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BRIAN J. TRAUTMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AssassinNinja(Photo: Katsushika Hokusai)The Pentagon's budget proposal for next year was announced last week by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. In an interview with The New York Times, Hagel argued that to meet today's national security needs, the Department of Defense (DoD) must shift its focus and capabilities away from "fighting grinding ground conflicts" and towards "new arenas of combat." To achieve these ends, the budget calls for a realignment of the military that would reduce the total number of ground troops to its lowest level since 1940 and discontinue some military equipment deemed obsolete or unnecessary. According to Hagel, current levels of both assets are "larger than we can afford to modernize and keep ready." The proposed budget also includes reductions in personnel benefits and base services, as well as base closings. The targeted cuts, however, are only one aspect of the budget. The other involves the new sources of priority spending.

The budget plan includes a call for greater expenditures on computer-based technologies and special operations. The Nation's Bob Dreyfuss reports that the "cuts would fund new projects including cyberwarfare capabilities, $1 billion for a more fuel-efficient jet engine, and plans for a new Navy surface ship." Despite the cuts to traditional aspects of the military, the DoD has no plans to shrink or limit programs that would undermine America's ever-growing hegemonic objectives. Dreyfuss writes, "Major weapons systems that might have been cut were sustained, the US special forces units are being increased substantially from already high levels" and "the US Navy would maintain all eleven of its aircraft carriers."

According to National Priorities Project, a nonprofit, non-partisan federal budget research organization, even as Hagel is requesting "cutbacks in a number of military programs, the Pentagon isn't planning any major reductions in spending any time soon." While the cuts translate to savings in specific areas, "the new Pentagon budget does not project a commensurate decline in spending." In fact, the United States will continue to carry a defense budget which exceeds that of the next 10 countries combined.

JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AVotingBooths2(Photo: Electiontechnology)Growing up in Jim Crow Arkansas, Bill Clinton saw how the state's dominant political and racial elite maintained power by suppressing the rights of minority voters who threatened its authority — and as a young activist, worked to bring down that illegitimate power structure. So when Clinton says, "There is no greater assault on our core values than the rampant efforts to restrict the right to vote" — as he does in a new video released by the Democratic National Committee — the former president knows of what he speaks.

In the segregationist South of Clinton's youth, the enemies of the universal franchise were Democrats, but times have changed. Not just below the Mason-Dixon Line but across the country, it is Republicans who have sought to limit ballot access and discourage participation by minorities, the poor, the young and anyone else who might vote for a Democratic candidate.

No doubt this is why, at long last, the Democratic Party has launched a national organizing project, spearheaded by Clinton, to educate voters, demand reforms, and push back against restrictive laws. Returning to his role as the nation's "explainer-in-chief," Clinton may be able to draw public attention to the travesty of voter ID requirements and all the other tactics of suppression used by Republicans to shrink the electorate.

His first task is to debunk the claims of "voter fraud," fabricated by Republican legislators and right-wing media outlets, as the rationale for restrictive laws. Lent a spurious credibility by the legendary abuses of old-time political machines, those claims make voter suppression seem respectable and even virtuous.

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ElderlyRetiring(Photo: Nicholaes Maes)The dream of a comfortable retirement is dying for many Americans. It's being extracted as a form of tribute to the very rich, a redistribution of our nation's wealth, a "tax" imposed on the middle and lower classes and paid for with their retirement savings.

1. A $6.8 Trillion Retirement Deficit in America. But $8 Trillion in New U.S. Wealth Was Created in 2013.

The problem is that most of the new financial wealth went to the richest 10% (almost 90 percent of all stocks excluding fast-disappearing pensions). Basically you already had to be rich to share in the new wealth, and the people taking the wealth can defer taxes as long as they want, and then pay a smaller rate than income earners. Meanwhile, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, Americans are at least $6.8 trillion short of what they need for a comfortable retirement.

2. $6,500 is the Median Retirement Fund for Upper-Middle-Class 50- to 64-Year-Olds.

That's based on an analysis of the second-highest quartile of Americans by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. It may get worse before it gets any better. The percentage of 75- to 84-year-old seniors falling into poverty doubled from 2005 to 2009. That was BEFORE the recession. And the number of elderly Americans, notes the Administration on Aging, is steadily rising, likely by 75 percent between 2010 and 2030, to almost 70 million people.

REV. BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

avera2.jpaAnti-Fracking activist Vera Scroggins is under virtual house arrest in PA. (Photo: James Pitarresi) It seems every week or so you can hear language borrowed from the War On Terror, the Salem Witch Hunts and the McCarthy hearings. Some prosecutor is hurling invective at fossil fuel resisters, who sit in the courtroom with their pro bono lawyers, staring with the disbelief of newcomers to the evils of the plunderers of our Earth -- and the collusion of our government with them.

We know that there are heroes like the Sea Shepherd sailors, the Arctic 30, and Tim "Bidder 70" DeChristopher. Although some of these activists are young, we tend to think of them as veterans who are making a stand for the rest of us. But an increasing movement seems to be building, in which the heroes are people who might be described as local activists. These are volunteer citizens who oppose fossil fuel projects near where they live - who resist with their bodies because they don't have the money to pull the strings in government like the fossil fuel industry. Something about these under-equipped protesters is making Big Oil go crazy.

Three Michigan women - Lisa Leggio, Barbara Carter, and Vicci Hamlin - chained themselves to an excavator in the little town of Mason. They were polite in that Midwestern way throughout their protest of Enbridge, the Canadian firm that leaked 800,000 gallons of oil in their community, and can't seem to clean it up. After the conviction was read, Judge William Collette, a Republican and former bomber pilot, marched the ladies - one of them a great-grandmother - straight to jail from their defense table, despite their intentions to appeal.

Here we have a signature tactic of fossil fuel injustice. Call it "overcharging," accusing nonviolent defendants of felonious crimes that will later be dropped, but meanwhile holding them in prison because the bail is too high. In this way, the personal turmoil in the families of the accused is maximized. 

Friday, 28 February 2014 06:39

Basking in Republican Paradise

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ElephantHerd(Photo: Arnabjdeka)According to a New York Times/CBS poll taken at the end of February, 2014: "Republicans are in a stronger position than Democrats for this year's midterm elections, benefiting from the support of self-described independents, even though the party itself is deeply divided, and most Americans agree more with Democratic policy positions, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows." How could that be, you might say? After all, the Times story went on to say: "A majority of Americans surveyed also said they wanted both parties to do more to address the concerns of the middle class, reduce the budget deficit with both tax increases and spending cuts, and let illegal immigrants stay in the country and apply for citizenship. Mr. Obama shares those positions on the budget and immigration."

On top of that, a majority of U.S. were against two of the major national legislative initiatives of the GOP last year, which were to shut down the government in October and come perilously close to driving the nation into default. On their other major initiative, repealing what they have conveniently labelled as "Obamacare," the House of Representatives of course voted a zillion times (well, that's an over-statement, but I think they did it 40-plus times) to repeal it. Because of the Democratic majority in the Senate, that went nowhere legislatively. And so, they became the Party of No.

A majority of U.S. also disagree with them on such issues as marijuana legalization, same-sex marriage, and (hold your breath now) gun control. And still they appear to be ahead of the Democrats in the upcoming Congressional races next November. Once again, how could that be, you might say? Because since the 2008 election they have created a Republican Paradise and President Obama and most elected Democrats, at the national, state, and local levels, have allowed them to bask in it.

Thursday, 27 February 2014 07:13

Suffer the Children: Voices of Pain and Peace

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ChildFear(Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt)No matter how bad it gets, we can look inside ourselves and find hope, possibility . . . the future. And when we find that, we know what it means to build peace.

"It's like I'm in a never-ending battle with my brain," Kayla said. "They called me Crazy Kayla. I have anger problems. Someone messes with me, I lose it. I was molested, raped, physically and mentally abused. I was in 127 different homes. I have a 3-month-old baby . . ."

Peace isn't the avoidance of difficult topics but their thorough, unstinting examination, not with cynicism and despair but with the certainty that salvation is mixed into the pain. All we have to do is find it.

This is precisely what a good documentary film does for us, and there are so many of them out there these days. Thirty-one such films will be showcased next week at Chicago's sixth annual Peace on Earth Film Festival, an event I've been associated with since its beginning. The four-day festival, which will be held March 6-9 — free of charge, as always — at the Chicago Cultural Center, takes on a mélange of provocative subjects: Fukushima, agribusiness, gun violence, forgiveness in the wake of violence, hospice care for prisoners, childhood mental illness, and much more.

The festival's mission, which it accomplishes every year, is to "raise awareness of peace, nonviolence, social justice and an eco-balanced world."

Thursday, 27 February 2014 06:24

Why Should Taxpayers Pay for Toxic Cleanups?

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CopperPollution(Photo: Cls 14)If an oil or coal firm releases toxic chemicals that poisons every living thing it touches (Freedom Industries) and sends thousands of residents to the hospital from lethal exposure, (read Truthout's Editor William Rivers Pitt's recent pieces Diary of a Dying Country and The Poisoner's Reckoning), U.S. government officials not only will pat the oil-coal thugs on the back, they'll hand over a check worth millions of tax dollars for cleanup fees. And if that isn't insulting enough for you, the insurance companies will also allegedly pay the dirty energy oligarchs again for the same amount.

No criminal charges, no one goes to jail, and to add insult to injury, they're actually paid twice for contaminating our drinking water, for putting thousands of Americans in the hospital from toxic poisoning, and for turning communities into real estate nightmares.

The insurance settlements represent a drop in the bucket to oil companies that receive close to a trillion dollars a year combined in profits, but those extra millions that the oil firms pocket can make a significant difference for cash-strapped states. It's like stealing a tiny piece of candy from a baby when your store is spilling over with tons of sweets.

Why are we, the taxpayers, paying for the oil oligarchs' hazardous toxic messes in the first place?

JP SOTTILE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

chevron(Photo: romleys)If money is speech, the corporate person called “Chevron” has both a big mouth and special access to the ears of key policymakers charged with the responsibility of overseeing their business and, in some very significant ways, the future of everything.

That’s because—unlike the rest of us who often choose between the lesser of two evils—Chevron leaves nothing to chance. In 2013, Chevron spent over $10 million on lobbying. In addition to deploying well-heeled, well-paid lobbyists to make their case on Capitol Hill, the third most profitable company in the U.S. has just placed one of those lobbyists on one of the House Committees most relevant to its present and our future.

According to Lee Fang of the Republic Report, “One of Chevron’s top lobbyists, Stephen Sayle, has become a senior staff member of the House Committee on Science, the standing congressional committee charged with ‘maintaining our scientific and technical leadership in the world.’”

Hillary Clinton delivering her victory speech at the Manhattan Center Studios, following the New York 2008 primary. (Photo: <a href=" http://www.flickr.com/photos/15083709@N06/2245576555/in/photolist-4qraFa-613oYp-beZvdn-4uDKbQ-5nQ8Di-zsMs2-51Byof-4s7bTf-bEieMB-5gDW4U-74AYD3-9yMrvc-8xenQL-8gibYf-de5hpK-6RAANQ-6Rwym8-97DraE-8xenUy-de5gPo-4JssDR-8xeceY-8fUKqW-acdxfp-6gEG6n-4v5nnt-8JWLDr-4qVdkA-4uwy9p-8xecd1-8xec7J-4jHHmj-5gzAS8-8fUKkU-8fUKtw-8fRumz-8fRu94-5gDXnW-51xn4V-8geV2T-8gibT9-6RAAHw-6RAAq1-6Rwy2e-6RwysX-6Rwyvx-6bQoMh-5eT415-8fRuu6-8fUKpm-7ezMHp"target="_blank">Angela Radulescu  / Flickr</a>)Hillary Clinton delivering her victory speech at the Manhattan Center Studios, following the New York 2008 primary. (Photo: Angela Radulescu / Flickr)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Hillary Clinton can be in the news whenever she darn well pleases. David Bossie cannot. As a former First Lady, Senator from New York, and Secretary of State, Clinton is a media superstar. David Bossie is not. However, Bossie, president and Chairman of the conservative organization, Citizens United, has gotten his share of media attention by hounding Bill and Hillary Clinton. The other night, Bossie showed up on the Fox News Channel's "The Kelly File," calling Hillary Clinton a "ruthless political operative," and he didn't mean that as a compliment.

Whatever one thinks of David Bossie, one thing is unassailable; he played a monumental role in the Supreme Court's 2010 landmark ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed unlimited spending on election campaigns by corporations, unions and nonprofit organizations.

Why's Bossie so riled these days? Ironically, "[Hillary] Clinton may become ... [Citizens United's] beneficiary-in-chief, poised to cash in like no other political candidate has before," Dave Levinthal recently wrote in a piece titled "Hillary Clinton: the 'Citizen United' candidate," which was posted at the website of The Center for Public Integrity, Levinthal pointed out that "the Ready for Hillary super PAC has already raised millions of dollars from tens of thousands of donors and plans to transfer its unparalleled resources to a future Clinton campaign machine. Another super PAC, the previously pro-Barack Obama Priorities USA Action that raised more than $79 million during the last election cycle, has begun transitioning into a Clinton shadow operation."

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

LaborWage(Photo: US National Archives and Records Administration)At the risk of repeating myself, the federal minimum wage is far too low and needs to be raised. Republicans who claim to be worried about lost jobs can dry their crocodile tears, because a few simple measures would get all those jobs back -- and lots more.

It has been amusing to watch GOP grandees try to paint themselves as champions of the working stiff. This new appreciation for the struggles of low-wage earners was prompted by a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which estimates that raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, as President Obama proposes, would result in the loss of 500,000 jobs.

Never mind that about 25 million workers would get raises, according to the report, or that 900,000 people would be lifted out of poverty. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, released a statement saying that the CBO report "confirms what we've long known" and that "our focus should be creating -- not destroying -- jobs for those who need them most."

Boehner is consistent on the issue, at least, if at times a bit overdramatic: In 1996, when he was head of the House Republican Conference, he said in an interview with The Weekly Standard that "I'll commit suicide before I vote on a clean minimum wage bill."

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