Guest Commentary (3566)
CHESTER KULIS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"The only premise of the book was to just go out and listen."
And the book, edited by Miles Harvey, who is quoted above, is remarkable. It's one of a kind, as far as I know – How Long Will I Cry? – the first publication of a newly formed nonprofit organization called Big Shoulders Books, which is affiliated with Chicago's DePaul University. It's available free of charge, because . . . how could a cry in the wilderness be otherwise?
It's a cry in the wilderness punctuated by gunfire. Usually all we hear is the gunfire, emanating from "those" neighborhoods, the violent ones, "so physically and spiritually isolated from the rest of us," as Alex Kotlowitz describes them in his foreword. How Long Will I Cry? is an attempt – no, I mean a beginning – at ending that isolation.
It's the dream and collaboration of lots of people who live in and love Chicago, cultural mecca and, in recent years, "murder capital" of America. This book begins telling the city's untold story, which is the untold story of so much of the country. It lets loose the voices of children, teenagers, adults who have been wounded by the violence that is the shadow side of American and human culture: the voices of those who have lost their children and their friends to it; the voices of those who have grown up with it; the voices of those who have participated in it and been dragged into it.
There are 35 interviews in all. Together they convey the complex dynamic of poverty, despair and hope beyond hope. We need to listen. We need to find a collective resolve to end the violence.
ROBERT SCHEER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Finally, Barack Obama may prove deserving of his Nobel Peace Prize by joining with England, France, China, Russia and Germany in negotiating an eminently sensible rapprochement with Iran on its nuclear program. Following on his pullback from war with Syria and instead, successfully negotiating the destruction of that country's supply of chemical weapons, this is another bold step to fulfill the peacemaking promise that got him elected president in the first place.
As Obama reminded his audience at an event Monday in San Francisco, he was fulfilling the pledge from his first campaign to usher in a "new era of American leadership, one that turned the page on a decade of war." As a candidate in 2007, he committed to engage in "aggressive personal diplomacy" with Iran's leaders, and he has now done just that.
This is potentially an international game changer comparable to Richard Nixon's opening to Mao's Red China and Ronald Reagan's overtures to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, two examples of heroic diplomacy that combined to destroy the underpinnings of the Cold War. Those who continually call for regime change in Iran as a condition for improved relations with that country, as Obama's critics are now doing, ignore that history.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The U.S.-led deal to freeze Iran's nuclear program is a great accomplishment on many levels. Begin with the most basic: What if the talks in Geneva had failed?
If Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had gone home empty-handed, we would likely be drifting toward war. Iran's uranium-enrichment centrifuges would continue whirling until it became unambiguously clear that the nation, if it chose, could make a "breakout" dash to build a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks -- something President Obama has said he will not allow.
The president could decide to attack Iran's nuclear facilities or he could wait until Israeli military action forced his hand. Either way, we'd be engaged in another Middle East war -- one whose economic, political and human consequences could be dire.
So what did Kerry do in Geneva? He won an agreement that not only freezes Iran's nuclear-enrichment program for six months but actually rolls it back; that prevents new nuclear facilities from coming online; and that provides for unprecedented daily inspections to ensure that Iran is living up to it commitments.
Let me restate that to make it clearer: In May of next year, Iran will be further away from being able to build a bomb than it is today.
And this achievement is being attacked with the word "appeasement" and references to Munich? Give me a break.
REV. BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On September 16, BuzzFlash at Truthout posted a commentary on how Rev. Billy Talen -- street theater minister for the anti-consumer movement -- and his choir leader were arrested for leading a performance art protest at a Chase bank branch in Manhattan. The target of the theatrical presentation was how JP Morgan Chase is one of the key banks financing industries that are tumbling earth toward a climate implosion. On December 9th, Talen and his choir master will appear in a NYC court and face the prosecution's charges that could result in up to a year in jail.
Meanwhile, Jamie Dimon, Washington D.C.'s made man on Wall Street and the don of JP Morgan Chase, has not faced a criminal investigation (that has been made public) or charges for his role in Wall Street's crash. Yes, JP Morgan Chase was recently fined $13 billion dollars, but that is largely -- as large as it may appear -- a public relations stunt on the part of the Department of Justice to make it appear that it is cracking down on errant banks.
Meanwhile, Jamie Dimon rakes in the millions and remains the talk of the town. But Rev. Billy and his associate may go to jail for entertaining some Chase stuffed suits with their presentation on behalf of saving life on the planet.
The following is a commentary Rev. Billy wrote recently for BuzzFlash at Truthout about the tragic irony of his prosecution, in the face of Wall Street crooks being as untouchable as the mafia.
JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Sometimes it pays just to go away. You could ask Jim Skinner about that.
He was CEO of the hamburger behemoth, McDonald's, pulling down a hefty $8.8 million in pay. Last year, though, Skinner retired, and, rather than getting a gold watch, he was given a load of gold — so large that even a Brink's armored truck would have been too small to haul it all away. His salary of $753,000 was the least of it. The Big Mac chain also served up $1.7 million to the chief in stock and $3 million in option awards. Then it slathered on another $10.2 million in retirement pay. All that was topped by a super-rich dessert: $11.6 million in "incentive pay."
What? Why does a guy with millions already on his food tray need any incentive to do his job? Maybe because Skinner found it hard to stomach the biggest part of his job, which was to pay poverty wages to McDonald's workers, shove thousands of them onto food stamps and other programs paid for by taxpayers, and lobby aggressively to prevent any increases in the minimum wage or any tax hikes on uber-rich elites like him.
It's dirty work, but Skinner did it, finally skipping away with a 2012 pay package totaling $27.7 million. Yet, in the phantasmagoric plutocracy of CorporateLand, too much is not enough. Last year, for the first time ever, the 10 highest-paid CEOs in America hauled in at least $100 million each, even as the great majority of workaday families have lost income.
This gaping (and ever-widening) inequality is the greatest threat to our society's cohesion. Too few people now control an unconscionable and untenable share of America's money and power, using it to grab more of both for themselves. They can build a $100-million wall, but it won't be high enough to hide their greed from the rest of us.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
1. Scrounging to Survive and Heartlessness
Beverly is a middle-aged homeless woman who survives day-by-day on the streets of Chicago. I learned about her from my friend Joe, an advocate for the homeless and a volunteer at a community kitchen on the city's north side. He first noticed Beverly huddled in a theater exitway on a frigid November morning, cup in hand, a pair of crutches leaning against the door behind her. He gave her a little money, and she responded with a smile and a quiet "thank you." They talked a little bit; she seemed eager to share a few minutes of conversation. She mentioned that she hadn't eaten that day. Since they were too far from, and it was too early for, the community kitchen, Joe offered to buy her a meal. Her favorite was chili, at a lunch spot around the corner.
Charles and David Koch are both members of the .00001%. That's a group of twenty individuals who have a total net worth of over a half-trillion dollars, about $26 billion each. One of David's residences is at 740 Park Avenue, in the most exclusive area of Manhattan. The doorman at the 740 building had this to say about David Koch: "We would load up his trucks - two vans, usually - every weekend, for the Hamptons...multiple guys, in and out, in and out, heavy bags. We would never get a tip from Mr. Koch. We would never get a smile from Mr. Koch. Fifty-dollar check for Christmas."
2. Bedbugs and Gluttony
Beverly had made $8 that day, from 8AM to 2PM, a little over a dollar an hour. She needed $22 for a night in a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel, where she could shower and have some privacy, and most importantly feel safe for a few hours. The alternative was a local mission, where, she said, "You got to sleep with your stuff under you, so that nobody will steal it from you." She also spoke reluctantly about the bedbugs.
Hamptons home builder Joe Farrell described some of the extravagances: a home ATM machine "regularly restocked with $20,000 in $10 bills"; and a store selling $30,000 bottles of Dom Perignon. A trifle for someone like David Koch, who made $3 million an hour from his investments last year.
JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Nobody in Washington talks much about the poor in America these days, even though they are more and more with us in the economic aftermath of the Great Recession. Perhaps that is why the Washington Post welcomed Paul Ryan's recent declaration that he wants to fight poverty "with kinder, gentler policies to encourage work and upward mobility."
The Wisconsin Republican confided to a Post reporter that he has been "quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods" — too quietly to gain any favorable publicity, until now — and consulting with all the usual suspects in the capital's right-wing think tanks. He wants everyone to understand that he is seeking to figure out the problems faced by poor folks and how he can help.
As a 2016 presidential hopeful, Ryan evidently intends to rebrand himself as a "compassionate conservative" — the same propaganda meme deployed by former President George W. Bush and Karl Rove during the prelude to the 2000 campaign for president — at a moment when the Republican Party badly needs appealing new images and ideas. The Bush gang dropped that gimmick well before they entered the White House, and it was never glimpsed again. But whenever a Republican spouts kinder, gentler, compassionate-conservative babble, the vaunted cynicism of the capital press corps gets washed away in a warm bath of credulity.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Way to nuke 'em, Harry.
It was time -- actually, long past time -- for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to invoke the "nuclear option" and ask his colleagues to change the Senate's rules. This isn't about partisan politics. It's about making what has been called "the world's greatest deliberative body" function the way the Framers of the Constitution intended.
Recently, it has barely functioned, as Republicans abused the old rules to prevent the chamber from performing its enumerated duties. There was a time when the minority party in the Senate would have been embarrassed to use such tactics in pursuit of ends that are purely political, but we seem to live in an era without shame.
This month, Republicans used the filibuster to block three of President Obama's nominees to serve on the 11-seat D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, often described as the second most powerful court in the land.
There was no suggestion that any of the nominees -- Patricia Millett, Cornelia "Nina" Pillard and Robert L. Wilkins -- is in any way unqualified to sit on the court. There was no hint of controversy or scandal. There was no good reason to reject any of them, yet Republicans decided to filibuster all three. And since the Democratic majority controls just 55 votes, short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster, three long-vacant seats on the D.C. court remained unfilled.
There is a stated reason, an ideological reason and a real reason for this pattern of GOP intransigence, each more bogus than the last.
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders published the following data set on his website:
In America today, the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of our country's financial wealth. The bottom 60 percent owns 2.3 percent. The increasing wealth inequality in the United States has become the great moral issue of our time.
In America today, one family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent, and the top 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom half of our country -- over 150 million people.
In terms of income, the top 1 percent earns more than the bottom 50 percent, while the wealthiest 16,000 Americans, who make more than $10 million a year (the top 0.01 percent), saw their income increase by nearly a third between 2011 and 2012.
According to a recent study, from 2009 to 2012, 95 percent of all new income went to the top 1 percent. Meanwhile, since 1999, median family income declined by more than $5,000 after adjusting for inflation.
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