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tomcottonjpg13Tom Cotton should not be a public servant if has contempt for his constituents. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) is a reliable supporter of Donald Trump. He recently was one of two senators who implausibly claimed, during a meeting on DACA, that Trump did not use a highly derogatory and profane term about majority non-white nations. In short, Cotton almost certainly lied to provide the president with cover for wanton bigotry. Charles Pierce writes of Cotton and Trump in the January 16 Esquire: "The two of them share an instinct for vicious, self-serving political utilitarianism, an overweening ambition far beyond their actual talents, and a casual disinterest in the truth if it conflicts with expedience."

It is not, therefore, surprising that Cotton and Trump share an intolerance toward those individuals and groups that disagree with them. Of course, it is one of the most basic assumptions of democracy that constituents can communicate their concerns and criticisms to their representatives through a variety of means, such as emails, letters, the telephone and protests. This ability for constituents to express their views is one of the most vital ingredients in a robust democracy.

However, Cotton -- a Tea Party favorite -- apparently doesn't believe that such communication is welcome, when it comes to those who take issue with his positions. The Arkansas Times reported on January 18 that Cotton's Washington, DC office has been issuing cease-and-desist letters to some of his Arkansas residents, warning them not to contact Cotton.


plasticbags33Plastic bags will likely accelerate in their pollution of the planet. (Photo: European Parliament)

We welcome the New Year with an expectation of a better future as the clock hits midnight and we enter January. However, among the disappointments we are facing already is a likely increase in the production of polluting plastics. Specifically, the scourge of non-recyclable plastic bags appears to be gearing up for an increase.

On December 26, 2017, the Guardian posted an article that predicts $180 billion dollars will be spent by fossil fuel companies on increasing plastic production, including plastic bags. The article warns that the investment -- which will raise plastic output by approximately 40 percent -- is "risking permanent pollution of the earth." Symbolic of the destructiveness of non-recyclable plastics to the environment is the omnipresent plastic bag.

In fact, 2016 began with a forewarning of the onslaught of plastic for which Big Oil is preparing. An EcoWatch article from January 2016 offered this chilling portrayal of the worldwide threat of plastic production:

There will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, according to a new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Photo credit: Plastic Pollution

Every year "at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean—which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute," the report finds. "If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050.

Friday, 22 December 2017 06:10

Begin the New Year by Rejecting Fear


fearsashaDemocracy cannot be run on the fuel of fear. (Photo: Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said in his 1932 inaugural address that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He was referring to the personal and national concerns about the devastation of the Great Depression. However, he could have been speaking about the destructive impact of overblown fear on the survival of democracy and on personal well-being.

Fear is the subject of this week's Truthout Progressive Pick, Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream, by Sasha Abramsky. He incisively explores how humans are hard-wired for fear. It is after all, an emotion and reflex that is common to most species to ensure individual survival. In the human, it is ignited in the amygdala, a small part of the brain, which releases a hormone that incites fear. This activates preconceived notions to invoke fear retained in another part of the brain called the hippocampus. All of this happens and emerges as a perceived threat to humans before the more discriminating neocortex can determine what is an actual personal risk.

Thus, a fear doesn't need to correspond to the actual likelihood of being harmed; it can be induced through a repetitive framing of irrational fears that are stored as memes in the amygdala and hippocampus. In an age when television transmits messages directly into the home -- as a sort of high-tech member of the family -- bitter and hateful fears do not need to reflect reality. They can be installed in the brain as perceived reality through artful propaganda and repetition. Thus, one can understand, upon reflection, the impact of a network such as Fox.


homelesssignBussing homeless people out of town is not a solution. (Photo: Bryan & Lyn)

As inequality continues to rise in the United States, more and more wealthy and gentrifying communities are declaring war on the homeless. BuzzFlash has written in the past on the increasing number of cities that are creating so many obstacles to homelessness, it is essentially making the condition illegal. It does not speak well of our society that individuals who are homeless are often treated shabbily -- as eyesores better off gone entirely.

Homelessness is not a small problem either. A study in 2016 found more than 550,000 people are homeless in the US on any given night. Children make up about 25 percent of that figure. About 110,000 LGBTQ youth are homeless and 200,000 people in families.

A 2016 article in The Economist noted how unwelcome the homeless are:

Many city dwellers do their best not to see the homeless people who share their streets and pavements. Donald Trump once famously insisted that his security guards clear all tramps and panhandlers from the pavement in front of Trump Tower. Even when the homeless aren't being chased away, they can seem invisible. In 2014, the New York City Rescue Mission, a shelter, conducted a social experiment, Make Them Visible, in which they filmed participants walking past relatives disguised as homeless people. None of the participants noticed their relations sitting on the street. "We don't look at them. We don't take a second look," said Michelle Tolson, then director of public relations for the organization, at the time.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017 06:15

France to Ban Fracking and Oil Production by 2040


frackingnoIt's time to get serious about banning fracking. (Photo: Progress Ohio)

It may be derided as political showmanship by some, but the December 19 vote of the French parliament to ban fracking and oil production by 2040 should not be dismissed. True, France is highly dependent on importing oil and gas for its energy needs. In fact, 99 percent of the oil and gas it consumes comes from outside the country. Nevertheless, in a legislative move that includes France's territories -- championed by French President Emmanuel Macron -- a standard is set for other nations to follow in the worldwide effort to reduce climate change. France also does not intend to employ coal-powered electricity plants after 2022.

The action also resonates because it comes from the nation that hosted the Paris climate accord, which was negotiated by 196 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015. President Obama's administration signed the agreement, with Obama declaring, "This agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change."

Earlier this year, Trump announced that he was withdrawing the US from the accord. This means that now the US is the only nation that is not agreeing to the accord. For a period of time Nicaragua and Syria hadn't signed on, but subsequently joined.

The Independent believes that the Trump administration had several ulterior motives for withdrawing the US from the accord....


kochbrotherstimeThe Koch brothers make a major investment in Time Inc.. (Photo: DonkeyHotey)

So, given their combined wealth of nearly $100 billion, it is worth keeping a watchful eye on the Koch brothers' investment in Time and the evolving editorial content of the publication.

In a November 28 article in The New Yorker, journalist Jane Mayer -- a specialist on the Kochs -- reported,

“Everyone who has worked in journalism knows that even if you never see the rich and powerful owner of your publication, and you have the most powerful, independent editors, it inevitably has an effect on what you write, or on what you leave out. You just don’t do a terrible story on yourself,” Emily Bell, a professor of professional practice at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, told me. Bell said that she doubts that the Kochs have put six hundred and fifty million dollars into the purchase of a media company saddled with ailing print publications only for financial reasons. “It can’t just be the return on investment, because, if so, you’re in the wrong asset class,” she said. But even if that is their intent, she argued, they will end up exerting cultural and political influence because “investments in media companies are different from any other kind of investment. Media companies affect the broader cultural life.”

Mayer herself comments of the Kochs' investment in Time, "Those familiar with the Kochs’ history, however, have reason to be skeptical about their professed passivity."

In a November 27 Guardian article by Lucia Graves, the author quotes Mary Bottari of the The Center for Media and Democracy,

Bottari told the Guardian she considered it “a smart move” on Koch’s part. “The only way they can convince the public not to worry their heads about climate change and to forget about regulating the fossil fuel industry is to create their own media megaphone,” said Bottari.


devoss345Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a friend of the for-profit education industry. (Photo: Michael Vadon)

The for-profit college industry is, at its core, a commercial enterprise. Its model of privatization based on profiteering often harms vulnerable individuals seeking to use college as a stepping stone to viable jobs and careers.

David Halperin wrote in the Republic Report on December 6,

They [the for-profit colleges] suggest, over and over, that if a Department of Education rule or proposed rule would force them or their fellow school operators to alter or close a particular education program  — whether in teaching, nursing, IT, or hairdressing — there must be something wrong with the rule. They rarely suggest that there might, instead, be something wrong with the program — such as being of low quality, or given to admitting many students that the program is not designed to adequately assist, or simply being overpriced.

This mind-set makes these for-profit college officials the most entitled group I’ve ever observed. Many for-profit colleges get 80 percent, 90 percent, and even more of their revenue directly from federal taxpayers through student grants and loans — because so many of the students they enroll are low-income people eligible for federal student aid, or military troops and veterans who earn education benefits.

Yes, the federal government is the primary underwriter for students who attend for-profit colleges. According to Halperin, "Collectively the industry has received as much as $32 billion in a single year from the federal government." That sets up a caveat emptor scenario for students because the for-profit colleges are paid through tuition, and the students are left holding the loans that they may or may not be able to pay back. Thus, the for-profit colleges fight any regulations that would hold them accountable for student success and, particularly, for job placement for those students who graduate. They get the tuition funds, and the individual enrollees and the taxpayers are left holding the debt.


chipjpgMedical care for all children is essential to a nation's health. (Photo: Mike Licht)

The federal Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) is currently on the chopping block in the Republican Congress due to an alleged lack of funding. At the same time, the GOP is about to begin reconciling House and Senate tax bills that will divert billions of dollars to the wealthiest Americans. The federal-state program that provides health insurance for approximately 9 million children formally expired on September 30. It is receiving a short reprieve through funding provided by a continuing resolution that will keep the government from shutting down until December 22.

The likelihood of CHIP's elimination is starting to have an impact. According to a December 13 NBC News article,

State officials in Virginia started warning families this week that the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is about to run out of money.

It’s one of several states that have given notice or are preparing to tell families that funding for the program has ended and Congress has failed to renew it.

For many families, that could mean an end to their health care unless they find someone to offer free care to their kids, according to Linda Nablo, chief deputy director at Virginia's Department of Medical Assistance Services.


fedcourtatlantaU.S. District Court of Appeals, Atlanta (Photo: Steven Martin)

BuzzFlash has long covered the way in which Republican senators are more aggressive than Democrats in shaping the judiciary to achieve partisan goals. It is a subject that necessitates ongoing examination, because the GOP is resolute in attaining its objective of a right-wing federal court.

The latest flouting of Senate tradition and rules concerns a process used by both parties to delay federal judiciary nominations. It is a somewhat arcane procedure known as "blue slipping" nominees. Senators of states where nominees would serve have long been able to prevent or delay Senate Judiciary Committee hearings by simply withholding a blue slip with the name of the person under consideration from being submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee chairperson. Whether one agrees with the procedure or not, what's important to note is that the Republicans have used the option frequently to prevent Democratic nominees to the federal bench over the years.

In a recent email from People for the American Way, the progressive advocacy organization noted that in November,

[Republican] Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley announced he was going to move forward with scheduling a hearing for an extreme Trump judicial nominee -- one who is on Trump’s list for possible Supreme Court justices -- despite the fact that he has not received approval from both home-state senators for going forward. Although he adamantly supported the tradition requiring approval from both home-state senators when it came to stopping President Obama’s nominees from moving forward, Grassley is more than happy to throw them out when it comes to moving Trump’s nominees forward. Obliterating more than 100 years of Senate traditions, and in the face of his own promises not to do so, he has now scheduled the hearing for judicial nominee David Stras.


graduateschoolphotoGOP House would have graduate students subsidizing tax breaks for the wealthy. (Photo: Kevin Harber)

The Senate and House versions of tax restructuring bills still need to be reconciled in a conference committee, but both pieces of legislation clearly favor shifting tax deductions toward the wealthy. However, there are different provisions in each bill that create particular winners and losers. For example, in the House version, graduate students would get the shaft by having tuition wavers taxed. 

It's hard to believe that elected officials in Washington, DC could think of a more perverse way to diminish the nation's knowledge base. Given the often marginal incomes of graduate students, it is likely that many students would forgo graduate school rather than assume the significant additional financial burden of taxed tuition waivers. A recent article in Inside Higher Ed, which notes that many students are protesting the bill, explains this likely impact:

"If it’s filled with any, or most of, the provisions aimed at higher ed, then I’ll have to drop out of my program," said Tom DePaola, a doctoral candidate in education policy at the University of Southern California....

"I was really brought out here [to protest in Washington DC] when I saw that they were going to tax our tuition waivers as income," said Skyler Reidy, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in history at USC. "It’s going to force people out of grad school."

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