Saturday, February 27, 2016

2229. A Biographical Sketch of the Iranian Socialist Labor Leader Yadullah Khosroshahi

By Kamran Nayeri, February 27, 2016
Khosroshahi in center facing camera in a labor rally in London (date unknown)
Yadullah Khosroshahi (pronounced Yædolah Xosroʃæhi; birth certificate surname is Khosravi (Xosrævi)) who was born in Shahr-e Kurd Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province in Iran on October 28, 1942 and died in London, England, on February 4, 2010, was a central leader of the Iranian oil workers movement and a socialist leader of the Iranian labor movement. 

In 1968, Khosroshahi was elected as a delegate of the Abadan refinery workers. After the Tehran oil refinery began production he was transferred there. In 1971, he helped lead the effort to create the Oil Workers Union of the North (of Iran). In 1973, he was arrested and severely tortured by the Shah's secret police SAVAK and given a 10-year prison term for his labor and socialist activities. However, he was freed after four and half years because of international campaign to free political prisoners and mounting mass movement of millions that led to the February 1979 revolution that overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty. After his release from prison, Khosroshahi joined efforts to create underground strike committees of the oil workers. These efforts led to the general strike in the oil industry that began on October 21, 1978 as the backbone of the general strike that was enforced in large workplaces and proved decisive in defeating General Gholam Reza Azhari’s martial law decree of November 6. On December 10 and 11 millions of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran and other large cities to demand “Down With the Shah.” On January 16, 1979, the Shah and his family left Iran for good (He died of cancer in Egypt on July 27, 1980).  On February 11, 1979, in response to a military coup attempt by the high brass, a three-day armed insurrection overthrow the Pahlavi dynasty. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini assumed power in the absence of any viable alternative and immediately set to work to establish the theocratic capitalist Islamic Republic. 

After the triumph of the February revolution, oil workers and workers in other key industries and large enterprises, organized workers councils (shoras) on the basis of already existing strike committees to fill the void left by state and private management that had mostly fled the country. Khosoroshahi was elected to the National Shora (Council) of the Oil Industry. As the workers shoras spread across the country, together with the peasant shoras, soldiers shoras, student shoras, and shoras of the oppressed nationalities they held the promise of a government of the people, by the people and for the people. However, by 1983 the clerical capitalist Islamic Republic had systematically undermined and suppressed all grassroots movements in Iran except in Kurdistan. Workers shoras were destroyed, their leaders and activists were imprisoned, tortured and some executed. In 1982 as part of a massive round up of opponents of the Islamic Republic regime Khosroshahi was imprisoned and tortured. He was released in 1987.  Upon his release, Khosroshahi tried to contact a group of oil workers who were under surveillance. When he learned that he was targeted for rearrest he escaped to Pakistan. However, life for Iranian refugees in Pakistan was harsh and dangerous.  On August 24, 1987, Khosroshahi managed to land in London and seek political asylum. After a period of settlement in London, he resumed  his tireless campaign for the cause of Iranian workers until death of stroke on February 4, 2010.

Social background
Khosroshahi was born into a poor working class family with several children in Shahr-e Kurd, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province on October 28, 1942.  He was almost a year old when his father died. His mother moved the family to Ahmad Abad neighborhood of Abadan in Khuzestan Province.  Abadan was run by the British who controlled the exploration and production of oil and occupied the southern half of Iran during World War II. Later Khosroshahi wrote about social and labor history of Abadan characterizing life under the British rule as a form of Apartheid: "Foreigners and office employees lived in separate neighborhoods of the town. They had their separate buses, offices, bathrooms, clubs, cinemas, and restaurants. Workers were barred from going to their neighborhoods. Violators were arrested and jailed. The best things belonged to the foreigners and the worse to workers. For example, in the summer heat of Khuzestan drinking water was provided for everyone. But foreigners had water cooler in their offices, office workers had pitchers of iced water and workers were given bucks of water kept in shaded locations outdoors.” (Khosroshahi, no date; Ashori, 2002)

Because of his family's poverty, Khosroshahi was forced to seek employment after completing his elementary school education (sixth grade). At age 14 he was accepted as an unpaid apprentice in the maintenance department of the Abadan refinery. In 1958, after two years of apprenticeship he was hired as a maintenance worker at the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). Khosroshahi continued his education while working and received a high school diploma.

Leader of oil workers
While oil workers had a history of militancy, Khosroshahi characterized the conditions at the Abadan refinery as "similar to a military base.” (ibid.) Still, workers were able to press for reforms and Khosroshahi was elected as workers' delegate in 1968. (Ibid.; Safavi,2010)

In 1968, the newly built Tehran oil refinery began operations and over the next two years groups of 30-40 experienced workers were transferred from Abadan refinery to help with its operations. Aginst his expressed wishes, Khosroshahi was transferred to Tehran.

In 1970, he was elected as a delegate of Tehran refinery workers and in 1971 they were able to establish the Oil Workers Union of the North (of Iran) and he was elected as its first Secretary. (Arzhang, et. al., 2010; Safavi, 2010) In 1973, he helped lead a two-week strike during a major repair of the refinery. The workers won most of their demands including the reduction of work week from 48 hours to 40 hours and a 25% increase in hourly wages for overtime work. After an industrial "accident" killed a worker, Khosroshahi organized a protest strike that led to his arrest by the SAVAK. However, because of his popularity among his coworkers he was soon released. When he was taken in again by the SAVAK, workers campaigned for his release and printed a flyer in his defense using the refinery’s printshop.  Although Khosroshahi was quickly released, the SAVAK soon realized that a number of banned socialist books were also printed on the same press. This led to the arrest of Khosroshahi for the third time. Khosroshahi recalls that "for two years we were printing banned socialist books using the refinery press by a printshop worker who also had a friend in a bookstore that provided the original work and sold the banned books. I did not even know the bookstore contact." (Khosroshahi, ibid) (For a somewhat different account of this episode, see, Heshmat Reisi, 2010).

The SAVAK severely tortured Khosroshahi including by beating him with a cable, using electric shock, and by burning his fingers and toes with a smelting torch. The head of the Labor Section of the SAVAK personally burned candles on his back. At the same time, they tried to bribe him to work for the SAVAK. When he refused his initial sentence of two years was extended to a ten-year.

Leader of the National Council of the Oil Industry
However, Khosroshahi was freed after four and half years because of international campaign to free political prisoners and mounting mass movement of millions that led to the February 1979 revolution that overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty.

Upon his release Khosroshahi who was blacklisted from returning to his job at Tehran refinery worked with oil workers to organize underground strike committees in the oil industry. The underground strike committees helped prepare for the October 21, 1978, oil workers general strike that served as the backbone of the national general strike that paralyzed the Shah's regime and paving the road to the February 1979 revolution.  Because of the Shah's industrialization program there were 2.5 million industrial workers on the eve of the 1979 revolution twice as many as in 1965. (Curtis and Hooglund, 2008, p. 106) and oil workers had an outsized economic weight as oil revenue was the main source of government income as it had been since the 1950s. (ibid., p. 145).  Khosroshahi recalls how significant the general strike was: "We stopped oil exports. We denied oil to the army and the police during Marshall Law. The government tried to break our general strike but couldn't." (Khosroshahi, ibid.) Meanwhile, neighborhood committees that sprang up everywhere served as distribution networks leaving no Iranian household without fuel in cold winter months during the strike.

As pro-monarchist managers fled their jobs and sometimes the country after the February revolution workers councils spread across Iran in major industries and large workplaces to keep them running. In the oil industry, workers councils were formed everywhere and the National (Shora) Council of the Oil Industry was organized and Khosroshahi was elected to it. This council tried to improve health and safety at workplace and workers medical care, transportation, workers cafeterias, home mortgages without interest, college scholarship for workers with high school diploma and oil workers' children, increased vacation time, subsidies for travel, annual bonuses, establishing credit cooperatives, etc. But like other national workers councils in major industries it also had to take on national and international questions.

The Islamic Republic that assumed power after the Shah’s downfall came into conflict with grassroots movements in general and workers councils in particular. The Islamic Republic organized Islamic Associations in workplaces to undermine and destroy workers council by pitting Muslim workers who supported Ayatollah Khomeini against other workers. In the Tehran refinery where Khosroshahi worked and elsewhere in the oil industry Islamic Associations aided the government to harass, intimidate and arrest labor and socialist activists.

The critical blow to the workers council movement in the oil industry came when the Saddam Hussein army invaded Iran in September 22, 1980 (see, Iran-Iraq war). The Iraqi forces destroyed or seriously damaged oil industry instillations in Khuzestan. A large section of oil workers were forced out of their jobs almost overnight. Those who did not lose their life fighting Iraqi invaders were scattered around the country by the Islamic Republic and when they were able to take a job it was in other economic sector. Khomeini who had called the Iraqi invasion a "gift from God" supported repressive policies in workplaces in the name of increasing production to support the war effort. Independent workers organizations were forced to suspend activity and many were dissolved.  

After the leadership of the leadership of the People's Mujahedin of Iran decided on armed confrontation with the Islamic Republic regime in response to protracted government harassment and repression in the summer of 1981, the regime began a vicious and widespread campaign of repression, mass arrest, torture and executions that was extended to political groups that openly opposed Khomeini. By 1983, this wave of repression was extended to all independent organizations including leftist political groups that politically supported the Islamic Republic. All grassroots movement were destroyed. (The Kurdish region remained an exception for a short time but it was also subdued eventually).  

Khosroshahi was arrested in the summer of 1982 and tortured. He spent four years and three months in jail. Soon after his release from prison in 1987, he was targeted for arrest again because he contacted a group of oil workers who were under surveillance. He had to flee to Pakistan.

Campaigning from exile for independent workers organizations in Iran
However, life for Iranian refugees in Pakistan was harsh and dangerous. On August 24, 1987, Khosroshahi managed to arrive in London and was arrested in the airport. After a 48-hour investigation he was freed upon filing an application for political asylum. Two months later his application was approved. In an interview he granted about that time, while expressing gratitude for the more humane treatment he was offered by the British authorities compared to those in Iran Khosroshahi complained of new hurdles: "language problem, lack of funds, and non-existence of necessary and sufficient aid to the asylees." (Khosroshahi, ibid.)

Khosroshahi used his time in exile to broaden his horizon and to reflect on the experiences of the labor movement in the aftermath of the defeat of the 1979 revolution. A central conclusion was the need for independent organizations of the working class: "The independence of the working class in the current situation from all non-working class organs, from governments to management, to political parties of the left, or right, or center, is among the most important issues for consideration by the labor activists." (cited in Mohammad Safavi, 2010) Thus, Khosroshahi and a group of other exiled Iranian labor activists organized the "Association of Exiled and Immigrant Workers" that rallied around the slogan of "Long live independent workers organizations" and published a paper called "Exiled Worker" (Kargar-e Tæbeidi).

In 1999, Khosroshahi helped organize the Conference of Communist Activists of the Labor Movement in London that established the Labor Foundation (Bonyad-e Kar). The Labor Foundation worked to collect and publish "oral histories" of leaders and activists of the Iranian labor movement and organize solidarity with the independent labor movement that was taking shape in Iran. However, the Labor Foundation operated in Farsi and remained largely isolated from the labor movement in Europe and North America where its members lived. 

Khosroshahi was interested in learning about and participating in labor struggles in Britian and elsewhere and spoke fondly of the miners strike that he joined early on his arrival from Iran. In 2001, he travelled to Cuba as part of U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange to observe the Congress of Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC) in Havana, April 28-30, and to learn about the Cuban revolution. He participated in the May Day rally and march of approximately one million organized by the CTC. (Nayeri, 2010)

Upon returning from Cuba, Khosroshahi coedited an English language newsletter Labor Links to help organize solidarity with the Iranian labor movement in Western Europe and North America (Nayeri, ibid.). However, the Labor Foundation proved unable to organize labor solidarity among non-Iranians and Labor Link ceased publication after fiver issues. The Labor Foundation dissolved in 2007.

The last major organized activity Khosroshahi played a leading role in was the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI). IASWI was founded in in Canada in 1999 and began work in 2000 with the explicit aim of increasing awareness about labor conditions in Iran and solidarity it in the Canadian labor movement. The founders reached out to the Iranian labor activists and Khosroshahi was soon working closely with them helping to organize its branch in England. This period coincided with the formation of independent unions among Tehran transit workers in Tehran and among Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers. Thus, Khosroshahi’s wish to see organization of independent unions in Iran was granted (Safavi, 2010)

However, he died when these organizations were under severe attack especially after the crushing of the mass protest movement of 2009. His life was celebrated by labor activists inside and outside Iran and many Iranian socialist organizations as well as some large European and Canadian unions (see, "Tributes and Articles About Yadullah Khosroshahi”). 

Khosroshahi contributed to a number of labor publications including Pazhohesh Kargari (Labor Research), Kar Mozd (Wages), and Andishe Jamehe (Social Thought). He left behind articles about labor policy and labor and social history as well as many interviews.

Arzhang, Majid, Nosrat Teimour Zadeh, and Ghlamreza Partovi. "An Honrable Man Who Joined History," Arash, no. 104, pp. 278-79, March 2010. 
Ashori, Mohammad Reza.“Let Me Speak!: A Conversation with Yadullah Khosravi
(Khosroshahi) Former Secretary of the Oil Workers Union of Tehran Refinery,” 
Andish-e Jamehe (Social Thought), no. 23, pp. 36-43, 2002. 
Curtis, Glenn E. and Eric Hooglund. Iran: Country Study, Fifth edition, Library of Congress, 2008. 
International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran. “Tributes and Articles About Yadullah Khosroshahi,” no date. 
Khosroshahi, Yadullah. “Would Like Tea of Coffee?: A Biographical Sketch of Yadullah Khosroshahi.”  International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran; in Farsi with no
publication name or date (but appears to have been conducted soon after Khosroshahi’s arrival in London)
Nayeri, Kamran. "The Yadullah That I Knew". Arash, no. 104, pp. 296–300, March 2010. For an English version see Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism
Reisi, Heshmat. "Forty Years with Comrade Yadullah". Arash, no. 104, pp.  294–96. 
March 2010
Safavi, Mohammad. "Yadullah: Friend of Workers and Toilers". Arash, no. 104, pp. 282–83. March 2010. 

Related post:
Why You Cannot Learn about the Iranian Labor History from Wikipedia

2228. Science Teachers’ Grasp of Climate Change Is Found Lacking

By John Swartz, The New York Times, February 11, 2016
An earlier study found that one in three teachers in the U.S. teach climate change denial. 
Most science teachers in the United States spend some time on climate change in their courses, but their insufficient grasp of the science as well as political factors “may hinder effective teaching,” according to a nationwide survey of the profession.

The survey, described in the current issue of the journal Science, found that teachers spent little time on the topic — just one to two hours on average over an academic year.
“It’s clearly not enough time to really provide students with a good scientific understanding,” said Eric Plutzer, the lead author of the paper and a professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University.

Many teachers also provide misinformation about climate change, the survey found. The evidence that human activity is a major cause of recent climate change is overwhelming, but 30 percent of the 1,500 teachers surveyed said they emphasized that recent global warming “is likely due to natural causes,” while 12 percent said they did not emphasize human causes. Half of that 12 percent said they did not discuss any causes at all.
Continue reading the main story

Close to a third of the teachers also reported conveying messages that are contradictory, emphasizing the scientific consensus on human causation and the idea that many scientists believe the changes have natural causes.

The authors of the paper suggested that those teachers “may wish to teach ‘both sides’ to accommodate values and perspectives that students bring to the classroom.” The survey also found, however, that only 4.4 percent of teachers said that they had faced overt pressure from parents, school administrators or the community to teach about climate change.

Professor Plutzer, who is the academic director of Pennsylvania State’s survey research center, said that he and his colleagues were surprised by the level of ignorance the teachers showed in the survey, especially in describing the current state of scientific consensus on the topic.
More than 95 percent of climate scientists agree that recent global warming is caused mostly by human activity, but only 30 percent of middle schoolteachers and 45 percent of high school teachers correctly identified the degree of consensus as 81 percent to 100 percent.

The research team, which collaborated on the project with the National Center for Science Education, surveyed 1,500 teachers from high schools and middle schools in all 50 states.

Josh Rosenau, the programs and policy director for the science education center, said that he found it “encouraging” to see how many teachers were spending at least some time on climate change. “Coming into it, we expected the number to be a lot lower than it was,” he said. And while the teachers might not be reporting a great deal of overt pressure, he said, “The broader environment that they are living in is shaping how willing they are to be forthright about the science.”

Bertha Vazquez, a teacher in Miami who incorporates climate change into all her courses, said the pressure was real. “Every year, I get the email from a father who says, ‘This is garbage,’ and why am I teaching this?” she said. The fear of that kind of response might dissuade other teachers, she said, even though climate change is included in Florida’s education standards.

“If you’re not as confident in the subject area, you’re going to avoid it,” Ms. Vazquez said. “It’s no fun to field those phone calls.” An advocate for climate education, Ms. Vazquez has persuaded colleagues, including those teaching German and art, to incorporate climate issues into their courses.

The lack of knowledge of the science is understandable, Professor Plutzer said, because “very few current teachers had much exposure to climate science when they were in college.”

Climate change is still not often part of a formal curriculum, so the instruction in one year rarely can add to the previous year’s work, Professor Plutzer added. And teachers feel pressured to focus more intensely on topics that appear on “high-stakes tests” that define much of today’s educational process, he said.

The evolving nature of climate science means continuing teacher education is essential, said Mr. Rosenau of the science education center.

“If you graduated college in the 1990s and are teaching evolution the way it was taught when you were in school, you’re not doing anything wrong,” he said. “If you’re teaching climate change the way you learned it in the 1990s,” when the role of human activities and burning of fossil fuels was less clear, “you’re kind of teaching climate change denialism.”

Still, climate science has increasingly become part of lesson plans, and is likely to become more prominent.

The Next Generation Science Standards developed several years ago by 26 states, while not providing a specific curriculum, serve as guidelines that describe what students should learn in science classes.

The standards have been adopted by 16 states and the District of Columbia, but have a wider influence, because many school districts around the country have independently adopted the standards.

Mr. Rosenau said that the spread of the standards to states that included more than half of the nation’s students meant that textbook publishers would be more likely to include information about climate change in books and teacher training materials distributed nationwide.

“In the long run, it’s going to affect everybody,” he said.

Craig Whipkey, a high school science teacher in western Pennsylvania, said he devoted about two weeks of instruction to discussing climate change in each of his three courses.

While he occasionally receives pressure from parents, he said, he teaches from the perspective that evidence of human effects on climate change is compelling.

“I no longer have to prove that it’s happening,” he said. Instead, the focus is, “Here’s what the ramifications are going to be.”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

2227. Which Way Forward for the Climate Movement?

By Chritine Marie, Socialist Action, February 24, 2016
More than 300,000 participated in the People's Climate March, New York, September 21, 2014
At the Paris climate talks in December 2015, the world’s governments—dominated by those who contribute most egregiously to global warming—acknowledged the need to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels but refused to commit in a meaningful way to the necessary reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases. Major U.S. climate action groups laid the groundwork carefully in the period leading up to the talks, working hard to prepare the ranks of the movement for the near-inevitable failure to mandate the drastic and immediate changes in energy production and conservation that are necessary to stave off catastrophic environmental degradation.
Back on Sept. 26, the national group, for example, launched a campaign perspective called the “Road Through Paris” at a major Brooklyn Academy of Music event that presented the Paris talks as just a stop on the journey toward a major spring escalation of climate movement activity. During this video-streamed event, Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben projected the kind of movement that would be necessary to force governments and corporations to keep fossil fuels in the ground and maintain human solidarity in the face of the climate disasters that are already unfolding.
Such a movement, it was emphasized, needed to see the fight for a livable climate and the fight for economic and racial equality as so deeply intertwined that in some sense, the climate movement would become a “movement of movements.” The challenge before us, they argued, was so immense and unprecedented that the only realistic perspective for change lay in the creation of a movement so broad and powerful that the slogan that rang through the canyons of New York at the September 2014 People’s Climate March—“To Change Everything It Takes Everyone”—would become an accurate prescription for our work.
It takes everyone
Two months out from the Paris talks, and despite all the preparation to avoid to a slump, the U.S. movement is lacking dates for the kind of national united action that could build on past movement successes like the Peoples Climate March, which put nearly half a million people into the streets. In that effort, and subsequent regional actions like the Toronto “Jobs, Justice, Climate” march of June 2015, organizers demonstrated that unprecedented numbers of people, including front-line communities, unionists, immigrant workers, and mainstream faith communities were ready to engage in protest.
These actions demonstrated that armed with the perspective that it “takes everyone,” the day when the movement in the United States could literally put a million people in the streets to demand an end to the predatory and life-threatening fossil fuel economy is at hand.
Such a movement, necessarily built from the bottom up by the assembling of local, regional, and national coalitions around demands hammered out in meetings that can involve increasing numbers of representatives and activists from many different milieus, is, historically, the kind of operation that creates political spaces habitable by those taking their first steps into climate action. They are the kind of actions that have the most potential to bring new social layers, more powerful social layers, into motion.
Once a date is set for a common set of mass actions six months or so in advance, the promise of unity, and, thus, numbers that can demonstrate majority support for emergency measures, can inspire activists in every region of the country to go deeper and deeper into uncharted organizing territory, feeling some urgency to appear before union meetings, churches, neighborhood groups, school groups. A predictable multi-year calendar of dates for united mass actions can structure and regularize these pushes outward to broaden the movement, to unleash the power of the newly engaged, renew the pool of activists, and accelerate the development of new leaders. So why isn’t there a call for a big spring mass action?
“Direct action” a substitute for mass action?
 In part, the major climate action organizations in the United States are not convinced that a regular calendar of united mass actions are central to movement-building in the manner described above. The general attitude seems to be “been there, done that.”
The People’s Climate March, whose organizers unfortunately eschewed the process of struggling over demands in deference to pro-Democratic Party institutional sponsors, is rightly but one-sidedly remembered as lacking in political teeth. Instead of thinking about alternative ways to organize mass demonstrations that can continue the process of broadening the movement while at the same time insisting on its independence from the Democratic Party and on a democratic process that guarantees the selection of appropriate demands, many organizations are turning back to NVDA alone for the coming period.
A united-front mass action around clear and principled demands regarding fossil fuels and renewable energy does not have to devolve into a “big tent” absent real politics. On the contrary, the U.S. antiwar movement of the Vietnam and Iraq eras, the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, and many other broad historic movements for social change demonstrate the viability of this strategy.
Yet, 350, for example, has set it sights on mobilizing not the million or more that one might expect after the experience of the People’s Climate March, but only “tens of thousands of people around the world” in actions that “disrupt” the fossil fuel industry’s power (see Organizers are focusing all of their resources and energy on direct actions in which a relatively small number of activists would participate—several thousand each at about ten major global sites of extraction, including several in the United States. One of the models for the Break Free of Fossil Fuels effort is the August 2015 “occupation” of an RWE lignite coal mine in western Germany by 1500 protesters.
The strength of these actions, projected for the week of May 7-15, is that there will be concerted, press-worthy spectacles, coordinated internationally, that highlight some of the most important greenhouse-gas-producing industrial sites in the world and their impact, especially on the peoples of the global South. Organizers argue that the civil disobedience will “reflect the scale and urgency of this crisis in a way that governments can no longer ignore.”
Activists advocating this singular focus for the spring also are convinced that the sight of 10,000 individuals willingly engaging in action that makes them subject to arrest will inspire greater engagement in the climate movement.
While it may be true that these theatrical and compelling direct actions will create some new activism in the United States, it is not true that witnessing the arrests of “good people” will naturally lead to growing and broadening the movement in the places where social power is the greatest. Neither is it necessarily seen as more threatening—and more likely to produce concessions—by the powers that be. Why is this so?
Movements force concessions from governments when they are perceived by the elites as potentially threatening to the stability of the social order. The definition of social order in capitalist society is the ability to make profits over the long term and to maintain a monopoly on political power via mainstream political parties controlled by big business. “Direct action” protests, in contrast, are generally aimed at changing the minds or policies of legislators, and the capitalist parties they serve, via displays of personal individual sacrifice, including spending a few days in jail or paying a fine.
The very logic of appealing to legislators, rather than threatening them with signs of a growing and mass rejection of their authority on energy matters, is flawed. Neither do activist arrests necessarily inspire others to get more active and committed. The manner in which the spectacle of civil disobedience affects potential activists is very much shaped by class and race and very specific historic experience.
Working-class struggle in history
 Looking at history, civil disobedience actions have been singularly ineffectual in mobilizing large numbers of working people, including the ranks of organized labor, to engage in political protest. For many rank-and-file workers, civil disobedience is associated with their union mis-leaderships’ failure to organize genuine fightbacks against the bosses and austerity measures. It has become commonplace for AFL-CIO officials, who have repeatedly refused to try to mobilize labor’s collective power against companies demanding concessions or state governments gutting collective bargaining, to take the staff out for civil-disobedience actions and arrest as a photo opportunity.
For working-class militants who yearn to see their potential power unleashed, CD or NVDA, do not necessarily suggest a new political seriousness or an escalation of the struggle. For many in the African American community, the spectacle of mostly white, middle-class activists acting as if a symbolic arrest is particularly meaningful is just an irony of the racism of a system that keeps one in three young Black men—to great impact on their standard of living—in the criminal justice system at all times.
For immigrant workers, many of who are climate refugees without papers and for whom arrest will likely lead to a deportation that might mean the loss of their children or spouse, the most effective moment of struggle was their 2006 collective action of millions in a day of action that they called a “strike.” The question that climate activists must grapple with today is how to build a movement that masses of working people and the oppressed layers of society can claim as their own.
If we are to build the “movement of movements,” or a movement that links the struggle to reduce global warming with the effort to get economic justice for those most vulnerable to the predatory fossil-fuel-driven capitalist economy, we must become sensitive to the history and logic of traditionally working-class forms of struggle, forms that are rooted in collective power, unity in action, and the avoidance of unnecessary risk until the moment when the base seems strong enough to prevail.
Generally, in the current period, the main task naturally centers on building huge demonstrations in the streets. Much later, after broad layers of the working class become deeply involved in protest, they might employ more decisive tactics, such as long-term strikes and plant occupations—which workers used to great effectiveness in organizing the industrial unions in the 1930s.
It is important that activists enter the spring protest season with eyes wide open and in a consciously analytical frame of mind, so that when it is over we can soberly evaluate the entire experience as a movement.
March for a clean energy revolution
One opportunity to make progress toward a greater understanding of the power and necessity of broad, politically independent, mass actions will be the July 24 March for a Clean Energy Revolution called by the Americans Against Fracking coalition. The march will take place in Philadelphia a day before the opening of the Democratic National Convention. The march is expected to mobilize thousands of protesters from East Coast communities, including Pennsylvanians whose lives have been disrupted by the fracking of the Marcellus Shale gas fields. It will demand a ban on fracking and other extreme fossil fuel extraction, a halt to the expansion of fracked gas pipelines and power plants, a ban on the export of liquefied natural gas, and a quick and just transition to a 100% renewable energy economy.
Activists who use this call to demonstrate the importance of mass action to broadening and growing the movement will also be making a contribution to the strategic discussion to come.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

2226. Dodos Might Have Been Quite Intelligent, New Research Finds

By Science Daily, February 23, 2016
The dodo was a medium-large sized flightless bird that was discovered on the Island of Mauritius in the 1590s and was declared extinct less than a century later, in 1681.
New research suggests that the dodo, an extinct bird whose name has entered popular culture as a symbol of stupidity, was actually fairly smart. The work, published today in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, finds that the overall size of the dodo's brain in relation to its body size was on par with its closest living relatives: pigeons--birds whose ability to be trained implies a moderate level of intelligence. The researchers also discovered that the dodo had an enlarged olfactory bulb -- the part of the brain responsible for smelling -- an uncharacteristic trait for birds, which usually concentrate their brainpower into eyesight.

The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) was a large, flightless bird that lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. They were last seen in 1662.

"When the island was discovered in the late 1500s, the dodos living there had no fear of humans and they were herded onto boats and used as fresh meat for sailors," said Eugenia Gold, the lead author of the paper, a research associate and recent graduate of the American Museum of Natural History's Richard Gilder Graduate School, and an instructor in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University. 

"Because of that behavior and invasive species that were introduced to the island, they disappeared in less than 100 years after humans arrived. Today, they are almost exclusively known for becoming extinct, and I think that's why we've given them this reputation of being dumb.”

Even though the birds have become an example of oddity, obsolescence, stupidity, and extinction, and have been featured in popular stories ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Ice Age, most aspects of the dodo's biology are still unknown. This is partly because dodo specimens are extremely rare, having disappeared during the nascent stage of natural history collections.

To examine the brain of the dodo, Gold tracked down a well-preserved skull from the collections of the Natural History Museum, London, and imaged it there with high-resolution computed tomography (CT) scanning. In the American Museum of Natural History's Microscopy and Imaging Facility, she also CT-scanned the skulls of seven species of pigeons -- ranging from the common pigeon found on city streets, Columba livia, to more exotic varieties. Out of these scans, Gold built virtual brain endocasts to determine the overall brain size as well as the size of various structures. Gold's colleagues at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and National Museum of Scotland sent her the endocast for the dodo's closest relative, the extinct island-dwelling bird Rodrigues solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria).

When comparing the size of the birds' brains to their body sizes, Gold and collaborators found that the dodo was "right on the line.”

"It's not impressively large or impressively small -- it's exactly the size you would predict it to be for its body size," Gold said. "So if you take brain size as a proxy for intelligence, dodos probably had a similar intelligence level to pigeons. Of course, there's more to intelligence than just overall brain size, but this gives us a basic measure.”

The study also revealed that both the dodo and the Rodrigues solitaire, which recently was driven to extinction by human activity, had large and differentiated olfactory bulbs. In general, birds depend much more on sight rather than smell to navigate through their world, and as a result, they tend to have larger optic lobes than olfactory bulbs. The authors suggest that, because dodos and solitaires were ground-dwellers, they relied on smell to find food, which might have included fruit, small land vertebrates, and marine animals like shellfish.

"It is really amazing what new technologies can bring to old museum specimens," said co-author Mark Norell, Macaulay Curator of Paleontology and Chair of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. "This really underscores the need for the maintenance and growth of natural history collections, because who knows what's next.”

The researchers also discovered an unusual curvature of the dodo's semicircular canal -- the balance organs located in the ear. But as of yet, there's not a good hypothesis for this atypical feature.

Journal Reference:

1 Maria Eugenia, Leone Gold, Estelle Bourdon Andmark A. Norell. The first endocast of the extinct dodo (Raphus cucullatus) and an anatomical comparison amongst close relatives (Aves, Columbiformes). Zoological Journal of the Linnean, 2016 DOI: 10.1111/zoj.12388

2225. Antarctica Could Be headed for Major Meltdown

By  Science Daily, February 23, 2016

Map showing the locations of Antarctica's ice shelves, including Larsen C (in yellow on the top left), the largest ice shelf in the Antarctic Peninsula. (Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC).
In the early Miocene Epoch, temperatures were 10 degrees warmer and ocean levels were 50 feet higher -- well above the ground level of modern-day New York, Tokyo and Berlin.

It was more than 16 million years ago, so times were different. But there was one important similarity with the world we live in today: The air contained about the same amount of carbon dioxide. That parallel raises serious concerns about the stability of ice sheets in Antarctica, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

All told, Antarctica's glaciers are the size of the United States and Mexico combined, and they contain enough water to raise the world's sea level by 180 feet. And although no humans live permanently in Antarctica, what happens there impacts everyone, said Aradhna Tripati, a geochemist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability who collaborated on the research.

"The ice sheets serve as huge stores of water," Tripati said. "As the ice melts, it gets dumped in the ocean and the sea level rises.”

The study is the latest revelation of ANDRILL, a $20 million research project focused on the South Pole. The effort, now 12 years old, has involved 100 researchers from seven countries. ANDRILL researchers were the first to bore holes through Antarctic ice shelves and sea ice to sample the ocean floor below.

Previous research showed that ice shelves -- the parts of the ice sheets that extend over water -- are vulnerable to even small increases in greenhouse gases. But the new study, which was written by Richard Levy of GNS Science, a New Zealand research organization, was the first to demonstrate that the huge, land-based glaciers are also vulnerable.

David Harwood, a University of Nebraska paleontologist who led the study, said the project's goal was to see what prehistoric environments could tell us about the modern era of climate change.

"We're drilling back into the past to understand the future and how dynamic our planet can be," he said.

To do that, researchers set 90 tons worth of drilling equipment on a floating sea ice in McMurdo Sound, where conditions can be particularly harsh: The average August temperature is minus 23 degrees Fahrenheit, and savage windstorms can occur at a moment's notice. Using a diamond-tipped tubular drill, researchers bored through 24 feet of ice, 1,200 feet of water and 3,300 feet of ocean floor. The rock samples they collected preserve a chronological record of environmental conditions dating back 20 million years.

The samples were sent to Tripati for analysis. As she looked at the sedimentary layers, a story began to emerge. Samples that were formed during warmer times, when the ice shelf was gone or unstable, were tan-colored and rich with fossils. But samples drawn from years when the sea was covered with ice, were mostly rock with fossils from only a few deep sea organisms.

Looking even closer, Tripati examined individual molecules from the samples to determine air and water temperatures at different times in history. Warmer times correlated with higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, melting ice shelves and the loss of parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet.

According to Tripati, scientists are seeing early signs of the same conditions today.
"If carbon dioxide is sustained at current levels, we run the risk of Antarctic ice shelf disappearance," she said.

The ice shelves are critical because they act like a cork in a Champagne bottle, holding back the huge, land-based flows of glacial ice on the Antarctic continent, Tripati said. But they are particularly sensitive to temperature changes. Just a few degrees of increased warmth can make them disappear because they are warmed by both the air and the sea.

And disappearing ice shelves lead to even more warming because of something called the albedo effect: Light-colored ice reflects the sun's radiation away from Earth. After it melts, the darker-colored seas absorb more radiation and more heat.

That process could take hundreds of years, but signs of rapid change are already here. In 2002, the Larsen B ice shelf -- which was made up of more than 1,250 square miles of 720-foot-thick ice -- disintegrated into the ocean over the course of a month, shocking scientists and observers. Over the past several decades, seven out of 12 ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula have collapsed.

"They've just been going like dominoes," Tripati said.

Still, researchers say the PNAS findings offer a glimmer of hope. Policymakers rely on computer models to predict future climate change, and the models now can be refined based on the new information about changes that occurred millions of years ago, Tripati said.

The big question that remains is how fast melting will occur. Harwood said the ANDRILL findings emphasize the fragility of ice shelves and the urgency of taking action on a global scale.

"The models simulate thresholds, points of no return," he said. "It's good for policymakers to know how fast we have to get off this train or turn it in a new direction."

Journal Reference:

1 Richard Levy, David Harwood, Fabio Florindo, Francesca Sangiorgi, Robert Tripati, Hilmar von Eynatten, Edward Gasson, Gerhard Kuhn, Aradhna Tripati, Robert DeConto, Christopher Fielding, Brad Field, Nicholas Golledge, Robert McKay, Timothy Naish, Matthew Olney, David Pollard, Stefan Schouten, Franco Talarico, Sophie Warny, Veronica Willmott, Gary Acton, Kurt Panter, Timothy Paulsen, Marco Taviani. Antarctic ice sheet sensitivity to atmospheric CO2variations in the early to mid-Miocene. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; 201516030 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1516030113