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Guest Commentary (3783)

Thursday, 04 September 2014 07:12

We Need an Option to Vote for "None of the Above"

REV. STEPHEN H. PHELPS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBallotBox(Photo: Rama)Imagine a consumer economy with these rules:

* For any particular product—shoes, lawnmowers, canned tuna, etc.—only two brands may be offered. Other brands on display behind the glass are not for sale.

* When a customer steps into a store to find a product, she must purchase one of the two brands. She may not leave empty-handed unless she agrees to forgo searching elsewhere for the product for two years, when the same rules will apply.

In the land of the free, we would not stand for such restrictions, right? Un-American! Communistic! we'd shout. Why, if two companies got to split 100% of the market, they would take no risks. To capture maximum market share, their products would turn out similar as soap. Quality would sink, but not the price, for no matter what shoddy merchandise they sent to the shelves, the consumer would still have to buy it.

Well, America, this is the system we have installed in the brain stem of our government. Come election time, only two brands are on offer and we generally have to buy one or the other —or suffer the scolds who say "Those who don't vote can't complain." The notion that third par-ties are free to compete is mostly sung by people pitching the status quo, since politics is a money game run by rich citizens united to make it next to impossible for third parties to compete.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBenCarson(Photo: Gage Skidmore)Vigorously opposed to Obamacare, calling it "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery?" Check. Think America is "very much like Nazi Germany?" Check. Think Michael Brown may have caused his own murder? Check. If you need an opinion or a controversial remark from an African American conservative, Dr. Ben Carson has a quiver full. If you haven't yet heard of Dr. Ben Carson, that's probably because you're not watching the Fox News Channel often enough.

But have no fear, the major news networks are liable to be discovering him in the very near future. Mainstream appearances are likely to be triggered by: a) the networks' desperately seeking a conservative African American voice; and/or, b) Carson may be seriously considering a run at the White House in 2016.

Carson, who in late 2013 was added as a Fox News contributor, is a 62-year-old retired neurosurgeon, who, according to Wikipedia, is credited with being the first doctor to successfully separate conjoined twins at the head. Carson is emeritus professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. According to an amazon.com bio, he "serves on the corporate boards of the Kellogg Company, Costco Wholesale Corp., and American's Promise, among others, and is an Emeritus Fellow of the Yale Corporation."

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGOPUpsideDown(Photo: GOP)"Small Government Conservatism" has been THE GOP mantra ever since Reagan gave out with his famous pronouncement on "the government isn't the solution to your problems, it IS the problem," or words to that effect. This mantra today resonates from the so-called "sensible" Republicans in the Joe Scarborough (of "Morning Joe, in case you didn't know) mold to the most far-out of the Tea Partiers like Rep. Steve (8-year-old-undocumented-immigrants-have-calves-the-size-of-footballs-from-toting-drugs-across-the-desert [or words to that effect]; my-you-speak-English-well [to a couple of Dreamers who came to the US as infants]) King of Iowa.

Before going on to the discussion of the substance of this column, let me say that I think that it must be understood that the difference between today's "mainstream" Republican Party, led by such eminences as John (gay-marriage-is-a-sin-because-the-Bible-tells-me-so) Boehner and Mitch (I-will-filibuster-any-bill-I-don't-like, said-in-December, 2008) McConnell is solely a matter of style and rhetoric, not substance. They have the same agenda, to first and foremost serve the interests of their paymasters. That is, of course, a group of named and nameless leaders of the dominant wing of the US ruling class, for which the Koch Brothers make an oh-so-convenient twin figurehead. Those true interests are reflected precisely in just what the GOP/TYP actually means when it talks about "Small Government Conservatism."

Many liberals and even some progressives get into direct and/or indirect battles with such folk over the question of what indeed is the role of government, Federal, state and local, in a large country like ours, with the Constitution that we have. But to me, that discussion does our side no good. For in fact the GOP/TP is hardly for "Small Government Conservatism" across the board. They use the mantra to attack programs that they don't like. But in many sectors of our society, they are for precisely the opposite. But before getting to that list, let's see what they mean when they talk about "shrinking the government."

Tuesday, 02 September 2014 06:30

Climate Change and Food Riots: Learn to Farm

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCorn(Photo: Christian Fischer)What with everything everywhere being busy exploding, the fact that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest draft was leaked is not, perhaps, the sexiest of news items. The facts remain mostly unchanged from longer reports that have been previously released, but the tone is far more dire. One item of note: while the goal, set in 2009, was to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Fahrenheit, we’re now on track to hit 3.6 degrees by the middle of this century and 6.7 degrees by 2100.

This is not the best of news. Our thoughts immediately turn to rising sea levels, the inundation of major cities, and massive population displacement. All bad things, to be sure. But so very gradual, so easy to dismiss as happening far off in the distant future when we’ll all long since have died of Ebola. So let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about famine.

Famine has been with us throughout history. And even with increases in agricultural productivity, over 70 million people starved to death in the 20th century. As deaths go, starvation is a nasty one and as human disasters go, it’s one that we fear to the point where famine was considered to be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. One of the neat things about climate change is that it tends to cause massive disruption to agriculture, livestock, fisheries – all things that help us avoid starving to death. And those disruptions to our food supply will hit us a long time before Boston, Venice, and Amsterdam are underwater.

Friday, 29 August 2014 07:13

The Courage to Disarm

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAlbers(Photo: Darmokand)The Ferguson tragedy, like all those that preceded it and all that will follow — involving the trivial and panicky use of lethal force, by the police or anyone else — stirs up questions the social status quo doesn’t dare face.

My sister, Sue Melcher, put it this way: “I find myself also nauseated that another issue never seems to enter the discussion: the issue that a highly trained officer could make such a mistake with a gun demonstrates that just having the weapon present increased the danger of the situation. Had the citizens been armed, how many more casualties could there have been? None of us is ‘healthy’ enough to be trusted to use lethal force wisely — and is that even possible?”

The “wise” use of lethal force . . .

We’ve wrapped our global civilization around the certainty that we understand and revere life in all its vastness and mystery so completely that we know when to cut it short, indeed, that we — those of us who are officially sanctioned good guys — have a right to cut it short in, it would seem, an ever-widening array of circumstances. In so doing, we allegedly make life better for the social whole. This is called militarism. To keep this profitable lie going, we refuse to look deeply at its consequences.

When we inflict death on distant cultures, at the sterile remove that modern weapons grant us, we can avoid all but the most cursory awareness of the consequences of our actions. But when we do it at home, it’s not always so easy.

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHomelessUSA(Photo: C.G.P. Grey)While weapon contractors, those ‘masters of war’, are raiding our treasury for multibillion dollar federal contracts, our middle-class economy is falling below the levels of third world countries.  Last night, ABC news did a report on homeless children in the United States.  Some American children are living out of cars with nothing more than green garbage bags to keep their small belongings in. These children were grateful to receive suitcases because living out of “garbage bags made them feel trashy.”  

Has it come to this? Shame on this government for turning the United States of America into a country that includes too many starving, homeless children, while less than a privileged group of companies is receiving billions of our tax dollars for weapons, and those weapons are used in turn to steal oil in the Middle East.

new report found that the nation's food pantries serve 620,000 families with a member in the military: “another troubling indication that service members battling against poverty must often rely on the generosity of our charities.”

Our tax dollars should provide adequate funding for middle-class and poor communities: schools, hospitals, roads, teachers, police, firefighters, and alternative energy among other expenditures that benefit the public good. However, when so many of our tax dollars are going directly into the bank accounts of weapon-surveillance contractors, and Wall Street banksters, you begin to understand why everyone else is left with a few scattered crumbs to fight over; you begin to see why the oligarchy encourages conflicts and divisions between blacks and whites, middle-class workers and immigrants, and so forth. After all, while everyone’s busy fighting, the biggest robbery in history is going down: big money is being stolen behind closed doors with the assistance of the White House and congressional friends of the oligarchy.

Thursday, 28 August 2014 07:06

Chevron: Global Bandit, Local Bully

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaChevron(Photo: Coolcaesar)Perhaps one of the lesser predictable outcomes of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision is that it would open the floodgates to corporations having their way in local elections. That seems to be a significant part of an ongoing story in Richmond, California, a city of a little over 106,000 residents, where the Chevron Corporation -- the city's main employer and taxpayer – is using a Political Action Committee to back a Chevron-friendly mayoral candidate, and several City Council candidates.

Although the Political Action Committee, called Moving Forward, claims it is made up of "labor unions, small businesses and public safety and firefighters associations," in reality, it is Chevron, headquartered in San Ramon, which makes its engine run. According to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson, Chevron is "the biggest spender on political campaigns ... set[ing] aside $1.6 million" for Moving Forward.

Johnson pointed out that "The campaign contribution limit in Richmond for both individuals and companies is $2,500, but political action committees can spend unlimited amounts of money on 'in-kind' support – money not given directly to a candidate but spent on that candidate's behalf." The Contra Costa Times' Robert Rogers noted that according to documents, "All of the [PAC's] money came from Chevron."

The beneficiaries of Chevron's contributions are "Richmond City Councilman Nat Bates, [83] who's running for mayor and Donna Powers, Charles Ramsey and Al Martinez, all candidates vying for seats on the City Council," Johnson reported.

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBaghdadBombed(Photo: Msgt. James M. Bowman, USAF)The Middle East, as a region, went sideways quite a while back, probably about the time a bunch of European countries decided to draw borders in a manner they found to be personally amusing. But if there is a point that future historians might look at, when trying to see when any semblance of coherence was lost, August 26th of 2014, the day Egypt and the United Arab Emirates dropped a few bombs on Libya, might not be a bad candidate.

We have civil wars in Libya, Syria, and Iraq. Lebanon having a wee bit of a problem with refugees. A simmering uprising in Bahrain. Continuing conflict in Yemen. And Israel continuing to do what Israel does so well. And, of course, those states that do seem to be pulling off relative stability are managing it without resorting to anything pesky like, say, democracy. And we're just fine with that, by the way. The soaring rhetoric that democracy in Iraq would spread throughout the region as a thousand flowers bloom is long gone. The promises of the Arab Spring are dead. Democracy, as it turns out, means that the people will elect governments who we don't like. Can't have that, can we?

It's all starting to resemble nothing so much as our policy during the Cold War, when the existential threat of Communism was so fundamentally terrifying that we would support any genocidal madman, so long as he was anti-communist, and would send the CIA in to "remove" those leaders who hinted at having anything approaching a pinkish hue. And so it is today: so long as a regime stands in opposition to the Islamist hordes, we're pretty much cool with them. Never mind that lumping ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas into one singular "Islamist horde" is basically moronic. That fact seems to have escaped us.

The late American journalist James Foley. (Screen grab<a href=" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H46ZEJ2Jqhs" target="_blank">via CNN / YouTube</a>)The late American journalist James Foley. (Screen grab via CNN / YouTube)JONATHAN FRANKLIN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

As a journalist who never enters war zones I have nothing but pride and support for my colleagues who do. It is easy to romanticize the front lines of war, brave souls scurrying for cover in search of that emblematic photo or tracking down the lurking warlord. The reality, as so well noted in a New York Times piece on freelance war correspondents, is that much of modern war coverage is done at poverty levels by brave men and woman (often young) without backup. They pay their own flight, share hotel rooms, skip meals and pray that luck and timing all line up to provide that one scoop which can catapult them into not only temporary fame but perhaps a steady income. Foley was fortunate to work for GlobalPost, a more than reputable organization that spent considerable money trying to save him. Nonetheless, his death is a reminder of the brutal dangers that young reporters face as they seek to bring frontline truths.

When remembering American photojournalist James Foley we would do well to honor his brave journeys not by hyping the dangers of ISIS to the US homeland or crying for increased military budgets but to continue his search for the savage reality that is war. Foley, according to his family, friends and colleagues was a man much interested in justice. "We have never been prouder of our son Jim, he gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," Diane Foley his mother said.

What is the true value of journalists like Foley? What do they contribute? They bring a snapshot of reality. A flash moment or two of the sickening day to day conflict where it is children and other non-combatants who make up the bulk of the victims. Reporters on the ground who are green and ambitious often do make it to the front rows, either by sure courage or innovative routes. They are not the ones filing from the hotel room or interviewing taxi drivers (always a sure sign of lazy reporting.) If we want to honor the work of photojournalists like Foley we would do well to avoid the grandstanding and blame game ("bomb them back to the Stone Age" rhetoric) and take a trip down to the street level reality in which they live. In Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Libya and the other powder kegs that make up the current chaos of the Mideast, who is dying? Innocents.

American Redaction. (Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/6163866838" target="_blank"> Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t</a>)American Redaction. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

As states move to hide details of government deals with Wall Street, and as politicians come up with new arguments to defend secrecy, a study released earlier this month revealed that many government information officers block specific journalists they don't like from accessing information. The news comes as 47 federal inspectors general sent a letter to lawmakers criticizing "serious limitations on access to records" that they say have "impeded" their oversight work.

The data about public information officers was compiled over the past few years by Kennesaw State University professor Dr. Carolyn Carlson. Her surveys found that 4 in 10 public information officers say "there are specific reporters they will not allow their staff to talk to due to problems with their stories in the past."

"That horrified us that so many would do that," Carlson told the Columbia Journalism Review, which reported on her presentation at the July conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

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