Archive for March, 2017

The Word “Science” Has Disappeared From The EPA’s Mission Statement

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is under a communications blackout, has its long-time archenemy as its new chief, is having its funding dramatically cut, is having all its major climate change mitigation provisions and water protection rules rolled back, and may be entirely abolished by the end of 2018. Times are bad, to summarize.

The newly minted powers-that-be are also having a fiddle with the EPA’s website, something which is being tracked by the non-profit group, the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI). Although plenty of references to climate change have been slipping away as of late, the most recent change is particularly egregious.

The EPA’s Office of Science and Technology (OST) once had a mission statement that began thusly: “OST is responsible for developing sound, science-based standards, criteria, health advisories, test methods and guidelines…” It talks about using “scientific and technological foundations” to achieve things like clean water and pristine aquatic environments.

Now, the mission statement notes that it works on “economically and technologically achievable performance standards to address water pollution.” The word “science” has been completely removed from the site – despite the fact that, lest we forget, this if the Office of Science and Technology.

This is ludicrous, that much is obvious. Worryingly, this goes in line with what Scott Pruitt and his anti-environmental cronies were saying at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland. One lawyer who handled the transition between the Obama EPA team and the Trump one even said that the EPA should not conduct science at all.

This situation is so bizarre that there aren’t enough superlatives or analogies to adequately convey its malevolence effectively. Taking the “science” out of the Office of Science and Technology is like taking the “space” out of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It’s like removing the spaghetti from bolognese, the coffee out of an espresso, or the alcohol out of a bar.

It’s like taking cats off the Internet – what is the point of it without them?

You can’t base environmental protection on anything that’s not scientific. Are they going to use the entrails of a chicken to guide them? Will they search their feelings and use the Force? Flip a coin? Consult a Magic 8-Ball?

Science, it seems, is just massively inconvenient for those that like to do whatever they want with no care for the consequences of it. With few exceptions, the GOP of 2017 is the party to beat when it comes to science denial.

EPA’s Environmental Justice Head Resigned After 24 Years. He Wants to Explain Why.

Friday, March 10th, 2017

“To move backward didn’t make any sense.”

By REBECCA LEBER for Mother Jones

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office on Environmental Justice submitted his resignation on Tuesday. First reported by InsideClimate News, the resignation of Mustafa Ali comes as the Trump administration considers layoffs and budget cuts at the EPA that, if enacted, would eliminate the environmental justice budget and cut funding to grants for pollution cleanup.

Ali, a founder of the program in 1992 who has worked there since, told Mother Jones he resigned because he was concerned the administration’s proposals to roll back its environmental justice work would disproportionately affect vulnerable communities. “That is something that I could not be a part of,” Ali says.

“Each new administration has an opportunity to share what their priorities and values are,” he says, adding that he has “not heard of anything that was being proposed that was beneficial to the communities we serve. To me, that was a signal that communities with environmental justice concern may not get the attention they deserve.”

The office, created during the George H.W. Bush administration, defines its mission as reducing the disproportionate impacts environmental problems have on minority, low-income, and indigenous people by integrating these concerns into all the EPA’s decision-making. Since its founding, the office has distributed $24 million in grants to 1,400 communities.

In his resignation letter, Ali attempted to make the case for the Office of Environmental Justice by appealing to Pruitt’s interest in economic growth. He described what happened in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which received a $20,000 grant from the EPA to address the community’s abandoned dump sites that were leaching toxic chemicals. The mostly low-income, African American residents of the region experienced high rates of cancer and respiratory disease. Local black leaders leveraged that grant into $270 million from investors and the government to revitalize the city, “creating jobs and improving their environments through collaborative partnerships,” Ali wrote. “When I hear we are considering making cuts to grant programs like the EJ small grants or Collaborative Problem Solving programs, which have assisted over 1400 communities, I wonder if our new leadership has had the opportunity to converse with those who need our help the most.”

Ali spoke to Mother Jones from Flint, Michigan, where he was attending a two-day environmental justice summit in the city that famously confronted an environmental crisis when the community’s drinking water was found to be contaminated with lead. He says he will continue the work he has focused on for 25 years as the new senior vice president of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national nonprofit that organizes and recruits activists to promote social justice, including on climate change. “I want to make sure I am investing my time and talents in a place that is going to be supportive of that work,” he says.

Ali hopes his resignation will bring attention to the effects on low-income and marginalized communities of the new administration’s program cuts and loosened regulations.

During his confirmation hearings, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt told Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) that he is “familiar with the concept of environmental justice” and acknowledged that the “administrator plays an important role regarding environmental justice.”

“Under his leadership, he has the ability to move to the next level if he chooses to,” Ali says. Environmental justice leaders “have dedicated decades to trying to gain traction and make progress. We’ve done some of that, and to move backward didn’t make any sense to me.”

Report: Growing Islamic Extremism In Latin America Poses ‘Major Security Threat’ To US

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Daily Caller, by Peter Hassan, March 30, 2017:

Growing Islamic extremism in Latin America constitutes a “major security threat” to the United States, according to an analysis published this month by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

“The threat from Islamic extremists in Latin America remains an overlooked aspect of U.S. national security strategy,” NCPA senior fellow David Grantham argued.

Grantham noted that “Saudi Arabia has invested millions to construct mosques and cultural centers in South America and Central America that expand the reach of its rigid version of Islam, known as Wahhabism.”

“The international spread of Saudi dogma, which the State Department’s first special representative to Muslim communities worldwide, Farah Pandith, called ‘insidious,’ has laid the foundation for likeminded radicals to thrive in other areas of Latin America,” he explained.

Later in the brief, Grantham noted that the “threats to U.S. security in the Greater Caribbean region are even more alarming in Trinidad and Tobago. The small island nation off the coast of Venezuela, once the target of an overthrow by Islamic militants, has also become a breeding ground for ISIS — 70 of the 100 Latin Americans known to have joined ISIS originated from the small country.”

The ease of mobility Islamic extremists have in Latin America is also cause for concern.

“Islamic extremism thrives where there is illicit finance and relative ease of movement across national and international borders. The mobility of terrorists throughout Latin America poses a serious problem,” Grantham stated.

Perhaps the greatest Islamic extremist threat in Latin America, though, is the Islamic Republic of Iran, which Grantham said could potentially strike the US from Latin America as a retaliatory act.

“The Islamic Republic has the capability and infrastructure to strike the United States from Latin America, but experts disagree over whether it would take that risk,” Grantham writes. “Experts consistently discuss the likelihood of a preemptive or first strike attack on the United States, though, which creates too high a standard. Instead, the argument should focus on the prospect of retaliatory attack.”

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton also warned of Iranian sponsored terrorism through Latin American “proxies” during a 2013 off-the-record speech to Goldman Sachs employees that was made public by WikiLeaks.

“If we had a map up behind us you would be able to see Iranian sponsored terrorism directly delivered by Iranians themselves, mostly through the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the operatives, or through Islah or other proxies from to Latin American to Southeast Asia,” Clinton said.

“The growth of extremist activity in Latin America is a major security threat. The prospects of retaliation from Iran, in particular, should not discourage action against Iran where necessary but should heighten awareness regarding the high probability of revenge attacks,” Grantham concluded. “Iran’s influence in Latin America and extremists, in general, demand new national security strategies in the region. Such an approach could begin with U.S. support to allied governments that improves their intelligence capabilities, and with targeted financial interdiction strategies.”

The brief can be read in its entirety here

Islam and Indigenous peoples of Panama

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Islam and Indigenous peoples of Panama

Q&A: Indigenous and Muslim ‘a growing trend’ in Australia

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Article here

Dr Peta Stephenson is an honorary fellow at the Asia Institute. She has interviewed dozens of Indigenous Muslims as research for her book ‘Islam Dreaming’, and says numbers of those converting are on the rise.

DR STEPHENSON, HAS THERE BEEN AN INCREASE IN INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS CONVERTING TO ISLAM?

If we look at the 2006 census and the two before that, we do see that the numbers are rising. In 1996 and 2001 there were just over 600 Indigenous Muslims in Australia in each of those censuses.

In the subsequent one, in 2006, the number had risen 60 per cent to more than 1,000. So, not huge numbers if we look at the population of Australia, but it’s still a significant climb.

WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE MOTIVES FOR CONVERTING TO ISLAM YOU’VE FOUND DURING YOUR RESEARCH?

I conducted interviews with Indigenous Muslims for my book ‘Islam Dreaming’. Some of those were descended from Muslim fathers or forefathers, but wouldn’t classify themselves as practicing Muslims.

Perhaps they had an Afghan cameleer father or grandfather or a so-called ‘Malay Man’ who came to work in the pearl shelling industry. Then there were others who didn’t have that family history but had decided to embrace Islam.

And I found that the men and women who converted to Islam shared many commonalities with converts globally. Their experiences were that they enjoyed feeling part of a community, that they found Muslims to be extremely welcoming and hospitable.

In many ways, they felt that by becoming Muslim they were going back to their traditional pre-colonial indigenous identity, because they could see that there were many similarities in traditional Indigenous societies and Islamic ones.

For instance, men can have more than one wife, arranged marriages were common to both societies, men were usually much older than their wives, they had gendered spheres of influence, so, sort of ‘men’s business’ and ‘women’s business’.

The indigenous people I spoke to felt re-affirmed in their Aboriginality by becoming Muslim, and that wasn’t something I expected to find at all. That’s something that’s quite distinct from non-Indigenous people who embrace Islam.

Another difference was that Aboriginal people are coming to Islam against a backdrop of Christian ‘missionisation’, so some of them were attracted to Islam because it’s a non-Christian faith, and something they embraced by choice, not something that was imposed upon them.

DID YOU COME ACROSS ANY DIFFICULTIES WHERE THE TWO CULTURES MIGHT NOT PARTICULARLY BE COMPATIBLE?

I think that Aboriginal people haven’t really found that to be a difficulty, I mean, some people say they have foregone or given up their Aboriginality by becoming Muslim, but as I’ve just mentioned, the Indigenous Muslim people I’ve spoken to say, on the contrary, they feel more Aboriginal by becoming Muslim, particularly because in Islam, language differences and colour and cultural differences are recognised in Islam. It’s seen as a sign of God or Allah’s will to make people different.

So Aboriginal people maintain that, unlike Christianity, or their experience with Christian Missionisation at least, wherein people were expected to forego their languages and stop practicing their culture, Islam accepts that.

The difficulty they might find is in the reception, perhaps by friends or families but also the wider population who doesn’t perhaps understand, and might just think aboriginal people are embracing Islam as a, sort of oppositional anti-white type identity.

What about traditional aspects of Aboriginal Spiritualism? Have any of the Indigenous converts or their families expressed any regret at that being overlooked?

Most of the Aboriginal Muslim people I spoke to, and according to census figures as well, are younger people under 30 years old, and they live in metropolitan centres, the majority in Sydney.

These are people who have felt that they haven’t had access to their traditional spiritual beliefs, and perhaps, access to their languages and their traditional ways of life. I guess Islam to them helps provide an alternative route back to those roots.

Some people explained to me they felt they didn’t have a full identity, they could claim Aboriginality but they didn’t really have the full exposure to what that meant, to their traditional culture. So Islam helps fill that gap a bit, I suppose.

Of course some people I spoke to lament the fact that they don’t have access to that traditional way of life and traditional spirituality, but once the language is lost, and people die, that access is simply not possible. Islam has provided them with another way back, if you like.

WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT MALCOLM X, AND HIS INFLUENCE HERE?

A lot of the men I spoke to, particularly those who had been though the prison system, were first inspired by Malcolm X.

They had read his autobiography, and some of them openly described themselves as having been angry men who got into trouble with the law partly because of their attitude, they resented feeling like outcasts in their own country and were perhaps attracted to Malcolm X and the Black Panthers and those sorts of movements thinking that they were anti-white.

But once they started to learn more about Islam, they soon started changing their way of thinking very much, because they found a faith that accepted them, that accepted they were different from mainstream white Australia and that they weren’t judged for that, because Islam says all people are created equal.

So once the indigenous men sort of restored their sense of self, then that anger sort of dissipated. A number of them talked about how it is ironic some people accuse them of perhaps having terrorist tendencies because they have become Muslim.

They’ve said, before they embraced Muslim, they were angry, and afterwards they’ve actually become very peace-loving people, and their attitudes have been noticed in the prison system and by their families as well.

WOULD YOU SAY FOR SOME CONVERTS THE DECISION TO BECOME MUSLIM IS LIFE-SAVING?

For all of them, yes, on so many levels. Islam, you can’t drink, you shouldn’t gamble so just on that very basic level some people have found it very helpful to align themselves to a faith that forgoes some of the things that have had adverse effects in indigenous communities.

Men and women have embraced Islam for some of the same reasons but also some distinct ones. So men, for instance find Islam attractive because men are deemed to be the head of the household and they’re expected to protect and maintain their family, it says in the Qur’an.

A lot of the men have said Islam has helped them to step up and take responsibility for providing financially for their wives and children, to be hard-working men.

The women find that attractive because there are a lot of single-headed households in indigenous communities, particularly headed by women.

So the women are attracted to aboriginal men who are very family-oriented and who believe that having paid employment is important.

Also, against the backdrop of the taking away of children and the forcible breaking up of families, aboriginal women are attracted to faith that really places a lot of emphasis on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of the family and women’s role within that.