MICHAEL SEIFERT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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.
STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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)....
JACKIE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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.
AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
“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.
STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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.’ ”
JACKIE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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 Times: With 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.At a time when California is
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.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
If you are an aging prisoner in the United States, 50 is the new 65.
This phenomenon is called “accelerated aging” and according to the Urban Institute’s KiDeuk Kim and Bryce Peterson, “the physiological age of some older prisoners is up to 15 years greater than their chronological age.” This is in stark contrast to outside prison walls where our youth-oriented culture labels “40 as the new 30,” “60 as the new 50,” and so on.
Older prisoners -- a demographic that is growing rapidly -- face numerous hardships and injustices from incarceration, including : having their chronic health conditions ignored or mistreated; physical threats from younger prisoners; the need for special equipment, including wheelchairs and walkers to be able to ambulate around their prisons; difficulties climbing on and off top bunks; trouble hearing, making it challenging to discern orders from guards; and mental health issues, many of which are the result of prolonged imprisonment.
In a new report titled, “Aging Behind Bars: Trends and Implications of Graying Prisoners in the Federal Prison System,” Kim, and Peterson emphasize that “While this may be caused by a host of related factors—including histories of unhealthy behaviors and inadequate healthcare—there is little doubt that the trauma and stress of the prison environment can have an impact on prisoners’ accelerated aging and deterioration of health.”
JIM BLOCK FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
This past weekend was the 50th reunion of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley. At the beginning of the fall term of 1964, the university administration imposed a series of strict regulations limiting the right of students to engage in political soliciting on campus. Berkeley students had for several years been active in anti-H.U.A.C., pro-labor, and anti-racism protests and demonstrations throughout the Bay area. This picture of the university as a hotbed of political activism was undermining the carefully honed image being disseminated by the state of California as the leader in public higher education: in the conservative post-war period, Berkeley was being touted as not only a world class research university but at the forefront of preparing a modern elite meritocratic student body primed for corporate and governmental leadership.
What the university administration failed to consider was the fact that many activist Berkeley students had embraced new levels of commitment to political organizing by participating in Freedom Summer, an initiative by radical civil rights organizations in the South to mobilize black Americans to challenge segregation and demand voting rights. After resolutely confronting white segregationists and racist – often violent – local public officials as full-fledged democratic activists, a university administration seeking to curtail their political expression and ignoring their insistence on the urgency of social change struck these battle-tested students as demeaning and even infantilizing. Even more decisively, these acts implicated the new model university as the central institution in integrating younger generations into the corporate, hierarchical, expansionist values increasingly driving American society. It suddenly became clear that the degree was being marketed not for any educational value but as a ticket punched to the higher levels of this post-war order and to material success, social status, and a suburban lifestyle widely being identified as the American dream.
Once the university intervened, in other words, the political dynamic shifted. What had begun as an effort to support other movements for social equity and integration quickly shifted before everyone’s eyes to a demand for the liberation of students and youth and the democratization of the institutions shaping their lives as a prelude to broader social transformation. This is the F.S.M. whose message spread throughout the U.S. and beyond, catalyzing and exposing generational tensions and revealing the compliance-oriented program of American socialization. I came to Berkeley as a neophyte, a completely apolitical and uninformed undergraduate, just days before the campus controversies began. And because the events of the next couple of years became the defining experience of my life about which I have written and taught ever since (trying to make sense of it), this reunion gave me an unparalleled opportunity to reflect on and rethink that experience in conversation with this unique community of participants in this defining moment.