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Guest Commentary (5293)

Sunday, 13 February 2011 06:07

100 Years of Reagan


Hold up. Slow down. If you wait a half a second, there’ll be time for me to hop on the Ronald Reagan 100th birth anniversary bandwagon, onto which I plan on leaping with both feet. Well, to be honest, not so much jumping on, as using a Sherman Tank to slam sideways into it, then soaking the floorboards with fermented cabbage shreds marinated in red wine vinegar infused-deer urine. Because, like it or not, a certain amount of pendulum swing is necessary here less the gods descend enraged, and blind us for our collective self inflicted myopia.

We can be forgiven for feeling fittingly dazed and confused from the deluge of month-long wall-to-wall television specials, radio reports and magazine cover stories all tinged in that faint beige, gauzy haze of selective memory that so easily metastasizes into revisionist history. The man was not Saint Ronny. He was an actor, who legendarily turned down Bogart’s part in the movie Casablanca. Think how history would have changed: Bogart might have become President. Then again, Casablanca would be a lousy movie.

Some folks have been so feverish with Reagan-palooza that there’s renewed talk of putting his face on the ten- dollar bill. Excuse me? Wouldn’t food stamps be more appropriate? Or considering what he did for Wall Street, maybe the ten thousand dollar bill. On a related note, the US Postal Service unveiled the third stamp honoring the 40th POTUS, the distinction being this is a forever stamp, so apropos when you consider his legacy on America’s disenfranchised.



I now know what it must have felt like to those folks stuck behind the old Iron Curtain back in the day. They couldn't watch or listen to western TV or radio because those signals were jammed by their own governments.

Over the past two weeks, if I wanted to get an unadulterated Middle Eastern take on the unfolding Egyptian revolution, I had to go on the Web and log on to al Jazeera to watch their live Web coverage.

Ironically, even as our own government prodded Egyptian officials to be more open, both we Americans and the Egyptian people were prevented from watching al Jazeera's own coverage on TV.

The reason neither country's citizens had access to al Jazeera TV is because, in both countries, those in charge of the transmitters were terrified by a news source they could not manipulate, control, limit or intimidate.

In Egypt it was the regime itself, terrified that al Jazeera's street cred would blow whatever was left of their own credibility with those on the street.

Here, in the U.S., the reason was something even worse - fear - blind, ignorance-fueled, xenophobic, fear.

Not one major U.S. cable company offers al Jazeera in their lineups. You can get any number of cooking channels, or channels that show brutal cage fighting (if you tried the same thing with dogs you'd find yourself in jail). You can get any number of shopping channels where you can get over-charged for cheap crap jewelry even Tammy Fey would be ashamed to wear.

But no al Jazeera.


With popular uprisings toppling governments in the Middle East, it's time to understand more clearly the mentality of people who can't separate mosque and state.

It's vital that democracy, not theocracy or new autocratic regimes, replaces corrupt governments in Egypt and Tunisia along with any others that fall to popular uprisings. The growth of democracy is a measure of human evolution. Citizens of a democracy are more likely than their counterparts in a theocracy to value reason, the rule of law, cross-cultural exchanges, tolerance, self-respect, and environmental protections.

Guarding America's church-state divide is paramount, too. We might not be able to export the wisdom that honors the separation of church and state when we're in danger of being overrun by a theocratic mentality in our backyard.

Inner fear may be the main influence on those Americans who can't separate church and state. Inner fear, which is often unconscious, is a common ingredient in human nature. The fear is evident in the widespread worry, stress, and anxiety that plague the human race. Inner fear causes the concerns of modern life to become fearful preoccupations, as when concern about terrorism produces a fearful populace willing to tolerate the suppression of civil liberties.

Other concerns that are exacerbated through inner fear include fears of failure, impoverishment, rejection, and abandonment. Inner fear is also associated with looking bad in the eyes of others, being alone, feeling helpless, doubting one's value, and feeling controlled or overwhelmed.


Corruption is out. Liberty is in, and with the recent uprisings in Egypt and throughout the Arab world, the media is hoisting up former President George W. Bush as the retrospective hero of democracy for what is turning out to be an effective "freedom agenda."

In a column published February 3, 2011, titled "Was George Bush right?The Economist gave a balanced overview of the conservative spin being applied to the people's backlash in Africa and throughout the Middle East:

With people-power bursting out all over the Arab world, the experts who scoffed at Mr Bush for thinking that Arabs wanted and were ready for democracy on the Western model are suddenly looking less clever - and Mr Bush's simply and rather wonderful notion that Arabs want, deserve and are capable of democracy is looking rather wise.

This is, simply put, a severely exaggerated, self-aggrandizing example of the political butterfly effect. Though we may believe that America is the beautiful epicenter from which all international reverberations of freedom and culture and wealth and greatness commence, it is also a rather shallow, ethnocentric interpretation of causality.

Can we honestly take even partial responsibility for the Egyptian people's uprising on the basis that our president invaded Afghanistan and dumped trillions of dollars into a 10-year mission of wandering the hillsides and peaking into caves in fruitless search for the 9/11 mastermind? Are we the bricklayers of this new foundation of liberty because Bush took America to war in Iraq on the pretense of some imminent nuclear threat that eventually proved utterly false?

If that is true, then the opposite could be argued just as easily - that Bush's vacancy of the White House gave Arabs the go-ahead to fight for democracy without having to fear that the U.S. military would flatten their cities, control their borders, manage their natural resources and play puppet master with their "democratically elected" officials.

Bush never called on the people to overthrow corrupt regimes. He did it for them or he did nothing, as The Economist noted when it contextualized the media's recent attempts to vindicate the former president:

The big thing Mr Bush did in the Arab world was not to argue for an election here or a loosening of controls there. It was to send an army to conquer Iraq. Nothing that has happened in Tunisia or Egypt makes the consequences of that decision any less calamitous ... (Bush) wanted Arab democracy on the cheap. That is


The U.S. House of Representatives this week did something it should have done years ago—it blocked the continuation of three of the more controversial parts of the PATRIOT Act. The vote was 277–148 to continue the Act, but a 2/3 majority (284 of those voting) was necessary for the bill to move forward. The PATRIOT Act sections are scheduled to expire Feb. 28 unless further action is taken by Congress.

The Republican leadership had placed the bill on an expedited agenda, believing it had the necessary votes. It didn't count on a loose coalition of liberals and extreme conservatives to oppose the Act. Twenty-six Republicans, including seven who are allied with the Tea Party, voted against the bill. Had those seven Tea Party members voted for the continuation, the bill would have passed.

The PATRIOT Act was passed about six weeks after the 9/11 attacks. The 342-page bill was drafted in secret by the Bush Administration, had minimal discussion, and most members of Congress hadn't even read it when they voted for it. Only one of 100 senators and 66 of 435 representatives voted against it, claiming that it sacrificed Constitutional protections in order to give Americans a false sense of security. Most of the Act is non-controversial, an umbrella for previous federal law; the controversial parts taint the entire document.
The PATRIOT Act's "sunset" clause required 16 of the most controversial parts to expire unless Congress renewed them before December 31, 2005. However, in July 2005, Congress voted to extend the entire law.

The PATRIOT Act butts against the protections of six Constitutional amendments: the 1st (freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances), 4th (freedom from unreasonable searches), 5th (right against self-incrimination and due process), 6th (due process, the right to counsel, a speedy trial, and the right to a fair and public trial by an impartial jury), 8th (reasonable bail and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment), and 14th (equal protection guarantee for both citizens and non-citizens).

The PATRIOT Act also violates Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to petition the courts to issue a writ of habeas corpus to require the government to produce a prisoner or suspect in order to determine the legality of the detention. Only Congress may order a suspension of the right of the writ, and then only in “Cases of Rebellion or Invasion.” Congress did not suspend this right; nothing during or subsequent to the 9/11 attack indicated either a rebellion or invasion under terms of the Constitution.

Among the provisions of the PATRIOT Act, which 277 House members apparently believe is necessary for American security, is Section 215, which allows the government to seize all library records of any individual. Apparently, the government believes that reading is just another part of a wide terrorist conspiracy. A white-haired grandmother who checks out murder mysteries from the library could be a serial killer, according to the government's logic.
Several federal court cases, including decisions by the Supreme Court, with most of its members politically conservative, ruled that provisions of the PATRIOT Act are unconstitutional. Implementation of those rulings are slow or under appeal.

Among organizations that oppose the PATRIOT Act are the ACLU, American Bar Association, American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, and the National Council of Churches.  Among liberals who have led opposition to the Act are Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). Among conservatives opposing the Act are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who had been a U.S. attorney, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Among conservative organizations that oppose the PATRIOT Act are the American Conservative Union, Free Congress Foundation, and the Second Amendment Foundation.

Some of society's denser citizens have claimed that not only must the nation sacrifice some of its civil liberties in order to defeat terrorism, but that they personally have never had their own rights suppressed. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of cases of persons whose civil liberties have been threatened. In only the first three years after the PATRIOT Act was placed into law, there were about 360 arrests, with only 39 convictions, half resulting in jail sentences of less than 11 months, indicating minor infractions. Reports from the inspector general of the Department of Justice revealed that the government had consistently exceeded its authority to investigate and prosecute civilians under guise of the PATRIOT Act. Numerous arrests for non-terrorist activity include a couple aboard a flight who were charged as terrorists for having engaged in "overt sexual activity," and a woman who was jailed three months in 2007 as a terrorist for raising her voice to a flight attendant.

In March 2010, President Obama signed a one-year extension on the Act, and now says he wants the Act to continue through 2013.

And that may be the worst part of the President's legacy. The constitutional law scholar and professor, who has strong beliefs for human rights but who has not been forceful in speaking out against the Act's most heinous sections, is now a leading proponent to extend the very document that conflicts with his principles and the nation's Bill of Rights.

Dr. Brasch is author of the critically-acclaimed "America's Unpatriotic Acts," the first book to look in-depth at the PATRIOT Act and its effect upon American citizens. The book is available through amazon.com, as are his 15 other books, most on history and contemporary social issues. You may contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Since when is the invasion of privacy patriotic?


If you don't like the conversation, change the subject.

BuzzFlash and Truthout have written and posted several columns on how the conversation about education has been shifted from a social, economic and creative context to blaming the public schoolteachers and principals. Add to this that standardized testing has become the benchmark of both the Bush and Obama administration's measure of schooling success - and you've shifted the conversation 180 degrees from the reality of failing schools in failing communities in a failing economy.

It's easy for Bush and Obama to blame public educators rather than deal with social and economic injustice (and the increasing corporate abandonment of the American workforce), as BuzzFlash pointed out in "Now George W. Bush Wants to 'Miseducate' Public School Principals."

But the emphasis on standardized testing in the so-called "race to the top" is actually a "race to the bottom" because it leads to a lack of critical thinking, innovation and individual ideas that helped make America a past leader in so many fields.

Standardized testing ensures good corporate consumers and uncritical vessels for the "conventional wisdom" of the mainstream media and government, but it doesn't create the Thomas Edisons of the future.

The Obama and Bush administration policies on public education are just aimed at avoiding the elephant in the room: a society with few jobs for those who graduate, and communities that function at a third-world level economically.

Go ahead, change the subject; blame the teachers and principals, but it's not going to change our social, employment and income distribution failures.

It's just a diversion of our attention from the real tasks that lie before us.


You can hear the echo chamber reverberate the talking points:

  • The Independent Petroleum Association of America complains that drilling permits and pollution are curbing job growth.
  • The head of the National Association of Manufacturers and the governor of Virginia write a joint article called "Proposed EPA rules could hurt job growth."
  • Presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich calls for the abolition of the Environment Protection Agency because of its "job-killing nature."
  • Sen. John Barrasso, introducing legislation to gut EPA authority, calls his bill the "Defending America's Affordable Energy and Jobs Act."
  • Thirteen freshmen Senators begin their letter asking EPA to allow more pollution from industrial boilers by saying, "We are committed to protecting the jobs of hardworking Americans."
  • New House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor in his first floor speech attacks "job-killing government regulations."
  • Even some Democrats, such as Senator Jay Rockefeller, plan to introduce legislation to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses, maintaining it is a threat to jobs.

Should workers and our organizations trust oil companies, corporate leaders, and their political spokespersons to be telling the truth about the impact of EPA regulation on jobs?  Or should we first take a good, hard look for ourselves?

A study just released by Ceres and the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts examines the jobs effects of some of the new regulations - ones that have been harshly attacked by EPA critics.  This well-documented study finds that far from being "job killers," the new regulations will create nearly 300,000 new jobs, especially skilled, high-pay jobs for engineers, project managers, electricians, boilermakers, pipefitters, millwrights, and iron workers.

Wednesday, 09 February 2011 11:18

Welcome to the "Christian Nation"


The "Christian Nation" folks, led by David Barton and Phyllis Schlafley among others, are once again in full stride with the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives plus a number of State Houses and state governorships.  You know the drill.  They claim that the "Founding Fathers" were really "Christians" who wanted to set up a "Christian Nation," that the intent to do so can be found in the Declaration of Independence and, if you read it really, really carefully, the Constitution, and anyway, it would be a really good idea.

Our side usually responds by, for example, pointing out one or more of the following.  Most of the Founding Fathers were deists if not outright atheists.  The word "god" does appear once in the Declaration, but the key word in the central "endowment" clause is "creator," not "God."  As a humanist, I interpret "creator" to mean the natural laws of physics, chemistry, and biology which have created all that is in the total universe.  Of course even the word "god" does not specify the Christian one.  It could be the Jewish one, the Muslim one (and both of those religions claim to worship the "one true god"), or Zeus or Ra for all we know.

Then there is the provision of the Constitution's Article Five, prohibiting religious tests for government office, and the establishment clause of the First Amendment, to say nothing of the fact that neither the word "god" nor the word "Christian" appear in the Constitution.  And then there is the famous Article 11 of the 1797 Treaty with (Muslim) Tripoli, concluded during the Presidency of John Adams, himself a Founding Father, in which it is clearly stated that the U.S. is not a Christian Nation, to wit: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,-and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

Wednesday, 09 February 2011 11:06

A Truth More Powerful Than an Army


It was just a routine murder.

Last June, police accosted a young man at an Internet café in the city of Alexandria. He had just filmed their drug deal, or he simply refused to show them his ID. Whatever the provocation - accounts vary - they slammed his head against the table, dragged him outside as he screamed, beat him viciously for 20 minutes. That was that. You can pick up the body later.

In a thug society, power is as power does. And in Egypt, power flowed from the top - from, indeed, beyond the top. It flowed from the superpower that had been a cornucopia of military aid, nearly $2 billion a year, to President Hosni Mubarak for the last 30 years. In return, Mubarak had to be a useful friend to that superpower: open his prisons for secret torture operations, acquiesce to Israel's blockade of Gaza and, of course, keep the oil flowing from Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, his only obligation was to stay in power, and he did so with a simple and basic brutality. Do what we say or we'll kill you.

This is the game of geopolitics. It's played by governments, by the enormously powerful. It's a game of strategies and "interests," which are seldom spoken of explicitly because they're raw and generally smell bad. We - the bulk of ordinary humanity, preoccupied with our own lives, doing the best we can - have, or are supposed to have, only a limited role to play in this game.


The unrelenting narrative from the corporate media - that Obama must mend fences with American business - is disconnected from the reality of Obama's policies and appointments.  It is inconsistent with the rise in the stock market, the record profits and the hordes of cash big business are sitting on.

There is no question that small businesses are still being choked by the unavailability of credit and that the lack of job creation is preventing a real economic recovery, but the businesses Obama spoke to when he visited the Chamber of Commerce are not in that category.  In recent years, the national Chamber has evolved into a spokesperson for transnational corporations, not Main Street America's businesses. They have pushed U.S. job killing policies that send jobs overseas so transnational corporations can reap the biggest profits from the cheapest labor.

Rather than scolding the Chamber for killing American industry, Obama kow-towed to them.  He seeks to raise $1 billion for his re-election campaign and neutralize opposition from concentrated corporate capital.  As a result his promises to the Chamber were a policy agenda that will fail to ignite the U.S. economy but continue to grow the power of concentrated corporate interests, especially transnational corporations.

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