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Guest Commentary (3941)

Wednesday, 07 January 2015 06:45

Why Are the Police More Valued Than the People?

2015.1.7.Watts.BFPresident Obama shakes the hand of Chuck Canterbury, President of the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police at the 32nd Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service. (Photo: James Tourtellotte / Flickr)

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

“I’m not against the police; I’m just afraid of them.”

- Alfred Hitchcock

A funny thing happened on Monday: Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, issued a call for federal hate crime laws to be expanded to protect law enforcement officers. I’ll return to this statement shortly – it contains a level of idiocy and entitlement that is seldom seen – but first let’s take a brief walk through some related events of the past few weeks.

To start with, the New York Police Department threw a bit of a temper tantrum. In the wake of the killing of two NYPD officers, head of the city’s Patrolman’s Benevolent Association Patrick Lynch made a number of interesting logical leaps and drew a connection between the officers’ murders and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rather restrained criticisms of the NYPD. Apparently, de Blasio’s statement about warning his biracial son to take special care in interactions with law enforcement was simply too much for Lynch to bear, and he declared that de Blasio had “blood on his hands.”  And this was followed by the spectacle of officers turning their backs on de Blasio at the funerals of the slain policemen, and police cadets booing the mayor when he spoke at their graduation ceremony.

On a somewhat lighter note, the NYPD has taken the additional step of drastically reducing their rate of arrests and ticketing for lower level offenses. It is notable that this action, or rather inaction, has not resulted in widespread looting and chaos, and that New York City has yet to burn to the ground. This might suggest that, if the intent of the slowdown is to demonstrate the indispensability of the police force, a rethinking of strategy might be in order.

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMcConnellBoehner(Photo: EcoWatch)With Congress back in session, Republican leadership is putting at the top of its agenda an item that probably isn’t at the top of most Americans’ agenda: approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

Majority leader Kevin McCarthy said that the House of Representatives will vote on Keystone XL pipeline Friday, according to the Wall Street Journal. The House has voted ten previous times to approve the pipeline but each time, it failed to clear the Democratic-controlled Senate. Now, with Republicans in charge of the Senate and a larger Republican majority in the House, its passage is guaranteed. The last House vote was 252-16, and it’s sure to garner an even larger margin this time.

The Senate is scheduled to begin consideration of the pipeline bill tomorrow with hearings in the Energy and Natural Resource Committee, headed by Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a supporter of the project. Senate Democrats are pushing for an open process that would allow them to offer amendments, and incoming Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that will happen. That means a full vote on the Senate floor could be weeks away.

“Just about the only people who think the first thing Congress should do is force approval of Keystone XL are those working for oil and gas billionaires—which explains exactly why Congressional Republicans want to do it,” said Sierra Club’s legislative director Melinda Pierce. “For those in Congress who don’t share those pro-polluter goals, this first vote will be a chance to stand together and send the message to the public that we won’t go backwards. After all, Americans didn’t vote for dirty air, dirty water or dirty energy, even if Congress is committed to doing just that.”

2014.1.5.Brasch.BFJim Harbaugh, the new head football coach at the University of Michigan, got a $2 million signing bonus, and will be paid $5 million a year for the first three years of a five-year contract. (Photo: MGoBlog / Flickr)

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Marci Rosenberg, a senior speech language pathologist at the University of Michigan, earns about $73,000 a year.       

Desmond Patton, who studies the problems of gang violence, is a professor at the University of Michigan. He earns about $80,000 a year.

Patricia Reuter-Lorenz, who works with cerebral palsy children, is a professor at the University of Michigan. She earns about $136,000 a year.

Ursula Jakob, a molecular biologist who is working on proteins to unlock new disease cures, is a professor at the University of Michigan. She earns about $112,000 a year

Dan Habib works with children who have disabilities; Martha Bailey is doing research on the correlations between living in disadvantaged neighborhoods and criminal behavior; Jason DeBord, a musician, was an orchestra conductor for several Broadway plays. All are faculty members at the University of Michigan.

2014.1.5.Buchheit.BFAs a result of the decline in state tax money, education gets cut. (Photo: Sakkra Paiboon / Flickr)

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

An Apple executive recently said, "The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need."

It's hard for a nation to build work skills when its corporations, the beneficiaries of a half-century of public support, have largely stopped paying for education.

Most of the attention to corporate tax avoidance is directed at the nonpayment of federal taxes. But state taxes, which to a much greater extent fund K-12 education, are avoided at a stunning rate by America's biggest companies. As a result, public school funding continues to be cut, and the worsening performance of neglected schools adds fuel to the reckless demands for privatization. Inner-city schools are being devastated by this insidious process.

STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ahavanaHavana, Cuba (2005) (Photo: Vgenecr)

Following the joint announcement by the offices of the leaders of Cuba and the United States of the intention to re-establish diplomatic relations and in the meantime ease joint restrictions on travel, cultural exchanges, certain types of commercial relationships, and etc., while jointly releasing/exchanging several high-profile prisoners, a wide variety of anti-Castro US organizations, politicians, and individuals expressed outrage. They cited “human rights violations” on the part of the Cuban government (mainly dealing with civil liberties crackdowns and the lack of an elected national government) as the reason why there never should or could be normal relations established between the two countries. Let's, however, face the primary reason right-wingers and the pro-Batista (a puppet of the US mafia before forced out of power by Castro) crowd hate the Cuban government: private property was seized during the revolution and the state owns most of the nation's businesses.

It's all about the money, which is ironic because European, Canadian and Mexican companies are now gaining a financial toehold in Cuba, while the US corporations bite their tongues and let the dying anti-Castro Cubans in Florida yearn for their memories of plantations, financial corruption and mafia-gambling dollars under Batista.

Well, I thought to myself, I wonder what the list of human rights violations would look like if some organizations and individuals in Cuba wanted to object to the record of the United States. After all, there are those around the world who regard the United States, both on its own behalf and as a supporter of some of the most violently repressive regimes on the face of the earth (including, of course, Cuba under Batista) presently, the world’s biggest self-touting “democracy” that regularly violates human rights.

If Cuba were to lodge a formal list of US human rights violations with the UN, some of the following claims would likely be included:

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

4776529679 8e6800b8fe zThe US in Afghanistan: It's not about nation-building; it's about empire building. (Photo: The US Army)

“The only good Talib is a dead Talib.”

These words, uttered half a decade ago by the head of intelligence for the NATO coalition force in Afghanistan, summon a far earlier American savagery. As the American empire affects to close the door on its war with Afghanistan, the words also serve as a sort of doorstop propping open our further intervention in this broken country.

The war isn’t really ending. Some 18,000 foreign troops will stay in Afghanistan, almost 11,000 of them American, under a new mission called “Resolute Support.” U.S. forces will also have “a limited combat role as part of a separate counterterrorism mission,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Incredibly, we’re not letting go. We’re just disappearing the combat mission into global background noise.

We’re continuing to dehumanize part of humanity on the pretext of saving it. The updated version of “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” redirected to the Taliban, was quoted a few days ago in a Der Spiegel article called “Obama’s Lists: A Dubious History of Targeted Killings in Afghanistan.” The article goes into detail about the administration’s infamous “kill lists” and the hunting of upper- and mid-level Taliban leaders via helicopter and drone — assassination by Hellfire missile — which is an extermination methodology guaranteed to kill lots of innocent civilians along with (or instead of) the targeted Taliban operative. But, you know, that’s war.

The official “end” to the Afghan war, while it doesn’t mean the end of combat operations, does offer us a moment of disturbing reflection on what has been accomplished these last 13 years, during the first of our wars allegedly to eradicate, but in fact to promote, terror. We poured at least a trillion dollars into the war, which claimed some 30,000 lives, over two-thirds of them civilians. The first thing that occurs to me is that, officially, these statistics mean nothing.

U.S. Army General John Campbell, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, exemplified this by smothering the human toll of the war in simple-minded verbiage during a secret ceremony held last weekend in a gymnasium at ISAF headquarters in Kabul: “Our new resolute mission means we will continue to invest in Afghanistan’s future,” he said. “Our commitment to Afghanistan endures.”

By the way, the ceremony, commemorating the war’s shutdown, was secret because authorities feared the possibility of a Taliban attack. The United States and NATO, as everyone knows, are the losers, despite the bloated enormity of their military superiority. The Afghanistan war, like the Iraq war, was an utter failure even in terms of U.S. interests and geopolitical objectives.

But any honest reflection requires a far more serious, all-encompassing look at the war’s results.

War is torture on a national scale. The nation of Afghanistan and its people are, of course, the primary losers in our “investment” in their future — our investment in nation-wrecking....

War is also humanity’s spiritual cancer.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBushTerrorist(Photo: CharlieTPhotographic)The role of health care workers in facilitating torture is one of the sickening details uncovered by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's 500-page executive summary of its investigation of George W. Bush's administration's torture program. Much of the reporting related to health care professionals has focused on the roles played by Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, "two psychologists who ... [helped] develop and legitimize the torture program," New York magazine recently reported. Mitchell and Jessen's torture bounty added up to about $180 million for the company they founded -- $81 million for them -- prior to the termination of their contract in 2009.

However, according to a new report from Physicians for Human Rights, health care workers' involvement in Bush's torture project extended far beyond the work of only Mitchell and Jessen. "We now see clear evidence of the essential, integral role that health professionals played as the legal heat shield for the Bush administration — their get-out-of-jail-free card," Nathaniel Raymond, a research ethics adviser for Physicians for Human Rights and a co-writer of the organization's new report "Doing Harm: Health Professionals' Central Role in the CIA Torture Program," told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman and Aaron Mate.

Regarding Mitchell and Jessen, "Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator," the Senate report notes, "nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa'ida, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise." Mitchell and Jessen "carried out inherently governmental functions, such as acting as liaison between the CIA and foreign intelligence services, assessing the effectiveness of the interrogation program, and participating in the interrogation of detainees in held in foreign government custody."

HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSolartopia(Photo: NukeFree.org)The Vermont Yankee atomic reactor went permanently off-line on Dec. 29, 2014. Citizen activists have made it happen. The number of licensed U.S. commercial reactors is now under 100 where once it was to be 1,000.

Decades of hard grassroots campaigning by dedicated, non-violent nuclear opponents, working for a Solartopian green-powered economy, forced this reactor’s corporate owner to bring it down.

Entergy says it shut Vermont Yankee because it was losing money. Though fully amortized, it could not compete with the onslaught of renewable energy and fracked-gas. Throughout the world, nukes once sold as generating juice “too cheap to meter” comprise a global financial disaster. Even with their capital costs long-ago stuck to the public, these radioactive junk heaps have no place in today’s economy—except as illegitimate magnets for massive handouts.

So in Illinois and elsewhere around the U.S., their owners demand that their bought and rented state legislators and regulators force the public to eat their losses. Arguing for “base load power” or other nonsensical corporate constructs, atomic corporations are gouging the public to keep these radioactive jalopies sputtering along.

Such might have been the fate of Vermont Yankee had it not been for citizen opposition. Opened in the early 1970s, Vermont Yankee was the northern tip of clean energy’s first “golden triangle.” Down the Connecticut River, grassroots opposition successfully prevented two reactors from being built at Montague, Massachusetts, where the term “No Nukes” was coined. A weather tower was toppled, films were made, books were written, demonstrations staged and an upwelling of well-organized grassroots activism helped nurture a rising global movement.

2014.12.29.TNR.BF(Image: Ron Mader / Flickr)JEFFERSON MORLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The New Republic magazine at its best, writes its former editor Andrew Sullivan, "represented was the spirit of liberalism in the American tradition – a spirit of fearless inquiry, serious argument, and a concern for the truth. That TNR failed in some of these attempts does not damn it. Not to try to confront feelings with reason, or ideology with fact is a far worse inclination."

This is the most idealistic defense of the embattled publication, whose editorial staff resigned en masse earlier this month, prompting anguish and schadenfraude among liberal journalists. I can only endorse Sullivan's aspirations for the magazine. But my three and half years at TNR in the mid-1980s did not exactly live up to those expectations.

Is TNR is, as former TNR editor John Judis writes in Columbia Journalism Review, "a public trust" that deserves to live? Or is it a as former TNR contributor Eric Alterman told the New York Times, "a smart sailboat that isn't taking you anywhere." I would say TNR is a public trust that's betrayed the trust of its readers perhaps more than its admirers care to admit.

Monday, 29 December 2014 06:47

Greed Kings of 2014: How They Stole From Us

2014.12.29.Chevron.BFChevron Tower in Houston, Texas. (Image: Dave Wilson / Flickr)

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The Merriam-Webster definition of 'steal' is to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice. Much of our country's new wealth has been regularly taken by individuals or corporations in a wrongful manner, either through nonpayment of taxes or failure to compensate other contributors to their successes.


1. The Corporations

As schools and local governments are going broke around the country, companies who built their businesses with American research and education and technology and infrastructure are paying less in taxes than ever before. Incredibly, over half of U.S. corporate foreign profits are now being held in tax havens, double the share of just twenty years ago. Corporations are stealing from the nation that made them rich.

There are many examples of greed among individual firms. Based largely on 2014 SEC documents submitted by the companies themselves:

---Exxon has almost 80% of its productive oil and gas wells in the U.S. but declared only 17% of its income here. The company used a theoretical tax to account for 83% of last year's income tax bill, and paid less than 2% of its total income in current U.S. taxes.

---Chevron has about 75% of its oil and gas wells and almost 90% of its pipeline mileage in the United States, yet the company claimed only 13% of last year's income in the U.S., and paid almost nothing (less than 1/10 of 1%) in current U.S. taxes.

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