Occasional Planet http://www.occasionalplanet.org progressive voices speaking out Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:00:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Which country is the greatest threat to world peace? http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/29/which-country-is-the-greatest-threat-to-world-peace/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/29/which-country-is-the-greatest-threat-to-world-peace/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:00:04 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29463 A US soldier in Iraq in 2004At the close of 2013, WIN/Gallup published the results of a massive world opinion poll in which they asked over 66,000 people from 65 countries which country is the greatest threat to world peace.

The replies were as follows:



  • United States 24%
  • Pakistan 8%
  • China 6%
  • Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, North Korea, each 5%
  • India, Iraq, Japan, each 4%
  • Syria 3%
  • Russia 2%

Australia, Germany, Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Korea, UK, each 1%

Americans, heavily influenced by DOD/CIA/White House/State Department misinformation and propaganda delivered via corporate-owned media outlets, named Iran the top threat. Afghanistan came in second, but, most interestingly, Americans voted the U.S. among the most threatening nations, in a tie for third place with North Korea.

The rest of the world, being at the effect of it, has good reason to fear US militarism. But, Americans are beginning to wake up to how the military/corporate/intelligence/NATO complex, and the violence and chaos it spreads around the world, is a major cause of our economic and social problems at home. A bloated military budget, is only the tip of the iceberg, the equally large “black budget” is below the surface, hidden from view, without Congressional oversight. Both budgets serve the elite, while education, housing, health care, infrastructure and transportation—the things we desperately need at home—suffer.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers at popularresistance.org cataloged the following statistics from William Blum’s website. Blum, a historian who specializes in tracking U.S. Empire follows these interventions closely and has reported on them going back to the end of World War II. Since then, the United States has:

* Attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically elected.

* Dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries.

* Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.

* Attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries.

* Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries, according to Chapter 18 of his book Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower.

Please click on the links if you want more detailed information.

Much of Obama’s world-destabilizing activities in service of geopolitical dominance, are carried out through the CIA, black budgets, proxy wars, drones, and mercenaries—effectively bypassing a clueless and apathetic Congress. We are told that the secret activities involving drones and mercenaries are necessary to “KEEP US SAFETM”. In reality the U.S. government kills, maims and destabilizes for geopolitical reasons—to allow banks and corporations to grab off as much as they can.

A complacent and complicit media rarely questions the lies spread at official press conferences—for fear of being prosecuted under the Espionage Act if they probe further and reveal whistleblower-leaked classified material, or because they are content to advance their career by maintaining a sycophantic relationship to power. Overall, the American mainstream media has failed the American people by failing to practice journalism.

The world is not wrong when it judges us the greatest threat to world peace. So, how long are we going to let our elected and appointed officials spread violence and chaos in our name?

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Courts are conflicted over secrecy of death drugs: I’m not http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/28/courts-are-conflicted-over-secrecy-of-death-drugs-im-not/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/28/courts-are-conflicted-over-secrecy-of-death-drugs-im-not/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 12:00:41 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29488 syringe_siShould states be required to disclose which drugs they use to kill people sentenced to the death penalty? In July 2014, the 9th Circuit Court said, “Yes,” while, in a separate case, the U.S. Supreme Court said, “No.” That judicial disagreement is complicating recently instituted death-penalty procedures, in which states use new combinations of death-inducing drugs—but are reluctant to reveal the sources of those drugs.

In the court of my opinion, however, the answer is, “Yes—states should be required to reveal the composition of their death cocktails and their sources.”

The states involved in these two most recent cases are Arizona and Texas, who along with Missouri, are currently the most active of the 32  death-penalty states in the U.S. The states argue that, under current law, it is their legal duty to carry out the death penalty, and they do not want to be hampered by new rules. For people like me, who oppose the notion that a state has the right to kill someone—no matter how awful the crime he/she has committed—the issue of drug disclosure may represent a way to finally put the death penalty to death in this country.

Here’s how that might happen: As we’ve seen recently, several manufacturers of drugs that have previously been used for executions have stopped selling their products to state prison systems. The manufacturers—who want their drugs to be seen as helpful, curative and life-saving—don’t want them associated with the death penalty and death. Several of these drug companies are based in Europe, where the death penalty is considered anathema. (Countries that employ the death penalty cannot become members of the European Union.) Even US manufacturers are showing reluctance to allow their drugs to be used for executions. And for good reason: Have you seen the proliferation of recent news reports about the protracted deaths associated with some of the newly improvised death-drug cocktails?

The result has been that states have had to scramble for new death-inducing drug combos. They’ve moved on to other drugs—some of them generally used in veterinary care—and other deadly combinations not routinely prescribed for use together. Several states—unable to obtain the preferred execution drugs from manufacturers—are now getting their supplies from compounding pharmacies, who mix up small amounts of the drugs using the same components that a manufacturer would use. In many cases, states do not reveal the names of the compounding pharmacies.

The reason behind this secrecy is obvious: If the names of the new combinations and sources were made public, there could be negative publicity, driving more pharmacies and manufacturers to ban their products from use in executions. And then what would state prison systems do? Revert to the gas chamber? Firing squads? The guillotine? It’s hard to imagine a state wanting to go back to methods viewed as archaic and barbaric. In fact, most don’t want anyone to see much of anything associated with the death penalty: That’s why executions are usually carried out in the middle of the night; and why the identities of the executioners are kept private; and why witnesses to executions are often curtained off at the moment of the injection and don’t see the prisoner die.

So, it’s possible that full disclosure could make the death-penalty so difficult for state prison systems that they would have to abandon it. We’d have a market solution [a manufacturers' boycott] to a moral issue, and the U.S. would at long last join the rest of the industrialized world in ending the death penalty. I’d even be okay if free-market Reppublicans took credit for that development. Whatever it takes.

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Political quotes: Who said this? http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/27/political-quotes-who-said-this/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/27/political-quotes-who-said-this/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 18:32:54 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29514 2014_06_22thumbThere’ s a politically relevant quote hiding behind this teaser. When you see the full quote, you may be surprised to learn who said it, but you’ll have to figure out the source out by choosing from a multiple-choice list. It’s a quiz!

You’ll find the full quote and the expanded illustration below.

It’s part of Occasional Planet’s long-running series of quotes–contemporary and historical–that are pertinent to the current political environment. Our illustrator is Christopher Burke, whose quirky cartoons add a touch of whimsy. Scroll down to see the complete quote and Christopher’s  full illustration. To see a gallery of previously published “click quotes,” click here.



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Alternative views on Ukraine and the downing of MH-17 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/25/alternative-views-on-ukraine-and-the-downing-of-mh-17/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/25/alternative-views-on-ukraine-and-the-downing-of-mh-17/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 12:00:44 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29446 malaysia_mh_17_mgnFor more credible views on current events, I look to independent scholars and independent investigative journalists who are not employed by corporate media, either in this country or abroad. My definition of a credible journalist is one who does not identify with, or align him or herself, with those in power, whether in government or the private sector, and who sees his or her job as an adversarial one—to keep those in power accountable to the needs of the poor and middle classes. If they have one, that is their “bias.” Because I find the information provided on foreign policy issues in the New York Times and other corporate mainstream media venues, generally, to be untrustworthy, I’ve put together a small annotated list of alternative articles that you may find more informative and compelling.

A commenter named Banger on the blog Naked Capitalism made this astute point: “most of us have, by now, come to the understanding that to read the New York Times or listen to NPR does not and cannot offer you a realistic view of the world and shouldn’t be expected to—these institutions are political in nature and serve political constituencies.”

So, for a change of pace, click on the links below for a critique of corporate media coverage of Ukraine, and for alternative, in-depth views of what is going on there.

In his article at OpedNews,”The Sunday Morning Television Orgy of John Kerry,” Donn Marten pulls no punches.

He nails corporate media as the official purveyor of propaganda, misinformation, and lies fabricated by the State Department and the White House about foreign policy—in this case about Ukraine. Often, the spin is delivered so fast and furiously, Obama and Kerry will end up contradicting each other. We don’t usually publish rants at OP, but this one has a lot to say, so I invite you to read the rest of it at OpEdNews.com. For a little taste, here’s an excerpt:

Herr Goebbels once famously remarked: If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

The “big lie” has become the bread and butter of post September 11, 2001 exceptionalist America, and is holy gospel to the reigning political establishment and the state-corporate generated force field of hogwash that protects them. They just keep selling that “big lie,” and the latest and most crassly cynical example is Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

The last time that Secretary of State and Skull and Bones alumni John Kerry hit the cycle of the Sunday morning “news” shows, he was pushing a war on Syria that was based on shaky evidence that to this day has not been substantiated. Whirlwind John . . . appeared on all five of the Sabbath day feasts of bullshit that far too many Americans believe are credible discussion forums rather than the interlocked propaganda dispersal systems that they are in reality.

Kerry was seeking to exploit the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over a war zone in Ukraine on Thursday for political gain in order stick the dagger into the hated Vladimir Putin, who foiled Kerry’s last slam dunk case for war, and has been reviled by the neocon infested State Department ever since. . . .

If one wishes to see an example of the rottenness and soulless decadence of the political class of an empire that has abrogated any semblance of morality as it all begins to collapse in on itself, then turn on your television each and every Sunday morning.

If you like thrillers, you’ll like Wayne Masden’s “MH-17: Beware of the ‘Chameleon.’”

The “chameleon” is Ukranian oligarch, gangster, Zionist, and Israeli citizen Ihor Kolomoisky who hides out in Switzerland most of the time. Clocking in with a net worth of $1.7 billion, he is the second richest man in Ukraine. The newly “elected” president of Ukraine, Poroshenko, appointed him governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region in eastern Ukraine. A good move, because he comes with his own mercenary army, complete with missile launchers, which he has deployed to fight the Russian-speaking Ukrainian separatists. Masden reports:

Kolomoisky’s forces are armed with advanced weaponry, obtained both from Ukrainian weapons inventories and from purchases on the black market. Kolomoisky’s forces reportedly possess the BUK surface-to-air missile system said to have been used to shoot down MH-17.

But did Kolomoisky’s forces in eastern Ukraine possess a BUK system and use it to shoot down MH-17? We don’t know the answer to that—yet.

Masden reports another interesting fact: right after the U.S. backed coup in February of this year, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, became a director of Kolomoisky’s Ukrainian natural gas and oil company, Burisma Holdings, Ltd. As we can see, at such rarified heights of power, the lines between governments, organized crime, and corporations tend to blur. The Washington Post confirmed the appointment. 

Masden’s somewhat hard-to-read article is a mind-numbing collection of disparate facts linked together to describe the extremely complicated power arrangements and factions within Ukraine, including mafia characters like Kolomoisky, the mysterious sales and warehousing of a Boeing 777, and various right-wing elements in the not-very-well-glued-together, U.S.-installed junta. He presents a view of political reality that is layered, murky and difficult to describe in the simplistic terms corporate media and government spin-doctors prefer—i.e. “Putin is evil” or “Russia did it.” My only complaint about Masden’s article is that it’s link free. He has been described as the “always interesting, but unverifiable” Wayne Masden. He investigates and presents his information without sources. His information is compelling and plausible, and with some work, at least some of it can be researched and corroborated. Even if only some of it is true, there’s a lot to ponder. He is often dismissed by the MSM as a “conspiracy theorist” which tells me he is on to something.

“What Putin Knows” is an article by Mike Whitney, an independent journalist who writes at CounterPunch.

So, you may ask, why did Obama get us embroiled Ukraine? Why did he task his State Department Neocon appointee Victoria Nuland to take advantage of local unrest in Kiev, overthrow a legitimately elected government, and install a Nazi-infested right wing junta in its place?

The answer is not complicated. The United States intervenes around the world, either directly or behind the scenes, in pursuit of geopolitical dominance. That’s what we do. It doesn’t matter if the intervention is chaotic, bloody and horrific, if people die as they have in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, or eastern Ukraine, to name a few of our victim nations, or if millions are displaced because of our “adventures” abroad. At home, our government feeds us a steady diet of lies about our “responsibility to protect” and our need to “fight terrorists,” but the agenda remains the same—to further enrich the wealthy, feed the giant maw of the military/corporate/surveillance complex, and keep NATO, America’s auxiliary army, at it’s disposal, well past its “sell by” date—the end of the Cold War. Since the Clinton administration, the idea has been to use NATO to relentlessly encroach on and threaten Russia in order to pull Ukraine, a geopolitical lynchpin, out of Russia’s sphere of influence and into the neoliberal US/EU fold.

Right before the first attack on the separatists in eastern Ukraine, the newly installed illegitimate government in Kiev received a personal visit from CIA Director, John Brennan , a visit which the US government first denied and later admitted. That same weekend, instead of negotiating with the separatists, the Kiev regime mounted its first military attack on pro-federalization protesters in eastern Ukraine. According to globalresearch.ca, “Brennan, who has been actively involved in arming insurgents in Libya, Syria and Venezuela, has a reputation for using thuggish tactics in pursuit of CIA goals.”

The following is an excerpt from Whitney’s article in which he explains Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” and it’s relationship to the events in Ukraine.

Washington’s plan to “pivot” to Asia by establishing a beachhead in Ukraine and sabotaging trade relations between Europe and Russia, entered a new phase last Thursday when Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from east Ukraine. Since then, the western media and prominent members of the US political establishment have used the incident to attack Russia mercilessly and to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin personally responsible for the deaths of the 295 passengers. . . .

Now the politicians and the media are at it again, trying to whip up war fever to get the public on board for another bloody intervention. Only this time, the target audience is not really the American people as much as it is Europeans. The real objective, here, is to build support for additional economic sanctions as well as a deployment of NATO troops to Russia’s western border. Washington wants to sabotage further economic integration between the EU and Russia so that it can control the flow of vital resources to the EU, crash the Russian economy, and establish a tollbooth between the continents. It’s all part of Washington’s “pivot” strategy that is critical to maintaining global hegemony throughout the 21st century. . . .

Washington doesn’t care about the facts. What matters to Obama and Co. is getting the Europeans on board (“ratcheting up pressure within Europe”) so they can gin up the sanctions, shut off Russian gas, deprive Putin of a vital source of revenue, and set up shop (NATO bases) in Eurasia.” Whether US Intel agencies were involved in the missile attack or not doesn’t change the fact that Washington clearly benefits from the tragedy.

It’s no surprise that 24% of respondents in a recent international Gallop poll think we are the most dangerous nation on the planet. That’s because we are.

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Democrats need to attend Elizabeth Warren’s “communication school” http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/24/democrats-need-to-attend-elizabeth-warrens-communication-school/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/24/democrats-need-to-attend-elizabeth-warrens-communication-school/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:00:51 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29436 Elizabeth_Warren_CFPBThe midterm elections are just four months away. Can you guess which party is flailing around on the campaign trail without a unified message?

The answer is easy. It’s the Democrats. Sadly, it’s déjà-vu all over again. Every election season progressives see their hopes dashed as the Democratic Party fails to deliver a coherent vision, and individual candidates try to distance themselves from even the meager legislative record they’ve tallied up during the past term.

In the run up to election day, you’d think it would be smart politics to guide voters to clarity on the very real differences between the two major parties. Unfortunately, that’s not how our crazy political world works. Contrary to the popular meme, on income inequality, immigration reform, healthcare, equal pay for women, access to family planning, student loans, tax policy, the environment, and a host of other issues the differences between the parties are deep and real. But you wouldn’t know that when listening to obfuscating Democratic contenders.

Think about it. When was the last time Democrats and progressives pulled together a coherent message before, during, or after an election cycle?

Perennial Democratic timidity and the failure to articulate a clear message means that Democrats fail to address head-on the serious issues and challenges buffeting confused voters who aren’t sure which way to turn. It’s no wonder voters believe politicians fail to represent their interests and that the system is rigged against them. Predictably, voter apathy is at a record high, and the percentage of the voting-age public turning out to vote is at a historic low.

One issue that should be ripe for Democratic picking is income inequality and the skewed tax policies that have crippled investment in infrastructure, education, and research and diminished the employment prospects and future of the middle class, low-wage earners, the poor, and young people. Perhaps the truth is that the majority of Americans have so thoroughly absorbed Republican messaging about the inevitability of an inequitable economy that they fail to see through the misinformation that Republicans have exploited so brilliantly to explain away their culpability in causing the economic disparities. It’s inconceivable that voters fail to understand that Republicans in Congress have spent the past six years maneuvering ferociously to maintain and even expand policies and tax loopholes that favor corporations, the financial industry, and millionaires and billionaires while doing nothing for the economic interests and needs of the majority.

Just look at the diminished prospects of the middle class. Americans should be out in the streets raging and protesting. At the very least we should be going to the polls in record numbers. And yet most of us are doing just the opposite.

The economic numbers below, which reflect the reality of a middle class losing ground, paint a dispiriting picture of an economy that produces unimaginable profits for the few and stagnation for the many.

- Since 1999 middle-class incomes in real terms have dropped by an incredible $5,000.
- Since 2009 fully 95% of all newly generated income has gone to the top 1%.
- 3.6 million Americans struggle to live on wages at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
- Every year the American taxpayer subsidizes the profits of the low-wage fast-food industry to the tune of $7 billion in safety-net benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, and subsidized housing.
- The low-wage policies of the biggest big-box giant—Walmart—costs American taxpayers $6.2 billion annually in public-assistance programs.

Make no mistake about it. This is the economy that the conservative movement and its mighty messaging machine have built over forty years. On issue after issue, the conservative lens has defined the terms of the discussion and hidden the true reasons for the economic struggles of what used to be a proud and expanding middle class. Republican think tanks and lobbying organizations, like The American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and ALEC, an organization that writes legislation favorable to corporate interests that ends up word-for-word on the dockets of state houses, have dominated the agenda and the direction of economic policy.

So is it time to throw in the towel and cave in to the propaganda, to conservative messaging shenanigans, and the pundits and pollsters (including Nate Silver of Five Thirty-Eight) who predict that the Democrats could lose their majority in the Senate? I say, not just yet. Not as long as there’s one public official out there fighting for the middle class and challenging other Democrats to become champions of the people who work hard at jobs that pay them less today than they did decades ago—jobs like designing and building our infrastructure, educating and caring for our children, providing health care. That lone fighter is Elizabeth Warren.

It’s my hope that every Democrat running for office in the upcoming election has listened to the exchange below between Massachusetts Senator Warren and Chris Matthews of “Hardball” and absorbed the lesson of how powerful a principled and coherent message can be.

And if Democratic candidates are still not convinced, I suggest that they step off the campaign trail and make their way to an undisclosed location somewhere near Boston harbor. There, at what might be called the Elizabeth Warren School of Analytic Thought and Communication Skills, they can hunker down and take a quick fix of intensive remedial courses.

So get out your notebooks and IPads, Democrats, here’s the curriculum that could help you keep or secure that coveted desk on Capitol Hill.

I. Defining the Problem
- Fact-Based Economics for Congressional Dummies
- Invisible Market Forces and Government Policy: Identifying the Differences and Destroying the Myths
- Somebody’s Got to Pay for It: How the Middle Class Got Stuck Paying
An Unfair Share of Taxes
- America: The History of Third-World Infrastructure
- Winners and Losers: Four Decades of the 1% and their Congressional Lackies Sticking It to the Middle Class
- Bye, Bye, American Dream: Recognizing the Causes of Institutionalized Income Inequality
- Standing on the Brink: The Systematic Destruction of Unions and the Living Wage
- Millionaires and Billionaires: How Much Is Enough?
- Anatomy for Politicians: Finding Your Backbone

II. Communicating the Solution
- Who Am I?: Authenticity for Congressional Dummies
- Finding Common Ground: Identifying and Simplifying the Message
- Learning to Connect: The Psychology and Communication of Empathy
- Verbal Tactics: Consigning Trickle-Down Economics to the Trash Heap of History
- Self-Interest versus the Common Good: Reconnecting the Politician with the Constituent
- Articulating Differences: A Primer for Winning Elections

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Let’s repeal the ban on gay blood http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/22/lets-repeal-the-ban-on-gay-blood/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/22/lets-repeal-the-ban-on-gay-blood/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:32:12 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29425 gayblooddriveOn July 11, 2014, nationwide, gay men contributed to blood banks in the only way they legally can: Instead of men being able to donate blood themselves, they have to bring along allies who are legally eligible to donate.

The National Gay Blood Drive isn’t your everyday charity event, it’s also a protest that gives voice to an important and overlooked issue. The FDA bars gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

Almost unbelievably, this law is still in effect. When donors enter a donation center, they are asked to fill out a form that includes many questions—one example of which is “Have your ears been pierced in the last three months?—to establish whether or not a person is at high risk for diseases transmitted through blood. Most regulations on blood donors are reasonable and necessary to accurately decrease the amount of unusable blood, by assessing their risk for diseases including Hepatitis B & C, syphilis and HIV/AIDS. So it is excessively unfortunate that another question on the form asks if the donor is a man: “Have you had sex with another man since 1977?” Answering yes to this question makes a man ineligible to donate blood for fear it would contain HIV.

So, being gay puts you at higher risk for AIDS? According to science, absolutely not. According to the federal government, apparently—yes.

Not only is this belief as vintage as leg warmers, it’s a throwback to 1980s knowledge of HIV and the all too recent HIV scare targeted at homosexuals. Obviously, the FDA is thirty years behind the times. Why exclude lifesaving blood when someone needs a transfusion approximately every 2 seconds?

Here are just a few reasons why this law is just plain wrong: All donated blood is tested. All donated blood is tested for HIV, Hep B & C, and syphilis. So, why make you answer questions about sexual identity? If the FDA is willing to concede that not just gay men have HIV, why ban them as a group?

Sexual promiscuity and homosexuality are not synonyms. Just because a man is homosexual or bisexual does not mean he is promiscuous. But this law doesn’t determine someone’s number of partners, just his gender. Some heterosexual people are promiscuous, and many gay men are not. Obviously.

More women have HIV than men. The largest population of HIV today is in Africa, and over 70% of people HIV positive there are women. Women are more likely to contract all types of STIs, including HIV, because of their anatomy.

There. Now that we have established that this regulation is as unfounded as it is arbitrary, why is it still happening? Why doesn’t the FDA just change the questionnaire? There are so many ways to assess high risk behavior, regardless of how a person identifies. It’s a simple solution. But instead, the FDA forces gay men to disclose their sexual behavior when all they wanted to do was give a life-saving donation. It targets gay men who may then relive the torments they’ve experienced before being comfortable identifying as gay.

And this law works on a bizarre honors system. If you don’t disclose this information, no legal action can be taken against you. Why make gay men hide their identity to give blood?

All these questions deserve answers. But what is really striking is how little awareness there is for this issue. While gay marriage garners the main stage of the LGBT rights platform, blatant discrimination and defamation that still exist in government bureaucracy are ignored.

Why is this issue on the back burner of the fast moving LGBT rights movement? Especially when these kinds of misunderstandings about gay men has caused so much animosity in the past, both during the AIDS epidemic and before.

Most people, even in the healthcare industry, have no idea that this law still exists. It’s archaic, a violation of our rights, and totally fixable.

If you’re like me and want to do something to change this law, here is a link to the National Gay Blood Drive website, where you can sign a petition to repeal the ban on gay blood.

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“I can buy a firearm, but I can’t get assistance to buy a sandwich” http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/21/i-can-buy-a-firearm-but-i-cant-get-assistance-to-buy-a-sandwich/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/21/i-can-buy-a-firearm-but-i-cant-get-assistance-to-buy-a-sandwich/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 12:00:17 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29414 SNAP2In a move that demonstrates a small—and too rare—step toward common sense in lawmaking, Missouri has rescinded [mostly] an 18-year-old law that banned people with felony drug convictions from ever receiving food stamps under the SNAP program. The new law is not a “get-out-of-jail-free,” though. It retains a one-year waiting period following a drug felon’s release from custody, and a third drug felony conviction would still trigger a lifetime ban. But those convicted of one or two drug felonies would be able to get food stamps under the SNAP program after a year, provided that they adhere to court orders regarding drug treatment programs.

The problem with the lifetime ban, argued proponents of the new, more humane approach, is that:

It turned safety net programs into a weapon in the drug war, adding a socioeconomic penalty to the criminal penalties the system imposes for drug crimes.

That approach fails to account for the realities of life in poverty, The Sentencing Project’s Director of Advocacy Nicole Porter said. “There has been a move to modify the ban ever since the 1990s in recognition that it was unfair to people who had already completed their sentence and were living in the community to deny them the ability to participate in the social safety net.” But “poor assumptions about people with prior convictions” have guided lawmakers in the handful of holdout states. The bans are “one way that people who are opposed to the safety net at all have been able to narrow the net and to marginalize people,” she said.

Relaxing the lifetime ban is a nod to the growing evidence that the war on drugs isn’t working. It also demonstrates that punishing poor people doesn’t help, either.

Calling the ban a “lifetime sentence,” The Sentencing Project notes that, when the national law—which gave states the ability to opt in or out—was enacted by Congress in 1996—with very little debate—the ban was intended to show that Congressional representatives were “tough on crime.”

As Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), the sponsor of the amendment, argued, “If we are serious about our drug laws, we ought not to give people welfare benefits who are violating the Nation’s drug laws.”

Conspicuously absent from the brief debate over this provision was any discussion of whether the lifetime ban for individuals with felony drug offenses would advance the general objectives of welfare reform.

During this year’s Missouri hearings on the bill to lift the ban, people with prior drug convictions testified that the food-stamp ban has made it harder for people to climb out of poverty. Some also questioned its fairness, noting that the ban did not apply to convicted murders or sex offenders who are released from prison.

The old law resulted in some ludicrous situations, Think Progress reports:

Johnny Waller, who served five years decades ago for selling marijuana as a teenager, said, “I can go buy a firearm but I can’t get assistance to buy a sandwich

As is so often the case, Missouri is late to this remediating effort. Until Missouri Governor Nixon signed the new bill into law in June 2014, Missouri was one of nine states holding out for the punitive lifetime ban (Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, Wyoming). The bans were imposed as part of welfare reform under President Clinton, but over the 18 years since they have been repealed in 16 states and modified in various ways by another 25.

The sponsor of the new law in Missouri, Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said food assistance would reduce the chances that a person with a drug problem would relapse and return to prison. “I think it gives folks an opportunity to succeed.”

Not much encouraging comes out of the Republican-dominated Missouri state legislature these days, so this development is refreshing. I doubt that this law passed for purely humanitarian reasons. I’m guessing that legislators just decided that Missouri shouldn’t be—once again—left behind and viewed as a backward state—that’s not good for business, after all. But whatever the reason, this is a small step in a better direction. And in Missouri, that’s newsworthy.

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Who am I? Guess the progressive http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/16/who-am-i-guess-the-progressive-2/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/16/who-am-i-guess-the-progressive-2/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 21:46:02 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29406  

Can you identify this person? Occasional Planet’s “Who Am I” series features people who have made important contributions to liberal thought, progressive politics, human rights, enlightened education, and “small-d” democratic principles–both in the US and internationally.

The abbreviated bios in our “Progressive Hall of Fame” only hint at the scope of our hall of famers’ struggles and accomplishments. We hope that curiosity will impel you find out more about these inspiring people, whose professional efforts and personal sacrifices deserve to be remembered—and emulated.

We welcome suggestions from our readers for additional people to include in our progressive hall of fame. To see a gallery of the progressive role models previously featured on Occasional Planet, click here.


Here’s the answer, plus information about her claims to progressive fame:











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Capitalizing on confidence http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/15/capitalizing-on-confidence/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/15/capitalizing-on-confidence/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:00:49 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29243 womanboxerI think by this point we all know I think feminism is absolutely fantastic- I mean, women’s empowerment is human empowerment! And I think we should all celebrate it and praise it to everyone we meet and be super excited and scream it from rooftops and shout it on radio stations and paste it like literally everywhere and just feminism out everything…

But some people take it too far- and you know based on that last statement that it really is too far- by capitalizing on that and using feminism to make themselves money. Female empowerment should not be a gimmick for your company to sell more shampoo or makeup or chocolate or whatever you’re actually advertising.

As much as I like Pantene’s #ShineStrong movement and the videos they have put out for it, I feel it detracts from the message to end all the “feel good and be brave and you and more power to you” with “and then come buy our shampoo and make your hair look gorgeous so all the men in your life can see you powerfully whip your hair.” Excuse me; what?


Ditto, Covergirl’s #GirlsCan and Nike Women’s Voices

I guess Verizon is slightly better for not advertising makeup or shampoo or other make yourself beautiful for the guys products, but still, Verizon isn’t “Inspiring Her Mind” with their phones, so they shouldn’t be advertising feminism as a product they’re selling.

Ditto Always’ #LikeAGirl

Don’t get me wrong, I think all the videos are absolutely fantabulous. I love that Verizon wants more women in STEM fields; that Always wants “‘run like a girl’ to also win the race;” that Pantene wants women to stop apologizing for who they are and for the world to stop double standards and labels that demean women; that Nike wants women to not fear the criticism of their male colleagues; that Covergirl wants to show that women can do anything and everything they want. I just don’t think it should all be in the name of “help us make us money.”

On the other hand, Snickers tried (maybe) to empower women with this commercial, but fell terribly far from the mark. Really? Are you (Snickers) saying men, when normal, could never shout empowering and positive things to women- that men, in their natural state, are actually just degrading catcallers? Well great job, then, Snickers, for demeaning men and women in just one minute.

At the same time, at least they’re trying. Hardee’s obviously isn’t. It looooves objectifying women. And Axe, too. Axe’s entire campaign for its body spray is that if men wear Axe, they’ll get hundreds of scantily clad women flocking to them from across oceans.

So thank you, companies celebrating feminism, even if you’re doing it in a slightly flawed manner. And companies that treat women like pieces of meat (with breasts), up yours..

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Al Gore’s good news (for a change) on climate and renewable energy http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/14/al-gores-good-news-for-a-change-on-climate-and-renewable-energy/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/14/al-gores-good-news-for-a-change-on-climate-and-renewable-energy/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 12:00:48 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29390 algoreEight years ago. Al Gore released “An Inconvenient Truth,” the book and documentary film that laid out the scientific consensus connecting the burning of fossil fuels to climate change. At the time, the former vice-president challenged the fossil-fuel industry and all of us who depend upon its dirty output to face up to what may be the most difficult economic, scientific, and moral challenge the global community will ever face.

Gore’s articulation of the long-term, developing climate catastrophe was a shocking prediction that’s proved to be all too true. But there’s some good news, too.

The bad news

Since throwing out those first frightening and potentially life-altering salvos, Gore has been an easy target for climate-change deniers. Their response to Gore’s brilliant cataloguing of the case for human activity and climate change was swift and ugly. Some clever right-wing wordsmith coined the word “schlockumentary” to mock and vilify the movie and the man. The book was dismissed as science fiction by congressional conservatives and lobbyists for the oil, gas, and coal industries. The immediate, vociferous response to Gore’s science lesson demonstrated the truth of the old maxim that blaming the bearer of bad news is always easier than confronting the bad news itself.

Unfortunately, the bad news has only gotten worse. Since 1988, when the world passed the upper safety limit for atmospheric CO2—350 ppm (parts per million)—the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have been steadily rising. This past June, CO2 measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory reached 401.30 ppm, a level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is the highest CO2 concentration in human history.

And if you want to lose some sleep at night, cogitate on this: The present measurements of CO2 levels are higher than they’ve been for any time during the past 800,000 years. (And that number is a conservative estimate. Some scientists put the number of years in the millions.)

The effects of those increased levels of CO2 in our fragile atmosphere are becoming ever more dramatic, more visible, and more difficult to dismiss. May 2014 was the warmest May in more than 130 years of recorded global temperatures. Rising global temperatures are speeding the melting of glaciers and ice caps. The polar ice cap is melting at a rate of 9% per decade. The thickness of Arctic ice has decreased 40% since the 1960s, and it’s estimated that, if the current rate of global warming continues, the Arctic could be ice-free by 2040. Over the last three decades more than one million square miles of perennial sea ice have disappeared, and the pace of sea level rise is accelerating. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with all that ice melt sea levels could rise 10 to 23 inches by 2100.

And then there’s the weather itself. There’s growing evidence that global warming is causing hurricanes that are more intense; dangerous heat waves; heavier rainfall and more frequent flooding; and increased conditions, such as more severe and longer-lasting droughts, that threaten our food supply and make wildfires more frequent and severe.

While the data continue to confirm the reality of the climate threat, Gore has been traveling the globe trying to educate and convince a reluctant, disbelieving world of the necessity to wean away from carbon fuels and to switch to clean, renewable energy sources. Gore and climate scientists across the globe desperately want us to understand that only a large-scale switch to renewables will give the world a fighting change to stabilize the levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

The good news

Recently, Gore took a step back from being the perennial messenger of bad news and took some time to compose an article published in the June 18,  2014 issue of Rolling Stone that throws some much-needed good news our way. Here’s a sample of some of the developments that Gore himself calls “surprising, shocking good news.”

  •  Converting sunshine into usable electricity has become cheaper more rapidly than anyone expected.
  •  In 79 countries, the cost of electricity from photovoltaic solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources.
  • In 2000, the projection was that the world would be installing one gigawatt of new solar electricity per year by 2010. In 2010 the number was 17 gigawatts per year. In 2013 the number was 39 gigawatts per year, and in 2014 projections are for 55 gigawatts.
  • As costs continue to decline, by 2020 more than 80% of the world will live in places where solar-generated power is competitive with other energy sources.
  • In 2012 49% of new generating capacity in the U.S. came from renewables.
  • Since 2009 the cost of wind energy in the U.S. has dropped by 43%.
  • In the past four years 166 coal-fired electricity generating plants have closed or announced their closing.
  • 183 proposed new coal plants in the U.S. have been canceled since 2005.
  •  Currently, there’s an ongoing shift from the central-station utility grid that had its origins in the 1880s to a widely distributed model characterized by rooftop solar cells and on-site grid-battery storage and microgrids.
  • Photovoltaic electricity is displacing carbon-based energy in two of the world’s most densely populated countries—India and Bangladesh.

And Gore even finds a glimmer of hope in the behind-the-scenes discussions of the financial fat cats and the recommendations of market analysts.

  • Companies selling carbon-based fuels (particularly coal) are quietly discussing their fears of a “utility death spiral.”
  •  Barclays recently downgraded the U.S. electric sector as a result of increased distributed electric generation.
  • Citigroup is warning investors that the assumption that fracked shale gas will be the primary alternative to coal may be a false assumption. Other financial analysts are warning that fracked gas will fall victim to the decline in the cost of solar- and wind-powered generation.
  • Large investors are divesting from carbon-intensive assets and diversifying their portfolios to include significant investments in renewables.
  • Large banks and assets managers are advising clients of the danger that carbon assets will become “stranded.”
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