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I’m sitting in the aftermath of Paris, feeling emotions tear me apart. One of the emotions is joy. My daughter, who lives there, is safe.

Has “joy” ever felt so troubling?

The aftermath of Paris seems likely to be intensified (“pitiless”) bombing raids in Syria, closed borders, heightened fear-based security and the deletion of “the gray zones of coexistence” across the planet.

Oh, it’s so nice to have an enemy who is truly evil! And the logic of war is so seductive. It simplifies all these complex emotions. Just watch the news.

The news is that terror wins. Indeed, terror is the cornerstone of civilization.


aaaHiSpeedRail(Photo: Smiley.toerist)(Photo: Smiley.toerist)Practically every wealthy nation today is making major investments in building high-speed rail networks to transport their people: Japan, Canada, France, Russia, India, England, Morocco, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Italy, China, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Brazil, Germany, South Africa, Turkey and more. But not us, the wealthiest nation, with dozens of cities dotted across a continent with millions of people who need fast, convenient rail connection.

Why are we stuck in traffic on roadways and runways and left with a pokey, out-of-date rail system while nations with a small fraction of our resources — such as Morocco, Poland and Turkey — are cruising on HSR networks? Because our leaders sold us out to corporate hucksters who fed us ideological lies. Their fairy tale was that mass transit is creaky, inherently inefficient, and socialist — and that Americans deserve the independence that comes from a one-person-one-car doctrine.

As early as the 1930s, giant corporate consortiums formed to buy out more than 100 of America's very effective networks of streetcars and interurban train systems. Not to run them, but to rip out the tracks and pave over the rail right-of-ways to make roads. Likewise, corporate profiteers mounted a new offensive in the 1990s to undermine the higher-speed potential of Amtrak's Acela trains, hiring such Koch-funded front groups as Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation and Reason Foundation to spread hokey "analyses" that brand Amtrak as a slow train to collectivist hell. They also bought trainloads of politicians, who're still promoting the fabricated studies and talking points of the corporate-cabal to derail HSR proposals.

Despite attempts to kill the notion of a national passenger rail system, trains are only getting more popular. Here are just a few things that HSR would offer our county ...


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaciaThe CIA and NSA insult the intelligence of Americans when it comes to preventing terrorism. (Photo: Global Panorama)

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out in an incisive article on The Intercept today, the claims CIA Director John Brennan made this week, stating that whistleblowers and civil libertarians are keeping the US from stopping terrorist attacks, are insidious and duplicitous. 

Brennan's history of thuggishly lying on behalf of the military-industrial-intelligence complex is so blatant that, as Greenwald notes, even The New York Times Editorial Board took Brennan to task on November 17. As Greenwald writes, the editorial "mercilessly shames the despicable effort by U.S. government officials to shamelessly exploit the Paris attacks to advance long-standing agendas." 

The New York Times editorial excoriated Brennan:

It’s a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends. The remarks on Monday by John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low....

It is hard to believe anything Mr. Brennan says. Last year, he bluntly denied that the C.I.A. had illegally hacked into the computers of Senate staff members conducting an investigation into the agency’s detention and torture programs when, in fact, it did. In 2011, when he was President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, he claimed that American drone strikes had not killed any civilians, despite clear evidence that they had...


aaaBillMc2(Photo: EcoWatch)This letter to the future by Bill McKibben is part of the Letters to the Future campaign, a national effort to encourage people from all walks of life to write six generations into the future about climate change. The campaign puts a spotlight on the importance of world leaders agreeing to a global climate treaty at COP21 in Paris.

Dear Descendants,

The first thing to say is, sorry. We were the last generation to know the world before full-on climate change made it a treacherous place. That we didn’t get sooner to work slowing it down is our great shame, and you live with the unavoidable consequences.

That said, I hope that we made at least some difference. There were many milestones in the fight—Rio, Kyoto, the debacle at Copenhagen. By the time the great Paris climate conference of 2015 rolled around, many of us were inclined to cynicism.

And our cynicism was well-taken. The delegates to that convention, representing governments that were still unwilling to take more than baby steps, didn’t really grasp the nettle. They looked for easy, around-the-edges fixes, ones that wouldn’t unduly alarm their patrons in the fossil fuel industry.


aaaaaaaaaaaaartinstThe Art Institute of California (San Francisco), one of the "brands" of the for-profit Education Management Corporation. The company is partially owned by Goldman Sachs. (Photo: Simon Gibson)

The Obama administration has again shown that it is as lax in reining in for-profit college corporations as it is in disciplining Wall Street firms.  

In regards to both Wall Street and for-profit colleges, the executive branch is using relatively insignificant fines - not mandated structural change - against companies that violate regulations, laws, and the public trust through fraud.

Last week, we wrote about the bankruptcy of Corinthian colleges, which used high-pressure sales to lure students into educational programs that promised preparation for jobs that frequently never materialized - in large part due to inadequate training. In total, former Corinthian students with federal loans may owe up to $3.5 billion to the government. A movement to forgive the Corinthian student federal loan debt is currently underway. This would mean that the taxpayer underwrote Corinthian executive salaries and bonuses - as well as investor gains - before the corporation went belly up.

We quoted Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) warning, "If we continue to feed this beast, shame on us, and we should be held accountable by taxpayers for those who are going to make excuses for this industry." 

Based on a Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement announced this week with another for-profit higher education corporation, Education Management Corp. (the second largest such chain in the US), the Obama administration is doing little to eliminate the incentive for such predatory companies to engage in fraudulent practices. Yes, the DOJ did fine Education Management Corp. and force a repayment of loans to a small group of specified students, but that leaves the company benefiting from more than $9 billion dollars in federal loans owed by students, according to a November 16 article in The New York Times.


aaaCuffsBerk(Photo: Klaus with K)This is a story about the ginned-up "superpredator" scare of the 1990s, the imprisonment of tens of thousands of black youth, and the survival of Reginald Dwayne Betts.

In the early 1990s, John Dilulio, a Princeton political scientist, coined the term "superpredator" to call attention to "stone-cold predators," "kids that have absolutely no respect for human life and no sense of the future." DiIulio and co-authors described these young people as "fatherless, Godless, and jobless" and as "radically impulsive, brutally remorseless youngsters, including ever more teenage boys, who murder, assault, rob, burglarize, deal deadly drugs, join gun-toting gangs, and create serious [linked] disorders." Criminologist James A. Fox warned of a juvenile "crime wave storm" and an impending "bloodbath" of teen violence.

Reginald Dwayne Betts was one of the teens caught up in the wave of imprisonment that resulted from these myths. Now, after a long, and sometimes tortuous journey that included eight and a half years in prison, he is now a poet, teacher and law student. He was born months before Ronald Reagan won the White House, and came of age during the Reagan/George H.W. Bush/Bill Clinton administrations, when crack cocaine saturated inner-city streets, fear reigned supreme, the criminalization of young black people became the order of the day, and "lock 'em up and throw away the key" was the criminal legal system's mantra.

Last year, The New York Times' "Retro Report" pointed out that the "superpredator jeremiads ... proved to be nonsense. They were based on a notion that there would be hordes upon hordes of depraved teenagers resorting to unspeakable brutality, not tethered by conscience ... Chaos was upon us, DiIulio proclaimed back then in scholarly articles and television interviews. The demographics, he said, were inexorable. Politicians from both major parties, though more so on the right, picked up the cry. Many news organizations pounced on these sensational predictions and ran with them like a punt returner finding daylight."


aaaIceTurner(Photo: Doc Searls)Many young people, such as 13-year-old Hallie Turner, are worried that their generation will have to deal with the most intense consequences of unchecked climate change. That’s why Turner, an eighth-grader in North Carolina, is one of a number of young people across the country who is suing her state over its failure to address climate change.

Turner’s case is being brought forth by the help of Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based climate change nonprofit that has helped youth around the country file lawsuits at the state level and is also helping 21 young people sue President Obama and the federal government for violating the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by not addressing climate change. Attorneys from Duke University’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic and Gayle Tuch, a Forsyth County lawyer, are also representing Turner.

“It’s important to me because I feel like this is an issue that impacts everyone,” Turner told The News Tribune. “And it’s an issue, it’s not only affecting me, but it’s affecting future generations.”

She’s challenging a decision made last year by the state’s Environmental Management Commission and pushing for the state to mandate that North Carolina reduce its carbon emissions by at least four percent each year. “Hallie’s not asking for more than what’s considered best available science,” said attorney Tuch.


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaexceptionalismIs socialism the cure for the hubris of American exceptionalism? (Image: Occupy Posters)
















The form of 'socialism' described here is more accurately "a compromise between the market and the state," with an emphasis on local socialist models. Our "American exceptionalism" derives in part from neoliberal and neoconservative demands that we be unconstrained by domestic or foreign governments or economic regulation. 

Environment: Drones Dropping Seeds Rather Than Bombs

China has planted 66 billion trees since 1978 in an effort to stem desertification. Their 'shelterbelt' program, which has shown mixed results, has its origins in a project implemented right here in the U.S., in the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, when the FDR Administration planted a thousand-mile line of trees to fight erosion on the Great Plains. The plan worked. In recent years, millions of federal dollars have been committed to restore and manage longleaf pine forests

The planting of trees is a simple, effective, earth-saving, job-creating idea, especially if military resources were to be diverted to the endeavor. A company called BioCarbon Engineering hopes to plant billions of trees by using drones to disburse seedlings. 

Capitalism equates to profit-making, and profit-making abounds in the fossil fuel industry. But cooperative energy solutions await us in solar and wind, which are expected to provide 100 percent of our energy needs within a few decades, if the will of the people prevails over market forces. 


aaaRandPaulDerp2(Photo: Gage Skidmore)Kentucky senator and GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul was once considered a moderate among his contemporaries in the Senate when it came to climate change. In January, he was one of only 15 Republican senators to vote in favor of an amendment, which said “climate change is real, and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

Paul also told Bill Maher last year that “he’s not against some regulations, such as on carbon emissions and clean water.” However, once confirmed as GOP presidential candidate, Paul seems to have altered his climate change stance. In a field rife with climate denial, only two Republican candidates have spoken out about the need for climate action: South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki.

At Tuesday’s GOP primary debate in Milwaukee, Paul said the first thing he would do as president is repeal the Clean Power Plan. President Obama “has devastated my state,” said Paul. “I say President Obama is not only destroying Kentucky, he’s destroying the Democratic party down there because nobody wants to associate with him.” However, according to Environmental Defense Fund, the Clean Power Plan “reduce[s] carbon emissions from power plant smokestacks—and by doing so it also creates new opportunities to continue development of the strong, vibrant clean energy economy that is creating prosperity.”

He used a common climate denier argument: “While I do think man may have a role in our climate, I think nature also has a role.” He added that the planet is 4.5 billion years old and has gone through many geologic eras with dramatic temperature changes, though this argument has been debunked again and again.


aaaaaaaaaaaaaabvegasCNN's Jake Tapper hyped the October Democratic debate by asking if one of the candidates might bite the ear off of another candidate. Really. (Photo: You Tube)

As the so-called primary debates continue, one cannot emphasize enough how corporate television and the two major parties have conspired to reduce democracy to entertainment. Yes, it could be argued that the Democratic debates have allowed for a bit more substance than the Republican sparring matches. That, however, is only a relative judgment.

As Candice Bernd recently noted in a trenchant Truthout analysis, what are called primary debates are actually corporation-branded spectacles. They are opportunities for large media conglomerates to enhance their brand image, sell advertising, provide publicity for their "star" reporters, provoke titillating "exchanges" that attract more viewers (and advertisers), create more interest in the election and build relationships with politicians who make decisions about corporate media legislation. Of course, the primary debates whet the appetite of viewers for more election coverage - and enhance spending on political advertising on corporate television, eventually resulting in a windfall of billions of dollars.

In an October 14 BuzzFlash commentary on "privatizing democracy," I noted how the primary debates are negotiated directly between the two major political parties and television stations. As far as we can tell (although the DNC did not respond to our queries about the agreement for the CNN debate in October), the TV stations that air debates own the copyrights to them. That is why, thus far, one can only watch an individual debate on TV on the pay-TV station airing that specific debate (although CNN and the FOX News Business channel allowed free Internet streaming). 

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