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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

JACKIE MARCUS FOR BUFFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaReaganGE(Photo: White House Photographic Office)To some degree it matters who's in office, but it matters more how much pressure they're under from the public. —Noam Chomsky 

Where are the senators and congressional members when it comes to supporting the troops? Currently, USS Ronald Reagan sailors are suffering from radioactive illnesses after they were sent on a humanitarian mission to help Japan’s victims during the 2011 devastating earthquake-tsunami which led to three nuclear meltdowns, the worst catastrophic nuclear power plant explosions in history with no end in sight

The president is fond of presenting honorary medals to soldiers. After all, it makes for a great “Hallmark Moment,” a solemn ceremony of attaching a Medal of Honor around a soldier’s neck for the cameras, but where is the president when things go wrong, terribly wrong with nuclear policy?

No wonder there’s a media blackout. After all, we don’t want to get GE into trouble, now, do we? 

Five of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima are General Electric Mark 1 reactors. GE knew decades ago that the design was faulty.  Quite a little irony that the company that President Ronald Reagan worshipped, General Electric, was responsible indirectly for nuking the USS Ronald Reagan—as well as the rest of the world.

Nuclear investors must be elated by the fact that you can’t see how immeasurably hot nuclear radiation is— hence the meaning of the word meltdown.  It’s been postulated - but not proven - that three years of radiation released into the atmosphere has accelerated or contributed to the rapid Arctic ice melt, given the detection of radiation as far north as Canada and Alaska.  In fact, Fukushima radiation fallout is being detected globally, levels alternate between high and low depending on location. 

If you were to ask President Obama about the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns, he would most likely give an answer similar to the one he gave about BP’s 2010 Gulf oil catastrophe: It’s a “leak that’s been sealed.” Sure, a leak that left the entire Gulf of Mexico a permanent dead zone.  Incidentally, BP is back in business, drilling away in deep waters of the Gulf as if nothing happened at all. 

Published in Guest Commentary
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acuff
(Photo: derpunk)

David Horowitz, right-wing founder of an organization called the "Freedom Center," argued that blacks should not be paid reparations for the enslavement of their ancestors. Among his reasons are that:

-- There Is No Single Group Clearly Responsible For The Crime Of Slavery
-- Most Americans Have No Connection (Direct Or Indirect) To Slavery
-- Reparations To African Americans Have Already Been Paid

But slavery, in its various forms of physical and mental torment, has been a part of US history from the beginnings of our country to the present day. There are numerous modern-day corporations who profited immensely - themselves or their predecessors - from slave labor. Only token amounts have been paid back, along with a few scattered apologies.

Four eras of abominable abuse can clearly be identified.

Published in Guest Commentary

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acensored33(Photo: Gueretto)

The following are all relevant, fact-based issues, the "hard news" stories that the media has a responsibility to report. But the corporate-owned press generally avoids them.

1. U.S. Wealth Up $34 Trillion Since Recession. 93% of You Got Almost None of It.

That's an average of $100,000 for every American. But the people who already own most of the stocks took almost all of it. For them, the average gain was well over a million dollars -- tax-free as long as they don't cash it in. Details available here.

2. Eight Rich Americans Made More Than 3.6 Million Minimum Wage Workers

A recent report stated that no full-time minimum wage worker in the U.S. can afford a one-bedroom or two-bedroom rental at fair market rent. There are 3.6 million such workers, and their total (combined) 2013 earnings is less than the 2013 stock market gains of just eight Americans, all of whom take more than their share from society: the four Waltons, the two Kochs, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett.

3. News Sources Speak for the 5%

It would be refreshing to read an honest editorial: "We dearly value the 5 to 7 percent of our readers who make a lot of money and believe that their growing riches are helping everyone else."

Instead, the business media seems unable to differentiate between the top 5 percent and the rest of society. The Wall Street Journal exclaimed, "Middle-class Americans have more buying power than ever before," and then went on to sputter: "What Recession?...The economy has bounced back from recession, unemployment has declined.."

The Chicago Tribune may be even further out of touch with its less privileged readers, asking them: "What's so terrible about the infusion of so much money into the presidential campaign?"

4. TV News Dumbed Down for American Viewers

A 2009 survey by the European Journal of Communication compared the U.S. to Denmark, Finland, and the UK in the awareness and reporting of domestic vs. international news, and of 'hard' news (politics, public administration, the economy, science, technology) vs. 'soft' news (celebrities, human interest, sport and entertainment). The results:

-- Americans [are] especially uninformed about international public affairs.
-- American respondents also underperformed in relation to domestic-related hard news stories.
-- American television reports much less international news than Finnish, Danish and British television;
-- American television network newscasts also report much less hard news than Finnish and Danish television.

Surprisingly, the report states that "our sample of American newspapers was more oriented towards hard news than their counterparts in the European countries." Too bad Americans are reading less newspapers.

Published in Guest Commentary

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

avera2.jpa(Photo: James Pitarresi)Vera Scroggins of Susquehanna County, Pa., will now be allowed to go to her hospital, supermarket, drug store, several restaurants, and the place where she goes for rehabilitation therapy. She can now go to the county’s recycling center, which is on 12.5 acres of land the county had leased to Cabot Gas & Oil Corp., one of the largest drillers in the country.

Common Pleas Court Judge Kenneth W. Seamans, Friday, revised a preliminary injunction he issued in October against the anti-fracking activist. That injunction had required the 63-year-old grandmother and retired nurse’s aide to stay at least 150 feet from all properties where Cabot had leased mineral rights, even if that distance was on public property. Because Cabot had leased mineral rights to 40 percent of Susquehanna County, about 300 square miles, almost any place Scroggins wanted to be was a place she was not allowed to be. The injunction didn’t specify where Scroggins couldn’t go. It was a task that required her to go to the courthouse in Montrose, dig through hundreds of documents, and figure it out for herself.

The injunction, says Scott Michelman of Public Citizen was “overbroad and violates her constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of movement.” Public Citizen, the Pennsylvania ACLU, and local attorney Gerald Kinchy, represented her Monday when she sought to vacate the order. At that hearing, Cabot wanted the buffer zone extended to 500 feet, but couldn’t show any reason why 500 feet was necessary.

Seamans’ revised order prohibits Scroggins from going within 100 feet of any active well pad or access roads of properties Cabot owns or has leased mineral rights. Land not being drilled, but which Cabot owns mineral rights, is no longer part of the injunction. That 100 feet separation is still far more than most injunctions call for; even abortion clinics typically have 15 feet exclusion zones to prevent violence, according to the brief filed in Scroggins’ behalf. Even the revised order probably violates her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Published in Guest Commentary

JP SOTTILE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aukraineUkranian protests in late 2013 (Photo: Wikipedia)Everybody’s got an opinion about the “showdown” with Russia.

Some say it’s about freedom and the right to self-determination. Some say it’s about standing up to aggression and halting a dictator’s march. Some say it’s about the future of everything—from Syria to North Korea to Iran’s nuclear program—and, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, it all stems from Obama’s failure to kill the people who killed Americans at Benghazi.

But the most-revealing voice in the chorus is Condi Rice.

She penned a tension-filled op-ed on Ukraine for the Washington Post—the newspaper of broken records. Her nostalgic, “Baby, It’s a Cold War Outside” ditty on the “Ukrainian Problem” came just two days after a Teflon-coatedHenry Kissinger opined about the “art of establishing priorities” in his own Ukraine-themed op-ed for the Post.

As the world learned through painful experience, Condi Rice, much like Henry Kissinger, was all about establishing priorities. But now that she’s out of power, why should anyone waste any time considering Ms. Rice’s opinion about anything, much less about the “crisis” in Ukraine?

Why? Because it’s telling.

Like most American Exceptionalists, her bluster and posturing can be reverse-engineered to find the banal truth about U.S. foreign policy. For example, her steadfast belief that Ukraine “should not be a pawn in a great-power conflict but rather an independent nation” might have something to do with Chevron’s 50-year lease to develop Ukraine’s shale gas reserves.

Published in Guest Commentary

REV. BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

avera2.jpaAnti-Fracking activist Vera Scroggins is under virtual house arrest in PA. (Photo: James Pitarresi) It seems every week or so you can hear language borrowed from the War On Terror, the Salem Witch Hunts and the McCarthy hearings. Some prosecutor is hurling invective at fossil fuel resisters, who sit in the courtroom with their pro bono lawyers, staring with the disbelief of newcomers to the evils of the plunderers of our Earth -- and the collusion of our government with them.

We know that there are heroes like the Sea Shepherd sailors, the Arctic 30, and Tim "Bidder 70" DeChristopher. Although some of these activists are young, we tend to think of them as veterans who are making a stand for the rest of us. But an increasing movement seems to be building, in which the heroes are people who might be described as local activists. These are volunteer citizens who oppose fossil fuel projects near where they live - who resist with their bodies because they don't have the money to pull the strings in government like the fossil fuel industry. Something about these under-equipped protesters is making Big Oil go crazy.

Three Michigan women - Lisa Leggio, Barbara Carter, and Vicci Hamlin - chained themselves to an excavator in the little town of Mason. They were polite in that Midwestern way throughout their protest of Enbridge, the Canadian firm that leaked 800,000 gallons of oil in their community, and can't seem to clean it up. After the conviction was read, Judge William Collette, a Republican and former bomber pilot, marched the ladies - one of them a great-grandmother - straight to jail from their defense table, despite their intentions to appeal.

Here we have a signature tactic of fossil fuel injustice. Call it "overcharging," accusing nonviolent defendants of felonious crimes that will later be dropped, but meanwhile holding them in prison because the bail is too high. In this way, the personal turmoil in the families of the accused is maximized. 

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acig(Photo: Fried Dough)

January 11, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first “Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health.” In part its summary states that: “On the basis of more than 7,000 articles relating to smoking and disease already available at that time [1964] in the biomedical literature, the advisory committee concluded that cigarette smoking is: a cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men; a probable cause of lung cancer in women; the most important cause of chronic bronchitis.” Fifty years later we know that not only is cigarette smoking causative of a broad range of diseases in addition to those mentioned above, but also that “second-hand smoke” is a major killer as well.

Certainly progress has been made, but major problems remain. As Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health of the Department of Health and Human Services, says in the cited executive summary of the 50th Anniversary Surgeon General’s Report:

“The nation stands poised at the crossroads of tobacco control. On one hand, we can celebrate tremendous progress 50 years after the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s report: Smoking and Health. Adult smoking rates have fallen from about 43% (1965) to about 18% today. Mortality rates from lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in this country, are declining. Most smokers visiting health care settings are now routinely asked and advised about tobacco use. On the other hand, cigarette smoking remains the chief preventable killer in America, with more than 40 million Americans caught in a web of tobacco dependence. Each day, more than 3,200 youth (younger than 18 years of age) smoke their first cigarette and another 2,100 youth and young adults who are occasional smokers progress to become daily smokers. Furthermore, the range of emerging tobacco products complicates the current public health landscape.”

So why do we still have wide-spread cigarette smoking and why do we still have close to 500,000 deaths per year linked to smoking, in this country alone? There is only one reason: the power of the tobacco industry and its political and corporate allies. From the time of the publication of the first papers based on irrefutable evidence, in this country and Great Britain in the 1950s, cited in that first Surgeon General’s Report in 1964, until the end of the 20th century, the tobacco industry, aided by some powerful and clever public relations companies, kept up a constant drumfire of denial and distraction.

Published in Guest Commentary
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