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Monday, 23 April 2018 07:15

Examining the Kochtopus


Koch 0423wrp opt(Photo: Walter Siegmund)Multibillionaires Charles and David Koch want nothing less than to supplant America's core democratic principle of majority rule — the will of The People — with their core plutocratic principle of inviolable property rights, also known as domination by the wealthy minority. Their notion is that "property" (accumulated wealth and the means to get it) is sacrosanct and cannot be restricted by the pesky majority for the Common Good. Cloaking their efforts with layers of dark-money front groups, the Koch brothers have used their enormous assets to mount a far-ranging, ultrasophisticated assault on American democracy.

From their early involvement in The John Birch Society (daddy Fred Koch being an early member), they continued their rightward march, and by the 1970s, both had plunged into the abyss of a laissez-fairyland plutocracy. With the fervor of religious cultists, they've devoted themselves to the cause of "liberty" — by which they mean the government's only proper role is keeping the avaricious pursuits of the wealthy owner class free from any interference by you, me and the democratic "us." They believe that We The People can neither tax the riches of the owner class nor set rules on how it treats workers, consumers, nature ... and society as a whole.

Published in Guest Commentary


Raza 0423wrp opt(Photo: Nathan Rupert / Flickr)Despite a favorable 2017 court decision, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) school board continues to refuse to abide by a historic ruling against the state of Arizona in regards to the 2010 legislation HB 2281. This Orwellian legislation outlawed the teaching of courses that promoted segregation or race hatred; it fined any Arizona school district that was found to be out of compliance 10 percent of its budget.

The court found that the state was motivated by racial animus in the passage of the anti-Ethnic studies proposition. Rather than abiding with the decision, other school board members are proposing Latino or Hispanic studies in place of Raza or Mexican American studies.

The rumblings coming out of the TUSD school board earlier this year appear to be ignorant not only of the ancient history of this state, but even the history of the past 12 years.

Published in Guest Commentary


Dick 0420wrp optLauralee and Richard Uihlein. (Photo: Hope for Haiti / Flickr)He's a free-market, anti-regulation, small government, anti-union, homophobic, tax avoiding crusader. He was the fourth largest contributor to outside spending groups in the 2016 election cycle, and he and his wife are among the biggest Republican contributors in this year's midterm elections. He was a top donor to the failed Alabama Senate campaign of the disgraced Roy Moore, and he remains an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump. You wouldn't recognize him at a highway rest stop, and you couldn't pick him out of a line-up. Politico's Maggie Severns called him "one of the most influential, but still little-known, political donors in the country."

Like many mega-wealthy conservatives trying to shape politics, Richard Ellis "Dick" Uihlein would probably tell you that he just wants his point of view to resonate. And, since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, his money is resonating loud and clear, not only in the race for the Senate in Wisconsin, and the battle over the governorship of Illinois, but at conservative organizations across the country.

Wisconsin's senate race has become one of the most hotly contested races this year, and the Illinois-based Uihlein is in the thick of it. According to an email from Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin's campaign, Uihlein has "directed much of his spending" toward defeating Baldwin. In Illinois, Uihlein put $2 million into the campaign chest of state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who recently lost in a close race in the GOP primary, where she challenged Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Published in Guest Commentary


Enzyme 0418wrp opt(Photo: Nayanika Mukherjee / Flickr)Researchers in the UK and the U.S. have inadvertently engineered an enzyme that eats up plastic.

The enzyme is able to digest PET (polyethylene terephthalate)—the same material used in the ubiquitous plastic bottle that's clogging up landfills, coastlines and oceans around the world.

Amazingly, this discovery only happened by chance. Scientists from the University of Portsmouth in the UK and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) were examining the structure of a natural enzyme, Ideonella sakaiensis, found in 2016 at a Japanese waste recycling center. This enzyme could already break down PET plastic—it just doesn't do it very quickly.

To understand how Ideonella sakaiensis evolved, the research team "tweaked" the structure of the enzyme by adding some amino acids, according to John McGeehan, a Portsmouth professor who co-led the work. They ended up creating an enzyme that worked even faster than the natural one.

Published in Guest Commentary


Pruitt 0418wrp opt(Photo: Victoria Pickering / Flickr)Water is the lifeblood of the United States. Last week, American Rivers released findings for their 33rd annual 10 Most-Endangered Rivers report. Those vital waterways are economic drivers at a crossroads, which face existential threats. Notably, they are pivotal resources that could be protected in 2018.

Clean water is being compromised by politicians ostensibly making it a partisan issue when it shouldn't be. The waters industry, not to be confused with the bottled water business, provides drinking water and wastewater services to industrial, residential and commercial sectors of our economy. Public utilities and municipalities rely on low-interest loans from the state revolving loan funds program from Congress. Every US family is thought to be entitled not to be poisoned or killed by water flowing from their taps, regardless of their zip code. While there is no such thing as free government money to invest in water infrastructure, appropriators in the Senate and House of Representatives must strike a shrewd balance.

While it sounds absurd to citizens living outside the Beltway, a partisan class of political appointees disdain their unelected public employee counterparts working at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Unrelenting, they scheme to defund budgets -- actions that ultimately prevent them from effectively doing their jobs.

Published in Guest Commentary
Monday, 16 April 2018 08:40

Equal Pay for Equal Work: It's Time


EPD 0416wrp opt(Photo: SPD-Bundestagsfraktion / Flickr)Since 1996, April 10 has been celebrated as Equal Pay Day annually. It's a day when organizations draw attention to the disparities in pay between women and men doing equal work. On Tuesday, posts that build awareness about how long it takes a woman's pay to catch up to that of white, non-Hispanic men floated across social media platforms. Bottom line: A woman shouldn't have to work for 15 months to make what a man makes in 12.

But that's just what a white woman earns compared to a white man. It takes Black women 18 months to earn as much as a white man does in one year, so to put that into calendar perspective, Equal Pay Day for Black women would be in July. For Latinas, it takes almost two years to catch up -- Equal Pay Day for Latinas would be in November. A 2017 report from the Women's Bureau of the US Department of Labor stated, "In 2015, Hispanic women earned only 56.3 percent of the median weekly earnings of White, non-Hispanic men (the largest group of workers in the labor market), [and] Black women earned 61.2 percent." That significant disparity means the loss of tens of thousands of dollars in wages for women of color, who collectively represent the largest growing sector of working people.

Those are just the cold, hard statistics. How do we actually solve wage inequality?

Published in Guest Commentary


Enough 0416wrp opt(Photo: Michael Fleshman / Flickr)From labor rights to civil rights to antiwar movements, youth have always been on the forefront of social change. Following the tragic Parkland shooting, the potential now exists for today's generation of leaders to transform politics in ways that go far beyond gun control. To do so, youth leaders must build multiracial alliances that center the leadership of young people of color who have been most impacted by gun violence. They must also turn this moment into effective political power. The recent student marches provide evidence that these changes are already in motion.

While many have expressed surprise at the eloquence and power of the young organizers, beneath the radar, a dynamic youth organizing field has grown over the last 20 years to engage and develop many such leaders. Primarily led by high school students of color, these groups are winning powerful victories to end the school-to-prison pipeline, protect immigrant rights, address mass incarceration and more. Edna Chavez, who spoke so powerfully about the trauma of gun violence at the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, is a member of Community Coalition in South Los Angeles, which has organized young people to win hundreds of millions of dollars to improve schools in the region while also ensuring college preparatory curriculum for all students. Padres & Jóvenes Unidos in Denver has won statewide and local policy changes to end school discipline practices that unfairly target young people of color. More than 300 such groups exist across the country.

Published in Guest Commentary


Melt 0313wrp opt(Photo: ironpoison / Flickr)Rising temperatures are causing glaciers in Alaska's Denali National Park to melt faster than at any time in the past 400 years, according to new research.

The study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, a journal of the American Geophysical Union in March. The Earth science organization released details about the research Tuesday.

"We have not seen snow melt like this in at least four centuries," lead author Dominic Winski, a glaciologist at Dartmouth College, told USA Today.

For the study, Winski and 11 other researchers from Dartmouth College, the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire examined ice cores drilled from the summit of Mt. Hunter in June 2013.

Published in Guest Commentary


Otter 0411wrp optAn otter plays with a plastic bottle. (Photo: Paul Williams / Flickr)The environmental impact of the world's plastic consumption is profound. Plastic trash and the tiny pieces that chip off it can be found everywhere—oceans, marine life, land and our bodies, too.

To help solve this planetary crisis, Nestlé pledged Tuesday to make all its plastic packaging 100 percent recyclable or reusable by 2025. The Swiss food giant envisions a world where "none of its packaging, including plastics, ends up in landfill or as litter," it said.

"Plastic waste is one of the biggest sustainability issues the world is facing today. Tackling it requires a collective approach," Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider said in a statement.

Nestlé joins a number of major international corporations, such as rival Unilever, making similar commitments. However, environmentalists say the move is not enough.

Published in Guest Commentary


Wages 0409wrp opt(Photo: kyle rw / Flickr)It's starting to happen, as teachers around the country are fighting back against income and wealth inequality. At least 3 of every 4 Americans have been cheated out of a share of U.S. productivity since the 1980s. The approximately one of four Americans who have prospered, especially those in the top 5%, generally don't seem to care much about inequality, and instead hang onto delusions about their own self-worth and the struggles of people who "don't work hard enough." 

From various trusted sources come maddening facts about the relentlessly expanding wealth divide. Inequality is a perversion of human conduct, as most of society's new benefits have derived from automation, and thus from decades of public input, taxpayer funding, and government research. But the beneficiaries are those who are well-connected to the corporate and financial processes exploiting that growth, mainly through stock ownership. 

The rest of America has been left behind, but their voices are getting louder.

Published in Guest Commentary
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