Guest Commentary (3728)
JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On Monday, April 14, the The Washington Post and The Guardian US newspapers received the Pulitzer for Journalism Public Service for their reports on NSA spying. In light of their hard work, let's recap events of the last year.
Embarrassed and irritated by Edward Snowden's leaks, Obama charged last year at a press conference that Snowden was presenting a false picture of NSA by releasing parts of its work piecemeal: "Rather than have a trunk come out here and a leg come out there," he said, "let's just put the whole elephant out there so people know exactly what they're looking at. ... America is not interested in spying on ordinary people," he assured us. The government, he went on, is not "listening in on people's phone calls or inappropriately reading people's emails."
Six days later, a Washington Post headline declared: "NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year." In an internal audit in May 2012 of its DC-area spy centers, the agency itself found 2,776 "incidences" of NSA overstepping its legal authority. As the American Civil Liberties Union noted, surveillance laws themselves "are extraordinarily permissive," so it's doubly troubling that the agency is surging way past what it is already allowed to do. The ACLU adds that these reported incidents are not simply cases of one person's rights being violated - but thousands of Americans being snared, totally without cause, in the NSA's indiscriminate, computer-driven dragnet.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"[B]ecause of dramatic and sustained cuts in mental health funding, we have criminalized mental illness in this country and county jails and state prison facilities are where the majority of mental health care and treatment is administered." -- Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
More than ten times the number of mentally ill people are in prisons across the United States then are under treatment in mental health facilities. As of 2012, according to a new report, there were an estimated 356,000 prisoners with severe mental illness – including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other acute forms of brain disease -- in prisons and jails, while state psychiatric hospitals contained approximately 35,000 patients with severe mental illness.
The combination of the rise in poverty, the lack of housing, and the lack of community support for people with mental illness, has resulted in the increased criminalization of the mentally ill.
In the twenty-first century, jails and prisons have become the new gulag for the mentally ill.
ERIC ZUESSE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"The affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many." -- Adam Smith, guru economist for the gluttonous takers of wealth
According to the most comprehensive analysis ever done of secret, virtually entirely untaxed, offshore wealth, it's "well in excess of US $21 trillion." That was as of July 19, 2012. A subsequent and far less scientific study by Oxfam, on May 22, 2013, said "At least $18.5 trillion is hidden by wealthy individuals in tax havens worldwide."
The $21+ trillion estimate was part of a report by James Henry for a team of experts on tax-evasion and avoidance, Nicholas Shaxson, John Christenson, and Nick Mathiason, which was done for the Tax Justice Network (TJN), a nonprofit that is the opposite of libertarians: Instead of saying that tax-cheats are heroes who are "anti-big-government" who should be admired and celebrated by the public, they say tax-cheats are the crooks who steal trillions from the public, and who are the chief source for the impoverishment of billions of people worldwide.
JACKIE MARCUS FOR BUFFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
To some degree it matters who's in office, but it matters more how much pressure they're under from the public. —Noam Chomsky
Where are the senators and congressional members when it comes to supporting the troops? Currently, USS Ronald Reagan sailors are suffering from radioactive illnesses after they were sent on a humanitarian mission to help Japan’s victims during the 2011 devastating earthquake-tsunami which led to three nuclear meltdowns, the worst catastrophic nuclear power plant explosions in history with no end in sight.
The president is fond of presenting honorary medals to soldiers. After all, it makes for a great “Hallmark Moment,” a solemn ceremony of attaching a Medal of Honor around a soldier’s neck for the cameras, but where is the president when things go wrong, terribly wrong with nuclear policy?
No wonder there’s a media blackout. After all, we don’t want to get GE into trouble, now, do we?
Five of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima are General Electric Mark 1 reactors. GE knew decades ago that the design was faulty. Quite a little irony that the company that President Ronald Reagan worshipped, General Electric, was responsible indirectly for nuking the USS Ronald Reagan—as well as the rest of the world.
Nuclear investors must be elated by the fact that you can’t see how immeasurably hot nuclear radiation is— hence the meaning of the word meltdown. It’s been postulated - but not proven - that three years of radiation released into the atmosphere has accelerated or contributed to the rapid Arctic ice melt, given the detection of radiation as far north as Canada and Alaska. In fact, Fukushima radiation fallout is being detected globally, levels alternate between high and low depending on location.
If you were to ask President Obama about the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns, he would most likely give an answer similar to the one he gave about BP’s 2010 Gulf oil catastrophe: It’s a “leak that’s been sealed.” Sure, a leak that left the entire Gulf of Mexico a permanent dead zone. Incidentally, BP is back in business, drilling away in deep waters of the Gulf as if nothing happened at all.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It's all over but the shouting: Obamacare is working.
All the naysaying in the world can't drown out mounting evidence that the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature domestic achievement, is a real success. Republican candidates running this fall on an anti-Obamacare platform will have to divert voters' attention from the facts, which tell an increasingly positive story.
A new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that, despite all the problems with the HealthCare.gov website launch, 12 million people who previously lacked insurance will obtain coverage this year. By 2017 -- the year Obama leaves office -- the CBO predicts that an additional 14 million uninsured will have managed to get coverage.
Why was the Affordable Care Act so desperately needed? Because without it, 54 million Americans would presently have no health insurance. Within three years, according to the CBO, Obamacare will have slashed the problem nearly in half.
We should do better, and perhaps someday we will. Most industrialized countries have some kind of single-payer system offering truly universal coverage. But if you have to work within the framework of the existing U.S. health care system -- which involves private health insurance companies and fee-for-service care -- the Affordable Care Act reforms are a tremendous advance.
Many Republican critics of Obamacare know, but refuse to acknowledge, that the reforms are here to stay. Does the GOP propose to let insurance companies deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, as they could before the ACA? Does the party want to reimpose lifetime caps on the amount an insurer will pay? Tell young adults they can no longer be covered under their parents' policies?
I didn't think so.
David Horowitz, right-wing founder of an organization called the "Freedom Center," argued that blacks should not be paid reparations for the enslavement of their ancestors. Among his reasons are that:
-- There Is No Single Group Clearly Responsible For The Crime Of Slavery
-- Most Americans Have No Connection (Direct Or Indirect) To Slavery
-- Reparations To African Americans Have Already Been Paid
But slavery, in its various forms of physical and mental torment, has been a part of US history from the beginnings of our country to the present day. There are numerous modern-day corporations who profited immensely - themselves or their predecessors - from slave labor. Only token amounts have been paid back, along with a few scattered apologies.
Four eras of abominable abuse can clearly be identified.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Love 'em or not, everyone has probably experienced Honey Maid graham crackers sometime in their lifetime. Last month, Nabisco, the company that makes Honey Maid Graham Crackers, and Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Nilla Wafers and an assortment of other well-known cookies and crackers, came up with an extraordinary family positive/gay-positive advertisement. And "traditional values" conservatives went, well, crackers. Ironically, at the end of the day, the graham cracker dust-up may in fact benefit both the folks at Nabisco and its chief critics, the American Family Association's One Million Moms.
The advertisement, which was extraordinarily family-positive, started out with two men taking care of their child, and was followed by a diverse group of families spending time together. The New Yorker's Andrew Solomon described the ad: "It shows a two-dad family, a rocker family, a single dad, an interracial family, a military family. The two-dad household is featured at some length; you cannot be distracted away from it. Most striking is the tagline of the ad: 'No matter how things change, what makes us wholesome never will. Honey Maid. Everyday wholesome snacks for every wholesome family. This is wholesome.'"
The response to the ad – issued earlier this month -- was both heart-warming – many people responded in a very supportive way – and super critical. It was the latter responses that caused the company to put together a second ad, which takes the sometimes super-nasty comments and turns them into an extraordinary and inspirational art project, in which two artists glue together the complaints to spell out the word love in cursive.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Somewhere between these two quotes lies the future:
"And I would like to emphasize that nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change."
"The Judeo-Christian worldview is that man is at the center of the universe; nature was therefore created for man. Nature has no intrinsic worth other than man's appreciation and moral use of it."
The first quote is from Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, summing up the dire and much-discussed findings of its recent report: Human civilization — its technology, its war games, its helpless short-sightedness and addiction to fossil fuels — is wrecking the environment that sustains all life. Time is running out on our ability to make changes; and the world's, uh, "leadership" — political, corporate — has shown little will to step beyond more of the same, to figure out how we can reduce carbon emissions and live in eco-harmony, with a sense of responsibility for the future.
The second quote is from radio talk-show host Dennis Prager, writing recently in the National Review Online. He goes on, in his remarkable rant against environmentalism, to point out that "worship of nature was the pagan worldview" and "for the Left, the earth has supplanted patriotism." Eventually he compares environmentalism to loving wild dogs more than mauled children.
Prager's diatribe isn't my normal reading matter and I only bring it up here because I think it has relevance to the leadership void I've been pondering. The contemptuous dismissal of nature as lacking intrinsic worth — an unworthy competitor with God for human allegiance — may no longer have mainstream credibility, but, like racism, it's part of the mindset that has shaped Western civilization.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Washington - Torture is immoral, illegal and irreconcilable with this nation's most cherished values. If defenders of the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program disagree, they should come out and say so. Instead, they blow smoke.
Sexist smoke, at that: Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said Sunday that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is being "emotional" rather than "objective" as the intelligence committee, which Feinstein heads, moves toward release of a comprehensive report on CIA detention and torture during the George W. Bush administration.
Feinstein coolly responded that the report is indeed "objective, based on fact, thoroughly footnoted, and I am certain it will stand on its own merits. ... The only direction I gave staff was to let the facts speak for themselves."
Those facts, from what we know so far, are appalling.
ERIC ZUESSE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT Bloomberg News reported on April 8 that a Securities and Exchange Commission prosecuting attorney, James Kidney, said at his recent retirement party on March 27, that his prosecutions of Goldman Sachs and other mega-banks had been squelched by top people at the agency, because they "were more focused on getting high-paying jobs after their government service than on bringing difficult cases." He suggested that SEC officials knew that Wall Street would likely hire them after the SEC at much bigger pay than their government remuneration was, so long as the SEC wouldn’t prosecute those megabank executives on any criminal charges for helping to cause the mortgage-backed securities scams and resulting 2008 economic crash.
His "remarks drew applause from the crowd of about 70 people," according to the Bloomberg report. This would indicate that other SEC prosecutors feel similarly squelched by their bosses.
Kidney’s speech said that his superiors did not “believe in afflicting the comfortable and powerful.”
Referring to the agency's public-relations tactic of defending its prosecution-record by use of what he considered to be misleading statistics, Kidney said, "It's a cancer" at the SEC.