“You can have the wealth concentrated in the hands of the few or you
can have democracy but you can’t have both" William Brandeis
The Oscars and all the Beloved Winners
March 5, 2014
We all love to watch the Oscars. We love seeing all of the talented and famous people in one room, to watch them file in, one person or one couple at a time, and be interviewed with ridiculous questions about how they feel, what they expect, a description of their clothing and borrowed jewelry, with references and commercials projected for the designers of the clothing they borrowed and the owners of the jewelry they borrowed.
Then the show goes on with all of the witty comments from the host or hostess and the presenters, most comments embarrassing for the recipient of the punch line, the brunt of the joke, the supposed humor, mostly inside stuff that only the chosen few fully understand, but kudos for the host or hostess and credentials for a return engagement.
Then we have to listen to all of the thanks: “first of all, thanks to the academy”, then thanks to my mom, my dad, my spouse, my kids, all of those on the show – “this award is for all of us” – blah, blah, blah – if you have heard one, you have heard them all. (Except for Mathew McConaughey. He thanked God for choosing him instead of any of the other 7 billion of us on the planet. Apparently, God likes him a lot.)
One certainly can’t argue about the obvious talent our entertainers possess and utilize to entertain us every day. And the fame we bestow upon them is only natural, as well. When we see one of them in public we never fail to do a little name-dropping afterwards. There is some excitement involved, some awe inspired.
The part that has always occurred to me, and the reason that I refused to watch their show for many years,(I finally gave in) is that while they bestow awards upon each other for their extraordinary performances, they are probably no better at what they do than the rest of us are at what we do. Unfortunately, we lack the venue to display our accomplishments to the world.
The first Oscar’s were awarded in 1929 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). The show lasted 15 minutes and cost $5 to attend. The statuette was designed by Cedric Gibbons of MGM and was sculpted by George Stanley. It represents a knight standing on a reel of film with a sword in his hand. There are many stories about how the Oscar got its name. Take your pick:
Of course now we also have the Grammies, the Country Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, the MTV Music Awards, the American Music Awards, the Emmys, the Tonys and all the rest of the shows recognizing the supposed best of the year of their entertainment segment.
It seems to me that, since we are allowing all of these famous people to use the public airways, the airways that we supposedly own, to display their talent and receive the accolades that they believe they deserve, that we should require equal recognition for some of the following:
But, let’s face it - we are hooked - it is party time - friends gather - drinks are served - everyone cheers, and some get teary-eyed. We enjoy it!
I give up. I enjoy it too!
Excerpts from Ola Ojewumi’s letter to Lupita Nyong’o posted on Huffington Post. Read the article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/Ola-Ojewumi/an-open-letter-to-lupita-nyongo_b_4890731.html
Ola Ojewumi - Founder, Sacred Hearts Children’s Transplant Foundation and Project Ascend
An Open Letter to Lupita Nyong'o
Dear Lupita Nyong'o,
Thank you for showing the world what true talent and beauty looks like. Last night, I watched the 86th Academy Awards in awe of seeing a woman that looked like me and shared my story. When you accepted this coveted honor, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was reminded of what your win symbolizes for little girls fighting to posses self-love in a world that tells them that they are unworthy of it.
As a young girl of African descent, I grew up detesting who I was. My dark skin, foreign facial features, coarse hair and unique name meant that I wasn't apart of the American tapestry of beauty. I desired to have fairer skin and curly hair like my lighter-skinned counterparts. Nothing about being of African descent illustrated beauty to me, it only read ugly. In my adulthood, I see the same disease of self-hatred growing amongst the younger generation. I walk into local beauty stores and see skin-bleaching creams (chemical substances that many African, African-American and Hispanic women use to lighten their skin). Despite the dangerous medical effects of skin bleaching, many continue to put their lives at risk in order to attain the social privilege that a fairer hue affords them.
Though we are generations removed from slavery, we are still combating the aesthetic ideals that emerged from this time period. The film 12 Years a Slave ironically brought the world a breakout star that reminded us that talent and beauty exists in all shapes and forms. You are a woman who looks like so many young Black and African girls struggling to love ourselves for who they are.
This beautiful commentary on developing internal self-love speaks volumes to young girls by proclaiming that what the world thinks of you should matter less than what you think of yourself.
Lupita, you are adored for your acting chops, intelligence, brilliance and captivating looks. Most of all, you are celebrated for shifting the standard of beauty away from traditionally oppressive norms. There are hundreds of little Lupitas across the globe that now believe they can achieve their dreams because of your presence as an astounding role model. This Oscar win is more than just another accolade; it symbolizes a change that women of color have been waiting for.
Thank you, Lupita, for showing the world that, "No matter where you come from, your dreams are valid."
Excerpts from Laura Gottesdiener’s compelling article in “Mother Jones”
The Wolf of Wall Street
“Over the last two years, private equity firms and hedge funds have amassed an unprecedented real estate empire, snapping up Spanish revivals in Phoenix, adobes in Los Angeles, Queen Anne Victorians in Atlanta, and brick-faced bungalows in Chicago. In total, Wall Street investors have bought more than 200,000 cheap, mostly foreclosed houses in some of the cities hardest hit by the economic meltdown. But they're not simply flipping these houses. Instead, they've started bundling some of them into a new kind of financial product that could blow up the housing market all over again.”
“Through its subsidiary, Invitation Homes, Blackstone has picked up houses through local brokers, at foreclosure auctions, and in bulk purchases. Last April, it bought 1,400 houses in Atlanta in a single day. In Phoenix, some neighborhoods have a Blackstone-owned home on just about every block. As of November, Blackstone had acquired 40,000 houses, most of them foreclosures, worth $7.5 billion. Today, it is the largest owner of single-family rental homes in the nation.”
“Blackstone's deep pockets—$248 billion in assets under management and a $3.6 billion credit line arranged by Deutsche Bank for buying houses—allow it to outbid individual buyers, driving up local real estate prices and pushing families out of the market.”
“Blackstone has bundled the rental payments from more than 3,200 single-family houses, offering investors its mortgages on the underlying properties as collateral. After investors tripped over themselves to buy into the $479 million bond, Blackstone's competitors announced that they, too, would develop similar securities.”
“Blackstone has stated that it expects that 95 percent of its homes will be occupied at all times, with an average monthly rent of around $1,300. Real estate professionals say that those assumptions may be overly ambitious for single-family rentals.”
“Asked why the public should expect rental-backed securities to be safe, the hedge fund investor responds, "Trust me."’
“A longer version of this article was previously published by TomDispatch”
Excerpts from Michael Winship’s article posted on Huffington Post - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-winship/liberals-face-a-hard-days_b_4856072.html
Liberals Face a Hard Day's Knight?
Michael Winship - Senior writer, Moyers & Company on public TV. Senior writing fellow, Demos. President, Writers Guild of America, East.
"That's a pretty pathetic knight up there on the cover of the March issue of Harper's Magazine. Battered and defeated, his shield in pieces, he's slumped and saddled backwards on a Democratic donkey that has a distinctly woeful -- or bored, maybe -- countenance. It's the magazine's sardonic way of illustrating a powerful throwing down of the gauntlet by political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. He has challenged the nation's progressives with an article in the magazine provocatively titled. "Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals."'
"In his Harper's piece, Reed argues that Democrats and liberals have become too fixated on election results, kowtowing to the status quo rather than aiming for long-term goals that address the issues of economic inequality. "...During the 1980s and early 1990s, fears of a relentless Republican juggernaut pressured those left of center to take a defensive stance," he writes, "focusing on the immediate goal of electing Democrats to stem or slow the rightward tide... Each election now becomes a moment of life-or-death urgency that precludes dissent or even reflection."'
“Of Clinton's White House years, he clams, "It is difficult to imagine that a Republican administration could have been much more successful in advancing Reaganism's agenda." And President Obama "has always been no more than an unexceptional neo-liberal Democrat with an exceptional knack for self-presentation persuasive to those who want to believe, and with solid connections and considerable good will from the corporate and financial sectors... his appeal has always been about the persona he projects -- the extent to which he encourages people to feel good about their politics, the political future, and themselves through feeling good about him -- than about any concrete vision or political program he has advanced. And that persona has always been bound up in and continues to play off complex and contradictory representations of race in American politics."'
Michael Winship’s closing statement:
“Beyond his call for rebuilding the union movement, there's little solace in Reed's conclusion. If Hillary Clinton decides not to run, a strong progressive candidate could emerge for 2016, although doomsayers point to the failed candidacies of liberals George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984. One hope for Democrats is that, like the old joke about the two curmudgeonly brothers, the other one is worse. When it comes to the presidency at least, Republicans are even more riven and in disarray -- a jousting tournament in which all the potential knights-in-chief are riding backwards in the saddle.”
Read the article:
Excerpts from: Citizens United is Just the Tip of the Iceberg
By Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap
“It’s been three years since the Supreme Court issued its outrageous decision in Citizens United vs. FEC, overturning the flimsy campaign finance protections afforded under McCain-Feingold law. The case opened the floodgates to billions of dollars perverting our elections, much of it completely unreported, and some amount even coming from foreign corporations and governments. The Court literally legalized bribery, and wealthy individuals and special interests took full advantage of it.”
“As shameful as that decision is, we must confront the sobering reality that it is only the tip of the iceberg. A small ruling elite (often succinctly described as the 1%) have stolen control of the country, and they are ruling over us. They use the façade of elections to legitimize the theft. And even when decent legislation is enacted, they use the Courts to overturn those laws. Citizens United vs. FEC is merely a deepening of the crisis of corporate rule.”
“An amendment to the US Constitution is the only lasting solution to this problem. The only amendment worth fighting for MUST address both doctrines. As a quick refresher, here is are some examples of we must abolish ALL corporate constitutional rights: ………”
“1st Amendment Free Speech rights. Corporations use these rights, meant to protect human beings from the power of the state, to influence elections through political “contributions” ……….”
“4th Amendment Search and Seizure rights. Corporations have used these rights to avoid subpoenas for unlawful trade and price fixing ………..”
“5th Amendment Takings, Double Jeopardy and Due Process corporate rights. Corporations must be compensated for property value lost (e.g. future profits) when regulations are established to protect homeowners or communities. …….”
“14th Amendment Due Process and Equal Protection corporate rights. These rights, originally enacted to guarantee equal protection for African Americans, were gradually extended to corporations by the courts. ………”
“Commerce Clause-related corporate rights. Corporations have used this section of the Constitution (Art 1, Sec 8) to ship toxic waste from one state to another …………”
“Let’s set out to amend the constitution in a way that abolishes all rights wrongly granted to the corporate form over the last two centuries. Let’s put an end to the institution of corporate constitutional rights itself.”
Excerpts from the New York Times editorial. Read the article:
What the Stimulus Accomplished
FEB. 22, 2014
“Of all the myths and falsehoods that Republicans have spread about President Obama, the most pernicious and long-lasting is that the $832 billion stimulus package did not work. Since 2009, Republican lawmakers have inextricably linked the words “failed” and “stimulus,” and last week, five years after passage of the Recovery Act, they dusted off their old playbook again.”
“……. Republicans were successful in discrediting the very idea that federal spending can boost the economy and raise employment. They made the argument that the stimulus was a failure not just to ensure that Mr. Obama would get no credit for the recovery that did occur, but to justify their obstruction of all further attempts at stimulus.”
“So the American Jobs Act was killed, and so was the infrastructure bank and any number of other spending proposals that might have helped the country. The president’s plan to spend another $56 billion on job training, education and energy efficiency, to be unveiled in his budget next month, will almost certainly suffer a similar fate.”
“The legacy of that policy, detailed by the White House last week in its final report on the effects of the stimulus, affects virtually every American who drives, uses mass transit, or drinks water. It improved 42,000 miles of road, fixed or replaced 2,700 bridges, and bought more than 12,000 transit vehicles. It cleaned up water supplies, created the school reforms of the Race to the Top program, and greatly expanded the use of renewable energy and broadband Internet service.”
“Government spending worked, helping millions of people who never realized it. And it can work again, whenever lawmakers agree that putting people to work is more important than winning ideological fights.”
Excerpts from the article posted on Reclaimdemocracy.org: http://reclaimdemocracy.org/corporate-welfare-tax-breaks-subsidies/
Corporate Welfare Grows to $154 Billion even in Midst of Major Government Cuts
"Editor’s Note: Even as the federal government executes major cutbacks, it’s giving huge subsidies in the form of tax breaks to industry, a fact legislators rarely acknowledge. The Boston Globe recently published a thorough and eye-popping report detailing the nature and extent of these breaks. We think it’s a must-read."
By Pete Marovich
First published in the Boston Globe
“WASHINGTON — Lobbying for special tax treatment produced a spectacular return for Whirlpool Corp., courtesy of Congress and those who pay the bills, the American taxpayers.
By investing just $1.8 million over two years in payments for Washington lobbyists, Whirlpool secured the renewal of lucrative energy tax credits for making high-efficiency appliances that it estimates will be worth a combined $120 million for 2012 and 2013. Such breaks have helped the company keep its total tax expenses below zero in recent years.
The return on that lobbying investment: about 6,700 percent.
The Senate approved tax benefits for Whirlpool and a host of other corporations early on New Year’s Day, a couple of hours after the ball dropped over Times Square and champagne corks began popping. A smorgasbord of 43 business and energy tax breaks, collectively worth $67 billion this year, was packed into the emergency tax legislation that avoided the so-called “fiscal cliff.’’
...... corporations like Whirlpool continue to pursue the exponential returns available from tax lobbying. The number of companies disclosing lobbying activity on tax issues rose 56 percent to 1,868 in 2012, up from 1,200 in 1998, according to data collected by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Called the “tax extenders,’’ 43 credits, deferrals, and exceptions for general business and energy firms were lumped into the fiscal cliff legislation. The returns on lobbying investments companies realized when the Senate passed its fiscal cliff bill helps explain why Washington tax lobbyists remain in demand:
Read the article. You’ll love it and hate it!
Convince someone today to help us elect better leaders. Please!
Excerpts from Maureen Dowd's article:
History: Get Me Rewrite!
“As Adam Nagourney wrote in The Times on Sunday, Luci Baines Johnson and other members of L.B.J.’s shrinking circle are pushing to broaden the lens on the president’s legacy so that it is not merely viewed “through the prism of a failed war.”
They are using the 50th anniversary of Johnson’s more impressive domestic policies — including the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act and Medicare — to yank the focus away from “the agony of Vietnam” and “his cross,” as his daughter calls it.
“Nobody wanted that war less than Lyndon Johnson,” the 66-year-old Luci said, adding that he tried mightily to get out.
Maybe ratcheting up the war with more than 500,000 troops and sending so many young Americans to their deaths halfway around the world based on chest-thumping advice and a naïve theory of democratic dominoes was a deterrent to getting out.
Johnson was determined not to be seen as weak, not to “cut and run” — the same phrase later used by W. about Iraq when he was determined not to be seen as a wimp and began sending so many young Americans to their deaths halfway around the world based on chest-thumping advice and a naïve theory of democratic dominoes.
Asked by a reporter about Iraq recently, W.’s eyes flashed and he replied, “I am not happy.”
With the help of his own personal librarian, Laura, W. has been trying to reframe his legacy to take the focus off his botched wars, just like L.B.J.’s family. His presidential library highlights his work on AIDS in Africa, belatedly tapering the roles of his sulfurous regents, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
He continued his campaign to downplay the influence of Cheney, stressing that he had “lots of advisers.” Asked how much he sees Cheney, he said “never” and asserted that he had never been that close to his vice president and the age difference precluded a friendship. So he let an acquaintance ruin his presidency?
But just as L.B.J. will always be yoked to Vietnam and McNamara, 43 will always be yoked to his careless misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan and to Cheney.
W. should know: Some landscapes cannot be painted over.”’
Excerpts from Dean Baker's article: http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-press/larry-summers-is-half-right-in-saying-that-growth-would-be-affected-if-we-reduced-the-incomes-of-the-very-rich
Larry Summers Is Half Right in Saying That Growth Would be Affected If We Reduced the Incomes of the Very Rich
Dean Baker – Center for Economic and Policy Research
February 17, 2014
Unfortunately he is wrong about the direction of change. Apparently Summers has missed the downturn in the last six years and the weak growth since the turn of the century. In his post column today he warns readers:
"If total income were independent of efforts at redistribution, there would be a compelling case for reducing incomes at the top and transferring the proceeds to those in the middle and at the bottom. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It is easy to conceive of policies that would have reduced the earning power of a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg by making it more difficult to start, grow and globalize businesses. But it is much harder to see how such policies would raise the incomes of the remaining 99.9 percent of the population, and such policies would surely hurt them as consumers."
It's interesting Summers picked Bill Gates. Back in the early 1990s Microsoft helped to lock in its monopoly on operating systems by contracting with major manufacturers so that they paid Microsoft for each computer they shipped that had a competitors' operating system. Needless to say, such deals strongly discouraged Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other major manufacturers from experimenting with niche operating systems that might have potentially had larger uses. Had the Justice Department taken anti-trust law seriously we might have better software today and Bill Gates would be considerably less wealthy.
We could also impose a modest sales tax on financial transactions as even the I.M.F. has advocated. This would both hit many of the fortunes being collected on Wall Street and also reduce the enormous amount of waste in a financial system that consumes five times as large a share of GDP as it did forty years ago.
We could cut back on the fortunes in the pharmaceutical industry and tech sector and get better drugs and technology by moving away from patent supported research. (Yes, there is such a thing as the National Institutes of Health and everyone agrees it does great work.) We could also make it more difficult to bring frivolous patent suits so that Apple, Samsung and the rest will have to compete to make the best products, not in the court rooms.
And we could cut back on the Walton family’s fortunes by pushing China and other developing countries to raise the value of their currencies. This would reduce their profit margins on low cost imports. It would also have the great advantage of moving us toward more balanced trade creating millions of jobs and increasing growth. In addition, by getting us closer to full employment, tens of millions of workers would be in a position to get wage gains.
So Summers is absolutely right. Total income is not independent of distribution and many of the steps we might want to take to equalize distribution would also foster growth.
The Long-Term State of the Union - Counting the Cost of Empire?
Excerpts from an article by: David Coates - Worrell Professor of Anglo-American Studies, Wake Forest University, Department of Politics
Speaking of politics in Washington DC.:
“ …………. -- the way in which they choose to discuss those key issues trivializes them to the point of folly.
We have just experienced yet another example of this -- a debt ceiling debate briefly linked to the correction of the inadvertent erosion of veterans' pensions. It is appalling that such a correction was ever necessary. But it is equally appalling that, after abandoning the linkage -- by deciding instead to offset the cost of the correction by extending automatic cuts to Medicare -- both the House and the Senate should then have ducked the bigger questions involved. Once more, they missed a vital opportunity to explore the deeper issue in play: namely the on-going relationship between the level of federal debt and the current scale of defense spending. Instead of exploring that relationship, our elected representatives merely raced home to avoid the snow.
That wider relationship between overall federal spending and spending on defense is important because, right now, the scale of defense spending is so enormous.
• The cost of defense. The official defense budget is huge -- currently just short of $700 billion. It is significantly larger than it was before 9/11 (in 2001, just $287 billion) and even when sequestered in 2013 only fell back to 2007 levels -- and in 2007 the Iraq War was still in full flow. The unofficial defense budget, the one that also takes into account the cost of homeland security, the nuclear program and the intelligence services and veterans' affairs -- that unofficial budget is larger still. On some counts, it may be twice as large as official Pentagon spending. But in 2010, even the smaller figure made the U.S. defense budget greater than the defense budgets of the next 10 national spenders on defense, many of which are actually also our allies. Right now, the U.S., with five percent of the world's population and a quarter of total global economic output, is responsible for at least 40 percent of all global military expenditure. Those expenditures are real costs that collectively absorb between a fifth and a quarter of federal spending year-on-year.
• The opportunity costs of all that defense spending. The flipside of the real costs of defense spending are the things lost because that spending is so directed. Those opportunity costs are less immediately visible and can be measured in many different ways, but they are always substantial. The opportunity costs of a large military budget can be measured in terms of domestic policies not pursued for want of federal funds. They can be measured in terms of the greater multiplier effect on the rest of the economy of domestic rather than military spending. They can be measured by the erosion of international economic competitiveness caused by the resulting over-concentration of R&D on military products. They can even be measured by the loss of civil liberties associated with NSA programs and secret intelligence services that are difficult to effectively regulate. President Eisenhower put the point about the opportunity costs of defense spending very starkly long ago, when still a general: "every gun that is made," he said, "every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are cold and are not clothed."
• The human costs of forward engagement. These have also been and remain enormous. The U.S. military lost over 4000 soldiers in Iraq, and sent home more than 32,000 injured. American casualties in Afghanistan now exceed 2000. And those figures are just the tip of the iceberg for those two wars alone. As many as one in three of the men and women who served in either theater -- some 500,000 Americans overall -- are now suffering long-term physical and mental problems as a result of their service; and the burden on civilians in both countries was and remains even heavier. The number of civilians killed in Iraq during the American occupation totaled anywhere between 110,000 and 1.2 million, depending on the source used. The number of Afghan civilian dead is not even known. The number of internally displaced Iraqis was probably 1.25 million. The number of refugees was over 1.5 million. These are huge numbers, capturing human suffering and distress of the most basic kind.
• The effectiveness of all the treasure spent. Perhaps that would not matter quite so much if either war had been successful in American terms. But neither was. The invasion of Iraq proved to be a quagmire from which U.S. troops could only slowly be extracted, and the war in Afghanistan is now America's longest, with U.S. success in establishing total ground control there being no greater than that achieved by previous invaders: the British in the nineteenth century and the Soviets three decades ago. Freedom House, the great measurer of democratic stability and rights, currently grades Iraq as "not free" -- scoring badly on both civil liberties and political rights -- as well it might, given the on-going and deadly tit-for-tat sectarian violence which remains dominant in the Baghdad that U.S.-led troops supposedly "liberated" more than a decade ago. And with the Taliban resurgent in today's Afghanistan, and its President now releasing prisoners still deemed dangerous by U.S. military commanders there, our "success rate" in Kabul is likely to be lower still. …………………….”
Read the article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-coates/the-long-term-state-of-th_b_4798647.html