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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. 

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBoots(Photo: HAF 932)President Obama's strategy against the Islamic State may be hard to pin down -- maddeningly so, some complain -- but it is likely to work far better than anything his bellicose critics advocate.

Perhaps the president will eliminate any confusion when he addresses the nation Wednesday, but I doubt it. Based on what he told NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press," there may be no way to reduce Obama's fluid and perhaps deliberately ambiguous thinking to a black-or-white, all-or-nothing dichotomy.

"This is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops. This is not the equivalent of the Iraq War," Obama said. Later in the interview, he added that "we're not looking at sending in 100,000 American troops" and that "our goal should not be to think that we can occupy every country where there's a terrorist organization."

Clear? Kind of.

We understand that the president will not announce the deployment of U.S. troops in large numbers and that he does not intend for the United States to re-invade and re-occupy Iraq. But we know that U.S. military advisers and special operations teams have already been active in both Iraq and Syria. And since Obama described the fight against the Islamic State as "similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we've been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years," we can assume there will be some U.S. military presence on the ground, however covert and limited.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBible(Photo: David Ball)A few years back, Forbes magazine called them “undercover billionaires.” Meet Farris and Dan Wilks, who, after selling their fracking business and becoming generous donors to right-wing causes, politicians, and the Republican Party, are no longer “undercover.” While claiming that Christians are under attack, the Wilks brothers’ are "using the riches that the Lord has blessed" them with and are dedicating themselves to getting the Bible back in schools.

The brothers began by working in their father’s masonry business, operating mostly in Oklahoma and Texas. In 1995, the brothers founded their own company called Wilks Masonry. However, they “really hit the big time when they got in on the ground floor with fracking, the controversial natural gas drilling technique that has boomed over the past decade,” People for the American Way’s Peter Montgomery recently pointed out in a report titled “The Wilks Brothers: Fracking Sugar Daddies For The Far Right.” 

In 2002, the Cisco, Texas-based Wilks brothers – who share the #352 spot on Forbes list of billionaires -- “entered the energy industry with the founding of hydraulic fracturing and oil field services firm Frac Tech,” Forbes magazine pointed out in a September 2011 article. In May 2011, the brothers sold Frac Tech to a “group of investors led by Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund” for $3.5 billion. According to Forbes, the brothers are worth $1.4 billion each.

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGoldBars(Photo: Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited)The profit motive fogs the thinking of free-market advocates. The Economist gushes, "Take a bow, capitalism...the biggest poverty-reduction measure of all is liberalising markets to let poor people get richer." Forbes proclaims its belief in "the unmatched power of capitalism to improve human life."

Self-indulgent capitalists have turned much of America against its own best interests by promoting a winner-take-all philosophy that reaps great rewards for a few people at the expense of everyone else. To the neoliberal, vital human needs like health and education are products to be bought and sold.

Here are some other examples of greed and the pain it causes.

Friday, 05 September 2014 07:05

Creating a Future That Values Everyone

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaImaginePeace(Photo: Adam Zivner)“I think if we had a gun we would have been shot immediately.”

This is as good a place to start as any, at the logical limits of violent self-defense. The speaker is Andres Gutierrez of Nonviolent Peaceforce, a nonprofit organization that has engaged in peacekeeping work in troubled regions of the world for the last decade. Gutierrez, the organization’s team leader in South Sudan, along with colleague Derek Oakley, got caught in the chaos last April when the city of Bor was attacked, with armed men overrunning the perimeter of a U.N. base where thousands of civilians had sought protection. The two took shelter inside a mud hut.

More than 60 people were killed in the ethnic massacre, but Gutierrez and Oakley, the unarmed peacekeepers, kept that total from being higher. Four women and nine children were inside the hut as well.

As noted on the Nonviolent Peaceforce website: “On three separate occasions men with guns came and ordered the peacekeepers out so they could kill the women and kids. The peacekeepers refused, holding up their (Nonviolent Peaceforce) IDs and saying they were unarmed, there to protect civilians and would not leave. After the third time the armed men left. The people were saved.”

The armed men gave up; thirteen people, plus the two peacekeepers, are still alive. This calls for a moment of awe. This calls for reverence and, most of all, remembrance.

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