Category Archives: Politics

Taxi to the Dark Side

An in-depth look at the torture practices of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, focusing on an innocent taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed in 2002 – Get Informed.

Taxi to the Dark Side received an Oscar for Best Documentary/Features in  2008.

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Corn Subsidies: How Congress is shortchanging our health

At dinner Sunday night, I asked my friend Prasad if he knew about the new farm bill and what it means for average Americans. He didn’t.

I wasn’t surprised. With the election, the war, and rising prices to fret about, not many people are pondering legislation about farms. But they should, because it has huge implications for the country’s nutrition, environment, and health. Here are three reasons why we all should pay closer attention to the 2007 farm bill: food, fuel, and fat.

First, some background.

The farm bill, which is renewed every five or six years, is a vast set of laws and policies that governs how our food is produced and priced. Recently, it has included conservation programs aimed at setting aside land to aid ecosystem recovery and improve water quality, but historically it has provided huge payments to just a handful of crops including wheat, soybeans, cotton, and corn.

The first farm bill, passed during the Depression, established price supports to protect farmers and rural communities. The Agricultural Act of 1938 mandated price supports for corn, cotton, and wheat; the Agricultural Act of 1949 established supports for other commodities including wool, mohair, honey, and milk. These two laws form the backbone of today’s farm bill, and this is part of the problem. A system established in an agricultural landscape vastly different from today’s is still in place, and the effects are profound.

Let’s look at how one particular crop has helped change American life and how retooling government supports for it could be a boon for all Americans.

The problem with corn: How the fat of the land is helping make us fatter

Corn is so prevalent in American food that you’re likely to be eating it even if you don’t know it. Chug a Coke, chomp on a chicken nugget, bite into a burger, and most likely you’re ingesting processed corn.

Why is corn everywhere? Part of the reason is a subsidy system that has helped glut the marketplace with corn and left the government to find ways to use it. Nowadays, ranchers feed corn to their cows and chickens, and food companies sweeten their foodstuffs with it. This not only affects the price of strawberries and broccoli at your local farmers market; thanks to recent government mandates for ethanol, corn affects what you pay at the pump.

Some nutritionists and researchers are even starting to trace a link between the high prevalence of corn in our diet and our weight problems — and, by extension, a host of health issues stemming from being overweight.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 64.5 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. That’s up from just 25-45 percent of Americans in 1992, according to the International Journal of Obesity. A number of conditions of our modern lifestyle contribute to our weight problem: sedentary jobs make us less physically active, we eat out more than in, and portion size has ballooned. But corn may also play a role.

Government subsidies make sweet food very cheap, says Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, pointing to one of the most prevalent sweeteners: high fructose corn syrup, which sweetens most soda pop while upping the calories. (Read a PBS interview with Nestle.)

In a recent article in Environmental Health Perspectives, Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the Carolina Population Center of the University of North Carolina, argued that an artificial price gap created by subsidies makes nutritionally valuable foods more expensive than nutritionally poor food and thus more attractive to penny-pinched consumers.

Writer Michael Pollan is blunt about the problem: “We’re subsidizing obesity,” he told the Christian Science Monitor.

How corn is skewing the marketplace and abetting environmental problems

One might conclude that corn growers and other beneficiaries of government subsidies have been playing on an uneven playing field for more than five decades. What happened to free markets?

Because government subsidies have kept corn prices low, farmers need to plant more of it to make money. In his compelling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan tells the history of how America made the move from rich, diverse farmlands to a monoculture of corn, and how this has perverted the marketplace. Pollan writes:

Government farm programs, once designed to limit production and support prices (and therefore farmers), were quietly rejiggered to increase production and drive down prices. Put another way, instead of supporting farmers, during the Nixon administration the government began supporting corn at the expense of farmers. Corn, already the recipient of a biological subsidy in the form of synthetic nitrogen, would now receive an economic subsidy too, ensuring its final triumph over the land and the food system.

The farm bill, like other New Deal public-support systems, grew out of needs tied to difficult conditions, but as farming and economic circumstances have changed, the law has not kept pace with evolving needs of lands and the people who work them.

Meanwhile, lobbying around the crops getting the subsidies has strengthened. Those on the receiving ends of the monies don’t want to give them up. The system stays largely stuck in the past.

Some major changes did occur in the 1980s, though. As scientists and politicians saw increasing environmental degradation of agricultural lands, conservation programs were designed to protect natural resources and to reward farmers. The 2002 farm bill ramped up conservation payments.

But corn threatens to throw a wrench into this progress. With farmers growing more and more corn, land formerly cultivated in soybeans or set aside as conservation reserves is now being cultivated for corn.

Why? In part because after years of slumping prices, the price of corn is now growing by leaps and bounds. You see, our representatives in Washington, D.C. have mandated a huge increase in the amount of ethanol in our gasoline. They have also made it all but impossible to import sugarcane-based ethanol from countries like Brazil. So our only viable source is corn. Demand for corn as food and corn as energy has helped its price skyrocket. (Some believe this is contributing to a world food shortage that threatens political stability throughout the developing world — but that is another story.)

Less corn means more conservation and better health

The rush to corn is exacting a serious environmental toll. One of the country’s most resource-intensive crops, corn requires huge amounts of fertilizers and water. As Pollan put it, “Hybrid corn is the greediest of plants, consuming more fertilizer than any other crop.” Nitrogen from fertilizers applied to cornfields eventually finds its way to our waterways, degrading water quality and choking out fish.

Eventually that nitrogen finds its way to the ocean where it can cause huge dead zones — large patches of the ocean depleted of oxygen and virtually all life.

[The "Dead Zone" at the mouth of the MIssissippi River in the Gulf of Mexico. The area's aquatic life has been unable to survive due to rising fertilizer run off from farms in the Midwest. Source: NASA]

The need for irrigation is also of concern. While most crops need irrigation, corn is particularly thirsty. Consider the Ogallala Aquifer, the huge underground reservoir underlying eight states from Texas to South Dakota. According to the USGS, the Ogallala supplies about 30 percent of all our water used for irrigation. Corn-based biofuels draw even more — anywhere from three to six gallons of water per gallon of ethanol, according to Environmental Defense Fund.

The aquifer was formed millions of years ago, and the water there today has been around for thousands of years. However, we are pumping water out of so fast that we are in danger of pumping it dry. By some estimates, the Ogallala could be used up in as little as 25 years. From a water point of view alone, our rush to corn does not seem sustainable.

Now, eating and growing corn are not bad in and of themselves, but producing too much corn has wide-ranging negative effects. So we should take note of how our tax dollars are helping flood and pervert the marketplace with easy corn, because we’re paying a really high price in terms of nutrition and environmental problems. This is where the farm bill comes in.

As farmers naturally look to boost profits, Congress should take the long view of our country’s health. Rather than supporting subsidies that create a kind of gold rush for corn, perhaps the government should consider diversifying its support for a whole range of crops that not only need help but would also provide across-the-board benefits for Americans.

Boosting conservation programs and evening the playing field among growers of different crops — like broccoli, carrots, apples, almonds, and spinach — could lead to trimmer, healthier bodies and an environment that provides good water quality and promotes affordable food. Next time you sit down to dinner with friends, ask them what they think they’re eating. Whatever it is, the chances are, it contains corn. Maybe we should think about changing that.

- Originally posted by Bill Chameides, a guest contributor on Grist.org

 

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The World According to Monsanto

On March 11, this documentary was aired on French television (ARTE – French-German cultural tv channel) by French journalist and film maker Marie-Monique Robin. The in-depth film depicts how Monsanto, a gigantic biotech/agriculture corporation based in St. Louis, is destroying plant biodiversity around the world with genetically engineered seeds and, basically, endangering our future as a human race … I know that statement may seem a bit dramatic and paranoid, but the amount of control this corporation has gained over global food production should be illegal – oh, I forgot, why would the government make laws against itself? Monsanto is the government:

Former Monsanto employees currently hold positions in US government agencies such as the Food and Drug Adminstration and Environmental Protection Agency and even the Supreme Court. These include Clarence Thomas, Michael Taylor, Ann Veneman and Linda Fisher. Fisher has been back and forth between positions at Monsanto and the EPA.

Also note that Donald Rumsfeld earned $12 million from increased stock value when G.D. Searle & Company was sold to Monsanto in 1985.

If you feel as disgusted as I did after watching this movie do not hesitate to take action:

http://www.organicconsumers.org/monlink.cfm

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Truckers Protest, The Resistance Begins

Until the beginning of this month, Americans seemed to have nothing to say about their ongoing economic ruin except, “Hit me! Please, hit me again!” You can take my house, but let me mow the lawn for you one more time before you repossess. Take my job and I’ll just slink off somewhere out of sight. Oh, and take my health insurance too; I can always fall back on Advil.

Then, on April 1, in a wave of defiance, truck drivers began taking the strongest form of action they can take – inaction. Faced with $4/gallon diesel fuel, they slowed down, shut down and started honking. On the New Jersey Turnpike, a convoy of trucks stretching “as far as the eye can see,” according to a turnpike spokesman, drove at a glacial 20 mph. Outside of Chicago, they slowed and drove three abreast, blocking traffic and taking arrests. They jammed into Harrisburg PA; they slowed down the Port of Tampa where 50 rigs sat idle in protest. Near Buffalo, one driver told the press he was taking the week off “to pray for the economy.”

The truckers who organized the protests – by CB radio and internet – have a specific goal: reducing the price of diesel fuel. They are owner-operators, meaning they are also businesspeople, and they can’t break even with current fuel costs. They want the government to release its fuel reserves. They want an investigation into oil company profits and government subsidies of the oil companies. Of the drivers I talked to, all were acutely aware that the government had found, in the course of a weekend, $30 billion to bail out Bear Stearns, while their own businesses are in a tailspin.

But the truckers’ protests have ramifications far beyond the owner-operators’ plight –first, because trucking is hardly a marginal business. You may imagine, here in the blogosphere, that everything important travels at the speed of pixels bouncing off of satellites, but 70 percent of the nation’s goods – from Cheerios to Chapstick –travel by truck. We were able to survive a writers’ strike, but a trucking strike would affect a lot more than your viewing options. As Donald Hayden, a Maine trucker put it to me: “If all the truckers decide to shut this country down, there’s going to be nothing they can do about it.”

Image courtesy of The Beaver County Times

More importantly, the activist truckers understand their protest to be part of a larger effort to “take back America,” as one put it to me. “We continue to maintain this is not just about us,” “JB”– which is his CB handle and stands for the “Jake Brake” on large rigs– told me from a rest stop in Virginia on his way to Florida. “It’s about everybody – the homeowners, the construction workers, the elderly people who can’t afford their heating bills… This is not the action of the truck drivers, but of the people.” Hayden mentions his parents, ages and 81 and 76, who’ve fought the Maine winter on a fixed income. Missouri-based driver Dan Little sees stores shutting down in his little town of Carrollton. “We’re Americans,” he tells me, “We built this country, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to lie down and take this.”

At least one of the truckers’ tactics may be translatable to the foreclosure crisis. On March 29, Hayden surrendered three rigs to be repossessed by Daimler-Chrysler – only he did it publicly, with flair, right in front of the statehouse in Augusta. “Repossession is something people don’t usually see,” he says, and he wanted the state legislature to take notice. As he took the keys, the representative of Daimler-Chrysler said, according to Hayden, “I don’t see why you couldn’t make the payments.” To which Hayden responded, “See, I have to pay for fuel and food, and I’ve eaten too many meals in my life to give that up.”

Suppose homeowners were to start making their foreclosures into public events– inviting the neighbors and the press, at least getting someone to camcord the children sitting disconsolately on the steps and the furniture spread out on the lawn. Maybe, for a nice dramatic touch, have the neighbors shower the bankers, when they arrive, with dollar bills and loose change, since those bankers never can seem to get enough.

But the larger message of the truckers’ protest is about pride or, more humbly put, self-respect, which these men channel from their roots. Dan Little tells me, “My granddad said, and he was the smartest man I ever knew, ‘If you don’t stand up for yourself ain’t nobody gonna stand up for you.’” Go to theamericandriver.com, run by JB and his brother in Texas, where you’re greeted by a giant American flag, and you’ll find – among the driving tips, weather info, and drivers’ favorite photos –the entire Constitution and Declaration of Independence. “The last time we faced something as impacting on us,” JB tells me, “There was a revolution.”

The actions of the first week in April were just the beginning. There’s talk of a protest in Indiana on the 18th, another in New York City, and a giant convergence of trucks on DC on the 28th. Who knows what it will all add up to? Already, according to JB, some of the big trucking companies are threatening to fire any of their employees who join the owner-operators’ protests.

But at least we have one shining example of defiance of the face of economic assault. There comes a point, sooner or later, when you stop scrambling around on all fours and, like JB and his fellow drivers all over the country, you finally stand up.

If you would like to help support the truckers in any way, go to http://www.theamericandriver.com/files/TruckersAndCitizensUnited.html

- written by Barbara Ehrenreich

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A Better Interpretation of the Housing Crisis

A performance by “Some Woman” during an open mic reading in February 2008 hosted by Art House Productions in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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Winter Soldier

ivaw.jpg

[photo courtesy of questionitnow.org]

No one is covering this – Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War speak out against the America’s imperial wars, and the hearings do not make a ripple in the corporate media.

Here are voices from the hearings, thanks to Democracy Now!

Part 1

Part 2 

Part 3

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Fishing industry on the verge of collapse

Ever since humans picked up their first fishing poles (or spears) the state of the world’s marine life has been in decline. The damage started slowly, but our technology evolved as we learned to use radar and scrape the sea floors with huge nets, yielding fantastic catches from the plentiful ocean.

Now, armed with unimaginable accuracy and efficiency, commercial fishing fleets are coming back to the docks with smaller catches. The reason: fish stocks have been plummeting worldwide for more than a decade.

The widespread use of unsustainable fishing practices is catching up to us and scientists are calling on world’s governments to take action before international fish stocks are completely diminished.

Here are a few key statistics to ponder:

  1. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, More than 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are now overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering from overexploitation.
  2. Ninety percent of all the “big fish” – large-bodied sharks, tuna, marlin and swordfish – have disappeared as a result of industrialized fishing according to this study.
  3. A study by a team of leading fishery scientists, published in 2006 in the journal Science, concluded that the world’s fisheries are in collapse and if current trends continue they will be beyond repair by 2048.

Declining fish stocks even have pushed European nations to make controversial deals with African nations, enabling them to fish in the waters of Northwest Africa, taking away jobs and food from the locals. The New York Times also reported that Europe’s insatiable appetite for seafood is promoting illegal trade.

But Europeans are only the beginning of the problem when you consider that fish serves as the primary source of protein for nearly a billion people, according to Oceana, an environmental group that focuses on marine life.

The Solution

In May 2007, 125 scientist from 25 countries, warned World Trade Organization Director Pascal Lamy in a letter that unless the WTO acts to significantly reduce worldwide subsidies to the fishing sector, destructive fishing practices will result in permanent damage of the ocean ecosystem and the entire fishing economy.

Global fisheries subsidies amount to an estimated $30-$34 billion annually, and at least $20 billion go directly towards supporting fishing capacity, such as boats, fuel, equipment and other operating costs, according to a recent report by the University of British Columbia. These subsidies equal about 25 percent of worldwide fishing revenue and have helped produce a global fishing fleet that is up to 250 percent larger than what is need to fish at sustainable levels, said Courtney Sakai, campaign director for Oceana.

“We are not anti-fishing, but the kind of commercial fishing that is taking place today just make sense ecologically and it doesn’t make sense economically,” Sakai said. “We need a more sustainable approach to fishing, one that allows fish stocks to regenerate themselves.”

In their letter to Lamy the scientists wrote:

“Fisheries subsidies are not only a major driver of overfishing, but promote other destructive fishing practices. For example, high seas bottom trawling, a practice so environmentally-destructive that the United Nations has called on nations to severely restrict it, would not be profitable without its large subsidies on fuel. Subsidies have also been documented to support illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing – a serious impediment to achieving sustainable fisheries.”

As Sakai works on Oceana’s campaign against these subsides, she still believes the marine life can recover from its dismal state.

“We may have reduced international fish stocks to horrible conditions, but they can rebound pretty quickly if we just give them a chance,” Sakai said.

The fishing industry is heading full speed into its own demise. It is clear that a broad prohibition of fisheries subsidies is the best way to reduce global overfishing.

[images from Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts]

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Impunity on the border

border-shooting_camp.jpg

[photo courtesy of the Associated Press]

The same rules apply to law enforcement in Queens and along the U.S.-Mexico border, apparently.

Yesterday, a judge declared a mistrial in the case of Border Patrol Officer Nicholas Corbett, who in January 2007 shot and killed an unarmed Mexican immigrant who was crossing the border through an isolated stretch of Arizona desert.

Does this remind anyone of Sean Bell or Amadou Diallo? In both cases, law enforcement claims the suspect was armed. In both cases, there is evidence disputing those claims.

The jury (whoops, the judge) is still out in the Bell case – Corbett, however, got off scott-free for murder. Not even probation.

Mistrial Declared in Border Agent’s Case

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A federal judge declared a mistrial Friday in the case of a U.S. Border Patrol agent charged with fatally shooting an illegal immigrant from Mexico.Jurors who had been deliberating the fate of agent Nicholas Corbett since late Tuesday told the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Corbett was charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide in the January 2007 death of 22-year-old Francisco Javier Dominguez Rivera of Puebla, Mexico. Jurors could convict on only one charge.

Corbett testified that Dominguez was going to smash his head with a rock and he fired in self-defense.

Dominguez’s two brothers testified that he was surrendering and was shot without provocation.

“I’m disappointed that the jury did not acquit him,” said Corbett’s attorney, Sean Chapman. “We are prepared to try it again, and I believe he’s innocent. I believe another jury will acquit him.”

Dominguez was crossing the southern Arizona desert along with his two brothers and a woman when Corbett spotted them, raced up in his Border Patrol SUV and the fatal confrontation took place.

The case is unusual because it involves state criminal charges but is being tried in federal court because Corbett is a federal law enforcement agent.

“We would have preferred they convict him, but we’ll leave that to the next jury,” said Grant Woods, a former Arizona attorney general who was appointed as special prosecutor for the case. “They reached an impasse, but they put in another 11 or 12 hours after that. That’s all you can ask.”

Woods said prosecutors hope to introduce new evidence at the second trial, including an incident in which the agent was ordered to undergo anger management counseling.

Corbett “has a pattern of this, of allegedly assaulting people and threatening to kill people,” Woods said.

Defense attorney Jim Calle said those allegations have been “denied by the people involved in them… none of these allegations are true.”

The Border Patrol’s chief deputy patrol agent in the Tucson sector, Robert Boatright, said Corbett had only a few seconds to make a decision concerning Dominguez.

“Law enforcement officers make critical decisions every day and this trial went on for several days and the jury deliberated for more than two days,” Boatright said. “And they could not get past that reasonable doubt.”

Jurors had sent a note to U.S. District Judge David C. Bury at midday Thursday saying they were deadlocked, but he urged them to redouble their efforts and ordered them to continue.

The jury worked on Friday but still could not reach a verdict.

Bury set a date for a second trial in April, but that likely will change because of scheduling problems with some of the lawyers.

This article was written by Arthur H. Rotstein of the Associated Press.

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Big Coal Against the Ropes – From Kansas to Wall Street

So far, 2008 has been a rough year for the coal industry. Just 24 hours after Bush touted clean coal in his January State of the Union address, the Department of Energy pulled the plug on the ambitious FutureGen project, which aimed to build the first zero-emissions coal plant.

Days later, major banks such as Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, stated their concern over coal’s enormous carbon footprint with emissions caps on the horizon, a consideration that “make[s] it less likely the banks will finance other coal-fired plants.”

The next week, Bank of America agreed that coal plants were a bad investment. Soon after, the New York Times reported, “With opposition to coal plants rising across the country — including a statement by three investment banks … saying they are wary of financing new ones,” utilities “are turning to natural gas to meet expected growth in demand.”

Big Coal is now making a stand in Kansas, where it has been trying to get approval for two new coal plants near Holcomb, KS — a fight that has been marked by contention since Kansas’ Department of Health and Environment denied the necessary air quality permits in October. The coal industry is desperate for a win in a year that, so far, has brought bad news.

Sunflower Pressures Sebelius

Sunflower Electric, the company behind the Holcomb coal project, refused to take Kansas’s October decision lying down. Weeks after the state’s Department of Health and Environment’s denial — supported by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) — Sunflower, working through a front group called Kansans for Affordable Energy (KAE), published newspaper ads comparing Sebelius to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Vladimir Putin, and Hugo Chavez.

The front group was financed almost completely by Peabody Energy, “the world’s largest private-sector coal company.” Of the $145,400 in contributions KAE received, $120,000 came from Peabody and $25,000 came from Sunflower. “In other words, all but $400 of the money provided to this group of Kansans ‘concerned’ about ‘affordable energy’ came from Big King Coal,” notes Kevin Grandia of the site DeSmogBlog.

Sunflower Bribes Legislature

Last week, the Kansas Senate passed a bill allowing the coal plant development, gutting the legislation of the very small carbon tax and modest energy efficiency standards. A different version passed the House, and now the bills move to a conference committee where state representatives are facing enormous pressure to bend to Big Coal’s will.

Kansas State Speaker Melvin Neufeld Tuesday urged his colleagues to approve Sunflower’s plans by reminding them that the state — namely, Kansas State University — had a lot to gain from the bargain. Sunflower has offered a quid pro quo agreement to donate $2.5 million for energy research to the university, but only if the state approves the coal plants first. Rep. Paul Davis (D) called the bribery scheme “in poor taste.”

Ratcheting up the pressure, Sunflower president and CEO Earl Watkins declared this week “that if the Legislature doesn’t approve the project by June 1, it may not go forward.” Legislators should keep in mind a January poll that found that Kansans agreed with the state’s permit denial by a 2-to-1 margin, and a majority of citizens who live in the Holcomb area support the state’s decision as well.

Greenwashing Coal’s Impact

[Cartoon by Spencer Hill

When Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment Roderick Bremby rejected Sunflower’s air quality permits in October, he said, “[I]t would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing.” In response, Sunflower has tried to link its dirty coal with clean energy, in a TV spot promoting the “Holcomb expansion.”

The ad — which never mentions the word “coal” — insists the plant “will be one of the cleanest, most efficient power plants of its kind.” In fact, even with the best available technology, the plant will emit massive amounts of mercury, sulfur dioxide, and ash wastes. Moreover, there are no standards to limit the amount of carbon dioxide pollution emitted, and the new plants are estimated to emit at least 11 millions tons of greenhouse gases ever year.

Some representatives are falling for the misleading, unscientific campaign. Sen. Tim Huelskamp (R) declared, “CO2 is not a harmful substance. It’s an average, ordinary part of our human life anywhere on this Earth. … I’m a farmer, and we love CO2. It’s a good thing.” Rep. Don Myers (R) agreed: “It is all around us and you breathe it.”

This article originally appear on Alternet.org and was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Ali Frick and Benjamin Armbruster

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“Family Values” My Ass!

I always ask myself why conservatives have enough supporters to get elected.  Those who benefit from having a conservative Republican in power are really an elite few — but the way they gain a large number of their supporters is via their platform for “family values.” Their call for family values is but a mask that they use so they can not only win the support of the wealthy and those in power, but also those who hold in high esteem a conservative moral standard. After some minor digging, anyone can see that their policies are not aimed towards helping our families or instilling a moral fiber into our nation, but achieving their own agendas to line their own pockets.  

~Abstinence-Only Education

Although Bush spent $10 million on abstinence-only education in Texas, the data proves that spending more doesn’t necessarily mean getting more. 

“During President Bush’s tenure as governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000, with abstinence-only programs in place, the state ranked last in the nation in the decline of teen birth rates among 15-17 year-old females,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Among this statement are findings from a congressional staff analysis concluding these federally-funded programs are presenting “false, misleading, or distorted information,” such as:

- “HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread as via sweat and tears.”

- “Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.”

- “Touching a person’s genitals can result in pregnancy.” 

Denying our future generations the scientific truth should be a crime, and feeding them distorted “information” is not installing family values, but hurting our families in the long run.

~Drilling for oil in Alaska

It sounds quite impressive when someone states “If we start drilling in Alaska, we can potentially produce 1 million barrels of oil a day.”  It’s also easy to exaggerate with numbers. One million sure seems like a substantial amount of oil—but not compared to the 20 million the United States consumes each day.  Potentially destroying pristine wildlife areas will not reduce reliance on imported oil as this foolish venture will only  produce 5 percent of our “needs.” 

As for gas prices, this is not enough to make a dent-and also keep in mind that the rising prices in California, for example, were due to corporate markups and profiteering.

~”Clear Skies”

Just as we’ve seen how easy it is to toy with numbers, it’s just as easy to have a pleasing nomenclature.  Clear Skies sounds like a step towards a cleaner environment, but according to the Sierra Club, this act weakens many parts of the Clean Air act put in place by the Clinton Administration.  With Clear Skies, there is a loophole that exempts power plants from being required to install clean-up technology to reduce air pollution. 

p1010063.jpg

[Photo by Diego Cupolo]

If this doesn’t sound a bit backwards, take a look at the increase in toxins that are allowed to be released.  For example, we can expect a 68% increase in NOx (Nitrogen Oxide) –a major contributor to smog that is linked to asthma and lung disease.  Along with NOx, we can expect an increase in Sulphur Dioxide and Mercury—and to top it all of, Clear Skies “delays the enforcement of public health standards for smog and soot until the end of 2015.”  Boy that sure sounds like an administration that cares about the well being of families.

~War in Iraq

The United States has already spent half a trillion dollars in Iraq.  What does that mean for the typical family since the start of the war? $16,000 dollars per family since the war began—and that’s not counting the 700,000 Iraqi civilians killed, 4,000 US soldiers dead and 60,000 US soldiers wounded. 

I have to ask, where is all this money going to?  Of course, I’m expecting technologically advanced weaponry and transportation whether air or land to rack up the cost, but there are a few prominent places where our tax money is going and that’s into the pockets of the Bush administration’s friends. 

So how does one make money off of war?  Baghdad Burning author “Riverbend,” (who remains anonymous for her own safety) listed in her accounts the frustrating reconstruction process.  Once a building or bridge is destroyed, it must be rebuilt.  But instead of contracting Iraqi engineers (and Baghdad is very well known for its engineering schools) or employing Iraqi workers, the bid goes out to Bush and Cheney’s old time cronies, for example, KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton.  What does this mean? Instead of the job getting completed for half a million dollars, the job is contracted for hundreds of millions dollars. This not only fills the pockets of war profiteers, but it also leaves many intelligent and able-bodied Iraqi citizens without jobs and, therefore, without money to feed their families, which then in turn makes that large sum of money offered by insurgents ever so tantalizing.

If our government really cared about family values, they would send our mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, husbands and wives back to their families where they belong — and not overseas risking their lives for others’ profit.  If our government really cared about family values, it would realize that women who have walked the streets of Baghdad in jeans and a t-shirt and who have enjoyed full employment before this war now feel pressured to hide behind a veil and stay at home — for there is so much turmoil and despair in the streets that their safety is now at risk. 

~Abortion

One of the more touchy subjects that divide the population is the stance on abortion.  For anyone who has seen the tragic pictures of the aborted fetuses, this isn’t an issue of money or pollution but a human life.  Yet the subject isn’t so black and white when it comes to the issues that surround it.  One must always look at its history and the role that socio-economic status plays in order to make a sound judgment. 

Abortion was always available to women through predominantly discreet ways.  Women whose families had the monetary backing, would readily reply to sly advertisements for top health services listed in the local paper.  Less affluent women were forced to more extreme and dangerous methods in order to achieve the same results.  If you didn’t have $1,000 cash one hundred years ago, you were on your own to find the means—and risked greater injury and death.


[ An 1845 ad for "French Periodical Pills" warns against use by women who might be "en ciente" (French for pregnant)]

If abortion is once again outlawed, the definite crack running between the haves and the have nots will split further. Those women who have the means will still have the opportunity to receive a higher standard of services whether right here in the states or through services abroad.  Those without the monetary backing can only look forward to a higher possibility of damaged reproductive organs and a higher death rate.

Abortion always existed, and believe it or not, abortion will always exist, whether legal or illegal.  (By the way, keep in mind that there will ultimately be a social upheaval IF abortion is ever outlawed.) When it is legalized, it can be regulated to uphold a certain level of quality standards; if it is not, than it is the poor that are ultimately punished.

If you are against abortion—then great—don’t have one.  If one really wishes to make an impact on the number of abortions performed, then I highly suggest supporting social programs that help these mothers with both financial support and a federal-based program for free child care.  (It would also help if this society changed the way it views single mothers.)  Ironically, it just so happens that most conservatives are also against the same social welfare programs that help support these struggling mothers.

~”No child left behind”

Now this is completely backwards—it calls for giving money to schools that are performing well while withholding money from schools that are performing poorly.  How does this make sense?  Shouldn’t the struggling school receive more funds so that it could get back on its feet? 

In working for an adolescent literacy program, I’ve gotten to know the frustration teachers, principals and most importantly children experience over standardized testing that will determine whether or not their school will have a chance.  To add a second kick to the face, Bush’s latest proposal calls for a budget cut—approximately $300 million dollars—from after school funds and a drastic restructure of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs that would convert it to an unstable voucher program.  After school programs work—they keep kids safe, incite them to learn all while assisting working families.  I suppose our children’s education and their future in tomorrow’s workforce means nothing compared to the need for an unnecessary war.

So, remind me again how the conservatives are promoting “family values”?

- written by Elena Gaudino

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Filed under Education, Environment, Feminism, Mental Environment, Politics