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ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaISISwar(Photo: Sgt. Luis Delgadillo)Barack Obama's central dilemma last week, when he tried to sell a new war to the American public on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, was to speak convincingly about the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade-plus while at the same time, alas, dropping the bad news that it didn't work.

Thus: "Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer."

Hurray! God bless drones and "mission accomplished" and a million Iraqi dead and birth defects in Fallujah. God bless torture. God bless the CIA. But guess what?

"Still we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm."

So it's bombs away again, boys — another trace of evil has popped up in the Middle East — and I find myself at the edge of outrage, the edge of despair, groping for language to counter my own incredulity that the God of War is on the verge of another victory and Planet Earth and human evolution lose again.

Obama ended his executive declaration of more war with words that the military-industrial shills have slowly managed to turn into an obscenity: "May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America."

God bless another war?

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaJesusRapture(Photo: John Singleton Copley)Christian-themed movies appear to be attracting large audiences these days. While none of the latest crop of religious-themed movies will come close to the box office numbers garnered by Mel Gibson's 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ – over $600 million combined domestically and worldwide -- nevertheless, these films are taking church goers out of the pews, and transporting them to local cineplexes across the country. A post-film-watching goal is to have patrons go and click on the film's website and order up an assortment of merchandise.

This year's successful crop includes Heaven is for Real ($91 million); God's Not Dead ($60 million); and, Son of God ($59 million). Noah, starring Russell Crowe, is a film that stirred controversy amongst some Christians for its lack of fealty to the Biblical tale, but nevertheless brought in nearly $360 million worldwide. According to thewrap.com's Todd Cunningham, "Grassroots and social media campaigns aimed directly at the Christian community had a lot to do with their success."

"Just as there's a whole niche publishing industry that does nothing but Christian books, this is a way to create that niche in the movie-making industry," says Michael Parnell, pastor at Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., and a commentator and film reviewer for APBnews/Herald. Organizers of the 168 Film Festival, which celebrates Christian movies, called the past year, "a stellar year for faith films at the box office ..."

More recently, faith-based films have hit some hard times in the past few months, Cunningham pointed out: "The box-office washout of The Identical made it four straight misfires for faith-based movies after an unprecedented run of success for religious films earlier this year."

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 12 September 2014 08:29

Mitch McConnell Threatens the United States

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMcConnellRifle(Photo: Gage Skidmore)Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader, is not a happy man.

He didn’t like it when Barack Obama was elected president. Just about the first thing McConnell said was that his main responsibility was to make sure that Mr. Obama was a one-term president.

That vow drove McConnell’s and the Tea Party’s politics. They didn’t worry about the nation or the people. They worried about how to make Barack Obama a one-term president.

They failed.

But, in the past six years, McConnell managed to block almost all constructive legislation in the Senate.  And it’s not even a fair fight. McConnell manipulated and wheeled and dealed so that the majority no longer can do anything. It now takes 60 votes to pass almost anything in the Senate. That’s because the Republican obstructionists have threatened to filibuster anything of substance.  Important bipartisan legislation that would normally pass with a majority of 51 to 59 votes out of the 100 possible are now scuttled by backroom politics and the blind hatreds that some have for this nation’s president who was elected by the people and by the Electoral College—twice.

And now comes Mitch McConnell to again obstruct the people and the government. He vows if the Republicans win the Senate in November, he will shut down the government if President Obama doesn’t agree with the Republicans.

Published in Guest Commentary

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaStatuePlaque(Photo: melanzane1013)After a long and inert struggle, resembling nothing so much as two elderly crocodiles trying to gum one another to death, Obama has declared that no action on immigration reform will be taken until after the fall elections. On the one hand, this makes perfect political sense. The chances of getting the House to pass a bill proclaiming that 2+2=4 would be close to nil, were said bill favored by the president. And a bill on so sensitive a topic as immigration reform? Unlikely. And addressing the issue with executive orders would, as the prophets of conventional wisdom proclaim, only hand Republicans further ammunition in an already grim looking mid-term election.

On the other hand, come on, really? Immigration reform has been under discussion for years. The latest iteration of the battle has seen Obama repeatedly put off action, to give the Republicans in the House a chance to act, which they seized upon by doing, um, nothing. And of course, since assuming office, Obama has been deporting undocumented immigrants at a record rate, apparently under the assumption that, once he has passed a certain threshold of anti-immigrant toughness, perhaps by biting off the head of a Guatemalan infant on live TV, his political opponents would have no choice but to sit down and actually hammer out some sort of deal.

But that hasn’t quite worked out, has it? As with most every other area of debate in which the president has attempted to meet his adversaries halfway, the end result has been that the terms of discourse drift rightwards whilst his opponents screech and little of consequence occurs. And in this particular case, we are now left to wait until, at the very earliest, November for any action. And perhaps, post mid-terms, the notion of political capital will come up and Obama will opt to spend his dwindling stores of it on something exciting, like a few more million tons of bombs in Iraq and/or Syria. So then the can gets kicked ever further down the road and oh no! Here’s the 2016 elections and we certainly can’t be doing anything to upset that, can we?

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 11 September 2014 09:06

A GOP Senate: Good News or Bad News?

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSenate(Photo: US Senate)Just the other day I received the following communication from the GOP (and that’s how they referred to themselves in this particular email):

Subj: GREAT polls for Republicans:

“Steven, Just wanted to update you on the state of play in the critical battleground races: This weekend, there were a number of positive polls released for Republicans. One forecast showed Republicans holding “at least a nominal lead in eight states held by Democrats, more than the six they need to retake the chamber.” One leading forecaster predicted Republicans have a 65.1% chance of winning a Senate majority this November — up from 63.5% two days prior. And another forecasting model gave Republicans a 61% chance of taking back the Senate — up from 58% since a wave of new data was released. The momentum is growing, and the odds are on our side. But every single one of these Senate battleground races is just too close for comfort. With less than two months until Election Day, we can’t afford to leave the odds making to the pollsters. It’s up to us whether we clear the path, seize the lead and deliver a victory in each battleground state.”

Then they go on to ask for money. What? They don’t get enough from the Koch’s et al? But that’s another story.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 11 September 2014 06:12

The Quick-Draw Morality of Violent Police Force

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBadge(Photo: Scott Sanchez)“So you want to disarm cops LOL yeah that’s an intelligent thing to do the gang bangers would love that surely they will unilaterally disarm too.”

I’m used to semi-anonymous sarcasm by now, like this Huffington Post comment beneath a recent column I wrote on the militarization of the police and the possibility of disarmament, and I have no interest in “fighting it out” with the guy. But there it is, perfectly preserved: an impulse homage to Big Fear, wrapped in unexamined certainty. This is fast-draw morality, made in Hollywood.

I take this moment to highlight it because it’s so typical and, for that reason, the first line of defense of the status quo of violence: this instant acceptance of the idea that our enemies are continually stalking the perimeter of our lives, waiting to invade, to commandeer our way of life the moment we lower our weapons.

This instant reaction to any questioning of the use of armed force to maintain safety and “peace” not only shuts down the discussion but hides all the consequences of violent self-defense, including the creation of the very enemies we fear (e.g., the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and the hemorrhaging of sanctioned, official violence backwards into our own lives.

Violent force and temporary dominance of a situation may occasionally serve a larger end, but the permanent maintenance of this mindset has us stalled in a state of endless embattlement, both at home and abroad. Fear has us locked into a bad story: that violent dominance over our enemies is our only hope. In actuality, our only hope is embracing a larger story: that all humanity, and all of life, is connected. Finding that connection is often what requires courage.

Published in Guest Commentary

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSteth(Photo: Huji)There is a great deal that could be said about what is wrong with our health care system, but I would rather discuss what is right about Cuba’s health care program, from medical training to medical treatment.

During the Affordable Health Care debate, many people were asking why the president and Congress didn’t simply expand Medicare to everyone in the United States. Instead, there is a movement in DC to cut Medicare benefits. To expand on the theme of my last BuzzFlash commentary, wars for oil, the reason they want to cut Medicare funding is because the US government spends not millions, not billions, but trillions of dollars on weapons, wars, and surveillance.  

But in Cuba, it’s different.  In Cuba, people are more important than profits. Instead of investing in bombs, Cuba invests in: 1) education, including medical training; and 2) decent housing and food for all Cubans: although Cuba is a poor country, no one is starving and no one is homeless.

By contrast, in the US, there is a strong connection between poverty and medical need.  Cuba’s commitment to health care is seen as a human right, not as a privilege for only those who can afford it. 

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBoots(Photo: HAF 932)President Obama's strategy against the Islamic State may be hard to pin down -- maddeningly so, some complain -- but it is likely to work far better than anything his bellicose critics advocate.

Perhaps the president will eliminate any confusion when he addresses the nation Wednesday, but I doubt it. Based on what he told NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press," there may be no way to reduce Obama's fluid and perhaps deliberately ambiguous thinking to a black-or-white, all-or-nothing dichotomy.

"This is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops. This is not the equivalent of the Iraq War," Obama said. Later in the interview, he added that "we're not looking at sending in 100,000 American troops" and that "our goal should not be to think that we can occupy every country where there's a terrorist organization."

Clear? Kind of.

We understand that the president will not announce the deployment of U.S. troops in large numbers and that he does not intend for the United States to re-invade and re-occupy Iraq. But we know that U.S. military advisers and special operations teams have already been active in both Iraq and Syria. And since Obama described the fight against the Islamic State as "similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we've been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years," we can assume there will be some U.S. military presence on the ground, however covert and limited.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBible(Photo: David Ball)A few years back, Forbes magazine called them “undercover billionaires.” Meet Farris and Dan Wilks, who, after selling their fracking business and becoming generous donors to right-wing causes, politicians, and the Republican Party, are no longer “undercover.” While claiming that Christians are under attack, the Wilks brothers’ are "using the riches that the Lord has blessed" them with and are dedicating themselves to getting the Bible back in schools.

The brothers began by working in their father’s masonry business, operating mostly in Oklahoma and Texas. In 1995, the brothers founded their own company called Wilks Masonry. However, they “really hit the big time when they got in on the ground floor with fracking, the controversial natural gas drilling technique that has boomed over the past decade,” People for the American Way’s Peter Montgomery recently pointed out in a report titled “The Wilks Brothers: Fracking Sugar Daddies For The Far Right.” 

In 2002, the Cisco, Texas-based Wilks brothers – who share the #352 spot on Forbes list of billionaires -- “entered the energy industry with the founding of hydraulic fracturing and oil field services firm Frac Tech,” Forbes magazine pointed out in a September 2011 article. In May 2011, the brothers sold Frac Tech to a “group of investors led by Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund” for $3.5 billion. According to Forbes, the brothers are worth $1.4 billion each.

Published in Guest Commentary

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGoldBars(Photo: Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited)The profit motive fogs the thinking of free-market advocates. The Economist gushes, "Take a bow, capitalism...the biggest poverty-reduction measure of all is liberalising markets to let poor people get richer." Forbes proclaims its belief in "the unmatched power of capitalism to improve human life."

Self-indulgent capitalists have turned much of America against its own best interests by promoting a winner-take-all philosophy that reaps great rewards for a few people at the expense of everyone else. To the neoliberal, vital human needs like health and education are products to be bought and sold.

Here are some other examples of greed and the pain it causes.

Published in Guest Commentary
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