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WENONAH HAUTER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFrackingCuomo(Photo: Joshua Doubek)Fantastic news came from the state of New York this week when the Cuomo administration announced its decision to ban fracking in the state. This exciting decision is a tribute to everyone who has worked so hard in New York to protect the state from the ravages experiences elsewhere from fracking.

Here’s the full story: On Wednesday, the Governor convened a cabinet meeting where Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker presented the findings of the Department of Health’s review on fracking. He described the peer-reviewed studies showing that fracking contaminates air and water and harms health, and he highlighted that many of the long-term health effects are still unknown, as epidemiological studies have not been conducted. Comissioner Zucker ended his presentation by saying, “Would I live in a community that would allow fracking? The answer is no.”

Then in this real-time drama, Joe Martens, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation indicated the department would issue “legally binding findings to prohibit high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York.” They will be included in the supplemental generic environmental impact study that will be released in the New Year, an approach that Governor Cuomo supports, and that will effectively ban fracking in New York.

Published in Guest Commentary

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaWarehouse(Photo: Warehouse, Green Logistics Co.)During the hectic holiday shopping season, Jeff Bezos' Amazon.com may seem like a great option, especially for us procrastinators. Anything you want can be shipped directly to your doorstep. All it takes is a few clicks on the Amazon website and — of course — some of your hard-earned money.

The media sings the praises of Bezos' concept and business. But what you may not know is that, as head of the Amazon beast, Bezos is hard on his labor force. In fact, this past May, he was awarded a less-coveted prize by the International Trade Union Confederation: "World's Worst Boss."

Consider one of the most difficult of Amazon jobs — the "picker." In each warehouse, hundreds of them are simultaneously scrambling throughout a maze of shelves, grabbing products. This is hard, physically painful labor, for two reasons. First, pickers must speed-walk on concrete an average of a dozen miles a day, for an Amazon warehouse is shockingly big — more than 16 football fields big, or eight city blocks — and pickers must constantly crisscross the expanse. Then, there are miles of 7-foot-high shelves running along the narrow aisles on each floor of the three-story buildings, requiring the swarm of pickers to stoop continuously. They are directed by handheld computers to each target. For example, "Electric Flour Sifters: Dallas sector, section yellow, row H34, bin 22, level D." Then they scan the pick and must put it on the right track of the 7 miles of conveyor belts running through the facility, immediately after which they're dispatched by the computer to find the next product.

Secondly, the pace is hellish. The pickers' computers don't just dictate where they're to go next, but how many seconds Amazon's time-motion experts have calculated it should take them to get there. The scanners also record the time each worker actually takes — information that is fed directly into a central, all-knowing computer. The times of every picker are reviewed and scored by managers who have an unmerciful mandate to fire those exceeding their allotted seconds.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaTorturePunch(Photo: Sherurcij)As the world that is interested in such matters knows, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has finally released the (redacted) 524-page Executive Summary of its 6000-page report on torture and the CIA, headed "Panel Faults C.I.A. Over Brutality and Deceit in Terrorism Interrogations." One cannot be sure why the Chair, Sen. Diane Feinstein of California, decided to release it over the mounting objections of both the White House and the CIA as well as most Republicans (apparently in favor of the use of torture, from the sound of it/them). But she may have been informed that one Senator or another, especially the outgoing Senator from Colorado, Mark Udall, would do it himself if she didn't. (It is rumored that Sen. Udall may still put the whole report into the Congressional Record. If he does, I would strongly suggest that he never again fly in a small aircraft.) At any rate, even just the Executive Summary presents a huge amount of horrifying detail. (I need not detail it here; it and a huge amount of commentary has already appeared in The Times and many other news sources, print, electronic and other.)

It happens that a good deal of the information contained in it has been known, in relative bits and pieces, for quite some time. What the Senate Committee has done is assemble a huge amount of material in one place, and then put their imprimatur on the information, which it has been collecting in sometimes gruesome detail over the past six years. Of course the Republicans have reacted in horror, not at the details of the torture itself and the catalog of CIA cover-ups, incompetence, disorganization, amateurism, and what-have-you, but at the fact that they have all been made public. Of course, Sen. Feinstein and her Democratic colleagues knew full well that if they didn't release the document now, it would never see the light of day, at least for the next two years of a Republican Senate majority. Further, even if the Democrats were to retake the Senate in 2016, by that time it would be a) old news and b) the CIA and its allies within and outside of government would have had many more opportunities to a) cover their tracks and b) further justify their actions with the repetitive aid of Fox"News.".

One should note that Democrats hardly have entirely clean hands in this matter. After all, the Obama White House didn't want even the heavily redacted Executive Summary published. Further, right at the start of its Administration, the Obama White House and its "Justice" Department made clear that they would not be going after any of the torturers or, much more importantly, the torture-enablers starting with Cheney, based on what was even then already widely known about the program. Not only has it done nothing to prosecute the perpetrators, it has even allowed the promotion of many of them. Furthermore, we have the odd occurrence that Obama's current CIA director, John Brennan, who knew about the program when he was Obama's counter-terrorism advisor in 2009, and is a member of a Democratic Administration, criticized the Report not only as inaccurate, but also "flawed," "partisan" (sic), and "frustrating."

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 16 December 2014 06:51

Squatting on the Flag

WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAmFlag(Photo: Staben)If you believe the recently released Senate Intelligence Committee torture report, you might be tempted to conclude that the CIA lied to the press and the public and to Congress about the extent and effectiveness of its torture campaign. And that conclusion would be correct, sir. And the amazing thing is people are amazed.
 
Yes. Of course the CIA lies. That’s what they do. Lying and cheating and stealing are its total and complete job description. Glance at their listing on the civil service careers website: “fluid interpretation of situational morality required.” That’s why when old CIA guys retire they go to work as oil industry lobbyists or Hollywood publicists.
 
The CIA lied. Wow. What the next big revelation: Fire is hot? The New York Philharmonic is musically inclined? Shia LaBoeuf is bug suck crazy? Scorpions make lousy pre-school pets? Contracting dysentery is a lousy career move? Tiramisu is tasty?
 
One thing you got to give our beleaguered spy agency: they are on the cutting edge in the use of creative euphemisms. In their world, “sleep management” means refusing to let someone sleep, possibly for more than a week, and “special rendition” means kidnapping people right off the street. Like an involuntary Uber ride. If Uber made passengers wear ankle manacles and black bags over their heads.
Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 12 December 2014 09:17

Joe Conason | CIA Crimes Without Punishment

JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaChain(Photo: Toni Lozano)With the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the use of torture by the CIA after 9/11, the final defense of the indefensible by its perpetrators, advocates and publicists is falling apart before our eyes.

Not only did "enhanced interrogation," the Nazi euphemism adopted by the Bush-Cheney administration, include methods outlawed and prosecuted by our country for more than a century, such as waterboarding — and not only did those "activities," as Dick Cheney called them, violate American law, the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and the conventions on torture — but also we now know with great certainty that the CIA executed this secret program with horrific incompetence and that it produced nothing of significant value.

Indeed, the SSCI report concludes — contrary to the boasting of Cheney and many others — that torture was proved "not an effective means of gathering intelligence," let alone saving millions of Americans from jihadi plots, and actually "complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions." The overseers of the torture program, themselves of dubious competence, were unable even to assess the impact or effectiveness of their orders.

As Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations points out, the CIA itself has admitted, in its otherwise aggressive response to the SSCI, that it lacked the "structure, expertise, and methodologies" to "systematically evaluate the effectiveness" of its "covert actions." The CIA didn't know what it was doing. But it was doing grave damage to itself and to us.

Published in Guest Commentary

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUTaaaFossilFuel(Photo: Chad Teer)

Allow me to ask congressional members in the House and Senate and American voters the following questions:

1. Do you like polluted air that’s so toxic that it’s causing asthma, heart disease and premature death, lung and respiratory-related health problems for you and your family?

2. Do you like it when your water is contaminated with poisons associated with coal, gas or oil drilling? Do you enjoy seeing wildlife killed from toxic pollution?

3. Do you like eating toxic food because safety inspections have been lifted?

No one in his-her right mind would answer ‘yes’ to the above questions unless they’re receiving money from the fossil fuel industries. 

 

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 11 December 2014 07:00

The Militarized Divide in This Shattered Nation

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCopSniper(Photo: Jamelle Bouie)This shattered nation.

“Eric Garner was overweight and in poor health. He was a nuisance to shop owners who complained about him selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. When police came to arrest him, he resisted. And if he could repeatedly say, ‘I can’t breathe,’ it means he could breathe.”

And, oh yeah: “You cannot go out and break the law. What we did not hear is that you cannot resist arrest. That’s a crime.”

This is the police counter-narrative, as reported by the Associated Press. Eric Garner’s choking death was mostly his own fault. It’s another standoff: another line of cops in bulletproof vests, ominously gripping their batons, stepping slowly toward the protesters. “He was a nuisance . . .” Get him, boys. Take him down.

The national divide is solid and four-square. Actual human beings congregate only on one side of it, or the other. If Eric Garner is a nuisance and Michael Brown is a thug and Trayvon Martin is a suspicious-looking kid in a hoodie who didn’t belong in that neighborhood . . . then, whoosh, all their humanity vanishes and “upholding the law” justifies every action against them, including killing them. The cries of grief from their families are just irritating noises. The outrage about it is insubordination.

Either we’re united by our common humanity or we live in a broken world, a nation hellishly divided against itself, a roiling stew of privilege and squalor. And no one in such a world is free — that is to say, fully himself or herself, fully human. Fear rules. Hatred rules.

Published in Guest Commentary

HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSWAT(Photo: Smallman12q)First, they’ve come for the people of color.  

America’s police forces increasingly serve as a a private corporate army, beyond the reach of the law.  
 
But our nation is distracted by race.  And millions of white Americans are under the illusion that what was done to Michael Brown and Eric Garner can’t happen to them.
 
These un-prosecuted killings of African-American men go way beyond racial prejudice.
 
They are the calling card of an Orwellian state:
 
America’s founders established grand juries to protect citizens from frivolous prosecution.  But today’s corporate state has twisted the system to protect killer police from public scrutiny, putting them above the law. 
Published in Guest Commentary

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFrackBan(Photo: EcoWatch)The little guys aren’t taking this one lying down. In November, voters in Denton, Texas—fed up with oil and gas drilling companies unwilling to work with citizens to put some reasonable protections in place and with state and local regulators for allowing new fracking wells near homes, schools, parks and hospitals—passed a ban on fracking, despite being hugely outspent. The Texas Oil and Gas Association, representing the fracking companies, and the state’s General Land Office responded with lawsuits to protect their “right” to push fracking on unwilling residents.

Now Denton is fighting back with lawsuits of its own. Yesterday, with the fracking ban taking effect on Tuesday, the Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DAG) and Earthworks, the groups that led the Frack Free Denton ballot initiative, filed intervention papers in both lawsuits, seeking to assert the right of citizens to decide what happens in their own neighborhoods. The groups are represented by the Texas local government law firm Brown & Hofmeister; attorneys from national environmental organizations Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council are asking the permission of the court to act as co-counsel.

“Denton residents, with Republican and Democratic majorities, voted overwhelmingly to ban fracking,” said DAG president Cathy McMullen. “Our city has the legal power to prevent bakeries from setting up shop in residential neighborhoods. To suggest that we don’t have the legal power to similarly bar fracking, a much more dangerous process, is the height of industry arrogance.”

“The state and industry could have respected Denton communities’ health, safety and property,” said Earthworks’ energy program director Bruce Baizel. “They chose not to. The ban is the result. Now, rather than constructively engage with the community, they simply overlook their regulatory failure and move to overturn democracy through legal action.”

Published in Guest Commentary

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMall(Photo: "Abandoned Mall," by Justin Cozart)It’s now been about a week after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.

During the four-day spree, about 133.7 million shoppers spent about $50.9 billion, according to AP and TIME magazine. 

The psychological necessity to push, shove, and trample strangers while fighting for the right to purchase overpriced merchandize made in China has just begun. Thanksgiving—a day when Americans give thanks the Native Americans didn’t have immigration quotas—begins a 30-day frenzy to buy whatever corporate America is selling. It’s an American tradition to give presents to relatives, friends, business associates, and mistresses, all of whom will also give you presents, which will be opened, sometimes enjoyed, and often returned within a week for something better. Each shopper will spend about $781, according to Statista Research, while boasting about the great bargains they are getting, and how the government spends too much and takes too much of our hard-earned income for unnecessary expenses, like road repair, health care, environmental protection, and food stamps for the impoverished.

To assuage our spirit of greed—and the need to feel loved because we bought someone something—we will drop change into Salvation Army kettles, while disgustingly stepping around the homeless.

We say how much we support the troops, while we go to Christmas parties, get drunk, and then forget those who come home damaged.

Published in Guest Commentary
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