Guest Commentary (3566)
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
MSNBC's Chris Matthews has been doing an over-the-top job of self-promoting his new book, Tip and the Gripper: When Politics Worked. Matthews has been with MSNBC for quite some time but in this past year he has become a true attack dog against the Tea Party/GOP (and regular readers of mine know that I see no fundamental differences between them on policy, just on style). And for that, for me it is fun to watch him, which I do on a fairly regular basis. But as for this book, ah well, that is another story.
Matthews could not have been too happy with the review his book received in the Sunday New York Times Book Review, by one David Greenberg. To quote from it:
"Ever since our national politics dissolved into a miasma of polarization and strident punditry — which means either the Clinton pseudo-scandals or the John Adams administration, depending on your historical reference point — Washington pontificators have waxed wistful for gentler times. In the glow of nostalgia, even ideologues and scoundrels come to resemble civic-minded statesmen who put aside partisanship to broker compromises. This romantic tendency usually makes for bad history. . . . The 1980 elections made Ronald Reagan the most conservative American president since before the New Deal . . . . Protecting Social Security, the progressive tax code and other fixtures of the postwar economy fell above all to O'Neill, a corpulent, old-style, steaks-and-cigars Boston Irish pol. The conceit of 'Tip and the Gipper' is that for all their ideological differences, Reagan and O'Neill liked each other enough to put politics aside at 6 o'clock . . . and strike deals in everyone's interest. It's a nice idea for a book, if only it were true."
ERIC ZUESSE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The far-right American Legislative Exchange Council claims that every member of the state legislature in two states is a member of their organization.
Recently leaked documents from the "ALEC Board Meeting, August 6, 2013, Chicago, Illinois," list the number and percentage of each state's legislature that have signed onto ALEC; and, under "# of Legislators," and "# of ALEC Members," Iowa has 150 in each column, and South Dakota has 105 in each column. The third column, for both states, shows the "% of ALEC Membership in Legislature" as being "100%." At the opposite end, the lowest percentage is 1%, in New York. The second-lowest is New Jersey, 2%. The third and fourth-lowest, tied, are just 4%, shown in both Maine and Vermont. The fifth-lowest is New Hampshire, 6%.
That table appears on page 39 of their report.
Page 20 presents the text of the oath of office that the leading ALEC member in each state must swear to in order to win or retain his position: "I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization [ALEC] first." ALEC's Senior Director of Public Affairs told Britain's Guardian, when asked about this: "All legislators are beholden to their constituents' interests first - if they are not, they will be held accountable at the ballot box." In other words: the only thing that ALEC's lead legislator in any state might stand to lose if he violates his oath to ALEC is the vast contributions from the corporations that fund ALEC, which will then probably stop throwing more money into his campaigns. Of course, the purpose of those mega-corporate campaign donations is, for each such state leader, to make sure that he "will be held accountable at the ballot box," if he violates his pledge to ALEC. In other words: ALEC survives simply by fooling conservative voters to vote for the stooges that the corporations that fund ALEC want to write the laws for them.
In some countries, this is called "corruption," or even "fascism," but in the United States, it's called merely "politics," or even (by the five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court) "freedom of speech."
ROBERT CREAMER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
For many years the American Right -- and many of the most powerful elements of corporate and Wall Street elite -- have conducted a war on public employees.
Their campaign has taken many forms. They have tried to slash the number of public sector jobs, cut the pay and benefits of public sector workers, and do away with public employee rights to collective bargaining. They have discredited the value of the work performed by public employees -- like teachers, police and firefighters -- going so far as to argue that "real jobs" are created only by the private sector.
Last week a conservative court ruled that by going through bankruptcy the city of Detroit could rid itself of its obligation under the state constitution to make good on its pension commitments to its retirees.
It should surprise no one that the Republican Chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, is demanding that a budget deal with the Democrats include a 350% increase in pension contribution by all civilian federal employees. That would effectively mean a pay cut of about 2% for every federal worker. And that cut would come after a three-year pay freeze and multiple furloughs caused by the Republican "sequester."
Unbelievably, in Illinois the right wing Chicago Tribune and the state's corporate elite snookered the Democratic-controlled legislature into passing changes in that state's pension laws that slashed the pensions of its public employees. The changes affected all state employees and many of Illinois' teachers. All of them had faithfully made their required contributions to the state's pension funds for years, even though the legislature regularly failed to make its required payments so it could avoid raising taxes on the state's wealthiest citizens.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The facts are indisputable, the conclusion painful. The wealthiest people in the U.S. and around the world have used the stock market and the deregulated financial system to lay claim to the resources that should belong to all of us.
This is not a matter of productive people benefiting from their contributions to society. This is a relatively small number of people extracting massive amounts of money through the financial system for accomplishing almost nothing.
1. They've Taken $1.6 Million Per Family in New Wealth Since the Recession
The richest 5% of American families each gained at least that much in five years, mostly from the stock market. Using data from Credit Suisse, the Economic Policy Institute, Pew Research, and the Census Bureau and two separate analyses (shown here and here), this extraordinary wealth grab can be calculated.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Largely secreted away since its inception, some drone warriors are beginning to fill in the record about their use by the U.S.
Unlike others of his age who might be at home playing violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse, and Kindergarten Killers, Airman First Class Brandon Bryant wasn't playing.
The year was 2007, not long after Bryant's twenty-first birthday.
"He was an experiment, really," reads the subhead of GQ's story titled "Confessions of a Drone Warrior". "One of the first recruits for a new kind of warfare in which men and machines merge. He flew multiple missions, but he never left his computer. He hunted top terrorists, saved lives, but always from afar. He stalked and killed countless people, but could not always tell you precisely what he was hitting."
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Last night, it was difficult to cut through the fog of reaction from current day conservatives to the death of Nelson Mandela. However, despite the kind words and the tributes, it should never be forgotten that the conservative movement in this country took great pains to condemn and demonize Mandela and the African National Congress, doing all they could to undermine the economic boycott of South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement.
Nelson Mandela and his comrades with the African National Congress were not always the toast of the town, especially in Washington, D.C.
President Ronald Reagan, who placed the ANC on the U.S. terror list in the 1980s (a designation that wasn't removed until 2008), labeled the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 as "immoral" and "utterly repugnant." Instead, the Reagan Administration adopted "a position a position of constructive engagement towards South Africa." The Nation's Sam Kleiner reported in early July.
"Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker pushed for expanded trade with Johannesburg under the belief that it was a strong ally in the Cold War. While divestment activists urged the United States to isolate the South African regime, the Reagan administration was pushing for more trade and engagement."
In 1985, Rep. Dick Cheney voted against a congressional resolution calling for the release of Mandela and the recognition of the African National Congress. North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms "turned his back during Mandela's visit to the U.S. Capitol."
JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Yes, it's that's time of year again when working Americans foolishly blow their hard-earned money on junk primarily because of the thousands of advertisements that tell them to do just that at an accelerated rate during the holidays.
Of course, you're not supposed to know about the mothers and children in miserable conditions that labor to make all that material stuff for a buck a day, much less think about how the Company Men exploit the poor by turning them into automatons.
Just buy the stuff—that's all that matters. If you don't, Shame, shame, Oh the power of guilt! Why do you suppose the corporate networks broadcast the shopping malls as if it were a competitive race almost every night until the end of New Year's?
Oblivious shoppers, let me tell you a thing or two, there are no glossy photos at GAP, Old Navy, Tommy Hilfiger, Macy's, Kohl's...that capture the slaves of the world, the mothers and fathers, the children in Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, around the globe, and yes, right here in the good old U.S.A., sweating over hundreds of sewing machines for 10 hours at a time, shoulder to shoulder in suffocating, smelly rooms that resemble prisons with no fire exits. And when there are fires and workers die? The retailers simply turn their backs, refusing aid and compensation.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
'Tis the season to feel rage and heartache about the economy.
I feel hope as well, praise the Lord, thanks to Pope Francis and the alley behind my house, where nothing of value goes to waste.
I'm the kind of person who can't throw anything away, but sometimes I have to anyway — an old microwave, a sewing machine that hasn't been used in 20 years, a threadbare easy chair, tangled computer wires and other excruciating miscellany — and when I do, it's usually gone within a day, if not an hour. When I can no longer find value in what I possess, others see it as a gift from the universe.
The alley economy flows though my Chicago neighborhood 24/7, a sort of gift economy that continually revitalizes one's material possessions, in unnoticed defiance of the official, throwaway, money-profit-growth economy that has its claws around our world and is squeezing us to death. The alley economy is, in fact, part of a rudimentary social ecosystem, where forces collude for the common good and nothing is wasted.
This is the opposite of the official economy, where everything except growth and profit are held in contempt and the environmental and human commons are simultaneously exploited and polluted. Those who benefit from this system are just as trapped in it as the ones who are victimized by it, and will ultimately come tumbling down when sustainability collapses along with the rest of us, but in the meantime they are forced both to serve its perpetuation and ignore its hellish cost.
That last part — the tacit ignoring of what's wrong, the blurred distinction between news and advertising, the erosion of integrity in most forms of public communication — is particularly distressing, because without clarity of discussion we can't begin to address what's wrong and begin making crucial changes, even if they benefit everyone.
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Recent discoveries from the Kepler telescope have indicated that in our galaxy, the Milky Way, alone there are 647 possible "Earth-sized" planets orbiting various sun-star equivalents. (One does wonder how they get to that exact number.) And then there are an estimated 500 billion other galaxies out there. The speculation is becoming more intense as to whether or not there are other "intelligent" species on one or more of those planets. Well, the great Dr. Stephen Hawking's view to the contrary notwithstanding, given the vast distances of space it is unlikely that we will ever find out (nor would another intelligent species find out about us either). (Do note that "vast" is a word that vastly underrepresents the reality of what those distances really are.) But nevertheless one intriguing question is, if there is, or was, intelligent life that has developed the equivalent of what we call "civilization" elsewhere in the universe, is it co-existent in time with ours?
For it to be co-existent with ours, unless the timing were virtually exact, it would have to have lasted quite a bit longer than ours, because we, living in what we call "civilization," have been around for the mere twinkling of a geologic eye (less than 10,000 years). Further, our species is on the verge of self-destruction, whether due to global warming-induced climate change and its resultant disasters, over-population (and the resulting under-supply of food and water), depletion of natural resources, or nuclear war.
JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
December is a time of many holiday feasts - which makes it a good time to remember family farmers and the tremendous contributions they make to our country, culture, taste buds and tummies. But not all farmers contribute equally, which is why I'm sending out this special holiday sentiment to one group of unique agriculturalists: Thbbllllttttt!
That raspberry goes out to 50 billionaires who've been farming the U.S. farm subsidy program for years, harvesting a cornucopia of taxpayer cash for themselves or their corporate empires. They include top executives or owners of such diverse entities as Chase Manhattan Bank, Chick-fil-A, DISH Network, Fiji Water, Hyatt Hotels, Microsoft and Victoria's Secret. The diligent watchdogs of the Environmental Working Group matched the "Forbes 400" list of richest Americans with a farm subsidy database to unmask these Gucci-wearing Old MacDonalds. E-I-E-I-O, what a rip-off!