Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas

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"There was a time when I wasn't likely to be found at a library, much less found one."
"You're good friends and I'm proud to have you here in the Promised Land."
~ President George W. Bush at his Presidential Library Dedication in Dallas

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Celebrating the Birthday of Naturalist John Muir

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John Muir is often called a "Scottish-American" because he was born in Scotland. But he was really an all-American hero, striding across the landscape in search of natural treasures and using his skill as a writer to help preserve the wilderness. He was key to founding our National Park System, especially the great western parks of Yellowstone and Yosemite. He founded the Sierra Club which carries on his great work to this day.

Happy Birthday, John Muir!!! How fitting that his birth is one day before Earth Day.

"The Battle for Conservation will go on endlessly. It is part of the universal warfare between right and wrong."
~ John Muir

From PBS
John Muir was one of the earliest advocates of the national park idea, and its most eloquent spokesman. Born in Dunbar, Scotland, he moved with his family to a Wisconsin farm in 1849. Muir's father, an itinerant Presbyterian minister, treated him harshly and insisted that he memorize the Bible. By age 11, he was able to recite three-quarters of the Old Testament by heart, and all of the New Testament.

Muir studied botany and geology at the University of Wisconsin and had a natural flair for inventions. In 1867, after recovering from a factory accident that left him temporarily blinded for several months, he cut short a promising career in industry to walk from Indiana to Florida, creating botanical sketches on his way. From there he sailed to California and then walked from San Francisco to the Sierra Nevada – the "Range of Light" that would transform his life with his "unconditional surrender" to nature.

After working as a sheepherder in the high country for a season, Muir took a job in the Yosemite Valley in 1869, building a sawmill for James Mason Hutchings. In his free time, he roamed Yosemite, where he developed a scientific theory that the valley had been carved by glaciers. Muir felt a spiritual connection to nature; he believed that mankind is just one part of an interconnected natural world, not its master, and that God is revealed through nature.

. . . he traveled to Alaska's Glacier Bay and Washington's Mount Rainier. His writings brought national attention to two more places that would eventually become national parks.
Muir would also champion protection of the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. He was the public voice for setting aside the high country around Yosemite Valley as a national park in 1890, as well as for General Grant and Sequoia national parks.

. . . Muir was a founder and the first president of the Sierra Club; Muir Woods National Monument, a grove of redwoods north of San Francisco, is named in his honor.

West, Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

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In the midst of the manhunt for the Boston Marathon Bombers, another disaster happened in the tiny town of West, Texas. A fertilizer plant caught on fire and exploded like a nuclear bomb with a literal mushroom cloud, leveling homes, destroying apartments, and devastating a tightly-knit community. Volunteer Firefighters who had rushed to put out the initial fire were among the dead, caught unaware after assurances from the plant owners that the materials inside weren't explosive.

Such an unecessary tragedy! West could be the poster child for why government regulation is a good thing.

The town had grown up around the plant, which was originally just a feed store selling fertilizer. Lax zoning laws allowed homes, schools and even a nursing home to be located just across the street from this ticking time-bomb. People who should have been evacuated due to the fire were caught completely by surprise, and are now among the dead or missing. According to reports (see below) the plant hadn't been inspected correctly since 1985 - how did that happen? Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Perry are asking for funds from the Federal Government, which many see as hypocritical considering how the Governor loves to shout "Secession!" and the fact that Ted Cruz voted against giving money to New Jersey for Hurricane Sandy Relief.

My question - when will the investigation into this criminal act start? Lives have been snuffed out and negligence is the key. Who is responsible? They should pay more than a fine - someone should go to jail.

From Think Progress
A day after the explosion in West, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report documenting a widespread lack of workplace inspections by state OSHA programs. After surveying 22 state-run programs, it found that the agencies had problems with hiring and retaining inspectors, in part due to low pay. State budget cuts have had a big impact, leading to funding problems, and the federal agency often hasn’t taken over state plans because its own budget is too tight. This has meant that a workplace only gets a visit from OSHA inspectors every 99 years on average, with some state programs even worse. In Texas, a plant can only expect an inspection every 126 years.

. . . The plant in West was inspected in 2011 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which issued a fine of $10,100 for missing placards and “not having a security plan” in violation of Hazardous Materials Regulations. A compromise was reached in 2012 after corrective actions were taken, which included the plant admitting to the violations and paying a lowered penalty of $5,250.

From Raw Story
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) says that he is prepared to make “all available resources” available from the federal government to assist in the recovery after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas — but the senator voted against aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy earlier because he said it was “pork.”

The Dallas Morning News reported on Thursday that Cruz had reacted to the fertilizer plant explosion that killed dozens in West, Texas earlier this week.

“We are in very close touch with officials on the ground and we’re monitoring the tragic accident closely,” Cruz said in Washington. “It’s truly horrific and we are working to ensure that all available resources are marshaled to deal with the horrific loss of life and suffering that we’ve seen.”

Politicus USA
The stunning hypocrisy doesn’t end there. It probably would have been helpful if Senator Cruz were familiar with where his own state fell on the FEMA hand out chart. See, Cruz represents the state with the most FEMA-declared disasters since the start of 2009, according to an iWatch News analysis. “The top two states, Texas and Oklahoma, combined for more than a quarter of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s declared disasters since Jan. 1, 2009.”

Here they are in order:

Texas, 75
Oklahoma, 45
California, 24
New Mexico, 13
Arizona, 12
Tennessee, 12
New York, 11
Kansas, 10
Nebraska, 10

. . . Wait a minute, hoss. If Senator Cruz is really in DC to “save this country”, his prinicples will hold steadfast, and he will hold up relief for his state until offsetting cuts are found. Or at the very least, offer millions in “pork” to blue states in order to avoid a filibuster.

Facebook Page to Honor Lost Responders to West, Texas Blast
Slideshow of pictures from StateImpact.NPR.Org
Slideshow from USA Today

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Captured! Boston Bombing Suspect Discovered in Watertown, Massachusetts

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Previous Posts:
Manhunt in Massachusetts
Praying for Boston and the Victims After the Marathon Bombing
On Snark Amendment:
Twitterstorm Over Media Chaos in Boston, Then FBI Smackdown

Timeline of the Manhunt via NBC News

From NBC News
Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was under heavy guard in serious condition Saturday morning -- at the same hospital where victims of Monday's bombing are still recovering.
Federal investigators were waiting to question Tsarnaev, 19, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Chechen origin, hoping to uncover a motive for horrendous attacks that bookended a week of terror.

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. . . A door-to-door manhunt had just ended when a Watertown resident noticed blood on the tarp covering a boat in his backyard, peeked under and found the suspect, a relative told TODAY.

After a tense standoff punctuated by several bursts of gunfire, police grabbed the accused bomber, unleashing a celebration that had people cheering "USA! USA!" and dancing in the streets outside Fenway Park.

"CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won," the Boston Police Department tweeted minutes later.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Manhunt in Massachusetts

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From USA Today
Authorities are focusing their hunt on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, the brother of the dead suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26. The Boston Globe reports that police fear Dzhokhar is wearing an explosive vest.

A federal law enforcement official said authorities have not yet searched the Cambridge, Mass., residence where the brothers were living, in part because of concern that it may hold explosives or be booby-trapped.

During the pursuit of the overnight and early-morning pursuit of the suspects, the official said authorities recovered a handful of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including one in the possession of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. All of the devices appeared to be homemade "fused'' explosives.

Investigators have not found any formal links so far to an international terror group.

The Tsarnaevs are believed to have moved to the USA from war-torn Chechnya in 2003, along with other family members. Tamerlan was studying engineering at Bunker Hill Community College in nearby Charlestown.

From New York Times
At 5:45 a.m, Gov. Deval Patrick suspended service on all public transit services in the M.B.T.A. system in Boston. Vehicle traffic was also suspended in and out of Watertown, the Boston police said. The authorities asked all residents of the towns of Watertown, Newton, Waltham, Allston-Brighton and Cambridge to stay home and stay indoors. “This situation is grave, we are here to protect public safety,” said Col. Tim Alben of the Massachusetts State Police.

The authorities also said people in Belmont, near Watertown, should also stay at home.

“We believe these are the same individuals that were responsible for the bombing on Monday at the Boston Marathon. We believe that they’re responsible for the death of an M.I.T. police officer and the shooting of an M.B.T.A. officer,” said Col. Tim Albens of the Massachusetts State Police.

. . . In Watertown, helicopters circled overhead as just about every stripe of law enforcement canvassed the community of about 32,000.

The police scanner buzzed with activity, but at the area where media representatives were cordoned off, on the edge of town, the authorities declined to comment on what might be happening within the lockdown area.

The situation was so fraught that CNN decided to show images from Watertown only on a tape delay.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Senate Gun Bill Fails to Pass, President Obama Fires Back

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(Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images)

From Think Progress
The Senate voted down an amendment offered by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) to expand background checks for gun purchases at gun shows and online, in a vote of 54-46. The measure needed 60 votes to be included in the underlining bill. As Vice President Joe Biden called the finally tally, Tucson survivor Patricia Maisch yelled, “Shame on you!” Outside of chamber she said, “They have no soul.”

See Who Voted For and Against the Bill on ProPublica

Obama: "No Coherent Arguments for this. It came down to politics."

From Slate
When the vote came down—54-46, not enough to replace the gun bill with the Manchin-Toomey compromise—an impromptu family of gun control activists was watching from the gallery. The activists looked glum but not surprised; they'd gone into the room aware that the votes weren't there. But before she left, a survivor of the 2011 Tucson killing spree named Patricia Maisch stood up and broke the rules of the Senate.

"Shame on you!" yelled Maisch.

Typically, when someone yells from the gallery, security hustles to bounce the heckler out of the room. Maisch wasn't elbowed out very quickly. Two years ago, she was one of the people who effectively shut down Jared Loughner's rampage. She saw him coming, she lay on the ground, and when Loughner fumbled his reload and was tackled, Maisch snatched away his extra magazine. And no one really ushered her out of the Hill today as she told reporters why she yelled.

"I could not stay still," she said, standing in a scrum of reporters. "They should be ashamed of themselves ... if it had been a yes vote, I wouldn't have said anything. It was spontaneous—but I was prepared to do that."

She gave her info and story a few times before one of the other activists started to usher her out. One reporter asked her what she thought of Sen. Jeff Flake's no vote on the amendment. "Sen. Flake?" she said. "I'm embarrassed. He's a flaky flake."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Praying for Boston and the Victims after the Marathon Bombing

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It's been a horrible 24 hours since the bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon. We've seen nightmarish photographs of fire and smoke in the air, of broken glass, of human blood smeared on the sidewalk. We've read stories of human bodies torn apart by twisted shrapnel, of double amputations, of first responders and hospitals overwhelmed by injuries only seen on the front lines during wartime. All of us wonder what kind of evil coward builds a bomb and plants it beside a group of happy, innocent people, families and children, athletes and tourists, on a beautiful spring day? Who plans out such carnage then steps back to watch the chaos?

I'm very glad that I can't understand the mind who carried out this evil. All Americans are Bostonians now. We are torn apart with grief. We will find out who did this unspeakable act and justice will be served.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Lawrence Lessig ~ The People Can Save the Republic by Taking Back Power from "The Lesters"

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Lawrence Lessig, the founder of Creative Commons, gave a fantastic lecture in which he explained how our crazy system allows a miniscule minority - 0.05% of citizens - the "Lesters" - to fund elections, and how that corruption "at the root" of the Republic is blocking reform. The "Lesters" pick and choose candidates and issues through money influence, and only after they make a choice do the "People" get to vote in general elections. This is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. Nor did they envision a country in which the public good is secondary to the future of politicians and their staffers to work as well-paid lobbyists for the Lesters. "This is a problem of incentives," says Lessig.

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And while it seems impossible to overcome the corruption, we have to try because, as Lessig wryly notes, "Even we Liberals love this country." What is the answer? According to Lessig, it's the Obama-model of fundraising used successfully in two elections - take small contributions from many citizens instead of large lump sums from the one-percenters like the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson (after all, Mitt failed in spite of his money).

TED is a Non-Profit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.

"Lesterland" is available as an ebook download in various formats

Lessig on CNN:
. . . in my TED talk, I created Lesterland: Imagine a country like the United States, with just as many "Lesters" as the United States (about 150,000 out of a population of more than 300 million, or about 0.05%). And imagine those Lesters have a very special power: Each election cycle has two elections. In one, the general election, all citizens get to vote. In the other, the "Lester election," only "Lesters" get to vote.

But here's the catch: To be allowed to run in the general election, you must do extremely well in the Lester election. You don't necessarily need to win, but you must do extremely well.

We all get what Lesterland would be like. Sure, as the Supreme Court said in Citizens United, "the People" of Lesterland would have the "ultimate influence" over elected officials. Ultimate, because in the final election, the people get to vote. But "the People" only get to vote for the candidates who have made "the Lesters" happy. And no doubt, that fact will produce a subtle, understated, somewhat camouflaged bending to keep those Lesters happy.

Once you see Lesterland, and the corruption it creates you understand USA-land, and the corruption we suffer. For the United States is Lesterland.

Like Lesterland, the United States also has two elections. One a voting election, where citizens get to select the candidates who will ultimately govern. But the other is a money election, where the candidates who wish to run in the voting election raise the money they need to compete. As in Lesterland, the candidates don't necessarily need to win the money election. But they must do extremely well.

. . . Members of Congress will always be dependent upon their funders. But if we adopted a system to fund campaigns like the one proposed by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Maryland, The Grassroots Democracy Act, then "the funders" would be "the People." If members raised the funds they needed from small contributions only, then many more of us would be the "relevant funders." And thus when members were responsive to their "funders," they would thus be responsive to that many more of us.

That, after all, was the Framers' original design. James Madison promised us a Congress "dependent upon the people alone." "Alone." We've got instead a Congress dependent upon the people and dependent upon the Lesters.

Friday, April 5, 2013

R.I.P. Roger Ebert ~ Movie Lover and Progressive Hero

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There are really no words. Did you know that Roger Ebert was the FIRST film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize? I think many people forget that because he was a humble person and didn't blow his own horn too much.

I grew up watching Ebert and Siskel on our local PBS station. Back then we didn't have 500 reviews online for every movie. You either read an odd review now and then in the newspaper or you had to buy Newsweek or Time. So thanks to television and PBS, Ebert and Siskel because THE movie critics of America, the only ones who really mattered. I always stayed up after 11:30 to see their show on Sunday nights, even when my husband grumbled or if I had to be at work early on Monday morning. I enjoyed it most when they disagreed and got fired up about movies they cared about - that's what a real fan does, and above all, they were movie fans.

Gene Siskel was more of a macho guy who liked "The Deer Hunter," "Raging Bull" and "Saturday Night Fever", while Ebert was the nerdy, intellectual guy who loved nostalgia and Stephen King movies. I remember his review of "Star Wars" back in the seventies, talking about the "old universe" it portrayed, and the classic coming of age story - I couldn't wait to go see it after hearing his review.

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I remember when my kids were little how much I appreciated it that Ebert would seriously review movies like "Babe" and "Free Willy" and "Toy Story." Before there was an internet, he introduced his audience to the work of the Japanese master Miyasaki, showing clips of "My Neighbor Totoro," a movie I would never have chosen for my children at the video store without his review. My kids went on to become Japanese movie junkies, and they may not realize that it all goes back to Ebert.

I also remember when he praised "Dirty Dancing," saying it reminded him of being young and in love, and I used his review to help my husband understand why I liked that movie so much. I remember he usually loved musicals, unless Madonna was the star, LOL.

But Ebert was more than a movie critic. He was also a Kick-Ass Democrat who campaigned for President Obama tirelessly last year on Twitter, and who made time each day to push Progressive causes that mattered the most. That's his most lasting legacy, I think. Cancer had stolen his ability to speak on television, but Twitter gave him a new voice and a platform with millions of new readers and fans. And now we all mourn the loss of a a great writer, communicator and powerhouse Progressive. But above all he was a really, really nice guy, certainly someone you would love to see a movie with, and go for a hamburger afterward to analyze every scene.

And like the movie heroes he loved, he was brave - he stood up for what he believed, and he fought cancer like a boss. R.I.P., Dear Critic from Chicago - I wish we had hundreds more just like you.

Roger Ebert's Last Column: "A Leave of Presence"
Fans and Celebrities React to the Death of Roger Ebert 

LA Times Hero Complex: A Look Back at 5 Fan Favorite Reviews by Roger Ebert

Monday, April 1, 2013

Heartland Oil Spills are Wake-Up Call on XL Pipeline

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source: Reuters

This Easter weekend, the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, a suburb of Little Rock, had thick crude oil flowing through the streets and into nearby Lake Conway. Most residents didn't realize an Exxon Pipeline ran through their neighborhood, but the evacuated residents won't soon forget it.

In Minnesota last Wednesday, a train derailed spilling 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

These ecological disasters are wake-up calls for people in the heartland to stop the XL Tar Sands Pipeline.

Sign These Petitions to Fight the Keystone Pipeline:

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Ozarks First News
It was not the holiday weekend Mayflower resident Ryan Senia envisioned.

"Basically if it doesn't fit in our car we don't have it right now," said Senia.

His once ideal home on South Starlite Road sits vacant as oil fumes permeate the air. His neighbor Joe Bradley said, "Well we could see oil running down the road like a river."

It's all because of a ruptured oil pipeline owned by Exxon Mobile.

"Supposed to be a 20 inch pipeline that runs from Illinois to Texas."

Bradley knew nothing of the pipeline.

"I had no idea and I'm the 4th or 5th house from it," Bradley says.

On Saturday, county, city and state officials, along with Exxon Mobile, met with residents.

"This could have been much worse," said Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson. Dodson says close to 20 agencies responded within 90 minutes -- stopping the leak. He maintains they did so before any oil reached Lake Conway - a source of drinking water. Exxon and the EPA say they're monitoring air quality - but warn residents with asthma or other breathing disorders to see a doctor. And Resident Darren Hale says there are immediate concerns - like when can residents return home.

"The first one was two days and now I get here and find out two weeks, and finally after taking it to (a state representative), no one knows," said resident Darren Hale.

"We're just concerned about our property values and what Exxon is going to do for us,"

A train carrying crude oil from Canada into the United States derailed in Minnesota, spilling thousands of gallons of oil.

Fourteen tanker cars of a 94-car Canadian Pacific Railroad train went off the tracks near Parkers Prairie yesterday (March 27), according to the Associated Press. Three tanker cars were leaking, and one reportedly spilled most or all of its 26,000-gallon (98,000 liter) load of oil.

Cold weather may have helped minimize the damage from the oil spill, according to Dan Olson, a spokesman for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

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A mile-long train hauling oil from Canada derailed, spilling 30,000 gallons of crude in western Minnesota on Wednesday, as debate rages over the environmental risks of transporting tar sands across the border.

The major spill, the first since the start of a boom in North American crude-by-rail transport three years ago, came when 14 cars on a 94-car Canadian Pacific train left the tracks about 150 miles northwest of Minneapolis near the town of Parkers Prairie, the Otter Tail Sheriff's Department said.

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, the country's second-largest railroad, said only one 26,000-gallon tank car had ruptured, adding it was a mixed freight train.

CP spokesman Ed Greenberg said he did not know if the crude was from Canada's tar sands or from conventional oil fields.