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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCommiePope(Photo: Jeffrey Bruno)I can't be absolutely certain, but I'm pretty sure that Pope Francis is not walking around with Mao's Red Book stuffed into an inside pocket of his papal robes, or that he's starting a study group for Das Capital. Nevertheless, with the release of a new book titled "Pope Francis: This Economy Kills," the Pope's critics are sure to ratchet up their labeling of him with the "C" word (Communist), and the "M" word (Marxist). The Christian Post headlined its recent story about the new report: "Communist or Christian? Pope Francis Defends Vatican Report Titled 'This Economy Kills' in Criticism of Global Financial System."

Stoyan Zaimov's story in the CP (oops, there we go again), uh ... Christian Post, starts by pointing out that Pope Francis maintains he's not a communist, but he says that he will continue to criticize the global economic system because of "Jesus' call for Christians to serve the poor."

"Jesus affirms that you cannot serve two masters, God and wealth," Francis said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa. "Is it pauperism? No, it is the Gospel."

Pope Francis said that "Markets and financial speculation cannot enjoy absolute autonomy. We cannot wait any longer to resolve the structural causes of poverty in order to cure our society of an illness that can only lead to new crises."

Friday, 16 January 2015 05:37

Get Ready to Buy Your Plane Tickets to Cuba

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ahistorichavanaHistoric Havana (Photo: Gerry Balding)

Among the first specific steps toward implementing the normalization of relations with Cuba, the Obama administration announced on January 15 that it will allow commercial airlines to fly scheduled flights to the island. Currently, only charter flights to Cuba arranged by State Department-approved travel agencies are allowed. Individual waivers to travel to Cuba from the US will no longer be required from the Treasury Department. 

According to The Washington Post,

Freed from cumbersome requirements to obtain a Treasury Department license, individual Americans will be able to travel to Cuba provided they say the trip is intended to serve religious, educational or other approved purposes under the still-standing U.S. embargo. When they return, they can bring up to $400 in Cuban goods, including $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco.

U.S. airlines will be allowed to fly scheduled routes to Cuba for the first time in decades.

Currently, US citizens who want to travel to Cuba without meeting the bureaucratic requirements - and additional expense of going through a US-sanctioned travel agency and paying high charter fares - illegally fly from third-party nations, such as Mexico and Canada, to Havana. Cuban immigration complies with requests not to stamp the passports of such travelers, who fly back to the third-party nation and then buy a return ticket to the US.

ROBERT REDFORD OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaKeystoneRedford2(Photo: EcoWatch)The new Republican majority in Congress wants to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil. President Obama announced he will veto bills that bypass the official review of Keystone XL.

There are plenty of reasons to block these bills and this pipeline.

Keystone XL would carry the dirtiest oil on the planet from Canada through the American heartland. The vast majority of it would be shipped overseas, while people here at home cope with the threat of contaminated water and difficult-to-clean-up oil spills.

Polluters are fighting hard to get Keystone approved. The oil and gas industry pumped $53.1 million into last year’s congressional campaigns—87 percent of which went to Republican candidates. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raked in $608,000 from the industry for his 2014 campaign, and now he is putting Keystone XL at the heart of his big polluter agenda.

But this isn’t just a battle over industry influence. This is a choice about the kind of nation we want to live in.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

asamesong(Photo: bunky's pickle)

BuzzFlash has noted many a time that the Creation Museum in Kentucky has featured dinosaurs with saddles. Holding that evolution is a misguided theory, the creationists behind the museum exhibit attempt to show - by placing the saddles on dinosaurs - that people lived contemporaneously with dinosaurs. This, supposedly, proves that everything on earth was created simultaneously in a divine burst of benevolence.

Charles Pierce took note of this bizarre representation of something akin to a gigantic terrestrial reptile just waiting to be mounted by a cowboy. He told Truthout that it inspired his best-selling book, Idiot America. Indeed, the exhibition would have been a magical presidential visit photo op for Ronald Reagan's iconic image if the museum had been around for his years in office. Skeptics would have called it a dinosaur sitting atop a dinosaur.

However, that hypothetical Reagan-bashing image may now be replaced by another, less easy-to-depict reality: Perhaps, today, it is the two-party system in the United States that is riding the United States back into a social and economic Mesozoic Era. Even if one successfully argues that there are significant, though marginal, differences between Democratic and Republican politicians on social issues and perhaps on the environment, it is difficult to see major distinctions between the two parties on economic and foreign policy issues. (Both fall solidly in the neoliberal camp.)

Granted, the Republicans may often sound more strident and unhinged, but in the end, there is basically a consensus - as far as voting in Congress - on trumped up wars abroad and particularly on neoliberal global free trade and financial policies.

Thursday, 15 January 2015 07:20

Partners in Terror: This Is Bigger Than Satire

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaParisMarch(Photo: Elya)“Je suis Charlie. Tout est pardonné.”

Muhammad in tears adorns the new cover of Charlie Hebdo: “I am Charlie. All is forgiven.” This is bigger than satire.

I take a deep breath, uncertain how to write about last week’s insane shooting spree in Paris. My daughter and her husband live there. “Things are normal,” she told me a few days afterward, “but there’s a presence — this thing that has happened. It’s in the air.”

A few days later I came upon this headline at the McClatchy Washington bureau website: “U.S. airstrike in Syria may have killed 50 civilians.”

The story reports: “The civilians were being held in a makeshift jail in the town of Al Bab, close to the Turkish border, when the aircraft struck on the evening of Dec. 28, the witnesses said. The building, called the Al Saraya, a government center, was leveled in the airstrike. It was days before civil defense workers could dig out the victims’ bodies.”

The building, in fact, had been turned into a jail by Islamic State police. It contained guards and between 35 and more than 50 prisoners, according to different witnesses’ accounts. The prisoners “had been jailed shortly before the airstrike for minor infractions of the Islamic State’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law, such as smoking, wearing jeans or appearing too late for the afternoon prayer.”

IS arrested them. We killed them. Partners in terror.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aharvarddiv(Photo: 350.org) 

Recently, Truthout featured Lani Guinier's book The Tyranny of the Meritocracy, which focuses on the need to change the type of students selected by prestigious universities. She encourages the transformation of institutions such as Ivy League schools from factories for the elite status quo into schools that prepare future generations of engaged citizens who can work collaboratively for the common good.

Guinier focuses on how the most competitive universities largely base their admissions' policies on standardized test scores, competitiveness, individual ambition and, of course, likely candidates to perpetuate the economic and social status quo.

In an excerpt from Guinier's book recently posted on Truthout, she writes:

Merit as defined by test-based admissions has harnessed "schools and universities to the task of sieving people" according to a "narrow band of values."  Those values, as it turns out, are the production and reproduction of privilege but without obligation or shame. The rise of the testocratic meritocracy has enabled those already at the top of the heap to continue to preside without a sense of moral or political accountability. The privileged have come to believe that their "advancement comes from their own merits," and thus they are entitled to their power.

Guinier advocates that changes in admissions' policies can alter the impact of institutions in creating a truly robust and socially responsible democracy.

2015.1.14.Sanders.BFSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) discusses comprehensive climate change legislation. (Photo: Public Citizen / Flickr)STEFANIE SPEAR OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell promised to allow an open amendment process for the Keystone XL pipeline and yesterday Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont put his pledge to the test. Sanders introduced an amendment that would officially put Congress on record with their position on climate change. Sanders amendment will be offered to a bill that would force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Sanders amendment asks:

It is the sense of Congress that Congress is in agreement with the opinion of virtually the entire worldwide scientific community that—

  1. climate change is real
  2. climate change is caused by human activities
  3. climate change has already caused devastating problems in the U.S. and around the world
  4. a brief window of opportunity exists before the United States and the entire planet suffer irreparable harm; and
  5. it is imperative that the United States transform its energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”

“The American people need to know whether Congress is listening to the overwhelming majority of scientists when it comes to climate change,” Sanders said. “On this issue, the scientists have been virtually unanimous in saying that climate change is real, it is caused by human action, it is already causing devastating problems which will only get worse in the future and that we need to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel. Do members of Congress believe the scientists or not?” he asked.

2015.1.14.AFA.BFThe American Family Association's Bryan Fischer. (Screen grab via RWW Blog / YouTube)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

A prominent Christian right radio broadcaster recently claimed that the terrorist attacks in Paris was an example of God’s use of “idolators” to punish the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, for mocking Christianity. The perpetrators of the murderous attacks on the magazine, and a Jewish grocery store, stated that they were out to avenge the mocking of Muhammad by Charlie Hebdo. While both were correct in their assessments of the work of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, and while they are not two peas from the same pod, their stated beliefs does make for a strange confluence of religiosity.  

According to People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, on a recent broadcast the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer claimed that the terrorist murders in Paris were actually God’s way of punishing staff members of Charlie Hebdo for mocking Christianity.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” Fischer told his listeners. “They [Charlie Hebdo] made a career out of taking the name of God, the God of the Bible, the father of the Lord Jesus,” Fischer added.

RONNIE CUMMINS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGMOno(Photo: EcoWatch)It is now blatantly obvious that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are nothing more than patented Pesticide Delivery Systems (PDS) designed to increase sales of poisonous agrochemicals such as Roundup, glufosinate, Bt, 2,4 D and neonicotinoids. To claim that GMOs are perfectly safe is equivalent to saying that pesticides, herbicides and fungicides—systemically laced at ever-higher levels into GMO-tainted human food and animal feed—are perfectly safe. And to make matters worse, hundreds of millions of pounds of Monsanto’s Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the world, are now routinely sprayed on 160 different crops, just before harvest, including wheat, potatoes, oats, canola, flax, peas and dried beans. In other words, just about every non-organic item in your supermarket, or every item on your restaurant menu (bread, potatoes, meat, milk) is now tainted with Roundup.

The anti-GMO and organic movement has come a long way in the past two decades. But given the dangers posed by GMOs and Roundup, it’s time to move aggressively forward. Here are a dozen crucial steps we need to take in 2015 to drive GMOs and Roundup off the market.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aimmidetArrest at immigration protest at detention center. (Photo: Carrie Sloan)

The for-profit prison system in the United States is not only a major factor in the emergence of "manufactured crime," it also makes money off of a national war on Latino migrants through the "detention" (in other words, incarceration) of persons - including minors - seeking economic and security refuge in the US.

A ministry located in Georgia - Alterna: Love Crosses Borders (El Amor Cruza Fronteras) - that provides compassionate assistance to migrants from south of the Mexican border monitors the nearby Stewart Detention Center, run for profit by the Corrections Corporations of America (CCA). The facility is the largest incarceration complex specifically for migrants in the US, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

The ACLU has also conducted a study of Stewart and found rampant violations of human rights:

For purposes of this documentation project, the ACLU of Georgia interviewed 68 individuals who were detained at the Georgia immigration detention facilities, as well as detainees' family members and immigration attorneys. We also toured the detention centers and reviewed documents obtained from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other agencies. The findings in “Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia” raise serious concerns about violations of detainees’ due process rights, inadequate living conditions, inadequate medical and mental health care, and abuse of power by those in charge.

Among the problems we documented: inadequate information about available pro bono legal services, inadequate conditions for attorney visits which raise attorney/client confidentiality issues, and delays in gaining access to the law library.  Detainees also face unreasonable delays in receiving medical care and in the case of detainees with mental disabilities, punitive rather than care-oriented treatment. We also documented numerous concerns about cell conditions including temperature extremes and overcrowding; hygiene concerns including instances where facilities ran out of hygiene items and detainees simply had to go without; used underwear provided to detainees at Irwin; food concerns including unusual mealtimes, insufficient quantity, and poor quality; limited recreation; and a work program at two corporate run detention centers where detainees are paid $1.00 to $3.00 per day and sometimes are coerced to work. Other findings point to a failed grievance procedure where detainees who filed grievances did not always receive responses, verbal and physical abuse, and retaliatory behavior from guards including placing detainees in segregation.

The Alterna ministry's findings concur with the ACLU about the abuses that take place in these facilities, run under contract by companies listed on stock exchanges. They may be euphemistically labeled as "detention centers," but if a person is detained against his or her will, we should really just call it jail.

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