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COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaClimatePope(Photo: EcoWatch)“The planet has enough food for all, but it seems that there is a lack of willingness to share it with everyone,” Pope Francis said at a mass yesterday as part of the opening of the general assembly of the Catholic charitable organization Caritas Internationalis.

Caritas, a confederation of 165 Catholic charity and aid groups from around the world, holds a general assembly once every four years. This year’s meeting, the first under Francis’ helm, is taking place this week. The Pope used the forum as a time to yet again take a strong environmental stance.

In his time as Pope, Francis has been a strong advocate on behalf of the world’s poor and vulnerable, especially in the facing of a changing climate. His remarks yesterday were no different.

“We must do what we can so that everyone has something to eat,” Francis said. “But we must also remind the powerful of the Earth that God will call them to judgment one day, and it will be seen if they truly tried to provide food for him in every person, and if they worked so that the environment would not be destroyed, but could produce this food.”

More news came from the Vatican yesterday when Pope Francis’ closest adviser chastised climate deniers in the U.S., blaming capitalism for their views. Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga criticized groups in the U.S. that have already come out against Francis’ highly anticipated encyclical on climate change.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaChain(Photo: Toni Lozano )The number of people with mental illness who are locked up in US prisons is astounding. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report indicated that more than 700,000 prisoners in state prisons reported symptoms or a history of a mental health disorder at midyear 2005. Additionally, nearly 480,000 people with mental illnesses are incarcerated in city and county jails; nearly double the population of state mental hospitals held 50 years ago.

People with severe mental illness, including major depression, bipolar disorders and schizophrenia comprise up to 25% of local, state and federal prisoners. If prisoners with anxiety and personality disorders are included, the statistics rise to over 50%.

Prisoners, and prison authorities, are dealing with such issues as depressive disorder, manic-depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, and personality disorder.

A recent Urban Institute report titled "The Processing and Treatment of Mentally Ill Persons in the Criminal Justice System -- A Scan of Practice and Background Analysis" stated that, "All too often, they [prisoners with mental illnesses] cycle through the criminal justice system without appropriate care to address their mental health."

Published in Guest Commentary

DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHill(Photo: Josve05a)Less than three weeks into her presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton has already accomplished a stunning feat: She appears to have unified large swaths of the Democratic Party and its activist base to support the core tenets of the Citizens United decision — the one that effectively allowed unlimited money into politics.

That 2010 Supreme Court ruling declared that, unless there is an explicit quid pro quo, the fact that major campaign donors "may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt." The theory is that as long as a donor and a politician do not agree to an overt bribe, everything is A-OK.

When the ruling was handed down, Democrats were outraged, and Hillary Clinton herself has recently suggested she wants it overturned. Yet with revelations that firms with business before Clinton's State Department donated to her foundation and paid her husband, Clinton's campaign and rank-and-file Democratic activists are suddenly championing the Citizens United theory.

In campaign statements and talking points — and in activists' tweets and Facebook comments — the party seems to be collectively saying that without evidence of any explicit quid pro quo, all the Clinton cash is acceptable. Moreover, the inference seems to be that the revelations aren't even newsworthy because, in the words of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, "there's nothing new" here.

To advocates for limiting the influence of money in politics, this pushback from Democrats is particularly rich (pun intended) coming from a party that spent a decade asserting that Republicans raking in cash from Big Oil and pushing oil-friendly policies was rank corruption. The Democratic defense of their presumptive presidential nominee registers as especially disturbing to campaign finance reform advocates considering the mighty efficiency of the Clinton fundraising machine.

Consider a few undisputed facts that we surfaced in our reporting at the International Business Times...

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaRainbowFlag(Photo: Benson Kua)In the 1940s and 1950s, countless people in the US were being bullied and brutalized by the anti-communist scare tactics and character assassinations of Senator Joseph McCarthy.  The end of the McCarthy red-baiting era began when Joseph Welch stood up to McCarthy after he attacked a young lawyer on his staff.  Welch was appalled by McCarthy’s callous disregard and despite McCarthy’s power, challenged him by stating: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” He concluded by saying “You’ve done enough.  Have you no sense of decency, sir?  At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

In the recent marriage equality case, Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia argued that marriage equality opens the door to polygamy, underage sex, and incest between brothers and sisters.  This is the modern equivalent of McCarthy red-baiting and deserves the same response.

The cruel, illogical, heartless and hateful arguments of Alito and Scalia give considerable support and inspiration to right wing groups who literally demonize our sisters and brothers and sons and daughters who seek only to marry their same sex partners just like the rest of us. 

Alito and Scalia give comfort to the likes of Rush Limbaugh who stated marriage equality leads to incest.  To Rick Santorum who compares same sex relationships to bestiality and pedophilia.  To the head of ironically named American Decency Association who claimed that gay rights is a satanic attack on the US.  And to legions of other people and groups who practice hostility and violence against our sisters and brothers.

Published in Guest Commentary

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."

Published in Guest Commentary

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."

Published in Guest Commentary
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.

Published in Guest Commentary

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.

Published in Guest Commentary

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSick(Photo: Calleamanecer)Snaking its way through the Pennsylvania legislature is a bill that will block local governments from requiring companies to provide sick leave, even if unpaid, that is more than required by state or federal regulations.

There are no Pennsylvania or federal regulations requiring companies to provide sick leave. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 39 percent of all employees, and 79 percent of all employees in food service and hotel industries, have no sick leave. Unlike the United States, about 130 countries require employers to provide at least one week of sick leave per employee.

The Republican-controlled state Senate passed the bill, 37–12; the Republican-controlled House will now discuss it—and probably follow the Senate's wishes.

Gov. Tom Wolf opposes this legislation, will probably veto it, and then have to deal with a Senate that has enough votes to override that veto.

The proposed legislation is in response to Philadelphia's recent directive that requires companies with at least 10 employees to provide mandatory sick leave for its workers. Several metropolitan U.S. cities, as well as California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, already require companies to provide sick leave to employees.

Republicans are hypocritically philosophically conflicted on the legislation. Their party believes in limited government regulation, and this bill would keep government out of private enterprise's believed-right to treat workers as serfs.

Published in Guest Commentary

JESSICA ENNIS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMarylandSolar(Photo: EcoWatch)This week, the Maryland General Assembly took a key step forward to allow more Marylanders than ever to access solar energy by passing community solar legislation. Community solar projects allow multiple people to subscribe to one solar energy project and offset a portion of their electric bill from the energy generated through a credit.

The bills, HB 1087 and SB 398, create a three-year pilot program that will allow for the construction of community solar projects and will examine the impact of community solar in the state and best practices throughout the U.S.

Community solar is important because approximately 80 percent of Marylanders are currently unable to choose solar energy, either because they have shaded roofs, are renters, can’t afford a full system or don’t have access to their roof. By passing the legislation, the General Assembly created the potential for all Marylanders to benefit from solar energy.

In addition to creating access, this legislation also opens up more places for solar panels to be set up. Community solar projects can be sited in a variety of places, like the roof of an apartment building, a community center, a church or even in an open field.

If the governor signs the bill, Maryland will join 10 other states with a community solar policy. Such a law would keep Maryland at the forefront of clean energy policy. By transitioning away from burning fossil fuels to expanding clean energy, Maryland is taking major step toward lessening the impacts of climate change on our environment and on our health.

Published in Guest Commentary
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