ROBERT SCHEER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Finally, Barack Obama may prove deserving of his Nobel Peace Prize by joining with England, France, China, Russia and Germany in negotiating an eminently sensible rapprochement with Iran on its nuclear program. Following on his pullback from war with Syria and instead, successfully negotiating the destruction of that country's supply of chemical weapons, this is another bold step to fulfill the peacemaking promise that got him elected president in the first place.
As Obama reminded his audience at an event Monday in San Francisco, he was fulfilling the pledge from his first campaign to usher in a "new era of American leadership, one that turned the page on a decade of war." As a candidate in 2007, he committed to engage in "aggressive personal diplomacy" with Iran's leaders, and he has now done just that.
This is potentially an international game changer comparable to Richard Nixon's opening to Mao's Red China and Ronald Reagan's overtures to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, two examples of heroic diplomacy that combined to destroy the underpinnings of the Cold War. Those who continually call for regime change in Iran as a condition for improved relations with that country, as Obama's critics are now doing, ignore that history.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The U.S.-led deal to freeze Iran's nuclear program is a great accomplishment on many levels. Begin with the most basic: What if the talks in Geneva had failed?
If Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had gone home empty-handed, we would likely be drifting toward war. Iran's uranium-enrichment centrifuges would continue whirling until it became unambiguously clear that the nation, if it chose, could make a "breakout" dash to build a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks -- something President Obama has said he will not allow.
The president could decide to attack Iran's nuclear facilities or he could wait until Israeli military action forced his hand. Either way, we'd be engaged in another Middle East war -- one whose economic, political and human consequences could be dire.
So what did Kerry do in Geneva? He won an agreement that not only freezes Iran's nuclear-enrichment program for six months but actually rolls it back; that prevents new nuclear facilities from coming online; and that provides for unprecedented daily inspections to ensure that Iran is living up to it commitments.
Let me restate that to make it clearer: In May of next year, Iran will be further away from being able to build a bomb than it is today.
And this achievement is being attacked with the word "appeasement" and references to Munich? Give me a break.
JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Sometimes it pays just to go away. You could ask Jim Skinner about that.
He was CEO of the hamburger behemoth, McDonald's, pulling down a hefty $8.8 million in pay. Last year, though, Skinner retired, and, rather than getting a gold watch, he was given a load of gold — so large that even a Brink's armored truck would have been too small to haul it all away. His salary of $753,000 was the least of it. The Big Mac chain also served up $1.7 million to the chief in stock and $3 million in option awards. Then it slathered on another $10.2 million in retirement pay. All that was topped by a super-rich dessert: $11.6 million in "incentive pay."
What? Why does a guy with millions already on his food tray need any incentive to do his job? Maybe because Skinner found it hard to stomach the biggest part of his job, which was to pay poverty wages to McDonald's workers, shove thousands of them onto food stamps and other programs paid for by taxpayers, and lobby aggressively to prevent any increases in the minimum wage or any tax hikes on uber-rich elites like him.
It's dirty work, but Skinner did it, finally skipping away with a 2012 pay package totaling $27.7 million. Yet, in the phantasmagoric plutocracy of CorporateLand, too much is not enough. Last year, for the first time ever, the 10 highest-paid CEOs in America hauled in at least $100 million each, even as the great majority of workaday families have lost income.
This gaping (and ever-widening) inequality is the greatest threat to our society's cohesion. Too few people now control an unconscionable and untenable share of America's money and power, using it to grab more of both for themselves. They can build a $100-million wall, but it won't be high enough to hide their greed from the rest of us.
WILLIAM RIVERS PITT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Boy o boy, the bodies on the fainting couches are stacked three deep over at the Washington Post in the aftermath of the Senate's historic rule change regarding the filibuster.
Dana Milbank: "The Democrats' naked power grab...they will come to deeply regret what they have done."
The Post's Editorial Board: "After filibuster vote, both parties will face nasty 'nuclear' fallout...Both parties have been guilty...Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) proved not enough of a leader to resist the 'naked power grab.'"
JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Nobody in Washington talks much about the poor in America these days, even though they are more and more with us in the economic aftermath of the Great Recession. Perhaps that is why the Washington Post welcomed Paul Ryan's recent declaration that he wants to fight poverty "with kinder, gentler policies to encourage work and upward mobility."
The Wisconsin Republican confided to a Post reporter that he has been "quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods" — too quietly to gain any favorable publicity, until now — and consulting with all the usual suspects in the capital's right-wing think tanks. He wants everyone to understand that he is seeking to figure out the problems faced by poor folks and how he can help.
As a 2016 presidential hopeful, Ryan evidently intends to rebrand himself as a "compassionate conservative" — the same propaganda meme deployed by former President George W. Bush and Karl Rove during the prelude to the 2000 campaign for president — at a moment when the Republican Party badly needs appealing new images and ideas. The Bush gang dropped that gimmick well before they entered the White House, and it was never glimpsed again. But whenever a Republican spouts kinder, gentler, compassionate-conservative babble, the vaunted cynicism of the capital press corps gets washed away in a warm bath of credulity.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Way to nuke 'em, Harry.
It was time -- actually, long past time -- for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to invoke the "nuclear option" and ask his colleagues to change the Senate's rules. This isn't about partisan politics. It's about making what has been called "the world's greatest deliberative body" function the way the Framers of the Constitution intended.
Recently, it has barely functioned, as Republicans abused the old rules to prevent the chamber from performing its enumerated duties. There was a time when the minority party in the Senate would have been embarrassed to use such tactics in pursuit of ends that are purely political, but we seem to live in an era without shame.
This month, Republicans used the filibuster to block three of President Obama's nominees to serve on the 11-seat D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, often described as the second most powerful court in the land.
There was no suggestion that any of the nominees -- Patricia Millett, Cornelia "Nina" Pillard and Robert L. Wilkins -- is in any way unqualified to sit on the court. There was no hint of controversy or scandal. There was no good reason to reject any of them, yet Republicans decided to filibuster all three. And since the Democratic majority controls just 55 votes, short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster, three long-vacant seats on the D.C. court remained unfilled.
There is a stated reason, an ideological reason and a real reason for this pattern of GOP intransigence, each more bogus than the last.
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders published the following data set on his website:
In America today, the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of our country's financial wealth. The bottom 60 percent owns 2.3 percent. The increasing wealth inequality in the United States has become the great moral issue of our time.
In America today, one family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent, and the top 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom half of our country -- over 150 million people.
In terms of income, the top 1 percent earns more than the bottom 50 percent, while the wealthiest 16,000 Americans, who make more than $10 million a year (the top 0.01 percent), saw their income increase by nearly a third between 2011 and 2012.
According to a recent study, from 2009 to 2012, 95 percent of all new income went to the top 1 percent. Meanwhile, since 1999, median family income declined by more than $5,000 after adjusting for inflation.
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JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
What is it like to be poor and homeless?
I'm thinking about Homer's Iliad. At the end of his long journey home, Athena concealed Odysseus' identity by disguising him as a homeless old man. Odysseus appears as a beggar until he rightfully claims his true position as head of his household and ruler of Ithake.
Homer is suggesting in this classic masterpiece that the gods are watching us. They're putting our souls to the moral test: how will you treat those in need? Will you act with integrity and compassion? Or will you behave like ruthless swine and chase them away with sledgehammers?
Moral of the story: Be careful about judging people on the basis of appearances. We all know what happened to the tyrants that took over Odysseus' home. No one recognized the true identity of Odysseus in beggars' clothes except for his beloved dog.
If Hawaii's state representative Tom Brower (D) appeared in this ancient tale, he would fail all the moral and ethical tests of character. As Truthout editor William Rivers Pitt put it:
"Tom Brower goes around with a sledgehammer smashing the belongings of homeless people to bits. He is 'disgusted' by the homeless, doesn't want to see them, and is so proud of his actions that he happily allows himself to be filmed while swinging the hammer at the meager possessions of the most vulnerable people in our society."
Truthout and BuzzFlash are able to confront the forces of greed and regression only because we don’t take corporate funding. Support us in this fight: make a tax-deductible donation today by clicking here!
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
At the time New Jersey established a ban on fracking, it seemed symbolic, much like the moratorium in Vermont, which has no economically recoverable natural gas; the Marcellus Shale, primarily in New York and Pennsylvania, doesn't extend into New Jersey.
New York has a moratorium on fracking until a health impact statement is completed.
Pennsylvania, rushing to compete with groundhogs in digging up the state, has no such moratorium. Nor does the state have any plans to conduct extensive research into the health effects of fracking—Gov. Tom Corbett, the gas industry's cheerleader, cut $2 million from the Department of Health to provide for a public health analysis.
As it is, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie exercised his authority and partially vetoed his state's moratorium to reduce it to a one-year ban. That moratorium expired in January.
During this past year, more evidence became public. Beneath New Jersey and extending into southeastern Pennsylvania lies the Newark Basin.
But, even then, New Jersey residents may believe they are safe. Although there was economically recoverable gas in the South Newark basin that lies beneath five counties in Pennsylvania, most of New Jersey is barren of recoverable gas in the North Newark Basin.
BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In the thirty six-years I have been a lawyer, I have seen many people take brave moral actions. I have represented hundreds in Louisiana and across our country who have been arrested for protesting for peace, civil rights, economic justice, and human rights for all. It is amazing to see people put their freedom on the line when they risk jail for justice.
None are braver than the seventeen immigrant workers arrested in New Orleans at the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These mothers and fathers, members of the Congress of Day Laborers at the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, are standing up for justice and risking being deported from the U.S. They risk being separated from their children, many of whom are U.S. citizens.
These workers simply ask for the right to remain in the city they helped rebuild. I was in New Orleans before, during, and after Katrina. Thousands of immigrant workers arrived and labored to help us rebuild our communities. They often did the dirty work, the unsafe work, for minimal wages. They stood with us in our time of need. Now it is our time to stand with them.