BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Should anyone be listening to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fulminating against the Iran nuclear deal? His previous prognostications – dating back to his unbridled enthusiasm for George W. Bush’s Iraq War – place him in the same league as the late Harold Camping, whose predictions of the Rapture failed to materialize, Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, who seems to believe that the Rapture is just around almost every corner, and his Republican Party colleagues who were certain the 2012 presidential election spelled the end of Barack Obama.
In 2002, an impassioned Benjamin Netanyahu was exceedingly bullish on President Bush’s looming War with Iraq. He was certain that it would not only usher in a new more peaceful era for the entire Middle East, but that it would also serve to encourage the youth of Iran to rebel against their country’s leaders.
Netanyahu told a Congressional committee that "every indication we have is that (Saddam Hussein) is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.”
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In a recent discussion of United States neoliberalism, Henry Giroux described "the practice of disposability in which more and more individuals and groups are now considered excess -- consigned to zones of abandonment, surveillance, and often incarceration." This is certainly true of poor people in the US, especially those who are people of color. Many of our well-positioned, mostly Republican Congressional leaders have shown through their actions that they don't care about such people. The resulting neglect is life-threatening for the most vulnerable among us.
1. Denying Health Care - Tens of Thousands of Deaths Every Year: Numerous studies have shown that lack of health coverage can contribute to sickness and early death. Low-income minorities, of course, are least likely to have coverage. Just having Medicaid greatly improves one's chances of prolonging life. Yet Congress lets individual states decide the fortunes of their own poor residents. With 22 states opting out of Medicaid this year, over 5 million Americans are without vital health insurance coverage, and women - especially black women - are dying because of the lack of maternal care. And now it's getting worse, with an attack on Planned Parenthood, which saves women's lives through breast cancer screenings, and reduces abortions by providing contraceptive services.
2. Subsidizing Pollution: The IMF estimates that global subsidies for fossil fuels have reached about $5 trillion per year, with the greatest cost going to the smog-spewing coal industry. Pollution is killing people. That is well documented by the World Health Organization. But not only is Congress complicit in the outright subsidies of fossil fuel exploration and production, it is also allowing the worst polluters, especially Exxon Mobil and Chevron, to avoid almost all their taxes. We taxpayers may be subsidizing our own early deaths.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Around 300,000 Puerto Ricans are estimated to have left the island in the last ten years to seek jobs on the mainland of the United States. Their destinations are varied, although many relocate to New York and more recently Orlando. This flight from Puerto Rico - which includes mostly young and well-educated people and many professionals such as physicians - is negatively impacting the present and future of the island, a de facto colony of the United States since it was "won" by the US in the 1898 Spanish-American War.
Given that Puerto Rico dipped its toes into default on a debt of more than $70 billion this past weekend - and that its population is shrinking from a high of 4 million residents to approximately 3.5 million in 2014 - the exodus of a skilled and educated workforce presents severe challenges to Puerto Rico's economic future.
In an interview in San Juan on August 5, Carlos Frontera Santana, the adviser on legal and economic issues to the only elected official in the Puerto Rican legislature who represents the Puerto Rican Independence Party - Senator Maria de Lourdes Santiago Negrón - told Buzzflash that the trend "erodes the tax base and contributes to a brain drain." At a time that the bond market, hedge funds and vulture funds are waiting to impose further ruinous austerity on the de facto colony, the flight of Puerto Rico's skilled and professional class, in particular, leads to decreased services (think about fewer doctors and nurses), spiraling unemployment and a shrinking tax base, according to Frontera.
On the one hand, US holders of Puerto Rico's debt are demanding extreme austerity measures in return for any debt relief, just as Germany and the EU did to Greece. Last week, BuzzFlash at Truthout focused on one such suggested requirement in a commentary entitled, "Vulture Hedge Funds Want Education Slashed in Puerto Rico as Condition of Predatory Debt Relief." On the other hand, such requirements accelerate - as Frontera noted - an increased tax burden on a smaller, poorer population that leads to an economic death spiral.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
A few months back, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before a special joint session of Congress, many of his conservative congressional brethren greeted him as a long lost brother-in-arms. Now, courtesy of the American Israel Education Foundation, the charitable arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a number of congressional members are going to him. While there may be a bit of sightseeing along the way, the main purpose for two separate congressional trips – one for Democrats and the other for Republicans -- is to motivate as many congressional representatives as possible to vote against the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.
The AIPAC-sponsored trips are only one small part of a multi-million dollar effort by the organization to put the kybosh on the nuclear deal. This summer, while AIPAC and Christian Zionist organizations – especially Pastor John Hagee’s Christian United for Israel -- will be sending their supporters to flood town hall meetings in various congressional districts, AIPAC will also be inundating “congressional offices with calls and emails, running ads in national media and employing other campaign-style tactics to sway skeptical lawmakers before a mid-September vote on the agreement,” CNN recently reported.
“From our perspective, this is one of the most significant mobilization efforts in our organization’s history,” said an official from AIPAC, “It is certainly the most important issue in a generation and we are fully engaged.”
AIPAC’s new group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran’ (CNFI), a 501(c)4, could spend as much as $40 million to kill the deal. According to the Washington post, CNFI is placing “TV ads in 35 states, many of them in districts heavily populated by Jewish Americans, or represented by Jewish-American lawmakers who are seen as key deciders on the issue.” The organization “doesn’t have to disclose its donors because of its nonprofit status. … [and] its advisory board includes a heavy-hitting lineup of former Democratic senators: Evan Bayh (Ind.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Mary Landrieu (La.), and Joe Lieberman (Conn.).”
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Oh plaintive cry for justice, for change, for the world we must create, welling up from a tiny island nation in the Pacific Ocean. I can only pray: Let there be an authority large enough to hear it.
My first reaction, upon learning that the Republic of the Marshall Islands — former US territory, still ravaged and radioactive, the site of 67 H-bomb tests between 1946 and 1958 — has filed lawsuits against the nine nations that possess nuclear weapons demanding that they eliminate their arsenals, as per the provisions of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, was cringing disbelief. Are they serious? I couldn’t imagine an action more futile.
But the disbelief was mixed with hope, and the hope remains vibrant as the world marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the launching of the geopolitics of M.A.D. Could hope possibly be more painful?
The anti-nuke lawsuits were filed in April 2014, in both US Federal Court and the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Big surprise. The US suit was dismissed some months ago as “speculative” and because the Marshall Islands “lacks standing” to bring the suit.
JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Earlier this year, music legends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard teamed up to make a pro-marijuana video titled "It's All Going to Pot."
And, apparently they were right, for I've now learned that even the state fair is going to pot — literally. A press release from the organizers of the DC State Fair exclaims: "It's true! For the first time ever, we're hosting a new contest for local cannabis growers to show off their plants' finest buds." They're not just blowing smoke, for it turns out that Washington, D.C., voters passed a referendum in November to legalize marijuana — even to allow locals to grow up to six plants at their residences.
With the nationwide renaissance in urban agriculture, why not invite the proud cultivators of the happy weed to show off the finest produce from their pot plots? After all, state fairs already have contests for the best ice cream, pickles, homebrew, compost, flower arrangements, crafts and such — so it's not a stretch to see who can win the Marijuana Bud Blue Ribbon. The buds are to be judged on characteristics such as appearance, smell and stickiness, but not such consumer-satisfaction qualities as "duration of high" or "development of mellowness." In fact, contrary to the judging of the Tastiest Tomato category, the entry form for the Best Bud Contest specifies rather sternly that judges "will not sample or consume your submission." That's probably smart, since the whole panel of judges could dissolve into uncontrollable giggles halfway through the sampling.
From the demonization of marijuana to legalization and now to celebration — it's a trajectory of progress that reflects some mellowing in society itself. As the DC State Fair people put it, "Now that it's legal, we wanted a way to highlight this new freedom while also showing off the agricultural talents of the District's people."
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
This summer, there is every possibility that town hall meetings organized to discuss the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran will turn into replays of the crazy Tea Party-dominated 2009 town hall meetings over Obamacare. Christian Zionists are gearing up for a battle where money is no object, facts pose no impediment, and where anti-deal activists will be flooding as many meetings with members of Congress as possible.
Now that Pastor John Hagee has roundly condemned the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran, he's ready to put boots on the ground, and his organization's money where his mouth is. The battle over whether the US Congress will support the deal may be, among other things, the first real test of the lobbying power of America's Christian Zionists, as Hagee's newly formed entity, a 501(c)(4) political lobbying group called the CUFI Action Fund is certain to be fully engaged. Headed by veteran Christian Right activist Gary Bauer, the CUFI Action Fund was launched last month at the annual Washington, DC meeting of Hagee's Christians United for Israel (CUFI), an organization with a $7-+ million dollar budget and one that bills itself as the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States, with over two million members.
"Over the next 60 days, our focus will be the ill-conceived and stunningly bad proposed nuclear agreement with Iran," Bauer told the Christian Post. "We are going to be on Capitol Hill every day, both with lobbyists and we are also going to be in their email box and on their telephones and in their mail delivery and at their town hall meetings with people that are going to press members of Congress in both parties on this."
DAVID SIROTA FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The continuum of US politics is not a straight line - it is more like a circle. Travel farther out on the right and left, and ultimately the sides bend to a common position on an issue like taxpayer subsidies for big business. To many progressives, such expenditures are giveaways to the already wealthy. To many conservatives, they are a free-market-distorting waste of taxpayer resources. Both sides also often criticize the subsidies as an instrument of cronyism and corruption.
In recent years, taxpayer subsidies for corporations have become a huge expense: The New York Times estimates that states and cities now spend more than $80 billion a year on such so-called "incentives." For the most part, this gravy train has not faced much pressure to slow down.
But now, as the 2016 presidential campaign intensifies, both the left and the right will have a prime opportunity to spotlight its critiques. That is because one of the most prominent Republican presidential candidates - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker - has made such subsidies a central part of his public policy agenda. Those subsidies have produced both high-profile scandals and lackluster economic results.
In 2011, Walker created the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to give businesses taxpayer loans and grants. Within a few years, state auditors published reports spotlighting "concerns with WEDC's administration and oversight of its economic development programs and its financial management." Specifically, auditors said "WEDC did not require grant and loan recipients to submit information showing that contractually required jobs were actually created or retained" and also noted that money was handed out "in ways that did not consistently comply" with state law.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The US has experienced "gush-up" rather than "trickle-down." The shame is on the adherents of unregulated free-market capitalism, who have assaulted us with the message of "winner-take-all" wealth over the common good. George Will perpetuates the neoliberal myth by quoting one of his idols, John Tamny: "Income inequality in a capitalist system is truly beautiful...it provides the incentive for creative people to gamble on new ideas.."
But in the realm of reality, there are many reasons for embarrassment:
1. Just Because They're Rich, Billionaires Are Trusted to Design Our Education and Health Systems
Bill Gates leads the way here. He got rich in questionable ways from technology, and as a result much of America feels he's qualified to be a great humanitarian. Because of his corporate-endowed foundation, says Arundhati Roy, Bill Gates can "find himself designing education, health, and agriculture policies, not just for the US government but for governments all over the world."
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
For Christian Zionists and neo-conservatives, the discussion over what to do about Iran is nothing new. If it were up to folks like Michael Evans, Joel Rosenberg and John Bolton, the U.S. would have bombed Iran years ago. These days, however, as the current debate over the Iranian nuclear deal continues going nuclear, conservatives are charging the Obama administration with at best being naive and getting snookered by Iranian negotiators, and at worst, with leading Israelis "to the ovens," and staging a replay (only worse) of Neville Chamberlain's Munich deal with Hitler. Iran can't be trusted is a most commonly heard refrain.
Christian Zionists, who for years have been hankering for the U.S. to exercise a more muscular approach to Iran, are committing tens of millions of dollars to killing the deal. Republicans think they have found the Golden Ticket to finally winning over Jewish voters.
While all the yammering is going on, it is worth stepping back in time to see how we got to where we are with Iran. And for that, there's no better place to turn than to Stephen Kinzer's now twelve-year-old -- but still seminal -- book, All The Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.
All The Shah's Men describes the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) maiden coup -- the 1953 overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran. The coup's code name was "Operation Ajax."