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BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaPeacefulProtest(Photo: Bartosz Brzezinski)Police officers should approach Ferguson protestors with caution and fully respect their constitutional rights. That is the clear message from recent court awards and settlements against police force abuses against demonstrators.

New York City just paid out $17.9 million to more than 1800 protestors arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention, according to CNN.

An Iraq War veteran injured by police during Occupy protest in Oakland has been awarded $4.5 million after being struck in the head by a beanbag fired by police.

UC Davis paid out $1 million to 21 demonstrators who were pepper sprayed during Occupy protests November 2011. This was $30,000 per demonstrator and $250,000 in attorney fees. The University apologized and the officer who pepper sprayed the protestors was fired.

Oakland paid $1.1 million to members of the Occupy movement for police misconduct during the protests.

Published in Guest Commentary

Kelly HayesChicago police block a Ferguson solidarity march on November 2, 2014. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Here’s a story for you. My uncle-in-law is a good man. He’s 73, a twice decorated Vietnam veteran, and lives with his wife in New Mexico, a few miles south of the Colorado border. She suffers from an autoimmune condition so, every month, he drives her 150 miles south, to Albuquerque, where she receives the infusion that keeps her alive. This past week, due to some bureaucracy and miscommunication, he found himself making that drive on a license that had been suspended. And, as luck would have it, he was pulled over for driving a few miles an hour under the speed limit. The officer ran his license, saw that it had been suspended, and listened to my uncle explain that he was simply trying to take his wife to the hospital for lifesaving treatment. At that point, the officer had a choice. She could have written my uncle a warning. She could have written him a ticket. She could have let him drive off with nothing more than a friendly admonition.

She chose to put him in a double pair of handcuffs, place him in back of her police car, and haul him off to the county jail, leaving my aunt to make her own way to Albuquerque. I showed up an hour later and, after I posted his bail, they made him sit in a concrete cell for another two hours for reasons that were never actually divulged.

Here’s another story, albeit less of a personal one. The city council of Santa Fe, NM, where I live, recently voted to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. This was followed by a non-binding referendum, in support of decriminalization, that overwhelmingly passed. Now here’s the funny thing: when police officers in Santa Fe stop someone who turns out to be in possession of marijuana, they are often choosing to file charges under the old state law, which comes with a heftier penalty. As the city police department has yet to issue any directive on the new law to its officers, it falls to the discretion of the arresting office, and it is, ultimately, his choice which law to charge the offender under.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 20 November 2014 06:29

Ferguson and the "Us vs. Them" Illusion

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBrownDontShoot(Photo: Jamelle Bouie)As the grand jury’s decision on whether nor not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson loomed, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told a TV reporter “he’s preparing for peace and war.”

What the governor did, in the tense uncertainty preceding the decision, was pre-declare a state of emergency and activate the Missouri National Guard to help contain the possibility of violent, anti-police protests. He also appointed 16 people, including several of the protesters, to a newly created “Ferguson Commission” to recommend solutions to the racial problems plaguing that community, which the killing of Michael Brown last August made unavoidably apparent.

Meanwhile, gun sales at local shops are through the roof and the local Klan is stirring, distributing fliers warning protesters that they’ve awakened a sleeping giant.

America, America . . .

Before we proceed further, let’s stir in a little Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

That level of thinking — the political, governmental and media consensus of who we are — is blind and deaf to history and locked into us-vs.-them thinking. Security, whether domestic or international, is a game played against presumed and, often enough, imagined enemies. Thus, prior to the governor’s decision to call out the Guard, the FBI had issued an intelligence bulletin warning local officials that “the announcement of the grand jury’s decision … will likely be exploited by some individuals to justify threats and attacks against law enforcement and critical infrastructure,” according to the Washington Post.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 18 November 2014 10:15

Which Side Are You On?

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaConflictAkira(Photo: Hans Holbein the Younger)Ever get the feeling that things are spiraling out of control? Yes, apocalyptic thinking seems to be a hardwired human impulse, but it’s hard to deny that, of late, events are trending in an ever more unhinged direction. On issue after issue, stark contrasts may be drawn between opposing sides as the rhetoric becomes ever more forceful.

Item: House Republicans have seized upon the “mandate” offered by the recent midterm elections to pass a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, an enterprise that will support the carbon emissions-heavy extraction of oil from the Alberta tar sands, have little positive impact on domestic energy costs, and create, in the end, a whopping 50 permanent jobs. In an attempt to secure her political legacy, or perhaps a post-political consulting career, the soon to be ex-Democratic senator from Louisiana, Mary Landrieu, is pushing for a vote in the Senate on a similar bill. Meanwhile, the Rosebud Sioux, through whose reservation the pipeline will run, have denounced the authorization as an “act of war.”

Item: President Obama issued an entirely sensible statement calling for net neutrality, something that has been long overdue, and something that enjoys overwhelming public support. Senator Ted Cruz, who I am increasingly convinced is the product of a failed collaboration between a third-rate cloning facility and an adolescent performance artist, immediately denounced net neutrality as the “Obamacare of the internet,” following this fascinating claim with a collection of other words that offered the outward appearance of meaning and coherence while demonstrating little more than a profound lack of understanding of the issue.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaPollingStation(Photo: Man vyi)The leadership of the Republican Party knows that, except in a few very high income neighborhoods, it cannot win elections running on its real program of tax cuts for the wealthy, bread-crumbs (if any) for everyone else, and ending government regulation of every sector of the economy from the banking industry to the production of energy. So ever since Nixon, and most especially since Reagan, they have necessarily engaged in what I have for quite some time described as "The Rightward Imperative." This means attracting voters to the GOP through religious determinism, enhancing bigotry, demonization, and so on and so forth.

However, the true leadership of the GOP, of many of whom we have little or no knowledge, knew that someday this movement would run out of gas. Yes, after Ted "Damn the Law" Cruz has come Joni "Shoot the Law" Ernst, and you have Louie Gohmert and Steve "immigrant children carry bags of dope across the desert" King, not all that many voters are going to go that way in national elections, as especially as the general economy stagnates. And so, the true, big money, leadership knew that they were going to have to go in a different direction. Rove's "Permanent Republican Majority" would never appear. But a "Permanent Republican Government" could.

Which brings us to the Republicans' Grand Plan to achieve that end. It began back in 1992 with the hatching by the then, now defunct, Republican political ally, the Christian Coalition, of something they called "The 15% Solution." (I wrote a book with that title, on the theme of what the GOP/Religious Right would do if they were ever to attain significant power in US government. Originally published in 1996, the current edition is to be found here. "The 15% Solution" itself is to be found on p. 17 of that book). It was a strategy designed to lower voting participation, down to a level where the loyal rightist "15%" could win elections, all by themselves. As Paul Weyrich, one of the creators of the Republican-Religious Right Alliance, a founder of ALEC (see below) and a founder of the Heritage Foundation, famously said: "We don't want everyone to vote. Quite frankly, our leverage goes up as the voting population goes down" (see p. 18).

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 14 November 2014 08:47

Shell Oil Loses Arctic Drilling Lawsuit

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaExxon(Photo: EcoWatch)Shell Oil seems to be on a losing streak these days.

In early October it was announced that the Greenpeace campaign to get Danish toy company LEGO to sever its nearly 50-year partnership with the oil giant was successful. Its Arctic drilling has been plagued with misadventures such as a drilling rig running aground on New Year’s Eve 2012. It was forced to abandon its drilling plans for 2013 and 2014, although it has said it plans to try again for 2015.

And yesterday, in a decision sure to be a relief to activist and advocacy groups of all stripes, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit brought by Shell that was primarily an effort to block potential lawsuits from environmental groups who opposed its drilling operations in the Arctic.

Two years ago, Shell filed a preemptive lawsuit against 13 environmental, indigenous and community groups to prevent them from possibly suing Shell at some time in the future over its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. The 9th Circuit Court panel yesterday called the legal maneuver “novel”and said that it was unconstitutional.

Published in Guest Commentary

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaNetMap(Photo: Map of the Internet by The Opte Project)When it comes to Internet Service Providers and high-speed Internet, the consumer marketplace has hardly been a model of competitiveness. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to choose from two providers, and some of us only have access to one.

These digital conduits are essential parts of America's utility infrastructure, nearly as basic as electricity and water pipes. They connect us (and our children) to worldwide knowledge, news, diverse viewpoints and other fundamental tools of citizenship. And, of course, we can buy and sell through them, be entertained, run our businesses, connect with friends, get up-to-the-minute scores, follow the weather and — yes indeedy — pay our bills.

Yet while this digital highway is deemed vital to our nation's well-being, access to it is not offered as a public service — i.e., an investment in the common good. Instead, it is treated as just another profit center for a few corporations

Amassing market power to gouge customers is bad enough, but ISP's plan on eviscerating the pure egalitarian ethic of the Internet, which is why they were so upset when President Obama recently urged the FCC to back a free and open Internet.

Like an uncensored global bulletin board, the great virtue of the Internet is that no one controls its content. This digital communication technology has been so spectacularly successful and so socially valuable because it is a wide-open, democratic forum, accessible on equal terms to all who want to put information, images, opinions, etc. on it or to download any of the same from it. Since its invention, the guiding principle behind the use of this liberating technology has been that no corporation, government, religion, or other controlling power should be its gatekeeper.

Published in Guest Commentary

COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFrancisPope(Photo: EcoWatch)In what has become an annual tradition, Pope Francis wrote a letter to Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia and this year’s leader of the G20 Summit, which will take place Nov. 15-16 in Brisbane, Australia. On the heels of a report by the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International, which is the first detailed breakdown of fossil fuel exploration subsidies by all G20 countries, the Pope has voiced his concerns about the state of world affairs:

To the Honourable Tony Abbott
Prime Minister of Australia

On 15 and 16 November next in Brisbane you will chair the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the world’s twenty largest economies, thus bringing to a close Australia’s presidency of the Group over the past year.  This presidency has proved to be an excellent opportunity for everyone to appreciate Oceania’s significant contributions to the management of world affairs and its efforts to promote the constructive integration of all countries.

The G20 agenda in Brisbane is highly focused on efforts to relaunch a sustained and sustainable growth of the world economy, thereby banishing the spectre of global recession. One crucial point that has emerged from the preparatory work is the fundamental imperative of creating dignified and stable employment for all. This will call for improvement in the quality of public spending and investment, the promotion of private investment, a fair and adequate system of taxation, concerted efforts to combat tax evasion and a regulation of the financial sector which ensures honesty, security and transparency.

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaChicago(Photo: Daniel Schwen)The vision is a city interlaced with restorative justice hubs — community centers that bring hope and promise to troubled kids in a town where too many of them are dying. "It is not OK that my friends and I have already planned our funerals," then-high school senior Keann Mays-Lenoir told a crowd of 300 people a year ago, at a rafter-shaking meeting where the idea was introduced.

It builds slowly, from the bottom up. Reclaim common sense. Reclaim community. Reclaim Chicago.

I've written a fair amount about restorative justice — RJ — over the last few years. It's a movement about healing and sanity, truth, dignity, respect, wholeness. It's catching on in Chicago, where I live: in the schools, in the juvenile justice system, in the broken 'hoods. RJ is about repairing harm, not punishing wrongdoers and, in the process, saddling them with a lifelong identity as criminals. It's also about telling the truth, and building relationships with truth as the bedrock. It's about connecting.

"This is about making kids irresistible forces for positive change."

The speaker was Judge Sophia Hall, presiding judge of the Resource Section of the Juvenile Justice and Child Protection Department of the Circuit Court of Cook County, who hosts a semiannual, region-wide meeting about restorative justice, held, appropriately, at Juvenile Court. The topic was the hubs: the vision of a different kind of city, where teenagers aren't planning their own funerals but, rather, figuring out their futures, with the help of mentoring adults, in a world in which they feel welcome.

Published in Guest Commentary

WILLIAM RIVERS PITT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaArlington(Photo: Remember)My deepest and most sincere apologies to all of my veteran friends, but I need to be honest: I simply hate this day. I've had this low-and-slow weeping thing going on basically from the moment I got out of bed this morning. Tomas Young is dead, and I can't stop thinking about all the letters I've received from the loved ones of so many other fallen soldiers over the last 12 years.

What's worse, this maudlin weepiness makes me sick because my emotions are making it about me, and not them, and that sucks big rocks, but I can't seem to help it. When I was 13 years old, all I wanted was to serve the way my father who volunteered for service in Vietnam did. An accumulation of experiences and opinions culminated with the recruiter sitting in my living room some 25 years ago, days after my 18th birthday, telling me Saddam Hussein was worse than Hitler and his army was vast, but if I signed up right then and there, I probably wouldn't see combat for at least four years, and the only thing going through my head was BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT THIS GUY IS FULL OF BULLSHIT, so I didn't sign, and I never served, and I'm glad of it, because it was the correct decision...

...but all these years later, on this day of days, I recall that decision, and I think of the men and women who went when I didn't, and how very many of them are gone, or damaged, or simply done. We're averaging 22 veteran suicides a day these days. Once upon a time, I wrote that when a person dons the uniform of the armed services and swears the oath, the nation to which they have pledged their life also owes an oath: not to cast that precious life onto the pyre of profit and political ambition. I weep slowly today, to no small degree, because the other half of that oath has not been kept.

Published in Editorials
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