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Peabody Co. stripmining coal(Photo: Jeffery Scism)MARY ANNE HITT OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

This week, a giant that had been teetering for many months finally fell, as Peabody Coal officially declared bankruptcy. For market watchers around the globe, this was a decisive movement in the long decline of an industry that once seemed invincible—the New York Times called it “Wall Street’s retreat from King Coal.” For those of us who live and work in Appalachia, this is the IMAX version of a movie we’ve seen many times before, one where coal company executives take the money and run, attempting to leave communities and taxpayers holding the bag for ruined communities, workers, mountains and rivers.

This time, we can’t let them get away with it. There’s way too much at stake.

crop duster like the one weaponized for Erik Prince(Photo: Scott Butner)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Once again, Erik Prince is back in the news. Jeremy Scahill, who has been investigating, writing about, and exposing Prince’s private security enterprises since Prince’s Blackwater USA days, has, along with co-author Matthew Cole, come up with an explosive and comprehensive piece of investigative reporting involving the headline-avoiding Prince. Scahill and Cole’s story, published at The Intercept and titled “Echo Papa Exposed: Inside Erik Prince’s Treacherous Drive to Build a Private Air Force,  provides the details behind Prince’s secret efforts to build his own private air force.

For several months, workers at a company called Airborne Technology, located about 30 miles south of Vienna, “had worked nearly nonstop to modify an American-made Thrush 510G crop duster to the exact specifications of an unnamed client. Everything about the project was cloaked in secrecy,” Scahill and Cole report. The client was only known as “Echo Papa,” and company officials “instructed employees to use code words to discuss certain modifications made to the plane.” Echo Papa was Erik Prince, who it turned out, “owned more than a quarter of their company. “

The plane was decked out with “surveillance and laser-targeting equipment,” as well as “bulletproof cockpit windows, an armored engine block, anti-explosive mesh for the fuel tank, and specialized wiring that could control rockets and bombs. The company also installed pods for mounting two high-powered 23 mm machine guns.”

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

TownMeeting 0413wrp opt(Photo: Redjar)In my travels and conversations this year, I've been encouraged that grassroots people of all progressive stripes (populist, labor, liberal, environmental, women, civil libertarian, et al.) are well aware of the slipperiness of "victory" and want Washington to get it right this time. So over and over, Question No. 1 that I encounter is some variation of this: What should we do!?! How do we make Washington govern for all the people? What specific things can my group or I do now?

Thanks for asking. The first thing you can do to bring about change is show up. Think of showing up as a sort of civic action, where you get to choose something that fits your temperament, personal level of activism, available time and energy, etc. The point here is that every one of us can do something — and every bit helps.

Simply being there matters. While progressives have shown up for elections in winning numbers, our movement then tends to fade politely into the shadows, leaving public officials (even those we put in office) free to ignore us and capitulate to ever-present, ever-insistent corporate interests. No more. Grassroots progressives — as individuals and through our groups — must get in the face of power and stay there.

This doesn't require a trip to Washington, though it can. It can be done right where you live — in personal meetings, on the phone, via email and letters, through social media (tweet at the twits!), on petitions, and any additional ways of communication that you and other creative people can invent. Hey, we're citizens, voters, constituents — so we should not hesitate to request in-person appointments to chat with officials back home (these need not be confrontational), attend forums where they'll be (local hearings, town hall sessions, speeches, meet & greets, parades, ribbon-cuttings, receptions, etc). They generally post their public schedules on their websites. Go to their meetings, ask questions, or at least say hello, introduce yourself, and try to achieve this: MAKE THEM LEARN YOUR NAME.

CARL POPE OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Windmills 0413wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)Here’s a headline for climate action advocates to love: Wind and Solar Crushing Fossil Fuels. It’s Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s summary of the current state of play in global energy markets, and it’s got striking data points to support it.

In 2015, record investment in new wind and solar electricity was twice as high as dwindling capital flowing into gas and coal. More remarkable, for the first time clean energy investment topped oil and gas capital expenditures combined. Because the prices of wind and solar are plummeting, the volume of new energy being constructed grows faster than the dollars being spent: annual wind installations have doubled four times since 2000, solar a stunning seven! New bids for wind in North Africa and solar in Mexico are coming in below $0.04 kwh, half the price of new coal plants with pollution controls that meet modern health standards.

But here’s a sobering counter-point, in a forward by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to another report on stunning rates of renewables growth: Sustainable, renewable energy is growing, but not quickly enough to meet expected energy demand. And the BNEF numbers support this worry, showing that by 2040 at least 50 percent of new cars sold will still rely on gasoline or diesel, and that developing countries other than China continue to add more new fossil fired electrical capacity which will either be shut down prematurely or, if fully utilized, blow the world way past acceptable levels of greenhouse pollution.

So what’s the problem? While clean energy is cheaper to buy and operate than fossil, it is requires more capital at the front end—because the benefits of free sun and wind flow over time, while the expenses of turbines, panels and batteries come all at once. That’s not a big problem in industrial nations, where capital is plentiful and cheap—in fact investors are desperate for the kinds of yields clean power can bring. So fossil generation is dropping in Europe and the U.S. And it’s not a problem in China which holds enormous foreign exchange reserves—which is why China appears to be at or close to its peak emissions a full decade before it promised. But in the rest of the developing world capital is scarce or expensive or both, which makes it cheaper to buy a new coal turbine and pay for the fuel over time than to pay the whole cost of a solar or wind farm in advance.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016 April13citizensunitedtvDemocracy has become, in general, like an auction item. It can be purchased by the highest bidder. (Photo:DonkeyHotey)

Given that the televised presidential primary debates are the most common vehicle through which voters receive information on the candidates and public policy, the journalists who moderate these debates should be initiating a vigorous discussion of campaign finance reform.  However, an analysis released last week by Public Citizen, a nonprofit citizens rights advocacy group, reveals that debate moderators -- who are employed by the networks -- have barely touched upon the issue of campaign finance reform.

In its executive summary of "The Elephant in the Room: Campaign Finance System Little Mentioned in Presidential Debates Despite Americans’ Intense Concern with the Topic," Public Citizen highlights a number of points:

  • The term "Citizens United”"has been invoked only once in more than 1,000 questions asked during the 21 presidential debates conducted so far, and that question was only peripherally about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.
  • All told, when statements by candidates are added to moderators’ questions, the term “Citizens United” has been mentioned just 13 times out of more than 440,000 words spoken during the debates....
  • Only 15 questions asked during the debates have touched on election funding issues generally, and not a single question has sought the candidates’ policy views on our campaign finance system or proposed solutions for fixing alleged problems.

"There's a disconnect between voters and the media, who are not paying attention to something that's front and center for most Americans as never before," Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, told NPR. "They're unwilling to press the candidates on solutions."

2016.12.4 bf chow2(Photo: Sam Leech)LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

The wild tiger population has increased for the first time after more than a century of constant decline.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Global Tiger Forum (GTF) said there are now 3,890 tigers according to the latest global data. In 2010, the tiger population dipped to only 3,200 compared to 100,000 in 1900.

The increase in numbers can be attributed to multiple factors including increases in tiger populations in India, Russia, Nepal and Bhutan, improved surveys and enhanced protection, the WWF said.

Actor and noted animal conservationist Leonardo DiCaprio -- whose philanthropic organization has donated more than $6.2 million to the WWF since 2010 to help boost tiger numbers -- said he was "proud" of the work being done to save the iconic species.

2016.12.4 bf chow(Photo: Pieter van Marion)LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its first-ever analysis on the effects of three common pesticides -- chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion -- on endangered and threatened species and designated critical habitat nationwide. The resounding conclusion? Pesticides are terrible for them.

According to the report, malathion and chlorpyrifos harms an astounding 97 percent of the 1,782 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act. Diazinon harms 79 percent.

Malathion is often used on fruit, vegetables and plants for pests, as well tick removal on pets. Chlorpyrifos is used to exterminate termites, mosquitoes and roundworms. Diazinon is used against cockroaches and ants.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016 april12 goldmansachspokerPlaying poker with the future of the US economy at Goldman Sachs (with apologies to dogs). (Photo: Mike Licht)

Illegal Wall Street actions that led to the near economic implosion of 2008 resulted in just another financial settlement with the Department of Justice, according to an April 12 Reuters article:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) has agreed to pay $5.06 billion to settle claims that it misled mortgage bond investors during the financial crisis, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Monday.

The settlement, which Goldman disclosed in January, stems from the firm's conduct in packaging, securitization, marketing and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities between 2005 and 2007, the Justice Department said.

Investors suffered billions of dollars in losses from the securities bought during the period, the department said.

As we've pointed out in numerous BuzzFlash commentaries in the past, the Department of Justice settlements with "banks too big to fail" have amounted to little more than the cost of doing business for the financial entities. As financial columnist Stephen Gendel wrote in Fortune back in 2013, "Assets at the six largest U.S. banks are up 37% from five years ago":

At least one of the widely recognized causes of the financial crisis is not only still around, it has perhaps gotten worse. By every measure I can think of, and I have tried a bunch, the big banks are bigger than they were five years ago, at the dawn of the financial crisis.

This trend is continuing, as CNBC detailed in 2015: "Too big to fail banks just keep getting bigger." 

BILL McKIBBEN OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Oil 0411wrp opt(Photo: John)This February was the hottest in recorded history, scorching crops and flooding homes all across the planet. Record-breaking temperatures have robbed the Arctic of its winter.

And yet despite this, governments around the world still plan to build massive new coal mines and open new oil and gas fields.

But everywhere they do, something remarkable is happening: resistance. This May, people will be joining hands in a new way to step up that fight on the front lines. This May, we’re breaking free from fossil fuels across the globe.

Next month, from the oil and gas fields of Nigeria and Brazil to the coal fields of Germany and Australia, people have made their intentions clear: they intend to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground and are willing to put their bodies on the line to do it. Even as the ability to freely protest is constrained in many parts of the world—recent violent crackdowns in the Philippines and Bangladesh mark a tragic uptick in a troubling trend—those who can, are standing up. Resistance is not fading away. It’s growing.

That’s what Break Free is about: escalating the global fight to keep fossil fuels underground and accelerating a just transition to the renewable energy driven economy we know is possible.

The good news is that the transition to renewable energy is coming sooner and faster than anyone thought. Ninety percent of the new electricity generation installed last year was renewable, leading to two years running of flat—though still too high—global carbon emissions.

BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Handcuffs 0411wrp opt(Photo: Skiddie2003)New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter, a former police officer, ruled that seven people awaiting trial in jail without adequate legal defense must be released.  The law is clear.  The US Supreme Court, in their 1963 case Gideon v Wainwright, ruled that everyone who is accused of a crime has a Constitutional right a lawyer at the state’s expense if they cannot afford one.   However, Louisiana, in the middle of big budget problems, has been disregarding the constitutional right of thousands of people facing trial in its most recent statewide public defender meltdown.   Judge Hunter ruled that the Constitution makes it clear: no lawyer, no jail.

In an eleven page ruling, Judge Hunter explained that since Louisiana has failed to adequately fund indigent defense it has violated the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel and the Fourteenth Amendment right to Due Process of seven men.  The men appearing before Judge Hunter could not be represented by the public defender because of budget cutbacks and private lawyers appointed by the court, who were denied funds for investigation and preparation of the cases, asked that the prosecutions be stopped and their clients released.  Hunter ordered the men released but stayed their release until his order could be reviewed on appeal.   

The Louisiana public defender system appears to be in the worst crisis of any state in the US.  It is a “disaster” according to The Economist, “broken” according to National Public Radio,  in “free fall” according to the New York Times, “dire” according to the Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, and facing further cutbacks “on a scale unprecedented in the history of American public defense” according to the American Bar Association.   

While Louisiana incarcerates more of its people than any of the other 50 states, prosecutions across the state are starting to slow down because of inadequate public defense.

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