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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

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHillbillies(Photo: EcoWatch)The process of mountaintop removal mining has made accessing coal seams easier and less labor intensive. It’s also blighted the Appalachian landscape of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia where it’s taking place, destroying 10 percent of the land in central Appalachia, ravaging forests, burying more than 2,000 miles of streams in debris and polluting water supplies with coal ash and chemicals. And it’s helped decimate employment in the coal industry, dealing another blow to one of the country’s poorest regions. It’s great for Big Coal, not so great for ordinary citizens.

In 2009, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), produced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with an interagency action plan “designed to significantly reduce the harmful environmental consequences of Appalachian surface coal mining operations, while ensuring that future mining remains consistent with federal law.”

Today the Alliance for Appalachia, a coalition of grassroots citizen groups, released a study assessing how well that plan had been implemented and what still needs to be done. While pointing to some successes, the group said much stronger actions are needed to avert future disasters like the chemical dump that fouled the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians in January.

“The coal industry is never going to be like it was in the 30s,” said Teri Blanton, a volunteer with the Alliance for Appalachia and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. “The jobs have been on a decline since the beginning. We need to realistically think of the future of Appalachia and fix this mess. We could employ ten times the number of workers just fixing the toxic pollution mountaintop removal has left behind. We need reinvestment in Appalachia—not just clean energy, but cleaning up the messes left behind by dirty energy.”

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 04 December 2014 06:55

Beyond M.A.D.: Reviving Nuclear War

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBoom1(Photo: United States Department of Energy)“Some of the key technocrats and scientists of the Cold War say the nation has become overly confident about its nuclear deterrence. The nuclear enterprise, they say, ‘is rusting its way to disarmament.’”

Let’s meditate on this irony — that disarmament, finally, means no more than growing old and weak and pathetic.

What brilliant Cold War Revival propaganda, masquerading, in theLos Angeles Times last week, as objective reporting. Let’s meditate on the dark chuckles of the Cold War technocrats, as they attempt to summon an extra trillion dollars or so from the national coffers to restore America’s nuclear weapons program to the glory of the 1960s and push on vigorously with the design and development of the next generation of nukes: our national strength, the foundation of our security. All that’s missing from the article — “New nuclear weapons needed, many experts say, pointing to aged arsenal” — is Slim Pickens screaming “Ya-hoo!” as he rides the bomb into human oblivion at the end of Dr. Strangelove.

The ostensible focus of the article, as well as a second article published two weeks earlier, both by Ralph Vartabedian and W.J. Hennigan, is the decrepitude of the American nuclear arsenal, with its myriad sites and delivery systems hampered with out-of-date technology and indifferent maintenance, e.g.: “Today, the signs of decay are pervasive at the Pantex facility in Texas, where nuclear weapons are disassembled and repaired. Rat infestation has become so bad that employees are afraid to bring their lunches to work.”

Oh, the horror. Rats and nukes. Next up, Godzilla? Any serious challenge to nuclear weapons as the ultimate manifestation and symbol of national strength is absent from these articles; so is any rational account of the danger their hair-trigger presence poses to humanity — not to mention the insanity of their ongoing development.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 07:20

Fracking Frenzy Threatens Developing Nations

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFrackingFrenzy1(Photo: EcoWatch)Fracking is both a temptation and a curse for developing nations, says a new report released today by Friends of the Earth Europe as governments meet in Lima to make meaningful commitments to speed up the transition away from dirty energy sources. Fracking Frenzy: How is the fracking industry threatening the planet? details the impacts of developing shale reserves in new regions of the world unprotected by political power to ward off bad policies that favor fossil fuel extraction companies over communities.

The report looks at a selection of countries identified in the U.S. Energy Information Administration's 2013 World Shale Gas and Shale Oil Resource Assessment that analyzed potential shale resources in 42 countries and 95 shale basins around the world. It identifies 11 countries it says are prime targets for the fracking industry to focus on in depth: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, South Africa, China, India, Indonesia and Russia. It analyzes the potential gas and oil reserves (often over-estimated), available water resources, area's geology, country's policies on drilling, local opposition to fracking and environmental, ecological and social impact of fracking in each.

"While much has been written about fracking in North America and in the EU, this report provides a global overview of shale gas development in the rest of the world," the report says. "These countries include seven of the EIA's top ten countries for technically recoverable shale gas resources and are among the leaders in shale development on their respective continents. These countries also reveal the variety and specificity of the dangers associated with the expansion of the fracking industry, including environmental, social and health consequences which extend beyond the borders of individual countries."

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaKKK2(Photo: American Memory Collection)Surely you remember the five-step color-coded terrorism alert system – ranging from green (go shopping to defeat terrorism) to red (stay at home and defeat terrorism by shopping online) -- devised by the Bush Administration to keep Americans on its collective toes.

If this system hadn't been phased out by President Barack Obama's then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, it would probably be flashing red. Not because of actions by homegrown self-described patriots who threaten to shoot children crossing the country's southern border, or anti-abortion fanatics who maintain they're doing god's work by killing doctors who perform abortions and bombing abortion clinics, or because of the shoot-em-up actions of disgruntled domestic white anti-government xenophobes, but rather because these days, it's all about the threat to the homeland posed by ISIS and other jihadist groups.

Last week, in about ten minutes time, Larry Steve McQuilliams, 49, of Austin, Texas, shot off an estimated 100 rounds of ammunition throughout Austin's downtown area; firing at the federal courthouse and the Mexican consulate. No one was killed or wounded other than McQuilliams, who was shot and killed by a police officer.

Early media accounts reported that McQuilliams may have had "anti-government" and "anti-immigration motives."

You think?

Published in Guest Commentary
Monday, 01 December 2014 10:15

Slap-in-the-Face Wealth Gap Images

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBenjaminJust 70 individuals now own as much wealth as half the world. In the U.S., the richest 40 individuals own as much as half the country, and the 16,000 American households in the top .01% have accumulated an average net worth of over a third of a billion dollars. As extreme wealth continues to grow out of control, inequality worsens for the rest of us, plaguing our country and our world, spreading like a terminal form of cancer. It should be a major news item in the mainstream media. But the well-positioned few are either oblivious to or uncaring about its effect on less fortunate people.

The data and charts (citations here) come from Forbes, Credit Suisse, and a recent study by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

1. Just 70 Individuals Own As Much Wealth As Half the World

SaezZucman2014 1

 

Less than a year ago, Oxfam reported that the richest 85 individuals owned as much wealth as half the world. But recently updated calculations reveal that the richest 70 individuals now own $1.842 trillion, more than the poorest half of the world.

We're drawing nearer to the fulfillment of Charles Koch's dream: "I want my fair share and that's all of it."

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaPeacefulProtest(Photo: Bartosz Brzezinski)Police officers should approach Ferguson protestors with caution and fully respect their constitutional rights. That is the clear message from recent court awards and settlements against police force abuses against demonstrators.

New York City just paid out $17.9 million to more than 1800 protestors arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention, according to CNN.

An Iraq War veteran injured by police during Occupy protest in Oakland has been awarded $4.5 million after being struck in the head by a beanbag fired by police.

UC Davis paid out $1 million to 21 demonstrators who were pepper sprayed during Occupy protests November 2011. This was $30,000 per demonstrator and $250,000 in attorney fees. The University apologized and the officer who pepper sprayed the protestors was fired.

Oakland paid $1.1 million to members of the Occupy movement for police misconduct during the protests.

Published in Guest Commentary

Kelly HayesChicago police block a Ferguson solidarity march on November 2, 2014. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Here’s a story for you. My uncle-in-law is a good man. He’s 73, a twice decorated Vietnam veteran, and lives with his wife in New Mexico, a few miles south of the Colorado border. She suffers from an autoimmune condition so, every month, he drives her 150 miles south, to Albuquerque, where she receives the infusion that keeps her alive. This past week, due to some bureaucracy and miscommunication, he found himself making that drive on a license that had been suspended. And, as luck would have it, he was pulled over for driving a few miles an hour under the speed limit. The officer ran his license, saw that it had been suspended, and listened to my uncle explain that he was simply trying to take his wife to the hospital for lifesaving treatment. At that point, the officer had a choice. She could have written my uncle a warning. She could have written him a ticket. She could have let him drive off with nothing more than a friendly admonition.

She chose to put him in a double pair of handcuffs, place him in back of her police car, and haul him off to the county jail, leaving my aunt to make her own way to Albuquerque. I showed up an hour later and, after I posted his bail, they made him sit in a concrete cell for another two hours for reasons that were never actually divulged.

Here’s another story, albeit less of a personal one. The city council of Santa Fe, NM, where I live, recently voted to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. This was followed by a non-binding referendum, in support of decriminalization, that overwhelmingly passed. Now here’s the funny thing: when police officers in Santa Fe stop someone who turns out to be in possession of marijuana, they are often choosing to file charges under the old state law, which comes with a heftier penalty. As the city police department has yet to issue any directive on the new law to its officers, it falls to the discretion of the arresting office, and it is, ultimately, his choice which law to charge the offender under.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 20 November 2014 06:29

Ferguson and the "Us vs. Them" Illusion

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBrownDontShoot(Photo: Jamelle Bouie)As the grand jury’s decision on whether nor not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson loomed, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told a TV reporter “he’s preparing for peace and war.”

What the governor did, in the tense uncertainty preceding the decision, was pre-declare a state of emergency and activate the Missouri National Guard to help contain the possibility of violent, anti-police protests. He also appointed 16 people, including several of the protesters, to a newly created “Ferguson Commission” to recommend solutions to the racial problems plaguing that community, which the killing of Michael Brown last August made unavoidably apparent.

Meanwhile, gun sales at local shops are through the roof and the local Klan is stirring, distributing fliers warning protesters that they’ve awakened a sleeping giant.

America, America . . .

Before we proceed further, let’s stir in a little Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

That level of thinking — the political, governmental and media consensus of who we are — is blind and deaf to history and locked into us-vs.-them thinking. Security, whether domestic or international, is a game played against presumed and, often enough, imagined enemies. Thus, prior to the governor’s decision to call out the Guard, the FBI had issued an intelligence bulletin warning local officials that “the announcement of the grand jury’s decision … will likely be exploited by some individuals to justify threats and attacks against law enforcement and critical infrastructure,” according to the Washington Post.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 18 November 2014 10:15

Which Side Are You On?

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaConflictAkira(Photo: Hans Holbein the Younger)Ever get the feeling that things are spiraling out of control? Yes, apocalyptic thinking seems to be a hardwired human impulse, but it’s hard to deny that, of late, events are trending in an ever more unhinged direction. On issue after issue, stark contrasts may be drawn between opposing sides as the rhetoric becomes ever more forceful.

Item: House Republicans have seized upon the “mandate” offered by the recent midterm elections to pass a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, an enterprise that will support the carbon emissions-heavy extraction of oil from the Alberta tar sands, have little positive impact on domestic energy costs, and create, in the end, a whopping 50 permanent jobs. In an attempt to secure her political legacy, or perhaps a post-political consulting career, the soon to be ex-Democratic senator from Louisiana, Mary Landrieu, is pushing for a vote in the Senate on a similar bill. Meanwhile, the Rosebud Sioux, through whose reservation the pipeline will run, have denounced the authorization as an “act of war.”

Item: President Obama issued an entirely sensible statement calling for net neutrality, something that has been long overdue, and something that enjoys overwhelming public support. Senator Ted Cruz, who I am increasingly convinced is the product of a failed collaboration between a third-rate cloning facility and an adolescent performance artist, immediately denounced net neutrality as the “Obamacare of the internet,” following this fascinating claim with a collection of other words that offered the outward appearance of meaning and coherence while demonstrating little more than a profound lack of understanding of the issue.

Published in Guest Commentary
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