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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

 

apublicschool(Photo: TheeErin)On Tuesday, May 13, Newark elected Ras Baraka (with 54% of the vote) as its new mayor, filling the vacancy left by Cory Booker. Booker had recently won a special election to fill the vacancy in the US Senate left by Frank Lautenberg, who died in June 2013.

 

Ras Baraka, son of the late poet and activist Amiri Baraka, is a public high school principal. A key plank of his campaign was an attack on the privatization of K-12 education. The Star-Ledger (New Jersey’s main newspaper) ran a pre-election article in which Baraka scathingly criticized a state plan to convert public schools to charter schools in Newark:

 

Newark mayoral candidate and South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka blasted the school reorganization plan released by State Superintendent Cami Anderson earlier this week, calling it "radical" and "disruptive" and predicting it will damage the city’s school system.

 

"They say this is about choice, but it is about anything but choice. They are saying we’re going to get rid of your neighborhood schools," Baraka said today. "This is a dismantling of public education. It is an irresponsible and radical plan. It needs to be halted...."

 

"The buildings are the property of the taxpayers of Newark. They are not the state superintendent’s property, they are not the governor’s property," he said. "We don’t want to sell them. We want to repair them."

 

"We will not stand idly by and let this happen," he continued, listing the meetings and rallies by parents and alumni in response to the proposal. "We want to say to parents, we are with you."

 

The Baraka victory in Newark provides a significant boost to opponents of the abandonment of public education in poor communities of color.

2014.5.14.Benham.BFJason Benham. (Screengrab via Right Wing Watch)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

This fall, twin brothers Jason and David Benham, the sons of anti-abortion zealot Flip Benham, were slated to host a new reality program on HGTV called "Flip It Forward." After a batch of their homophobic, anti-choice and anti-Muslim statements came to light, the network decided to drop the show. However, there's no need to cry for the Benham twins as they are rapidly ascending the evangelical conservative Christian martyrdom ladder, recently occupied by Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson and Chick-fil-A's Dan Cathy.

When the network, which airs such popular programs as "House Hunters", "Property Virgins", "Design on a Dime", and "Curb Appeal", announced the show, it stated that the brothers will "leverage their good-natured sibling rivalry to help families find a fixer-upper and transform it into the dream home they never thought they could afford."

After hearing about HGTV's change of mind, David Benham told The Hollywood Reporter, "I think it would be healthy for America to show a balanced approach, but at the same time, we're in the free market, and they have a choice to make. If they don't choose us, it's no big deal. We are not pushing this at all." He also said that HDTV was "bullied" into making its decision to not go ahead with the program.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aloanstudOccupy PostersOne of the masterful characteristics of Elizabeth Warren is her discipline when it comes to progressive advocacy. She knows how to stay on point.

Of course, progressives rightfully love Bernie Sanders. He is the professor of underscoring the narrative of economic injustice in the United States with facts. His multi-hour filibuster of the Senate in December of 2010 was a tour de force, offering up a true State of the Union address. Bernie is the progressive Jeremiah, the articulator of a righteous public policy path.

Warren may or may not be more progressive than Sanders (we really don't know a lot of her positions on issues that are non-economic, particularly foreign policy), but she is a figure who is focused, disciplined, passionate and has a compelling narrative. On television, Sanders looks like a rumpled liberal professor with whom you nod your head in agreement, but it is not clear that he is breaking through to the middle and working classes. (It should be noted that Sanders was a regular BuzzFlash reader in our early years and always receptive to interviews.)

Warren, however, is a radiant media presence. She has the ability to convey a confidence in her convictions that makes her assertions all the more credible to the viewer. On the verge of finishing up an extensive media exposure tour for her new book, A Fighting Chance, Warren brings a frame to the conversation of economic injustice that is compelling not really because of her academic background, but due to her common-sense phrasing of financial struggles experienced by the 99%.

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBraschFracking(Photo: Joshua Doubek)Among the mission statements of the University of North Dakota Department of Geology and Geological Engineering is that it "strives to develop in its engineering graduates keen insight and abilities to design an environmentally sound and sustainable future for humanity."

Like most college mission statements, it's a broad and vague goal, one that may not reflect reality. The Department is one of the better ones in the country, especially in training students to work in areas of gas and oil exploration and processing. However, their training—and research by the faculty—may be tainted by an industry bias, fueled by a $14 million gift.

The Department is now the Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Science. Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, the ninth largest oil producer in the United States, provided $5 million to the renamed School; his company provided an additional $5. The other $4 million came from the Industrial Commission/Oil and Gas Research Program, a merger of the state of North Dakota and several gas and oil corporations.

Continental Resources, which had revenue of $3.65 billion and a net profit of $764.2 million in 2013, had opened up the oil shale in North Dakota, site of the Bakken Shale, and is currently the top producer of oil production in the country. Continental, which uses the controversial practice of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing (known as fracking) to extract the oil, predicts to produce 62.5–65.5 million barrels of oil, an increase in production of 26-32 percent.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFrancis(Photo: Edgar Jiménez)Unlike the National Football League, which took a small but significant step forward towards inclusiveness with the drafting of the openly (and proudly) gay Michael Sam, several Archdioceses around the country are taking giant leaps backwards.

Last September, Pope Francis made what many considered to be an extraordinary statement when in an interview "he criticized the church for putting dogma before love, and for prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized," The New York Times reported. Throughout his first year, Francis has clearly been concerned with expanded the church, not further contracting its membership. It appears, however, that Archdioceses in Cincinnati, Ohio, Oakland, California, and the state of Hawaii have either not gotten the message or are being just plain ornery. Those districts are demanding that their teachers at Catholic schools pledge fealty to Catholic doctrine in their actions inside and outside the workplace.

Pope Francis told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit: "It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

"We have to find a new balance," the Pope continued, "otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel." In words, if not church doctrine, Pope Francis was making a clear distinction from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

Now, less than a year later, Archdioceses in Cincinnati, Ohio, Oakland, California, and the state of Hawaii are pressing teachers, employed in Catholic schools, to sign contracts, which can be read as loyalty oaths to Catholic doctrine.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acancerpill(Photo: erix!)Big Pharma regularly employs a frayed justification for expensive drugs, particularly for new specialty medications: Monumental research costs must be recouped through sales. In addition, the pharmaceutical industry employs a more emotionally compelling argument that verges on a threat: "If you want to live longer, we can't make a profit on disease-controlling medications unless you pay for us to recoup our development expenses."

In short, a person with a serious illness is confronted with a variation on "your money or your life." This is true even for people who have insurance, given growing copayment requirements on specialty medication.

The May 2014 AARP Bulletin, however, contains a commentary that credibly debunks "the most famous industry-sponsored estimate ... that it costs on average $1.3 billion to develop a new drug and get it approved." The authors of the opinion piece, Donald W. Light and Hagop Kantarjian (both professors of medicine), particularly focus on cancer drugs. Light and Kantarjian charge that the development of a new cancer drug doesn't actually cost Big Pharma more than a billion dollars; the figure, they say, is closer to $125 million. 

Honey bee. (Photo:<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrew_ww/9531844222/in/photolist-fwiccL-4CgXDv-aoAtgi-aoAt4H-anxNid-dHt2Pm-6y4VtX-dsvgP4-fFBvXV-4CzMUA-a6jK3a-dsvgEi-6jvo19-fhP97K-9Vi4es-9Vi443-bAMi4o-gkXoQS-MVPoh-bJdPkk-eK9ebj-8eYsAJ-51HdmD-ajy93Z-eK9d63-cJXFQG-7UacKc-cJXFXU-jSW7aP-3dFbQG-NqgVG-4DgYZA-6FD55A-cE8xm3-cmVvzL-dQLkBF-dd9cuA-7LqqRi-bxUVuu-5ekpiU-bQisNn-ajAWwG-anxNnb-4TrGFh-4TnuU4-dHz26h-5wZs6j-d5QvQ-3bfY25-fnjCUv"> Andrew / Flickr</a>)Honey bee. (Photo: Andrew / Flickr)REV. BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

On May Day, we marched honey bee-pollinated food (a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, berries) into the Microrobotic Lab at Harvard University. We wore our bee-swarm costumes and the Queen Bee was regal (see video here). In this facility, scientists are sinning big time. They are accepting government money to design a replacement for the honey bee. The robot bee is called the RoboBee.

Two of the RoboBee project goals on the Microrobotics Lab website are artificial pollinaton and military surveillance. With the RoboBee research we have a blend of the visions of Monsanto's industrial agriculture and of world-wide military surveillance and control.

The project director, Dr. Robert J. Wood, is a wunderkind in drone technology, receiving grants and awards from the Navy and Air Force, as well as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - also known as DARPA. The notorious terror of the skies has long heralded the arrival surveillance and bombs that would have the flight capabilities of insects.

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaPSU(Photo: George Chriss)Two of the reasons Pennsylvania has no severance tax and one of the lowest taxes upon shale gas drilling are because of an overtly corporate-friendly legislature and a research report from Penn State, a private state-related university that receives about $300 million a year in public funds.

Opponents of the tax cited a Penn State study that claimed a 30 percent decline in drilling if the fees were assessed, while also touting the economic benefits of drilling in the Marcellus Shale. What wasn't widely known is that the lead author of the study, Dr. Timothy Considine, "had a history of producing industry-friendly research on economic and energy issues," according to reporting by Jim Efsathioi Jr. of Bloomberg News. The Penn State study was sponsored by a $100,000 grant from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an oil and gas lobbying group that represents more than 300 energy companies. Dr. William Easterling, dean of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, said the study may have "crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy."

The Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR), a part of Penn State, announced that with funding provided by General Electric and ExxonMobil, it would offer a "Shale Gas Regulators Training Program." The Center had previously said it wasn't taking funding from private industry. However, the Center's objectivity may have already been influenced by two people. Gov. Tom Corbett, who accepted more than $2.6 million in campaign funds from oil and gas company personnel, sits on the university's board of trustees; billionaire Terrence (Terry) Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, was CEO of East Resources, which he had sold to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion in July 2010.

Pegula and his wife had also contributed about $380,000 to Corbett's political campaign. On the day Pegula donated $88 million to Penn State to fund a world-class ice hockey arena and support the men's and women's intercollegiate ice hockey team, he said, "[T]his contribution could be just the tip of the iceberg, the first of many such gifts, if the development of the Marcellus Shale is allowed to proceed." At the groundbreaking in April 2012, Pegula announced he increased the donation to $102 million.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aconstconvUS no longer looks exclusively like the white male founding fathers. It shouldn't. (Photo: Visit Wikipedia)

The facts of the US Constitution speak for themselves: However lofty and noble the document, the US was founded as a democracy for propertied white males.

 

This is fact.

 

After all, women were not even granted the right to vote until the beginning of the last century. Slaves were each considered three-fifths of a person for the purposes of allowing slaveholder states larger representation in Congress, but obviously, "chattel" was not granted a vote. Native Americans, whose land was confiscated by the expanding states, were not US citizens. There are more examples, but suffice it to say, the white males who pretty much ran the colonies under King George were the same white males, more or less, who ran the newly "emancipated" nation of the United States.

 

The most important contribution of the US to world governance was hardly who was running it. Yes, the country broke away from the reigning concept of monarchal rule by bloodline, but it did not change the principle of governance exclusively by propertied white males. However, the so-called "founding fathers" did do something differently: They created an elastic, resilient Constitution that was subject to amendment and allowed for the evolution of democracy to become more inclusive over time.

 

When Antonin Scalia and the Federalist Society speak of "strict constructionism," they are referring to the Constitution without its amendments. They are also evoking what the governance of the nation looked like when it was founded: white, male and predominantly Christian (although actually many of the revolutionary leadership were deists). Scalia's concept of originalism is as much a historical longing for the gender, religion and race of people who governed and owned property in the US's first couple of centuries as it is an attempt to justify regressive policies, using legal rants that take the shape of twisted pretzels.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aguncst(Photo: Poster Boy NYC)A little more than a week ago, a man who baited two teenagers to burglarize his house so he could shoot and kill them was convicted by a Minnesota jury of premeditated murder. That will not bring back the lives of the two teens he had plotted to shoot to death. However, it does at least indicate a jury somewhere in the United States values lives over the growing NRA-sponsored laws that provide a license to kill.

According to an Associated Press account of the killings carried out by Byron Smith, the shooter even taped the murder:

Ted Sampsell-Jones, a criminal law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said the audio recording was devastating to the defense, noting that Smith's taunts to the victims don't show a man in a panic. 

"It was very powerful, and it makes it very clear that ... he didn't do this because he had to. He did it because he wanted to. And that is not what self-defense is about," Sampsell-Jones said.

The recording captured the sounds of Smith shooting Brady as he came down the stairs. Brady groans after the first and second shots, but is silent after a third shot, and Smith can be heard saying, "You're dead." 

In short, what happened in Minnesota was like baiting two cub bears, only they were real teenagers with real names: 7-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer.

The emergence of the "stand your ground" laws as a legislative initiative of the NRA, of course, reached prominence when George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin, who was guilty of nothing more than walking while black. (One of the tragic ironies is that Martin was staying with his father in the very complex that Zimmerman claimed to be protecting from criminals as a one-man armed vigilante squad.)

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