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Monday, 08 January 2018 06:39

How Inequality Is Killing Off Humanity


Poverty 0108wrp opt(Photo: Aaaarrrrgggghhhh! / Flickr)That's not hyperbole. There is ample evidence for a growing inability of people around the world to maintain the basic human needs of physical health and mental stability and a living wage and a desire to live in peace. 

Most of us recognize the need for some semblance of equality in our relationships with others. But a smallish group of shockingly wealthy households around the world -- especially in America -- is gaining more and more power along with their wealth. They're making it nearly impossible to reverse the deadly effects of an unnaturally unequal society, in part because they're no longer connected to the world beyond their estates. They police us, they starve our public institutions, they abhor any form of social cooperation, they blame the poor for being poor. The means to restore some balance is steadily slipping away. 

The Richest .01% Are Wealth-Obese

In the United States, where wealth inequality is extreme and getting worse (see analysis here):

-- The richest 12,600 households (the .01%) have an average of over $800,000,000 in wealth (mostly financial) 
-- The poorest 63,000,000 households (the bottom 50%) have an average of about $16,000 in wealth (mostly housing)

Published in Guest Commentary


FastFood 0105wrp opt(Photo: Andy / Flickr)Inequality doesn't just come out of the blue; it's intentionally created by decisions that elites make — usually behind closed doors, so those knocked down don't know what (or who) hit them.

Take America's 4 million fast-food workers, whose average pay hovers around a miserly $300 a week before taxes.

With the labor market tightening, why don't they just hop down the street to another franchise offering a better deal? Many try that, only to be rejected again and again, unaware that most fast-food chains have hidden within their franchising contracts "no-hire agreements," prohibiting one franchisee from hiring another's employees.

In a landmark study this year, two prominent labor economists at Princeton found that these secret bans on wage competition are used by more than 70,000 chain restaurants, including Burger King, Carl's Jr., Domino's and Pizza Hut.. By colluding to prevent millions of Americans from switching jobs to increase their incomes and opportunities, these giants have artificially kept the pay of fast-food workers and many other franchise employees stuck at poverty levels. That's one place inequality comes from — and it's downright un-American.

Published in Guest Commentary


Youth 0104wrp opt(Photo: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr)The abolition of nuclear weapons is a progressive issue we need to take seriously.

As American medical students, we attended the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 2017. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won this year's prize for raising global awareness on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons. In 2017, ICAN's coalition of civil society organizations across 100 countries successfully pressured governments to adopt the first-ever UN treaty that categorically bans nuclear weapons. International treaties to reduce nuclear arsenals have been in existence for decades, so why did the Nobel Prize Committee choose to honor ICAN? The organization's efforts are unique because the campaign reframes nuclear disarmament as a humanitarian issue. Seeing how these outdated, dangerous weapons impact people and the environment underlines the imperative to abolish them entirely, so that regional conflicts can no longer threaten the survival of the entire species. This global movement is largely driven by ordinary citizens who care about health, human rights and the environment. Many in this international movement are members of the "millennial" generation, who traveled to Oslo from multiple continents across the globe.

Published in Guest Commentary


SportsPolitics 0103wrp opt(Photo: StickerGiant / Flickr)Who would have thought that in a season where he was locked out by NFL owners, didn't take a single snap, or play a single down, former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick's kneeling during the playing of the national anthem in 2016, in protest over police brutality and social injustice, would continue to resonate this year? Who would have thought that Gregg Popovich, the highly esteemed coach of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, would become one of the most outspoken voices against the calumnies of President Donald Trump? Who could have imagined that the most resonant anti-Trump tweet of the year would come from LeBron James, the world's best and most recognized basketball player?

Those are some of the remarkable developments that marked the year in sports; a watershed year in which athletes' political activism grew exponentially. Their actions garnered pushback from the NFL's conservative billionaire owners, a Pizza magnate, conservative columnists and fans, and, from the president himself.

When LeBron James tweeted at President Trump: "U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!", James was calling out the president for being shallow, petty, and spiteful.

Published in Guest Commentary
Wednesday, 03 January 2018 07:02

Time for Truth-Telling on Immigration


Immigration 0103wrp opt(Photo: Victoria Pickering / Flickr)As we enter a new year, 800,000 Dreamers await news of their fate in this country.  Thwarted by a president who will soon terminate the only program giving them temporary reprieve from harassment or deportation, stood up by a Congress that couldn't muster the will last year to grant them a pathway to permanent residency, they wait.

But not all are simply standing by.  On New Year's Day I scan the internet, seeking photos and stories of Dreamers willing to share something of their lives and their contributions to America.  On a USA Today site, I read about Ellie, whose DACA status enabled her to attend community college fulltime, earn an associate's degree, and eventually become the first person in her family to attend a four-year university.  I learn about Julio, for whom DACA meant the opportunity to become a mortgage loan officer and a tax-paying, contributing member of his community.  There is Carla, who started a digital marketing business, and there, too, is Reyna, who founded an organization that advocates for migrant youth. 

These are only a few of the many Dreamers who have not been deterred from speaking out and sharing their stories.  When Donald Trump announced last September that he would terminate the Obama-era DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Program by March, 2018, many Dreamers began protesting in Washington and other cities for a just resolution of the crisis, seeking to galvanize public support.  They have persisted in telling their truths in an era of official distortions and betrayals.

Published in Guest Commentary


Wolf 1229wrp opt(Photo: Arne von Brill / Flickr)The Republican-controlled 115th Congress has introduced at least 63 separate pieces of legislation that would strip federal protections for specific threatened species or undermine the U.S. Endangered Species Act, according to a new analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity. That's one such bill every six days in 2017 alone.

The majority of these bills were introduced by Republicans, the Center for Biological Diversity noted. Gray wolves, greater sage grouse and elephants were targeted the most.

“Republicans in Congress continue to attack the Endangered Species Act despite overwhelming support from Americans of all political stripes for this landmark conservation law," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “These attacks are designed to reward special interests that would plunder our natural resources even if it causes wildlife to go extinct."

Unfortunately, with President Trump in the White House, "these types of attacks are more likely to become law, severely harming our nation's imperiled wildlife," the Center for Biological Diversity warned.

Published in Guest Commentary


Sneer 1227wrp opt(Photo: Alan / Flickr)Over the years, there have been numerous examples of powerful, popular and hypocritical Religious Right leaders and televangelists. Who can forget the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart balling on television, after his dalliances with prostitutes was exposed? Or televangelist Jim Bakker serving prison time for fleecing his flock out of millions of dollars, and enjoying his own brand of sexual peccadilloes? Or the Rev. Ted Haggard, the former head of the National Association of Evangelicals and founder and pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who was caught up in a sex and drugs scandal? Those scandalous incidents, pale in comparison to today's evangelical leaders whose unbridled support for Donald Trump, takes hypocrisy to a much deeper level.

In his quest to become America's number one preacher, Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham, has instead become one of the most unhinged leaders on the Religious Right. "Never in my lifetime have we had a Potus willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like Donald Trump," Graham tweeted. Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, an early and outspoken supporter of Trump, sees Trump as God's messenger: "God intervened in our election and out Donald Trump in the Oval Office for a great purpose." And, of course there's Liberty University's Jerry Falwell, Jr., another early and unwavering supporter of the thrice-married, pussy grabbing president.

Why do Graham, Jeffress, Falwell, Jr., and other conservative evangelicals have no qualms about embracing Trump?

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 22 December 2017 07:09

The Dangers of Censoring Science


Censor 1222wrp opt(Photo: Cory Doctorow / Flickr)Do you want your medical treatment to be based on science? The Trump administration disagrees. It banned the top US public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from using seven words, including "evidence-based" and "science-based." 

Prominent public health advocates have expressed outrage about these measures. For example, Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, tweeted "This is astonishing. It would be a parody of a flailing effort to limit the effectiveness of #publichealth if it did not suggest a real problem. #7words." 

Such censorship is a direct blow at the essence of science: accurately describing the physical world around us. Science is the best method that we as human beings have of figuring out the truth of reality, and wishing away the facts by trying to substitute them with "alternative facts" will greatly impede scientific progress.

Moreover, these measures will cause many more people to get sick and die. After all, how can the CDC implement effective public health interventions if it cannot use terms like "evidence-based" and "science-based" in its official documents?

Published in Guest Commentary

Sarah Huckabee Sanders screenshot 2(Screen grab: The White House / YouTube)


Not since those early days of President George W. Bush's War on Iraq, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's press briefings were considered must-see television, have we seen press briefings like the ones presided over by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Sanders, who replaced the demoralized and utterly defeated Sean Spicer, personifies the opposite reality of one of Rumsfeld's favorite aphorisms; "known unknowns," as she is a known known.

Known now for her ability to fog up the meaning of just about anything President Donald Trump -- or anyone close to the president -- has said or tweeted, and turn it into hooey gooey fudge, followed by an attack on the press. Comparing Sanders to Sean Spicer, The New York Times' Frank Bruni pointed out in an early November column, that Sanders, "dwells without evident compunction in a gaudier fairyland of grander fictions. There's no panic. No squeak. Just that repulsed expression, as if a foul odor had wafted in and she knew — just knew — that the culprit was CNN."

Bruni called Sanders' press briefings "breathtaking": "Sanders doesn't draw nearly the censure or ridicule that Spicer did, and the reason isn't her," Bruni write. "It's us. More precisely, it's what Trump and his presidency have done to us. Little more than nine months in, we've surrendered any expectation of honesty. We're inured."

Published in Guest Commentary
Monday, 18 December 2017 07:42

The Great Scamazon


Amazon 1218wrp opt(Photo: simone.brunozzi / Flickr)As you're doing your holiday shopping this season, think about this: While big brand names travel hither, thither and yon to play Milk the Taxpayer, Amazon is totally rewriting the rules of the taxpayer subsidies game, super-sizing their piles of public money without even having to go door to door.

In September, the $136-billion-a-year, multi-tentacled monopolist sparked a prairie fire of excitement among state and local economic development officials when it coyly announced its intention to build a second corporate headquarters in Someplace, North America.

CEO Jeff Bezos baited his location-subsidy trap with red meat, announcing that Amazon "expect[ed] to invest over $5 billion in construction and grow this second headquarters to include as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs."

Then Bezos & Co. made a bold move: They sat still and waited. Stretching corporate overreach to new lengths, the Amazonian royals bid public officials to approach the Seattle throne with all the jewels, bars of gold, frankincense, myrrh and any other tribute they could muster to show their worthiness for HQ2 (Amazon's name for the proposed co-headquarters). In one stroke, Amazon switched its corporate role from asker to askee and instantly pitted taxpayers, like you and me, across Mexico, Canada and the U.S. against each other in a no-limit bidding war.

Published in Guest Commentary
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