Guest Commentary (3979)
STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Following the joint announcement by the offices of the leaders of Cuba and the United States of the intention to re-establish diplomatic relations and in the meantime ease joint restrictions on travel, cultural exchanges, certain types of commercial relationships, and etc., while jointly releasing/exchanging several high-profile prisoners, a wide variety of anti-Castro US organizations, politicians, and individuals expressed outrage. They cited “human rights violations” on the part of the Cuban government (mainly dealing with civil liberties crackdowns and the lack of an elected national government) as the reason why there never should or could be normal relations established between the two countries. Let's, however, face the primary reason right-wingers and the pro-Batista (a puppet of the US mafia before forced out of power by Castro) crowd hate the Cuban government: private property was seized during the revolution and the state owns most of the nation's businesses.
It's all about the money, which is ironic because European, Canadian and Mexican companies are now gaining a financial toehold in Cuba, while the US corporations bite their tongues and let the dying anti-Castro Cubans in Florida yearn for their memories of plantations, financial corruption and mafia-gambling dollars under Batista.
Well, I thought to myself, I wonder what the list of human rights violations would look like if some organizations and individuals in Cuba wanted to object to the record of the United States. After all, there are those around the world who regard the United States, both on its own behalf and as a supporter of some of the most violently repressive regimes on the face of the earth (including, of course, Cuba under Batista) presently, the world’s biggest self-touting “democracy” that regularly violates human rights.
If Cuba were to lodge a formal list of US human rights violations with the UN, some of the following claims would likely be included:
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
“The only good Talib is a dead Talib.”
These words, uttered half a decade ago by the head of intelligence for the NATO coalition force in Afghanistan, summon a far earlier American savagery. As the American empire affects to close the door on its war with Afghanistan, the words also serve as a sort of doorstop propping open our further intervention in this broken country.
The war isn’t really ending. Some 18,000 foreign troops will stay in Afghanistan, almost 11,000 of them American, under a new mission called “Resolute Support.” U.S. forces will also have “a limited combat role as part of a separate counterterrorism mission,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Incredibly, we’re not letting go. We’re just disappearing the combat mission into global background noise.
We’re continuing to dehumanize part of humanity on the pretext of saving it. The updated version of “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” redirected to the Taliban, was quoted a few days ago in a Der Spiegel article called “Obama’s Lists: A Dubious History of Targeted Killings in Afghanistan.” The article goes into detail about the administration’s infamous “kill lists” and the hunting of upper- and mid-level Taliban leaders via helicopter and drone — assassination by Hellfire missile — which is an extermination methodology guaranteed to kill lots of innocent civilians along with (or instead of) the targeted Taliban operative. But, you know, that’s war.
The official “end” to the Afghan war, while it doesn’t mean the end of combat operations, does offer us a moment of disturbing reflection on what has been accomplished these last 13 years, during the first of our wars allegedly to eradicate, but in fact to promote, terror. We poured at least a trillion dollars into the war, which claimed some 30,000 lives, over two-thirds of them civilians. The first thing that occurs to me is that, officially, these statistics mean nothing.
U.S. Army General John Campbell, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, exemplified this by smothering the human toll of the war in simple-minded verbiage during a secret ceremony held last weekend in a gymnasium at ISAF headquarters in Kabul: “Our new resolute mission means we will continue to invest in Afghanistan’s future,” he said. “Our commitment to Afghanistan endures.”
By the way, the ceremony, commemorating the war’s shutdown, was secret because authorities feared the possibility of a Taliban attack. The United States and NATO, as everyone knows, are the losers, despite the bloated enormity of their military superiority. The Afghanistan war, like the Iraq war, was an utter failure even in terms of U.S. interests and geopolitical objectives.
But any honest reflection requires a far more serious, all-encompassing look at the war’s results.
War is torture on a national scale. The nation of Afghanistan and its people are, of course, the primary losers in our “investment” in their future — our investment in nation-wrecking....
War is also humanity’s spiritual cancer.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
However, according to a new report from Physicians for Human Rights, health care workers' involvement in Bush's torture project extended far beyond the work of only Mitchell and Jessen. "We now see clear evidence of the essential, integral role that health professionals played as the legal heat shield for the Bush administration — their get-out-of-jail-free card," Nathaniel Raymond, a research ethics adviser for Physicians for Human Rights and a co-writer of the organization's new report "Doing Harm: Health Professionals' Central Role in the CIA Torture Program," told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman and Aaron Mate.
Regarding Mitchell and Jessen, "Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator," the Senate report notes, "nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa'ida, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise." Mitchell and Jessen "carried out inherently governmental functions, such as acting as liaison between the CIA and foreign intelligence services, assessing the effectiveness of the interrogation program, and participating in the interrogation of detainees in held in foreign government custody."
HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Vermont Yankee atomic reactor went permanently off-line on Dec. 29, 2014. Citizen activists have made it happen. The number of licensed U.S. commercial reactors is now under 100 where once it was to be 1,000.
Decades of hard grassroots campaigning by dedicated, non-violent nuclear opponents, working for a Solartopian green-powered economy, forced this reactor’s corporate owner to bring it down.
Entergy says it shut Vermont Yankee because it was losing money. Though fully amortized, it could not compete with the onslaught of renewable energy and fracked-gas. Throughout the world, nukes once sold as generating juice “too cheap to meter” comprise a global financial disaster. Even with their capital costs long-ago stuck to the public, these radioactive junk heaps have no place in today’s economy—except as illegitimate magnets for massive handouts.
So in Illinois and elsewhere around the U.S., their owners demand that their bought and rented state legislators and regulators force the public to eat their losses. Arguing for “base load power” or other nonsensical corporate constructs, atomic corporations are gouging the public to keep these radioactive jalopies sputtering along.
Such might have been the fate of Vermont Yankee had it not been for citizen opposition. Opened in the early 1970s, Vermont Yankee was the northern tip of clean energy’s first “golden triangle.” Down the Connecticut River, grassroots opposition successfully prevented two reactors from being built at Montague, Massachusetts, where the term “No Nukes” was coined. A weather tower was toppled, films were made, books were written, demonstrations staged and an upwelling of well-organized grassroots activism helped nurture a rising global movement.
JEFFERSON MORLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The New Republic magazine at its best, writes its former editor Andrew Sullivan, "represented was the spirit of liberalism in the American tradition – a spirit of fearless inquiry, serious argument, and a concern for the truth. That TNR failed in some of these attempts does not damn it. Not to try to confront feelings with reason, or ideology with fact is a far worse inclination."
This is the most idealistic defense of the embattled publication, whose editorial staff resigned en masse earlier this month, prompting anguish and schadenfraude among liberal journalists. I can only endorse Sullivan's aspirations for the magazine. But my three and half years at TNR in the mid-1980s did not exactly live up to those expectations.
Is TNR is, as former TNR editor John Judis writes in Columbia Journalism Review, "a public trust" that deserves to live? Or is it a as former TNR contributor Eric Alterman told the New York Times, "a smart sailboat that isn't taking you anywhere." I would say TNR is a public trust that's betrayed the trust of its readers perhaps more than its admirers care to admit.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Merriam-Webster definition of 'steal' is to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice. Much of our country's new wealth has been regularly taken by individuals or corporations in a wrongful manner, either through nonpayment of taxes or failure to compensate other contributors to their successes.
1. The Corporations
As schools and local governments are going broke around the country, companies who built their businesses with American research and education and technology and infrastructure are paying less in taxes than ever before. Incredibly, over half of U.S. corporate foreign profits are now being held in tax havens, double the share of just twenty years ago. Corporations are stealing from the nation that made them rich.
There are many examples of greed among individual firms. Based largely on 2014 SEC documents submitted by the companies themselves:
---Exxon has almost 80% of its productive oil and gas wells in the U.S. but declared only 17% of its income here. The company used a theoretical tax to account for 83% of last year's income tax bill, and paid less than 2% of its total income in current U.S. taxes.
---Chevron has about 75% of its oil and gas wells and almost 90% of its pipeline mileage in the United States, yet the company claimed only 13% of last year's income in the U.S., and paid almost nothing (less than 1/10 of 1%) in current U.S. taxes.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
And so we grieve over another national tragedy.
Two New York City police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were shot as they sat in their patrol car this past weekend. Let the needlessness of their deaths rip our hearts open. Let the humanity come first.
"Now is a moment for empathy and deep listening."
The words are from a statement issued by #BlackLivesMatter, a grassroots movement emerging this year over the spate of police killings of young men of color. The murder of the officers is part of the same tragedy. Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter. Any thinking that embraces less than this is part of the problem, not the solution.
"The family of Michael Brown condemns today's senseless killing of two NYPD officers," a family spokesman said. "We reject any kind of violence directed toward members of law enforcement. It cannot be tolerated. We must work together to bring peace to our communities."
Far too many people, and far too many institutions, have vested interests in not working together. Bridging these artificial divides is the primary task of building peace. It requires setting aside our anger and our righteousness and walking toward one another with reverence, not with loaded weapons. If all lives matter, then we cannot declare war. With war you get nothing but losers.
MICHAEL SEIFERT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Back in Brownsville, where is no outdoor ice skating, there were, nonetheless, crowds of people lined up and engaged in another evening activity—la posada. An old latin Christmas tradition, the ritual recalls the journey of the pregnant Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where they sought hospitality in a local inn (“posada” meaning “inn”). There was some urgency, as Mary was going into labor.
As is the custom, during the week leading up to Christmas, all across our region, neighbors gathered at a home, and, having dressed up two children as the Holy Pilgrims, knocked on a neighbor’s door, seeking refuge. Eventually, amid songs and pleadings, the hosts opened their door, the Holy Family was received amid applause, and tamales and hot chocolate were served.
This celebration of hospitality has its own overtones of grace. Even if the strangers at the door were the Mother of God, she is disguised as one amongst many other pilgrims. Opening a door to strangers in the middle of the night requires its own measure of courage—and wisdom.
The courage part is obvious, but the wisdom of this behavior is not always so clear. The letter to the Hebrews counsels, “love your own, always, but do the same with strangers, remembering how sometimes these turn out to be angels” (Hebrews 13:1-2). The text recalls the ancient experience of Abraham’s encounter with three strangers who turn, after receiving his generous and fearless hospitality, turns history on its head (Genesis 18: 2). A wise person–Abraham, in this case–recognizes moments of grace and possibility. Abraham’s act of hospitality is one of the foundational myths of Jews, Christians and Muslims, underscores the sense that life-changing moments require courage and wisdom.
Along the southern border, the celebration of las posadas this year might be particularly poignant. This past June, tens of thousands of families, fleeing the horror of gang violence in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, crossed into the United States. The vast majority were women and their children. Most all of them were not “sneaking into the USA” but surrendered to the border patrol—a contemporary way of knocking on the nation’s door. They were seeking refuge and sanctuary. Many of them, even with the stringent guidelines for seeking asylum, could have made good cases for that relief. Those folks, it should be noted, were “legal” immigrants.
The reactions to these strangers ran the gamut from astonishing courage to depressing cowardice.
Niall McLaren for BuzzFlash at Truthout
Sydney, Australia, in lock-down:
Sydney is a lovely city of about five million, lazily sprawled along the sandy beaches of the cerulean South Pacific. Most visitors to Sydney enjoy their stay and are left with a favorable impression of the laid-back Sydneysiders. Monday, 15th December, the central city area went into "lock-down" after an alleged Muslim "fanatic" armed with a shotgun took seventeen people hostage in a well-known cafe in the heart of the city. Fifteen hours later, after some hostages had escaped, special police forces stormed the building. When the dust settled, the kidnapper and two hostages were found dead.
It emerged that the assailant, one Man Haron Moniss, an Iranian-born refugee, was in the habit of calling himself a sheikh, although he wasn't. He had an extensive police record in Iran prior to bolting, and was wanted by Iranian police for major fraud. In this country, he first gained notoriety by writing vitriolic letters to the families of deceased Australian soldiers killed in the Middle East, and was charged under a little-known section of the postal act. He appealed this conviction to the High Court, which could not decide whether the act breached the constitution or not. He was equally well-known to Australian police as he was on bail as an accomplice to the brutal murder of his ex-wife by his second girlfriend, as well as having a string of charges for sexual offences. He was also well-known in the Muslim community as a fraud, an inveterate troublemaker and a vexatious litigant. There seems no doubt that he was what we psychiatry professionals call a fruitloop. Despite all this, he was not on any terrorism watch-lists as he was not known to be a member of any organization. One presumes he wasn't in any groups because nobody could put up with him.
Now this is very interesting, because a few weeks ago, I predicted exactly this scenario. No, I didn't name the offender, nor did I say when or where he would strike, how many people he would involve or with what consequences. What I did say was that, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, somebody will stage some sort of shocking and bizarre event:
JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Listen carefully to the Republican leaders and presidential hopefuls roaring with outrage over President Barack Obama's courageous decision to normalize relations with Cuba; listen very carefully, because no matter how long or how closely you listen to them, there is one thing you will surely never hear.
You will never hear a new idea — or any idea — about bringing liberty, democracy and prosperity to the suffering Cuban people.
Instead, the furious denunciations of the president's initiative from his adversaries reveal only an intellectual void on Capitol Hill, where the imperatives remain partisan and cynical. Everyone paying attention has known for decades that the frozen relationship between the United States and Cuba has accomplished nothing — except possibly the prolongation of the Castro regime, which has long considered the embargo a plausible excuse for its own economic failures and viewed the United States as a politically convenient enemy.
Anyone who has visited the island knows that the Cubans wish nothing more than to see the embargo lifted because they know it has done nothing to advance their liberty or prosperity — just the opposite.