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JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHomelessUSA(Photo: C.G.P. Grey)While weapon contractors, those ‘masters of war’, are raiding our treasury for multibillion dollar federal contracts, our middle-class economy is falling below the levels of third world countries.  Last night, ABC news did a report on homeless children in the United States.  Some American children are living out of cars with nothing more than green garbage bags to keep their small belongings in. These children were grateful to receive suitcases because living out of “garbage bags made them feel trashy.”  

Has it come to this? Shame on this government for turning the United States of America into a country that includes too many starving, homeless children, while less than a privileged group of companies is receiving billions of our tax dollars for weapons, and those weapons are used in turn to steal oil in the Middle East.

new report found that the nation's food pantries serve 620,000 families with a member in the military: “another troubling indication that service members battling against poverty must often rely on the generosity of our charities.”

Our tax dollars should provide adequate funding for middle-class and poor communities: schools, hospitals, roads, teachers, police, firefighters, and alternative energy among other expenditures that benefit the public good. However, when so many of our tax dollars are going directly into the bank accounts of weapon-surveillance contractors, and Wall Street banksters, you begin to understand why everyone else is left with a few scattered crumbs to fight over; you begin to see why the oligarchy encourages conflicts and divisions between blacks and whites, middle-class workers and immigrants, and so forth. After all, while everyone’s busy fighting, the biggest robbery in history is going down: big money is being stolen behind closed doors with the assistance of the White House and congressional friends of the oligarchy.

Thursday, 28 August 2014 07:06

Chevron: Global Bandit, Local Bully

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaChevron(Photo: Coolcaesar)Perhaps one of the lesser predictable outcomes of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision is that it would open the floodgates to corporations having their way in local elections. That seems to be a significant part of an ongoing story in Richmond, California, a city of a little over 106,000 residents, where the Chevron Corporation -- the city's main employer and taxpayer – is using a Political Action Committee to back a Chevron-friendly mayoral candidate, and several City Council candidates.

Although the Political Action Committee, called Moving Forward, claims it is made up of "labor unions, small businesses and public safety and firefighters associations," in reality, it is Chevron, headquartered in San Ramon, which makes its engine run. According to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson, Chevron is "the biggest spender on political campaigns ... set[ing] aside $1.6 million" for Moving Forward.

Johnson pointed out that "The campaign contribution limit in Richmond for both individuals and companies is $2,500, but political action committees can spend unlimited amounts of money on 'in-kind' support – money not given directly to a candidate but spent on that candidate's behalf." The Contra Costa Times' Robert Rogers noted that according to documents, "All of the [PAC's] money came from Chevron."

The beneficiaries of Chevron's contributions are "Richmond City Councilman Nat Bates, [83] who's running for mayor and Donna Powers, Charles Ramsey and Al Martinez, all candidates vying for seats on the City Council," Johnson reported.

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBaghdadBombed(Photo: Msgt. James M. Bowman, USAF)The Middle East, as a region, went sideways quite a while back, probably about the time a bunch of European countries decided to draw borders in a manner they found to be personally amusing. But if there is a point that future historians might look at, when trying to see when any semblance of coherence was lost, August 26th of 2014, the day Egypt and the United Arab Emirates dropped a few bombs on Libya, might not be a bad candidate.

We have civil wars in Libya, Syria, and Iraq. Lebanon having a wee bit of a problem with refugees. A simmering uprising in Bahrain. Continuing conflict in Yemen. And Israel continuing to do what Israel does so well. And, of course, those states that do seem to be pulling off relative stability are managing it without resorting to anything pesky like, say, democracy. And we're just fine with that, by the way. The soaring rhetoric that democracy in Iraq would spread throughout the region as a thousand flowers bloom is long gone. The promises of the Arab Spring are dead. Democracy, as it turns out, means that the people will elect governments who we don't like. Can't have that, can we?

It's all starting to resemble nothing so much as our policy during the Cold War, when the existential threat of Communism was so fundamentally terrifying that we would support any genocidal madman, so long as he was anti-communist, and would send the CIA in to "remove" those leaders who hinted at having anything approaching a pinkish hue. And so it is today: so long as a regime stands in opposition to the Islamist hordes, we're pretty much cool with them. Never mind that lumping ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas into one singular "Islamist horde" is basically moronic. That fact seems to have escaped us.

The late American journalist James Foley. (Screen grab<a href=" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H46ZEJ2Jqhs" target="_blank">via CNN / YouTube</a>)The late American journalist James Foley. (Screen grab via CNN / YouTube)JONATHAN FRANKLIN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

As a journalist who never enters war zones I have nothing but pride and support for my colleagues who do. It is easy to romanticize the front lines of war, brave souls scurrying for cover in search of that emblematic photo or tracking down the lurking warlord. The reality, as so well noted in a New York Times piece on freelance war correspondents, is that much of modern war coverage is done at poverty levels by brave men and woman (often young) without backup. They pay their own flight, share hotel rooms, skip meals and pray that luck and timing all line up to provide that one scoop which can catapult them into not only temporary fame but perhaps a steady income. Foley was fortunate to work for GlobalPost, a more than reputable organization that spent considerable money trying to save him. Nonetheless, his death is a reminder of the brutal dangers that young reporters face as they seek to bring frontline truths.

When remembering American photojournalist James Foley we would do well to honor his brave journeys not by hyping the dangers of ISIS to the US homeland or crying for increased military budgets but to continue his search for the savage reality that is war. Foley, according to his family, friends and colleagues was a man much interested in justice. "We have never been prouder of our son Jim, he gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," Diane Foley his mother said.

What is the true value of journalists like Foley? What do they contribute? They bring a snapshot of reality. A flash moment or two of the sickening day to day conflict where it is children and other non-combatants who make up the bulk of the victims. Reporters on the ground who are green and ambitious often do make it to the front rows, either by sure courage or innovative routes. They are not the ones filing from the hotel room or interviewing taxi drivers (always a sure sign of lazy reporting.) If we want to honor the work of photojournalists like Foley we would do well to avoid the grandstanding and blame game ("bomb them back to the Stone Age" rhetoric) and take a trip down to the street level reality in which they live. In Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Libya and the other powder kegs that make up the current chaos of the Mideast, who is dying? Innocents.

American Redaction. (Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/6163866838" target="_blank"> Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t</a>)American Redaction. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

As states move to hide details of government deals with Wall Street, and as politicians come up with new arguments to defend secrecy, a study released earlier this month revealed that many government information officers block specific journalists they don't like from accessing information. The news comes as 47 federal inspectors general sent a letter to lawmakers criticizing "serious limitations on access to records" that they say have "impeded" their oversight work.

The data about public information officers was compiled over the past few years by Kennesaw State University professor Dr. Carolyn Carlson. Her surveys found that 4 in 10 public information officers say "there are specific reporters they will not allow their staff to talk to due to problems with their stories in the past."

"That horrified us that so many would do that," Carlson told the Columbia Journalism Review, which reported on her presentation at the July conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFukushimaEcoWatch(Photo: EcoWatch)The impact of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown on the region's young people is starting to add up.

104 of the area's 300,000 young people who were under 18 at the time of the disaster have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shinbun reported yesterday. This form of cancer has been linked to radiation exposure.

But, government officials in Fukushima say they do not believe the cases of thyroid gland cancer diagnosed or suspected in the 104 young people are linked to the 2011 nuclear accident.

It helps their denial that experts disagree on whether these cases of thyroid cancer can be traced back to the meltdown, which released radiation over a large area. While the slow-developing cancer only appeared in young people four years after the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine, radiation biology professor Yoshio Hosoi told The Asahi Shinbun that better tests allow earlier diagnoses.

"Many people are being diagnosed with cancer at this time, thanks to the high-precision tests," he said. "We must continue closely examining the people's health in order to determine the impact of radiation exposure on causing thyroid tumors."

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFergusonProtest(Photo: Loavesofbread)To be young, male and black in America means not being allowed to make mistakes. Forgetting this, as we've seen so many times, can be fatal.

The case of Michael Brown, who was laid to rest Monday, is anomalous only in that it is so extreme: an unarmed black teenager riddled with bullets by a white police officer in a community plagued by racial tension.

African-Americans make up 67 percent of the population of Ferguson, Mo., but there are just four black officers on the 53-member police force -- which responded to peaceful demonstrations by rolling out military-surplus armored vehicles and firing tear gas. It is easy to understand how Brown and his peers might see the police not as public servants but as troops in an army of occupation.

And yes, Brown made mistakes. He was walking in the middle of the street rather than on the sidewalk, according to witnesses, and he was carrying a box of cigars that he apparently took from a convenience store. Neither is a capital offense.

When Officer Darren Wilson stopped him, did Brown respond with puffed-up attitude? For a young black man, that is a transgression punishable by death.

(Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/marineperez/4698707308/in/photolist-8ad6YY-8Aus3-5zCkcN-rpJN4-bjoHVX-62R4Ev-g9giVA-6AVJ7p-kxZy8-6qoBmK-byTHXc-8AvSm-aekaK4-de3U-9icSX1-6qsN9C-5NrRia-7h76DU-kBxd2-gjmKrq-7DMweA-2HnKKx-iUKE8K-gYYzoZ-gLRWAA-9Xx2Cj-5jJ1TB-8YW9eM-imHXim-gF4xfF-7PBNhi-4XyVDt-enjZzB-6ypZ8K-a5idwo-2wDtw2-5xtiGh-3KPTQU-nk9MR-9YzSKW-6Qt12d-gF3cAU-5NvYAU-4v5WM-gF3RKg-fi57cm-fkQond-ayMkd1-9Yx1Jn-85HBZT" target="_blank">  miss_millions / Flickr</a>)(Photo: miss_millions / Flickr)

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

“If you had enough money, you could hardly commit crimes at all. You just perpetrated amusing little peccadilloes.”
- Terry Pratchett

Submitted for your consideration: one Kate Meckler, a top New York City real estate broker, heiress to a tech CEO, and owner of a mansion in Southampton. Meckler had a bit of an oops back in April, and somehow managed to shoplift some $1,644 worth of clothing from Saks Fifth Avenue. As part of her plea deal, her sentence was set as five days of community service. Hooray for the criminal justice system!

Let’s engage in a brief thought experiment. Imagine that Meckler were not a real estate broker and scion of wealth and privilege. Imagine that she were, instead, a single mother working two minimum wage jobs. Of course, she probably wouldn’t have been wandering about Saks Fifth Avenue, but let’s pretend that she had been, and managed to be caught with $1,644 of shoplifted merchandise. That constitutes a class E felony, with penalties including imprisonment for up to four years. Show of hands: how many of you think this hypothetical version of Meckler would have gotten off with five days of community service?

Thought so.

But there’s no need to conduct thought experiments. We can have a look at things out there in the real world where, thanks to mandatory sentencing laws, thousands of people are serving sentences up to and including life without parole for offenses less than that of Meckler. Of course, they’re all “career criminals,” bad people who have led a life of crime, and need to be removed from our streets. Certainly none of them could ever hope to offer the vital contributions to society that a top real estate broker might.

(Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6280517815/in/photolist-ayZi8V-iTWXqp-9AipNF-6kZfRj-9AijLg-jMNpQ-cWGBcw-bJEabn-5G4jgb-aC9Fwa-5d7H4F-8epdw6-82vJFB-bEoaW8-de5FdD-9AjZLn-9kEi17-2G883u-8sRWJT-9bQiyS-xysE-4Bcnxs-92LzHZ-MLpAc-9xKraN-8rGS8Y-8rGScb-8rGS5m-8rGS7o-8rDMcK-8rDMmH-2nynjX-5pimBJ-4Bcnyu-4B85Tz-4B85XK-6B46TT-ePmZsx-ePmZbZ-8rGRVj-dxRo9h-7fk4HX-hLxG48-9qCQLZ-9qCQLp-9qCQJH-jSj96-aYKed2-dfMYvD-8xjJuv" target="_blank"> 401(K) 2012 / Flickr</a>)(Photo: 401(K) 2012 / Flickr)

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Americans constantly hear about the threat of "entitlements," which in the case of Social Security and Medicare are more properly defined as "earned benefits." The real threat is the array of entitlements demanded by the very rich. The following annual numbers may help to put our country's expenses and benefits in perspective.

 

$220 Billion: Teacher Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are just over four million preschool, primary, secondary, and special education school teachers in the U.S., earning an average of $54,740.


$246 Billion: State and Local Pensions

Census data shows a total annual (2012) payout of about $246 billion. Only about $100 billion of this came from state and local governments, with the remainder funded by employee contributions and investment earnings. A recent Pew study showed a little over $100 billion in annual state contributions to pensions, health care, and non-pension benefits.


$398 Billion: Safety Net

The 2013 safety net (non-medical) included the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC (Women, Infants, Children), Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Education & Training, and Housing.

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMcDonnell(Photo: Gage Skidmore)How far would you go to stay out of jail? Would you publicly humiliate your wife of 38 years, portraying her as some kind of shrieking harridan? Would you put the innermost secrets of your marriage on display, inviting voyeurs to rummage at will?

For Robert McDonnell, the former Virginia governor on trial for alleged corruption, the answers appear to be: "As far as necessary," "Hey, why not?" and "Sounds like a plan."

McDonnell's testimony this week in a Richmond federal courtroom about his wife Maureen's psychological turmoil has been both cringe-worthy and compelling. It has been clear for some time that McDonnell's strategy for winning acquittal amounted to what could be called the "crazy wife" defense. But only when he took the stand did it become apparent how thoroughly he intended to humiliate the "soul mate" he still claims to love.

McDonnell disclosed Thursday that he moved out of the family's home shortly before the trial began. "I knew there was no way I could go home after a day in court and have to rehash the day's events with my wife," he testified.

I guess not. Anyone who said such things in public about his or her spouse would be advised to clear out.

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