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.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Providing additional evidence that the Obama Administration's Department of Justice (DOJ) is protecting "banks too big to fail," Pulitzer Prize winning financial reporter David Cay Johnston has revealed that the DOJ has refused to force JPMorgan Chase to comply with an ongoing investigation into the bank's possible knowledge of Bernard Madoff's fraud scheme of a few years ago.
The information obtained might reveal that the bank chose to financially benefit from criminal activity:
Bernard Madoff’s principal bank, JPMorgan Chase, has for years obstructed federal bank examiners trying to ascertain what it knew about his gigantic Ponzi scheme, an official document obtained by Newsweek shows.
The Justice Department refused in September to back up Treasury inspector general staff who wanted a court order to enforce a subpoena, in effect shielding JPMorgan from law enforcement, the October 8 document shows.
The Justice Department told the Treasury Inspector General “that they were denying the request for enforcement of the subpoena,” which means officials “could not undertake further actions regarding this matter,” wrote Jason J. Metrick, the inspector general special-agent-in-charge.
Johnston disclosed the latest damning indication of the DOJ shielding Wall Street banks that dominate US finanes in a Newsweek article. The DOJ pattern of not exploring potential big bank criminal activity was admitted to by Attorney General Eric Holder.
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.
Santa’s factory is troubled at the North Pole.
A new economic model at last has taken a toll.
The old fellow finally has the temerity to confess,
even in Red states his elves couldn’t make less.
No incentive, no merriment, an absence of wages,
slave labor has replaced good will for all of the ages.
As Santa is forlorn, and the elves are all broke,
he has been acquired by the brothers Koch....
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It's now just one of those everyday occurences that we have become accustomed to, like reading the sports pages to see what teams won and lost.
Only, in the United States it's about who lost their lives in the ever unfolding toll of people shot to death -- or seriously injured -- with guns. Heck, it's really just filler for the newspaper or evening news now:
A 14-year-old Colorado girl mistaken for a burglar was shot and killed by her stepfather early on Monday morning at the home they shared, police said.
Police in Colorado Springs were called to respond to a report of a burglary on the city's north side and arrived at the scene to find the girl gravely injured from a gunshot wound, according to a police statement.
The girl was taken to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead, said police spokesman Larry Herbert.
There are countless variations: mass school shootings, domestic violence killings with guns, arguments over traffic accidents, accidental fatalities among young people, suicides, mall attacks -- and don't forget the casually reported, socially accepted decimation of minority communities by gunfire as if it was as culturally normal as buying groceries.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
If you've been following forecasts of the next step in the continuing right wing arc of austerity -- including the recently passed budget in which the Democrats considered it a victory that they held off Republicans from establishing charnel houses for starving Americans to die in (an embellishment, but not far from the metaphoric truth) -- the forces of putting the poor on pitchforks and roasting them alive for being parasites are marching on.
In a December 19th New York Times op-ed, Timothy Egan takes note of the fire and brimstone hatred of the less fortunate in society by the rabid right:
As the year ends, this argument is playing out in two of the most meanspirited actions left on the table by the least-productive Congress in modern history. The House, refuge of the shrunken-heart caucus, has passed a measure to eliminate food aid for four million Americans, starting next year. Many who would remain on the old food stamp program may have to pass a drug test to get their groceries. At the same time, Congress has let unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million people, beginning just a few days after Christmas.
Rand Paul and the Tea Party crew make Scrooge look like generosity incarnate. Of course, Egan notes of execrable attitudes toward most of the people on the earth who haven't been able to partake of the good fortune of most of those in Congress, "Should I also mention that the median net worth for new members of the current Congress is exactly $1 million more than that of the typical American household — and that that may influence their view?"
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.
LABOR FIGHTBACK NETWORK FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On December 10, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 332-94 in favor of changes to the federal budget for 2014. The House vote in effect adopted the proposals of the "Joint Congressional Committee," co-chaired by Republican Tea Party House leader Paul Ryan and Senate Democrat Patty Murray. The measure excludes extending benefits for the 1.3 million long-term unemployed. 169 Republicans and 163 Democrats in the House voted for it.
What happened to the Democrats, who promote themselves as representing workers' interests? 163 House Democrats in effect voted to exclude the long-term unemployed from receiving extended benefits. Only 32 voted against the deal.
Yes, there are promises by the politicians that the issue will be taken up when Congress reconvenes in January. But it faces an uncertain future as the Republicans will make every effort to extract their pound of flesh in order to approve extending unemployment compensation for the long-term unemployed. First, they will demand an "offset" for the $25 billion cost of the program for one year, meaning the probability of cutting other social programs to pay for it. Second, they are likely to make qualifying for the benefit more difficult and onerous. Third, they may well attempt to reduce the amount of the payments. Of course, if the Democrats had been steadfast on behalf of the affected workers during the negotiations that led to final enactment of the budget, there would have been no need for uncertainty on any of these scores, at least in the near term.
So whom else does this new budget deal benefit and whom else does it hurt?
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Antonin Scalia is rumored to belong to the secretive Catholic Opus Dei Society, which is said to number about 100,000 world wide. Its main tenets our God is an authoritarian and, therefore, Opus Dei adherents support dictatorial societies; that women stand behind men; that mass should be in Latin; and that God created a natural order of life in which the rich are rich and the poor are poor -- and the divine order of inequality shouldn't be disrupted.
In fact Opus Dei, which is so covert it won't reveal its membership, has neither denied nor confirmed if Scalia belongs to the highly conservative theological church within a church.
Nevertheless, these and other beliefs of the renegade right wing Catholic cult are basic to Scalia's rulings on the Supreme Court.
It remains to be seen whether Pope Francis is the "new Coke" of the Catholic Church or an agent of change. But clearly, his pronouncements thus far on the potential devastation of capitalism, the needs of the poor to be attended to now, his first-ever -- although less than comprehensive amidst an institution that is still gender discriminatory on a massive scale -- words of tolerance toward gay men (The Advocate just named him "Person of the Year"); his pronouncement that some of his good friends are Marxists; his reaching out to other religions; and so on are enough -- even if only words for now -- to make Scalia apopleptic, which warms the cockles of many a heart this holiday season.