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RON SCHALOW FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDerail(Photo: B.A.)In a February 24, 2014, article, Think Progress said "Bakken shale crude oil is also the most explosive compared to oil from 86 other locations worldwide."

North Dakota leaders need to take immediate responsibility for the Bakken crude oil train explosions, and require producers to remove all explosive natural gas liquids (NGL's) from Bakken crude before shipping.

The Dot-111 tanker car is not suited for hauling watered down skim milk. It should go, but it is not the main reason for the violent and deadly explosions that have occurred over a 10 month period, from July 2013 to April 2014. The newer 1242 model cracked open during the Lynchburg, VA, derailment going 24 mph.

And, there can never be enough inspections and upgrades of the railroad tracks, and oversight of train movements, but we've been trying to keep trains on the tracks in this country for nearly 200 years, and there were still 1,260 derailments in the U.S. in 2013. Everything helps, but trains will continue to derail.

The explosions - the 300 foot fireballs, walls of fire, incinerated buildings, vaporized humans, fouled water, and poisoned soil - are primarily due to one simple fact, and it has to stop.

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBombCloud(Photo: US Department of Energy)Before nuclear weapons, after nuclear weapons . . .

"The latter era, of course," writes Noam Chomsky, "opened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but — so the evidence suggests — not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts."

We're not even close. Or so it seems on a bad day. "Why are we violent but not illiterate?" asked columnist Colman McCarthy. Well, for one thing, we don't wrap illiteracy in a shroud of glory and call it war or self-defense or national security; nor have we developed a multi-trillion-dollar industry called the Illiteracy Industrial Complex (or maybe we have, and call it television). In any case, the human race has a demonstrated ability to pull itself out of an instinct-driven existence — but now finds itself at a suicidal impasse, unable, or uncertain how, to commit to taking the next step upwards, beyond violent conflict resolution and the mentality of "us vs. them," and into a fuller connection with the universe.

This moment, as we straddle the anniversaries of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a time to reflect on what happens next. Violence — disorganized and, of course, highly organized and extraordinarily sophisticated — remains humanity's obsession, preoccupation and primary distraction. Despite the ability we now possess to destroy ourselves and most life on this planet, we have barely begun to question our reflexive violence. Doing so requires looking courageously inward.

Published in Guest Commentary

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAkiraTorture(Photo: "We tortured some folks.")With all the awesome things that have happened in the past week, a small bit of positivity may be found in the news that the Senate will finally be releasing its report on CIA torture. It's been a long strange trip to get us to this point, complete with a Diane Feinstein freakout that the CIA had dared to shift its surveillance focus from ordinary folk to Real Important People. But now it's on its way, and President Obama had a few thoughts on the upcoming report.

"We tortured some folks."

Full stop, as head explodes from cognitive dissonance.

Let's break this sentence down, shall we?

"We." No problems there. The usage of first person plural is a good move. It acknowledges a sort of collective responsibility. We're all guilty. Actually, I don't feel all that guilty, since I've managed to go 38 years without ever torturing anyone, but moving right along.

"Tortured." Also good. No Newspeak terms like enhanced interrogation techniques. Just tortured. Blunt and to the point. The past tense is slightly troubling. Some of the activities currently going on in Guantanamo are, at best, questionable. But that's outside the scope of this report.

So far, so good...

Published in Guest Commentary

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAmericanPoverty(Photo: Poverty and urban decay)Three-quarters of conservative Americans say poor people have it easy.

The degree of ignorance about poverty is stunning, even for people far removed from the realities of an average American lifestyle. Both oilman Charles Koch and Nicole Miller CEO Bud Konheim have suggested that we should compare ourselves to poor people in China and India, and then just shut up and be happy. The Cato Institute informs Americans that "The current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it acts as a disincentive for work." And entrepreneur Marc Andreessen explains, rather incomprehensibly, that "Technology innovation disproportionately helps the poor more than it helps the rich, as the poor spend more of their income on products."

1. We Spend Relatively Little on Poverty Programs

The Economic Policy Institute stated, "The United States stands out as the country with the highest poverty rate and one of the lowest levels of social expenditure." It's a national disgrace that we allow just a few people to take more of the country's wealth than the millions of productive people who can't find living-wage jobs.

Just two men made more investment income in 2013 than the entire year's welfare budget (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), commonly referred to as 'welfare').

Just 400 individuals made more investment income in 2013 than the entire safety net (SNAP, WIC (Women, Infants, Children), Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, TANF, and Housing).

And the richest 1% made more from their investments in 2013 than the total cost of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the entire safety net.

Published in Guest Commentary

TOM WEISS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaRejectProtect(Photo: "Reject and Protect," via EcoWatch)We've got this.

Thanks to the courageous and indefatigable efforts of pipeline fighters everywhere, the tide has finally turned on Keystone XL. As it becomes increasingly clear that Keystone XL's northern leg is not going through, it is time to set our sights on ending all tar sands exploitation.

The Obama administration's latest election year delay on Keystone North is not a victory, but the dominoes continue to fall. Earlier this year, a citizen lawsuit denied TransCanada a route through Nebraska. Last month, it lost its permit through South Dakota. Now it faces a gauntlet of "Cowboys & Indians" vowing to stop it in its tracks.

We cannot let up until Keystone North is vanquished, but all signs point to President Obama nixing TransCanada's cross-border permit after the November elections. Don't just take my word for it.

On April 23, Rolling Stone contributing editor Jeff Goodell wrote: "I was told recently by members of the administration that the pipeline would, in fact, be rejected." On June 18, former Vice President Al Gore wrote in this same magazine: "[Obama] has signaled that he is likely to reject the absurdly reckless Keystone XL-pipeline proposal."

Both pronouncements come on the heels of former President Jimmy Carter pointedly warning the president that Keystone XL "will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced—climate change."

Published in Guest Commentary

REV. BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGazaGirlWill this Gazan girl survive or be added to the death toll of children? (Photo: Muhammad Sabah)Our last remaining bit of shame is being dot-commed, with a young girl's pixilated eyes looking back at us from her murder.

I'm watching this atrocity with up to date technology, as I sit here typing. I remember a time when some techno-utopians thought that the global village would tilt us toward peace, as the violence became so vividly fore-grounded, the bleeding too painfully bright red, the searching for loved ones too real, and the eyes. Her eyes are more piercing than ever.

But reports of war's death were greatly exaggerated. Our acceptance of violence has grown with our consuming of deadly products. We watch wars, produced at great expense, with thousands of special effects engineers and Oscar-winning death scenes by trained method actors. And when a real war sneaks onto our screen, what can we do? Continue to watch.

Victims come to us as information, across the landscape of information, in the age of information consumption. And this makes the viewing experience of this child not different than the many children that we have watched burned and cut toward death. We are image predators, sitting in traffic, in trains, at home in our techno-cockpits, saving the bombed schools and hospitals to clouds overhead...

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAR15dupe(Photo: Zgauthier)Cliven Bundy, the Nevada-based rancher who refused to pay the over $1 million he owes in fees for having his cattle graze on public lands for twenty years, and who then assembled a posse of armed militia and antigovernment activists for a stand off against officers of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, may -- by virtue of his openly aired racist remarks about the "Negro" -- already be sitting atop history's trash heap, but there are numerous wannabes out there waiting to Cliven Bundy themselves into the headlines.

According to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, "The Bundy standoff has invigorated an extremist movement that exploded when President Obama was elected, going from some 150 groups in 2008 to more than 1,000 last year."

Alabama's Mike Vanderboegh, who heads the III Percent Patriots, wrote the following on his blog: "It is impossible to overstate the importance of the victory won in the desert today. The feds were routed — routed. There is no word that applies. Courage is contagious, defiance is contagious, victory is contagious. Yet the war is not over."

Armed militia groups are currently responding to the influx of thousands of immigrants – mostly women and children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – by arming themselves and "standing guard" at the U.S.-Mexico border. Pictures of members of militia groups, carrying semi-automatic rifles and wearing masks, camouflage and tactical gear can be found here.

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaWater(Photo: Fir0002)I'm thirsty. Indeed, I'm overwhelmed by thirst, thinking about those who lack access to clean water. I'm thirsty for a different world.

"In Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lack water, including those living in hospitals and refugee camps," Sarah Kendzior wrote in Al-Jazeera last week. "On July 15, citizens of Detroit held a rally in solidarity, holding signs that said 'Water for all, from Detroit to Palestine.' A basic resource has become a distant dream, a longing for a transformation of politics aimed at ending suffering instead of extending it."

Water is our common need, our common source of being. In bankrupt Detroit (city of my birth), as the world now knows, the poor and struggling segment of the population — the people whose overdue water bills exceed $150 — face water shutoff. The United Nations, for God's sake, has condemned the action by the city's emergency manager as a human rights violation. Thousands of residences — housing as many as 100,000 people — have had their water shut off so far, out of a total city population of 700,000.

Ironically, Detroit is surrounded by the Great Lakes, the largest body of fresh water in the world. Michigan license plates used to proclaim: "Water Wonderland."

Austerity, austerity, God shed his grace on thee . . .

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFBI(Photo: Federal Bureau of Investigation)Let's start with a premise I think we can all agree with: There have been no 9/11-type attacks on United States soil since, well, 9/11. Here's another statement we all probably agree with: The federal government has all sorts of arrows in its quiver when it comes to gathering intelligence to thwart such attacks. And that is where it begins to gets dicey: Unfortunately, in its counterterrorism project, the government appears to be relying more and more on perhaps the most twisted of those arrows; the use of informants, coerced and/or rewarded, entrapment, and the sting.

Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the federal government has obtained more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions. According to a new Human Rights Watch report (produced in association with Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute), "nearly 50 percent of [those] ... convictions resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot."

The report, "Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions," points out that, while "[m]any prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks... many others have targeted individuals who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them.

"Indeed, in some cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target's willingness to act."

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBorderbeachtj(Photo: James Reyes)The Republican Party's paralysis on immigration is so complete -- and so utterly irresponsible -- that President Obama has no choice but to act on his own.

Just say the word immigration and most GOP members of Congress either change the subject or scurry away. Rather than tackle a suite of genuine issues whose obvious solutions would clearly benefit the nation, House Republicans prefer to pass yet more useless bills that seek -- and fail -- to take away people's health insurance.

Both parties agree that the rapid influx of more than 50,000 unaccompanied children from Central America is a crisis. Yet House Speaker John Boehner must struggle to convince his GOP majority to do something, anything, before leaving Washington for their annual month-long summer vacation.

Obama asked Congress for an emergency $3.7 billion appropriation, much of which would be spent to house and care for the children while their requests for asylum are evaluated. Senate Democrats are set to propose approving roughly $2.7 billion, shaving the president's request to the sum needed for this calendar year. There is no guarantee, however, that the bill won't be stymied by a GOP filibuster.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have been spinning their wheels. Boehner is reportedly seeking agreement on a bill that provides only about $1 billion in emergency funding, far less than Obama says is needed. And it seems likely that the House bill -- if there is one -- will seek to change a 2008 law that prevents the Central American children from being summarily deported.

Published in Guest Commentary
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