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FrancisPopeIf anyone wonders whether Pope Francis has irritated wealthy conservatives with his courage and idealism, the latest outburst from Kenneth Langone left little doubt. Sounding both aggressive and whiny, the billionaire investor warned that he and his overprivileged friends might withhold their millions from church and charity unless the pontiff stops preaching against the excesses and cruelty of unleashed capitalism.

According to Langone, such criticism from the Holy See could ultimately hurt the sensitive feelings of the rich so badly that they become "incapable of feeling compassion for the poor." He also said rich donors are already losing their enthusiasm for the restoration of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan — a very specific threat that he mentioned directly to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

Langone is not only a leading fundraiser for church projects but a generous donor to hospitals, universities and cancer charities (often for programs and buildings named after him, in the style of today's self-promoting philanthropists). Among the super-rich, he has many friends and associates who may share his excitable temperament.

While his ultimatum seems senseless — would a person of true faith stiff the church and the poor? — it may well be sincere. And Langone spends freely to promote his political and economic views, in the company of the Koch brothers and other Republican plutocrats.


DucksFrom the I-can-see-it-coming-down-the-pike department: Remember Obama's "Beer Date" with Professor Henry Louis Gates and Police Sergeant James Crowley? Well ... Wait for it ... don't be shocked if sometime in 2014, we see a made for TV "Duck Date."

There's been some quacking these days on the Internets that Phil Robertson, the recently suspended and subsequently unsuspended patriarch and star of A&E's "Duck Dynasty" is going to get together for some old-fashioned duck hunting, duck eating, or a duck and cover drill with the likes of Jesse Jackson and/or Al Sharpton.

Is someone blowing smoke, or one of the Robertson family's duck whistles?

By now, unless you've been hiding out in some duck blind in the swamps of the Lower East Side in New York City, you've heard of Phil RobertsonGate. In an interview with GQ magazine Robertson made anti-gay comments and painted a thoroughly unrealistic and un-conscious portrait of life for African Americans in the south during his youth.

Lloyd Marcus is taking the possibility of a "Duck Date" seriously. Marcus is a black conservative musician whose claim to fame is having written a Tea Party Anthem. Marcus took the anthem on the road in 2010, headlining the "Tea Party Express III: Just Vote Them Out" bus tour. Marcus must have enjoyed the bus-riding experiences, as he became a regular rider on other bus blasts including the Stop Obama Tour, a batch of Tea Party Express Tours and the Defeat Obama Renew America Tour.


amineresisA Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicleThe sheriff of Bastrop County, Texas, is a pretty happy man.

He just took possession of a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle for his police force.  It's a gift from the US military -- paid for by taxpayers -- part of a surplus giveaway program to police deparments.

Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Joey Dzienowki told the Austin Statesman, “I look at this as the fire department looks at a new fire truck."  Gee, I wonder when the kids can get a free ride on the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, July 4th? "When it’s not in use on calls, the county’s SWAT team will use the MRAP in training and the county may display it at various events for citizens to examine," Dzienowki explained to the Statesman.


ChristmasTreeAnother winter solstice has come and gone, and yes, the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus has once again survived the alleged "War on Christmas." In fact, as of this year, this pretend war may finally be ending — and not because those "defending" Christmas won some big battle, but because more and more Americans are realizing there is no such war at all.

This is one of the key findings of a new poll about Christmas from Fairleigh Dickinson University. In that survey, only 28 percent of respondents said they believe liberals are waging a war on Christmas. That's a steep decline from last year, when a Public Policy Polling survey found 47 percent of Americans believing there is a war against the holiday.

All of this is good news — especially because these welcome public opinion trends are coinciding with a renewed effort by the divide-and-conquer crowd to continue manufacturing division. Indeed, as just one example, Fox News' Megyn Kelly tried to make the "War on Christmas" meme into a full-on race war by insisting that both Santa Claus and Jesus must be depicted as white. Apparently, Rupert Murdoch's cable television empire is still trying to turn the holiday into another excuse to promote conflict. Thankfully, polls show that the ruse isn't working.

Of course, using the word "holiday" in reference to anything around Jesus's birthday is apparently still seen as controversial in many quarters. Yes, in the same Fairleigh Dickinson poll, two thirds of respondents want "Merry Christmas" rather than the more universal "Happy Holidays" used as the season's greetings. Similarly, only about a quarter of Americans believe public schools should host non-religious events instead of explicitly religious Christmas festivities.

This, alas, is the residual bad news in the aftermath of the "War on Christmas," for it embodies a my-way-or-the-highway narcissism that runs counter to the nation's founding principles.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013 15:52

William Rivers Pitt | Tonight, I Raise a Glass


LoveTonight, I raise a glass to many upon many, and to many more again.

I raise a glass to those who ran to the sound and the smoke and the screams and the blood on Boylston Street in Boston, to do what they could. I raise a glass to those who survived, and to those who did not. I raise a glass to those with a hole in their life now; I have wept for you and yours more times this year than I can say, and I hold you and yours close to my heart tonight.

I raise a glass to you who have gone to war, and have come home to feel the back of America's hand as you limp on your prosthetic or tremble in disorder. It has been wisely said that a nation which does not care for its veterans, for he and she who has borne the battle, and their widow, and their orphan, has no business making new veterans in new wars anywhere, ever. To you, I raise a glass.

I raise a glass to every man and woman who wants to work but cannot find employment or get assistance because a few people you will never meet have decided it is politically expedient to see you suffer. They will tell you this nation has no money, which is a filthy lie; we have money, lots and lots of money, which is sent to strange and greedy corners because what we lack is not money, but a proper set of priorities. I raise a glass to you, and wish you a better year than the one you have endured.

I raise a glass to the healers, the helpers, the activists arrested trying to defend the right to vote, the right not to be poisoned by a pipeline or a fracking field, the right not to be harassed by police, the right to smoke a joint and make cancer just a bit less of a burden. I raise a glass to you who Occupies, who dares, who risks, who stands for us all.


bernis12 31The Congress has just ended one of the worst and least productive sessions in the history of our country. At a time when the problems facing us are monumental, Congress is dysfunctional and more and more people (especially the young) are, understandably, giving up on the political process. The people are hurting. They look to Washington for help. Nothing is happening.

In my view, the main cause of congressional dysfunction is an extreme right-wing Republican party whose main goal is to protect the wealthy and powerful. There is no tax break for the rich or large corporations that they don't like. There is no program which protects working families -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, affordable housing, etc. -- that they don't want to cut.

But the Democrats (with whom I caucus as an Independent) are most certainly not without fault. In the Senate, they have tolerated Republican obstructionism for much too long and allowed major legislation to fail for lack of 60 votes. They have failed to bring forth a strong and consistent agenda which addresses the economic crises facing the vast majority of our struggling population, and have not rallied the people in support of that agenda.

As we survey our country at the end of 2013, I don't have to tell you about the crises we face. Many of you are experiencing them every day.


atransm12 30There's one overhwelming dirigible-size reason for-profit (and often monopolistic) utility companies -- that transmit and sell most of America's energy -- generally discourage, if not crush, residential solar (and other renewable) energy: fear of large scale loss of profit.

Last Friday, I wrote a commentary on a Hawaii for-profit electrical utility company that was taking new measures to dampen the selling (called "net metering" in the industry) of excessive solar energy back for distribution to other utility customers. The commentary was entitled, "Booming Solar Energy Halted by Hawaii Utility Because Sun Produces Too Much Power!" 

The BuzzFlash at Truthout column was based on information provided in a Scientific American (no bastion of leftist bias) article entitled, "A Solar Boom So Successful, It's Been Halted: Photovoltaics proved so successful in Hawaii that the local utility, HECO, has instituted policies to block further expansion." Thus far, the BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary has received 11,000 Facebook likes and a lot of shocked readers. 


stockmarketAnyone reviewing the data is likely to conclude that there must be some mistake. It doesn't seem possible that one out of twenty American families could each have made a million dollars since Obama became President, while the average American family's net worth has barely recovered. But the evidence comes from numerous reputable sources. 

Some conservatives continue to claim that President Obama is unfriendly to business, but the facts show that the richest Americans and the biggest businesses have been the main - perhaps only - beneficiaries of the massive wealth gain over the past five years. 

1. $5 Million to Each of the 1%, and $1 Million to Each of the Next 4%

From the end of 2008 to the middle of 2013 total U.S. wealth increased from $47 trillion to $72 trillion. About $16 trillion of that is financial gain (stocks and other financial instruments). 

The richest 1% own about 38 percent of stocks, and half of non-stock financial assets. So they've gained at least $6.1 trillion (38 percent of $16 trillion). That's over $5 million for each of 1.2 million households. 

The next richest 4%, based on similar calculations, gained about $5.1 trillion. That's over a million dollars for each of their 4.8 million households. 

The least wealthy 90% in our country own only 11 percent of all stocks excluding pensions (which are fast disappearing). 


asolpan33Let's try to summarize this astounding Scientific American article that symbolizes the tentacles of the fossil fuel industry and utility companies in perpetuating destructive climate change.

Actually, the header and sub-headline of the piece sum it up nicely: "A Solar Boom so Successful, It's Been Halted: Photovoltaics proved so successful in Hawaii that the local utility, [the Hawaiian Electric Company] (HECO), has instituted policies to block further expansion."

Hawaiian residents are investing their own money to save longterm costs and the environment.  The result is that they are producing a surplus of solar energy beyond what they can use in their homes.  This extra energy is supposed to be diverted back into the power grid to save money on HECO's reliance on oil and to reduce global warming.


Magnifying-glassIf 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.

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