Guest Commentary (5293)
WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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.
STEPHEN PIZZO FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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.
PETER MICHAELSON FOR BUZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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.
NICHOLAS WILBUR FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
MARK KARLIN, BUZZFLASH EDITOR FOR TRUTHOUT
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.
JEREMY BRECHER AND BRENDAN SMITH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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.
STEVEN JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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."
BOB KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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.
KEVIN ZEESE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
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.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"I bought the drugs to enhance masturbation. Because what crystal meth does - Mike [Jones] taught me this - crystal meth makes it so you don't ejaculate soon. So you can watch porn and masturbate for a long time." - Ted Haggard to GQ's Kevin Roose
Four years ago, after Pastor Ted Haggard, then one of the most important and influential leaders of the Religious Right, was discovered to have bought crystal meth and to have had a series of sexual encounters with a gay prostitute, he was banished from his church and his hometown. It was a national scandal that recalled the dalliances of televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Many felt that if you were to look up the word hypocrisy in the dictionary, you would have found Haggard's picture. On his way out the door, Haggard signed a lucrative settlement, getting paid handsomely to go off into the wilderness.
He was supposed to retreat into exile in the Arizona desert, get counseling and stay away for a good period of time. Instead he returned home to Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was given about a $200,000 severance package and was supposed to have nothing to do with his former church - the 10,000 to 14,000-member New Life Church where he pastored for more than 20 years - or its parishioners, but now that he's home, he keeps running into them at various places around town. He was supposed to stay away from the media, but instead he and his wife Gayle appeared in an HBO documentary, on Oprah and Larry King, and took advantage of dozens of other media opportunities. He wasn't supposed to start up his own church, but now he's got St. James church, which he founded last summer in his living room, and is now holding forth in a middle school cafeteria. And he no doubt has plans for something bigger.
Wadah Khanfar, Op-Ed on BuzzFlash at TruthoutNewsweek
The U.S. censors Al Jazeera for no good reason.
As I write, a ticker flashes across my screen reporting that our Cairo bureau has been stormed, our offices closed, and our equipment confiscated. It's another hurdle in a fast-growing list of obstacles to prevent Al Jazeera's coverage in Egypt, where we have more reporters, cameras, and citizens' feeds on the ground than any other international network.
On Thursday three of our journalists were arrested. The next morning one of our websites was hacked. All week the Egyptian government-owned satellite company Nilesat blocked our broadcast signal.
Undeterred, our teams fanned out across the country. Braving the same violent pro-government attacks waged on demonstrators, Al Jazeera journalists took their cameras to the streets of Cairo, Suez, Alexandria, and Malhalla to capture the dramatic scenes of thousands of everyday Egyptians struggling for greater representation. In parallel, scores of citizens equipped with mobile phones, Twitter, and Facebook fed us real-time images and updates from the street. Social-media platforms have become an integral part of our coverage. The regime's response? It turned the Internet off, too. There's no doubt about intent: Cairo wants to deny our ability to inform the world of these remarkable events as they unfold.
Staring down governments that want to monopolize information in the Arab world, however, is hardly new to Al Jazeera. At this moment, though, I question whether this is exactly what has also happened to Al Jazeera English in America. There, too, we are almost completely shut out.
That's quite concerning, as the U.S. media market rests on sturdy democratic principles, namely the First Amendment and the freedom of expression. But ever since Al Jazeera's English channel first sought to broadcast in the States, roadblocks have marked every turn.
In the late 1990s, Al Jazeera's Arabic channel emerged as a transformational force in the Middle East. It gave a voice to the Arab street: intellectuals and marginalized political opposition were heard, in many cases, for the first time. A free press may be a familiar reality in the West, but where I live the concept of an independent news channel was truly revolutionary.
Soon after, the Bush administration was intent on promoting democracy across the Middle East. But as it waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it also sought to filter the information flowing to the American people. Washington's "with us or against us" mentality, regrettably, quickly demonized Al Jazeera for daring to provide alternative viewpoints on wars that had, to put it bluntly, been sanitized for American audiences. Already famous in the Middle East for telling both sides of the story, Al Jazeera was not about to compromise its professional standards and ignore the human realities of war on the ground.
What stunned us then, as it does today, is the insistence by U.S. operators that Americans are not interested. From a commercial standpoint, they argued, Al Jazeera was not worth their precious bandwidth. Our figures prove otherwise. In recent days, our online viewership has spiked by 2,500 percent. And more than half of those eyeballs are coming from the U.S.!
We are unique because our reporters understand the social, political, and historical fabric of the societies they cover. They speak the language. They know the terrain. This makes our news distinctive. It is journalism with depth. So it's mind-boggling that Al Jazeera cannot share that valuable work in a land that prides itself on a free press.
But in the end the truth finds a way. Ironically, like the people on the streets of Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Sudan, the people of America, too, have been defying limits. They've adapted, watching our live streams online and our YouTube channel. They're spreading our headlines virally across social media. A new age of journalism is emerging, and we are succeeding by empowering a new generation of reporters to thrive in it. It's a wonder the West's most powerful country doesn't get to watch.
-- Khanfar is director-general of the Al Jazeera network, which is based in Doha, Qatar.
(c) 2011, Newsweek Inc. All rights reserved.
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WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The whole world holds its breath as we view through splayed fingers the unrest that is the Egyptian uprising. Or as Hosni Mubarak sees it: ten or twenty rabble rousing unemployed slacker agents of the West with too much time on their hands up to no good.
That's the problem with entrenched dictators: they interact with their people less often than they enter Sinai Peninsula sheep shearing competitions disguised as shepherds' assistant. The man is so far behind the insurgency curve he probably sees his own running feet in front of him and even that has failed to fill him with any discernible alacrity.
Typically, these ingrained despots try to apply 30 year- old answers to modern problems. With denial being a major arrow in their ancient quiver. Denial on de Nile. Mubarak keeps asking what the pesky agitators want.
"Well, sir, they want you out."
"How about if I replace the Cabinet with different cronies?"
"Sir, sorry, but you don't get it. The people want you gone. A memory. In the archives. Flying down Abdication Street. Walk like an Egyptian, only really really fast. Don't let the door knob hit you in the butt on the way out of town-gone."
"Wait, I know. A Vice President. We've never had one before. Maybe our former head of Intelligence."
SHAMUS COOKE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The revolution in Egypt erupted like all revolutions do, from the bottom up. It was unemployment and high food prices that propelled working and poor people into action. Now, the media reports that the "opposition" in Egypt is a group of well-to-do folks who have very little in common with the poor of Egypt.
This top down takeover of the revolution is being engineered with the support of the U.S. and European nations, the same allies of the dictatorship that lasted three decades. If this elite group of Egyptians manages to gain power, they'll soon find themselves confronted with the real opposition of Egypt, the overwhelming majority of working and poor people.
Who are these upper-crust oppositionists? Middle East journalist Robert Fisk explains:
"[the oppositionists] include Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, ... the Nobel prize-winner Ahmed Zuwail, an Egyptian-American who has advised President Barack Obama; Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, a professor and author of Islamic studies, ... and the president of the Wafd party [a tiny political party], Said al-Badawi...Other nominees for the committee...are Nagib Suez, a prominent [super-wealthy] Cairo businessman... Nabil al-Arabi, an Egyptian UN delegate; and even the heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub, who now lives in Cairo" (Independent (UK), February 4, 2011).