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Yet another scandal surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline surfaced today: Media are reporting that an investigation by the Interior Department's inspector general has found that agency scientists were improperly retaliated against after blowing the whistle on flaws with a map of American burying beetle habitat along the pipeline's southern route.
"Here we go again: Keystone is at the center of another controversy, this time over an apparent attempt to downplay how this pipeline is going to hurt endangered species," said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Good policy decisions require good science and an honest review of the facts. That's especially true for Keystone, whether you're talking about harm to wildlife or the impacts on climate change."
Last month, the Interior Department's inspector general asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to take "immediate action" to address an "unreasonable and inappropriate response" by agency officials in response to three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists who questioned the use of a new map that reduced the range of the American burying beetle in Oklahoma along the route of Keystone's Gulf Coast segment.
The new map would have replaced an existing map that delineated the beetle's range based on spatial models rather than county lines, reducing the beetle's Oklahoma range from 17 million acres to 12.6 million acres and making it more palatable to TransCanada, the proponent of Keystone XL.
After the three biologists filed a 29-count complaint about the new beetle range map and other issues related to the Interior Department's scientific integrity process, the map was withdrawn. However, in retaliation, two Fish and Wildlife Service supervisors docked the biologists' pay and transferred their duties. After the biologists complained about the reprisals, the inspector general investigated and found wrongdoing, but the officials have yet to be disciplined.
"The biologists should be applauded for standing up for good science, not punished by their own supervisors," Greenwald said.
The map that was withdrawn could have lessened the need for mitigation or avoidance measures in connection with the Gulf Coast Segment of the Keystone XL pipeline. The segment has been constructed pursuant to a separate path than the northern segment, which is currently being reviewed by the State Department for a permit to cross the U.S.-Canada border.
In 2011, the Center and allies brought legal action and successfully halted the preemptive relocation of endangered American burying beetles in the Nebraska Sand Hills. That lawsuit resulted in a change of Fish and Wildlife Service policy regarding the use of "recovery permits" for endangered species, making clear that scientists may not use such permits on behalf of industry.
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.(520) 623-5252
"Ongoing climate change is keeping many people in the Global South in poverty, making it more difficult for them to migrate," said the co-author of a new study. "Thus climate change deprives people of an important way to adapt to its impacts and increases the gap between rich and poor."
As the worsening climate emergency creates an increasing number of migrants around the world, the economic effects of the planetary crisis are paradoxically making millions of people throughout the Global South too poor to escape its ravages.
That's according to a study published recently in the journal Environmental Research Letters by researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.
"Climate change reduces economic growth in almost all countries of the world. But it has very divergent effects in poorer and richer countries," study co-author Jacob Schewe said Monday. "Overall, migration related to climate change has increased—but it has done so to a lesser extent than might have been expected. The reason is bitter: In poor countries, many people in need are lacking the means to migrate. They have no choice but to stay where they are."
\u201cStuck \u2013 #climatechange makes people too poor to #migrate. "Overall, migration related to climate change has increased - but it has done so to a lesser extent than expected. People in need are lacking the means to migrate," says PIKs Jacob Schewe.\n\ud83d\udc49https://t.co/cfAPjh4NUF\u201d— Potsdam Institute (@Potsdam Institute) 1674481326
Co-author Christian Otto noted that "economic growth affects national income levels, which in turn affect migration. Relatively few people migrate from high-income and from very low-income countries. In the case of poor countries, this is partly because many people simply cannot afford to leave. So very poor people often stay in their home country, even if they are in need or would like to migrate for other reasons."
Another study co-author, Anders Levermann, said that "ongoing climate change is keeping many people in the Global South in poverty, making it more difficult for them to migrate. Thus climate change deprives people of an important way to adapt to its impacts and increases the gap between rich and poor."
According to a 2017 study published by the British medical journal The Lancet, climate change could create a billion refugees by 2050. Other studies conclude the number could be even higher. Additionally, the World Bank says the planetary emergency could displace more than 200 million people within their home countries by mid-century.
"Thulani Maseko was a key pillar in the struggle for freedom in Eswatini. His death, which has already sent a chilling message to pro-democracy activists across the country, may signify an escalation in attacks against those who are openly seeking political reforms."
Human rights advocates on Monday implored Eswatini authorities to launch a swift, rigorous, and independent investigation into the recent killing of renowned pro-democracy lawyer Thulani Maseko.
Unknown gunmen murdered Maseko at his home in the city of Luhleko on Saturday, just hours after Eswatini's unelected leader, King Mswati III, "warned those calling for democracy that more trouble was coming for them," according to a local newspaper. Since protests against Eswatini's absolute monarchy erupted in May 2021, dozens of people peacefully struggling for political reforms in the country formerly known as Swaziland have been killed by Mswati's security forces.
"Thulani Maseko was a stalwart of human rights who, at great risk to himself, spoke up for many who couldn't speak up for themselves," United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said in a statement. "His cold-blooded killing has deprived Eswatini, Southern Africa, and the world of a true champion and advocate for peace, democracy, and human rights."
"Thulani Maseko was a stalwart of human rights who, at great risk to himself, spoke up for many who couldn't speak up for themselves."
After extending his condolences to Maseko's family, friends, and colleagues, Türk called on Eswatini officials to "ensure a prompt, independent, impartial, and effective investigation is held into his killing, in accordance with Eswatini's constitution and international human rights law, and to hold all those responsible to account in fair trials."
"Eswatini authorities must also ensure the safety and security of all Eswatini people, including human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists," the U.N. rights chief added.
Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International's deputy director for East and Southern Africa, echoed Türk.
A probe "should be carried out by authorities independent of the government and any institution, agency, or person who may be the subject of, or otherwise involved in, the investigation." The final results should be "made public, and aimed at ensuring that justice for Maseko's killing is not denied," said Mwangovya. "Maseko's family deserves justice; his killers must be brought to trial."
“The cold-blooded unlawful killing of Thulani Maseko offers a chilling reminder that human rights defenders, especially those at the forefront of calling for political reform in Eswatini, are not safe," she added. "If they are not being persecuted, harassed, or intimidated by the state, they are at risk of losing their lives."
\u201cThulani Maseko was a courageous human rights defender who stood up against the state's abuse of power in Eswatini. His murder is a chilling reminder that those who call for political reform in Eswatini are not safe. His killers must be brought to trial. https://t.co/5bMCHMBOSl\u201d— Amnesty International (@Amnesty International) 1674489187
Lamenting his "tragic" murder, Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard noted that Maseko was instrumental to the "ongoing struggle for democracy in Eswatini and a wonderful steadfast partner" of the prominent rights group. "We are all devastated," she wrote on social media.
Maseko had previously been prosecuted by the state for his efforts to build a more just society. In 2014, Amnesty declared Maseko and veteran news editor Bhekithemba Makhubu "prisoners of conscience" after they were sentenced to two years behind bars on contempt of court charges stemming from the publication of articles in which they questioned the independence and integrity of the country's judicial system. Both men were acquitted on appeal and released from detention in 2015.
Following the arrest of hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in the summer of 2021, Maseko "provided legal support, crisscrossing the country to observe summary trials," Callamard pointed out.
At the time of his death, Maseko chaired the Multi-Stakeholder Forum, a coalition of trade unions, political parties, and civil society groups organizing for democratic reforms to which Mswati's autocratic regime is opposed. Eswatini's king, in power since 1986 and routinely accused of human rights violations, commands the army and police and has the authority to dissolve parliament and appoint or dismiss judges.
As Amnesty noted: "The unlawful killing of Maseko follows a spate of attacks on opposition leaders and pro-democracy activists, all of whom have been challenging the monarch and demanding political reform in the country since May 2021, including through nationwide protests. In response to the demonstrations, the government launched a brutal crackdown on human rights activism. Some politicians have been jailed merely for being suspected of joining calls for political reform."
Maseko was an attorney for two members of parliament standing trial for offenses allegedly committed during the pro-democracy uprising of 2021.
"Maseko's family deserves justice; his killers must be brought to trial."
Amnesty "will leave no stone unturned until justice has been rendered for Thulani's murder," Callamard vowed. "Those who killed and ordered his killing must be held to account."
Maseko's attackers shot through the window of his home at close range. He was reportedly struck twice and died in front of his family. According to a local newspaper, the same pair of police officers who responded to the crime scene after Maseko was killed had earlier staked out his house.
As Al Jazeerareported, "The government sent condolences to the family, saying Maseko's death was a 'loss for the nation' and that police were searching for the killers."
Southern Africa-based rights group Freedom Under Law, however, said that "no one can be misled by the cynical message of condolence put out on behalf of the government."
Maseko's death came hours after Mswati threatened pro-democracy activists with heightened repression.
"People should not shed tears and complain about mercenaries killing them," Mswati said Saturday. "These people started the violence first but when the state institutes a crackdown on them for their actions, they make a lot of noise blaming King Mswati for bringing in mercenaries."
Last week, Al Jazeera reported, the Swaziland Solidarity Network alleged that "the king had hired mercenaries, mainly white Afrikaners from neighboring South Africa, to help Eswatini's security forces suppress rising opposition to his regime."
The government has denied the accusation.
"Thulani Maseko was a key pillar in the struggle for freedom in Eswatini," said Amnesty's Mwangovya. "His death, which has already sent a chilling message to pro-democracy activists across the country, may signify an escalation in attacks against those who are openly seeking political reforms."
"The Southern Africa Development Community and the Eswatini authorities must demonstrate that they are committed to protecting everybody in the country, including human rights defenders, opposition leaders, and pro-democracy activists," she stressed. "Nobody should be attacked or threatened simply for being critical and pushing for political reforms."
"Looks like the Blue Dogs are on their last leg," said one progressive. "It's a new day."
The Democratic Party's conservative Blue Dog Coalition has been slashed in half due partially to a disagreement within its ranks over efforts to attract more members, Politico reported on Tuesday, with a number of corporate lawmakers insisting on preserving the Blue Dogs' "longstanding legacy" and name despite its reputation as a "Southern 'boys' club'."
U.S. Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), David Scott (D-Ga.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Lou Correa (D-Calif.), and Mike Sherrill (D-N.J.) all left the coalition earlier this month after the 15 members held a secret-ballot vote on changing the group's name to the Common Sense Coalition.
The name change, the departing members argued, would help the group to recruit more lawmakers as it has reached an all-time low, 16 years after the Blue Dog alliance was forced to impose a cap on its membership to keep it at 20% of the Democratic caucus.
Despite the group's large roster during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, a spokesperson for the Blue Dogs claimed Tuesday that they "have never prioritized having a large coalition" and are focused on what they refer to as "fiscally-responsible policies [and] ensuring a strong national defense."
"With a narrow majority governing the House, even a smaller group of members focused on getting things done for the American people on these issues can and will play a vital role," Andy LaVigne, the group's executive director, told Politico.
A desire to remain insular instead of appealing to a broader group of Democrats is "exactly the charge you'd expect centrists to lob at progressives," said Nick Field of Decision Desk HQ.
\u201cThe head of the Blue Dogs literally saying he'd rather his group stay small and pure than expand; exactly the charge you'd expect centrists to lob at progressives https://t.co/Y2qsTAmnjn\u201d— Nick Field (@Nick Field) 1674571327
While the Blue Dog Coalition has long claimed to represent "mainstream American values" and the "commonsense, moderate voice of the Democratic Party," the group's contraction in recent years has coincided with the steady growth of the progressive "Squad" in the U.S. House and a wealth of evidence that the majority of Democratic voters are not aligned with the Blue Dogs' longtime push of austerity policies.
Meanwhile, the informal Squad, whose members do not accept corporate PAC donations and are proponents of a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and other bold policy proposals, has grown to include lawmakers from states including Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Missouri since the group's first four members were elected in 2018. Around 10 lawmakers are now part of the Squad, which started with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and their influence has been made clear across the party as more than 70 Democrats in the 118th Congress have sworn off corporate PAC contributions.
While policies pushed by the Squad are broadly popular, the dwindling Blue Dog Coalition includes the last remaining Democrats who oppose abortion rights and marriage equality. The members who stayed after this month's vote include Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), and Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas). Rep. Wiley Nickel (D-N.C.) has not confirmed whether he'll stay or go.
The departure of nearly half of the coalition suggests that the Blue Dogs "are on their last leg," tweeted Lindsay Owens, executive director of the economic justice group Groundwork Collaborative.
\u201cLooks like the Blue Dogs are on their last leg. It's a new day.\u201d— Lindsay Owens, PhD (@Lindsay Owens, PhD) 1674570306
With the splintering of the conservative group, said Sam Shirazi, a civil rights attorney and commentator on politics in Spanberger's state of Virginia, "the long decline of the Blue Dog coalition continues."