HAITI CRISIS WORSENS
And when the rains come where will the people get shelter? Why is the U.S. military eating up so much of the aid funds?
Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....
Get the revised version of my book "Come Together Right Now: Organizing Stories from a Fading Empire" - updated thru the end of 2008
I attended a public meeting about Maine's state rail plan a couple months ago in Portland. The government study process reported to the impressive crowd of people in attendance that major traffic congestion is forecasted in Maine during the next 15 years as well as worsening road deterioration, pollution, and delays in shipping.
They told us that the Obama stimulus included $8 billion for rail nationwide (not much when you consider we are spending $12 billion a month in Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan.)
Most rail lines in Maine are owned by corporations. The 1920's were the height of rail use in Maine and today our state is 40th in the country in the number of rail lines per mile that exist.
Most (60%) of the rail lines in Maine are used to haul pulp paper products. Presently there are not enough rail cars to handle the freight demand which likely keeps shipping prices rather high.
A town councilman from Standish, Maine was at the meeting and told us that due to fiscal problems in their town they had cut $1 million in their road paving/repair budget. The state, trying to dump road responsibilities on the towns, have just put 11 miles more of road maintenance on their town's back. Their roads, he told us, are beat to death by truckers along the highway that runs through their community. They want to see freight rail expanded in the state so they can get some relief.
Maine politicians held a big media event last week in the nearby town of Brunswick to announce that Amtrak will extend their service from Portland, heading north to Brunswick, in 2012. The problem is that this service will do little to help commuters who really need a light-rail system that offers frequent trips to to the big city of Portland where many folks work.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has just come out with a new national transit study. Here are a few of the key points in the study:
* China is currently in the midst of building a $293 billion, 10,000-mile high speed rail system.
* On average, an Amtrak passenger uses 23 percent less energy per mile than an airplane passenger, 40 percent less than a car passenger, and 57 percent less than a passenger in an SUV or pickup truck.
* The task of building out the nation’s high-speed passenger rail network is estimated to create up to 1.6 million construction jobs, and can provide a needed shot in the arm for America’s struggling manufacturing sector.
* It is estimate that a national high-speed rail network would reduce global warming pollution by 6 billion pounds, the equivalent of taking almost 500,000 cars off the road.
* Over the last decade, Amtrak ridership has increased by 26 percent, with an additional 5.6 million passengers per year riding intercity rail.
It is more than clear that the public in the U.S. wants expanded public transit funding but the current snail's pace of expanding rail is not coming close to meeting the need or the potential demand.
As we look for ways to create jobs and deal with climate change it is obvious that building mass transit rail systems is one good way to go. But the problem is funding.
Here is but one more illustration why we should be calling for cuts in war spending so we can invest in rail here at home.
Obama recently announced that he would be cancelling NASA's Constellation moon mission program and would instead turn those responsibilities over to private industry. So in the future NASA will see itself as a prime research developer of space technology and once these new applications become advanced they will privatize the operations.
This is something that has been in the works for years. NASA has long maintained that when the day came that it would cost effective to begin mining operations on the Moon and other planetary bodies that they would privatize the program and let corporations make the profits.
The federal government will still use taxpayers dollars to subsidize space colonization but they will largely put the money into the hands of the corporations.
In an important way, by privatizing space colonization operations, the taxpayers will have even less influence over the space program in the years ahead.
I visited Vieques, Puerto Rico in 1999 during the time of the protest movement to stop the U.S. bombing of the island. Protest camps were set up all over the island and activists came from around the world to join the peaceful occupation.
At the time I wrote this in my trip report:
As we walked here and there we saw the enormous evidence of years of destruction on the island. Bombs -- exploded and unexploded - were everywhere. Wetlands were drained and bombed. Trucks, tanks, and planes were scattered everywhere as targets. One tank is now being used to hold up a tarp for shelter at one hill-top camp. As we looked out over the beautiful ocean beyond Vieques we saw a U.S. navy submarine in the near distance probably sending a warning to the occupiers.
When it was time to leave the island to return home our fishing boat anchor got caught on a bomb on the ocean floor. Our captain very carefully worked the anchor free and you could see the fear on the faces of the passengers. We saw bombs sticking up out of the water near the shore and we saw tiny islands just off Vieques that had been blasted to bits. In fact, endangered coral reefs are being destroyed all around Vieques from the years of bombing by the Navy.
There was a complete lack of respect for the human and environmental consequences of what they did to the island.
You will see in this video there is now a severe toxic legacy in Vieques that the U.S. does not want to take responsibility for.
As we look ahead to the construction of a Navy base on Jeju Island, South Korea we know that the pristine waters will be polluted and the coral reefs will be negatively impacted by the presence of military ships - both the South Korean and U.S. navies will utilize the base. The military is the biggest polluter in the world today.