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Thursday, 18 July 2013 06:50

Trayvon Martin and Embedded Racism


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


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


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


Edward SnowdenFINALAs more and more stories leak out, it seems increasingly likely that the Snowden saga may exert a profound impact upon diplomatic relations at the global level. In yet another recent bombshell, Snowden disclosed sensitive U.S. National Security Agency (or NSA) files relating to Brazil. Snowden's revelations, which stand to tarnish relations between Brasilia and the Obama administration, sketch the outlines of a massive NSA electronic and eavesdropping program focusing on the South American nation.

Indeed, according to O Globo newspaper, Brazil was the second largest target of NSA spying in the hemisphere after the United States and the agency soaked up data on millions of Brazilian phone calls and internet communications. The newspaper adds that the NSA program, which was code-named Fairview, collected calls through an American company dealing with telecommunication services in Brazil. In addition, Snowden's revelations show that the NSA spied on the Brazilian Embassy in Washington and the South American nation's mission at the United Nations in New York.

Perhaps, the NSA scandal will give rise to an anti-imperialist backlash in Brazil. Many people in this South American nation have bad memories of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, which spied and conducted espionage on everyday citizens. Brazilians also recall how the U.S. aided and abetted such espionage by helping to overthrow the democratically elected government of João Goulart in 1964. Even today, Brazilians are wary of government overreach and some have voiced concerns that the government conducted surveillance of recent political protests in Brasilia and other cities.

Published in Guest Commentary


Muslim Brotherhood LogoThe situation in Egypt is obviously highly volatile and changes from day-to-day. As of this writing (July 10, 2013), the Army has used such force against Islamist protesters that by this date over 50 had been killed and over 400 injured by gun-fire. The words that are usually used to try to explain the situation are "liberal," "secular," "Islamist," "democracy," "authoritarianism," "military rule." But I think that in order to understand what is really going on in Egypt one has to add the words "ruling class."

Unlike many of the other Middle Eastern countries, Egypt is not oil-rich. It does have a ruling class that controls industry, farming, transportation, banking, utilities, and investment policy. These forces, representing a tiny percentage of the total population, are enormously wealthy (sound familiar?) They had a long and close association with former President Hosni Mubarak whose economic policies, combined with political repression, strongly benefitted it ("Egypt's unfinished revolution: Egypt since the fall of Mubarak," Sameh Naguib, International Socialist Review, Issue #79 , from Feb., 2011). The Egyptian ruling class has also had a long and close association with the Egyptian Army.

However, when the working-class/peasantry/urban poor/secular-intellectual growing dis-satisfaction with the results of Mubarak's so-called "neoliberal" policies of the last ten years or so finally boiled over in what came to be known as the "Arab Spring," in early 2011, the ruling class abandoned Mubarak very quickly. For what they saw if they did not do so was the real possibility of a real revolution in which the economic policies which had benefitted them so greatly would be overthrown. And they couldn't have that. So, using their tool, the Army, they turned to "democracy," democracy that is focused simply on the institution of popular elections, not democracy that is focused on implementing polices that will benefit the masses of the people, in a democratic way.

Published in Guest Commentary


CameraFINALWhat I keep longing to hear, in the hemorrhaging national debate about Edward Snowden, whistleblowing and the NSA, is some acknowledgment of what the word "security" actually means, and what role — if any — the government should play in creating it.

"You can't have 100 percent security and also have 100 percent privacy."

A moment of silence, please, for the dying patriarchy. That, of course, was how President Obama explained it to the American public shortly after the spy scandal hit the fan. When did we become "the children" in our relationship with the government, irrelevant to its day-to-day operations, utterly powerless as we stand in its massive, protecting shadow?

If you want to be safe, boys and girls, we need to collect and store data about all the phone calls you make and all the emails you send, along with the phone calls and emails of nearly everyone else on the planet as well. This is just how it works. Privacy is nice, but the terrorists are out there, plotting stuff even as we speak. And that's really all you need to know — that we're working round the clock to stop them and keep you safe.

When government officials aren't outright lying about what they're up to, this is the argument they revert to, in the process making an extremely important point: The issue here is sanity. As James Bamford, a security expert who has written four books about the NSA, put it in an interview last month with Politico, tracking all this data doesn't even make sense on its own terms; a data overload of such magnitude simply intensifies the difficulty of spotting a real threat. "It's just," he said, "insane."

Published in Guest Commentary


TappedFINALBy disclosing cloak and dagger spying at the National Security Agency (NSA), fugitive Edward Snowden has already upended diplomatic relations between Washington and the European Union. Snowden's super-sensitive revelations, which have uncovered a vast NSA espionage network in Europe called PRISM, have led to indignant though somewhat hypocritical howls of protest from Paris and Berlin. Perhaps, the disclosures may even derail corporate-friendly trade talks between the EU and U.S. scheduled to commence shortly.

As if such disclosures were not sensational enough, Snowden is now moving on to NSA activities in Latin America. Apparently, the young whistle-blower has shared additional information from his laptops with Glenn Greenwald, a Guardian journalist who has just published an explosive exposé of NSA spying in Brazil.

Greenwald's report, which was published through Brazilian newspaper O Globo, confirms that the NSA has collected data on millions of telephone and e-mail conversations in the South American nation. Needless to say, the article has led to a withering response from the Dilma Rousseff government, which has pressed the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia to account for its actions.

Published in Guest Commentary


CrossFINALAs many of the pre-Reagan era Religious Right leaders retire and/or die off, beware of the new breed. Lou Engle is one of the new breed. Although Engle has been kicking around for more than a decade, it is only in the past few years that he and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), the charismatic evangelical political and religious movement that he has come to personify, has made such a splash that it threatens to drown out the more traditional voices of the Christian Right.

In 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that George W. Bush would be president, Lou Engle saw it as the answer to his prayers. A few months before the election, Engle had held an all-day prayer event in Washington, D.C., that drew approximately 400,000. Although Engle's prayer rally wasn't as magnetic or media buzz-worthy as when the Promise Keepers drew nearly one million to the nation's capital three years earlier, it could be seen as Engle's coming out party.

Published in Guest Commentary


SnowdengraffitiFINALHaving failed to secure diplomatic protection in China and Russia, fugitive Edward Snowden faces a dwindling number of options. Nevertheless, Snowden is steadily gaining a following in Western Europe and has acquired some sympathizers [in a late breaking development, it has also been reported that Iceland's Pirate Party has proposed a bill in the local parliament which would grant Snowden asylum, though it's unlikely that the measure will be considered any time soon since legislators are currently off on summer break].

Meanwhile, the U.S. faces a growing backlash in South America following the outlandish blocking of Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane from French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese airspace. Earlier, Morales had been in Moscow meeting with Vladimir Putin and there was speculation that Bolivia would provide Snowden with protection. It seems likely that Washington may have suspected that Snowden was on board Morales' plane en route from Russia to La Paz, and pressured European nations to force the Bolivian President's plane to touch down in Vienna.

Much to the chagrin of the Obama administration, the unlikely incident has made Washington look like an international bully. In Germany, there are growing calls to assist Snowden and meanwhile South America may prove more receptive to the young whistle-blower. If Snowden winds up going to Venezuela or Bolivia, it certainly would mark a dramatic reversal of circumstances. Indeed, just a few days ago Snowden's search for South American diplomatic asylum was looking bleak.

Published in Guest Commentary


QuoteSCOTUSfinalThe movement to get money out of politics and establish that constitutional rights are for people, not corporations, is gaining ground by the day. Today, the Oregon Legislature passed House Joint Memorial 6 (HJM 6), becoming the 16th state to call on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The bipartisan measure passed the state House by a 48-11 margin, with 14 Republican votes (the majority of state House Republicans), and the state Senate by a 17-13 margin, with one Republican, Senator Betsy Close (R-Albany), voting in favor.

We're thankful for Oregonians for Restoring Constitutional Democracy; this huge win for campaign finance reform could not have happened without them and the amazing grassroots effort by the coalition, which includes Common Cause Oregon, Move to Amend, Main Street Alliance and the Democracy Alliance.

That effort paid off: Lincoln County and Eugene have both passed ballot initiatives calling for an overturn of Citizens United, and Newport, Port Orford, Portland, West Linn and Yachats town or city councils have passed resolutions calling for an amendment. These cities and towns in Oregon are among the nearly 500 municipalities around the country that have called for a constitutional amendment. They all recognize that Citizens United, which gave corporations a green light to spend unlimited amounts to influence elections, is corrosive to democracy because it gives people less power and corporations even more sway over policies that affect us all.

Oregon joins four other states – Delaware, Maine, West Virginia and Illinois – that have called for a constitutional amendment over just the past two months. All of the resolutions this year have passed with bipartisan support in at least one chamber. This is an issue that affects every American, regardless of political affiliation.

Published in Guest Commentary
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