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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCatholicPrayer(Photo: ProtoplasmaKid)During the one and only debate between Republican candidate Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter in the presidential campaign of 1980, Carter went off on Reagan about his record on Medicare. With one superbly delivered line – "There you go again" – Reagan disarmed and deflated Carter, and pretty much won the debate; all the while forever etching a phrase into the political lexicon.

Instead of Reagan's "There you go again," one couldn't help but think "There they go again," while reading reports that the conservative Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, is demanding that his archdiocese's Catholic High School teachers adhere to Catholic doctrine in their professional and private lives. Across the Bay, Bishop Michael Barber, who plowed similar ground last year -- to great consternation amongst faculty, staff and parents -- issued a new contract with a little bit of kinder, gentler language.

Cordileone's twenty-first century culture war crusade comes in the form of the archdiocese's new handbook -- aimed at faculty and staff at four Catholic high schools: Riordan and Sacred Heart in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield and Serra High School in San Mateo – which, the San Francisco Chronicle's Heather Knight reported, declares that "sex outside of marriage, homosexual relations, the viewing of pornography and masturbation are 'gravely evil.'"

"The document," Knight pointed out, "notes that while not all staff at the schools are Catholic, they are 'required to stand as effective and visible professional participants and proponents of truly Catholic education.' Those who are not Catholic 'must refrain' from participating in organizations that 'advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the church.'"

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 06 February 2015 10:22

Jim Hightower | A Corporate Coup d'Etat

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAntiTPP(Photo: Neil Ballantyne)When I was a tyke, Momma warned me not to eat anything unless I knew where it came from. That advice is so sensible that even Congress acted on it in 2002, passing a straightforward law called Country Of Origin Labeling. COOL requires meat marketers to tell us whether the meat they sell is a product of the USA, China or Whereintheworldistan.

This useful information empowers us consumers — which is why global agribusiness giants hate it and are trying to get a secretive, autocratic, plutocratic, private court in Switzerland to kill it.

This can't be, you say? But it is. Unbeknownst to most Americans, when the U.S. joined the World Trade Organization in 1999, we surrendered a big chunk of our sovereignty to this corporate court.

Here's what's happening: (1) American consumers have a basic right to know where their meat comes from, but (2) that right has been pitted against American corn flakes and ketchup in a "trade war" that (3) is being forced upon us by a handful of corporations that produce, slaughter, butcher and package meat outside of our country but (4) are allowed under trade agreements to challenge a U.S. law that had been duly enacted for the people inside our country, so (5) America was sued in an obscure, autocratic, private organization created by and for corporate interests and headquartered in Switzerland. Then (6) that corporate "court" did indeed rule that the "profit right" of foreign meat packers is superior to our people's basic right of self-determination.

Holy Tom Paine, this is corporate tyranny! But it's about to get worse, for President Obama and Congress intend to hang another bad trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, around our necks this spring.

Published in Guest Commentary

COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCow(Photo: EcoWatch)The ice cream giant Breyers announced yesterday it will stop using milk from cows treated with the controversial hormone rBST. The artificial growth hormone, which stands for recombinant bovine somatotropin, is a genetically engineered hormone that farmers inject into cows to increase milk production. It’s controversial because it’s been linked to a slew of health problems in cows, and consequently, humans who drink the cows’ milk.

Bovine somatotropin (BST) is a protein hormone naturally produced in the pituitary glands of cows. Monsanto and other companies developed a recombinant version, rBST, by using a genetically engineered E. coli bacteria, according to Organic Valley. The hormone has been banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and the European Union.

Many U.S. companies, such as Ben & Jerry’s, also owned by Unilever, went rBST-free long ago. The conscientious ice cream company made the move back in 1989. Other socially conscious companies like Chipotle have opted to go rBST-free, as well as Wal-MartHaagen DazsYoplait and Dannon yogurts that only source milk from farmers whose cows are hormone free.

Breyers plans to have most of its milk rBST-free by March. In addition to sourcing non-rBST milk, Breyers will only purchase vanilla that is certified by the Rainforest Alliance, ensuring it meets the rigorous standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network and the Forest Stewardship Council.

Published in Guest Commentary

COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMonsantoSpray(Photo: EcoWatch)Yesterday on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, Diane Rehm and her guests discussed the race against pests and weeds, and the recent approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Dow AgroSciences’ herbicide Enlist Duo, a new combination of 2,4-D and glyphosate meant to fight chemical-resistant “superweeds.”

This new herbicide has many in the environmental and health communities concerned because of the dangerous impacts to human health and the environment. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other groups sued to block the EPA’s approval because they don’t think the EPA considered all of the environmental and health impacts of the new herbicide. Many have joined the NRDC in calling for a new approach to pest and weed control that doesn’t wreak havoc on human health and the environment.

Rehm starts the discussion by talking about the most common herbicide, Monsanto’s Roundup, which she says, “is steadily becoming less effective.” Erik Olson, director of the health program for the NRDC explains why that is...

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 05 February 2015 07:14

How Do We Stop a Temper Tantrum War?

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSkullsWar(Photo: "The Apotheosis of War" by Vasily Vereshchagin)The urgency I feel isn’t any longer to stop a particular war but to interrupt endless war: to interrupt the narrowly focused geopolitical conversation, conveyed to us over and over by media stenographers, in which lethal intervention — wherever — is always the first and only choice. The uncertainty is never a matter of “if.” It’s only a matter of “when.”

For instance: “The West needs to bolster deterrence in Ukraine by raising the risks and costs to Russia of any renewed major offensive. That requires providing direct military assistance — in far larger amounts than provided to date and including lethal defensive arms.”

The quote, which appeared in the New York Times, is from a recently issued report signed by “eight former senior American officials.” It comes with an assumed certainty and seemingly impenetrable authority. “The report was issued jointly by the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.” One of the insiders who put her name on it was Michèle A. Flournoy, “a former senior Pentagon official who is a leading candidate to serve as defense secretary if Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected president.”

And that’s that. It’s all so pristine and scientific-seeming. Never are the consequences of military action discussed, alluded to or acknowledged in the mainstream media, even though the wreckage of our wars is all around us. That doesn’t matter because grotesque, medieval hostility — beheadings, immolation — emerge from the wreckage. Unlike America’s impersonal, high-tech and regrettably necessary killing, our enemies perpetrate Evil Itself. The over-the-top drama of what they do continually supplants any motivation we have to engage in political self-examination. Fear rules, but fortunately we have the technology and the bottomless budget to defend ourselves.

“What’s truly ‘exceptional’ in twenty-first-century America is any articulated vision of what a land at peace with itself and other nations might be like,” William J. Astore, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, wrote recently at TomDispatch.com. “Instead, war, backed by a diet of fear, is the backdrop against which the young have grown to adulthood. It’s the background noise of their world.”

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSniperRifle(Photo: USMC)“American Sniper” has stirred up the Right (see Fox ”News” and etc.) and it has stirred up the Left. The Right sees the movie as one about a “patriotic American,” “doing his duty to protect our country and the freedoms it stands for.” The Right sees any critic of the film, as a commie, as a traitor, as “un-American,” if not “un-Christian” (for after all, sniper Chris Kyle was fighting the Muslims, wasn’t he?) The Left, and of course I include myself in that group, see the movie in much more complex, much starker terms, which I shall address.

In terms of the standard Right-wing propaganda lines, oddly enough, Kyle didn’t see himself as “fighting to protect the American way of life” at all. Rather, when asked a direct question on a Fox ”News” show, he said that he did what he did in order to protect his buddies. Then, there is the well-discussed historical fallacy that the Iraq War had anything to do with 9/11. The old canard that a representative of Saddam Hussein’s government went to Prague, Czech Republic, to meet with a representative from al Qaeda and that meant that they were hooking up has long since been disposed of as a unproven and unlikely rumor. Do you really think that a secular Hussein, already facing strong threats from the United States, would have formed an alliance with a religiously-based terror organization that had originally been formed in Afghanistan by the same United States? The historical distortions are a minor tragedy, but a tragedy nevertheless.

Then there are the questions that have been raised about the movie’s definition of heroism. There was a great 2001 film about the Battle of Stalingrad (one of very few US films about the Soviet role in winning World War II) called Enemy at the Gates. The hero is a Red Army sniper. The villain is a Wehrmacht sniper. But hero/villain depends very much whose side you are on, doesn’t it? It’s whose side he is on. To many U.S., he’s a hero, but a sniper on the other side he would a wicked villain, killing people with abandon.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBossie(Photo: Gage Skidmore)You are undoubtedly aware that the financial network that Charles and David Koch have established is aiming to spend nearly one billion dollars on the 2016 elections. They'll be numerous public relations outfits, advertising firms, and media experts vying to soak up some cash. Will Citizens United's David Bossie grab a seat on the Koch Brothers' gravy train?

In 2008, the conservative movement was preparing to go balls (inflated, not deflated) to the wall against Hillary Clinton. Anti-Hillary projects were developed at a fever pitch: Books were written; documentaries readied; websites set up. Hillary: The Movie, the mother of all attack films -- produced by David Bossie and his organization, Citizens United – was to be aired on cable TV before the Democratic primaries. Everything was in place and then ... and then ... the federal government blocked the film from being aired, arguing that it wasn't a movie, but an extended political commercial. Barack Obama knocked off Clinton in the Democratic primaries, and ultimately won the White House. The best-laid anti-Clinton plans were waylaid.

For conservatives, however, all was not lost. The U.S. Supreme Court took up the case called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In 2010, it ruled 5-4 that spending limits in the McCain-Feingold act were unconstitutional, and that allowed virtually unlimited contributions by corporations and unions to political action committees.

Published in Guest Commentary

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
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