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COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDenton(Photo: EcoWatch)Citizens of Denton, Texas are still fighting to keep fracking banned within city limits despite the vote last November in favor of the ban. Ever since the vote, state lawmakers in cahoots with the oil and gas industry and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, have attempted to strip municipalities like Denton of home rule authority to override the city’s ban, according to Frack Free Denton.

The town is the first municipality in Texas to ban fracking and has consequently become ground zero for the fracking debate. Yesterday, Denton Mayor Chris Watts and City Attorney Anita Burgess traveled to Austin to testify at a hearing on two bills that have emerged in response to Denton’s fracking ban, according to Frack Free Denton. In solidarity with grassroots organizers from the Frack Free Denton movement and other residents from small Texas towns who also testified in Austin, documentary filmmaker and Denton resident Garrett Graham released a new trailer for his forthcoming film.

With the help of Frack Free Denton, Graham made a film that “chronicles Denton’s uphill battle against oil and gas interest deep in the heart of the gas patch,” said Frack Free Denton. The oil and gas industry is working hard to undo Denton’s ban and to keep other cities from following Denton’s example but residents of Denton are speaking out.

Published in Guest Commentary

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaConsume(Photo: lyzadanger)Good news, people: The "boom" is back! Yes, good times are here again, thanks to an economic boom that's being generated by (of all things) bad times.

As you might know from your own experiences, tens of millions of Americans have been hit hard, knocked down and held down in recent years by the collapse of jobs and wages. This calamity has led to a second blow for millions of the same families, who find themselves suddenly buried in piles of overdue bills for credit card charges, student loans and other consumer debt.

But the good news is that there's a bright silver lining in that dark financial cloud. Only, it's not for the indebted families, but for a booming breed of finance hucksters known as consumer debt buyers. Believe it or not, in the warped world of high finance,

"There's gold in them thar hills" of bad debt, and where there's gold, there are diggers.

Whenever a corporation issues a statement declaring that it's committed to "treating consumers fairly and with respect," chances are, it's not.

Published in Guest Commentary

COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDivestSwarthmore(Photo: EcoWatch)Early this morning, Swarthmore Mountain Justice launched a sit-in for fossil fuel divestment at Swarthmore College. Students at this Quaker college in Pennsylvania helped launch the campus divestment movement, which is now active at hundreds of universities across North America, Europe and Australia. The 37 students and six alumni are asking the Swarthmore Board Investment Committee chair Chris Niemczewski and board chair Gil Kemp to “return to the negotiating table and agree to end the college’s investments in a rogue industry that violates Swarthmore’s Quaker values and recklessly imperils a just and sustainable future for our generation,” according to a statement from the group.

“It is unconscionable for Swarthmore, as an institution of higher education with a commitment to social responsibility, to invest in an industry that is actively destabilizing the future that our education is meant to prepare us for,” said Sophia Zaia, a freshman and sit-in organizer.

The campaign has strong support from the campus community: 1,100 faculty and alumni and 970 students (61 percent of the student body) signed a petition demanding the college divests from fossil fuels. It even has a very high profile endorsement: Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief, who graduated from Swarthmore in 1979.

The group has chosen to sit-in because talks with the university, which started four years ago, have stalled, according to The Guardian.  The group has a proposal, on which they consulted with the vice president of finance at Swarthmore, that shows how the college can fully divest by 2020, the same year that global emissions must peak in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. “Despite this, the board rejected this historic opportunity to show international leadership on climate,” said Chris Malifronti, a freshman and sit-in organizer.

Published in Guest Commentary

JEFF BIGGERS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAppalachiaEcoWatch(Photo: EcoWatch)An escalating series of lawsuits, government rulings, banking decisions and breakthrough health studies has brought the fate of devastating mountaintop removal mining in central Appalachia to the doorstep of state and federal decision-makers this week.

Mountaintop removal is not just on the ropes—it’s down for the count—and several fronts carry the same knockout message: Given the urgent health crisis from the reckless mining operation, the federal government and the states can no longer wait to act.

“The situation here could not be more urgent,” said Vivian Stockman, project coordinator at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “Under West Virginia’s program, we’ve seen once-vibrant streams die, devastating floods, and loved ones exposed to toxic blasting dust take ill. Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed communities and threatens to destroy more. We need OSM to take action now.”

First, after witnessing the mounting health crisis and death toll of friends, family members and miners, citizens living in the fallout of the massive strip mining movements have finally prodded West Virginia state officials to review the more than two dozen peered-reviewed health studies on the impacts of mountaintop removal operations, including a recent study that “shows that dust collected from MTR [mountaintop removal] communities promotes lung cancer.”

Second, on the heels of a galvanized “People’s Foot” movement rally at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection on Monday, a powerful notice of intent to sue the Obama administration was filed by attorney Patrick C. McGinley, a 40-year titan in coal safety laws and West Virginia University law professor, for its failure to prepare and implement a federal program for West Virginia’s documented oversight and violations of required strip mining regulations.

Published in Guest Commentary

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaOCRNLogo(Photo: EcoWatch)Across the country, battles are raging as communities attempt to protect the air, soil and water within their borders and the safety of their residents. These battles are taking the form of debates about whether state regulations can or should erase local home rule.

Colorado and Texas are engaged in such high-profile battles after voters in communities like Denton, Texas and Boulder, Longmont and Fort Collins, Colorado, passed fracking bans. That has opened up ongoing maneuvers and lawsuits as state governments work with oil and gas companies to uphold the exploration and extraction interests of the latter despite citizen concerns about environmental pollution, noise, traffic and infrastructure stress.

But with communities and citizens becoming more and more determined to have their say, fossil fuel interests put out one blaze only to find a dozen more flaring up. Many of those communities are using a strategy developed by the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to address environmental issues: a community bill of rights. Now oil and gas companies are working to suppress those bills of rights.

They were successful in Ohio last week where a judge in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) struck down the community bill of rights passed by suburban Broadview Heights voters by a 2-1 margin n November 2012 to keep additional drilling operations out of their community. The decision is considered significant because it’s the first community bill of rights in Ohio to get a legal review. Judge Michael Astrab found it in conflict with state law. Many other Ohio cities, including Cincinnati, Youngstown, Athens and Mansfield have passed such bills of rights.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBooks2(Photo: Johannes Jansson)If you were forced to read one book written by a potential Republican Party presidential candidate, would it be by Dr. Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, Rick Perry or Scott Walker?

While none of these books have garnered rave reviews and aren't likely to be particularly memorable, if you chose Dr. Ben Carson's One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America's Future (co-written with his wife Cindy), you will have picked the book that thus far has out sold all the other books combined, and by a huge margin.

Bloomberg News' David Knowles recently pointed out that "The urge to make the leap from politician to author makes sense on a number of levels. Releasing a book can help introduce a regional politician to a national audience, laying the groundwork for a campaign. While the bulk of a first-time effort will be spent on biographical details and formative anecdotes, most eventually veer toward policy positions without actually committing their authors to specifics, giving readers a hint of how he or she might govern without chiseling a platform in stone."

In 1995, before he launched his campaign for a seat in the Illinois Senate, the then unknown Barack Obama's memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance was published. In 2004, after Obama had won the U.S. Senate Democratic primary in Illinois, the book was re-published and was received favorably by numerous critics and writers: It "may be the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician," wrote Time columnist Joe Klein. The Guardian's Rob Woodard pointed out that the book "is easily the most honest, daring, and ambitious volume put out by a major US politician in the last 50 years." Michiko Kakutani, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for The New York Times, described it as "the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president."

Published in Guest Commentary

HARVEY WASSERMAN OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGreenTea(Photo: EcoWatch)Four years after the multiple explosions and melt-downs at Fukushima, it seems the scary stories have only just begun to surface.

Given that Japan’s authoritarian regime of Shinzo Abe has cracked down on the information flow from Fukushima with a repressive state secrets act, we cannot know for certain what’s happening at the site.

We do know that 300 tons of radioactive water have been pouring into the Pacific every day. And that spent fuel rods are littered around the site. Tokyo Electric power may or may not have brought down all the fuel rods from Unit Four, but many hundreds almost certainly remain suspended in the air over Units One, Two and Three.

We also know that Abe is pushing refugees to move back into the Fukushima region. Thyroid damage rates—including cancer—have skyrocketed among children in the region. Radiation “hot spots” have been found as far away as Tokyo. According to scientific sources, more than 30 times as much radioactive Cesium was released at Fukushima as was created at the bombing of Hiroshima.

Some of those isotopes turned up in at least 15 tuna caught off the coast of California. But soon after Fukushima, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration stopped testing Pacific fish for radiation. The FDA has never fully explained why.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaa5bucks(Photo: Slick-o-bot)One:   Seven Nobel Laureates in Economics endorse the higher minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, saying it does not lead to lower fewer jobs.

Two:   Job losses from raising the minimum wage are negligible.  Minimum wage has already been raised 23 times.  Every time it was raised it was opposed by some few who said “it is going to lose jobs and wreck the economy” which is factually untrue as study after study has proven

Three:    It is a myth that small business owners can't afford to pay their workers more, and therefore don't support an increase in the minimum wage.  In fact, a June 2014 survey found that more than 3 out of 5 small business owners support increasing the minimum wage to $10.10.

Four:    The value of the minimum wage has fallen dramatically.   Since the minimum wage was last raised in 2009, the price of apples went up 16%, bacon 67%, cheddar cheese 21%, coffee 27%, ground beef 39%, and milk 21%.  The minimum wage went up 0%.  Plus, in the 1960s the minimum wage was essentially half the average wage.  If that was still the case it would be $12.50 an hour.

Five:   Saying we have a “free market” that will take care of workers is a myth.  No corporations rely on the mythical “free market,” why should workers? Corporations lobby like crazy all the time in Washington DC and before every state and local government for direct and indirect public assistance.  All levels of government provide widespread corporate welfare so why not provide some help to low wage workers?  Examples? The Wall Street bailout cost over $200 billion.  Fifty billionaires received taxpayer funded farm subsidies in past 2 decades.  Corporate jet subsidy is $3 billion a year.  Special tax breaks for hedge fund managers allow them to pay only 15% tax rate, while the people they invest for pay twice that much and their secretaries pay a higher percentage.  The home mortgage deduction is $70 billion a year, with 77% going to people with incomes of over $100,000 per year.  Giving workers more money is small potatoes compared with what corporations and the rich are receiving all the time.

Published in Guest Commentary

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaEcoWatchWind(Photo: EcoWatch)Wind power is one of the fastest-growing new sources of electrical power in the U.S.—the largest new renewable source of power since 2000. And within 35 years, it could be providing more than a third of the power in the U.S.

That’s according to a new report, Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States, released today by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Wind and Water Power Technologies office. It updates a study released in 2008 under President George W. Bush, taking into account changes that have occurred in the energy industry since then, with improved technologies making wind more reliable and cost-effective. The 286-page report outlines the wind industry’s assets and the challenges it faces in its efforts to increase its share of the total energy portfolio, as well as the positive benefits for the public and the environment of doing so. It provides a key piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

“The wind industry can be characterized by the substantial growth of domestic manufacturing and the level of wind deployment seen in recent years,” says José Zayas, director of the DOE Wind and Water Power Technologies office. “Wind power systems are now seen as a viable and competitive source of electricity across the nation. Wind power’s emerging role is an important option in a portfolio of new energy solutions for future generations.”

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDerpGOP(Photo: Republican Party)Your Republican Party today is some spectacle, is it not? Its House of Representatives dips into foreign policy. As is well known, it invites the Prime Minister of a foreign country to make a speech that serves two purposes: campaigning against the US President's present foreign policy and campaigning for re-election in an increasingly tough battle in his home country. Since he offers no alternatives to the proposed policy of the US President, it cannot serve any purposes other than dual-campaigning.

Its Senate then sends an "Open Letter" to Iran. Since it was not actually sent to anyone in Iran by post or diplomatic pouch (which would have had to go through the State Department and the U.S. "Interest Section" in the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, a totally unlikely occurrence), it is actually not a "letter" as such, but rather an Op-Ed piece. Again, it offers no alternatives to the present policy of the President, and it says nothing about how US foreign policy works that any student of it doesn't already know (and there are several of those on the Iranian side in the negotiations). Thus it too is nothing more than part of the Republican campaign against President Obama that began on the evening of President Obama's Inauguration on January 20, 2009. Actually Mitch McConnell had announced in December, 2008 that he "would filibuster any bill I didn't like."

(It is too bad that President Obama has failed for so long to take heed of these very clear announcements of total non-cooperation but continued to press until very recently the failed Democratic Leadership Council [and its "centrist" successors] policy of "finding the middle ground," when clearly none exists, or has ever existed. According to New York magazine's Johnathan Chait, he finally has done so).

The same Mitch McConnell announced just the other day that he "is urging governors to defy President Obama by refusing to implement the administration's global warming regulations." It happens that 12 states with Republican governors have already filed lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Administration's announced new regulations intended to do at least something about the ongoing tsunami of human-caused global warming/climate change [http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/the-climate-change-deniers-hall-of-infamy]. But that is not good enough for McConnell. The law be damned. Here is the most senior elected Republican legislator telling (Republican) Governors to just go ahead and defy the law, the EPA, and the President. (Funnily enough, the EPA was originally established by none other than Richard Nixon. And, get this [something I didn't know], he did it by Executive Order [!!!], which was eventually ratified by Congress. Talk about Republicans changing over time.)

Published in Guest Commentary
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