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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

hobbyconta(Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

The Hobby Lobby ruling is just one of an avalanche of Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions in which the right wing has legislated from the bench. Forget about the largely fictional concept of a "liberal activist bench"; if you can find such an ongoing entity, please respond in the comments section. 

The reality is that the 5-4 right-wing, pro-corporate-personhood SCOTUS is masterful at defying Congress and the White House and rewriting laws to suit a partisan agenda, including socially conservative goals. BuzzFlash posted a commentary a few days ago about the absurdity of bestowing religious beliefs on a company, for example.

To put this in context, when Antonin Scalia argued for striking down provisions in the Voting Rights Act (which had just been overwhelmingly reapproved by both houses of Congress), he declared in 2013: "This is not the kind of question you can leave to Congress." What he means, of course, is that a 5-4 majority on SCOTUS has turned it into a de facto legislative body that determines US law by a total of five votes, on behalf of a nation of more than 300 million people.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is joining other Democratic senators in support of the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act. In an email, Warren described the bill:

The bill reverses the Supreme Court's decision by making it clear that employers cannot deny access to any of the health benefits required by the ACA – not immunizations, not blood transfusions, not HIV treatments, and not birth control – while preserving reasonable accommodations for religiously exempt employers [that would mean actual religions, such as the Catholic Church]

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Saddam rumsfeldDonald Rumsfeld was Saddam's friend before he was his enemy. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The lies about weapons of mass destruction fell down upon the people of the United States like water rushing down Niagara Falls as Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld used fear to jump start a war early last decade.

Republicans are, after all, good at sales and marketing. They are masters of getting voters to either buy or support products that they don't need - or using propaganda and mendacious campaigns to create a state of abject fear that succumbs to the government launching a military invasion allegedly to ensure national security.

In fact, in the summer of 2002, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card dismissed the notion that the administration would start pushing a war with Iraq at that time. To paraphrase Card's remark, "You don't start pushing a war until the fall, when people are back from vacation."

There is the indelible farcical, pathetic and vile image, of course, of George W. Bush pretending to "comically" search for weapons of mass destruction under the dais table at a White Horse Correspondents' Dinner. The stenographers of the DC press corps ignominiously roared with laughter.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

cuba(Photo: flippinyank)

While the US has been causing impoverishment and the breakdown of civil society in Latin America - as noted in a BuzzFlash commentary yesterday - it has been continuing its decade-long boycott of Cuba. That action has lost US businesses hundreds of billions of dollars as other nations invest in the island. The boycott is a symbol of the lingering visceral vile toward Castro and the word communism.

Castro is in ill health, and Cuba appears about ready to burst out of the Soviet era as one of the last two communist nations on earth (along with North Korea). Cuba, however, differs from North Korea in that, while it is still subject to the cult of a one-man dictatorship, Cubans are on the last legs of a fading and disintegrating experiment in Soviet-style government. North Korea has one of the largest armies in the world; Cuba since the former Soviet Union cut it off years ago has a military force that is a shadow of it former strength.

Nonetheless, the aging pro-Batista exile community in Florida and the neocons with a Cold War hangover continue to enforce a boycott on the island 90 miles from the Keys that now threatens national security much less than Cliven Bundy and his militia supporters. In fact, on a threat-level scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being the greatest threat to the US), Cuba probably scores about a 25.

There is another very interesting aspect of the US government's focus on Cuba as a political punching bag. Virtually any Cuban who makes it to dry ground in the US will not be deported. It used to be that no Cuban immigrants were kicked out of the US, but after the 1980 Mariel boat lift, in which Castro allegedly put "undesirables" and boats and sent them sailing to Florida, Cubans had to make it to the US land mass to be considered refugees who would not be deported. Only if they are intercepted at sea are they sent back to Cuba.

A child, center, wears a shirt with the words "Don't deport my mom" during a news conference held by immigrant families and children's advocates in Washington, July 7, 2014. The group later marched to the White House to protest President Barack Obama's response to unaccompanied children and families crossing the border. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)A child, center, wears a shirt with the words "Don't deport my mom" during a news conference held by immigrant families and children's advocates in Washington, July 7, 2014. The group later marched to the White House to protest President Barack Obama's response to unaccompanied children and families crossing the border. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

It is worth debunking just two myths that have been generated in the mainstream media and anti-immigrant organizations about the alleged flood of young people from south of the border.

First of all, most reliable accounts indicate that approximately 75 percent of the youths reaching the US border with Mexico are from Central America, particularly Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. These young people risk a harrowing journey across the spine of Mexico, where they are shook down for money, sometimes kidnapped, sometimes shot by paramilitary groups or the police, and in general face a gauntlet of life-threatening obstacles as they attempt to traverse Mexico to reach the United States. (Often the journey involves riding on top of a notorious freight train that is seen as a source of income and slave labor to different thugs in Mexico.)

How serious a risk is the undertaking of being young and in flight? Consider that you see photos of young people with only one arm. Often that's from falling under the train that moves from south to north in Mexico, sometimes from being thrown off the top of the cars because they could not pay enough money to bandits shaking them down.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

endcorpor(Photo: shannonkringen)

Okay, I will concede that the issue in the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) Hobby Lobby decision was the not the payment of taxes per se. Yes, SCOTUS granted the owners of Hobby Lobby the right to deny federally mandated coverage of some types of contraception. However, even the so-called "narrow" ruling broadened just the next day, according to Mother Jones

Less than a day after the United States Supreme Court issued its divisive ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has already begun to toss aside the supposedly narrow interpretation of the decision. On Tuesday, the Supremes ordered lower courts to rehear any cases where companies had sought to deny coverage for any type of contraception, not just the specific types Hobby Lobby was opposed to.

Again, the issue was not technically a ruling on taxes, but it was a decision in favor of bestowing personhood on a corporation (a corporation must be considered "human" if it is to have religious beliefs) and allowing the "corporate person" to avoid paying for mandated federal health services.

That sets the precedent, it seems (with a grateful acknowledgement to Jon Oliver for the idea), that the Supreme Court should allow real persons to withhold a percentage of their income taxes that go toward wars and prisons, if they so wish. Of course, the federal courts have repeatedly rejected the right of individual taxpayers to withhold a portion of their taxes in objection to how the money would be spent. On the other hand, it just ruled that a business, which is not a person, doesn't have to spend money on a specific type of federally mandated health care.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

taxrates(Photo: mSeattle)

Salon recently posted an article entitled, "Conspiracy of the Plutocrats: Secrets of the Wealth-Inequality Explosion Revealed - Piketty Protégé Gabriel Zucman Explains How the World's Wealthiest Are Scamming Governments for Trillions."

Economist Gabriel Zucman contends that an estimated $7.6 trillion is illegally held by the 1% in illegal offshore amounts that are not subject to US taxes. This is because the IRS doesn't officially know about the existence of this stash of money, which far exceeds the US debt.

However, as BuzzFlash at Truthout detailed in one example yesterday, there are plenty of legal ways for the wealthy and corporations to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. The BuzzFlash commentary focused on the growing trend of US corporations moving their headquarters overseas to countries with lower tax rates, thus officially no longer being US companies.

Indeed, it is important to remember that the great redistribution of money from the middle class to the wealthy accelerated with Ronald Reagan's "trickle up" economics. As has been well documented, the oligarchical plan to transfer earnings and cash from the 99% to the 1% has been a success beyond the dreams of even those who devised it.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

corporatecontr (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

Could Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairwoman Mary Jo White require the disclosure of big political contributions by corporations, particularly in the wake of the Citizens United decision?

Apparently the answer is "yes," according to a June 30 "Comment Is Free" column in The Guardian, by journalist Alexis Goldstein:

The disclosure of corporate political donations doesn't require Congress: the administration could simply propose new regulations under its existing authority. Unfortunately, despite having a Democratic chair – Mary Jo White – the Securities and Exchange Commission, which could mandate such disclosures, is either too intimidated (or too captured) to act.

Despite congressional shenanigans, blame for regulatory inaction on the issue sits squarely on the shoulders of the Democrat-led SEC. After adding a political disclosure rule to its 2013 agenda, the agency quietly dropped the rule for this year.

Goldstein writes that there are probably two primary reasons that the SEC is not forcing disclosure of anonymous corporate political campaign funds: 1) the Republicans are putting budgetary pressure on the SEC; and 2) it is more than possible that former top-tier corporate attorney Mary Jo White doesn't want to force accountability.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

walgreenArt Deco Walgreen Company Store in New Orleans. (Photo: Your Pal Dave)

As July 4 nears, you'll see the unusual onslaught of corporations trying to improve their brand image by associating themselves with patriotic advertising. It is important, however, to remember this June 29 Chicago Tribune headline when you see corporations go all red, white and blue: "Walgreen [Company] considers headquarters move: Is tax loophole unpatriotic?":

The nation's largest drugstore chain is considering a move that would allow it to significantly cut its tax bill and increase profits. But it's being painted by critics as un-American for looking to make money for shareholders through financial engineering at the expense of the communities that it grew up in. Walgreen is considering a so-called corporate tax inversion, in which an American company is able to incorporate abroad by acquiring a foreign company. The buyer, in effect, becomes a subsidiary of a foreign parent. 

Walgreen would accomplish an inversion by completing its purchase, which is expected to happen in early 2015, of Switzerland-based Alliance Boots and moving its corporate home to Europe's largest pharmacy chain.

The Deerfield-based company faces a tough choice, one in which it must balance profits with corporate social responsibility. By going ahead with an inversion, Walgreen would give ammunition to critics who claim the company is essentially renouncing its U.S. citizenship. 

As the Tribune article makes clear, the hit to US taxpayers from the Walgreen Company alone would be significant:

In an inversion, Walgreen would still pay U.S. income taxes but much less than the approximately 37 percent effective tax rate (including state and local taxes) it now pays for its U.S.-based business, corporate tax experts said. One stock analyst estimated that a Walgreen inversion would cost U.S. taxpayers $2.35 billion in the first three years after the transaction.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

swatteam(Photo: US Army)

Truthout has run several articles on the militarization of the police in the United States. In addition, BuzzFlash at Truthout posted a column by Jim Hightower this week called "The Militarization of 'Officer Friendly.'" 

The reason that Truthout and BuzzFlash have been exposing this dangerous development on a continuous basis is that the militarization of policing in the United States is multifaceted and cancerous to democracy.

As a Washington Postreport on June 26 by Radley Balko reveals, the majority of Massachusetts SWAT teams will not respond to public information transparency requests. Why? Because they claim that they are private and not government organizations. If this appears incomprehensible and unacceptable, it is. However, for the moment, the Massachusetts SWAT teams are using this argument to evade responding to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been conducting a nationwide study of police militarization. The SWAT teams in the Bay State claim that they are not subject to requirements under public record laws. 

How, might you ask, can law enforcement agencies with military-style units claim that they are not government agencies? Balko, who has written the book Rise of the Warrior Cop, offers this explanation:

As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments. In 2012, for example, the Tewksbury Police Department paid about $4,600 in annual membership dues to the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC. (See page 36 of linked PDF.) That LEC has about 50 member agencies. In addition to operating a regional SWAT team, the LECs also facilitate technology and information sharing and oversee other specialized units, such as crime scene investigators and computer crime specialists.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

quadcop(Photo: Kevin Baird)

Much of the outrage about drone use has been directed at the targeted murders authorized by President Obama, along with the "collateral damage" deaths of countless civilians in the Middle East.  Add to that other killing expeditions of CIA drones and the outrage has risen, at least among US advocates who care about the sanctioned assassinations of the US government.

However, it should also be of concern to the US public that there is a growing use of "hobby" and current commercial (although illegal use) of much smaller drones fitted with cameras that can spy into every aspect of your visible daily life. If you want to know how easily available these drones that have a camera with high-resolution telescopic lens capabilities are to obtain, just go to ebay, for example.

Posted for sale at this eBay url is the "DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter WiFI Camera Drone for Aerial Photography" (new at $499, includes free shipping).  The page also includes more expensive models that have longer range, longer flying time and include video capabilities. For example, take a look at the $1,190 Phantom 2 Vision model. It includes such capabilities as:

The DJI Vision App for iOS and Android smartphones provides many functions apart from just FPV monitoring, such as telemetry of vital flight stats including remaining battery and number of GPS satellites and a radar scope to help avoid collisions. It also features full camera control, letting you set parameters such as camera tilt, ISO, Shutter Speed, White balance as well as set video start/stop and take photos. Once recorded, photos and video footage can be downloaded directly to the phone allowing them to be shared on Facebook, Instagram or other social media networks, even while the Quadcopter is still in the air.

The control capabilities for filming and photography are extremely advanced, including the ability to tilt the camera lens, zoom in several hundred feet and rotate the camera range. Personally, I have seen the images of one of these drones that went over an island and zoomed down (via a telescopic lens) on a memorial plaque from the sky and the inscription was crisply visible in the video that ended up on YouTube.

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