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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force behind the adoption of the Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution which went into effect in 1920 and was repealed in 1933.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

NIKOLAS KOZLOFF FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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
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