1

EU Urged to Go Further to Save Trash-Filled Waters With New Proposed Plastics Ban

The European Union on Monday unveiled a proposal to ban 10 common single-use plastics, including chip bags. (Photo: Ingrid Taylar/Flickr/cc)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

In a move welcomed by conservationists, the executive arm of the European Union (EU) on Monday proposed a ban on 10 common single-use plastics that, together with fishing gear, account for about 70 percent of marine litter across Europe.

The European Commission’s ban would apply to bags; balloons and balloon sticks; chips and candy wrappers; cigarette butts; cotton buds; cups and lids; cutlery, straws, and stirrers; drink bottles; food containers; and sanitary applications.

“The only way to stop plastics pouring into our oceans is to turn off the flow at its source: production.”
—Lasse Gustavsson,
Oceana Europe

The plastics proposal was widely embraced by conservation campaigners, though they challenged European leaders to go further.

“The only way to stop plastics pouring into our oceans is to turn off the flow at its source: production. By reducing the amount of unnecessary plastic we produce, we can make a real difference to the global marine litter crisis,” Oceana Europe executive director Lasse Gustavsson said in a statement.

While applauding the step, Gustavsson emphasized that the ban should “stretch to all single-use plastic products throughout the European Union,” explaining that “the plastics problem is not only on our beaches. Oceana has discovered plastic litter in the depths of our deep blue seas.”

The European Commission estimates that if implemented, the measure would save consumers €6.5 billion and prevent 3.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions as well as €22 billion in other environmental damage by 2030.

The new rules would be applied differently for each product, aim to make it competitive for European companies to produce sustainable alternatives, and would be implemented as EU leaders work to finalize existing policies to address plastic fishing gear, which accounts for more than a quarter of beach litter across Europe.

The proposal still needs the approval of the 28 member states plus the European Parliament. The European Commission on Monday urged the EU’s other institutions to “treat this as a priority file, and to deliver tangible results for Europeans before the elections in May 2019.”

“This Commission promised to be big on the big issues and leave the rest to member states,” said the EU’s First Vice President Frans Timmermans. “Plastic waste is undeniably a big issue and Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem, because plastic waste ends up in our air, our soil, our oceans, and in our food.”

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




As New Privacy Rules Hit Europe, Google and Facebook Hit With $8.8 Billion in Lawsuits

Austrian attorney and privacy activist Max Schrems has filed complaints against Google, Facebook, and two Facebook affiliates for forcing users to consent to sharing their private data.

By Jake Johnson & Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

Accusing Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, and Instagram of “intentionally” violating Europe’s strict new privacy rules that officially went into effect on Friday, Austrian lawyer and privacy activist Max Schrems filed four lawsuits against the tech companies arguing they are still “coercing users into sharing personal data” despite rolling out new policies ostensibly aimed at complying with the new regulations.

Titled the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the new rules require companies to explicitly and clearly request consent from users before mining their data, and Schrems argues in his complaints—which seek fines totaling $8.8 billion—that Google, Facebook, and the Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp are still utilizing “forced consent” strategies to extract users’ data when “the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service,” TechCrunch explains.

“It’s simple: Anything strictly necessary for a service does not need consent boxes anymore. For everything else users must have a real choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” Schrems wrote in a statement. “Facebook has even blocked accounts of users who have not given consent. In the end users only had the choice to delete the account or hit the ‘agree’-button—that’s not a free choice.”

While Facebook—which is currently embroiled in international controversy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal—insists that its new policies are in compliance with Europe’s new regulatory framework, Schrems argues that Facebook and Google aren’t even attempting to follow the new law.

“They totally know that it’s going to be a violation, they don’t even try to hide it,” Schrems told the Financial Times.

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




Billionaire NFL Owners Rebuked for Announcing Fines for Teams If Players #TakeAKnee

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

National Football League (NFL) team owners were widely rebuked Wednesday for a new policy to penalize professional football teams whose players exercise their right to protest after athletes across the league locked armsraised fists, or knelt during the national anthem the past two seasons to support a movement against racial injustice started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“If NFL owners actually knew what they were doing, they wouldn’t be having these Hamlet-esque meetings about how to clamp down on protest and would instead merely assert the basic truth: that players hold the right to protest, and fans should respect that right.”
—Dave Zirin, The Nation

“A club will be fined by the league if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem,” according to policy statement released by the NFL on Wednesday.

Commissioner Roger Goodell added that “personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has been performed.”

No NFL owners have come out in opposition to the move, but 49ers owner Jed York reportedly abstained from voting for the new policy, which also allows individual teams to craft additional rules, and was strongly condemned by football fans and civil libertarians alike.

https://twitter.com/Russian_Starr/status/999334769229008896?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.commondreams.org%2Fnews%2F2018%2F05%2F23%2Fbillionaire-nfl-owners-rebuked-announcing-fines-teams-if-players-takeaknee&tfw_creator=commondreams&tfw_site=commondreams

https://twitter.com/NutmegRadio/status/999334876984872960?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.commondreams.org%2Fnews%2F2018%2F05%2F23%2Fbillionaire-nfl-owners-rebuked-announcing-fines-teams-if-players-takeaknee&tfw_creator=commondreams&tfw_site=commondreams

The policy announcement came after Sports Illustrated reported that at a private meeting on Tuesday, owners who oppose the player protests proposed issuing 15-yard penalties against teams whose players kneel. Critics called that plan “utterly absurd,” “industrial-strength stupid,” and “PATHETIC.”

The Nation‘s sports editor, Dave Zirin, called it “among the worst ideas in the history of the National Football League,” writing Wednesday that “one can only imagine an official saying, ‘Exercising of constitutional rights. On the kicking team. 15 yard penalty. First down.'”

In addition to a First Amendment right to peacefullly protest, as Zirin explained, “NFL players have had the space to protest during the anthem not out of the noblesse obligeof ownership but because it is enshrined in the collective bargaining agreement with the union.”

George Atallah of the league’s players association, NFLPA, had said on Twitter that the labor group was not a part of the Tuesday discussion, and after the official announcement on Wednesday, the NFLPA issued a statement reiterating that “the NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy.'”

In its statement, the NFPLA also praised NFL players for showing “their patriotism through…protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about,” and vowed to “review the new ‘policy’ and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.”

“The idea that some owners would even propose this without speaking to the union is a sign of how drastically out of touch this group of aged billionaires are from the players in their league,” Zirin concluded. “If NFL owners actually knew what they were doing, they wouldn’t be having these Hamlet-esque meetings about how to clamp down on protest and would instead merely assert the basic truth: that players hold the right to protest, and fans should respect that right.”

This post has been updated to reflect that the 49ers owner abstained from voting for the policy, according to ESPN, and to include comments from the ACLU.

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




In ‘Huge Win for Pollinators, People, and the Planet,’ EU Bans Bee-Killing Pesticides

The European Union on Friday voted to ban agricultural pesticides that are harmful to bees and which scientists have warned could have a broader impact on the global food chain. (Photo: Dejan Hudoletnjak/Flickr/cc)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

Faced with mounting scientific evidence that bee-poisoning neonicotinoids, or neonics, could cause an “ecological armageddon,” European regulators on Friday approved a “groundbreaking” and “historic” ban on the widely-used class of pesticides—an announcement met with immediate applause by campaigners.

“The E.U.’s groundbreaking ban on bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides is a huge win for pollinators, people, and the planet,” responded Tiffany Finck-Haynes, senior food futures campaigner for Friends of the Earth (FOE).

Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program, said it’s also a win for “science-based regulation of pesticides.”

Under the new rules, which build on existing restrictions and are expected to take effect by the end of the year, three main neonics—imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam—will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses “where no contact with bees is expected,” according to a statement by the European Union (EU).

Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner for health and food safety, welcomed the move, which follows a February assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that concluded “most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides represent a risk to wild bees and honeybees.”

“Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production, and the environment,” Andriukaitis told the Guardian.

The vote was widely praised by the many environmental advocates who have spent years fighting for an outright ban on the use of neonics—a position that has been met with protests from major agricultural groups and lobbyists for pesticide manufacturers.

“Authorizing neonicotinoids during a quarter of a century was a mistake and led to an environmental disaster. Today’s vote is historic,” declared Martin Dermine of Pesticide Action Network Europe.

“A majority of member states gave a clear signal that our agriculture needs transition,” Dermine added. “Using bee-killing pesticides cannot be allowed anymore and only sustainable practices should be used to produce our food.”

While celebrating their victory in Europe, critics of neonics also used the news to draw attention to alarming developments at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the era of President Donald Trump.

“The E.U.’s wisdom highlights the Trump EPA’s folly,” noted Burd. “Although U.S. beekeepers reported catastrophic losses again this winter, and just this past week the EPA closed a comment period on another suite of damning neonicotinoid risk assessments, rather than banning these dangerous pesticides, the agency is actually considering increasing the use of neonics across another 165 million acres.”

Instead, Finck-Haynes said, U.S. regulators and food retailers should “take immediate action and eliminate the use of these toxic pesticides.”

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




“#PoorPeoplesCampaign: A National Call for Moral Revival” Kicks Off 40 Days of ‘Moral Action’

The Poor People’s Campaign held events on Monday in more than two dozen states and Washington, D.C. (Photo: Poor People’s Campaign)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

In Washington, D.C. and more than two dozen states across the country on Monday, supporters of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival gathered to kick off 40 days of “moral action” to highlight “the human impact of policies which promote systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and environmental devastation.”

Led by co-chairs Rev. Dr. William J. Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis—and inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s original Poor People’s Campaign in the late 1960s—the campaign, which was announced last year, livestreamed a press conference from D.C. and delivered to lawmakers a letter outlining their demands for policy changes.

Watch:

Barber, in a series of tweets, denounced rampant voter supression, systemic poverty, a lack of living wages, ecological devastation, and “Christian nationalism,” emphasizing an urgent need for sweeping changes in public policy on a national scale.

“We are tired of a dog-eat-dog system of life,” declared Rev. Saeed Richardson, director of policy for the Chicago Renewal Society.

“We are witnessing an assault on the poor, on immigrants, on black and brown people, and on the Earth,” said Rev. Joan Javier-Duval in Vermont, “and we can’t let it happen any longer.”

“This is about fighting injustice anywhere so that we don’t let ourselves lose the vision of what America can be,” noted Diana Martinez of the pro-immigrant Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance. “Because when racism and nativism become the rule of law it hurts all of us.”

Participants from events across the U.S. shared on social media messages, photos, and videos depicting the goals of the #PoorPeoplesCampaign:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




Denouncing ‘FCC’s Dangerous Ruling,’ Cuomo Signs Order to Protect Net Neutrality in New York

The Federal Communications Commission’s move to roll back net neutrality has led to nationwide protests. (Photo: Maria Merkulova/Free Press/Flickr/cc)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

In response to a recent move by the Republican-controlled FCC to roll back net neutrality, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order on Wednesday to make New York the second state this week to ensure the consumer protections.

Paired with action taken by Montana on Monday, the orders to preserve net neutrality are being celebrated by free speech and consumer protection advocates, who have mounted a national movement against the FCC ruling, which critics warn enables internet service providers (ISPs) to choose to slow down or block access to certain content.

Cuomo’s executive order (pdf) unequivocally states that in order to receive a state contract, ISPs cannot “block, throttle, or prioritize internet content or applications or require that end users pay different or higher rates to access specific types of content or applications.” Similar to the order signed by Montana’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, the Cuomo order attempts to work around a preemption in the FCC repeal that aims to prevent states from enacting their own net neutrality rules.

“The FCC’s dangerous ruling goes against the core values of our democracy, and New York will do everything in our power to protect net neutrality and the free exchange of ideas,” Cuomo vowed in a statement. “With this executive order, we reaffirm our commitment to freedom and democracy and help ensure that the internet remains free and open to all.”

Cuomo’s order declares, “the internet is an essential service that should be available to all New Yorkers,” and “the free exchange of information, including the ability to access the content of their choosing secured with net neutrality protections is expected and relied upon by all New Yorkers.”

It also chastizes the FCC for opting “to do away with free and open internet protections in order to satisfy corporate interests that are not aligned with those of New Yorkers,” and outlines ways the internet is often utilized by businesses, students, educational institutions, state employees, and residents who are accessing government services or seeking to stay in touch with friends and family.

While Cuomo’s order attempts to maintain net neutrality protections for residents of his state, New York’s elected officials are also involved in efforts to fight the FCC at the federal level. Last week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced he is leading a coalition of attorneys general from 21 states and D.C. who have filed a lawsuit to challenge the FCC ruling.

While welcoming all efforts to thwart the FCC, open internet advocates continue to argue the best path to ensure net neutrality protections is to nullify the agency’s rule changes, which Congress can do by passing a Congressional Review Act resolution.

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




US Strikes Major Blow to Renewable Energy With 30% Tariff on Imported Solar Panels

© Zero Mass Water

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

Dealing a serious blow to the U.S. solar industry and despite protests from experts and a national trade group, President Donald Trump has approved a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panel materials.

“With Americans in Puerto Rico and Houston still struggling to recover from climate disasters, Trump should be supporting renewable energy rather than making it more costly.”
—Howard Crystal, CBD
Responding to recommendations from the U.S. International Trade Commission, which was lobbied by two foreign-owned U.S.-based companies that argued they couldn’t compete with cheap materials from Asia, Trump on Monday authorized (pdf) a 30 percent tariff on solar cells and modules that will drop by 5 percent annually over the next four years.

U.S. solar companies, environmentalists, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) decried the “reckless decision” that they warned, in the government’s effort to “keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat,” will not only further endanger the planet but also “create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs.”

“President Trump says his intention is to save jobs, but the specifics show this decision is a job killer,” said John Rogers, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Tens of thousands of jobs in the solar sector could be stamped out, and it could hurt momentum at a time when we need to massively ramp up clean energy to reduce carbon emissions.”

“If Trump really wants to put America first, he should reduce our reliance on polluting energy sources that fuel climate change,” declared Howard Crystal, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “With Americans in Puerto Rico and Houston still struggling to recover from climate disasters, Trump should be supporting renewable energy rather than making it more costly.”

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




22 States File Suit to ‘Stop the FFC’s Illegal Rollback of Net Neutrality’

The Federal Communication Commission’s December decision to roll back net neutrality rules provoked widespread protests. (Photo: Tim Carter/Flickr/cc)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

A coalition of 22 state attorneys general came together on Tuesday to keep their promise to file a lawsuit challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent move to roll back net neutrality consumer protections.

“The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers—allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online.”
—Eric Schneiderman, New York Attorney General

Last month, the FCC—led by industry insider Ajit Paivoted along party lines to repeal rules that banned internet service providers from charging more for or blocking access to particular content.

Leading this latest effort “to stop the FCC’s illegal rollback of net neutrality” is New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who said in a statement, “An open internet—and the free exchange of ideas it allows—is critical to our democratic process.”

“The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers—allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online,” Schneiderman added. “This would be a disaster for New York consumers and businesses, and for everyone who cares about a free and open internet.”

The other attorneys general who joined Schneiderman in filing the suit represent California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

Their petition (pdf) claims the FCC order rolling back net neutrality protections “is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion” under the Administrative Procedure Act; violates the U.S. Constitution and the Communications Act of 1934; and “conflicts with the notice-and-rulemaking requirements” established by federal law.

The lawsuit comes as federal lawmakers, led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), are working to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to pass a “resolution of disapproval” that would overrule the FCC order. In response to intense public pressure, Democrats have slowly signed on to the legislation, which is now reportedly only one Republican vote shy of the simple majority support that’s required to pass the proposal.

The legislation would also need to be voted on by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) on Tuesday shared the names of 81 members of the House who have pledged their support for the proposal so far, and vowed to continue seeking co-sponsors.

“There’s overwhelming public support for preserving net neutrality, so it’s no surprise that there’s strong support in Congress as well,” Doyle said. “I’m confident that if there’s enough public pressure, Congress will overturn the FCC’s order killing net neutrality.”

Public opposition to the FCC decision is widespread and defies party lines. A poll publishedlast month, just as the FCC was repealing the consumer protections, revealed more than 80 percent of Americans—75 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Democrats, and 86 percent of Independents—opposed Pai’s plan to roll back net neutrality rules.

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




‘This Is Not a Drill’: Attorney General Sessions Coming for Nation’s Legalized Pot

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will reportedly rescind the policy that has enabled states to make their own rules about marijuana use. (Photo: Valerio “Dokka” D’Introno/flickr/cc)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

On the heels of a California law legalizing recreational marijuana use, which took effect Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is planning to rescind the federal policy that has enabled Americans to grow, sell, and use cannabis in places where it has been legalized, without federal intervention, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

“The move will leave it to U.S. attorneys where pot is legal to decide whether to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law,” the AP noted, a move that will likely “add to confusion about whether it’s OK to grow, buy, or use marijuana in states where it’s legal, since long-standing federal law prohibits it.” The report cited anonymous sources with knowledge of the decision.

“RED ALERT!” the Drug Policy Alliance tweeted in response to the report. “This is not a drill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going after legalized marijuana.”

In California—which was the first state to legalize medical marijuana—state officials have, according to the Los Angeles Times, “issued dozens of permits for retailers to begin recreational sales this week, expanding a market that is expected to grow to $7 billion annually by 2020.”

California is the sixth state to introduce the sale of recreational cannabis, following Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. In response to ballot measures from the 2016 election, Maine and Massachusetts are expected to start sales later this year—despite protest from state leaders like Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who in November vetoed a law that would have regulated the state’s marijuana sales.

Several states have passed legislation or ballot measures to relax statewide policies of marijuana use for medicinal and, increasingly, recreational purposes. The Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbies in favor of cannabis-friendly laws, tracks the state-by-state rules on its website:

Marijuana laws by state

Sessions is a long-time opponent of the nationwide push to legalize the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. Journalist and former lawyer Glenn Greenwald used the news to offer the analysis that “Conservatives’ self-professed belief in federalism was always a huge fraud,” tweeting:

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




Shouting #StoptheFCC, Net Neutrality Defenders Target Lawmakers and Verizon Nationwide

Protesters demonstrated outside Verizon stores across the country on Thursday, Dec. 7 to denounce the plan by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to turn over control of the internet to major service providers. (Photo: shauna gm/Twitter)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

With the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) slated to vote on Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to kill net neutrality on Dec. 14, open internet advocates and free press groups participated in planned protests on Thursday at congressional offices and more than 700 Verizon stores in all 50 states, plus D.C.


Ahead of the day of action, BattlefortheNet.com, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, and Free Press Action Fund partnered to launch a website featuring an interactive map to help supporters locate demonstrations in their area as well as a three-page guide for organizing protests

Protesters are targeting Verizon because Pai is a former lobbyist for the company, which has—along with major internet service providers (ISPs) Comcast and AT&T—invested heavily in pressuring lawmakers to support policies that benefit telecom companies at the expense of consumers.

Despite the ongoing lobbying efforts, those who have helped organize the demonstrations remain hopeful that widespread outrage over Pai’s plan could push members of Congress to take action to protect net neutrality.

“Under Pai’s leadership the FCC has made a mockery of our democratic process,” said Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer. “With a rogue FCC commissioner blatantly captured by the industry he is supposed to provide oversight for, Congress must do their job and take action to stop the FCC vote on Dec. 14.”

“Despite the outpouring of support for net neutrality, the three men who make up the FCC’s majority remain determined to ignore the democratic process and take away the rights of internet users,” said Free Press Action Fund field director Mary Alice Crim, referring to the FCC’s three Republican commissioners.

However, she also noted that “the outcry from beyond the Beltway is beginning to change many minds in Washington,” and “phones are ringing off the hook on Capitol Hill as people take to the streets to put the public need for an open internet before the demands of Verizon lobbyists.”

“One thing is certain,” Crim concluded, “Chairman Pai won’t have the last word on net neutrality.”

Although the future of internet regulation has been a hot-button issue since President Donald Trump appointed Pai, an industry insider, to lead the FCC, the action on the ground has intensified in recent weeks, with an official vote to roll back consumer protections—and “destroy the internet as we know it“—scheduled for next week.

“As the past two weeks have shown, people reject the ongoing love affair between hated internet service providers and D.C. policymakers,” said Demand Progress communications director Mark Stanley. “Democrats and Republicans alike are willing to take action against any threat to Net Neutrality rules that protect our online rights.”

A Civis Analytics poll (pdf) released in July found that 77 percent of Americans—73 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats, and 76 percent of Independents—are in favor of keeping the FCC’s open internet rules, and 81 percent “agree that ISPs should not be able to block or throttle websites, or charge extra for preferred access to consumers.”

Demonstrators are sharing scenes from Thursday’s protests on social media with the hashtags #StoptheFCC and #NetNeutrality. Participants toted signs with messages such as “Democracy is a free internet” and “All I want for Christmas is net neutrality.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




As Support Grows for Ban on Killer Robots, Viral ‘Slaughterbots’ Video Warns of Threat to Humans

The short film shows small, autonomous drones target and kill lawmakers and college students who advocate for human rights. (Photo: “Slaughterbots”/Screenshot)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

As support grew last week for a ban on killer robots during the first formal United Nations talks about imposing limits on lethal autonomous weapons systems, artificial intelligence experts and advocacy groups released a viral video depicting what a future could look like with small and affordable drones that murder targets without any meaningful human control.

“This short film is more than just speculation; it shows the results of integrating and miniaturizing technologies that we already have,” warns Stuart Russell, a computer science professor at UC Berkeley, near the end of the video.

AI’s “potential to benefit humanity is enormous, even in defense, but allowing machines to choose to kill humans will be devastating to our security and freedom. Thousands of my fellow researchers agree,” Russell continues. “But the window to act is closing fast.”

Watch:

The film was created to raise support for a global ban on killer robots, which has developed out of urgent warnings from human rights organizationsadvocacy groupsmilitary leaderslawmakerstech experts, and engineers, including Stephen Hawking and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Russell and the Future of Life Institute screened the video in Geneva, Switzerland last week at an event hosted by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, in an effort to increase pressure on the group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems who were gathered for a week-long meeting organized by the U.N. Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).

When the talks concluded Friday, representatives established a final report calling for future discussions about the mounting threat of killer robots. Campaign for Killer Robots expressed disappointment with the report, but celebrated new support for banning these types of weapons. During the talks, three countries—Brazil, Iraq, and Uganda—joined the list (pdf) of 22 nations that are demanding an outright ban.

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




Jubilation as Australians Vote in Favor of Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

Celebrations broke out across Australia on Wednesday after the Bureau of Statistics announced more than 60 percent of the nation’s citizens voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Now, it is up to the Australian Parliament to sort out the details.

“The Australian people have spoken,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. “Now, the Australian government and parliament should end this period of political indecisiveness and adopt marriage equality legislation immediately. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Australians have been waiting for a long time for marriage equality, and now is the time to deliver.”

Nearly 80 percent of Australia’s eligible voters participated in the voluntary national postal survey, which simply asked: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Every state and territory in the country voted “yes,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who called the vote “unequivocal” and “overwhelming,” said nationwide marriage equality should be legal before Christmas—challenging lawmakers to “get on with it and get this done.”

“Turnbull, same-sex marriage supporters in Australia’s ruling Liberal-National party Coalition, the Labor opposition, Greens, and other cross-bench parties have reached a consensus around a cross-party bill that makes minimalist changes to protect religious freedom without legalizing discrimination by commercial service providers, such as cake makers, as some conservatives in the Coalition government have demanded,” the Guardianreports.

The bill will be introduced in the Senate on Wednesday and debated on Thursday. Ultimately, the measure is expected to pass, with many lawmakers who oppose marriage equality promising to respect the survey results. The Australian government amended the Marriage Act to ban same-sex marriage in 2004.

Despite the widespread jubilation, some pointed to the nearly 40 percent of voters who oppose marriage equality as a warning that there is much more work to be done to improve the lives of LGBTQ Australians.

In an op-ed published Wednesday by The Independent, Amrou Al-Kadhi wrote:

As I scrolled through the jubilant trends on Twitter this morning, it was this 40 percent that stopped me from partaking in the joy. For this 40 percent is an indication of something much larger than a population’s view on marriage legislation—it is an indication that for a huge proportion of people, the LGBTQI+ community is unequal to them. And this, not the ability to get married, is what we should be addressing.

The ecstatic cheers around the world, in truth, rang a little hollow for me. For I fear that the online echoes of triumph mute the social realizations that actually, things are not that equal for LGBTQI+ people. As a queer person of color who struggles with anxiety and depression, “marriage equality” isn’t that exciting a victory for me. Constant homophobia and racism throughout my life—and living in a society that systemically isolates queer people and people of color—has led to my lifelong battle with mental health.

“For many people in our communities, the legalization of marriage will not have meaningful effect,” Al-Kadhi concluded. “What would, is legislative efforts to make mental health services more readily available for LGBTQI+ people, further strategies to eradicate bullying in school, and meaningful resources to advocate for trans rights.”

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




‘Cruel’, ‘Ruthless’, ‘Morally Bankrupt’: Collective Outrage After Federal Agents Stop 10-Year-Old Girl With Cerebral Palsy From Getting Emergency Surgery

Rosamaria Hernandez, an undocumented 10-year-old with cerebral palsy, is in federal custody after federal agents stopped an ambluance that taking her to a hospital for emergency surgery. (Photo: The Independent/courtesty of family)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

“Morally bankrupt & unspeakably cruel.” “Ruthless & relentless.” “Disgusting.” “Trump’s deportation force in action.”

This was just a sampling of the outraged reactions after reports revealed a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy, who came to the United States when she was just three months old, is at risk for deportation after her immigration status was discovered at a border patrol checkpoint while an ambulance was transporting her to a Texas children’s hospital for emergency surgery.

Rosamaria Hernandez was reportedly sent to a San Antonio government facility for detaining undocumented children on Wednesday, after she was discharged from Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, where federal agents stood guard at her door as the child recovered from gallbladder surgery.

“Detaining a undocumented child is disgusting and cruel. It’s not about national security, it’s racism from Trump and his deportation agents.”
—Cristina Jimenez, United We Dream
The immigrant advocacy group Dream Activist has circulated a petition in support of Hernandez, noting that agents at the hospital told the girl’s family members “she has two options; sign voluntary departure or spend up to 3 weeks in detention.”

Hernandez was transported to the hospital from Laredo, a town near the U.S.-Mexico border nearly 150 miles away, early Tuesday morning. The girl’s mother, who is also undocumented, told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times she was accompanied in the ambulance by her cousin, who is a U.S. citizen.

The family’s attorneys have requested that federal agents release Hernandez to her family members who are U.S. citizens, but California-based immigration attorney Alex Galvez, who is coordinating with an associate in San Antonio, told the Caller-Times that the Department of Homeland Security will conduct a home study before determining whether to release her.

Galvez said her case is strong because she is not a flight risk or a threat, she could be released to U.S. citizens, and she has a disability, but also noted that the detention will be difficult for Hernandez because “the child has never been apart from her mom.”

However, agents expressed flight risk concerns while Hernandez was being treated. The Independent reports:

Citing flight-risk concerns for a young girl with a degenerative muscle disease, agents involved themselves in every step of the medical process, according to the family’s lawyer. During surgery, agents were nearby. In follow up medical procedures, agents were in the room. They eventually allowed for the hospital room door to be closed only after the lawyer showed up and argued attorney-client confidentiality—a discussion between attorney and Border Patrol agent that took over half an hour to resolve.

Leticia Gonzalez, the San Antonio attorney, noted that it remains unclear when Hernandez will be allowed to see her mother, but following the surgery, “That was the child’s only request… she wants to see her mom.”

The government has stood by its decision to put the young girl into deportation proceedings, and released a statement before Hernandez was reportedly transferred to the San Antonio facility:

The Laredo Sector Border Patrol is committed to enforcing the immigration laws of this nation. Travelers that present themselves for immigration inspections at our checkpoints are inspected thoroughly and expeditiously…

Due to the juvenile’s medical condition, Border Patrol agents escorted her and her cousin to a Corpus Christi hospital where she could receive appropriate medical care. Per the immigration laws of the United States, once medically cleared she will be processed accordingly.

However, the case has been scrutinized by immigrant rights advocates, politicians, and members of the public.

Mohammad Abdollahi, an undocumented immigrant and activist for the group Dream Activist, told The Independent the incident could discourage other undocumented individuals from seeking medical care in fear of being targeted by border patrol agents.

“Practically speaking, on the ground, I think that the message is being heard from the community,” Abdollahi said. “I’ve heard of a couple cases where people have already made those decisions. In this instance, it was an emergency procedure that needed to happen so the family wasn’t really left with a choice.”

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) said in a statement to the Caller-Times, “Border Patrol’s time would be better spent if they focused their resources on drug traffickers and human smuggling.”

“The situation with Rosamaria Hernandez is not uncommon in South Texas or along the Texas-Mexico border,” the senator added. “What is uncommon, is the Border Patrol or Immigration Customs Enforcement taking such an interest in a case involving a 10-year-old girl requiring immediate medical attention.”

Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and other have weighed in on Twitter as Hernandez’s case has made national headlines, spurring a broader discussion about the Trump administration’s immigration policies:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




Electric Cars and Surging Solar Spell Market Doom for Fossil Fuels

The cost of solar energy technology is expected to fall within the next decade, giving a boost to the industry. (Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation/flickr/cc)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

As an increasing number of nations make plans for banning gas and diesel vehicles within the coming decades, and drivers gain an awareness of the benefits associated with electric vehicles, researchers are prediciting notable consequences for dirty energy sources as the public shifts toward favoring renewable alternatives.

“Post-2025, that’s where electric car sales take off. The further you go into the future, the more it’s electric cars,” Alan Gelder, a senior analyst for the research group Wood Mackenzie, told the Guardian. “If cities began banning cars with a combustion engine, that would rapidly accelerate the switch to electric vehicles.”

Drivers transitioning to electric vehicles out of necessity, because of such bans—which multiple European nations plan to implement in the next 15-25 years—and efforts by governments to increase fuel efficiency regluations, is only part of what is fueling the blossoming electric vehicle market.

Auto manufacturers are also taking cues from the increased demand due to bans and enhanced regulations as well as consumer desire for more environmentally friendly vehicles, as Business Insider detailed in May.

These efforts by governments to limit emissions and by automakers to meet the rising demand for electic vehicles are expected to substanitally impact the oil and gas industry in the coming years.

Wood Mackenzie estimates global gasoline prices will peak then start to fall by 2030, though Gelder posits “the ripples of gasoline’s plateau would be felt much earlier,” as fossil fuel companies take fewer investment risks once demand for gas ebbs.

“While gasoline will peak first,” the newspaper notes, “the analysts expect total oil demand to plateau about 2035, as growth is hit by climate change policies and developing world economies maturing.”

gasoline demand by 2030

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry is also taking a hit from the solar energy market—which is booming in the U.S. and elsewhere, and is expected to continue doing well over the next decade. The head of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) told Reutersthe industry expects the costs of solar power to fall a notable amount over the next 10 year.

“In the next decade, the cost of (utility scale) solar could fall by 60 percent or more,” IRENA director general Adnan Amin said.

The Trump administration is currently weighing whether to increase taxes on imported solar materials, after the U.S. International Trade Commission determined in September that cheap imports had been harmful to U.S.-based solar companies.

Amin criticized the possible increased taxation as short-sighted, considering the growing global demand for solar products and renewable alternatives to oil and gas.

“It’s not always the best strategy to try to protect your industry and have high prices,” Amin said, “because in the long-term what you want to do is drive down the cost of energy.”

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.




Study: 83% of Tap Water Around the Globe Tested Positive for Tiny Plastic Fibers

A new investigation by Orb Media found 94 percent of more than two dozen samples of U.S. drinking water were contaminated with microscopic plastic fibers. (Photo: Steve Johnson/Flickr/cc)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

“Microscopic plastic fibers are flowing out of taps from New York to New Delhi,” according to a recent investigation by Orb Media, which found plastic contamination in 83 percent of drinking water samples gathered from more than a dozen countries on five continents.

“This should knock us into our senses.”
—Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize laureate

For what’s been deemed the “first global tap water survey of plastic pollution,” Orb worked with researchers at the State University of New York and the University of Minnesota to test 159 samples.

The U.S. had the highest levels of contamination, with 94 percent of its 33 samples testing positive for plastic fibers. Sources of contaminated tap water in the U.S. included Congressional buildings, Trump Tower in New York City, and even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters.

Guardian graphic

“This should knock us into our senses,” Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in a statement to PRI. “We knew that this plastic is coming back to us through our food chain. Now we see it is coming back to us through our drinking water.”

Precisely what that means for humans, though, will require additional studies. As  Lincoln Fok, an environmental scientist at the Education University of Hong Kong, told PRI: “The research on human health is in its infancy.”

PBS report on microplastic contamination, published in May, summarized what limited scientific research on the subject has revealed so far:

Some laboratory studies have found that microplastics can interfere with feeding, digestion, and reproduction in several aquatic species. While microplastics may physically harm organisms, there’s also concern that they could leach chemicals such as plasticizers, UV stabilizers, flame retardants, and colorants. In addition to what’s in them, microplastics have also been found to attract pesticides and other toxic chemicals in water.

Although the new Orb study “raises more questions than it answers,” as former New York City water commissioner Albert Appleton told PRI, among scientists’ highest concerns is the fact that studies have shown tiny plastic fibers absorb nearby toxins—meaning dangerous chemicals that may otherwise be filtered out before reaching household taps could be trapped in the microplastics and consumed.

According to Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia who supervised the analyses for Orbwhile more research is needed to understand the full human impact, studies of plastic contamination’s impact on animals have revealed enough to raise alarms about what high levels of plastic fibers in drinking water worldwide will mean for humans.

“We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned,” she said. “If it’s impacting them, then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

In 2014, Mason and some of her students studied the guts of fish caught in Lake Erie. “Her team found plastic in the majority of the fish they tested,” PBS reported, and “the biggest source they found were minuscule plastic fibers.”

“You could actually see the fibers enmeshed in the gastrointestinal tract,” Mason told PBS.Mason’s research team “found tens to hundreds of thousands of pieces of plastic per square mile of surface water in the Great Lakes”—the largest freshwater system in the world.

The sources of microplastic contamination are wide-ranging, Orb Media reports, but major contributors include:

  • Synthetic fibers in clothing made of fleece, acrylic, and polyester, which “emit thousands of microscopic fibers with every wash”;
  • Tire dust, which washes into sewers that empty into waterways;
  • Paints used on road signs, ships, and homes, which contribute “more than 10 percent of microplastic pollution in the oceans”;
  • Mishandled plastic waste—e.g., forks, bags, straws—of which at least 8 million tons enter the world’s water resources each year;
  • Synthetic fibers in the air—the sources of which scientists are only beginning to examine;
  • Microbeads in personal care products—especially facial cleaners—which have been banned by the U.S. and Canada, but have already notably polluted waterways.

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.