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Tuesday, 02 September 2014 06:30

Climate Change and Food Riots: Learn to Farm

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCorn(Photo: Christian Fischer)What with everything everywhere being busy exploding, the fact that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest draft was leaked is not, perhaps, the sexiest of news items. The facts remain mostly unchanged from longer reports that have been previously released, but the tone is far more dire. One item of note: while the goal, set in 2009, was to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Fahrenheit, we’re now on track to hit 3.6 degrees by the middle of this century and 6.7 degrees by 2100.

This is not the best of news. Our thoughts immediately turn to rising sea levels, the inundation of major cities, and massive population displacement. All bad things, to be sure. But so very gradual, so easy to dismiss as happening far off in the distant future when we’ll all long since have died of Ebola. So let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about famine.

Famine has been with us throughout history. And even with increases in agricultural productivity, over 70 million people starved to death in the 20th century. As deaths go, starvation is a nasty one and as human disasters go, it’s one that we fear to the point where famine was considered to be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. One of the neat things about climate change is that it tends to cause massive disruption to agriculture, livestock, fisheries – all things that help us avoid starving to death. And those disruptions to our food supply will hit us a long time before Boston, Venice, and Amsterdam are underwater.

Friday, 29 August 2014 07:13

The Courage to Disarm

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAlbers(Photo: Darmokand)The Ferguson tragedy, like all those that preceded it and all that will follow — involving the trivial and panicky use of lethal force, by the police or anyone else — stirs up questions the social status quo doesn’t dare face.

My sister, Sue Melcher, put it this way: “I find myself also nauseated that another issue never seems to enter the discussion: the issue that a highly trained officer could make such a mistake with a gun demonstrates that just having the weapon present increased the danger of the situation. Had the citizens been armed, how many more casualties could there have been? None of us is ‘healthy’ enough to be trusted to use lethal force wisely — and is that even possible?”

The “wise” use of lethal force . . .

We’ve wrapped our global civilization around the certainty that we understand and revere life in all its vastness and mystery so completely that we know when to cut it short, indeed, that we — those of us who are officially sanctioned good guys — have a right to cut it short in, it would seem, an ever-widening array of circumstances. In so doing, we allegedly make life better for the social whole. This is called militarism. To keep this profitable lie going, we refuse to look deeply at its consequences.

When we inflict death on distant cultures, at the sterile remove that modern weapons grant us, we can avoid all but the most cursory awareness of the consequences of our actions. But when we do it at home, it’s not always so easy.

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHomelessUSA(Photo: C.G.P. Grey)While weapon contractors, those ‘masters of war’, are raiding our treasury for multibillion dollar federal contracts, our middle-class economy is falling below the levels of third world countries.  Last night, ABC news did a report on homeless children in the United States.  Some American children are living out of cars with nothing more than green garbage bags to keep their small belongings in. These children were grateful to receive suitcases because living out of “garbage bags made them feel trashy.”  

Has it come to this? Shame on this government for turning the United States of America into a country that includes too many starving, homeless children, while less than a privileged group of companies is receiving billions of our tax dollars for weapons, and those weapons are used in turn to steal oil in the Middle East.

new report found that the nation's food pantries serve 620,000 families with a member in the military: “another troubling indication that service members battling against poverty must often rely on the generosity of our charities.”

Our tax dollars should provide adequate funding for middle-class and poor communities: schools, hospitals, roads, teachers, police, firefighters, and alternative energy among other expenditures that benefit the public good. However, when so many of our tax dollars are going directly into the bank accounts of weapon-surveillance contractors, and Wall Street banksters, you begin to understand why everyone else is left with a few scattered crumbs to fight over; you begin to see why the oligarchy encourages conflicts and divisions between blacks and whites, middle-class workers and immigrants, and so forth. After all, while everyone’s busy fighting, the biggest robbery in history is going down: big money is being stolen behind closed doors with the assistance of the White House and congressional friends of the oligarchy.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

malibubeachMalibu Beach, California (Photo: Michael Clesle)

A battle for public access to the California beaches on the Pacific Ocean is raging.

Although the outcome will impact anyone who wants to partake of the joy of walking on the sand, swimming and viewing the breathtaking natural beauty of the Pacific, the iconic California surfers are taking center stage in the battle to easily reach the beach. In fact, some of the best waves for surfing near Los Angeles are located in the exclusive Malibu area - where members of the 1% are trying to limit entryway to the oceanfront.

Independent LA television station KCET - in an article entitled, "Why California Beaches Are Open to Everyone" - provides background on the issue:

California voters in 1972 passed Proposition 20, also known as the California Coastal Commission Initiative.

The ballot measure called for the temporary creation of the California Coastal Commission, a politically appointed body tasked in part with protecting and preserving the 1,100 miles that make up the Golden State's coast and guaranteeing the public's access to that sea and shore. In 1976, the state legislature passed the California Coastal Act, basically making Prop 20 permanent."These two laws were really instrumental in changing the way Los Angeles, Southern California and the whole state's coastline looks and the ability of people in California to enjoy those resources," says Molly Selvin, associate dean for interdisciplinary programs at Southwestern Law School....

Many super-rich beachfront property owners have found ways to block paths to the beach by taking advantage of poor enforcement. As a result, in June of this year California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that empowered the California Coastal Commission to fine property owners who obstructed access to the ocean and beaches. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014 07:06

Chevron: Global Bandit, Local Bully

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaChevron(Photo: Coolcaesar)Perhaps one of the lesser predictable outcomes of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision is that it would open the floodgates to corporations having their way in local elections. That seems to be a significant part of an ongoing story in Richmond, California, a city of a little over 106,000 residents, where the Chevron Corporation -- the city's main employer and taxpayer – is using a Political Action Committee to back a Chevron-friendly mayoral candidate, and several City Council candidates.

Although the Political Action Committee, called Moving Forward, claims it is made up of "labor unions, small businesses and public safety and firefighters associations," in reality, it is Chevron, headquartered in San Ramon, which makes its engine run. According to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson, Chevron is "the biggest spender on political campaigns ... set[ing] aside $1.6 million" for Moving Forward.

Johnson pointed out that "The campaign contribution limit in Richmond for both individuals and companies is $2,500, but political action committees can spend unlimited amounts of money on 'in-kind' support – money not given directly to a candidate but spent on that candidate's behalf." The Contra Costa Times' Robert Rogers noted that according to documents, "All of the [PAC's] money came from Chevron."

The beneficiaries of Chevron's contributions are "Richmond City Councilman Nat Bates, [83] who's running for mayor and Donna Powers, Charles Ramsey and Al Martinez, all candidates vying for seats on the City Council," Johnson reported.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF TRUTHOUT AT BUZZFLASH

romneysequel(Photo: DonkeyHotey)Here is a recap of his most infamous and self-revealing statement of the 2012 campaign:

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney said in the video. "All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

"And I mean the president starts out with 48, 49 percent … he starts off with a huge number," Romney continued. "These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Romney is the distilled essence of the plutocracy: bloated with a sense of white entitlement and bursting with billions of dollars made, in large part, by lowering the income, benefits and standard of living of the US workforce. He is a guy who quintessentially - and cluelessly - represents the great redistribution of money from the working, middle class and poor to the wealthiest people in the United States. Moreover, a primary characteristic of the oligarchy - a lack of empathy - is a key element of Romney's character and an underpinning of his road to at least $250 million in personal wealth.

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBaghdadBombed(Photo: Msgt. James M. Bowman, USAF)The Middle East, as a region, went sideways quite a while back, probably about the time a bunch of European countries decided to draw borders in a manner they found to be personally amusing. But if there is a point that future historians might look at, when trying to see when any semblance of coherence was lost, August 26th of 2014, the day Egypt and the United Arab Emirates dropped a few bombs on Libya, might not be a bad candidate.

We have civil wars in Libya, Syria, and Iraq. Lebanon having a wee bit of a problem with refugees. A simmering uprising in Bahrain. Continuing conflict in Yemen. And Israel continuing to do what Israel does so well. And, of course, those states that do seem to be pulling off relative stability are managing it without resorting to anything pesky like, say, democracy. And we're just fine with that, by the way. The soaring rhetoric that democracy in Iraq would spread throughout the region as a thousand flowers bloom is long gone. The promises of the Arab Spring are dead. Democracy, as it turns out, means that the people will elect governments who we don't like. Can't have that, can we?

It's all starting to resemble nothing so much as our policy during the Cold War, when the existential threat of Communism was so fundamentally terrifying that we would support any genocidal madman, so long as he was anti-communist, and would send the CIA in to "remove" those leaders who hinted at having anything approaching a pinkish hue. And so it is today: so long as a regime stands in opposition to the Islamist hordes, we're pretty much cool with them. Never mind that lumping ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas into one singular "Islamist horde" is basically moronic. That fact seems to have escaped us.

MARK KARLIN, BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

studentelderly(Photo: Occupy Posters)

An August 21 Bloomberg Businessweek article raises a shocking dilemma: Money is being garnished from senior citizens' Social Security checks for unpaid student debt.

How is it possible that the elderly may still owe money for college education, and how can anyone live on meager Social Security income, when the federal government is docking – in some cases - thousands of dollars a year?

Ensure an open, uncensored source of information on the Internet! Make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and BuzzFlash today.

In the article, "Student Debt Threatens the Safety Net for Elderly Americans,"  Bloomberg Businessweek states the facts bluntly:  

Until his Social Security check arrived almost $300 lighter last June, Eric Merklein, 67, didn’t know he had outstanding student debt. He’d taken out a loan about 40 years ago to attend Southern Illinois University and believed it had been repaid by his grandmother after he graduated in the early 1970s. When he contacted the Department of Education to ask why he was getting less in his check, Merklein says he was surprised to learn the government was withholding a portion of his benefit to cover the debt.

Merklein is among the more than 2 million Americans age 60 and older carrying student debt, up from about 700,000 in 2005, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The debts are from old loans like Merklein’s and more recent ones that older Americans take to go back to school or pay for college for their kids. In total, this group has $43 billion in unpaid loans, five times what they owed in 2005. The average debt also has risen by more than 60 percent since 2005, to around $20,000 per borrower older than 60....

The late American journalist James Foley. (Screen grab<a href=" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H46ZEJ2Jqhs" target="_blank">via CNN / YouTube</a>)The late American journalist James Foley. (Screen grab via CNN / YouTube)JONATHAN FRANKLIN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

As a journalist who never enters war zones I have nothing but pride and support for my colleagues who do. It is easy to romanticize the front lines of war, brave souls scurrying for cover in search of that emblematic photo or tracking down the lurking warlord. The reality, as so well noted in a New York Times piece on freelance war correspondents, is that much of modern war coverage is done at poverty levels by brave men and woman (often young) without backup. They pay their own flight, share hotel rooms, skip meals and pray that luck and timing all line up to provide that one scoop which can catapult them into not only temporary fame but perhaps a steady income. Foley was fortunate to work for GlobalPost, a more than reputable organization that spent considerable money trying to save him. Nonetheless, his death is a reminder of the brutal dangers that young reporters face as they seek to bring frontline truths.

When remembering American photojournalist James Foley we would do well to honor his brave journeys not by hyping the dangers of ISIS to the US homeland or crying for increased military budgets but to continue his search for the savage reality that is war. Foley, according to his family, friends and colleagues was a man much interested in justice. "We have never been prouder of our son Jim, he gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," Diane Foley his mother said.

What is the true value of journalists like Foley? What do they contribute? They bring a snapshot of reality. A flash moment or two of the sickening day to day conflict where it is children and other non-combatants who make up the bulk of the victims. Reporters on the ground who are green and ambitious often do make it to the front rows, either by sure courage or innovative routes. They are not the ones filing from the hotel room or interviewing taxi drivers (always a sure sign of lazy reporting.) If we want to honor the work of photojournalists like Foley we would do well to avoid the grandstanding and blame game ("bomb them back to the Stone Age" rhetoric) and take a trip down to the street level reality in which they live. In Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Libya and the other powder kegs that make up the current chaos of the Mideast, who is dying? Innocents.

American Redaction. (Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/6163866838" target="_blank"> Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t</a>)American Redaction. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

As states move to hide details of government deals with Wall Street, and as politicians come up with new arguments to defend secrecy, a study released earlier this month revealed that many government information officers block specific journalists they don't like from accessing information. The news comes as 47 federal inspectors general sent a letter to lawmakers criticizing "serious limitations on access to records" that they say have "impeded" their oversight work.

The data about public information officers was compiled over the past few years by Kennesaw State University professor Dr. Carolyn Carlson. Her surveys found that 4 in 10 public information officers say "there are specific reporters they will not allow their staff to talk to due to problems with their stories in the past."

"That horrified us that so many would do that," Carlson told the Columbia Journalism Review, which reported on her presentation at the July conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

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