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Guest Commentary (4080)

2015.2.18.Berkowitz.BFA new, mean-spirited attack on the gay community is being launched by the religious right. (Image: Loren Javier / Flickr)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

A group of conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants are gearing up for the culture war battle of the century. A new manifesto – to be revealed in the March edition of the conservative publication First Things -- is meant to set the tone for the upcoming decision on same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court, and perhaps the 2016 presidential election as well.

The document maintains that same-sex marriage is "a graver threat" to the social order than "easy acceptance of divorce" or "widespread cohabitation." "We must say, as clearly as possible, that same-sex unions, even when sanctioned by the state, are not marriages," the document stated. "Christians who wish to remain faithful to the Scriptures and Christian tradition cannot embrace this falsification of reality, irrespective of its status in law."

With temperate rhetoric tossed aside, and a new mean-spirited attack on the gay community being launched, language in the new document makes signees like the Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest Calif., and Robert George, professor at Princeton University and vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms, sound like the second coming of the late Rev. Fred Phelps.

HARVEY WASSERMAN OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDavisBesse(Photo: EcoWatch)As the world’s nuke reactors begin to crumble and fall, the danger of a major disaster is escalating at the decrepit Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio.

Now the plant’s owners are asking the Ohio Public Utilities Commission to force the public to pay billions of dollars over the next 15 years to subsidize reactor operations.

But Davis-Besse’s astonishing history of near-miss disasters defies belief. Its shoddy construction, continual operator error and relentless owner incompetence would not be believed as fiction, let alone as the stark realities of a large commercial reactor operating in a heavily populated area.

Time and again Davis-Besse has come within a fraction of an inch and an hour of crisis management time. Today its critical shield wall is literally crumbing, with new cracks opening up every time the northern Ohio weather freezes (like this week).

The company’s owners have blacked out the entire Northeast including 50 million customers—the largest such disaster in world history.

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBastille(Photo: "The Storming of the Bastille," de Launay)If revolution is to happen, we Americans must be made aware of the destructive failures of the free-market system, and we must be angry enough to act, and, most of all, we must agree on a single demand of the people with money and power who have perversely redistributed our national wealth. First some maddening facts:

1. For Every BILLION DOLLARS of New Stock Market Wealth, Most of Us Averaged ONE DOLLAR in Stock Gains

In the six years since the recession the stock market has risen by $8 trillion, the great majority of it going to the richest 10%. In 2013 alone it rose by $5 trillion. On average, each of us in the bottom 90% earned a dollar every time the market went up another billion. (Details here.)

2. Each Year Since the Recession, the "Upper Class" (Richest 10%) Has Accumulated Enough New Wealth to Pay the Total Cost of Social Security Four Times Over

The upper class is defined here as the top 10%, families with minimum wealth of $660,000 and minimum income somewhere between $114,000 and $140,000.

Social Security too expensive? Not in comparison to the flow of wealth to the upper class, many of whom, at the lower end of the 10%, may not consider themselves rich, but have still benefited. In the six years since the recession these 16 million families have increased their wealth by $4 trillion per year, which is more than four times the cost of Social Security.

JOHN HORNING OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCoalEcoWatch(Photo: EcoWatch)On Friday across our nation and the world conscientious members of churches, motivated students at universities and schools and civic-minded employees of many U.S. cities will join together in calling on the institutions that they love to take an act of fiscal prudence and global conscience to ensure that we have a future worth fighting for.

As a part of Global Divestment Day, they will be asking the leaders of their churches, schools and cities to divest from companies that extract and burn fossil fuels.

So far, the rapidly growing fossil fuel divestment movement has focused on investment assets of academic, religious and municipal institutions. While that’s a smart starting point, it misses a huge opportunity and challenge: expanding targeted assets to include those owned by all Americans. I’m referring to the coal, oil and gas that underlie our public lands and waters, the carbon that belongs to all of us.

Last year, a full quarter of all fossil fuels produced in the U.S. came from our public lands, our nation’s single biggest source which created a whopping $110 billion in royalty, rents and bonus payments to the U.S. treasury. Divestment won’t reach its full moral promise until we divest from burning the fossil fuels we all own.

Luckily, ending the sale of public carbon is very simple. Selling off future reserves is entirely up to the President. Without having to wait for a do-nothing Congress, President Obama can stop new sales from proceeding with the stroke of a pen. That federal divestment would be a real climate legacy.

Thursday, 12 February 2015 09:32

The Bush Family: Where Style Trumps Substance

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBushArgh(Photo: Happyme22)At the 1988 Republican Party convention the party’s nominee, George H.W. Bush, seemed to openly break with the cold-hearted, mean-spirited Reagan years, and declared in his acceptance speech that he sought a “kinder, gentler” nation. Twelve years later, during the presidential campaign of 2000, George W. Bush tried to separate himself from others in the GOP by basing his campaign around “compassionate conservatism.” Now, with Jeb Bush gallivanting around the country to line up big-pocket donors, and “exploring” the possibility of running for the presidency, it’s his turn to come up with a catch phrase that will separate him from the other potential candidates.

To add to an old saying, “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Fool me a third time: Hello President Jeb Bush.”

As longtime conservative columnist Byron York pointed out recently in a column for the Washington Examiner, “When Bushes run for president, they portray themselves as more caring, more gentle and more compassionate than their sometimes heartless and harshly ideological fellow Republicans. It worked for George H.W. Bush in 1988, it worked for George W. Bush in 2000, and now Jeb Bush is preparing to give it another go in 2016.”

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaChalk(Photo: Tuválkin)Experts have put urban violence under the microscope. You might call it the sociology of dead kids.

There’s a lot less here than meets the eye, or so it seemed when I read about a new study by researchers at Yale called “Tragic, but not random: The social contagion of nonfatal gunshot injuries.” It’s an attempt to create categories of likely future shooting victims in Chicago and, thus, determine who among us is most in danger. Well, sure, why not? But in the process, the study, at least as it was reported a few days ago in the Chicago Sun-Times, utterly depersonalized the potential victims, along with the communities in which they lived, reducing them to components in a mathematical formula.

The researchers “sought to go beyond a racial explanation for nonfatal shootings,” according to the Sun-Times. “They were trying to explain why a specific young African-American male in a high-crime neighborhood becomes a shooting victim, while another young black man in the same neighborhood doesn’t, the study said.”

It was all so cold and “scientific,” so grandly removed from the hoo-hah of growing up in the big city — of life, death, guns, gangs, poverty and the criminal justice system. As we go about the business of trying to create meaningful lives, it turns out that disinterested mega-forces, as impersonal as gravity, are colluding to determine our fate. Don’t worry. Scientists are studying these forces. They’ll get them figured out. Meanwhile, go shopping. Or whatever.

2015.2.11.EcoWatch.BF"The only way forward is choosing energy efficiency and renewables," writes Naidoo. (Photo: zpeckler / Flickr)KUMI NAIDOO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

On Saturday I joined a panel at the Munich Security Conference in Germany and talked about global security and energy security. You might be surprised to see Greenpeace at a security conference. The room was full of members of the “strategic community,” people who are not the crowd we normally engage with; they are the crowd we have historically challenged with our peace campaigns. However, I appreciated having the opportunity to be a dissenting voice and to talk about what I consider is the path towards true energy security.

What often dominates discussions about peace and security are questions about solutions—around how conflicts are to be addressed and solved, economic sanctions, peace missions, diplomatic negotiations—these are all the mechanisms we have become accustomed to which dominate the discourse.

I urge you however to think about this from a different perspective—prevention. How could conflicts have been prevented and even more importantly—how can the next conflicts be prevented, or at least how do we mitigate the risks.

When I look back at 2014 and consider the many conflicts that have plagued our planet, there is one fact that I cannot ignore and that is—our addiction to fossil fuels is taking us on the road to nowhere.

2015.2.11.Brasch.BFEric Cantor (R-Virginia) said of Keystone XL: "This was a bipartisan pipeline project that will put people back to work right away and will boost our domestic energy security." (Photo: Mattias Gugel / Medill)

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Conservatives in Congress have once again proven they are not really interested in increasing jobs in the US if corporate campaigns are at stake. This time, it’s because of their fierce approval for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline, being built and run by TransCanada, will bring tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. All the oil will be exported. Major beneficiaries, including House Speaker John Boehner, are those who invest in a Canadian company.

Opponents see the 1,179-mile pipeline as environmentally destructive. They cite innumerable leaks and spills in gas pipelines, and correctly argue that the tar sands oil is far more caustic and destructive than any of the crude oil being mined in the United States. They point out the pipeline would add about 240 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. They also argue that the use of eminent domain by a foreign corporation, in this case a Canadian one, to seize private property goes against the intent of the use of eminent domain. Eminent domain seizure, they also correctly argue, should be used only to benefit the people and not private corporations.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015 12:24

Why the Attack on Tenure?

STEVEN JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBooks(Photo: Dr. Marcus Gossler)Tenure for K-12 teachers has been under attack from the Right for a long time. In many states, like Virginia, it does not exist. But now a new attack is being mounted by an ex-news anchor named Campbell Brown. Brown claims that THE cause of bad education in bad schools is bad teachers. And then she goes on to claim that THE solution to getting rid of bad teachers is to end tenure. Of course, the substitute for no tenure would presumably mean no protections of any kind for teachers, against arbitrary firings. They could be done by whomever would then be in charge of the firings. However, details on the latter do not seem to be on Brown's agenda for description.

But critics of the Brown type, and the Joe Klein type, don't often get into the programs that they propose to substitute for the programs they wish to eliminate (like the Repubs. on Obamacare, but that's another matter.) Joe Klein, you may remember, is the businessman that Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York City first put in charge of the city schools. He did prove one thing: someone with no background in education other than his own is unlikely to be able to effectively lead the nations' largest school system (and one of the world's largest, to boot).

The main argument here is that indeed there are bad teachers in every school system whether they have tenure protections or not. Of course there are bad news anchors who cannot hold a job and there are businessmen who cannot effectively run a school system, but that's another matter too. Not that there are that many bad teachers, possibly up to 5 percent. But, and this is the big BUT, getting rid of tenure would in no way ensure that bad teachers would be gotten rid of.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCatholicPrayer(Photo: ProtoplasmaKid)During the one and only debate between Republican candidate Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter in the presidential campaign of 1980, Carter went off on Reagan about his record on Medicare. With one superbly delivered line – "There you go again" – Reagan disarmed and deflated Carter, and pretty much won the debate; all the while forever etching a phrase into the political lexicon.

Instead of Reagan's "There you go again," one couldn't help but think "There they go again," while reading reports that the conservative Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, is demanding that his archdiocese's Catholic High School teachers adhere to Catholic doctrine in their professional and private lives. Across the Bay, Bishop Michael Barber, who plowed similar ground last year -- to great consternation amongst faculty, staff and parents -- issued a new contract with a little bit of kinder, gentler language.

Cordileone's twenty-first century culture war crusade comes in the form of the archdiocese's new handbook -- aimed at faculty and staff at four Catholic high schools: Riordan and Sacred Heart in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield and Serra High School in San Mateo – which, the San Francisco Chronicle's Heather Knight reported, declares that "sex outside of marriage, homosexual relations, the viewing of pornography and masturbation are 'gravely evil.'"

"The document," Knight pointed out, "notes that while not all staff at the schools are Catholic, they are 'required to stand as effective and visible professional participants and proponents of truly Catholic education.' Those who are not Catholic 'must refrain' from participating in organizations that 'advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the church.'"

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