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Thursday, 09 October 2014 06:27

Sweden and the Waking of Eco-Integrity

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaEcologyEarth(Photo: NASA)Startling news: Sweden now recycles 99 percent of its waste.

At least that’s what people are saying, including an official website of Sweden itself: “Less than one per cent of Sweden’s household waste ends up in a rubbish dump.” There may be less to this statement than meets the eye, but before I address that issue, I need to pause at the jolt of ecstatic excitement and jubilant incredulity I felt for a moment — that maybe the resource-consuming, planet-destroying, multinational political and economic system I’m part of is capable of correcting its own insanity, committing itself to a sustainable future and embracing the circle of life.

I’ve gotten used to living with despair: that so little of our effort, energy, intelligence and determination are invested in creating a sustainable future; and, indeed, that humanity’s macro-organizations, its national governments, its multinational business enterprises, expend their enormous power not only contributing to the devastation but sabotaging every effort to make it stop.

I’ve felt trapped in a state of permanent disconnect. Human indifference and helplessness, on a scale that is large beyond reckoning and as tiny as the car key in my hand and the bag of trash at my doorstep, seems permanently planted between me and the natural world. Only humans create garbage. Beyond our reckoning, everything has a purpose — but we cannot access or be part of this purpose, even though we come from it.

What if humanity actually committed itself, at the level of a national government, to learning from and working with nature? What if environmentalism didn’t mean (only) marching in the streets, pumping one’s fists or chaining oneself to a tree? I respect and honor such efforts — 300,000-plus people on the streets of New York demanding a sustainable future — but know that the point isn’t to celebrate individual righteousness but, rather, to awaken the integrity of our most powerful institutions.

2014.10.8.Water.BFDan River coal ash spill, February 2014. (Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance/Rick Dove)

RHIANNON FIONN FOR ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Thanks to the third-largest and most recent coal ash spill at Duke Energy’s Dan River plant in Eden, N.C., this past February—and the federal investigation and political nonsense that followed—it may seem as though coal ash is only a North Carolina issue, but it is not. Coal ash pollution is a national issue (well, truly, it’s an international issue) that warrants national media attention, though it rarely enjoys that sort of spotlight.

However, with MSNBC’s coal-ash segment last night and news from The Charlotte Business Journal that CBS’ “60 Minutes” is working on a special investigation that should air in about a month, the spotlight is coming coal ash’s way.

This will be 60 Minutes’ second special on coal ash.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ashkleindoc(Photo:BlueRobot)

Naomi Klein's brilliant 2008 book, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," was a visionary breakthrough in understanding how the oligarchy uses catastrophic circumstances to seize economic control of nations. Taking advantage of natural, political and financial upheaval, Klein cogently argues, the apostles of Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand use disaster as an opportunity to implement extremist free-market economic policies while reducing government spending for the common good.

The mainstream media and political narrative that we have lived with for years - of lurching from one sensationalist crisis to another - has evolved into a continuous "shock doctrine." The neoliberal forces of unfettered capitalism and the global consolidation of wealth advance as we are distracted by lurid coverage that stimulates our fears but not our brains. Akira Watts eloquently addressed this ceaseless barrage of "fourth-estate" terror in a BuzzFlash commentary yesterday, "ISIS, Ebola, and Why Fear of the Unknown Makes Us Stupid."

The never-ending fusillade of frightening images and news evoke the fear of monsters from our childhood. It is news that both attracts and repulses us because of its titillating appeal to out primal phobias.

2014.10.8.Hightower.BFMarriott Hotel, downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: Chris / Flickr)

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

As an old popular song from the 1970s asks, what do you get if you "work your fingers right down to the bone"? Boney fingers.

As the hardworking housekeepers for the sprawling Marriott chain of hotels know, that's more than a cute song lyric; it's the truth. Mostly women, these "room attendants," as they're called, are paid a poverty wage of barely $8 an hour by this hugely profitable lodging conglomerate to preform a very hard, physical job. Compelled to do very heavy lifting at unsafe speeds, they suffer the highest injury rate in the so-called "hospitality" industry. Some two-thirds of them have to take pain medication just to get through their day of heaving 100-pound mattresses, stooping to clean floors and toilets and twisting to readjust furniture in 15 to 20 rooms per shift.

Yet, Marriott's CEO publicly hails the very women he exploits as "the heart of the house," saying his chain likes to express its appreciation to them with "special recognition events" during International Housekeepers Week. Yes, exploited room refreshers are not rewarded with a living wage, but with their very own congratulatory week — how great is that?

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaStealthJesus(Photo: John Singleton Copley)In 1990, a young Ralph Reed, newly hired by Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition to oversee its daily operations, told the Los Angeles Times that, "What Christians have got to do is take back this country, one precinct at a time, one neighborhood at a time and one state at a time. I honestly believe that in my lifetime, we will see a country once again governed by Christians...and Christian values."

A year later, in an interview with Norfolk, Virginia's Virginian-Pilot, Reed talked about the organization's stealth political strategy, a strategy aimed at having Religious Right candidates hide their social agenda, while talking about other issues more attractive to voters, such as lower taxes: "I want to be invisible. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night."

In a 1992 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Reed, who left the Christian Coalition a few years later to start up his own public relations firm, and was later caught up in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, explained stealth: "It's like guerrilla warfare. If you reveal your location, all it does is allow your opponent to improve his artillery bearings. It's better to move quietly, with stealth, under the cover of night."

In the intervening nearly twenty-five years, the Religious Right has used a number of strategies, from Reed's stealth tactics to developing high-powered political organizations and high-profile leaders like the Moral Majority's Jerry Falwell, the Christian Coalition's Pat Robertson, and Focus on the Family's James Dobson; from placing a succession of anti-gay and anti-abortion initiatives on state ballots to mobilizing committed conservative grassroots activists.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acharitphil(Photo: Thomas Hawk)

Yes, BuzzFlash has repeatedly posted commentaries on how the wealthiest 1 percent in the United States have received 95 percent of the economic benefits from the post-2008 recovery. That alone is an astonishing and appalling statistic. However, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the richest people in the US are now giving a smaller percentage of their income to charity than they did before the economy cratered.

In an October 5 article entitled, "As Wealthy Give Smaller Share of Income to Charity, Middle Class Digs Deeper," the Chronicle reports,

As the recession lifted, poor and middle class Americans dug deeper into their wallets to give to charity, even though they were earning less. At the same time, according to a new Chronicle analysis of tax data, wealthy Americans earned more, but the portion of the income they gave to charity declined.

Using the IRS data, The Chronicle was able to track gifts to charity at the state, county, metropolitan-area, and ZIP code levels. The data were for gifts to charity among taxpayers who itemize deductions on their tax forms. It captured $180-billion that was given to charity in 2012, or about 80 percent of the total amount given to charity as tabulated by "Giving USA...."

The wealthiest Americans—those who earned $200,000 or more—reduced the share of income they gave to charity by 4.6 percent from 2006 to 2012. Meanwhile, Americans who earned less than $100,000 chipped in 4.5 percent more of their income during the same time period. Middle- and lower-income Americans increased the share of income they donated to charity, even as they earned less, on average, than they did six years earlier.

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaEbola(Photo: CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith)As weeks go, last week wasn’t exactly a great one. It began with the inevitable appearance of Ebola in the United States. It ended with ISIS beheading yet another hostage. Our two biggest fears on the global stage just flexed their muscles and got scarier. It is no surprise then, that there is a panicky edge to the discussion of either topic, or that the proposed solutions to either issue are becoming ever more extreme and outlandish.

Let’s take a step back for a second. Yes, Ebola is awful. The death toll in West Africa is over 3000, and the total number of cases could hit 1.4 million within 4 months. Given that the current outbreak has a mortality rate that is pushing 60%, those are grim figures. But, despite widespread panic, the number of confirmed cases within the United States remains at exactly one. And yes, ISIS is awful. Over 5000 Iraqis have died as a result of its military actions, and ISIS is singularly unconcerned with avoiding things like genocide or war crimes. But how many Western hostages have been beheaded by ISIS? Four, a number that will hopefully remain unchanged.

That last paragraph could be taken in a very nasty way. No Americans dying? Eh, who cares? That isn’t my intention at all. What is interesting is how we’ve seemed to settle upon ISIS and Ebola as our designated fears of the season, especially since things aren’t going all that well elsewhere. From the Ukraine, to Hong Kong, to Egypt, to Estonia, there are any number of areas in the world where things could very rapidly spiral out of control just as easily as the situation in Iraq and Syria. Back at home, heart disease kills 600,000 every year, and even a lightweight like measles has taken 41 in 2014. Again, it would seem that there are many things out there that are every bit as threatening, if not more threatening, than Ebola.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afreetuitionProtesting against tuition in the United States (Photo: aymanfadel)

While US students wallow in debt that exceeds $1 trillion, according to Forbes, Germany is now offering a tuition-free future for upcoming generations.

No, it's not a far-fetched idea for the government to invest in a country's intellectual capacity by financing advanced education. The more students who have access to the university, the greater the contribution to a nation's growth and well-being, particularly in this age of advanced technology and scientific knowledge. Instead of allowing its students to be burdened by lifelong debt - or not going to college at all because of the costs - Germany sees that it benefits the country to subsidize debt-free higher education.

A September Times of London article headlined, "German universities scrap all tuition fees," also alludes to the economic justice aspect of the policy:

All German universities will be free of charge when term starts next week after fees were abandoned in Lower Saxony, the last of seven states to charge.

"Tuition fees are socially unjust," said Dorothee Stapelfeldt, senator for science in Hamburg, which scrapped charges in 2012. "They particularly discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up studies. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany."

2014.10.6.Marcus.1The 1981 Diablo Nuclear Power Plant blockade. (Photo: Jacqueline Marcus)JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

It was a relatively cool afternoon on the central coast of California.  The fog settled quietly over the hills like a white heron.  And despite the worst drought in our state’s history, the sky was a deep blue, the color of autumn, the sun shimmered brightly on the bay, a few crows shouted above the field where my two Labradors were happily chasing a squirrel to no avail—just another ordinary day - until suddenly PG&E’s Diablo Nuclear Power Plant’s siren went off.  I forgot that they were running a routine test that day.

There are four rotating speakers that roar an alarming sound: EMERGENCY! It is so loud that PG&E warn residents a week in advance so that you can protect your hearing and your pets’ ears from the blaring sirens. My dogs freaked out - and so did I. We ran as fast as we could back to the house.

Central coast residents have grown accustomed to these routine tests. But that day - for a moment, I thought it was the real thing. It feels as if you’re in a war zone and that you had better take cover as quickly as possible. Problem is—there is no real “escape plan” if the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant became a Fukushima meltdown catastrophe.  

And that’s the ultimate irony about the routine siren tests: it’s an exercise in futility.

2014.10.6.Buchheit.BF (Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Steve Wampler, epicharmus)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

For the second year in a row, America's richest 14 individuals made more from their annual investments than the $80 billion provided for people in need of food. Nearly half of the food-deprived are children. Perversely, the food stamp program was CUT because of a lack of federal funding.

In a testament to the inability -- or unwillingness -- of Congress to do anything about the incessant upward re-distribution of America's wealth, the richest 14 Americans increased their wealth from $507 billion to $589 billion in ONE YEAR from their investment earnings. As stated by Forbes, "All together the 400 wealthiest Americans are worth a staggering $2.29 trillion, up $270 billion from a year ago."


The Richest 14 Made Enough Money to Hire Two Million Pre-School Teachers or Emergency Medical Technicians

Billions of dollars of wealth, derived from years of American productivity, have been transferred to a few financially savvy and well-connected individuals who have spent a generation shaping trading rules and tax laws to their own advantage. It's so inexplicably one-sided that the 2013 investment earnings of the richest 1% of Americans ($1.8 trillion) was more than the entire budget for Social Security ($860 billion), Medicare ($524 billion), and Medicaid ($304 billion).

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