Category Archives: money

Lac-Megantic and “Bomb” Trains

Today, I was in Albany, NY, for the Break Free From Fossil Fuels action against the Port of Albany and Global Partners, LLC, among others for the routing of oil and gas trains through New York’s capitol. The action was also in memory of the 47 people who died in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a train similar to those that come to the Port of Albany, exploded and destroyed the Quebecois city three years ago. The fossil fuels come to Albany in tanker cars from the Bakken oil reserves in North Dakota. These trains are “bomb” trains.

A study discussed by Bloomberg news revealed that “crude oil produced in North America’s booming Bakken region may be more flammable and therefore more dangerous to ship by rail than crude from other areas, a U.S. regulator said after studying the question for four months.” Why is this excessively flammable oil being shipped through a state’s capitol very close to a housing project and playground utilized by people of color?

We learned some of these answers the hard way today, hearing from local legislators and council members of the costs in asthma and related childhood illnesses in the neighborhood of the Port. We saw the effects of these “bomb trains” in cities like Lac-Megantic, and the dangers posed to similar cities throughout the world.

We spent most of the day hanging around the area where we intended to block the tracks. At some point during the afternoon, we learned that the primary action of the day was held at another spot where the train we were expecting had been diverted to avoid our action. Five intrepid members of Break Free Northeast had discovered the ploy and two of them had rappelled down to the track from a bridge and laid down on the tracks. They were successful in delaying the train in an inaccessible place until they were finally arrested. When their activity was reported to the larger group back in Albany, there were great supporting cheers from the remaining protesters.

A DJ arrived and set up shop, and the protest turned into a dance party. The Albany police and the railroad police looked on in some bemusement as the dancing continued for over an hour. I confess I watched with some glee and regret that I was no longer able to join the younger activists in their energetic work.

With the threatening rain coming in, an industrious group began to set up a tarp to cover the food area and give some protection from the rain. Several people had expressed the desire to set up an encampment on the tracks. As our bus arrived to return us to Burlington, the hardy group of about fifty were standing their ground against the police who were beginning to lose their patience. They were still standing strong after the police removed the tarps and we got our last report to that effect as we exited our bus hours later in Burlington.

Were we successful? In some sense we were. We slowed the train and occupied the tracks into the Port of Albany. We joined groups throughout the world on six continents who were protesting the continued use of fossil fuels in the face of incontrovertible evidence of climate change. We engaged the local community to get involved in the discussion, and we put the railroads, local officials and producers of these fuels on notice that the potential damage from this means of transportation far outweighed in human cost any profits they might make from their disregard of human safety. Will the world join us in saying “No?” We’ll see.

Bill Clinton is a joke

Ex-presidents come in all sorts, from loved and revered, to astonishing, to awkward, to ill, but none has had a more unfortunate transformation than Bill Clinton. He used to have the political sense to speak well of those who could help him or support him, but that had clearly run in short supply in 2008 when his wife first sought the presidency. Then he made a number of bizarre and racist comments about the man who has become our current president. He faded into the woodwork after that, coming out only to find ways to make money off his Foundation. But he’s loose again and he’s lost whatever political sense he ever had.

Two recent incidents show that he has lost it and should be put out to pasture. The first is his now famous confrontation with Black Lives Matter protesters at a speech he gave a week or two ago. I’m sure we’ve all seen the video, probably more than once, where he ended up saying in more direct fashion what he intended with his draconian criminal justice rule in the 1990s. The unintended consequences of that law have been ably discussed in Michelle Alexander’s excellent The New Jim Crow.

The law was passed with incredibly harsh penalties aimed at urban crime. It was the statute about which Hillary Clinton made her now notorious claim about superpredators  who needed to be brought to heel. The dogwhistle in that comment was painfully obvious to those of us who lived through it. It was the beginning of my disdain for Hillary and she has done nothing to redeem herself over the intervening years. Bill tried to argue that she was referring to the gang leaders who sent juveniles out to do crimes, hopped up on crack, because they would face lower penalties if caught.  He also said that the juveniles had killed the lives that the protesters were saying mattered. He went on for some time, digging his hole deeper and deeper, although most videos only showed the first few comments he made. He’s lucky. The whole performance was appalling in its insensitivity to the fact that his law created the society in which police could take lives so cavalierly.

What made it worse was his condescending statement the next day when he said he “almost” wanted to apologize, but decided instead to turn it into a teachable moment.Yeah. I groaned as he began to explain that we would accomplish a lot more if we listened to each other and didn’t yell at each other. It would have better if he had kept that pearl of wisdom to himself.

Now I believe he has gone too far. His latest loose comment was to suggest that Bernie Sanders’ followers want to shoot every third Wall Street worker. It was, I believe, meant to be facetious but it was wrong on so many levels that there is no excuse for his having uttered it. He now claims it was a “total joke.” Really? When his wife was hammering Bernie for his views on guns the night before, and speaking over Bernie when it was his turn to respond? That’s another whole rant. Bernie is now being told that he shouldn’t have interrupted her by saying “Excuse me.” Everyone who watched that debate knew that Hillary was pushing her way into Bernie’s time and protesting what he was saying while he was still talking.

To make a joke the next day that Bernie’s supporters want to shoot people on Wall Street was so Trump-like as to shock the conscience. To make a joke out of gun violence when one of the primary stories in the news is the ongoing lawsuit by the families of Newtown, CT, against the makers of the guns that killed their family members is so outrageous that I would hope that Hillary would muzzle this attack dog if she has any hope of gaining support from Sanders’ supporters should she win the nomination.

I was never a big fan of Bill Clinton. He got my vote because the alternative was appalling after the Reagan-Bush 41 years. But a randy, smarmy lothario was not my ideal candidate for president. He could take some clues from Jimmy Carter about how to be an ex-president with dignity and concern for the future of the world. But Jimmy Carter was the last true Democratic president. The Ronny Raygun revolution converted the Third Way Clintons into Republicans-lite. Obama is a continuation of that trend without the venal nature of the Clintons. Obama has bought into the corporatist mindset of the new Democrats, and many current Democrats seem to have accepted the unlimited money from big business as one of the perks of being in politics.

If Bernie has proved one thing with his campaign, it’s that there is another source for money to run a campaign that does not require compromising one’s ethics by being bought and paid for by lobbyists. We are turning into a corporate run society. I suspect that only lip service will be given to our civil rights if this trend is not nipped when we have such a great chance to do it.

Most people go through their lives without thinking overly about being stopped and frisked or pulled over by cops while driving a little bit aggressively. They rely on their money being in the bank when they go to get it, and will kvetch when new barriers are put in the way of getting their money when they want it. They’re not very put out by what is happening in other parts of the country or other police departments, because there hasn’t been a shooting in their town recently. We are comfortable. We have great inertia. It is in times like this that we won’t pay as close attention to our rights as we should. We let Patriot Acts get passed. We let ill-intentioned people talk us into a war that costs lives, treasure, and a realistic hope for peace. In the second world war, we had concentration camps (no, don’t call them internment camps) to lock up American citizens out of an excess of xenophobia, without rights or recompense for the horrendous losses they suffered for out comfort.

We cannot afford to be comfortable. I don’t know who first said it, but I believe our duty on this earth is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We can all do more to help those less advantaged than we are. Naysayers like Bill Clinton are no longer relevant, only inconvenient remnants of a time when money ruled. If this revolution of Bernie Sanders works, it will be the end of the excesses that allowed such facile use of Bill Clinton’s intellect to smother debate and denigrate honest and worthy people.

The Problems with Hillary

As many of you know, I am a supporter of Bernie, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t done due diligence in learning what I could about Hillary, in the unlikely event that she is the nominee. In fact, I have argued about her positions with many people, some her supporters, some Republicans who believe she is unremittingly awful, and some liberals who are misinformed about her history. I thought I would pass on some of the things I have learned about her to show why I am less than thrilled with the possibility of her being president.

First, she is a hawk. The number of ways that this characteristic has played out run from her support for the Iraq war to her numerous statements about Libya, Israel and Honduras (of all places). Let’s start with her vote for the Iraq war, a subject of some disagreement with a particular Hillary fanatic I met on another web site. His claim, inaccurate as it was, held that Hillary voted for a resolution that required Bush to attempt one final round of negotiation before he started a war. This is false. She voted against an amendment that would have required Bush to take one more stab at a diplomatic solution before starting the land war. What is more important in the run-up to the Iraq war is that she never read the complete National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) regarding the possibility of Saddam’s having WMDs. The NIE, in its full form, was much more skeptical about the case of such weapons that the Bush administration claimed in its preparation for war. Had she read it, she might have had enough suspicion to doubt the veracity of the administration’s claims and would not now be back-pedaling from her vote. Instead she parroted the line of the Bush administration in her argument on the floor of the Senate, saying, “In the four years since the inspectors [left], intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaeda members…. If left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.”

She is a strong supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu and his attacks against Gaza and the Palestinians. Unlike many liberals, she finds no difficulty in his strong arm tactics and aggression against not only the Arabs he opposes but also the liberals in his own country. Her desire for regime change in Libya has morphed into a joke for her. As she has said, probably not expecting the objections that came, “We came, we saw, he died,” on the death of Muammar Khaddafi. Finally, in Honduras, she supported the coup of the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya by the military, and, as her emails show, worked behind the scenes to prevent his return to the country, while mouthing platitudes about concern for his relatives.

She makes much of her work with the Children’s Defense Fund in her early years out of law school. She speaks with pride of working for Marian Wright Edelman, but never admits that this fine woman broke with her over her support for the welfare reform bill pushed by her husband. Edelman said that it was a moment of shame, and her husband resigned from his position with the federal government in protest over the Clintons’ position on welfare. Couple this with her comment about black youths being “super predators” and you have a completely different view of her work with “children.”

I could rehearse and outline for you many of the financial questions that are raised by the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, but I will instead give an example of the type of transaction that causes one to stop and think about the role of money in her world. While she was Secretary of State, she often advocated for American businesses in foreign capitals. She had prepared for her before these trips. lists of the companies and their projects that should be discussed. Alone there is nothing wrong with this. What raises suspicions is that within a few short weeks or months after these trips, many of these companies would make large donations, frequently in excess of a million dollars, to the Clinton Foundation. Was this a quid pro quo? Since when is it appropriate for a secretary of state to advocate for a company in exchange for a donation from the company in question? It raises a question, in my mind if no other, whether something similar occurs when she takes sums from, among others, Goldman Sachs for her campaign  war chest, in addition to the money she has made from them with speeches and donations to the Clinton Foundation.

I am a feminist, much of an age with Hillary. I have fought in the trenches for women my whole life. Nothing in that history requires me to vote for a person with such disregard for peace, fairness, ethics, and honesty. I would happily engage in discussion with anyone willing to challenge my conclusions with facts and logic. Ad hominem attackers need not comment.