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Wednesday, 20 November 2013 10:31

No Area Safe From Fracking


Frack1120At the time New Jersey established a ban on fracking, it seemed symbolic, much like the moratorium in Vermont, which has no economically recoverable natural gas; the Marcellus Shale, primarily in New York and Pennsylvania, doesn't extend into New Jersey.

New York has a moratorium on fracking until a health impact statement is completed.

Pennsylvania, rushing to compete with groundhogs in digging up the state, has no such moratorium. Nor does the state have any plans to conduct extensive research into the health effects of fracking—Gov. Tom Corbett, the gas industry's cheerleader, cut $2 million from the Department of Health to provide for a public health analysis.

As it is, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie exercised his authority and partially vetoed his state's moratorium to reduce it to a one-year ban. That moratorium expired in January.

During this past year, more evidence became public. Beneath New Jersey and extending into southeastern Pennsylvania lies the Newark Basin.

But, even then, New Jersey residents may believe they are safe. Although there was economically recoverable gas in the South Newark basin that lies beneath five counties in Pennsylvania, most of New Jersey is barren of recoverable gas in the North Newark Basin.

Published in Guest Commentary


ChicagoRallyImmigrationIn the thirty six-years I have been a lawyer, I have seen many people take brave moral actions. I have represented hundreds in Louisiana and across our country who have been arrested for protesting for peace, civil rights, economic justice, and human rights for all. It is amazing to see people put their freedom on the line when they risk jail for justice.

None are braver than the seventeen immigrant workers arrested in New Orleans at the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These mothers and fathers, members of the Congress of Day Laborers at the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, are standing up for justice and risking being deported from the U.S. They risk being separated from their children, many of whom are U.S. citizens.

These workers simply ask for the right to remain in the city they helped rebuild. I was in New Orleans before, during, and after Katrina. Thousands of immigrant workers arrived and labored to help us rebuild our communities. They often did the dirty work, the unsafe work, for minimal wages. They stood with us in our time of need. Now it is our time to stand with them.

Published in Guest Commentary


AmericanGreedWhat began as an offhanded suggestion by Ronald Reagan to Thomas Roe (a member of his "kitchen cabinet") in the 1980s, has evolved into an army of at least 63 state-based groups pushing conservative public policy issues as members of the powerful and well-coordinated State Policy Network (SPN).

Although many of the groups involved claim to be non-partisan and independent, an investigation by the watchdog group, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has found "that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, ALEC-backed agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities."

In September, the Arlington, Virginia-based State Policy Network held its 21st annual meeting in Oklahoma City. According to CMD's report EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, the meeting "featured a legislative agenda that included privatizing and profitizing schools, attacking the pensions negotiated for public workers, limiting the ability of states to tax, ending collective bargaining rights of workers, cutting federal spending out of state budgets, and thwarting the Affordable Care Act."

As might be expected the Koch Brothers have their imprint writ large over the SPN: The September event was attended by "representatives from Koch Industries, the Charles Koch Institute, and Charles Koch Foundation, and other the Koch-funded groups such as David Koch's Americans for Prosperity, Generation Opportunity, and the Association for American Innovation, which is now called 'Freedom Partners' and is funded to an unknown extent by the fortunes of the billionaire Koch brothers, housed in the same building as other Koch front groups, staffed by Koch operatives, and stacked with a board full of Koch insiders."

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 19 November 2013 07:07

Eugene Robinson | The Cheney Sisters Asunder


CivilUnionLooks like the holidays are going to be, shall we say, a bit awkward for the Cheney family.

Actually, more than a bit. A feud between the former vice president's daughters emerged into public view when Liz Cheney, who is trying to win a Senate seat from Wyoming by pandering to the far-right Republican base, went on "Fox News Sunday" and declared her opposition to gay marriage.

She said the question should be left up to the states, but added, "I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage."

Her sister, Mary Cheney, reportedly was watching at the home she shares with her wife, Heather Poe, and their two children. To understate, the Cheney-Poe household was not amused.

Mary Cheney responded via her Facebook page. "Liz," she wrote, "this isn't just an issue on which we disagree -- you're just wrong -- and on the wrong side of history."

Poe's reaction, also posted on Facebook, was more elaborate -- and more pointed.

Published in Guest Commentary


FrustrationFor the record, I hope the Affordable Care Act survives and succeeds. I hope President Obama pulls these irons out of the fire and hammers them into shape. I know he and his administration are struggling to enact long-term solutions to a complicated situation in the age of the 24-hour bullshit machine that is the modern "news" cycle, and I deeply and fully appreciate the difficulty of the task.

But I'm pissed, and rightfully so, and I will tell you why.

I believe that government - federal, state and local - can and far more often than not does work for the benefit of the people. If you drive on roads, have your trash collected, eat food that isn't poisoned, drink water that isn't black, breathe air that isn't blue, get a response from fire or health professionals when you cry for help, if you go to court and win, if the snow gets cleared off your street after a blizzard, if your community is rebuilt after a natural disaster, and every single time someone stops for a red light to let you pass, you can thank a government.

Published in Editorials


CheckersIn the fall of 1993, President and Mrs. (as she was then know, before she became brand "Hillary") Clinton were gearing up for the introduction of what became known as "The Clinton Health Plan" to Congress. At the Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, held in Washington, DC in November that year, a session was held looking for volunteers to speak on behalf of the plan at community meetings to be held the following year. I had a long background in what we used to call "health care delivery systems analysis."

And so I went along to that first session, really a tryout. Each participant was asked to give a brief presentation on the problems facing the US health care system and how they thought that the Clinton Health Plan could help to ameliorate them. I was pleased that I was chosen to participate and invited to come to Washington a couple of weeks later to begin training. I was dismayed, however, when, with no further discussion and certainly no interview for the job, I was asked to become a trainer myself.

These folks did not know me, had engaged in no training for trainers, and it quickly became apparent that they were more or less shooting from the hip. Nevertheless, when we chosen "speakers on behalf of the Clinton Health Plan" were invited to a plenary session at the White House, I fully expected that we would be presented with marching orders and a detailed plan, including talking points, for dealing with the policy and political problems with which we would be expected to deal out on the CHP campaign trail.

Instead, there were several speeches from the designers of the plan about its contents, which were already well-known, and that was about it. No strategy, no tactics, no group meetings, just sitting in lectures. I remember coming home from that meeting and telling my wife at the time, "if this is all they've got, the CHP is going to lose."

Published in Guest Commentary


AnesthesiaMachineIt was a necessary retreat, but President Obama made clear Thursday that his bottom line remains unchanged: "I'm not going to walk away from 40 million people who have the chance to get health insurance for the first time."

The president's pledge should be the nation's bottom line as well. It came as Obama surrendered to overwhelming pressure, much of it from fellow Democrats, and allowed individuals to keep their bare-bones insurance policies that do not meet the Affordable Care Act's standards -- at least for a year. The change was meant to correct an imbalance that cannot long be tolerated: More people are being annoyed and inconvenienced by the new law than are being helped.

It should be the other way around, and Obama accepted the blame. "There have been times where I thought we were kind of, you know, slapped around a little bit unjustly," he said. "This one's deserved, all right? It's on us."

The only semi-dodge was when Obama apologized, kind of, for his repeated assertion that Americans who were satisfied with the health insurance coverage they already have would be able to keep it. "There is no doubt that the way I put that forward, unequivocally, ended up not being accurate," he said.

"Ended up not being accurate" is a phrase I might try the next time I have to correct an erroneous fact or a misattributed quotation. I doubt my editors will let me get away with it.

Overall, however, Obama was as contrite as I've ever seen him, and also as resolute. We screwed up, he effectively said, but we're not backing down.

Published in Guest Commentary


Glock17I felt the music and the fire as the civil rights movement rose from its slumber.

"Repair . . . justice!" went the call and response last week, in the basement of an old Chicago church at the corner of Ashland and Washington. "Restore . . . life! Rebuild . . . community!"

There was Gospel music and hand-clapping, passion and politics. The Reclaim Campaign launched and the Rev. Alvin Love said, "This is just the beginning. It's going to take all of us. We're going to leave this place mobilized, energized and activated. The work begins NOW."

Reclaim "Chiraq."

The kids are dying. That's what they call Chicago: "Chiraq." The situation has to change; the community has to rebuild.

"Why is so much violence acceptable?" high school senior Keann Mays-Lenoir asked the audience of about 300 people. "Why are adults sitting back and allowing it to happen? We're in fear of our lives at school. We don't know who will be shot down next. It is not OK for any child to die senselessly.

"It is not OK that my friends and I have already planned our funerals."

Published in Guest Commentary


SNAPlogoWhen Wendy Davis proclaimed that she is "pro-life" — a description long since appropriated by conservatives opposed to abortion rights — the right-wing media practically exploded with indignation. How could she dare to say that? But having won national fame when she filibustered nearly 12 hours against a law designed to shutter Lone Star State abortion clinics, the Texas state senator with the pink shoes doesn't hesitate to provoke outrage among the righteous.

Speaking to a crowd at the University of Texas in Brownsville last Tuesday, Davis, now running for governor as a Democrat, made a deceptively simple but profound declaration: "I am pro-life. I care about the life of every child: every child that goes to bed hungry, every child that goes to bed without a proper education, every child that goes to bed without being able to be a part of the Texas dream, every woman and man who worry their children's future and their ability to provide for that."

Her argument directly pierced to the contradiction within the right's "pro-life" sloganeering. So far the feeble answer from the right is that Davis must be "lying" because nobody who supports a woman's right to choose is pro-life.

But that response is merely a repetition that seeks to evade her deeper philosophical thrust. Whatever anyone may think about abortion, the persistent question for self-styled pro-lifers is why they tend to insist on making life so much more difficult for so many children who have entered the world. The same Republicans — and they are nearly all Republicans — most vocally opposed to reproductive rights are also most likely to cut assistance to poor families, infants and children at every opportunity, from the moment of birth long into adolescence and beyond.

Published in Guest Commentary


KochBrosExposedI covered previously the decades-long Koch-operation that got us to where we are (see those earlier posts here, and here, and here, and here). I shall now describe the money-trail from there to Senator Ted Cruz, who directly headed the shutdown-effort in the U.S. Congress.

The two chief contributors to Cruz's political career donated over a million dollars to it (and no other entity donated as much as $100,000 to it). These two top sources of contributions to Mr. Cruz's political career were Club For Growth, and Senate Conservatives Fund, which together donated over a million dollars to it.

Here now is some background on the two top funders of Cruz's career: 

The Club for Growth, which was the top donor ($700,000+) to Cruz, was founded in 1999 by Steve Moore. As Right Wing Watch has noted, "Before founding the Club for Growth, Moore was the director of fiscal policy at the Cato Institute, and has stayed on as a Senior Fellow." Here is how iron the Koch's control over the Cato Institute was, and is: David Weigel at slate.com bannered on 25 June 2012, “Ed Crane Steps Down to End Koch Brothers’ Attempted Coup at Cato,” and Weigel reported that the Kochs were firing Crane (who by that time was America’s longest-serving think-tank CEO), because he wasn’t doing a good enough job to “provide intellectual ammunition that we can then use at Americans for Prosperity and our allied organizations” in order to oust Barack Obama and the Democrats, and replace them with Republicans.

As the Right Wing Watch report also noted regarding the leadership of the Club For Growth: "Board Members: CFG President Pat Toomey; Vice President Chuck Pike [who was Toomey's long-time buddy]; Richard Gilder, formerly Chairman of the Manhattan Institute; and Thomas Rhodes, President of National Review magazine," and the CFG is "associated with a variety of right-wing organizations, including the Heritage Foundation." Each one of those entities and persons has been the recipient of much Koch "charitable" cash, even besides the payments for leadership in the CFG. Club for Growth was also overwhelmingly the largest direct donor to Jim DeMint's political career during 2007-2012 ($157,067 as compared to the #2 direct donor, Scana Corp., which is a S.C. energy company, $49,475); Koch Industries itself was #6 (at $22,000); Club for Growth was also the largest direct donor to DeMint's entire political career.

Published in Guest Commentary
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