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MICHAEL SEIFERT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ajosephmaryIt is hypocritical to celebrate the refuge provided to Joseph and Mary when the US builds walls to keep out migrants. (Photo: Roadsidepictures)

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

2860692024 11e9d3e897 oAre wars for oil and McDonald's worth the backlash of inciting violence? (Photo: Clare Solomon)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

aaaCubaValley(Photo: Gardenparty)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.

WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBushFamily(Photo: Happyme22)Still recovering from the sonic bombshell dropped by Jeb Bush announcing he was officially upgrading his prospective candidate status from... considering the formation of an exploratory committee to investigate the feasibility of a possible run for the presidency to... actually authorizing the formation of an exploratory committee that will investigate the feasibility of a possible run for the presidency. Our little caterpillar is now one step closer to being a big bad beautiful butterfly.

No one will admit the obvious: that the efforts of this exploratory committee could boil down to a simple poll question asking potential voters to rate how deep is their well of Bush Fatigue, on a 1- 5 scale. With 1 being, "who cares what name is on the ballot, they're all big fat liars anyway" to 5 indicating; "read my lips, no new Bushes. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. Did I mention ever? Because I meant to say ever. Again." (long pause) "Ever."

John Ellis Bush, (Jeb for the initials) is son of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States and younger brother of George Walker Bush, (Gwibby) the 43rd President. And proving that all things are relative, the former Florida Governor is generally considered "the smart one."

Since sister Dorothy is a civilian, brother Marvin is retired, and other brother Neil's main claim to fame is miraculously not being indicted in the Silverado Savings & Loan debacle during the 80s, Jeb is the last great hope for the Bush Family to finally pull off a third invasion of Iraq and get it right.

2014.12.22.Bush.BFJeb Bush. (Photo: The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia / Flickr)

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Let's get one thing straight from the jump; no matter how his conservative compadres try to label him, Jeb Bush is no liberal, nor a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Bush's response to President Barack Obama's recent historic initiative regarding Cuba – calling it a "foreign policy misstep" and a "dramatic overreach" -- puts him squarely inside the conservative bubble regarding relations with Cuba, which basically translates to "stay the course." On most issues, despite what folks at the Heritage Foundation and The Patriot Post are currently saying about him, Bush's conservative credentials are unimpeachable.

Against his mother's better judgment, Bush appears to be laying the groundwork for a presidential run by announcing that he will establish a leadership PAC early next year. In a Facebook post, Bush wrote: "As a result of ... [family] conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs," he wrote, "I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States." Thus the plan to set up a political action committee to "facilitate conversations with citizens across America."

The early announcement likely has several purposes: 1) convince the big-time billionaire Republican Party financial backers to hold off on writing checks to any of the as-of-yet undeclared so-called center-right candidacies including Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney; and, 2) serve as a preemptive strike against the Party's right-wing as Bush understands that his announcement would incur the wrath of that sector of the GOP -- thus, to the general public, he begins to look like a sane alternative to the likes of Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum.

It didn't take long for the wrath to start flowing.

2014.12.22.Buchheit.BF"Don't Be a Grinch - Fight for Fifteen": A march goes by in support of fast food workers striking for an increase in the minimum wage, December 6, 2013. (Photo: yooperann / Flickr)

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

If Christmas magic were real, America's political and business leaders -- the people with power and money -- would speak on behalf of the nation they've debased:

1. To Our Most Neglected Citizens

By the time the Koch brothers wake up on Christmas morning, the wealth the two men will have accumulated throughout the night could get a room for the night for every one of the 633,000 homeless Americans.

To Americans without a place to live, we apologize for a society that allows almost all of its new wealth to be redistributed to people who are already rich.

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaTortureDog(Photo: US Army)I’m not drawing a parallel between the Holocaust that led to the deaths of six million tortured and murdered Jewish parents and their children under Hitler’s regime and the CIA Torture Report; to do so would diminish the unspeakable evils that were committed by S.S. operations. However, the question of torturing victims of US occupations in the Middle East is applicable here. Many of the same barbaric methods of torture that the S.S. used on their prisoners were also used on detainees in Iraq, Guantánamo Bay, and at secret CIA cells, many of whom were innocent people who met the tragic misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s important to remember, in the context of the CIA Torture Report, that the Bush administration invaded Iraq on the same false “pre-emptive attack” premises that Adolf Hitler, in part, used against his neighboring countries: that we have to “get them before they get us,” despite the fact that the Iraqi people were completely innocent and that they had absolutely nothing to do with the September 11th attack—nor did Saddam Hussein harbor weapons of mass destruction.

After WW II, the world acknowledged that heinous crimes of torture were committed by the Nazis. There was no debate. There was nothing “controversial” about condemning the horrific practice. No one argued in the media the pros and cons of torturing human beings.

No, the US did not commit a Holocaust after 9/11, but it did torture. I would like to ask the corporate network media defenders of the Bush-Cheney administration if they believe that the techniques of torture committed by the S.S. paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler should be discussed as a “controversial” and “debatable” issue?

WENONAH HAUTER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFrackingCuomo(Photo: Joshua Doubek)Fantastic news came from the state of New York this week when the Cuomo administration announced its decision to ban fracking in the state. This exciting decision is a tribute to everyone who has worked so hard in New York to protect the state from the ravages experiences elsewhere from fracking.

Here’s the full story: On Wednesday, the Governor convened a cabinet meeting where Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker presented the findings of the Department of Health’s review on fracking. He described the peer-reviewed studies showing that fracking contaminates air and water and harms health, and he highlighted that many of the long-term health effects are still unknown, as epidemiological studies have not been conducted. Comissioner Zucker ended his presentation by saying, “Would I live in a community that would allow fracking? The answer is no.”

Then in this real-time drama, Joe Martens, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation indicated the department would issue “legally binding findings to prohibit high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York.” They will be included in the supplemental generic environmental impact study that will be released in the New Year, an approach that Governor Cuomo supports, and that will effectively ban fracking in New York.

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaWarehouse(Photo: Warehouse, Green Logistics Co.)During the hectic holiday shopping season, Jeff Bezos' Amazon.com may seem like a great option, especially for us procrastinators. Anything you want can be shipped directly to your doorstep. All it takes is a few clicks on the Amazon website and — of course — some of your hard-earned money.

The media sings the praises of Bezos' concept and business. But what you may not know is that, as head of the Amazon beast, Bezos is hard on his labor force. In fact, this past May, he was awarded a less-coveted prize by the International Trade Union Confederation: "World's Worst Boss."

Consider one of the most difficult of Amazon jobs — the "picker." In each warehouse, hundreds of them are simultaneously scrambling throughout a maze of shelves, grabbing products. This is hard, physically painful labor, for two reasons. First, pickers must speed-walk on concrete an average of a dozen miles a day, for an Amazon warehouse is shockingly big — more than 16 football fields big, or eight city blocks — and pickers must constantly crisscross the expanse. Then, there are miles of 7-foot-high shelves running along the narrow aisles on each floor of the three-story buildings, requiring the swarm of pickers to stoop continuously. They are directed by handheld computers to each target. For example, "Electric Flour Sifters: Dallas sector, section yellow, row H34, bin 22, level D." Then they scan the pick and must put it on the right track of the 7 miles of conveyor belts running through the facility, immediately after which they're dispatched by the computer to find the next product.

Secondly, the pace is hellish. The pickers' computers don't just dictate where they're to go next, but how many seconds Amazon's time-motion experts have calculated it should take them to get there. The scanners also record the time each worker actually takes — information that is fed directly into a central, all-knowing computer. The times of every picker are reviewed and scored by managers who have an unmerciful mandate to fire those exceeding their allotted seconds.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014 08:47

Abolishing the CIA

2014.12.17.CIA.BF"Abolish the CIA," says Robert Koehler. "It serves national insecurity." (Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: public domain / Wikimedia)ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The shock resonating from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report isn’t due so much to the revelations themselves, grotesque as the details are, but to the fact that they’re now officially public. National spokespersons (except for Dick Cheney) can no longer deny, quite so glibly, that the United States is what it claims its enemies to be.

We’re responsible for the worst sort of abuses of our fellow human beings: A half-naked man freezes to death. A detainee is chained to the wall in a standing position for 17 days. The stories have no saving grace, not even “good intelligence.”

The Axis of Evil smiles, yawns: It’s home.

The question is, what do we do with this moment of national self-awareness? Beyond demanding the prosecution of high-level perps, how about really changing the game? I suggest reviving S. 126, a bill introduced into the U.S. Senate on Jan. 4, 1995 by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, titled: Abolition of the Central Intelligence Agency.

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