Guest Commentary (3624)
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The derailment of a 101-car CSX freight train on a bridge in a densely-populated part of Philadelphia this past week should be yet another warning to politicians who have become cheerleaders for oil and gas fracking.
The train had been hauling crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota. A severe snow storm delayed by several days removing the derailed cars and 80,000 gallons of crude oil from the decades-old bridge over I-76 and the Schuylkill River, which flows into the Delaware River. Oil and gas companies using horizontal fracking have made the Bakken the most productive oil shale in the country.
Numerous articles and scientific research studies have already shown the link between horizontal fracking and health and environmental problems. But the transportation of shale oil and gas by trains, trucks, and pipelines poses more immediate threats.
About 92,000 of the 106,000 tanker cars currently in service were built before 2011 when stricter regulations mandated new design. The older cars (DOT-111) have an "inadequate design" and are susceptible to leaks and explosions in derailments, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Railroad accidents in 2013 in the United States accounted for about 1.15 million gallons of spilled crude oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data, according to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Hold the dream with me, as it breaks loose from Jameale Pickett's poem. Something beyond the insane dance of crime and punishment is happening, at least this year, this moment, in Chicago's high schools. Young people are getting a chance to excel and become themselves, as more and more schools find and embrace common sense, also known as restorative justice.
The funding is fragile, precarious, but some schools in struggling communities are figuring out how to break the school-to-prison pipeline, even though the system as a whole remains wrapped up in suspensions, expulsions, zero tolerance and racism.
"The Obama administration on Wednesday urged school officials to abandon unnecessarily harsh suspension and expulsion practices that appear to target black students," the Chicago Sun-Times reported recently.
"In Chicago, although black students in 2009 made up 45 percent of (the Chicago Public Schools') enrollment, 76 percent of all CPS students who received out-of-school suspensions were black, according to Department of Education data. When it came to expulsions, black students made up 80 percent of those who were expelled."
And, as of data from a few years ago, one in four African-American students gets suspended at least once during the school year in Illinois — the highest rate in the nation. Suspensions become blemishes on one's record that are almost impossible to erase. But worst of all, the conflict at the root of every suspension, in the old system of zero tolerance, goes unaddressed — indeed, unacknowledged, either by the school system or the media. Yet every unaddressed conflict festers and grows.
JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The rich truly are different from you and me - they tend to hold seats in Congress.
Our nation purports to be a representative democracy, yet you don't find many plumbers, mineworkers, dirt farmers, Walmart associates, roofers, beauty parlor operators, taxi drivers, or other "get-the-job-done" Americans among the 535 members of the U.S. House and Senate.
What you do find is an over-supply of lawmakers drawn from a very thin strata of America's population: Millionaires. In fact, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that last year — for the first time in history — more than half of our senators and House members are in the Millionaires Club. Indeed, the average net worth (the value of what they own minus what they owe) for all lawmakers now totals more than $7 million.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
They didn't unseat President Obama, their candidates didn't win as many major election victories as they would have hoped, and their numbers in public opinion polls sunk, but, to inelegantly paraphrase Mark Twain, "The Tea Party ain't dead, no way, no how."
"It was a year of countervailing winds and storms. ...The Tea Party movement rose and fell across the year. Though battered and bruised, the core membership of the Tea Party's national factions continued to expand in 2013, even as public opinion waxed and waned." Those are some introductory lines to "The Status of the Tea Party Movement," a comprehensive overview of Tea Party activities over the past year, prepared by the Institute For Research & Education On Human Rights (IREHR).
According to IREHR's Devin Burghart, "The Tea Party cemented its status as an institutional force driving a significant sector of the far right. Moreover, 2013 made it crystal clear that this movement is not about debt and taxes, or even healthcare. It is filled with racists and racism, xenophobes and bigots, and it has had a deleterious effect on political and social questions. And the portfolio of issues, particularly guns and nativism, expressed a (false) sense of white dispossession."
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Since 1973, the anti-abortion movement has engaged in numerous strategies and campaigns; from peaceful protest to outright terrorism to mobilizing political support for anti-choice legislation. Violent sectors of the movement have been responsible for killing abortion doctors, wounding staff, and bombing clinics. Anti-abortion advocates have harassed patients and threatened the families of health care workers.
For more than forty years, the movement has had one goal in mind: an outright ban on all abortions.
On January 22, anti-abortion activists and advocates will once gather at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for its annual "March for Life." This year, there is un-likely to be any hitches in the giddy-up of the marchers, and the chanting from the crowd is apt to be louder than ever. That's because this year's "March for Life," held on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling which deemed abortion a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution, is being staged against the backdrop of a wave of anti-abortion legislative victories in the states.
And many movement activists see these victories as paving the way to even more limits on access to abortion.
The "March for Life" is unquestionably the biggest anti-abortion event of the year. Some years there is a huge turnout, with tens of thousands of people marching along the D.C. streets, while other years -- especially if the weather doesn't cooperate -- the crowd, while still enthusiastic, is less robust.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The drinking water in nine West Virginia counties has finally been declared safe, or mostly safe. But many people say they can still smell the licorice-like odor of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol -- in the sink, in the shower, in the air, especially in neighborhoods close to the Elk River.
I say "mostly" because so little is known about the toxicity of the chemical, known as MCHM, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women in the affected area not to drink the water, at least for now. Unfortunately, this warning came after the CDC had already told residents the water was safe for everyone.
More than a week since the chemical spill in Charleston, the state capital, contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people, there has been little solid information about the danger to human health -- and little outrage from officials in Washington, who seem to expect West Virginians to take the whole thing in stride. I can't help but wonder what the reaction would be if this had happened on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or in one of the wealthier ZIP codes of Southern California.
Imagine living for a week without tap water for drinking, cooking, bathing, even washing clothes. Imagine restaurants having to shut down, hotels putting sinks and showers off-limits, nursing homes trying to care for patients with only bottled water at their disposal. Imagine learning that there was essentially no information on the long-term health effects of a chemical you could smell everywhere you went.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It was shown in a recent report that the richest Americans have made millions from their stock holdings since the recession.
It's getting worse. The facts are summarized here, and presented in greater detail at Us Against Greed.
1. Just 13 Americans Made More from Their Investments in 2013 than the Entire SNAP Budget
Some wealthy Americans like to refer to themselves as "makers," and food stamp recipients as "takers," even though most of the latter are children, the elderly, or low-wage workers. Many of the top 13 on the Forbes list did not make anything of significance in 2013. Yet by being heavily invested in the stock market they were able to take $80 billion among them, more than a year of food stamps for almost 50 million people.
2. The Richest 400 Took $300 Billion in 2013, Approximately the Entire Safety Net
The total budget for SNAP, WIC (Women, Infants, children), Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Housing is less than the $300 billion 'earned' by the Forbes 400.
WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT SATIRE
Avast me mateys. Off the starboard bow. Thar she blows. Looks like the Chris Christie juggernaut hit its first iceberg. And harpoons are flying in from multiple quarters. Back on the Jersey Shore, Hillary Clinton’s people and Rand Paul’s people are partying so loud and hard, Snooki and JWoww’s people are banging on doors demanding they keep it down
Rumors that Governor Juggernaut was a petty and vindictive bully have rattled across the borders of the Garden State for quite some time. So when it was revealed that aides shut down 2/3rds of the lanes on the George Washington Bridge to punish Fort Lee’s mayor for not endorsing him, it sounded as in character as the bolts on Baron von Frankenstein’s little buddy. Funny thing is, when you think of the porcine politico and major arteries being clogged, traffic patterns are not what springs to mind.
Christie, however, claims to have had nothing to do with the allegations. And attempted to prove it by getting rid of the guilty staffers quicker than a shower shank thrust to a snitch. If throwing people under a bus were an Olympic event, Chris Christie would be waving from the top of the podium wearing a double XL tracksuit in Russia next month. Fortunately, the bus was stuck in traffic and never moved.
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Christie Affair goes galloping along. By the time this column appears in print there may be more major developments/revelations-of-information. What will not change is the use by the GOP of one of its standard responses to such events, when the involved Republicans: "Two Wrongs Make a Right." (For the Numero Uno practitioners of this tactic see O'Reilly, Bill, and Hannity, S.) And this is one of their standard responses whether the described "wrongs" are comparable or not. But first, let's review a few of the relevant facts as we know them so far (as of January 16, 2014), concerning apparently purposely caused traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, New Jersey with the island of Manhattan, New York City.
The George Washington Bridge is reputedly the world's busiest (and there are some really busy bridges elsewhere). It was completed in 1931 and at that time was the world's longest suspension bridge. It ceded that title to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in 1936. It has never ceded the title of "One of the World's Most Beautiful Bridges." I, born in 1936, was lucky enough to have grown up within everyday sight of it. When I was first driven over it by my Dad it had six lanes and toll booths on both sides. Double-decked, it now has 14 lanes and toll booths just on the Jersey side. Last September, right around opening-of-school time, several of the toll lanes were closed, causing severe traffic jams, especially in the community that sits at the Jersey end, Fort Lee.
As almost every sentient person in the United States now knows, those lane closings were ordered and implemented by one or more officials of the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and appointees of his to a body known as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge and collects the tolls. The Governors of the two states share appointment powers for several of its executives and operating officers. This is one reason why things are so murky, and why a whole host of investigations of who ordered the toll gate closings and why are underway.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The bipartisan report on Benghazi released Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee should finally convince conspiracy theorists of the obvious: There is no there there.
Administration officials did not orchestrate any kind of attempt, politically motivated or otherwise, to deceive the American people. In their public statements, including the infamous talking points, they relied on what intelligence analysts told them.
In other words, if Susan Rice was wrong when she went on the Sunday talk shows and said the attacks were the violent outgrowth of a spontaneous anti-American demonstration rather than a long-planned terrorist assault, it was only because the intelligence community was wrong.
That said, the initial assessment given by Rice -- then serving as ambassador to the United Nations, now as President Obama's national security adviser -- may turn out to have been correct. We don't yet know. Says the report: "The IC [Intelligence Community] continues to review the amount and nature of any preplanning that went into the attacks."
Other preposterous claims about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, are also debunked in the Senate report. Most spurious is the claim that the administration failed to launch a rescue attempt that might have saved lives.