Guest Commentary (3617)
JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
I’ve been writing about the threat of global warming for the last eight years, and although the scientific evidence is well established and alarming—that we are warming the earth more than a full degree Fahrenheit by releasing carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, it wasn’t until this winter that the threat of global warming became frighteningly real from a personal standpoint. Here, on the central coast of California, we have had no rain to speak of for over a year, followed by record low amounts of rain in the last few years. Not only is it the driest year on record—meteorologists are shocked to see that it’s the warmest and driest year in the history of the state.
But that won’t mean much unless you know what it’s like to live in a state threatened by severe droughts. True, the Northeastern regions are experiencing below freezing, Arctic snowstorms that have left residents without electricity, which also threatens life from the other extreme; however, as miserably dangerous as those icy conditions are—the sun will come out, the snow will eventually melt, and spring will flourish from the water. Droughts, on the other hand, are far more pervasive and threatening in the long run because water is life, without it, life perishes.
It’s physically and emotionally painful to see the fields and fresh water lakes reduced to scorched land. The hillsides are usually a lush jade-green by this time of year, and early wildflowers brighten the pastures with daisies, poppies and violets. Now they’re dark, parched and dusty like something out of the Dustbowl days.
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It's been about two weeks since the news media began smothering the nation with stories about UPS and FedEx delivering packages late during the holiday season.
A short shopping season of less than 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, combined with extraordinary numbers of deliveries and extreme weather problems caused thousands of packages not to be delivered by Christmas. For some media, this was the top story.
FedEx says it delivered more than 275 million packages in that one month period. UPS doesn't say how many it delivered or how many were late. But it does say that if customers sent their packages by ground and hoped they would arrive by Christmas, the cut-off date was December 11. For air service, UPS temporarily added 29 planes to its fleet.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The fear of running out of money in retirement is America's greatest financial concern. It's a fear greater than death.
But the American workers who have paid all their lives for retirement security are being cheated by wealthy individuals and corporations who refuse to meet their tax obligations, and who have found other ways to keep expanding their wealth at the expense of the middle class.
1. Federal Tax Avoidance Is the Biggest Threat to Social Security
Conservatives say that Social Security is too expensive, and that cutbacks and a later retirement age are necessary. But they refuse to acknowledge the facts about missing revenue. Annual tax avoidance by wealthy individuals and corporations is in the trillions of dollars, over double the cost of Social Security.
JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
If anyone wonders whether Pope Francis has irritated wealthy conservatives with his courage and idealism, the latest outburst from Kenneth Langone left little doubt. Sounding both aggressive and whiny, the billionaire investor warned that he and his overprivileged friends might withhold their millions from church and charity unless the pontiff stops preaching against the excesses and cruelty of unleashed capitalism.
According to Langone, such criticism from the Holy See could ultimately hurt the sensitive feelings of the rich so badly that they become "incapable of feeling compassion for the poor." He also said rich donors are already losing their enthusiasm for the restoration of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan — a very specific threat that he mentioned directly to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
Langone is not only a leading fundraiser for church projects but a generous donor to hospitals, universities and cancer charities (often for programs and buildings named after him, in the style of today's self-promoting philanthropists). Among the super-rich, he has many friends and associates who may share his excitable temperament.
While his ultimatum seems senseless — would a person of true faith stiff the church and the poor? — it may well be sincere. And Langone spends freely to promote his political and economic views, in the company of the Koch brothers and other Republican plutocrats.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
From the I-can-see-it-coming-down-the-pike department: Remember Obama's "Beer Date" with Professor Henry Louis Gates and Police Sergeant James Crowley? Well ... Wait for it ... don't be shocked if sometime in 2014, we see a made for TV "Duck Date."
There's been some quacking these days on the Internets that Phil Robertson, the recently suspended and subsequently unsuspended patriarch and star of A&E's "Duck Dynasty" is going to get together for some old-fashioned duck hunting, duck eating, or a duck and cover drill with the likes of Jesse Jackson and/or Al Sharpton.
Is someone blowing smoke, or one of the Robertson family's duck whistles?
By now, unless you've been hiding out in some duck blind in the swamps of the Lower East Side in New York City, you've heard of Phil RobertsonGate. In an interview with GQ magazine Robertson made anti-gay comments and painted a thoroughly unrealistic and un-conscious portrait of life for African Americans in the south during his youth.
Lloyd Marcus is taking the possibility of a "Duck Date" seriously. Marcus is a black conservative musician whose claim to fame is having written a Tea Party Anthem. Marcus took the anthem on the road in 2010, headlining the "Tea Party Express III: Just Vote Them Out" bus tour. Marcus must have enjoyed the bus-riding experiences, as he became a regular rider on other bus blasts including the Stop Obama Tour, a batch of Tea Party Express Tours and the Defeat Obama Renew America Tour.
DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Another winter solstice has come and gone, and yes, the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus has once again survived the alleged "War on Christmas." In fact, as of this year, this pretend war may finally be ending — and not because those "defending" Christmas won some big battle, but because more and more Americans are realizing there is no such war at all.
This is one of the key findings of a new poll about Christmas from Fairleigh Dickinson University. In that survey, only 28 percent of respondents said they believe liberals are waging a war on Christmas. That's a steep decline from last year, when a Public Policy Polling survey found 47 percent of Americans believing there is a war against the holiday.
All of this is good news — especially because these welcome public opinion trends are coinciding with a renewed effort by the divide-and-conquer crowd to continue manufacturing division. Indeed, as just one example, Fox News' Megyn Kelly tried to make the "War on Christmas" meme into a full-on race war by insisting that both Santa Claus and Jesus must be depicted as white. Apparently, Rupert Murdoch's cable television empire is still trying to turn the holiday into another excuse to promote conflict. Thankfully, polls show that the ruse isn't working.
Of course, using the word "holiday" in reference to anything around Jesus's birthday is apparently still seen as controversial in many quarters. Yes, in the same Fairleigh Dickinson poll, two thirds of respondents want "Merry Christmas" rather than the more universal "Happy Holidays" used as the season's greetings. Similarly, only about a quarter of Americans believe public schools should host non-religious events instead of explicitly religious Christmas festivities.
This, alas, is the residual bad news in the aftermath of the "War on Christmas," for it embodies a my-way-or-the-highway narcissism that runs counter to the nation's founding principles.
JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
If you're the kind of person reading this column over the holidays, then you're probably the kind of person who worries about the future of American journalism. And you very likely know all too well that the dwindling fortunes of the newspaper industry, the devolution of television news and the rise of Internet news sites have raised big questions about how we will continue to produce quality reporting — especially investigative reporting that takes on the social issues too often neglected in our media.
Exactly how to preserve and promote investigative journalism in a changing world is a complicated problem that has preoccupied publishers, reporters, readers and concerned citizens for years now. But while the news industry financially sorts itself out, solutions are under construction in the nonprofit sector, where advertising, click rates and infotainment don't overwhelm journalistic values.
This is why, during the last few days of 2013, I ask you to consider supporting an important institution that ensures the kind of journalism we value most can thrive: The Investigative Fund. (Here I should disclose that in addition to my other work, I have served proudly at The Fund for several years as editor-at-large.)
With donations from individuals and foundations, the independent and nonprofit Investigative Fund supports the craft of investigative reporting across a broad swath of American media, from magazines like The Nation, The Washington Monthly, Harper's, Mother Jones, The New Republic, Glamour, Elle, GQ, Time and The New York Review of Books, to major broadcast and Web outlets, such as NPR's Marketplace, Slate, The Huffington Post, PBS and Fusion TV to name only a few.
Over the past year, its grants have again produced stunning stories — including an undercover probe of the sickening conditions suffered by children who work in this country's tobacco fields. Yes, there are kids too young to buy cigarettes who are hired to harvest the killer crop for a pittance — and get poisoned by the nicotine leaching from its leaves under the broiling sun.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
While Pope Francis is getting most of the media attention related to all things Catholic, a Catholic lay organization that has been around for more than 130 years is starting to be the object of some well-deserved scrutiny. The Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic lay organization in the world. It is well known for its charitable work. There's a good chance that somewhere in America on just about any weekend, the Knights of Columbus is holding an event to raise money to help the poor, feed the hungry, provide disaster relief, and support families in need. Its bake sales and pancake suppers are events that many communities eagerly look forward to and support wholeheartedly. Unbeknownst to many cookie or pancake enthusiasts, however, is the reality that a portion of the money – read that, millions of dollars -- raised by the Knights is being poured into anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage campaigns.
That is a side of the Knight of Columbus that is rarely reported on. According to a new report by Catholics for Choice, "The order has pushed a conservative agenda ranging from the highly specific—a complaint against highschoolers reading Catcher in the Rye—to systemic opposition to reproductive choice and marriage equality through sizable donations to programs run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other conservative organizations."
The Knights of Columbus: Crusaders for Discrimination pointed out that the organization "uses its manpower and money to push for legislation that does not match the beliefs of many Catholics or the will of the electorate. The Knights continue to wage a decades-long battle against abortion legislation, but what stands out now is the scale of its political expenditures—more than $10 million since 2004—and this does not include funds from the thousands of local fraternity councils and assemblies. The Knights' funding of anti-same-sex marriage campaigns goes towards a cause that is rejected by most Catholics—polling data reflects a stronger support for same-sex marriage among Catholics than any other Christian faith group, or the American population as a whole."
BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Swaddled in Baby Gap, little Jesus appears to be crying. Mary tries to gently rock him in her hands, certainly a great moment to remind viewers that you are in good hands with Allstate.
The carpenter Joseph is trying to protect Mary and Jesus; he could certainly use the system he just won from our sponsor ADT. The cow you see behind them is brought to you by ConAgra, the donkey by Halliburton. The angels on high in the sky, magnificent 3D computer generated imagery, are from Pixar. Walt Disney has remixed the angel songs so they sing praise to the shopping opportunities this event has created.
Earlier, there were reports of shepherds in the area but ICE agents stopped and frisked them and are now herding them on your right into the Fox News freedom of expression fenced off area. Some appear to be singing a protest song about peace on earth. Over on the left, a panel of MSNBC experts are talking about the shepherds and talking about the shepherds and talking about the shepherds.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
At a time of year when we're inclined to show empathy for people less fortunate than ourselves, some of our top business leaders are notable for comments that show their disdain for struggling Americans. Their words may seem too outlandish to have been uttered, or inappropriately humorous, but all the speakers were serious.
1. Environmental Wisdom from Exxon and Monsanto
Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, which has used tobacco industry tactics to cast doubton climate change, summed up the whole environmental issue with his own unique brand of logic: What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?
Monsanto has no such moral compunctions over corporate social responsibility. A company director once said, Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. While Monsanto, according to Food & Water Watch, has "wreaked havoc on the environment and public health" with PCBs, dioxin, and other dangerous chemicals, the company reported in its most recent financial report to the SEC: We are committed to long-term environmental protection.
2. The Art of Delusion: How Business People Fool Themselves
This starts, fittingly, at McDonald's, where a company representative vigorously defended his burgers and nuggets: We don't sell junk food...We sell lots of fruits and veggies at McDonald's...And we are not marketing food to kids.
Next, on to a company that hides overseas earnings, avoids federal & state taxes, makes $400,000 per employee, pays its store workers an average of about $12 per hour, pays its CEO $143 million a year, and operates overseas factories with working conditions that, according to the Economic Policy Institute, "reflect some of the worst practices of the industrial era." Their CEO Tim Cook says, Apple has a very strong moral compass.
Such delusional heights are also reached in the financial industry, where Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is doing God's work, his colleague Brian Griffiths feels that we have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all, and Ponzi Scheming JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon is not only not embarrassed to be a banker, but also proud of the company that he works for.
3. Talking Down to the Down & Out
It's hard to choose the most insensitive and condescending remark from people who seem to lack empathy for the less fortunate. Perhaps hedge fund manager Andy Kessler, who addressed the issue of why these homeless folks aren't also working. Ignoring the National Coalition for the Homeless conclusion that homelessness is caused by (1) a shortage of affordable rental housing, and (2) a lack of job opportunities, Kessler suggests they're homeless because someone is feeding, clothing and, in effect, bathing them.