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Obama Administration Announces Weak Carbon Pollution Cuts Ahead of Paris Climate Talks

Obama Administration Announces Weak Carbon Pollution Cuts Ahead of Paris Climate Talks ::posted Tue, 31 Mar 2015 20:04:59 +0000:: [Forwarded by the MyLeftBlogosphere news engine. Link to original post below:]
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Russell Brand: ‘The Reason Fox News Can’t Talk About Mental Illness Is Because Fox News Causes It’

Russell Brand: ‘The Reason Fox News Can’t Talk About Mental Illness Is Because Fox News Causes It’ ::posted Tue, 31 Mar 2015 18:34:00 +0000::

Fox’s coverage of Germanwings crash, just as ignorant as you’d expect!

On the latest episode of The Trews, British comedian and activist Russell Brand discussed the crash of a Germanwings plane and the media’s rush to blame it on the suicidal captain.

He engages in a dialogue with a Neil Cavuto monologue in which the Fox News host speculates about the pilot’s motivations.

“In a way,” Brand says, “this is the perfect Fox News story, because there’s no way of knowing for certain what were the motivations — and in that gap of ignorance, there’s room for tremendous fear and great propaganda.”

After Cavuto links the pilot’s actions to ISIS fighters and Adolf Hitler, about whom Brand says, “you know, some work’s been done on the subject of Hitler, and it turns out that at that anti-Semitism was widespread and German nationalism was on the rise because of social and economic conditions.”

“So in a way, Adolf Hitler is a good example — one lone madman cannot personally be responsible for a genocide. He requires the correct conditions, and the correct conditions were created as a result of the First World War, widespread anti-Semitism across Europe.”

After discussing at length how much Fox News benefits from having a Hitler-like figure to blame in order to avoid having to address the larger social conditions that make such a person possible, Brand addresses how convenient it is for Fox to be able to pin responsibility for atrocities on mental illness.

“If you try to think,” Brand says, “‘Why did this nutty pilot nuttily crash his plane into a mountain?’ then it’s really hard to come up with answers, let alone solutions.” He then discusses how suicide is now the biggest killer of young men in Britain, and how half of Americans have dealt with a serious bout of mental illness.

“Why are we living in a time of a mental illness plague?” Brand asks, then answers his own question, saying “the reason Fox News can’t be honest about what causes mental illness is because Fox News is what causes mental illness.”

“Fox News is the propaganda machine of modern capitalism that tells us that the way to solve our problems is through purchasing and buying things — by identifying ourselves with our roles as consumers, and not as participants or members of society.”

Watch the entire episode of The Trews below via YouTube.

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Barney Frank’s Biggest Bombshell: His Shocking Anecdote About the Financial Crisis

Barney Frank’s Biggest Bombshell: His Shocking Anecdote About the Financial Crisis ::posted Tue, 31 Mar 2015 18:10:00 +0000::

Ever wonder why we waited six years to get a decent economic recovery? This new revelation will disgust you.

Barney Frank has a new autobiography out. He’s long been one of the nation’s most quotable politicians. And Washington lives in perpetual longing for intra-party conflict.

So why has a critical revelation from Frank’s book, one that implicates the most powerful Democrat in the nation, been entirely expunged from the record? The media has thus far focused on Frank’s wrestling with being a closeted gay congressman, or his comment that Joe Biden “can’t keep his mouth shut or his hands to himself.” But nobody has focused on Frank’s allegation that Barack Obama refused to extract foreclosure relief from the nation’s largest banks, as a condition for their receipt of hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money.

The anecdote comes on page 295 of “Frank,” a title that the former chair of the House Financial Services Committee holds true to throughout the book. The TARP legislation included specific instructions to use a section of the funds to prevent foreclosures. Without that language, TARP would not have passed; Democratic lawmakers who helped defeat TARP on its first vote cited the foreclosure mitigation piece as key to their eventual reconsideration.

TARP was doled out in two tranches of $350 billion each. The Bush administration, still in charge during TARP’s passage in October 2008, used none of the first tranche on mortgage relief, nor did Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson use any leverage over firms receiving the money to persuade them to lower mortgage balances and prevent foreclosures. Frank made his anger clear over this ignoring of Congress’ intentions at a hearing with Paulson that November. Paulson argued in his defense, “the imminent threat of financial collapse required him to focus single-mindedly on the immediate survival of financial institutions, no matter how worthy other goals were.”

Whether or not you believe that sky-is-falling narrative, Frank kept pushing for action on foreclosures, which by the end of 2008 threatened one in 10 homes in America. With the first tranche of TARP funds running out by the end of the year, Frank writes, “Paulson agreed to include homeowner relief in his upcoming request for a second tranche of TARP funding. But there was one condition: He would only do it if the President-elect asked him to.”

Frank goes on to explain that Obama rejected the request, saying “we have only one president at a time.” Frank writes, “my frustrated response was that he had overstated the number of presidents currently on duty,” which equally angered both the outgoing and incoming officeholders.

Obama’s unwillingness to take responsibility before holding full authority doesn’t match other decisions made at that time. We know from David Axelrod’s book that the Obama transition did urge the Bush administration to provide TARP loans to GM and Chrysler to keep them in business. So it was OK to help auto companies prior to Inauguration Day, just not homeowners.

In the end, the Obama transition wrote a letter promising to get to the foreclosure relief later, if Congress would only pass the second tranche of TARP funds. Congress fulfilled its obligation, and the Administration didn’t. The promised foreclosure mitigation efforts failed to help, and in many cases abjectly hurt homeowners.

This is not a new charge from Frank: he first leveled it in May 2012 in an interview with New York magazine. Nobody in the Obama Administration has ever denied the anecdote, but of course hardly anybody bothered to publicize it, save for a couple financial blogs. I suppose those reviewing ”Frank” can offer an excuse about this being “old news,” but that claims suffers from the “tree falling in the forest” syndrome: if a revelation is made in public, and no journalist ever elevates it, did it make a sound?

The political media’s allergy to policy is a clear culprit here. Jamie Kirchick’s blanket statement in his review of “Frank” that “readers’ eyes will glaze over” at the recounting of the financial crisis is a typical attitude. But millions of people suffered needlessly for Wall Street’s sins; they’d perhaps be interested in understanding why.

That’s the main reason why the significance of Obama’s decision cannot be overstated. The fact that we waited six years to get some semblance of a decent economic recovery traces back directly to the failure to alleviate the foreclosure crisis. Here was a moment, right near the beginning, when both public money and leverage could have been employed to stop foreclosures. Instead of demanding homeowner help when financial institutions relied on massive government support, the Administration passed, instead prioritizing nursing banks back to health and then asking them to give homeowners a break, which the banks predictably declined.

There were no structural or legislative barriers to this proposition. One man, Barack Obama, could tell another man, Henry Paulson, to tighten the screws on banks to write down loans, and something would have happened. Would it have been successful? Would it have saved tens or hundreds of billions in damage to homeowners? Even trillions? Or would Paulson and his predecessors found a way to wriggle out of the commitment again? We know the alternative failed, so it’s tantalizing to think about this road not taken.

This still matters because, as City University of New York professor Alan White explained brilliantly over the weekend, the foreclosure crisis isn’t really over. Though 6 million homes have been lost to foreclosure since 2007, another 1 million remain in the pipeline, many of them legacy loans originated during the housing bubble. If you properly compare the situation to a time before the widespread issuance of subprime mortgages, we’re still well above normal levels of foreclosure starts.

In addition, over one in six homes remain underwater, where the mortgage is bigger than the value of the home, a dangerous situation if we hit another economic downturn. And up to 4 million homes face interest rate resets from temporary modifications, along with nontraditional mortgages where the rate is scheduled to go up. Home equity lines of credit are also nearing their 10-year limits, requiring borrowers to pay down principal balances. Some Americans have been waiting over five years in foreclosure limbo, which sounds great (no payments!) until you understand the stress and anxiety associated with not knowing if you will get thrown out on the street at any time, something highly correlated with sickness and even suicides.

In baseball terms, we’re in the seventh or eighth inning of the crisis. And Barney Frank detailed how the president-elect had the opportunity to call the game and fix the problem much earlier, which he turned down. You’d think someone would have noticed.

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Why Is Social Media Protecting Men from Periods, Breast Milk and Body Hair?

Why Is Social Media Protecting Men from Periods, Breast Milk and Body Hair? ::posted Tue, 31 Mar 2015 15:38:00 +0000::

Are men really that delicate?

There’s a predictable social media formula for what women’s pictures online should look like. Breasts in barely-there bikinis are good (thumbs-up emoji, even), but breasts with babies attached them are questionable. Women wearing next to nothing is commonplace, but if you’re over a size 10 youraccount may be banned. Close-up shots of women’s asses and hardly-covered vaginas are fine, so long as said body parts are hairless.

And now, in a controversy that once again brings together technology, art, feminism and sex, Instagram is under fire for removing a self-portrait from artist Rupi Kaur that showed a small amount of her menstrual blood. Apparently having a period violates the site’s Terms of Service.

The broader message to women couldn’t be clearer: SeXXXy images are appropriate, but images of women’s bodies doing normal women body things are not. Or, to put a more crass point on it: Only pictures of women who men want to fuck, please.

As Kaur pointed out on her Tumblr account, Instagram is filled with pictures of underage girls who are “objectified” and “pornified.”

“I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be okay with a small leak,” she wrote.

Because, truly, it’s difficult to imagine women being offended by pictures of breastfeeding, unkempt bikini lines or period blood – that’s a standard Monday for a lot of us. It’s men that social media giants are “protecting” – men who have grown up on sanitized and sexualized images of female bodies. Men who have been taught to believe by pop culture, advertising and beyond that women’s bodies are there for them. And if they have to see a woman that is anything other than thin, hairless and ready for sex – well, bring out the smelling salts.

As Kaur wrote: “Their misogyny is leaking.”

The upside, of course, is that the very nature of social media has made it easier for women to present a more diverse set of images on what the female form can look like and mean. Selfies, for example – thought by some to be the epitome of frivolity and self-conceit – are now being touted by feminist academics and artists as a way for women to “seize the gaze” and offer a new sense of control to women as subjects rather than objects.

When we have the power to create our own images en masse, we have the power to create a new narrative – one that flies in the face of what the mainstream would like us to look and act like.

To Instagram’s credit, the company restored Kaur’s picture after complaints – much as Facebook changed their standards to allow pictures of “women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring.” Technology companies are starting to understand that if they want to put the power of pictures in their users’ hands, they’re going to have to be okay with women being fully human – not just mirror images of what pop culture wants us to be.

As for the people who are scandalized by women’s bodies and their natural functions: You don’t have to “like” it, but you will have to live with it.

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What the Frack Is Happening? Hailing the Major Activist Victories in the Anti-Fracking Movement

What the Frack Is Happening? Hailing the Major Activist Victories in the Anti-Fracking Movement ::posted Tue, 31 Mar 2015 15:20:00 +0000::

From the aggressive anti-fracking moves in Maryland to a statewide ban in New York, the anti-fracking movement is alive and well.

The nation’s first federal regulations on fracking, unveiled by the Obama administration last week, sparked immediate criticism from leading anti-fracking activists.

Americans Against Fracking, a coalition of 250 environmental and liberal groups that includes Greenpeace,,, CREDO, Food & Water Watch, Rainforest Action Network and Friends of the Earth, issued a statement characterizing the new rules—meant chiefly to reduce the threat of fracking-related water contamination—as “toothless.”

Actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, who serves on the Americans Against Fracking advisory board, said that Obama’s fracking regulations “are nothing more than a giveaway to the oil and gas industry.” The group’s goal is a complete fracking ban on federal land, where as many as 100,00 oil and gas wells have been drilled.

The new rules apply only to oil and gas drilling on federal lands, which represent about 25 percent of the national fossil fuel output and only some 10 percent of the nation’s fracking. The rules don’t apply to drilling on private or state-owned land. Currently, fracking occurs in 22 states.

Since states are responsible for regulating most of the fracking in the U.S., the anti-fracking battlefield—a patchwork of communities around the nation taking a stand to protect their air, water and soil–is understandably a bit fractured. With that in mind, here’s a brief look around the country at some recent fracktivist highlights at the state and local level.


February 6. Over 8,000 activists gathered in Oakland for the March for Real Climate Leadership, the largest anti-fracking demonstration in U.S. history.

February 24. Bolstered by an admission by California state regulators that oil companies are disposing toxic waste into protected aquifers in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, more than 150 environmental and community groups filed a legal petition urging the governor to use his emergency powers to place a moratorium on fracking.

March 20. California state Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and other lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown urging him to “stop illegal injection into non-exempt aquifers” to protect the state’s water from oil waste.


February 24. Coloradans Against Fracking activists crashed a state oil and gas task force meeting, launching a campaign for a statewide fracking ban. “Our primary goal is to convince Governor Hickenlooper to ban fracking,” said Karen Dike, a member of the new coalition. He can do that with an executive order.”

March 18. WildEarth Guardians filed an appeal to halt plans by the Bureau of Land Management to open up 36,000 acres of public lands along the Front Range of Colorado to fracking.

“Climate denial at the Interior Department is fueling a fracking rush on our public lands and undermining our nation’s efforts to rein in carbon pollution,” said Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians.


March 24. Maryland’s House of Delegates passed a bill to ban fracking for three years by a veto-proof 94 to 45. However, it’s unclear whether HB 449, currently under review in the state’s Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs, has enough support in the Senate to become a law.

March 24. The Senate voted 29 to 17 in favor of a bill holding energy companies financially liable for injury, death or property laws caused by their fracking activities.

Together these measures mark the legislature’s most aggressive action to curb fracking in the state.

New Mexico

December 30. The BLM announced it was deferring the issuance of five Navajo allotment parcels for fracking near Chaco Canyon, a World Heritage site, in response to a protest filed by a coalition of environmentalists and watchdog groups demanding a suspension of fracking on public lands in the northwest region of the state.

“Deferring these parcels was the right, and indeed, only legally defensible decision,” said Kyle Tisdel, a program director for Western Environmental Law Center (WELC). “Necessary safeguards and analysis must be completed before any further leasing and development of the areas treasured landscapes can continue in compliance with the law.”

March 11. A coalition of environmental groups including WELC, WildEarth Guardians and the Navajo organization Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Diné CARE) filed suit against the BLM and the U.S. Department of the Interior to prevent fracking from harming Chaco Canyon, the site of numerous ancestral Puebloan ruins and Navajo communities.

New York

December 17. About a month after his re-election, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo imposed a statewide ban on fracking, citing health risks. The announcement made New York the second state in the country after Vermont to ban fracking. The decision, which ended years of debate in the Empire State, was by most accounts the biggest environmental story in the United States in 2014, and puts pressure on other states to consider similar bans.

“I’ve never had anyone say to me, I believe fracking is great,” said Cuomo. “Not a single person in those communities. What I get is, I have no alternative but fracking.”

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, called the move “a vindication for communities around the country that have been hit hard by unconventional natural gas production.”

North Carolina

March 17. On the first day natural gas drilling permits could have been legally accepted in North Carolina, a group of anti-fracking state legislators called for a moratorium.

“We’ve been promised over the last five years that North Carolina would have the nation’s toughest fracking rules, and here we are at zero hour, and we do not have those rules,” said Senator Mike Woodard (D-Durham). “The rules are simply insufficient for us to move forward with the issuing of permits.”


March 18. In a rare moment of bipartisanship, Ohio’s normally polarized House of Representatives voted unanimously to ban fracking in state parks. While activists applauded the move, Ohio Sierra Club director Jen Miller said her group “will continue to work tirelessly to defend all state lands from industrial activities like fracking until they are set aside for generations to come, which starts with repealing bills like HB 133 altogether.”


March 12. The Oregon Community Rights Network (OCRN) launched a campaign to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2016 ballot that will affirm the right to local self-government in a move that would help anti-fracking activists in the state. If ratified, the amendment would grant legal rights to communities and even natural environments that can be violated.

The initiative is joins a growing local-rights movement around the country that is frustrating oil and gas companies. Mary Geddry, a representative with OCRN, noted that more than 200 communities across the U.S. have passed ordinances protecting local rights. “Only nine have been challenged in court,” she said.


January 29. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf fulfilled a campaign promise and signed an executive order reinstating a moratorium on fracking in the state’s public lands, protecting about a million acres that sit on the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation.


December 25. Anti-fracking activist Cathy McMullen, who started the nonprofit Denton Drilling Awareness Group that launched a petition to enact a citywide fracking ban, was named a finalist for the 2014 Texan of the Year Award by Dallas Morning News. This followed an Election Day in which voters passed a ballot initiative making Denton, located near the birthplace of fracking, the first city in Texas to pass a fracking ban.

March 23. Documentary filmmaker and Denton resident Garrett Graham released a new trailer for Don’t Frack with Denton, his forthcoming film that tells the story of “how one tenacious Texas town managed to upstage the oil and gas industry with the power of music and community organizing.”


March 18. WildEarth Guardians filed an appeal challenging BLM’s plan to auction off more than 15,000 acres of public land in southern Utah to fracking companies. A 2014 report by WildEarth Guardians found that the carbon emission cost from oil and gas produced from public lands could exceed $50 billion.

Looking Ahead

While local fracking battles continue to rage around the nation, there has been interesting activity on the federal level, beyond the recent announcement from the White House.

House bill H.R. 5844, the Protect Our Public Lands Act seeks to amend the Mineral Leasing Act to prohibit a lessee from conducting any activity under the lease for fracking purposes. It was introduced in early December by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) during the last session of Congress and there are plans to reintroduce the bill in the current session.

On March 18, representatives Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the so-called Frack Pack, a set of five bills that aim to close loopholes in environmental laws that have been used by oil and gas companies to frack without proper oversight.

While state and local anti-fracking measures and federal bills to curb fracking have been making headlines, for fracktivists the big enchilada is a national ban.

“Communities that have already suffered from fracking, like Longmont, Colorado, are rising up to pass local bans,” said Miranda Carter, a spokesperson at Food & Water Watch. “But we need to protect every community in the country by calling for a national ban on fracking: to slow or stop the process where it’s already happening, and elsewhere, to prevent it before it starts.”

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What the Frack Is Happening? A Roundup of Major Activist Victories in the Anti-Fracking Movement

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Nashville Prosecutors Have Made Sterilization of Women Part of Plea Deals

Nashville Prosecutors Have Made Sterilization of Women Part of Plea Deals ::posted Tue, 31 Mar 2015 14:03:00 +0000::

Many suggest that the practice happens frequently.

Nashville’s district attorney recently banned his staff from using invasive surgery as a bargaining chip, after it became apparent that local attorneys had been using sterilization as part of plea bargains.

In the most recent case, a woman with a long history of mental illness was charged with neglect after her young baby died. Jasmine Randers, 26, suffers from paranoia and had fled from a Minnesota treatment facility where she was under state commitment. The district attorney refused to go forward with a plea unless she agreed to be sterilized.

The cause of Randers’ baby’s death could not be determined. A cab driver who drove her to a hotel the night before she brought the baby to a hospital claims the baby was screaming, but stopped completely during the ride. Prosecutors speculated that the child could have suffocated in Randers’ coat during the cab ride, died as a result of unexplained infant death syndrome, or been accidentally crushed to death by Randers while she slept. According to an investigation by the Tennessean, the child was healthy and there were no signs of traumatic injury.

Nonetheless, Randers was hit with a neglect charge that carried a sentence of 15-25 years behind bars. The charge stemmed from the fact that no bottles of formula were found in the hotel; she took a taxi to the hospital instead of an ambulance; and the amount of time it took her to notify anyone about the baby’s death. The Tennessean report quotes Randers as saying, “I believe I was very sick and I, I guess, she was very sick, and I came here without a lot of money. And she ended up dying prior to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. Ever since then we’ve been trying to figure out how much I was responsible for that.”

The case was picked up by the assistant district attorney Brian Holmgren and assistant public defender Mary Kathryn Harcombe. Holmgren wouldn’t accept a plea deal unless Randers had her tubes tied. Harcombe viewed the stipulation as coercive, so she went over his head to Davidson County district attorney Glenn Funk and explained the situation. Funk has now cracked down on the practice, saying, “I have let my office know that that is not an appropriate condition of a plea. It is now policy that sterilization will never be a condition of deal-making in the district attorney’s office.”

However, defense attorneys say the practice has been implemented at least three other times in recent years. This is not the first time Holmgren has attempted to use it. He has admitted to requesting it from a client who refused, thereby torpedoing her plea deal. According to an Associated Press story on the subject, Nashville defense attorney Carrie Searcy says Holmgren asked two of her clients to undergo the surgery.

The AP story also identifies cases from West Virginia and Virginia in which sterilization has been used to reduce prison time. The extent of the practice remains unknown.

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Whoops: Indiana’s Anti-Gay ‘Religious Freedom’ Act Opens the Door For the First Church of Cannabis

Whoops: Indiana’s Anti-Gay ‘Religious Freedom’ Act Opens the Door For the First Church of Cannabis ::posted Mon, 30 Mar 2015 18:04:00 +0000::

The law puts the state in an awkward position with those who profess to smoke pot as a religious sacrament.

In a classic case of “unintended consequences,” the recently signed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Indiana may have opened the door for the establishment of the First Church of Cannabis in the Hoosier State.

While Governor Mike Pence (R) was holding a signing ceremony for the bill allowing businesses and individuals to deny services to gays on religious grounds or values, paperwork for the First Church of Cannabis Inc. was being filed with the Secretary of State’s office, reports RTV6.

Church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that the church’s registration has been approved, writing, “Status: Approved by Secretary of State of Indiana – “Congratulations your registration has been approved!” Now we begin to accomplish our goals of Love, Understanding, and Good Health.”

Levin is currently seeking $4.20 donations towards his non-profit church.

According to Indiana attorney and political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, Indiana legislators, in their haste to protect the religious values and practices of their constituents, may have unwittingly put the state in an awkward position with those who profess to smoke pot as a religious sacrament.

Shabazz pointed out that it is still illegal to smoke pot in Indiana, but wrote, “I would argue that under RFRA, as long as you can show that reefer is part of your religious practices, you got a pretty good shot of getting off scot-free.”

Noting that RFRA supporters say the bill “only spells out a test as to whether a government mandate would unduly burden a person’s faith and the government has to articulate a compelling interest for that rule and how it would be carried out in the least restrictive manner,” Shabazz contends the law may tie the state’s hands.

“So, with that said, what ‘compelling interest’ would the state of Indiana have to prohibit me from using marijuana as part of my religious practice?” he asked. ” I would argue marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol and wine used in religious ceremonies. Marijuana isn’t any more ‘addictive’ than alcohol and wine is used in some religious ceremonies. And marijuana isn’t any more of a ‘gateway’ drug than the wine used in a religious ceremony will make you go out and buy hard liquor. (At least not on Sunday.)”

Shabazz concluded, “I want a front row seat at the trial that we all know is going to happen when all this goes down.”

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