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ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSwingset(Photo: Chamaeleon)The air at Texas playgrounds could be hazardous to children’s health. That’s what nonprofit environmental testing group 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 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

adroughtca(Photo: arbyread)

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

aaaCows(Photo: EcoWatch)

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.

Center for Biological Diversity says the new guidelines should include recommendations to reduce meat and dairy consumption.

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

awalrus(Photo: claumoho)

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

aprisonthreecells(Photo: miss_millions)

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.”

Wednesday, 01 October 2014 09:15

The US Government Won't Give Peace a Chance

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

awarpeace(Photo: Jayel Aheram)

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.

JIM BLOCK FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afreespeech(Photo: Will Jabsco)

This past weekend was the 50th reunion of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley. At the beginning of the fall term of 1964, the university administration imposed a series of strict regulations limiting the right of students to engage in political soliciting on campus. Berkeley students had for several years been active in anti-H.U.A.C., pro-labor, and anti-racism protests and demonstrations throughout the Bay area. This picture of the university as a hotbed of political activism was undermining the carefully honed image being disseminated by the state of California as the leader in public higher education: in the conservative post-war period, Berkeley was being touted as not only a world class research university but at the forefront of preparing a modern elite meritocratic student body primed for corporate and governmental leadership.

What the university administration failed to consider was the fact that many activist Berkeley students had embraced new levels of commitment to political organizing by participating in Freedom Summer, an initiative by radical civil rights organizations in the South to mobilize black Americans to challenge segregation and demand voting rights. After resolutely confronting white segregationists and racist – often violent – local public officials as full-fledged democratic activists, a university administration seeking to curtail their political expression and ignoring their insistence on the urgency of social change struck these battle-tested students as demeaning and even infantilizing. Even more decisively, these acts implicated the new model university as the central institution in integrating younger generations into the corporate, hierarchical, expansionist values increasingly driving American society. It suddenly became clear that the degree was being marketed not for any educational value but as a ticket punched to the higher levels of this post-war order and to material success, social status, and a suburban lifestyle widely being identified as the American dream.

Once the university intervened, in other words, the political dynamic shifted. What had begun as an effort to support other movements for social equity and integration quickly shifted before everyone’s eyes to a demand for the liberation of students and youth and the democratization of the institutions shaping their lives as a prelude to broader social transformation. This is the F.S.M. whose message spread throughout the U.S. and beyond, catalyzing and exposing generational tensions and revealing the compliance-oriented program of American socialization. I came to Berkeley as a neophyte, a completely apolitical and uninformed undergraduate, just days before the campus controversies began. And because the events of the next couple of years became the defining experience of my life about which I have written and taught ever since (trying to make sense of it), this reunion gave me an unparalleled opportunity to reflect on and rethink that experience in conversation with this unique community of participants in this defining moment.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014 07:27

The Power to Solve Climate Change

FRED KRUPP OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaClimateMarchEcoWatch(Photo: EcoWatch)What’s it going to take to turn the corner to a safe and stable climate? People power and market power. That was my main takeaway from a whirlwind week in New York City.

That pairing may seem odd, since some have fallen into the habit of dividing the climate community into “outsiders,” grassroots activists who demand action, and “insiders,” policy advocates who seek to correct market failures (such as the absence of a price on carbon) in order to harness the power of the marketplace to drive change. But many climate change advocates, myself included, were busy doing both last week—and both are absolutely essential to the climate solutions we need.

I began the week at the People’s Climate March, one of an estimated 400,000 Americans who took to the streets of New York City to make an urgent call for climate action. It was thrilling to see so many people—including Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) members and staff from around the country—gather for a demonstration that was both peaceful and passionate. Tuesday morning my EDF colleagues and I hosted a meeting of officials and experts from China and the U.S., and later that day I spoke at the United Nations about the urgent climate threat posed by unchecked methane pollution, then shared ideas for restructuring global energy incentives with international leaders.

It was fitting that all of this began with a protest march, since motivating the public to demand action is absolutely necessary if we are going to prevail against the opponents of climate action. It was, by all accounts, the largest rally in the history of the climate change movement—even before you include the 2,600 smaller gatherings taking place in 166 countries around the world.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afeudal(Photo: david_shankbone)

Since 2008, the disproportionate growth in money flowing to the top 10 and 1 percent has exponentially increased - and the wages of the bottom 90 percent of the population have, in general, either fallen or stagnated.

This has created, according to Irwin, an astonishing statistic:  

But in the first three years of the current expansion, incomes actually fell [according to the Tcherneva data] for the bottom 90 percent of earners, even as they rose nicely for the top 10 percent. The result: The top 10 percent captured an impossible-seeming 116 percent of income gains during that span. [Italics inserted by BuzzFlash.]

In short, as 90 percent of the US population loses ground, 10 percent - and particularly the top 1 percent - are actually drawing in more than 100 percent of the economic gains since 2008. This is due to adjusting figures to reflect the decrease in income for 90 percent of earners in the US.

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAmericanFlags(Photo: Lipton Sale)Sunday night President Obama made an appearance on 60 Minutes to talk about the ongoing efforts against ISIS. The quote that everyone is focusing on, of course, is Obama’s admission that they “underestimated ISIS.” The right is predictably working itself into a fine froth over this. Had we only carpet bombed everything back in 2013, the Middle East would now be a virtual utopia and nothing would ever go wrong in the region again. Personally, I don’t find the president’s admission to be a huge shock. Given that our last president had a bit of trouble thinking of a single mistake that he might have made, ever, it is refreshing to hear Obama utter words along these lines. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the actions we have taken, as we try to correct for our underestimation, what with the unforeseen consequences crawling out of the woodwork, but still, it’s nice to hear some acknowledgement of our fallibility.

Which is why the bit that does irk me is the following gem:

“America leads. We are the indispensable nation. We have capacity no one else has. Our military is the best in the history of the world. And when trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don't call Beijing. They don't call Moscow. They call us.”

If that statement were a vehicle, it would be a Hummer with chrome-plated bumper nuts. It’s belligerent. It’s remarkably tone-deaf, coming from a man whose words are typically finely crafted. And it is, yes, stupid. There is a truth in it – no denying that. Given the amount of money we pour into our military, it certainly has the capacity to bomb, shoot, and generally wreck vast swathes of the world. We have enough nuclear weapons to ignite the Earth’s atmosphere. Our capacity is huge.

We are freaking awesome.

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