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Guest Commentary (3819)

Wednesday, 24 September 2014 06:11

We Have Met the Existential Threat, and It Is Us

2014.9.24.BF.Watts(Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Francisco Cendejas)AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

- Sun Tzu

Let me make a bold prediction. ISIS will never invade the United States. We will never have a Red Dawn moment, when jihadist troops parachute into sleepy, Midwestern towns. The Wolverines, alas, will never be called out of retirement. Not everyone seems to see it that way, as might be gathered from the fact that we are now bombing multiple countries, in the belief that an insurgency can be neutralized by purely military means. The circle of violence widens, as Israel has decided to get in on the fun, by shooting down a Syrian jet. Oh, and the bombing doesn’t really seem to be working.

Better writers than I have argued that bombs alone are not going to bring about an end to the situation in Iraq and Syria, so I will leave that argument aside, beyond noting that it would be neat if it could receive more than passing acknowledgement from our bold and fearless leaders. Instead, let’s talk about ISIS. As is standard in beginning such a discussion, insert the obligatory disclaimer about them being Very Bad People. They are to Islam what the Westboro Baptist Church is to Christianity, were the WBC given military grade weapons. Very Bad People, yes?

You know who else is very bad? Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Myanmar was run by very bad people until they became a kind-of sort-of democracy and now we like them. Iran is very bad except in those cases in which we need their help and support and then we’re totally cool and high-fives all around. Bashar al-Assad is a very bad person and we’re definitely not on his side except we sort of need to bomb a few of those very bad people who are rebelling against his very bad government.

There’s a whole lot of very bad people out there, is what I’m getting at.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAntiChoice(Photo: Msci)Meet Dr. Willie Parker. He is one heck of a courageous man. Chances are you've never met anyone like him.

He grew up dirt poor in Birmingham, Alabama; as a teenager he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and was a "boy preacher in Baptist churches"; he was "the first black student body president of a mostly white high school"; he went to Harvard, became a college professor, and successful obstetrician "who delivered thousands of babies and refused to do abortions."

Dr. Willie Parker had what some might call a second "come to Jesus" moment, deciding "to give up his fancy career to become an abortion provider" -- for the poorest of the poor and the most needy -- at the only surviving abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. These days, he travels a "circuit roughly similar ... to the one traveled by Dr. David Gunn before an anti-abortion fanatic assassinated him in 1993."

Dr. Parker's "name and home address have been published by an antiabortion Web site with the unmistakable intent of terrorizing doctors like him. ...[and] he receives threats that say, 'You've been warned.'"

HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaClimateMarch1(Photo: Shadia Fayne Wood)The most hopeful, diverse, photogenic, energizing and often hilarious march I've joined in 52 years of activism---and one of the biggest, at 310,000 strong---has delivered a simple messag​e: we can and will rid the planet of fossil fuels and nuclear power, we will do it at the grassroots, it will be demanding and difficult to say the least, but it will have its moments of great fun.

With our lives and planet on the line, our species has responded.

Ostensibly, this march was in part meant to influence policy makers. That just goes with the territory.

But in fact what it showed was an amazingly broad-based, diverse, savvy, imaginative and very often off-beat movement with a deep devotion to persistence and cause, and a great flair for fun.

For when push comes to shove---and it has---our Solartopian future will be won one victory at a time.

Oh....yes, yes, yes....we will try to influence the policy-makers. The UN, the Obama Administration, the bought and rented Congress, the usual suspects.

But we won't be begging. It needs to be the other way around.

(Photo: Samantha Allen)(Photo: Samantha Allen)

HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Two vans and a big bus pulled up to the First Watch restaurant for breakfast ​Saturday​ morning in Columbus, Ohio.

They were filled with truly great people, the new Climate Riders, on their way to New York City.

Twenty-four hours on the road each way for a few hours to march against the corporations that are killing our planet.

"I hate the Koch Brothers," one of them tells me over pancakes. "They are wrecking the Earth for all of us."

I've come just five miles from my house on the east side. It's about a half-hour on the ​my bike​ through the flatlands of the state capital, where a corrupt, climate-killing legislature has been working to outlaw renewables, ban the sale of Tesla cars, kill passenger rail service, subsidize dying nukes and embrace fracking with all its corporate might.

These good folks have come from Kansas and Missouri. Overnight to Columbus, then all day to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where they'll stay the night. Then two more hours into the city tomorrow morning. March through the day. Get back on the bus and into the vans around 9pm. Then ride a full day back to the far midwest.

2014.9.22.Buchheit.BF(Photo: frankjuarez / Flickr)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Cuts to Head Start and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have taken food away from schoolchildren. The cuts are directly related to the dramatic dropoff in federal corporate tax revenue.

Tax avoidance is just as bad at the state level, which is a much greater source of K-12 educational funding. Both individuals and corporations are paying less state taxes than ever before. As a result, our public schools, the most important expression of a society working together to secure future generations, are being defunded and dismantled and left to decay.

It may be the ugliest extreme of inequality in our country -- tax avoidance by the rich vs. broken-down schools.

JANE STILLWATER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaElectionGold1(Photo: Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited)With election time almost upon us, here's a rather sobering thought: By spending as little as a mere two billion dollars, anyone with that amount of money can now afford to buy an entire US election -- Congress, the White House, governorships and all.

"But Jane," you might ask, "why would anyone even want to do that?" Just look at all the immense amount of loot you can score with just this tiny investment. Access to national park lands, bank deregulation, profits from weapons production, corporate monopoly status, pro-pollution laws, judges' rulings in your favor...need I go on? ​

For instance, eleven trillion dollars has been recently spent on escalating and pursuing US wars. So if you "invest" in American elections and still only receive, say, just ten percent of those eleven trillion dollars.

For your weapons-manufacturing services or whatever the heck else companies like Halliburton do, you still have just grown your measly two-billion-buck investment at least a thousand times over. Forever war really pays off! 

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaISISwar(Photo: Sgt. Luis Delgadillo)Barack Obama's central dilemma last week, when he tried to sell a new war to the American public on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, was to speak convincingly about the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade-plus while at the same time, alas, dropping the bad news that it didn't work.

Thus: "Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer."

Hurray! God bless drones and "mission accomplished" and a million Iraqi dead and birth defects in Fallujah. God bless torture. God bless the CIA. But guess what?

"Still we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm."

So it's bombs away again, boys — another trace of evil has popped up in the Middle East — and I find myself at the edge of outrage, the edge of despair, groping for language to counter my own incredulity that the God of War is on the verge of another victory and Planet Earth and human evolution lose again.

Obama ended his executive declaration of more war with words that the military-industrial shills have slowly managed to turn into an obscenity: "May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America."

God bless another war?

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.

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