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LIZABETH PAULAT OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaElephant(Photo: EcoWatch)A recent summit on elephant population and habitat has led to some dire predictions: the African elephant may go extinct within our lifetimes.

Putting the end date at just decades away, the African Elephant Summit, which hosted delegates from various Asian, European and African countries, focused on mitigating poaching and increasing elephant habitats around the continent.

The statistics presented are staggering. In the 1940s, there were thought to be around 3-5 million African elephants in the wild. These days conservation organizations are estimating only 500,000 to 700,000 elephants currently exist. The largest drops came during the 1980′s when the continent saw widespread turbulence. Rather than rising back up from the fall when stability took over much of the region, increased poaching has hastened the elephant’s population decline.

The summit highlighted the link between poverty, infant mortality and poaching, showing a correlation between desperate communities, and how susceptible they can be to engaging in the illegal wildlife trade.

Yet, despite these dire warnings, there is a small beacon of hope in the midst.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

apaydayl(Photo: Jason Comely)

If you do not know it, payday loan stores are a legalized loan sharking industry that is now a $46 billion dollar industry, according to National Public Radio. The business preys upon the poor by offering relatively small loans based on an individual showing a paycheck stub.

However, the majority of borrowers aren't able to pay the money back when it is due and the small "stores" that look like currency exchanges start to charge interest rates on the loans that can run into the three digits in the many states where they are unregulated. NPR cites these compelling statistics:

In fact, repeat borrowers are the heart of the payday business. Government researchers found that 4 out of 5 payday borrowers had to renew their loans, typically before their next paycheck. And 1 in 5 renewed at least seven times....

The interest for poor borrowers often far exceeds the original loan in just a matter of weeks, while people of extremely limited means who wanted to avoid debt fall deeper into it.

The website SFGate.com offers one egregious, but not uncommon example, of how the usurious practices and deplorable effects of this cycle of debt - which results in enormous profits for the payday loan industry - impacts those of limited economic means.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

apeaceful(Photo: Evelyn Berg)

In a recent BuzzFlash commentary it was noted that "peace is not profitable enough for the United States":

The National Priorities Project, which keeps running expenditure tabs on the costs of war, estimates that the US has now spent nearly $1.7 trillion on wars since 2001. A spokeswoman for the National Priorities Project told BuzzFlash that approximately $823 billion has been spent on the Department of Homeland Security since its creation after 9/11. She also mentioned a Washington Post article from 2013 that estimated the CIA budget at $14.7 billion. Pentagon spending alone - which comprises more than half of the US budget each year - rings in at $554 billion for 2015. To be fair, a lot of this funding overlaps, but the behemoth financial interests of the "war industry" are readily apparent from these figures. Furthermore, these estimates do not include agencies such as the State Department and many unknown "black budget" programs and smaller war and surveillance allocations.....

The dramatic expansion in privatizing war and intelligence services only increases the incentive for trying to find ways to profit from conflict and focusing on the elimination of "enemies." This includes not just the major wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan [which are funded through a supplemental war budget], but numerous spots around the world in which the US is engaged in what are called low-intensity conflicts.

In short, too many institutions, corporations and people depend upon conflict to earn their livings - and in many cases fortunes. In fact, you can add the indirect beneficiaries of the war machine to that list by including stockholders, for example, in publicly traded defense and intelligence companies. After all, the value of their stock and the size of their dividends is dependent upon contracts with the military-intelligence-surveillance-complex. 

2015.26.3 BF JoNAS(Photo: Gage Skidmore)STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Once upon a time there was a dystopian novel, originally published in 1996, in which a candidate of the Republican religious right makes it to the presidency in 2004. The son of a racist truck-driver who first gets elected to the House of Representatives in the time of Newt Gingrich, his name was Jefferson Davis Hague. Hague won the Presidency on a platform of “ending welfare, cutting taxes, emasculating ‘government regulation,’ especially of the environment and for consumer protection, criminalizing abortion, banning ‘sodomy’ [gay marriage was hardly an issue when the book was written in 1994-95], and establishing ‘the centrality of God in America’ ’’ (a phrase in the book actually taken from a fund-raising letter circulated by Newt Gingrich in the summer of 1995). He was able to win the presidency on a platform like that because his Democratic Party opponent was an old-fashioned Bill Clinton-like, Democratic Leadership Council type, center-right, “let’s-all-work-together-to-find-the-middle-ground,” Democrat. He had no stomach for fighting the kind of no-holds-barred fight that would have been necessary to defeat Hague. And so, with a massive turnout, especially of the Christian Right, Hague won easily.

All of Hague’s positions were drawn from real Republican/Religious Right speeches, legislative proposals, platform planks, and etc. from the 1980s and 90s. So the writing in the book was not prescient, just observant. But does this all of it possibly sound familiar now? Well, it should, because it was all there front-and-center in the Presidential-candidacy announcement speech of Ted Cruz on July 23, 2015. In fact it was eerily familiar, and in my view has to be taken very seriously.   As a commentator on NPR on March 23 noted, most candidates announce their candidacy on home grounds, often from a favorite place in their states. Picking another location can be considered very symbolic. For example, Ronald Reagan announced his 1980 candidacy at Philadelphia, MS, where the three civil rights workers had been murdered in the Freedom Summer of 1964. And he made it clear that he was not there to memorialize them.

Thursday, 26 March 2015 06:20

Wealth vs. Money

2015.26.3 BF KOEHLER(Photo: Tiz)

BuzzFlash and Truthout depend on reader support - click here to make a tax-deductible donation. Help independent reporting and analysis survive!

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

“There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

The words are those of Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, speaking to Edward R. Murrow in 1955, as quoted recently in an essay by Paul Buchheit. What was he thinking? Six decades later, the words have such a counter-resonance with prevailing thought. They exude an old-fashioned humility and innocence, like . . . striking it rich isn’t necessarily the ultimate point of life?

I read these words and sense so much spilled wisdom in them, so much wasted hope. The world we’ve created is governed these days by two unquestioned principles: commodify and dominate. And it’s chewing up the resources that used to belong to every occupant of the planet.

“Eighty people hold the same amount of wealth as the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people, according to an analysis just released from Oxfam,”Mona Chalabi wrote in January at FiveThirtyEight.com. “The report from the global anti-poverty organization finds that since 2009, the wealth of those 80 richest has doubled in nominal terms — while the wealth of the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population has fallen.”

The winners keep winning and everyone loses.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCrossCruz(Photo: Dustin Johnston)It makes perfect sense for Senator Ted Cruz to have chosen to make his formal announcement that he is running for the Republican Party's 2016 presidential nomination in front of an audience at the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the country. Cruz, who comes out of the conservative evangelical Christian Right, is going to be courting white evangelical Christian primary voters, so he might as well get started revving up their engines.

Cruz supporters see him as a highly intelligent and articulate spokesperson with an impressive academic background, and a man who is willing to take a principled stand, and stick by it regardless of the circumstances. Many on the left -- as well as some on the establishment right – tend to dismiss Cruz as a buffoon, a self-promoting carnival barker who not only goes off the rails, and is proud to live off the rails.

As is often the case, researcher and investigative journalist Bruce Wilson is cutting through what I am calling "The Fog of Ted Cruz."

In a recent Talk2Action post titled "Ted Cruz: Born From The Heart of the Dominionist Christian Right," Wilson pointed out that both Cruz, and his father Rafael, are steeped in the politics of the Religious Right. Wilson wrote that they both have deep "ties to the dominionist Christian right," and have "made frequent public appearances ... onstage with leaders from the most extreme factions of the Christian right."

COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDenton(Photo: EcoWatch)Citizens of Denton, Texas are still fighting to keep fracking banned within city limits despite the vote last November in favor of the ban. Ever since the vote, state lawmakers in cahoots with the oil and gas industry and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, have attempted to strip municipalities like Denton of home rule authority to override the city’s ban, according to Frack Free Denton.

The town is the first municipality in Texas to ban fracking and has consequently become ground zero for the fracking debate. Yesterday, Denton Mayor Chris Watts and City Attorney Anita Burgess traveled to Austin to testify at a hearing on two bills that have emerged in response to Denton’s fracking ban, according to Frack Free Denton. In solidarity with grassroots organizers from the Frack Free Denton movement and other residents from small Texas towns who also testified in Austin, documentary filmmaker and Denton resident Garrett Graham released a new trailer for his forthcoming film.

With the help of Frack Free Denton, Graham made a film that “chronicles Denton’s uphill battle against oil and gas interest deep in the heart of the gas patch,” said Frack Free Denton. The oil and gas industry is working hard to undo Denton’s ban and to keep other cities from following Denton’s example but residents of Denton are speaking out.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

armedcampuses(Image: ArmedCampuses.org)

Recent news of the Texas Senate passing legislation that would allow people to carry concealed handguns to be armed on college campuses has been viewed as a new breakthrough for the National Rifle Association (NRA). 

A March 19 article in the Texas Observer reports, "The Second Amendment took center stage this week as the Senate OK'd bills that would allow licensed gun-owners to carry handguns concealed on college campuses and openly everywhere else in public." The legislation, if passed by the Texas House as is and signed by a supportive governor, Republican Greg Abbott, would not allow public universities to individually place prohibitions on carrying concealed handguns.

For those who are alarmed by this development, it is of little reassurance to know that many states already have passed varying degrees of allowing guns on college grounds. In fact, three states - Utah, Idaho and Colorado - not only allow firearms on the grounds of places of higher learning; they prohibit colleges from choosing to opt out of the law and restrict guns on campuses. 

A map on the pro-gun control ArmedCampuses website details the college gun laws in each state (which you can view by clicking here). It's a sobering image that shows that only 13 states completely restrict guns on campuses for students, employees (with the exception of law enforcement) and visitors. All other states have mandated campuses allow a varying range of gun presence options.

Still, the majority of campuses in the United States maintain the ability to prohibit the carrying of handguns by individuals, based on the degree of latitude given them in state laws. (Some states, for instance, only require colleges and universities to allow guns in cars that are parked on campus.) However, the NRA and other pro-gun lobbying groups have been chipping away at this option by pushing laws mandating the right to walk around with a handgun everywhere on college property (although the Texas law would exempt private colleges).

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCancerRoundup(Photo: EcoWatch)Glyphosate, the toxic active ingredient in the Monsanto’s flagship herbicide Roundup, was “classified as probably carcinogenic to humans” according to a new report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the Word Health Organization’s France-based cancer research arm.

Roundup is one of the world’s most widely used weed killers and the most popular in the U.S. Among farmworkers who use the herbicide, traces of the compound were found in their blood and urine that linked to a slightly increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the report issued last week. “Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada, and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides,” it said. There is also “convincing evidence” that it can cause cancer in laboratory animals.

Traces of the weed killer can also be found in food, water and in the air after it has been sprayed, according to the WHO report. In fact, according to a different study from the U.S. Geological Survey which focused on Mississippi’s highly fertile Delta agricultural region, the herbicide was present in 75 percent of air and rainfall test samples.

The WHO report focuses on industrial use of glyphosate. Home gardeners do not appear to be at risk. “I don’t think home use is the issue,” Kate Guyton of IARC told the Associated Press. “It’s agricultural use that will have the biggest impact. For the moment, it’s just something for people to be conscious of.”

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

apolicbrut(Photo: Susan Melkisethian)

A shocking new study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois reveals that the discriminatory practice of police stopping and frisking people of color happens at even higher rates in Chicago than in New York. The ACLU of Illinois found that during the summer of 2014,

CPD [Chicago Police Department] conducted more than a quarter million stops of civilians that did not lead to an arrest. When comparing that number of stops to population in Chicago versus New York City at the height of that city’s controversial use of the stop-and-frisk practice, Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as people in New York. Stops per 1000 residents was 93.6 in Chicago, compared to 22.9 (at the highest point in 2011) in New York City. The New York police have been forced to curb significantly their use of stop-and-frisk after a federal judge found the use in that city to be unconstitutional.

Harvey Grossman, legal director for the Illinois ACLU chapter, remarked on the organization's website, "And just like New York, we see that African Americans are singled out for these searches."

The report's conclusions are backed up by painstaking research, including an analysis of so-called "contact cards" that Chicago police officers are required to submit when they stop someone.

The ACLU found that African-Americans - and Latinos to a lesser degree - are disproportionately targeted.

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