Guest Commentary (3616)
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
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
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.
STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
January 11, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first “Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health.” In part its summary states that: “On the basis of more than 7,000 articles relating to smoking and disease already available at that time  in the biomedical literature, the advisory committee concluded that cigarette smoking is: a cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men; a probable cause of lung cancer in women; the most important cause of chronic bronchitis.” Fifty years later we know that not only is cigarette smoking causative of a broad range of diseases in addition to those mentioned above, but also that “second-hand smoke” is a major killer as well.
Certainly progress has been made, but major problems remain. As Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health of the Department of Health and Human Services, says in the cited executive summary of the 50th Anniversary Surgeon General’s Report:
“The nation stands poised at the crossroads of tobacco control. On one hand, we can celebrate tremendous progress 50 years after the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s report: Smoking and Health. Adult smoking rates have fallen from about 43% (1965) to about 18% today. Mortality rates from lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in this country, are declining. Most smokers visiting health care settings are now routinely asked and advised about tobacco use. On the other hand, cigarette smoking remains the chief preventable killer in America, with more than 40 million Americans caught in a web of tobacco dependence. Each day, more than 3,200 youth (younger than 18 years of age) smoke their first cigarette and another 2,100 youth and young adults who are occasional smokers progress to become daily smokers. Furthermore, the range of emerging tobacco products complicates the current public health landscape.”
So why do we still have wide-spread cigarette smoking and why do we still have close to 500,000 deaths per year linked to smoking, in this country alone? There is only one reason: the power of the tobacco industry and its political and corporate allies. From the time of the publication of the first papers based on irrefutable evidence, in this country and Great Britain in the 1950s, cited in that first Surgeon General’s Report in 1964, until the end of the 20th century, the tobacco industry, aided by some powerful and clever public relations companies, kept up a constant drumfire of denial and distraction.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The young guys were half a block ahead of us. Nothing was happening except that they were walking. A police car pulled up behind them, slowed to their pace, aimed a spotlight at them.
They were African-American (did you guess?), numbering maybe half a dozen. They weren't intimidated. Some of them stopped, stood staring at the police car, talking to it; this had obviously happened before. The spotlight continued to shine in their faces. Other young men crossed the street in front of the car and joined the crowd. The game went on for a while: the slow saunter, the cops driving along next to them, the light in their faces.
Chicago, Chicago! My kind of town, but not this. How weird to see the moment unfold as I was walking along Pratt Avenue, through my own 'hood. The energy I felt was immensely unpleasant — racial profiling, pointless discord. Young black men in Chicago have to know their legal rights; that's simply the way it works. These guys obviously did.
Suddenly the light snapped off. The police car accelerated, drove away. That was it. No further confrontation. The young men kept walking. I was an observer in an occupied zone.
"But there is little or no discussion of larger social or cultural forces in the United States and the American institutions or leaders who bully other countries or workers and citizens at home."
Thus wrote Yale Magrass and Charles Derber, in an essay published at Truthout, called "Bully Nation." Their point is that, while suddenly bullying is a big deal and officially recognized as problematic, the public debate on the matter focuses almost entirely on troubled loners, when in fact no bully ever acts out of purely personal motives. Everyone acts within a social, cultural and political context, and that context is one that, in so many ways, rewards — indeed, reveres — bullying and domination.
BRIAN TERRELL FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The F-16 jets of the Iowa Air National Guard that formerly buzzed the city of Des Moines have disappeared and we are told that their base at the Des Moines International Airport is in the process of refitting into a command center for unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, commonly called drones. The MQ-9 Reaper drones themselves will not be coming to Iowa but will be based in and launched overseas. When airborne, these unmanned planes will be flown by remote control via satellite link from Des Moines. Classified by the military as a "Hunter-Killer platform," the MQ-9 Reaper is armed with Hellfire missiles and 500 pound bombs that according to plan will be launched by airmen sitting at computer terminals in Des Moines.
President Obama, in an address from the National Defense University last May, described this new technology as more precise and by implication more humane than other weaponry: "By narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life." There is an understandable appeal to the idea of a weapon that can discriminate between the good and the bad people and limit regrettable "collateral damage." It is understandable too, that a nation weary of sending its sons and daughters to fight on battlefields far away, risking injury, death or the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress, might look to embrace a new method of war whereby the warriors fights battles from the safe distances. Thousands of miles beyond the reach of the enemy, drone combatants often do not even have to leave their hometowns and are able to return to homes and families at the end of a shift.
STEVEN JONAS, MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On April 8, 2012, our esteemed Editor/Publisher at BuzzFlash at Truthout, my good friend Mark Karlin, published a column entitled "The US War on Drug Cartels in Mexico Is a Deadly Failure". In his column he noted that: "Approximately 50,000 or more Mexicans have been killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a so-called war on drug cartels. (In a recent appearance in Toronto, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed 150,000 people have died in the drug war in Mexico, but the timeline Panetta was referring to was unclear, as was the origin of the figure he cited.)."
Mark went on to say: "Here is the US policy in a nutshell: we pay Mexicans to kill Mexicans, and this slaughter has no effect on drug shipments or prices." Nor on the use of those drugs in the United States, which has generally not significantly changed over the 40-plus years of the "war".*
Over the years I have written at length on this subject in the academic literature.* The "War on Drugs" has never been such a thing. From its inauguration by President Richard Nixon, it has always been a "War on Certain Users of Certain Drugs", for the most part minority drug users at that, although some non-minorities do get caught up in its tentacles. The so-called War on Drugs was begun shortly after the invention of the race-based "Southern Strategy" that has controlled the fortunes of the GOP and unfortunately the country for most of the time since Nixon installed it.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Now that Harold Camping, the failed End Times prognosticator, has left this mortal coil, it is up to other conservative Christian evangelicals to carry on the outrageous. And carrying on the outrageous appears to be one of Pastor Robert Jeffress' major talents, albeit doing it in a much more affable way than many of his comrades.
Jeffress has a new book that claims President Barack Obama is paving the way for the Antichrist.
In addition to Obama paving the way for the Antichrist, according to the Christian Post's Melissa Barnhart, Jeffress' book, Perfect Ending: Why Your Eternal Future Matters Today, also "answers people's most pressing questions about heaven and what the end times will look like to Christians and those who do not believe in Jesus Christ."
Jeffress is not one of your fly-by-night conservative evangelical preachers; he's been around the block more that a few times. He is senior pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church, in Dallas, Texas; hosts a daily radio program called "Pathway to Victory" -- which is broadcast on more than 700 hundred stations; and, his weekly television show is seen on 1,200 television stations and cable systems throughout the nation and in 28 countries around the world, including China. He has written more than twenty books, and is a much sought-after speaker at evangelical Christian events, and is a frequent guest on Fox News.
He briefly attracted the attention of the mainstream media when in October 2011, after introducing Texas Governor Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., he told reporters that Mormonism was a "cult" and maintained that Mitt Romney was opposed to Christianity. A day later, after a Sunday morning service, he stood by his statements: "Mormonism is a false religion," he told Reuters. "It was invented 1800 years after the establishment of Christianity."
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is yet another victim of the war on drugs. Prohibition is not working. It is time to try something new.
Hoffman, 46, was found dead in the bathroom of his Manhattan apartment Sunday morning, apparently the victim of a heroin overdose. According to widely published reports, there was a syringe in his arm. Police found the place littered with small plastic bags stamped "Ace of Spades" or "Ace of Hearts" -- brand names that street dealers use.
Hoffman had lived through a familiar pattern: experimentation, addiction, rehab, abstinence, relapse, more rehab, more abstinence, another relapse.
Why would a man held in such high esteem, a man with so much going for him and so much to live for, risk it all by buying illegal drugs from a criminal on the street and then injecting them into his veins? For the same reason any addict uses drugs: to get high.
Perhaps this desire was a moral failing on Hoffman's part. Perhaps its origin lies buried in his personal history, with some trauma having triggered it. Perhaps it is written in his genetic code. I doubt we'll ever know for sure.
What we do know is that this need to get high is beyond some people's control. Our drug policy of prohibition and interdiction makes it difficult and dangerous for people like Hoffman to get high, but not impossible -- and makes these tragic overdose deaths more common than they have to be.
DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The rich have never been richer and the poor keep getting poorer. The financial Masters of the Universe enjoy indefinite taxpayer-funded bailouts, while the social safety net for the poor is gutted. The ruling class that engineers crushing economic inequality gathers at the World Economic Forum in Davos to pretend to care about said inequality, and then promises no concrete actions to combat the crisis. Many high-income earners pay a lower effective tax rate than low-income earners, and IRS data show that in the last few years the rich have seen a steep decline in the share of taxes they pay.
And if you think there's a problem with any of this, you're a Nazi. At least according to the poor, put-upon oligarchs.
The latest fat cat to compare critiques of inequality to violent National Socialism is venture capitalist Tom Perkins — he of the $150 million yacht and the 5,500-square-foot San Francisco penthouse. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal editor, this Silicon Valley billionaire last week bewailed supposed "parallels" between Nazi Germany's "war on its 'one percent,' namely its Jews" and "the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the 'rich.'" Citing rising angst over inequality, he insisted: "This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent 'progressive' radicalism unthinkable now?"