This Thing Called Courage

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Local Wildlife




SOMEONE in one of my bird groups posted these photos today, of an Eastern Screech Owl, and an Eastern Coyote; both of them were taken at Oak Grove Cemetery in Medford, a little over a mile from here as the crow flies. The cemetery workers told the photographer there is a family of six coyotes living on the cemetery grounds; the screech owl has been heard, but not seen by anyone in the birding group, for a couple of years now. (Craig Gibson photos) It's amazing how perfectly the owl blends in with the tree! and look at the coyote's beautiful, intelligent face!

The Great Wall of Israel

TomDispatch


By Ellen Cantarow
Posted on December 8, 2009, Printed on December 8, 2009
http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175175/

Try to imagine this: An American president visits Israel and in a speech given close to the vast “separation wall” Israel continues to build in part through Palestinian territory, says: “Mr. Netanyahu, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for Israel and the region, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Netanyahu, open this gate! Mr. Netanyahu, tear down this wall!”

I’m sure you recognize that set of famous lines. With the name “Gorbachev” in place of “Netanyahu,” President Ronald Reagan intoned them on June 12, 1987, in front of the Berlin Wall. Less than two-and-a-half years later, of course, that stain on Europe, that prison wall of Soviet power which, in all the years of the Cold War, was seldom long out of the U.S. news, was gone -- and 20 years later we’re still celebrating. The Israeli wall, endlessly under construction, is far longer, approximately twice as high, no less militarized, and no less a dystopian wonder of prison architecture. It is also a thief. As it meanders, it steals land. It is, as the Berlin Wall once was, a stain on the human landscape. But no American president, including Barack Obama, is likely to make a Reaganesque journey to the Middle East, denounce the wall, and call for its dismantlement. It plays little part in the news in this country when the Israeli-Palestinian situation is raised. It’s hard to imagine us celebrating its fall.

In the meantime, while that grotesque wall grows, while the talk is of shuttling diplomats and diplomatic cul-de-sacs, of paths to nowhere and missing Plan B’s for the Obama administration, as well as potential Israeli strikes against Iran, those in the shadow of the wall suffer. Ellen Cantarow, who covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the Village Voice back in the 1980s, recently spent time on Palestinian farmland in the shadow of the Great Wall of Israel and offers a portrait, from under the olive branches, not from the heights of diplomatic exchanges, of what it’s like, and what it takes, to live near today’s version of a mega-Berlin Wall. Tom

Living by the Gate From Hell
A Portrait of Nonviolent Resistance in One Palestinian Village
By Ellen Cantarow

Much is heard of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the story of the determined, long-term nonviolent resistance of many Palestinian villagers to the loss of their lands, striking as it may be, is seldom told. Here’s my report from just one village on the West Bank.

At no time since its 1967 West Bank occupation have Israel’s seizures of Palestinian land and water resources seemed as shocking as the ones attending its construction of “the wall,” begun in 2002. Vast, complex, and shifting in form, the wall appears most dramatically as 25-foot-high concrete slabs punctuated by militarized watch towers, supplemented by electronically monitored electrified fences stretching over vast distances.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared the wall illegal, but Israel ignored the ruling. Now, it undulates through the West Bank for over 280 kilometers, clasping Israel’s major colonies and some minor ones in its embrace. The completed wall will incorporate more than 85% of the West Bank’s settler population, a de facto annexation by Israel of significant chunks of the territory it first occupied in 1967. This is the dream of Greater Israel rapidly turned into architecture. For the Palestinians, however, the wall means theft, separating many Palestinian cities and villages from their land and water.

Jayyous, with a population of 3,500, is one of those villages. It lies nestled in a mountainous northern West Bank landscape with the Palestinian city of Qalqilya just to its west. The scenery here remains one of the Mediterranean’s loveliest, a cross, let’s say, between Tuscany and parts of Yugoslavia. Greek and Roman ruins mark the village’s great age. This was one of the West Bank’s most fertile areas. Farming involving a lively variety of nut, citrus, and olive trees, as well as vegetables, flourished around Jayyous, drawing life from abundant underground wells. The aquifers beneath Jayyous and Qalqilya, in fact, constitute a West Bank treasure. Lands belonging to both the city and the village abut Israel’s pre-1967 border -- the “Green Line.”

Before the wall’s advent, Qalqilya’s merchants and Israelis did regular business on either side of the border, while Jayyous’s farmers worked their land all the way up to the Green Line. Now, the monstrous, concrete version of the wall surrounds Qalqilya entirely, bringing to mind high-security prisons or ghettoes from other eras. Jayyous is segregated from most of its former land by the wall in what one could call its “barrier” form -- a system of steel fences, razor wire, and patrol roads manned by Israeli soldiers.

Four thousand of the village’s olive and citrus trees were uprooted to make way for the wall. All the village’s wells and over 75% percent of the land are now sequestered behind the wall, isolated on its west -- that is, “Israeli” -- side. A small Israeli settler colony called Zufim sits amid Jayyous’s former wealth. Israeli plans are on the books to build up to 1,500 new housing units on the bounty confiscated from the village. The new units will destroy the only road over which Jayyous’s farmers can now travel to and from their land: there used to be six of these roads. Israel has already blocked five of them.

Sixty-five year-old Sharif Omar Khalid, known more familiarly as Abu Azzam, has spent half his life struggling to preserve Jayyous’s land. In 1980, with other farmers representing villages throughout the West Bank, he founded the Land Defense Committee, one of 18 organizations that now make up the Stop the Wall campaign. Gifted with stubborn optimism, he counts as victory an Israeli Supreme Court decision in April 2006, which pushed the path of the wall back from the south side of the village. The decision returned 11% of Jayyous’s former land -- 750 dunams of the 8,600 blocked by the barrier. (A dunam is a little over a quarter of an acre.)

The wall remains, as does one of its most essential parts: the “agricultural gate.” There are two of these on Jayyous’s land -- one to the north; another to the south. Almost all of the village’s farmers are forced to use the north gate. Opened by Israeli soldiers for two 45-minute intervals at dawn and dusk, the gate blocks a patrol road manned by the Israelis.

But to get beyond the gate, across the patrol road, and from there to their farmland, Jayyous’s farmers need “visitors’ permits.” Since 2003, Israel has decreed that the villagers are only “visitors” on land they have worked for generations. Obtaining the permits is an excruciating obstacle course that only begins with proof of land ownership. Abu Azzam is one of the village’s major landowners; his title goes back several generations to the time when Jordan occupied the West Bank. Being a known activist, he was periodically denied his permit until the Israeli Supreme Court finally granted him a permanent permit noting that its bearer is a “security problem.” This produces extra problems for him in his daily odyssey to his fields and back.

The Gate from Hell

The first time I saw an “agricultural gate” was in 2004 outside the northern Palestinian village of Mas’ha. It was terrible to behold. Immense steel jaws painted a bright ochre-yellow creaked open, thanks to the Israeli Occupation Forces’ finest, for about 30 minutes at dawn and again at dusk. Between those two moments, it remained locked, leaving the local farmers with no possibility of returning home for lunch or emergencies, nor even for crop-irrigation at the appropriate time (after sundown).

Each opening of the Mas’ha gate permitted a lone farmer, Hani Amer -- his home locked in on three sides by the wall and on the fourth by an Israeli settlement -- to make sporadic trips to his fields. At both sides of the gate lay coils of razor wire snarled in front of a barrier ditch which stretched into the distance as far as we could see. Beyond this ditch, more razor wire. Then a “military road” meant for Israeli soldiers patrolling the boundaries of an Arab world considered burdensome to the Greater Israel.

Across the military road lay yet more razor wire and another ditch before Hani Amer could finally reach his fields.

To grasp what the gate really means, though, you’d have to stay, as I did, at least a night with a farmer in Jayyous at harvest time. You’d awaken with his wife and him at 5:30 A.M., drink a cup of strong Arabic coffee, eat bread spread with jam made from fruit he grows on the land remaining to him, and then go jolting down the white, rutted, stony road on his tractor. Finally, of course, you would wait with him in a gathering line of farmers at the gate.

Now watch, in the dawn of another day in the forty-second year of occupation, in front of this steel raptor out of some mad film-maker’s imagination, as they all arrive: one on his tractor, another on a donkey laden with sacks and harvest tools, until finally a long line stands waiting. Note those ubiquitous coils of razor wire, and the ditches, and that military road, just one form of the endless wall that imprisons Palestine’s people. Watch as the soldiers turn languidly and unlock the gate, swinging its jaws wide to transform it, and the military road it bars, into a checkpoint for the brief morning opening.

As I waited and watched from Abu Azzam’s tractor this past October, I imagined the hillside on the other side of the road as it must have been decades ago, when I still reported regularly from the West Bank. The region’s steep hills were then punctuated by lines of dry-wall terracing that enclosed olive trees whose leaves billowed silver in the wind, and the darker greens of fruit trees and grapevines. The Greater Israel’s new, California-style urban sprawl, its cities that now ooze through the West Bank, were still part of an expansionist dream, not a burgeoning reality, and of course there was no wall, nor a “military road,” nor, of course, an agricultural gate.

Watch now, as each farmer with his donkey, his tractor, his work-tools, approaches the passage between the gaping steel jaws. Watch each as he moves into the military road, brings his donkey to a halt, dismounts, and offers his ID card to a stout, impassive Israeli soldier. Flanked by two other soldiers, he, in turn, calls a control tower rising in the distance and in Hebrew recites each bearer’s name and ID numbers. Take in the stoicism, the resignation, the endurance of these farmers as they accept the indignity of all this because there is no other choice. Think that they are trying to do one simple thing: harvest their olives.

But first each must move into the road, stand with head bowed or eyes averted as his fate is determined for this day, and then, if he’s approved, move forward. Beyond lie more ditches at the other side of the road, more razor wire and -- at last -- something that masquerades as freedom but isn’t. The farmer is now permitted to climb the hill in his vehicle. Beyond its crest he may reach his fields, for whose sake he has endured this daily torment.

And now, consider the Israeli settlers and soldiers, whose absolute rule, running the gamut from control over this gate through vigilantism against villagers like those in Jayyous, make a nightmare of this simple thing, the olive harvest. Settlers from Zufim actually uprooted olive trees in Jayyous in 2004. (Some were carted away for sale in Israel); sewage from the colony has destroyed others.

A week after my stay, according to the Israeli paper Haaretz, Jewish settlers elsewhere in the northern West Bank “clashed with Palestinians picking olives.” The settlers called the farmers trying to bring in their crops a “security” threat because they “could gather intelligence and launch attacks from the olive groves.”

Elsewhere in the area that same week, Israeli security forces stood by as settlers entered a Palestinian village “to hold a brief rally” against the harvest. (Israel’s army is now dominated from top to bottom by ultra-religious-expansionist settlers, which makes a mockery of the “settler-soldier” distinction.) Meanwhile, near an Israeli “outpost” settlement called Adi Ad, settlers “uprooted dozens of olive trees.” As I write, similar alarums reach me by e-mail daily.

Several times since October the Israeli Army has imposed curfews on Jayyous -- collective punishment for the weekly anti-wall demonstrations staged by village youth here. Most of the time the curfews have been levied after the farmers were already in their fields and haven’t interrupted the harvest. But they have punished the rest of Jayyous. Collective punishment -- reprisals against all for the actions of a few -- is illegal under the 1949 Fourth Geneva convention.

Keeping Going

“A state gone mad,” observed Palestinian lawyer and writer Raja Shehadeh when, a day after visiting Jayyous, I described the scene at the gate. This particular barrier of steel, these particular patient farmers, those particular soldiers enforcing Israel’s banality of evil -- they offer but a taste of the insane ingenuity that is the still-developing Greater Israel. A Dutch filmmaker who had interviewed some West Bank Jewish settlers, related this little exchange to Shehadeh: “What is your dream?” she asked one of the settlers. “My dream,” he replied, “is that my grandchildren will say someday, ‘Here, they say that once upon a time there were Arabs.’”

The evening before we all arose to go to the gate, Abu Azzam took a German visitor and me to see the local olive press where he and other farmers unload each day’s harvest. The sight of Jayyous’s olives moving up a conveyor belt and into the press, finally to emerge as a stream of oil bottled in large plastic containers, was joyous. Children ran and slid about on the slick floor, laughing; their parents dipped bread for them in the delicious, freshly-pressed oil. What human madness would inflict constant torment on such peaceful labor?

Later, Abu Azzam told me stories about his life as an activist, his marriage, and his children. Jailed by Jordan for belonging to the Communist Party and later by Israel for his attempts to preserve the village land, he says he can’t imagine anything but keeping going. “I have no other choice” is the way he puts it, with a shrug and a smile.

He recalled the moment back in October 2003 as the wall was being built, when an Israeli official tried to buy off the Jayyous activists by offering them 650 permits which would have allowed that many farmers to access their land. But the Land Defense Committee made “a team decision” not to use them. Accepting the permits would have meant recognizing the validity of the wall and the whole system of dispossession that went with it. Israeli soldiers closed the gate; it was the height of the olive, guava, and clementine harvests. Abu Azzam and other farmers cut gaps in the barrier and crept through to work their fields “without a tractor, without horses, without carriages, without anything. Only our bodies.”

More arrests followed. The farmers made a decision to stay on their land and not return to the village. “My wife was very angry,” Abu Azzam recalls. “She called me on October 21 asking me, ‘Are we divorced? Are we separated?’ I said ‘I’m resisting.’ ‘Resisting? Can you see one box of guavas, cucumbers, or tomatoes? ‘Enough, to be on the land is resistance.’ I said.”

Since 2003 Abu Azzam and other Jayyous farmers have continued their obdurate odyssey to their lands. This determination to keep farming on the 3,250 dunams -- of an original 8,050 -- that the villagers still have, rather than live elsewhere in the West Bank or abroad is itself resistance. In Palestine, this “just staying” is called samid. It means “the steadfast,” “the persevering,” and eloquently expresses the oldest form of Palestinian nonviolent resistance.

“You have so many problems,” I said to Abu Azzam. “Would you ever leave?” He smiled at me indulgently. “All our life is a problem. I don’t want to be a new refugee. I am against the emigration that took place through the Israelis.”

Since 2008, Jayyous’s young people have staged weekly demonstrations against the wall. One of their leaders -- Mohammed Othman -- was arrested by Israeli authorities this past fall when he returned from a speaking tour in Norway. He is still in jail under indefinite administrative detention.

Jayyousi leaders have also written to high officials in Norway and Dubai imploring them to divest from companies owned by the Uzbekistan-born Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev. In doing so, Jayyous joins growing international revulsion at, and refusal to deal with, Leviev’s companies. Their reach is vast and diverse, extending to Angola’s diamond mines, New York real estate, and Israeli settlements in whose planning and building (including Zufim) they are heavily involved. Last March, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reported that the British Embassy in Tel Aviv “stopped negotiations to lease a floor in Africa-Israel’s Kirya Tower because of the [Leviev-owned] company’s involvement in settlement construction.” Oxfam has severed ties with him for the same reason.

On September 9, 2009, a month before my arrival, the Israeli Supreme Court handed down a new ruling moving the route of the wall again and returning an additional 2,448 dunams to Jayyous. “Because of your efforts?” I asked Azzam.

“It is because of Jayyous,” he replied. “It is a group struggle.”

Ellen Cantarow, a Boston-based journalist, first wrote from Israel and the West Bank in 1979. Her work has been published in the Village Voice, Grand Street, and Mother Jones, among other publications, and was anthologized by the South End Press. More recently, her writing has appeared at Counterpunch, ZNet, and Alternet. This essay is part of a series on Palestinian non-violent resistance, "Heroism in a Vanishing Landscape."

[Note: Another of Cantarow’s Palestinian portraits can be read by clicking here. A comprehensive U.N. account of Israel’s wall can be found by clicking here (PDF file).]

Copyright 2009 Ellen Cantarow

© 2009 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175175/

Wolf-Killer Targeted at Mall: Give That Man the Congressional Medal of Honor

Man Throws Tomatoes at Palin at MOA


Jeremy Olson

Hundreds Gather at MOA for Palin

Bloomington police arrested a man for throwing two tomatoes at Sarah Palin at Mall of America Monday afternoon.

Jeremy Paul Olson, 33, was arrested for fourth degree assault and disorderly conduct.

Palin was never aware of the incident.

The former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee was at the mall to sign copies of her book 'Going Rogue.' Hundreds showed for a chance to get an autograph.

Bloomington police said Olson tossed the tomatoes from the second level of the rotunda.

The tomatoes missed Palin by about ten feet. They bounced off the stage and hit two Bloomington police officers who were providing security.

Bystanders pointed out the suspect to police.

Feinstein-Resnick Have Fish Rescue Plan in Their Sites

AlterNet

Meet Stewart Resnick, Corporate Farming Billionaire and One-Man Environmental Wrecking Crew

By Lance Williams, Center for Investigative Reporting
Posted on December 8, 2009, Printed on December 8, 2009
http://www.alternet.org/story/144427/

Wealthy corporate farmer Stewart Resnick has written check after check to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s political campaigns. He’s hosted a party in her honor at his Beverly Hills mansion, and he’s entertained her at his second home in Aspen.

And in September, when Resnick asked Feinstein to weigh in on the side of agribusiness in a drought-fueled environmental dispute over the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, this wealthy grower and political donor got quick results, documents show.

On Sept. 4, Resnick wrote to Feinstein, complaining that the latest federal plan to rescue the Delta’s endangered salmon and shad fisheries was "exacerbating the state’s severe drought" because it cut back on water available to irrigate crops. "Sloppy science" by federal wildlife agencies had led to "regulatory-induced water shortages," he claimed.

"I really appreciate your involvement in this issue," he wrote to Feinstein.

One week later, Feinstein forwarded Resnick’s letter to two U.S. Cabinet secretaries. In her own letter, she urged the administration to spend $750,000 for a sweeping re-examination of the science behind the entire Delta environmental protection plan.

The Obama administration quickly agreed, authorizing another review of whether restrictions on pumping irrigation water were necessary to save the Delta’s fish. The results could delay or change the course of the protection effort.

To environmentalists concerned with protecting the Delta, it was a dispiriting display of the political clout wielded by Resnick, who is among California’s biggest growers and among its biggest political donors.

Resnick’s Paramount Farms owns 118,000 acres of heavily irrigated California orchards. And since he began buying farmland 25 years ago, Resnick, his wife, and executives of his companies have donated $3.97 million to candidates and political committees, mostly in the Golden State, a California Watch review of public records shows.

They have given $29,000 to Feinstein and $246,000 more to Democratic political committees during years when she has sought re-election.

"It is very disappointing that one person can make this kind of request, and all of a sudden he has a senator on the phone, calling up (U.S. Interior Secretary Ken) Salazar," says Jim Metropulos, senior advocate for the Sierra Club.

Feinstein’s letter was "based on what she believes to be the best policy for California and the nation," spokesman Gil Duran said in a statement. "No other factors play a role in her decisions."

With the Valley’s economy battered by recession and drought, Feinstein believed it was important to reconsider the restrictions on pumping Delta water for irrigation, he said. Many farmers have urged such a review, he added.

In an interview, Resnick said he didn’t leverage his relationship with Feinstein to persuade her to intervene.

"Honestly, I’m not saying we could not have done that, but I don’t think that’s the way it happened," he said. Feinstein long has had an interest in water issues, and "she just wanted to get to the bottom of this," Resnick said.

A Troubled Estuary
The Delta provides drinking water for 20 million people and irrigation for the state’s vast agriculture industry. But after decades of water diversions, Delta fish populations are in catastrophic decline, scientists say.

Prodded by lawsuits from environmentalists, federal wildlife agencies commissioned scientific studies of the Delta’s ecological crisis. Based on the studies, the agencies launched a restoration program that curtailed pumping for irrigation and increased water flows for migrating fish.

Meanwhile three years of drought have forced big cuts in water allotments for farmers, and swaths of valley farmland lie fallow. The recession pushed the unemployment rate in some valley towns to 40 percent.

As a result, the restrictions on pumping Delta water became the target of a series of noisy protests that played out over the summer. Farmers and politicians blamed "radical environmentalists" -- and the Obama administration -- for ignoring the drought’s impact on the valley’s economy. "The government decided that the farmers come second and the delta smelt come first," as Sean Hannity of Fox News put it on a visit to Fresno.

Farm groups filed 13 different lawsuits to overturn the restoration plans, arguing that climate change, urbanization, and discharges from sewers and factories are causing the Delta’s problems. One suit was filed in August by the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, a non-profit founded by three executives of Resnick’s Paramount Farms. Resnick said he is "on the periphery" of the non-profit.

People familiar with Resnick’s political operation say Feinstein’s letter is a reminder of the power he can wield on water issues.

"Paramount Farms is a huge player," says Gerald Meral, former director of the Planning and Conservation League environmental lobby.

"They are just way different from the average farmer -- far more strategic" in their thinking, Meral says.

Wealth and Philanthropy
In Los Angeles, Resnick, 72, is known as one of the city’s wealthiest men and among its most generous philanthropists. He’s given $55 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, millions more for a psychiatric hospital at UCLA and an energy institute at Cal Tech.

His wife and business partner, Lynda Resnick, is an entrepreneur, socialite and writer. Her 2008 marketing book, "Rubies in the Orchard," had blurbs from Martha Stewart and Rupert Murdoch, and her "Ruby Tuesday" blog is sometimes featured on huffingtonpost.com. The couple live in a Beverly Hills mansion that writer Amy Wilentz called "Little Versailles." It’s the scene of parties for celebrities, charities and politicians -- governors, senators and presidential candidates.

Resnick said he worked his way through UCLA "washing windows," and made his first million running a burglar alarm service. Since then, the couple’s Roll International holding company has profitably operated a long list of businesses: Teleflora florist wire service; POM Wonderful pomegranate juice; Franklin Mint, a mail-order collectibles firm; and FIJI bottled water, imported from the South Seas.

Underpinning their fortune is agribusiness -- 70,000 acres of pistachios and almonds, 48,000 acres of citrus and pomegranates -- most of it in Kern County at the south end of the San Joaquin Valley, and all requiring irrigation to survive.

Resnick said he makes political donations "without much real strategy," other than to give to centrists from both parties. Water issues aren’t a major factor, he said.

Records show Resnick often contributes to politicians with power over the bureaucracies that make decisions affecting farming’s financial bottom line.
Since 1993, the Resnicks have given $1.6 million to California governors, key players in determining state water policy. Their donation pattern seems non-partisan, with the money following who’s in power.

In the 1990s, they gave $238,000 to Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, records show, although Resnick says he doesn’t recall giving to Wilson and doesn’t think he ever met him.

The Resnicks also backed the Democrat who replaced Wilson, Gray Davis. They gave Davis $643,000 and $91,500 more to oppose Davis’ recall in 2003.

With Davis gone, Resnick began donating to Arnold Schwarzenegger -- $221,000, records show -- plus $50,000 to a foundation that pays for the governor’s foreign travel.

Other big donations include $776,000 to Democratic political committees; $134,000 to agribusiness political committees and initiatives; and $59,000 to Republican committees.

Hedging Bets
The Resnicks have developed easy access to some of the politicians to whom they donate.

Schwarzenegger has called them "some of my dearest, dearest friends," and like Feinstein, he has urged a review of the science behind the Delta restoration plan. Davis appointed Resnick co-chair to a special state committee on water and agriculture.

A more enduring benefit came during Wilson’s administration, when Paramount Farms gained part ownership of what was to have been a state-owned storage bank for surplus water.

As recounted in a report by the advocacy group Public Citizen, in the 1980s state water officials devised a plan to ease the impact of future droughts by collecting excess water during rainy years and storing it underground.

The water was to be pumped south via the California Aqueduct, then put into a vast aquifer in Kern County that could hold a year’s water supply for one million homes.

The state spent about $75 million to buy a 20,000-acre site and to design the water bank. But in 1994, state water officials transferred the water bank site to the local Kern County Water Agency in exchange for significant water rights, Resnick said. The water agency developed the water bank in partnership with four other public agencies and one private business -- a subsidiary of Paramount Farms. Paramount wound up controlling a 48 percent share of the bank.

Resnick said the state had been unable to develop the water bank and gave up on the project. The local agencies and his company spent about $50 million to engineer the project and make the bank a success, he said.

Paramount’s control of the bank continues to infuriate some environmentalists. In recent dry years, the bank sold some of its stored water back to the state at a premium, Public Citizen reported.

"Resnick likes to call himself a farmer, but he is in the business of selling public water, with none of the profits returned to the taxpayers," says Walter Shubin, a director of the Revive the San Joaquin environmental group in Fresno.

A supportive community
When she first emerged as a statewide candidate in the 1990 governor’s race, Feinstein made little headway in the Central Valley, and she was defeated by Wilson. After she was elected to the Senate two years later, Feinstein set out to befriend farmers.

Her attention to agriculture and water issues has paid off, says Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and a former Wilson aide

"That community has been very supportive of her, much more for her than for most statewide Democrats," Schnur says.

The Resnicks contributed $4,000 to Feinstein’s 1994 re-election campaign. When she ran again in 2000, they gave her $7,000. Resnick also donated $225,000 to Democratic political committees that were active in key Democratic races.

Resnick said he first got to know Feinstein personally 10 or 12 years ago because the senator also has a second home in Aspen.

In August 2000, when the Democratic National convention was in Los Angeles, the Resnicks hosted a cocktail party for Feinstein in their home. Among the guests were the singer Nancy Sinatra, then-Gov. Davis and former President Jimmy Carter, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In 2007, they gave $10,000 to the Fund for the Majority, Feinstein’s political action committee. In June, another committee to which Resnick has contributed, the California Citrus Mutual PAC, spent $2,500 to host a fundraiser for Feinstein, records show.

Feinstein also socializes with the Resnicks. Arianna Huffington, the blog editor and former candidate for governor, told the New York Observer in 2006 that she had
spent New Year’s with Feinstein at the Resnicks’ home in Aspen. "We wore silly hats and had lots of streamers and everything," she said of the party.

On Aug. 26, Feinstein met with growers and water agency officials in Coalinga, Fresno County. While there, she told the Fresno Bee that she wanted the U.S. Interior Department to reconsider the biological opinions underlying the Delta protection plan.

The following week, she received the letter from Resnick, which was first reported by the Contra Costa Times. She then sent her own letters to Interior Secretary Salazar and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Days later, the administration agreed to pay $750,000 to have the National Academy of Sciences re-study the scientific issues underlying the Delta protection plan.

Last month, state lawmakers enacted a package of measures aimed at reforming the state’s outmoded water allocation system. The centerpiece – an $11 billion bond to build new dams and canals – must be approved by voters.

© 2009 Center for Investigative Reporting All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/144427/

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Climate Change Threatens Life in Small Alaskan Town

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By John D. Sutter, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • World leaders meet next week in Copenhagen to try to pass a treaty on climate change
  • Meanwhile, warming is threatening places like Shishmaref, Alaska
  • One couple in arctic village live at edge of coast that's melting
  • Their safety, survival of Shishmaref's Inupiat Eskimo culture are in jeopardy

Shishmaref, Alaska (CNN) -- When the arctic winds howl and angry waves pummel the shore of this Inupiat Eskimo village, Shelton and Clara Kokeok fear that their house, already at the edge of the Earth, finally may plunge into the gray sea below.

"The land is going away," said Shelton Kokeok, 65, whose home is on the tip of a bluff that's been melting in part because of climate change. "I think it's going to vanish one of these days."

Coastal erosion has been an issue for decades here, but rising global temperatures have started to thaw the permafrost that once helped anchor this village in place. Sea ice that protects Shishmaref's coast from erosion melts earlier in the spring and forms later in the fall. As a result, the increasingly mushy and exposed soil along Shishmaref's shore is falling into the water in snowmobile-sized chunks.

The crumbling land already toppled one house into the sea. Thirteen other homes -- nearly all of the Kokeoks' neighbors -- had to be moved inland. The land they stood on washed away.

Now the Kokeoks' wooden residence, which Shelton built by hand 20 years ago, stands alone -- only feet from the edge of this barrier island.

But safety is only one of Shishmaref's many concerns.

The warming climate and erosion threaten to steal the Kokeoks' centuries-old culture, their unique language and the viability of their entire village.

They're not alone. A dozen Alaskan villages, including Shishmaref, are at some stage of moving because of climate-change-related impacts like coastal erosion and flooding.

Around the world, as many as 150 million people may become "climate refugees" because of global warming, according to an Environmental Justice Foundation report, which attributes some of the moves to rising sea levels.

People in Shishmaref are aware that world leaders will meet next week in Copenhagen, Denmark, to try to hammer out an international treaty on climate change. Most of the talk at the United Nations Climate Change Conference will focus on cutting the industrial world's emissions of heat-trapping gases, or trying to prevent climate disasters like those already seen here and in other coastal communities. Three students from Shishmaref will travel to Copenhagen as witnesses to the impact of climate change.

That doesn't give Shelton and Clara much comfort. Many of their neighbors have resigned themselves to having to leave Shishmaref because of the changes.

Not Shelton.

"This is my hometown," he said. "I don't want to go anywhere."

Shelton is afraid to budge from his perilous location on the front lines of the climate catastrophe. To move would be to give in, to lose everything.

Already, he's lost more than he can bear.

Harsh environment

As far as outsiders are concerned, Shishmaref might as well be at the edge of the Earth.

Only 20 miles south of the Arctic Circle and less than 150 miles from Russian Siberia, the village's geography alone makes it seem uninhabitable.

Its 600 residents endure temperatures that drop to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. Polar bear sightings are common. Water is scarce. There's no plumbing in most homes; ice is harvested from lakes in microwave-size blocks and melted in buckets. No roads connect Shishmaref to the outside world.

It's a harsh, isolated and dangerous place but one Shelton has learned to love. Shishmaref's tundra environment provides everything he needs.

The village island, about a quarter-mile wide in the center, sits between the Chukchi Sea and the wide estuary of the Serpentine River. That's prime real estate for hunting and fishing, the main forms of survival and employment in the village.

In the winter, Shishmaref residents hack tiny cylinders of ice out of the estuary to fish for tomcod and smelt. In the summer, when the sun hangs in the sky almost 24 hours a day, locals harvest cloudberries, which are orange, and blueberries; caribou and reindeer herds gallop across the vast expanse of inland tundra.

When Shelton was growing up, he looked forward to the springtime hunt for bearded seals, spotted seals and walrus, which took place out on the still-frozen sea. Dried meats and oils cured from those marine mammals sustained the community year-round, even when other hunts or fishing seasons went poorly.

Shelton's father taught him to hunt seals. They rode a dogsled toward an eerily flat horizon, where the thick slate of white sea-ice met an eternal blue sky. At the edge of the ice, they hunted sea mammals out of the frigid water below.

Shelton has raised his four children in Shishmaref's unique traditions. Clara, his wife, still sews seal slippers. They speak Inupiaq at home. Dried seal meat, black and crusty, hangs on a wooden rack beside their house. They keep seal oil in the kitchen. Their kids grew up eating both.

Norman Charlie, Shelton's youngest son, learned to chase down seals and fish as soon as he was old enough to handle the arctic elements.

The boy became a fine hunter. And that pleased Shelton.

On Norman, Shelton hung his hopes for the future.

Forced adaptation

Because of its remote location and live-off-the-land lifestyle, it could appear that Shishmaref has remained the same for centuries, as time passed it by.

That's not the case. The village itself is an adaptation to outside influence.

Shishmaref's people were nomadic, following seals and caribou, until the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs built a school on the island in the early 1900s and forced Inupiat children to attend. Some residents still resent that school; they say it punished those who spoke Inupiaq and stifled other aspects of the Native culture.

Over the decades, though, the community adjusted to its new stationary existence. And today, people are attached to this place.

Change also has come from within.

When Shelton was young, Shishmaref was nothing but an outpost of one-room sod houses with no electricity; some villagers made windows out of "Eskimo plastic," the translucent intestines of the bearded seal.

It was difficult to import materials from the outside, so people got most of what they needed from the land and the sea.

Today, two stores in Shishmaref sell Cheez-Its, Coke, Tang, ramen noodles and Ruffles, all brought in by plane. In front of the local school complex, which has new computers and wi-fi Internet, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles drop kids off in the morning. In the past, dogsleds were the main mode of transit.

A sign in a high school class where students learn to make carvings from walrus tusks reminds them to put their iPods away.

The modernization of Shishmaref angers some people, including Shelton. He worries that Shishmaref's youth don't speak Inupiaq as well as they should, and he says people in town are getting fat and lazy in part because soda is available.

He had to wrestle with the fact that younger generations are carrying on village traditions in new ways when Norman decided to move away from the village, to Fairbanks, Alaska, for work.

His son returned to Shishmaref to visit. He still worked on speaking the local language and tried to carry on his village's musical traditions by participating in a traditional dancing and drumming group. And, always, when he was home, he hunted.

But things were changing.

Shishmaref exists in a delicate balance with nature and with its own identity.

And, one morning in June 2007, that balance tipped for Clara and Shelton.

The storm

Morris Kiyutelluk, a short man in an orange ski jacket, walked to the edge of the sea on a recent day, pointed to the slushy water behind Shelton's and Clara's home and said, "That's where I grew up."

The land where his house stood has vanished into the ocean.

It was the middle of a stormy night during the winter of 2002 when Shelton and Clara heard the waves slapping the side of their house with a force that vibrated the floors and shook the walls.

Next door, behind their house and even closer to the roiling sea, Morris was rushing to evacuate his family.

By the time his wife and children were out, waves were clawing at the ground underneath his house, to the point that it hung off the edge of the island by four feet, he said. Neighbors wrapped a rope around the body of the red wooden home and pulled in unison. They were able to scoot it back just enough to keep it from tipping.

After that storm and a series of others, Morris' home was among those moved to the other side of the island. At first he and his wife, Mildred, had a hard time adjusting to their new life on the sheltered side of the island. They joke that they're "eastsiders" now, not "west side people," like they used to be.

Mildred had trouble sleeping in the new location because the soothing sounds of the sea were gone.

But, over time, she's learned to sleep through the silence.

"Apparently, I got used to it," she said.

In part because they've had to relocate once, Morris and Mildred are among many locals pushing for Shishmaref to move off of this tenuous island and onto an uninhabited location away from the sea.

Morris says the changes in Shishmaref -- the melting sea ice, the disappearing seals and polar bears, the crumbling coastline -- are beyond the village's control.

"We've got to move. There's no question about it," he said. "That seawall will stop erosion on this end, but the water will go around it. My ancestors said it will happen. It will happen."

But planning the move has been anything but easy.

The village voted in 2002 to relocate from the island. Seven years later, it has had little luck finding a suitable location or funding.

A place called Tin Creek, several miles inland, is the most talked-about relocation spot at the moment. But many of the same problems that plague Shishmaref could be issues there, too.

Tin Creek sits on permafrost, and permafrost melt across Alaska has been accelerating. The site is further from the sea mammals locals depend on. And, to make matters worse, Tin Creek may also be situated atop "ice lenses," thin sheets of underground frozen water that could melt and cause the ground to crater.

Earlier this decade, the people of Shishmaref applied for grants and started a Web site where the public could donate money for the village's relocation.

Those efforts haven't gotten the village far. That's partly because there's no federal or state government agency ready to pay for the coming wave of "climate refugees," like those in Shishmaref.

A 2009 Government Accountability Office report found that 31 Alaskan villages face "imminent threats" because of coastal erosion, flooding and climate change. At least 12 are at some stage in the relocation process.

Moving an entire town is not cheap. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that Shishmaref's relocation, if it happens, will cost up to $200 million. Relocations of other Alaskan villages carry similar estimates.

Who's to blame is another contentious topic.

Residents of the industrialized world could be considered liable for the climate refugee problem, since they produce the bulk of the greenhouse gas emissions that alter the climate. Some say the government is responsible. Others say it's difficult to prove with absolute certainty that a problem in any single community was caused by climate change because other factors, like land use and natural erosion, could be at play.

The climate refugee problem gets all the more complicated when considered on a global scale. The Environmental Justice Foundation estimates that unchecked climate change will force 150 million people from their homes by mid-century.

In Shishmaref, when talk of relocation first surfaced, it seemed like the village would be able to adapt, to control its fate.

Lately, it appears the village's worst fear may come true.

Shelton and others are terrified that Shishmaref may have to merge with an existing town, like Nome or Kotzebue. Both are less than 100 miles away but worlds apart. Shishmaref residents say their entire way of life may disappear.

Without access to the sea, they might have to stop hunting. Their threatened dialect, spoken only in Shishmaref, could fizzle and die. The village's celebratory dances, its music, its walrus-ivory carvings and native food recipes, all of it could be flushed off the Earth and into history books.

Over the edge

It was about 5 o'clock on a spring morning two years ago when Shelton got the phone call that changed his life.

His youngest son, Norman Charlie, had gone out duck hunting with a friend. They'd traveled by snowmobile across the estuary that separates Shishmaref from the mainland.

In the past, that stretch of water would have been frozen solid on the first week in June, Shelton said. But that year was warmer than usual.

Shelton waited and waited for his son to come home. Finally, the phone call came.

The ice cracked. Norman fell in. His friend couldn't save him.

Shelton blames climate change for taking his son.

"Something went wrong with me the last couple of years, after we lost that boy," Shelton said. "I think he's taken most of my life. ... I lost my baby."

Dozens of photos of the young man, who was 24, line Shelton and Clara's living room.

His grave is on this island.

Tradition

Like the young man who clung to village traditions but whose life was taken by the melting ice, Shishmaref may become a memory.

For Shelton and Clara, solace is hard to come by these days. She had a heart attack last year. His knees are giving out. He's no longer able to hunt.

The death of their son pushed them over the edge.

Their only relief comes from a native tradition: Scattered around their village and beyond are perhaps a half-dozen children, born since their son died, who are named after Norman.

In Shishmaref, when a child is named after someone who's gone, that child takes on characteristics of his or her namesake.

Ken Stenek is Shelton's nephew and the local science teacher. He and his wife named their youngest boy after Norman.

Norman Charlie was one of Stenek's favorite students. He was a respected hunter. He was trying to learn the Inupiaq language. He was part of a native dance troupe. He was carrying Shishmaref's traditions onward.

Stenek says he's raising his son to do the same.

At supper time, he grinds up seal meat, a Shishmaref staple, and feeds it to his 7-month-old.

Baby Norman loves it.




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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Iraq Sees Alarming Rise in Cancers, Deformed Babies

(Something else Dubya probably didn't consider when he launched his illegal, immoral invasion)


BAGHDAD - The guns are gradually falling silent in Iraq as a fragile stability takes hold, turning the spotlight on a stealthier killer likely to stalk Iraqis for years to come.

Incidences of cancer, deformed babies and other health problems have risen sharply, Iraqi officials say, and many suspect contamination from weapons used in years of war and accompanying unchecked pollution as a cause.

"We have seen new kinds of cancer that were not recorded in Iraq before war in 2003, types of fibrous (soft tissue) cancer and bone cancer. These refer clearly to radiation as a cause," said Jawad al-Ali, an oncologist in Iraq's second city of Basra.

In the city of Falluja in western Iraq, scene of two of the fiercest battles between U.S. troops and insurgents after the 2003 U.S. invasion, a spike in the number of births of stillborn, deformed and paralysed babies has alarmed doctors.

The use of depleted uranium in U.S. and coalition weaponry in the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait and the 2003 Iraq invasion is well documented, but establishing a link between the radioactive metal and health problems among Iraqis is hard, officials say.

Iraqi medical facilities are limited, and keeping accurate health statistics during years of sectarian slaughter unleashed by the invasion was impossible.

In Basra in particular, pummelled by years of war and swamped with industrial and agricultural pollution, it is difficult for doctors to isolate specific causes for cancer.

Its people have for years lived among mounds of scrap metal that include war debris, the brown rust flaking off into the wind and carried into peoples homes, food, and lungs.

"Our information indicates there are more than 200 square kilometres of land south of Basra containing war debris, some of which is contaminated with depleted uranium," said Bushra Ali, of the Environment Ministry's radiation prevention department.

A 2007 Basra University medical journal report found "no major rise" in cancer death rates, but that the proportion of children dying of cancer in Basra had jumped 65 percent in 1997 and 60 percent in 2005, compared to 1989.

CHILDREN SUFFERING MOST?

Depleted uranium, a dense metal, is used in weaponry to pierce heavy armour such as on tanks. Linking it to ill health is controversial -- the British Ministry of Defence says there is "no reliable scientific or medical" evidence.

Large quantities of depleted uranium were used in the first Gulf War, some of it near Basra.

It is not clear how much, if any, was used in Falluja by U.S. troops fighting mostly house-to-house battles in two assaults on the city in 2004.

The U.S. military did, however, use white phosphorous, which can cause serious burns if it comes in contact with skin, to mark targets or to flush enemy gunmen out of their hideouts.

Five years later, doctors in Falluja are recording an unusual number of babies with congenital heart disease and neural tube defects, the latter involving abnormal spinal cord or brain development, which can cause paralysis and death.

"The marked increase of congenital malformations of newborns in this hospital pushed the hospital's board of directors to form a special committee to investigate and record these cases," said Abdulsatar Kadim, manager of Falluja's main hospital.

Doctors say they have not been able to isolate a specific cause. Several factors can trigger the condition, including a lack of folic acid during pregnancy.

A neural paediatric specialist, who declined to be named, said he was seeing on average three or four newborns with neural tube defects a week in Falluja and its surrounding areas, a region with a population of about 675,000 people.

In Britain, the incidence of the condition is less than 1 birth in every 1,000. Most births in and around Falluja are at its main hospital, where up to 30 are recorded daily, roughly equating to a neural tube defect rate of 14 in every 1,000.

"Some families decide to end the matter from the beginning. They choose to end the life of child, by refusing surgery for them -- 90 percent of the children whom we don't treat die in the first year," said a Falluja doctor who declined to be named.

(Editing by Michael Christie and Samia Nakhoul)

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