Facebook Slider
Get News Alerts!
Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary (3623)

Friday, 14 February 2014 06:53

Eugene Robinson | The GOP's Health Crisis

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

HealthMachine(Photo: Neoflash)Oh dear. The Republican Party's worst nightmare is coming true. Obamacare is working.

The news that nearly 1.2 million people signed up last month for insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges is highly inconvenient for GOP candidates nationwide. It looks as if the party's two-word strategy for the fall election -- bash Obamacare -- will need to be revised.

Wednesday's status report on the health insurance reforms was by far the best news for Democrats and the Obama administration since the program's incompetent launch. January was the first month when new enrollments surpassed expectations, as the balky HealthCare.gov website began functioning more or less as intended.

Cumulatively, 3.3 million people had chosen insurance plans through the state and federal exchanges by the end of January. That is fewer than the administration originally hoped, but well above the predictions of critics who believed -- or hoped -- that the program would never succeed. The Congressional Budget Office now projects that 6 million people will have chosen plans through Obamacare when the initial enrollment period ends March 31, down from a pre-launch estimate of 7 million. Not bad at all.

The numbers are even more encouraging when you look more closely. The proportion of young people -- from 18 and 34 -- who chose insurance plans through the exchanges increased slightly to 27 percent, compared with an average of 24 percent in previous months. This is important because premiums would have to rise if not enough young, healthy people enroll.

Thursday, 13 February 2014 07:28

Asphyxiating Education

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ClassDesks(Photo: Malate269)"The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."

This is how we talk about learning, growth and the human future?

Things are getting worse in the American classroom, not better. The experts and the special interests purporting to fix the educational system are continuing, instead, to asphyxiate it.

The grandiose quote, above, in which "our young people" show up as abstractions needing to be prepped for some simplistic, highly competitive imaginary future (fully understood by the experts), is part of the mission statement of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the Obama administration's showcase education reform initiative.

Just like the disastrous No Child Left Behind Act of the Bush era, in whose wake it follows, it's all about testing and uniform standards and the "rigorous" evaluation of schools and teachers; and it's clueless about the nature of childhood development, not to mention reality. Its primary mission, as with NCLB, is to pull education out of the hands and hearts of teachers and turn its administration over to politicians and their corporate sponsors. It both defunds and belittles the learning process.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 06:29

Jim Hightower | The Mobsters of Wall Street

(Photo<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/6196621322/"target="_blank">Steve Rhodes / Flickr</a>)(Photo: Steve Rhodes / Flickr)JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Assume that you ran a business that was found guilty of bribery, forgery, perjury, defrauding homeowners, fleecing investors, swindling consumers, cheating credit card holders, violating U.S. trade laws and bilking American soldiers. Can you even imagine the kind of punishment you'd get?

How about zero? Nada. Nothing. Zilch. No jail time. Not even a fine. Plus, you still get to stay on as boss, you get to keep all the loot you gained from the crime spree, and you even get an $8.5 million pay raise!

Of course, you and I would never get such outrageous, absurd, kid-glove pampering by legal authorities. But, then, we're not the capo of JPMorgan Chase, America's biggest bank and a crime syndicate that apparently is too big to jail.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 06:08

Nuclear Submarines, Whales and Tourists Don't Mix

USS Greeneville returns from deployment. (Photo<a href=" http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnavy/5549870793/"target="_blank"> by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ronald Gutridge for the Official U.S. Navy Imagery / Flickr</a>)USS Greeneville returns from deployment. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ronald Gutridge for the Official U.S. Navy Imagery / Flickr)ANN WRIGHT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

It looks like the U.S. Navy is playing fast and loose with the new military exercise regulations in areas with a concentration of marine mammals that it has received from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

One seldom sees a nuclear submarine on the surface of the ocean except when they are going into homeports, such as Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. But, this weekend I saw three U.S. nuclear submarines on the surface with crewmen sunning themselves on the deck—in a protected national marine sanctuary, no less!

I was whale watching off the Hawaiian island of Maui, Sunday, February 9, 2014 and was shocked to see three U.S. Navy nuclear submarines surface and remain about a mile offshore from the town of Lahina in the shallow waters of the protected Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CellJail(Photo: Andrew Bardwell)Last April, in a column titled Debtors Prisons, Once a 19th-Century Relic, Again Wreaking Havoc in US, I wrote: "The jailing of people unable to pay fines and court costs is no longer a relic of the 19th century American judicial system. Debtors' prisons are alive and well in one-third of the states in this country." Last week, I received a Press Release from the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union that appeared to strike a blow against this appalling phenomenon.

The release stated that "the Supreme Court of Ohio distributed a new 'bench card' to all of the state's judges, giving much needed instructions to avoid the unconstitutional practice of sending people to jail when they owe the court fines and are unable to pay. The Ohio Supreme Court's "bench card" was a definite blow to what had become the routine jailing in several states of people who were not able to pay fines imposed for a relatively minor crime committed."

Now, however, a new report by Human Rights Watch has revealed another way that poor people are being unduly financially burdened and, in many cases, imprisoned for not having enough money to pay their court-imposed fines. According to Profiting from Probation: America's 'Offender-Funded' Probation Industry, privately owned companies handling the probation of offenders are "routinely jailing probationers" for not being able to pay fees owed to those companies.

Private companies are Profiting from Probation

"Every year, US courts sentence several hundred thousand people to probation and place them under the supervision of for-profit companies for months or years at a time," Profiting from Probation points out. "They then require probationers to pay these companies for their services. Many of these offenders are only guilty of minor traffic violations like speeding or driving without proof of insurance. Others have shoplifted, been cited for public drunkenness, or committed other misdemeanor crimes. Many of these offenses carry no real threat of jail time in and of themselves, yet each month, courts issue thousands of arrest warrants for offenders who fail to make adequate payments towards fines and probation company fees."

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

BorderNotice(Photo: Makaristos)The Republican Party was supposed to be getting its act together for the midterm election. Instead, judging from the disarray on immigration reform, things may be getting even messier.

I'm referring to House Speaker John Boehner's embarrassing climb-down. After vowing for months that the House would finally take action on immigration, last week he surrendered. The bitterly divided Republican majority cannot agree on how to proceed. Apparently, this is supposed to be President Obama's fault.

If Boehner spilled gravy on his tie, he'd probably blame Obama. The fact is, Obama has done everything humanly possible to make it easier for Republicans to support sensible reform.

You know a party is dysfunctional when it can't take yes for an answer. Ostensibly, the GOP's big objection was to a sweeping, comprehensive bill such as the one passed by the Senate. Last fall, the Obama administration signaled its willingness to take a piecemeal approach, if necessary, in order to move forward. So what's the problem?

Um, Obama. And the Affordable Care Act. And, I don't know, maybe Jupiter and Saturn are in astrological misalignment.

Super Bowl XLVIII preparations at MetLife stadium, January 31, 2014. (Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/22882274@N04/12245113796/in/photolist-jE4pHE-jE1snT-jE2okF-jArDo4-jAsLTF-jAsFgi-jArBEe-jAsQoX-jArxhg-jAuMi7-jAsLhR-jAtFFq-jArzw6-jAtEKC-jpsQJU-jnCB38-jHu5pv-jHtXUM-jHwn1G-jHuUFi-jHu13p-jHuEVc-jHx8Ky-jDrSPJ-jLbCUs-jH97fe-jH8QvZ-jFhYMF-j4H3rT-j4FAeX-j4KJ4N-j4H3rn-j4H3qv-jGkgrA-jpiJMc-jGjARY-jpg85n-jJHzHC-jDhYLF-jJFmfj-jJZBqx-jGUV7D-jBsp2P-jMyvXT-jHj7Ch-jHufNX-jHu7Jk-jHtG4B-jHt5DR-jHtqoa-jHwz5d"target="_blank">Anthony Quintano / Flickr</a>)Super Bowl XLVIII preparations at MetLife stadium, January 31, 2014. (Photo: Anthony Quintano / Flickr)DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

"Cognitive dissonance" is the clinical term used to describe stress that arises from holding contradictory beliefs. In politics, this term is a misnomer, because while many lawmakers, operatives and activists present oxymoronic views, many of them don't appear to feel any stress about that. When it comes to budgetary matters, such a lack of remorse translates into something even worse than cognitive dissonance — something more akin to pathology. It is what I've previously called Selective Deficit Disorder — and it was hard to miss in the last few weeks.

In Washington, for instance, the disorder was on prominent display in Congress's new farm bill. Citing deficit concerns, House Republicans crafted the bill to include an $8 billion cut to the federal food stamp program. Yet, the same bill increased massive subsidies that disproportionately benefit wealthy farmers and agribusinesses. In all, the conservative American Enterprise Institute reports that under the bill, annual subsidies could increase by up to $15 billion.

In this textbook episode of Selective Deficit Disorder, deficits were cited as a reason to slash a program that serves low-income Americans. However, those same deficits were suddenly ignored when it came to handing over billions to a corporate special interest.

(Image: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/7598615852/in/set-72157623775269259"target="_blank">Jared Rodriguez / Truthout</a>)(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The word 'entitlement' is ambiguous. For working people it means "earned benefits." For the rich, the concept of entitlement is compatible with the Merriam-Webster definition: "The feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges)." Recent studies agree, concluding that higher social class is associated with increased entitlement and narcissism.

The sense of entitlement among the very rich is understandable, for it helps them to justify the massive redistribution of wealth that has occurred over the past 65 years, especially in the past 30 years. National investment in infrastructure, technology, and security has made America a rich country. The financial industry has used our publicly-developed communications technology to generate trillions of dollars in new earnings, while national security protects their interests. The major beneficiaries have convinced themselves they did it on their own. They believe they're entitled to it all.

Their entitlements can be summarized into four categories, each of which reveals clear advantages that the very rich take for granted.

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

OlympicFlag(Photo: Makaristos)For Vladimir Putin, the winter Olympics is not about sports or international camaraderie. It's a carefully orchestrated propaganda opportunity to try to showcase the nation's athletes and show the world a Russia that, even with its great culture and arts, may exist only in the imaginations of those who believe in restoring the country's previous grandeur.

Sochi itself is not typical city for a winter Olympics. It's a sub-tropical city of about 340,000, located along the Black Sea. Its selection by Russia was to let the world believe that the country in winter is not Siberia but a resort, suitable for tourists.

Under Putin's personal direction, Russia spent more than 1.8 trillion rubles (the equivalent of about $51 billion U.S.) to build the Olympic village, with its buildings, stadiums, and infrastructure. This is a greater cost than all previous winter Olympics combined. It also includes cost over-runs and various forms of corruption. But, disregard that—that's an internal problem. Here are a few of the real problems.

Russia has had more than seven years to prepare for this Olympics. But by the first day of competition, some of roads were unfinished, water was undrinkable in many of the newly-built hotels, and the safety of some of the Olympics courses was still in question.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

VaticanCity(Photo: Diliff)Since Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) took dominion over the Holy See, there has been much speculation about which direction he might move the Catholic Church; how he was going to modernize and make the Church more accessible to more people.

Liberals have lauded him for his comments about income inequality and his openness and apparent willingness to usher in a new way of going about the business of being Pope. Some conservatives, however, have scorned him for his economic pronouncements, while maintaining that he isn't focusing enough on such culture war issues as birth control, homosexuality, and abortion.

With so many difficult issues to deal with, he has recently been handed a golden opportunity to deal with one of the most vexing of those issues: Child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and its aiding and abetting and subsequent cover-up by Catholic Church officials.

The most prudent move for Pope Francis to make in this regard is to accept the recommendations of the report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and, at the same time, open up the Vatican archives.

Page 7 of 259