Guest Commentary (3570)
DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Another winter solstice has come and gone, and yes, the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus has once again survived the alleged "War on Christmas." In fact, as of this year, this pretend war may finally be ending — and not because those "defending" Christmas won some big battle, but because more and more Americans are realizing there is no such war at all.
This is one of the key findings of a new poll about Christmas from Fairleigh Dickinson University. In that survey, only 28 percent of respondents said they believe liberals are waging a war on Christmas. That's a steep decline from last year, when a Public Policy Polling survey found 47 percent of Americans believing there is a war against the holiday.
All of this is good news — especially because these welcome public opinion trends are coinciding with a renewed effort by the divide-and-conquer crowd to continue manufacturing division. Indeed, as just one example, Fox News' Megyn Kelly tried to make the "War on Christmas" meme into a full-on race war by insisting that both Santa Claus and Jesus must be depicted as white. Apparently, Rupert Murdoch's cable television empire is still trying to turn the holiday into another excuse to promote conflict. Thankfully, polls show that the ruse isn't working.
Of course, using the word "holiday" in reference to anything around Jesus's birthday is apparently still seen as controversial in many quarters. Yes, in the same Fairleigh Dickinson poll, two thirds of respondents want "Merry Christmas" rather than the more universal "Happy Holidays" used as the season's greetings. Similarly, only about a quarter of Americans believe public schools should host non-religious events instead of explicitly religious Christmas festivities.
This, alas, is the residual bad news in the aftermath of the "War on Christmas," for it embodies a my-way-or-the-highway narcissism that runs counter to the nation's founding principles.
JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
If you're the kind of person reading this column over the holidays, then you're probably the kind of person who worries about the future of American journalism. And you very likely know all too well that the dwindling fortunes of the newspaper industry, the devolution of television news and the rise of Internet news sites have raised big questions about how we will continue to produce quality reporting — especially investigative reporting that takes on the social issues too often neglected in our media.
Exactly how to preserve and promote investigative journalism in a changing world is a complicated problem that has preoccupied publishers, reporters, readers and concerned citizens for years now. But while the news industry financially sorts itself out, solutions are under construction in the nonprofit sector, where advertising, click rates and infotainment don't overwhelm journalistic values.
This is why, during the last few days of 2013, I ask you to consider supporting an important institution that ensures the kind of journalism we value most can thrive: The Investigative Fund. (Here I should disclose that in addition to my other work, I have served proudly at The Fund for several years as editor-at-large.)
With donations from individuals and foundations, the independent and nonprofit Investigative Fund supports the craft of investigative reporting across a broad swath of American media, from magazines like The Nation, The Washington Monthly, Harper's, Mother Jones, The New Republic, Glamour, Elle, GQ, Time and The New York Review of Books, to major broadcast and Web outlets, such as NPR's Marketplace, Slate, The Huffington Post, PBS and Fusion TV to name only a few.
Over the past year, its grants have again produced stunning stories — including an undercover probe of the sickening conditions suffered by children who work in this country's tobacco fields. Yes, there are kids too young to buy cigarettes who are hired to harvest the killer crop for a pittance — and get poisoned by the nicotine leaching from its leaves under the broiling sun.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
While Pope Francis is getting most of the media attention related to all things Catholic, a Catholic lay organization that has been around for more than 130 years is starting to be the object of some well-deserved scrutiny. The Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic lay organization in the world. It is well known for its charitable work. There's a good chance that somewhere in America on just about any weekend, the Knights of Columbus is holding an event to raise money to help the poor, feed the hungry, provide disaster relief, and support families in need. Its bake sales and pancake suppers are events that many communities eagerly look forward to and support wholeheartedly. Unbeknownst to many cookie or pancake enthusiasts, however, is the reality that a portion of the money – read that, millions of dollars -- raised by the Knights is being poured into anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage campaigns.
That is a side of the Knight of Columbus that is rarely reported on. According to a new report by Catholics for Choice, "The order has pushed a conservative agenda ranging from the highly specific—a complaint against highschoolers reading Catcher in the Rye—to systemic opposition to reproductive choice and marriage equality through sizable donations to programs run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other conservative organizations."
The Knights of Columbus: Crusaders for Discrimination pointed out that the organization "uses its manpower and money to push for legislation that does not match the beliefs of many Catholics or the will of the electorate. The Knights continue to wage a decades-long battle against abortion legislation, but what stands out now is the scale of its political expenditures—more than $10 million since 2004—and this does not include funds from the thousands of local fraternity councils and assemblies. The Knights' funding of anti-same-sex marriage campaigns goes towards a cause that is rejected by most Catholics—polling data reflects a stronger support for same-sex marriage among Catholics than any other Christian faith group, or the American population as a whole."
BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Swaddled in Baby Gap, little Jesus appears to be crying. Mary tries to gently rock him in her hands, certainly a great moment to remind viewers that you are in good hands with Allstate.
The carpenter Joseph is trying to protect Mary and Jesus; he could certainly use the system he just won from our sponsor ADT. The cow you see behind them is brought to you by ConAgra, the donkey by Halliburton. The angels on high in the sky, magnificent 3D computer generated imagery, are from Pixar. Walt Disney has remixed the angel songs so they sing praise to the shopping opportunities this event has created.
Earlier, there were reports of shepherds in the area but ICE agents stopped and frisked them and are now herding them on your right into the Fox News freedom of expression fenced off area. Some appear to be singing a protest song about peace on earth. Over on the left, a panel of MSNBC experts are talking about the shepherds and talking about the shepherds and talking about the shepherds.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
At a time of year when we're inclined to show empathy for people less fortunate than ourselves, some of our top business leaders are notable for comments that show their disdain for struggling Americans. Their words may seem too outlandish to have been uttered, or inappropriately humorous, but all the speakers were serious.
1. Environmental Wisdom from Exxon and Monsanto
Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, which has used tobacco industry tactics to cast doubton climate change, summed up the whole environmental issue with his own unique brand of logic: What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?
Monsanto has no such moral compunctions over corporate social responsibility. A company director once said, Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. While Monsanto, according to Food & Water Watch, has "wreaked havoc on the environment and public health" with PCBs, dioxin, and other dangerous chemicals, the company reported in its most recent financial report to the SEC: We are committed to long-term environmental protection.
2. The Art of Delusion: How Business People Fool Themselves
This starts, fittingly, at McDonald's, where a company representative vigorously defended his burgers and nuggets: We don't sell junk food...We sell lots of fruits and veggies at McDonald's...And we are not marketing food to kids.
Next, on to a company that hides overseas earnings, avoids federal & state taxes, makes $400,000 per employee, pays its store workers an average of about $12 per hour, pays its CEO $143 million a year, and operates overseas factories with working conditions that, according to the Economic Policy Institute, "reflect some of the worst practices of the industrial era." Their CEO Tim Cook says, Apple has a very strong moral compass.
Such delusional heights are also reached in the financial industry, where Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is doing God's work, his colleague Brian Griffiths feels that we have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all, and Ponzi Scheming JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon is not only not embarrassed to be a banker, but also proud of the company that he works for.
3. Talking Down to the Down & Out
It's hard to choose the most insensitive and condescending remark from people who seem to lack empathy for the less fortunate. Perhaps hedge fund manager Andy Kessler, who addressed the issue of why these homeless folks aren't also working. Ignoring the National Coalition for the Homeless conclusion that homelessness is caused by (1) a shortage of affordable rental housing, and (2) a lack of job opportunities, Kessler suggests they're homeless because someone is feeding, clothing and, in effect, bathing them.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Blue-ribbon panels are often toothless and useless. But the eminences appointed by President Obama to review the out-of-control National Security Agency have produced a surprisingly tough report filled with good recommendations -- steps that a president who speaks so eloquently of civil liberties should have taken long ago.
But before even releasing the 308-page report by his Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, Obama rejected one of the proposed reforms: ending the practice of having one person head both the NSA and the Pentagon's Cyber Command. So much for hopes that the line between military operations and intelligence programs, deliberately blurred after the 9/11 attacks, might be returned to reasonable sharpness.
The headline recommendation from the five-member review group is that the NSA stop compiling a comprehensive record of all our phone calls. This program of blanket domestic surveillance, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, is the most egregious and controversial of the spy agency's programs that have thus far come to light.
In plain language, the panel lays out just what the NSA has been doing: obtaining secret court orders compelling phone service providers to "turn over to the government on an ongoing basis call records for every telephone call made in, to, or from the United States through their respective systems."
That is a jaw-dropping sentence. No less stunning, however, is the panel's assessment of the program's worth as a tool to fight terrorism: from all available evidence, zero.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"I'm dying to know what it's like to love somebody — to know what it feels like to be wanted." — Art Corneau
So we need a documentary to break the Code of Shame. It's called A Hard Name and came out in 2009; it ran on Canadian public television. (The film is online but, unfortunately, can't be viewed in the U.S. "due to rights restrictions.") Director Alan Zweig found seven ex-prisoners — five men, two women — and just let them speak. The result was the opening of a raw wound: the public exposure of something so deeply hidden, so wrapped in cynical taboo, I could barely listen without screaming: Why?
I hadn't been aware of the film until Dave Atkins of Prison Alpha Ministry in Ottawa wrote to me about it, in response to my recent column about the Hollow Water First Nation Reserve, in Manitoba, where in the 1980s residents began addressing the hidden matter of childhood sexual abuse that was shattering their tiny community. They began talking about it publicly — they had no choice. The secret stain of it was claiming the lives of their children, who were disappearing into the void of alcoholism and drug abuse.
Burma Bushie, one of the Hollow Water residents, called it "the sacredness of a child teaching you." Some of the residents began holding peace circles and speaking publicly about the secrets of their community; the result was the spread of what became known as the restorative justice movement, in the U.S., Europe and throughout the world.
WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Think we can all agree these are pretty exciting times. Matter of fact, might be more exciting than we had any inkling. Recent revelations indicate we've all become inadvertent assets in governmental spy operations. You may have thought the NSA was everywhere, but you didn't know the half of it. And no, there shouldn't be a humming red LED under your bed.
The New York Times says our friends at the Black Chamber are not only opening our mail and listening to our phone calls but are now lurking in and monitoring on- line game rooms like World of Warcraft and Second Life. Are those trolls or undercover spooks? Or both? Not just an operations chief but a night elf- hunter guild leader as well. James Bond's new assignment- to enchant a goblin priest. Zelda- a princess, sure, but where does she go at night?
The professional eavesdroppers out of Fort Meade claim their only goal is to thwart terrorism but that's pretty much their answer to everything these days, including lunch at Quizno's. "Why do you always get the Italian combo?" "National Security." "Please clean up the broken glass resulting from your idiot friends' juvenile beer tossing antics." "Can't. National Security." "What happened to your toe?" "National F%*$!#G Security."
Who knows why they're really creeping around? Could be checking out skill sets. Filling emergency requests from division commanders. "Major! Wander around Call of Duty: Black Ops II. We need an infantryman who can go to his left. If he could take out multiple drones with a single RPG, that wouldn't hurt. Then check Grand Theft Auto for someone who can steer with his knees while switching magazines on an Uzi. And requisition more mushrooms from Mario."
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
There is no doubting that Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) is a different kind of Pope; kinder, gentler, friendlier, less judgmental, living simpler, more open, humbler and much more media savvy than many of the previous occupants of the Holy See. Although some progressives are leaping out of their Chuck Taylor All-Stars to get on board Pope Francis' social justice Pope-mobile – and there's nothing wrong with that -- it remains to be seen whether anything concrete comes out of the Pope's critique of trickle down economics and capitalism run amok.
By making his pronouncement he has accomplished at least one thing: he has exposed some of the conservative critics of the Catholic Church's social justice agenda for being hypocritical blowhards. For those who see the Pope focusing on the poor as part of a larger public relations campaign to rebuild the reputation of the Church, the Pope's exhortation ("Evangelii Gaudium") on economic issues has already accomplished several things; news about the Church's financial and sexual scandals have all but disappeared from view.
In an interview over the past weekend, Pope Francis – recently named "Person of the Year" by Time magazine, and The Advocate, a publication focusing on LGBT issues -- responded to the attack on him by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It seems our elected officials have no intention of reining in the National Security Agency's mad-scientist quest to know everything about our communications and movements. If we want our privacy back, we're going to have to fight for it.
Months after Edward Snowden spilled the beans, the NSA -- whose mission is supposed to be foreign surveillance -- is still compiling a comprehensive record of our domestic phone calls. Every time you dial, the government can find out who, what, when and where.
We hear a lot of patronizing talk from President Obama and other officials about how healthy it is that we're finally having a debate about surveillance and privacy, about security and freedom. The subtext, however, is clear: Get over it.
Interviewed Sunday on "Meet the Press," former NSA Director Michael Hayden offered a stunningly dismissive view of the Fourth Amendment: "We're protected against unreasonable search and seizure, all right? It doesn't say that all searches must be based upon reasonable suspicion. So now, unreasonable search and seizure depends upon the totality of circumstances in which you find yourself."
My circumstances, in their totality, are these: sitting on the couch, minding my own business. What am I doing to deserve an electronic stop-and-frisk?