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JACKIE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anofrackca(Photo: Daniel Lobo)At a time when California is literally on fire from a global warming drought, when the state is running out of water in several regions, as reported in the New York TimesWith Dry Taps and Toilets, California Drought Turns Desperate, the last thing we (I am a resident of the Golden State) need is for the oil industry to contaminate our limited fresh water with dozens of toxic chemicals to use for the development of thousands of new fracking wells that would defile and poison our beautiful landscape along the central coast of California.

That’s why organizers from Santa Barbara Water Guardians, Food & Water Watch, and San Luis Obispo Clean Water campaigned to establish an initiative to ban new fracking – Measure P - development starting from Santa Maria through Santa Barbara to Carpinteria for the November 4th ballot. Three weeks of hard work paid off. Three hundred volunteers and 20,000 signatures later—they successfully got the initiative off the ground.

To use a familiar analogy, fighting the most powerful and wealthiest industry in the world is the old David v. Goliath tale.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aprisonthreecells(Photo: miss_millions)

If you are an aging prisoner in the United States, 50 is the new 65.

This phenomenon is called “accelerated aging” and according to the Urban Institute’s KiDeuk Kim and Bryce Peterson, “the physiological age of some older prisoners is up to 15 years greater than their chronological age.” This is in stark contrast to outside prison walls where our youth-oriented culture labels “40 as the new 30,” “60 as the new 50,” and so on.

Older prisoners -- a demographic that is growing rapidly -- face numerous hardships and injustices from incarceration, including : having their chronic health conditions ignored or mistreated; physical threats from younger prisoners; the need for special equipment, including wheelchairs and walkers to be able to ambulate around their prisons; difficulties climbing on and off top bunks; trouble hearing, making it challenging to discern orders from guards; and mental health issues, many of which are the result of prolonged imprisonment.

In a new report titled, “Aging Behind Bars: Trends and Implications of Graying Prisoners in the Federal Prison System,” Kim, and Peterson emphasize that “While this may be caused by a host of related factors—including histories of unhealthy behaviors and inadequate healthcare—there is little doubt that the trauma and stress of the prison environment can have an impact on prisoners’ accelerated aging and deterioration of health.”

Published in Guest Commentary

JIM BLOCK FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afreespeech(Photo: Will Jabsco)

This past weekend was the 50th reunion of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley. At the beginning of the fall term of 1964, the university administration imposed a series of strict regulations limiting the right of students to engage in political soliciting on campus. Berkeley students had for several years been active in anti-H.U.A.C., pro-labor, and anti-racism protests and demonstrations throughout the Bay area. This picture of the university as a hotbed of political activism was undermining the carefully honed image being disseminated by the state of California as the leader in public higher education: in the conservative post-war period, Berkeley was being touted as not only a world class research university but at the forefront of preparing a modern elite meritocratic student body primed for corporate and governmental leadership.

What the university administration failed to consider was the fact that many activist Berkeley students had embraced new levels of commitment to political organizing by participating in Freedom Summer, an initiative by radical civil rights organizations in the South to mobilize black Americans to challenge segregation and demand voting rights. After resolutely confronting white segregationists and racist – often violent – local public officials as full-fledged democratic activists, a university administration seeking to curtail their political expression and ignoring their insistence on the urgency of social change struck these battle-tested students as demeaning and even infantilizing. Even more decisively, these acts implicated the new model university as the central institution in integrating younger generations into the corporate, hierarchical, expansionist values increasingly driving American society. It suddenly became clear that the degree was being marketed not for any educational value but as a ticket punched to the higher levels of this post-war order and to material success, social status, and a suburban lifestyle widely being identified as the American dream.

Once the university intervened, in other words, the political dynamic shifted. What had begun as an effort to support other movements for social equity and integration quickly shifted before everyone’s eyes to a demand for the liberation of students and youth and the democratization of the institutions shaping their lives as a prelude to broader social transformation. This is the F.S.M. whose message spread throughout the U.S. and beyond, catalyzing and exposing generational tensions and revealing the compliance-oriented program of American socialization. I came to Berkeley as a neophyte, a completely apolitical and uninformed undergraduate, just days before the campus controversies began. And because the events of the next couple of years became the defining experience of my life about which I have written and taught ever since (trying to make sense of it), this reunion gave me an unparalleled opportunity to reflect on and rethink that experience in conversation with this unique community of participants in this defining moment.

Published in Guest Commentary
Monday, 18 August 2014 05:32

The Carnage of Capitalism

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

caplove(Photo: buridan)

Capitalism is expanding like a tumor in the body of American society, spreading further into vital areas of human need like health and education.

Milton Friedman said in 1980: "The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people." The father of the modern neoliberal movement couldn't have been more wrong. Inequality has been growing for 35 years, worsening since the 2008 recession, as a few well-positioned Americans have made millions while the rest of us have gained almost nothing. Now, our college students and medicine-dependent seniors have become the source of new riches for the profitseeking free-marketers.


Higher Education: Administrators Get Most of the Money

College grads took a 19 percent pay cut in the two years after the recession. By 2013 over half of employed black recent college graduates were working in occupations that typically do not require a four-year college degree. For those still in school, tuition has risen much faster than any other living expense, and the average student loan balance has risen 91 percent over the past ten years.

At the other extreme is the winner-take-all free-market version of education, with a steady flow of compensation towards the top. Remarkably, and not coincidentally, as inequality has surged since the 1980s, the number of administrators at private universities has doubled. Administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country.

These administrators are taking the big money. As detailed by Lawrence Wittner, the 25 highest-paid presidents increased their salaries by a third between 2009 and 2012, to nearly a million dollars each. For every million-dollar public university president in 2011, there were fourteen such presidents at private universities, and dozens of lower-level administrators aspiring to be paid like their bosses. At Purdue, for example, the 2012 administrative ranks included a $313,000-a-year acting provost, a $198,000 chief diversity officer, a $253,000 marketing officer and a $433,000 business school chief.

Published in Guest Commentary

ARIEL ZEPEDA FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT, WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY REBECCA SOLNIT

10men(Photo: Wolfram Burner)


This is the remarkable and ordinary story of the reactions of the people around a woman who woke up bruised with no memory of how she got that way. Ariel Zepeda lets us see how a campus rape can not just go unreported, but unnamed, how people can choose to smooth it over to spare themselves the difficulty of admitting there’s a rapist in their social circle and that justice might require something be done. Zepeda—who I had the pleasure of working with this spring in a writing seminar—is the voice we haven’t heard from yet: the male peer who’s horrified at the conduct of his fellow students but ambivalent about what constitutes an appropriate response. The New York Times’ cover story a week ago demonstrated yet again how awful can be the consequences for a university student who chooses to report being raped; it’s not a choice you can easily make for someone else.

It’s also worth remembering that from Harvard to Stanford, from Berkeley to Notre Dame to University of Connecticut, our finest universities are apparently graduating a new crop of unpunished rapists every year. I don’t know how this epidemic will be stopped, but I’m amazed and moved by the young women organizing on dozens of campuses to address the situation. They are doing much to change it. And I’m convinced voices like Ariel’s will help us see the nuances, the conflicts, dilemmas, blind spots, and pressures that surround these crimes and criminals. Too,  this is an issue that men must address, because the most misogynist among us don’t listen to women and absorb the idea that rape is cool rather than reprehensible from what we now call rape culture and from their male peers in particular. Which is why the other voices need to be heard. 

-- Rebecca Solnit

She trusted the people at the party. It was her second semester at U.C. Berkeley, at a fraternity party she attended with a group of her sorority sisters. You are vulnerable to new people whenever you try to gain entrance into a society. Some people try to befriend you while others try to take advantage of you. Ultimately, you must be able to trust these strangers. Even if you cannot trust strangers enough to befriend them, you should be able to trust the friends you already have.

The mandatory class on the responsible use of alcohol at U.C. Berkeley consisted of a couple hundred students gathered in an auditorium. We watched a video in which unsuspecting bystanders reacted to a scene in which a man (an actor) attempted to take an intoxicated woman (also an actress) home with him. We were supposed to learn that sex is never okay when drinking is involved, because you cannot fully ensure the other person’s consent. When we discussed the video, a student questioned the usefulness of the exercise, since the actor in the video was vocal about her refusal to leave the bar with the man, while real-life situations are more ambiguous for the bystanders and sometimes the participants.

In a more chaotic environment, like a party, it is nearly impossible to know what people are doing, or to know their intentions. Even if someone were to witness another person engaged in suspicious behavior, most would not get involved or would assume that someone else was responsible for that stranger stumbling away from the party. It is all part of the social experience at universities. You take chances, make mistakes, and try to move on – though this night would be different.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

veterans(Photo: kevin dooley)

 

Despite the July 4 tributes, millions of US soldiers and veterans are in serious trouble.

 

Twenty two veterans kill themselves every day according to the Veterans Administration.   A study by the Los Angeles Times found veterans are more than twice as likely as other civilians to commit suicide.  Suicides among full-time soldiers, especially among male soldiers, are also well above the national civilian rate.  USA Today reported a suicide rate of 19.9 per 100,000 for civilian men compared to rates of 31.8 per 100,000 for male soldiers and 34.2 per 100,000 for men in the National Guard.

 

Over 57,000 veterans are homeless on any given night according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

 

Unemployment is much higher among post 911 veterans than the general population according to the Department of Labor.

 

More than 1.4 million veterans are living below the poverty line according to US Senate report, and another 1.4 million are just above the line.  Of veterans between the ages of 18 and 34, 12.5 percent are living in poverty.

Over 900,000 veterans live in households which receive food stamps reports the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  The use of food stamps by active duty service members appears to be at an all-time high, according to CNN.   In addition, many active duty service families receive a special military supplemental food allowance designed to replace food stamps for low income service families.

 

 

Published in Guest Commentary

JANE STILLWATER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

gunsgaloreRecent ad insert in Sacramento Bee. (Photo: BuzzFlash)

There was a gun show in San Francisco last weekend and hundreds of people were already lined up at the door and waiting, hours ahead of the opening bell.  Why?  "We want to buy guns, of course, but we also want to buy ammunition."  Of course.  What is the use of having a gun if you don't have any ammunition?

And what is the use of buying just one gun when you can buy two?  Or three or four -- or a hundred.

And what is the use of owning a derringer when you can own a pistol?  And why own a pistol when you can easily trade up and buy a semiautomatic weapon instead?  And why just have a semiautomatic weapon when you can get your hands on an AK-47?  Or a rocket-launcher -- better yet!

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 04 July 2014 18:00

William Rivers Pitt: We Rise

WILLIAM RIVERS PITT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaa4th(Photo: A.M. Willard)In all the darkness, the teeth-grinding fury, the disgust, and the desperate temptation to surrender to despair, I remember:

That Black people who were brought here in chains won their freedom, and then more freedom, and then equal status under the law. It was a long and horror-filled road, it should never have happened, but we as a nation fixed it, and many of us fight for it still (because, sadly, we have to).

That women have only had the right to vote for 95 of the years this country has existed, which frankly blows my whole mind. We as a nation fixed that, and many of us fight for it still (because, sadly, we have to).

That growing old used to be a dead-bang guarantee of growing poor. We as a nation fixed that, and many of us fight for it still (because, sadly, we have to).

That 146 people, mostly women, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire because as workers, they had no rights. We as a nation fixed that, and many of us fight for it still (because, sadly, we have to).

That marriage rights existed in a state of apartheid, to the exclusion of LGTB people, until the dam broke recently. We as a nation are still fixing that, and many of us fight for it still (because, sadly, we have to).

The curious thought experiment that is the United States of America is built on a lot of mythology, and a lot of greed, and the machinery of that construction was lubricated with an ocean of Native American and African blood...but it has a lot of soul, too, and an astonishing amount of potential.

Published in Guest Commentary

JONATHAN FRANKLIN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Dateline: Santiago, Chile

adebtcan(Photo: Saint Huck)A Chilean artist using the name “Fried Potatoes” [Papas Fritas] spent a year as he planned a unique revenge on a notorious for-profit University. Saying he was “collecting material for an art project”, the 31-year-old visual artist, snuck into a bank vault at Universidad del Mar and pilfered original copies of tuition contracts.

“Fried Potatoes” – whose real name is Francisco Tapia - then burned the university documents, making it extremely difficult for creditors to collect. “It’s over. You are all free of debt,” he exclaimed in a 5-minute video released earlier this month. Speaking to indebted students, he said, “You don’t have to pay a penny.”

Tapia’s move is just the most radical of an ongoing 3-year movement by Chilean students to reform Chile’s mediocre public education system. With monthly street marches – and four student leaders elected last November to parliament – the students have built a potent citizen’s movement rarely seen in post-Pinochet Chile.

Recently elected socialist President Michelle Bachelet supports the students and earlier this month increased the corporate tax rate to finance their main demand: free university education for all. On Wednesday, as Bachelet gave her state of the union address that outlined a multibillion dollar educational initiative, students protesting outside the congressional hall scattered ashes from the burned documents in symbolic protest against for-profit educational scams.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acruel(Photo: meophamman)His is a legitimate “rags to riches” story. However, instead of using his millions to improve the lives of the poor, and working people, our protagonist is bullying his way to political power in pursuit of an agenda that benefits the privatizers and the rich and powerful. You probably never heard of him, you wouldn’t know him if you ran into him at a St. Louis Cardinal game at Busch Stadium, or rode in the same elevator to the top of the city’s Gateway Arch. If you live in Missouri – thereby directly effected by the way he wields his wealth -- and if you want to understand how one very wealthy and powerful individual goes about the business of building influence throughout the state, consider the story of Rex Sinquefield.

According to a new report by the Center for Media and Democracy titled, A Reporter’s Guide to Rex Sinquefield and the Show-Me InstituteWhat Reporters, Citizens, and Policymakers Need to Know, since 2008, Sinquefield, a financial tycoon, “has poured tens of millions of dollars into elections and referenda to try to secure legislators and laws to advance his agenda. He has dumped millions into front groups and lobbying entities to massage politicians, spin the press, and try to soften up public opinion toward his personal wish list for changing Missouri law.”

Rex Sinquefield “is one of the top right-wing political funders in the country, and the single top political spender in Missouri, where he has spent at least $31.5 million since 2006 seeking to reshape Missouri laws, legislators, and policies according to his own ideological mold," said co-author Brendan Fischer, General Counsel of the Center for Media and Democracy. "Plus, like the Kochs, he pursues his agenda through a diversity of avenues, including his pet think tank the Show-Me Institute and front groups and lobbying entities, in order to massage politicians, spin the press, and try to soften up public opinion toward his personal wish list for changing Missouri law."

A Reporter’s Guide points out that two years ago, “Sinquefield told the Wall Street Journal that what he had spent so far is ‘merely the start of what he’ll spend to promote his two main interests: rolling back taxes” and what he describes as “rescuing education from teachers unions.’ He has also invested in groups working to thwart fair wages in Missouri, and undermine other long-standing union rights.”

Published in Guest Commentary
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