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.
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.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Paul Crouch, once one of the most powerful men in the world of televangelism, has died at 79 after a ten-year battle with degenerative heart disease. Crouch, co-founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network with his wife Janice, was a master at pitching the "prosperity gospel," and prosperity surely came his way. Crouch and Janice had "matching his-and-her mansions in Newport Beach, Calif., and used multimillion dollar corporate jets," entertainment.time.com pointed out.
Crouch's wealth not only grew out of the power of his own preaching and fundraising solicitations, it also came from selling time on his network to many of the world's best known preachers. And, the Crouches were ultimate survivors, having, as Religion Dispatches' Sarah Posner recently pointed out, "survived many a media exposé."
The Trinity Broadcasting Network, founded in 1973 -- well before the rise of the Rev. Jerry Falwell and a decade after Pat Robertson founded his Christian Broadcasting Network -- has been called the world's largest Christian broadcasting network. According to the Associated Press, the Costa Mesa, California-based TBN has "84 satellite channels and more than 18,000 television and cable affiliates as well as a Christian amusement park in Orlando."
AP reported that "Crouch began his broadcasting career while studying theology at Central Bible Institute and Seminary in his native Missouri by helping build the campus' radio station. He moved to California in the early 1960s to manage the movie and television unit of the Assemblies of God before founding Trinity Broadcast Network in 1973 with his wife."
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
U.S. drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries may be militarily effective, but they are killing innocent civilians in a way that is obscene and immoral. I'm afraid that ignoring this ugly fact makes Americans complicit in murder.
It is understandable why President Obama has made drone attacks his go-to weapon in the fight against terrorists and the Taliban. Armed, pilotless aircraft allow the CIA and the military to target individuals in enemy strongholds without putting U.S. lives at risk. But efficacy is not legitimacy, and I don't see how drone strikes can be considered a wholly legitimate way to wage war.
This is an unpopular view in Washington -- especially at the White House, where Obama and his aides have done much to erase the stain on the nation's honor left by the excesses of George W. Bush's Global War on Terrorism. It is to his great credit that Obama ended torture, shut down the CIA's secret overseas prisons and made a good-faith effort to close the detention center at Guantanamo.
But Obama has greatly expanded the use of drones, and his version of the terror war looks a lot like a campaign of assassination.
Even if the intelligence agents and military officers who operate the drones have perfect knowledge -- meaning they are absolutely certain the target is a dangerous enemy -- and fire the drones' missiles with perfect accuracy, this amounts to summary execution. Is such killing morally defensible?
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"The only premise of the book was to just go out and listen."
And the book, edited by Miles Harvey, who is quoted above, is remarkable. It's one of a kind, as far as I know – How Long Will I Cry? – the first publication of a newly formed nonprofit organization called Big Shoulders Books, which is affiliated with Chicago's DePaul University. It's available free of charge, because . . . how could a cry in the wilderness be otherwise?
It's a cry in the wilderness punctuated by gunfire. Usually all we hear is the gunfire, emanating from "those" neighborhoods, the violent ones, "so physically and spiritually isolated from the rest of us," as Alex Kotlowitz describes them in his foreword. How Long Will I Cry? is an attempt – no, I mean a beginning – at ending that isolation.
It's the dream and collaboration of lots of people who live in and love Chicago, cultural mecca and, in recent years, "murder capital" of America. This book begins telling the city's untold story, which is the untold story of so much of the country. It lets loose the voices of children, teenagers, adults who have been wounded by the violence that is the shadow side of American and human culture: the voices of those who have lost their children and their friends to it; the voices of those who have grown up with it; the voices of those who have participated in it and been dragged into it.
There are 35 interviews in all. Together they convey the complex dynamic of poverty, despair and hope beyond hope. We need to listen. We need to find a collective resolve to end the violence.
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.