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EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBoots(Photo: HAF 932)President Obama's strategy against the Islamic State may be hard to pin down -- maddeningly so, some complain -- but it is likely to work far better than anything his bellicose critics advocate.

Perhaps the president will eliminate any confusion when he addresses the nation Wednesday, but I doubt it. Based on what he told NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press," there may be no way to reduce Obama's fluid and perhaps deliberately ambiguous thinking to a black-or-white, all-or-nothing dichotomy.

"This is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops. This is not the equivalent of the Iraq War," Obama said. Later in the interview, he added that "we're not looking at sending in 100,000 American troops" and that "our goal should not be to think that we can occupy every country where there's a terrorist organization."

Clear? Kind of.

We understand that the president will not announce the deployment of U.S. troops in large numbers and that he does not intend for the United States to re-invade and re-occupy Iraq. But we know that U.S. military advisers and special operations teams have already been active in both Iraq and Syria. And since Obama described the fight against the Islamic State as "similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we've been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years," we can assume there will be some U.S. military presence on the ground, however covert and limited.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBible(Photo: David Ball)A few years back, Forbes magazine called them “undercover billionaires.” Meet Farris and Dan Wilks, who, after selling their fracking business and becoming generous donors to right-wing causes, politicians, and the Republican Party, are no longer “undercover.” While claiming that Christians are under attack, the Wilks brothers’ are "using the riches that the Lord has blessed" them with and are dedicating themselves to getting the Bible back in schools.

The brothers began by working in their father’s masonry business, operating mostly in Oklahoma and Texas. In 1995, the brothers founded their own company called Wilks Masonry. However, they “really hit the big time when they got in on the ground floor with fracking, the controversial natural gas drilling technique that has boomed over the past decade,” People for the American Way’s Peter Montgomery recently pointed out in a report titled “The Wilks Brothers: Fracking Sugar Daddies For The Far Right.” 

In 2002, the Cisco, Texas-based Wilks brothers – who share the #352 spot on Forbes list of billionaires -- “entered the energy industry with the founding of hydraulic fracturing and oil field services firm Frac Tech,” Forbes magazine pointed out in a September 2011 article. In May 2011, the brothers sold Frac Tech to a “group of investors led by Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund” for $3.5 billion. According to Forbes, the brothers are worth $1.4 billion each.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

healthhumanright(Photo: United Workers)

Yes, of course single-payer universal health care coverage would be the preferable health coverage program for people in the United States. After all, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) - a.k.a. Obamacare - is a jerry-rigged system that relies on a private insurance market (except for the important Medicaid expansion component) and still leaves many in the US uninsured.

Nevertheless, the Affordable Care Act has, now that it has gone through its growing pains, enabled millions more people to be covered by health insurance. In April of this year, the White House announced that 7.5 million people had signed up on the state exchanges. In addition, another three million people were enrolled in Medicaid in states that accepted federal government funds. It is a demonstrable gain for the health and economic wellbeing of millions of individuals and families in the US, helping many people avert crushing medical debt.

On September 8, Talking Points Memo offered the analysis that the Republican Party had pinned its key electoral strategy on launching a years-long fusillade against Obamacare, including repeated attempts in the House of Representatives to repeal it. However, despite the rocky rollout of the program, it is now viewed fairly favorably, perceived as a vital link to medical and health insurance by the millions of people who are benefitting from it. 

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGoldBars(Photo: Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited)The profit motive fogs the thinking of free-market advocates. The Economist gushes, "Take a bow, capitalism...the biggest poverty-reduction measure of all is liberalising markets to let poor people get richer." Forbes proclaims its belief in "the unmatched power of capitalism to improve human life."

Self-indulgent capitalists have turned much of America against its own best interests by promoting a winner-take-all philosophy that reaps great rewards for a few people at the expense of everyone else. To the neoliberal, vital human needs like health and education are products to be bought and sold.

Here are some other examples of greed and the pain it causes.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

citizensucorrupts(Photo: Light Brigading)

On September 4, Public Citizen held a news conference to urge the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to consider a rule that would prohibit corporate campaign contributions from being cloaked in secrecy.

The organization announced that one million people in the United States had either sent formal comments to the SEC or signed a petition to bring transparency to corporations contributing shareholder-owned funds to elections without full disclosure. Public Citizen is urging the SEC

to require all publicly traded companies to disclose political spending information to their shareholders.

The rule was placed on the agency’s agenda by departing SEC Chair Mary Shapiro in 2013 but was removed by Chair Mary Jo White earlier this year. The rulemaking petition has garnered historic support from investors and the general public. Its removal sparked outrage among its advocates, who contend that White is not taking into account the changing needs of investors since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That ruling gave corporations and the wealthy the green light to spend unlimited sums to influence elections and led to a flood of “dark money” groups that don’t disclose their donors. In addition, White is ignoring the material nature of political spending information (with its inherent risks) to shareholders.

In short, SEC Chair Mary Jo White - who many thought would bring sunlight to bear upon corporate involvement in politics - is actually enabling them to keep their contributions in the dark.

Friday, 05 September 2014 07:05

Creating a Future That Values Everyone

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaImaginePeace(Photo: Adam Zivner)“I think if we had a gun we would have been shot immediately.”

This is as good a place to start as any, at the logical limits of violent self-defense. The speaker is Andres Gutierrez of Nonviolent Peaceforce, a nonprofit organization that has engaged in peacekeeping work in troubled regions of the world for the last decade. Gutierrez, the organization’s team leader in South Sudan, along with colleague Derek Oakley, got caught in the chaos last April when the city of Bor was attacked, with armed men overrunning the perimeter of a U.N. base where thousands of civilians had sought protection. The two took shelter inside a mud hut.

More than 60 people were killed in the ethnic massacre, but Gutierrez and Oakley, the unarmed peacekeepers, kept that total from being higher. Four women and nine children were inside the hut as well.

As noted on the Nonviolent Peaceforce website: “On three separate occasions men with guns came and ordered the peacekeepers out so they could kill the women and kids. The peacekeepers refused, holding up their (Nonviolent Peaceforce) IDs and saying they were unarmed, there to protect civilians and would not leave. After the third time the armed men left. The people were saved.”

The armed men gave up; thirteen people, plus the two peacekeepers, are still alive. This calls for a moment of awe. This calls for reverence and, most of all, remembrance.

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaPoliticalIslam(Photo: Voice of America News)Destroying, degrading or containing the Islamic State -- whichever goal President Obama chooses -- will be the easy part. Finding ways for fundamentalist Islam to express itself peacefully is a bigger, tougher and more important project.

In his remarks Tuesday following the beheading of journalist Steven Sotloff, Obama offered a smorgasbord of options. "Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy" the Islamic State, he said, although it sounded like two different objectives. He added that the goal was "to make sure that [the Islamic State] is not an ongoing threat to the region." Then he said the aim was to reduce the terrorist group to "a manageable problem."

Before the warmongers have a cow, keep in mind that Obama's idea of managing a terrorism problem involves killing people, without warning, even in countries where we are not at war. Just this week he authorized an airstrike in Somalia in an attempt to kill the leader of al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda offshoot. Obama's fondness for drones as instruments of surveillance and assassination is such that any terrorist leader is foolhardy if he ventures to take out the garbage.

But the Islamic State is clearly not "manageable" in its current state, flush with weapons, cash and eager recruits -- and occupying a huge tract of land in Iraq and Syria. Obama will have to destroy or degrade, but all the focus on his decision misses the larger context: the fundamentalist political instinct that the Islamic State represents, or rather misrepresents.

We're talking about 15,000 or so fighters -- not much of a challenge for the greatest military force the world has ever known. Why not just smash this group and be done with it? Let's look at recent history.

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."

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