EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is yet another victim of the war on drugs. Prohibition is not working. It is time to try something new.
Hoffman, 46, was found dead in the bathroom of his Manhattan apartment Sunday morning, apparently the victim of a heroin overdose. According to widely published reports, there was a syringe in his arm. Police found the place littered with small plastic bags stamped "Ace of Spades" or "Ace of Hearts" -- brand names that street dealers use.
Hoffman had lived through a familiar pattern: experimentation, addiction, rehab, abstinence, relapse, more rehab, more abstinence, another relapse.
Why would a man held in such high esteem, a man with so much going for him and so much to live for, risk it all by buying illegal drugs from a criminal on the street and then injecting them into his veins? For the same reason any addict uses drugs: to get high.
Perhaps this desire was a moral failing on Hoffman's part. Perhaps its origin lies buried in his personal history, with some trauma having triggered it. Perhaps it is written in his genetic code. I doubt we'll ever know for sure.
What we do know is that this need to get high is beyond some people's control. Our drug policy of prohibition and interdiction makes it difficult and dangerous for people like Hoffman to get high, but not impossible -- and makes these tragic overdose deaths more common than they have to be.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
If you know what's good for America, you will shut your door when the Girl Scouts come a knockin', and you'll "back away from those Girl Scout Cookies," conservative Christian groups are telling their constituents. It has nothing to do with evangelicals adopting gluten-free diets (although there is now a certified gluten-free Chocolate Chip Shortbread cookie), or concerns about eliminating fat from their diets. It's all about right-wingers charging Girl Scouts USA with supporting Planned Parenthood, pro-abortion role models like Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and organizations like Amnesty International, the ACLU, and the National Organization for Women (NOW).
And, now, thanks to the newly formed CookieCott 2014, Texas' Wendy Davis has been dropped into the middle of this year's ruckus.
None of the anti-GSUSA caterwauling is new to leaders of the 2.3 million member GSUSA or to conservative scolds who have been slamming the organization for years.
What is new, however, is a tweeting controversy which conservatives are trying to gin up in their own inimitable manner. CNSNews.com reported in early January, that during a conversation generated by a Huffington Post article and video panel discussion over possible nominees for Woman of the Year, "The Girl Scouts of America tweeted a link ... that praises pro-abortion politician Wendy Davis (D-Texas.)"
According to CookieCott 2014, "The Girl Scouts recently endorsed pro-abortion politicians Wendy Davis and Kathleen Sebelius as worthy role models for our children. In response, we're asking you to boycott Girl Scout cookies in 2014."
JANE STILLWATER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It seems to me that the reason we get global warming in some places and global cooling in others should be as plain as the nose on your face -- at least to those of us who live in Berkeley.
Whenever it gets hot in Walnut Creek, over the hill from Berkeley, we always get a strong wind here as our own cooler air rushes over to balance out Walnut Creek's hotspots.
So global warming and cooling should clearly work in the same way -- except on a planetary scale. As Florida really heats up, for instance, cold air from the Arctic should rush in to balance temperatures out. And hurricanes and tornadoes appear to be getting bigger and nastier here to compensate for temperature changes somewhere else. All over the planet, increased warm areas are being balanced out by increased cold areas -- and vice-versa. That's my new climate-change theory and I'm sticking to it.
And Justice works the same way as well. We gotta have liberty and justice for all -- and not just for Poobahs and cartels. Because if we don't, it's all going to even out in the end eventually -- one way or another.
Everyone everywhere keeps track of these things.
And when justice only goes to the wealthy and not to the poor, things definitely get hotter in one spot and cooler in another.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Iraq vet Ross Caputi's film opens with a fleeting synopsis of the American heartbreak — and the bandage we tape across it.
His documentary, Fear Not the Path of Truth, is about the U.S. devastation of Fallujah, in which he participated as part of Operation Phantom Fury in November 2004, but the first couple minutes give us an overview of his hometown, the "former industrial city" of Fitchburg, Mass.:
"But the factory jobs are long gone, so there's really only two types of people that live here. They're the people with good-paying jobs in Boston or Worcester who come out here to build big houses at relatively cheap prices. Everyone else gets by doing work on those houses, doing their lawns, putting additions on them, painting them.
"If there was a point of unity among all the racial and economic divisions in this little city, it had to be the troops. Everyone respected the troops."
I was struck especially hard by this small moment because it encapsulates the lie of militarism where it is most invulnerable: at the humanity of the men and women who protect us, putting their lives on the line. When all else goes wrong, the troops remain sacred. In a broken economy, the troops are sacred. Militarism is the god we can manipulate.
And yet the moment to expel this lie from human society has never been riper. The trans-national cost of militarism is some $2 trillion a year, according to an ambitious new website called World Beyond War. The insanity of war not only squanders our resources, ravages the environment and slaughters the innocent, it perpetuates a global culture of violence, which is the very thing we honor our troops for protecting us from.
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On February 20, 1864 there was a First Civil War battle at a place in Florida called Olustee. It was not a major battle. It rates half a sentence in the monumental 900 page history of the First Civil War and the major events that led up to it from the beginning of the 19th century by James McPherson. The title of his book, Battle Cry of Freedom, was a slogan interestingly enough, used on both sides, obviously with different meanings: on one side it meant an end to slavery, on the other the freedom to maintain it.
The book is still widely considered to be the best single volume history of the conflict. But now, 150 years after event, that particular battle, which drew so little mention in Prof. McPherson's book, is still front and center in the minds of some and (so far only) figuratively, the battle rages on. It, in which significant numbers of African-American troops fought for the Union side, ended with a Confederate victory.
It happens that there is a three acre Florida state park at the site, which contains three memorials to the Confederate dead. The Florida chapter of an organization called the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War petitioned to have a memorial to the Union dead erected on the site as well. This petition brought forth a very strong objection from the Florida branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
One of their number, ironically named John Adams, stated the reason for the opposition was that "old grudges die hard." You bet your sweet pitootie they do. Here we are, 150 years later, and those sons of Confederate veterans, including the chairman of the Florida House Judiciary Committee, one Dennis Baxley (ironically [R]), cannot stand to have Union dead honored on the same site that their dead are, because of an "old grudge."
Although he didn't say (or least the New York Times article cited didn't quote him saying anything on the subject), the "old grudge" must have to do with the fact that after 11 Southern states seceded from the Union over one or more aspects of the slavery issue, and one of their number opened fire on a Federal fort in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., a civil war ensued, which the Secessionist forces lost. My-oh-my. 150 years later. Couldn't be that many of the issues over which the First Civil War was fought are still at issue, plus a number of new ones, now could it?
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Another insane cold wave -- not the infamous "polar vortex," but its evil twin -- is bringing sub-zero and single-digit temperatures to much of the nation. And global warming may be even more extreme, and potentially more catastrophic, than climate scientists had feared.
This is, of course, no contradiction. The rallying cry of the denialists -- "It's really cold outside, so global warming must be a crock!" -- can only be taken seriously by those with a toddler's limited conception of time and space. They forget that it's winter, and apparently they don't quite grasp that even when it's cold in one part of the world, it can be hot in another.
Indeed, while the United States is having an unusually frigid month, Australia has been sweltering through record-breaking heat. Play had to be interrupted at the Australian Open tennis tournament when temperatures in Melbourne reached 109 degrees; one player said her plastic water bottle began to melt. The extreme heat came as officials reported that 2013 was the hottest year in Australia since record-keeping began more than a century ago.
On the global scale, 2013 was "merely" the fourth-warmest or seventh-warmest on record, depending whether you believe the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The agencies take slightly different approaches in analyzing and extrapolating the available data, which accounts for the discrepancy, but they agree on the big picture: It's getting hotter.
Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2002. Deniers who claim there has been a 15-year "pause" in global warming are cherry-picking the data to fit a pre-cooked conclusion: As a baseline they choose 1998, a year in which global temperatures took a huge, anomalous, one-time leap. If you treat 1998 as the statistical outlier that it obviously is, you see a steady and unbroken rise.
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The derailment of a 101-car CSX freight train on a bridge in a densely-populated part of Philadelphia this past week should be yet another warning to politicians who have become cheerleaders for oil and gas fracking.
The train had been hauling crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota. A severe snow storm delayed by several days removing the derailed cars and 80,000 gallons of crude oil from the decades-old bridge over I-76 and the Schuylkill River, which flows into the Delaware River. Oil and gas companies using horizontal fracking have made the Bakken the most productive oil shale in the country.
Numerous articles and scientific research studies have already shown the link between horizontal fracking and health and environmental problems. But the transportation of shale oil and gas by trains, trucks, and pipelines poses more immediate threats.
About 92,000 of the 106,000 tanker cars currently in service were built before 2011 when stricter regulations mandated new design. The older cars (DOT-111) have an "inadequate design" and are susceptible to leaks and explosions in derailments, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Railroad accidents in 2013 in the United States accounted for about 1.15 million gallons of spilled crude oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data, according to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Hold the dream with me, as it breaks loose from Jameale Pickett's poem. Something beyond the insane dance of crime and punishment is happening, at least this year, this moment, in Chicago's high schools. Young people are getting a chance to excel and become themselves, as more and more schools find and embrace common sense, also known as restorative justice.
The funding is fragile, precarious, but some schools in struggling communities are figuring out how to break the school-to-prison pipeline, even though the system as a whole remains wrapped up in suspensions, expulsions, zero tolerance and racism.
"The Obama administration on Wednesday urged school officials to abandon unnecessarily harsh suspension and expulsion practices that appear to target black students," the Chicago Sun-Times reported recently.
"In Chicago, although black students in 2009 made up 45 percent of (the Chicago Public Schools') enrollment, 76 percent of all CPS students who received out-of-school suspensions were black, according to Department of Education data. When it came to expulsions, black students made up 80 percent of those who were expelled."
And, as of data from a few years ago, one in four African-American students gets suspended at least once during the school year in Illinois — the highest rate in the nation. Suspensions become blemishes on one's record that are almost impossible to erase. But worst of all, the conflict at the root of every suspension, in the old system of zero tolerance, goes unaddressed — indeed, unacknowledged, either by the school system or the media. Yet every unaddressed conflict festers and grows.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Since 1973, the anti-abortion movement has engaged in numerous strategies and campaigns; from peaceful protest to outright terrorism to mobilizing political support for anti-choice legislation. Violent sectors of the movement have been responsible for killing abortion doctors, wounding staff, and bombing clinics. Anti-abortion advocates have harassed patients and threatened the families of health care workers.
For more than forty years, the movement has had one goal in mind: an outright ban on all abortions.
On January 22, anti-abortion activists and advocates will once gather at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for its annual "March for Life." This year, there is un-likely to be any hitches in the giddy-up of the marchers, and the chanting from the crowd is apt to be louder than ever. That's because this year's "March for Life," held on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling which deemed abortion a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution, is being staged against the backdrop of a wave of anti-abortion legislative victories in the states.
And many movement activists see these victories as paving the way to even more limits on access to abortion.
The "March for Life" is unquestionably the biggest anti-abortion event of the year. Some years there is a huge turnout, with tens of thousands of people marching along the D.C. streets, while other years -- especially if the weather doesn't cooperate -- the crowd, while still enthusiastic, is less robust.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The drinking water in nine West Virginia counties has finally been declared safe, or mostly safe. But many people say they can still smell the licorice-like odor of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol -- in the sink, in the shower, in the air, especially in neighborhoods close to the Elk River.
I say "mostly" because so little is known about the toxicity of the chemical, known as MCHM, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women in the affected area not to drink the water, at least for now. Unfortunately, this warning came after the CDC had already told residents the water was safe for everyone.
More than a week since the chemical spill in Charleston, the state capital, contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people, there has been little solid information about the danger to human health -- and little outrage from officials in Washington, who seem to expect West Virginians to take the whole thing in stride. I can't help but wonder what the reaction would be if this had happened on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or in one of the wealthier ZIP codes of Southern California.
Imagine living for a week without tap water for drinking, cooking, bathing, even washing clothes. Imagine restaurants having to shut down, hotels putting sinks and showers off-limits, nursing homes trying to care for patients with only bottled water at their disposal. Imagine learning that there was essentially no information on the long-term health effects of a chemical you could smell everywhere you went.