Facebook Slider
Get News Alerts!
Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary (3828)

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaArk(Photo: Michel Wolgemut)If you've never made it to Mt. Ararat to search for remnants of Noah's Ark; visited Johan's Ark, a Noah's Ark-themed mobile structure in the Netherlands, built by Dutch creationist Johan Huibers, or the Noah's Ark theme park in Hong Kong; stopped off for a slide or two at Noah's Ark watermark -- "America's largest Waterpark" -- in Wisconsin; or didn't catch Noah the movie with Russell Crowe, do not despair. Set to open in 2016 is Ark Encounter, a Christian fundamentalist theme park in Kentucky, which will feature a 510-foot replica of Noah's Ark. Ark Encounter has been dependent on property tax breaks, donations and bonds to get off the ground, but its highly anticipated tourism tax credit worth millions of dollars, may be at risk, as questions are being raised about its discriminatory hiring practices.

Besides the 510-foor replica of Noah's Ark, the Ark Encounter project is unique in that it has received: "preliminary approval for $18 million in state tax incentives to offset the cost of the park's construction; a 75 percent property tax break over 30 years from the City of Williamstown (a town of about 3,000 near where the park will be located); an $11-million road upgrade in a rural area that would almost exclusively facilitate traffic going to and from the park; a $200,000 gift from the Grant County Industrial Development Authority to make sure the project stays in that county; 100 acres of reduced-price land and, finally $62 million municipal bond issue from Williamstown that Ham claims has kept the project from sinking," Simon Brown reported in the October issue of Church & State, a publication of the Washington, D.C. –based American United for the Separation of Church and State.

According to Brown, "the bonds received junk status, which is the lowest possible rating for an investment. ... [making] it highly unlikely that anyone who buys them will actually get money back." Although the bonds "initially sold poorly," Ham announced earlier this year that "the bond offering had succeeded."

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

akiratorture(Photo: Kilho Park )On October 9, some 2086 days after President Obama signed an executive order requiring the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, testimony continued in a court case challenging the routine practice of force-feeding detainees. It is somewhat disturbing to hear that what is being challenged is not the practice of force-feeding, in and of itself, but merely the manner in which it is being carried out. Abu Wa’el Dhiab, the individual bringing the suit, would simply like the force-feedings to be carried out in a more comfortable fashion.

And that is apparently where we’ve arrived, 2000+ days after Guantanamo was ordered to be closed. We are not debating why this closure has yet to happen. We are not questioning the practice of force-feeding, which is widely considered to be inhuman and degrading treatment. No. We’re watching a court case in which a detainee begs to be placed in a more comfortable chair while the force-feeding occurs, and even that minor request is opposed by government testimony.

Perhaps you may find it a small solace that detainees are offered a choice of nutrient flavors – from vanilla to strawberry, butter pecan to chocolate. Or that, if they are well behaved, they may be fed communally, watching television and sitting in padded chairs whilst nutrients are forced into their bodies.

Does that make you feel any better?

I thought so.

2014.10.13.BF(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

It was recently reported that Americans greatly underestimate the degree of inequality in our country. If we were given proper media coverage of the endless takeaway of our country's wealth by the super-rich, we would be infuriated. And we would be taking it personally.

Each of nine individuals (Gates, Buffett, 2 Kochs, 4 Waltons, Zuckerberg) made, on average, so much from his/her investments since January, 2013 that a median American worker would need a quarter of a million years to catch up. For the most part it was passive income, new wealth derived from the continuing productivity of America's workers.


Why We Should Take It Personally

First, because our productivity is rewarding a relatively few people. In addition, many of the top money-makers are damaging other American lives. The top nine include four people (Waltons) who pay their employees so little that we taxpayers have to pay almost $6,000 a year to support each one of the employees. And it includes two people (Kochs) who have polluted our air and water to enrich themselves while quietly funding organizations that threaten to dismantle what's left of our democracy.

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.

Page 2 of 274