Category: Society, history and politics

On Friday, March 11th, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan with the epicenter near the island of Honshu. This was the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan, and one of the top 5 largest in the world. This was soon followed by a tsunami that reached as high as 40.5 meters (133 ft) in some areas.

There are several nuclear plants along Japans coast, some of which, because of their design, were more resistant to flooding, but the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant was not prepared for the 13–15 m (43–49 ft) waves that came crashing into it. This flooded the basement and disabled the emergency generators, meaning there was no power for the pumps that normally circulate coolant water, preventing a meltdown. The rest, as we know, is history. Fukushima Daiichi is now known as the second largest nuclear disaster of all time, next to Chernobyl in 1986.

Much blame and criticism has been tossed around in the two years since the disaster. The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), established on 8 December 2011, called the disaster “man-made”, blaming the government, regulators, and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) for their unpreparedness, delayed response, and lack of communication among themselves and with the public. The report even went as far as blaming Japanese culture for “our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity”. Many people in Japan were not to happy about this ridiculous criticism. One only has to recall the response to the BP oil spill, in the Gulf of Mexico, to realize major disasters, that no one is prepared for, can happen in any industrialized society.

Assessments of the amount of radiation released, and of how it will affect the surrounding population, show a minimal health risk, but there are so much uncertainty involved, as the estimates are based on models, with many unknowns, that it is difficult to say what health impacts could be seen. Estimates of how many people could develop cancer as a result of radiation exposure range from dozens to thousands. Even well into the future it will still be difficult to say what impact it had, as it is impossible to say what caused any one persons cancer, and even if the rates rise, it would be impossible to rule out other contributing factors.

It’s possible that some negative health effects are already being seen. A health management survey, last year, found that 36% of children in the area have experienced abnormal thyroid growth, although doctors insist that it is not related to radiation from the disaster. Other studies have found an increase in butterfly mutations, but it is hard to say what this could mean for humans, as we are obviously much bigger.

The way of life for many people in northern Japan has been utterly devastated. Not only have around 140,000 people been evacuated from their homes, with some saying that millions should have been evacuated, but it also had a huge affect on food production. Vegetables, beef, milk, and mushrooms from the area have been banned from sale, domestically and abroad. Just recently, fish have been found in the contaminated areas to have over 2,500 times the safe level of radiation. This has clearly been crippling for the farming and fisheries industries in the area.

Northern Japan is not the only area affected by this crisis. Contaminated tuna has also been found as far away as California, and there are worries that things could get worse for the west coast of North America as the radiation continues to spread through the Pacific.

Some nuclear experts have also warned about the potential threat of a much larger disaster if another big earthquake were to strike again, calling the situation a ticking time-bomb. Robert Alvarez, senior scholar of the Institute for Policy Research, and former senior adviser to the Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton, has warned about spent reactor fuel, which contains 85 times more radiation than was released at Chernobyl, and is still vulnerable to future earthquakes. 

Several non-profit nuclear watchdog groups, such as Fairewinds Energy Education and Beyond Nuclear, have also raised alarm about the risks, not only at Fukushima, but with nuclear power in general.

Kevin Camps (Beyond Nuclear) on RT:

Arnie Gundersen (Fairewinds Energy Education) on WDEV:

There are also, of course, pro-nuclear groups, like Atomic Insights, who are attempting to debunk the claims of those mentioned above. Atomic Insights is founded by Rod Adams, who also founded Adams Atomic Engines, which designed and ultimately planned to build atomic engines, until they went out of business in 2010.

Rod Adams (Atomic Insights):

For me, any time two groups are telling opposing sides of a story, I tend to be more likely to agree with the one who has the least to gain from their advocacy. It’s easy to see why someone like Rod Adams, with ties to the nuclear industry, would want the industry to grow. It’s possible that he might even want to get back into the industry in the future. On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to say that anti-nuclear groups could exaggerate the threat in order to justify their existence.

Presently, at Fukushima, cleanup has only just begun. After the meltdown, radiation levels were way too high for workers, and even robots could not function in those conditions. The levels have dropped 40% in the last year, but it is still a very hazardous environment for workers. The cleanup must be done very carefully and is expected to take up to 40 years.

None of this seems to be having any impact on the future of nuclear energy. Japan has decided to drop their earlier plans of phasing out their reliance on nuclear power by 2040, mainly due to lobbying pressure from the industry that provides 30% of Japans energy before the crisis.

Thousands of people in Japan attended an anti-nuclear protest the day before the 2nd anniversary of the earthquake that triggered it all, and surveys show that 70% of Japan want to see nuclear power phased out. As we all know, however, powerful interest groups, with the help of governments, tend to find a way do what they want, no matter how unpopular it is.

Last year, around 16,000 of those evacuated were allowed to return to their homes, many of which decided to stay away. This still leaves over 100,000 not knowing when or if they will ever be able to return home. It’s been two years now since the disaster, but it’s clear that the story will not be over for decades and generations to come.

I first heard of Nathan Cullen when I read his blog, which was featured on on December 1st, 2011. This blog briefly outlined his plan to cooperate with Liberal and Green Party members and hold joint nomination meetings in Conservative held ridings. This would leave only one candidate to face-off against the Conservative incumbents for certain seats, making it, at least, less likely that they could get a majority government with only 39% of the vote, as in the last federal election.

A few days later, the first leadership debate was held in Ottawa. 8 other candidates joined Cullen, including Thomas Mulcair, Peggy Nash, Brian Topp, Paul Dewar, Niki Ashton, Martin Singh, Romeo Saganash, and Robert Chisholm. Saganash and Chisholm have since dropped out of the race.

In this debate, Cullen clearly stood out as one of my top choices. It was his charisma and passion for the environment that caught my attention the most, plus, he made me laugh a couple of time, which is always good.

As former NDP environment and natural resources critic, and with his strong opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline – which would pass through his Skeena-Bulkley riding in BC – it is clear that environmental issues are one of Nathans top priorities. With the current Conservative governments total neglect of the environment, this is exactly the kind of leader we need to get our country back on the right track. Also, being a 4th term MP, he has more parliamentary experience than any other candidate in the race, and he is the only one to ever defeat a Conservative incumbent.

On top of his experience in parliament, Nathan Cullen has also operated a successful small business, spent time as a community organizer, and has done development work in Africa and South America. He has worked with diverse groups, from business executives to indigenous elders, and speaks 3 languages (English, French, and Spanish).

With his small business background, Cullen is also less likely to be feared by more moderate Liberals who might otherwise vote Conservative if they were cooperating with the NDP. In an interview with the Star, he calls himself “a pro-business New Democrat” who believes “in the private sector’s capacity to innovate and create the kind of wealth we need to pay for the social programs we deserve”. He also believes in protecting small and medium sized businesses from unfair interest rates imposed on them by large banks an credit card companies, as he explains in the clip from a debate below.

Nathan has come under attack for his joint nomination plan, mainly from his opponents and other die-hard NDP supporters. He addresses many of these criticisms in an interview with MacLeans magazine.

The main criticism is that his plan is undemocratic. Opponent say that it would prevent them from getting the unexpected victories that led to their success in Quebec on May 2nd. Cullen points out that he was not proposing this in the last election. Also, it’s difficult to say what would have happened in May if the parties had held joint nomination meetings. Perhaps the NDP would have given up some of their victories to the Liberals, but at the same time, both the NDP and the Liberals would most likely have taken some victories from the Conservatives. And maybe the Green party could have even won a seat or two.

This is nothing like a coalition government, like the the Canadian (Reform/Conservative) Alliance that existed from 2000 to 2003. It is also nothing like the imaginary Liberal/NDP coalition that Harper used to scare people into voting for him in the last election.

Furthermore, it’s not as if candidates would be forced to drop out of the race. Every candidate would have the choice, and if their polling numbers are low, they would be encouraged to get behind another progressive candidate, so that Conservatives don’t benefit from the splitting of the progressive vote.

Some NDP and GPC supporters would argue that Liberals are not progressive. This is a misunderstanding of the diversity of the Liberal base. I, like many progressives, have voted Liberal in the past because in my riding they were the only ones able to beat the Conservatives. Strategic voting, or voting for the lesser of two evils, although you don’t necessarily get to vote for the party that best represents your views, is smart. A vote for a party that has no chance of winning the seat, while it does give a dollar or two to the party of your choice, has no effect on the outcome of the election, and is essentially wasted. The Cullen plan is not strategic voting, but strategic nomination.

As Prime Minister of Canada, Nathan Cullen would also introduce proportional representation, where the number of seats won are proportional to the number of votes received. This would erase the need for joint nominations and strategic voting.

The bottom line is, progressives are starting to realize, after less than a year of a Harper majority, that we can’t keep going in this direction for much longer. Harper once said “You won’t recognize Canada when I’m done with it”, and people are starting to see what he meant.

With a new and expensive crime bill (C-10) at a time when crime is at it’s lowest point in decades, attempting to pass an internet spy bill (C-30) that would allow the government to monitor peoples online activity without a warrant, abandoning the Kyoto protocol, and advocating tar-sand pipelines that put communities in danger of a spill, it’s becoming clear what kind of vision he has for the country. If we don’t want a police state, controlled by oil companies, we need to do whatever we can to stop Harper before our country becomes completely unrecognizable.

Nathan Cullen started his campaign for NDP leader as a virtual unknown, but has now gained a considerable amount of momentum, mainly because of his joint nomination plan, and also his charismatic performance in the debates. Unlike many of the other front-runners, he is not backed by large labor unions. His support comes from people coming together to support progressive values over partisan politics.

The NDP leadership election is March 24th, but in order to vote, you must become a registered member of the NDP before February 18th.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a bill being considered by the US House or Representatives that was introduced on October 26, 2011 by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). The Senate has their own version of the bill, called the “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act”, aka the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), introduced on May 12, 2011 by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The goal of these bills is to protect intellectual property markets and the jobs and revenues in these industries.  Proponents of the bills say they are necessary to enforce copyright laws in the digital age, especially when it comes to foreign websites. Although very similar, there are slight differences between the two bills, mainly just in the specific wording.

One provision that SOPA has that PIPA doesn’t is the requirement of search engines to remove “foreign infringing sites” from their indexes. PIPA, on the other hand, requires greater court intervention against accused websites. This makes SOPA slightly more controversial, as it is seen by some as outright censorship, but critics have other problems with both bills.

Both proposed bills would force US based payment services, such as PayPal, to refrain from doing business with foreign sites that are thought to be “dedicated to infringing activities.” This is similar to what happened with the whistle-blowing website, WikiLeaks, when PayPal cut their access for donations.

Both bills also include what is called anti-circumvention provisions, which would make it illegal to inform people on how to access blocked sites. This can be interpreted to require websites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit , whose content comes from the users, to make sure that such information is not posted on their sites, or they could face legal action. This would be nearly impossible for such websites to enforce.

Another provision turns internet service providers into vigilantes, allowing them to block access to websites if the have “credible evidence” that they are distributing copyrighted material. They also give immunity to these providers if they are found to have wrongfully taken action against a website. The potential for abuse and censorship here is overwhelming.

A provision that sponsors of both bills have agreed to drop, due to outcry from many technical experts, allows for service providers to use a technique known as DNS (domain name system) blocking. DNS is, basically, the phone book that attaches a domain name with it’s IP address. Critics say DNS blocking would undermine the infrastructure of the internet.

Because it deals with the world wide web, and it extends the powers of enforcement to go after foreign websites, this issue is not only relevant to the US, but to people all over the world.

An alternative to these bill has been offered that still addresses the issue of intellectual property rights without a lot of the provisions that critics find offensive. The “Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade” or OPEN Act, has been introduced to both the House, and the Senate. This would expand on a the Tariff Act of 1930, which allows the International Trade Commission (ITC) to take action against the distribution of physical good violating intellectual property laws, to include “unfair digital imports or unfair imports that are digitally-facilitated by foreign rogue websites”. Supporters of SOPA and PIPA say this legislation would be ineffective, and so far, it hasn’t gained much support in either the house or the Senate.

At the moment, it doesn’t seem that enough consensus will be reached in the House to pass SOPA any time soon. PIPA, however,  seems much more likely to go forward, and is expected to go to a vote in the Senate on January 24.

The White House has issued at statement on this matter saying that it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” suggesting that Obama would veto any such bill if it were to pass. However, Obama has also threatened that he would veto the “National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA) that he signed on New Year’s Eve. Clearly, any statement from the White House cannot be taken seriously.

An online blackout is planned for Wednesday, January 18 in protest against these bills. Sites taking part in the blackout – including Wikipedia, Reddit, Boing Boing, Destructoid, I Heart Chaos, all sites under the Cheezburger Network and others – will display a page warning people of the potential consequences of these bills passing. Also, has a petition, with over 1.5 million signatures (and counting), that you can sign to let members of Congress know about your concerns over SOPA.

SOPA and PIPA have the potential to change the internet as we know it. The unclear wording allows for abuse which could censorship of any website that is seen as a threat. This is not to mention the enormous cost and effort it would require to enforce such legislation. If you value a free and open internet, then please take action against these misguided bills.

UPDATE: Barack Obama refuses to support SOPA, although, Congress will revisit the bill next month. PIPA is still expected to go to a vote on January 24.

Also, there is evidence that the main supporters of the bill, are some of the same people who created, distributed and promoted much of the pirating technology in the first place. They owned the copyrights, made it easy for people to share files, and now support legislation which would allow them to make millions off copyright infringement lawsuits. This video by Micheal Mozart explains:

Why All the Rage?

Civil disobedience seem to be increasingly more common in the world today, from anti-austerity protests sweeping across Europe, to the so called Arab Spring, to public union battles in several American states, to riots in the UK, and finally to Occupy Wall Street, which has since escalated into a global solidarity movement involving 951 cities in 82 countries. This blog is an attempt to understand where all of this discontent came from, and why it is being seen on such a level, on a global scale.

The global recession has prompted many world leaders to put austerity measures in place in order to afford stimulus packages and bailouts to try and fix their financial problems. This has lead many to argue that the governments are forcing the working class to pay for problems mainly caused by speculation in the financial markets. Protests sprang up all across Europe, starting in September 2010, with people saying that investments needed to be made to promote job growth rather than cutting services to those who need it most.

The revolutionary wave referred to as the Arab Spring started in the small, North-African country of Tunisia, when a street vendor lit himself on fire, grabbing the world’s attention and sparking protests in his hometown, which spread to the capital Tunis. This action by 26 year old  Mohamed Bouazizi, on December 17th, 2010, took his life, but lead to a revolution that ended the 23 year-old regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and inspired people across the Arab world that this kind of change could be possible in their countries.

Protests have since spread to Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Mauritania, Sudan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Libya, Kuwait, Morocco, and Syria. Some changes have been made to government in a number of these countries including a complete overthrow in Egypt and Libya.

In Libya, the overthrow was accomplished only with an intervention, by a NATO led coalition, in an all-out civil war that lead to the killing of Muammar Gaddafi, ending his 42 year rule,  giving control to the National Transitional Council. Before the fighting was even over, many of these western nations who rushed in with their “humanitarian aid” were already trying to secure control over Libya’ oil.

In Egypt, despite attempts by president Hosni Mubarak to suppress journalists and shut down the internet, protesters managed to force his resignation, bringing his 30 year presidency to an end. Power was transferred to the military who subsequently dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, and promised to hold elections before the end of the year. In the meantime, a civilian Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf was put in charge of a  Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Protests continued, however, due to perceived slowness in bringing about reforms, and worries that the council was planning to hold on to power. The first round of elections was finally held in the country last week with preliminary results showing the Islamist party to be dominating.

Civil unrest has been subdued in many other Arab nations, but continues to this day in Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria.

The motivations for these uprisings are as diverse as the countries involved and a thorough examination cannot be done without going into detail about each one. However, there are some overlying themes, such as poverty, government corruption, a lack of trust in a dictatorship, and a lack of freedom and democracy causing people to feel they have no control of their own destiny. The wealth in most of these countries is hoarded by a handful of elites like in Egypt, where the Mubarak family fortune was estimated at over $30 billion, with some estimates as high as $70 billion. Mubarak had a system in place where outsiders wanting to do business in the country had to give a share of the profits to prominent Egyptians.

Things were a little slower getting started in North America largely because of steps taken over the last 40 years or so to subdue resistance using surveillance, the media and the education system to promote conformity to a consumerist society. Noncompliance with this society is seen as pathological and anyone educated enough to resist is so hampered down by student loans that they are afraid they might lose their jobs if they speak out.

In the US particularly, there are many reasons to be angry with the direction society is heading. The Citizens United Supreme court ruling, which allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money funding political ad campaigns and basically declaring that corporations are people, is expected to bring corporate campaign spending to astronomical levels in the 2012 election cycle, further eroding democracy.

When people did finally start to rise up in the US it was the result of attacks against public unions in several states, in an attempt to limit their collective bargaining rights. Many of the protesters have said that they were inspired by the uprising in Egypt, which was all over the media at that time. It seemed the era of subdued compliance and conformity may have been coming to pass.

One event that I believe really set things off on a national level in the US was the debt ceiling deal, in which the US debt was reaching it’s limit, throwing politicians and the media into crisis mode even though the debt ceiling has been raised over 100 times in the past. Although president Barack Obama went into negotiations claiming to want to raise taxes on the rich, a deal was struck cutting services like social security and medicare, while raising taxes on lower and middle class families and actually cutting taxes for the rich. Keith Olbermann had a great rant on Current TV about the hypocrisies of the deal.

The lack of compromise has usually been blamed on Republican unwillingness to budge or on Obama’s weakness in negotiations, although some have argued that this is what Obama wanted all along. Some go further to say that the whole political system is only a puppet show to give a false sense of democracy and to serve only the interests of the oligarchs who actually control the country. All evidence, from what I have seen, seems to support this last view.

The fact that the American political establishment is so set on protecting tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans seems especially absurd when billionaires like Warren Buffett come out in favor of higher taxes for the rich. A poll also suggest that an overwhelming majority of American citizens in all demographics support a “Buffett Rule”, proposed by Obama, that would raise taxes on the people who can most easily afford it. A paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives analyzing the optimal tax rates for top earners has suggested that it should be about 70%, several times higher than it is at present.

The time was right for a mass movement in America and that is what #OccupyWallStreet provided. Months before protesters gathered in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park on September 17th , a small group of activists, some of whom were involved in the Arab Spring and European austerity protests, gathered to form a general assembly to discuss some of the problems facing the world. In July a call was put out by Canadian anti-corporate magazine, Adbusters, to fill Manhattan with protesters. Adbusters is most often credited with sparking the movement and they, no doubt, added a lot of support for the goals of the general assembly, which has become the core of the movements decision making. Thousands of people came out to show support, with hundreds of them setting up camp for the night. These people were determined. They weren’t going anywhere.

Wall Street is a reasonable target because it exemplifies the greed and corruption at the heart of free market capitalism. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Wall Street watch-dog, has been shown to be covering up crimes being committed on Wall Street. journalist Glenn Greenwald illustrates what he calls a “two-tiered justice system” in his recent book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, giving countless examples of the upper-class and political leaders getting away with unforgivable crimes while the poor often receive the full wrath of the justice system.

Much of the dialogue from the Occupy movement focuses on the growing disparities between the richest 1% of the population and everyone else, with the most common heard slogan being “we are the 99%”. The numbers are arbitrary, they could easily have been 0.1% vs. 99.9%, 2% vs. 98%, or even 20% vs. 80%. The point is that the gap between the richest and the poorest is enormous and growing. Taxation is a large part of the reason. In 2011, the Bush tax cuts alone, which were continued by Obama, will save the average 1%er more than the average 99%er makes in total income.

Plenty of evidence supports the idea that greater equality leads to a better society for everyone. This graph compares equality in prosperous times (1947-77) and in times of regression (1981-present). An eye opening TED talk by Richard Wilkinson compares more equal and unequal societies on a wide range of issues including health, life expectancy, addiction, education, violence and even trust among the societies members. Despite all of this, world leaders continue to put policies in place that lead to further inequality. Luckily the Occupy movement has come to stand up against this abuse.

Four weeks after protesters took to the streets in New York, on October 15th, a call was put out for a “Global Occupy Day”, which spawned new Occupy camps in 951 cities in 82 countries protesting in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.

In Canada, the country I call home, camps were set up in every major city and some not so major. I’ve heard a lot of people ask why I would protest in Canada, saying that we are in much better shape than the US. The thing is, with our low corporate taxes, business is thriving but it’s all at the cost of the lower and middle class. Like other more equal countries, such as Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, Canada is seeing income inequality rise faster than much of the world, including the US. Canada is also seeing an unprecedented attack on unions, and environmental policies that make us the worst polluters in the world, not to mention several other ways that we are going in the wrong direction. In other words, we Occupy because we don’t want to end up in the same situation as the US.

The argument that we are doing pretty good compared to the rest of the world, so we really have nothing to protest, doesn’t hold any water to begin with. Human empathy allows us to put ourselves in other peoples position and to feel compassion for them. A common misconception of the movement is that we are all unemployed or even homeless. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many in the movement are either students, or working full time, and although they might be just barely scraping by, joined the movement to stand up for the rights of those less fortunate, in their own communities, countries, or in less developed parts of the world. Psychological research has shown that upper class citizens are less likely to to experience empathy, although they can be induced to feel compassion if they are exposed to the suffering of others.

Support for the Occupy movement does not come exclusively from the lower class. Many prominent individuals from all sectors of society have come out in support. In the business world, the Board of Directors of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream have given a statement of admiration and solidarity. Many well known celebrities have also gotten behind the movement, most visibly Micheal Moore, who has attended several rallies. Well respected progressive thinkers, such as Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Žižek, and Cornel West have also had positive things to say about the movement. Many scientists are getting behind the movement as well, including Canadian award-winning environmentalist and broadcaster, David Suzuki. Naturally, unions have been supportive as well, and the support goes both ways.

By far the most common criticism of the Occupy movement is that there is a lack of focus and no demands being made. This is simply an attempt by the media to force the movement into the conventional political framework. Occupy is about reframing the debate beyond the limited views accepted in the mainstream media. The reason for the lack of focus is that, like with any group of free thinking individuals, opinions are diverse, with a lot of disagreement on a number of things, including the need for demands. Everyone is involved for their own personal reasons, whether it’s for the environment, social justice, a more democratic society, or a combination of different reasons, but the one thing that seems to be agreed upon is that there are fundamental problems facing our society that need to be addressed.

The general assembly setup is slowly coming to consensus’ on a number of things. This process takes time because it is truly democratic with no centralized decision making, which I believe is the real beauty of the movement.

One idea endorsed by much of the movement was for people to transfer their funds from big banks, which were deemed “too big to fail” and bailed out by the governments, into credit unions. A “Bank Transfer Day” was decided on for this purpose. This action was largely a success, with 650,000 Americans switching to credit unions in October alone, which is estimated to cost the 10 largest banks $185 Billion next year.

Another idea that the Occupy movement got behind is that of a “Robin Hood Tax“. This idea, that has been floating around for a while, is to implement a small (0.5%-1%) tax on financial sector transactions, and have the revenue raised be used for social services and environmental causes around the world. Some conspiracy theorists have taken this as evidence that Occupy is a part of a globalist agenda. This appears to be based on nothing more than paranoia over who would be responsible for ensuring that the funds actually go where they are supposed to. This is, of course, a genuine concern. With the amount of corruption in the world, how can we be sure that the money would go towards the intended purpose. The bottom line is this would never be able correct all of the ills of society, but I do believe that it would be a huge step in the right direction.

The Occupy movement is largely seen as a left wing movement. While mostly true, this assessment misses the point. Politicians who call themselves liberals or Democrats are every bit as responsible for maintaining the established status quo. For instance, the Obama administration is mostly made up of former Wall Street bankers, and Wall Street firms were among the top donors for his 2008 campaign. While there are some socialist elements in the movement, there are libertarian elements as well. Some views are more aligned with right wing politics, such as the opposition to bank bailouts, so it is really unfair to call it a left wing movement. Occupy is beyond left and right and politics in general, for that matter.

The main reason the mainstream media dismisses the Occupy protests is that at at it’s core, the movement is against the whole establishment that they are a part of. Many journalists would simply lose their jobs for speaking favorably about Occupy. Very few well known, established people in the media have actually come out in support of the movement. It seems to me like, to have that kind of freedom, you need to be an op-ed writer or a free-lancer. Economist and NY Times op-ed writer Paul Krugman has criticized the establishment’s response to the protests, saying that the oligarchs are really the un-American ones. Canadian author and free-lance journalist, Naomi Klein, called the Occupy movement “the most important thing in the world” in her address to protesters at Zuccotti Park.

Even journalists, in some cases, who simply want to report on what is happening at the protests are having their freedoms attacked. During a police raid on Zuccotti Park, journalists were forced away from the scene, some having their credentials confiscated. This was reminiscent of actions taken in Egypt, which were heavily condemned by US politicians.

Of course the police and the leaders who give them their orders don’t want the public to know what happens during a raid. Every time footage is released of police using excessive force, it gains more public sympathy for the protesters. In Oakland, police threw flash grenades and fired tear gas canisters into crowds in efforts to disperse them. One tear gas canister struck a Marine Corps veteran, Scott Olsen, in the head fracturing his skull. So much support was gained by the movement as a result of this that a general strike was planned which saw thousand of people in the streets and caused the city’s port to temporarily halt it’s operations. There were also several reports of pepper spray use, like in Seattle, where victims included the elderly, a priest, and a pregnant woman who later miscarried.

Evictions of camp sites have been coordinated by mayors of different cities. Reasons given for eviction include everything from violence and drug use, which are common in any city, to concerns for the safety of protesters. Some have raised legal complaints about evictions, citing freedom of assembly or association rights, which overrule bylaws or park rules.

Other than a few odd occurrences, any violence in all of the protests mentioned above has been from the authorities. In instances where protesters do get violent, like on the first day of Occupy protests in Rome, it’s usually a small minority of people looting or vandalizing property. When protests escalate into a full scale riot, as it did in in the London area, it’s often sparked by police violence. The fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan is considered to have instigated riots in London that lasted several days.

Research into the motives and evolution of collective violence often show a correlation with high food prices. This was certainly the case with the current wave of protests, as global food prices have hit a record high this year. Add this to higher energy prices and austerity measures and you have a lot of hungry, poor and angry people. In primate studies, it has been shown that impoverished environments lead to higher levels of aggression and antisocial behavior. It seem that increasing the amount of food decreases aggression, while restricting food to the more dominant among them, triples the amount of aggression.

In humans, a triggering event is often required to push people over the tipping point, sort of like the straw that broke the camel’s back. This was the case with the police shooting in England. At this point a mob mentality kicks in, where people behave in ways that they normally would not. It’s not that they lose themselves or their own identity, but they gain a group identity on top of their own.

Occupy is essentially a complete rejection of a whole social structure. Basically, humans have set up a game hundreds of years ago and this game has since become more important than life itself. For those who say “that’s just life, deal with it”, I would like to remind them that that’s not the way it’s always been. Humans used to live off the land, working with it to ensure it’s and our own sustainability. Now, the free-market system being violently forced on people and countries around the world, is raping and destroying the very land we require for our own survival, while allowing multinational corporations to exploit workers for cheap labor. We are in dire need of a mass, global environmental movement, and Occupy realizes this. We also realize that our political leaders are unwilling to do anything about it since they are controlled by the same market forces that are destroying the earth. People are fed up and we’re not going to take it anymore!

For as long as scientific thought has existed there has been resistance from certain groups, mainly religious institutions. Geo-centrism, the ancient belief that the sun revolves around the earth has been challenged at least as far back as the 4th century BC by a Greek Pythagorean philosopher named  Philolaus. The first geometrical heliocentric model of the universe that wasn’t solely based on philosophical speculation did not come until the 16th century AD with the work of of Nicolaus Copernicus. This has since been referred to as the Copernican Revolution. This model was further expanded by Johannes Kepler, and Issac Newton and supported by observations made by Galileo Galilei using an early version of the telescope in the 17th century. Later on still, this heliocentric view came into question as it became obvious that the sun was just one of many stars that made up our galaxy, and that there were also many galaxies . This idea was not confirmed until the 1920’s with the invention of the Hubble telescope. This is the way science traditionally progresses, by expanding on, and adding to previous work, but many of these scientists named have been heavily scrutinized in their time, mainly by the catholic church. Galileo, for instance, was found guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition. Even to this day there are some fringe elements in our society, such as the Flat Earth Society, who not only believe that the earth is the center of the universe, but as their name implies, that it is flat, something that can be proven false by simply boarding an airplane and flying in one direction until you get back where you started.

Today, even most Christians would agree that the earth is not the center of the universe, but one idea that still sees a lot of resistance, based on fundamental religious views or a literal interpretation of the bible, is Charles Darwin‘s theory of natural selection. Despite it’s overwhelming acceptance in scientific communities, many see it as completely opposing creationism. Personally, having witnessed evolution in a lab, I cannot deny it, but I do not believe that it necessarily contradicts the idea of creationism… but that discussion will come in a future blog.

Two other well established fields in science that the general public have trouble accepting are climate science and vaccinations. The blame for this resistance, as is the case with most of science, is usually placed on poor science education or on peoples emotions, as pointed out in this Scientific American article. In some cases, people might downplay warnings about climate change or pandemics in order to deal with their fears, and in other cases, they might even have paranoia of perceived conspiracies among the scientific “elites”. Much of the paranoia is often the result of misinformation, like the supposed “climategate” scandal, where quotes from stolen e-mails between climate scientists were taken out of context. A second batch of leaked e-mails was just released on November 23rd, which climate scientists were quick to respond to. There has also been fraudulent studies linking vaccinations to autism.

Science is also resisted by those who are not necessarily religious, but see nature as something sacred that should not be tampered with. These people tend to be opposed to things like genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), cloning, stem cell research, geo-engineering, or pharmaceutical drugs. All of these sciences have potential benefits and risks which need to be addressed and resistance to some of these might be valid, something I will also have more to say about in the future.

The idea of personalizing peoples medical treatments based on their genes is another controversial issue. Although this can have tremendous benefits by using the best possible treatment for any given individual, it is almost seen as a taboo to some as it would result in different treatments for people of different races. It has been shown that certain drugs can have greater benefits for some racial groups than others, so personalized treatments would actually help minorities who may already be disproportionately affected by certain diseases. This idea is explored in a chapter of a great book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens our Lives by Michael Specter.

There are also cases where the war on science overlaps with the war on terror, like the assassinations of three Iranian nuclear scientists. A recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) saying that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons, has been shown to be not based on science, but on political positioning, as the IAEA is becoming more associated with the US government. This has been laid out in a recent Nature News blog. Then there is the case of a Muslim French-Algerian physicist, Dr. Adlène Hicheur, who has been held in custody since 2009 without trial. He is suspected of being a terrorist based on little or no evidence. I believe that it is important for scientists to stand up for the human rights of their colleagues.

A place where the war on science is most visible today is at the GOP debates in the US. This is not to say that Democrats are not guilty of misleading people as well. In fact it seems, as this article from Scientific American concludes, that conservatives are more likely to be over skeptical, while liberals tend to be more alarmist when it comes to science, especially with climate science. A Rolling Stone interview with author of the book Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, Shawn Lawrence Otto also speaks of the different ways the two political ideologies view science. Having said that, the vast majority of the anti-science rhetoric comes from the GOP. Why is this? Bestselling author of The Republican War on Science, Chris Mooney, has an upcoming book, The Republican Brain where he explores this idea further. Can this be explained by psychology, or is it deeper than that. Is it ignorance of the facts or blatant deceitfulness. I believe that it is for the same reason that religious fundamentalists resist science, to maintain the status quo. The advancement of science can cause one to question their long held beliefs or profitable practices.

Washington Post opinion writer, Katrina vanden Heuvel gives some good examples of Republican misinformation, and goes on to put some of the blame on the media for it’s obsession with balance. I agree. Why should non-scientific views be given as much attention as as scientific ones? Shouldn’t the media be more focused on the truth rather than giving equal coverage to each side of the debate?

Another problem facing science today is the whole funding system. Scientists are forced to spend more and more of their time trying to get funds, so they do not have as much time to actually do research. In tough economic times, state funding is more likely to be cut than increased, something that has more negative effects on the economy in the long run. This forces scientists to fight over an increasingly limited amount of money. Corporations who fund research also have a large say in what types of research is conducted. Obviously, this is most often research that will help with business rather than the greater good of the world or community.

All of this is not to say that science is an unquestionable authority that should never be seen in a skeptical light. On the contrary, skepticism is essential for the progress of science, as it is reliant on revising previous work. Disagreement is common among scientists, which is often seen as a weakness but in fact, it is one of science’s greatest strengths, as it allows for debate and the sharing of ideas. One of the reasons people don’t trust science is that it always seems to be changing it’s mind. One day you might hear of a study saying that a certain food is bad for you, and the next day you might hear that it is good for you. In a case like this, it might be wise to only consume said food in moderation. We can’t assume that there is a scientific consensus based on one study. The mainstream media loves to use fantastical headlines and news stories to attract readers or viewers. It is important to be critical of all news stories, especially on the internet, which is full of misinformation. However, good information can be found on the internet if you know how to spot it. In general, scientific journals are the best source. The words “Peer reviewed” are key, as they imply a certain amount of consensus. On a website, it helps to look for advertisements. If they are trying to sell you something, their information might not be the most trustworthy. It’s also good to check for references or citations to make sure they are getting their information from a reliable source. Common sense and rational thinking also go a long way. For instance, does it make more sense that there is a conspiracy among the majority of climate scientists trying to destroy the fossil fuel industry, or that the energy sector, made up of some of the largest companies in the world, is campaigning to smear these scientists to keep their business’ thriving? It helps to think about things.

There is a huge difference between looking at science critically, and completely denying the facts. If there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists, as there is with climate change and vaccinations, it might be a good idea to trust the experts rather than going with your gut instinct. Politicians who ignore science to promote their political agenda are disgusting and they are harming the planet and everyone on it! The media who let the politicians get away with it should be ashamed!