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Thursday, 04 September 2014 07:12

We Need an Option to Vote for "None of the Above"

REV. STEPHEN H. PHELPS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBallotBox(Photo: Rama)Imagine a consumer economy with these rules:

* For any particular product—shoes, lawnmowers, canned tuna, etc.—only two brands may be offered. Other brands on display behind the glass are not for sale.

* When a customer steps into a store to find a product, she must purchase one of the two brands. She may not leave empty-handed unless she agrees to forgo searching elsewhere for the product for two years, when the same rules will apply.

In the land of the free, we would not stand for such restrictions, right? Un-American! Communistic! we'd shout. Why, if two companies got to split 100% of the market, they would take no risks. To capture maximum market share, their products would turn out similar as soap. Quality would sink, but not the price, for no matter what shoddy merchandise they sent to the shelves, the consumer would still have to buy it.

Well, America, this is the system we have installed in the brain stem of our government. Come election time, only two brands are on offer and we generally have to buy one or the other —or suffer the scolds who say "Those who don't vote can't complain." The notion that third par-ties are free to compete is mostly sung by people pitching the status quo, since politics is a money game run by rich citizens united to make it next to impossible for third parties to compete.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

kochconclave2Masks of the Koch brothers (Photo: peoplesworld)Early this summer, the Koch brothers held another one of their 1% planning sessions to keep the other 99% of people in the United States under the permanent rule of the oligarchy. Some BuzzFlash and Truthout readers learned a bit about the gathering through a leaked recording of the plutocratic remarks and political obstruction plans of Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell.

It was a noteworthy audiotape of McConnell because it is difficult to imagine him saying anything more shocking privately than he has said publicly.

The Koch summit McConnell spoke at in June, however, was apparently filled with speakers who advocated strategies to elect a longterm government to increase the wealth of the richest people in the US and protect their interests. To this end, the gathering was filled with slanderous statements and self-serving political theory that demonized and dismissed the poor as a cargo of leeches that is dragging down the ship of state.

In The Huffington Post, Lauren Windsor recently reported on more audiotape from the Koch brothers' billionaires retreat in an article entitled, "Top Koch Strategist Argues the Minimum Wage Leads Directly to Fascism":

“Psychology shows that it is the main recruiting ground for totalitarianism, for fascism, for conformism, when people feel like they’re victims,” said Richard Fink, described by Windsor as the top political strategist for the Koch brothers. “So the big danger of minimum wage isn’t the fact that some people are being paid more than their value-added -- that’s not great. It’s not that it’s hard to stay in business -- that’s not great, either. But it’s the 500,000 people that will not have a job because of minimum wage.”

The assertion that a sense of "victimhood" is what keeps people from a just wage - when it is an issue of paying the lowest possible wages in order for the 1% to achieve the highest possible profit - is a self-serving defamation of exploited laborers.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBenCarson(Photo: Gage Skidmore)Vigorously opposed to Obamacare, calling it "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery?" Check. Think America is "very much like Nazi Germany?" Check. Think Michael Brown may have caused his own murder? Check. If you need an opinion or a controversial remark from an African American conservative, Dr. Ben Carson has a quiver full. If you haven't yet heard of Dr. Ben Carson, that's probably because you're not watching the Fox News Channel often enough.

But have no fear, the major news networks are liable to be discovering him in the very near future. Mainstream appearances are likely to be triggered by: a) the networks' desperately seeking a conservative African American voice; and/or, b) Carson may be seriously considering a run at the White House in 2016.

Carson, who in late 2013 was added as a Fox News contributor, is a 62-year-old retired neurosurgeon, who, according to Wikipedia, is credited with being the first doctor to successfully separate conjoined twins at the head. Carson is emeritus professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. According to an amazon.com bio, he "serves on the corporate boards of the Kellogg Company, Costco Wholesale Corp., and American's Promise, among others, and is an Emeritus Fellow of the Yale Corporation."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

cantor2Eric Cantor (Photo: Wikipedia)Maybe his theme song should be, "Don't Cry for Me, John Boehner." After all, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his congressional seat earlier this year after being defeated in the GOP primary earlier this year by a Tea Party zealot. It was, in the mainstream media narrative, an embarrassment of immeasurable proportion for the man who was next in line to the Speaker of the House.

Last month, Cantor unexpectedly resigned before his term was over in January. Now we know why.

Cantor is making his way through the perennial revolving door, in which a primary loss can lead to a treasure chest of Wall Street riches. The Los Angeles Times reports that Cantor will join the investment bank Moelis & Co. Notice, according to The LA Times, how his pay escalates after the first year, perhaps so as to make it appear that he is not immediately cashing in on his high-ranking congressional and government access: 

Cantor is the latest government official to cash in on Wall Street after working in Washington. His pay will jump from the $193,400 a year he earned as majority leader to a base salary of $400,000 a year to start.

He also will receive a $400,000 cash payment and $1 million in restricted stock that will vest in phases after his third, fourth and fifth anniversaries with the company, according to a filing Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Next year, he will receive a minimum incentive payment of $1.2 million in cash and $400,000 in restricted stock.

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGOPUpsideDown(Photo: GOP)"Small Government Conservatism" has been THE GOP mantra ever since Reagan gave out with his famous pronouncement on "the government isn't the solution to your problems, it IS the problem," or words to that effect. This mantra today resonates from the so-called "sensible" Republicans in the Joe Scarborough (of "Morning Joe, in case you didn't know) mold to the most far-out of the Tea Partiers like Rep. Steve (8-year-old-undocumented-immigrants-have-calves-the-size-of-footballs-from-toting-drugs-across-the-desert [or words to that effect]; my-you-speak-English-well [to a couple of Dreamers who came to the US as infants]) King of Iowa.

Before going on to the discussion of the substance of this column, let me say that I think that it must be understood that the difference between today's "mainstream" Republican Party, led by such eminences as John (gay-marriage-is-a-sin-because-the-Bible-tells-me-so) Boehner and Mitch (I-will-filibuster-any-bill-I-don't-like, said-in-December, 2008) McConnell is solely a matter of style and rhetoric, not substance. They have the same agenda, to first and foremost serve the interests of their paymasters. That is, of course, a group of named and nameless leaders of the dominant wing of the US ruling class, for which the Koch Brothers make an oh-so-convenient twin figurehead. Those true interests are reflected precisely in just what the GOP/TYP actually means when it talks about "Small Government Conservatism."

Many liberals and even some progressives get into direct and/or indirect battles with such folk over the question of what indeed is the role of government, Federal, state and local, in a large country like ours, with the Constitution that we have. But to me, that discussion does our side no good. For in fact the GOP/TP is hardly for "Small Government Conservatism" across the board. They use the mantra to attack programs that they don't like. But in many sectors of our society, they are for precisely the opposite. But before getting to that list, let's see what they mean when they talk about "shrinking the government."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

toygunShot to Death for Holding a Toy Gun? (Photo:Tom Simpson)

Many gun laws vary by state, in the absence of strong national gun control. That explains the open carrying of semi-automatic rifles in stores such as Target in Texas without any police intervention. In every photo that I have seen of the gun toters of AK-47s and the like in Texas two realties are apparent: 1) All the defiant military-style gun carriers are white; and 2) there are no police to be seen as the gun fanatics swagger through housewares toting Uzis.

The reason that there are no police to be seen is that it is now legal to tote around handguns and semi-automatic long guns in stores and other public spaces in the longhorn state. Texas is not the only such state: In Ohio, state law allows people to carry firearms in many public spaces (though the NRA Institute for Legislative Action notes that "a person should exercise caution when carrying a firearm in public"). The state generally has loose firearms laws and can be considered a pro-gun-owner state. Nevertheless, a black man, 22-year-old John Crawford III, was shot dead by Beaver Creek, Ohio, police in early August - for holding a toy rifle in the toy section of a local Walmart. Apparently, a customer had called 911 and said a man was holding a rifle, and the police showed up, shouted a few disputed orders and then killed Crawford with real guns, as the toy Walmart rifle fell to the floor. (He did not enter the store with the toy rifle; he happened to pick it up while in the toy section of the store.)

It would be extremely difficult, given the recent events in Ferguson and the long history of racial bias shown by police in shooting black "suspects," to surmise that Crawford's skin color and dreadlocks didn't play any role in the decision of the Beavercreek police officers to murder a young adult holding a toy rifle.

 

Tuesday, 02 September 2014 06:30

Climate Change and Food Riots: Learn to Farm

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCorn(Photo: Christian Fischer)What with everything everywhere being busy exploding, the fact that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest draft was leaked is not, perhaps, the sexiest of news items. The facts remain mostly unchanged from longer reports that have been previously released, but the tone is far more dire. One item of note: while the goal, set in 2009, was to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Fahrenheit, we’re now on track to hit 3.6 degrees by the middle of this century and 6.7 degrees by 2100.

This is not the best of news. Our thoughts immediately turn to rising sea levels, the inundation of major cities, and massive population displacement. All bad things, to be sure. But so very gradual, so easy to dismiss as happening far off in the distant future when we’ll all long since have died of Ebola. So let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about famine.

Famine has been with us throughout history. And even with increases in agricultural productivity, over 70 million people starved to death in the 20th century. As deaths go, starvation is a nasty one and as human disasters go, it’s one that we fear to the point where famine was considered to be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. One of the neat things about climate change is that it tends to cause massive disruption to agriculture, livestock, fisheries – all things that help us avoid starving to death. And those disruptions to our food supply will hit us a long time before Boston, Venice, and Amsterdam are underwater.

Friday, 29 August 2014 07:13

The Courage to Disarm

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAlbers(Photo: Darmokand)The Ferguson tragedy, like all those that preceded it and all that will follow — involving the trivial and panicky use of lethal force, by the police or anyone else — stirs up questions the social status quo doesn’t dare face.

My sister, Sue Melcher, put it this way: “I find myself also nauseated that another issue never seems to enter the discussion: the issue that a highly trained officer could make such a mistake with a gun demonstrates that just having the weapon present increased the danger of the situation. Had the citizens been armed, how many more casualties could there have been? None of us is ‘healthy’ enough to be trusted to use lethal force wisely — and is that even possible?”

The “wise” use of lethal force . . .

We’ve wrapped our global civilization around the certainty that we understand and revere life in all its vastness and mystery so completely that we know when to cut it short, indeed, that we — those of us who are officially sanctioned good guys — have a right to cut it short in, it would seem, an ever-widening array of circumstances. In so doing, we allegedly make life better for the social whole. This is called militarism. To keep this profitable lie going, we refuse to look deeply at its consequences.

When we inflict death on distant cultures, at the sterile remove that modern weapons grant us, we can avoid all but the most cursory awareness of the consequences of our actions. But when we do it at home, it’s not always so easy.

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHomelessUSA(Photo: C.G.P. Grey)While weapon contractors, those ‘masters of war’, are raiding our treasury for multibillion dollar federal contracts, our middle-class economy is falling below the levels of third world countries.  Last night, ABC news did a report on homeless children in the United States.  Some American children are living out of cars with nothing more than green garbage bags to keep their small belongings in. These children were grateful to receive suitcases because living out of “garbage bags made them feel trashy.”  

Has it come to this? Shame on this government for turning the United States of America into a country that includes too many starving, homeless children, while less than a privileged group of companies is receiving billions of our tax dollars for weapons, and those weapons are used in turn to steal oil in the Middle East.

new report found that the nation's food pantries serve 620,000 families with a member in the military: “another troubling indication that service members battling against poverty must often rely on the generosity of our charities.”

Our tax dollars should provide adequate funding for middle-class and poor communities: schools, hospitals, roads, teachers, police, firefighters, and alternative energy among other expenditures that benefit the public good. However, when so many of our tax dollars are going directly into the bank accounts of weapon-surveillance contractors, and Wall Street banksters, you begin to understand why everyone else is left with a few scattered crumbs to fight over; you begin to see why the oligarchy encourages conflicts and divisions between blacks and whites, middle-class workers and immigrants, and so forth. After all, while everyone’s busy fighting, the biggest robbery in history is going down: big money is being stolen behind closed doors with the assistance of the White House and congressional friends of the oligarchy.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

malibubeachMalibu Beach, California (Photo: Michael Clesle)

A battle for public access to the California beaches on the Pacific Ocean is raging.

Although the outcome will impact anyone who wants to partake of the joy of walking on the sand, swimming and viewing the breathtaking natural beauty of the Pacific, the iconic California surfers are taking center stage in the battle to easily reach the beach. In fact, some of the best waves for surfing near Los Angeles are located in the exclusive Malibu area - where members of the 1% are trying to limit entryway to the oceanfront.

Independent LA television station KCET - in an article entitled, "Why California Beaches Are Open to Everyone" - provides background on the issue:

California voters in 1972 passed Proposition 20, also known as the California Coastal Commission Initiative.

The ballot measure called for the temporary creation of the California Coastal Commission, a politically appointed body tasked in part with protecting and preserving the 1,100 miles that make up the Golden State's coast and guaranteeing the public's access to that sea and shore. In 1976, the state legislature passed the California Coastal Act, basically making Prop 20 permanent."These two laws were really instrumental in changing the way Los Angeles, Southern California and the whole state's coastline looks and the ability of people in California to enjoy those resources," says Molly Selvin, associate dean for interdisciplinary programs at Southwestern Law School....

Many super-rich beachfront property owners have found ways to block paths to the beach by taking advantage of poor enforcement. As a result, in June of this year California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that empowered the California Coastal Commission to fine property owners who obstructed access to the ocean and beaches. 

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