Guest Commentary (3616)
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Charles Koch Foundation recently released a commercial that ranked a near-poverty-level $34,000 family among the Top 1% in the world. Bud Konheim, CEO and co-founder of fashion company Nicole Miller, concurred: "The guy that's making, oh my God, he's making $35,000 a year, why don't we try that out in India or some countries we can't even name. China, anyplace, the guy is wealthy."
Comments like these are condescending and self-righteous. They display an ignorance of the needs of lower-income and middle-income families in America. The costs of food and housing and education and health care and transportation and child care and taxes have been well-defined by organizations such as the Economic Policy Institute, which calculated that a U.S. family of three would require an average of about $48,000 a year to meet basic needs; and by the Working Poor Families Project, which estimates the income required for basic needs for a family of four at about $45,000. The median household income is $51,000.
The following discussion pertains to the half of America that is in or near poverty, the people rarely seen by Congress.
WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
After an absence of 25 years, it's downright ducky to be able to welcome back one of the great socio- politico conflicts in the history of the planet. How about a round of applause folks, because the Cold War is back and it's colder and warrier than ever.
Like an old friend popping up on your doorstep after moving to South America or Akron a quarter century ago, it is with a mixture of exhilaration and dread to see him again. All the right words are mouthed: "No, YOU look exactly the same," but inside you're praying he's just here for a quick visit and no extended stay. "So, what are your plans?"
To MI6, the British Intelligence Foreign Section Division, the Cold War was an extension of a conflict with Russia that began in the early 19th Century. To we USAers, it was a post WWII battle for the eternal soul of mankind. But it doesn't matter what you call it: Great Game, Frigid Fracas, Siberian Skirmish: the Cold War is guaranteed to ice your nerves and frost your sense of security. Freeze dried tension. Refrigerated Tang with a shot of paranoia.
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Pete Seeger, as almost every reader of these pages will know, passed away at the age of 94 on Jan. 27, 2014. Pete was a great folksinger, explorer of US music, and song writer. In his younger days he was also a great banjo picker, and learned how to play the 12-string guitar (a difficult instrument in its own right) from the legendary Afro-American blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly. He worked with one of the founding US folklorists, Alan Lomax, as well as his with his father, Charles Seeger and his step-mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger (mother of Pete's step-sister, the folk singer Peggy Seeger). And of course he was a close colleague of the iconic Woody Guthrie.
But in this space, I am not going to write about Pete the musician. This column is about Pete and the Blacklist, one of the darkest marks on 20th century US history, and quite different from the current TV show, "The Blacklist." I was lucky enough to have heard Pete in concert in Carnegie Hall, New York City, singing with The Weavers in the late 1940s, before they were blacklisted. I had a brief personal contact with him during the blacklist-time. One way that performers like himself earned a living during that time was to do private performances in the homes of progressives. And so, in the early '50s my mother hired Pete to sing at a birthday party for me, in our home. (Either the year before that or the year afterwards, for my birthday she hired another great, and black-listed, US folk singer, and composer, Earl Robinson. He is perhaps best-known for writing "Ballad for Americans" for yet another great, black-listed personage, the singer-actor Paul Robeson.)
I next saw Pete at one of his "coming-out parties" as the blacklist was fading in the late 50s. He was hired to sing in a dorm living room at Vassar College, where my girl-friend at the time was a student. I have heard him concerts several times since. Finally, by happenstance I went to what was likely his last concert, with Woody's son Arlo, at Carnegie Hall, New York City, on December 30, 2013.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Let me go out on a limb: The Malaysian airliner did not get sucked into a black hole, vanish over the Indian Ocean equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle or crash-land on the spooky island from "Lost."
Those "theories" were actually discussed on CNN this week. Host Don Lemon dismissed them as "preposterous" before asking one of his assembled "expert" guests -- there were six of them waiting expectantly in their boxes on the screen -- whether, you know, such ideas really were so preposterous.
At which point the nonstop coverage of this tragedy entered the Twilight Zone.
The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is pretty close to a pure mystery. The news media -- especially the cable television networks -- have responded with an orgy of what can only be called pure speculation. Far too often, as every journalist knows, the facts get in the way of a good story. In this case, there aren't any indisputably consequent facts except one: On March 8, a jetliner with 239 people aboard went missing.
On second thought, I guess there's one other fact that matters: The mystery is so compelling that people can't seem to get enough of it. CNN has soared to the top of the cable news ratings -- at times besting even behemoth Fox News -- by covering the story ceaselessly, and by that I mean you wonder when the anchors get a chance to go to the bathroom.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
With a column vigorously supporting Vladimir Putin's anti-gay crusade in Russia, Evangelist Franklin Graham finds himself edging closer to inheriting the mantle of Fred Phelps, rather than that of his father, Billy Graham.
In the column, titled "Putin's Olympic Controversy," Graham not only declares his support Putin's treatment of gays in Russia, he also maintains that the Russian leader is handling gay issues better than President Barack Obama.
Graham, the controversial preacher who now heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which was started by his father, and Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization, "praises Putin in the March issue of the group's Decision magazine for signing a bill that imposes fines for adults who promote 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,'" Charisma News, an evangelical Christian news service, recently reported. The bill has unleashed numerous violent attacks on members of Russia's gay community.
As expected the media quickly picked up on Graham's assertions: Salon's headlined its story, "Franklin Graham wishes Barack Obama were more like Vladimir Putin"; Mediaite.com went with, "Rev. Franklin Graham: Obama Should Be More Like Putin on Gay Rights"; The Christian Post titled its piece, "Franklin Graham Commends Putin for Opposing LGBT Agenda in Russia, But Is Praying for Peace in Ukraine"; The Advocate declared: "Billy Graham's Son: Obama Could Learn from Putin's Homophobia" and Religion News Service headlined its story "Franklin Graham Thinks Putin's Stance On Gay Rights Is Better Than Obama's."
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"After Russia invaded Crimea, a senior American official vowed to 'make it hurt.' More than two weeks later, Moscow has given no sign that it feels any pain, and the challenge for President Obama is whether he is willing or able to inflict enough to change the Kremlin's calculus."
This is the New York Times, of course, yet again parroting the insecure right, ignoring history and reducing the terrifying complexity of international politics – and the great global longing for peace – to a lethally simplistic game of winning and losing. It's the kind of coverage we get in every political crisis, inevitably shutting down whatever collective intelligence we're capable of manifesting and reducing the public to spectators at a geopolitical wrestling match.
Forget history; ignore reality. Once again we have good vs. evil popping up in some previously unknown corner of the world. Our side is the pro-democracy side, no matter that the neo-Nazi movement Svboda is part of the mix that overthrew Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych last month.
"It should be obvious to all but the most hawkish politicians that the number one priority in the coming days and weeks must not be point-scoring and lecturing one's opponents but dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. . . . (T)here is no alternative; Russia and the West have to learn to live and talk with each other and indeed work together for mutual benefit, as well as resolving the fate of Ukraine.
"Meanwhile," the IPB statement continues, "there is much to be done at the citizen level."
ERIC ZUESSE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Whereas belief in the human causation of global warming is overwhelmingly high among the scientists who specialize in the subject, belief in it decreases among the U.S. public to the extent that a member of the public feels confident that he or she understands it.
Among the general public, it's the people who don't feel confident about their understanding of the issue, who are in the most agreement with the scientists about it. Almost all of this latter group are Democrats. Almost all of the Republicans surveyed feel confident that they understand the issue, and they strongly disagree with the scientists about it.
Gallup headlined on March 18th, "A Steady 57% in U.S. Blame Humans for Global Warming," and noted that "Leading climate science researchers in the U.S. and globally -- including those at the International Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. body that is at the forefront of climate research -- are convinced that elevated levels of carbon dioxide and other byproducts of fossil fuel use are the reason the Earth's temperature has warmed." But that's actually an understatement by Gallup, since more than 97% of the world's climatologists say that those carbon gases, which are given off by humans' burning of carbon-based fuels, are causing this planet's temperatures to rise over the long term, as those carbon gases accumulate in the atmosphere and also block the heat from being radiated back into outer space.
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
I was resting at home when Marshbaum called to ask if I wanted to go with him to look at the lettuce.
"The supermarket's got lettuce for less than two bucks a head," he said enthusiastically.
"What's so unusual about that?"
"Because it's going to be extinct in a few weeks."
"You're buying up lettuce and selling it on eBay as antiques?" I sarcastically asked.
"Don't be ridiculous! I'm buying the best heads, storing them, and selling them for four bucks in a couple of months."
"What makes you think anyone would pay four bucks a head when they can get them now for less than two bucks?"
"Weren't you listening, Ink Breath? I said, I'll be selling them in two months. I'm buying futures. You know, like pork belly futures."
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Reports out of Topeka, Kansas, has it that the Rev. Fred Waldron Phelps Sr., is in hospice care near death in a Kansas hospital. I first encountered the Rev. Phelps when I was visiting friends in Kansas in the early 1990s and found out that an old friend, who had died of AIDS in California, was being brought home to Kansas for burial. The family was so concerned that the Phelps Family would find out about her death and picket the funeral that they decided not to publicize details about where and when she would be buried. At the time, Phelps, relatively unknown nationally, was clearly having a huge impact locally.
Phelps eventually gained national recognition and became notorious for leading his family, and a small band of followers, in promoting a brand of anti-gay viciousness that eventually even embarrassed the likes of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and the still extant Pat Robertson, both of whom were well known for their own form of anti-gay rhetoric. For many Americans, the Phelps family's picketing of military funerals, with signs containing messages such as "Thank God for dead soldiers," and "Thank God for 9/11," was the final straw. The Phelps clan not only became a laughing stock, they provoked counter-demonstrations which far outnumbered his flock's meager numbers, and his sojourns around the country often became fundraising tools for progressive organizations.
Phelps' son Nathan, long estranged from his 84 year-old father, wrote on his Facebook page that the elder Phelps was "on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house," Reuters' Victoria Cavaliere, reported.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Here is what Democrats should learn from their party's loss in a special House election in Florida last week: Wishy-washy won't work.
Republicans are obviously going to make opposition to the Affordable Care Act the main theme of their campaigns this fall. Democrats will be better off if they push back hard -- really hard -- rather than seek some nonexistent middle ground.
The contest between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly in Florida's 13th Congressional District was almost like a laboratory experiment. The House seat was held for decades by the late C.W. "Bill" Young, a Republican, but voters are evenly balanced between the two parties. Sink was better known, having narrowly lost a race for governor in 2010; Jolly had deeper roots in the community. Neither displayed an overabundance of charisma.
Jolly's narrow victory -- he won by about 3,500 votes out of about 184,000 cast -- is not a death knell for the Democratic Party's prospects come autumn. But it does suggest how Democrats should not run in close races. Jolly has to run again in November, and if Sink gets another shot at him, I'd suggest she do things a bit differently.