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Wednesday, 02 September 2015 08:32

Debtors Prisons Alive and Well in Louisiana

BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCoinDebt(Photo: United States Mint)Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has said it is unconstitutional, Louisiana still puts hundreds of people in prison every year just because they are too poor to pay court-ordered fines, court costs and costs of probation, according to a recent investigative report by the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

This misuse of the criminal legal system, often called “pay or stay” is flatly illegal. The U.S. Congress outlawed the use of debtors’ prisons — jails for people too poor to pay off their debts — under federal law nearly 200 years ago in 1833.   The U.S. Supreme Court followed suit in 1983.  

But in a survey of six weeks of court records from last year, the ACLU found that hundreds of people in Louisiana were given pay-or-stay sentences and well over a hundred people were jailed for unpaid fines or court costs. If this many people were wrongly sentenced and jailed in just six weeks, that means thousands have been illegally jailed annually.

The report tells the story of Dianne Jones, a grandmother of three, who was arrested in New Orleans for possession of marijuana. She was given the choice of six months’ probation and paying $834 in fines and costs, at a rate of $150 per month, or spending every weekend in jail for six months. She protested that she did not earn enough to pay off $150 a month. Ultimately she had to accept the payment plan anyway because she was helping care for her grandchildren on the weekends so her daughter could work. Unable to pay off the last $148 of her $834 because of unanticipated moving costs, she was arrested and jailed under a $20,000 bond.   She stayed in jail until a community group took up a collection to pay off the remaining $148.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaamarriageKentucky Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is denying same-sex marriages such as this one (which was issued in Seattle) because of alleged divine mandates. (Photo: 12121stMarriageLicense182)

In Kentucky, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis continues to defy the law of the land by refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses - despite the Supreme Court's recent refusal to hear her appeal. Actually, Davis is not issuing any marriage licenses at all in her county right now, while her attorneys are assisting her in legally appealing a federal court order. This is a weak, cynical and mean-spirited legal tactic to deny same-sex marriage licenses.

September 1 New York Times article describes Davis's adamant refusal to comply with a legal mandate:

It was an unlikely scene for this rural county in northeast Kentucky and for Ms. Davis, a 49-year-old mother of four and a worshiper at Solid Rock Apostolic Church. But she said she had no choice.

“I owe my life to Jesus Christ who loves me and gave His life for me,” she wrote in a statement issued by Liberty Counsel, a conservative group that is representing her in federal court. She added: “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of a marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.”

Ms. Davis grew up in Rowan County and has never lived anywhere else. It is hilly Appalachian country, with a nearly all-white population, home to sawmills, lumber companies and mobile homes. Morehead, the county seat, is full of churches and fast-food restaurants. The poverty rate is just below 29 percent. And a steady government salary is a prized thing.

The New York Times quotes Davis as claiming that she is "acting under God's authority."

Tuesday, 01 September 2015 13:55

What the World Would Look Like Without Humans

COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaElephantEcowatch(Photo: EcoWatch)Researchers out of Denmark have found that without humans, the world would have a lot more large mammals roaming around. “In a world without humans, most of northern Europe would probably now be home to not only wolves, Eurasian elk (moose) and bears, but also animals such as elephants and rhinoceroses,” researchers said in a statement.

Yes, you read that right. Northern Europe would be home to elephants and rhinoceroses. The study, conducted by researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark, investigated “what the natural worldwide diversity patterns of mammals would be like in the absence of past and present human impacts, based on estimates of the natural distribution of each species according to its ecology, biogeography and the current natural environmental template.”

And it’s not just northern Europe that has seen a dramatic decrease in mammal diversity. “In most places, there’s a very large deficit in mammal diversity relative to what it would naturally have been,” said Professor Jens-Christian Svenning, one of the coauthors of the study.

The report is a follow up to a previous analysis which found that the expansion of Homo sapiens across the planet and not a changing climate was to blame for the mass extinction of large mammals in the last 100,000 years.

The current world map of mammal diversity shows that Africa is virtually the only place with a high diversity of large mammals. There’s been a dramatic decrease in North and South America, which historically had very high levels of large mammal diversity.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBibleKoch(Photo: Kevin Eng)David Koch’s claim that he is socially liberal is belied by the fact that his political entities have funneled millions of dollars to Christian Right organizations, including more than $375,000 to Family Research Council Action, formally headed by Josh Duggar.

There was quite a bit of pomp when the Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based so-called traditional values lobbying outfit, announced that Josh Duggar would become Executive Director of Family Research Council Action, a 501(c)(4) political and lobbying arm of the FRC. During his brief tenure with the FRC, the organization boasted about Duggar’s relationships with several prominent GOP politicians, listed him as a featured speaker at its annual pro-life conference called ProLifeCon, and touted its “Values Bus Tour,” which Josh, his parents, sisters, and brothers participated in.

That was before revelations surfaced that Duggar’s parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar – stars of the now-cancelled reality television show, “19 Kids and Counting” – covered up their son’s sexual molestation of five young girls, including four of his younger sisters, while he was a teenager. When the story broke, Duggar resigned. The sexual molestation revelations came before hackers of the Ashley Madison site -- the website for folks desiring to cheat on their wives or husbands -- found that among the more than 37 million account-holders, Josh Duggar had at least one, and possibly two, accounts. All of the above was more than enough to toss Duggar onto the ash heap of hypocritical conservative Christians.

But, as the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch recently reported in a story dated August 22, and titled “Josh Duggar-led Group Funded via Koch Brothers Freedom Partners Operation,” after Duggar arrived at FRCA, “funding from the money machine put together by the billionaire Koch Brothers made its way to that group.”

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaapolarbearA Greenpeace activist, in a polar bear costume, draws attention to the impact of global warming on the Arctic region. (Photo: Greenpeace)

According the Guardian, President Obama is using an official visit to Alaska to launch a PR offensive against global warming. Obama will be utilizing evidence of massive glacier and Arctic ice melt-off to emphasize the widespread and large scale impact of climate change:

Shrinking Alaskan glaciers served as a vivid backdrop for Barack Obama’s latest push for action on climate change in Anchorage on Monday night as he warned that the equivalent of 75 blocks of ice the size of the national mall in Washington were melting from the state every year.

The president, who will visit the nearby Seward glacier on Tuesday to see its shrinkage for himself, urged international participants at the Glacier conference to act fast before it was too late to limit the impact not just on the region but the whole world.

"The Arctic is at the leading edge of climate change, a leading indicator of what the entire planet faces," warned Obama, who said new research showed 75 gigatons of ice were disappearing from Alaskan glaciers annually – each gigaton the equivalent of a block stretching from the Capitol to the Lincoln memorial and four times as high as the Washington Monument.

"Climate change is no longer some far-off problem," he added. "Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy and infrastructure."

One cannot deny that the president is offering a public education moment, spreading awareness about the ruinous impact of largely unfettered industrialization and fossil fuel use on the planet. However, while Obama is warning against the degradation of the earth, he is taking steps that further its deteriorating condition.

Take, for instance, Obama's authorization of Shell to begin deep-sea oil exploration in the Arctic. Simply put, this will contribute to global warming.

2015.31.8 BF Mckibben(Photo: hopeless128)BILL MCKIBBEN OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

The news last week that the Australian Newcastle city council had voted to divest from fossil fuel stocks was one of those signposts that historians will some day cite to mark the greatest economic transition in human history.

A young councillor, Declan Clausen, was able to grasp the truth that eludes the Australian federal government and indeed so many world leaders: coal—and oil and gas—are not the future and they’re barely the present. We’re suddenly and decisively, in a one-way transition to a renewable future and the only question—perhaps the most important question humans have ever faced—is whether we can make that transition fast enough to save the planet.

You can tell that coal is the past by asking any scientist with a working knowledge of the planet’s climate system. 2015 will be the hottest year in the planet’s recorded history, a landmark that comes with the requisite fire and flood. July was the hottest month ever measured on earth. New data from the most important climate scientist, NASA veteran James Hansen, concludes that on its present emissions trajectory, sea levels could rise 10 feet (three meters) this century.

2015.31.8 BF Mellino(Photo: The Sierra Club)COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

The public comment period for the highly controversial US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) fracking study ends today. Food & Water Watch, Environmental ActionBreast Cancer Action and other advocacy groups delivered nearly 100,000 comments from Americans asking the US EPA to redo their study with a higher level of scrutiny and oversight.

The study produced significant controversy due to the discrepancy in what the EPA found in its report and what the agency’s news release title said. The study stated that “we did not find evidence” of “widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” but the title of the EPA’s news release said, “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources”—a subtle but significant difference that led to most news coverage having headlines like this one in Forbes, “EPA Fracking Study: Drilling Wins.”

COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaWalrus(Photo: EcoWatch)In what has now become a regular occurrence, thousands of walruses are being forced ashore on a remote barrier island in Alaska, threatening their survival. Walruses use sea ice to rest and feed. But with Arctic sea ice hitting a new low this past winter and fears that the Arctic could be entirely ice-free in summer months by the 2030s, walruses have no choice but to crowd ashore in mass numbers.

The first reported sighting this year was earlier this week. Gary Braasch, an environmental photographer, told The Guardian he first spotted the walruses coming ashore on the southern end of the barrier island, about two miles from the hamlet of Point Lay. The mass stranding comes ahead of President Obama’s visit to Alaska to shed a spotlight on the toll climate change is taking on the Arctic region.

Last year, upwards of 35,000 walruses were forced ashore, setting a record. U.S. government agencies and the Native village of Point Lay ask that the media refrain from visiting the community to film or “sightsee” as “the walruses need space to reduce disturbance and possible trampling of animals.” Since at least 2007, due to the loss of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea, “walrus females and calves are coming ashore in the late summer/early fall in large numbers near the community,” said U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Geological Survey in a joint statement.

The site has been occupied by as many as 20,000 to 40,000 animals at its peak, according to Jim MacCracken, supervisory wildlife biologist with the USFWS. Scientists worry that any disturbances could lead to large stampedes, which injure and kill some walruses, especially calves.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaimigrants"We are all immigrants." Translated from the Spanish. (Photo: Kevin Hoogheem)

In 1986, Jackson Browne released a withering song that decried the Reagan wars in Central America. In it, Browne pleaded that "there are lives in the balance." Although Browne was responding in particular to US government support of the Contras in the Nicaraguan civil war and military massacres in Latin America, many of the song’s lyrics are also relevant to the deaths of other people who are treated as disposable. Take for instance this passage in the song:

I've been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the crowd in my ear

You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you've seen it before

Yesterday I posted a commentary entitled, "Global Neoliberalism and Wars of Empire Play Roles in Migrants' Fatal Efforts to Reach Europe." Given how many refugees of economic, political and violence crises were precipitated - in large part - by Western intervention in northern Africa and the Middle East, Jackson's impatient and urgent lyrics could apply equally well to the deaths of global refugees.

While the media this year have been more focused on migrant deaths in Europe fatalities, Donald Trump has been using migrants from Mexico and Central America as the focus of his incendiary rallying cry. Trump is stoking hatred and base fears among a segment of the US population as refugees die crossing through the desert to bypass the border wall.

Thursday, 27 August 2015 09:52

White House Fires Back at Charles Koch

2015.27.8 BF Eco(Photo: DonkeyHotey)COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

The White House fired back at the Koch brothers yesterday after Charles Koch told Politico he was “flabbergasted” by a recent attack on him and his brother by President Obama during a clean energy speech in Las Vegas, Nevada earlier this week.

It all started on Monday when President Obama accused critics of his energy policies as “wanting to protect an outdated status quo” and “standing in the way of the future.” He specifically called out the Koch brothers for funding these attacks on renewable energy, saying “you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests, or conservative think tanks, or the Koch brothers pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards or prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding—that’s a problem.”

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On Tuesday, Charles Koch responded to the comments, saying the attack was “beneath the President, the dignity of the President, to be doing that.” Koch told Politico that he is not against renewable energy, he is merely “opposed to renewable energy subsidies of all kinds—as we are all subsidies, whether they benefit or help us.”

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