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INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT NEUSTADT ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abordersongs214 year old Josseline Janiletha Hernandez Quinteros, from El Salvador, was a victim of US border policy who died in the Sonoran Desert. (Photo: Rex Koningsor for Border Songs)

Today's BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary is an interview with Robert Neustadt – a professor of Spanish at Northern Arizona University - who cofounded Border Songs, a group that supports saving the lives of migrants from Mexico who often perish from the harsh desert conditions trying to make it into Arizona. 

MARK KARLIN: Why do so many migrants die trying to cross into the US through Arizona? Hasn't the US created border enforcement strategies that force people to cross through a broiling desert?

ROBERT NEUSTADT: Yes, there is no question that US government border enforcement strategies have resulted in an enormous increase in border crosser deaths. In 1994, the US government explicitly adopted a strategy called “enforcement through deterrence”, which was outlined in a Border Patrol position paper. The strategy was to seal off the easy-to-cross urban areas near El Paso, Tijuana and Nogales by building walls, ramping up Border Patrol presence, adding more sensors, technology, and recently, patrolling with drones, while leaving open swaths of remote, hazardous back country. By closing the urban areas where people traditionally crossed, enforcement pushes undocumented border crossers into desert and mountain terrain in Arizona (and Texas). This “funnel effect” is clearly a primary factor that results in migrant deaths, and has been acknowledged by everyone from policy makers to humanitarians.

During the early 1990’s, the number of border crosser deaths examined per year by the Pima County Medical Examiner in Arizona varied between 5 and 11. In the year 2010, following construction of almost 700 miles of wall and a huge increase in the number of Border Patrol agents and enforcement technology, they examined 225 human remains in the same office. I find it profoundly disturbing that most people have no idea of the scope of this crisis. These statistics are all readily available and confirmable, but you have to seek them out because the media does not cover the issue sufficiently. Since 1994, they have found over 7,000 human remains in the borderlands, the majority of these in Arizona, and this number only represents the number of bodies found! The actual number of border crosser deaths is almost certainly significantly higher though the bodies were never found.

Currently, the morgue in Tucson houses over 900 unidentified human remains of presumed border crossers. Marc Silver’s documentary film, Who is Dayani Cristal (with Gael Garcia Bernal, 2013) emphasizes the severity of the issue.

This situation is a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe, and US government border enforcement strategy is directly implicated in the dramatic increase in deaths. Even more disturbing is the fact that the number of undocumented border crossers has dropped precipitously while the rate of deaths has remained relatively steady. This means that the chance that someone will die while crossing the border has sky-rocketed, and this is a direct result of our efforts to “secure the border.” This is compounded by the fact that we have deported over two million people since Obama has been in office. Many of these people will attempt to cross to rejoin their families.

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

REV. BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abilly76 In Grand Central Station, Rev. Billy Talen was a victim of the criminalization of dissent. (Photo: Erik McGregor)

A 24-Hour vigil at Grand Central Station organized by the group "We Will Not Be Silent" was held on on Monday, January 5, through Tuesday, January 6. "We Will Not Be Silent" publically memorialized people of color killed by the police with placards of their names on the floor, and condemned the epidemic.

I arrived to speak to the group, introduced by "Justice Jester," at noon on Tuesday. 

By time I spoke, law enforcement officials from various agencies swamped Grand Central station, and I was arrested and charged with "obstruction" and "disorderly conduct.” They had been demanding that the names of victims be picked up, and the protesters refused. I began speaking at about the time that the police intended to confiscate the signs.

After 20 hours in the New York City correctional called The Tombs, I was released and found that a completely fictional story about the arrest was planted in the Murdoch papers (the Post and the Wall Street Journal) as well as a popular liberal blog called The Gothamist. The media meme was that Reverend Billy “got physical” and “attacked a policeman.” The head of security for Grand Central Station was quoted as a source for the accusation, which was entirely untrue.

Published in Guest Commentary

2015.1.28.Marcus.BFA breached oil pipeline in Montana has spilled as many as 50,000 gallons of crude oil in and around the Yellowstone River. (Screen grab via DAHBOO77 / YouTube)JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Members of both Houses that are owned by the Koch brothers should be forced to clean up Bridger Pipeline’s devastating oil disaster.  An estimated 50,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the frozen Yellowstone River, one of America’s great wildlife treasures, for a second time.  It’s too painful for words to describe. As reported in Al Jazeera:

When an oil pipeline burst in July 2011 and poured 63,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone River 200 miles upstream from Dena Hoff’s farm of wheat, beans and corn on the Great Plains in Glendive, she felt disgusted. When it happened again Saturday, she felt terror. This pipeline breach was underneath the Yellowstone River, just a few feet from her sheep pasture. The new spill poured out some 50,000 gallons of crude oil. And that’s on top of the 63,000 gallons of oil that spilled in the same area in 2011. Leaders of this small riverside farming and ranching community in northeastern Montana warned residents not to drink their tap water, because benzene, a carcinogen, was found in the municipal water system. Oil slicked the river for dozens of miles, almost to the border with North Dakota. Hoff’s property smelled sickeningly like diesel.

In addition to poisoning the drinking water and vital farmland, one can only imagine how many precious endangered species, birds and animals, will die from this devastating spill.

Published in Guest Commentary

GARY WOCKNER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ecoquake(Image: EcoWatch)

This falls in the “You Can’t Make This Shit Up” category in Colorado.

Yesterday it was reported that a fracking waste company—NGL Water Solutions DJ LLC—that was linked to causing earthquakes is allowed by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s appointed oil and gas commission to increase their fracking waste injection operations, and it was determined that the company did not violate any law or rule when they likely caused the earthquakes.

Further, not only are the fracking waste injections increasing, but the earthquakes are continuing, the biggest of which, in May 2014, was a 3.4 on the richter scale that shook homes and rattled nerves across the region. And, the director of the Governor’s oil and gas commission stated, “We have actively managed this particular circumstance in a way that we feel comfortable with.” 

You can read the latest on this Colorado earthquake morass in the BizWest newspaper.

Published in Guest Commentary

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

 ahydra(Photo: Andrew Jian)

For those of you who can’t recall your Greek mythological beasts, the hydra is mentioned in the tale of the twelve labors of Hercules. It is a dragon-like monster that has many heads. There is no point in slaying the dragon because the heads grow back if they’re cut off.  If one head is eliminated, two heads grow back in its place. It can’t be killed because, as legend has it, the middle head is immortal and that’s the one that’s most dangerous when it breathes its poisonous venom at its victims.  The monstrous serpent would often rise from the murky waters and terrorize the people.

In a recent New York Times article, The Bushes, as Distinct and Alike as Brothers Can Be, the author attempted to draw a distinction between W. and Jeb Bush.  Jeb Bush, who is gearing up for a possible campaign for the presidency, would like Americans to know that he is not one of the Bush heads linked to his brother, George. In other words, he really hates to carry the bad luggage left behind from W.

But as we all know, a hydra is a hydra, and a Bush is a Bush, no matter how many times you cut the head off, the same Bush serpent will grow back again, the same Bush policies of profiting from oil and wars will emerge again and again.

No matter what Jeb says on the campaign trail, he will be burdened with the family’s hydra-albatross around his neck, especially W.’s albatross that carries enormous “torturous” weight, beginning with the mass destruction of Iraq that left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and thousands of our own soldiers, either dead, homeless, maimed or poisoned from depleted uranium, a country, incidentally, that had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks, followed by the shocking CIA Torture Report, under the Bush-Cheney administration’s orders, barbaric torture practices were used on detainees at the US illegal prison,Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  As explained in a NY Times editorial, former military officers described this evil facility as a “betrayal of American values.”

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aviolenceprob(Photo: Robert F.W. Whitlock)

Yes, by all means, the VA is failing American veterans terribly, with wholesale claim denials and scandalous waiting times and a general, contemptuous dismissal of the psychological and physical wounds American vets are coming home with — that is, a rich man’s investment in the waging of war, to the tune of many trillions of dollars, but a pauper’s investment in its aftermath. Something else is going on here as well, however, that’s deeper and darker and not limited to the failure of government programs.

In a column I wrote almost a decade ago, I reflected: “Bush’s war to promote terror — the perfect self-sustaining fear machine — isn’t just generating an endless supply of hardened enemies beyond our borders. It is also creating the conditions of social breakdown and psychological blowback within our borders. Guess what? Under Plan Bush, we’ll never be safe.”

This seems to be coming to pass. If a word like “disgruntled” — which describes, at worst, an everyday sense of being mistreated or snubbed — can flow seamlessly into “mass killing,” then America is at a serious precipice. We’re becoming a heavily armed, mentally ill society. And our primary institutions are either contributing directly to the situation or, at best, failing to notice it.

The obvious mega-contributor to our social breakdown is the unending War on Terror, of course. It’s a war cynically waged in two directions: at the enemies beyond our borders that we’ve manufactured and the collateral-damage-in-waiting who live with them; and at the lower and middle classes (the 99 percent) here at home, who have the nerve to expect a reasonable share of the empire’s wealth.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ahavanaHavana, Cuba (2005) (Photo: Vgenecr)

Following the joint announcement by the offices of the leaders of Cuba and the United States of the intention to re-establish diplomatic relations and in the meantime ease joint restrictions on travel, cultural exchanges, certain types of commercial relationships, and etc., while jointly releasing/exchanging several high-profile prisoners, a wide variety of anti-Castro US organizations, politicians, and individuals expressed outrage. They cited “human rights violations” on the part of the Cuban government (mainly dealing with civil liberties crackdowns and the lack of an elected national government) as the reason why there never should or could be normal relations established between the two countries. Let's, however, face the primary reason right-wingers and the pro-Batista (a puppet of the US mafia before forced out of power by Castro) crowd hate the Cuban government: private property was seized during the revolution and the state owns most of the nation's businesses.

It's all about the money, which is ironic because European, Canadian and Mexican companies are now gaining a financial toehold in Cuba, while the US corporations bite their tongues and let the dying anti-Castro Cubans in Florida yearn for their memories of plantations, financial corruption and mafia-gambling dollars under Batista.

Well, I thought to myself, I wonder what the list of human rights violations would look like if some organizations and individuals in Cuba wanted to object to the record of the United States. After all, there are those around the world who regard the United States, both on its own behalf and as a supporter of some of the most violently repressive regimes on the face of the earth (including, of course, Cuba under Batista) presently, the world’s biggest self-touting “democracy” that regularly violates human rights.

If Cuba were to lodge a formal list of US human rights violations with the UN, some of the following claims would likely be included:

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

4776529679 8e6800b8fe zThe US in Afghanistan: It's not about nation-building; it's about empire building. (Photo: The US Army)

“The only good Talib is a dead Talib.”

These words, uttered half a decade ago by the head of intelligence for the NATO coalition force in Afghanistan, summon a far earlier American savagery. As the American empire affects to close the door on its war with Afghanistan, the words also serve as a sort of doorstop propping open our further intervention in this broken country.

The war isn’t really ending. Some 18,000 foreign troops will stay in Afghanistan, almost 11,000 of them American, under a new mission called “Resolute Support.” U.S. forces will also have “a limited combat role as part of a separate counterterrorism mission,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Incredibly, we’re not letting go. We’re just disappearing the combat mission into global background noise.

We’re continuing to dehumanize part of humanity on the pretext of saving it. The updated version of “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” redirected to the Taliban, was quoted a few days ago in a Der Spiegel article called “Obama’s Lists: A Dubious History of Targeted Killings in Afghanistan.” The article goes into detail about the administration’s infamous “kill lists” and the hunting of upper- and mid-level Taliban leaders via helicopter and drone — assassination by Hellfire missile — which is an extermination methodology guaranteed to kill lots of innocent civilians along with (or instead of) the targeted Taliban operative. But, you know, that’s war.

The official “end” to the Afghan war, while it doesn’t mean the end of combat operations, does offer us a moment of disturbing reflection on what has been accomplished these last 13 years, during the first of our wars allegedly to eradicate, but in fact to promote, terror. We poured at least a trillion dollars into the war, which claimed some 30,000 lives, over two-thirds of them civilians. The first thing that occurs to me is that, officially, these statistics mean nothing.

U.S. Army General John Campbell, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, exemplified this by smothering the human toll of the war in simple-minded verbiage during a secret ceremony held last weekend in a gymnasium at ISAF headquarters in Kabul: “Our new resolute mission means we will continue to invest in Afghanistan’s future,” he said. “Our commitment to Afghanistan endures.”

By the way, the ceremony, commemorating the war’s shutdown, was secret because authorities feared the possibility of a Taliban attack. The United States and NATO, as everyone knows, are the losers, despite the bloated enormity of their military superiority. The Afghanistan war, like the Iraq war, was an utter failure even in terms of U.S. interests and geopolitical objectives.

But any honest reflection requires a far more serious, all-encompassing look at the war’s results.

War is torture on a national scale. The nation of Afghanistan and its people are, of course, the primary losers in our “investment” in their future — our investment in nation-wrecking....

War is also humanity’s spiritual cancer.

Published in Guest Commentary

MICHAEL SEIFERT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ajosephmaryIt is hypocritical to celebrate the refuge provided to Joseph and Mary when the US builds walls to keep out migrants. (Photo: Roadsidepictures)

Back in Brownsville, where is no outdoor ice skating, there were, nonetheless, crowds of people lined up and engaged in another evening activity—la posada. An old latin Christmas tradition, the ritual recalls the journey of the pregnant Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where they sought hospitality in a local inn (“posada” meaning “inn”). There was some urgency, as Mary was going into labor.

As is the custom, during the week leading up to Christmas, all across our region, neighbors gathered at a home, and, having dressed up two children as the Holy Pilgrims, knocked on a neighbor’s door, seeking refuge. Eventually, amid songs and pleadings, the hosts opened their door, the Holy Family was received amid applause, and tamales and hot chocolate were served.

This celebration of hospitality has its own overtones of grace. Even if the strangers at the door were the Mother of God, she is disguised as one amongst many other pilgrims. Opening a door to strangers in the middle of the night requires its own measure of courage—and wisdom.

The courage part is obvious, but the wisdom of this behavior is not always so clear. The letter to the Hebrews counsels, “love your own, always, but do the same with strangers, remembering how sometimes these turn out to be angels” (Hebrews 13:1-2). The text recalls the ancient experience of Abraham’s encounter with three strangers who turn, after receiving his generous and fearless hospitality, turns history on its head (Genesis 18: 2). A wise person–Abraham, in this case–recognizes moments of grace and possibility. Abraham’s act of hospitality is one of the foundational myths of Jews, Christians and Muslims,  underscores the sense that life-changing moments require courage and wisdom.

Along the southern border, the celebration of las posadas this year might be particularly poignant. This past June, tens of thousands of families, fleeing the horror of gang violence in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, crossed into the United States. The vast majority were women and their children. Most all of them were not “sneaking into the USA” but surrendered to the border patrol—a contemporary way of knocking on the nation’s door. They were seeking refuge and sanctuary. Many of them, even with the stringent guidelines for seeking asylum, could have made good cases for that relief. Those folks, it should be noted, were “legal” immigrants.

The reactions to these strangers ran the gamut from astonishing courage to depressing cowardice.

Published in Guest Commentary
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