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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaShakles(Photo: Klaus with K )Since the mid-1980s, prison privatization – a reality from the time of the American Revolution – has experienced unprecedented growth. Totally absorbed with profit making, it is safe to say that daily life for prisoners has not been enhanced. One of the few bright spots for many prisoners has been the face-to-face family visit. Now, along comes something called video visitation, the latest profit-making venture trying to suck up to strapped county jail systems, and suck money out of the pockets of prisoners and their families.

Video visitation is a phenomenon that "has been quietly sweeping the nation's state prisons and county jails," a report by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) pointed out. "Currently, more than 500 facilities in 43 states and the District of Columbia are experimenting with video visitation," according to the non-profit, non-partisan PPI.

Earlier this year, the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) released Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails, "its first comprehensive national survey of the video visitation industry." Maya Schenwar, Truthout's editor-in-chief and the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better, discussed the report in a mid-February piece.

Bernadette Rabuy, Policy and Communications Associate with PPI, and co-author of the report (along with Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, and a co-author of the Prison Policy Initiative's oft-cited previous expose Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden Fees in the Jail Phone Industry), told The Real News Network's Eddie Conway that while video visitation has its upside – allowing family members living far from their imprisoned relatives to stay in touch – it also is "being implemented to replace traditional visits."

Monday, 27 April 2015 10:47

"Dr. Evil" Turns Out to Be "Dr. Silly"

2015.27.4 BF Hightower(Photo: IntangibleArts)JIM HIGHTOWER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Big Oil, labor exploiters, industrial food factories, frackers and other corporate profiteers have been paying a lot of money to a man that celebrates himself "Dr. Evil" — the scourge of all progressive groups!

But Rick Berman is not a doctor, not evil and not a scourge. While he is a wholly unprincipled little man, he's just a self-serving huckster who grubs for corporate dollars by offering to do their dirty PR work. His specialty is taking secret funding from major corporations to publicly slime environmentalists, low-wage workers and anyone else perceived by his corporate clients as enemies.

Berman's modus operandi is not exactly sophisticated. Taking money from the likes of Phillip-Morris, Monsanto and Tyson Foods, he sets up tax-exempt front groups (with non-descript names like Center for Consumer Freedom, Employment Policies Institute and Environmental Policy Alliance), posing them as independent research and academic outfits. Each one is an empty shell, run by his small staff of political hacks out of his Washington, D.C., office, and, using the names of the front groups, Berman and Co. buy full-page newspaper ads and write opinion pieces filled with made-up facts and manufactured horror stories for clueless media outlets that amount to raw hatchet attacks on whatever progressive groups or public policies the corporate funders want to kill.

His mad dog style is hardly worrisome to those targeted, for rather than drawing converts to the corporate funder's cause, it merely rallies the usual anti-labor, anti-enviro, anti-"fill in the blank" crowd. But it still appeals to brand-name corporate clients, for Berman promises to spew their message into the media without having any of the nastiness stick to them. "We run all this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors," he assured energy executives last year.

2015.27.4 BF Buchheit(Photo: fsecart)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Because of irresponsible reporting by conservative sources, many Americans have been led to believe that social programs are bankrupting our nation. The mainstream media fawningly concurs, with statements like this from USA Today: "The massive deficits...[and] chronic underfunding...are largely the result of Washington's habit of committing too much money to benefit programs." States are now beginning to attack imagined safety net abuses, such as the use of food stamp funds to pay for fortune tellers and pleasure cruises.

But hungry people rarely waste their modest benefits, and most are eager to work to support their households. Almost three-quarters of those enrolled in food stamps and other social programs are members of working families. And according to the US Department of Agriculture, only 1 cent of every SNAP dollar is used fraudulently.

The real threat is the array of entitlements demanded by the very rich. As they get richer, they're gradually bankrupting the greater part of America, the middle and lower classes. The following annual numbers may help to put our country's expenses and benefits in perspective.

2015.23.4 BF Hoffner(Photo: Bill)ERIK HOFFNER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Community activists from Cajamarca, Peru appeared at the annual shareholders’ meeting of Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation this week to deliver a petition bearing 150,000 signatures protesting the company’s practices in the region, and demanded that it live up to its own goals for human rights and sustainability.

Newmont is majority owner of the massive Peruvian gold mine Yanacocha, the second largest gold mine in the world, and its planned Conga gold and copper mine nearby would be even larger, requiring a farming community to move and the four lakes they rely on for irrigation to be drained.

But the community has so far refused to relinquish its treasured land and lakes, and in response activists say the company has reacted with intimidation and harassment.

One person particularly in the company’s cross-hairs is Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, says activist Mirtha Vásquez, a Peruvian lawyer at Wednesday’s meeting. Acuña de Chaupe’s land abuts one of the four lakes but after de Chaupe refused to sell her land in 2011, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Earthworks reported that her family became the target of harassment and violence in the form of beatings and destruction of the family home. Then Newmont sued her for “land invasion” and violent retaliation, which it lost on appeal in December 2014.

2015.23.4 BF Berkowitz(Photo: DonkeyHotey)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The Koch Brothers, who have pledged to spend at least $1 billion dollars between now and the 2016 elections, first appeared to be building the Good Ship Scott Walker, and now … that may not be putting away their construction gear. At a recent fundraiser for the New York State Republican Party, David Koch told donors that he and his brother were thinking that the Wisconsin’s Governor could be a winning candidate. "We will support whoever the candidate is," David Koch said, "but it should be Scott Walker," according to an account in The New York Times.

While Koch fell short of a full-throated endorsement of Walker, several attendees at the fundraiser told The New York Times that the billionaire brothers seemed to have picked their man. "Scott Walker is terrific and I really wish him all the best,” Koch said. “He’s a tremendous candidate to be the nominee in my opinion." He later added that he wasn’t “endorsing or supporting any candidate for president at this point in time."

A day later, Charles Koch moonwalked his brother’s remarks, telling USA Today that there were four other candidates the brothers were paying close attention to: former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida. "Those are the ones we have talked to the most and who seem to be the possible leaders," he said.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaTallCross(Photo: Dustin Johnston)Former Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann recently told Jan Markell, the host of a radio program "End Times," that the rapture is coming and the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran is bringing it on. "Surprisingly, over 22 percent of Americans believe that the world will end during their lifetime," Roy Speckhardt, the executive director of the American Humanist Association, recently reported in the Huffington Post. "This number is even higher when considering the religious, as 54 percent of Protestants and 77 percent of Evangelicals believe that the 'world is now living in the biblical end times.'"

To Christian filmmaker Paul Lalonde, that is music to his ears.

The filmmaker, who is trying to milk every last drop out of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins' "Left Behind" series of wildly popular apocalyptic novels, has launched a fundraising drive for another Left Behind movie. It appears that production of Left Behind movies will only cease after the Rapture.

Despite the fact that there doesn't appear to be a craving for a sequel to last year's Left Behind box office flop, nevertheless Cloud Ten Pictures producer and CEO, Paul Lalonde, recently announced that a sequel has been green lighted and could be in theaters in the summer of 2016.

The first film, starring Nicolas Cage (actually the second time around for a series of movies based on the "Left Behind" books), garnered only $14 million domestically at the box office and $20 million worldwide. Prior to the release of the first film, Lalonde had pinned his hopes on the star power of Cage and enhanced Hollywood-like real deal action sequences.

"Now," to paraphrase Denzel Washington in the film Philadelphia, "explain to me like I'm a four-year-old why we need another Left Behind movie."

Wednesday, 22 April 2015 07:22

What BP and TEPCO Don't Want You to Know

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDeepWater(Photo: Louisiana GOHSEP)On my way home from the market, I happened to tune in to an interview on a program that airs on our NPR station called Making Contact. The topic of discussion was titled BP Five Years Later: Deepwater Horizon and the Cost of Oil...

Journalists, scientists and residents were interviewed about how BP’s Deep Horizon, (“Deep” is a reference to offshore deepwater drilling) that exploded into raging flames on April 20th 2010, the largest and most devastating oil catastrophe in history, created a crisis of Biblical proportions. Beneath the Gulf’s seafloor is one of the most dangerous places to drill. BP has done more to establish that fact than any other oil company.

The blowout literally transformed an ocean that was teeming with life into a toxic, dead zone. BP is not the only oil company to blame. The oil industry, with the help of their paid-off political officials, has committed egregious crimes of pollution, and irreparable damage with their oil pipes and spills to rich habitats, pelican and turtle sanctuaries, marshes, wetlands and coastal ecosystems since the 1930s. But BP’s blowout was by far the last deadly nail to the Gulf’s coffin.

Layers of oil, like a huge bathtub ring, have settled on the seafloor, the size of Rhode Island, with no signs of recovery. This thick blanket of oil has prevented regeneration of life that begins at the most basic level of the Gulf’s ecology, such as plankton—minute plants and animals that are the foundation of the ocean’s food chain. The plankton cannot survive as waters become hypoxic i.e. depleted of oxygen due to microbes digesting oil and methane gas. Once the foundation of the food chain is contaminated, nothing can survive.

2015.20.4 BF Berkowitz(Photo: Terry Kearney)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Librarians are serving the public in ways unimaginable 20 to 25 years ago, “offering free technology workshops, small business centers and 24/7 virtual access to e-Books and digital materials.” But one thing that hasn’t changed with the passage of time is that there is a small, but vocal group of mostly conservative parents aiming to remove books they don’t approve of from library shelves; over the past few years, those efforts seem to be particularly focused on books written by authors of color.

Earlier this month during National Library Week, April 12– 18, the American Library Association (ALA) released its 2015 State of America’s Libraries report. The report covers a myriad of issues and trends that school, public and academic libraries across the country are currently facing, recognizing that “Public libraries serve as community anchors that address economic, educational, and health disparities in the community. They offer educational programs, print and digital books, access to databases, meeting spaces, and instruction on how to use new technologies.”

The American Library Association is “the oldest, largest and most influential library association in the world. Its approximately 56,000 members are primarily librarians but also trustees, publishers and other library supporters.”

An ALA Press Release titled “New State of America’s Libraries Report finds shift in role of U.S. libraries,” public libraries and librarians are viewed as change agents by addressing unique needs and identifying trends that impact the community. The majority of public libraries offer neutral space for patrons, residents and students to discuss and resolve critical issues.” 

2015.20.4 BF BUchheit(Photo: DonkeyHotey)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Every American deserves a share of our country's co-owned wealth. While the Kochs and the Waltons may not be lining up to collect their checks, most families will, and they will benefit immensely, as will the economy in an inevitable surge of consumer spending. It's not redistribution or a handout, because each family will be reimbursed for the use of its share of the air and the land and the water, and for 70 years of labor and taxes.

Americans want to work, but available jobs don't provide a living wage. Almost three-quarters of people receiving public assistance are members of working families.

As a result of their low pay, almost two-thirds of Americans would be unable to cover a $1,000 emergency room visit with funds from their bank accounts. A national dividend would help to fix that. There are several powerful reasons why this should happen.

COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDivestHarvard(Photo: EcoWatch)Many students have vowed to ramp up their divestment campaigns at universities across America this spring. One group who has garnered much media attention is Divest Harvard, which is wrapping up a week-long campaign known as “Harvard Heat Week.” Harvard has the largest endowment of any university in the world at $36.4 billion, and hundreds of alumni including Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, and former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth are participating in the group’s efforts this week.

After a week of sit-ins that have shut down administration offices at Massachusetts Hall, President Faust finally reached out directly to students with Divest Harvard. ”I would be happy to meet with you and a representative group of your student colleagues when you have ceased disrupting university operations,” wrote President Faust in an email.

The students however were not pleased with the offer for another closed door meeting and called for a more open process on divestment that schools like MIT have convened. Divest Harvard has made multiple requests for a more transparent process involving the entire student body, faculty and alumni. The group knows there is strong support for divestment because the student body voted 72 percent in favor of divestment and hundreds of faculty and thousands of alumni signed a letter supporting the initiative.

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