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Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:02

Climate Reckoning: My Family’s Coal Story

JEFF BIGGERS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCoalEagleCreek(Photo: Jeff Biggers)Four years after the publication of my memoir/history, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, I found myself sitting in the front row of an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency hearing in southern Illinois. It was a historic evening in Harrisburg, only a few miles from where Peabody Energy sank its first coal mine in 1895, and a few blocks from where I had sat on the front porch as a kid and listened to the stories of my grandfather and other coal miners about union battles for justice. For the first time in decades, residents in coal country were shining the spotlight on issues of civil rights, environmental ruin and a spiraling health crisis from a poorly regulated coal mining rush.

The total destruction of my family’s nearby Eagle Creek community from strip-mining was held up as their cautionary tale. The takeaway: Strip-mining more than stripped the land; it stripped the traces of any human contact.

“We have lost population, we have lost homes and we have lost roads,” testified Judy Kellen, a resident facing an expanded strip mine in Rocky Branch. “We have lost history. We have to endure dust, noise levels to the pitch you wanted to scream because you couldn’t get any rest or sleep, earth tremors, home damages, complete isolation of any type of view to the north, health issues, a sadness in your heart that puts a dread on your face every day, and an unrest in the spirit that we knew nothing of.”

A lot has changed in these four years—much of it troubling, and much of it inspiring.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAntiChoice(Photo: Msci)Meet Dr. Willie Parker. He is one heck of a courageous man. Chances are you've never met anyone like him.

He grew up dirt poor in Birmingham, Alabama; as a teenager he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and was a "boy preacher in Baptist churches"; he was "the first black student body president of a mostly white high school"; he went to Harvard, became a college professor, and successful obstetrician "who delivered thousands of babies and refused to do abortions."

Dr. Willie Parker had what some might call a second "come to Jesus" moment, deciding "to give up his fancy career to become an abortion provider" -- for the poorest of the poor and the most needy -- at the only surviving abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. These days, he travels a "circuit roughly similar ... to the one traveled by Dr. David Gunn before an anti-abortion fanatic assassinated him in 1993."

Dr. Parker's "name and home address have been published by an antiabortion Web site with the unmistakable intent of terrorizing doctors like him. ...[and] he receives threats that say, 'You've been warned.'"

Published in Guest Commentary

HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaClimateMarch1(Photo: Shadia Fayne Wood)The most hopeful, diverse, photogenic, energizing and often hilarious march I've joined in 52 years of activism---and one of the biggest, at 310,000 strong---has delivered a simple messag​e: we can and will rid the planet of fossil fuels and nuclear power, we will do it at the grassroots, it will be demanding and difficult to say the least, but it will have its moments of great fun.

With our lives and planet on the line, our species has responded.

Ostensibly, this march was in part meant to influence policy makers. That just goes with the territory.

But in fact what it showed was an amazingly broad-based, diverse, savvy, imaginative and very often off-beat movement with a deep devotion to persistence and cause, and a great flair for fun.

For when push comes to shove---and it has---our Solartopian future will be won one victory at a time.

Oh....yes, yes, yes....we will try to influence the policy-makers. The UN, the Obama Administration, the bought and rented Congress, the usual suspects.

But we won't be begging. It needs to be the other way around.

Published in Guest Commentary

JANE STILLWATER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaElectionGold1(Photo: Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited)With election time almost upon us, here's a rather sobering thought: By spending as little as a mere two billion dollars, anyone with that amount of money can now afford to buy an entire US election -- Congress, the White House, governorships and all.

"But Jane," you might ask, "why would anyone even want to do that?" Just look at all the immense amount of loot you can score with just this tiny investment. Access to national park lands, bank deregulation, profits from weapons production, corporate monopoly status, pro-pollution laws, judges' rulings in your favor...need I go on? ​

For instance, eleven trillion dollars has been recently spent on escalating and pursuing US wars. So if you "invest" in American elections and still only receive, say, just ten percent of those eleven trillion dollars.

For your weapons-manufacturing services or whatever the heck else companies like Halliburton do, you still have just grown your measly two-billion-buck investment at least a thousand times over. Forever war really pays off! 

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaISISwar(Photo: Sgt. Luis Delgadillo)Barack Obama's central dilemma last week, when he tried to sell a new war to the American public on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, was to speak convincingly about the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade-plus while at the same time, alas, dropping the bad news that it didn't work.

Thus: "Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer."

Hurray! God bless drones and "mission accomplished" and a million Iraqi dead and birth defects in Fallujah. God bless torture. God bless the CIA. But guess what?

"Still we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm."

So it's bombs away again, boys — another trace of evil has popped up in the Middle East — and I find myself at the edge of outrage, the edge of despair, groping for language to counter my own incredulity that the God of War is on the verge of another victory and Planet Earth and human evolution lose again.

Obama ended his executive declaration of more war with words that the military-industrial shills have slowly managed to turn into an obscenity: "May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America."

God bless another war?

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaJesusRapture(Photo: John Singleton Copley)Christian-themed movies appear to be attracting large audiences these days. While none of the latest crop of religious-themed movies will come close to the box office numbers garnered by Mel Gibson's 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ – over $600 million combined domestically and worldwide -- nevertheless, these films are taking church goers out of the pews, and transporting them to local cineplexes across the country. A post-film-watching goal is to have patrons go and click on the film's website and order up an assortment of merchandise.

This year's successful crop includes Heaven is for Real ($91 million); God's Not Dead ($60 million); and, Son of God ($59 million). Noah, starring Russell Crowe, is a film that stirred controversy amongst some Christians for its lack of fealty to the Biblical tale, but nevertheless brought in nearly $360 million worldwide. According to thewrap.com's Todd Cunningham, "Grassroots and social media campaigns aimed directly at the Christian community had a lot to do with their success."

"Just as there's a whole niche publishing industry that does nothing but Christian books, this is a way to create that niche in the movie-making industry," says Michael Parnell, pastor at Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., and a commentator and film reviewer for APBnews/Herald. Organizers of the 168 Film Festival, which celebrates Christian movies, called the past year, "a stellar year for faith films at the box office ..."

More recently, faith-based films have hit some hard times in the past few months, Cunningham pointed out: "The box-office washout of The Identical made it four straight misfires for faith-based movies after an unprecedented run of success for religious films earlier this year."

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 12 September 2014 08:29

Mitch McConnell Threatens the United States

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMcConnellRifle(Photo: Gage Skidmore)Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader, is not a happy man.

He didn’t like it when Barack Obama was elected president. Just about the first thing McConnell said was that his main responsibility was to make sure that Mr. Obama was a one-term president.

That vow drove McConnell’s and the Tea Party’s politics. They didn’t worry about the nation or the people. They worried about how to make Barack Obama a one-term president.

They failed.

But, in the past six years, McConnell managed to block almost all constructive legislation in the Senate.  And it’s not even a fair fight. McConnell manipulated and wheeled and dealed so that the majority no longer can do anything. It now takes 60 votes to pass almost anything in the Senate. That’s because the Republican obstructionists have threatened to filibuster anything of substance.  Important bipartisan legislation that would normally pass with a majority of 51 to 59 votes out of the 100 possible are now scuttled by backroom politics and the blind hatreds that some have for this nation’s president who was elected by the people and by the Electoral College—twice.

And now comes Mitch McConnell to again obstruct the people and the government. He vows if the Republicans win the Senate in November, he will shut down the government if President Obama doesn’t agree with the Republicans.

Published in Guest Commentary

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaStatuePlaque(Photo: melanzane1013)After a long and inert struggle, resembling nothing so much as two elderly crocodiles trying to gum one another to death, Obama has declared that no action on immigration reform will be taken until after the fall elections. On the one hand, this makes perfect political sense. The chances of getting the House to pass a bill proclaiming that 2+2=4 would be close to nil, were said bill favored by the president. And a bill on so sensitive a topic as immigration reform? Unlikely. And addressing the issue with executive orders would, as the prophets of conventional wisdom proclaim, only hand Republicans further ammunition in an already grim looking mid-term election.

On the other hand, come on, really? Immigration reform has been under discussion for years. The latest iteration of the battle has seen Obama repeatedly put off action, to give the Republicans in the House a chance to act, which they seized upon by doing, um, nothing. And of course, since assuming office, Obama has been deporting undocumented immigrants at a record rate, apparently under the assumption that, once he has passed a certain threshold of anti-immigrant toughness, perhaps by biting off the head of a Guatemalan infant on live TV, his political opponents would have no choice but to sit down and actually hammer out some sort of deal.

But that hasn’t quite worked out, has it? As with most every other area of debate in which the president has attempted to meet his adversaries halfway, the end result has been that the terms of discourse drift rightwards whilst his opponents screech and little of consequence occurs. And in this particular case, we are now left to wait until, at the very earliest, November for any action. And perhaps, post mid-terms, the notion of political capital will come up and Obama will opt to spend his dwindling stores of it on something exciting, like a few more million tons of bombs in Iraq and/or Syria. So then the can gets kicked ever further down the road and oh no! Here’s the 2016 elections and we certainly can’t be doing anything to upset that, can we?

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 11 September 2014 09:06

A GOP Senate: Good News or Bad News?

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSenate(Photo: US Senate)Just the other day I received the following communication from the GOP (and that’s how they referred to themselves in this particular email):

Subj: GREAT polls for Republicans:

“Steven, Just wanted to update you on the state of play in the critical battleground races: This weekend, there were a number of positive polls released for Republicans. One forecast showed Republicans holding “at least a nominal lead in eight states held by Democrats, more than the six they need to retake the chamber.” One leading forecaster predicted Republicans have a 65.1% chance of winning a Senate majority this November — up from 63.5% two days prior. And another forecasting model gave Republicans a 61% chance of taking back the Senate — up from 58% since a wave of new data was released. The momentum is growing, and the odds are on our side. But every single one of these Senate battleground races is just too close for comfort. With less than two months until Election Day, we can’t afford to leave the odds making to the pollsters. It’s up to us whether we clear the path, seize the lead and deliver a victory in each battleground state.”

Then they go on to ask for money. What? They don’t get enough from the Koch’s et al? But that’s another story.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 11 September 2014 06:12

The Quick-Draw Morality of Violent Police Force

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBadge(Photo: Scott Sanchez)“So you want to disarm cops LOL yeah that’s an intelligent thing to do the gang bangers would love that surely they will unilaterally disarm too.”

I’m used to semi-anonymous sarcasm by now, like this Huffington Post comment beneath a recent column I wrote on the militarization of the police and the possibility of disarmament, and I have no interest in “fighting it out” with the guy. But there it is, perfectly preserved: an impulse homage to Big Fear, wrapped in unexamined certainty. This is fast-draw morality, made in Hollywood.

I take this moment to highlight it because it’s so typical and, for that reason, the first line of defense of the status quo of violence: this instant acceptance of the idea that our enemies are continually stalking the perimeter of our lives, waiting to invade, to commandeer our way of life the moment we lower our weapons.

This instant reaction to any questioning of the use of armed force to maintain safety and “peace” not only shuts down the discussion but hides all the consequences of violent self-defense, including the creation of the very enemies we fear (e.g., the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and the hemorrhaging of sanctioned, official violence backwards into our own lives.

Violent force and temporary dominance of a situation may occasionally serve a larger end, but the permanent maintenance of this mindset has us stalled in a state of endless embattlement, both at home and abroad. Fear has us locked into a bad story: that violent dominance over our enemies is our only hope. In actuality, our only hope is embracing a larger story: that all humanity, and all of life, is connected. Finding that connection is often what requires courage.

Published in Guest Commentary
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