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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


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


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


11535767036 89b6e2e409 z(Image: Devendra Makkar)

One of the themes of the superb writing of Henry Giroux is that more and more Americans are becoming "disposable," recognized as either commodities or criminals by the more fortunate members of society. There seems to be a method to the madness of winner-take-all capitalism. The following steps, whether due to greed or indifference or disdain, are the means by which America's wealth-takers dispose of the people they don't need. 

1. Deplete Their Wealth

Recent analysis has determined that half of America is in or near poverty. This is confirmed by researchers Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who point out: "The bottom half of the distribution always owns close to zero wealth on net. Hence, the bottom 90% wealth share is the same as the share of wealth owned by top 50-90% families - what can be described as the middle class." 

The United States has one of the highest poverty rates in the developed world. It's much worse since the recession, especially for blacks and Hispanics

From 2008 to 2013 the stock market, which is largely owned by just 10% of Americans, gained 18% per year. Well-to-do stockholders get capital gains tax breaks, including a carried interest subsidy that Robert Reich calls "a pure scam." 

The bottom half of America, relying on regular bank accounts, earn about one percent on their savings. 

Published in Guest Commentary


ahypo(Photo: Patty Mooney)

There were countless candidates, from individuals to corporations to government officials, all of whom combine the capitalist sense of me-first entitlement with a disdain for the needs of others. 

Individuals: The Public is Blocking My Freedom To Take from the Public

AIG's Hank Greenberg, who saved about $300 million when his high-risk insurance company was bailed out by our tax money, sued the federal government because he felt cheated by the bailout, even though without the bailout his stock would have dropped to zero. 

Next is Cliven Bundy, who refused to pay grazing fees for the use of our public land, then turned around and blamed government for not maintaining the fences on the land when one of his cattle strayed onto the highway and caused an accident. 

Finally we have Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who criticized fracking regulations for "holding back the American economic recovery," and then protested when a fracking water tower was to be built near his home. 

Corporations: Sure We Don't Pay Our Taxes, But We Want Tax Relief Anyway

Tax avoidance is reaching new levels of hypocrisy. Caterpillar, which complained that government failure to spend on infrastructure impedes its business, isrecognized as a leading avoider of the federal taxes that could pay for infrastructure. 

Published in Guest Commentary


aendwhitesup(Photo: shoehorn99)

The doctrine of white supremacy was used in 17th century North America to justify the use and practice of slavery in the British colonies. Just before the Civil War, the odious doctrine was summarized by Alexander Stephens, who later became Vice-President of the Confederate States of America serving under Jefferson Davis: 

Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race. Such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's law. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery --- subordination to the superior race --- is his natural condition.

As I wrote in a previous column on BuzzFlash at Truthout, the South had six principal war aimsas it started the Civil War in support of secession:

1. The preservation of the institution of African and African-American (the latter the courtesy of the slave owners and slave masters) slavery and its uninhibited expansion into the territories of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountain region, and the Southwest.

2. The acceptance by the whole United States of the doctrine of white supremacy on which the institution of slavery was established.

3. The establishment and subsequent strong prosecution of US imperialism outside of North America (a position much more strongly held in the South than in the North)....

Published in Guest Commentary


anunendwar(Photo: Tony Fischer)

Recently, Common Dreams ran an article entitled, "As New War Rages, Mainstream Media Silences Debate, Study Finds." Indeed most of the people in the US probably go through the day without ever thinking about the nation's ceaseless wars.

Many US voters are disgusted with both major political parties for reasons that go back a long way.

If elected Republicans think that they have a mandate as a result of the November 4th elections, they are laboring under a grand delusion. 

The fact of the matter is that more than a third of those who voted for a Republican House candidate were dissatisfied or angry with GOP leaders in Congress, according to preliminary exit polls. A quarter of Democratic voters were similarly upset with President Obama.

Over the last decade, many voters have come to believe that going to the polls is an exercise in futility. They intuitively sense that elected officials from both parties work for corporate millionaires and billionaires, and that the oligarchs from the oil and weapon industries will continue to shape foreign and domestic policies in their favor to the detriment of the vast majority of those in the US - no matter who is elected. As a case in point, the economy is backsliding for most workers in terms of pay.

Published in Guest Commentary


akirachoiceShouldn't an election be about clear choices? (Photo: photosan0)“Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time”

- Harry S Truman

Tuesday, the 4th of November, was a bad night. Call it a shellacking or a drubbing or some other gerund signifying a vicious back alley beating. Whatever you call it, it comes down to a rough election for the Democratic Party. Governorships were lost. At least 11 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives were lost. And the one that really stings is the loss of the Senate: at least eight, most likely nine, Senate seats flipped to give the Republican Party decisive control of the Senate.

It was a bad night.

But you know what it wasn’t? It wasn’t a mandate. It wasn’t a sweeping call for anything. It was a midterm election, with abysmal turnout, in a political landscape that overwhelmingly favored the Republican Party. As disasters go, the 2014 election is all full of sound and fury, signifying, in the end, nothing much at all.

Except that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are now talking about once more attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, professional political buffoon Ted Cruz is preparing to unleash another blast of idiocy on the nation, by acting as de facto majority leader and turning the Senate into a right-wing morass. McConnell has issued a stern warning to Obama, calling for him to move to the center and not to “poison the well” by doing anything remotely associated with Democratic Party ideals. These are the actions of people who feel they have the weight of history behind them, who think they speak with the voice of the American people, who inexplicably believe that they have a mandate to change the fundamental course of the nation.

I have a frank and anatomically improbable suggestion for all that noise.

Published in Guest Commentary


 joniernst(Image: DonkeyHotey)

If the Democrats play their cards right (well, I know, I know, I’m asking for a lot) Joni Ernst should become a major new face of the Republican Party. First, she came from behind in the Iowa Republican primary last June to win the nomination for the upcoming Senate seat over a group of wealthy businessmen. Apparently an important factor in that victory was her famous “as a kid I castrated hogs” ad.


Now she has won the general election against a popular Congressman, a protégé of long-time Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, one of the last old-timey liberals in the Senate. On her way to winning the general election, she made this campaign comment: 


‘I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,’ Ernst said at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsport, Iowa" 


As reported in The Huffington Post, “ ‘But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family -- whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.’ ” 

Published in Guest Commentary


anofrackca(Photo: Daniel Lobo)At a time when California is literally on fire from a global warming drought, when the state is running out of water in several regions, as reported in the New York TimesWith Dry Taps and Toilets, California Drought Turns Desperate, the last thing we (I am a resident of the Golden State) need is for the oil industry to contaminate our limited fresh water with dozens of toxic chemicals to use for the development of thousands of new fracking wells that would defile and poison our beautiful landscape along the central coast of California.

That’s why organizers from Santa Barbara Water Guardians, Food & Water Watch, and San Luis Obispo Clean Water campaigned to establish an initiative to ban new fracking – Measure P - development starting from Santa Maria through Santa Barbara to Carpinteria for the November 4th ballot. Three weeks of hard work paid off. Three hundred volunteers and 20,000 signatures later—they successfully got the initiative off the ground.

To use a familiar analogy, fighting the most powerful and wealthiest industry in the world is the old David v. Goliath tale.

Published in Guest Commentary
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