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Protesters march in front of the white house as part of "Act Against Torture", a group of activists that are fighting against the United States' Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib policies.Demonstrators march in front of the White House as part of "Act Against Torture," a group of activists that are fighting against the United States' Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib policies. (Photo: Greg Foster)BOB KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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The corpses pile up like sandbags along the planet's geopolitical borders.

"Perhaps his condition deteriorated and the authorities decided it was better to release him in a coma than as a corpse."

So said an expert on North Korea recently, quoted in the New York Times following the death of 22-year-old Otto Warmbier, six days after he had been released in a comatose state from a North Korean prison. He had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor a year and a half ago because he had taken a propaganda poster off the wall in his hotel. He had been with a tour group.

Oh Lord. The shocking wrongness and horror of this young man's death -- the absurdity of his arrest, the razor slash of his tears -- is all over the news. Of course. Who couldn't identify -- with him, with his parents? He had been dehumanized. He had a future, but it got pulled away from him by uniformed lunatics, or so the news presents this tragedy: in the context of America and its enemies.


voting22Electronic voting machines are vulnerable to specialized hackers, not just Russians. (Photo: justgrimes)

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Journalists and activists have been sounding the alarm about electronic voting machines and their proprietary software for years. The vulnerability of these machines to hacking has not been front and center for some time -- primarily due to the failure of the corporate media and legislative bodies to take it seriously. That changed, to some extent, with the charges about Russian hacking from US intelligence agencies. However, the current emphasis is on the Russians allegedly attempting to influence the 2016 election, not on the flawed electronic voting machines that make hacking possible.

For example, CNN reported on hearings yesterday in the US Capitol:

Both sides of the Capitol on Wednesday heard from experts about the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, with officials for the first time revealing how many states' election-related systems were targeted by Russian hackers.

But though the government disclosed that 21 states were potentially impacted by the targeting, lawmakers were left frustrated that the public still doesn't have a full picture of what exactly the Russians did during the election and that it's not fully clear what the US will do to protect itself going forward.

On the House side, the intelligence committee heard from former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. On the Senate side, the intelligence committee heard from an array of federal and state officials regarding election infrastructure.

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Cuyahoga 0621wrp optThe Cuyahoga River on fire, 1969. (Photo: EnviroNews)Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of Waterkeeper Alliance (the Alliance), sat down with EnviroNews Editor-in-Chief Emerson Urry to discuss the organization's response to the Trump Administration, which has been active in upending environmental regulations. The interview took place June 8, 2017 in Park City, Utah at the Waterkeeper Alliance International Conference.

Kennedy began by telling EnviroNews, "We're filing just barrages of suits to stop the dismantling of the Clean Water Act." Columbia Riverkeeper, part of the Alliance based in Oregon, fired off the first lawsuit in the U.S. against EPA head Scott Pruitt on February 23, 2017, just 13 days after he was confirmed by the Senate. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle and aims to force the EPA to mitigate high water temperatures in the Columbia and Snake Rivers that killed 250,000 adult sockeye salmon in 2015.

The action continued a lengthy record of using the courts to protect the nation's waterways. Among the highlights cited in the 2016 Waterkeeper Alliance Annual Report are rulings that imposed fines for polluting the Chattahoochee and Potomac Rivers and prevented sand mining in San Francisco Bay. Other actions have resulted in protection for sea otters along the coast of Southern California and defeating the proposed Gateway Pacific coal export terminal in Bellingham, Washington.

Kennedy said the Alliance was also working to prevent the EPA from undoing rules that protect communities and waterways from toxic coal ash waste. The Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, which represents electric generation utilities, has filed a petition that Waterkeeper Alliance says "seeks to do away with most of the EPA's environmental safeguards for coal ash." According to Waterkeeper, at least 200 coal ash waste dumps have contaminated local water sources with arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium.

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Peacekeeper 0621wrp optA "Peacekeeper" nuclear missile launch. (Photo: US Air Force)This week, in New York City, representatives from more than100 countries will begin collaborating on an international treaty, first proposed in 2016, to ban nuclear weapons forever. It makes sense for every country in the world to seek a legally binding ban on nuclear weapons. It would make even more sense to immediately deactivate all nuclear weapons. But, by boycotting and disparaging the process now underway, the U.S. and other nuclear armed nations have sent a chilling signal. They have no intention of giving up the power to explode, burn and annihilate planetary life. "The United States is spending $1 trillion USD over the next thirty years to modernize its nuclear weapon arsenals and triple the killing power of these weapons," says Ray Acheson, programme director at Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Acheson also notes that the excessive spending for nuclear weapons contrasts with U.S. cuts to vital anti-poverty programs. On June 19th, more than a dozen people blocked the U.S. Mission to the UN entrance to protest Washington's boycott of the negotiations. They were arrested for disorderly conduct, but I believe it's incomparably  more disorderly to plan for nuclear war.

During the past weekend, to support the negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, WILPF called for "Women's March to Ban the Bomb" actions in cities across the U.S. and around the world. Jane Addams, who helped found the League in 1919, was a Chicago woman who understood the crucial need to put an end to war, all war, and instead care for the neediest people. She dedicated herself to assuring that many new immigrants in her city were treated with respect, given assistance to meet basic needs and encouraged to live and work together, peaceably. Addams worked passionately to prevent nations from sleepwalking into the horrors of World War I, and she vigorously campaigned to stop the United States' entry into it.

Upon return from visiting soldiers who had been maimed while fighting in the trenches of World War I, she spoke of how the young men couldn't have carried on the war without mind-altering substances -sometimes absinthe, sometimes extra rations of rum. Families were sending laudanum and even heroin to the front lines in hampers. The soldiers couldn't kill, she concluded, if left in their right minds.


fccbadgeThe Federal Communications Commission under Trump is once again facilitating media consolidation. (Image: Wikipedia)

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One of the giant media consolidators, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, is on the verge of acquiring the Tribune Media Company. This is not good news.

The website B&C: Broadcasting and Cable points out that when the merger is complete, "Sinclair will reach 72 percent of the country, giving the group a near-national footprint, as well as a presence in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Sinclair also would get Tribune’s national cable channel WGN America, and multicast networks including Antenna TV." In total, Sinclair will be acquiring Tribune Media's 42 television stations.

The acquisition of Tribune Media for $3.9 billion includes the flagship WGN radio station, which broadcasts from Chicago. The Tribune's print properties, including The Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times are not part of the buyout because they are part of Tribune Publishing, which became a separate company a few years back.

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Sekulow 0620wrp optJay Sekulow speaking at an event in Washington DC. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)Jay Sekulow, a hero to conservative Christians, is back on the scene as part of President Donald Trump's legal team. During recent appearance on Fox News, Sekulow defended Trump, and smeared former FBI director James Comey. That may have been his ticket to Team Trump. Salon's Heather Digby Parton hypothesized that Trump "likely saw Sekulow 'defend' him on TV one night and decided he'd be a good 'defense' lawyer."

Trump may also be impressed by Sekulow's business deals, which appears to have enriched his entire family. A 2011 investigation by Bob Smietana at The Tennessean, revealed Sekulow "as the principal officer of two closely related multimillion-dollar legal charities: Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, which he founded in San Francisco, and the better-known American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson and based in Virginia Beach."

According to Smietana, "Since 1998, the two charities have paid out more than $33 million to members of Sekulow's family and businesses they own or co-own, according to the charities' federal tax returns. One of the charities is controlled by the Sekulow family — tax documents show that all four of CASE's board members are Sekulows and another is an officer — an arrangement criticized by a nonprofit watchdog group."

After televangelist Pat Robertson's 1988 presidential campaign, he established the Christian Coalition, and he and Sekulow launched a legal group called the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) to, as MSNBC's Steve Benen pointed out, "serve as a right-wing rival to the ACLU … [and] advance the religious right's agenda in the courts." Sekulow became chief counsel for the group.

Sekulow's emergence into the public spotlight was on full display this past Sunday as he pogoed his way around to the major television talk shows. "He insisted to anyone who would listen that despite the president's tweeting that he was under investigation, he was really only responding to the news report and isn't under investigation at all," Parton pointed out.

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WaterFrack 0620wrp optWater tanks preparing for hydraulic fracturing. (Photo: Joshua Doubek)A new analysis of Texas' oil and gas development underscores how there really are two sides to the energy debate. We know that drilling has brought the state billions in wealth, but its vast impacts on the environment cannot be ignored.

The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST)—the state's top scientific community—has released a comprehensive, peer-reviewed report today analyzing the wide-ranging environmental, economic and social impacts of shale oil and gas production in the Lone Star State.

"This study aims to help us better understand what is and is not known about the impacts of shale oil and gas development in Texas and it offers recommendations for future research priorities," the report states.

The 204-page Shale Task Force report was compiled by representatives from academia, environmental organizations, the oil and gas industry, and state agencies with a focus on six key areas: seismicity, land, air, water, transportation and economic and social impacts.

Citing the report, the Houston Chronicle noted that the shale boom has contributed to the state's economic gains but has also "degraded natural resources, overwhelmed small communities and even boosted the frequency and severity of traffic collisions as workers and equipment rush to oil fields."


civilrightsmlkThe Trump administration is moving backwards on civil rights. (Photo: Sivlia Calderon)

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The Trump administration is wasting no time in reducing the enforcement of civil rights laws. According to a June 15 article in ProPublica,

For decades, the Department of Justice has used court-enforced agreements to protect civil rights, successfully desegregating school systems, reforming police departments, ensuring access for the disabled and defending the religious.

Now, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ appears to be turning away from this storied tool, called consent decrees. Top officials in the DOJ civil rights division have issued verbal instructions through the ranks to seek settlements without consent decrees — which would result in no continuing court oversight.

The move is just one part of a move by the Trump administration to limit federal civil rights enforcement. Other departments have scaled back the power of their internal divisions that monitor such abuses.

Critics of the new Department of Justice policy say it will have serious implications, according to the ProPublica piece.


NoDAPL 0619wrp optA protest against the Dakota Access pipeline. Pax Ahimsa GethenEnergy Transfer Partners, the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and the fracked gas Rover Pipeline, has quite the extensive spill history, a new analysis shows.

After crunching the numbers from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), TheStreet revealed that the Dallas-based company spilled hazardous liquids near water crossings more than twice the frequency of any other U.S. pipeline company this decade.

According to the report:

"The company has spilled hazardous liquids five times near water crossings since 2010 when PHMSA started collecting detailed data. The company's spills account for almost 20% of all hazardous liquid spills near water crossings since 2010, primarily because of a 55,000-gallon gasoline spill in 2016 near the Susquehanna River in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. TheStreet only included onshore spills in its analysis, and included subsidiary companies.

"Since 2010, the company has spilled hazardous liquids 204 times in all, ranking only behind Enterprise Products Partners LP (EPD) and Magellan Midstream Partners, LP MMP, according to TheStreet's tally."

Energy Transfer owns about 71,000 miles of natural gas, natural gas liquids, refined products and crude oil pipelines across the country.


Yemen 0619wrp optHouse in Yemen destroyed by Saudi air strike. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)On June 15, 2017, the New York Times reported that the government of Saudi Arabia aims to ease the concerns of some U.S. legislators over U.S. weapon sales to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis plan to engage in "a $750 million multiyear training program through the American military to help prevent the accidental killing of civilians in the Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen." Since entering the war in Yemen, in March of 2015, the Saudi coalition's airstrikes, with U.S. assistance, have destroyedbridges, roads, factories, farms, food trucks, animals, water infrastructure, and agricultural banks across the north, while imposing a blockade on the territory. For a country heavily dependent on foreign food aid, that means starving the people. At least seven million people suffer now from severe acute malnourishment.  

U.S. assistance to the Saudi-led coalition has included providing weapons, sharing intelligence, targeting assistance, and aerial jet refueling.  "If they stop the refueling, that would stop the bombing campaign literally tomorrow," says Iona Craig, who frequently reports from Yemen, "because logistically the coalition would not be able to send their fighter jets in to carry out sorties without that help."

The U.S. has also provided "cover" for Saudi violations of international law. On October 27th, 2015, Saudi Arabia bombed a Yemeni hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders. The airstrike went on for two hours, reducing the hospital to rubble. Ban Ki Moon, then Secretary General of the UN, admonished the Saudi government for attacking a medical facility. The Saudis responded that the U.S. had similarly bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital, in Afghanistan's Kunduz province, which indeed the U.S. had, earlier that same month, on October 3, 2015. The U.S. airstrikes continued, in fifteen minute intervals, for an hour, killing 42 people and likewise reducing the Doctors Without Borders hospital to rubble and ash.

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