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EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGabriel2(Photo: Jose Lara)Years before I met him, Gabriel Garcia Marquez changed my life.

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" gave me a new way of looking at the world. The label "magical realism" does not begin to capture the poetry of Garcia Marquez's imagination or the evocative power of his prose. Reading his masterpiece was like stepping through a portal into a Technicolor reality where the streets are paved with metaphor and the air is fragrant with dreams.

Garcia Marquez, who died Thursday at 87, was my introduction to modern Latin American literature. I wanted more.

When I got a Nieman fellowship at Harvard -- a year off to study anything I wanted -- the first thing I did was sign up for a literature course taught by the great Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes. I hoped someday to read my favorite authors in their native tongue, so I took a Spanish-language course. The novels I was reading referred to unfamiliar events, so I enrolled in a Latin American history course.

Midway through the academic year, I learned that The Washington Post's South America bureau was coming open. I had prepared myself for the job -- accidentally -- and so instead of returning to Washington in the summer of 1988, I moved with my family to Buenos Aires.

In four years of crisscrossing the continent, I felt as if Garcia Marquez were my constant companion. The name of the fictional town where "One Hundred Years of Solitude" is set -- Macondo -- became shorthand for the bizarre, magical-realist things that happened all the time in Latin America but seemingly nowhere else.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014 06:58

Put the Move in the Movement

REV. BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaExtinction(Photo: Dirk van der Made)Earth scientists are trying to get our attention. Well, that's an understatement – they are apoplectic, waving their arms in the windows of the super mall that our culture has become. Yes, we don't notice them because we're shopping, with iPhones glowing in our faces and white wires in our ears.

The King of the Slow Motion Shoppers is Barack Obama. He's doing the tai chi of total hesitation. He puts off the pipeline. He puts it off until after the apocalypse. In so doing, he encourages all citizens to enter the gradualism of shopping where basic change, structural way-of-life change, is impossible. Shoppers are morphed into Obama-like ditherers, lost in a cloud of alternatives, the product, the packaging, competing prices, warranties, credit, resale value, prestige value, sex life value, status value. Shopping forces upon us its false complexity.

In the last year study after study has been published by a world of natural scientists. The IPCC report from the United Nations is the most famous, but there are many others. These groups of conservation biologists, paleontologists, climatologists, – across the spectrum of disciplines within the natural sciences, add up to an unprecedented gathering of scientists around a single issue, which you might call "Life on Earth."

Each of these learned researchers is reporting the mass death on the island of life that they are studying. Each professor's specialty is dying before her eyes. Thousands of scientists are shouting to us from their coral reefs, wetlands, glaciers, cloud forests and mountain streams, from every conceivable eco-system. They all conclude their reports with the same thundering pronouncements, like a secularized Book of Revelation. "Super storms that will overwhelm economies..." "Migrations from the coastal cities and global south..." "Methane levels like the Permia Extinction of 250 million years ago..."

(Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/petrick/70924598" target="_blank"> Perpetual Tourist / Flickr</a>)(Photo: Perpetual Tourist / Flickr)DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

If you read one business book this year, make it Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. The journalist famous for Moneyball and The Big Short takes readers inside the parasitic world of high-frequency trading that is harming the broader economy.

The technical architecture of high-frequency trading is right out of a sci-fi movie - the schemes rely on algorithms that seem artificially intelligent, and the velocity of transaction signals approach light speed. As Lewis recounts, all that technological wizardry is marshaled to let insiders know information before everyone else, which consequently lets those insiders extract wealth from the market.

The good news is that a financial transaction tax can at once raise public resources and disincentivize the most predatory schemes. The even better news is that structural changes in the industry have made such a tax more economically viable than ever.

(Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/4773510477" target="_blank"> Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Azureon2, bayat</a>)(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Azureon2, bayat)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Warren Buffett once claimed that the "genius of the American economy, our emphasis on a meritocracy and a market system and a rule of law has enabled generation after generation to live better than their parents did." The Economist suggested that "people succeed through brains and hard work." Economist Tyler Cowen believes in a "hyper-meritocracy" in which wealth is created by the most intelligent and motivated people.

That all sounds very inspirational. But the super-rich tend to make their money in less meritorious ways.


1. Betting on Food Prices to Rise

Chris Hedges noted that Goldman Sachs’ commodities index "is the most heavily traded in the world. The company hoards rice, wheat, corn, sugar and livestock and jacks up commodity prices around the globe so that poor families can no longer afford basic staples and literally starve." Numerous sources agree that speculation drives up commodity prices. Wheat, for example, rose in price from $105 to $481 in just eight years.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBloodMoon(Photo: Roadcrusher)Harold Camping, the Oakland, California-based preacher who wrongly prophesized the coming of the End Times is now gone, but there's no shortage of End Timers out there in America. Anne Lotz Graham, the daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, recently wrote a column claiming that the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 could be a sign of the coming of The Rapture; a reboot of the Left Behind movie, based on Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' mega-best-selling Left Behind series of apocalyptic novels, is due in theaters in early October; and now, Pastor John Hagee, the master of his multi-million-dollar domain in San Antonio, Texas, is peddling an End Times book directly linked to "blood moon" eclipses.

Before your head explodes at the thought of yet another story about an End Times-inflamed preacher, consider this. Not only does Pastor Hagee preside over the mega-church, Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, but he also heads a multi-million-dollar medias empire. Not only is he a powerful political player within the Republican Party, but he has established significant political connections in Israel. The faithful have lapped up many of the more than 30 books he has written, including: "Earth's Final Moments," "From Daniel to Doomsday: The Countdown Has Begun," "Can America Survive?: 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are The Terminal Generation" and "Jerusalem Countdown," which was made into a not-very-well-received movie. I think you get the general themes of Hagee's oeuvre!

Perhaps his most significant accomplishment, however, came in 2006, when Hagee founded what is now the largest pro-Israel religious-based lobbying group in the world, the 1.3 million member Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

Thursday, 17 April 2014 07:08

OK, Humanity, It's Time to Grow Up

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaEvolutionEarth(Photo: NASA)OK, mankind, it's time to grow up, and I see a good way to start: Change the wording of Genesis 1:26.

Change one word.

Last week, I quoted that Bible verse in a column about the increasing velocity of climate change: "And God said . . . let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air," etc. Dominion! Nature belongs to us, to suck dry and toss away. And thus we moved out of the circle of life and became its conquerors, an attitude at the core of the Agricultural Revolution and the rise of civilization. The momentum of this attitude is still driving us. We don't know how to stop, even though most people now grasp that we're wrecking the environmental commons that sustains life.

Addressing the verse and the idea of "dominion," Phil Miller, a minister, wrote: "Some of us understand that word to mean 'stewardship' or 'responsibility.'"

And David Cameron wrote: "One has to wonder what would have ensued had the translation said 'stewardship' rather than 'dominion'? Almost incomprehensible that our future and the future of so many and so much may have hinged on that one word."

If in one of the most defining religious-political texts of the human species we'd been charged with stewardship of the natural world, not some sort of adolescent, consequence-free control over it, what sort of spiritual understanding would have evolved over the millennia? What sort of technology? What would our civilizations look like if we believed in the depths of our beings that they were not distinct from but part of nature? What if, instead of organizing ourselves around the concept that we have enemies to subdue — "survival of the fittest" — we explored the complexity of our connectedness to one another and the whole of creation, even when the connections were barely visible?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 07:52

Jim Hightower | NSA Spying Is Here to Stay

(Image: <a href=" https://www.flickr.com/photos/freepress/7204041778/in/photolist-6fXit2-dnPTse-h6vsLW-mf5D8k-jsTyrY-8zVKYB-Ve81-h6vhnD-5961SS-buHp1F-a5KGQ4-h6vdj9-n4Te9S-5SW6XM-h6wohF-bYAACS-2d9vB-51mWNq-8ZVEoY-6eGaZF-gXAr3c-9nrtoa-8yJPNw-5EAZev-buhxXc-4CCNE9-gn2JL8-bvfkSa-d9XtRE-6yoLQ-85j8xZ-9M9XY8-5R4LVT-cR8337-9GRXE9-6fJJ5y-twENW-dyGtR6-85j8ig-85j8cn-9w1gnw-9uJ17P-bXj2Uf-5pbcGr-eZohaG-dYjn1K-5ppck5-fLJw7e-cR82Hs-cR82t3" target="_blank"> Free Press / Flickr</a>)(Image: Free Press / Flickr)JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

On Monday, April 14, the The Washington Post and The Guardian US newspapers received the Pulitzer for Journalism Public Service for their reports on NSA spying. In light of their hard work, let's recap events of the last year.

Embarrassed and irritated by Edward Snowden's leaks, Obama charged last year at a press conference that Snowden was presenting a false picture of NSA by releasing parts of its work piecemeal: "Rather than have a trunk come out here and a leg come out there," he said, "let's just put the whole elephant out there so people know exactly what they're looking at. ... America is not interested in spying on ordinary people," he assured us. The government, he went on, is not "listening in on people's phone calls or inappropriately reading people's emails."

Six days later, a Washington Post headline declared: "NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year." In an internal audit in May 2012 of its DC-area spy centers, the agency itself found 2,776 "incidences" of NSA overstepping its legal authority. As the American Civil Liberties Union noted, surveillance laws themselves "are extraordinarily permissive," so it's doubly troubling that the agency is surging way past what it is already allowed to do. The ACLU adds that these reported incidents are not simply cases of one person's rights being violated - but thousands of Americans being snared, totally without cause, in the NSA's indiscriminate, computer-driven dragnet.

(Image: <a href=" https://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/7328214492/in/photolist-asUn64-caz1RJ-8Bp9vn-81KDZd-aoCFSk-7aaXLR-8LrRjT-79eX4D-caz4zj-7TP8vs-898z4a-7jRXMJ-7TC27b-8JTEUL-898z64-8inZQE-7aeLVU-7bkQ7T-7bkQ8t-7bCjcn-7jN5xT-8esuCY-78SRhs-8ETevd" target="_blank"> Jared Rodriguez / Truthout</a>)(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

"[B]ecause of dramatic and sustained cuts in mental health funding, we have criminalized mental illness in this country and county jails and state prison facilities are where the majority of mental health care and treatment is administered." -- Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

More than ten times the number of mentally ill people are in prisons across the United States then are under treatment in mental health facilities. As of 2012, according to a new report, there were an estimated 356,000 prisoners with severe mental illness – including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other acute forms of brain disease -- in prisons and jails, while state psychiatric hospitals contained approximately 35,000 patients with severe mental illness.

The combination of the rise in poverty, the lack of housing, and the lack of community support for people with mental illness, has resulted in the increased criminalization of the mentally ill.

In the twenty-first century, jails and prisons have become the new gulag for the mentally ill.

Profile of Adam Smith. (Photo <a href=" http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AdamSmith.jpg" target="_blank"> via Wikimedia Commons</a>)Profile of Adam Smith. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)ERIC ZUESSE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

"The affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many." -- Adam Smith, guru economist for the gluttonous takers of wealth

According to the most comprehensive analysis ever done of secret, virtually entirely untaxed, offshore wealth, it's "well in excess of US $21 trillion." That was as of July 19, 2012. A subsequent and far less scientific study by Oxfam, on May 22, 2013, said "At least $18.5 trillion is hidden by wealthy individuals in tax havens worldwide."

The $21+ trillion estimate was part of a report by James Henry for a team of experts on tax-evasion and avoidance, Nicholas Shaxson, John Christenson, and Nick Mathiason, which was done for the Tax Justice Network (TJN), a nonprofit that is the opposite of libertarians: Instead of saying that tax-cheats are heroes who are "anti-big-government" who should be admired and celebrated by the public, they say tax-cheats are the crooks who steal trillions from the public, and who are the chief source for the impoverishment of billions of people worldwide.

JACKIE MARCUS FOR BUFFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaReaganGE(Photo: White House Photographic Office)To some degree it matters who's in office, but it matters more how much pressure they're under from the public. —Noam Chomsky 

Where are the senators and congressional members when it comes to supporting the troops? Currently, USS Ronald Reagan sailors are suffering from radioactive illnesses after they were sent on a humanitarian mission to help Japan’s victims during the 2011 devastating earthquake-tsunami which led to three nuclear meltdowns, the worst catastrophic nuclear power plant explosions in history with no end in sight

The president is fond of presenting honorary medals to soldiers. After all, it makes for a great “Hallmark Moment,” a solemn ceremony of attaching a Medal of Honor around a soldier’s neck for the cameras, but where is the president when things go wrong, terribly wrong with nuclear policy?

No wonder there’s a media blackout. After all, we don’t want to get GE into trouble, now, do we? 

Five of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima are General Electric Mark 1 reactors. GE knew decades ago that the design was faulty.  Quite a little irony that the company that President Ronald Reagan worshipped, General Electric, was responsible indirectly for nuking the USS Ronald Reagan—as well as the rest of the world.

Nuclear investors must be elated by the fact that you can’t see how immeasurably hot nuclear radiation is— hence the meaning of the word meltdown.  It’s been postulated - but not proven - that three years of radiation released into the atmosphere has accelerated or contributed to the rapid Arctic ice melt, given the detection of radiation as far north as Canada and Alaska.  In fact, Fukushima radiation fallout is being detected globally, levels alternate between high and low depending on location. 

If you were to ask President Obama about the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns, he would most likely give an answer similar to the one he gave about BP’s 2010 Gulf oil catastrophe: It’s a “leak that’s been sealed.” Sure, a leak that left the entire Gulf of Mexico a permanent dead zone.  Incidentally, BP is back in business, drilling away in deep waters of the Gulf as if nothing happened at all. 

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