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Friday, 20 October 2017 07:18

The GOP and Trump: Their War Against Women


PPrally 1020wrp optA Planned Parenthood rally. Photo: Molly Adams)The escalating war on women being waged by Republicans and the Trump administration knows no bounds and violates a long history of protections for women in previous administrations over almost 50 years. Their ultimate goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade, which decriminalized abortion in 1973. In their failed bills in Congress earlier this year, the GOP and its pro-life forces attacked women's health care by attempting to restrict access to contraception and abortion, cut Medicaid and defund Planned Parenthood. Beyond his many misogynous statements, Trump has said that a woman should be "punished" for having an abortion. Soon after his inauguration, he reversed long-standing abortion-related US policy by expanding the so-called Global Gag Rule, which prevents foreign recipients of US funding from offering counseling, information or advocacy services for abortion care. Under that rule, health professionals cannot mention abortion as an option, regardless of health risks or even if a woman asks. Now his latest attack on women -- signing an executive order that allows employers with a moral or religious objection to stop insurance coverage for contraceptive services, as has been required by the ACA, that can affect up to 62 million women.

These new policies represent a stunning reversal of women's rights dating back to the Title X Family Planning Program, enacted under Republican President Nixon in 1970 with the goal to "promote positive birth outcomes and healthy families by allowing individuals to decide the number and spacing of their children." Congress passed another bill in 1975 that authorized a network of family planning centers across the US. By 2014, there were some 4,400 such centers in operation.

As Planned Parenthood clinics, 97 percent of services provided include breast exams, other preventive services such as screening for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections; less than 3 percent of these services are for abortion care. Over the years, Title X has greatly reduced the number of abortions in the US by preventing unintended pregnancies.

Published in Guest Commentary
Wednesday, 18 October 2017 08:09

In This New Age of Automation, We Are Luddites


Luddite 1018wrp opt(Photo: aaaf17-010 / Flickr)"THE ROBOTS ARE COMING! THE ROBOTS ARE COMING! ... EEK! THEY'RE ALREADY HERE!"

Today's proliferation of industrial robots is an advanced generation of powerful, autonomous machines driven by artificial intelligence. The profiteers and techies propelling us into the deep unknown of a robot economy concede that the fast-evolving machines will be radically disruptive, not just in the workplace, but throughout society. Yet, they insist that AI will end up a godsend, even for the millions "adjusted" out of their jobs. Trust us, they say, genuflecting to Efficiency and Productivity, their twin gods of economic progress. Intelligent robots will reduce labor costs (efficiency) and increase output (productivity), thus generating the one product the Powers That Be constantly demand from our economy: more wealth. Just wait, they say, this is gonna be BIG!

Those who question the establishment's mantra that labor-reducing technologies are inherently good and will magically enrich everyone are derided with high tech's ultimate insult — LUDDITE!

What's the origin of this corporate-hurled pejorative? In 1811, skilled weavers and other textile makers in Northern England launched a short-lived rebellion. These artisans had been the middle class of their day. Working from their own cottages, they made a decent living producing quality stockings and cloth that merchants sold throughout the Commonwealth.

Published in Guest Commentary


Windmill 1018wrp optThe base of a windmill. (Photo: Sandra / Flickr)You don't have to be a science geek to have heard of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, but unless you like digging deep into Department of Energy, you are unlikely to know about ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. DARPA was created in 1958 during the Eisenhower administration as a response to the Soviet Union's Sputnik launching. DARPA-funded projects have had some incredible – some might call revolutionary – success, providing technologies that influenced the creation of the Internet, the G.P.S., and numerous military and national security projects. In July of last year, the agency announced its Cyber Grand Challenge (CGC), which aims to combat security vulnerabilities.

In Michael Lewis' extensive Vanity Fair article about Rick Perry's Department of Energy, a small section of the piece talked about ARPA-E. ARPA-E was developed during the George W. Bush administration, and funded during President Obama's first administration. It is intended to be the "energy equivalent of DARPA. Now, the agency is facing Team Trump's chopping block.

ARPA-E was the place where "wildly creative ideas," and out-of-the-box thinking would find a home. To non-scientists, some of the research may seem a bit fanciful, non-productive, or even downright nutty. At ARPA-E, researcher would be given license to explore what might be thought of as unexplorable. And, at $300 million a year, who knows where small grants to researchers might lead.

"The idea behind ARPA-E was to find the best …ideas that the free market had declined to finance and make sure they were given a chance," Lewis wrote.

Published in Guest Commentary


Bannon 1016wrp(Photo: thierry ehrmann / Flickr)If Hillary Clinton were to comment on this year's collection of speakers at the Values Voter Summit, she would have to supersize that basket of deplorables. The annual gathering hosted by the Family Research Council, featured speakers of the anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, pro-gun, alt-right, and of course, religious right variety. Every year at about this time, since its launch in the fall of 2006, the vigorously anti-LGBT Family Research Council holds the Summit. And every year when it's over, it declares it to be the most successful ever. This year, however, that claim might be accurate, featuring the first appearance by a sitting president, and, with Steve Bannon's rousing speech on Saturday, signaling the growing relationship between the alt-right and the Christian Right.

Coming off a few days of issuing a string of mean-spirited executive orders, Trump was greeted like a conquering hero by white evangelicals who, last November, put aside their moral compasses and voted overwhelmingly for him; according to exit polls, more than 80 percent of white Christian evangelicals voted for him.

Trump greeted the crowd by saying that "America is a nation of believers." He called his recent actions aimed at dismantling the Affordable Care Act "a very big step." He pointed out that he had to take "a little different route, because Congress forgot what their pledges were," a reference to their failure to repeal Obamacare. He promised that the new health care plan will "even be better."

"We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values," Trump said to applause. He attacked people who don't say "Merry Christmas." "They don't use the word Christmas because it is not politically correct," Trump said. "We're saying Merry Christmas again."

Published in Guest Commentary


Poverty 1016wrp opt(Photo: Aaaarrrrgggghhhh! / Flickr)"Fact checker" Ballotpedia said that presidential candidate Jill Stein's claim that "one in two Americans remain in or near poverty" was "untrue according to most conventional measures and definitions of near poverty." But a responsible fact-checker should know that an issue of this magnitude demands more than a cursory look at "conventional measures" of poverty. 

Furthermore, Ballotpedia may have been engaging in fake-factchecking. The service is run by the Lucy Burns Institute, a right-wingKoch-funded organization that has every incentive to avoid popular resistance by convincing Americans that they're not really poor. 

The Definitions of Poverty are Way out of Date

The povertythreshold is still based on a formula from the 1960s, when food expenses were a much greater part of the family budget. It hasn't kept up with other major expenses. Since 1980, food costs have gone up by 100%, housing 250%, health care 500%, and college tuition 1,000%.

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 13 October 2017 07:22

The Calm Before the Storm


TrumpZombie 1013wrp opt(Photo: Matt Brown)Every time Donald Trump blurts or tweets a shocker — "Maybe it's the calm before the storm," for instance — questions flood the media.

Is he serious? What did he mean? Yes, of course, but beyond these, larger questions hover half-asked, cutting into the soul of who we are. This is painful, but not necessarily a bad thing. For me, one question that keeps emerging is: What is the relationship between Trump and the military-political system he stepped into?

That is to say, is he furthering its covert agenda (creating the conditions for more war) or, contrarily, exposing it for what it is?

Or both?

Back in February, for instance, Trump the pugnacious 14-year-old told a Reuters reporter:  "I am the first one that would like to see . . . nobody have nukes, but we're never going to fall behind any country even if it's a friendly country, we're never going to fall behind on nuclear power. It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack."

Published in Guest Commentary
Wednesday, 11 October 2017 08:13

Copenhagen Mayor: No Diesel Cars Allowed


Copenhagen 1010wrp optCopenhagen in winter. (Photo: Kristoffer Trolle)Copenhagen's mayor proposed a ban on new diesel cars entering the city's environmental zone, a low-emission area that basically covers the whole of the capital, as early as 2019.

"It's not a human right to pollute the air for others," Lord Mayor of Copenhagen Frank Jensen told Danish newspaper Politiken (via The Local DK's translation). "That's why diesel cars must be phased out."

The mayor noted that the potential ban is "controversial" but felt it was necessary to improve the city's air quality.

About 80 people, primarily older or frail, die prematurely in the Danish capital each year due to local air pollution, including nitrous oxides from traffic, according to the newspaper.

“I know it will mean something for the many, many Copenhageners that are affected by respiratory illnesses," Jensen explained.

Published in Guest Commentary


Rick 1011wrp opt(Portrait: Dan Lacy)In 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation creating the U.S. Department of Energy. Some forty years later, the DOE is a $30 billion agency, employing nearly 100,000 people. The DOE's tasks include maintaining and guarding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, safeguarding the electrical grid, overseeing the national-science labs, monitoring climate change, and numerous other energy-related functions. It is now under the stewardship of former Texas Governor, and failed presidential candidate, Rick Perry, who, when asked at one of the Republican Party's presidential debates which government departments he would eliminate, quickly reeled off the names of the Department of Commerce and the Department of Education. And then he said: "The third agency of government I would do away with … Education … the ahhhh … ahhh … Commerce, and let's see. I can't, the third one. I can't. Sorry. Oops."

That "oops" was a stand-in for the Department of Energy.

Sciencemag.org has reported that since Trump's inauguration, his "administration has removed mentions of climate change and clean energy from websites and blocked scientists from attending conferences, said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists."

Published in Guest Commentary


Robots 1006wrp optThe future is now. (Photo: Jason Tester)Industrial automatons have been on the march for years, devouring the middle-class job opportunities of factory workers. But this time is different.

If you think your family's future is safe because you don't rely on factory work, think again. Rapid advances in AI have already turned yesterday's science fiction into today's brave new "creative destruction" — the constant churn of economic and cultural innovations that destroy existing ways of doing things. A network of inventors and investors, hundreds of university engineering and math departments, thousands of government-funded research projects, countless freelance innovators and the entire corporate establishment are "re-inventing" practically every workplace by displacing humans with "more efficient" AI robots.

This mass-scale deployment of robots has already ushered in a whole new world of work. It's a CEO's capitalist paradise, where the workforce doesn't call in sick or take vacations, can't file lawsuits, doesn't organize unions — and is cheap.

As a result, robots are rapidly climbing the pay ladder into white-collar and professional positions that millions of college-educated, middle-class employees have wrongly considered safe.

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 29 September 2017 06:58

Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Vietnam War


MLK 0929wrp opt(Portrait: Dave McKeague)In preparing for a panel discussion about Martin Luther King, Jr., I re-read the sermon that he delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City. The sermon is titled, "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam," and it took place on April 4, 1967, one year to the day before King's assassination.

Dr. King was cautioned by many of his advisors not to give that sermon because it was sure to alienate influential supporters of the civil rights movement, including President Lyndon Johnson. Nonetheless, King spoke out.

He gave a powerful and eloquent sermon, one well worth reflecting on, particularly in light of the new Ken Burns and Lynn Novick ten-part documentary on the war in Vietnam. I'll review below some of the lines in King's sermon that jumped out at me

Dr. King said, "I see this war as an unjust, evil and futile war. I preach to you today on the war in Vietnam because my conscience leaves me with no other choice." Dr. King is speaking truth to power in naming the war for what it was -- "unjust, evil and futile." King was a great leader because he led from his conscience and, in doing so, inspired and empowered others to do so.

Published in Guest Commentary
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