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MARK KARLIN, BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

3025762169 fb7909b6b1 zBill Clinton launched his presidential run on the shoulders of the Democratic Leadership Council. (Photo: Timothy K Hamilton)

Al From was a co-founder in the '80s of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which was Bill Clinton's ideological launching pad to the presidency. The DLC, in turn, "inspired" other DC centrist Democratic Party think tanks such as the Third Way, which champions ideas like increasing nuclear power and supporting charter schools. In a January 4 Guardian US commentary, From argues that the Democratic Party needs to return to "the principles" of the DLC.

Perhaps the best rejoinder to From's exhortation is that the DLC went bankrupt and closed its doors in 2011. As Ben Smith wrote in a Politico article that year:

The centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which fought and largely won a battle for the soul of the Democratic party in the 1990s, is on the verge of bankruptcy and is closing its doors, its founder, Al From, confirmed Monday.

The group’s decision to “suspend operations” marks the conclusion of a long slide from its peak of relevance in the Clinton era, and perhaps the beginning a battle over its legacy, as the organization’s founders and allies argue that it has been a victim of its own success – and its liberal critics are already dancing on its grave.

In his Guardian US essay, From tries to resurrect DLC centrism at a time when the heir to the DLC legacy -- Hillary Clinton -- just lost the White House. She ran a campaign based on DLC-style neoliberalism, while incorporating some left-leaning populist positions in her struggle to fend off Bernie Sanders in the primaries.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016december economicinjustice copy2The canyon of economic injustice is widening. (David Shankbone)

Throughout the ups and downs of 2016, Truthout and BuzzFlash have been there to bring you reliable news and analysis. Click here to support us with a donation before the year ends!

As 2017 approaches, a recent study indicates that the income gap in the US is growing. According to a December 22 CNNMoney article,

The gap between the "haves" and "have nots" is widening, according to the latest data out this week.

The rich are money-making machines. Today, the top mega wealthy -- the top 1% -- earn an average of $1.3 million a year. It's more than three times as much as the 1980s, when the rich "only" made $428,000, on average, according to economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Meanwhile, the bottom 50% of the American population earned an average of $16,000 in pre-tax income in 1980. That hasn't changed in over three decades.

In the past decade, there has only been a brief period when the chasm narrowed, the report indicates:

Around 2009 and 2010, inequality narrowed slightly because the rich had lost a lot of wealth.

But since then, inequality has grown and is on track to widen further. The wealthy have recovered far faster as the stock market has surged over 230% since bottoming out in March 2009 and property values have shot back up to pre-recession levels.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016silenceTrumpism demands activism, not silence. (Photo: Jemma D )

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The election of Donald Trump has seen the religious right gearing up to fight against abortion rights, defund Planned Parenthood, target transsexual rights, and re-litigate same sex marriage; economic conservatives dusting off plans to eliminate as many government regulations (and possibly departments) as possible, support school choice, the privatization of social security, Medicare, and craft a new tax code; and white supremacists and nationalists –operating under the media-friendly banner of the “alt-right” -- are looking to mainstream their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic vision of a white America, and broaden their constituency.

As reports of hate incidents and harassment soar, people are responding: Petitions are being circulated; websites are setting up mechanisms for reporting incidents of hate; demonstrations are being held in cities across the country; and, fight-back organizations are crafting plans and soliciting donations.

So how best to cope with and combat what many see as a coming maelstrom of hate attacks?

Information is key to any struggle. Naming the attackers, decoding their messages, and speaking out against hate groups, and incidents of hate and harassment is essential, and, finally, taking the long view regarding political engagement is crucial.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

4187193883 eb94c5f123 zInstead of falsely claiming that there is a "war on Christmas," why not support peace? (Photo: John)

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The longstanding right-wing propaganda crusade against a nonexistent "war on Christmas" has gained new steam during the campaign and election of Donald Trump. According to a December 20 Christian Science Monitor article, FOX News began promoting the false meme about secular liberals attacking Christmas (and, more broadly, Christians) about a decade ago.  The embedding of the "truthy" notion that there are hostile forces attacking Christmas got an extra boost when Bill O'Reilly took it on as a cause, hammering the accusation home in his TV show and writing.

According to the The Christian Science Monitor report, Donald Trump's adoption of the call to end the "war on Christmas" accusation has boosted it substantially:

But while discourse surrounding the "war on Christmas" has taken place primarily on Fox News and conservative talk radio shows in the past, this year the pro-"Merry Christmas" faction gained a voice on the national political stage thanks to a powerful ally: President-elect Donald Trump. Mr. Trump's adoption of the cause speaks to the concerns of conservative supporters who see a broader persecution of Christians in America and political correctness run amok. But once he takes office, Trump's explicit support of the holiday has the potential to expand beyond rhetoric into concrete political action.

"The 'war on Christmas' discourse sounds similar notes each season, so it's less the discourse that has changed than the context and the stakes," says Kevin Coe, an associate professor of communication at the University of Utah, in an email to The Christian Science Monitor. "More so than in the past, the 'war on Christmas' is connected to perceptions of a broader 'war on Christianity.'"

In essence, evoking a phony "war" against a religious holiday allows Christians who feel besieged by a multicultural world to feel that they are victims -- that their religion and personal beliefs are being belittled and censored. It is very consistent with Trump's appeal to the sense of white Christian victimhood that he manipulated to his advantage throughout the election, and continues to manipulate in the transitional period before he assumes the office of president.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

4361541526 60f37e976b z 1Will 2017 be the year of rebel journalism? (Photo: Kevin Harber )

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In the Nieman Lab newsletter, a project of the Harvard Nieman Foundation to foster best-journalistic practices, media diversity specialist Andrew Ramsammy finds a positive side to the 2016 election: He says it will ignite the spread of "rebel journalism" in 2017. He predicts that out of the ashes of the election will come a new form of journalism -- indeed, a "rebellion" against the mainstream media that contributed to the rise of Donald Trump. According to Ramsammy, "rebel journalists" will use their platforms boldly to advance truth and pursue justice.

Three examples illustrate Ramsammy's rebel journalist's manifesto:

  • "The rebel will rise against all forms of prejudice and hate, including racism, homophobia, sexism, bigotry, misogyny, nativism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, ignorance, intolerance, politicism, monolithic ideology, self-righteousness, and venality."

  • "The rebel will also rebel against the owned voice, the public media/NPR/PBS sound, the Ron Burgundys, the-colder-than-Siberia-studio-based-three-camera-airbrushed-skin-detail-minus-seven-Best Buy-flat-panel-topias-of-three-point-lighting, the saccharin-tonedeafness of poorly written, culturally anemic headlines, the copy-and-paste of audio scripts for the web, the host banter, awful segues, throws to live-dead newscasts of stereotyped crime scenes from hours, days, and years ago, and the billboarding of any news as 'the most-trusted source.' These are all examples of rusty hooks and relics of the lingua franca of ancient Mesopotamia, lost on audiences who no longer watch and/or listen and perhaps never have and don’t care. Rebels get the best stories without the bells and whistles of sterility. Rebels like keeping it pure."

  • "Rebels must rebel against journalism’s institutional and structural racism. We must fight against the platitudes of diversity; all of its exoticness and pornographic otherness. Diversity is neither abstract nor finite; it is complex and infinite. One cannot act upon diversity without inclusion, or inclusion without diversity. They are not mutually exclusive. Rebels understand the value of diverse opinions and will not shunt themselves from difference, or become a patsy to conformity. The rebel will champion mentorship and ceaselessly foster the next generation of voices, journalists, and storytellers."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

A Tale of Two Story Social Media latino(Image: Institute for Policy Studies)

 On Thursday evening, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) released a report that concluded that just 100 of the wealthiest CEOs have amassed retirement funds equal to a little more than 40 percent of the US population's retirement savings.

The analysis concluded: "Just 100 CEOs have company retirement funds worth $4.7 billion — a sum equal to the entire retirement savings of the 41 percent of U.S. families with the smallest nest eggs." Furthermore:

This $4.7 billion total is also equal to the entire retirement savings of the bottom:

  • 59 percent of African-American families

  • 75 percent of Latino families

  • 55 percent of female-headed households

  • 44 percent of white working class households

To put this in perspective, the IPS found that "the top 100 CEO nest eggs are large enough to generate for each of these executives a $253,088 monthly retirement check for the rest of their lives."

Thursday, 15 December 2016 12:08

Politics as Usual Will Not Rescue Planet Earth

BOB KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The Earth seen from Apollo 17(Photo: Wikipedia )

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As we think about the election — what went wrong, what’s been unleashed and what we should do about it — please, please, let us expand our vision beyond some technical fix or updated “message.”

Even if we’re talking about the Democratic Party.

James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute and a longtime member of the Democratic National Committee, discussing the Bernie Sanders phenomenon and the future direction of the party, wrote recently: “Many rank and file Democrats had lost confidence in their establishment and were looking for an authentic message that spoke to their needs.”

He was making the case for a progressive takeover of the party and the naming of Keith Ellison as DNC chair. As I read his commentary, however, even though I essentially agreed with him, I couldn’t get past the word “authentic” — especially linked as it was to the word “message,” which made it sound like the Democrat leadership needs to search its soul and come up with a better ad slogan.

And this is American politics — American democracy — as presented for our entertainment and distraction by the corporate media and the custodians of power. “The people” are acknowledged to be participants in the process of governing, which is to say, the process of creating the future, only to the extent that they have a set of limited, specific interests the powerful have to look out for. Jobs, for instance. Or protection from the enemy of the moment.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016 07:40

Journalists Are Under Siege Around the World

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

1408711192 3da176c380 oWill journalism that reveals the truth become a crime in the US?  (Photo: Yan Arief Purwanto)

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As this year winds down, it's clear that it was a frightening one for many journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the numbers of reporters serving prison sentences around the world has climbed to 259 thus far in 2016:

Turkey’s unprecedented crackdown on media brought the total number of jailed journalists worldwide to the highest number since the Committee to Protect Journalists began taking an annual census in 1990.

As of December 1, 2016, there were 259 journalists in jail around the world. Turkey had at least 81 journalists behind bars, according to CPJ’s records, the highest number in any one country at a time—and every one of them faces anti-state charges. Dozens of other journalists are imprisoned in Turkey, but CPJ was unable to confirm a direct link to their work.

China, which was the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2014 and 2015, dropped to the second spot with 38 journalists in jail. Egypt, Eritrea, and Ethiopia are third, fourth and fifth worst jailers of journalists, respectively. Combined, the top five countries on CPJ’s census were responsible for jailing more than two-thirds of all journalists in prison worldwide.

Western countries should not feel smug because they have not made the top of the list. As we saw with the arrest of Amy Goodman and other journalists at the Dakota Access pipeline most recently, the US often uses its legal system to harass -- and sometimes rough up -- reporters who are covering protests. These acts by law enforcement do not make the CPJ list because they have not generally resulted in long detentions of reporters. The federal government has occasionally threatened reporters such as New York Times journalist James Risen with prosecution and imprisonment for refusing to testify or to identify a whistleblower, although the legal Department of Justice threats against Risen were eventually dropped after a six-year standoff. (Read my interview with Risen here.)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

 2016decuschamberlog121(Photo: Wikipedia)

A December report by the national consumer advocacy group Public Citizen bluntly concluded that "the U.S. Chamber of Commerce waved its dark money wand on the 2016 elections and elected a slew of GOP politicians beholden to big business." The report found that the Chamber spent 100 percent of its campaign funding on Republican candidates for the first time in its history. Furthermore, because of the Citizens United decision, it did not have to disclose the identities of the donors who supplied its campaign contribution funds.

The Public Citizen analysis found:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was the second largest overall non-disclosing (or “dark money”) outside spender in 2016 congressional races after the National Rifle Association, and it was the largest non-disclosing outside spender in 75 percent of the races in which it spent money. The Chamber involved itself most heavily in races for the U.S. Senate, spending a total of $25.8 million in 10 Senate races. This deluge began with a $10 million ad buy in swing states last spring as a part of their “Save the Senate” campaign, a campaign organized jointly with leading Republicans whose goal was to prevent a Democratic takeover of the closely-divided body. Moreover, for the first time, 100 percent of the Chamber’s general election spending benefited Republican candidates, suggesting that rather than being a nonpartisan voice for American business, the Chamber has become a voice solely for the Republican Party.

The Chamber works closely with the American Legislative Exchange Council  (ALEC), as well as with the Koch brothers' agenda. This bolsters its impact on both the state level and in Washington, promoting an anti-regulation, pro-fossil fuel agenda Congress. In this most recent election, the Chamber's agenda was synergistically matched with President-elect Trump's business and energy platforms. Trump's Cabinet appointees' beliefs reflect the Chamber's goals, too. Furthermore, as noted earlier earlier, the money sources behind the Chamber's campaign donations are undisclosed because it is a 501(c)(6) organization, which now has the right of "personhood" to support candidates through shadowy parallel campaign organizations.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

14088974046 7a53f6128b z A wall of Marshalsea Prison, where the father of Charles Dickens was imprisoned for being in debt. (Photo: Hornbeam Arts)

You don't need to read Charles Dickens to learn about debtors' prisons. You can just visit Sherwood, Arkansas.

A few months ago the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers' Committee), along with Morrison & Foerster LLP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas (ACLU of Arkansas) filed a class action civil rights lawsuit against Sherwood in federal court. The goal of the legal action is to end the town's practice of using failure to pay court costs and petty fines as justification for imprisoning people for the "crime" of poverty.

According to a news release by the Lawyer's Committee:

The suit was filed on behalf of four individuals who allege their constitutional rights were violated by the Hot Check Division of the Sherwood District Court when they were jailed for their inability to pay court fines and fees in violation of longstanding law forbidding the incarceration of people for their failure to pay debts, and a concerned taxpayer.

"The resurgence of debtors prisons across our country has entrapped poor people, too many of whom are African American or minority, in a cycle of escalating debt and unnecessary incarceration," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The Sherwood District Court epitomizes the criminalization of poverty and the corrupting effect of financial incentives on our local courts. Not only does this 'Hot Check' court completely ignore the long-standing principle that a person cannot be punished because they are poor, but by using coercive practices to collect money from the poorest Arkansans, this debtors' prison scheme generates huge revenues for the city. Revenue from the district court constitutes nearly 12 percent of the city's budget, second only to city and county sales tax..."

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