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WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGasPump(Photo: Noroton)Gas prices at the pump during the July 4th extended weekend were the highest they have been in six years. This, of course, has little to do with supply-and-demand economics. It has everything to do with supply-and-gouge profits.

Over the past decade, the five largest oil companies have earned more than $1 trillion in profits. Last year, the Big Five—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell—earned about $93 billion in profits. Their CEOs last year earned an average of about $20 million. Included within the profits is $2.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies because it's hard to make a living when your hourly wage, assuming you work every hour of every day, is only $2,283.

"We have been subsidizing oil companies for a century. That's long enough," President Obama said more than a year ago. The Senate disagreed. Forty-three Republicans and four Democrats blocked the elimination of subsidies. Although the final vote was 51–47 to end the subsidies, a simple majority was not enough because the Republicans threatened a filibuster that would have required 60 votes to pass the bill. A Think Progress financial analysis revealed that the 47 senators who voted to continue subsidies received almost $23.6 million in career contributions from the oil and gas industry. In contrast, the 51 senators who had voted to repeal the subsidies received only about $5.9 million.

For a couple of decades, the oil industry blamed the Arabs for not pumping enough oil to export to the United States. But when the Arab oil cartel (of which the major U.S. oil companies have limited partnerships) decided to pump more oil, the Americans had to look elsewhere for their excuses. In rapid succession, they blamed Mexico, England, the Bermuda Triangle, polar bears who were lying about climate change so they could get more ice for their diet drinks, and infertile dinosaurs.

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMexicoBorder(Photo: Nofx221984)There's no objective need for President Obama to visit the Texas-Mexico border and see the immigration crisis first-hand, but he shouldn't have claimed that "I'm not interested in photo ops."

The line about photo ops was so absurd that it's a good thing he wasn't under oath. Every president since Abraham Lincoln has been interested in photo ops. Posing for the cameras amid artfully chosen people and props is something presidents do every day. Obama is very good at it, and there are times when he actually gives the impression that he enjoys it.

Not all photo ops are created equal, though. It's easy to understand why Obama might dig in his heels over a trip to the border that would do nothing but give a false impression. Pictures of the president among a group of Central American children -- some of the tens of thousands who have entered the country without papers in recent months -- would suggest that our dysfunctional government is serious about addressing what has become a humanitarian crisis. Sadly, this is not true.

Reckless loudmouths such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who blast Obama for "lawlessness" on immigration, are pretending not to understand that the flood of unaccompanied children is primarily caused by Obama's adherence to the law.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCheneyII(Photo: Cherie A. Thurlby)In Part 1 of this two-part series, I briefly reviewed what are perhaps the four most significant elements of the "Cheney Legacy:" the War on Afghanistan, the War on Iraq, the principle that Presidents can violate the Constitution at their pleasure as long as they claim to do so "in the interests of national security" (in Cheney's case through the establishment of the use of torture as national policy such use violates Article VI), and also most important, the attempt to establish Permanent War or at least the Permanent Preparation for Permanent War as the central element of US government policy.

There are certainly other elements in the "Cheney Legacy." Not particularly in order of importance, one could start the list with the "outing" of the former CIA agent Valerie Plame. This was done in apparent retaliation for the revelation by her husband, Joseph Wilson, that the Nigeria-"Yellow Cake-Saddam Hussein story was a complete fabrication. Committing such an act violated several laws, but of course Cheney hid behind subordinates like "Scooter" Libby and was never held to account for his action. The continued use of the 9/11 tragedy to promote fear over the whole country. In his current attack on President Obama Cheney is specifically use fear-mongering as a central element in that attack.

Then there are the current top-three GOP-termed "scandals:" the "IRS," the VA (which is a scandal, but just not how the GOP defines the term), and of course "Benghazi." The three attacks have in common the use of lies and distortions designed to attack the opposition political party, not to find any solutions to the problems raised. Finally there is the Cheney principle of the Privatization of Government, including or perhaps beginning with the military and intelligence services. Any way that traditional government can be turned to enable profit-making by the private sector is, in Cheney's eyes a good thing. One of the ironies of that policy is that if Edward Snowden had remained as a government employee rather than working for a private intelligence contractor, it is possible that he might have a) not decided to make the revelations that he has, and b) might not have had the opportunity to do so.

Published in Guest Commentary

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFirstAmendmentZone(Photo: Brandt Luke Zorn)While Americans were watching fireworks explode on the 4th, and laboring under the sad delusion that the United States is the land of the free and the brave, I was thinking about the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Massachusetts’ abortion buffer zone law and how some people are free to petition their grievances while anti-war demonstrators, Occupy Wall Street protesters, and environmentalists are either locked away behind chain-link cages designated “free speech zones”, or they’re violently assaulted by the police and thrown in jail. 

Recently, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down Massachusetts’ abortion buffer zone law, ruling in favor of anti-abortion protesters who argued that 35 feet away from clinic entrances is a violation of their freedom of speech. The decision rolls back a proactive policy intended to protect women’s access to reproductive health care in the face of persistent harassment and intimidation from abortion opponents.

As reporters have pointed out, buffer zones are not entirely unusual policies. “There are already buffer zones around funerals and polling places,” explained Tara Culp-Ressler at ThinkProgress.  “Ironically, the Supreme Court itself has a large buffer zone around it to prevent protesters from picketing on its 252-by-98-foot plaza, requiring demonstrations to take place on the sidewalk.” 

And let’s not forget the largest buffer zone of all: The White House, which is more like a military fortress than the People’s House.  

On closer inspection of the ruling, it appears that there is a catchword that can be applied to defend protesters, should protesters want to get right in the face of their adversaries; and that word is “counseling” vs. “picketing or protesting.”

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ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaRepLewis(Photo: Rep. John Lewis (D-GA))Ah, 1961. The year — certain aspects of it, anyway — are almost impossible to remember. "Whites only" bathrooms, for instance.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, legendary civil rights leader and crosser of lines, recently tweeted an ancient mugshot memorializing his arrest that year for using a "whites only" bathroom in Mississippi and, in the process, amping up outrage against Jim Crow segregation in the South and intensifying the civil rights movement's global resonance.

He was charged with disorderly conduct and spent 37 days at the Parchman Penitentiary. How difficult it is to fathom such smug, legally sanctified certainty. It all seems so long ago . . . those days when the people who ran things were so wrong.

I say this facetiously, of course.

The emergence of this mugshot from 53 years ago, and the memories of a long-gone era that unavoidably accompany it, somehow speaks volumes to the numerous movements for change that are simmering today. One reason is because the civil rights movement of the 1960s was actually successful. It turned the country around. It undid every last legal and moral justification that held together a whites-only Old South, and it seriously undermined much of the legally ensconced racism of the North.

No, it didn't end racism per se, which regrouped "legally" around a bloated prison-industrial complex, but it woke the nation up and created an enduring legacy of nonviolent, human-rights-based change. It set a standard for what's possible, at the same time exposing the vicious hatred, masquerading as moral sanctity, which held together the existing social order.

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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaArkansasProject(Photo: Wasted Time R)Long before the billionaire Koch Brothers and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson began polluting the American political landscape with obscene amounts of money, decades before the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, years before the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth mobilized a platoon of millionaire financiers to put the kibosh on John Kerry's presidential campaign, and before folks like Rex Sinquefield were bound and determined to have their money loom large over the legislative process in the states, there was Richard Mellon Scaife.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Scaife and his family were among the top donors to a myriad of right-wing organizations and causes. Back in the day it didn't take long before researchers following the money behind the conservative movement ran headlong into the Scaife clan.

Scaife, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based heir to the Mellon banking fortune, was a man on a multi-pronged mission. He succeeded in helping build the powerful conservative infrastructure that essentially paved the way for the way for the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the rise of the Religious Right and the institutionalization of such right-wing powerhouses as the Heritage Foundation.

According to The New York Times, Scaife "inherited roughly $500 million in 1965, and with more family bequests and income from trust funds and investments in oil, steel and real estate, nearly tripled his net worth over his lifetime. But unlike his forebears, who were primarily benefactors of museums, public art collections, education and medicine, he gave hundreds of millions to promote conservative political causes."

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STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaJesus(Photo: John Singleton Copley)We interrupt the two-part series on "The Significance of Dick Cheney" to deal with the breaking news of the Hobby Lobby decision. For it is as least as significant for the future of our nation as is Dick Cheney, what he stands for, and who he represents (the subject to which we shall return next week). The Hobby Lobby decision has many implications. First, one must agree with Justice Ginsburg that regardless of Justices Alito's caveats, the tide unleashed by the decision of the Right-wing Five is not going to stop at the shoreline of the separation of church and state any time soon. And for the long-range future of the United States, that is the most significant element of the decision.

That is not to say that it also has horrible outcomes for women and their sexual behavior, their private lives, and their private decision-making. As Andy Borowitz so cogently put it, "Supreme Court Majority Calls Case a Dispute between Women and People." Chiming in was everyone's favorite very-far-right GOP Senator Mike Lee of Utah who said that most women who use contraceptives do so for "recreational purposes." Like that's supposed to make a difference on whether or not a public corporation can discriminate against women on their choice of FDA approved contraceptives, on religious grounds. By the way, most folks label Lee as a "Tea Partier," as if such types really differ from "regular Republicans." Well, they do, but not on policy (except perhaps around the edges on immigration policy, which Eric Cantor found to his regret, at least among the 13% of eligible voters in his district who bothered to vote). If you look closely, it is almost always just a matter of style and wording.

There are a variety of other important negative aspects of this decision that are being widely and well dealt with from the Left. In my view, the most important one is how this decision ushers our one further, very big, step down the road to theocracy. For the Supreme Court has held that in matters of legislation, law, and public programs, the religious positions of one person (and of course they have recently reaffirmed the original 1880s railroad-lawyers-Court decision that corporations are people (see "Citizens United"), can outweigh the religious position, or non-religious but ethical/moral position, of another.

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BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFireworks(Photo: David Shankbone)Over sixty five million people in the US, perhaps a fifth of our sisters and brothers, are not enjoying the "unalienable rights" of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" promised when the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. They are about twenty percent of our US population. This July 4 can be an opportunity to remember them and rededicate ourselves and our country to making these promises real for all people in the US.

More than two million people are in our jails and prisons making the US the world leader in incarceration, according to the Sentencing Project, a 500% increase in the last 30 years.

Four million more people are on probation and parole, reports the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.

On the night of July 4 and on any given night, over 600,000 people are homeless, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, a quarter of which, over 130,000, are children.

Over 4 million people live in homes where each person lives on less than $2 per day (2.8 million are children) according to the National Poverty Center of the University of Michigan. Over 20 million people are living in deep poverty with incomes of less than 50 percent of the already low US poverty lines.

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EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDroneReaper(Photo: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)In our growing reliance on armed drones as instruments of war, how slippery is the slope we're sliding on? Imagine that Vladimir Putin began using drones to kill Ukrainians who opposed Russia's annexation of Crimea. If Putin claimed the targets were "members of anti-Russian terrorist groups," what credibility would the United States have to condemn such strikes?

This scenario is outlined in a chilling new report released Thursday by a bipartisan panel of military experts. The use of drones against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, begun by the George W. Bush administration and greatly expanded by President Obama, risks becoming "a long-term killing program based on secret rationales," the report warns.

In the hypothetical Ukraine example, the world would demand proof that the individuals killed were indeed terrorists. The report notes that "Russia could simply repeat the words used by U.S. officials defending U.S. targeted killings, asserting that it could not provide any evidence without disclosing sources and methods."

The report was commissioned by the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, and written by a panel that no one would consider a bunch of woolly-headed pacifists. Co-chairs of the group are retired Gen. John Abizaid, the former head of U.S. Central Command, and Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor. Included are former defense and intelligence officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 26 June 2014 09:25

The Loathsome Legacy of Dick Cheney

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCheneySucks(Photo: Magnus Manske)As I started thinking about what I was going to say about Dick Cheney this time around, I also started thinking about how many times in my time with BuzzFlash have I written about one aspect or another of the man's political and policy being. It added up to quite a few. Indeed I have devoted more column space to Cheney than I have to any other US politician, living or dead. The topics have included the CheneyBush war policy in Iraq, "What Cheney is Really About," "Cheney and the Iraq "Surge," the Dick Cheney Torture Defense, Cheney and "bombing the Constitution," what I called [the pernicious legacy of Cheneyism, the permanence of Permanent War (which is the centrepiece of the Cheney Doctrine), and what I called "The Incredible Lightness of Dick Cheney," that is how cleverly the man has been able to get away with everything he has gotten away with. And there were others too.

So all of that on Dick Cheney. "My-oh-my," I said to myself, "how come so many?" The conclusion that I have come to is that Dick Cheney has in fact been the most important U.S. politician and overall policy-maker of the first 14 years of the 21st century. And just now, once again, he has come to the defense of himself and the policies that he has made in his now-famous diatribe against President Obama published recently. It was entitled "The Collapsing Obama Doctrine: Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many."

Indeed, rarely has a former Vice-President so bitterly and viciously attacked a sitting US President, a President who just happens to have two very serious foreign policy crises on his hands, in Ukraine and the Middle East. But Cheney is very worried about his legacy. He is very worried about the political future of the one daughter that he has who might, despite her recent bitter loss in Wyoming, be able to carry it on for him. (He is obviously grooming her to be the next Cheney standard bearer on the Republican Right, even to the extent of allowing her to publicly dis her own gay sister and her sister's family.) But most important is what Cheney, as perhaps the most prominent representative of the currently dominant sector of the US ruling class, is so concerned about in terms of national policy. If you want to embody what has become the Military-Industrial-Fossil-Fuels Complex in one person, Cheney is as good as any other. He is fighting very hard to maintain its present hammerlock on the political economy of the United States.

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