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WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

OlympicFlag(Photo: Makaristos)For Vladimir Putin, the winter Olympics is not about sports or international camaraderie. It's a carefully orchestrated propaganda opportunity to try to showcase the nation's athletes and show the world a Russia that, even with its great culture and arts, may exist only in the imaginations of those who believe in restoring the country's previous grandeur.

Sochi itself is not typical city for a winter Olympics. It's a sub-tropical city of about 340,000, located along the Black Sea. Its selection by Russia was to let the world believe that the country in winter is not Siberia but a resort, suitable for tourists.

Under Putin's personal direction, Russia spent more than 1.8 trillion rubles (the equivalent of about $51 billion U.S.) to build the Olympic village, with its buildings, stadiums, and infrastructure. This is a greater cost than all previous winter Olympics combined. It also includes cost over-runs and various forms of corruption. But, disregard that—that's an internal problem. Here are a few of the real problems.

Russia has had more than seven years to prepare for this Olympics. But by the first day of competition, some of roads were unfinished, water was undrinkable in many of the newly-built hotels, and the safety of some of the Olympics courses was still in question.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

azell(Photo: Andrew Huff)Sam Zell is known around Chicago as a bit of a brash, blunt multi-billionaire.  After making his fortune in setting up massive real estate funds (REITs) and then diversifying into Mitt Romney style buy and strip apart corporate acquisitions, he purchased the faltering Chicago Tribune in 2007.

At a televised conference Zell held with the staff, one journalist asked him how he would ensure that, in essence, the bean counters wouldn't be compromising the reporting in the Tribune and its other major media holdings (including the Los Angeles Times). Zell glared at the reporter and simply responded, "F*ck you!"

Zell's primary approach to saving the Tribune empire was to drastically cut staff, including journalists, and sell off assets, but he didn't have an instinct for the media world and ultimately the Tribune corporation went into bankruptcy.  Eventually, Zell sold it at a loss to some other investors.  

This is just some background on the man who just the other day claimed (according to an article reposted ironically in the Chicago Tribune) that people "should not talk about envy of the 1 percent, they should talk about emulating the 1 percent. The 1 percent work harder, the 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society."

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

VaticanCity(Photo: Diliff)Since Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) took dominion over the Holy See, there has been much speculation about which direction he might move the Catholic Church; how he was going to modernize and make the Church more accessible to more people.

Liberals have lauded him for his comments about income inequality and his openness and apparent willingness to usher in a new way of going about the business of being Pope. Some conservatives, however, have scorned him for his economic pronouncements, while maintaining that he isn't focusing enough on such culture war issues as birth control, homosexuality, and abortion.

With so many difficult issues to deal with, he has recently been handed a golden opportunity to deal with one of the most vexing of those issues: Child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and its aiding and abetting and subsequent cover-up by Catholic Church officials.

The most prudent move for Pope Francis to make in this regard is to accept the recommendations of the report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and, at the same time, open up the Vatican archives.

STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acig(Photo: Fried Dough)

January 11, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first “Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health.” In part its summary states that: “On the basis of more than 7,000 articles relating to smoking and disease already available at that time [1964] in the biomedical literature, the advisory committee concluded that cigarette smoking is: a cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men; a probable cause of lung cancer in women; the most important cause of chronic bronchitis.” Fifty years later we know that not only is cigarette smoking causative of a broad range of diseases in addition to those mentioned above, but also that “second-hand smoke” is a major killer as well.

Certainly progress has been made, but major problems remain. As Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health of the Department of Health and Human Services, says in the cited executive summary of the 50th Anniversary Surgeon General’s Report:

“The nation stands poised at the crossroads of tobacco control. On one hand, we can celebrate tremendous progress 50 years after the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s report: Smoking and Health. Adult smoking rates have fallen from about 43% (1965) to about 18% today. Mortality rates from lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in this country, are declining. Most smokers visiting health care settings are now routinely asked and advised about tobacco use. On the other hand, cigarette smoking remains the chief preventable killer in America, with more than 40 million Americans caught in a web of tobacco dependence. Each day, more than 3,200 youth (younger than 18 years of age) smoke their first cigarette and another 2,100 youth and young adults who are occasional smokers progress to become daily smokers. Furthermore, the range of emerging tobacco products complicates the current public health landscape.”

So why do we still have wide-spread cigarette smoking and why do we still have close to 500,000 deaths per year linked to smoking, in this country alone? There is only one reason: the power of the tobacco industry and its political and corporate allies. From the time of the publication of the first papers based on irrefutable evidence, in this country and Great Britain in the 1950s, cited in that first Surgeon General’s Report in 1964, until the end of the 20th century, the tobacco industry, aided by some powerful and clever public relations companies, kept up a constant drumfire of denial and distraction.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abarclays(Photo: Alwyn Ladell)Barclays may be officially incorporated in the UK, but its branch in the United States is performing "robustly," according to the bank.  That's one reason, according to Reuters, that Barclays is going to be paying out nearly $4 billion dollars in bonuses for the past year:

A rise in bonuses at the bank could provoke a backlash from politicians and a public angered that banks are not reining in compensation. Excessive pay has been blamed for encouraging risk-taking and contributing to the 2008/2009 financial crisis.

Sky said Barclays is expected to defend the increase in bonuses by pointing to a robust performance by its investment bank in the United States and the threat it will lose its top staff there to its Wall Street rivals.

Amidst an avalanche of Wall Street banks paying fines (instead of being criminally prosecuted by the Department of Justice) for fraud, Barclays is giving out billions of dollars in extra compensation to senior financial staff.  Most working people are lucky to get a $50 bonus at the end of the year.  But most people don't work on Wall Street where the corporate culture rewards individuals who encourage pushing at the edge of the legal envelope, as Jamie Dimon has done at JPMorgan Chase.

 

Thursday, 06 February 2014 06:31

Bullying Is Bad, Except When We Do It

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

BullyCops(Photo: Devinasch)The young guys were half a block ahead of us. Nothing was happening except that they were walking. A police car pulled up behind them, slowed to their pace, aimed a spotlight at them.

They were African-American (did you guess?), numbering maybe half a dozen. They weren't intimidated. Some of them stopped, stood staring at the police car, talking to it; this had obviously happened before. The spotlight continued to shine in their faces. Other young men crossed the street in front of the car and joined the crowd. The game went on for a while: the slow saunter, the cops driving along next to them, the light in their faces.

Chicago, Chicago! My kind of town, but not this. How weird to see the moment unfold as I was walking along Pratt Avenue, through my own 'hood. The energy I felt was immensely unpleasant — racial profiling, pointless discord. Young black men in Chicago have to know their legal rights; that's simply the way it works. These guys obviously did.

Suddenly the light snapped off. The police car accelerated, drove away. That was it. No further confrontation. The young men kept walking. I was an observer in an occupied zone.

"But there is little or no discussion of larger social or cultural forces in the United States and the American institutions or leaders who bully other countries or workers and citizens at home."

Thus wrote Yale Magrass and Charles Derber, in an essay published at Truthout, called "Bully Nation." Their point is that, while suddenly bullying is a big deal and officially recognized as problematic, the public debate on the matter focuses almost entirely on troubled loners, when in fact no bully ever acts out of purely personal motives. Everyone acts within a social, cultural and political context, and that context is one that, in so many ways, rewards — indeed, reveres — bullying and domination.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

apaydayloan(Photo:rinkjustice)If you are poor and cash-starved, you might regularly turn to a payday loan lender by signing over your paycheck for a small loan. Once you do that, you will likely end up in a bind because interest rates (when combined with fees) can be as much as 1000%. This means a poor or minimum wage working person is caught in a cycle of debt and paying off interest exponentially worse than exorbitant credit card rates.

Elizabeth Warren has a solution for that, and one that can help reinvent the US Postal Service (which is under attack by the "small government" caucus): allow postal offices to provide services now offered by payday loan lenders and currency exchanges (which charge high rates for basic services such as cashing a check, in the absence of banks in many limited income communities).

Warren outlined her proposal posted in the Huffington Post on Feburary 1.

A Reaper MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) drone prepares for takeoff. (Photo: <a href=" http://www.flickr.com/photos/48399297@N04/5755016315/in/photolist-9LxXRe-7APiyN-azu8mD-87jUeB-87jUhz-b7X5An-8F25tR-8F5fm7-b4SWDg-bb29fM-aExFGJ-7eNbLz-aCvEBB-dGdTbh-as3NDH-as3Pdv-5MGcXi-azu9te-azu8Nk-dU6DNm-bRjGTX-gRycHh-86MWcr-64Vt3w-8hpF4g-74zcfD-4UKEX5-earFrZ-65vwW6"target="_blank"> UK Ministry of Defence / Flickr</a>)A Reaper MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) drone prepares for takeoff. (Photo: UK Ministry of Defence / Flickr)BRIAN TERRELL FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The F-16 jets of the Iowa Air National Guard that formerly buzzed the city of Des Moines have disappeared and we are told that their base at the Des Moines International Airport is in the process of refitting into a command center for unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, commonly called drones. The MQ-9 Reaper drones themselves will not be coming to Iowa but will be based in and launched overseas. When airborne, these unmanned planes will be flown by remote control via satellite link from Des Moines. Classified by the military as a "Hunter-Killer platform," the MQ-9 Reaper is armed with Hellfire missiles and 500 pound bombs that according to plan will be launched by airmen sitting at computer terminals in Des Moines.

President Obama, in an address from the National Defense University last May, described this new technology as more precise and by implication more humane than other weaponry: "By narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life." There is an understandable appeal to the idea of a weapon that can discriminate between the good and the bad people and limit regrettable "collateral damage." It is understandable too, that a nation weary of sending its sons and daughters to fight on battlefields far away, risking injury, death or the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress, might look to embrace a new method of war whereby the warriors fights battles from the safe distances. Thousands of miles beyond the reach of the enemy, drone combatants often do not even have to leave their hometowns and are able to return to homes and families at the end of a shift.

(Photo: <a href=" http://www.flickr.com/photos/32820257@N06/3360181440/in/photolist-67VNSL-58NNJe-ca426-6kJXLX-dpiNDe-6KX41q-bgCHRa-4sY75x-FeQD1-bdDuJZ-a8dsW-626PKv-cenaT-Jyndv-4PsCEL-4KNJ9Q-65SpkG-5DbZz4-2S4h8N-2S4htS-2RYRH8-aDrE9x-3Ckwq1-aqV1pK-5SviVC-cvGtZS-5xG6CF-j2iq6X-65G8XH-jFtvXg"target="_blank"> B.A.D. / Flickr</a>)(Photo: B.A.D. / Flickr)STEVEN JONAS, MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

On April 8, 2012, our esteemed Editor/Publisher at BuzzFlash at Truthout, my good friend Mark Karlin, published a column entitled "The US War on Drug Cartels in Mexico Is a Deadly Failure". In his column he noted that: "Approximately 50,000 or more Mexicans have been killed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a so-called war on drug cartels. (In a recent appearance in Toronto, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed 150,000 people have died in the drug war in Mexico, but the timeline Panetta was referring to was unclear, as was the origin of the figure he cited.)."

Mark went on to say: "Here is the US policy in a nutshell: we pay Mexicans to kill Mexicans, and this slaughter has no effect on drug shipments or prices." Nor on the use of those drugs in the United States, which has generally not significantly changed over the 40-plus years of the "war".*

Over the years I have written at length on this subject in the academic literature.* The "War on Drugs" has never been such a thing. From its inauguration by President Richard Nixon, it has always been a "War on Certain Users of Certain Drugs", for the most part minority drug users at that, although some non-minorities do get caught up in its tentacles. The so-called War on Drugs was begun shortly after the invention of the race-based "Southern Strategy" that has controlled the fortunes of the GOP and unfortunately the country for most of the time since Nixon installed it.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

atophat(Photo:lokarta)A new book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," contends that the dramatically increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few (in the United States and globally) fundamentally undermines democracy, according to Thomas B. Edsall of the New York Times.

A professor at the Paris School of Economics, Thomas Piketty, is the author of the book (which will be published in English early this spring). 

In a January 28 NYT commentary, "Capitalism vs. Democracy," Edsall writes that Piketty,

...contends that capitalism’s inherent dynamic propels powerful forces that threaten democratic societies.

Capitalism, according to Piketty, confronts both modern and modernizing countries with a dilemma: entrepreneurs become increasingly dominant over those who own only their own labor. In Piketty’s view, while emerging economies can defeat this logic in the near term, in the long run, “when pay setters set their own pay, there’s no limit,” unless “confiscatory tax rates” are imposed.

At the heart of creating the current economic inequality, Piketty points to a key factor. Edsall explains:

The six decades between 1914 and 1973 stand out from the past and future, according to Piketty, because the rate of economic growth exceeded the after-tax rate of return on capital. Since then, the rate of growth of the economy has declined, while the return on capital is rising to its pre-World War I levels.

In short, if the richest individual and institutions have a rate of wealth that increases faster than the overall growth of the US economy, that rise in assets and income (which is what is occurring right now with at least one estimate of 95% of the recent economic recovery is going to the top 10 percent) comes from the pockets of those who laber for a living.

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