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Puerto Rico doesn't just need its electricity and safe drinking water restored; it needs permanent policy that provides much-needed economic relief and allows it to reinvest in infrastructure that allows its residents to weather the next inevitable hurricane while avoiding more catastrophe.Puerto Rico doesn't just need its electricity and safe drinking water restored; it needs permanent policy that provides much-needed economic relief and allows it to reinvest in infrastructure that allows its residents to weather the next inevitable hurricane while avoiding more catastrophe. (Photo: Lorie Straull)MATT NELSON FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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The damage to homes, lives and communities from Hurricane Maria continues to mount in Puerto Rico months later. About one-third of approximately 425,000 Puerto Rican homeowners are behind on mortgage payments, tens of thousands of whom haven't made payments in months. Some economists predict that if the current indicators hold, the entire island is destined for a fate similar to Detroit's.

Recently, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló ordered a review of every death that has occurred on the island since the hurricane, given mounting evidence that the actual death toll likely exceeds 1,000 rather than the 64 deaths that comprise the official count today. And the ill-health effects from Hurricane Maria are not relegated only to the island. Puerto Rico is home to more than 100 medical supply manufacturing plants. Hospitals on the mainland are feeling the impact and experiencing shortages of basic medical supplies like saline solution and IV bags.

At a November hearing on environmental effects after the storms, the chair of the environmental panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. John Shimkus, said, "Hurricanes Irma and Maria uncovered the intensified issues associated with aging and inefficient energy infrastructure, contaminated sites that are rapidly multiplying, landfills that are already overflowing and possibly the most contaminated drinking water supply in the United States."

The food and clean water they hunger and thirst for could reach them, but not if powerful elites decide it's acceptable to blockade Yemen's ports, bomb roadways, destroy sewage and sanitation systems, attack fishermen and farmers, and even kill participants at a wedding celebration.The food and clean water that Yemenis hunger and thirst for could reach them, but not if powerful elites decide it's acceptable to blockade Yemen's ports, bomb roadways, destroy sewage and sanitation systems, attack fishermen and farmers, and even kill participants at a wedding celebration. (Photo: Felton Davis)KATHY KELLY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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On May 2, 2017, before becoming Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, as Minister of Defense, spoke about the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen, a war he orchestrated since March of 2015. "A long war is in our interest," he said, explaining that the Houthi rebels would eventually run out of cash, lack external supplies and break apart. Conversely, the Saudis could count on a steady flow of cash and weapons. "Time is on our side," he concluded.

Powerful people in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Senegal and Jordan have colluded with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince to prolong the war against Yemen. The Saudis have employed Sudanese fighters from the terrifying Janjaweed militias to fight in small cities along Yemen's coast line. The seeming objective is to gain ground control leading to the vital Port of Hodeidah. UAE military are reported to operate a network of secret prisons where Yemenis disappear and are tortured, deterring people from speaking up about human rights violations lest they land in one of these dreaded prisons.

Among the most powerful warlords participating in the war are the US and the UK.


Sneer 1227wrp opt(Photo: Alan / Flickr)Over the years, there have been numerous examples of powerful, popular and hypocritical Religious Right leaders and televangelists. Who can forget the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart balling on television, after his dalliances with prostitutes was exposed? Or televangelist Jim Bakker serving prison time for fleecing his flock out of millions of dollars, and enjoying his own brand of sexual peccadilloes? Or the Rev. Ted Haggard, the former head of the National Association of Evangelicals and founder and pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who was caught up in a sex and drugs scandal? Those scandalous incidents, pale in comparison to today's evangelical leaders whose unbridled support for Donald Trump, takes hypocrisy to a much deeper level.

In his quest to become America's number one preacher, Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham, has instead become one of the most unhinged leaders on the Religious Right. "Never in my lifetime have we had a Potus willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like Donald Trump," Graham tweeted. Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, an early and outspoken supporter of Trump, sees Trump as God's messenger: "God intervened in our election and out Donald Trump in the Oval Office for a great purpose." And, of course there's Liberty University's Jerry Falwell, Jr., another early and unwavering supporter of the thrice-married, pussy grabbing president.

Why do Graham, Jeffress, Falwell, Jr., and other conservative evangelicals have no qualms about embracing Trump?


Naser 1227wrp opt(Photo: Carolyn Coe)Amrullah has a small frame and a soft voice. He used to have a reputation as a fighter and would fight with the rich kids. He'd get angry because they had nicer clothes. By fighting, he wanted to show his power. But now, at age 11, he believes that fighting is bad. When he sees those same boys, he says he no longer cares to fight.

"They have their way," he says. "I have my way, and my way is nonviolent."

The other boys asked Amrullah why he stopped fighting, but when he explained his new way of thinking, they couldn't understand.

Amrullah has studied nonviolence at the Street Kids School, in Kabul, Afghanistan, for almost three years. The school, with 94 students this year, is a project of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre. There, the students also gain literacy and math skills, supplementing their lessons at the government schools. Each month, they receive modest food rations. The students become empowered as the stories and ideas they share in class become woven into later school lessons. In March, 2018, Amrullah and other third-year students will graduate. The hope is that they will continue their general studies in the public schools.

Friday, 22 December 2017 07:09

The Dangers of Censoring Science


Censor 1222wrp opt(Photo: Cory Doctorow / Flickr)Do you want your medical treatment to be based on science? The Trump administration disagrees. It banned the top US public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from using seven words, including "evidence-based" and "science-based." 

Prominent public health advocates have expressed outrage about these measures. For example, Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, tweeted "This is astonishing. It would be a parody of a flailing effort to limit the effectiveness of #publichealth if it did not suggest a real problem. #7words." 

Such censorship is a direct blow at the essence of science: accurately describing the physical world around us. Science is the best method that we as human beings have of figuring out the truth of reality, and wishing away the facts by trying to substitute them with "alternative facts" will greatly impede scientific progress.

Moreover, these measures will cause many more people to get sick and die. After all, how can the CDC implement effective public health interventions if it cannot use terms like "evidence-based" and "science-based" in its official documents?

Friday, 22 December 2017 06:10

Begin the New Year by Rejecting Fear


fearsashaDemocracy cannot be run on the fuel of fear. (Photo: Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said in his 1932 inaugural address that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He was referring to the personal and national concerns about the devastation of the Great Depression. However, he could have been speaking about the destructive impact of overblown fear on the survival of democracy and on personal well-being.

Fear is the subject of this week's Truthout Progressive Pick, Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream, by Sasha Abramsky. He incisively explores how humans are hard-wired for fear. It is after all, an emotion and reflex that is common to most species to ensure individual survival. In the human, it is ignited in the amygdala, a small part of the brain, which releases a hormone that incites fear. This activates preconceived notions to invoke fear retained in another part of the brain called the hippocampus. All of this happens and emerges as a perceived threat to humans before the more discriminating neocortex can determine what is an actual personal risk.

Thus, a fear doesn't need to correspond to the actual likelihood of being harmed; it can be induced through a repetitive framing of irrational fears that are stored as memes in the amygdala and hippocampus. In an age when television transmits messages directly into the home -- as a sort of high-tech member of the family -- bitter and hateful fears do not need to reflect reality. They can be installed in the brain as perceived reality through artful propaganda and repetition. Thus, one can understand, upon reflection, the impact of a network such as Fox.

2017.21.12 BF ChowShenzen has methodically electrified its buses in recent years to curb unhealthy air pollution and cut emissions. (Photo: Andrew Leyden)LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

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The city of Shenzen, China is home to a staggering 16,000 buses. To compare, that's more buses than the five largest North American bus fleets combined (New York City, Los Angeles County, New Jersey Transit, Chicago and Toronto).

Now, after a six-year effort to replace its diesel-fueled buses, the major Chinese city is well on its way to become the world's first city to electrify its entire public transit bus fleet.

Shenzen has methodically electrified its buses in recent years to curb unhealthy air pollution and cut emissions. According to the United Nations' Climate Action program, in 2015 there were 3,600 electric buses on the city's roads. By 2016, the number increased to 9,000. By May 2017, the number reached 14,500. The remaining 1,500 buses will go emission-free before the end of the year.

farmers, scientists and consumers are fighting back, and global health agencies are responding to the threats. Farmers, scientists and consumers are fighting back, and global health agencies are responding to the threats. (Photo: George Armstrong)JIM HIGHTOWER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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In the 1980s, when I was Texas Ag commissioner, my staff and I proposed a comprehensive set of state rules to protect farmworkers, public health, our water supplies and farmers themselves from the life-threatening consequences of toxic pesticides.

But trying to enact these policies in Texas meant taking on the enormous money and power of the chemical lobby, as well as a hostile Republican governor, and a legislature largely made up of corporate lapdogs. All of the above were howling furiously at us, snarling that they were going to shred the new protections we'd laid out. When I told my legislative director that it seemed like the political odds were against us, his response was not a confidence booster: "Some of the evens are against us, too," he said.

Yet, by rallying a big coalition of family farmers, consumers, environmentalists, labor groups, church leaders, and others, and then bringing these "outsiders" inside the usually closed legislative lair to confront the cozy club of lawmakers and lobbyists -- we won!


homelesssignBussing homeless people out of town is not a solution. (Photo: Bryan & Lyn)

As inequality continues to rise in the United States, more and more wealthy and gentrifying communities are declaring war on the homeless. BuzzFlash has written in the past on the increasing number of cities that are creating so many obstacles to homelessness, it is essentially making the condition illegal. It does not speak well of our society that individuals who are homeless are often treated shabbily -- as eyesores better off gone entirely.

Homelessness is not a small problem either. A study in 2016 found more than 550,000 people are homeless in the US on any given night. Children make up about 25 percent of that figure. About 110,000 LGBTQ youth are homeless and 200,000 people in families.

A 2016 article in The Economist noted how unwelcome the homeless are:

Many city dwellers do their best not to see the homeless people who share their streets and pavements. Donald Trump once famously insisted that his security guards clear all tramps and panhandlers from the pavement in front of Trump Tower. Even when the homeless aren't being chased away, they can seem invisible. In 2014, the New York City Rescue Mission, a shelter, conducted a social experiment, Make Them Visible, in which they filmed participants walking past relatives disguised as homeless people. None of the participants noticed their relations sitting on the street. "We don't look at them. We don't take a second look," said Michelle Tolson, then director of public relations for the organization, at the time.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017 07:32

Get Lost Eagles, Pipeline Comin' Through


Eagle 1220wrp opt(Photo: Eric Kilby / Flickr)Here's a year-end update on what New York, the state that banned fracking, has been doing to boost fossil fuel infrastructure in 2017. The state has broken ground on a huge fracked gas power plant east of the Hudson. And it's putting the finishing touches on another one west of the river. State officials are pretty proud of it. They didn't tuck it away out of sight down a country road. No, it's right next to Interstate 84 for the whole world to see when driving by. Its giant twin smoke stacks rise like a pair of extended middle fingers with an unmistakable message for our neighbors in Pennsylvania -- "Frack You." Kind of our peculiar twist on the Golden Rule.

This plant, known as Competitive Power Ventures (CPV), has been controversial from the start. Throughout its construction local residents have protested at its gates every Saturday morning. Some have been arrested and gone to jail. It has its supporters too, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo's former top aide Joe Percoco (also referred to as Mario's third son), who perhaps has been a little too pro-pipeline. He has been indicted on corruption charges related to CPV. His trial starts next month.

So there CPV stands, a monument to hypocrisy, with total disregard for what scientists are telling us about climate change and how fracked gas is as bad as, or worse than, coal. All it needs now to start spewing greenhouse gases is its connection to Pennsylvania's fracked gas via the Valley Lateral Pipeline (VLP).

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