Unfair and Unbalanced

Since the Supreme Court's landmark decision earlier this year that corporate expenditures could be used without limit and in any capacity to finance political campaigns, our elections process has seemingly become a special interest free-for-all. Although campaign spending was ludicrous as it were, with the 2008 presidential election costing a record $5 billion, now corporations literally have all of freedom they need to oversee our elections processes, and may under the protection of law, because somehow limiting their power would be a violation of freedom of speech.

And Newscorp was among the first big-time companies to cash-in, so to speak, on this convenient new allowance. Are you surprised? The parent company of FOX news and the Wall Street Journal, which over the years has blatantly revealed its conservative biases, has now openly admitted to their partiality: they have gifted a donation of $1 million to the Republican Governor's Association.

This is quite alarming for several reasons. First, Fox continues to be a major outlet for news stories covering this year's elections. And with this enormous open endorsement of Republican candidates, how can their "reporting" ever be "fair" or "balanced," as they claim? The radical right-leaning commentary that one hears on Fox news would not fool most informed viewers, but rather serve to the fire of misinformation and preexisting incendiary opinion. Still, this action further exposed Fox's position as being the most unfair, unbalanced news source in the nation.

But more importantly, this action is done within the confines of complete legality. Thanks to the Supreme Court's decision to lift a limit on the amount and type of corporate spending on campaigns, I would bet that donations such as Newscorp's $1 million to the Republicans will be given much more frequently, and in much higher numbers. Not that they haven't been happening already, but with the declaration of open season on campaign spending, all the money trails will be exposed, showing our political process for what it really is.


Cease and Desist

The dominion of disposable plastic bags in our supermarkets may soon be coming to an end. Several countries around the world, and even certain cities within the U.S. have initiated a total ban against plastic shopping bags, while many supermarkets and other shopping outlets are offering incentives for costumers who choose to bring their own reusable alternatives with them to the store (BYOB- bring your own bag!). In similar cases, some local governments are considering further pressure to slow or halt the distribution of plastic bags by placing heaving taxes against them. Recently, Planet Green has released a list of cities around the world which have imposed the total ban on plastic bags.

These are all extremely important steps towards ensuring the health and safety of our world's ecosystems, especially in light of the giant floating island of garbage in the Pacific Ocean. It is twice the size of Texas by some reports, twice that of the continental U.S. by others, consisting mostly of discarded and non-biodegradable plastic products. The pollution of our world's oceans is far more critical than we might have guessed, and it is both entirely our fault and entirely our responsibility to fix it. We are making it increasingly difficult for fish and other marine life to survive in any kind of habitable environment. And besides global warming and the increasing taxation of industrial over-fishing, the most prominent offenders to the oceans' situation are, not surprisingly, plastics. They are so destructive, in fact, that even the United Nations has called for their increased regulation.

Besides the amendments we make to our own personal consumption, and the efforts of our governments to assuage our efforts, there are private groups working around the world to undo some of the damage inflicted upon world's oceans, and they have proved to be nothing short of heroic. Nextek Limited, for example, a company that is based out of the UK and Australia, is doing some really impressive stuff to counter-act plastic pollution. Although it boasts a variety of noble projects, the company's primary purpose is to process and recycle polymer plastics in a sustainable and responsible way, from discarded bottles and mixed plastics into clean, safe milk bottles and other products. By far their most impressive work is done at sea, where they collect the materials they need in order to forge these recycled gems. They sustainably gather floating plastics from the surface of the south Pacific ocean, while at the same time returning any accidentally captured sea life to the water. They then process the plastics in order to decontaminate them and subsequently recycle them. To read their full story, follow this link to Positive News.

How amazing! Congratulations to these benevolent and innovative businessmen who've created such a fantastic answer to plastic. They can't single-handily drain the ocean of its estimated 4 million tons of plastic pollution, but they have certainly set the bar in terms of environmental stewardship. Congratulations to the brave municipal governments who are taking the lead in this fight against pollutions by banning the use of plastic bags completely, and those who are on their way with a partial tax. And congratulations to you, the consumer, because it is your actions and assertions that ultimately have the power to make real change happen around the world!


What Oil Spil...?

It was only a matter of time before the swarming, buzzing frenzy about the oil spill would slow, sputter out, and become only a faint murmur and a memory of what was once the most catastrophic corporate accident in our nations history. After weeks of basking in the spotlight of front-page articles, daily briefings, and consultations with Hollywood figures, alas... BP's oil spill has lost it's 15 minutes of fame. Sure, there are still scattered articles pertaining to the aftermath, but overall the media ship has sailed over the Deepwater Horizon. While BP's executives are likely wiping the sweat from their brow, thankful for the cooling of their fannies, the gulf coast's proverbial world remains upside-down, and unfortunately relief is a long ways away.

There are still massive amounts of non-degrading oil stewing in the gulf waters. According to researchers at the University of Georgia, 79% of the oil released by the massive spill has yet to be recovered, all of which poses a dire threat to local ecosystems, fishing industries, beaches, livelihoods, public health, etc... you name the aspect of peaceful living in the gulf, and more than likely the oil has disrupted it. And for an area of the country which seems to fall repeatedly on bad times, the impact could be devastating.

Many individuals living in the gulf are in need of assistance, from financial reimbursement for the loss of business, to emotional and social support for the damage to their homes and lifelines. In terms of mental health issues, BP has preemptively compensated gulf residents by providing $58 million to help treat those affected by the spill for stress, anxiety, and depression. However, the fund that BP set up as a voluntary trust for its oil spill victims was created with the clause that monies for the trust would be directly linked to BP's successful drilling endeavors in the gulf. Therefore, fickle BP would not be required to pay out a dime if the funds from gulf oil extraction were to somehow disappear- a fact that some awaiting payout might not be aware of.

Just because the oil spill situation is no longer a top news story in our mainstream media does not mean that this problem is going to go away any time soon. Even our president has warned us that the consequences of the spill are wide-reaching, and that the worst is far from over. But if you think that this disaster has taught our government a lesson about the dangers of desperate energy extraction, think again... after almost immediately overturning a moratorium on offshore drilling, the government is now considering lifting the moratorium on deep-water drilling imposed immediately after the spill as well. And if you think that BP would be more cautious in its endeavors to extract oil from the bottom of the ocean... wrong again! The company is now planning to commence deep-water oil drilling in Libya, a country with a limited action plan in the case of an offshore spill.

If the case of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Alaska 21 years ago has anything to teach us, its that the problems caused by massive oil spills are serious, and do not dissipate quickly. Residents living along the Prince William Sound are still experiencing environmental and social consequences of that terrible spill to this day, as gulf coast residents likely will experience decades from now, long after the noise around the event has quieted to a whisper.


Flower of the Week

Cat's Whiskers. I couldn't imagine a more aptly named Flower of the Week. What do you think?


"Be Evil"

Google, as a company, has seemed to adopt a somewhat warm & cuddly image in recent years, mostly thanks to its exhausted mantra of "don't be evil." The overly simplistic catchphrase, featured in Google's own code of conduct and heard repeatedly by Google followers, somewhat masks the enormity of Google's vastly unknown and incredibly consequential activities, resting our minds in knowing that our access and information on the internet are secure and protected; leaving us free to indulge in hours of Youtube videos, LOLcat pictures, and the like... untroubled, knowing that our trust is held in a corporation which is truly compassionate at its core.

After all, hasn't Google always been on our side? Haven't they advocated openly for net neutrality over the years? And don't they have a funny holier-than-thou type of public relations that make us want to trust them? For years Google has been snapping our images, filtering our information, and teaching us about the world. They have completely revolutionized the way we acquire information, and have become our go-to encyclopedia for everything from American history to favorite baking recipes. Sure, they got caught spying on us, but they fessed up and then apologized for it. They even vowed to benevolence when it comes to our personal information, stating that "maintaining people's trust is crucial to everything that we do." So our friends at Google would never truly betray our trust, right?

Wrong. Unfortunately, Google's pledge to maintain net neutrality (and consequently our trust) was severely wrinkled yesterday, as if all of a sudden their manta became "Don't be evil- unless it could potentially be profitable to be so." It's kind of like an Animal-Farm-type revision: "no animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets" and so on...

Well, for Google it appears that "the sheets"are synonymous with "Verizon," as the two are most certainly in bed together. After denying last week that they had any intention to alter the free state of the internet, Google has signed a proposal with one of the nations largest internet service providers, which introduces the concept of priority service to certain sites and hosts, and the ability of ISPs to effectively block content at their discretion; basically opening up the internet to a pay-to-play regime whereby the highest bidder gets the fastest connection speed.

There are several facets to the proposal which would undermine the unfettered nature of the internet, but the bottom line is this: Google and Verizon are moving in a direction that would ultimately change the internet as we know it forever. It would turn the net, which currently allows enormous space for a deluge of information from every corner of the world, into something more like a cable television system: where the premium channels come at a higher price, and content not suitable to the provider gets winnowed out. This is corporate takeover and self-regulation at its worst, and it simply cannot be allowed to happen. Voice your opinion today, and tell the Federal Communications Commission to do its job, and to save the internet!


Flower of the Week

Surrounded by hundreds of beautiful, exotic, bizarre, and enchanting flowers at the United States Botanic Gardens in downtown D.C. the other day, I felt as if I had taken enough photos to fill the rest of the year with weekly blossoms. But despite the array, there was one flower which caught my attention immediately: in high-hanging planters lining the pathways of the conservatory hung the yellow flowers of the Nong Noch vine. Like nature's beaded curtains, they hung down in cascades of color, brightening and framing my journey through a sea of flowers. They were my immediate favorite, but only the first of many that I fell in love with that day.


Spill by Numbers

From the NPR program All Things Considered. The list of numbers related to the devastating BP oil spill is a concise means of summarizing its effects over last few months:

32,000- The number of people who have been involved in cleaning up the spill

5,300 - The number of vessels that have been deployed to the gulf

3.2 million - The feet of boom which have been laid
to section off the oil from shorelines, wetlands, and other precious areas.

1,843,786 gallons of toxic dispersants have been applied in the gulf

1,699 oiled birds have been found alive, of which 549 have been saved.

This is compared to 1,499 oiled birds which were found dead.

2,168 Baby sea turtles whose nests were in danger due
to their proximity along the gulf to the oil spill, and who were successfully
relocated to the Atlantic shore.

Along the gulf coast shorelines, 600 miles total have been affected by the spill.
This is broken down into 365 miles in Louisiana, 111 miles in Mississippi,
68 miles in Alabama, and 88 miles in Florida.

$4 billion- the amount that BP has payed so far in response costs

4.9 million - the number of gallons of oil which have been spilled into the gulf.

ZERO- the number of offshore oil spills in history
which have been bigger than this one.

This data was compiled by NPR Staff, and comes from BP, restorethegulf.com, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


It has happened!

It has happened! Despite the powerful neoliberal protestors, the United Nations has made an historic decision to recognize water as a fundamental and universal human right!

The resolution was brought to the U.N. general assembly several weeks ago from Bolivia, a country which has been fervently involved in issues of water rights for years. Countries like Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, which see water as a commodity rather than a human right, spoke out against the movement to no avail, as 144 nations voted last Wednesday that water should be viewed as a public trust, not a market commodity. There were 41 abstentions, and zero votes of "no." Abstaining was clearly the safer way to dissent for the opposers of this resolution, since voting against human rights is surely no historical record to boast.

Still, the outcome of this debate could not have been better! The right to safe drinking water and sanitation are now part of the guiding language for governments around the world, and we have all taken a huge step forward in the way we perceive and acknowledge human rights, particularly in regard to health and access to those resources which are a fundamental part of a healthful life. As Ms. Maude Barlow, water activist extrodinaire, put it last week on Democracy Now!: "[The resolution] is a moral statement, a guiding principle of the countries of the world, that they have taken a step in the direction of saying that water is a human right and a public trust, and that no one should be dying for a lack of water."

For more information about the vote, and to watch Ms. Barlow's full interview with Amy Goodman, click here.


From Where?

You've heard of brainwashing, brandwashing, and even greenwashing. But just as the corporate world never ceases to come up with ways to lead us on and deceive us, out comes a new form of eco-hypocrisy: localwashing. You see, Corporate America is very clever, and they begin to pick up on things when grassroots movements start growing organically within communities- then they hijack our ingenuous principles, beat them and pulverize them, turn them into some public relations vomit, and- voila! You have a warped, vaguely familiar message that leaves you feeling confused, slightly disturbed, and somehow taken advantage of.

So, in one way or another, these marketing behemoths have caught word that buying local is apparently a good thing, and they've jumped on that bandwagon with guns blazing, ready to take over our minds and use our own good intentions against us. McDonald's, of all companies, is now touting boastful ads that give the impression that the poisonous entity actually cares about our environment- and that they use local ingredients. Ahem... excuse me... what? McDonalds?! Local?? It's as if our brains cannot digest such a blatant oxymoron. But this, dear reader, is what they would like us to believe.

The "From Here" Campaign is in full effect now in the greater Seattle area and in most of Washington state which, interestingly enough, was already the primary supplier of most of McDonald's industrial-grade "food" products. So, in order to boast a local initiative, McDonald's choose the one place in America where their "food" production is already most concentrated. Wow! How convenient.

Not to appear fully benevolent however, each of McDonald's new ads feature a lovely little disclaimer at the bottom: "participation and duration may vary." Oh! Excellent. So not only has McDonald's chosen its most convenient location for localwashing, but they also can't guarantee that what you're buying is local- even there. So the billboards all contradict themselves, and the conscious consumer is left feeling... a bit confused at best.

The truth is that most companies spend more time, money, and energy into creating an eco-friendly facade than they do to actually support environmental movements. There are some who genuinely strive to improve their business to reflect an environmentally stable future, and those that do deserve recognition. But a savvy consumer must learn how to weed out the fradulent actors from the honest ones, and unfortunately I think we can all discern on which side McDonald's falls.

It really is quite appalling, but I'm sure the fatburger corporate executives are sitting around a table somewhere, chuckling and patting themselves on the back for once again foiling the intentions of good-hearted Americans trying to make the world a better place. And I'm sure that after they do that, they break out into a chorus of evil-villain inspired laughter: "mwa-ha-haaa!"