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EditorBlog (1646)


2016july homelessvetsVeterans need more housing and assistance. (Photo: Rusty Clark)

At almost any big sporting championship, there's the moment when a baritone announcer becomes solemn, pauses and then introduces a heart-tugging spectacle honoring US military veterans. Usually the crowd roars and waves the flag, feeling a sense of both patriotism and pity for the person, wounded in action, who is brought onto the field. When the presentation is over, however, the rush of jingoistic rhetoric subsides -- as does concern about the fate of individual veterans.

One could argue that such tributes to veterans serve the consciences of those who rely on a voluntary military to assure the continuation of a prosperous lifestyle. These dazzling displays of gratitude, however, do not do much to meet the actual needs of psychologically and physically wounded veterans, as well as those in economic need.

Furthermore, the ephemeral warm and fuzzy feeling sports fans receive for "supporting our troops" by simply responding to a presentation are part of a marketing message. According to a 2015 PBS Newshour report:

The United States Department of Defense paid the National Football League more than $5 million in taxpayer money between 2011 to 2014 to honor U.S. soldiers and veterans at games, an investigation revealed this week.

Nearly $5.4 million was given to 14 NFL teams across the country, the bulk of which ($5.3 million) was supplied by the National Guard and the rest paid by the Army and Air Force, according to government records obtained by NJ.com.

But instead of purely heartfelt salutes to soldiers from hometown football teams, the halftime segments were reportedly part of paid promotions under federal advertising contracts for the military.

One might say the entire unseemly enterprise is more Hollywood production than "heartfelt."



2016jul7 warnomoreWars are largely fought now to ensure comfort and wealth, not to liberate people. (Photo: micagoto)

In the attacks of 9/11, the US government found the ideal motivating factor to pursue wars across the globe (particularly in the Middle East): fear.

Yes, there were terrorist attacks in the United States. And those attacks were all the more affronting to those in the US because since the Civil War, this country has been largely immune to any attacks on US soil (with a couple of notable exceptions, such as Pearl Harbor). We have come to see ourselves as immune to foreign attack, whether committed by nations or non-state terrorist organizations. Unlike most of the rest of the world, we have not seen our streets and sidewalks crushed by tanks and our cities bombed into rubble.

Meanwhile, according to journalist and researcher Nick Turse, the US is expanding its military action, particularly in low-level intensity conflicts, around the world. Political figures will claim that this military warfare is necessary to protect us from state enemies and terrorists alike. However, the reality is that for the most part, the US conducts war to protect its hegemony over regions of the world that supply it with raw materials, inexpensive labor and lucrative markets for corporations.

One need not look beyond the Middle East to see an example of an entire region that was first colonized by Europe in the early 1900s. The only thing that has changed since then is that the oil-rich region was carved up into nations that are still largely under the hegemonic control of the West. When oil-rich nations such as Iraq or Libya become troublesome to the US, they are "liberated" at the costs of hundreds of thousands of civilians, soldiers and US lives to ensure the ongoing availability of fossil fuel. The "dictators" are replaced with Western-friendly governments installed by the US and nations of the European Union (particularly the UK and France).

Our wars are frequently disguised under the propaganda sloganeering of fighting terrorism and "tyranny." This "sells" much better than portraying the reality of people dying and being displaced in massive numbers to ensure that wealthy people in the West -- particularly in the US -- can continue to enjoy a prosperous lifestyle. Except on rare occasions, we have not actually initiated wars to liberate the oppressed; we have fought to enrich the wealth of those who benefit from the resources that are "liberated" to our control. Western nations don't have to administer colonial governments anymore; they just have to conduct coups, install puppet governments and preserve the appearance of creating independent free nations.


24272362830 425ed068b4 zBillboard of a demagogue "on message." (Photo: Tony Webster)

Mainstream media pundits and Republican Party apparatchiks are expressing the desire for Donald Trump to start sounding "presidential' and to "stay on message." An Associated Press article this weekend stated:

Weary Republicans are looking for assurances that Donald Trump can maintain the discipline needed to stay on message as he prepares for a bruising general election run-up against Hillary Clinton....

As he kicked off his general election campaign Friday, a thorny question has arisen: How does the party keep Trump in check?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently advised Trump on this matter, as reported by Politico:

"In addition to that, it's time to quit attacking various people you competed with or various minority groups in the country and get on message," McConnell told reporters. 

What might be an example of being "on message," to the top GOP dog in the Senate? Why, doing what the Republicans have been doing vociferously and obstructively for nearly eight years: attacking "the implementation of Obamacare."

Obsessively bloviating and babbling about a few Republican mantras would provide the "on message" credentials for Trump to be the CEO of the United States, McConnell is implying.


2016June30 trumpforeignTrump doesn't just think that he is above the law, he thinks that he is the law. (Photo: IoSonoUnaFotoCamera)

With Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee for president, it's sometimes hard to pick which outrageous action or statement to focus on. It's a bit like trying to decide which door to open in a Halloween haunted house. The difference is that at the haunted house, you may scream, but you know that whatever is frightening you isn't real. With Trump, however, you fear that the daily scares may be monstrously real threats.

Yesterday, June 29, offers a fine example of the Trump fright fest, with several possible options for dismay. First, The Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper itself, prominently posted an article that repeated a charge that the "Trump campaign [is] illegally soliciting donations from foreign nationals":

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is illegally soliciting campaign donations from foreign nationals, according to a complaint being filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission.

Mr. Trump’s campaign has emailed solicitations to foreign nationals in Iceland, Scotland, Britain, and Australia requesting that they make contributions to his presidential campaign, according to a copy of the complaint being filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, two campaign finance watchdog groups.

“Donald Trump should have known better,” said Paul S. Ryan, deputy executive director of the Campaign Legal Center.

“It is a no-brainer that it violates the law to send fundraising emails to members of a foreign government on their official foreign government email accounts, and yet, that’s exactly what Trump has done repeatedly,” Mr. Ryan said.

According to the Federal Election Commission website, "Foreign nationals are prohibited from making any contributions or expenditures in connection with any election in the U.S."


2016June29 paramedicGovernment paramedic services in the United States are increasingly being privatized. (Photo: Jim Legans, Jr)

When the issue of privatization of public services is raised, we don't often hear about it in relation to ambulances and paramedics. However, these emergency services -- often a matter of life or death -- are not immune to the shift toward privatization. That is why a June 25 New York Times article on the growing ownership of public emergency services (including fire departments) by investors is particularly chilling:

A Tennessee woman slipped into a coma and died after an ambulance company took so long to assemble a crew that one worker had time for a cigarette break.

Paramedics in New York had to covertly swipe medical supplies from a hospital to restock their depleted ambulances after emergency runs.

A man in the suburban South watched a chimney fire burn his house to the ground as he waited for the fire department, which billed him anyway and then sued him for $15,000 when he did not pay.

In each of these cases, someone dialed 911 and Wall Street answered.

It is a specific branch of Wall Street -- private equity -- that is heavily investing in acquiring public services such as emergency transport. 


2016June28 tppdncIt appears that Hillary Clinton is trying to have it both ways on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Photo: Cool Revolution)

As a concession to Bernie Sanders and his large electoral following in the Democratic primaries, the Clinton campaign got the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to let him appoint five delegates to the Democratic Party Platform Drafting Committee. Hillary Clinton got to name six representatives to the committee. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the DNC, named four. Considering that the prestigious and vocal progressives of the Sanders camp were outnumbered, you might think that the Clinton campaign had offered nothing more than a symbolic gesture -- and you would be partially correct.

The delegates appointed by Clinton and Wasserman-Schultz rejected many of the proposals put forth by Sanders' appointees. As Common Dreams reported on June 25:

During a 9-hour meeting in St. Louis, Missouri on Friday, members of the DNC's platform drafting committee voted down a number of measures proposed by Bernie Sanders surrogates that would have come out against the contentious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), fracking, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. At the same time, proposals to support a carbon tax, Single Payer healthcare, and a $15 minimum wage tied to inflation were also disregarded.

In a statement, Sanders said he was "disappointed and dismayed" that representatives of Hillary Clinton and DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz rejected the proposal on trade put forth by Sanders appointee Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), despite the fact that the presumed nominee has herself come out against the 12-nation deal.

"Inexplicable" was how Sanders described the move, adding: "It is hard for me to understand why Secretary Clinton’s delegates won’t stand behind Secretary Clinton’s positions in the party’s platform." 


2016june23 rentafrientHas everything become monetized in the gilded age of the internet, even friendship? (Photo: Christopher Paquette)

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Rafie Drencheva came to the United States to study for an MFA in documentary filmmaking at Northwestern University. Upon settling in, thousands of miles from Bulgaria where she was raised, she came across a website -- RentaFriend.com -- that soon became the topic of her required graduation documentary. It also became the source of, well, some friendships that extended beyond a monetary agreement.

I saw Drencheva's film, "Friends for Sale," at a screening recently and was struck by how even finding friends now has been monetized on the web. Although Drencheva hasn't released the short doc for general viewing yet (she is reserving it for film festivals at the moment), suffice it to say that it documents interactions with "friends for rent." These range from fees of $20 for baking cookies with an affable woman to $100 an hour for someone who provides nurturing cuddling.  At one point, Drencheva -- who narrates the film -- exclaims that renting friends can cost as much as a Beyoncé concert.

What struck me as I watched the interactions between Drencheva and the friends she rented -- who all appeared earnest and comforting -- is what role technology has played in the creation of the rent-a-friend concept and site (which will no doubt be followed by a number of similar online endeavors). Is our increasing dependence on digital and mobile phone communication impeding our personal interactions with people? Or is the idea of renting a friend just another niche that already existed, that the internet is now technologically capable of fulfilling more readily? (Oftentimes, the assumption is made that "technology" has created a certain issue in society, when really, that issue was always with us; technology has just made it more widely visible.) The exchange of money for other people's time -- including for companionship -- is not a new concept.


2016june22The NRA and its state affiliates have championed guns in bars. Now they are lying about it, for the moment. (Photo: Thomas Hawk)

In May, Donald Trump spoke to an National Rifle Association (NRA) conference and received the gun lobby's presidential endorsement. It was not surprising, therefore, that after the appalling massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Trump made statements backing the NRA's long-standing policy of favoring "the right" of patrons to carry guns into bars. Trump's support for "packing heat" in bars and nightclubs included remarks such as the following one -- made at campaign rally on June 17 -- according to Salon:

If we had people, where the bullets were going in the opposite direction, right smack between the eyes of this maniac — if some of those wonderful people had guns strapped right here, right to their waist or to their ankle, and this son of a bitch comes out and starts shooting, and one of the people in the room happened to have it, and goes boom — boom — you know what? That would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight, folks. That would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight. So don’t let them take your guns away.

Little did Trump know that the NRA, which is used to doubling down on its grotesque, lethal proposals, decided to lie about its record of lobbying in states -- often successfully -- to allow gun owners to legally bring their firearms into places that serve liquor. For those who follow the NRA's brash, provocative defense of guns and gun ownership -- after all, even former President George Herbert Walker Bush resigned from the NRA when their leadership called federal agents "jack-booted thugs" in the '90s -- it was a bit of a surprise to watch Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the NRA, denounce Trump's proposition. LaPierre told CBS News, when asked about Trump's ghoulish statement, "I don't think you should have firearms where people are drinking."

Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's lobbying arm (the Institute for Legislative Action), also rebuked Trump's position, stating to ABC News, "No one thinks that people should go into a nightclub drinking and carrying firearms.... That defies common sense. It also defies the law."


2016june20 nestlewaterBottled water that is "pure life." Somehow, we doubt it. (Photo: Usman Ahmed)

The refuse left behind by bottled water is damaging enough to the planet's environment, but it is also troubling that much of the spring water that fills these bottles is pumped from public lands. Take, for instance, Nestlé's Arrowhead bottled water brand. It is extracted via a pipeline from a canyon -- in California's San Bernadino Mountains -- that some environmental and activist groups argue is ecologically sensitive to the water loss. It's clearly a case of a company exploiting public land for profit.  According to a May 9 article in the San Bernadino County Sun: 

Nestlé’s withdrawal of water from a canyon watershed, which environmental groups deem critical for several endangered species, has been a growing controversy for several years.

Outcry has intensified with continuation of the drought.

Late last year, the Center for Environmental Diversity, Story of Stuff Project and Courage Campaign Institute filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing Nestlé’s pipelines, pumps and other structures on federal land after the company’s permit expired 28 years ago.

The U.S. Forest Service, which administers the federally owned land, was paid just $524 last year for 36 million gallons of water from Strawberry Canyon in the San Bernadino forest, according to the County Sun.


2016June16 radiationwaterThe EPA is proposing to allow a dramatic increase in the radiation in our drinking water in the event of an "emergency." (Photo: John Jones)

With the appropriate concern aroused about levels of lead in drinking water in cities such as Flint, a new threat to health has been raised by a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation. The proposed regulation would allow for a higher level of radioactivity in potable water. On June 8, EcoWatch detailed the alarming development:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)Monday to allow radioactive contamination in drinking water at concentrations vastly greater than allowed under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The new guidance would permit radiation exposures equivalent to 250 chest X-rays a year. Environmental groups are calling the proposal "shocking" and "egregious."

The EPA proposed Protective Action Guides (PAGs) would allow the general population to drink water hundreds to thousands of times more radioactive than is now legal. For example, radioactive iodine-131 has a current limit of 3 pico-curies per liter (pCi/L), in water but the new guidance would allow 10,350 (pCi/L), 3,450 times higher. For strontium-90, which causes leukemia, the current limit is 8 pCi/L; the new proposed value is 7,400 pCi/L, a 925-fold increase....

"These levels are even higher than those proposed by the Bush Administration—really unprecedented and shocking," Diane D’Arrigo, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said.

The advocacy organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has reacted with alarm to the new plan put forth by a government agency that is supposed to be protecting us from toxic substances. The EPA claims it is only being proactive, allowing for potential changed circumstances in the future, should a nuclear reactor failure like Fukushima occur in the United States. Given past problems with nuclear power facilities in the US, that is downright frightening. It brings to mind the 1979 near-catastrophe at the Three-Mile Island nuclear facility in Pennsylvania. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, "The Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI-2) reactor, near Middletown, Pa., partially melted down on March 28, 1979. This was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history."

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