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Thursday, 13 March 2014 06:49

Detroit USA: Poster City for Abandonment

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AbandonedHouseDetroit(Photo: Notorious4life)White flight, corporate flight . . .

I grew up just outside Detroit and have felt an ache in my heart for this bleeding city for so many years now. It's long been one of the country's designated loser cities, beginning in the 1960s, when change hit it hard. The phrase at the time was "urban blight," a social cancer with unexamined causes that, in the ensuing years, has gotten progressively worse.

A year ago this week, the city, which is predominantly African-American, lost its self-governance when the Republican governor of Michigan appointed an emergency financial manager, an overboss with powers superseding that of all elected officials — including the ability to rewrite laws, break contracts, privatize services and much more — on the premise that only an autocrat could straighten out the city's disastrous finances. Four months later, Detroit made headlines as the largest city to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, but of course it wasn't "the city" that did so; it was the emergency manager.

The city, in all its soul and complexity, had been reduced to a single voice: the voice of austerity and, of course, corporate interests.

"If the city filed for bankruptcy, and was arguing in its own interest," activist Detroit pastor Bill Wylie-Kellermann wrote recently in The Catholic Worker, "the banks and the pensioners and the unions, would all be on a level playing field. Instead the banks have been dealt with up front, offered 80 cents on the dollar. The city pensioners were offered 10 cents."

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aCrimeaCrisis(Photo: VOA)When the new Ukrainian prime minister visits the White House this week, President Obama should offer continued support -- but also ask pointedly why several far-right ultra-nationalists have such prominent roles in Ukraine's new government.

I don't know of any reason to doubt Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's commitment to democracy and pluralism. The same cannot be said for some other members of the provisional regime that is trying to reverse Russia's grab of the Crimean Peninsula.

Oleksandr Sych, one of three vice prime ministers, is a member of the controversial Svoboda party, whose leader charged that Ukraine was being controlled by a "Muscovite-Jewish mafia" before last month's revolution. Members of Svoboda also run the agriculture and environment ministries. Last year, the World Jewish Congress called on the European Union to consider banning what it considered neo-Nazi parties, including Svoboda.

The head of the National Security and Defense Council, in charge of the armed forces, is Andriy Parubiy, who founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine, an openly neo-fascist precursor to Svoboda. Parubiy's deputy is Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of Right Sector, a far-right paramilitary group that clashed violently with the security forces of deposed leader Viktor Yanukovych.

All of which is to say that the situation in Ukraine is not as simple as it might seem.

Published in Guest Commentary

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aOilRigChina(Photo: Phreakster)It's time for the public to start calling 19th century barbaric fossil fuels what it is: Energy of Mass Extinction. Dirty energy companies, including nuclear power plants, have been owned by a few rich white families from the start, which is why production of energy has remained in the Dark Ages even though clean renewable energy could have lit up the world easily, cheaply and without pollution twenty years ago. Given the latest advances in green energy technology, there's absolutely no excuse for not legislating rapid shifts to clean energy by 2020.

Instead, world leaders, primarily the US government, not only serve as "barriers" to the advancement of green energy, they're the fossil fuel industry's sleaziest salesmen on earth: Big Oil pays for their seats on the Hill for the sole purpose of selling Energy of Mass Extinction to world markets. Oil executives are given an open door invitation to the White House any time and day of the week.

By contrast, lawyers that represent the public's welfare and our environment are not welcomed, or they are put on a long waiting list. In short, the oil oligarchs operate from the White House where the polluters meet and draw up their plans. Judges are also owned by the oil firms. For example, read Buzzflash editor at Truthout Mark Karlin's recent commentary about a federal judge that blocked U.S. courts from being used to collect a $9 billion Ecuadorean judgment against Chevron for turning a beautiful rainforest into a putrid toxic waste dump Thanks to a thoroughly corrupt US government, another victory for Chevron's oil tyrants who don't have to clean up the toxic sludge they leave behind after they've contaminated everything in sight for Energy of Mass Extinction.

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aSlavesForSale(Photo: New York Public Library)Hollywood has finally taken an unflinching look at slavery. It's past time for the rest of the country to do the same.

I wanted to wait a few days before writing about the best picture Oscar for "12 Years a Slave" to see if it still felt like an important milestone. It does. Academy Award recognition for one well-made movie obviously does not make up for a century of pretending that slavery never happened. But perhaps the movie industry's top prize can give impetus to the efforts of artists and scholars who are beginning to honestly confront this nation's Original Sin.

We tell ourselves that we know all about slavery, that it's ancient history. But we've never fully investigated its horrors, which means we've never come to terms with them, which means we've never been able to get beyond them. Where slavery is concerned, we are imprisoned by William Faulkner's famous epigram: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

The success of "12 Years a Slave" may be a significant step toward our collective liberation.

The movie came just a year after "Django Unchained," the 2012 epic in which Quentin Tarantino reimagined slavery as a Southern-fried spaghetti Western. "Django" had one of those traditional hero-on-a-quest story lines that Hollywood can't get enough of, and Tarantino's blood-spattered style was perfect for capturing the unspeakable brutality that sustained American slavery. But "12 Years" is vastly more important, for two reasons: It won best picture, and it's based on a true story.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 06 March 2014 07:23

The Predatory Consensus of the "Deep State"

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Camo(Photo: Cplbeaudoin)There has always been a "deep state," as Mike Lofgren described it 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?

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.

Published in Guest Commentary

JP SOTTILE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaPentagon(Photo: David B. Gleason)

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.

Published in Guest Commentary

BRIAN J. TRAUTMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AssassinNinja(Photo: Katsushika Hokusai)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.

Published in Guest Commentary

JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AVotingBooths2(Photo: Electiontechnology)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.

Published in Guest Commentary

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ElderlyRetiring(Photo: Nicholaes Maes)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.

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 28 February 2014 06:39

Basking in Republican Paradise

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ElephantHerd(Photo: Arnabjdeka)According to a 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."

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.

Published in Guest Commentary
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