ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
in a compelling essay recently published at BillMoyers.com — a predatory consensus of money and political ideology that serves only its own endless growth and functions in pristine autonomy from any sort of democratic process — but defining it begs an enormous question: Can we actually build a world that isn't run by its shadow interests?There has always been a "deep state," as Mike Lofgren described it
And what is this going to take? Can good will and big principles stand up to Wall Street and the Washington consensus? Perhaps even more to the point, if it's even possible, how much time do we have before war and climate change rip the human experiment to shreds?
The significance of Lofgren's thesis is that we have to look well beyond the known world of governmental procedures, the electoral process and the mainstream media to begin effecting serious change. All of this has been effectively gamed and controlled by the deep state's interests. In other words, no matter how broke or paralyzed by partisan bickering the country is, there's always money available, without controversy or opposition, for war and overblown "security."
In recent years, as Lofgren points out, while headlines blared "austerity" and "debt ceiling" and "budget crisis," while our infrastructure was collapsing and schools were closing, the resources were available to overthrow the Gaddafi regime in Libya; help keep a civil war going in Syria and fund or engage in aggressive activities all over the planet; militarize local police departments; and finance a massive security state. None of this was subject to the least sort of democratic discussion. To the extent any of this was reported, it was reported as a done deal.
JP SOTTILE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The defense industry dreams of genies.
That’s because it is really hard to get the genie back into bottle after you let it loose.
Really, the only option after releasing a genie is to invent new, expensive ways to combat it. And that’s been the story of America’s persistent gift to posterity—the “nuclear genie.”
Just ask the people who refuse to return to the site of America’s most notorious above-ground nuclear test—the bombing of Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954. That hydrogen bomb, codenamed “Shrimp,” remains the largest bomb ever tested by the United States. It’s also known as a “thermonuclear weapon” because it uses high temperatures to trigger four cascading stages, each magnifying the power of the explosion. It was an “advance” on the run-of-the-mill atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And it was a response to the Soviet Union’s emerging atomic weapon program, which was, in turn, a response to America’s pioneering effort to weaponize the atom.
BRIAN J. TRAUTMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Pentagon's budget proposal for next year was announced last week by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. In an interview with The New York Times, Hagel argued that to meet today's national security needs, the Department of Defense (DoD) must shift its focus and capabilities away from "fighting grinding ground conflicts" and towards "new arenas of combat." To achieve these ends, the budget calls for a realignment of the military that would reduce the total number of ground troops to its lowest level since 1940 and discontinue some military equipment deemed obsolete or unnecessary. According to Hagel, current levels of both assets are "larger than we can afford to modernize and keep ready." The proposed budget also includes reductions in personnel benefits and base services, as well as base closings. The targeted cuts, however, are only one aspect of the budget. The other involves the new sources of priority spending.
The budget plan includes a call for greater expenditures on computer-based technologies and special operations. The Nation's Bob Dreyfuss reports that the "cuts would fund new projects including cyberwarfare capabilities, $1 billion for a more fuel-efficient jet engine, and plans for a new Navy surface ship." Despite the cuts to traditional aspects of the military, the DoD has no plans to shrink or limit programs that would undermine America's ever-growing hegemonic objectives. Dreyfuss writes, "Major weapons systems that might have been cut were sustained, the US special forces units are being increased substantially from already high levels" and "the US Navy would maintain all eleven of its aircraft carriers."
According to National Priorities Project, a nonprofit, non-partisan federal budget research organization, even as Hagel is requesting "cutbacks in a number of military programs, the Pentagon isn't planning any major reductions in spending any time soon." While the cuts translate to savings in specific areas, "the new Pentagon budget does not project a commensurate decline in spending." In fact, the United States will continue to carry a defense budget which exceeds that of the next 10 countries combined.
JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Growing up in Jim Crow Arkansas, Bill Clinton saw how the state's dominant political and racial elite maintained power by suppressing the rights of minority voters who threatened its authority — and as a young activist, worked to bring down that illegitimate power structure. So when Clinton says, "There is no greater assault on our core values than the rampant efforts to restrict the right to vote" — as he does in a new video released by the Democratic National Committee — the former president knows of what he speaks.
In the segregationist South of Clinton's youth, the enemies of the universal franchise were Democrats, but times have changed. Not just below the Mason-Dixon Line but across the country, it is Republicans who have sought to limit ballot access and discourage participation by minorities, the poor, the young and anyone else who might vote for a Democratic candidate.
No doubt this is why, at long last, the Democratic Party has launched a national organizing project, spearheaded by Clinton, to educate voters, demand reforms, and push back against restrictive laws. Returning to his role as the nation's "explainer-in-chief," Clinton may be able to draw public attention to the travesty of voter ID requirements and all the other tactics of suppression used by Republicans to shrink the electorate.
His first task is to debunk the claims of "voter fraud," fabricated by Republican legislators and right-wing media outlets, as the rationale for restrictive laws. Lent a spurious credibility by the legendary abuses of old-time political machines, those claims make voter suppression seem respectable and even virtuous.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The dream of a comfortable retirement is dying for many Americans. It's being extracted as a form of tribute to the very rich, a redistribution of our nation's wealth, a "tax" imposed on the middle and lower classes and paid for with their retirement savings.
1. A $6.8 Trillion Retirement Deficit in America. But $8 Trillion in New U.S. Wealth Was Created in 2013.
The problem is that most of the new financial wealth went to the richest 10% (almost 90 percent of all stocks excluding fast-disappearing pensions). Basically you already had to be rich to share in the new wealth, and the people taking the wealth can defer taxes as long as they want, and then pay a smaller rate than income earners. Meanwhile, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, Americans are at least $6.8 trillion short of what they need for a comfortable retirement.
2. $6,500 is the Median Retirement Fund for Upper-Middle-Class 50- to 64-Year-Olds.
That's based on an analysis of the second-highest quartile of Americans by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. It may get worse before it gets any better. The percentage of 75- to 84-year-old seniors falling into poverty doubled from 2005 to 2009. That was BEFORE the recession. And the number of elderly Americans, notes the Administration on Aging, is steadily rising, likely by 75 percent between 2010 and 2030, to almost 70 million people.
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
New York Times/CBS poll taken at the end of February, 2014: "Republicans are in a stronger position than Democrats for this year's midterm elections, benefiting from the support of self-described independents, even though the party itself is deeply divided, and most Americans agree more with Democratic policy positions, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows." How could that be, you might say? After all, the Times story went on to say: "A majority of Americans surveyed also said they wanted both parties to do more to address the concerns of the middle class, reduce the budget deficit with both tax increases and spending cuts, and let illegal immigrants stay in the country and apply for citizenship. Mr. Obama shares those positions on the budget and immigration."According to a
On top of that, a majority of U.S. were against two of the major national legislative initiatives of the GOP last year, which were to shut down the government in October and come perilously close to driving the nation into default. On their other major initiative, repealing what they have conveniently labelled as "Obamacare," the House of Representatives of course voted a zillion times (well, that's an over-statement, but I think they did it 40-plus times) to repeal it. Because of the Democratic majority in the Senate, that went nowhere legislatively. And so, they became the Party of No.
A majority of U.S. also disagree with them on such issues as marijuana legalization, same-sex marriage, and (hold your breath now) gun control. And still they appear to be ahead of the Democrats in the upcoming Congressional races next November. Once again, how could that be, you might say? Because since the 2008 election they have created a Republican Paradise and President Obama and most elected Democrats, at the national, state, and local levels, have allowed them to bask in it.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
No matter how bad it gets, we can look inside ourselves and find hope, possibility . . . the future. And when we find that, we know what it means to build peace.
"It's like I'm in a never-ending battle with my brain," Kayla said. "They called me Crazy Kayla. I have anger problems. Someone messes with me, I lose it. I was molested, raped, physically and mentally abused. I was in 127 different homes. I have a 3-month-old baby . . ."
Peace isn't the avoidance of difficult topics but their thorough, unstinting examination, not with cynicism and despair but with the certainty that salvation is mixed into the pain. All we have to do is find it.
This is precisely what a good documentary film does for us, and there are so many of them out there these days. Thirty-one such films will be showcased next week at Chicago's sixth annual Peace on Earth Film Festival, an event I've been associated with since its beginning. The four-day festival, which will be held March 6-9 — free of charge, as always — at the Chicago Cultural Center, takes on a mélange of provocative subjects: Fukushima, agribusiness, gun violence, forgiveness in the wake of violence, hospice care for prisoners, childhood mental illness, and much more.
The festival's mission, which it accomplishes every year, is to "raise awareness of peace, nonviolence, social justice and an eco-balanced world."
JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Diary of a Dying Country and The Poisoner's Reckoning), U.S. government officials not only will pat the oil-coal thugs on the back, they'll hand over a check worth millions of tax dollars for cleanup fees. And if that isn't insulting enough for you, the insurance companies will also allegedly pay the dirty energy oligarchs again for the same amount.If an oil or coal firm releases toxic chemicals that poisons every living thing it touches (Freedom Industries) and sends thousands of residents to the hospital from lethal exposure, (read Truthout's Editor William Rivers Pitt's recent pieces
No criminal charges, no one goes to jail, and to add insult to injury, they're actually paid twice for contaminating our drinking water, for putting thousands of Americans in the hospital from toxic poisoning, and for turning communities into real estate nightmares.
The insurance settlements represent a drop in the bucket to oil companies that receive close to a trillion dollars a year combined in profits, but those extra millions that the oil firms pocket can make a significant difference for cash-strapped states. It's like stealing a tiny piece of candy from a baby when your store is spilling over with tons of sweets.
Why are we, the taxpayers, paying for the oil oligarchs' hazardous toxic messes in the first place?
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
At the risk of repeating myself, the federal minimum wage is far too low and needs to be raised. Republicans who claim to be worried about lost jobs can dry their crocodile tears, because a few simple measures would get all those jobs back -- and lots more.
It has been amusing to watch GOP grandees try to paint themselves as champions of the working stiff. This new appreciation for the struggles of low-wage earners was prompted by a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which estimates that raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, as President Obama proposes, would result in the loss of 500,000 jobs.
Never mind that about 25 million workers would get raises, according to the report, or that 900,000 people would be lifted out of poverty. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, released a statement saying that the CBO report "confirms what we've long known" and that "our focus should be creating -- not destroying -- jobs for those who need them most."
Boehner is consistent on the issue, at least, if at times a bit overdramatic: In 1996, when he was head of the House Republican Conference, he said in an interview with The Weekly Standard that "I'll commit suicide before I vote on a clean minimum wage bill."
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Many readers of this column will know of the movie "The Monuments Men." It received a huge build-up through previews and advertising, and also through personal appearances. (I saw John Goodman do an interview for "Morning Joe.") It is about a group of fine art and architectural experts who are assigned to closely follow allied forces through France and Northern Europe as they slowly push the Nazi Army back to Germany and then closing in with the Red Army coming from the East, force the German unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945.
Their assignment (and there was no "Mr. Phelps" to accept or reject it) was multifold: to try to prevent where possible damage to priceless and irreplaceable art and architecture by allied forces, prevent the theft of fine art by the Nazis and in the case of art already stolen, recover it.
As Manohla Dargis points out in her review in The New York Times, "The story's real life heroes were a group of curators, restorers, archivists and the like who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section, an Allied effort to protect Europe's cultural heritage."
The exploits (and there were many) of the real Monuments Men (and women) are recounted in several books, among them one by Robert Edsel with Bret Witter entitled "The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History." The actual number of monuments men and women was 345. For the purposes of his movie George Clooney whittled the number down to six.