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Thursday, 11 June 2015 07:02

Swimming While Black

2015.11.6 koehler(Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

“He came into the call out of control, and as the video shows, was out of control during the incident.”

And cellphone videos continue to unravel America’s “law and order” paradigm. You might almost call it the cellphone revolution, as random video clips keep exposing a dark side of our social order that used to be so easy to deny. YouTube has become the gateway to our collective conscience, such as it is.

Nobody was killed in the latest racism-tinged clip of policing malfeasance to go viral — the disrupted pool party in McKinney, Texas — but once again a disturbing buzz permeates the nation, as . . . huh? … a profanity-spewing police officer is shown flinging a teenage girl in a bathing suit to the ground and grinding his knee into her back as he handcuffs her, then pulling out his handgun and waving it menacingly at several teenage boys, also wearing bathing suits and obviously unarmed, all because . . . the (African-American) kids were noisy, and maybe some of them didn’t have permission to be swimming at this particular public pool in a mostly white subdivision?

The usual defenses of such actions — “he was just doing his job” or “they didn’t comply with his orders” — fall short of the mark. The officer, Eric Casebolt, who in 2008 had won his department’s Patrolman of the Year award, was suspended shortly after the video went public and a few days later resigned from the force. His chief, Greg Conley (quoted above), condemned his behavior at the scene; and even the Fraternal Order of Police, generally supportive of every act of police brutality, criticized not the waving of a gun at kids in bathing suits but his “use of profanity.”

None of these official condemnations closes the case. There are too many searing questions raised by this pool-party video for it to be buried and forgotten, and it fits too jarringly into an emerging national context as new as the social media and, at the same time, 400 years in the making: In America, if you’re black, you’re automatically the enemy. If you’re black, you lose. The law is not on your side.


aaaLakeMead(Photo: EcoWatch)Lake Mead, America’s largest U.S. reservoir when at capacity, is about to hit a critical new low. The reservoir near Las Vegas on the Colorado River has been in decline for decades because the reservoir and the larger Colorado River system has been over-allocated for many years. As of yesterday, the elevation of Lake Mead was 1,075.96. The reservoir is only days away from hitting 1,075 feet, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s projections. That number is the threshold set in a 2007 agreement as part of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Colorado River Interim Guidelines, which calls for delivery cuts if water levels in Lake Mead drops below that level.

These cuts will be the first set of mandatory water delivery curtailments to Lake Mead. Should the water levels continue to drop, as they are expected to—due to the prolonged drought, climate change and poor water management—more cuts will be required. The Western Water Policy Program and the Bren School of Environmental Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara recently released their spring report, The Bathtub Ring, which examines the impacts as Lake Mead levels decline to 1075 feet, 1050 feet, 1025 feet and 1000 feet.

The Bureau of Reclamation predicts the first round of cuts could take place in January 2017 with Arizona and Southern Nevada seeing the biggest cuts. Arizona plans to curtail “groundwater recharge efforts” and cut “deliveries to farmers with low-priority rights,” according to the Las Vegas Sun. Arizona’s cities “would be unaffected, at least initially.” Southern Nevada, for its part, “has prepared with conservation, saving enough water that residents and businesses won’t be affected if a portion no longer is available.”

Tuesday, 09 June 2015 12:25

Is the Fracking Boom Coming to an End?


aaaFrackWellhead(Photo: Joshua Doubek)Since fracking began its boom period in the last decade, its supporters have promoted it as the answer to all of  the U.S.’s energy issues. It would free us from dependence on foreign oil, they said, thereby strengthening national security. And in fact, the U.S. has become the world’s largest exporter of fossil fuels, while prices at the gas pump have dropped steeply as fracked oil and gas production has exploded. States like Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Ohio have welcomed frackers to their shale deposits, even though others, such as New York and Maryland, have resisted the lure due to concerns about fracking’s impacts on human health and the environment.

But could the gravy train be derailing? While production is still at record levels, there are signs that should worry any company or economy that is heavily invested in the fracking process.

Compared to conventional wells, fracked wells tend to be initially productive but taper off quickly and then are shut down as operators move to new locations. And that is starting to catch up with them.

“Production has to come down because rigs drilling for oil are down 57 percent this year,” James Williams, president of Arkansas-based energy consultancy WTRG Economicstold Bloomberg News. “Countering that is the fact that the rigs we’re still using are more efficient and drilling in areas where you get higher production. So that has delayed the decline.”


aaaHastert(Photo: Neutrality)Late last week, the Associated Press' Mary Clare Jalonick reported that a Montana woman interviewed by the FBI claimed that "her brother was sexually abused while in high school by [former House Speaker] Dennis Hastert, the wrestling coach who would become speaker of the House."

According to the AP story, Jolene Burdge of Billings, Montana, said "that the FBI interviewed her in mid-May about Hastert. She said her brother told her before he died in 1995 that his first homosexual contact was with Hastert and that the relationship lasted through all of his high school years."

Burdge, who in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" identified her brother as Stephen Reinboldt, "said Hastert had been a father figure to him at high school. But she also said she believed that relationship had caused irreparable harm. 'He damaged Steve, I think, more than any of us will ever know,' she told the morning show," AP reported.

Too much time has passed for Hastert to be indicted on sexual abuse charges, but he has been indicted on charges "accus[ing] Hastert of evading bank regulations in withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars and lying to the FBI about the reason for the withdrawals. The document says Hastert agreed to pay a total of $3.5 million to someone identified only as 'Individual A' to 'compensate for and conceal (Hastert's) prior misconduct' against that person. But it does not go into any detail about the alleged misconduct."

2015.8.6 BF Wasserman(Photo: : : w i n t e r t w i n e d : :)HARVEY WASSERMAN OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article republished with permission from EcoWatch.

Ok. So we don’t expect much from these mega-blockbuster disaster films.

But maybe just a hint about reality could spice things up. At least maybe a passing acknowledgement that the actual San Andreas could turn the Diablo Canyon nukes into a seething heap of radioactive rubble and permanently irradiate all of California?

Is that too much to ask, even of Hollywood?

Apparently so.

In a Hollywood high-budget Earth-coming-to-an-end flick like this one, there will always be a lame love story, totally improbable close calls where death is narrowly escaped again and again, and lead characters—male and female alike—with zero body fat who emerge onto the screen fresh from four hours of pumping iron.

San Andreas more than delivers on all of the above. The male lead (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) might be mistaken in some circles for basketball superstar LeBron James, who is six feet eight, 250 pounds—but who leaps like a gazelle and ball handles like a ballerina.

2015.8.6 BF Buchheit(Photo: Kevin Burkett)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The discussion to follow borrows from several resources, summarized at You Deserve Facts:

  1. Freedom House: Determinations of national 'freedom' based on political rights and civil liberties.
  2. Democracy Index: Classification of nations as 24 full democracies, 50 flawed democracies, 35 hybrid regimes and 36 authoritarian regimes. States without militarization rankings and arms transfer data were excluded.
  3. Global Militarization Index: The relative weight and importance of the military apparatus of one state in relation to its society as a whole.
  4. SIPRI Arms Transfers Database: Information on all transfers of major conventional weapons. Figures from this leading arms-tracker Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) are generally low, because they represent estimates of current (not agreed-upon) production costs (not sales costs).
  5. Global Wealth Databook: Credit Suisse 2014 Wealth Statistics.

Terrifying Facts

The most militarized states (1/4 of the total) received almost 2/3 of America's arms transfers (i.e., the 38 most militarized of 148 nations, plus Taiwan, which did not have a militarization ranking). This, of course, prompts a question about cause and effect: Do our arms sales contribute to increased militarization of other countries, or does the militarization encourage more business with the United States? Either way, our behavior is unconscionable.

Over a quarter of all our arms sales goes to five "Non-Free" countries: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Oman (Democracy Index calls three of them "authoritarian regimes," and Iraq and Egypt "hybrids").


aaaDevilsTower(Photo: VaderSS)In my last Buzzflash at Truthout piece, Oil Kills Everything It Covers, I wrote about Plains All American’s horrific oil tragedy that happened on the 19th of May off Refugio Beach, north of Santa Barbara. It could have been prevented if Plains had installed a state-required automatic shut-off valve. But in the 1980s, Plains won a lawsuit that gave regulatory control of the company to the federal government, which didn’t require an automatic shut-off valve. Why? Security maintenance is “unprofitable”. Consequently, an estimated 105,000 gallons of crude oil gushed into the Pacific Ocean from a ruptured, eroding pipe. Tar balls are currently washing up on favorite, southern California beaches. In a twist of irony, angry reporters have been barred from inspecting the on-going damage, a blatant violation of their First Amendment rights. Talk about distorting the Bill of Rights, an oil corporation can exercise “freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” but apparently, those rights and protections are not afforded to individuals or journalists.  

Many of these oil & gas pipelines are over 30 years old in the U.S. It should be a mandatory requirement to replace them all. Or better yet, replace fossil fuels with solar and wind energy. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said that “this oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast is tragic. This highlights the dangers posed by these pipelines and underscores why I have spent decades fighting against oil drilling off the California coast.” Plains’ long delay and clean-up response have been described as “shockingly insufficient.”  

The heartbreaking part of this tragedy is that this oil spill is going to kill a lot of whales, dolphins, seabirds and much more...

2015.4.6 BF D(Photo: UK Ministry of Defence)DAVID SIROTA FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Among all the rivers of money that have flowed to the Clinton family, one seems to raise the biggest national security questions of all: the stream of cash that came from 20 foreign governments who relied on weapons export approvals from Hillary Clinton's State Department.

Federal law designates the secretary of state as "responsible for the continuous supervision and general direction of sales" of arms, military hardware and services to foreign countries. In practice, that meant that Clinton was charged with rejecting or approving weapons deals — and when it came to Clinton Foundation donors, Hillary Clinton's State Department did a whole lot of approving.

While Clinton was secretary of state, her department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors. That figure from Clinton's three full fiscal years in office is almost double the value of arms sales to those countries during the same period of President George W. Bush's second term.

Thursday, 04 June 2015 06:49

Juvenile Justice and the War on Teens


“Fundamental to this process is the idea of ‘collective responsibility’ . . .”

The study, released earlier this year, is called: “What Can the Cook County Juvenile Court Do to Improve Its Ability to Help Our Youth? A Juvenile Justice Needs Assessment.”

Compiled by two Chicago institutions, the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation at Roosevelt University and the Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice at Adler University, it’s a well-documented plea for sanity.

Its fundamental finding will hardly be a surprise to anyone involved with the juvenile justice — or any other kind of justice — bureaucracy. Despite the enormous investment by governments at every level in court and penal systems, they don’t work. That is to say, they make matters worse:

“In 2012, there were 29,822 juvenile arrests in Cook County. . . . While court intervention is intended to reduce the likelihood of future offending, research findings suggest that, in fact, the opposite is true.

“. . . when compared to youth with comparable risk factors of adverse behavior and/or delinquency histories, but no juvenile court involvement, youth who appeared in court and received mild sentences (such as counseling, community service or restitution) were still 2.3 times more likely to incur adult criminal records; youth placed on probation were 14 times more likely to incur adult records; and, youth placed in a juvenile correctional institution were 38 times more likely to have adult records.”


aaaIndiaHeatWave(Photo: Hinode JAXA/NASA)The heat wave that has been ravaging India in recent weeks has now killed more than 2,500 people, making it the fifth deadliest on record. “If the death toll reaches more than 2,541, it will become the fourth deadliest heat wave in the world, and the deadliest in India’s history,” says Think Progress.

After the Indian government made an announcement today that the country was entering its first drought in six years, India’s Earth sciences minister blamed climate change for the heat wave and the deficient monsoon rains. “Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of another failed monsoon,” Harsh Vardhan told Reuters. “It’s not just an unusually hot summer, it is climate change,” he said.

The minister’s statement reflects the findings of the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change, which has predicted that “India will be hit by frequent freak weather patterns if the planet warms,” according to Reuters. And, of course, India is not alone. Scientists report that extreme weather, including droughts, floods and heat waves, will increase in frequency due to climate change. On the other side of the world in the U.S., cities such as Houston, Texas were inundated by floods last week and Oklahoma City had its wettest month ever with almost five times the amount of rain it normally sees in May. Again, scientists have confirmed that this heavy downpours are increasing because of climate change.

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