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ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaRepLewis(Photo: Rep. John Lewis (D-GA))Ah, 1961. The year — certain aspects of it, anyway — are almost impossible to remember. "Whites only" bathrooms, for instance.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, legendary civil rights leader and crosser of lines, recently tweeted an ancient mugshot memorializing his arrest that year for using a "whites only" bathroom in Mississippi and, in the process, amping up outrage against Jim Crow segregation in the South and intensifying the civil rights movement's global resonance.

He was charged with disorderly conduct and spent 37 days at the Parchman Penitentiary. How difficult it is to fathom such smug, legally sanctified certainty. It all seems so long ago . . . those days when the people who ran things were so wrong.

I say this facetiously, of course.

The emergence of this mugshot from 53 years ago, and the memories of a long-gone era that unavoidably accompany it, somehow speaks volumes to the numerous movements for change that are simmering today. One reason is because the civil rights movement of the 1960s was actually successful. It turned the country around. It undid every last legal and moral justification that held together a whites-only Old South, and it seriously undermined much of the legally ensconced racism of the North.

No, it didn't end racism per se, which regrouped "legally" around a bloated prison-industrial complex, but it woke the nation up and created an enduring legacy of nonviolent, human-rights-based change. It set a standard for what's possible, at the same time exposing the vicious hatred, masquerading as moral sanctity, which held together the existing social order.

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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaArkansasProject(Photo: Wasted Time R)Long before the billionaire Koch Brothers and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson began polluting the American political landscape with obscene amounts of money, decades before the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, years before the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth mobilized a platoon of millionaire financiers to put the kibosh on John Kerry's presidential campaign, and before folks like Rex Sinquefield were bound and determined to have their money loom large over the legislative process in the states, there was Richard Mellon Scaife.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Scaife and his family were among the top donors to a myriad of right-wing organizations and causes. Back in the day it didn't take long before researchers following the money behind the conservative movement ran headlong into the Scaife clan.

Scaife, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based heir to the Mellon banking fortune, was a man on a multi-pronged mission. He succeeded in helping build the powerful conservative infrastructure that essentially paved the way for the way for the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the rise of the Religious Right and the institutionalization of such right-wing powerhouses as the Heritage Foundation.

According to The New York Times, Scaife "inherited roughly $500 million in 1965, and with more family bequests and income from trust funds and investments in oil, steel and real estate, nearly tripled his net worth over his lifetime. But unlike his forebears, who were primarily benefactors of museums, public art collections, education and medicine, he gave hundreds of millions to promote conservative political causes."

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STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaJesus(Photo: John Singleton Copley)We interrupt the two-part series on "The Significance of Dick Cheney" to deal with the breaking news of the Hobby Lobby decision. For it is as least as significant for the future of our nation as is Dick Cheney, what he stands for, and who he represents (the subject to which we shall return next week). The Hobby Lobby decision has many implications. First, one must agree with Justice Ginsburg that regardless of Justices Alito's caveats, the tide unleashed by the decision of the Right-wing Five is not going to stop at the shoreline of the separation of church and state any time soon. And for the long-range future of the United States, that is the most significant element of the decision.

That is not to say that it also has horrible outcomes for women and their sexual behavior, their private lives, and their private decision-making. As Andy Borowitz so cogently put it, "Supreme Court Majority Calls Case a Dispute between Women and People." Chiming in was everyone's favorite very-far-right GOP Senator Mike Lee of Utah who said that most women who use contraceptives do so for "recreational purposes." Like that's supposed to make a difference on whether or not a public corporation can discriminate against women on their choice of FDA approved contraceptives, on religious grounds. By the way, most folks label Lee as a "Tea Partier," as if such types really differ from "regular Republicans." Well, they do, but not on policy (except perhaps around the edges on immigration policy, which Eric Cantor found to his regret, at least among the 13% of eligible voters in his district who bothered to vote). If you look closely, it is almost always just a matter of style and wording.

There are a variety of other important negative aspects of this decision that are being widely and well dealt with from the Left. In my view, the most important one is how this decision ushers our one further, very big, step down the road to theocracy. For the Supreme Court has held that in matters of legislation, law, and public programs, the religious positions of one person (and of course they have recently reaffirmed the original 1880s railroad-lawyers-Court decision that corporations are people (see "Citizens United"), can outweigh the religious position, or non-religious but ethical/moral position, of another.

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BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFireworks(Photo: David Shankbone)Over sixty five million people in the US, perhaps a fifth of our sisters and brothers, are not enjoying the "unalienable rights" of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" promised when the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. They are about twenty percent of our US population. This July 4 can be an opportunity to remember them and rededicate ourselves and our country to making these promises real for all people in the US.

More than two million people are in our jails and prisons making the US the world leader in incarceration, according to the Sentencing Project, a 500% increase in the last 30 years.

Four million more people are on probation and parole, reports the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.

On the night of July 4 and on any given night, over 600,000 people are homeless, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, a quarter of which, over 130,000, are children.

Over 4 million people live in homes where each person lives on less than $2 per day (2.8 million are children) according to the National Poverty Center of the University of Michigan. Over 20 million people are living in deep poverty with incomes of less than 50 percent of the already low US poverty lines.

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EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDroneReaper(Photo: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)In our growing reliance on armed drones as instruments of war, how slippery is the slope we're sliding on? Imagine that Vladimir Putin began using drones to kill Ukrainians who opposed Russia's annexation of Crimea. If Putin claimed the targets were "members of anti-Russian terrorist groups," what credibility would the United States have to condemn such strikes?

This scenario is outlined in a chilling new report released Thursday by a bipartisan panel of military experts. The use of drones against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, begun by the George W. Bush administration and greatly expanded by President Obama, risks becoming "a long-term killing program based on secret rationales," the report warns.

In the hypothetical Ukraine example, the world would demand proof that the individuals killed were indeed terrorists. The report notes that "Russia could simply repeat the words used by U.S. officials defending U.S. targeted killings, asserting that it could not provide any evidence without disclosing sources and methods."

The report was commissioned by the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, and written by a panel that no one would consider a bunch of woolly-headed pacifists. Co-chairs of the group are retired Gen. John Abizaid, the former head of U.S. Central Command, and Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor. Included are former defense and intelligence officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 26 June 2014 09:25

The Loathsome Legacy of Dick Cheney

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCheneySucks(Photo: Magnus Manske)As I started thinking about what I was going to say about Dick Cheney this time around, I also started thinking about how many times in my time with BuzzFlash have I written about one aspect or another of the man's political and policy being. It added up to quite a few. Indeed I have devoted more column space to Cheney than I have to any other US politician, living or dead. The topics have included the CheneyBush war policy in Iraq, "What Cheney is Really About," "Cheney and the Iraq "Surge," the Dick Cheney Torture Defense, Cheney and "bombing the Constitution," what I called [the pernicious legacy of Cheneyism, the permanence of Permanent War (which is the centrepiece of the Cheney Doctrine), and what I called "The Incredible Lightness of Dick Cheney," that is how cleverly the man has been able to get away with everything he has gotten away with. And there were others too.

So all of that on Dick Cheney. "My-oh-my," I said to myself, "how come so many?" The conclusion that I have come to is that Dick Cheney has in fact been the most important U.S. politician and overall policy-maker of the first 14 years of the 21st century. And just now, once again, he has come to the defense of himself and the policies that he has made in his now-famous diatribe against President Obama published recently. It was entitled "The Collapsing Obama Doctrine: Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many."

Indeed, rarely has a former Vice-President so bitterly and viciously attacked a sitting US President, a President who just happens to have two very serious foreign policy crises on his hands, in Ukraine and the Middle East. But Cheney is very worried about his legacy. He is very worried about the political future of the one daughter that he has who might, despite her recent bitter loss in Wyoming, be able to carry it on for him. (He is obviously grooming her to be the next Cheney standard bearer on the Republican Right, even to the extent of allowing her to publicly dis her own gay sister and her sister's family.) But most important is what Cheney, as perhaps the most prominent representative of the currently dominant sector of the US ruling class, is so concerned about in terms of national policy. If you want to embody what has become the Military-Industrial-Fossil-Fuels Complex in one person, Cheney is as good as any other. He is fighting very hard to maintain its present hammerlock on the political economy of the United States.

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ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMarinesIraqKoehler(Photo: Lance Corporal Kevin C. Quihuis Jr.)The video opens with a few bars of adrenalin-pumping music. We see a topsy-turvy camera angle, sky, trees, darkness, then a staccato pop pop pop that blends rhythmically with the music, but of course it's gunfire, lots of gunfire, followed by a few urgent words in Arabic, then English. "Down here! Down here!"

This chaotic excitement is Iraq, the evening's International Hot Spot, brought to us by ABC. It's the news, but it's also reality TV and big league sports, rolled into an entertainment package of shocking cluelessness. OMG, ISIS is on the move. It's winning. Stay tuned!

Iraq, Iraq. This is a disaster stamped "made in USA." Worse than that. It's a bleeding stump of a nation that we destroyed in our pursuit of empire, at the cost of multi-trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands or perhaps a million Iraqi lives, and spiritual and physical damage to American troops so profound a new phrase had to be coined: moral injury. And now, our official, moneyed media serve up what's left of Iraq to us as geopolitical entertainment: the moderates (our guys, sort of) vs. the insurgents. Go, U.S.-trained troops! Stand tough and die for American interests, OK?

Of course, as the Washington Post reported earlier this month: "Fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda offshoot, overran the western bank of the city (of Mosul) overnight after U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers and police officers abandoned their posts, in some instances discarding their uniforms as they sought to escape the advance of the militants."

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BRIAN J. TRAUTMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaColored(Photo: John Vachon)Voting rights was a priority of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. The struggle to secure these rights achieved real traction and impact in the early 1960s. While the Jim Crow South was rife with voter suppression, there was no place more in need of voting reforms than Mississippi. Although black Mississippians comprised nearly 50 percent of the state's population in 1960, less than 7 percent of its eligible black constituency was registered to vote, representing the lowest percentage in the union. In some counties, no blacks were registered to vote. Despite ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment ninety years early, terrorist tactics – from fear and intimidation to beatings and lynchings – prevented blacks from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Later, legislation in several states, i.e., the passage of state constitutional amendments beginning in 1890, severely restricted black voter participation – through measures such as poll taxes, background checks and literacy tests. By 1960, the southern black population had been politically disenfranchised for almost a century.

To effect social and political change for equality in voting, civil rights leaders understood that the Movement needed to challenge the status quo of racial intolerance being advanced by groups like the Citizens' Councils, a national network of pro-segregationists formed in 1954 following the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education. The mission of Citizens' Councils was to preserve white power and oppose racial integration. To protect the voting rights of black citizens, the deep-rooted white segregationist and supremacist establishment, which considered African Americans second-class citizens and preserved this racist ideology with violence, had to be confronted directly. It was decided that there was no better place to embark on this monumental task than Mississippi, arguably the country's poorest and most violent and segregated state.

In 1961, building on the service and sacrifice of countless civil rights workers in initiatives aimed at ending racial segregation and unjust voting restrictions, Robert (Bob) Moses, a local field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), became the head of SNCC's voter education and registration operations in the state. Moses' seminal leadership over the next couple of years was instrumental in the formation of strong coalitions among SNCC leaders and other civil rights leaders as well as sympathetic whites. In 1963, Moses and SNCC carried out a mock election called "Freedom Vote," with the intention of demonstrating both the will of black residents to vote and that in the absence of violence and unfair administrative red tape they would be participating in the electoral process. To accommodate interested black Mississippians, organizers opened polling places in black churches and businesses all over the state, including in Jackson, the state capital and final stop of the "Freedom Rides" of 1961. For most, this was the first time in their lives they felt empowered to contribute to a free, democratic institution. Tens of thousands voted.

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BRANDON BAKER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFrackingPrinceton(Photo: EcoWatch)Pennsylvania already has a fracking problem groups struggle to inspire politicians to address. Now, a Princeton University study shows that hundreds of thousands of abandoned oil wells are adding to the state's pollution.

CO2, Methane, and Brine Leakage through Subsurface Pathways: Exploring Modeling, Measurement and Policy Options is a first-of-its-kind study from Mary Klang that describes how abandoned oil wells serve as leakage pathways for carbon dioxide, methane, brine and more.

Based on records, Kang estimates that between 280,000 and 970,000 abandoned wells account for 4 to 13 percent of the state's methane emissions.

Three of the 19 wells measured by the team are considered high emitters. Leakage was found in both plugged and unplugged wells.

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WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFloodDamage(Photo: Proud Novice)Persons living in the Mid-Atlantic and New England states will experience increased rainfall and floods if data analysis by a Penn State meteorologist and long-term projections by a fisheries biologist, with a specialty in surface water pollution, are accurate.

Paul Knight, senior lecturer in meteorology at Penn State, compiled rainfall data for Pennsylvania from 1895—when recordings were first made—to this year. He says there has been an increase of 10 percent of rainfall during the past century. Until the 1970s, the average rainfall throughout the state was about 42 inches. Beginning in the 1970s, the average began creeping up. "By the 1990s, the increase was noticeable," he says. The three wettest years on record since 1895 were 2003, 2004, and 2011. The statewide average was 61.5 inches in 2011, the year of Tropical Storm Lee, which caused 18 deaths and about $1.6 billion in damage in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and devastating flooding in New York and Pennsylvania, especially along the Susquehanna River basin.

Dr. Harvey Katz, of Montoursville, Pa., extended Knight's data analysis for five decades. Dr. Katz predicts an average annual rainfall of about 55 inches, about 13 inches more than the period of 1895 to 1975. The increased rainfall isn't limited to Pennsylvania, but extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.

Both Knight and Dr. Katz say floods will be more frequent. The industrialization and urbanization of America has led to more trees being cut down; the consequences are greater erosion and more open areas to allow rainwater to flow into streams and rivers. Waterway hazards, because of flooding and increased river flow, will cause additional problems. Heavy rains will cause increased pollution, washing off fertilizer on farmlands into the surface water supply, extending into the Chesapeake Bay. Sprays on plants and agricultural crops to reduce attacks by numerous insects, which would normally stay localized, will now be washed into streams and rivers, says Knight.

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