Roaming Charges: Train in Vain

Aerial view of the Norfolk Southern train wreck in East Palestine, Ohio. Photo: NTSB.

At nearly 9’oclock on the night of February 3rd, a Norfolk Southern freight train jumped the tracks as it was passing through the eastern Ohio town of East Palestine. More than 50 of the train’s 141 cars tumbled off the rails into a smoking jumble. Like most freight trains these days, it was hauling a load of toxic cargo. At least 20 of the derailed cars carried hazardous chemicals, five of them harboring highly poisonous vinyl chloride, a carcinogen used in the manufacture of plastics.

The train had left the St. Louis terminal yard earlier that day bound for Norfolk Southern’s Conway Yard in Pennsylvania, passing through cities, towns and fields, crossing creeks and rivers, rumbling by churches, schools and parks. The derailment was the fourteenth of the young year. Not bad by the standards of the US railroad industry, which has averaged 1700 derailments a year since 1977. But plenty bad enough for the 5,000 people of East Palestine and everyone living downstream or downwind from the crash site.

Two days after the wreck, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary report saying that the crash was likely caused by a mechanical issue involving the axel on one of the railcars, which had been seen throwing sparks for a least 20 miles before the train entered East Palestine. That may well have been an issue, but it was far from the only one.

For starters, despite carrying at least five toxic chemicals (vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and isobutylene) the Norfolk Southern train was not classified as “highly hazardous.” In fact, the first responders to the crash had little idea what kind of chemicals they were dealing with, most of which weren’t included on the train’s manifest.

The train itself was not fitted with electronically-controlled pneumatic brakes, a feature which many railroad safety experts say may have prevented, or at the very least, lessened the severity of the derailment. In the grand scheme of things, these brakes are not that expensive and could surely be written off on the railroad company’s taxes, assuming they pay any. (Norfolk Southern just reported $4.8 billion in profits for 2022, a record year.) But the railroad industry had been griping about regulatory over-reach since the Obama administration made the brakes mandatory on any trains carrying hazardous materials. None of the companies complained more shrilly than Norfolk Southern. The company soon found a sympathetic ear in the Trump administration, which rescinded the regulation less than a year after taking office.

So, why hasn’t the Biden administration reinstated the regulation, as Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley has repeatedly urged? It’s been two years. According to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, his hands are tied. “We’re constrained by law on some areas of rail regulation,” Buttigieg tweeted this week. This is ludicrous. All that really constrained him was a 2015 law requiring a “cost-benefit analysis” of new regulations, the costs and benefits of which should be clear to everyone now.

But that was never the Biden administration’s intentions. As the Lever reported this week, Buttigieg’s department is currently working on a new rule that would further weaken train braking requirements. The responsibility for wreck is as much on Biden’s hands as Trump’s. The Department of Transportation’s crash statistics back this up. While derailments declined under Obama’s term, they’ve remained steady under Trump and Biden: 1204 in 2019, 1013 in 2020, 1020 in 2021 and 1044 in 2022. Both administrations weren’t just negligent. They were complicit.  (The Biden Justice Department actually filed a brief siding with Norfolk Southern against a suit brought by a sick railroad worker. The case is now pending before the Supreme Court and could end up shielding the company from future litigation, including any claims brought by the victims of the East Palestine disaster.)

The morning after the derailment, a poisonous steam of liquid was spotted draining into two nearby creeks, Sulfur Run and Leslie Run. Meanwhile, the fires from the crash continued to burn for the next two days, spewing toxic plumes of butyl acrylate into the air.

On February 5th, the temperature inside the cars holding 1.1 million pounds of vinyl chloride began to spike so precipitously that the EPA feared it might explode, a toxic bomb hurling poison gas and shrapnel across the small Ohio town. The Ohio National Guard was summoned to help evacuate residents living within a square mile of the wreckage.

The following day Norfolk Southern crews initiated what they called “a controlled release” of the five cars containing vinyl chloride. They “released” the carcinogenic gas by setting it on fire, turning the wreckage into an open burn pit. It’s unclear how much the rail company consulted with the EPA before making this fateful decision, but soon after the fire started a black mushroom cloud of smoke, ash and debris rose over the town and hovered there for the next few days. The air tested positive for phosgene, hydrogen chloride, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and particulate matter for at least the next 72 hours.

Those controlled releases were defended by state officials and Norfolk Southern PR flacks as a safe way to disperse highly toxic chemicals, as if they were ignorant of the concepts of bioaccumulation and cumulative effects. They wanted the cars off the tracks, so they could start moving freight again.

But the long-term health consequences could be dire. “In addition to vinyl chloride several of the other substances on the train could form dangerous compounds when burned such as dioxin,” said Peter DeCarlo, a professor at Johns Hopkins. “That, as an atmospheric chemist, is something I would want to steer very, very, very clear of.”

And then animals started to die. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said that at least 3,500 fish had been killed in a 7.5 mile stretch of local streams. Local residents reported dead pets and farm animals. “My chickens were perfectly fine before, and as soon as they started the burn, my chickens slowed down and they died,” said Amanda Breshears, who lives in North Lima, ten miles away from the crash site. “If it can do this to chickens in one night, imagine what it’s going to do to us in 20 years?”

People began to suffer headaches and nausea. Their skin began to break out in rashes. Their kids began to feel sick. In the words of a hazardous materials expert Sil Caggiano, “We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open.”

As the black cloud of toxic smoke continued to wreath East Palestine, the state of Ohio convened a press conference in the local school gymnasium. It didn’t go well. Eventually, John Harris, the Ohio Adjutant General, lost his cool and charged at reporter for NewsNation named Evan Lambert Harris shoved Lambert in the chest, but it was Lambert, not the General, who ended up getting arrested and charged with criminal trespass (at a public building), disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. (The charges were dismissed earlier this week.)

I assumed that the Adjutant General was in charge of the state’s National Guard. He is. But Major General Harris also has a wider portfolio which includes his position as head of the Ohio Naval Militia. The what? It’s been a few years since rebel gunboats were marauding Ohio River towns. But with these maritime duties, you’d think the General would have down a better job at guarding Ohio’s rivers from poison gasses and chemicals. Two weeks after the crash an ominous sheen of toxic chemicals can still be seen floating down the Ohio River at a steady one mile an hour.

“The problem is that exposure and cancer onset take years—long after the initial exposure to the toxic chemicals happened,” said epidemiologist Erich Feigl-Ding. “By then the original politicians and insurance companies are long gone. But the health risks persist. That’s how public health always gets screwed.”

This week Oregon was hit by its own toxic derailment, when a train near the big Georgia-Pacific mill in the coastal town of Toledo slipped off the rails, spilling more than 2,200 gallons of diesel fuel into Depot Slough, a tributary of the Yaquina River, one of the state’s premier salmon streams. You get the feeling they just don’t care. Biden the strikebreaker certainly doesn’t.

Politicians usually rush to the scenes of natural disasters to get photo-ops with the displaced. If they’d show up at environmental calamities while the air is still black, they might be more inclined to do something. But Biden is moving even more lethargically on the Great Toxic Derailment Event than Obama did during the poisoning of Flint, where some will recall the Minister of Hope finally showed up to take a performative quaff of water in front of the cameras. (Who knows its source. Flint still doesn’t have safe drinking water.)  Railroad Joe hasn’t even taken a single breath of East Palestine’s air. It must be even worse than we think.

Perhaps the only way East Palestine will ever get some relief is to change the town’s name.


Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that Sidewinder in your hand?
Goin’ up to shoot down another weather balloon
‘Cause it slipped away from the Hobby Club’s command…

+ Is it too much to ask that the Pentagon not fire missiles over the US (or anywhere) not knowing where they’ll land: The first missile that was launched by an F-16 fighter jet at the object near Lake Huron, Michigan on Sunday did not hit the target, three people briefed on the matter tell CNN. It’s unclear what happened to the first missile.

+ Sidewinder missiles ($600,000 a piece) can’t hit a balloon moving at the speed of the wind, but are supposed to take down an 5G fighter jet like the Chengdu J-20?

+ This reminds me of an episode in Max Hasting’s Bomber Command, where a Blenheim Light Bomber got struck by lightning on a foggy night and lost its primitive navigation system. When the plane reemerged from mists, the crew thought they were following the Rhine River (when it was actually the Thames) and dropped their payload on what turned out to be an RAF airfield. Fortunately, they killed only a bunch of nearby sheep because even in perfect daylight the Blenheims could rarely hit their targets.

+ Hastings’ book, originally published in 1979, is one of the best accounts of the origins of modern warfare, its absurdities, delusions and daily atrocities. The early debate inside the RAF was whether the bombing campaigns against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy would be “precision” (i.e., against designated targets like power plants, shipyards, oil refineries, military factories) or “area bombing” (i.e., the bombing of industrial cities.)

The question proved academic because if the British bombers flew by daylight nearly a third of them would be shot down or disabled before they reached their targets. If they flew by night, which soon became the preferred method, they would rarely come within miles of hitting their targets. Often they had no idea where they were dropping their bombs, hitting Hamburg when they were meant for Berlin. Several squadrons couldn’t even find Norway.

We think of the firebombing of Dresden as one of the great crimes of World War II. But in fact the bombing of civilian areas had been the de facto British policy since 1941 and Churchill became one of its strongest and most unapologetic advocates. Since even in daylight, it proved nearly impossible for British bombers to hit specific targets, like oil depots or communications centers, bombing cities became the default strategy.

The justifications came later under the anodyne term: morale degradation. The theory being that if the bombers couldn’t destroy factories, they could at least blow up the communities–homes, groceries, streets, schools, theaters–lived in by industrial workers, who after enduring such destruction would lose faith in their own government and rise up against it. This was foolhardy, as England’s own experience during the Blitz should have proved. It’s almost universally true that the bombing of cities, from London to Berlin, Hanoi to Baghdad, Kabul to Kiev–solidifies the resistance of the bombed and makes them want to slit the throats of their bombers.

+ Iran/contra, Biden-style? The Wall Street Journal reports that US officials are considering a plan to ship Iranian weapons captured in Syria and Iraq to Ukraine. The weapons include: “more than 5,000 assault rifles, 1.6 million rounds of small arms ammunition, a small number of antitank missiles, and more than 7,000 proximity fuses.” Similar to the Boland Amendment of Reagan time, such a transfer would violate the UN arms embargo.

+ Norwegian intelligence claims that ships from Russia’s North Sea Fleet are deploying with nuclear weapons for the first time in 30 years.

+ Since the invasion of Ukraine, more than 530,000 people have fled Russia, the highest level of emigration since the Russian civil war more than a century ago. Most of the emigrants have ended up in Georgia (112,000), Kazakhstan (100,000), Serbia (100,000) and Turkey (78,000).

+ Like support for the war in Ukraine itself, American support for sanctions is also beginning to fall. Last March, 55% of those polled supported sanctions on Russia, even when they harmed the US economy. But that number dropped to 36% in January.

+ The Pentagon brayed this week about shooting down an Iranian-made drone that was hovering over a US base in northeastern Syria called Mission Support Site Conoco. Mission Support Site Conoco? How much more explicit can you get?

+ Iran’s predictable (and entirely rational) response to Trump’s reneging on the JCPOA nuclear deal has been to rapidly expand its ballistic missile program. According to an analysis from Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “Between the JCPOA’s finalization in 2015 and May 2018, when the Trump administration left the accord, Iran tested at least 27 ballistic missiles.” Since Trump withdrew from the accord, Iran has conducted nearly 200 launches or tests.

+ Israeli security forces detained 598 Palestinians, including 99 children and eight women in January. Palestinians living in Jerusalem were detained at a higher rate than in any other Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank.

+ The Knesset sped through a law this week authorizing the government of Israel to revoke the residency and citizenship of Palestinians who have breached the “trust to the State of Israel,” allowing the government to deport them to the West Bank or Gaza.

+ A new forensic report confirms what many have long believed: the Chilean poet and dissident Pablo Neruda was poisoned. Neruda’s nephew, Rodolfo Reyes, said this week that high levels of the neurotoxic bacteria clostridium botulinum were detected in Neruda’s body.

+ Gloomy predictions of an energy crisis in the EU this winter seem to have been grossly inflated. According to The Economist, the sudden shift away from Russian natural gas, caused by the Ukraine war, has instead “turbocharged the green transition,” advancing Europe’s decarbonization timeline by as much as a decade.

+ I’m fully open to the idea that the US, and some of its NATO allies, bombed Nordstream. They’re just arrogant and stupid enough to have done it. What I’m a little bemused by is the fact that Hersh’s version has been so swiftly and unquestioningly embraced by people who believe a Deep State exerts total control over US foreign policy. After all, Hersh’s piece rests entirely on one unidentified source who must rank very high in that very same Deep State. Few people know Russia better than longtime Moscow correspondent John Helmer. Almost since day one, Helmer has maintained that Nordstream was bombed in a plot involving the US, UK and Germany. (Very close to the Russian version of events.) Helmer sees Hersh’s story as a kind of Nixonian “modified limited hangout,” where a legal basis for the bombing, and its concealment from Congress, is set forth. Who benefits from the version put forth by Hersh’s source? The CIA, according to Helmer. I don’t know that I buy Helmer’s version of events. But he does ask a lot the right questions about Hersh’s version: Who’s the source? What exactly does the source allege? Why did they leak it? Why did they leak it now?  Cui bono from this version of events?

+ One of the strangest aspects of the Nordstream saga is that neither pipeline was operational at the time of the bombing. Germany had already revoked its certification of Nordstream II in February 2022 during the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This was followed months later by Gasprom halting gas deliveries to Nordstrom I “indefinitely” starting on August 31, three weeks before the bombings. Make of that what you will, but it’s something Hersh doesn’t address in his piece. It may bolster Helmer’s contention that Germany was involved, since at this point they had nothing to lose from the shut-off of Russian gas. Or not.

+ The sabotage of the Nordstream pipelines has been called a “war crime” and an “act of terrorism.” Given the amount of methane (300,000 tons) released first into the Baltic and then the atmosphere, it’s certainly an act of ecological terrorism, whoever was responsible. (Andreas Malm may have overlooked this repercussion for the climate when he wrote, How to Blow Up a Pipeline.) But this should be set next to Russia’s own missile and drone strikes on Ukraine’s civilian energy infrastructure, which has disabled more than 50 percent the country’s power generation capacity in the heart of winter. All wars breed such atrocities, which is why this one needs to be brought to an end the only way it can possibly end: through a ceasefire and negotiations.

+ As I reported last week, a preliminary review of ship tracking data did not shown the presence of any of Norway’s Alta or Oksøy class ships in the area during the time when Hersh said charges were set on the Nordstream pipelines. This assessment has now been confirmed in a new piece by Oliver Alexander for SpyTalk, which accounts for the location of each of these ships during the during the BALTOPS22 exercise in June 2022.

+ I don’t like to speculate, but since everyone else seems to be doing it, I’ll offer a theory about Hersh’s source: I don’t think they’ve been in government for several years. Here’s why. As I noted last week, there are two peculiarities about things related to Hersh by the source. First, the source misidentifies the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, calling it the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which it has not been called since 1993. Second, Hersh’s source seems to conflate NATO supremo Jens Stoltenberg for his father, the Norwegian diplomat Thorvald Stoltenberg. Hersh’s source describes Jens as a “committed anti-communist… who had cooperated with the American intelligence community since the Vietnam War. He has been trusted completely since.” This can’t be Jens, who was only 16 when Saigon fell. His father Thorvald became famous in Norway in 1956, when he risked his life to save a group of Hungarian refugees fleeing the country as Soviet tanks (hence the word “tankie”) rolled into Budapest. In the late 70s and early 80s, he served as Norway’s Minister of Defense, where his ties to the US foreign policy elites were probably solidified. To Thorvald’s credit, in 2010 he helped organize a group of senior European diplomats to sign a letter calling for sanctions against Israel for repeated violations of international law. Thorvald Stoltenberg died in 2018. Neither of these two slips are errors a current member of the intelligence, military or diplomatic cabal are likely to have committed and they make it sound to me like Hersh’s source has been out of the intelligence game for more than a decade, at least, suggesting that “the source” itself is either “speculating” or  repeating information they heard from another source or sources still on the inside.

+ Still the lack of any follow-up reporting from the New York Times or Washington Post, to either confirm and discredit Hersh’s story, is one of the more shameful episodes in a dismal couple of decades for American journalism.


+ Never mind this. Somewhere a child might be reading The Bluest Eye…

+ Lamar Johnson spent the last 28 years in a Missouri prison for a murder he didn’t commit. This week Judge David Mason vacated his conviction and released him from prison. Under Missouri law, Johnson is prohibited from receiving any compensation for the nearly three decades he spent behind bars after being wrongfully convicted. The Midwest Innocence Project has organizing a fundraiser to help Lamar reboot his life.

+ What the police originally claimed about the police killings of …

Laquan McDonald: “a very serious threat”

Freddie Gray: “Arrested without force”

Elijah McClain: “a struggle ensued”

George Floyd: “medical distress”

Breonna Taylor: “injuries: none”

Tyre Nichols: “shortness of breath”

+ When an LAPD officer shoots someone, the body cam footage is edited by the department to depict the incident in the best possible light for the officers involved before being released to the press. The original footage is suppressed, in violation of California open records laws.

+ A Missouri sheriff’s deputy groomed and then sexually molested a teenage boy. When the child’s parents reported the abuse, child protective services tried to remove him from their custody.

+ In a unanimous vote, West Virginia legislature passed a bill ordering a life sentence for “obstructing” police, if said the interference results in a death.

+The Ombudsperson of the New Jersey Department of Corrections is investigating reports that staff at the South Woods “Restorative Housing Unit” are committing acts of violence and egging on fights between incarcerated people.

+ Daryl Williams, a 32-year-old black man in North Carolina, told Raleigh police officers he had a heart condition as they Tasered him repeatedly. He soon lost consciousness and died an hour later.

+ Stop-and-Frisk has come to Australia, where police are conducting more than 150,000 body searches annually across New South Wales along. Minors and Indigenous people are the most likely to be stopped, searched and interrogated.

+ Tiffany Lindsay filed a civil rights suit against the Detroit police department after cops shot her dog, dumped its body in a neighbor’s trash can and told her nothing about it.

+ Police in Littleton, Colorado said a man on a motorcycle “crashed,” fled the scene and then produced a gun, prompting an officer to shoot and kill him. But the video shows the cop rammed the motorcycle with his squad car.

+ The Illinois legislature passed a law to end cash bail. But a judge invalidated the law, ruling that it violated separation of power for lawmakers to try to regulate judges, even legislatures have set sentencing rules for decades. The case is the latest episode where courts have tried to shield themselves from criminal justice reform.

+ Bills have been introduced in Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Texas allowing state officials to either bypass local prosecutors or evict them from office if their abortion-related enforcement is considered too lenient.

+ About 20,000 people leave Illinois prisons each year. Nearly 40% will be sent back in three years. A cycle of “recidivism” the state needs to keep the prison system in business.

+ More than half (52%) of people arrested multiple times in an average year reported having a substance use disorder.

+ On a late January night, Tony Mitchell froze to death in the Walker County (Alabama) jail. A new federal lawsuit claims that Mitchell was placed in a restraint chair and left in the jail’s walk-in freezer for hours before his death. The Sheriff’s office originally claimed Mitchell was “alert and conscious” when he was taken to the hospital. But a surveillance video filed with the lawsuit shows four officers loading Mitchell, who appears to be limp, with his head and feet dangling, into a marked police SUV.

+ Prison guards in Maine routinely mocked prisoners, disparaged minorities and shared confidential inmate records. None of the guards were fired, according to the Bangor Daily News.

+ Leaked documents show that the Maryland State Police use an arrest quota-system to determine which officers will get new patrol cars.

+ Blacks and Latinos make up 57% of the US prison population but only 31% of the US population.

+ New data out of British Columbia shows a similar trend, with blacks and indigenous residents having much more frequent “interactions” with police than whites. In Vancouver, indigenous people are six times more likely than whites to have the police called on them. From 2011 to 2020, Indigenous men were the subjects of 19 percent of the department’s arrests, even though they make up only 1.1 per cent of the city’s population.

+ In August 2022, Florida’s “election crimes” office arrested 20 people with past felony convictions for voting while ineligible. Most of these people were not aware they had to navigate a complex system to know their eligibility. Instead of fixing this flawed system, the Florida legislature has moved to expand the power of prosecutors to criminalize people with past felony convictions for making honest mistakes.

+ Michigan State is the 67th mass shooting so far this year in the USA and we’re only halfway through February.

+ In the 24 hours following the mass shooting at Michigan State University, 78 other people were shot in the US.

+ A new study suggests that gun control measures which only target “assault weapons” increase demand for handguns.

+ Apparently, one of the centerpieces of Trump’s 2024 campaign will be a plan to bring back firing squads, hangings and mass executions. He’s beginning to sound more Lincolnesque every day. (In 1862, Honest Abe ordered the mass execution of 38 Lakota in Minnesota in front of a crowd of 4,000 people, their bodies left dangling for a half hour after their deaths for the ghoulish spectators to inspect. At least two of the men were hung “mistakenly”–one of them had been acquitted at trial, the other sent to the gallows because his name was confused for one of the condemned.)

+ I wouldn’t trade one Fiona Apple for 10 Bonos…


+ The UK‘s debt servicing costs have risen so much that they are now as nearly equal to Italy‘s, even  Italy’s  public debt ratio is much higher.

+ How long before the UK begins borrowing from China? Since it began its large-scale lending program in the mid-2000s, China has become the largest official creditor to low-income countries, even larger than the World Bank.

+ In his ongoing effort to remake the British Labour Party into a more efficient version of the Tories, this week Keir Starmer essentially kicked Jeremy Corbyn out of the Labour Party–a heavy-handed effort to keep him from standing for reelection to the Islington North seat he’s held since 1983.

+ Corbyn: “Did I make mistakes, of course, everybody does. One of which was to trust people who turned out to be deeply untrustworthy.”

+ Goldman, Sach’s CEO David Salomon couldn’t wait to start firing people: “As the environment was growing more complicated in Q2 of last year, every bone in my body believed we should be much more aggressive in slowing hiring and reducing headcount.”

+ In March, 32 states will begin cutting food stamp benefits for more than 30 million Americans, leading toward what some are referring to as a “hunger cliff.” This will mean that poor households will lose about $82 a month in SNAP benefits, even as food prices continue to soar from inflation. (The other 18 states had already ended their emergency food assistance programs.)

+ The number of infants in Mississippi being treated for congenital syphilis has jumped by more than 900% over the last five years. In 2021, the state was given a federal grant of $18.4 million to hire public health care workers. It spent on $3.6 million.

+ More than 200 students walked out of classes at Alabama’s Hillcrest High School after they were told their student-led Black History Month program could not mention slavery or the civil rights movement “because one of our administrators felt uncomfortable” about the topics.

+ WHO’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on visiting Syria after the earthquake: “I’ve never in my life seen the level of destruction as I did on the road from Aleppo to Damascus. Skeletons of houses. Almost no people in sight. Over a decade of war has taken an unimaginable toll. Syrians need our support now and in years to come to rebuild their lives.”

+ How should Japan resolve its demographic problem of declining birth rates? Yale professor Yasuke Narita has a simple solution: mass suicide. “”I feel like the only solution is pretty clear,” Narita said. “In the end, isn’t it mass suicide and mass seppuku [ritual disembowelment] of the elderly?”

+ Two months after China ended its “zero Covid,” demographic estimates suggest that between 1 and 1.5 million have people died, far more than the official tally.

+ In the first six weeks of 2023, the US experienced 21,378 Covid deaths.

+ New research out of UMass-Boston shows that the cost of getting sick for older people of color is 25% higher than for white Americans.

+ A new study published in PLOS ONE estimates that each cannabis legalization event that happened between 1996 and 2018 in the U.S. caused generic and branded pharma companies to lose around $10 billion in market cap on average.

+ According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans, who live in the only advanced economy country without a guaranteed paid vacation, are on vacation half as often as they were 40 years ago.

+ According to the FT, business investments in the UK have flatlined since Brexit, falling far behind both the EU and the US.

+ The average annual household income of the Broadway theatergoer was $261,000, significantly wealthier than the previous year’s $222,120.

+ Back in Missouri, Hawley’s state legislature just voted to allow kids to carry AR-15s in public without adult supervision.

+ In support of its efforts to kill a bill banning child marriages, the Party sent out a mailer from Wyoming Family Watch, an evangelical group which asserts that blocking children under 16 from marrying “denies the fundamental purpose of marriage.”


+ Bernie Sanders has the highest favorability ratings among any of the potential 2024 presidential contenders, which says a lot more about the dilapidated state of both parties than it does about Bernie.

+ Rep Anna Paulina Luna, the Florida Republican, told a Jewish group her father was a “messianic Jew,”  (a Jew who believes Jesus is the Messiah). Her family members said this came as news to them. She has claimed Ashkenazi heritage, even though her grandfather appeared to have served in the Nazi army while a young man in Germany. Maybe she’s related to George Santos?

+ It’s quite a country that views a 36-page children’s book on the life the great Roberto Clemente (recently yanked from the shelves of the Duval County, Florida Public Schools) as being more dangerous to the well-being of its kids than AR-15s. The same neurotic country that shoots down balloons and paper airplanes with high-tech missiles.

+ What’s their beef with Clemente, anyway? A black man who risked his life helping poor Nicaraguan earthquake victims, instead of letting them fend for themselves in the rubble like a good American?

+ Texas school property taxes grew by $3 billion last year. But they would’ve grown by an additional $6.7 billion without the property tax caps enacted in 2019.

+ The day after workers announced a union campaign at Tesla’s Buffalo Autopilot plant, Musk’s company retaliated by firing dozens of employees. One worker called it a “form of collective retaliation designed to terrify everyone.”

+ Trump’s lawyer claims the former president was using classified folders merely to block the light from a nightstand that was keeping him up at night.

+ Over to you, L7…

Wargasm, wargasm, one, two, three
Tie a yellow ribbon ’round the amputee
Masturbate, watch it on TV
Crocodile tears for the refugee …
Body bags and dropping bombs
The Pentagon knows how to turn us on

– “Wargasm,” L7

+ The US has had many anthems: Hail, Columbia, My Country Tis of Thee, America the Beautiful. The English drinking song with the pro-slavery anti-immigrant lyrics Boebert salutes didn’t become an official anthem until 1931–about the same time Confederate Monuments began sprouting up.

+ The “Jesus, He Gets Us” Super Bowl commercials were funded by an Anti-Abortion, Anti-LGBTQ group.

+ I guess Jesus just didn’t get Jalen Hurts, despite Hurts’ public displays of devotion toward the Divine Offspring…

+ Alienation Nation: Between 2014 and 2019, the decrease in time people spent with friends was greater than it was during the pandemic.


+ China has seen the future and is capitalizing on it. Power generation from wind and solar grew by 21% in China in 2022, climbing from 12% to 14% of total electricity demand: 87 GW of solar, 38 GW of wind and 8.8 GW of hydropower were added to the mix.

+ Meanwhile, India’s energy usage continues to grow, mostly driven by coal. India’s electricity generation grew by 8.5% in 2022 and coal, by far the largest contributor, grew 8.6%.

+ Similarly, Pakistan announced this week that it is abandoning its LNG expansion plans because the fuel is too expensive, and instead quadruple its coal power capacity.

+ China’s coal consumption also increased last year by about 3.3%–the first time in more than 20 years that coal usage increased faster than China’s GDP.

+ The 2023 Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor, published by the New Climate Institute, reveals that while both Microsoft and Google currently claim to be “carbon neutral” – the claim only covers between 2% and 12% of their full emission footprint, respectively.

+ A 2021 global survey titled State of the World’s Trees found that one-third of all tree species are currently are at risk of extinction, about 17,500 unique tree species. That’s more than double the number of all threatened (mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.

+ Climate change is expanding the range of tropical mosquitos and the diseases they transmit, notably malaria: “Using data dating back to 1898, a team of Georgetown University researchers found the limits of the malaria mosquitos’ ranges moved toward the poles by 4.7 kilometers (2.9 miles) a year on average.”

+ The unprecedented warming of the Antarctic Ocean over the past year could disrupt ocean currents, accelerating sea ice loss and sea level rise. “We don’t fully understand the consequences of this kind of event, but this looks like an extraordinary marine heatwave,” said Carlos Moffatt, an oceanographer at the University of Delaware.

+ As the temperature increases from 1.5C warming to 2C warming, the number of people who will experience severe heat waves at least once every five years is expected to more than double.

+ Cyclone Gabrielle, which slammed New Zealand’s North Island this week displacing thousands from their homes, is the worst storm to hit New Zealand this century.

+ Those drafty Victorian houses were built that way, sacrificing warmth to let lethal gasses and coal particles out.

+ A small indigenous community has been detected inside the Yanomami Territory in Roraima, a mere 15 kilometers from an illegal mining operation where garimpeiros (wildcat miners) pose a threat to their survival and well-being.


+ RIP Raquel Welch…

+ I can’t recall what Gore Vidal thought of Raquel Welch in Myra Breckinridge, his transgender comedy, though he wrote off the film itself as “an awful joke.” The movie managed to piss off just about everyone, including Nixon’s White House, which demanded that old clips of Shirley Temple be excised from the movie because it demeaned her position as US Ambassador to English. So it had that going for it. Still the film seems even more relevant to our time than the late 60s.

+ Though he was loath to admit it, Vidal pocketed more money writing (& ghostwriting) for Hollywood (even TV, see the miniseries Dress Gray) than he ever made from his novels. He even wrote a script for Myra Breckinridge, but it wasn’t used. Someone should film Myron where Gore substituted the names of SC justices for sexual profanities. Still timely!

+ Bedazzled, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook’s spoof of Faust, is one of my favorite films and Raquel Welch (RIP) was fabulous in it…Cockburn loved her in the Fantastic Voyage, a film he claimed anticipated the AIDS crisis.

+ Hannan Abu-Hussein and Maria Saleh Mahameed, won the prestigious Rappaport prize for 2023, the first time Palestinians have been honored with the Israeli art award.

+ Buster Keaton describing the “Keep Your Eye on the Kid” vaudeville act with this father, Joe: “My father used to carry me on stage and drop me. After explaining to the audience that I liked it, he would pick me up and throw me at a piece of scenery. Sometimes knocking the scenery down and sometimes not. He would throw me as far as 30 feet.” (See, Buster Keaton: a Filmmaker’s Life by James Curtis)

+ Ray Davies: “I tried to stab my brother Dave last month. We were having something to eat after a gig and he took one of my chips.  Got him right under the ribs.  It was horrible.” (See Greg Mitchell on “Lola.”)

+ Lennon on how he met McCartney:

“There are only two artists that I’ve worked for more than one stand, that’s Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono. I think that is a pretty damn good choice. Because in the history of The Beatles Paul met me the first day I did ‘Be-Bop-a-Lula’ live on stage. A mutual friend brought him to see my group called The Quarry Men and we’ve met each other after the show. I saw he had talent, he was playing the guitar backstage, doing ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ by Eddie Cochran. I said to him ‘Do you wanna join the group?’ and I think he said yes the next day as I recalled it. Now George came through Paul and Ringo came through George. The person that I actually picked as my partner, that I recognized it had talent and I could get on with was Paul. Now 12 or how many years later I’ve met Yoko and I had the same feeling, was a different feeling”.

I Crawled Off to Sleep in the Bath…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Our Man in Iran
Matthew Stevenson
(Odysseus Books)

Everyday Life in the Ice Age
Elle Clifford & Paul Bahn

Saying It Out Loud: the Year Black Power Challenged the Civil Rights Movement
Mark Whitaker
(Simon & Schuster)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

This is Why

We All Have Places That We Miss
Hollie Kenniff
(Wester Vinyl)

Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays the Beatles
Brad Mehldau

How Convenient to Blame the Poor

“What then, are the nonscientific reasons that have fostered the resurgence of biological determinism? They range, I believe, from pedestrian pursuits of high royalties for best sellers to pernicious attempts to reintroduce racism as respectable science. Their common denominator must lie in our current malaise. How satisfying it is to fob off the responsibility for war and violence upon our presumably carnivorous ancestors. How convenient to blame the poor and the hungry for their own condition – lest we be forced to blame our economic system or our government for an abject failure to secure a decent life for all people. And how convenient an argument for those who control government and, by the way, provide the money that science requires for its very existence.” – Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin


Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3