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Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlah at Truthout

2106taxtrump(Photo: Phillip Ingham)

Regardless of who one plans to vote for in the November presidential election, it was the general consensus in punditry and instant-polling land that Hillary Clinton made Donald Trump look like a coarse, weary muskrat last night. Particularly in the second half of the debate.

Indeed, CNN sponsored a post-debate snap poll that found Clinton the decisive "winner":

Hillary Clinton was deemed the winner of Monday night's debate by 62% of voters who tuned in to watch, while just 27% said they thought Donald Trump had the better night, according to a CNN/ORC Poll of voters who watched the debate.

Voters who watched said Clinton expressed her views more clearly than Trump and had a better understanding of the issues by a margin of more than 2-to-1. Clinton also was seen as having done a better job addressing concerns voters might have about her potential presidency by a 57% to 35% margin, and as the stronger leader by a 56% to 39% margin.

The consensus of the post-debate Democratic and Republican pundits on MSNBC was that, ironically, Trump lost his stamina after the first third to first half of the debate, even as he bizarrely accused Hillary Clinton of not having the stamina for the job and not "looking" like a president. (Of all the defensive babble that Trump fell back on during the second half of the debate, none appeared more feeble, as The Washington Post pointed out, than his sneering accusation that Clinton did not have the endurance to be president -- while the split screen showed her standing poised and calm, as he wandered into verbal cul-de-sacs.)

However, this is not a commentary about who "won or lost" the debate, whatever one's thoughts may be about the presidential candidates of the two major political parties. Rather, it has to do with a moment in the debate that did not receive widespread coverage: the seeming concesison by Donald Trump that he may not have paid any federal taxes for years. As Hillary Clinton pointed out, Trump is the only major party presidential candidate in decades not to release his recent income taxes. Trump is using the excuse that he can't share them with the public because he is under audit by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but Lester Holt, the moderator last night, pointed out that the IRS allows people under audit to release their income taxes if they want to.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

bankstersgangstersWhy are big bank CEOs not held accountable for the misdeeds of their banks? They just keep making tens of millions of dollars in bonuses off of the illegalities that happen on their watch. (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

To recap, approximately 5,300 Wells Fargo bank staff members -- many paid around $12 an hour -- had been fired earlier this month for allegations of creating millions of fraudulent credit card and savings accounts. It appears that the Wells Fargo employees were feverishly trying to meet high marketing quotas to receive bonuses. It also appears that Wells Fargo executives overlooked the rampant illegal behavior, amidst a climate that emphasizes increasing the number of accounts without scrutinizing the tactics used to do so. The scheme was discovered and investigated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren. Wells Fargo was fined a mere $180 million (plus $5 million in refunds to defrauded clients), which was not much more than the $120 million Carrie Tolstedt -- who heads the Wells Fargo division overseeing the fraudulent activity -- will retire with in the near future.

As I noted in a column last Friday, Warren was having none of the tactics of Wells Fargo executives firing low-level subordinates to escape blame. As she told CNBC last week: "There's a serious problem with senior management at Wells Fargo.... All they do is fire the low-level employees. You can't run a bank like that."

In a Senate Banking Committee hearing on September 20, Warren bluntly raked Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf over the coals,

Warren said that cross selling, the practice of getting customers to sign up for new products from Wells, was designed just to "pump up the stock of Wells Fargo" and increase the value of Stumpf's stock-based compensation.

"You should resign, you should give back the money you made while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission," said Warren.

Stumpf appeared unfazed by Warren's scolding and admitted that he has not fired any high-level Wells Fargo executives over the incident, just the low-paid workers seeking bonuses.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

heckscher32On September 21, Zahara Heckscher blocks entrance to a congressional office to protest TPP pharmaceutical provisions. (Photo: CANCERFAM.ORG )

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In February, I reported on the arrest of Zahara Heckscher, 51, who was protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) within the building entry to the massive pharmaceutical lobby in DC, PhRMA. Heckscher, who was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago, is experiencing its return in an advanced stage after remission.

Heckscher was cuffed and booked along with Hannah Lyon (who is 29 and has aggressive cervical cancer). Both protesters shouted that the TPP was a "death sentence" to many people with serious illnesses. This act of civil disobedience took place on World Cancer Day, February 4.

Yesterday, Heckscher was arrested again, this time while blocking the entrance to the Capitol office of Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado). Heckscher used the time before she was arrested to urge Polis to save the lives of people in his district by taking a stand against passage of the TPP. Heckscher, the organization that she co-founded -- Cancer Families for Affordable Medicine -- and other advocacy groups concerned about affordable medicine have become increasingly worried that President Obama, the Republican leadership and Blue Dog Democrats will try to pass the TPP in a lame-duck session of Congress. This speculation is bolstered by a presidential election in which the candidates of the two largest parties are both on record opposing the TPP. Therefore, from a politically practical perspective, the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress may believe that the period between the November election and the swearing-in of a new president offers the best opportunity for the passage of the trade deal opposed by an increasing number of Americans for a variety of reasons.

For Heckscher, her conviction is born of both personal illness and her concern about others in the US and elsewhere. People will find medication more costly in all signatory nations of the TPP, because of its locking-in of long patents and drug monopolies. For instance, Heckscher now relies upon a medication that costs $54,000 a year. Her insurance company has denied her physician's request for the drug to slow down the cancer. The medication in question is available in some other nations as a generic, but the TPP would prohibit the sale of such generics during the course of a medication's patent throughout the TPP nations. In short, a TPP nation that might sell another brand of the $54,000 drug Heckscher needs for, let's say, $10,000, would be prohibited from doing so.

Also consider this, many people in the US -- particularly seniors -- get vast savings on certain drugs by ordering them from Mexico or Canada. They would find that option essentially closed under the TPP.  This is only one example of how the TPP -- by raising, in general, the cost of medicine in all the signatory nations (including Mexico and Canada) -- will economically impact people in the US who save money by getting some of their medications from nations without stringent patent enforcements.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016refugeeOur comfort in the West creates much of the refugee crisis that the mass media so underreports. (Photo: brx0)

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Just how much does the mainstream press like to spend days upon days getting sucked into a farcical debate about whether Donald Trump is "officially" a birther or not?

I've written it before and I'll write it again: In 2016, if it's not entertaining, it's not news. Donald Trump is like a bigoted vaudeville comedian resurrected from mothballs, a bombastic bloviator who knows how to dominate the midway at a state fair. He is a cross between a tin-siding salesman, a demagogue and -- as he told Marureen Dowd recently -- a promoter of the frisson (shudder of excitement) of violence.

What passes for US mass media today is -- speaking of violence -- a megaphone for vitriol, scapegoating, and cheap "shock jock" tricks. 

Meanwhile, national and global events that shape lives and lead to untimely deaths pass with barely a headline, shoved to the background by the grand carnival known as the 2016 US presidential election.

How many examples of the planet's dire needs -- and potential solutions -- could be covered as part of the daily news if titillation and personality gaffes were not the primary stories driving the news? Occasionally, the reality of our dystopian world receives coverage, like a head bobbing briefly up above the water -- and then sinking back down to drown. That's an analogy that relates directly to one particular reality: As Middle East Eye reported today, at least 39 people were killed this morning when a migrant boat sank off the coast of Egypt. "Over 3,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean on the way to Europe so far this year," according to Middle East Eye.

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016toxicWe're just consumers for toxic products as far as chemical companies are concerned. (Photo: Daniel Go)

Article reprinted with permission from Ecowatch

BuzzFlash and Truthout rely on support from readers like you. If you like what you're reading, make a donation today!

Four of the country's largest chemical companies have been accused of selling billions of dollars worth of harmful isocyanate chemicals but intentionally concealing their dangers to consumers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the past several decades.

EcoWatch learned that the recently unsealed whistleblower lawsuit was served on the chemical companies on Wednesday. The lawsuit was originally filed under seal in federal court in Northern California.

Kasowitz brought this action on behalf of itself and the federal government to recover more than $90 billion in damages and penalties under the FCA, which imposes penalties for concealing obligations to the government.

According to a copy of the lawsuit seen by EcoWatch, "Each of these companies is separately liable to the United States Government for billions of dollars in civil reporting penalties, which continue to accumulate by tens of thousands of dollars daily, and for billions of dollars in similarly increasing breach of contract damages."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

sep162016 warrenElizabeth Warren during the opening of the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau, which she designed, in 2010. (Photo: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau)

 BuzzFlash and Truthout rely on support from readers like you. If you like what you're reading, make a donation today!

Last week, I wrote a commentary on how approximately 5,300 Wells Fargo bank staff members had been fired for allegations of creating millions of fraudulent credit card and savings accounts. It appears that the Wells Fargo employees were feverishly trying to meet high marketing quotas to receive bonuses. It also appears that Wells Fargo executives overlooked the rampant illegal behavior, amidst a climate that emphasizes increasing the number of accounts without scrutinizing the tactics used to do so.

Wells Fargo does not appear to be investigating whether or not Carrie Tolstedt -- who oversaw the division where the phony accounts were set up -- should be held responsible for the bank fraud uncovered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). National Public Radio (NPR) reported that Tolstedt had previously planned to retire from her position and "is set to depart her post with $124.6 million in stock and options." NPR added:

"When Carrie Tolstedt's retirement was announced in July, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf called her a 'dear friend,' 'role model' and 'standard-bearer for our culture.'

A culture of government overlooking corruption on Wall Street led to the 2008 economic crisis. Now, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) who created the CFPB is saying that the US government -- including the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) -- are, yet again, going easy on large financial institutions who continue to engage in multi-pronged rogue behavior. "There's a serious problem with senior management at Wells Fargo," Warren told CNBC earlier this week.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016savevoteThe right to vote should be universal. (Photo: H2Woah! )

Nearly six million people with felony confictions will not be able to vote this November, because the states in which they live do not restore their voting rights after they have served their sentences, according to The Sentencing Project. This loss of the rights of citizenship can have a profound impact on individuals and elections. In fact, Al Gore might have won Florida in 2000 by tens of thousands of votes, if Jeb Bush and his then Secretary of State Kathryn Harris hadn't employed a firm, Choicepoint, to eliminate tens of thousands of people with felony records -- as well as people with identical names to those with felony records -- from the voting rolls.

That is only part of the felony disenfranchisement story in Florida. According to a 2015 Florida SunSentinel article:

Commit any felony in Florida and you lose your right to vote for life -- unless the governor and the clemency board agree to give that right back to you.

The result: more than 1.6 million Floridians -- about 9 percent -- cannot vote, hold office or serve on a jury, according to The Sentencing Project, a prison-reform group.

The FloridaSentinel notes that very few people are able to have their rights restored; in the past four years, only 1,534 people with felony convictions have had their full rights, including voting, restored.

Friday, 09 September 2016 05:51

Big Bad Big Banks Continue to Behave Badly

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

wellsfargoBig banks continue to get slaps on the wrist for illegal practices. (Photo: Mike Mozart)

If you think that big banks only behave badly in the derivative and sub-prime mortgage markets, you've only noted a few of their financial misdeeds -- in this case two reckless behaviors that were key to the 2008 meltdown of the economy.

Many people aren't aware that some of the big banks have also been knowingly involved in accepting cash from drug cartels. For example, Bloomberg News reported in 2013,

HSBC Holdings Plc’s $1.9 billion agreement with the U.S. to resolve charges it enabled Latin American drug cartels to launder billions of dollars was approved by a federal judge.

HSBC was accused of failing to monitor more than $670 billion in wire transfers and more than $9.4 billion in purchases of U.S. currency from HSBC Mexico, allowing for money laundering, prosecutors said. The bank also violated U.S. economic sanctions against Iran, Libya, Sudan, Burma and Cuba, according to a criminal information filed in the case....

The bank, Europe’s largest, agreed to pay a $1.25 billion forfeiture and $665 million in civil penalties under the settlement, prosecutors announced in December.

A Guardian US article noted at the time of the financial penalty,

Mexico’s narco nightmare now counts 100,000 dead and some 20,000 missing; there is no overstating the misery of its export -- hard drugs -- around the world. Yet only one stepping stone connects HSBC to this carnage and misery: the bank acted as the cartel’s financial services wing....

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The other night, I was watching a historical documentary on World War I. That conflict, which was supposed to be "The War to End All Wars," resulted in the deaths of approximately 38 million people: soldiers and civilians. Barely 20 years later, the rumblings of the World War II had begun, which would result in the murders of more than 70 million people.

At the end of the First World War, the British government undertook a propaganda campaign to justify the senseless and barbaric bloodletting that had occurred, resulting in approximately one million British soldiers killed and more than two million wounded. The government built a series of monuments honoring "The Glorious Dead" -- using a memorial slogan invented to justify the war as a great worthwhile "sacrifice." Architects were contracted to build memorials around the British Empire with either that phrasing or the more embracing slogan "Our Glorious Dead."

8315146760 79400a5375 m 1(Photo: Defence Images )

6346499271 3f86331219 m copyWorld I monument erected outside Whitehall in London honoring "The Glorious Dead." (Photo: Donna Rutherford)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

15057321270 5a0f1047ed zOil pipelines not only pose an ongoing peril, the companies benefit from not paying taxes and being allowed to charge excessive rates. (Photo: Luke Jones)

Oil pipeline companies represent the predatory flow of capitalism unrestrained by responsibility for environmental destruction, contribution to global warming, scarring the natural landscape, and violating the rights of Indigenous people and others through the use of eminent domain to construct the pipelines. That list of foul deeds is just for starters.

That's why a September 1 article in The Daily Beast by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and friend of BuzzFlash David Cay Johnston is particularly alarming. Johnston details how many large oil pipeline companies are essentially exempt from corporate income tax. Not that anyone should be surprised that a destructive industry should be rewarded with special tax breaks. In fact, just yesterday we highlighted a report on how big banks receive tax breaks for enormous "performance-pay" bonuses given to CEOs. 

What's more, Johnston points out that due to a recent arcane ruling by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, many oil pipeline companies are allowed to include a tax that they don't pay in adjusting their pricing. That's correct: the oil pipeline companies that don't pay a corporate income tax can include the tax that is not levied on them as a "reasonable cost" in pumping up their invoice pricing.

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