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MICHAEL SEIFERT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ImmigrationRights 0712wrp optAn immigration rights protest march. (Photo: z2amiller)In mid-May, just before the end of the school year, a mother drove to a local grammar school to pick up her three children. As she was parking her truck, a Brownsville police officer, apparently doing traffic duty, asked her for her papers. The woman, however, having suffered an onslaught of news reports about SB4, the Texas "Show Me Your Papers" law, told me that she thought that he meant her immigration documents. The policeman was only asking about her driver's license and proof of insurance.

The woman, shaken, went into the school office to collect her children.

Inside the school, the mother ran into the school secretary. As is the case in many communities, the secretary is considered a reliable source of knowledge. This mom, afraid, pled her case. "But the police have no right to ask me for my papers; they have no right to do that on school property! Who can I complain to?"

The secretary responded, "Ah, but you see, with that new law, SB4, everything has changed. The police can come into the school any time they want and they can take illegal people away. You should be glad that he didn't deport you. But he will be back!"

The mother of three gasped; the secretary went back to answering phones and attending other parents' needs. The mother went home and called her local parish. The priest was able to calm her fears, reminding her that she had the support of her church, and of many others. "I am not sure what exactly we will do as a parish," the priest told me, "But we will come up with something."

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Pence 0712wrp optMike Pence at CPAC. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)Shortly after the November election, The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill observed that while Mike Pence is often seen as the adult in the room, and a "counterbalance" to Donald Trump, "there is every reason to regard him as, if anything, even more terrifying than the president-elect." Scahill called Pence's ascension to vice president "a tremendous coup for the radical religious right."

While many in the nation were celebrating Pride Month – held in June to commemorate the activists who began the modern gay rights movement at the Stonewall Riots -- the White House was silent.

During the same period, Vice President Mike Pence was off singing the praises of Dr. James Dobson, one of America's premier conservative Christian anti-gay political leaders. Pence told a cheering crowd at a celebration in Colorado Springs, Colorado, of the 40th anniversary of James Dobson's "Focus on the Family" radio program, that they have "an unwavering ally in President Donald Trump."

Pence said that the passage of President Trump's health care bill will finally "defund Planned Parenthood once and for all," and he added that "the time is now" to re-engage in politics.

Earlier in June, at Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Road to Majority conference, Pence praised Dobson, calling him his "mentor," when the founder of Focus on the Family received the organization's Winston Churchill Lifetime Achievement Award. Pence assured the audience that Trump will "never stop fighting for the values and ideals that make this nation great."

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 11 July 2017 07:47

No Such Thing as a Just War

KATHY KELLY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Salmon1Benjamin Salmon, conscientious objector. (Photo: Kathy Kelly)Several days a week, Laurie Hasbrook arrives at the Voices office here in Chicago. She often takes off her bicycle helmet, unpins her pant leg, settles into an office chair and then leans back to give us an update on family and neighborhood news. Laurie's two youngest sons are teenagers, and because they are black teenagers in Chicago they are at risk of being assaulted and killed simply for being young black men. Laurie has deep empathy for families trapped in war zones. She also firmly believes in silencing all guns.

Lately, we've been learning about the extraordinary determination shown by Ben Salmon, a conscientious objector during World War I who went to prison rather than enlist in the U.S. military. Salmon is buried in an unmarked grave in Mount Carmel Cemetery, on the outskirts of Chicago.

In June, 2017, a small group organized by  "Friends of Franz and Ben" gathered at Salmon's gravesite to commemorate his life.

Mark Scibilla Carver and Jack Gilroy had driven to Chicago from Upstate NY, carrying with them a life size icon bearing an image of Salmon, standing alone in what appeared to be desert sands, wearing a prison-issue uniform that bore his official prison number. Next to the icon was a tall, bare, wooden cross. Rev. Bernie Survil, who organized the vigil at Salmon's grave, implanted a vigil candle in the ground next to the icon. Salmon's grand-niece had come from Moab, Utah, to represent the Salmon family. Facing our group, she said that her family deeply admired Salmon's refusal to cooperate with war. She acknowledged that he had been imprisoned, threatened with execution, sent for a psychiatric evaluation, sentenced to 25 years in prison, a sentence which was eventually commuted, and unable to return to his home in Denver for fear of being killed by antagonists. Charlotte Mates expressed her own determination to try and follow in his footsteps, believing we all have a personal responsibility not to cooperate with wars.

Published in Guest Commentary

KRISTINA SHULL, PhD AND ALFONZO GONZALEZ, PhD FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Prison1 0711wrpSunlight through prison bars. (Photo: Andreas Bohnenstengel)As most of us spend our summer enjoying the outdoors, firing up the barbecue, and spending time with our families – the men and women being held at the Adelanto Detention Facility, operated by the GEO Group, are re-launching a hunger strike to demand their safe release and to protest inhumane conditions.

The recent protest should make us think about the crisis of democracy that we are facing under President Donald Trump.This is now the third hunger strike by detainees at Adelanto. What started off as the #Adelanto9, nine men who were part of a refugee caravan that arrived at the U.S./Mexico border in May seeking political asylum, has gained momentum and now includes roughly 50 strikers. 

The Adelanto 9 first announced their hunger strike on the morning of June 12. Two days later, 33 womenlaunched a hunger strike of their own. Their demands include better medical care, fair bond amounts, to be reunited with their children and families, and to be treated "like humans, not animals."

The Adelanto 9 have been subjected to abusive and arbitrary forms of punishment for exercising the most basic rights that one would expect to have in a democracy. Three deaths have occurred there since the new year, and human rights groups have been tracking ongoing egregious conditions and medical neglect.

The American Civil Rights Union (ACLU) noted that the detainees were cuffed and pepper sprayed for their peaceful protest in a clear act of retaliation. One striker was deported as the remaining eight were separated into four groups; and GEO guards mocked them and threatened to tell the immigration judge about the strike to undermine their cases.

Published in Guest Commentary

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Erin 0710wrp optErin Brockovich (Photo: Eva Rinaldi)Environmental activist Erin Brockovich is helping Oklahoma's Pawnee Nation take on several fracking companies in a lawsuit alleging that damages to its tribal buildings and reservation property was the result of man-made, or induced, earthquakes.

National Geographic reports that the Native American tribe has retained the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, with the aid of Brockovich, to sue Eagle Road Oil LLC, Cummings Oil Company, and 25 other oil and gas companies.

In September 2016, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake—the state's largest ever recorded—struck near the town of Pawnee. The tribe alleges that wastewater injected into wells operated by the defendants caused the record-breaking quake and is seeking damages to real and personal property, market value losses, as well as punitive damages.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of "knowingly causing" the tremors and that their actions "constitute wanton or reckless disregard for public or private safety."

The case will be heard in tribal court. "The Nation wanted this to be an assertion of their sovereignty," Curt Marshall, counsel for Weitz & Luxenberg representing the Pawnee, told National Geographic. "After all, they are a nation, a sovereign nation: they have jurisdiction, even over non-Indians, on their land."

Published in Guest Commentary

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Net 0710 optA shredded net. (Photo: Sandstein)The entire 2017 safety net is about $850 billion, compared to over $1.5 trillion for tax expenditures, most of which are for rich Americans

The Unrelenting Wealth Grab by the 1%

The average 1% household increased its wealth by $3 million in 2016. Since much of that was in the form of stock gains, they paid tax on only a small part of their incomes, and then took an average of about $200,000 per household in tax subsidies. When ALL forms of taxes and income and capital gains are considered, the richest 1% pay lower tax rates than the poorest 20% of Americans. 

The Rich Old White Guy's Safety Net: Retirement and Health Care

Wealthy people are living longer, so they're getting much more of the late-life benefits. A Brookings report estimates that lowest-quintile Americans born in 1960 will receive "only 78 percent of the lifetime Medicare benefits received by the top income quintile." A Congressional Research Service report states: "When Social Security benefits are measured on a lifetime basis, low earners, who show little to no gains in life expectancy over time, are projected to receive increasingly lower benefits than those with high earnings." The American Medical Association agrees. The National Institutes of Health agrees. Middle- and upper-income Americans are even grabbing MEDICAID benefits because of the program's accommodating asset-exclusion limits.

Published in Guest Commentary

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Retail 0707wrp optA typical supermarket aisle. (Photo: Lars Frantzen)Excellent news, folks: A decade after Wall Street greed crashed our economy and crushed the working class, jobs are suddenly plentiful!

As an Associated Press article joyously put it, "The U.S. job market has settled into a sweet spot of steadily solid growth." At long last, the American dream is back for working families, right? Well ... in a word: No. Further down in the article, AP's sweet news turns sour with this little admission: "About all that's still missing [in the jobs market] is a broad acceleration in pay."

In other words, you can find work, but getting paid for it is another matter. And forget about such "luxuries" as health coverage, pension, sick leave, vacation time and having a regular schedule. These are not jobs, they're jobettes! Most are in service work — such as fast food chains, amusement parks, nursing homes, Big Box retailers, car washes, delivery services, supermarkets and call centers. Nearly all are poorly paid, temporary, offer little or no upward mobility and are routinely exploitative.

Ironically, the fact that so many families have been in dire economic straits for so long that they now have to take such onerous, one-sided terms of employment increases the power of low-wage corporations. With hundreds of thousands of people scrambling at once to find jobs, the bosses can effectively conspire to hold pay levels down and get away with treating hires as disposable cogs in the corporate profit machine. Indeed, the phenomenally-bloated profits they've been enjoying are largely extracted from the labor of underpaid workers. And in a double irony, corporations rationalize the obscene salaries and bonuses they give to top executives by pointing to those same profits the executives take out of the workers' paychecks.

Published in Guest Commentary

JULIA TRAVERS OF ENVIRONEWS ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

WattsBar 0705wrp optThe Watts-Bar nuclear generating station. (Photo: TVA Web Team)On March 23, 2017, after less than six months of operation, the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Watts Bar 2 nuclear power unit (Watts Bar 2) was shut down. Failing components in the condenser caused America's first 21st Century nuclear reactor to cease functioning, and as of July 3, it remains shut down.

"Nuclear technology is very unforgiving… The nuclear industry is very optimistic about its projections of performance. This is more evidence that they need to temper that optimism," David Lochbaum, Director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), told The LA Times.

Lochbaum was specifically referencing the importance of the condenser, which cools down the steam used to drive the unit's generating turbines. The unit will now be offline until sometime this summer, preventing it from providing electricity during peak demand in the TVA service region.

"We have a team of workers currently evaluating the extent of the condition within the condenser at Watts Barr 2 and we have already begun repairs that should allow us to return the unit to service sometime this summer," Jim Hopson, Manager of TVA Public Relations told EnviroNews.

Hopson also said there was no risk of radioactive material entering the environment due to the condenser failure. "The condenser is not a part of the nuclear side of the plant," he continued. "The condenser is on the power generation side, which is completely separate, so there are no radiological concerns, whatsoever."

Published in Guest Commentary

KATHY KELLY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

War1 0705wrp opt"The Apotheosis of War" (1871) by Vasily Vereshchagin (Photo: Wikipedia public domain)At an April, 2017 Symposium on Peace in Nashville, TN, Martha Hennessy spoke about central tenets of Maryhouse, a home of hospitality in New York City, where Martha often lives and works. Every day, the community there tries to abide by the counsels of Dorothy Day, Martha’s grandmother, who co-founded houses of hospitality and a vibrant movement in the 1930s. During her talk, she held up a postcard-sized copy of one of the movement’s defining images, Rita Corbin's celebrated woodcut listing "The Works of Mercy" and "The Works of War."

She read to us. "The Works of Mercy:  Feed the hungry; Give drink to the thirsty; Clothe the naked; Visit the imprisoned; Care for the sick; Bury the dead." And then she read: "The Works of War: Destroy crops and land; Seize food supplies; Destroy homes; Scatter families; Contaminate water; Imprison dissenters; Inflict wounds, burns; Kill the living."

The following week, General James Mattis was asked to estimate the death toll from the U.S. first use in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, of the MOAB, or Massive Ordinance Air Burst bomb, the largest non-nuclear weapon in U.S. arsenals.

"We stay away from BDA, (bomb damage assessment), in terms of the number of enemy killed," he told reporters traveling with him in Israel. "It is continuing our same philosophy that we don't get into that, plus, frankly,digging into tunnels to count deadbodies is probably not a good use of our troops' time."

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Basketball 0703wrp optA basketball falls through the hoop. (Photo: Kerelin Molina)To go, or not to go? That could be the question the NBA champion Golden State Warriors will have to grapple with if they are invited to Donald Trump's White House. More than two decades ago, Craig Hodges, a member of the NBA champion Chicago Bulls, delivered a letter protesting the mistreatment of poor people and people of color to President George H.W. Bush during the team's 1991 visit to the White House. Vilified for being so bold, Hodges was recently asked by Dave Zirin, on his Edge of Sports podcast, for his thoughts on a possible visit by the Warriors. Hodges suggested that the Warriors should consider going, and take the opportunity to deliver a message about inequality and social justice. If they don't go, Hodges said, they should be clear about why they decided not to go.

As an NBA player, the outspoken Hodges initiated a boycott against Nike, and spoke out against police brutality. After ten productive seasons, which included leading the league in three-point shooting percentage three times, winning two NBA championships, and winning the three-point shooting contest at the NBA's All-Star weekend three times, he was out of the league.  

In the Foreword to Long Shot: The Triumphs And Struggles Of An NBA Freedom Fighter, written by Craig Hodges, with Rory Fanning (Haymarket Books, 2017), Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, author of numerous books about sports and politics, and the host of the Edge of Sports podcast, points out that while athletic activism flourished in the 1960s and 1970s with protests and consciousness raising by Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and others, it cooled precipitously in the 1990s and in the early part of the twenty-first century.

However, in the face of rampant police murders of black men, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been a re-birth of activism amongst athletes. The most prominent athlete to take a stand is former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the playing of the national anthem before National Football League games last season to protest police brutality and social inequality. A free agent, Kaepernick has yet to be signed by an NFL team.   

Published in Guest Commentary
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