) support requiring background checks for all gun buyers.

While a majority of Americans want the government to implement many of these common-sense gun safety measures, they don’t have much hope that Congress will take action.  Three quarters of Americans (75%) think that Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence, while only 17% think Congress is doing enough. This disapproval is not relegated to one party.A majority of Americans disapprove of how both Republicans (70%) and Democrats (70%) are handling the issue of gun violence. Mass shootings including those at Sandy Hook, the Pulse nightclub, and the Las Vegas concert, each a devastating demonstration of inhumanity of gun violence, resulted in no significant legislation.

“This is not and should not be a partisan or divisive issue.”

The American people’s lack of faith in the ability of Congress to pass common-sense gun control measures is, unfortunately, founded in reality. Instead of discussing and passing many of these common-sense and favored ways to mitigate gun violence in America, some politicians are talking about arming teachers and bringing more guns into schools. This defies reason. On March 13th of this year, ateacher accidentally fired a gun in a classroom and injured a student, demonstrating the increased possibility of accidents throughout the country if this were made universal. For this and other reasons, almost six in ten (58%) Americans oppose allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns on school grounds.

Despite the public’s lack of trust in Congress, the American public has not given up hope that change can happen.77% of Americans think that the students from Parkland, Florida, who are speaking out about the shooting at their high school and the issue of gun violence, will have an impact on gun safety reform in this country.

Here is the bottom line: Congress needs to act now, and pass legislation to help improve our gun safety laws. And law enforcement must enforce those laws. The shooter in Parkland was flagged by numerous people who had concerns about what was clearly a serious mental illness, and even made reports to the FBI.  The FBI failed to act, and no one has been held accountable. Local law enforcement failed to act quickly to take out the shooter when responding to the scene. Passing these laws is imperative, but such action is useless unless these laws are implemented and enforced.

This is not and should not be a partisan or divisive issue. People on all sides of this debate felt pain and sadness as our nation mourned the loss of those 17 lives in Parkland. The only way we can really solve the problems is by recognizing that we are all Americans, and we all want safe communities–a place where we can raise our families, where our children aren’t faced with the fear of a shooting when they go to school every day.  We must stop demonizing each other, and instead respect each other’s humanity, and work together to find common ground. It is up to each and every one of us to choose whether we will act in love and light or darkness and hate. By focusing on the love and care that we have for one another, we can bring about real change.

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