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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaJesusRapture(Photo: John Singleton Copley)Christian-themed movies appear to be attracting large audiences these days. While none of the latest crop of religious-themed movies will come close to the box office numbers garnered by Mel Gibson's 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ – over $600 million combined domestically and worldwide -- nevertheless, these films are taking church goers out of the pews, and transporting them to local cineplexes across the country. A post-film-watching goal is to have patrons go and click on the film's website and order up an assortment of merchandise.

This year's successful crop includes Heaven is for Real ($91 million); God's Not Dead ($60 million); and, Son of God ($59 million). Noah, starring Russell Crowe, is a film that stirred controversy amongst some Christians for its lack of fealty to the Biblical tale, but nevertheless brought in nearly $360 million worldwide. According to thewrap.com's Todd Cunningham, "Grassroots and social media campaigns aimed directly at the Christian community had a lot to do with their success."

"Just as there's a whole niche publishing industry that does nothing but Christian books, this is a way to create that niche in the movie-making industry," says Michael Parnell, pastor at Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., and a commentator and film reviewer for APBnews/Herald. Organizers of the 168 Film Festival, which celebrates Christian movies, called the past year, "a stellar year for faith films at the box office ..."

More recently, faith-based films have hit some hard times in the past few months, Cunningham pointed out: "The box-office washout of The Identical made it four straight misfires for faith-based movies after an unprecedented run of success for religious films earlier this year."

2014.9.17.Hightower.BFOn February 8, 2014, the United Workers and Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign - Maryland joined thousands in Raleigh, North Carolina for the kickoff to the 2014 Moral Mondays movement. (Photo: United Workers / Flickr)

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

My father, W.F. "High" Hightower, was a populist. Only, he didn't know it. Didn't know the word, much less the history or anything about populism's democratic ethos. My father was not philosophical, but he had a phrase that he used to express the gist of his political beliefs: "Everybody does better when everybody does better."

Before the populists of the late 1800s gave its instinctive rebelliousness a name, it had long been established as a defining trait of our national character: The 1776 rebellion was not only against King George III's government but against the corporate tyranny of such British monopolists as the East India Trading Company.

The establishment certainly doesn't celebrate the populist spirit, and our educational system avoids bothering students with our vibrant, human story of constant battles, big and small, mounted by "little people" against ... well, against the establishment. The Keepers of the Corporate Order take care to avoid even a suggestion that there is an important political pattern — a historic continuum — that connects Thomas Paine's radical democracy writings in the late 1700s to Shays' Rebellion in 1786, to strikes by mill women and carpenters in the early 1800s, to Jefferson's 1825 warning about the rising aristocracy of banks and corporations "riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman," to the launching of the women's suffrage movement at Seneca Falls in 1848, to the maverick Texans who outlawed banks in their 1845 state constitution, to the bloody and ultimately successful grassroots struggle for the abolition of slavery, and to the populist movement itself, plus the myriad rebellions that followed right into our present day.

2014.9.15.DFW.BFDavid Foster Wallace. (Photo: Steve Rhodes / Flickr)AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

"The so-called 'psychotically depressed' person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote 'hopelessness' or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise." -- David Foster Wallace

This piece doesn't have a hook. It reacts to nothing that's happened out there in the news, either nationally or internationally. It's a bit more personal than that. At 39, I seem to have entered the phase of my life in which those around me start dying off. I've buried more than a few people over the past couple of years, but two of them sting more than the others. Both took their own lives. One did it with pills, and spent twelve agonizing hours slowly dying. The other was more efficient and used a gun. Both are dead and both suffered from mental illness.

And both might still be alive, had they not been caught in the grips of an utterly wretched mental health care system. New Mexico doesn't do all that well, when it comes to mental health, and our governor, Suzanna Martinez, has been doing her damndest to destroy the few bits of a functioning system that remains. And that leads to a particularly neat phenomenon that has been observed elsewhere: the criminal justice system has become a de facto wing of the mental health care system. New Mexico is no exception, and both of my friends bounced from mental health care providers to prisons and nowhere did they receive the anything that actually helped. For them, their illnesses proved terminal.

Friday, 12 September 2014 08:29

Mitch McConnell Threatens the United States

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMcConnellRifle(Photo: Gage Skidmore)Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader, is not a happy man.

He didn’t like it when Barack Obama was elected president. Just about the first thing McConnell said was that his main responsibility was to make sure that Mr. Obama was a one-term president.

That vow drove McConnell’s and the Tea Party’s politics. They didn’t worry about the nation or the people. They worried about how to make Barack Obama a one-term president.

They failed.

But, in the past six years, McConnell managed to block almost all constructive legislation in the Senate.  And it’s not even a fair fight. McConnell manipulated and wheeled and dealed so that the majority no longer can do anything. It now takes 60 votes to pass almost anything in the Senate. That’s because the Republican obstructionists have threatened to filibuster anything of substance.  Important bipartisan legislation that would normally pass with a majority of 51 to 59 votes out of the 100 possible are now scuttled by backroom politics and the blind hatreds that some have for this nation’s president who was elected by the people and by the Electoral College—twice.

And now comes Mitch McConnell to again obstruct the people and the government. He vows if the Republicans win the Senate in November, he will shut down the government if President Obama doesn’t agree with the Republicans.

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaStatuePlaque(Photo: melanzane1013)After a long and inert struggle, resembling nothing so much as two elderly crocodiles trying to gum one another to death, Obama has declared that no action on immigration reform will be taken until after the fall elections. On the one hand, this makes perfect political sense. The chances of getting the House to pass a bill proclaiming that 2+2=4 would be close to nil, were said bill favored by the president. And a bill on so sensitive a topic as immigration reform? Unlikely. And addressing the issue with executive orders would, as the prophets of conventional wisdom proclaim, only hand Republicans further ammunition in an already grim looking mid-term election.

On the other hand, come on, really? Immigration reform has been under discussion for years. The latest iteration of the battle has seen Obama repeatedly put off action, to give the Republicans in the House a chance to act, which they seized upon by doing, um, nothing. And of course, since assuming office, Obama has been deporting undocumented immigrants at a record rate, apparently under the assumption that, once he has passed a certain threshold of anti-immigrant toughness, perhaps by biting off the head of a Guatemalan infant on live TV, his political opponents would have no choice but to sit down and actually hammer out some sort of deal.

But that hasn’t quite worked out, has it? As with most every other area of debate in which the president has attempted to meet his adversaries halfway, the end result has been that the terms of discourse drift rightwards whilst his opponents screech and little of consequence occurs. And in this particular case, we are now left to wait until, at the very earliest, November for any action. And perhaps, post mid-terms, the notion of political capital will come up and Obama will opt to spend his dwindling stores of it on something exciting, like a few more million tons of bombs in Iraq and/or Syria. So then the can gets kicked ever further down the road and oh no! Here’s the 2016 elections and we certainly can’t be doing anything to upset that, can we?

Thursday, 11 September 2014 09:06

A GOP Senate: Good News or Bad News?

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSenate(Photo: US Senate)Just the other day I received the following communication from the GOP (and that’s how they referred to themselves in this particular email):

Subj: GREAT polls for Republicans:

“Steven, Just wanted to update you on the state of play in the critical battleground races: This weekend, there were a number of positive polls released for Republicans. One forecast showed Republicans holding “at least a nominal lead in eight states held by Democrats, more than the six they need to retake the chamber.” One leading forecaster predicted Republicans have a 65.1% chance of winning a Senate majority this November — up from 63.5% two days prior. And another forecasting model gave Republicans a 61% chance of taking back the Senate — up from 58% since a wave of new data was released. The momentum is growing, and the odds are on our side. But every single one of these Senate battleground races is just too close for comfort. With less than two months until Election Day, we can’t afford to leave the odds making to the pollsters. It’s up to us whether we clear the path, seize the lead and deliver a victory in each battleground state.”

Then they go on to ask for money. What? They don’t get enough from the Koch’s et al? But that’s another story.

Thursday, 11 September 2014 06:12

The Quick-Draw Morality of Violent Police Force

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBadge(Photo: Scott Sanchez)“So you want to disarm cops LOL yeah that’s an intelligent thing to do the gang bangers would love that surely they will unilaterally disarm too.”

I’m used to semi-anonymous sarcasm by now, like this Huffington Post comment beneath a recent column I wrote on the militarization of the police and the possibility of disarmament, and I have no interest in “fighting it out” with the guy. But there it is, perfectly preserved: an impulse homage to Big Fear, wrapped in unexamined certainty. This is fast-draw morality, made in Hollywood.

I take this moment to highlight it because it’s so typical and, for that reason, the first line of defense of the status quo of violence: this instant acceptance of the idea that our enemies are continually stalking the perimeter of our lives, waiting to invade, to commandeer our way of life the moment we lower our weapons.

This instant reaction to any questioning of the use of armed force to maintain safety and “peace” not only shuts down the discussion but hides all the consequences of violent self-defense, including the creation of the very enemies we fear (e.g., the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and the hemorrhaging of sanctioned, official violence backwards into our own lives.

Violent force and temporary dominance of a situation may occasionally serve a larger end, but the permanent maintenance of this mindset has us stalled in a state of endless embattlement, both at home and abroad. Fear has us locked into a bad story: that violent dominance over our enemies is our only hope. In actuality, our only hope is embracing a larger story: that all humanity, and all of life, is connected. Finding that connection is often what requires courage.

National Guardsmen at New York's Attica prison in 1971. (Screen grab <a href=" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBG1UkxrMG0" target="_blank">The Nation / YouTube</a>)National Guardsmen at New York's Attica prison in 1971. (Screen grab via The Nation / YouTube)

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

"With the exception of Indian massacres in the late 19th century, the ... assault [on the Attica Correctional Facility] which ended the four-day prison uprising was the bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War."
- New York State Special Commission on Attica, 1972.

September 9 marks the 43rd Anniversary of the start of the Prisoner Rebellion at Attica, located upstate in western New York. After four days of negotiating, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ended what appeared to be productive sessions by ordering 1,000 National Guardsmen, prison guards, and state and local police to storm the facility, resulting nearly 40 people killed, the vast majority of whom were incarcerated.

"Nearly half of Attica prison's approximately 2,200 [prisoners] rebelled and seized control of the prison. Some were angry over the death of an African American activist at another prison, while others revolted because they were unhappy with the brutal living conditions inside Attica," The Huffington Post's David Lohr wrote two years ago. Racist behavior amongst the prison guards was rampant, hygienic conditions were horrific, and medical care was virtually non-existent.

The deadly raid began with the dropping of CS gas putting everyone on the ground, and was followed by the indiscriminate firing of 4500 rounds of ammunition, unloaded on basically unarmed people. The raid did not end the brutality: "Guards beat and tortured prisoners after the revolt, resulting in a wave of prison rebellions nationwide," Scott A. Bonn, a crime expert and assistant professor of sociology at Drew University, told The Huffington Post.

Ray Rice at the Baltimore Ravens training camp, August 5, 2009. (Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/3791794853/in/photolist-6M4Wvk-6MppDq-5cT87K-hSsE4m-5cXos7-6RqjPQ-5cT3NX-6M8X2Y-6RmnyB-6Rke8n-icMEQh-5aRQ8q-6M4PWe-5dMufL-6RkPC4-5bGoBR-5cXsrm-5cXsgG-6RpoHS-6RkYUx-6RkwrK-6RpsFs-6Rq6Qb-5cXpid-6RqqNY-6RLYtD-5dH8Gk-6RRiwC-b53U22-5dMtRy-6RRhJ1-aF1SXC-6RAGuf-hSsz3j-7gTLDw-6RMfK8-6RMcS6-6RRif3-6MmtHX-bsKNqC-6Ri63B-6MpkLE-5bLDxh-cyowTj-6RQScA-hSrWLv-6RLYFe-6RR3qo-cyoDff-6RR4UJ" target="_blank">  Keith Allison / Flickr</a>)Ray Rice at the Baltimore Ravens training camp, August 5, 2009. (Photo: Keith Allison / Flickr)AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

“There is a comfort in conformity, a security in control, that is appealing. There is a thrill in domination, and we are all secretly attracted to violence.”
- Tom Robbins

I don’t pay much attention to the NFL, not since the Buffalo Bills eviscerated me back in the early 90s. Still, there’s no ignoring what’s been happening this week. In February, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was filmed dragging his unconscious fiancé from an elevator.  Reasoning that there could have been any number of convincing explanations for this, and thanking their lucky stars that he hadn’t been dragging a giant bag of weed, the team wisely suspended him for two games. Flash forwards to Monday, when a second tape surfaced, revealing the reason for Rice’s fiancé’s unconsciousness was that he had punched her directly in the face.

This is part of a bigger story, stretching far beyond the NFL. Consider the following data points.  Item: earlier this month, a series of hacked iCloud accounts led to the release of an assortment of privately taken nude images of a number of celebrities. Amongst the reaction to this, a common theme was, if one doesn’t want nude pictures of oneself circulating, don’t leave them lying around in the cloud. Item: a female tech blogger recently released a series of YouTube pieces examining sexism in video games. The response was a barrage of tweets and threats that were so vicious and specific, she was forced to leave her home. Item: a particularly clever college student made the particularly clever observation that, if you leave an unlocked bicycle lying around, it is likely to get stolen. This rancid metaphor was dropped into an essay on rape and was apparently intended to make a point that was lost on me, since my brain immediately committed seppuku.   

Are you starting to see the pattern here? Violence, of one kind or another, directed at women, accompanied by excuses and victim blaming. The examples are endless. The term “rape culture” has begun to see more and more usage these days, and it’s a useful term, mostly due to its second component: culture. The issue we are looking at is endemic to our society. It is more than an incident of domestic violence in the NFL or the victim blaming that accompanies reports of sexual assault. It is more than slut-shaming in schools or the threats of sexual violence that swirl about in the comment threads of any article even remotely related to gender issues. It is a culture. And that culture is sexist. And that culture reinforces itself through violence.

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSteth(Photo: Huji)There is a great deal that could be said about what is wrong with our health care system, but I would rather discuss what is right about Cuba’s health care program, from medical training to medical treatment.

During the Affordable Health Care debate, many people were asking why the president and Congress didn’t simply expand Medicare to everyone in the United States. Instead, there is a movement in DC to cut Medicare benefits. To expand on the theme of my last BuzzFlash commentary, wars for oil, the reason they want to cut Medicare funding is because the US government spends not millions, not billions, but trillions of dollars on weapons, wars, and surveillance.  

But in Cuba, it’s different.  In Cuba, people are more important than profits. Instead of investing in bombs, Cuba invests in: 1) education, including medical training; and 2) decent housing and food for all Cubans: although Cuba is a poor country, no one is starving and no one is homeless.

By contrast, in the US, there is a strong connection between poverty and medical need.  Cuba’s commitment to health care is seen as a human right, not as a privilege for only those who can afford it. 

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