AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Ebola in the United States. It ended with ISIS beheading yet another hostage. Our two biggest fears on the global stage just flexed their muscles and got scarier. It is no surprise then, that there is a panicky edge to the discussion of either topic, or that the proposed solutions to either issue are becoming ever more extreme and outlandish.As weeks go, last week wasn’t exactly a great one. It began with the inevitable appearance of
Let’s take a step back for a second. Yes, Ebola is awful. The death toll in West Africa is over 3000, and the total number of cases could hit 1.4 million within 4 months. Given that the current outbreak has a mortality rate that is pushing 60%, those are grim figures. But, despite widespread panic, the number of confirmed cases within the United States remains at exactly one. And yes, ISIS is awful. Over 5000 Iraqis have died as a result of its military actions, and ISIS is singularly unconcerned with avoiding things like genocide or war crimes. But how many Western hostages have been beheaded by ISIS? Four, a number that will hopefully remain unchanged.
That last paragraph could be taken in a very nasty way. No Americans dying? Eh, who cares? That isn’t my intention at all. What is interesting is how we’ve seemed to settle upon ISIS and Ebola as our designated fears of the season, especially since things aren’t going all that well elsewhere. From the Ukraine, to Hong Kong, to Egypt, to Estonia, there are any number of areas in the world where things could very rapidly spiral out of control just as easily as the situation in Iraq and Syria. Back at home, heart disease kills 600,000 every year, and even a lightweight like measles has taken 41 in 2014. Again, it would seem that there are many things out there that are every bit as threatening, if not more threatening, than Ebola.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
While US students wallow in debt that exceeds $1 trillion, according to Forbes, Germany is now offering a tuition-free future for upcoming generations.
No, it's not a far-fetched idea for the government to invest in a country's intellectual capacity by financing advanced education. The more students who have access to the university, the greater the contribution to a nation's growth and well-being, particularly in this age of advanced technology and scientific knowledge. Instead of allowing its students to be burdened by lifelong debt - or not going to college at all because of the costs - Germany sees that it benefits the country to subsidize debt-free higher education.
A September Times of London article headlined, "German universities scrap all tuition fees," also alludes to the economic justice aspect of the policy:
All German universities will be free of charge when term starts next week after fees were abandoned in Lower Saxony, the last of seven states to charge.
"Tuition fees are socially unjust," said Dorothee Stapelfeldt, senator for science in Hamburg, which scrapped charges in 2012. "They particularly discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up studies. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany."
JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It was a relatively cool afternoon on the central coast of California. The fog settled quietly over the hills like a white heron. And despite the worst drought in our state’s history, the sky was a deep blue, the color of autumn, the sun shimmered brightly on the bay, a few crows shouted above the field where my two Labradors were happily chasing a squirrel to no avail—just another ordinary day - until suddenly PG&E’s Diablo Nuclear Power Plant’s siren went off. I forgot that they were running a routine test that day.
There are four rotating speakers that roar an alarming sound: EMERGENCY! It is so loud that PG&E warn residents a week in advance so that you can protect your hearing and your pets’ ears from the blaring sirens. My dogs freaked out - and so did I. We ran as fast as we could back to the house.
Central coast residents have grown accustomed to these routine tests. But that day - for a moment, I thought it was the real thing. It feels as if you’re in a war zone and that you had better take cover as quickly as possible. Problem is—there is no real “escape plan” if the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant became a Fukushima meltdown catastrophe.
And that’s the ultimate irony about the routine siren tests: it’s an exercise in futility.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
For the second year in a row, America's richest 14 individuals made more from their annual investments than the $80 billion provided for people in need of food. Nearly half of the food-deprived are children. Perversely, the food stamp program was CUT because of a lack of federal funding.
In a testament to the inability -- or unwillingness -- of Congress to do anything about the incessant upward re-distribution of America's wealth, the richest 14 Americans increased their wealth from $507 billion to $589 billion in ONE YEAR from their investment earnings. As stated by Forbes, "All together the 400 wealthiest Americans are worth a staggering $2.29 trillion, up $270 billion from a year ago."
The Richest 14 Made Enough Money to Hire Two Million Pre-School Teachers or Emergency Medical Technicians
Billions of dollars of wealth, derived from years of American productivity, have been transferred to a few financially savvy and well-connected individuals who have spent a generation shaping trading rules and tax laws to their own advantage. It's so inexplicably one-sided that the 2013 investment earnings of the richest 1% of Americans ($1.8 trillion) was more than the entire budget for Social Security ($860 billion), Medicare ($524 billion), and Medicaid ($304 billion).
ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
ShaleTest, which tracks the impact of shale oil and gas extraction for communities which can’t afford such tests, found as part of its Project Playground: Cleaner Air for Active Kids funded by Patagonia. The group ran air quality tests at five recreational parks and playgrounds in the north Texas, located near natural gas processing plants in the Barnett shale fracking area. It found harmful chemicals, including carcinogens, at all five.The air at Texas playgrounds could be hazardous to children’s health. That’s what nonprofit environmental testing group
“The oil and gas industry claims that they’re drilling responsibly,” said ShaleTest president Tim Ruggiero. “These tests show they’re not.”
The story was featured on the cover of the alternative newsweekly Fort Worth Weekly this week under the headline “Bad Air Day.” It described a deserted Delga Park in Fort Worth next to a huge natural gas compressor station run by Chesapeake Energy, which reporter Peter Gorman had to leave after two hours because his eyes were tearing and he had difficulty breathing.
ShaleTest collected air samples at the locations and compared the results to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ)’s Effects Screening Levels (ESL) and Air Monitoring Comparison Values (AMCV), “set to protect human health and welfare,” according to the TCEQ. The parks include two in Fort Worth, one in the Fort Worth/Dallas area suburb of Mansfield, the city of Denton and DISH in Denton County, whose story was told in Josh Fox’s Gasland films.
“The people living around Delga Park, in particular, are going to be sacrificed in the long term,” Calvin Tillman, former mayor of DISH and co-founder of ShaleTest, told Fort Worth Weekly. “And the sickening thing is that they’re being sacrificed so that the gas company can make a few bucks.”
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Stanford University professors recently released a study showing how the prolonged drought in many areas of California is linked to climate change. Stanford reported on the findings in a September 30 article:
"Our research finds that extreme atmospheric high pressure in this region – which is strongly linked to unusually low precipitation in California – is much more likely to occur today than prior to the human emission of greenhouse gases that began during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s," said [Noah] Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
The exceptional drought currently crippling California is by some metrics the worst in state history. Combined with unusually warm temperatures and stagnant air conditions, the lack of precipitation has triggered a dangerous increase in wildfires and incidents of air pollution across the state. A recent report estimated that the water shortage would result in direct and indirect agricultural losses of at least $2.2 billion and lead to the loss of more than 17,000 seasonal and part-time jobs in 2014 alone. Such impacts prompted California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a drought emergency and the federal government to designate all 58 California counties as "natural disaster areas."
In a commentary yesterday, BuzzFlash drew attention to how global warming is currently causing 35,000 walruses to be stranded on an Alaskan beach due to the ongoing melting of the Arctic ice shelf. The California water crisis provides more evidence that the abuse of our atmosphere is beginning to directly impact humans, not just animals.
ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
With the federal government considering sustainability for the first time as it solicits public comments for its 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Center for Biological Diversity, as part of its Take Extinction Off Your Plate campaign, is encouraging the government to adopt guidelines that are more environmentally friendly.
The guidelines, issues by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services every five years, offer recommendations on eating to maintain a health weight and prevent disease. This year comment guidelines include a field for “Food Systems Sustainability,” asking for comments pertaining to the impact of food groups or commodities on the whole food system and on sustainability metrics that have been implemented or are in development.
“Animal agriculture has devastating impacts on wildlife and the environment,” says Center for Biological Diversity. “Meat production is one of humanity’s most destructive and least efficient systems, accounting for astounding levels of wildlife losses, land and water pollution, deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.”
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Maybe the desperation of 35,000 walruses forced to crowd onto a beach in Alaska because of global warming will awaken more people to the destructive impact happening now. After all, many polls have shown that a majority of people in the United States - this past Sunday's huge protest march in New York aside - regard climate change as an abstract future possibility. It does not generally show up as a top concern of voters.
Yet in Alaska, the walruses are evidence of a real impact happening now. According to The Guardian:
An estimated 35,000 walruses were spotted on the barrier island in north-western Alaska on 27 September by scientists on an aerial survey flight.
The biggest immediate risk factor for the walruses now is a stampede – especially for baby walruses – but they have been facing a growing threat from climate change, the scientists said.
The extraordinary sighting – the biggest known exodus of walruses to dry land ever observed in the Arctic under US control – arrived as the summer sea ice fell to its sixth lowest in the satellite record last month.
“Those animals have essentially run out of offshore sea ice, and have no other choice but to come ashore,” said Chadwick Jay, a research ecologist in Alaska with the US Geological Survey.
Given that the "summer sea ice fell to its sixth lowest in the satellite record," the walruses are our canaries in a mineshaft. Their plight is so serious that planes are being diverted away from the beach to prevent setting off a stampede on dry land that might trample and kill many of them.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
If you are an aging prisoner in the United States, 50 is the new 65.
This phenomenon is called “accelerated aging” and according to the Urban Institute’s KiDeuk Kim and Bryce Peterson, “the physiological age of some older prisoners is up to 15 years greater than their chronological age.” This is in stark contrast to outside prison walls where our youth-oriented culture labels “40 as the new 30,” “60 as the new 50,” and so on.
Older prisoners -- a demographic that is growing rapidly -- face numerous hardships and injustices from incarceration, including : having their chronic health conditions ignored or mistreated; physical threats from younger prisoners; the need for special equipment, including wheelchairs and walkers to be able to ambulate around their prisons; difficulties climbing on and off top bunks; trouble hearing, making it challenging to discern orders from guards; and mental health issues, many of which are the result of prolonged imprisonment.
In a new report titled, “Aging Behind Bars: Trends and Implications of Graying Prisoners in the Federal Prison System,” Kim, and Peterson emphasize that “While this may be caused by a host of related factors—including histories of unhealthy behaviors and inadequate healthcare—there is little doubt that the trauma and stress of the prison environment can have an impact on prisoners’ accelerated aging and deterioration of health.”
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The United States government has just signed a "security pact" with Afghanistan that allows for 10,000 US soldiers to continue to fight in that nation, subject only to US military law. The Guardian headlines its coverage of the agreement, "New Afghanistan pact means America's longest war will last until at least 2024." The sub-headline bluntly states, "Bilateral security deal ensures that President Obama will pass off the Afghanistan war and his new war in Iraq and Syria to his successor."
Recently, Truthout featured Anand Gopal's brilliantly detailed book, No Good Men Among the Living: America, The Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes.In an interview with Truthout, Gopal revealed that the ongoing war and bloodshed in Afghanistan might have been avoided if US hubris did not spurn an offer of reconciliation from the Taliban. As Gopal told Truthout:
In the span of two months in 2001, the Taliban crumbled under the power of overwhelming US airpower. In the face of such an abject defeat, members of the movement - from the rank-and-file to the senior leadership - sought to save themselves by surrendering or switching sides. This shouldn't be as surprising as it may seem, when you consider that Afghanistan had been at war for over two decades, and people often switched allegiances as a way of surviving. Unfortunately, reconciliation was not the prevailing mood in the new Afghan government or Washington - where the ethos was that you are either "with us or against us." So Taliban offers to cut deals were rebuffed, and many of those men who had attempted to reconcile would go on to lead the insurgency against the US presence.
The headline for the Truthout interview is, "The Vietnam War Presaged the War in Afghanistan: Civilians Endlessly Suffer." Indeed, since the end of World War II, the United States has rarely not been involved in military conflicts around the world - including covert action.