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AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBanksyReaper(Photo: Banksy)With a mere 11 days remaining until election day, the news appears grim for the Democratic Party. The general consensus seems to be that it is more likely than not that the Republicans will retake the Senate. And that, Democratic Party diehards argue, would pretty much be the end of the world. Fundraising emails from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are growing increasingly shrill, frantic, and frequent. The post-electoral circular firing squad has begun to polish its weapons.

Clearly, we are all doomed, they tell us, unless a few Democratic candidates can somehow hold the line. Let’s take a look at some of those brave few, shall we? In Kentucky, we have Allison Grimes, who cannot bring herself to admit whether or not she cast a vote for our center-right president. In Alaska, we have Mark Begich, who can’t get enough of the Keystone Pipeline. In Arkansas we have Mark Pryor, who couldn’t quite bring himself to support limited gun control measures in the wake of Newtown. In Georgia we have Michelle Nunn, who appears to be deeply ambivalent about the Affordable Care Act.

Hmmm. It seems as though a common thread here is that these candidates, all of whom are in tight races, are running as far and as fast from many progressive positions as they can. Yet they want our money and our votes. Because - they tell us - the Republicans will literally bring about the apocalypse and, even if none of these candidates can bring themselves to act like Democrats, they’ve still got that D after their name. Which, of course, is all that matters.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 23 October 2014 11:08

Fracking Threatens Millions of Californians

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDrillingEcoWatch(Photo: EcoWatch)A new report shows that 5.4 million Californians—more than 14 percent of its 38.3 million population—live within a mile of an oil or gas well, and almost four million of those, or nearly 70 percent, are Hispanic, Asian or African-American, according to a new Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report Drilling in California: Who’s at Risk? Non-whites make up slightly more than 40 percent of California’s total population.

“California’s communities of color have long been dumping grounds for industrial pollution—and our analysis shows that fracking is poised to pile on more if the oil and gas industry has its way,” said NRDC senior scientist Miriam Rotkin-Ellman and one of the report’s authors. “From polluted skies to contaminated drinking water and hazardous waste, communities of color in California get way more than their fair share. If the oil and gas industry gets their way, drilling—and the environmental and health threats from fracking, acidizing and other technologies—will be piled onto communities already staggering under smoggy skies and unsafe water. From Los Angeles to the state’s farms and ranches, this industry must not be allowed to poison our people’s health.”

Unfortunately, it already is. Nearly two million of those people close to the wells already live in a community with a disproportionate amount of air, water and soil pollution, due to nearby industrial plants, hazardous waste facilities and toxic clean-up sites as well as transportation corridors. Nearly 92 percent of those residents are non-white, a group at outsized risk for respiratory conditions like asthma.

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMyLai(Photo: Ronald L. Haeberle)“When somebody asks, ‘Why do you do it to a gook, why do you do this to people?’ your answer is, ‘So what, they’re just gooks, they’re not people. It doesn’t make any difference what you do to them; they’re not human.’

“And this thing is built into you,” Cpl. John Geymann testified almost 44 years ago at the Winter Soldier Investigation, held in Detroit, which was sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. “It’s thrust into your head from the moment you wake up in boot camp to the moment you wake up when you’re a civilian.”

The cornerstone of war is dehumanization. This was the lesson of Nam, from Operation Ranch Hand (the dumping of 18 million gallons of herbicides, including Agent Orange, on the jungles of Vietnam) to My Lai to the use of napalm to the bombing of Cambodia. And the Winter Soldier Investigation began making the dehumanization process a matter of public knowledge.

It was a stunning and groundbreaking moment in the history of war. Yet — guess what? — the three-day hearing, in which 109 Vietnam veterans and 16 civilians testified about the reality of American operations in Vietnam, doesn’t show up on the “interactive timeline” of the Department of Defense-sponsored website commemorating, as per President Obama’s proclamation, the 50-year anniversary of the war.

Published in Guest Commentary

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHandsUp(Photo: Jamelle Bouie)Over the weekend, while a white riot occurred in New Hampshire over something to do with pumpkins, grand jury deliberations continued in Ferguson, Missouri, in the case of the killing of Michael Brown. A parallel federal civil rights investigation into the shooting continues. Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Brown, has offered his version of the story to both – and his testimony has now been leaked to the press. Unsurprisingly, it contradicts the eyewitness accounts that have thus far emerged in the case, and continues to paint Brown as the an aggressor who had to be killed in the incident.

Wilson claims that it was Brown who lunged through the window of Wilson’s vehicle. That it was Brown who left Wilson with multiple facial injuries. That it was Brown who went for Wilson’s gun. That it was Brown who so terrified Wilson, that the six-year police veteran shot him, leaving blood splattered on the inside of the police car. That it was Brown who, in running away and attempting to surrender, was such a significant threat that Wilson was compelled to shoot him at least five more times as Brown fled.

Wilson’s testimony is consistent with the narrative that the Ferguson police department has been attempting to sell since the day of the incident: Wilson was threatened; Wilson was attacked. Wilson feared for his life; Wilson defended himself with lethal gunfire against a man who stood at least 35 feet away. Parts of that narrative have already been shown to be false. Brown was closer to 100 feet away when Wilson fired the killing shots, far outside the distance at which he could have posed an imminent threat. The facial wounds that Wilson suffered at Brown’s hands? They were so minor that Wilson never even bothered to consult with medics who were on the scene. Piece by piece, the threads of the police narrative are becoming unwoven.

This is, of course, the rankest nonsense, but the fact that it has been leaked to the press suggests that this nonsense might be taken seriously, that the grand jury might actually find it credible that Wilson feared for his life, both in the initial confrontation, and in the seconds that followed. If that is indeed the direction they are leaning, they will ignore Wilson’s accountability for Brown's murder.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHagee(Photo: Paul Wharton)I know you've been waiting for it. And now you're getting it. One of this country's most influential evangelical Christian pastors is claiming that Ebola is God's judgment on President Obama for attempting to divide Jerusalem. Before you slap your forehead, and scream for mercy, remember that nearly every awful event that has happened over the past umpty-umph years – from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina, from tornadoes and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 -- is a result of God's judgment, according to many American Christian leaders.

"I want every American to hear this very clearly," Pastor John Hagee said on a recent broadcast of Hagee Hotline. "The prophet Joel says in the third chapter, 'I God will bring all nations' and hear that phrase—'all nations' includes America, 'into judgment for they have divided up My land, the land of Israel.' God says when any nation divides up the land of Israel, they are subject to judgment, and dividing Jerusalem is dividing the land.

"Our president is dead set on dividing Jerusalem. God is watching, and He will bring America into judgment. There are grounds to say judgment has already begun because he, the president, has been fighting to divide Jerusalem for years now. We are now experiencing the crisis of Ebola.

"We have a crisis in our economy. We are worried on every hand that we are going to be attacked by radical Islam, and there are some very rational voices saying we are their next target. We are a nation that has a crisis of leadership. We are in chaos, in crisis. Anarchy is running our nation in Ferguson, Missouri."

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 17 October 2014 07:04

Our Souls Turned Into Weapons

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSIGpistol(Photo: Augustas Didžgalvis)“During basic training, we are weaponized: our souls turned into weapons.”

Jacob George’s suicide last month — a few days after President Obama announced that the US was launching its war against ISIS — opens a deep, terrible hole in the national identity. George: singer, banjo player, poet, peace warrior, vet. He served three tours in Afghanistan. He brought the war home. He tried to repair the damage.

Finally, finally, he reached for “the surefire therapy for ending the pain,” as a fellow vet told Truthdig. He was 32.

Maybe another war was just too much for him to endure. Military glory — protection of the innocent -- is a broken ideal, a cynical lie. “Times for war veterans are tough because we know exactly what is going to happen with the actions that Obama talked about in his recent speech,” his friend Paul Appell told Truthdig. “Jacob and other war veterans know the pain and suffering that will be done to our fellow man no matter what terms are used to describe war, whether it is done from afar with drones and bombs or up close eye to eye.”

And wars don’t end. They go on and on and on, inside the psyches of the ones who fought and killed. War’s toxins hover in the air and the water. Landmines and unexploded bombs, planted in the earth, wait patiently to explode.

Published in Guest Commentary

RICHARD A. STITT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaOohRahISIS(Photo: US Army)So, this is what the Bush-Cheney administration left behind: A militant, America-hating Islamic Shiite government that is teetering on the edge of collapse.

That collapse is due mostly to the Shiite central government's exclusion of Sunni participation, all carried out under the auspices of the Bush mandates that totally disbanded the Baathist army. They also demonized and banished the Sunni civilians such as doctors, attorneys, engineers, chemists, teachers and other professionals.

During the height of Bush's war, long after Saddam Hussein was captured and jailed in 2003, Shiite militias raided Baghdad's Sunni principalities and neighborhoods, routinely confiscating their property and driving millions of Sunni families into exile.

Today, rabid Bush apologists and Obama-hating refuseniks like Lindsey Graham and John McCain are braying that "We won the war!" and they blame Barack Obama for losing it. They howl that we should have left U.S. troops behind so that they could be easy targets for both the Sunni ISIS militias and the Iran-supported Iraqi government's mercenary army which George W. Bush established when he installed his puppet, Islamic Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Malki.

The Iraqi army which the U.S. taxpayers paid for to the tune of $25 billion proved just how impotent and unprepared they were when it came time to protect their own country. In August ISIS militias poured across the border from Syria into Iraq but when confronted with actual combat the Iraqi army stripped off their uniforms, turned all their weapons and equipment over to the ISIS marauders and ran like scared rabbits.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 16 October 2014 07:03

New Atheism Should Expand Its Horizons

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAtheistJesus(Photo: Toby Hudson)Last week, things got a little out of hand on Real Time With Bill Maher, when a discussion of radical Islam descended into white, liberal men yelling at each other. The central point, which was for some inexplicable reason brought by Ben Affleck, is that the tenor of the criticism of Islam, as articulated by representatives of the new atheist movement such as Maher and Sam Harris, has more than a little whiff of bigotry and racism. Shouting ensued and, a week later, we’re still arguing over the aftermath.

As one who has ended up, out of simple lack of interest in deities of any sort, in the atheist camp, the whole exchange rubbed me the wrong way. Reducing religious debates to television sound-bites is never a winning proposition, but the discussion served to highlight what seems to be a very real streak of Islamophobia within the new atheist movement. Pointing this out is nothing new, but it’s a disturbing trend, especially given the continued rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes. It also gives political cover to those wishing to escalate our most excellent efforts against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? ISIS: the big beheading elephant in the global room. You can’t not talk about them, and doing so necessarily involves a critique of their extreme take on Islam. The problem is that the savagery of ISIS is then used to justify attacks upon all of Islam, as if it were some monolithic entity. Of course, the Koran and the Hadith both contain exhortations to violence. They also contain words of peace. It is more than possible, as the vast majority of Muslims do, to repudiate the violence in their sacred text.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 16 October 2014 06:29

Ten Facts About Being Homeless in the USA

BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHomelessBroadway(Photo: sonyblockbuster)Three True Stories

Renee Delisle was one of over 3500 homeless people in Santa Cruz when she found out she was pregnant. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported she was turned away from a shelter because they did not have space for her. While other homeless people slept in cars or under culverts, Renee ended up living in an abandoned elevator shaft until her water broke.

Jerome Murdough, 56, a homeless former Marine, was arrested for trespass in New York because he was found sleeping in a public housing stairwell on a cold night. The New York Times reported that one week later, Jerome died of hypothermia in a jail cell heated to over 100 degrees.

Paula Corb and her two daughters lost their home and have lived in their minivan for four years. They did laundry in a church annex, went to the bathroom at gas stations, and did their studies under street lamps, according to America Tonight.

Fact One: Over half a million people are homeless.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaArk(Photo: Michel Wolgemut)If you've never made it to Mt. Ararat to search for remnants of Noah's Ark; visited Johan's Ark, a Noah's Ark-themed mobile structure in the Netherlands, built by Dutch creationist Johan Huibers, or the Noah's Ark theme park in Hong Kong; stopped off for a slide or two at Noah's Ark watermark -- "America's largest Waterpark" -- in Wisconsin; or didn't catch Noah the movie with Russell Crowe, do not despair. Set to open in 2016 is Ark Encounter, a Christian fundamentalist theme park in Kentucky, which will feature a 510-foot replica of Noah's Ark. Ark Encounter has been dependent on property tax breaks, donations and bonds to get off the ground, but its highly anticipated tourism tax credit worth millions of dollars, may be at risk, as questions are being raised about its discriminatory hiring practices.

Besides the 510-foor replica of Noah's Ark, the Ark Encounter project is unique in that it has received: "preliminary approval for $18 million in state tax incentives to offset the cost of the park's construction; a 75 percent property tax break over 30 years from the City of Williamstown (a town of about 3,000 near where the park will be located); an $11-million road upgrade in a rural area that would almost exclusively facilitate traffic going to and from the park; a $200,000 gift from the Grant County Industrial Development Authority to make sure the project stays in that county; 100 acres of reduced-price land and, finally $62 million municipal bond issue from Williamstown that Ham claims has kept the project from sinking," Simon Brown reported in the October issue of Church & State, a publication of the Washington, D.C. –based American United for the Separation of Church and State.

According to Brown, "the bonds received junk status, which is the lowest possible rating for an investment. ... [making] it highly unlikely that anyone who buys them will actually get money back." Although the bonds "initially sold poorly," Ham announced earlier this year that "the bond offering had succeeded."

Published in Guest Commentary
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