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Monday, 29 December 2014 06:47

Greed Kings of 2014: How They Stole From Us

2014.12.29.Chevron.BFChevron Tower in Houston, Texas. (Image: Dave Wilson / Flickr)

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The Merriam-Webster definition of 'steal' is to take the property of another wrongfully and especially as a habitual or regular practice. Much of our country's new wealth has been regularly taken by individuals or corporations in a wrongful manner, either through nonpayment of taxes or failure to compensate other contributors to their successes.


1. The Corporations

As schools and local governments are going broke around the country, companies who built their businesses with American research and education and technology and infrastructure are paying less in taxes than ever before. Incredibly, over half of U.S. corporate foreign profits are now being held in tax havens, double the share of just twenty years ago. Corporations are stealing from the nation that made them rich.

There are many examples of greed among individual firms. Based largely on 2014 SEC documents submitted by the companies themselves:

---Exxon has almost 80% of its productive oil and gas wells in the U.S. but declared only 17% of its income here. The company used a theoretical tax to account for 83% of last year's income tax bill, and paid less than 2% of its total income in current U.S. taxes.

---Chevron has about 75% of its oil and gas wells and almost 90% of its pipeline mileage in the United States, yet the company claimed only 13% of last year's income in the U.S., and paid almost nothing (less than 1/10 of 1%) in current U.S. taxes.

Friday, 26 December 2014 07:13

Refusing to Wage War Is Possible

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHandsUp2(Photo: Jamelle Bouie)And so we grieve over another national tragedy.

Two New York City police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were shot as they sat in their patrol car this past weekend. Let the needlessness of their deaths rip our hearts open. Let the humanity come first.

"Now is a moment for empathy and deep listening."

The words are from a statement issued by #BlackLivesMatter, a grassroots movement emerging this year over the spate of police killings of young men of color. The murder of the officers is part of the same tragedy. Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter. Any thinking that embraces less than this is part of the problem, not the solution.

"The family of Michael Brown condemns today's senseless killing of two NYPD officers," a family spokesman said. "We reject any kind of violence directed toward members of law enforcement. It cannot be tolerated. We must work together to bring peace to our communities."

Far too many people, and far too many institutions, have vested interests in not working together. Bridging these artificial divides is the primary task of building peace. It requires setting aside our anger and our righteousness and walking toward one another with reverence, not with loaded weapons. If all lives matter, then we cannot declare war. With war you get nothing but losers.

MICHAEL SEIFERT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ajosephmaryIt is hypocritical to celebrate the refuge provided to Joseph and Mary when the US builds walls to keep out migrants. (Photo: Roadsidepictures)

Back in Brownsville, where is no outdoor ice skating, there were, nonetheless, crowds of people lined up and engaged in another evening activity—la posada. An old latin Christmas tradition, the ritual recalls the journey of the pregnant Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where they sought hospitality in a local inn (“posada” meaning “inn”). There was some urgency, as Mary was going into labor.

As is the custom, during the week leading up to Christmas, all across our region, neighbors gathered at a home, and, having dressed up two children as the Holy Pilgrims, knocked on a neighbor’s door, seeking refuge. Eventually, amid songs and pleadings, the hosts opened their door, the Holy Family was received amid applause, and tamales and hot chocolate were served.

This celebration of hospitality has its own overtones of grace. Even if the strangers at the door were the Mother of God, she is disguised as one amongst many other pilgrims. Opening a door to strangers in the middle of the night requires its own measure of courage—and wisdom.

The courage part is obvious, but the wisdom of this behavior is not always so clear. The letter to the Hebrews counsels, “love your own, always, but do the same with strangers, remembering how sometimes these turn out to be angels” (Hebrews 13:1-2). The text recalls the ancient experience of Abraham’s encounter with three strangers who turn, after receiving his generous and fearless hospitality, turns history on its head (Genesis 18: 2). A wise person–Abraham, in this case–recognizes moments of grace and possibility. Abraham’s act of hospitality is one of the foundational myths of Jews, Christians and Muslims,  underscores the sense that life-changing moments require courage and wisdom.

Along the southern border, the celebration of las posadas this year might be particularly poignant. This past June, tens of thousands of families, fleeing the horror of gang violence in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, crossed into the United States. The vast majority were women and their children. Most all of them were not “sneaking into the USA” but surrendered to the border patrol—a contemporary way of knocking on the nation’s door. They were seeking refuge and sanctuary. Many of them, even with the stringent guidelines for seeking asylum, could have made good cases for that relief. Those folks, it should be noted, were “legal” immigrants.

The reactions to these strangers ran the gamut from astonishing courage to depressing cowardice.

Niall McLaren for BuzzFlash at Truthout

2860692024 11e9d3e897 oAre wars for oil and McDonald's worth the backlash of inciting violence? (Photo: Clare Solomon)Sydney, Australia, in lock-down:

Sydney is a lovely city of about five million, lazily sprawled along the sandy beaches of the cerulean South Pacific. Most visitors to Sydney enjoy their stay and are left with a favorable impression of the laid-back Sydneysiders. Monday, 15th December, the central city area went into "lock-down" after an alleged Muslim "fanatic" armed with a shotgun took seventeen people hostage in a well-known cafe in the heart of the city. Fifteen hours later, after some hostages had escaped, special police forces stormed the building. When the dust settled, the kidnapper and two hostages were found dead.

It emerged that the assailant, one Man Haron Moniss, an Iranian-born refugee, was in the habit of calling himself a sheikh, although he wasn't. He had an extensive police record in Iran prior to bolting, and was wanted by Iranian police for major fraud. In this country, he first gained notoriety by writing vitriolic letters to the families of deceased Australian soldiers killed in the Middle East, and was charged under a little-known section of the postal act. He appealed this conviction to the High Court, which could not decide whether the act breached the constitution or not. He was equally well-known to Australian police as he was on bail as an accomplice to the brutal murder of his ex-wife by his second girlfriend, as well as having a string of charges for sexual offences. He was also well-known in the Muslim community as a fraud, an inveterate troublemaker and a vexatious litigant. There seems no doubt that he was what we psychiatry professionals call a fruitloop. Despite all this, he was not on any terrorism watch-lists as he was not known to be a member of any organization. One presumes he wasn't in any groups because nobody could put up with him.

Now this is very interesting, because a few weeks ago, I predicted exactly this scenario. No, I didn't name the offender, nor did I say when or where he would strike, how many people he would involve or with what consequences. What I did say was that, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, somebody will stage some sort of shocking and bizarre event:

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

obamasantaObama has fostered an economy that showers the rich with gifts. (Photo: Carlos)

The stock market just hit a record high on December 22; the gross domestic product (GDP) is growing at its fastest rate in more than a decade; and the top 1% has received more than 95% of the economic gains since 2008, according to at least two studies (previously discussed on BuzzFlash).

Moreover, these factors, among others, also facilitate an even wider income divide - something akin to an economic Grand Canyon. This is like the jingling of Christmas bells to the plutocracy; it means more concentrated wealth and cheaper labor (because of the increased number of people willing to accept lower wages in order to have employment). The decreasing domestic (and global) labor costs, in turn, increase corporate profits.

In short, the richest have been getting steadily, inordinately wealthier during the two terms of the Obama administration....

If Ronald Reagan were president now, the Republicans would be worshiping him as a God sent down to earth to lead Milton Friedman capitalism into a gilded age of oligarchical triumph - coronating him with a laurel wreath as if he were a Caesar of mammon.

What could be more cheery for millionaires and billionaires than becoming even more bloated with money during this holiday season? They should be hailing Obama as Santa Claus for the well heeled, instead of portraying him as some sort of cross between Lenin and the Antichrist.

JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCubaValley(Photo: Gardenparty)Listen carefully to the Republican leaders and presidential hopefuls roaring with outrage over President Barack Obama's courageous decision to normalize relations with Cuba; listen very carefully, because no matter how long or how closely you listen to them, there is one thing you will surely never hear.

You will never hear a new idea — or any idea — about bringing liberty, democracy and prosperity to the suffering Cuban people.

Instead, the furious denunciations of the president's initiative from his adversaries reveal only an intellectual void on Capitol Hill, where the imperatives remain partisan and cynical. Everyone paying attention has known for decades that the frozen relationship between the United States and Cuba has accomplished nothing — except possibly the prolongation of the Castro regime, which has long considered the embargo a plausible excuse for its own economic failures and viewed the United States as a politically convenient enemy.

Anyone who has visited the island knows that the Cubans wish nothing more than to see the embargo lifted because they know it has done nothing to advance their liberty or prosperity — just the opposite.

WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBushFamily(Photo: Happyme22)Still recovering from the sonic bombshell dropped by Jeb Bush announcing he was officially upgrading his prospective candidate status from... considering the formation of an exploratory committee to investigate the feasibility of a possible run for the presidency to... actually authorizing the formation of an exploratory committee that will investigate the feasibility of a possible run for the presidency. Our little caterpillar is now one step closer to being a big bad beautiful butterfly.

No one will admit the obvious: that the efforts of this exploratory committee could boil down to a simple poll question asking potential voters to rate how deep is their well of Bush Fatigue, on a 1- 5 scale. With 1 being, "who cares what name is on the ballot, they're all big fat liars anyway" to 5 indicating; "read my lips, no new Bushes. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. Did I mention ever? Because I meant to say ever. Again." (long pause) "Ever."

John Ellis Bush, (Jeb for the initials) is son of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States and younger brother of George Walker Bush, (Gwibby) the 43rd President. And proving that all things are relative, the former Florida Governor is generally considered "the smart one."

Since sister Dorothy is a civilian, brother Marvin is retired, and other brother Neil's main claim to fame is miraculously not being indicted in the Silverado Savings & Loan debacle during the 80s, Jeb is the last great hope for the Bush Family to finally pull off a third invasion of Iraq and get it right.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acolbertwhcorr

Other columnists have remarked on the masterful run of Stephen Colbert as a bloviating blowhard based on Bill O'Reilly, who drenched right-wing zealotry in wry, undercutting irony. With the campy, rousing grand finale of "The Colbert Report" last Thursday, the former "Daily Show" reporter - who will now be the next host of "Late Night" will reportedly jettison his corrosive imitation of O'Reilly and be reincarnated as Stephen Colbert, bedtime talk show host.

Colbert may have indefatigably skewered the pomposity of right wing media pundits, but like all brilliant comedians he never was above indulging in comic shtick that could be traced back to the silliness of vaudeville. His "slaying" of Grimy - a Halloween costume incarnation of the grim reaper - before a non-functioning green screen in the last episode of his show was testament to Colbert's occasional willingness to elicit laughter even if cheezy, in the manner of Johnny Carson's tacky but humorous skits.

Nonetheless, Colbert brought a civility to humor that was distinct. His frequent author interviews were as waggish as they were revealing - and a forum for a much under-appreciated skill in the United States today: literacy. He was always the wittiest person on the set, but also simultaneously a calculatingly caricature. How many people can eviscerate their own assertion of ludicrous right-wing arguments with such unwavering aplomb?

2014.12.22.Bush.BFJeb Bush. (Photo: The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia / Flickr)

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Let's get one thing straight from the jump; no matter how his conservative compadres try to label him, Jeb Bush is no liberal, nor a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Bush's response to President Barack Obama's recent historic initiative regarding Cuba – calling it a "foreign policy misstep" and a "dramatic overreach" -- puts him squarely inside the conservative bubble regarding relations with Cuba, which basically translates to "stay the course." On most issues, despite what folks at the Heritage Foundation and The Patriot Post are currently saying about him, Bush's conservative credentials are unimpeachable.

Against his mother's better judgment, Bush appears to be laying the groundwork for a presidential run by announcing that he will establish a leadership PAC early next year. In a Facebook post, Bush wrote: "As a result of ... [family] conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs," he wrote, "I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States." Thus the plan to set up a political action committee to "facilitate conversations with citizens across America."

The early announcement likely has several purposes: 1) convince the big-time billionaire Republican Party financial backers to hold off on writing checks to any of the as-of-yet undeclared so-called center-right candidacies including Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney; and, 2) serve as a preemptive strike against the Party's right-wing as Bush understands that his announcement would incur the wrath of that sector of the GOP -- thus, to the general public, he begins to look like a sane alternative to the likes of Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum.

It didn't take long for the wrath to start flowing.

2014.12.22.Buchheit.BF"Don't Be a Grinch - Fight for Fifteen": A march goes by in support of fast food workers striking for an increase in the minimum wage, December 6, 2013. (Photo: yooperann / Flickr)

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

If Christmas magic were real, America's political and business leaders -- the people with power and money -- would speak on behalf of the nation they've debased:

1. To Our Most Neglected Citizens

By the time the Koch brothers wake up on Christmas morning, the wealth the two men will have accumulated throughout the night could get a room for the night for every one of the 633,000 homeless Americans.

To Americans without a place to live, we apologize for a society that allows almost all of its new wealth to be redistributed to people who are already rich.

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