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aaaFalwell(Photo: Liberty University)The Rev. Jerry Falwell envisioned a university. That university would bring young Christian men and women to a beautiful campus in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. The student body would multiply and the campus would expand. But due to Falwell-esque hubris, and the sexual scandals that took down fellow televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, that university would be brought to the edge of financial ruin. The Unification Church's Rev. Sun Myung Moon, would help bail out that university, and it would again grow, adding students, professors, and more buildings. Falwell's university would develop a first class athletic program, with a new football stadium seating over 19,000 people.

University leaders envisioned the future, and that future was online. Now, the little institute of higher learning that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority, envisioned as being the pride of Lynchburg, Virginia, and the Petri dish for developing conservative true believers and activists, has grown to be the largest Christian university in America, and has the second largest enrollment in online education courses for any non-profit university in the world.

Welcome to Liberty University, where they are "Training Champions for Christ," and where a few months back, those "champions" were mandated to hear Senator Ted Cruz announce his presidential candidacy and, later, during graduation season, many "champions" heard Jeb Bush deliver a commencement address.

Not only is Liberty University the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation, the largest university in Virginia, and the largest Christian university in the world, but it has also become an online Goliath.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaNeil(Photo: Ole Hagen)Sorry Taylor Swift, it looks like Neil Young is most definitely not a “Starbucks lover.” Young released a new anthem last week decrying Starbucks for its alleged support of Monsanto and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “I want a cup of coffee, but I don’t want a GMO. I’d like to start my day off, without helping Monsanto,” Young sings.

Young and the band The Promise of The Real debuted an acoustic version of the song, “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop,” in Maui, Hawaii at “OUTGROW Monsanto,” an event put on to call attention to Monsanto’s destructive practices in Hawaii.

Hawaii is considered the global epicenter for GMO seed testing, according to Paul Towers of Pesticide Action Network. Corporations based around the globe test and grow GMO seeds in Hawaii, which can be grown year-round in the islands’ tropical climate, before shipping them to places like Iowa to sell to U.S. farmers and across the globe, according to Towers. Earlier this month, a jury awarded 15 residents $500,000 in damages for pesticide contamination from the biotech company DuPont-Pioneer.

Young’s new song is part of his upcoming album “The Monsanto Years,” due out June 29. Young has been a food advocate for years. He’s the co-founder of Farm Aid, and when it came to light that Starbucks was supporting Monsanto in fighting Vermont’s GMO labeling law last fall, Young publicly declared he would be boycotting Starbucks.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaCuffs(Photo: André Karwath)The US Department of Justice (DOJ) reports 2.2 million people are in our nation’s jails and prisons and another 4.5 million people are on probation or parole in the US, totaling 6.8 million people, one of every 35 adults.  We are far and away the world leader in putting our own people in jail.  Most of the people inside are poor and Black.  Here are 40 reasons why

​ - and there are more​.

One: It is not just about crime.  Our jails and prisons have grown from holding about 500,000 people in 1980 to 2.2 million today.  The fact is that crime rates have risen and fallen independently of our growing incarceration rates.

Two: Police discriminate.  The first step in putting people in jail starts with interactions between police and people.  From the very beginning Black and poor people are targeted by the police.  Police departments have engaged in campaigns of stopping and frisking people who are walking, mostly poor people and people of color, without cause for decades.  Recently New York City lost a federal civil rights challenge to their police stop and frisk practices by the Center for Constitutional Rights during which police stopped over 500,000 people annually without any indication that the people stopped had been involved in any crime at all.  About 80 percent of those stops were of Black and Latinos who compromise 25 and 28 percent of NYC’s total populationChicago police do the same thing stopping even more people also in a racially discriminatory way with 72 percent of the stops of Black people even though the city is 32 percent Black.

Three: Police traffic stops also racially target people in cars.  Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers and Hispanic drivers are 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers.  Connecticut, in an April 2015 report, reported on 620,000 traffic stops which revealed widespread racial profiling, particularly during daylight hours when the race of driver was more visible.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaCAdrought(Photo: EcoWatch)The Salton Sea, a huge, shallow manmade lake located in the Sonoran Desert in California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys, has had problems for years. Its increasing saltiness has killed off most of its once-abundant fish species. Its shrinking water level has caused a reduction in water available for agricultural use, along with many dramatic photos of exposed lakebed and abandoned towns that were once seaside resorts. While the sea is no longer a resort destination for Hollywood celebrities as it was in the ’50s and ’60s, it’s still a playground for birds, with more than 400 species living along its shores or migrating through the area. But those populations could also be in jeopardy if its waters continue to recede.

And that exposed lake bed is expected to grow, thanks to California’s prolonged drought, now in its fourth year, and reductions in apportionment of water from the Colorado River which feeds the 360-square-mile sea. For many years, farmers in the agriculturally rich Imperial Valley would take more than their allocation of Colorado River water, viewing water as an infinite resource. But with growing demand from other southwestern states, with their growing populations and their own stresses due to drought, they became less able to do do. And now the drought and state-mandated water reductions have increased competition for whatever water is available, putting the Salton Sea at risk.

And that’s only the beginning of the problems that could be fueled by the sea’s receding water level.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaFriess(Photo: Gage Skidmore)Now that former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum has thrown his hat into a Republican ring full of hats, you can bet that Foster Friess will not be far behind. While we know a fair amount about billionaire GOP puppet masters like Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers, and while we are quite familiar with Santorum's conservative politics, we know little about Santorum's top financial backer, Foster Friess, bad jokes about using aspirin between a "gals" knees as birth control notwithstanding.

So, who is Foster Friess?

Back in 2012, it was Friess, an evangelical conservative Christian and the founder of Friess Associates -- a Wyoming investment firm that has managed several billion of equities for such clients as the Nobel Foundation of Stockholm, Vanderbilt University, and the Brandywine and Brandywine Blue mutual funds -- who practically single-handedly kept Santorum in the primary race with a fair amount of money; much of it going to Santorum's super PAC called the Red, White and Blue Fund.

In January, Friess -- who maintains he is not a billionaire; in 2012 The Wall Street Journal estimated his wealth at a little over a half-billion -- organized a meeting of "a group of Republican business executives, as well as GOP consultants from South Carolina and Iowa, ... to have conversations with Santorum about his strategy and with Friess about financing a national political operation," The Washington Post reported.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaHotShit(Photo: EcoWatch)India is in the midst of a major heatwave, which has killed at least 800 people and melted roads in New Delhi as temperatures neared 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). India’s Meteorological Department issued heat warnings to several states where temperatures are projected to reach beyond 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) over the next few days, according to AFP.

The worst-hit state Andhra Pradesh in southern India has recorded 551 deaths in the last week alone. Every summer, across the country, hundreds of Indians, especially the poorest members of society, die from extreme heat, while tens of thousands deal with power outages from an overstrained electric grid as air conditioning use soars, reports AFP.

But this summer season is particularly bad, the most severe since 2010 when an estimated 250 people died from heat-related causes, which was said to be the worst since record-keeping began in the 1800s. The maximum temperature in the capital hit a two-year high of 45.5 degrees Celsius on Monday, which is five degrees higher than the seasonal average, reports the Hindustan Times. And, the death toll from heat mortality could be much higher than estimated because, according to Scroll.in, “the government counts only death by heat stroke and heat exhaustion as heat wave deaths. The narrow definition does not account for the way ‘heat exposure stresses underlying physiological systems,’ a study on heat mortality in Ahmedabad said.”

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaPostage(Photo: US Post Office)Neither rain nor sleet nor snow — nor even the likelihood that he'd be killed en route — could stop this letter carrier from making his appointed rounds.

Doug Hughes is one gutsy and creative mailman. In April, this rural letter carrier from Florida stunned the Secret Service, eluded federal aviation authorities, embarrassed Washington's haughty all-seeing security hierarchy and threw members of Congress into a chaotic panic. Hughes did all this by boldly flying his tiny, homemade, gyrocopter right through the heart of our nation's most restricted airspace, then landing it on the front lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

Far from a terrorist or a kook, Hughes was just a mailman on a mission, a patriotic citizen who — like most of us — is disgusted that Big Money interests are able to openly buy lawmakers and laws. But he did more than write a letter to his congress critter — he wrote letters to all 535 of them, loaded the missives in his mailbag and — as postal workers do — literally went the extra mile to make a "very special delivery" in his gyrocopter.

This was no flight of fancy. Doug planned his mail delivery for months, and he was fully aware that he might crash, be killed by a scramble of military jets or be gunned down by guards when he landed. Nor was it a sneak attack — he repeatedly posted his intentions in blogs; a reporter was covering his preparations; and the Secret Service had investigated and interviewed him about his plans more than a year earlier.

His landing jolted the Capitol into lockdown. Guards rushed out to arrest Doug and haul him off to some deep cellblock; a bomb squad arrived; and spooked lawmakers were scared silly. They ran around screeching that they were threatened by terrorists. Of course, the real threat to America is not some guy flying a gyrocopter in protest but the utter corruption of Congress, the courts and democracy itself by the plutocratic elites whom this mailman targeted with nothing more (nor less) dangerous than a bagful of truth-telling letters.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaFloodTexas(Photo: EcoWatch)With at least a dozen people dead and the raging high waters described as having “tsunami-type power” in Texas over the Memorial Day weekend, the latest example of extreme weather in the U.S. is being tied to a global pattern of increasingly volatile events that are claiming lives and costing billions of dollars in damage each year.

As Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expanded the range of a declared disaster zone in his state today, neighboring Oklahoma is also coping with an emergency response to flash floods and overflowing rivers.

Marking the official end of a four-year long drought in the south-central part of the country, the storms may be filling the region’s diminished reservoirs, but not without a high cost.

As the nation’s media focuses on the acute damage to property and loss of life, an international conference sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which kicked off in Switzerland yesterday, may shed additional light on the impact that human-caused climate change is having on the planet’s highly-dynamic weather patterns.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaDuggarFreaks2(Photo: Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar)If the US Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage next month, do not expect religious right organizations to fold up their tents and go home. If anything, they will amp up the hysteria with email alerts (and fundraising appeals) squawking about the assault on traditional marriage. While they will continue to agitate around same-sex marriage, there will a not so subtle shift to another culture war battle; the fight over transgender equality.

Although there are many culture war battles to be contested, e.g., abortion, prayer in the schools, book, television and film censorship, and the mother of all fights, the religious right's distorted views of religious freedom, the battle over transgender equality is ripe for the picking. After all, transgender people are some of the few people left that the religious right can attack and demonize.

In recent years, Christian right groups have fulminated, huffed and puffed, and raised money to fight attempts to prevent discrimination against transgender youth, especially in regards to bullying, the use of bathrooms and the participation in athletics in the public schools.

Last August, Michelle Duggar, who stars in TLC's hit show, the now-suspended "19 Kids and Counting" with her husband, Jim Bob, and children, and who was intimately involved in covering up her son Josh's history of sexual molestation of young girls, viciously campaigned against an anti-discrimination bill in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

She said: "I don't believe... citizens... would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls."

If the US Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage next month, do not expect religious right organizations to fold up their tents and go home. If anything, they will amp up the hysteria with email alerts (and fundraising appeals) squawking about the assault on traditional marriage. While they will continue to agitate around same-sex marriage, there will a not so subtle shift to another culture war battle; the fight over transgender equality.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaDolphinsOil(Photo: EcoWatch)It was more than five years ago when the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico blew out, spewing an unknown amount of oil. The April 2010 accident was the worst oil spill to ever occur in U.S. waters and it had far-reaching impacts on the region’s economy and ecosystems that continue to this day.

Now a newly released study, funded by the Deepwater Horizon National Resource Damage Assessment, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, BP (the oil company responsible for the spill and others) details the disastrous impact for the spill on the health and mortality of dolphins in the Gulf.

The study, with the very scientific name of Adrenal Gland and Lung Lesions in Gulf of Mexico Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Found Dead following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, analyzes what it calls “an unusual mortality event (UME)” among dolphins off the coast of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi between February 2010 and 2014. More than 1,300 dolphins are estimated to have died.

“The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was proposed as a contributing cause of adrenal disease, lung disease and poor health in live dolphins examined during 2011 in Barataria Bay, Louisiana,” said the study. It also analyzed dead dolphin carcasses stranded in the three states between June 2010 and December 2012 and compared the analyses to dead, stranded dolphins found outside the area or prior to the oil spill to come to the conclusion that the die-off was unprecedented and the result of an adrenal gland condition never previously seen in dolphins in the region that made them susceptible to pneumonia.

Published in Guest Commentary
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