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Thursday, 20 February 2014 06:37

Seeking Reverence for Planetary Balance

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

EarthNASA(Photo: NASA)"When you go to dig your fields, or make a pot from clay, you are disturbing the balance of things. When you walk, you are moving the air, breathing it in and out. Therefore you must make payments."

Oh, unraveling planet, exploited, polluted, overrun with berserk human technology. How does one face it with anything other than rage and despair, which quickly harden into cynicism? And cynicism is just another word for helplessness.

So I listen to the Arhuaco people of northern Colombia, quoted above at the Survival International website, and imagine — or try to imagine — a reverence for planetary balance so profound I am aware that when I walk I disturb it, so I must walk with gratitude and a sense of indebtedness. Walk softly, walk softly . . .

Instead, I live in this world:

"Deep sea ecosystems are under threat of mass industrialization, warned a panel of scientists on Sunday," according to Common Dreams.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Chicanos(Photo: z2amiller)It was late-2011, and with the presidential election a little more than a year away, Daniel Garza, a former staffer in George W. Bush's White House public liaison office, was pretty darned optimistic. Garza had established a project called the Libre Initiative, and he was having success hunting around for funding.

Garza hoped to raise $1 million by the end of the year. According to The Center for Public Integrity, high on Garza's list of prospects was "representatives of the Koch family." Ultimately, "Garza declined to say ... whether Koch interests ... committed any funds yet to the initiative, a 501 (c) (4) which is permitted to keep donors names secret."

Flash forward to the early days of this year, and with control of Congress at stake in November, the Koch Brothers, GOP officials and its surrogates and campaign funders, once again has their eyes on the Hispanic vote.

And, that's where Daniel Garza and his Mission, Texas-based Libre Initiative comes into play. And, as might be expected, he is again bubbling with optimism.

Veteran journalist Chris Moody recently reported in Yahoo News that "A group of Hispanic conservatives is ramping up an aggressive campaign to attract Hispanic voters as part of an ongoing effort on the right to bring more minorities into the fold."

Published in Guest Commentary
Monday, 17 February 2014 05:59

How Privatization Perverts Education

PAUL BUCHHEIT ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Profit-seeking has victimized Americans. Now it's b5526523815 f634af844d b(Photo: Marctasman)eginning to happen in education, with our children as the products.

There are good reasons - powerful reasons - to stop the privatization efforts before the winner-take-all free market creates a new vehicle for inequality. At the very least we need the good sense to slow it down while we examine the evidence about charters and vouchers.

1. Charter Schools Have Not Improved Education

The recently updated CREDO study at Stanford revealed that while charters have made progress since 2009, their performance is about the same as that of public schools. The differences are, in the words of the National Education Policy Center, "so small as to be regarded, without hyperbole, as trivial." Furthermore, the four-year improvement demonstrated by charters may have been due to the closing of schools that underperformed in the earlier study, and also by a variety of means to discourage the attendance of lower-performing students.

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 14 February 2014 06:53

Eugene Robinson | The GOP's Health Crisis

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

HealthMachine(Photo: Neoflash)Oh dear. The Republican Party's worst nightmare is coming true. Obamacare is working.

The news that nearly 1.2 million people signed up last month for insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges is highly inconvenient for GOP candidates nationwide. It looks as if the party's two-word strategy for the fall election -- bash Obamacare -- will need to be revised.

Wednesday's status report on the health insurance reforms was by far the best news for Democrats and the Obama administration since the program's incompetent launch. January was the first month when new enrollments surpassed expectations, as the balky HealthCare.gov website began functioning more or less as intended.

Cumulatively, 3.3 million people had chosen insurance plans through the state and federal exchanges by the end of January. That is fewer than the administration originally hoped, but well above the predictions of critics who believed -- or hoped -- that the program would never succeed. The Congressional Budget Office now projects that 6 million people will have chosen plans through Obamacare when the initial enrollment period ends March 31, down from a pre-launch estimate of 7 million. Not bad at all.

The numbers are even more encouraging when you look more closely. The proportion of young people -- from 18 and 34 -- who chose insurance plans through the exchanges increased slightly to 27 percent, compared with an average of 24 percent in previous months. This is important because premiums would have to rise if not enough young, healthy people enroll.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 13 February 2014 07:28

Asphyxiating Education

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ClassDesks(Photo: Malate269)"The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."

This is how we talk about learning, growth and the human future?

Things are getting worse in the American classroom, not better. The experts and the special interests purporting to fix the educational system are continuing, instead, to asphyxiate it.

The grandiose quote, above, in which "our young people" show up as abstractions needing to be prepped for some simplistic, highly competitive imaginary future (fully understood by the experts), is part of the mission statement of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the Obama administration's showcase education reform initiative.

Just like the disastrous No Child Left Behind Act of the Bush era, in whose wake it follows, it's all about testing and uniform standards and the "rigorous" evaluation of schools and teachers; and it's clueless about the nature of childhood development, not to mention reality. Its primary mission, as with NCLB, is to pull education out of the hands and hearts of teachers and turn its administration over to politicians and their corporate sponsors. It both defunds and belittles the learning process.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CellJail(Photo: Andrew Bardwell)Last April, in a column titled Debtors Prisons, Once a 19th-Century Relic, Again Wreaking Havoc in US, I wrote: "The jailing of people unable to pay fines and court costs is no longer a relic of the 19th century American judicial system. Debtors' prisons are alive and well in one-third of the states in this country." Last week, I received a Press Release from the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union that appeared to strike a blow against this appalling phenomenon.

The release stated that "the Supreme Court of Ohio distributed a new 'bench card' to all of the state's judges, giving much needed instructions to avoid the unconstitutional practice of sending people to jail when they owe the court fines and are unable to pay. The Ohio Supreme Court's "bench card" was a definite blow to what had become the routine jailing in several states of people who were not able to pay fines imposed for a relatively minor crime committed."

Now, however, a new report by Human Rights Watch has revealed another way that poor people are being unduly financially burdened and, in many cases, imprisoned for not having enough money to pay their court-imposed fines. According to Profiting from Probation: America's 'Offender-Funded' Probation Industry, privately owned companies handling the probation of offenders are "routinely jailing probationers" for not being able to pay fees owed to those companies.

Private companies are Profiting from Probation

"Every year, US courts sentence several hundred thousand people to probation and place them under the supervision of for-profit companies for months or years at a time," Profiting from Probation points out. "They then require probationers to pay these companies for their services. Many of these offenders are only guilty of minor traffic violations like speeding or driving without proof of insurance. Others have shoplifted, been cited for public drunkenness, or committed other misdemeanor crimes. Many of these offenses carry no real threat of jail time in and of themselves, yet each month, courts issue thousands of arrest warrants for offenders who fail to make adequate payments towards fines and probation company fees."

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

BorderNotice(Photo: Makaristos)The Republican Party was supposed to be getting its act together for the midterm election. Instead, judging from the disarray on immigration reform, things may be getting even messier.

I'm referring to House Speaker John Boehner's embarrassing climb-down. After vowing for months that the House would finally take action on immigration, last week he surrendered. The bitterly divided Republican majority cannot agree on how to proceed. Apparently, this is supposed to be President Obama's fault.

If Boehner spilled gravy on his tie, he'd probably blame Obama. The fact is, Obama has done everything humanly possible to make it easier for Republicans to support sensible reform.

You know a party is dysfunctional when it can't take yes for an answer. Ostensibly, the GOP's big objection was to a sweeping, comprehensive bill such as the one passed by the Senate. Last fall, the Obama administration signaled its willingness to take a piecemeal approach, if necessary, in order to move forward. So what's the problem?

Um, Obama. And the Affordable Care Act. And, I don't know, maybe Jupiter and Saturn are in astrological misalignment.

Published in Guest Commentary

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

OlympicFlag(Photo: Makaristos)For Vladimir Putin, the winter Olympics is not about sports or international camaraderie. It's a carefully orchestrated propaganda opportunity to try to showcase the nation's athletes and show the world a Russia that, even with its great culture and arts, may exist only in the imaginations of those who believe in restoring the country's previous grandeur.

Sochi itself is not typical city for a winter Olympics. It's a sub-tropical city of about 340,000, located along the Black Sea. Its selection by Russia was to let the world believe that the country in winter is not Siberia but a resort, suitable for tourists.

Under Putin's personal direction, Russia spent more than 1.8 trillion rubles (the equivalent of about $51 billion U.S.) to build the Olympic village, with its buildings, stadiums, and infrastructure. This is a greater cost than all previous winter Olympics combined. It also includes cost over-runs and various forms of corruption. But, disregard that—that's an internal problem. Here are a few of the real problems.

Russia has had more than seven years to prepare for this Olympics. But by the first day of competition, some of roads were unfinished, water was undrinkable in many of the newly-built hotels, and the safety of some of the Olympics courses was still in question.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

VaticanCity(Photo: Diliff)Since Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) took dominion over the Holy See, there has been much speculation about which direction he might move the Catholic Church; how he was going to modernize and make the Church more accessible to more people.

Liberals have lauded him for his comments about income inequality and his openness and apparent willingness to usher in a new way of going about the business of being Pope. Some conservatives, however, have scorned him for his economic pronouncements, while maintaining that he isn't focusing enough on such culture war issues as birth control, homosexuality, and abortion.

With so many difficult issues to deal with, he has recently been handed a golden opportunity to deal with one of the most vexing of those issues: Child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and its aiding and abetting and subsequent cover-up by Catholic Church officials.

The most prudent move for Pope Francis to make in this regard is to accept the recommendations of the report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and, at the same time, open up the Vatican archives.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 06 February 2014 06:31

Bullying Is Bad, Except When We Do It

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

BullyCops(Photo: Devinasch)The young guys were half a block ahead of us. Nothing was happening except that they were walking. A police car pulled up behind them, slowed to their pace, aimed a spotlight at them.

They were African-American (did you guess?), numbering maybe half a dozen. They weren't intimidated. Some of them stopped, stood staring at the police car, talking to it; this had obviously happened before. The spotlight continued to shine in their faces. Other young men crossed the street in front of the car and joined the crowd. The game went on for a while: the slow saunter, the cops driving along next to them, the light in their faces.

Chicago, Chicago! My kind of town, but not this. How weird to see the moment unfold as I was walking along Pratt Avenue, through my own 'hood. The energy I felt was immensely unpleasant — racial profiling, pointless discord. Young black men in Chicago have to know their legal rights; that's simply the way it works. These guys obviously did.

Suddenly the light snapped off. The police car accelerated, drove away. That was it. No further confrontation. The young men kept walking. I was an observer in an occupied zone.

"But there is little or no discussion of larger social or cultural forces in the United States and the American institutions or leaders who bully other countries or workers and citizens at home."

Thus wrote Yale Magrass and Charles Derber, in an essay published at Truthout, called "Bully Nation." Their point is that, while suddenly bullying is a big deal and officially recognized as problematic, the public debate on the matter focuses almost entirely on troubled loners, when in fact no bully ever acts out of purely personal motives. Everyone acts within a social, cultural and political context, and that context is one that, in so many ways, rewards — indeed, reveres — bullying and domination.

Published in Guest Commentary
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