Guest Commentary (3834)
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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
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.As weeks go, last week wasn’t exactly a great one. It began with the inevitable appearance of
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.
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.
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
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 air at Texas playgrounds could be hazardous to children’s health. That’s what nonprofit environmental testing group
“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.”
ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
With the federal government considering sustainability for the first time as it solicits public comments for its 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Center for Biological Diversity, as part of its Take Extinction Off Your Plate campaign, is encouraging the government to adopt guidelines that are more environmentally friendly.
The guidelines, issues by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services every five years, offer recommendations on eating to maintain a health weight and prevent disease. This year comment guidelines include a field for “Food Systems Sustainability,” asking for comments pertaining to the impact of food groups or commodities on the whole food system and on sustainability metrics that have been implemented or are in development.
“Animal agriculture has devastating impacts on wildlife and the environment,” says Center for Biological Diversity. “Meat production is one of humanity’s most destructive and least efficient systems, accounting for astounding levels of wildlife losses, land and water pollution, deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.”
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
If you are an aging prisoner in the United States, 50 is the new 65.
This phenomenon is called “accelerated aging” and according to the Urban Institute’s KiDeuk Kim and Bryce Peterson, “the physiological age of some older prisoners is up to 15 years greater than their chronological age.” This is in stark contrast to outside prison walls where our youth-oriented culture labels “40 as the new 30,” “60 as the new 50,” and so on.
Older prisoners -- a demographic that is growing rapidly -- face numerous hardships and injustices from incarceration, including : having their chronic health conditions ignored or mistreated; physical threats from younger prisoners; the need for special equipment, including wheelchairs and walkers to be able to ambulate around their prisons; difficulties climbing on and off top bunks; trouble hearing, making it challenging to discern orders from guards; and mental health issues, many of which are the result of prolonged imprisonment.
In a new report titled, “Aging Behind Bars: Trends and Implications of Graying Prisoners in the Federal Prison System,” Kim, and Peterson emphasize that “While this may be caused by a host of related factors—including histories of unhealthy behaviors and inadequate healthcare—there is little doubt that the trauma and stress of the prison environment can have an impact on prisoners’ accelerated aging and deterioration of health.”
JIM BLOCK FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
This past weekend was the 50th reunion of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley. At the beginning of the fall term of 1964, the university administration imposed a series of strict regulations limiting the right of students to engage in political soliciting on campus. Berkeley students had for several years been active in anti-H.U.A.C., pro-labor, and anti-racism protests and demonstrations throughout the Bay area. This picture of the university as a hotbed of political activism was undermining the carefully honed image being disseminated by the state of California as the leader in public higher education: in the conservative post-war period, Berkeley was being touted as not only a world class research university but at the forefront of preparing a modern elite meritocratic student body primed for corporate and governmental leadership.
What the university administration failed to consider was the fact that many activist Berkeley students had embraced new levels of commitment to political organizing by participating in Freedom Summer, an initiative by radical civil rights organizations in the South to mobilize black Americans to challenge segregation and demand voting rights. After resolutely confronting white segregationists and racist – often violent – local public officials as full-fledged democratic activists, a university administration seeking to curtail their political expression and ignoring their insistence on the urgency of social change struck these battle-tested students as demeaning and even infantilizing. Even more decisively, these acts implicated the new model university as the central institution in integrating younger generations into the corporate, hierarchical, expansionist values increasingly driving American society. It suddenly became clear that the degree was being marketed not for any educational value but as a ticket punched to the higher levels of this post-war order and to material success, social status, and a suburban lifestyle widely being identified as the American dream.
Once the university intervened, in other words, the political dynamic shifted. What had begun as an effort to support other movements for social equity and integration quickly shifted before everyone’s eyes to a demand for the liberation of students and youth and the democratization of the institutions shaping their lives as a prelude to broader social transformation. This is the F.S.M. whose message spread throughout the U.S. and beyond, catalyzing and exposing generational tensions and revealing the compliance-oriented program of American socialization. I came to Berkeley as a neophyte, a completely apolitical and uninformed undergraduate, just days before the campus controversies began. And because the events of the next couple of years became the defining experience of my life about which I have written and taught ever since (trying to make sense of it), this reunion gave me an unparalleled opportunity to reflect on and rethink that experience in conversation with this unique community of participants in this defining moment.
FRED KRUPP OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
What’s it going to take to turn the corner to a safe and stable climate? People power and market power. That was my main takeaway from a whirlwind week in New York City.
That pairing may seem odd, since some have fallen into the habit of dividing the climate community into “outsiders,” grassroots activists who demand action, and “insiders,” policy advocates who seek to correct market failures (such as the absence of a price on carbon) in order to harness the power of the marketplace to drive change. But many climate change advocates, myself included, were busy doing both last week—and both are absolutely essential to the climate solutions we need.
I began the week at the People’s Climate March, one of an estimated 400,000 Americans who took to the streets of New York City to make an urgent call for climate action. It was thrilling to see so many people—including Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) members and staff from around the country—gather for a demonstration that was both peaceful and passionate. Tuesday morning my EDF colleagues and I hosted a meeting of officials and experts from China and the U.S., and later that day I spoke at the United Nations about the urgent climate threat posed by unchecked methane pollution, then shared ideas for restructuring global energy incentives with international leaders.
It was fitting that all of this began with a protest march, since motivating the public to demand action is absolutely necessary if we are going to prevail against the opponents of climate action. It was, by all accounts, the largest rally in the history of the climate change movement—even before you include the 2,600 smaller gatherings taking place in 166 countries around the world.
AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
appearance on 60 Minutes to talk about the ongoing efforts against ISIS. The quote that everyone is focusing on, of course, is Obama’s admission that they “underestimated ISIS.” The right is predictably working itself into a fine froth over this. Had we only carpet bombed everything back in 2013, the Middle East would now be a virtual utopia and nothing would ever go wrong in the region again. Personally, I don’t find the president’s admission to be a huge shock. Given that our last president had a bit of trouble thinking of a single mistake that he might have made, ever, it is refreshing to hear Obama utter words along these lines. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the actions we have taken, as we try to correct for our underestimation, what with the unforeseen consequences crawling out of the woodwork, but still, it’s nice to hear some acknowledgement of our fallibility.Sunday night President Obama made an
Which is why the bit that does irk me is the following gem:
“America leads. We are the indispensable nation. We have capacity no one else has. Our military is the best in the history of the world. And when trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don't call Beijing. They don't call Moscow. They call us.”
If that statement were a vehicle, it would be a Hummer with chrome-plated bumper nuts. It’s belligerent. It’s remarkably tone-deaf, coming from a man whose words are typically finely crafted. And it is, yes, stupid. There is a truth in it – no denying that. Given the amount of money we pour into our military, it certainly has the capacity to bomb, shoot, and generally wreck vast swathes of the world. We have enough nuclear weapons to ignite the Earth’s atmosphere. Our capacity is huge.
We are freaking awesome.