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Thursday, 06 August 2015 06:39

Nuclear Disarmament: If Not Now, When?


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.


aaaWillieWeed(Photo: Cannabis Training University)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."


aaaNagasakiNukeDeal(Photo: Charles Levy)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."

Monday, 03 August 2015 08:53

Wisconsin's Economic Cautionary Tale


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.

2015.3.8 BF BuchheitPhoto: Thomas Galvez)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."


aaaIranCrisis2(Photo: Phillip Maiwald)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."


aaaaajeb2000As governor of Florida in 2000, Jeb Bush played a key role in stealing the 2000 presidential election. (DonkeyHotey)

Yes, in the end the 2000 presidential election was decided by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision. That was the only vote that mattered in putting George W. Bush in the White House, despite the fact that he lost the national popular vote to Al Gore by well over a half a million votes.

The US Constitution set up an electoral system by which the winner of the election could lose the popular vote and still gain the majority of electoral votes. A presidential election is based on a contest for electoral votes in 50 different states, so a candidate can roll up large popular margins in some states while losing electoral votes to a candidate who won by narrower margins in other states.

A presidential election outcome in which the candidate who lost the national popular vote ended up in the White House has only happened four times. Al Gore was the candidate who received the largest popular vote margin - 544,000 more votes than Bush - who was not sworn in as president.

Recall that the governor of Florida during the 2000 election - who played a key role in creating the scenario that led up to the 5-4 Supreme Court vote for George W. Bush to become president - was Jeb Bush.


Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch.

Chicago probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of farming, but the city’s Pullman Park district will soon be home to the largest rooftop greenhouse in the world. Once construction is complete, the behemoth 75,000 square foot green space, built and operated by Gotham Greens, will be larger than a football stadium and even some city blocks.

As Business Insider puts it, “For some perspective on the size of the greenhouse: the average size of a city block in many parts of the US—including Portland, Oregon and Houston, Texas—is 67,600 square feet. An NFL football field is 57,600 square feet. This greenhouse is larger than all of these things.”

According to a Gotham Greens, the greenhouse will produce up to 1 million pounds of sustainably grown, pesticide-free produce annually. The harvest will also be distributed through local retailers, restaurants, farmer’s markets and community groups. Since the greens are grown locally, it eliminates the carbon emissions and miles that food traditionally travels to get to Chicago’s plates.

“This is an exciting opportunity to bring fresh, healthy produce year-round to Pullman, which is underserved for food, and going through an exciting resurgence in economic development,” Gotham Greens CEO Viraj Puri told DNAInfo. The rooftop farm is also expected to hire 40 workers to help grow the produce, the site reported.

2015.30.7 BF Sirota(Photo: iprimages)DAVID SIROTA FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Since announcing his 2016 White House bid, Donald Trump has been the central focus of the campaign — by one estimate, he has garnered almost 40 percent of all election coverage on the network newscasts. Clearly, The Donald's attempt to turn 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. into Trump White House has attracted so much attention because the candidate is seen as a Bulworthesque carnival barker who will say anything, no matter how hypocritical, factually unsubstantiated or absurd.

Yet for all the hype he's generated, Trump is not the only presidential hopeful willing to make utterly mind-boggling statements.

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Take Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month, she said, "there can be no justification or tolerance for this kind of criminal behavior" that has been seen on Wall Street. She added that "while institutions have paid large fines and in some cases admitted guilt, too often it has seemed that the human beings responsible get off with limited consequences or none at all, even when they have already pocketed the gains." Her campaign echoed the message with an email to supporters lauding Clinton for saying that "when Wall Street executives commit criminal wrongdoing, they deserve to face criminal prosecution."

Clinton's outrage sounds convincing at first — but then, audacity-wise, it starts to seem positively Trump-like when cross-referenced with campaign finance reports, foundation donations and speaking fees.


aaaaapoliceIn the end, the structural racism that guides Northern policing can be just as deadly as Southern institutional and personal racism. (Photo: Ian Britton)

Recently, Nancy A. Heitzeg wrote a trenchant analysis on Truthout of the racist, destructive policy known as "broken windows policing." While racism in the South tends to be more direct and apparent, in the North it is often wrapped in a blanket of claims to be implementing "good public policy."

In the end, the structural racism that guides Northern policing can be just as deadly as Southern institutional and personal racism; it just has a different veneer.

In New York City, as Heitzeg notes, the implementation of "broken windows policing" reached its zenith - a period of ruthless enforcement, targeting mostly Black and Brown people - under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He counted on NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton (who is today's commissioner, as well) to carry out the devastating strategy.

Not only does "broken windows" policing - which is still in place, although in "reduced" form under Mayor Bill de Blasio - serve as a primary feeder of the mass-incarceration pipeline, it provides a contextual justification for perpetuating a notion among police officers that Black people are "crimes waiting to happen." This racist outlook - championed by the late James Q. Wilson, a professor at Harvard and UCLA who specialized in public policy - represents the framework of US policing in a larger sense. It's built on a notion that Black people are predestined "criminals."

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