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Oil By Safer Trains? By Trucks? Better Yet, Divest

By: KateCA Wednesday July 23, 2014 11:44 am
A seemingly endless oil train of tankers passes by on tracks

Can the US make oil trains safer or is that missing the point?

Just a few weeks ago, the public learned that Warren Buffett’s BNSF Railway had states sign confidentiality agreements “or otherwise pledged not to release [specific] information” about the millions of gallons of volatile crude oil rolling by rail through US countrysides, communities and cities.  Immediately, in some affected places, people began organizing protests (here, here and here) against these shipments of crude oil with visions of the Lac-Megantic conflagration still fresh in memory.

Just as public concern about the safety of oil by train is escalating,  the US Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and an advanced version of the same regarding improved standards for shipping highly-flammable oil by rail. Included in the proposed new standards are “a classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids and new operational requirements for high-hazard flammable trains” (emphasis added). More specifically, the DOT wants the DOT-111 tank cars currently in use to be phased out or retrofitted “to comply with new tank car design standards.” The specific kind of replacement tank car will be announced in the future. These proposed regulations cover transport by rail of “most Bakken crude oil,” which primarily comes from ND and MT and is transported from there to US refineries and ports.

Today’s US railroads typically haul about 1 million barrels of oil a day, most of it Bakken crude, a “light, sweet, and superflammable [oil] with high levels of propane and methane,” which can result in fireballs and heat so intense first responders are hard-pressed to put out the fires resulting from derailments and explosions. Only recently have the railroads been put under emergency DOT orders to “tell state emergency responders . . . how much crude [they’re] hauling and the exact route.” The DOT has also issued a “safety advisory” urging that “best tank cars” be employed.

Many rail cars used to transport highly volatile oil are of the old DOT-111 variety. They have easily punctured thin skins, and are already outlawed in Canada. The Association of American Railroads “has called for hardening or updating 85 percent of the railroad cars now moving oil in the United States.” That’s around 78,000 cars, folks, it “could take” 10 years to accomplish, and there’s even the suggestion that the railroads be offered tax breaks for achieving this measure of public safety.

A new, safer tank car costs “as much as $150,000” while retrofitting the older ones costs $20,000 – $60,000 each.  (Even at the lower end of the estimate, $20,000 times 78,000 cars is quite a chunk of change.) Canada has already established a deadline of May 2017 for phasing out or retrofitting the old DOT-111s. The industry estimates there’s  “a 50,400 tank car backlog of factory orders . . . that will not be completed until the end of 2015.”

Oil by pipeline has been looking more attractive to the oil industry, though resistance to the pipelines is considerable, and growing, including among North American Indigenous communities. If the struggle to ram the pipelines through becomes too tough, will oil by train become the preferred mode of transporting the stuff, even at the price of upgrading or replacing the old DOT-111s? After considering the situation, one source actually wondered if trucks couldn’t be pressed into service.

Meanwhile, there is an entirely different movement that’s gathering steam and might have the greatest chance of ridding us of our highly-destructive oil habit: Divestiture. Earlier this month, the World Council of Churches announced “it would pull all of its investments in fossil fuels” since they “were no longer ethical.” Although non-binding on its member churches, this move by the World Council of Churches is expected to have significant impact. The Church of England has said it is considering “redirecting its investments” as the world faces the devastating prospect of global warming, and the Roman Catholic Pope Francis has also expressed his concern. Just recently, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam and many others in a two-day conference in Fort McMurray, Canada where he called Alberta’s Athabascan oilsands “‘filth’ created by greed,” urged boycotting of fossil fuels and added his strong voice to the divestment movement.

Stay tuned.

 

Bibi Netanyahu, Palestine’s Next King Herod?

By: Jane Stillwater Monday October 13, 2008 9:32 am
Portrait of biblical Herod

“Has Netanyahu killed more babies than Herod?”

How can I say this politely? Not really sure, but here goes. Bibi Netanyahu certainly has killed a whole bunch of children in Palestine lately. Does that remind you of anything that happened in the Bible, in this same Palestine, except years ago?

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or under.

Does Matthew 2:16-18 come to mind?<

How many kids has Netanyahu killed in Palestine over these past five years? I have no idea. Has he killed more babies than Herod? Is this some sort of competition to see how many mothers’ tears can be shed? It certainly looks like it.

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Has Netanyahu outdone even Herod? We may never know, but from the latest reports on NBC and CNN, it looks like Bibi has won this competition for sure!

“But, Jane,” you might say, “Bibi Netanyahu has such a strong advantage. Herod didn’t have access to Patriot missiles or whatever those phallic-looking ICBM thingies that Bibi has.” All too true.

According to the Global Security Netwire, “Israel manufactures and deploys technologically sophisticated and diverse ballistic missile, cruise missile, and missile defense systems. Several overarching themes characterize Israel’s missile program. First, Israel’s strategy of maintaining a ‘qualitative military edge’ over potential adversaries motivated the country to rapidly develop one of the region’s [and the entire world's] most capable missile production infrastructures, and to deploy the region’s [and the world's] most advanced missile systems.”

And with American taxpayers paying for all these hot new baby-killers, Netanyahu is sure to have the edge. Roman-era swords simply can’t compete with all that. Old Herod had better step up his game!

And Hamas’s funky short-range bottle-rockets also suck eggs. They haven’t even killed not even one child. But then Hamas isn’t out to kill kids like King Herod was — or like Bibi.

But actually, my money is on Netanyahu for winning the baby-killing contest right now. Back in Herod’s day, Jesus, Joseph and Mary were able to escape off to Egypt — but now even the Rafah crossing is closed. For Bibi right now, “slaughtering innocents” is like shooting fish in a barrel. If you are a child in Gaza today, you are trapped — and it’s not a matter of if you are going to die but when. I’d say that Bibi definitely has the edge.

To quote Seumas Milne in the Guardian,

For the third time in five years, the world’s fourth largest military power has launched a full-scale armed onslaught on one of its most deprived and overcrowded territories. Since Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip began, just over a week ago, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed.  Nearly 80% of the dead are civilians, over 20% of them children….  The idea that Israel is defending itself against unprovoked attacks from outside its borders is an absurdity.

Yet how come Herod is considered a vile and cowardly villain for killing so many babies, yet Netanyahu is considered a hero for doing the exact same thing? I truly do not understand.

645 Palestinians, 29 Israelis Killed in Gaza Conflict, U.S./EU/HRW Condemn Hamas, ‘Concerned’ About Israel

By: fairleft Monday May 23, 2011 5:04 am
Human Rights Watch logo

HRW and other US NGOs have a double standard on Gaza.

621 Palestinians, 80% of them (495) civilians, and 29 Israelis, all but two of them soldiers, have now died in the Gaza conflict. [Update: 633 Palestinians (about 505 civilians).] [Update 2: Now 645 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza (The Israeli figure remains at 29).] Notice which side is apparently being very careful not to kill civilians. And yet the EU, U.S. and Human Rights Watch ferociously and specifically condemn the ‘criminality’ only of Gaza’s rockets fired into Israel, while not condemning Israel. Instead, these moral cretins just advise it to ‘please be more careful’ as it launches round after round of collective punishment death into Gaza. Are they on the same planet, do they see the same photos, as you and I?

HRW

Human Rights Watch and its tricks

It is now standard. HRW can’t offer mild, qualified, lawyerly, and half-hearted criticisms of Israeli war crimes without coupling them immediately with categorical, unqualified, and unconditional criticisms of the population under occupation.

Angry Arab above is commenting on HRW’s report, Airstrike Deaths Raise Concerns on Ground Offensive, which refuses to outright condemn or even mention the Shujaiyah massacre. Nonetheless, it may be slightly more forthright on Israel than its first report on the Gaza war, which Norman Finkelstein has analyzed.

EU

In a dramatic statement issued Tuesday evening, the 28 foreign ministers of EU member states called for the disarmament of Hamas [pay wall] and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip.

Here is the EU statement on Hamas and the side that has killed a total of two civilians:

The EU strongly condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and militant groups in the Gaza Strip, directly harming civilians. These are criminal and unjustifiable acts. The EU calls on Hamas to immediately put an end to these acts and to renounce violence. All terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm.

Here is the EU statement on the side that has killed 505 civilians:

The EU condemns the loss of hundreds of civilian lives, among them many women and children. While recognizing Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks, the EU underlines that the Israeli military operation must be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law.

Is the EU insane? Why, when Gaza is undergoing the latest in a series of debased and indiscriminate ‘collective punishment’ assaults, with hundreds of civilians dead, would the elected Gaza government, i.e., Hamas, disarm rather than defend its people? And why doesn’t the EU condemn Israel’s massive bombardment as “criminal and unjustifiable” like it does Gaza’s rocket attacks against Israel? Where is the phrase “collective punishment” in the EU report? You craven batch of sniveling cowards.

The U.S.

It’s even worse in the U.S. I really want to get this out and I think you kind of know just how horrible the disinfo is in the U.S. If not, start with ‘Israel Is Killing Hundreds of Civilians in Gaza, and American Elites Don’t Really Care’, and then read this brilliant column by Rami G. Khouri:

Gazans Explain What They Want From Any Ceasefire

By: Siun

The news today is full of talk about John Kerry going to Cairo and insisting on a ceasefire in the war on Gaza. Obama’s UN Ambassador, Samantha Power, who normally is a warrior for R2P made the same argument at the United Nations, also calling for a ceasefire – though mostly from the Gazans since she began by stressing Israel’s right to self-defense. Of course, no one mentions the Palestinians right to same.

All this comes as Israel continues to level neighbrhoods in Gaza, house by house, with hospitals and girls’ schools thrown in today. Israel justifies this destruction by pointing to Gaza’s refusal of an earlier ceasefire – one that no one discussed with Gaza.

Yet we are supposed to approve of all this because Egypt is involved, as if Egypt is somehow a representative and faithful advocate for the Palestinian people – ignoring the role of the Egyptian military and current leaders in the blockade for which they receive a nice aid check from the US.

Given Israel’s poor record of honoring any restraints on its military actions – here’s one list last updated in 2013 that gives some sense of the scope even if we are unable to confirm all instances: Full List of 287 Documented Israeli Cease Fire Violations – trust in Israeli intentions is not high amongst Gazans. Those incidents are rarely mentioned.

No mention as well is made in our press of the offer from Gaza for a ten year cease fire – nor of Hamas’ record of mostly honoring cease fires when agreed. Writing at Mondoweiss, Francesca Albanese provides a helpful and detailed look at this offer:

Much less noticed by the Western media was that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had meanwhile proposed a 10 year truce on the basis of 10 – very reasonable – conditions. While Israel was too busy preparing for the ground invasion, why didn’t anyone in the diplomatic community spend a word about this proposal? The question is all the more poignant as this proposal was in essence in line with what many international experts as well as the United Nations have asked for years now, and included some aspects that Israel had already considered as feasible requests in the past.

The main demands of this proposal revolve around lifting the Israeli siege in Gaza through the opening of its borders with Israel to commerce and people, the establishment of an international seaport and airport under U.N. supervision, the expansion of the permitted fishing zone in the Gaza sea to 10 kilometers, and the revitalization of Gaza industrial zone. None of these demands is new.

Today we have another message from Gaza, again being ignored in the PR of Kerry and Powers and all – a message from a broad group of Gaza based “academics, public figures and activists.” Reported in the Palestine Telegraph, a digital report launched during Operation Cast Lead, these Gazans:

call for a ceasefire with Israel only if conditioned on an end to the blockade and the restoration of basic freedoms that have been denied to the people for more than seven years.

Our foremost concerns are not only the health and safety of the people in our communities, but also the quality of their lives – their ability to live free of fear of imprisonment without due process, to support their families through gainful employment, and to travel to visit their relatives and further their education.  These are fundamental human aspirations that have been severely limited for the Palestinian people for 47 years, but that have been particularly deprived from residents of Gaza since 2007.  We have been pushed beyond the limits of what a normal person can be expected to endure.

And pointed out that a return to the status quo “would mean a return to a living death” they detail their demands:

Therefore, we call for a ceasefire only when negotiated conditions result in the following:
•    Freedom of movement of Palestinians in and out of the Gaza Strip.
•    Unlimited import and export of supplies and goods, including by land, sea and air.
•    Unrestricted use of the Gaza seaport.
•    Monitoring and enforcement of these agreements by a body appointed by the United Nations, with appropriate security measures.

That surely doesn’t seem too much to ask.

Over Easy: Scientists Re-visit Mount Saint Helens

By: Crane-Station Wednesday July 23, 2014 3:12 am

A group of 75 scientists led by Alan Levander of Rice University in Houston visited Mt. St. Helens this week, to create seismic waves by controlled explosions, that will enable them to study the mountain with a new method that is akin to an “ultrasound and a CAT scan” of the volcano’s “internal plumbing.”

Mt. St. Helens erupted at 8:32 AM PDT on May 18, 1980 killing 57 people and destroying 250 homes. A second eruption occurred 34 years ago yesterday, on July 22, 1980.

If there were such a thing as reincarnation for a day, May 18, 1980, as a witness to the Mt. St. Helens eruption from the Portland area would certainly be an interesting choice. I happened to be home from college for a few days, where several people gathered on our family deck, to watch and take pictures. It was morning but it was dark. Amateur photographs from that distance were difficult to obtain with any resolution, because of the amount of ash that filled the atmosphere.

Although Forest Service and USGS scientists expected Mt. St Helens to erupt, based on a spike in seismic activity at the end of March that year, prompting authorities to warn residents to evacuate, no one knew exactly when the mountain would blow. Some skeptical area residents refused to leave, including 83-year-old Spirit Lake Lodge owner Harry Randall Truman, who perished on May 18, during the eruption.

The scientists had been incredibly accurate in their predictions at that time, as it turns out, even if no one really took them seriously, and even if roadside attraction souvenir stands were instantly popular. The predicted eruption that actually happened prompted a common query and reply among residents observing from afar, that went something like, “What’s happened?” followed by, “The mountain just blew up.” No one really expected the first eruption; likewise the second eruption took people completely by surprise.

On the television news we saw police cars lining the roads near Mt. St. Helens during the volcanic event, and they all had the hoods of their cars up- officers had to try and cover the automobile engines, to prevent the ash from inflicting permanent damage. People in the area covered their faces with t-shirts. It looked like a black snowstorm. Deer and wildlife ran, and birds tried to find a wire to sit on. For a while, it was hard to conceive of the idea that we would have a world again. The event was very upsetting to nature.

It is good to know that scientists today continue to monitor activity and assess potential risk to human life, by using new methods to look at Mt. St. Helens and other peaks in the volcanically active Cascade Range. Active mountains in the Cascade Range include Mounts: Rainier, Baker, St. Helens, Adams, Hood, Three Sisters, McLoughlin, and Mt. Shasta.

Mt. St. Helens’s pre-historic human residents were a collection of tribes. Each had a unique language and name for the mountain, as well a legend known as “Keeper of the Fire.” Although there are many versions of many legends, a prominent one that relates to Mt. St. Helens is the story of the Bridge of the Gods, and the creation of the Columbia Gorge.

Author Chuck Williams writes:

In most versions, Mount Hood and Mount Adams, sons of the Great Spirit, fought over a beautiful female mountain. The brothers shook the earth, blocked the sunlight, threw fire at each other, burned the forests, drove off the animals and covered the plants needed by people with ash. The fight cracked the Cascade Range, forming a canyon and a tunnel which emptied the huge lake east of the mountains. The Great Spirit returned and was furious. He left the Bridge of the Gods, the stone arch over the Columbia River, as a monument to peace and placed an elderly, weathered female mountain, Loo-wit, at the bridge as a peacemaker- and as a reminder to the brothers of how transient youthful beauty is. Loo-wit was the keeper of the fire, which had been stolen from atop Wy-east (Mount Hood) by Coyote the Trickster.

Related:

Mount St. Helens eruption: Rare aerial photos never seen before, shot during 1980 eruption

Scientists Plan Explosions Under Mount St. Helens

Electricity And Seismic Waves Give New View Of Mount Rainier’s Volcanic Plumbing

Bibliographic reference for Keeper of the Fire legend:
Mount St. Helens A Changing Landscape
text by Chuck Williams
Introduction by Ray Atkeson
1890: Graphic Arts center Publishing Company PO Box 10306 Portland, Oregon 97210 ISBN 0-912856-63-7
page 19.

Vimeo- Remembering Harry Truman

We welcome off-topic to the Over Easy discussion, and we encourage lurkers to join in as well.

Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday July 22, 2014 8:34 pm

 

A close up of a cannabis plant.

The World Health Organization now disagrees with the UN about cannabis — and other drugs.

Tonight’s video is “How Heavy is Air?” from TED-Ed.

Too often we think of air as empty space — but compared to a vacuum, air is actually pretty heavy. So, just how heavy is it? And if it’s so heavy, why doesn’t it crush us? Dan Quinn describes the fundamentals of air pressure and explains how it affects our bodies, the weather and the universe at large. Lesson by Dan Quinn, animation by Sandro Katamashvili.

The United Nations still favors the international drug war. But the World Health Organization, a subsidiary, appears to be opposing its parent organization and calling for decriminalization. From the Economist: 

A report just published by the World Health Organisation, an agency of the United Nations, makes a discreet but clear call to decriminalise drugs. And not just cannabis—the report goes as far as recommending the decriminalisation of injecting drugs, which implies the harder sort.

The call comes in a new report on how to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV among ‘key populations,’ including drug users. Have a look at page 91 (page 113 of the PDF). Under ‘Good practice recommendations concerning decriminalization,’ the WHO recommends that for people who use or inject drugs:

- Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.

- Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize the use of clean needles and syringes (and that permit NSPs [needle and syringe programmes]) and that legalize OST [opioid substitution therapy] for people who are opioid-dependent.

- Countries should ban compulsory treatment for people who use and/or inject drugs.

Thanks to M. Christian for this link.

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Why You Should Watch Drones For Free Online

By: David Swanson Monday June 6, 2011 11:09 am

 

There’s a chance to watch Drones, the movie, online on July 30th and then to join a discussion with filmmakers and experts.  There’s a preview video below. The movie’s website is at http://dronesthefilm.com and the free screening is at http://demandprogress.tv/drones

I saw a screening of this film back in November at the drone summit in DC. It’s wonderful. I was a bit put-off and staggered, to be frank, at the time, because someone involved with the film bragged about how inexpensively it had been made, and yet the budget was so unfathomably huge that I knew that if an anti-war organization had that kind of money we could hire organizers all over the world and quite possibly make the abolition of war a major mainstream force.

And, of course, you can’t simply ask if the money was well spent, because no one will say that it was spent to end the practice of drone murder. The director and the cast, of course, say they wanted to make a socially important film about a serious issue, but not what they wanted to accomplish, beyond raising questions and being entertaining. Everyone’s always happy to say that a film opposes racism or cruelty to animals or bullying, but not war.

But, you hundreds of millions of odd-balls who, like me, happen to give a damn whether your government is murdering people in your name with your money will, in fact, want to make this film a huge viral success.  I’m telling you, right now, it’s a good one. It is indeed entertaining. It’s not simple, predictable, pedantic, or preaching. But neither is the film itself reluctant to face head-on the banal, evil, arrogant mass-murder engaged in by these young people who dress up in pilots suits to sit at desks in trailers taking orders from military bureaucrats and private contractors, and ultimately from a president who reviews a list of potential men, women, and children to murder on Tuesdays.

Drones look like a golden opportunity to war makers who don’t want to ask Congress or the U.N. or the public, don’t want to send in armies, just want to target people and groups for death anywhere in the world and obliterate them with the push of a button from an air-conditioned — or, sometimes not so air-conditioned — office.

But drones also look like a golden opportunity to those of us who have been trying to point out that murder and war are distinguished only by scale. I suspect that many who cannot see the bombing of a city as murder will see the drone-targeting of an individual as nothing else — particularly if they watch this film.

If you can watch the film and not want to Ban Weaponized Drones, watch it again.

Jonathan Schell: A Niagara Falls of Post-9/11 Violence

By: Tom Engelhardt Friday July 15, 2011 6:10 pm

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Unconquerable World cover

A new book on the ways nonviolent resistance matters.

In December 2002, finishing the introduction to his as-yet-unpublished book The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People, Jonathan Schell wrote that the twentieth century was the era in which violence outgrew the war system that had once housed it and became “dysfunctional as a political instrument. Increasingly, it destroys the ends for which it is employed, killing the user as well as his victim. It has become the path to hell on earth and the end of the earth. This is the lesson of the Somme and Verdun, of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, of Vorkuta and Kolyma; and it is the lesson, beyond a shadow of a doubt, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

More than a decade later, that remains a crucial, if barely noticed, lesson of our moment. Jonathan Schell died this March, but he left behind a legacy of reporting and thinking — from The Real War and The Fate of the Earth to The Unconquerable World – about just how, as the power to destroy ratcheted up, war left its traditional boundaries, and what that has meant for us (as well as, potentially, for worlds to come). In The Unconquerable World, published just before the Bush invasion of Iraq, he went in search of other paths of change, including the nonviolent one, and in doing so he essentially imagined the Arab Spring and caught the essence of both the horrors and possibilities available to us in hard-headed ways that were both prophetic and moving.

Today, partly in honor of his memory (and my memory of him) and partly because I believe his sense of how our world worked then and still works was so acute, this website offers a selection from that book. Consider it a grim walk down post-9/11 Memory Lane, a moment when Washington chose force as its path to… well, we now know (as Schell foresaw then) that it was indeed a path to hell. Tom

The Path to a New 1914? 
How America Chose War After 9/11 
By Jonathan Schell

[This essay is slightly adapted from Jonathan Schell’s 2003 book, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People, and appears at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of its publisher, Metropolitan Books.]

Then came the attack of September 11th. Like the starting gun of a race that no one knew he was to run, this explosion set the pack of nations off in a single direction — toward the trenches. Although the attack was unaccompanied by any claim of authorship or statement of political goals, the evidence almost immediately pointed to al-Qaeda, the radical Islamist, terrorist network, which, though stateless, was headquartered in Afghanistan and enjoyed the protection of its fundamentalist Islamic government. In a tape that was soon shown around the world, the group’s leader, Osama bin Laden, was seen at dinner with his confederates in Afghanistan, rejoicing in the slaughter.

Historically, nations have responded to terrorist threats and attacks with a combination of police action and political negotiation, while military action has played only a minor role. Voices were raised in the United States calling for a global cooperative effort of this kind to combat al-Qaeda. President Bush opted instead for a policy that the United States alone among nations could have conceivably undertaken: global military action not only against al-Qaeda but against any regime in the world that supported international terrorism.

The president announced to Congress that he would “make no distinction between the terrorists who commit these acts and those who harbor them.” By calling the campaign a “war,” the administration summoned into action the immense, technically revolutionized, post-Cold War American military machine, which had lacked any clear enemy for over a decade. And by identifying the target as generic “terrorism,” rather than as al-Qaeda or any other group or list of groups, the administration licensed military operations anywhere in the world.