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EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

BorderNotice(Photo: Makaristos)The Republican Party was supposed to be getting its act together for the midterm election. Instead, judging from the disarray on immigration reform, things may be getting even messier.

I'm referring to House Speaker John Boehner's embarrassing climb-down. After vowing for months that the House would finally take action on immigration, last week he surrendered. The bitterly divided Republican majority cannot agree on how to proceed. Apparently, this is supposed to be President Obama's fault.

If Boehner spilled gravy on his tie, he'd probably blame Obama. The fact is, Obama has done everything humanly possible to make it easier for Republicans to support sensible reform.

You know a party is dysfunctional when it can't take yes for an answer. Ostensibly, the GOP's big objection was to a sweeping, comprehensive bill such as the one passed by the Senate. Last fall, the Obama administration signaled its willingness to take a piecemeal approach, if necessary, in order to move forward. So what's the problem?

Um, Obama. And the Affordable Care Act. And, I don't know, maybe Jupiter and Saturn are in astrological misalignment.

Published in Guest Commentary

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

OlympicFlag(Photo: Makaristos)For Vladimir Putin, the winter Olympics is not about sports or international camaraderie. It's a carefully orchestrated propaganda opportunity to try to showcase the nation's athletes and show the world a Russia that, even with its great culture and arts, may exist only in the imaginations of those who believe in restoring the country's previous grandeur.

Sochi itself is not typical city for a winter Olympics. It's a sub-tropical city of about 340,000, located along the Black Sea. Its selection by Russia was to let the world believe that the country in winter is not Siberia but a resort, suitable for tourists.

Under Putin's personal direction, Russia spent more than 1.8 trillion rubles (the equivalent of about $51 billion U.S.) to build the Olympic village, with its buildings, stadiums, and infrastructure. This is a greater cost than all previous winter Olympics combined. It also includes cost over-runs and various forms of corruption. But, disregard that—that's an internal problem. Here are a few of the real problems.

Russia has had more than seven years to prepare for this Olympics. But by the first day of competition, some of roads were unfinished, water was undrinkable in many of the newly-built hotels, and the safety of some of the Olympics courses was still in question.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

VaticanCity(Photo: Diliff)Since Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) took dominion over the Holy See, there has been much speculation about which direction he might move the Catholic Church; how he was going to modernize and make the Church more accessible to more people.

Liberals have lauded him for his comments about income inequality and his openness and apparent willingness to usher in a new way of going about the business of being Pope. Some conservatives, however, have scorned him for his economic pronouncements, while maintaining that he isn't focusing enough on such culture war issues as birth control, homosexuality, and abortion.

With so many difficult issues to deal with, he has recently been handed a golden opportunity to deal with one of the most vexing of those issues: Child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and its aiding and abetting and subsequent cover-up by Catholic Church officials.

The most prudent move for Pope Francis to make in this regard is to accept the recommendations of the report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and, at the same time, open up the Vatican archives.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 06 February 2014 06:31

Bullying Is Bad, Except When We Do It

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

BullyCops(Photo: Devinasch)The young guys were half a block ahead of us. Nothing was happening except that they were walking. A police car pulled up behind them, slowed to their pace, aimed a spotlight at them.

They were African-American (did you guess?), numbering maybe half a dozen. They weren't intimidated. Some of them stopped, stood staring at the police car, talking to it; this had obviously happened before. The spotlight continued to shine in their faces. Other young men crossed the street in front of the car and joined the crowd. The game went on for a while: the slow saunter, the cops driving along next to them, the light in their faces.

Chicago, Chicago! My kind of town, but not this. How weird to see the moment unfold as I was walking along Pratt Avenue, through my own 'hood. The energy I felt was immensely unpleasant — racial profiling, pointless discord. Young black men in Chicago have to know their legal rights; that's simply the way it works. These guys obviously did.

Suddenly the light snapped off. The police car accelerated, drove away. That was it. No further confrontation. The young men kept walking. I was an observer in an occupied zone.

"But there is little or no discussion of larger social or cultural forces in the United States and the American institutions or leaders who bully other countries or workers and citizens at home."

Thus wrote Yale Magrass and Charles Derber, in an essay published at Truthout, called "Bully Nation." Their point is that, while suddenly bullying is a big deal and officially recognized as problematic, the public debate on the matter focuses almost entirely on troubled loners, when in fact no bully ever acts out of purely personal motives. Everyone acts within a social, cultural and political context, and that context is one that, in so many ways, rewards — indeed, reveres — bullying and domination.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

DanteSatan(Photo: Pantheon Books edition of Divine Comedy)Now that Harold Camping, the failed End Times prognosticator, has left this mortal coil, it is up to other conservative Christian evangelicals to carry on the outrageous. And carrying on the outrageous appears to be one of Pastor Robert Jeffress' major talents, albeit doing it in a much more affable way than many of his comrades.

Jeffress has a new book that claims President Barack Obama is paving the way for the Antichrist.

In addition to Obama paving the way for the Antichrist, according to the Christian Post's Melissa Barnhart, Jeffress' book, Perfect Ending: Why Your Eternal Future Matters Today, also "answers people's most pressing questions about heaven and what the end times will look like to Christians and those who do not believe in Jesus Christ."

Jeffress is not one of your fly-by-night conservative evangelical preachers; he's been around the block more that a few times. He is senior pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church, in Dallas, Texas; hosts a daily radio program called "Pathway to Victory" -- which is broadcast on more than 700 hundred stations; and, his weekly television show is seen on 1,200 television stations and cable systems throughout the nation and in 28 countries around the world, including China. He has written more than twenty books, and is a much sought-after speaker at evangelical Christian events, and is a frequent guest on Fox News.

He briefly attracted the attention of the mainstream media when in October 2011, after introducing Texas Governor Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., he told reporters that Mormonism was a "cult" and maintained that Mitt Romney was opposed to Christianity. A day later, after a Sunday morning service, he stood by his statements: "Mormonism is a false religion," he told Reuters. "It was invented 1800 years after the establishment of Christianity."

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 04 February 2014 06:26

Eugene Robinson | We Are Losing This Drug War

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

HeroinOD(Photo: Psychonaught)Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is yet another victim of the war on drugs. Prohibition is not working. It is time to try something new.

Hoffman, 46, was found dead in the bathroom of his Manhattan apartment Sunday morning, apparently the victim of a heroin overdose. According to widely published reports, there was a syringe in his arm. Police found the place littered with small plastic bags stamped "Ace of Spades" or "Ace of Hearts" -- brand names that street dealers use.

Hoffman had lived through a familiar pattern: experimentation, addiction, rehab, abstinence, relapse, more rehab, more abstinence, another relapse.

Why would a man held in such high esteem, a man with so much going for him and so much to live for, risk it all by buying illegal drugs from a criminal on the street and then injecting them into his veins? For the same reason any addict uses drugs: to get high.

Perhaps this desire was a moral failing on Hoffman's part. Perhaps its origin lies buried in his personal history, with some trauma having triggered it. Perhaps it is written in his genetic code. I doubt we'll ever know for sure.

What we do know is that this need to get high is beyond some people's control. Our drug policy of prohibition and interdiction makes it difficult and dangerous for people like Hoffman to get high, but not impossible -- and makes these tragic overdose deaths more common than they have to be.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Cookie(Photo: Ubcule)If you know what's good for America, you will shut your door when the Girl Scouts come a knockin', and you'll "back away from those Girl Scout Cookies," conservative Christian groups are telling their constituents. It has nothing to do with evangelicals adopting gluten-free diets (although there is now a certified gluten-free Chocolate Chip Shortbread cookie), or concerns about eliminating fat from their diets. It's all about right-wingers charging Girl Scouts USA with supporting Planned Parenthood, pro-abortion role models like Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and organizations like Amnesty International, the ACLU, and the National Organization for Women (NOW).

And, now, thanks to the newly formed CookieCott 2014, Texas' Wendy Davis has been dropped into the middle of this year's ruckus.

None of the anti-GSUSA caterwauling is new to leaders of the 2.3 million member GSUSA or to conservative scolds who have been slamming the organization for years.

What is new, however, is a tweeting controversy which conservatives are trying to gin up in their own inimitable manner. CNSNews.com reported in early January, that during a conversation generated by a Huffington Post article and video panel discussion over possible nominees for Woman of the Year, "The Girl Scouts of America tweeted a link ... that praises pro-abortion politician Wendy Davis (D-Texas.)"

According to CookieCott 2014, "The Girl Scouts recently endorsed pro-abortion politicians Wendy Davis and Kathleen Sebelius as worthy role models for our children. In response, we're asking you to boycott Girl Scout cookies in 2014."

Published in Guest Commentary

JANE STILLWATER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

FloodJava2A Flood on JavaIt seems to me that the reason we get global warming in some places and global cooling in others should be as plain as the nose on your face -- at least to those of us who live in Berkeley.

Whenever it gets hot in Walnut Creek, over the hill from Berkeley, we always get a strong wind here as our own cooler air rushes over to balance out Walnut Creek's hotspots.

So global warming and cooling should clearly work in the same way -- except on a planetary scale. As Florida really heats up, for instance, cold air from the Arctic should rush in to balance temperatures out. And hurricanes and tornadoes appear to be getting bigger and nastier here to compensate for temperature changes somewhere else. All over the planet, increased warm areas are being balanced out by increased cold areas -- and vice-versa. That's my new climate-change theory and I'm sticking to it.

And Justice works the same way as well. We gotta have liberty and justice for all -- and not just for Poobahs and cartels. Because if we don't, it's all going to even out in the end eventually -- one way or another.

Everyone everywhere keeps track of these things.

And when justice only goes to the wealthy and not to the poor, things definitely get hotter in one spot and cooler in another.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 30 January 2014 07:55

Abolishing War, Resurrecting Fallujah

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

MarinesFallujahIraq vet Ross Caputi's film opens with a fleeting synopsis of the American heartbreak — and the bandage we tape across it.

His documentary, Fear Not the Path of Truth, is about the U.S. devastation of Fallujah, in which he participated as part of Operation Phantom Fury in November 2004, but the first couple minutes give us an overview of his hometown, the "former industrial city" of Fitchburg, Mass.:

"But the factory jobs are long gone, so there's really only two types of people that live here. They're the people with good-paying jobs in Boston or Worcester who come out here to build big houses at relatively cheap prices. Everyone else gets by doing work on those houses, doing their lawns, putting additions on them, painting them.

"If there was a point of unity among all the racial and economic divisions in this little city, it had to be the troops. Everyone respected the troops."

I was struck especially hard by this small moment because it encapsulates the lie of militarism where it is most invulnerable: at the humanity of the men and women who protect us, putting their lives on the line. When all else goes wrong, the troops remain sacred. In a broken economy, the troops are sacred. Militarism is the god we can manipulate.

And yet the moment to expel this lie from human society has never been riper. The trans-national cost of militarism is some $2 trillion a year, according to an ambitious new website called World Beyond War. The insanity of war not only squanders our resources, ravages the environment and slaughters the innocent, it perpetuates a global culture of violence, which is the very thing we honor our troops for protecting us from.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ConfederateSurrenderOn February 20, 1864 there was a First Civil War battle at a place in Florida called Olustee. It was not a major battle. It rates half a sentence in the monumental 900 page history of the First Civil War and the major events that led up to it from the beginning of the 19th century by James McPherson. The title of his book, Battle Cry of Freedom, was a slogan interestingly enough, used on both sides, obviously with different meanings: on one side it meant an end to slavery, on the other the freedom to maintain it.

The book is still widely considered to be the best single volume history of the conflict. But now, 150 years after event, that particular battle, which drew so little mention in Prof. McPherson's book, is still front and center in the minds of some and (so far only) figuratively, the battle rages on. It, in which significant numbers of African-American troops fought for the Union side, ended with a Confederate victory.

It happens that there is a three acre Florida state park at the site, which contains three memorials to the Confederate dead. The Florida chapter of an organization called the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War petitioned to have a memorial to the Union dead erected on the site as well. This petition brought forth a very strong objection from the Florida branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

One of their number, ironically named John Adams, stated the reason for the opposition was that "old grudges die hard." You bet your sweet pitootie they do. Here we are, 150 years later, and those sons of Confederate veterans, including the chairman of the Florida House Judiciary Committee, one Dennis Baxley (ironically [R]), cannot stand to have Union dead honored on the same site that their dead are, because of an "old grudge."

Although he didn't say (or least the New York Times article cited didn't quote him saying anything on the subject), the "old grudge" must have to do with the fact that after 11 Southern states seceded from the Union over one or more aspects of the slavery issue, and one of their number opened fire on a Federal fort in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., a civil war ensued, which the Secessionist forces lost. My-oh-my. 150 years later. Couldn't be that many of the issues over which the First Civil War was fought are still at issue, plus a number of new ones, now could it?

Published in Guest Commentary
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