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Wednesday, 07 January 2015 08:10

Fracking Ban Bill Introduced in Florida

2015.1.7.Everglades.BFMany Floridians don't think fracking belongs anywhere near the delicate ecology of the Everglades - or anywhere else in their state. (Photo: Chauncey Davis / Flickr)

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

There may not be any actual fracking going on in Florida yet. But some legislators there are taking no chances, introducing bills to ban the process in the state, just as New York did in mid-December. Yesterday state representative Evan Jenne introduced HB 169 which “prohibits well stimulation treatments for exploration or production of oil or natural gas.” His bill enumerated the problems caused by fracking: use of carcinogenic chemicals, heavy use of fresh water when many communities are facing water scarcity, threats to protected wildlife species, the potential to damage the surrounding environment and the emission of climate change-driving greenhouse gases.

It follows on the heels of similar legislation, SB 166, filed by state Senators Darren Soto and Dwight Bullard last month. All the bills have been introduced for consideration in the upcoming legislative session.

“Florida is home to scenic beaches, wonderful springs and the legendary Everglades,” said Soto. “This natural beauty in turn fosters a strong tourism industry, annually attracting many new residents to our shores. It must be preserved. We Floridians also get the vast majority of our water supply from ground water through the Floridan Aquifer. This critical water source must be protected from pollution to assure ample, clean water for future generations.”

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

fds(Photo: USDAgov)

The possibility of implosion persistently looms over the US economy, but a moral disintegration of the nation has been simmering for decades.

The continued reduction in food stamp support is the latest addition to the dismantling of a social safety net that fulfills an ethical obligation to individuals in the US. That obligation is based on the reality that the current financial system is structured with incentives to ensure that full employment is never achieved. Large-scale unemployment is necessary in order to keep corporate profits high by keeping the costs of labor low.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicts that in the government's fiscal year of 2016, it is possible that one million adults (without dependent children) who do not have jobs will have lost their food stamp benefits. These are individuals in extreme need of supplemental food support for survival: 

Unemployed, nondisabled childless adults on SNAP [the food stamp program] tend to be very poor. USDA data show that while these individuals participate in SNAP their gross income averages 19 percent of the poverty line - about $2,200 per year for a household of one in 2014 - compared to gross income of 58.5 percent of the poverty line for the average SNAP household overall…. Some 96 percent of them live in households below 100 percent of the poverty line.  

Some 40 percent of this vulnerable population are women. Almost one-third are over age 40. Among those who report their race, about half are white, a third are African American, and a tenth are Hispanic. Half have only a high school diploma or GED.  

The Center estimates that new regulations will result in a loss of $150-$200 a month in food assistance for individuals who have total incomes of just over $2,000 a year.

Wednesday, 07 January 2015 06:45

Why Are the Police More Valued Than the People?

2015.1.7.Watts.BFPresident Obama shakes the hand of Chuck Canterbury, President of the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police at the 32nd Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service. (Photo: James Tourtellotte / Flickr)

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

“I’m not against the police; I’m just afraid of them.”

- Alfred Hitchcock

A funny thing happened on Monday: Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, issued a call for federal hate crime laws to be expanded to protect law enforcement officers. I’ll return to this statement shortly – it contains a level of idiocy and entitlement that is seldom seen – but first let’s take a brief walk through some related events of the past few weeks.

To start with, the New York Police Department threw a bit of a temper tantrum. In the wake of the killing of two NYPD officers, head of the city’s Patrolman’s Benevolent Association Patrick Lynch made a number of interesting logical leaps and drew a connection between the officers’ murders and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rather restrained criticisms of the NYPD. Apparently, de Blasio’s statement about warning his biracial son to take special care in interactions with law enforcement was simply too much for Lynch to bear, and he declared that de Blasio had “blood on his hands.”  And this was followed by the spectacle of officers turning their backs on de Blasio at the funerals of the slain policemen, and police cadets booing the mayor when he spoke at their graduation ceremony.

On a somewhat lighter note, the NYPD has taken the additional step of drastically reducing their rate of arrests and ticketing for lower level offenses. It is notable that this action, or rather inaction, has not resulted in widespread looting and chaos, and that New York City has yet to burn to the ground. This might suggest that, if the intent of the slowdown is to demonstrate the indispensability of the police force, a rethinking of strategy might be in order.

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMcConnellBoehner(Photo: EcoWatch)With Congress back in session, Republican leadership is putting at the top of its agenda an item that probably isn’t at the top of most Americans’ agenda: approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

Majority leader Kevin McCarthy said that the House of Representatives will vote on Keystone XL pipeline Friday, according to the Wall Street Journal. The House has voted ten previous times to approve the pipeline but each time, it failed to clear the Democratic-controlled Senate. Now, with Republicans in charge of the Senate and a larger Republican majority in the House, its passage is guaranteed. The last House vote was 252-16, and it’s sure to garner an even larger margin this time.

The Senate is scheduled to begin consideration of the pipeline bill tomorrow with hearings in the Energy and Natural Resource Committee, headed by Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a supporter of the project. Senate Democrats are pushing for an open process that would allow them to offer amendments, and incoming Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that will happen. That means a full vote on the Senate floor could be weeks away.

“Just about the only people who think the first thing Congress should do is force approval of Keystone XL are those working for oil and gas billionaires—which explains exactly why Congressional Republicans want to do it,” said Sierra Club’s legislative director Melinda Pierce. “For those in Congress who don’t share those pro-polluter goals, this first vote will be a chance to stand together and send the message to the public that we won’t go backwards. After all, Americans didn’t vote for dirty air, dirty water or dirty energy, even if Congress is committed to doing just that.”

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aenoughblacklives(Photo: Light Brigade/ Black Lives Matter)

Nationally known progressive newscaster, author and daily Truthout commentator Thom Hartmann wrote some time ago about how George Zimmerman's vigilante shooting of Trayvon Martin (for walking while Black) represented the legacy of slave patrols.

Hartmann wrote on Truthout in July of 2013,

George Zimmerman kept close watch over his neighborhood.

When Black men walked or even drove through the area, he alerted the police, over and over and over again.

Finally, exasperated that "they always" got away, he went out on a rainy night armed with a loaded gun and the Stand Your Ground law, looking for anybody who should not be in his largely White neighborhood.

The South has a long history of this sort of thing. Today they’re called Neighborhood Watches. They used to be called Slave Patrols.

A recent BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary contended:

The role of most large urban police forces that aggressively patrol poor communities of color is to remove the "blight" of people of color in poverty by arrest and imprisonment - particularly black males and Latinos, and increasingly women of color. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abirdhome(Photo: DavidPronk)

In 2014, BuzzFlash posted periodic commentaries on a national trend of cities prohibiting organizations and individuals from feeding the homeless. Basically, real estate developers and people living in comfortable neighborhoods regard people who are homeless as little more than urban blight, and so municipalities have increasingly been passing ordinances that outlaw providing food to individuals who cannot afford housing. A number of different nefarious strategies have also been implemented by cities to make homelessness illegal in certain areas. It is not surprising that Glenn Beck's right-wing website, The Blaze, touts the "Top 10 Anti-Homeless Measures Used in the United States."

Unfortunately, the last days of 2014 indicate that the war against the homeless will continue on into 2015. During the holiday season - the alleged period of caring, love and empathy - the city officials of Roseville, California (located just northeast of Sacramento), threatened to take action against an organization with the seasonally appropriate name of "What Would Jesus Do" for offering food to homeless individuals.

According to the December 28 The Sacramento Bee, 

For the homeless feeding organization called What Would Jesus Do, it is an act of benevolent defiance.

After a 31/2-month absence, the group is again serving breakfast pastries, hot chocolate and coffee, canned goods and additional staples to homeless and other disadvantaged people at Roseville’s Saugstad Park on Sunday mornings. Volunteers were out once more in the chilly air Sunday after resuming the park program on Dec. 21.

Just four days before Christmas, however, Roseville City Hall was not happy.  

2014.1.5.Brasch.BFJim Harbaugh, the new head football coach at the University of Michigan, got a $2 million signing bonus, and will be paid $5 million a year for the first three years of a five-year contract. (Photo: MGoBlog / Flickr)

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Marci Rosenberg, a senior speech language pathologist at the University of Michigan, earns about $73,000 a year.       

Desmond Patton, who studies the problems of gang violence, is a professor at the University of Michigan. He earns about $80,000 a year.

Patricia Reuter-Lorenz, who works with cerebral palsy children, is a professor at the University of Michigan. She earns about $136,000 a year.

Ursula Jakob, a molecular biologist who is working on proteins to unlock new disease cures, is a professor at the University of Michigan. She earns about $112,000 a year

Dan Habib works with children who have disabilities; Martha Bailey is doing research on the correlations between living in disadvantaged neighborhoods and criminal behavior; Jason DeBord, a musician, was an orchestra conductor for several Broadway plays. All are faculty members at the University of Michigan.

2014.1.5.Buchheit.BFAs a result of the decline in state tax money, education gets cut. (Photo: Sakkra Paiboon / Flickr)

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

An Apple executive recently said, "The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need."

It's hard for a nation to build work skills when its corporations, the beneficiaries of a half-century of public support, have largely stopped paying for education.

Most of the attention to corporate tax avoidance is directed at the nonpayment of federal taxes. But state taxes, which to a much greater extent fund K-12 education, are avoided at a stunning rate by America's biggest companies. As a result, public school funding continues to be cut, and the worsening performance of neglected schools adds fuel to the reckless demands for privatization. Inner-city schools are being devastated by this insidious process.

STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ahavanaHavana, Cuba (2005) (Photo: Vgenecr)

Following the joint announcement by the offices of the leaders of Cuba and the United States of the intention to re-establish diplomatic relations and in the meantime ease joint restrictions on travel, cultural exchanges, certain types of commercial relationships, and etc., while jointly releasing/exchanging several high-profile prisoners, a wide variety of anti-Castro US organizations, politicians, and individuals expressed outrage. They cited “human rights violations” on the part of the Cuban government (mainly dealing with civil liberties crackdowns and the lack of an elected national government) as the reason why there never should or could be normal relations established between the two countries. Let's, however, face the primary reason right-wingers and the pro-Batista (a puppet of the US mafia before forced out of power by Castro) crowd hate the Cuban government: private property was seized during the revolution and the state owns most of the nation's businesses.

It's all about the money, which is ironic because European, Canadian and Mexican companies are now gaining a financial toehold in Cuba, while the US corporations bite their tongues and let the dying anti-Castro Cubans in Florida yearn for their memories of plantations, financial corruption and mafia-gambling dollars under Batista.

Well, I thought to myself, I wonder what the list of human rights violations would look like if some organizations and individuals in Cuba wanted to object to the record of the United States. After all, there are those around the world who regard the United States, both on its own behalf and as a supporter of some of the most violently repressive regimes on the face of the earth (including, of course, Cuba under Batista) presently, the world’s biggest self-touting “democracy” that regularly violates human rights.

If Cuba were to lodge a formal list of US human rights violations with the UN, some of the following claims would likely be included:

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

4776529679 8e6800b8fe zThe US in Afghanistan: It's not about nation-building; it's about empire building. (Photo: The US Army)

“The only good Talib is a dead Talib.”

These words, uttered half a decade ago by the head of intelligence for the NATO coalition force in Afghanistan, summon a far earlier American savagery. As the American empire affects to close the door on its war with Afghanistan, the words also serve as a sort of doorstop propping open our further intervention in this broken country.

The war isn’t really ending. Some 18,000 foreign troops will stay in Afghanistan, almost 11,000 of them American, under a new mission called “Resolute Support.” U.S. forces will also have “a limited combat role as part of a separate counterterrorism mission,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Incredibly, we’re not letting go. We’re just disappearing the combat mission into global background noise.

We’re continuing to dehumanize part of humanity on the pretext of saving it. The updated version of “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” redirected to the Taliban, was quoted a few days ago in a Der Spiegel article called “Obama’s Lists: A Dubious History of Targeted Killings in Afghanistan.” The article goes into detail about the administration’s infamous “kill lists” and the hunting of upper- and mid-level Taliban leaders via helicopter and drone — assassination by Hellfire missile — which is an extermination methodology guaranteed to kill lots of innocent civilians along with (or instead of) the targeted Taliban operative. But, you know, that’s war.

The official “end” to the Afghan war, while it doesn’t mean the end of combat operations, does offer us a moment of disturbing reflection on what has been accomplished these last 13 years, during the first of our wars allegedly to eradicate, but in fact to promote, terror. We poured at least a trillion dollars into the war, which claimed some 30,000 lives, over two-thirds of them civilians. The first thing that occurs to me is that, officially, these statistics mean nothing.

U.S. Army General John Campbell, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, exemplified this by smothering the human toll of the war in simple-minded verbiage during a secret ceremony held last weekend in a gymnasium at ISAF headquarters in Kabul: “Our new resolute mission means we will continue to invest in Afghanistan’s future,” he said. “Our commitment to Afghanistan endures.”

By the way, the ceremony, commemorating the war’s shutdown, was secret because authorities feared the possibility of a Taliban attack. The United States and NATO, as everyone knows, are the losers, despite the bloated enormity of their military superiority. The Afghanistan war, like the Iraq war, was an utter failure even in terms of U.S. interests and geopolitical objectives.

But any honest reflection requires a far more serious, all-encompassing look at the war’s results.

War is torture on a national scale. The nation of Afghanistan and its people are, of course, the primary losers in our “investment” in their future — our investment in nation-wrecking....

War is also humanity’s spiritual cancer.

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