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Guest Commentary (3825)

2014.10.12.BF.1(Photo: Rev. Billy Talen / Stop Shopping Choir)

REV. BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT​

Yesterday, we landed in St. Louis and texted our Ferguson friends as we walked from the gate. And we went to the baggage claim where the cops claimed my bag!

Of course it hadn't occurred to me, coming from the World Bank protest in Washington, DC, that my little duffel bag on wheels has what looks like a START-UP ACTIVIST KIT: a bullhorn, double AA batteries, Elvis hair goop and make-up, "Tree Spiker" the memory by Earth First founder Mike Roselle, and spare clothes and Theo's seven foot collapsible camera tripod.

We saw the cops and the sniffer-dog coming in and kept waiting for the old duffel to pop down the conveyor belt. Nothing.

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGlasgowEcoWatch(Photo: EcoWatch)The movement on college campuses to divest from fossil fuels has been growing in the U.S. and currently has commitments from 13 schools including Stanford University. Now Glasgow University has become the first academic institution in Europe to decide to divest.

This is a victory for the student-led Glasgow University Climate Action Society (GUCAS). As in the U.S., the European movement is led primarily by students. After a year-long campaign involving more than 1,300 students, freedom of information requests, rallies, flash mobs, fake oil spills and banner drops, the University of Glasgow Court voted today to remove 18 million pounds (about 29 million dollars) from investments in fossil fuel companies over a ten-year period and to freeze further investments from its entire 128 million pound endowment.

In a petition posted at gofossilfree.org, the students wrote, “The university has both a moral and a financial duty to its students to withdraw its investments from the fossil fuel industry. The moral case is clear: if it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage. Furthermore, fossil fuels are a dangerous investment. The value of companies like Shell, BP and Chevron is based on the assumption that they will be able to dig up and sell their fossil fuel reserves. But if the world gets serious about stopping climate change, that would mean keeping 80 percent of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground, and the assumption that forms the basis for these companies’ value will be undermined.”

Thursday, 09 October 2014 06:27

Sweden and the Waking of Eco-Integrity

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaEcologyEarth(Photo: NASA)Startling news: Sweden now recycles 99 percent of its waste.

At least that’s what people are saying, including an official website of Sweden itself: “Less than one per cent of Sweden’s household waste ends up in a rubbish dump.” There may be less to this statement than meets the eye, but before I address that issue, I need to pause at the jolt of ecstatic excitement and jubilant incredulity I felt for a moment — that maybe the resource-consuming, planet-destroying, multinational political and economic system I’m part of is capable of correcting its own insanity, committing itself to a sustainable future and embracing the circle of life.

I’ve gotten used to living with despair: that so little of our effort, energy, intelligence and determination are invested in creating a sustainable future; and, indeed, that humanity’s macro-organizations, its national governments, its multinational business enterprises, expend their enormous power not only contributing to the devastation but sabotaging every effort to make it stop.

I’ve felt trapped in a state of permanent disconnect. Human indifference and helplessness, on a scale that is large beyond reckoning and as tiny as the car key in my hand and the bag of trash at my doorstep, seems permanently planted between me and the natural world. Only humans create garbage. Beyond our reckoning, everything has a purpose — but we cannot access or be part of this purpose, even though we come from it.

What if humanity actually committed itself, at the level of a national government, to learning from and working with nature? What if environmentalism didn’t mean (only) marching in the streets, pumping one’s fists or chaining oneself to a tree? I respect and honor such efforts — 300,000-plus people on the streets of New York demanding a sustainable future — but know that the point isn’t to celebrate individual righteousness but, rather, to awaken the integrity of our most powerful institutions.

2014.10.8.Water.BFDan River coal ash spill, February 2014. (Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance/Rick Dove)

RHIANNON FIONN FOR ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Thanks to the third-largest and most recent coal ash spill at Duke Energy’s Dan River plant in Eden, N.C., this past February—and the federal investigation and political nonsense that followed—it may seem as though coal ash is only a North Carolina issue, but it is not. Coal ash pollution is a national issue (well, truly, it’s an international issue) that warrants national media attention, though it rarely enjoys that sort of spotlight.

However, with MSNBC’s coal-ash segment last night and news from The Charlotte Business Journal that CBS’ “60 Minutes” is working on a special investigation that should air in about a month, the spotlight is coming coal ash’s way.

This will be 60 Minutes’ second special on coal ash.

2014.10.8.Hightower.BFMarriott Hotel, downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: Chris / Flickr)

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

As an old popular song from the 1970s asks, what do you get if you "work your fingers right down to the bone"? Boney fingers.

As the hardworking housekeepers for the sprawling Marriott chain of hotels know, that's more than a cute song lyric; it's the truth. Mostly women, these "room attendants," as they're called, are paid a poverty wage of barely $8 an hour by this hugely profitable lodging conglomerate to preform a very hard, physical job. Compelled to do very heavy lifting at unsafe speeds, they suffer the highest injury rate in the so-called "hospitality" industry. Some two-thirds of them have to take pain medication just to get through their day of heaving 100-pound mattresses, stooping to clean floors and toilets and twisting to readjust furniture in 15 to 20 rooms per shift.

Yet, Marriott's CEO publicly hails the very women he exploits as "the heart of the house," saying his chain likes to express its appreciation to them with "special recognition events" during International Housekeepers Week. Yes, exploited room refreshers are not rewarded with a living wage, but with their very own congratulatory week — how great is that?

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaStealthJesus(Photo: John Singleton Copley)In 1990, a young Ralph Reed, newly hired by Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition to oversee its daily operations, told the Los Angeles Times that, "What Christians have got to do is take back this country, one precinct at a time, one neighborhood at a time and one state at a time. I honestly believe that in my lifetime, we will see a country once again governed by Christians...and Christian values."

A year later, in an interview with Norfolk, Virginia's Virginian-Pilot, Reed talked about the organization's stealth political strategy, a strategy aimed at having Religious Right candidates hide their social agenda, while talking about other issues more attractive to voters, such as lower taxes: "I want to be invisible. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night."

In a 1992 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Reed, who left the Christian Coalition a few years later to start up his own public relations firm, and was later caught up in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, explained stealth: "It's like guerrilla warfare. If you reveal your location, all it does is allow your opponent to improve his artillery bearings. It's better to move quietly, with stealth, under the cover of night."

In the intervening nearly twenty-five years, the Religious Right has used a number of strategies, from Reed's stealth tactics to developing high-powered political organizations and high-profile leaders like the Moral Majority's Jerry Falwell, the Christian Coalition's Pat Robertson, and Focus on the Family's James Dobson; from placing a succession of anti-gay and anti-abortion initiatives on state ballots to mobilizing committed conservative grassroots activists.

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaEbola(Photo: CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith)As weeks go, last week wasn’t exactly a great one. It began with the inevitable appearance of Ebola in the United States. It ended with ISIS beheading yet another hostage. Our two biggest fears on the global stage just flexed their muscles and got scarier. It is no surprise then, that there is a panicky edge to the discussion of either topic, or that the proposed solutions to either issue are becoming ever more extreme and outlandish.

Let’s take a step back for a second. Yes, Ebola is awful. The death toll in West Africa is over 3000, and the total number of cases could hit 1.4 million within 4 months. Given that the current outbreak has a mortality rate that is pushing 60%, those are grim figures. But, despite widespread panic, the number of confirmed cases within the United States remains at exactly one. And yes, ISIS is awful. Over 5000 Iraqis have died as a result of its military actions, and ISIS is singularly unconcerned with avoiding things like genocide or war crimes. But how many Western hostages have been beheaded by ISIS? Four, a number that will hopefully remain unchanged.

That last paragraph could be taken in a very nasty way. No Americans dying? Eh, who cares? That isn’t my intention at all. What is interesting is how we’ve seemed to settle upon ISIS and Ebola as our designated fears of the season, especially since things aren’t going all that well elsewhere. From the Ukraine, to Hong Kong, to Egypt, to Estonia, there are any number of areas in the world where things could very rapidly spiral out of control just as easily as the situation in Iraq and Syria. Back at home, heart disease kills 600,000 every year, and even a lightweight like measles has taken 41 in 2014. Again, it would seem that there are many things out there that are every bit as threatening, if not more threatening, than Ebola.

2014.10.6.Marcus.1The 1981 Diablo Nuclear Power Plant blockade. (Photo: Jacqueline Marcus)JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

It was a relatively cool afternoon on the central coast of California.  The fog settled quietly over the hills like a white heron.  And despite the worst drought in our state’s history, the sky was a deep blue, the color of autumn, the sun shimmered brightly on the bay, a few crows shouted above the field where my two Labradors were happily chasing a squirrel to no avail—just another ordinary day - until suddenly PG&E’s Diablo Nuclear Power Plant’s siren went off.  I forgot that they were running a routine test that day.

There are four rotating speakers that roar an alarming sound: EMERGENCY! It is so loud that PG&E warn residents a week in advance so that you can protect your hearing and your pets’ ears from the blaring sirens. My dogs freaked out - and so did I. We ran as fast as we could back to the house.

Central coast residents have grown accustomed to these routine tests. But that day - for a moment, I thought it was the real thing. It feels as if you’re in a war zone and that you had better take cover as quickly as possible. Problem is—there is no real “escape plan” if the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant became a Fukushima meltdown catastrophe.  

And that’s the ultimate irony about the routine siren tests: it’s an exercise in futility.

2014.10.6.Buchheit.BF (Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Steve Wampler, epicharmus)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

For the second year in a row, America's richest 14 individuals made more from their annual investments than the $80 billion provided for people in need of food. Nearly half of the food-deprived are children. Perversely, the food stamp program was CUT because of a lack of federal funding.

In a testament to the inability -- or unwillingness -- of Congress to do anything about the incessant upward re-distribution of America's wealth, the richest 14 Americans increased their wealth from $507 billion to $589 billion in ONE YEAR from their investment earnings. As stated by Forbes, "All together the 400 wealthiest Americans are worth a staggering $2.29 trillion, up $270 billion from a year ago."


The Richest 14 Made Enough Money to Hire Two Million Pre-School Teachers or Emergency Medical Technicians

Billions of dollars of wealth, derived from years of American productivity, have been transferred to a few financially savvy and well-connected individuals who have spent a generation shaping trading rules and tax laws to their own advantage. It's so inexplicably one-sided that the 2013 investment earnings of the richest 1% of Americans ($1.8 trillion) was more than the entire budget for Social Security ($860 billion), Medicare ($524 billion), and Medicaid ($304 billion).

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSwingset(Photo: Chamaeleon)The air at Texas playgrounds could be hazardous to children’s health. That’s what nonprofit environmental testing group ShaleTest, which tracks the impact of shale oil and gas extraction for communities which can’t afford such tests, found as part of its Project Playground: Cleaner Air for Active Kids funded by Patagonia. The group ran air quality tests at five recreational parks and playgrounds in the north Texas, located near natural gas processing plants in the Barnett shale fracking area. It found harmful chemicals, including carcinogens, at all five.

“The oil and gas industry claims that they’re drilling responsibly,” said ShaleTest president Tim Ruggiero. “These tests show they’re not.”

The story was featured on the cover of the alternative newsweekly Fort Worth Weekly this week under the headline “Bad Air Day.” It described a deserted Delga Park in Fort Worth next to a huge natural gas compressor station run by Chesapeake Energy, which reporter Peter Gorman had to leave after two hours because his eyes were tearing and he had difficulty breathing.

ShaleTest collected air samples at the locations and compared the results to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ)’s Effects Screening Levels (ESL) and Air Monitoring Comparison Values (AMCV), “set to protect human health and welfare,”  according to the TCEQ. The parks include two in Fort Worth, one in the Fort Worth/Dallas area suburb of Mansfield, the city of Denton and DISH in Denton County, whose story was told in Josh Fox’s Gasland films.

“The people living around Delga Park, in particular, are going to be sacrificed in the long term,” Calvin Tillman, former mayor of DISH and co-founder of ShaleTest, told Fort Worth Weekly. “And the sickening thing is that they’re being sacrificed so that the gas company can make a few bucks.”

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