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EditorBlog (1634)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapolicebrutalityRacist policing is enabled by a racist society. (Photo: Elvert Barnes)

Politicians and police chiefs frequently like to label police violence and the murders of people of color as the work of a few bad apples. However, racist policing is endemic to law enforcement in big and small cities alike, because the police in large part function as an occupying force in communities of color - a force that consistently implements policies that perpetuate institutional racism.

In his brilliant, mesmerizing and incisive analysis of race in the United States, Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates cogently addresses this reality:

At this moment the phrase "police reform" has come into vogue, and the actions of our publicly appointed guardians have attracted attention presidential and pedestrian. You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of the country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of the country's criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by an oppressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies - the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects - are the product of democratic will.

We have seen, in recent times, the emergence of a passionate movement of primarily young Black people who have been uncompromising in demanding an end to the incessant anti-Black police violence, as part of a longer-term transformation of a racist society.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaforprofitcFederal student loans are putting billions of dollars into the piggy bank of for-profit college companies masquerading as "non-profits." (Photo: Tax Credits)

For-profit college companies' first priority is reaping a financial windfall, not providing a quality education. Recently, BuzzFlash reported on the bankruptcy of one such higher-education company, which left students saddled with billions of dollars in federal debt after the investors had made money off of billions of dollars in federal tuition loans.

There has been some renewed White House interest in reining in for-profit colleges - but in the absence of congressional action, little can be done.

Recent analysis by The Century Foundation has found that some inventive college corporations - in an attempt to preempt a crackdown on for-profit college schemes - have found a new way to reap the financial rewards of luring students into substandard colleges: convert themselves into IRS-approved nonprofit organizations. Once they receive nonprofit status, these companies then reconfigure themselves to channel a large chunk of their educational functions to the for-profit providers with whom they are linked:

Unfortunately, the conversion to nonprofit status is susceptible to abuse by covert for-profits—schools that obtain the nonprofit label yet continue operating like for-profit institutions—leaving consumers and taxpayers more vulnerable than ever.

Covert for-profit colleges can exist because while the Department of Education relies on the Internal Revenue Service’s judgment of which institutions are and which are not valid nonprofits, the IRS rests its determination on the declarations and self-regulation by the trustees of these nonprofits, based mostly on an honor system. As with other taxpayers, the IRS relies on the honesty of the individuals and corporations that file tax returns, an honesty that is tested only in case of an audit, which often takes place years afterward. 

The report, however, notes that the IRS examines less than a percent of nonprofits annually, therefore leaving a high probability that for-profit colleges seeking to escape scrutiny by becoming officially non-profit - in terms of IRS status - can function without government oversight indefinitely.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasmallplane344Will the friction between the tectonic plates of income inequality cause a social/political earthquake? (Image: Institute for Policy Studies)

Despite the ongoing scrutiny of income inequality and a plethora of advocacy efforts aimed at reversing the trend, the redistribution of wealth upward continues at a dizzying pace.

That's the conclusion of an analysis released today of the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. Conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), the report indicates that the net worth of the top 0.1 percent of the US population continues to swell:

The United States is becoming, as the French economist Thomas Piketty warns, a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power....  

The level of U.S. wealth inequality has grown so lopsided that our classic wealth distributional pyramid now more resembles the shape of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle.

The bulge at the top of our wealth “space needle” reflects America’s wealthiest 0.1 percent, the top one-thousandth of our population, an estimated 115,000 households with a net worth starting at $20 million. This group owns more than 20 percent of U.S. household wealth, up from 7 percent in the 1970s. This elite subgroup, University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez points out, now owns about as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of America combined.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafear32Violent bigotry arising from fear, hate, anger and suffering could lead to the destruction of democracy. (Photo: Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha)

Before the recent election in Canada, I read an email from the progressive Council on Canadians (Le Conseil des Canadiens) warning that another xenophobic government led by Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper would lead the nation further down the path of suffering.

In the end, Liberal Party Candidate Justin Trudeau ended the nearly 10-year right-wing rule of Harper in October of this year. However, after the terrorist attack on the Planned Parenthood Center in Colorado on November 27, my mind returned to a quotation from that Council on Canadians' email that warned that fear and those who incite it lead a nation to its basest inclinations: "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

That is a perilous path, but it is one that the United States is experiencing with violent and not infrequently lethal outcomes: attacks on providers of medical services to women, racist shootings by police and white civilians, violence against migrants, killings of people because of their gender identities, brutal treatment of protesters, and the massive number of deaths caused by US military intervention abroad among other legacies of this nation's violent, racist and exclusionary history.

A Tampa Bay Times November 28 article recounts how "thousands cheer[ed] on insult-throwing Donald Trump at [a] Sarasota rally" on Saturday. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaakalaThe NRA enables terrorism. It's not even debatable. (Photo: Bartosch Salmanski)

It's been more than a decade since then Attorney General John Ashcroft prohibited the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) from stopping people on the US government terrorist watch list from purchasing guns.

Indeed, since Ashcroft issued the order after 9/11 not to interfere with people suspected of terrorist involvement from buying firearms, BuzzFlash has been calling attention to the contradictions embodied by those in the NRA and Congress who say that we need guns to protect ourselves against terrorists, while also ensuring that people they suspect of being terrorists can purchase guns without hindrance. Regardless of what you think of the existence of the terrorist watch list in the first place, the hypocrisy is striking.

As a November 20 Associated Press (AP) article noted,

People on the U.S. government's terrorist watch list often can't board commercial airliners, but they can walk into a gun store and legally buy pistols and powerful, military-style assault rifles....

According to a March analysis by the Government Accountability Office, people on the FBI's consolidated Terrorist Watchlist successfully passed the background check required to purchase firearms more than 90 percent of the time, with more than 2,043 approvals between 2004 and 2014. The office is an investigative branch of Congress....

Under current federal law, however, association with a terrorist organization doesn't prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives.

If someone is denied a gun purchase from a retail firearms store, it is only because they don't qualify for other reasons.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT 

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatrumpTrump combines the skills of an entertainer, self-promoter and demagogue in advancing his political "brand." (Photo: Michelle)

Like many reality-based individuals, until recently I thought of Donald Trump as a somewhat amusing, somewhat disturbing combination of the Joker from Batman, a carnival barker and a used-car salesman successfully persuading a sucker to buy a vehicle without a motor.

I smugly waited for common sense to tighten its grip on the Trump zeppelin until it burst.

Time after time, colleagues and friends would say, "This time Trump's gone too far." They predicted a rapid descent of his Republican candidacy as a result of his latest "take your pick" outlandish statement. However, except for a couple of weeks when Ben Carson began to rise in the polls, challenging Trump's lead, the bombastic billionaire Pied Piper has continued to lead the GOP field. Not that Carson would be a salvation from Trump. (Addressing that point, Stephen Colbert recently nicknamed Trump and Carson "offensive" and "bizarre," respectively, in a sketch.)

Last week, even mainstream media pundits were speculating that Trump had finally imploded as a result of a rambling, surreal speech in Iowa. Trump's remarks included a mock reenactment of Ben Carson allegedly stabbing the belt buckle of a classmate when he was a teenager, implied that Carson had a pathology similar to that of a "child molester," and declared that Iowans who support Carson are "stupid." 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaadonaldtrDonald Trump finds a new xenophobic target, refugees fleeing for their lives from the civil war in Syria. (Mark Hammermeister)

Refugees fleeing the ongoing carnage in the Middle East are a made-to-order target for Donald Trump's demagogic xenophobic fearmongering.

Trump's campaign statements are primarily built on evoking fear, fear of "the other," fear of foreign powers, fear of non-Christians, fear of the government. His most abiding appeal to the amygdala (the base of fear in the brain), is to stoke the fright and vitriol of white privilege. In doing so, he finds daily hot buttons to push using variations on incarnations of "the other" to feed the beast of his voter base. 

Trump can glide from slandering Mexicans to defaming refugees from the Middle East with a destructive glibness that is as dangerous as it is facile. It is not surprising that Trump's claim that Obama was only sending refugees to states with Republican governors was rated by POLITIFACT as a pants-on-fire lie. That claim was only one small arrow in Trump's quiver of fear-evoking arrows aimed at stirring up the emotional cauldron of his followers. Indeed, Trump, according to The Washington Post, commented today that he "is refusing to rule out extreme measures that include warrantless searches or faith-based identification requirements" of Muslims in the US.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaciaThe CIA and NSA insult the intelligence of Americans when it comes to preventing terrorism. (Photo: Global Panorama)

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out in an incisive article on The Intercept today, the claims CIA Director John Brennan made this week, stating that whistleblowers and civil libertarians are keeping the US from stopping terrorist attacks, are insidious and duplicitous. 

Brennan's history of thuggishly lying on behalf of the military-industrial-intelligence complex is so blatant that, as Greenwald notes, even The New York Times Editorial Board took Brennan to task on November 17. As Greenwald writes, the editorial "mercilessly shames the despicable effort by U.S. government officials to shamelessly exploit the Paris attacks to advance long-standing agendas." 

The New York Times editorial excoriated Brennan:

It’s a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends. The remarks on Monday by John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low....

It is hard to believe anything Mr. Brennan says. Last year, he bluntly denied that the C.I.A. had illegally hacked into the computers of Senate staff members conducting an investigation into the agency’s detention and torture programs when, in fact, it did. In 2011, when he was President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, he claimed that American drone strikes had not killed any civilians, despite clear evidence that they had...

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaartinstThe Art Institute of California (San Francisco), one of the "brands" of the for-profit Education Management Corporation. The company is partially owned by Goldman Sachs. (Photo: Simon Gibson)

The Obama administration has again shown that it is as lax in reining in for-profit college corporations as it is in disciplining Wall Street firms.  

In regards to both Wall Street and for-profit colleges, the executive branch is using relatively insignificant fines - not mandated structural change - against companies that violate regulations, laws, and the public trust through fraud.

Last week, we wrote about the bankruptcy of Corinthian colleges, which used high-pressure sales to lure students into educational programs that promised preparation for jobs that frequently never materialized - in large part due to inadequate training. In total, former Corinthian students with federal loans may owe up to $3.5 billion to the government. A movement to forgive the Corinthian student federal loan debt is currently underway. This would mean that the taxpayer underwrote Corinthian executive salaries and bonuses - as well as investor gains - before the corporation went belly up.

We quoted Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) warning, "If we continue to feed this beast, shame on us, and we should be held accountable by taxpayers for those who are going to make excuses for this industry." 

Based on a Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement announced this week with another for-profit higher education corporation, Education Management Corp. (the second largest such chain in the US), the Obama administration is doing little to eliminate the incentive for such predatory companies to engage in fraudulent practices. Yes, the DOJ did fine Education Management Corp. and force a repayment of loans to a small group of specified students, but that leaves the company benefiting from more than $9 billion dollars in federal loans owed by students, according to a November 16 article in The New York Times.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaabvegasCNN's Jake Tapper hyped the October Democratic debate by asking if one of the candidates might bite the ear off of another candidate. Really. (Photo: You Tube)

As the so-called primary debates continue, one cannot emphasize enough how corporate television and the two major parties have conspired to reduce democracy to entertainment. Yes, it could be argued that the Democratic debates have allowed for a bit more substance than the Republican sparring matches. That, however, is only a relative judgment.

As Candice Bernd recently noted in a trenchant Truthout analysis, what are called primary debates are actually corporation-branded spectacles. They are opportunities for large media conglomerates to enhance their brand image, sell advertising, provide publicity for their "star" reporters, provoke titillating "exchanges" that attract more viewers (and advertisers), create more interest in the election and build relationships with politicians who make decisions about corporate media legislation. Of course, the primary debates whet the appetite of viewers for more election coverage - and enhance spending on political advertising on corporate television, eventually resulting in a windfall of billions of dollars.

In an October 14 BuzzFlash commentary on "privatizing democracy," I noted how the primary debates are negotiated directly between the two major political parties and television stations. As far as we can tell (although the DNC did not respond to our queries about the agreement for the CNN debate in October), the TV stations that air debates own the copyrights to them. That is why, thus far, one can only watch an individual debate on TV on the pay-TV station airing that specific debate (although CNN and the FOX News Business channel allowed free Internet streaming). 

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