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ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaWater(Photo: Fir0002)I'm thirsty. Indeed, I'm overwhelmed by thirst, thinking about those who lack access to clean water. I'm thirsty for a different world.

"In Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lack water, including those living in hospitals and refugee camps," Sarah Kendzior wrote in Al-Jazeera last week. "On July 15, citizens of Detroit held a rally in solidarity, holding signs that said 'Water for all, from Detroit to Palestine.' A basic resource has become a distant dream, a longing for a transformation of politics aimed at ending suffering instead of extending it."

Water is our common need, our common source of being. In bankrupt Detroit (city of my birth), as the world now knows, the poor and struggling segment of the population — the people whose overdue water bills exceed $150 — face water shutoff. The United Nations, for God's sake, has condemned the action by the city's emergency manager as a human rights violation. Thousands of residences — housing as many as 100,000 people — have had their water shut off so far, out of a total city population of 700,000.

Ironically, Detroit is surrounded by the Great Lakes, the largest body of fresh water in the world. Michigan license plates used to proclaim: "Water Wonderland."

Austerity, austerity, God shed his grace on thee . . .

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFBI(Photo: Federal Bureau of Investigation)Let's start with a premise I think we can all agree with: There have been no 9/11-type attacks on United States soil since, well, 9/11. Here's another statement we all probably agree with: The federal government has all sorts of arrows in its quiver when it comes to gathering intelligence to thwart such attacks. And that is where it begins to gets dicey: Unfortunately, in its counterterrorism project, the government appears to be relying more and more on perhaps the most twisted of those arrows; the use of informants, coerced and/or rewarded, entrapment, and the sting.

Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the federal government has obtained more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions. According to a new Human Rights Watch report (produced in association with Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute), "nearly 50 percent of [those] ... convictions resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot."

The report, "Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions," points out that, while "[m]any prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks... many others have targeted individuals who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them.

"Indeed, in some cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target's willingness to act."

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBorderbeachtj(Photo: James Reyes)The Republican Party's paralysis on immigration is so complete -- and so utterly irresponsible -- that President Obama has no choice but to act on his own.

Just say the word immigration and most GOP members of Congress either change the subject or scurry away. Rather than tackle a suite of genuine issues whose obvious solutions would clearly benefit the nation, House Republicans prefer to pass yet more useless bills that seek -- and fail -- to take away people's health insurance.

Both parties agree that the rapid influx of more than 50,000 unaccompanied children from Central America is a crisis. Yet House Speaker John Boehner must struggle to convince his GOP majority to do something, anything, before leaving Washington for their annual month-long summer vacation.

Obama asked Congress for an emergency $3.7 billion appropriation, much of which would be spent to house and care for the children while their requests for asylum are evaluated. Senate Democrats are set to propose approving roughly $2.7 billion, shaving the president's request to the sum needed for this calendar year. There is no guarantee, however, that the bill won't be stymied by a GOP filibuster.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have been spinning their wheels. Boehner is reportedly seeking agreement on a bill that provides only about $1 billion in emergency funding, far less than Obama says is needed. And it seems likely that the House bill -- if there is one -- will seek to change a 2008 law that prevents the Central American children from being summarily deported.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL  BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaZoiaHorn(Photo: Edward)Zoia Horn died Saturday in Oakland at age 96. She was, to understate it, an incredible woman who led an extraordinary life. I had the privilege and honor of working closely with her at the DataCenter, an Oakland, California-based research center, helping her edit the Center's People's Right To Know series of Press Profiles.

Zoia Horn was a librarian who went to prison "as a matter of conscience by refusing to testify against antiwar activists accused of a bizarre terrorist plot," the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out in its obituary.

The case revolved a government investigation of "a plot masterminded by the Rev. Philip Berrigan along with other current or former priests or nuns, to blow up tunnels beneath Washington, D.C., and then kidnap Henry Kissinger, President Nixon's national security advisor, and hold him until the U.S. stopped bombing Southeast Asia," reported the Chronicle.

The government had gotten wind of the plot through "an informant [Boyd Douglas] who had been in prison with Berrigan and then got a job as a library assistant, where he prevailed on Ms. Horn, a tax-withholding opponent of the Vietnam War, to host a meeting with some of Berrigan's friends."

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaF35(Photo: David Housch)"At the same time, values and ideas which were considered universal, such as cooperation, mutual aid, international social justice and peace as an encompassing paradigm are also becoming irrelevant."

Maybe this piercing observation by Roberto Savio, founder of the news agency Inter Press Service, is the cruelest cut of all. Geopolitically speaking, hope — the official kind, represented, say, by the United Nations in 1945 — feels fainter than I can remember. "We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . ."

I mean, it was never real. Five centuries of European colonialism and global culture-trashing, and the remaking of the world in the economic interests of competing empires, cannot be undone by a single institution and a cluster of lofty ideals.

As Savio notes in an essay called "Ever Wondered Why the World Is a Mess?,": "The world, as it now exists, was largely shaped by the colonial powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving out states without any consideration for existing ethnic, religious or cultural realities."

And after the colonial era collapsed, these carved-out political entities, defining swatches of territory without any history of national identity, suddenly became the Third World and floundered in disarray. ". . . it was inevitable that to keep these artificial countries alive, and avoid their disintegration, strongmen would be needed to cover the void left by the colonial powers. The rules of democracy were used only to reach power, with very few exceptions."

Whatever noble attempts at eliminating war the powers that be made in the wake of World War II — Europe's near self-annihilation — didn't cut nearly deep enough. These attempts didn't set about undoing five centuries of colonial conquest and genocide. They didn't cut deeper than national interest.

Published in Guest Commentary

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGasPump(Photo: Noroton)Gas prices at the pump during the July 4th extended weekend were the highest they have been in six years. This, of course, has little to do with supply-and-demand economics. It has everything to do with supply-and-gouge profits.

Over the past decade, the five largest oil companies have earned more than $1 trillion in profits. Last year, the Big Five—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell—earned about $93 billion in profits. Their CEOs last year earned an average of about $20 million. Included within the profits is $2.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies because it's hard to make a living when your hourly wage, assuming you work every hour of every day, is only $2,283.

"We have been subsidizing oil companies for a century. That's long enough," President Obama said more than a year ago. The Senate disagreed. Forty-three Republicans and four Democrats blocked the elimination of subsidies. Although the final vote was 51–47 to end the subsidies, a simple majority was not enough because the Republicans threatened a filibuster that would have required 60 votes to pass the bill. A Think Progress financial analysis revealed that the 47 senators who voted to continue subsidies received almost $23.6 million in career contributions from the oil and gas industry. In contrast, the 51 senators who had voted to repeal the subsidies received only about $5.9 million.

For a couple of decades, the oil industry blamed the Arabs for not pumping enough oil to export to the United States. But when the Arab oil cartel (of which the major U.S. oil companies have limited partnerships) decided to pump more oil, the Americans had to look elsewhere for their excuses. In rapid succession, they blamed Mexico, England, the Bermuda Triangle, polar bears who were lying about climate change so they could get more ice for their diet drinks, and infertile dinosaurs.

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMexicoBorder(Photo: Nofx221984)There's no objective need for President Obama to visit the Texas-Mexico border and see the immigration crisis first-hand, but he shouldn't have claimed that "I'm not interested in photo ops."

The line about photo ops was so absurd that it's a good thing he wasn't under oath. Every president since Abraham Lincoln has been interested in photo ops. Posing for the cameras amid artfully chosen people and props is something presidents do every day. Obama is very good at it, and there are times when he actually gives the impression that he enjoys it.

Not all photo ops are created equal, though. It's easy to understand why Obama might dig in his heels over a trip to the border that would do nothing but give a false impression. Pictures of the president among a group of Central American children -- some of the tens of thousands who have entered the country without papers in recent months -- would suggest that our dysfunctional government is serious about addressing what has become a humanitarian crisis. Sadly, this is not true.

Reckless loudmouths such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who blast Obama for "lawlessness" on immigration, are pretending not to understand that the flood of unaccompanied children is primarily caused by Obama's adherence to the law.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCheneyII(Photo: Cherie A. Thurlby)In Part 1 of this two-part series, I briefly reviewed what are perhaps the four most significant elements of the "Cheney Legacy:" the War on Afghanistan, the War on Iraq, the principle that Presidents can violate the Constitution at their pleasure as long as they claim to do so "in the interests of national security" (in Cheney's case through the establishment of the use of torture as national policy such use violates Article VI), and also most important, the attempt to establish Permanent War or at least the Permanent Preparation for Permanent War as the central element of US government policy.

There are certainly other elements in the "Cheney Legacy." Not particularly in order of importance, one could start the list with the "outing" of the former CIA agent Valerie Plame. This was done in apparent retaliation for the revelation by her husband, Joseph Wilson, that the Nigeria-"Yellow Cake-Saddam Hussein story was a complete fabrication. Committing such an act violated several laws, but of course Cheney hid behind subordinates like "Scooter" Libby and was never held to account for his action. The continued use of the 9/11 tragedy to promote fear over the whole country. In his current attack on President Obama Cheney is specifically use fear-mongering as a central element in that attack.

Then there are the current top-three GOP-termed "scandals:" the "IRS," the VA (which is a scandal, but just not how the GOP defines the term), and of course "Benghazi." The three attacks have in common the use of lies and distortions designed to attack the opposition political party, not to find any solutions to the problems raised. Finally there is the Cheney principle of the Privatization of Government, including or perhaps beginning with the military and intelligence services. Any way that traditional government can be turned to enable profit-making by the private sector is, in Cheney's eyes a good thing. One of the ironies of that policy is that if Edward Snowden had remained as a government employee rather than working for a private intelligence contractor, it is possible that he might have a) not decided to make the revelations that he has, and b) might not have had the opportunity to do so.

Published in Guest Commentary

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFirstAmendmentZone(Photo: Brandt Luke Zorn)While Americans were watching fireworks explode on the 4th, and laboring under the sad delusion that the United States is the land of the free and the brave, I was thinking about the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Massachusetts’ abortion buffer zone law and how some people are free to petition their grievances while anti-war demonstrators, Occupy Wall Street protesters, and environmentalists are either locked away behind chain-link cages designated “free speech zones”, or they’re violently assaulted by the police and thrown in jail. 

Recently, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down Massachusetts’ abortion buffer zone law, ruling in favor of anti-abortion protesters who argued that 35 feet away from clinic entrances is a violation of their freedom of speech. The decision rolls back a proactive policy intended to protect women’s access to reproductive health care in the face of persistent harassment and intimidation from abortion opponents.

As reporters have pointed out, buffer zones are not entirely unusual policies. “There are already buffer zones around funerals and polling places,” explained Tara Culp-Ressler at ThinkProgress.  “Ironically, the Supreme Court itself has a large buffer zone around it to prevent protesters from picketing on its 252-by-98-foot plaza, requiring demonstrations to take place on the sidewalk.” 

And let’s not forget the largest buffer zone of all: The White House, which is more like a military fortress than the People’s House.  

On closer inspection of the ruling, it appears that there is a catchword that can be applied to defend protesters, should protesters want to get right in the face of their adversaries; and that word is “counseling” vs. “picketing or protesting.”

Published in Guest Commentary

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.

Published in Guest Commentary
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