Guest Commentary (3463)
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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JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
What is it like to be poor and homeless?
I'm thinking about Homer's Iliad. At the end of his long journey home, Athena concealed Odysseus' identity by disguising him as a homeless old man. Odysseus appears as a beggar until he rightfully claims his true position as head of his household and ruler of Ithake.
Homer is suggesting in this classic masterpiece that the gods are watching us. They're putting our souls to the moral test: how will you treat those in need? Will you act with integrity and compassion? Or will you behave like ruthless swine and chase them away with sledgehammers?
Moral of the story: Be careful about judging people on the basis of appearances. We all know what happened to the tyrants that took over Odysseus' home. No one recognized the true identity of Odysseus in beggars' clothes except for his beloved dog.
If Hawaii's state representative Tom Brower (D) appeared in this ancient tale, he would fail all the moral and ethical tests of character. As Truthout editor William Rivers Pitt put it:
"Tom Brower goes around with a sledgehammer smashing the belongings of homeless people to bits. He is 'disgusted' by the homeless, doesn't want to see them, and is so proud of his actions that he happily allows himself to be filmed while swinging the hammer at the meager possessions of the most vulnerable people in our society."
Truthout and BuzzFlash are able to confront the forces of greed and regression only because we don’t take corporate funding. Support us in this fight: make a tax-deductible donation today by clicking here!
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
At the time New Jersey established a ban on fracking, it seemed symbolic, much like the moratorium in Vermont, which has no economically recoverable natural gas; the Marcellus Shale, primarily in New York and Pennsylvania, doesn't extend into New Jersey.
New York has a moratorium on fracking until a health impact statement is completed.
Pennsylvania, rushing to compete with groundhogs in digging up the state, has no such moratorium. Nor does the state have any plans to conduct extensive research into the health effects of fracking—Gov. Tom Corbett, the gas industry's cheerleader, cut $2 million from the Department of Health to provide for a public health analysis.
As it is, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie exercised his authority and partially vetoed his state's moratorium to reduce it to a one-year ban. That moratorium expired in January.
During this past year, more evidence became public. Beneath New Jersey and extending into southeastern Pennsylvania lies the Newark Basin.
But, even then, New Jersey residents may believe they are safe. Although there was economically recoverable gas in the South Newark basin that lies beneath five counties in Pennsylvania, most of New Jersey is barren of recoverable gas in the North Newark Basin.
BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In the thirty six-years I have been a lawyer, I have seen many people take brave moral actions. I have represented hundreds in Louisiana and across our country who have been arrested for protesting for peace, civil rights, economic justice, and human rights for all. It is amazing to see people put their freedom on the line when they risk jail for justice.
None are braver than the seventeen immigrant workers arrested in New Orleans at the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These mothers and fathers, members of the Congress of Day Laborers at the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, are standing up for justice and risking being deported from the U.S. They risk being separated from their children, many of whom are U.S. citizens.
These workers simply ask for the right to remain in the city they helped rebuild. I was in New Orleans before, during, and after Katrina. Thousands of immigrant workers arrived and labored to help us rebuild our communities. They often did the dirty work, the unsafe work, for minimal wages. They stood with us in our time of need. Now it is our time to stand with them.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
What began as an offhanded suggestion by Ronald Reagan to Thomas Roe (a member of his "kitchen cabinet") in the 1980s, has evolved into an army of at least 63 state-based groups pushing conservative public policy issues as members of the powerful and well-coordinated State Policy Network (SPN).
Although many of the groups involved claim to be non-partisan and independent, an investigation by the watchdog group, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has found "that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, ALEC-backed agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities."
In September, the Arlington, Virginia-based State Policy Network held its 21st annual meeting in Oklahoma City. According to CMD's report EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, the meeting "featured a legislative agenda that included privatizing and profitizing schools, attacking the pensions negotiated for public workers, limiting the ability of states to tax, ending collective bargaining rights of workers, cutting federal spending out of state budgets, and thwarting the Affordable Care Act."
As might be expected the Koch Brothers have their imprint writ large over the SPN: The September event was attended by "representatives from Koch Industries, the Charles Koch Institute, and Charles Koch Foundation, and other the Koch-funded groups such as David Koch's Americans for Prosperity, Generation Opportunity, and the Association for American Innovation, which is now called 'Freedom Partners' and is funded to an unknown extent by the fortunes of the billionaire Koch brothers, housed in the same building as other Koch front groups, staffed by Koch operatives, and stacked with a board full of Koch insiders."
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Looks like the holidays are going to be, shall we say, a bit awkward for the Cheney family.
Actually, more than a bit. A feud between the former vice president's daughters emerged into public view when Liz Cheney, who is trying to win a Senate seat from Wyoming by pandering to the far-right Republican base, went on "Fox News Sunday" and declared her opposition to gay marriage.
She said the question should be left up to the states, but added, "I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage."
Her sister, Mary Cheney, reportedly was watching at the home she shares with her wife, Heather Poe, and their two children. To understate, the Cheney-Poe household was not amused.
Mary Cheney responded via her Facebook page. "Liz," she wrote, "this isn't just an issue on which we disagree -- you're just wrong -- and on the wrong side of history."
Poe's reaction, also posted on Facebook, was more elaborate -- and more pointed.