Guest Commentary (3821)
STEVEN JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
There is a lot of talk these days about "presidential legacies." Obama is supposedly trying to burnish his. George W. Bush has spent the last six years trying to run away from his: from his failure to prevent 9/11, to his invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, to his failed attempt to destroy Social Security. And then there's the very real legacy of Bill Clinton, which doesn't seem to garner much attention. However, on the domestic side it has been, over the long-term, just as damaging to the nation as has been George W. Bush's on the foreign side. But as Hillary apparently prepares to run for the presidency, Bill will certainly be part of the equation, whether she likes it or not. And she will not be able to try to ignore him and his record, as Al Gore did in the 2000 campaign, for better or worse.
So it might be a good idea at this time to take a look at that picture, even though it is hardly a pretty one. I am presenting the elements of it that I find to be most important, but not necessarily in order of importance, for some would think that some are more important than others. However, I think that most persons viewing this particular list would agree that they are all negative to a greater or lesser extent. Or at least they would agree that I just happen to have picked out a bunch of negative ones (but I did have a hard time remembering any positive ones). And so, in no particular order, here's my list.
Bill Clinton introduced us to Big Pharma advertising for prescription drugs on television. The main purpose of these ads, at least as they are now constructed, would seem to be to attempt to protect the firms from charges of non-full disclosure when various pharmaceuticals come to suit. But at the same time, with the visuals all the way through and the often dream-like text about what the pills can do for you at the beginning and the end, the ads: a) reinforce the US drug culture: "take this pill; it will solve your problem"; b) add to the pressure that physicians feel all the time anyway about prescribing; and c) attempt to make patients into self-prescribers.
AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
With all the awesome things that have happened in the past week, a small bit of positivity may be found in the news that the Senate will finally be releasing its report on CIA torture. It's been a long strange trip to get us to this point, complete with a Diane Feinstein freakout that the CIA had dared to shift its surveillance focus from ordinary folk to Real Important People. But now it's on its way, and President Obama had a few thoughts on the upcoming report.
"We tortured some folks."
Full stop, as head explodes from cognitive dissonance.
Let's break this sentence down, shall we?
"We." No problems there. The usage of first person plural is a good move. It acknowledges a sort of collective responsibility. We're all guilty. Actually, I don't feel all that guilty, since I've managed to go 38 years without ever torturing anyone, but moving right along.
"Tortured." Also good. No Newspeak terms like enhanced interrogation techniques. Just tortured. Blunt and to the point. The past tense is slightly troubling. Some of the activities currently going on in Guantanamo are, at best, questionable. But that's outside the scope of this report.
So far, so good...
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
poor people have it easy.
The degree of ignorance about poverty is stunning, even for people far removed from the realities of an average American lifestyle. Both oilman Charles Koch and Nicole Miller CEO Bud Konheim have suggested that we should compare ourselves to poor people in China and India, and then just shut up and be happy. The Cato Institute informs Americans that "The current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it acts as a disincentive for work." And entrepreneur Marc Andreessen explains, rather incomprehensibly, that "Technology innovation disproportionately helps the poor more than it helps the rich, as the poor spend more of their income on products."
1. We Spend Relatively Little on Poverty Programs
The Economic Policy Institute stated, "The United States stands out as the country with the highest poverty rate and one of the lowest levels of social expenditure." It's a national disgrace that we allow just a few people to take more of the country's wealth than the millions of productive people who can't find living-wage jobs.
Just two men made more investment income in 2013 than the entire year's welfare budget (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), commonly referred to as 'welfare').
Just 400 individuals made more investment income in 2013 than the entire safety net (SNAP, WIC (Women, Infants, Children), Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, TANF, and Housing).
And the richest 1% made more from their investments in 2013 than the total cost of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the entire safety net.
TOM WEISS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
We've got this.
Thanks to the courageous and indefatigable efforts of pipeline fighters everywhere, the tide has finally turned on Keystone XL. As it becomes increasingly clear that Keystone XL's northern leg is not going through, it is time to set our sights on ending all tar sands exploitation.
The Obama administration's latest election year delay on Keystone North is not a victory, but the dominoes continue to fall. Earlier this year, a citizen lawsuit denied TransCanada a route through Nebraska. Last month, it lost its permit through South Dakota. Now it faces a gauntlet of "Cowboys & Indians" vowing to stop it in its tracks.
We cannot let up until Keystone North is vanquished, but all signs point to President Obama nixing TransCanada's cross-border permit after the November elections. Don't just take my word for it.
On April 23, Rolling Stone contributing editor Jeff Goodell wrote: "I was told recently by members of the administration that the pipeline would, in fact, be rejected." On June 18, former Vice President Al Gore wrote in this same magazine: "[Obama] has signaled that he is likely to reject the absurdly reckless Keystone XL-pipeline proposal."
Both pronouncements come on the heels of former President Jimmy Carter pointedly warning the president that Keystone XL "will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced—climate change."
REV. BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Our last remaining bit of shame is being dot-commed, with a young girl's pixilated eyes looking back at us from her murder.
I'm watching this atrocity with up to date technology, as I sit here typing. I remember a time when some techno-utopians thought that the global village would tilt us toward peace, as the violence became so vividly fore-grounded, the bleeding too painfully bright red, the searching for loved ones too real, and the eyes. Her eyes are more piercing than ever.
But reports of war's death were greatly exaggerated. Our acceptance of violence has grown with our consuming of deadly products. We watch wars, produced at great expense, with thousands of special effects engineers and Oscar-winning death scenes by trained method actors. And when a real war sneaks onto our screen, what can we do? Continue to watch.
Victims come to us as information, across the landscape of information, in the age of information consumption. And this makes the viewing experience of this child not different than the many children that we have watched burned and cut toward death. We are image predators, sitting in traffic, in trains, at home in our techno-cockpits, saving the bombed schools and hospitals to clouds overhead...
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Cliven Bundy, the Nevada-based rancher who refused to pay the over $1 million he owes in fees for having his cattle graze on public lands for twenty years, and who then assembled a posse of armed militia and antigovernment activists for a stand off against officers of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, may -- by virtue of his openly aired racist remarks about the "Negro" -- already be sitting atop history's trash heap, but there are numerous wannabes out there waiting to Cliven Bundy themselves into the headlines.
According to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, "The Bundy standoff has invigorated an extremist movement that exploded when President Obama was elected, going from some 150 groups in 2008 to more than 1,000 last year."
Alabama's Mike Vanderboegh, who heads the III Percent Patriots, wrote the following on his blog: "It is impossible to overstate the importance of the victory won in the desert today. The feds were routed — routed. There is no word that applies. Courage is contagious, defiance is contagious, victory is contagious. Yet the war is not over."
Armed militia groups are currently responding to the influx of thousands of immigrants – mostly women and children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – by arming themselves and "standing guard" at the U.S.-Mexico border. Pictures of members of militia groups, carrying semi-automatic rifles and wearing masks, camouflage and tactical gear can be found here.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
I'm thirsty. Indeed, I'm overwhelmed by thirst, thinking about those who lack access to clean water. I'm thirsty for a different world.
"In Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lack water, including those living in hospitals and refugee camps," Sarah Kendzior wrote in Al-Jazeera last week. "On July 15, citizens of Detroit held a rally in solidarity, holding signs that said 'Water for all, from Detroit to Palestine.' A basic resource has become a distant dream, a longing for a transformation of politics aimed at ending suffering instead of extending it."
Water is our common need, our common source of being. In bankrupt Detroit (city of my birth), as the world now knows, the poor and struggling segment of the population — the people whose overdue water bills exceed $150 — face water shutoff. The United Nations, for God's sake, has condemned the action by the city's emergency manager as a human rights violation. Thousands of residences — housing as many as 100,000 people — have had their water shut off so far, out of a total city population of 700,000.
Ironically, Detroit is surrounded by the Great Lakes, the largest body of fresh water in the world. Michigan license plates used to proclaim: "Water Wonderland."
Austerity, austerity, God shed his grace on thee . . .
AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn" - Rabbi Hillel
As Jews go, I'm a poor one. I like Wagner and bacon, and have been known to seethe a kid in its mother's milk. I have enough tattoos to be banned from burial in any Jewish cemetery, and I gave up on God halfway through my first reading of the Old Testament - in that one passage where he acts like a genocidal psychopath.
I'm a bad Jew.
But, since my mother was Jewish, I am still, technically, Jewish. Which means that, should I so desire, I can move to Israel and, in time, become a citizen. As for the Palestinian guy in Gaza whose family has been living there for 20-odd generations? He lives in an open air prison and if he wants to spend some time in the land of his ancestors, he will be going through multiple armed check points, if he is lucky.
Or, these days, he's not visiting at all, what with the bombings and ground invasion and all. As I write, the Palestinian death toll stands at over 1200, while the Israeli death toll amounts to three civilian casualties and an IDF toll that may have surpassed 50 by now, but would have not occurred if the invasion had not been launched. A UN school has been hit for the second time, with an Israel mortar as the confirmed source, and at least 16 Gazans who sought refuge there are dead.
ECOWATCH STAFF ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) publicly released its report this week finding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is “not consistently conducting two key oversight and enforcement activities for class II programs” for underground fluid injection wells associated with oil and gas production. The report shows that the EPA’s program to protect drinking water sources from underground injection of fracking waste needs improvement.
According to the report, “The U.S. EPA does not consistently conduct annual on-site state program evaluations as directed in guidance because, according to some EPA officials, the agency does not have the resources to do so.” The report also found that “to enforce state class II requirements, under current agency regulations, EPA must approve and incorporate state program requirements and any changes to them into federal regulations through a rulemaking.”
“The federal government’s watchdog is saying what communities across the country have known for years: fracking is putting Americans at risk,” said Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. ”From drinking water contamination to man-made earthquakes, the reckless way oil and gas companies deal with their waste is a big problem. Outdated rules and insufficient enforcement are largely to blame. EPA needs to rein in this industry run amok.”
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Let's start with a premise I think we can all agree with: There have been no 9/11-type attacks on United States soil since, well, 9/11. Here's another statement we all probably agree with: The federal government has all sorts of arrows in its quiver when it comes to gathering intelligence to thwart such attacks. And that is where it begins to gets dicey: Unfortunately, in its counterterrorism project, the government appears to be relying more and more on perhaps the most twisted of those arrows; the use of informants, coerced and/or rewarded, entrapment, and the sting.
Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the federal government has obtained more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions. According to a new Human Rights Watch report (produced in association with Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute), "nearly 50 percent of [those] ... convictions resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot."
The report, "Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions," points out that, while "[m]any prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks... many others have targeted individuals who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them.
"Indeed, in some cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target's willingness to act."