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JANE STILLWATER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaPovertyStillwater(Photo: Phillies1fan777)This has been a busy month for me, including helping my daughter prepare for the birth of my next granddaughter, getting a bunch of surgical procedures out of the way so I can be bionic by the time I become our new arrival's caregiver after her new mum goes back to work, worrying about the role of the CIA in creating radical "Islam," and still struggling through Thomas Pretty's 600-page book on modern economics. And the more that I read in Capital for the 21st Century, the angrier I get.
According to Piketty, Europe and America have traditionally been divided into two basic classes for a long long long time: The "haves" and the "have-nots." Traditionally, the "haves" have owned the capital (most of it inherited) and the "have-nots" have provided the labor. For many past centuries, it had been pretty much upstairs and downstairs in Western economies, just like on the BBC TV series.

But then two world wars came along and totally shook up these two formerly set-in-stone class lines, creating a unique glitch in time wherein a new large middle class was suddenly born -- in both Europe and the United States.

According to Piketty, this was an almost-unique experience in Western economic history - where the wealthy were taken down a notch and the working class and poor were elevated up. However, this "accidental equality" was too good to be true for long, and the wealthy classes fought back and the dream died -- and so here we are, back again, deja vu, once more playing at "Upstairs Downstairs" like our ancestors did.

You may wish that Piketty is wrong about the recent disappearance of the new middle class? But unfortunately he's not.

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaJailKoehler1(Photo: Bart Everson)"It'd be really hard to have a higher recidivism rate than we have in Cook County."

Maybe this is the place to start a brief meditation on changing the world, or at least Chicago . . . known to some of its residents as "Chiraq."

The speaker is Elena Qunitana, executive director of the Adler Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice, which, in partnership with Roosevelt University's Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation, recently completed a study on Cook County's dysfunctional juvenile justice system.

What we're doing isn't working, justice-wise, order-wise, sanity-wise. The state of Illinois is bankrupt and yet its jails are full to bursting, at a cost, per occupant, equal to or greater than the cost of luxury suites at its ritziest hotels. And 90 percent of the teenagers who enter the system come back within three years of their release. This is no surprise: The system is a spiral of entrapment, especially for young men of color.

Why? What's the point of such a costly and ineffective system (if "effectiveness" is measured by bringing positive change rather than by simple self-perpetuation)? Bureaucratic punishment is not the answer to social disorder; instead, it's a major contributor to the disorder, shattering families and communities and branding people for life as permanent wrongdoers — "ex-felons" — yet answerable only to its own rules and procedures. It has nothing to do with . . . what's that word again? Oh yeah, healing. Deep in the hidden core of the American system of justice is a determination to dehumanize people, not rescue them.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSelma(Photo: Peter Pettus)Weren't the valiant, courageous actions of civil rights advocates a triumph for social justice? Did it not lead to further advances in that struggle? And if you are referring to the movie, is it not a triumph as well, getting a film that portrays one of the signal struggles of the Movement during the 60s with such searing honesty, no holds barred in dealing with the "Which side are you on?" question, applied to this event? Well, yes, the Selma March was a triumph for the civil rights movement. It played a very important role in getting Lyndon Johnson to support what became the Voting Rights Act. It did lead to further advances in that struggle. The movie is a triumph as well, a brilliantly staged and acted docudrama which, among other things, uses the real Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, as the setting for the real march that took place across it in 1865.

Ironically enough, the bridge is named for a Confederate Brigadier General, who later, operating out of his law office, became the leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan in Selma and went on to become a U.S. Senator from Alabama. This is particularly ironic in the context of the Voting Rights Act and the struggle to enact it. The Ku Klux Klan was founded very shortly after the end of the civil war by an association of ex-Confederate generals, planters, certain Democratic politicians, and other white leadership who wanted to return the civil society in the South as much as possible to what it had been before the Civil War, with the exception of not having the institution of chattel slavery in place.

One of the principal objectives of the Klan, from the earliest days of its founding, was to prevent the newly freed slaves from the exercising the right to vote that had been granted to them by the 14th (1868) and 15th (1870) Amendments to the Constitution. The language of the latter is particularly instructive: "1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." But with the power first of the Klan, with the ever-spreading denial of the vote to African-Americans, and then with the institution over a period of some years of what was called the "Jim Crow" laws by the Democratic Party in the South, African-Americans were indeed systematically denied the right that had being guaranteed to them by the 15th amendment.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCharlieHebdo(Photo: Henri Docquin)Much has been written about the horror perpetrated on journalists at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and shoppers at a kosher grocery store in store in Paris on January 7-8, 2015. One question about which not much has been written, about the attacks and their aftermaths, is the old one from the days of Rome: "Cui Bono" (who benefits)? But before we get to that one, let's consider who didn't.

First of all, the two brothers who committed the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, Cherif and Said Kouachi, said that they were doing it avenge the various depictions of the Prophet Mohammed that they found sacrilegious (the latter, of course, like obscenity, all being in the eye of the beholder). Well, A) they are dead and B) their actions will hardly stop others from depicting the Prophet in the terms that Charlie Hebdo did, or worse. (Of course, in their next issue, the Charlie Hebdo survivors came out with a depiction of Mohammed, sympathetically this time, but nevertheless, a prohibited "graven image.")

Then there was Amedy Coulibaly, the killer at the Jewish grocery. He said that he was protesting against the US, French, and other interventions in the Middle East. Well, there are lots of opponents of those actions, both in the Muslim (and especially Arab) and Western worlds (including yours truly and, I might surmise, many of the readers of BuzzFlash). Coulibaly's action is unlikely to win over many, if any, converts to his cause. So neither they (to be sure) nor their causes can said to have benefitted.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 20 January 2015 06:44

The United States Is Imploding

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aeveofdestructionOn the eve of destruction? (Photo: Luc De Leeuw )

The United States is gradually, but unrelentingly, destroying part of itself. The facts to support this are well-documented, told in many ways from past to present.

The most egregious example of Americide is our country's treatment of African-Americans. Almost everyone agrees about the evils of slavery, once dismissed simply as a Peculiar Institution. But a debate goes on about reparations, with passionate arguments on both sides, ranging from a demand for a Reparations Superfund for jobs and education, to a claim that blacks actually benefited from slavery because of the years of 'reparations' received through poverty programs.

Reparations opponents insist that there is no clear modern connection to the era of slavery. But there is a connection, and it's exhibited in the many profitable corporations -- manufacturers, banks, insurance, railroad -- that had their roots in slavery. Reparations haven't been paid, or, if they have been extended in the form of poverty programs, they haven't worked. Standards of living for blacks have worsened relative to whites in the past half-century. Many of the modern-day practices of our free-market capitalist system are at least partly responsible for this.

Published in Guest Commentary

WENONAH HAUTER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMonsantoEcowatch(Photo: EcoWatch)Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the sale and planting of Monsanto’s genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. This approval follows that of 2,4-D tolerant soybeans and corn, billed as the next generation of herbicide-tolerant crops to tackle glyphosate (Roundup)-resistant weeds.

Dicamba-tolerant soy and cotton are simply the latest example of USDA’s allegiance to the biotechnology industry and dependence upon chemical solutions. This continues the disturbing trend of more herbicide-tolerant crop approvals taking place under President Obama’s watch.

Once again, the USDA has neglected to look at the full range of impacts associated with these GMO herbicide-tolerant crops. Instead the agency has opted for a short-term solution to superweeds that have become resistant to herbicides because of previous approvals of GMOs, thereby perpetuating and escalating chemical use.

The USDA’s Environmental Impact Statement predicted that dicamba use will increase 88-fold and 14-fold for soybeans and cotton, respectively, compared to current levels. Dicamba-tolerant crops will allow for wider windows of spraying throughout the season at unprecedented levels. Now that dicamba will be used in larger quantities, Monsanto has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to increase the tolerance level of dicamba on cottonseed 150-fold. Higher levels of dicamba in the environment and our food pose unacceptable risks to human health and a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCommiePope(Photo: Jeffrey Bruno)I can't be absolutely certain, but I'm pretty sure that Pope Francis is not walking around with Mao's Red Book stuffed into an inside pocket of his papal robes, or that he's starting a study group for Das Capital. Nevertheless, with the release of a new book titled "Pope Francis: This Economy Kills," the Pope's critics are sure to ratchet up their labeling of him with the "C" word (Communist), and the "M" word (Marxist). The Christian Post headlined its recent story about the new report: "Communist or Christian? Pope Francis Defends Vatican Report Titled 'This Economy Kills' in Criticism of Global Financial System."

Stoyan Zaimov's story in the CP (oops, there we go again), uh ... Christian Post, starts by pointing out that Pope Francis maintains he's not a communist, but he says that he will continue to criticize the global economic system because of "Jesus' call for Christians to serve the poor."

"Jesus affirms that you cannot serve two masters, God and wealth," Francis said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa. "Is it pauperism? No, it is the Gospel."

Pope Francis said that "Markets and financial speculation cannot enjoy absolute autonomy. We cannot wait any longer to resolve the structural causes of poverty in order to cure our society of an illness that can only lead to new crises."

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT REDFORD OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaKeystoneRedford2(Photo: EcoWatch)The new Republican majority in Congress wants to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil. President Obama announced he will veto bills that bypass the official review of Keystone XL.

There are plenty of reasons to block these bills and this pipeline.

Keystone XL would carry the dirtiest oil on the planet from Canada through the American heartland. The vast majority of it would be shipped overseas, while people here at home cope with the threat of contaminated water and difficult-to-clean-up oil spills.

Polluters are fighting hard to get Keystone approved. The oil and gas industry pumped $53.1 million into last year’s congressional campaigns—87 percent of which went to Republican candidates. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raked in $608,000 from the industry for his 2014 campaign, and now he is putting Keystone XL at the heart of his big polluter agenda.

But this isn’t just a battle over industry influence. This is a choice about the kind of nation we want to live in.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 15 January 2015 07:20

Partners in Terror: This Is Bigger Than Satire

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaParisMarch(Photo: Elya)“Je suis Charlie. Tout est pardonné.”

Muhammad in tears adorns the new cover of Charlie Hebdo: “I am Charlie. All is forgiven.” This is bigger than satire.

I take a deep breath, uncertain how to write about last week’s insane shooting spree in Paris. My daughter and her husband live there. “Things are normal,” she told me a few days afterward, “but there’s a presence — this thing that has happened. It’s in the air.”

A few days later I came upon this headline at the McClatchy Washington bureau website: “U.S. airstrike in Syria may have killed 50 civilians.”

The story reports: “The civilians were being held in a makeshift jail in the town of Al Bab, close to the Turkish border, when the aircraft struck on the evening of Dec. 28, the witnesses said. The building, called the Al Saraya, a government center, was leveled in the airstrike. It was days before civil defense workers could dig out the victims’ bodies.”

The building, in fact, had been turned into a jail by Islamic State police. It contained guards and between 35 and more than 50 prisoners, according to different witnesses’ accounts. The prisoners “had been jailed shortly before the airstrike for minor infractions of the Islamic State’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law, such as smoking, wearing jeans or appearing too late for the afternoon prayer.”

IS arrested them. We killed them. Partners in terror.

Published in Guest Commentary

RONNIE CUMMINS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGMOno(Photo: EcoWatch)It is now blatantly obvious that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are nothing more than patented Pesticide Delivery Systems (PDS) designed to increase sales of poisonous agrochemicals such as Roundup, glufosinate, Bt, 2,4 D and neonicotinoids. To claim that GMOs are perfectly safe is equivalent to saying that pesticides, herbicides and fungicides—systemically laced at ever-higher levels into GMO-tainted human food and animal feed—are perfectly safe. And to make matters worse, hundreds of millions of pounds of Monsanto’s Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the world, are now routinely sprayed on 160 different crops, just before harvest, including wheat, potatoes, oats, canola, flax, peas and dried beans. In other words, just about every non-organic item in your supermarket, or every item on your restaurant menu (bread, potatoes, meat, milk) is now tainted with Roundup.

The anti-GMO and organic movement has come a long way in the past two decades. But given the dangers posed by GMOs and Roundup, it’s time to move aggressively forward. Here are a dozen crucial steps we need to take in 2015 to drive GMOs and Roundup off the market.

Published in Guest Commentary
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