Month: February 2016

The State Of Gun Violence In The US, Explained In 18 Charts

“America doesn’t have a gun problem, it has several of them.” This video from Vox takes a broad view of gun violence in the United States. 

92 Americans die per day from guns.

The video begins with a description of the number of gun deaths per day – 92, and then breaks it down into the number of homicide deaths (30), suicides (58), accidental shotings, police shootings, and undetermined.

The video then compares gun deaths and laws in the United States to other countries and determines “Gun violence is a uniquely American problem”


USAID Progress

Here are just a few examples of what less than one percent of the total federal budget can accomplish, when it is dedicated to development assistance.


  • More than 3 million lives are saved every year through USAID immunization programs.
  • Oral rehydration therapy, a low cost and easily administered solution developed through USAID programs in Bangladesh, is credited with saving tens of millions of lives around the globe.
  • In the 28 countries with the largest USAID-sponsored family planning programs, the average number of children per family has dropped from 6.1 in the mid-1960s to 4.2 today.
  • Life expectancy in the developing world has increased by about 33 percent, smallpox has been eradicated worldwide, and in the past 20 years, the number of the world’s chronically undernourished has been reduced by 50 percent.
  • The United Nations Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade, in which USAID played a major role, resulted in 1.3 billion people receiving safe drinking water sources, and 750 million people receiving sanitation for the first time.
  • More than 50 million couples worldwide use family planning as a direct result of USAID’s population program.
  • In the past 50 years, infant and child death rates in the developing world have been reduced by 50 percent, and health conditions around the world have improved more during this period than in all previous human history.
  • Since 1987, USAID has initiated HIV/AIDS prevention programs in 32 countries, and is the recognized technical leader in the design and development of these programs in the developing world. Over 850,000 people have been reached with USAID HIV prevention education, and 40,000 people have been trained to support HIV/AIDS programs in their own countries.
  • USAID child survival programs have made a major contribution to a 10 percent reduction in infant mortality rates worldwide in just the past eight years.


  • Forty-three of the top 50 consumer nations of American agricultural products were once U.S. foreign aid recipients. Between 1990 and 1993, U.S. exports to developing and transition countries increased by $46 billion.
  • With the help of USAID, 21,000 farm families in Honduras have been trained in improved land cultivation practices which have reduced soil erosion by 70,000 tons.
  • Agricultural research sponsored by the United States sparked the “Green Revolution” in India. These breakthroughs in agricultural technology and practices resulted in the most dramatic increase in agricultural yields and production in the history of mankind, allowing nations like India and Bangladesh to become nearly food self-sufficient.
  • Early USAID action in southern Africa in 1992 prevented massive famine in the region, saving millions of lives.
  • U.S. exports of food processing and packaging machinery have increased from about $100 million in 1986, to an estimated $680 million in 1994. This huge increase is due partly to USAID-funded projects that have increased supplies of agricultural raw materials for processing and have given potential processors the information, technical assistance and training they needed to start or expand their businesses.
  • Investments by the United States and other donors in better seeds and agricultural techniques over the past two decades have helped make it possible to feed an extra billion people in the world.

Democracy & Self-Governance

  • There were 58 democratic nations in 1980. By 1995, this number had jumped to 115 nations.
  • USAID provided democracy and governance assistance to 36 of the 57 nations that successfully made the transition to democratic government during this period.

Sustainability & the Environment

  • Over the past decade, USAID has targeted some $15 million in technical assistance for the energy sectors of developing countries. U.S. assistance has built a $50 billion annual market for private power. U.S. firms are capturing the largest share of these markets, out-competing Japan and Germany.

Economic Growth & Financial Independence

  • Eighty thousand people and $1 billion in U.S. and Filipino assets were saved due to early warning equipment installed by USAID that warned that the Mount Pinatubo volcano was about to erupt in 1991.
  • After initial USAID start-up support for loans and operating costs, Banco Solidario (BancoSol) became the first full-fledged commercial bank in Latin America dedicated to microbusiness. BancoSol serves about 44,000 small Bolivian businesses, with loans averaging $200 each. The bank now is a self-sustaining commercial lender that needs no further USAID assistance.
  • Millions of entrepreneurs around the world (many of them women) have started or improved small businesses through USAID assistance.


  • Literacy rates are up 33 percent worldwide in the last 25 years, and primary school enrollment has tripled in that period.

Why We Need To Keep 80% Of Fossil Fuels In The Ground

Physics can impose a bracing clarity on the normally murky world of politics. It can make things simple. Not easy, but simple.

Most of the time, public policy is a series of trade-offs: higher taxes or fewer services, more regulation or more freedom of action. We attempt to balance our preferences: for having a beer after work, and for sober drivers. We meet somewhere in the middle, compromise, trade off. We tend to think we’re doing it right when everyone’s a little unhappy.

But when it comes to climate change, the essential problem is not one group’s preferences against another’s. It’s not—at bottom—industry versus environmentalists or Republicans against Democrats. It’s people against physics, which means that compromise and trade-­off don’t work. Lobbying physics is useless; it just keeps on doing what it does.

So here are the numbers: We have to keep 80 percent of the fossil-fuel reserves that we know about underground. If we don’t—if we dig up the coal and oil and gas and burn them—we will overwhelm the planet’s physical systems, heating the Earth far past the red lines drawn by scientists and governments. It’s not “we should do this,” or “we’d be wise to do this.” Instead it’s simpler: “We have to do this.”

And we can do this. Five years ago, “keeping it in the ground” was a new idea. When environmentalists talked about climate policy, it was almost always in terms of reducing demand. On the individual level: Change your light bulb. On the government level: Put a price on carbon. These are excellent ideas, and they’re making slow but steady progress (more slowly in the United States than elsewhere, but that’s par for the course). Given enough time, they’d bring down carbon emissions gradually but powerfully.

Time, however, is precisely what we don’t have. We pushed through the 400 parts per million level of CO2 in the atmosphere last spring; 2015 was the hottest year in recorded history, smashing the record set in … 2014. So we have to attack this problem from both ends, going after supply as well as demand. We have to leave fossil fuel in the ground.

Most of that coal and oil and gas—most of that money—is concentrated in a few huge underground pools of carbon. There’s oil in the Arctic, and in the tar sands of Canada and Venezuela, and in the Caspian Sea; there’s coal in Western Australia, Indonesia, China, and in the Powder River Basin; there’s gas to be fracked in Eastern Europe. Call these the “carbon bombs.” If they go off—if they’re dug up and burnt—they’ll wreck the planet. Of course, you could also call them “money pits.” Lots of money—that coal and gas and oil may be worth $20 trillion. Maybe more.

Because of that, there are people who say that the task is simply impossible—that there’s no way the oil barons and coal kings will leave those sums underground. And they surely won’t do it voluntarily. Take the Koch brothers, for instance: They’re among the largest leaseholders in Canada’s tar sands and plan nearly $900 million in political spending during 2016, more than the Republicans or the Democrats. Because they won’t be among the richest men on Earth anymore if that oil stays beneath the ground.

But in fact it’s not a hopeless task. We’ve begun to turn the tide, and in remarkably short order.

If you understand the logic of the Keep It in the Ground campaign, for instance, then you understand the logic of the Keystone pipeline fight. Pundits said it was “just one pipeline,” but efforts to block it meant that the expansion of Canada’s tar sands suddenly, sharply slowed. Investors, unsure that there would ever be affordable ways to bring more of that oil to market, pulled tens of billions of dollars off the table, even before the price of oil began to fall. So far, only about 3 percent of the oil in those tar sands has been extracted; the bomb is still sitting there, and if we block pipelines, then we cut the fuse.

And the same tactics are working elsewhere, too. In Australia, there was unrelenting pressure from indigenous groups and climate scientists to block what would have been the world’s largest coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Valley. Activists tied up plans long enough that other campaigners were able to pressure banks around the world to withdraw financing for the giant mine. By spring 2015, most of the world’s major financial institutions had vowed not to provide loans for the big dig, and by summer the mining company was closing down offices and laying off its planning staff.

Money, in fact, is a key part of the Keep It in the Ground strategy. In fall 2012, students, faith leaders, and other activists launched a fossil-fuel divestment campaign in the United States, supported by (an organization I co-founded), that soon spread Down Under and to Europe. The argument was simple: If Exxon and Chevron and BP and Shell plan to dig up and burn more carbon than the planet can handle, they’re not normal companies.

At first, the institutions that joined in were small. Tiny Unity College in Maine was first, selling the fossil fuel stock in its $13 million portfolio. But the campaign accelerated quickly because the math was so clear, the physics so irrefutable. By now colleges from Stanford to Oxford, from Sydney to Edinburgh, have joined in, pointing out that it makes no sense to educate young people and then break the planet they’ll inhabit. Ditto doctors associations on several continents, which argue that you can’t pretend to be interested in public health if you invest in companies destroying it. Ditto the United Church of Christ and the Unitarians and the Church of England and the Episcopalians, who insist that care for creation is incompatible with such destruction.

These divestments are hurting companies directly—coal giant Peabody formally told shareholders in 2014 that the campaign was affecting its stock price and making it hard to raise capital. But even more, they’ve driven the necessity of keeping carbon underground from the fringes into the heart of the world’s establishment. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund started divesting its fossil fuel stocks, while Deutsche Bank, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund have started down the same road. A month after the Rockefeller announcement, the governor of the Bank of England told a conference that “the vast majority” of carbon reserves are “unburnable,” warning of massive “stranded assets.” Trying to get out from under this “carbon bubble” is one reason why huge funds are now beginning to divest. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, for instance, lost $5 billion before it saw the light and started selling its stock.

But the fight remains damnably hard, because politicians are so used to doing the bidding of the oil companies. In fact, just days after the theoretically landmark Paris climate accord, the Obama administration and Congress gave the oil industry a much-sought-after gift: ending the 40-year ban on crude oil exports. We’re making progress (it was something of a breakthrough, for instance, when cautious Hillary Clinton came out against Arctic oil) but not fast enough.

Which is why, this spring, the climate movement will be rallying on the sites of as many of those carbon bombs as possible, in massive peaceful resistance designed to slow extraction of fossil fuels, but even more to shine a light on these massive, remote deposits. The leaders, as always, will be the frontline communities that live nearby. Some of the rest of us will make the trek to these locations; others will rally at embassies and banks to bring the same point home. Because once we’ve marked them on the planet’s mental map as mortal dangers, our odds of winning go up.

If you’re still skeptical, consider what happened in the Amazon after the world’s scientists, in the 1980s, identified the rainforest as absolutely necessary to the planet’s survival. Much to the surprise of many, the government of Brazil moved to slow deforestation. Its efforts haven’t been perfectly successful, but they’ve kept those trees above the ground, just the way we need to keep that oil below it.

And we’ve got a couple of advantages in this fight the Brazilians didn’t. For one, they were a poor country. Many of the big carbon bombs lie in richer nations like Canada, the United States, and Australia; we can afford to let them be.

More importantly, it’s beginning to look like we don’t need to win this fight forever. That’s because alternatives to fossil fuel are becoming cheaper with every passing day. The price of a solar panel has fallen more than 70 percent in the last six years. That’s a mortal threat to the hydrocarbon tycoons. They know that they have to get new infrastructure in place in the next few years. If they can build those pipelines and mines, then for the next 40 or 50 years they’ll be able to get carbon out cheaply enough to compete (and to wreck the planet). If they can’t—if we can hold them off for just a few more years—then we’ll have made the transition to clean energy irreversible.

I don’t know if we’re going to win this fight in time. The flood of scientific data about the damage that’s already been done unnerves me. But I do know we’re now fighting on every front. And the most important one is the simplest: We can, and we must, and we will keep that coal and gas and oil underground.

Ending The Syrian War

Syria is currently the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe and most dangerous geopolitical hotspot. The Syrian people are caught in a bloodbath, with more than 400,000 dead and ten million displaced.

Violent jihadist groups backed by outside patrons mercilessly ravage the country and prey on the population. All parties to the conflict – President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the anti-Assad forces supported by the United States and its allies, and the Islamic State – have committed, and continue to commit, serious war crimes.

It is time for a solution. But such a solution must be based on a transparent and realistic account of what caused the war in the first place.

The chronology is as follows. In February 2011, peaceful protests were staged in Syria’s major cities, amid the region-wide phenomenon dubbed the “Arab Spring.” The Assad regime reacted with a shifting mix of violent repression (shooting at demonstrators) and offers of reform. Soon, the violence escalated. Assad’s opponents accused the regime of using force against civilians without restraint, while the government pointed to the deaths of soldiers and policeman as evidence of violent jihadists among the protestors.

It seems likely that as early as March or April 2011, Sunni anti-regime fighters and arms started to enter Syria from neighboring countries. Many eyewitness accounts tell of foreign jihadists engaging in violent attacks on policemen. (Such accounts are, however, hard to confirm, especially after almost five years.)

The US and its regional allies tried to nudge Assad from power in the spring of 2011, thinking that he would fall quickly like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Many observers assert that Qatar funded an increase in anti-regime activity within Syria and used the Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera to boost anti-Assad sentiment worldwide, though such claims are hard to pin down definitively.

The US imposed a tightening noose of trade and financial sanctions on the regime. The Brookings Institution, a bellwether of US official policy, called for Assad’s ouster, and anti-Assad propaganda in the US media soared. (Until then, Assad was considered in the US media to be a relatively benign, albeit authoritarian, ruler, and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted as late as March 2011 that many in the US Congress regarded Assad as a reformer.)

The launch of the war can be dated to August 18, 2011, when President Barack Obama and Clinton declared that “Assad must go.” Up to that point, the violence was still containable. Total deaths, including both civilians and combatants, ran perhaps to around 2,900 (according to one tally by regime opponents).

After August, the death rate soared. It is sometimes claimed that the US did not act vigorously at this point. Obama’s political foes generally attack him for having taken too little action, not too much. But the US did in fact act to topple Assad, albeit mostly covertly and through allies, especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey (though neither country needed much prodding to intervene). The CIA and Saudi Arabia covertly coordinated their actions.

Of course, the chronology of the war does not explain it. For that, we need to examine the motivations of the key actors. First and foremost, the war in Syria is a proxy war, involving mainly the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran. The US and its allies, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, started the war in 2011 in order to overthrow Assad’s regime. The US alliance was met with escalating counterforce by Russia and Iran, whose Lebanese proxy army Hezbollah is fighting alongside Assad’s government.

The US interest in overthrowing Assad’s regime was precisely its reliance on Iranian and Russian backing. Removing Assad, US security officials believed, would weaken Iran, undermine Hezbollah, and roll back Russia’s geopolitical reach.

America’s allies, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, were interested in replacing Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria with a Sunni-led regime (Alawites are a branch of Shia Islam). This, they believed, would also weaken their regional competitor, Iran, and curtail Shia influence in the Middle East more generally.

In believing that Assad would be easily overthrown, the US – not for the first time – was relying on its own propaganda. The regime faced deep opposition, but also had considerable internal support. More important, the regime had powerful allies, notably Iran and Russia. It was naive to believe that neither would respond.

The public should appreciate the dirty nature of the CIA-led fight. The US and its allies flooded Syria with Sunni jihadists, just as the US had flooded Afghanistan in the 1980s with Sunni jihadists (the Mujahideen) that later became Al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the US have regularly backed some of the most violent jihadist groups in a cynical miscalculation that these proxies would do their dirty work and then somehow be pushed aside.

According to the US and European mainstream media, Russia’s military intervention in Syria is treacherous and expansionist. The truth is different. The US is not allowed under the UN Charter to organize an alliance, fund mercenaries, and smuggle heavy weapons to overthrow another country’s government. Russia in this case is reacting, not acting. It is responding to US provocations against its ally.

Ending the war requires adherence to six principles. First, the US should cease both overt and covert operations to overthrow Syria’s government. Second, the UN Security Council should implement the ceasefire now under negotiation, calling on all countries, including the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and Iran, to stop arming and funding military forces within Syria.

Third, all paramilitary activities should cease, including those of so-called “moderates” backed by the US. Fourth, the US and Russia – and, indeed, the UN Security Council – should hold Syria’s government strictly responsible to desist from punitive actions against regime opponents. Fifth, the political transition should take place gradually and with confidence building on all sides, rather than through an arbitrary, destabilizing rush to “free elections.”

Finally, the Gulf States, Turkey, and Iran should be pressed to negotiate face to face on a regional framework that can ensure lasting peace. Arabs, Turks, and Iranians have all lived with each other for millennia. They, not the outside powers, should lead the way to a stable order in the region.

Honoring Veterans Needs To Go Beyond Lip Service

In this speech, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard talks about the need to take care of the veterans who have dedicated their lives to keeping this country safe. 

She begins with a personal story about members of the military who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Then she turns to what she, and the country, can do to help those who have been lucky enough to come back. Gabbard laments the healthcare situation for servicemen and their families – having to wait months for care. She asks what our response would be to that situation “if that was your son or daughter who had been blown up by an IED who is told to wait 6 months to see a doctor.”



Rep. Gabbard uses the speech to galvanize Americans to re-commit to honoring and taking care of those that put their lives on the line.

“I will never accept defeat. I will never leave a fallen comrade. We will never neglect those who are sick or in need…Let us strengthen our resolve so that we honor our friends and fight for them.”