Guest Commentary (3755)
JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It has been a long, long time since Americans accepted the advice of a French intellectual about anything important, let alone the future of democracy and the economy. But the furor over Thomas Piketty's stunning best-seller, "Capital in the 21st Century" — and especially the outraged reaction from the Republican right — suggests that this fresh import from la belle France has struck an exposed nerve.
What Piketty proves, with his massive data set and complex analytical tools, is something that many of us — including Pope Francis — have understood both intuitively and intellectually: namely, that human society, both here and globally, has long been grossly inequitable and is steadily becoming more so, to our moral detriment.
What Piketty strongly suggests is that the structures of capitalism not only regenerate worsening inequality, but now drive us toward a system of economic peonage and political autocracy.
The underlying equation Piketty derives is simple enough: r>g, meaning that the return on capital (property, stock and other forms of ownership) is consistently higher than economic growth. How much higher? Since the early 1800s, financiers and land-owners have enjoyed returns of roughly five percent annually, while economic growth benefiting everyone has lagged, averaging closer to one or two percent. This formula has held fairly steady across time and space. While other respectable economists may dispute his methodology and even his conclusions, they cannot dismiss his conclusions.
JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"No nation has the right to simply grab land from another nation. No nation has that right. And we will never recognize Russia's illegal occupation of Crimea, and neither will the world." —US Vice President Joe Biden
Yes, Joe Biden really did say that—in the aftermath of Iraq. As we all know, the US government launched an illegal, pre-emptive attack on Iraq. That tiny country and its people have been literally annihilated, tortured, imprisoned, and left for dead in a depleted uranium cancer zone where mothers are giving birth to monstrously deformed babies from uranium exposure. Iraqis have been facing a multitude of life-threatening medical atrocities, not to mention the severe poverty that escalated after a decade of US war and occupation. A puppet election was established with a puppet government. There are still thousands of innocent civilians languishing in Iraq's prisons with no sign of due process or trials. If Iraq isn't the most hideous "land-grab for oil" criminal war violation of our constitutional laws and international treaties in recent history, I don't know what is.
Not long ago, after Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died, I wrote a piece for Buzzflash at Truthout.org titled, "If Democratic Leader Hugo Chávez was a Dictator, as U.S. Media Claims, Why Do Millions of People Love Him?"
Although this essay is about Hugo Chávez, it explains the current civil unrest that is taking place right now in Venezuela: The United States government was, and still is, in the business of overthrowing egalitarian, social democracies to suit the needs of US corporate interests.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Cliven Bundy has stumbled through the trapdoor of right-wing media-generated celebrity and fallen flat on his face. While many following his story wondered what this government-disdaining Nevada-based rancher -- who has been illegally grazing his cattle on federal land and who marshaled armed militia forces to engage in a standoff with federal agents -- was all about, America's right wing, especially the crew at Fox News, and conservative radio talk show hosts, were quick to brand Bundy a courageous leader of a New Sagebrush Rebellion.
Bundy and his followers forced the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to back down and withdraw. Team Bundy was riding high and feeling cocky. If there were such a thing, Fox News would have immediately conferred upon Bundy a "Man of the Year" award.
Then the shit hit the fan. Now, he has become the symbol of racist right wing ignorance, and fodder for late night comedians. But there is nothing funny about Bundy, his right wing views and the GOP's attempt to hitch its wagon to Bundy's crusade.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Affirmative action has opened doors for disadvantaged minorities and made this a fairer, more equal society. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts apparently wants no more of that.
This week's big ruling -- upholding a Michigan state constitutional amendment that bans public universities from considering race in admissions -- claims to leave affirmative action alive, if on life support. But the court's opinion, ignoring precedent and denying reality, can only be read as an invitation for other states to follow suit.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor's thundering dissent should be required reading. She sees what the court is doing and isn't afraid to call out her colleagues on the disingenuous claim that the ruling in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is limited in scope. It has implications that go beyond college admissions to other areas, such as voting rights, where majorities seek to trample minority rights.
By "rights," I mean not affirmative action but the principle, upheld repeatedly by the court, that the political process should be a level playing field. In Michigan, with the high court's blessing, anyone who wants to advocate for affirmative action is at a disadvantage. Instead of banning the policy outright -- which would at least be honest -- the court paints it with a bull's-eye and strips it of defenses.
ERIC ZUESSE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
the debates that occurred at the Constitutional Convention that (after preliminaries during the Convention's opening days of 25-28 May 1787) started on 29 May 1787, and ended nearly four months later, on September 17th of 1787. James Madison transcribed those epoch-making, nation-forming, debates.The original intent of the U.S. Constitution can most accurately be determined upon the basis of
These debates began with some members of the Convention, especially Misters Randolph of Virginia, Gerry of Massachusetts, Butler of South Carolina, and Dickenson of Delaware, simply assuming that the existing Articles of Confederation would be improved, not replaced; i.e., that no new and single nation of the United States of America would result from their collective deliberations.
The American Revolutionary war of 1775-83 was at that time a mere four years past, and this Convention had been called together for the purpose of replacing the failed existing Articles of Confederation, by some Constitution that would improve upon that existing governing document.
On May 29th, Mr. Randolph started these historic debates, when he listed what he viewed to be the defects in the existing document, and when he then placed before the Convention his "Virginia Plan," to rectify those perceived deficiencies. Randolph said, "Our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our [existing state] constitutions." He proposed that what was needed "is yet a stronger barrier against democracy, but they [those existing state models for a constitution] all seem insufficient." He proposed "republican Principles," a key one of which was that "the Rights of Suffrage [the right to vote] shall be ascertained by the Quantum of Property or Number of Souls"; in other words, by considering each "soul," while also granting a higher say to the wealthy than to the poor. He proposed a House "elected by the People," and called "this the democratick Branch"; and he also proposed a Senate or "2d. Branch to be elected out of the first — to continue for a certain Length of Time, etc. To be elected by Electors appointed for that Purpose," instead of "by the People."
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"We cannot afford to lose another decade."
My God. There's more darkness in this quote than the New York Times intended. I winced when I read these words of Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chairman of the committee that wrote the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC report, which the Times quoted in a recent editorial headlined "Running Out of Time."
Suddenly, ten years felt vital, alive with possibility. Edenhofer wasn't referring to some abstract decade embedded in the history of the human race, or the history of the planet, but ten years gouged out of our own lifetimes and certainly out of our children's lifetimes. We can't afford to lose . . . ten years of breath and heartbeat.
What Edenhofer meant, of course, was that we can't afford to squander another decade politically, with the governments of the nations that comprise Planet Earth failing to come up with an effective treaty to control greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and other reckless excesses of industrial-growth capitalism, a.k.a., addiction to endless profit. We've got, you know, a fifteen-year window here to act with collective sanity. That's all the time we have left, according to current scientific consensus, to limit planetary warming to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era.
"Beyond that increase, the world could face truly alarming consequences." So the Times informs us, then, I fear, yawns, shrugs. Oh yeah, these international conferences are "exercises in futility" that so far have produced just one treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, which didn't accomplish much, which the U.S. Senate never ratified, etc. And greenhouse gas emissions keep escalating. Alas, people just don't care about this as much as they used to, the paper concludes, washing its hands of the matter. This is the limit of official concern.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Let's face it, people: Walmart is kicking our collective butts; to the tune of more than $7 billion in taxpayer subsidies. A new report by Americans for Tax Fairness points out that the American taxpayer - read that, you, me and probably everyone you know - "is providing enormous tax breaks and tax subsidies to Walmart and the Walton family, further boosting corporate profits and the family's already massive wealth."
In addition to accruing tax breaks from the rest of us, the report points out that "the Walton family is avoiding an estimated $3 billion in taxes by using specialized trusts to dodge estate taxes – and this number could increase by tens of billions of dollars."
And, the family "also benefits significantly from taxpayer-funded public assistance programs that pump up the retailer's sales. For example, Walmart had an estimated $13.5 billion in food stamp sales last year."
Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States, with 1.4 million employees. The company, which is number one on the Fortune 500 in 2013 and number two on the Global 500, had $16 billion in profits last year on revenues of $473 billion.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Years before I met him, Gabriel Garcia Marquez changed my life.
"One Hundred Years of Solitude" gave me a new way of looking at the world. The label "magical realism" does not begin to capture the poetry of Garcia Marquez's imagination or the evocative power of his prose. Reading his masterpiece was like stepping through a portal into a Technicolor reality where the streets are paved with metaphor and the air is fragrant with dreams.
Garcia Marquez, who died Thursday at 87, was my introduction to modern Latin American literature. I wanted more.
When I got a Nieman fellowship at Harvard -- a year off to study anything I wanted -- the first thing I did was sign up for a literature course taught by the great Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes. I hoped someday to read my favorite authors in their native tongue, so I took a Spanish-language course. The novels I was reading referred to unfamiliar events, so I enrolled in a Latin American history course.
Midway through the academic year, I learned that The Washington Post's South America bureau was coming open. I had prepared myself for the job -- accidentally -- and so instead of returning to Washington in the summer of 1988, I moved with my family to Buenos Aires.
In four years of crisscrossing the continent, I felt as if Garcia Marquez were my constant companion. The name of the fictional town where "One Hundred Years of Solitude" is set -- Macondo -- became shorthand for the bizarre, magical-realist things that happened all the time in Latin America but seemingly nowhere else.
REV. BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Earth scientists are trying to get our attention. Well, that's an understatement – they are apoplectic, waving their arms in the windows of the super mall that our culture has become. Yes, we don't notice them because we're shopping, with iPhones glowing in our faces and white wires in our ears.
The King of the Slow Motion Shoppers is Barack Obama. He's doing the tai chi of total hesitation. He puts off the pipeline. He puts it off until after the apocalypse. In so doing, he encourages all citizens to enter the gradualism of shopping where basic change, structural way-of-life change, is impossible. Shoppers are morphed into Obama-like ditherers, lost in a cloud of alternatives, the product, the packaging, competing prices, warranties, credit, resale value, prestige value, sex life value, status value. Shopping forces upon us its false complexity.
In the last year study after study has been published by a world of natural scientists. The IPCC report from the United Nations is the most famous, but there are many others. These groups of conservation biologists, paleontologists, climatologists, – across the spectrum of disciplines within the natural sciences, add up to an unprecedented gathering of scientists around a single issue, which you might call "Life on Earth."
Each of these learned researchers is reporting the mass death on the island of life that they are studying. Each professor's specialty is dying before her eyes. Thousands of scientists are shouting to us from their coral reefs, wetlands, glaciers, cloud forests and mountain streams, from every conceivable eco-system. They all conclude their reports with the same thundering pronouncements, like a secularized Book of Revelation. "Super storms that will overwhelm economies..." "Migrations from the coastal cities and global south..." "Methane levels like the Permia Extinction of 250 million years ago..."
DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
If you read one business book this year, make it Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. The journalist famous for Moneyball and The Big Short takes readers inside the parasitic world of high-frequency trading that is harming the broader economy.
The technical architecture of high-frequency trading is right out of a sci-fi movie - the schemes rely on algorithms that seem artificially intelligent, and the velocity of transaction signals approach light speed. As Lewis recounts, all that technological wizardry is marshaled to let insiders know information before everyone else, which consequently lets those insiders extract wealth from the market.
The good news is that a financial transaction tax can at once raise public resources and disincentivize the most predatory schemes. The even better news is that structural changes in the industry have made such a tax more economically viable than ever.