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Minnesota youth demand Green New Deal in meeting with governor

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On Wednesday, more than 100 youth from across the state ascended the snow-free steps of the Minnesota capitol building to meet with newly inaugurated Governor Tim Walz and demand comprehensive action on climate change.

The group, Minnesota Can’t Wait, was there to push for a Green New Deal. Organizers called it the country’s first youth-led, state-level effort to demand the policy, which pairs labor and environmental justice efforts. In response to the meeting, Walz announced that he would immediately establish a statewide cross-agency working group on climate change.

Minnesota’s winters are warming faster than almost anywhere else in the country. In their conversation with the governor on Wednesday, youth spoke of their love of outdoor ice skating and dog sledding, but also their fear of the rise in infectious diseases and climate disasters.

Minnesota Can’t Wait wants state government to tackle the issue from all angles: In addition to pressuring the governor and legislature on Green New Deal legislation, the group calls for a ban on fossil fuel projects and executive action to regulate emissions. The demands are in line with what IPCC scientists say is necessary to stabilize global warming at 1.5 degrees C, the point above which change is expected to become large enough to disrupt society at a grand scale.

“The idea is that we stop making decisions based on what is politically possible and start doing what is necessary,” said Lia Harel, age 18, from Hopkins, Minnesota. “That’s been the driving force in getting these youth to act, because we don’t have time to wait any more.”

The event was inspired by sit-ins organized by the Sunrise Movement in congressional offices in Washington, D.C., and around the country in recent weeks, and wasn’t originally intended to include a meeting with the governor. However, a representative from Climate Generation, a Minnesota-based youth organization that helped plan the event, said that once they informed the governor’s office of the sit-in, they decided to invite the youth in for a meeting.

“What you’re asking for is concrete changes, which is what you should be asking for,” Walz told the youth. “This move is a tangible evidence of where we are going to go.”

Minnesota’s new state legislative session kicks off with Democrats just one Senate vote away from total control, and a new House committee explicitly focused on climate change for the first time.

“I met with youth climate leaders several weeks ago,” said Jean Wagenius, the state representative chairing the new House climate committee, in an email to Grist. “We will be working with them to rapidly accelerate efforts to reduce climate change gases.”

Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, who is a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the highest-ranking Native woman ever elected to executive office in U.S. history, attended the event, too. Flanagan said the issue of climate change was especially personal for her. Her tribe has fought for years to protect their lands from pipeline development, and now, she hopes the inclusive approach demonstrated on Wednesday could be a model for other states.

“We talk about having a table where the people who are directly affected by issues can pull up a chair and make sure that they’re seen, heard, and valued,” Flanagan said in an interview with Grist after the event.

That willingness from elected leaders to listen to youth describe the need for radical climate policy has been rare so far. With federal action toward a Green New Deal seemingly stalled for now, youth are hoping for quicker progress at the state level.

That could happen in Minnesota. In Walz’s inauguration address this week, he made a clear call for bold climate action. “Instead of burying our head in our hands when it comes to our changing climate or to providing affordable housing, accessible healthcare and good-paying jobs, we must tackle them head on,” Walz said.

Towards the end of his conversation with Minnesota Can’t Wait, Walz asked the youth to go back to their communities and make the case for the radical change that would benefit future generations as well as the state’s current economy.

It helped that his daughter, Hope, was also there, on her 18th birthday. At one point, she raised her hand, stood up behind her father, and said, “I’m just going to ask how I can get involved with the group, you know, so there’s a better chance of him following through.”

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Trump Looking for Hispanic to Take Agriculture Post

Mother Jones

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Politico reports on Donald Trump’s search for a Secretary of Agriculture:

Trump met Wednesday with two Hispanic politicians at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach to discuss the possibility of taking on the agriculture post: Dr. Elsa Murano, a former U.S. agriculture undersecretary for food safety, who is Cuban-American, and Abel Maldonado, a Mexican-American who is a former California lieutenant governor and co-owner of Runway Vineyards.

I imagine Trump’s interior monologue for his cabinet choices has gone something like this:

Lessee. Solid, silver-haired white guy for State. Check. Retired general for Defense. Check. Personal financial crony for Treasury. Check. What else? Teachers are all women, so Betsy is good for Education. Urban is code for black, so Ben will fit in at HUD. Lotta oil wells in Texas, so maybe a Texan for Energy. Perry can do it. Somebody exotic-looking for UN ambassador. Nikki really looks the part. Asians are bad drivers, maybe Elaine can get through to them at Transportation. Fill out the rest with a bunch of dull white guys. I’ll let Pence take care of it. And Agriculture. Hmmm. Gotta be Hispanic, right? They’re the ones who pick all the crops. But who?

If only I were just joking with this.

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The Secret US Military Operation Underway in Africa

Mother Jones

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This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

What is Operation New Normal?

It’s a question without an answer, a riddle the US military refuses to solve. It’s a secret operation in Africa that no one knows anything about. Except that someone does. His name is Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee Magee. He lives and breathes Operation New Normal. But he doesn’t want to breath paint fumes or talk to me, so you can’t know anything about it.

Confused? Stay with me.

Whatever Operation New Normal may be pales in comparison to the real “new normal” for US Africa Command (AFRICOM). The lower-cased variant is bold and muscular. It’s an expeditionary force on a war footing. To the men involved, it’s a story of growth and expansion, new battlefields, “combat,” and “war.” It’s the culmination of years of construction, ingratiation, and interventions, the fruits of wide-eyed expansion and dismal policy failures, the backing of proxies to fight America’s battles, while increasing US personnel and firepower in and around the continent. It is, to quote an officer with AFRICOM, the blossoming of a “war-fighting combatant command.” And unlike Operation New Normal, it’s finally heading for a media outlet near you.

Ever Less New, Ever More Normal

Since 9/11, the US military has been ramping up missions on the African continent, funneling money into projects to woo allies, supporting and training proxy forces, conducting humanitarian outreach, carrying out air strikes and commando raids, creating a sophisticated logistics network throughout the region, and building a string of camps, “cooperative security locations,” and bases-by-other-names.

Click here to see a larger version

From a 2013 US Army Africa briefing slide referencing Operation New Normal.

All the while, AFRICOM downplayed the expansion and much of the media, with a few notable exceptions, played along. With the end of the Iraq War and the drawdown of combat forces in Afghanistan, Washington has, however, visibly “pivoted” to Africa and, in recent weeks, many news organizations, especially those devoted to the military, have begun waking up to the new normal there.

While daily US troop strength continent-wide hovers in the relatively modest range of 5,000 to 8,000 personnel, an under-the-radar expansion has been constant, with the US military now conducting operations alongside almost every African military in almost every African country and averaging more than a mission a day.

This increased engagement has come at a continuing cost. When the US and other allies intervened in 2011 to aid in the ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, for instance, it helped set off a chain reaction that led to a security vacuum destabilizing that country as well as neighboring Mali. The latter saw its elected government overthrown by a US-trained officer. The former never recovered and has tottered toward failed-state status ever since. Local militias have been carving out fiefdoms, while killing untold numbers of Libyans—as well, of course, as US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in a September 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, the “cradle” of the Libyan revolution, whose forces the US had aided with training, materiel, and military might.

Quickly politicized by Congressional Republicans and conservative news outlets, “Benghazi” has become a shorthand for many things, including Obama administration cover-ups and misconduct, as well as White House lies and malfeasance. Missing, however, has been thoughtful analysis of the implications of American power-projection in Africa or the possibility that blowback might result from it.

Far from being chastened by the Benghazi deaths or chalking them up to a failure to imagine the consequences of armed interventions in situations whose local politics they barely grasp, the Pentagon and the Obama administration have used Benghazi as a growth opportunity, a means to take military efforts on the continent to the next level. “Benghazi” has provided AFRICOM with a beefed-up mandate and new clout. It birthed the new normal in Africa.

The Spoils of Blowback

Those 2012 killings “changed AFRICOM forever,” Major General Raymond Fox, commander of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, told attendees of a recent Sea-Air-Space conference organized by the Navy League, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, and the Merchant Marine. The proof lies in the new “crisis response” forces that have popped up in and around Africa, greatly enhancing the regional reach, capabilities, and firepower of the US military.

Following the debacle in Benghazi, for instance, the US established an Africa-focused force known as Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response (SP-MAGTF CR) to give AFRICOM quick-reaction capabilities on the continent. “Temporarily positioned” at Morón Air Base in Spain, this rotating unit of Marines and sailors is officially billed as “a balanced, expeditionary force with built-in command, ground, aviation, and logistics elements and organized, trained, and equipped to accomplish a specific mission.”

Similarly, Benghazi provided the justification for the birthing of another rapid reaction unit, the Commander’s In-Extremis Force. Long in the planning stages and supported by the head of the Special Operations Command, Admiral William McRaven, the Fort Carson, Colorado-based unit—part of the 10th Special Forces Group—was sent to Europe weeks after Benghazi. Elements of this specialized counterterrorism unit are now “constantly forward deployed,” AFRICOM spokesman Benjamin Benson told TomDispatch, and stand “ready for the commander to use, if there’s a crisis.”

The East Africa Response Force (EARF), operating from the lone avowed American base in Africa—Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti—is another new quick-reaction unit. When asked about EARF, Benson said, “The growing complexity of the security environment demonstrated the need for us to have a Department of Defense-positioned response force that could respond to crises in the African region.”

In late December, just days after the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, out of Fort Riley, Kansas, arrived in Djibouti to serve as the newly christened EARF, members of the unit were whisked off to South Sudan. Led by EARF’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Lee Magee, the 45-man platoon was dispatched to that restive nation (midwifed into being by the US only a few years earlier) as it slid toward civil war with armed factions moving close to the US embassy in the capital, Juba. The obvious fear: another Benghazi.

Joined by elements of the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response and more shadowy special ops troops, members of EARF helped secure and reinforce the embassy and evacuate Americans. Magee and most of his troops returned to Djibouti in February, although a few were still serving in South Sudan as recently as last month.

South Sudan, a nation the US poured much time and effort into building, is lurching toward the brink of genocide, according to Secretary of State John Kerry. With a ceasefire already in shambles within hours of being signed, the country stands as another stark foreign policy failure on a continent now rife with them. But just as Benghazi proved a useful excuse for dispatching more forward-deployed firepower toward Africa, the embassy scare in South Sudan acted as a convenient template for future crises in which the US military would be even more involved. “We’re basically the firemen for AFRICOM. If something arises and they need troops somewhere, we can be there just like that,” Captain John Young, a company commander with the East Africa Response Force, told Stars and Stripes in the wake of the Juba mission.

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New Hawaii senator says climate change is urgent

New Hawaii senator says climate change is urgent

Governor Neil Abercrombie

Brian Schatz, the newest member of the U.S. Senate.

The new senator from Hawaii may come from a laid-back state, but he’s not very chill when it comes to climate change. Brian Schatz (D), the former lieutenant governor, said this week that climate change will top his legislative agenda as he joins the Senate as a replacement for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D).

“For me, personally, I believe global climate change is real and it is the most urgent challenge of our generation,” Schatz said.

And then this beautiful rainbow burst forth across the islands.


I don’t have to tell you how unusual it is to hear this kind of straight talk from a U.S. senator. But Schatz is young, and he also comes from a series of small islands that for obvious reasons may have more immediate concerns about rising sea levels than, say, Nebraska. From The Hill:

Schatz will serve with incoming [senator] Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who is replacing retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii).

Hirono and Schatz likely will both champion climate change.

Hirono was named to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources earlier this month, and touted clean energy on the campaign trail. Green groups have praised Hirono’s positions on energy and climate change.

Climate change is particularly urgent for America’s 50th state. Pacific islands, including Hawaii, have been experiencing droughts, eroded beaches, and increased storm surges, and they’re not afraid of connecting the dots to climate collapse. More warm temps across the state could help grow the year-round mosquito population and further expose and damage Hawaii’s prized coral reefs.

Mahalo, Sen. Schatz, for saying what most pols won’t. Now, for the doing!

Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for



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Marijuana growers endanger salmon, bears, and even dogs

Marijuana growers endanger salmon, bears, and even dogs


Pot: not so green.

We’ve written before about the environmental damage done by marijuana growers — massive energy consumption, indiscriminate pesticide use, dead little forest critters, both cute and uncute. Now the L.A. Times reports that pot growers in California are also undermining salmon recovery efforts, poisoning bears, and even threatening our BFFs: dogs.

The marijuana boom that came with the sudden rise of medical cannabis in California has wreaked havoc on the fragile habitats of the North Coast and other parts of California. With little or no oversight, farmers have illegally mowed down timber, graded mountaintops flat for sprawling greenhouses, dispersed poisons and pesticides, drained streams and polluted watersheds.

Because marijuana is unregulated in California and illegal under federal law, most growers still operate in the shadows, and scientists have little hard data on their collective effect. But they are getting ever more ugly snapshots.

Here’s the bad news about salmon:

State scientists, grappling with an explosion of marijuana growing on the North Coast, recently studied aerial imagery of a small tributary of the Eel River, spawning grounds for endangered coho salmon and other threatened fish.

In the remote, 37-square-mile patch of forest, they counted 281 outdoor pot farms and 286 greenhouses, containing an estimated 20,000 plants — mostly fed by water diverted from creeks or a fork of the Eel. The scientists determined the farms were siphoning roughly 18 million gallons from the watershed every year, largely at the time when the salmon most need it.

“That is just one small watershed,” said Scott Bauer, the state scientist in charge of the coho recovery on the North Coast for the Department of Fish and Game. “You extrapolate that for all the other tributaries, just of the Eel, and you get a lot of marijuana sucking up a lot of water.… This threatens species we are spending millions of dollars to recover.”

And the bad news about bears:

Mark Higley, a wildlife biologist on the Hoopa Indian Reservation in eastern Humboldt …, is incredulous over the poisons that growers are bringing in.

“Carbofuran,” he said. “It seems like they’re using that to kill bears and things like that that raid their camps. So they mix it up with tuna or sardine, and the bears eat that and die.”

And the bad news about dogs:

Scientists suspect that nutrient runoff from excess potting soil and fertilizers, combined with lower-than-normal river flow due to diversions, has caused a rash of toxic blue-green algae blooms in the North Coast rivers over the last decade.

The cyanobacteria outbreaks threaten public health for swimmers and kill aquatic invertebrates that salmon and steelhead trout eat. Now, officials warn residents in late summer and fall to stay out of certain stretches of water and keep their dogs out. Eleven dogs have died from ingesting the floating algae since 2001.

Though California has yet to follow Colorado and Washington in legalizing pot, “[m]arijuana is, as a practical matter, already legal in much of California,” reports The New York Times, so common that it doesn’t even raise eyebrows. Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor and a likely future gubernatorial candidate, says the laws against marijuana “just don’t make sense anymore”; he’s now calling for legalization.

But with the federal government still resolutely anti-weed, even many growers in states where marijuana is legal are likely to stay in the shadows and keep using shadowy growing techniques — so get used to bad news.

Lisa Hymas is senior editor at Grist. You can follow her on





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