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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Alarming Research Behind NY's Fracking Ban

 (photo: Flickr)
(photo: Flickr)
By Nicholas St. Fleur, The Atlantic

21 December 14
he battle over untapped natural gas in New York State appears to have reached its end. Following an extensive public health review of hydraulic fracturing, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a complete ban on the oil and natural gas harvesting practice in the state on Wednesday.

The 184-page report, conducted by the New York State Department of Health, cites potential environmental impacts and health hazards as reasons for the ban. The research incorporates findings from multiple studies conducted across the country and highlights the following seven concerns:

  • Respiratory health: The report cites the dangers of methane emissions from natural gas drilling in Texas and Pennsylvania, which have been linked to asthma and other breathing issues. Another study found that 39 percent of residents in southern Pennsylvania who lived within one kilometer of a fracking site developed upper-respiratory problems compared with 18 percent of those who lived more than two kilometers away.
  • Drinking water: Shallow methane-migration underground could seep into drinking water, one study found, contaminating wells. Another found brine from deep shale formations in groundwater aquifers. The report also refers to a study of fracking communities in the Appalachian Plateau where they found methane in 82 percent of drinking water samples, and that concentrations of the chemical were six times higher in homes close to natural gas wells. Ethane was 23 times higher in homes close to fracking sites as well.
  • Seismic activity: The report cites studies from Ohio and Oklahoma that explain how fracking can trigger earthquakes. Another found that fracking near Preese Hall in the United Kingdom resulted in a 2.3 magnitude earthquake as well as 1.5 magnitude earthquake.
  • Climate change: Excess methane can be released into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. One study predicts that fracking in New York State would contribute between 7 percent and 28 percent of the volatile organic compound emissions, and between 6 percent and 18 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions in the region by 2020.
  • Soil contamination: One analysis of a natural gas site found elevated levels of radioactive waste in the soil, potentially the result of surface spills.
  • The community: The report refers to problems such as noise and odor pollution, citing a case in Pennsylvania where gas harvesting was linked to huge increases in automobile accidents and heavy truck crashes.
  • Health complaints: Residents near active fracking sites reported having symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, nosebleeds, and headaches according to studies. A study in rural Colorado which examined 124,842 births between 1996 and 2009 found that those who lived closest to natural gas development sites had a 30 percent increase in congenital heart conditions. The group of births closest to development sites also had a 100-percent increased chance of developing neural tube defects.
In 2008, New York State suspended its fracking activities pending further research into the health, environmental, and economic effects. Since the moratorium six years ago, many different scientific groups have conducted hydraulic fracturing research, as the state’s report reflects. 

"I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking? The answer is no." 

Howard Zucker, the acting state health commissioner who helped spearhead the report, addressed the ban with Gov. Cuomo in Albany. “I cannot support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” said Zucker, according to The Wall Street Journal. He added, “I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking? The answer is no,” The Los Angeles Times reported.

But Cuomo and Zucker’s critics were quick to blast the ban, which they say will cost the state millions in jobs and energy. Dean Skelos, the Republican co-leader of the New York State Senate, said the move was shaped by politics, not science. “The decision implies that at least 30 other states, Senator Schumer and the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency are wrong about the health impacts and do not care about the well-being of millions of American citizens,” he said in a statement. Others have lashed against Zucker’s comments about not letting his family live in a fracking community despite not having children.

Zucker also voiced concern over how little is known about the long-term effects of injecting water and chemicals into the Marcellus shale, the disputed natural gas reserve that has been the subject of debate in New York and elsewhere. The new report, he said, highlights gaps in the current scientific understanding of fracking’s impact on groundwater resources, air quality, radon exposure, noise exposure, traffic, psychosocial stress, and injuries.

“The bottom line is we lack the comprehensive longitudinal studies, and these are either not yet complete or are yet to be initiated," Zucker said according to The Syracuse Post-Standard. "We don't have the evidence to prove or disprove the health effects. But the cumulative concerns of what I've read gives me reason to pause."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Key Ferguson witness fabricated entire testimony

Demonstrators are confronted by police as they block a street during a protest ahead of the grand jury announcement on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Demonstrators are confronted by police as they block a street during a protest ahead of the grand jury announcement on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By William Bastone, Andrew Goldberg, Joseph Jesselli, The Smoking Gun
18 December 14

he grand jury witness who testified that she saw Michael Brown pummel a cop before charging at him “like a football player, head down,” is a troubled, bipolar Missouri woman with a criminal past who has a history of making racist remarks and once insinuated herself into another high-profile St. Louis criminal case with claims that police eventually dismissed as a “complete fabrication,” The Smoking Gun has learned.

In interviews with police, FBI agents, and federal and state prosecutors--as well as during two separate appearances before the grand jury that ultimately declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson--the purported eyewitness delivered a preposterous and perjurious account of the fatal encounter in Ferguson.

Referred to only as “Witness 40” in grand jury material, the woman concocted a story that is now baked into the narrative of the Ferguson grand jury, a panel before which she had no business appearing.

While the “hands-up” account of Dorian Johnson is often cited by those who demanded Wilson’s indictment, “Witness 40”’s testimony about seeing Brown batter Wilson and then rush the cop like a defensive end has repeatedly been pointed to by Wilson supporters as directly corroborative of the officer’s version of the August 9 confrontation. The “Witness 40” testimony, as Fox News sees it, is proof that the 18-year-old Brown’s killing was justified, and that the Ferguson grand jury got it right.

However, unlike Johnson, “Witness 40”--a 45-year-old St. Louis resident named Sandra McElroy--was nowhere near Canfield Drive on the Saturday afternoon Brown was shot to death.

Though prosecutors have sought to cloak the identity of grand jury witnesses, a TSG investigation has identified McElroy as “Witness 40.” A careful analysis of information contained in the unredacted portions of “Witness 40”’s grand jury testimony helped reporters identify McElroy and then conclusively match up details of her life with those of “Witness 40.”

TSG examined criminal, civil, matrimonial, and bankruptcy court records, as well as online postings and comments to unmask McElroy as “Witness 40,” the fabulist whose grand jury testimony and law enforcement interviews are deserving of multi-count perjury indictments.

McElroy did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment about her testimony. Messages sent yesterday to her three Facebook pages also went unanswered. Also, a message left on a phone number linked to McElroy was not returned.

Since the identities of grand jurors--as well as details of their deliberations--remain secret, there is no way of knowing what impact McElroy’s testimony had on members of the panel, which subsequently declined to vote indictments against Wilson. That decision touched off looting and arson in Ferguson, about 30 miles from the apartment the divorced McElroy shares with her three daughters.

Sandra McElroy did not provide police with a contemporaneous account of the Brown-Wilson confrontation, which she claimed to have watched unfold in front of her as she stood on a nearby sidewalk smoking a cigarette.

Instead, McElroy (seen at left) waited four weeks after the shooting to contact cops. By the time she gave St. Louis police a statement on September 11, a general outline of Wilson’s version of the shooting had already appeared in the press. McElroy’s account of the confrontation dovetailed with Wilson’s reported recollection of the incident.

In the weeks after Brown’s shooting--but before she contacted police--McElroy used her Facebook account to comment on the case. On August 15, she “liked’ a Facebook comment reporting that Johnson had admitted that he and Brown stole cigars before the confrontation with Wilson. On August 17, a Facebook commenter wrote that Johnson and others should be arrested for inciting riots and giving false statements to police in connection with their claims that Brown had his hands up when shot by Wilson. “The report and autopsy are in so YES they were false,” McElroy wrote of the “hands-up” claims. This appears to be an odd comment from someone who claims to have been present during the shooting. In response to the posting of a news report about a rally in support of Wilson, McElroy wrote on August 17, “Prayers, support God Bless Officer Wilson.” 

After meeting with St. Louis police, McElroy continued monitoring the case and posting online. Commenting on a September 12 Riverfront Times story reporting that Ferguson city officials had yet to meet with Brown’s family, McElroy wrote, “But haven’t you heard the news, There great great great grandpa may or may not have been owned by one of our great great great grandpas 200 yrs ago. (Sarcasm).” On September 13, McElroy went on a pro-Wilson Facebook page and posted a graphic that included a photo of Brown lying dead in the street. A type overlay read, “Michael Brown already received justice. So please, stop asking for it.” The following week McElroy responded to a Facebook post about the criminal record of Wilson’s late mother. “As a teenager Mike Brown strong armed a store used drugs hit a police officer and received Justis,” she stated.

On October 22, McElroy went to the FBI field office in St. Louis and was interviewed by an agent and two Department of Justice prosecutors. The day before that taped meeting, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a lengthy story detailing exactly what Wilson told police investigators about the Ferguson shooting.

McElroy provided the federal investigators with an account that neatly tracked with Wilson’s version of the fatal confrontation. She claimed to have seen Brown and Johnson walking in the street before Wilson encountered them while seated in his patrol car. She said that the duo shoved the cruiser’s door closed as Wilson sought to exit the vehicle, then watched as Brown leaned into the car and began raining punches on the cop. McElroy claimed that she heard gunfire from inside the car, which prompted Brown and Johnson to speed off. As Brown ran, McElroy said, he pulled up his sagging pants, from which “his rear end was hanging out.”

But instead of continuing to flee, Brown stopped and turned around to face Wilson, McElroy said. The unarmed teenager, she recalled, gave Wilson a “What are you going to do about it look,” and then “bent down in a football position…and began to charge at the officer.” Brown, she added, “looked like he was on something.” As Brown rushed Wilson, McElroy said, the cop began firing. The “grunting” teenager, McElroy recalled, was hit with a volley of shots, the last of which drove Brown “face first” into the roadway.

McElroy’s tale was met with skepticism by the investigators, who reminded her that it was a crime to lie to federal agents. When questioned about inconsistencies in her story, McElroy was resolute about her vivid, blow-by-blow description of the deadly Brown-Wilson confrontation. “I know what I seen,” she said. “I know you don’t believe me.”

When asked what she was doing in Ferguson--which is about 30 miles north of her home--McElroy explained that she was planning to “pop in” on a former high school classmate she had not seen in 26 years. Saddled with an incorrect address and no cell phone, McElroy claimed that she pulled over to smoke a cigarette and seek directions from a black man standing under a tree. In short order, the violent confrontation between Brown and Wilson purportedly played out in front of McElroy.

Despite an abundance of red flags, state prosecutors put McElroy in front of the Ferguson grand jury the day after her meeting with the federal officials. After the 12-member panel listened to a tape of her interview conducted at the FBI office, McElroy appeared and, under oath, regaled the jurors with her eyewitness claims.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It Is Elizabeth Warren's Party

Elizabeth Warren has become increasingly critical of Obama and his economic team. (photo: Timothy D. Easley/AP)
Elizabeth Warren has become increasingly critical of Obama and his economic team. (photo: Timothy D. Easley/AP)

By Scott Galindez, Reader Supported News
15 December 14

sually the sitting president is the leader of his or her political party until there is a new nominee. If the party is not in power then the highest ranking Congressional leader or the presumptive nominee is seen as the leader of the party.

So let’s look at the Democrats. President Obama must be the leader of the party. He even let the party swallow his election machine when Obama for America became Organizing for America. However, we saw during the mid-term elections that it was not the case: Democratic candidates would rather have had Ebola than be seen with the president.

So of course it must be the presumptive nominee to replace the president that leads the party, right? No, Hillary Clinton is not the Democrat with the most sway. She did raise some money and campaign for Congressional candidates, but she still took second billing to her husband on the campaign trail. While he still has star power with some members of the party, Bill Clinton is not the biggest star in the party.

Harry Reid, you say … really? He had to go out and create a new leadership position to accommodate the real leader of the Democratic Party.

She keeps saying she is not running for president, but until she says “I will not run for president,” I’m not buying it.

No politician has done more to raise her national profile than Senator Elizabeth Warren. No Democrat was more sought after to be seen with by other Democratic candidates. She raised a lot of money for other Democrats, something politicians do when building a national organization to run for president. She released a book introducing herself to the country.

I seem to remember a book called “The Audacity of Hope” coming out in 2006 while a first term senator from Illinois was campaigning for other candidates and even making trips to Iowa. He also said he wasn’t running for president. Obama’s Hope PAC raised money for over 100 candidates in 2006, while he “was not” running for president.

Elizabeth Warren has followed the Obama script to a tee. “A Fighting Chance,” her autobiography, was released this year. She campaigned for other Democrats across the country, including in Iowa and New Hampshire. Her PAC “For a Level Playing Field” donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to other Democrats.

To be fair, her contributions did appear to be targeted to keeping control of the Senate for Democrats. But the comparison to the 2014 Senator Warren and the 2006 Senator Obama is striking. Almost as if it’s a sequel.

In September of 2006, the polling for the Democratic nomination looked like this: Hillary Clinton 35%, Al Gore 16%, John Edwards 10%, John Kerry 9%, Joe Biden 5%, Tom Daschle 2%, Mark Warner 2%, Evan Bayh 1%, Wesley Clark 1%, Christopher Dodd 1%, Russ Feingold 1%, Bill Richardson 1%, Tom Vilsack 1%. President Obama wasn’t even polling at 1%.

After Obama made a few stops in Iowa, one to campaign for Bruce Braley (Senator Warren stumped for him too) in November, the polls changed drastically. Hillary Clinton 29%, Barack Obama 22%, Al Gore 13%, John Edwards 10%, John Kerry 4%.

Fast forward to 2014 and the “not running for president” freshman senator from Massachusetts is polling at 17%. Only 2 points lower than the eventual winner of the 2008 nomination.

Despite the polls showing Hillary with a comfortable lead, there is evidence of Clinton fatigue.

2000 Democratic Party activists met in Washington DC this past weekend for Roots Camp 2014, and the Warren buzz could not be ignored. MoveOn and Ready for Warren had tables and held panels on an eventual Warren candidacy for president. MoveOn has pledged 1 million dollars to a campaign to draft her for president. The effort will include the hiring of staff in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Howard Dean’s organization, Democracy for America, has called for Elizabeth Warren to run for the Oval Office.

300 former Obama campaign staffers have signed an open letter urging the Massachusetts senator to seek higher office.

In the last few months, Warren has been increasingly critical of the president and his economic team. In an October interview in Salon, the senator said: “They protected Wall Street. Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. Not young people who were struggling to get an education. And it happened over and over and over.”

Warren’s populist message has struck a chord with the activist wing of the Democratic Party. In mid-November she accepted a leadership position in the United States Senate that was created just for her.

She has taken on the party leadership, fighting against the budget deal that includes provisions that will weaken Dodd-Frank and make it easier for corporations to move money offshore and avoid taxes. The legislation passed, but not by much, and with a significant number of Democrats dissenting. Without GOP support, the legislation would not have passed.

Harry Reid did not control the majority of Democratic votes … Warren did.

It remains to be seen if Warren will run this time, but she has built the machine – all she has to do is turn it on and she will be the one to beat in 2016.

Scott Galindez was formerly the co-founder of Truthout.

Congress staffers protest Garner, Brown decisions

(photo: Twitter/@TinaGray24)
(photo: Twitter/@TinaGray24)

By NBC News

he protests over the lack of indictments in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases have expanded to Congress. Congressional staffers walked out of their jobs Thursday afternoon in a symbol of solidarity with protests taking place in the streets, on the basketball court and on football fields across the country.

The walk out was led by Senate chaplain Barry Black. Staffers stood on the steps of the Capitol holding their hands up.

Meanwhile inside the Capitol, the House of Representatives was struggling to come up with the votes to pass a government funding bill that would keep the government open past midnight.

"Democrats and Republicans across the country are incredibly frustrated by what happened in Ferguson, Staten Island, and elsewhere, and this protest reflects the mistrust they have in the integrity of the criminal justice system," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said in a statement. "These congressional staffers put in incredibly long hours, nights, and weekends working to pass legislation to help people live better lives, so I fully support them taking a few moments today to pray with the Senate chaplain for Congress to take action to ensure that all Americans are treated equally before the law."

Cummings is one of several members of Congress who requested hearings on the issues raised by Garner's and Brown's deaths.

What’s New in Medicare for 2015?

By David Sayen
Gazette Contributor

Good news for people with Medicare in 2015: Part B costs will remain the same as in 2014.

Medicare Part B helps pay for doctor bills, outpatient care, durable medical equipment, and other items. It requires a monthly premium and an annual deductible. I’m happy to report that Part B costs for 2015 will be identical to 2014: $104.90 a month for the premium (for most beneficiaries), and $147 for the deductible.

Most people with Medicare don’t pay any premium for Part A, which helps covers hospital care. But for those who do, the 2015 premium is dropping, from a maximum of $426 per month to $407 per month. The annual deductible is going up a little, from $1,216 in 2014 to $1,260 in 2015. Once you pay the deductible, Medicare covers your first 60 days of hospitalization with no co-insurance.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, people with Medicare no longer have co-pays for a long list of Medicare-covered preventive health services.

Preventive shots and screenings are intended to keep you healthy and to detect disease in the earliest stages, when it’s most treatable.

Medicare’s preventive health services include vaccinations for flu and Hepatitis B; screenings for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer; screenings and counseling for diabetes and depression; cardiovascular disease screenings; and counseling to help you stop smoking or abusing alcohol.

In addition, you can get a one-time “Welcome to Medicare” visit with your doctor, during the first 12 months you’re enrolled in Part B. During this visit you and your doctor can review your medical and social history, and your physician can recommend specific preventive screenings for you, if needed.

Medicare also now covers an annual “wellness” visit with your doctor. This visit is intended to develop or update a personalized plan to prevent disease or disability based on your current health and risk factors.

Another benefit of the Affordable Care Act is that it’s gradually closing the “donut hole,” or coverage gap, in Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program.

The coverage gap begins after you and your drug plan together have spent a certain amount for covered drugs. In 2015, once you enter the gap, you pay 45 percent of the plan’s cost for covered brand-name drugs and 65 percent of the plan’s cost for covered generic drugs until you reach the end of the gap.

However, not everyone will enter the coverage gap because their drug costs won’t be high enough. (There’s a full explanation of the coverage gap in the “Medicare & You” handbook for 2015, which is online at: The gap is scheduled to be completely closed by 2020.

Finally, Medicare has expanded its “Blue Button” feature to provide better access to your Medicare claims and personal health information.

With the Blue Button you can download 12-36 months of claims information for Part A and Part B, and 12 months of claims information for Part D. This information can help you make more informed decisions about your care and give your healthcare providers a more complete view of your health history.

You can find the Blue Button at

Once you’ve used the Blue Button, there are a variety of health applications and services to analyze your health information. Visit to learn more about these useful tools and how to protect your health information once it’s in your hands.

David Sayen is Medicare’s regional administrator for Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and the Pacific Territories. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Monday, December 15, 2014

Earth Faces Sixth 'Great Extinction'

A Tasmanian tiger in captivity, circa 1930, shortly before the species became extinct. (photo: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
A Tasmanian tiger in captivity, circa 1930, shortly before the species became extinct. (photo: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

41% of Amphibians Set to Go the Way of the Dodo

By Robin McKie, Guardian UK
14 December 14
Analysis for prestigious Nature magazine sounds alarm on the way that human activity, from overfishing to agriculture, is forcing a vast number of species to vanish from the wild

stark depiction of the threat hanging over the world’s mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other life forms has been published by the prestigious scientific journal, Nature. A special analysis carried out by the journal indicates that a staggering 41% of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction while 26% of mammal species and 13% of birds are similarly threatened.

Many species are already critically endangered and close to extinction, including the Sumatran elephant, Amur leopard and mountain gorilla. But also in danger of vanishing from the wild, it now appears, are animals that are currently rated as merely being endangered: bonobos, bluefin tuna and loggerhead turtles, for example.

In each case, the finger of blame points directly at human activities. The continuing spread of agriculture is destroying millions of hectares of wild habitats every year, leaving animals without homes, while the introduction of invasive species, often helped by humans, is also devastating native populations. At the same time, pollution and overfishing are destroying marine ecosystems.

“Habitat destruction, pollution or overfishing either kills off wild creatures and plants or leaves them badly weakened,” said Derek Tittensor, a marine ecologist at the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge. “The trouble is that in coming decades, the additional threat of worsening climate change will become more and more pronounced and could then kill off these survivors.”

The problem, according to Nature, is exacerbated because of the huge gaps in scientists’ knowledge about the planet’s biodiversity. Estimates of the total number of species of animals, plants and fungi alive vary from 2 million to 50 million. In addition, estimates of current rates of species disappearances vary from 500 to 36,000 a year. “That is the real problem we face,” added Tittensor. “The scale of uncertainty is huge.”

In the end, however, the data indicate that the world is heading inexorably towards a mass extinction – which is defined as one involving a loss of 75% of species or more. This could arrive in less than a hundred years or could take a thousand, depending on extinction rates.

The Earth has gone through only five previous great extinctions, all caused by geological or astronomical events. (The Cretaceous-Jurassic extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was triggered by an asteroid striking Earth, for example.) The coming great extinction will be the work of Homo sapiens, however.

“In the case of land extinctions, it is the spread of agriculture that has been main driver,” added Tittensor. “By contrast it has been the over-exploitation of resources – overfishing – that has affected sealife.” On top of these impacts, rising global temperatures threaten to destroy habitats and kill off more creatures.

This change in climate has been triggered by increasing emissions – from factories and power plants – of carbon dioxide, a gas that is also being dissolved in the oceans. As a result, seas are becoming more and more acidic and hostile to sensitive habitats. A third of all coral reefs, which support more lifeforms than any other ecosystem on Earth, have already been lost in the last few decades and many marine experts believe all coral reefs could end up being wiped out before the end of the century.

Similarly, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles and a seventh of all birds are headed toward oblivion. And these losses are occurring all over the planet, from the South Pacific to the Arctic and from the deserts of Africa to mountaintops and valleys of the Himalayas.

A blizzard of extinctions is now sweeping Earth and has become a fact of modern life. Yet the idea that entire species can be wiped out is relatively new. When fossils of strange creatures – such as the mastodon – were first dug up, they were assumed to belong to creatures that still lived in other lands. Extant versions lived elsewhere, it was argued. “Such is the economy of nature,” claimed Thomas Jefferson, who backed expeditions to find mastodons in the unexplored interior of America.

Then the French anatomist Georges Cuvier showed that the elephant-like remains of the mastodon were actually those of an “esp├Ęce perdue” or lost species. “On the basis of a few scattered bones, Cuvier conceived of a whole new way of looking at life,” notes Elizabeth Kolbert in her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. “Species died out. This was not an isolated but a widespread phenomenon.”

Since then the problem has worsened with every decade, as the Nature analysis makes clear. Humans began by wiping out mastodons and mammoths in prehistoric times. Then they moved on to the eradication of great auks, passenger pigeons – once the most abundant bird in North America – and the dodo in historical time. And finally, in recent times, we have been responsible for the disappearance of the golden toad, the thylacine – or Tasmanian tiger – and the Baiji river dolphin. Thousands more species are now under threat.

In an editorial, Nature argues that it is now imperative that governments and groups such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature begin an urgent and accurate census of numbers of species on the planet and their rates of extinction. It is not the most exciting science, the journal admits, but it is vitally important if we want to start protecting life on Earth from the worst impacts of our actions. The loss for the planet is incalculable – as it is for our own species which could soon find itself living in a world denuded of all variety in nature. 

As ecologist Paul Ehrlich has put it: “In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Latest actions define GOP 2016 platform

Juan Cole; public intellectual, prominent blogger, essayist and professor of history. (photo: Informed Comment)
Juan Cole; public intellectual, prominent blogger, essayist and professor of history. (photo: Informed Comment)

Top 5 Planks of Republican's 2016 Platform? Torture, War, Bank Corruption, Paid-For Elections

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment
13 December 14

his week, the release by the Senate of a report on torture as practiced in the zeroes by the CIA, along with Thursday night’s dramatic vote on an omnibus spending bill, laid bare the shape of the GOP platform in 2016. (Some Democrats were dragooned into voting for the spending bill, but key provisions or riders were clearly inserted by the GOP). However much the party or its members deny it, the practical actions and concrete words of party leaders make clear their priorities.

1. With a few noble exceptions like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Republican Party spokesmen, Republican politicians, and Republican media like Fox Cable News, defended torture. This defense was mounted from so many directions by so many Republicans that it now seems indisputable that the party stands for the principle of rectal hydration. Since torture is illegal in American law, presumably they want to repeal the 5th and 8th amendments to the constitution.

2. The Republican Party stands for the principle that elections should be stolen by the rich who pay the most for them. The new bill multiplies permitted donations by a factor of ten.

3. The GOP wants the US taxpayer to be made to bail out risky, casino-like “derivatives.” After the 2008 crash, caused by some corrupt Wall Street financiers stealing our money, Congress had removed FDIC protection from the riskier derivatives. The GOP, plotting in smoke filled rooms far from the light, just put the taxpayer right back in the sights the next time the bankers need a bailout. The provision was actually written by CitiBank, which won’t get my business. They think, much better to gamble with the taxpayers’ money; they would, but why would GOP lawmakers agree to be their ventriloquist’s dummy?

4. The bill blocks aid to the Palestine authority if it becomes a member of UN agencies without Israeli permission. Palestine has been recognized as a non-member observer state at the UN, and is gradually joining key committees. It likely will sign the Rome Statute, join the International Criminal Court, and sue Israel for war crimes. But in the fantasyland of Congress, none of this may be allowed to happen. The PA has other sources of money than the US, and all this provision does is further weaken the ability of the US to do effective diplomacy.

5. This fall, most Republicans ran on putting troops back into Iraq and getting even more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war than the US already is. This is a plank in their platform that leads to sanguinary wars.

These, then, are the major issues on which the GOP is running for the presidency in 2016. They underline that the party represents the 3 million wealthiest Americans, and has no scruples that might interfere in doing exactly what the 1% tells them to do.