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JIM BLOCK FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

MelencoliaFINALThe pressing question one faces in trying to make sense of the collapsing framework of the American system is how to capture the full crisis afflicting its way of life. Given the signs everywhere of a society in free fall, is there a way to address our deepest fears and still leave a space for optimism and social activism?

Just this past week, economist Paul Krugman of the New York Times took a bold step forward: moving beyond his usual effort to tease out good news from mixed fiscal signals and suggest potential pathways to economic recovery and reform, Krugman acknowledged that deeper and less tractable forces are at work. Admitting the limitations of the social science approach, his essay candidly asserts regarding present political agendas that "We've gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We've even gone beyond selfishness and special interests."

While concerned that, in his words, "I don't fully understand" what such an inquiry would entail, Krugman insists that a viable explanation must account for the present "state of mind." He even resorts to the archaism of "the soul" as he turns to the deeper psychic processes driving American culture today.

Why have we up to now resisted this demanding examination of our "state of mind," our unacknowledged priorities and presuppositions? Aren't we warned off for fear of what we would discover: that the basic structures and incentives of American society are no longer life supporting? We suspect we are entangled day to day in behaviors that methodically drain the will to thrive out of us, and out of our young who are being habituated to carry on as depleted and lifeless spirits.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AbortionTruckFINALOver the past few decades, there have been numerous attempts by both Religious Right leaders and Republican Party officials to woo Catholic officials and Catholic voters. These days, while the GOP is still paying attention to winning Catholic votes, the Religious Right is spending more time focusing on forging alliances with high-powered Catholic Church officials.

In a new essay, veteran journalist Frederick Clarkson maintains that, "Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have found common ground — and the motivation to set aside centuries of sectarian conflict — by focusing on these issues while claiming that their 'religious liberty' is about to be crushed. The movement is mobilizing its resources, forging new alliances, and girding itself to engage its enemies. It is also giving fair warning about its intentions. It may lose the long-term war, but whatever happens, one thing is certain: It won't go down without a fight."

This time, common ground is being forged through a little known document issued in November 2009, called The Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Conscience. The New York Times religion reporter Laurie Goodstein described it as "an effort to rejuvenate the political alliance of conservative Catholics and evangelicals that dominated the religious debate during the administration of President George W. Bush."

Published in Guest Commentary

NIKOLAS KOZLOFF FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

SnowdengraffitiFINALAs whistle-blower Edward Snowden releases more and more sensitive National Security Agency (N.S.A.) files, the public is gaining unique insights into Washington's underhanded foreign policy in South America. It's no secret that both the Bush and Obama administrations have viewed Venezuela as a threat, but Snowden's disclosures suggest that Washington has a bead on Chile, too. Indeed, according to an article appearing in Brazilian newspaper O Globo, the N.S.A. spied on Chile by employing a data mining program called PRISM.

News of the spying program has led to something of a political firestorm in Chile, and recently Santiago condemned what it called "spying practices, whatever their origin, nature and objectives." Moreover, the government reiterated its commitment to international conventions and rejected "any violation of the privacy of communications networks and will continue to work with competent international bodies to establish clear rules of behavior of states, in order to guarantee the rights of citizens and the sovereignty of nations." In addition, Santiago has asked the U.S. to account for its reported espionage.

Given that Chile is very pro-corporate and has strong diplomatic ties to the U.S., recent news of covert American espionage comes as something of a surprise. As revealed in secret U.S. State Department cables, former president Michelle Bachelet sided with Washington behind closed doors. During a meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela, Bachelet exclaimed that not all Latin American leaders were fire breathing populists or identical in political orientation. Fortunately, Bachelet remarked, there were many moderates in Bolivia and President Evo Morales was very different from Venezuela's Chávez.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

BorderFINALAs is well-known, the modern Republican Party was born in the 1850s when the then Whig Party, one of the two majors of the time, split over the matter of slavery. Rather, it split primarily over the matter of the degree of expansion of slavery into the Western Territories that should be permitted, and under what conditions that expansion would take place. The Slave Power, represented primarily by the Democratic Party, wanted unlimited expansion.

The Southern Whigs were willing to make some compromises on that question, but not too many. The Northern Whigs, for the most part, wanted to limit that expansion almost in its entirety. Abraham Lincoln certainly belonged to that wing of the Whigs: no interest or intention to interfere with the institution of slavery in the then-present slave states, which after all had been ensconced in the Constitution, but with every intention of preventing its further expansion westward. So the Northern Whigs were the main component of the new party.

However, there were other components as well. One was the "Temperance Movement," which campaigned to bring down the level of alcoholic beverage use if not ban its sale altogether. This strand of thinking has remained in the Republican Party down to this very day. The GOP was the principal force behind the adoption of the Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution which went into effect in 1920 and was repealed in 1933. There was a strong element of religious/ethnic prejudice underlying this movement from its beginnings: originally rural Protestants against Catholics: Irish (whiskey), Italians (wine), and Germans (both Catholic and Protestant, beer).

Published in Guest Commentary

ANN DAVIDOW FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

TrayvonHoodedFINALNo matter how often it is explained as a self-defense issue or how often we are told that George Zimmerman was afraid of someone he perceived to be a thug, there is no way any rational person should be convinced that his life was in danger and that prior events in the neighborhood justified his gunning down a young boy who was simply walking back to his father's house on a rainy night.

The defense team is credited with brilliant footwork and Zimmerman's inconsistencies disregarded , no doubt due to the basic flaw in the defense theory of the case - that once you accept the stand-your-ground premise and allow Zimmerman's account to go unchallenged, you're pretty much finished. It reminded me of the absurd contention by the defense team in O.J.'s trial that forensic evidence had been disturbed by "wind currents" in the lab. So much for the "Dream Team," and yet O.J. was declared not guilty, in part one must assume because the police in Los Angeles had such a bad reputation in the minority community.

In the Zimmerman trial a different racial climate prevailed, but it was just as perverted. Defense explanations were confusing and for the most part irrelevant. Much time was spent describing where Zimmerman's gun was holstered and how hard it would have been for Trayvon to find and shoot it. But it was time wasted, since it seemed obvious early on that there was no need to invent a scenario predicated on the assumption that Trayvon had to discover where Zimmerman's gun was kept. Obviously Zimmerman kept it ready to be fired at will - not to worry. How could it have been otherwise? Yet in the time-honored tradition of reality deniers bemused interrogators to keep after 'the truth' until they find a version they like.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AR15FinalWisconsin, the battleground state where Governor Scott Walker has wielded his power with the grace of an elephant in a Crate and Barrel outlet store, has become the scene of armed, mask wearing, camouflaged security outfits patrolling the backwoods on the lookout for eco-terrorist types at the behest of a mining company more than willing to defile the environment for profits.

Last week, Outside Magazine's Mary Catherine O'Connor reported that in March, Gov. Walker signed SB1, which allowed "Gogebic Taconite [G-Tac for short], a subsidiary of the [West Virginia-based] Cline Group owned by Florida billionaire Chris Cline, ... to make it easier to obtain permits to mine iron."

Gogebic Taconite's coveted territory is a 21,000-acre chunk of land in the remote wilderness of northern Wisconsin called the Penokee Hills. It is there that the company "has begun some early stage surveying to collect samples," believing that it "holds a valuable vein of ore."

Projects like these, a four-mile-long, 1,000-feet-deep open pit operation in Ashland and Iron counties is bound to be accompanied by questions from, and protests by, locals over a host of environmental issues. While early on a few protesters may have acted like knuckleheads, the vast majority of protesters have continuously stated that they are committed to non-violent peaceful demonstrations.

Published in Guest Commentary

NIKOLAS KOZLOFF FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CostaRicaFINALFor many in the United States, Costa Rica is a land of exotic beauty and natural rainforests. The small Central American nation has long promoted its eco-tourism industry and foreigners flock here in search of native wildlife such as sloths and jaguar. Unlike other countries in the region, Costa Rica has seen little civil strife over the years and has no standing army. Such political stability has attracted U.S. senior citizens, who see Costa Rica as the "Switzerland of Central America" and an attractive retirement destination.

Given Costa Rica's pacifistic history, recent news of U.S. espionage comes as something of a surprise. According to Brazilian newspaper O Globo, Washington has long conducted electronic surveillance on the tiny Central American country through the super secret National Security Agency or NSA. News of the spying program has led to something of a political firestorm in Costa Rica, and recently President Laura Chinchilla called for an "international debate" about the espionage. "To me, as a citizen of a disarmed democracy like Costa Rica, these things bother me, I don't like it," Chinchilla said.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 18 July 2013 06:50

Trayvon Martin and Embedded Racism

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CrowFINALDid the ghosts of our slave-holding and Jim Crow past high-five each other in the Florida courtroom on Saturday? George Zimmerman was acquitted, but does that mean that American history was, too?

The experts who weighed in on the legal battle essentially noted that, in the absence of any witnesses other than Zimmerman, the prosecution couldn't prove what had happened, or more to the point, couldn't convincingly counter-argue his version of events – that he was returning to his car when Trayvon Martin assaulted him and threw him to the ground, forcing him to kill the boy in self-defense. Trayvon was dead; that left him, legally, voiceless and out of luck.

Hmm . . . wasn't that the case anyway?

The incident blew into a national outrage because, initially, the boy's killing was nothing at all in the eyes of the law. He was walking through a white, gated community, wearing a hoodie. Stand your ground! The police held the killer for a few hours, then let him go without charges.

"The police initially did not have evidence to disprove Zimmerman's self-defense claim," USA Today reported, quoting former Sanford, Fla. police chief Bill Lee, Jr. It hardly mattered that the victim was unarmed. Right from the start, it was obvious the state had no interest in actual justice from Trayvon Martin's point of view – any more than the state has ever evinced interest in justice or, good Lord, healing in relation to its own past.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 16 July 2013 07:54

The Cheap Price of a Sold Soul

ANN DAVIDOW FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

DucktailFINALWhat a strange, helpless feeling it is to watch one's country being torn apart just as it had begun its long rehabilitative journey. Having avoided a major financial meltdown and a disastrous electoral misstep, we find ourselves thrust into political turmoil every bit as threatening as our worst fears. In its most virulent form there's one major way to detect a probable bad apple in the midst of our political mix; it's quite simple to identify even in its early stages. The first indication of an ego gone awry, a self-serving power trip, is a candidate's intense scrutiny of his hair.

The latest example of this fascination is Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who must spend hours in front of mirrors he can find making sure every hair is in place and teased into obedience in much the same way John Edwards obsessed over his perfect hair - valued at hundreds of dollars a shot back in the day.

Are these exemplars of how to build a reputation on the thinnest of credentials, or do they really believe they have something of value to offer as legacy builders - something other than prohibitive abortion regulations, vaginal probes and whatever other 'man-made' devices the phony political establishment can conjure up. It is incomprehensible that women have become entangled in parochial measures that fail to comply with constitutional strictures that serve the general public not just a narrow slice of it. How did people of such limited vision come to hold the rest of us so firmly in their grasp?

Published in Guest Commentary

WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

DaguerreotypeFINALThis week's tale is a horror story about lessons learned by the GOP from the 2012 Presidential election. And those teachable moments are... nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. Empty voids. "Hear the hollow roar of the Pod People. See them lash out at the unknown. Feel their blind terror of a future they don't understand. It's Son of the Bride of the Attack of the Robot Amnesiacs! Part 6."

They say one sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Which means it can't be long before the entire Republican Party is institutionalized for their own safety shuffling around in shabby bathrobes popping a daily regimen of psychotropic pills in miniature Dixie Cups. Falling asleep during games of checkers. Which, admittedly, is redundant.

The contraction of the party into a hard white stone nugget the size of a peach pit is almost complete. Inclusion? Heresy! Generosity? Hah, we spit on your generosity! And fie on your benevolence. Compassion? Grace? Sympathy? Tolerance? More liberal plots solely designed to destroy the lives of decent God- fearing people. Just like science and education and the EPA.

Fueled by the fiery core of Tea Party Irregulars, the GOP futilely pursues an agenda intended to replicate a simpler time gone past. An imaginary simpler time gone past. Right now, from Texas to Wisconsin to Florida to North Dakota, coordinated efforts are rolling back anything that smells like a societal advance. Voting rights. The control of women over their own bodies. The freedom to marry any person you love. Equal access to health care. The Republicans are undergoing an overhaul to remake themselves the Party of the 50s. The 1750s.

Published in Guest Commentary
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