Guest Commentary (3616)
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Iraq vet Ross Caputi's film opens with a fleeting synopsis of the American heartbreak — and the bandage we tape across it.
His documentary, Fear Not the Path of Truth, is about the U.S. devastation of Fallujah, in which he participated as part of Operation Phantom Fury in November 2004, but the first couple minutes give us an overview of his hometown, the "former industrial city" of Fitchburg, Mass.:
"But the factory jobs are long gone, so there's really only two types of people that live here. They're the people with good-paying jobs in Boston or Worcester who come out here to build big houses at relatively cheap prices. Everyone else gets by doing work on those houses, doing their lawns, putting additions on them, painting them.
"If there was a point of unity among all the racial and economic divisions in this little city, it had to be the troops. Everyone respected the troops."
I was struck especially hard by this small moment because it encapsulates the lie of militarism where it is most invulnerable: at the humanity of the men and women who protect us, putting their lives on the line. When all else goes wrong, the troops remain sacred. In a broken economy, the troops are sacred. Militarism is the god we can manipulate.
And yet the moment to expel this lie from human society has never been riper. The trans-national cost of militarism is some $2 trillion a year, according to an ambitious new website called World Beyond War. The insanity of war not only squanders our resources, ravages the environment and slaughters the innocent, it perpetuates a global culture of violence, which is the very thing we honor our troops for protecting us from.
ROBERT SCHEER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Somewhere in the lowest reaches of hell, Adolf Hitler and his coterie of lesser dictators must be tormented by the knowledge they did not live long enough to get their hands on "Angry Birds." How much diabolical power they would have had, not playing the game, but rather mining the data freely volunteered by its billion unsuspecting customers.
"When a smartphone user opens 'Angry Birds,' the popular game application, and starts slinging birds at chortling green pigs, spy agencies have plotted how to lurk in the background to snatch data revealing the player's location, age, sex and other personal information ..." The New York Times reported, based on the latest of Edward Snowden's leaks.
No need then for the Gestapo to go crashing through apartment doors to brutally interrogate citizens as to the most guarded moments of their personal lives when a vast amount of private information from gaming, mapping and social networking sites is pirated by the government. No totalitarian leader could ever imagine such surveillance power over his populace.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On Thursday, January 23, a press release from the United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York announced "an Indictment charging DINESH D'SOUZA with violating the federal campaign finance laws by making illegal contributions to a United States Senate campaign in the names of others and causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission in connection with those contributions." (U.S. v. D'Souza, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-cr-00034.)
The last time we encountered D'Souza, he had resigned as president of Kings College, a small Christian college in New York City, over some extracurricular lovey-dovey stuff with a woman (who was not his wife) at a right-wing conference called "Truth for a New Generation?"
Before that, D'Souza, a right-wing author, pundit and filmmaker, was raking in the dough with his scathing take on President Obama in his documentary titled 2016: Obama's America. The film, which was released prior to the 2012 presidential election and was aimed at providing enough ammunition to defeat Obama, failed politically but was a box office sensation, bringing in over $33 million. It became the fourth highest grossing documentary of all time, and the second most popular political documentary, trailing only Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 by some $80 million.
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On February 20, 1864 there was a First Civil War battle at a place in Florida called Olustee. It was not a major battle. It rates half a sentence in the monumental 900 page history of the First Civil War and the major events that led up to it from the beginning of the 19th century by James McPherson. The title of his book, Battle Cry of Freedom, was a slogan interestingly enough, used on both sides, obviously with different meanings: on one side it meant an end to slavery, on the other the freedom to maintain it.
The book is still widely considered to be the best single volume history of the conflict. But now, 150 years after event, that particular battle, which drew so little mention in Prof. McPherson's book, is still front and center in the minds of some and (so far only) figuratively, the battle rages on. It, in which significant numbers of African-American troops fought for the Union side, ended with a Confederate victory.
It happens that there is a three acre Florida state park at the site, which contains three memorials to the Confederate dead. The Florida chapter of an organization called the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War petitioned to have a memorial to the Union dead erected on the site as well. This petition brought forth a very strong objection from the Florida branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
One of their number, ironically named John Adams, stated the reason for the opposition was that "old grudges die hard." You bet your sweet pitootie they do. Here we are, 150 years later, and those sons of Confederate veterans, including the chairman of the Florida House Judiciary Committee, one Dennis Baxley (ironically [R]), cannot stand to have Union dead honored on the same site that their dead are, because of an "old grudge."
Although he didn't say (or least the New York Times article cited didn't quote him saying anything on the subject), the "old grudge" must have to do with the fact that after 11 Southern states seceded from the Union over one or more aspects of the slavery issue, and one of their number opened fire on a Federal fort in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., a civil war ensued, which the Secessionist forces lost. My-oh-my. 150 years later. Couldn't be that many of the issues over which the First Civil War was fought are still at issue, plus a number of new ones, now could it?
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Another insane cold wave -- not the infamous "polar vortex," but its evil twin -- is bringing sub-zero and single-digit temperatures to much of the nation. And global warming may be even more extreme, and potentially more catastrophic, than climate scientists had feared.
This is, of course, no contradiction. The rallying cry of the denialists -- "It's really cold outside, so global warming must be a crock!" -- can only be taken seriously by those with a toddler's limited conception of time and space. They forget that it's winter, and apparently they don't quite grasp that even when it's cold in one part of the world, it can be hot in another.
Indeed, while the United States is having an unusually frigid month, Australia has been sweltering through record-breaking heat. Play had to be interrupted at the Australian Open tennis tournament when temperatures in Melbourne reached 109 degrees; one player said her plastic water bottle began to melt. The extreme heat came as officials reported that 2013 was the hottest year in Australia since record-keeping began more than a century ago.
On the global scale, 2013 was "merely" the fourth-warmest or seventh-warmest on record, depending whether you believe the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The agencies take slightly different approaches in analyzing and extrapolating the available data, which accounts for the discrepancy, but they agree on the big picture: It's getting hotter.
Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2002. Deniers who claim there has been a 15-year "pause" in global warming are cherry-picking the data to fit a pre-cooked conclusion: As a baseline they choose 1998, a year in which global temperatures took a huge, anomalous, one-time leap. If you treat 1998 as the statistical outlier that it obviously is, you see a steady and unbroken rise.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The top individuals on the 2013 Forbes 400 list are generally believed to be makers of great companies or concepts. They are the role models of Paul Ryan, who laments, "We're going to a majority of takers versus makers in America." They are defended by Cato Institute CEO John A. Allison IV, who once protested: "Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let's call it an attack on the very productive."
But many of the richest Americans are takers. The top twenty, with a total net worth of almost two-thirds of a trillion dollars, have all taken from the public or from employees, or through taxes or untaxed inheritances.
Bill Gates may be a knowledgeable and hard-working man, but he was also lucky and opportunistic. He was a taker. In 1975, at the age of 20, he founded Microsoft with high school buddy Paul Allen. This was the era of the first desktop computers, and numerous small companies were trying to program them, most notably Digital Research, headed by brilliant software designer Gary Kildall. His CP/M operating system (OS) was the industry standard. Even Gates' company used it.
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The derailment of a 101-car CSX freight train on a bridge in a densely-populated part of Philadelphia this past week should be yet another warning to politicians who have become cheerleaders for oil and gas fracking.
The train had been hauling crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota. A severe snow storm delayed by several days removing the derailed cars and 80,000 gallons of crude oil from the decades-old bridge over I-76 and the Schuylkill River, which flows into the Delaware River. Oil and gas companies using horizontal fracking have made the Bakken the most productive oil shale in the country.
Numerous articles and scientific research studies have already shown the link between horizontal fracking and health and environmental problems. But the transportation of shale oil and gas by trains, trucks, and pipelines poses more immediate threats.
About 92,000 of the 106,000 tanker cars currently in service were built before 2011 when stricter regulations mandated new design. The older cars (DOT-111) have an "inadequate design" and are susceptible to leaks and explosions in derailments, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Railroad accidents in 2013 in the United States accounted for about 1.15 million gallons of spilled crude oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data, according to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Hold the dream with me, as it breaks loose from Jameale Pickett's poem. Something beyond the insane dance of crime and punishment is happening, at least this year, this moment, in Chicago's high schools. Young people are getting a chance to excel and become themselves, as more and more schools find and embrace common sense, also known as restorative justice.
The funding is fragile, precarious, but some schools in struggling communities are figuring out how to break the school-to-prison pipeline, even though the system as a whole remains wrapped up in suspensions, expulsions, zero tolerance and racism.
"The Obama administration on Wednesday urged school officials to abandon unnecessarily harsh suspension and expulsion practices that appear to target black students," the Chicago Sun-Times reported recently.
"In Chicago, although black students in 2009 made up 45 percent of (the Chicago Public Schools') enrollment, 76 percent of all CPS students who received out-of-school suspensions were black, according to Department of Education data. When it came to expulsions, black students made up 80 percent of those who were expelled."
And, as of data from a few years ago, one in four African-American students gets suspended at least once during the school year in Illinois — the highest rate in the nation. Suspensions become blemishes on one's record that are almost impossible to erase. But worst of all, the conflict at the root of every suspension, in the old system of zero tolerance, goes unaddressed — indeed, unacknowledged, either by the school system or the media. Yet every unaddressed conflict festers and grows.
JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The rich truly are different from you and me - they tend to hold seats in Congress.
Our nation purports to be a representative democracy, yet you don't find many plumbers, mineworkers, dirt farmers, Walmart associates, roofers, beauty parlor operators, taxi drivers, or other "get-the-job-done" Americans among the 535 members of the U.S. House and Senate.
What you do find is an over-supply of lawmakers drawn from a very thin strata of America's population: Millionaires. In fact, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that last year — for the first time in history — more than half of our senators and House members are in the Millionaires Club. Indeed, the average net worth (the value of what they own minus what they owe) for all lawmakers now totals more than $7 million.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
They didn't unseat President Obama, their candidates didn't win as many major election victories as they would have hoped, and their numbers in public opinion polls sunk, but, to inelegantly paraphrase Mark Twain, "The Tea Party ain't dead, no way, no how."
"It was a year of countervailing winds and storms. ...The Tea Party movement rose and fell across the year. Though battered and bruised, the core membership of the Tea Party's national factions continued to expand in 2013, even as public opinion waxed and waned." Those are some introductory lines to "The Status of the Tea Party Movement," a comprehensive overview of Tea Party activities over the past year, prepared by the Institute For Research & Education On Human Rights (IREHR).
According to IREHR's Devin Burghart, "The Tea Party cemented its status as an institutional force driving a significant sector of the far right. Moreover, 2013 made it crystal clear that this movement is not about debt and taxes, or even healthcare. It is filled with racists and racism, xenophobes and bigots, and it has had a deleterious effect on political and social questions. And the portfolio of issues, particularly guns and nativism, expressed a (false) sense of white dispossession."