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Thursday, 23 January 2014 07:06

Beyond Our Broken Dreams, A People Rise

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ClassroomHold the dream with me, as it breaks loose from Jameale Pickett's poem. Something beyond the insane dance of crime and punishment is happening, at least this year, this moment, in Chicago's high schools. Young people are getting a chance to excel and become themselves, as more and more schools find and embrace common sense, also known as restorative justice.

The funding is fragile, precarious, but some schools in struggling communities are figuring out how to break the school-to-prison pipeline, even though the system as a whole remains wrapped up in suspensions, expulsions, zero tolerance and racism.

"The Obama administration on Wednesday urged school officials to abandon unnecessarily harsh suspension and expulsion practices that appear to target black students," the Chicago Sun-Times reported recently.

"In Chicago, although black students in 2009 made up 45 percent of (the Chicago Public Schools') enrollment, 76 percent of all CPS students who received out-of-school suspensions were black, according to Department of Education data. When it came to expulsions, black students made up 80 percent of those who were expelled."

And, as of data from a few years ago, one in four African-American students gets suspended at least once during the school year in Illinois — the highest rate in the nation. Suspensions become blemishes on one's record that are almost impossible to erase. But worst of all, the conflict at the root of every suspension, in the old system of zero tolerance, goes unaddressed — indeed, unacknowledged, either by the school system or the media. Yet every unaddressed conflict festers and grows.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AntiChoiceMarchSince 1973, the anti-abortion movement has engaged in numerous strategies and campaigns; from peaceful protest to outright terrorism to mobilizing political support for anti-choice legislation. Violent sectors of the movement have been responsible for killing abortion doctors, wounding staff, and bombing clinics. Anti-abortion advocates have harassed patients and threatened the families of health care workers.

For more than forty years, the movement has had one goal in mind: an outright ban on all abortions.

On January 22, anti-abortion activists and advocates will once gather at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for its annual "March for Life." This year, there is un-likely to be any hitches in the giddy-up of the marchers, and the chanting from the crowd is apt to be louder than ever. That's because this year's "March for Life," held on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling which deemed abortion a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution, is being staged against the backdrop of a wave of anti-abortion legislative victories in the states.

And many movement activists see these victories as paving the way to even more limits on access to abortion.

The "March for Life" is unquestionably the biggest anti-abortion event of the year. Some years there is a huge turnout, with tens of thousands of people marching along the D.C. streets, while other years -- especially if the weather doesn't cooperate -- the crowd, while still enthusiastic, is less robust.

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CoalWasherThe drinking water in nine West Virginia counties has finally been declared safe, or mostly safe. But many people say they can still smell the licorice-like odor of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol -- in the sink, in the shower, in the air, especially in neighborhoods close to the Elk River.

I say "mostly" because so little is known about the toxicity of the chemical, known as MCHM, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women in the affected area not to drink the water, at least for now. Unfortunately, this warning came after the CDC had already told residents the water was safe for everyone.

More than a week since the chemical spill in Charleston, the state capital, contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people, there has been little solid information about the danger to human health -- and little outrage from officials in Washington, who seem to expect West Virginians to take the whole thing in stride. I can't help but wonder what the reaction would be if this had happened on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or in one of the wealthier ZIP codes of Southern California.

Imagine living for a week without tap water for drinking, cooking, bathing, even washing clothes. Imagine restaurants having to shut down, hotels putting sinks and showers off-limits, nursing homes trying to care for patients with only bottled water at their disposal. Imagine learning that there was essentially no information on the long-term health effects of a chemical you could smell everywhere you went.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

GWBridge2The Christie Affair goes galloping along. By the time this column appears in print there may be more major developments/revelations-of-information. What will not change is the use by the GOP of one of its standard responses to such events, when the involved Republicans: "Two Wrongs Make a Right." (For the Numero Uno practitioners of this tactic see O'Reilly, Bill, and Hannity, S.) And this is one of their standard responses whether the described "wrongs" are comparable or not. But first, let's review a few of the relevant facts as we know them so far (as of January 16, 2014), concerning apparently purposely caused traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, New Jersey with the island of Manhattan, New York City.

The George Washington Bridge is reputedly the world's busiest (and there are some really busy bridges elsewhere). It was completed in 1931 and at that time was the world's longest suspension bridge. It ceded that title to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in 1936. It has never ceded the title of "One of the World's Most Beautiful Bridges." I, born in 1936, was lucky enough to have grown up within everyday sight of it. When I was first driven over it by my Dad it had six lanes and toll booths on both sides. Double-decked, it now has 14 lanes and toll booths just on the Jersey side. Last September, right around opening-of-school time, several of the toll lanes were closed, causing severe traffic jams, especially in the community that sits at the Jersey end, Fort Lee.

As almost every sentient person in the United States now knows, those lane closings were ordered and implemented by one or more officials of the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and appointees of his to a body known as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge and collects the tolls. The Governors of the two states share appointment powers for several of its executives and operating officers. This is one reason why things are so murky, and why a whole host of investigations of who ordered the toll gate closings and why are underway.

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 17 January 2014 06:40

Eugene Robinson | The Real Benghazi Scandal

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

BenghaziMontageThe bipartisan report on Benghazi released Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee should finally convince conspiracy theorists of the obvious: There is no there there.

Administration officials did not orchestrate any kind of attempt, politically motivated or otherwise, to deceive the American people. In their public statements, including the infamous talking points, they relied on what intelligence analysts told them.

In other words, if Susan Rice was wrong when she went on the Sunday talk shows and said the attacks were the violent outgrowth of a spontaneous anti-American demonstration rather than a long-planned terrorist assault, it was only because the intelligence community was wrong.

That said, the initial assessment given by Rice -- then serving as ambassador to the United Nations, now as President Obama's national security adviser -- may turn out to have been correct. We don't yet know. Says the report: "The IC [Intelligence Community] continues to review the amount and nature of any preplanning that went into the attacks."

Other preposterous claims about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, are also debunked in the Senate report. Most spurious is the claim that the administration failed to launch a rescue attempt that might have saved lives.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 16 January 2014 07:21

America Bereft of Democracy

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AmFlags"(Chris) Christie is the caricature of a Third World despot," writes Chris Hedges of the reeling New Jersey governor. "He has a vicious temper, a propensity to bully and belittle those weaker than himself, an insatiable thirst for revenge against real or perceived enemies, and little respect for the law and, as recent events have made clear, for the truth."

And he still might wind up becoming our next president.

This is our kind of guy — media spectacle, bully, errand boy for the moneyed interests. His presidential aspirations may not survive "bridge-gate," but in his national prominence he sure defines the abject state of American democracy. We give power to would-be despots, "caricatures" only in the sense that they lack life-and-death control over their subjects and are forced to express their wrath through lane closures and the infliction of mere inconvenience on their political foes.

How come our system rewards rather than weeds out ruthless jerks with huge egos and superficial values? Indeed, how come politics and "values" seem to be as self-repellant as oil and water? How come linking them in a sentence is mainly a good way to make cynics snort?

"It's because these days Americans have as much familiarity with democracy as they do with homesteading on the frontier," Arun Gupta wrote last week at Alternet. I think he's on to something.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

GW BridgeThe seemingly never-ending battle for the soul of the Republican Party took another interesting turn in the past few days. And that turn revolves around New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's involvement in, and/or his handling of, the George Washington Bridge Lane-Closure Scandal. GOP lifers – some call them moderate right-wingers -- hope that Christie can save the Party from the clutches of the Tea Party and head-up the GOP's presidential ticket in 2012, while the Tea Party and the Religious Right do not whole-heartedly embrace the governor.

Did Christie's two-hour performance at last week's press conference, help or hurt his chances of securing the nomination?

From Stage Far Right, enter Karl Rove and Dick Morris.

Rove, the man who, among other things, embarrassed himself during Fox News' election night coverage in 2012 by insisting that Ohio was still up for grabs long after it had been determined to be trending toward President Barack Obama, is praising Christie for his handling of the scandal.

Morris, the man who, among other things, embarrassed himself during the 2012 presidential race by insisting up to the very last minute that Mitt Romney was going to handily defeat Obama, thinks Christie has left a whole bunch of unanswered questions on the table.

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AbramsTankFallujah"In Iraq, al-Qaeda launched an offensive to take control of two cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, that U.S. troops sacrificed heavily to clear of terrorists between 2004 and 2008."

And so the new year begins, with a heavy dose of same old, same old. This is the Washington Post editorial page, which Robert Parry dubbed the neocon bullhorn, blaming the al-Qaeda uprising in western Iraq on President Obama's withdrawal of troops from that country, along with his failure to invade Syria last fall, all of which, the editorial charges, adds up to complacency in the face of growing danger and a lack of protection for "vital U.S. interests."

And for good measure, the Post lets loose a cry for the troops and their sacrifice on behalf of those vital interests. It's obviously not too early to start performing cosmetic surgery on Bush-era history (boy, we had those terrorists on the run), even as its consequences continue to hemorrhage.

The Washington Post knows as well as you or I that American "vital interests," as defined in the Bush (and more queasily in the Obama) era, float in a context of lies, stupidity, waste and war crimes. Yet its editorial page so reflects the Beltway addiction to war that it pushes for more of it no matter how counterproductive the last one turned out for any rational assessment of U.S. vital interests.

For instance, former CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar, in an essay that ran at Consortium News, notes with irony that "the Bush policies could be said to have stimulated democratization in the Middle East in large part through Middle Easterners reacting negatively to the policies themselves." That is to say, democratic movements sprang up in the region as self-defense, in opposition to the U.S. pursuit of its alleged vital interests: Being pro-democracy meant being anti-American.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

BrooksProhibitionRemember Prohibition? I mean the Prohibition of "Boardwalk Empire." Well, there are not too many people alive now who do remember it, although I was born just three years after it came to the end of its very short life (1920-1933). But it had come to pass, through a Constitutional Amendment no less, due to the diligent work of the Temperance Wing of the Republican Party. (Indeed although the center of the original Republican Party was that of the anti-slavery Whigs, both the nativist "No-Nothings" and the Temperance Movement also were there at its beginnings. That accounts at least in part for the long association of the Republican Party with both recreational mood-altering drug (RMAD) illegalization and anti-immigrant legislation of various types at various times.)

That Prohibition was aimed at alcohol, of course. But before it, around the turn of the 20th century, 15 states had prohibition of one kind or another for tobacco use. The major difference with those Prohibitions and the modern so-called "War on Drugs" --- really a war on certain users of certain drugs --- was that the former criminalized importation and sale of the target drugs, while the latter also criminalizes possession and use.

And so here comes David Brooks of The New York Times who makes an excellent argument for the original Prohibition. He happens to have been writing about marijuana and its legalization (small amounts, for personal use) in certain parts of Colorado. But it is fascinating to note that the arguments he uses against marijuana legalization are just like those that have been used for alcohol and tobacco prohibition going back to the 19th Temperance movement.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

HomelessFoodJanuary 8 marked the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty. What usually happens with anniversaries of this magnitude -- i.e. this past summer's 50th anniversary of the March on Washington -- is that it is recognized and discussed for just about a media minute before other issues reclaim the nation's attention.

Susan Greenbaum, a professor emerita of anthropology at the University of South Florida, pointed out that "Congress is marking the anniversary by ending unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people who have been out of work for more than a year and cutting food stamps for 47 million people who rely on them to eat," In a piece posted at the website of Al Jazeera America, Greenbaum's article, titled "What war on poverty?" noted that "At 15 percent, the poverty rate is the same today as it was in 1965, a year after the so-called war began."

Greenbaum recognized that from the outset the War on Poverty had many obstacles thrown in its way, not the least of which was Johnson's wrongheaded pursuit of the Vietnam War, and his successor President Richard Nixon's launch of a War on Drugs. Both stripped funding and urgency away from a War on Poverty.

However, as The New Republic's Alec Macgillis recently pointed out, poverty "is apparently having its moment, right up there with egg creams and stroller derbies."

Published in Guest Commentary
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