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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

churchtrumpWill Trump succeed in allowing religious organizations to be active in political fundraising and organizing? (Photo: Marie Loughin)

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Recently, a group of nearly 100 religious leaders sent a letter to President Trump urging him not to allow religious organizations to engage in partisan politics:

At the National Prayer Breakfast, you promised to "totally destroy the Johnson Amendment," which is the provision in the tax code that prohibits public charities and private foundations from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing political candidates or parties.

For more than 60 years, this rule barring campaign intervention has helped keep tax-deductible money out of partisan politics. It has helped maintain the integrity and autonomy of our religious and charitable sectors and preserve the boundary separating church and state. It has guaranteed that Americans’ charitable giving will not be channeled into political campaigns. For those reasons, the current law is overwhelmingly supported by the public. Without this rule, nonpartisan charities and places of worship would be open to manipulation for political ends.

Up to now, charities and religious organizations have been insulated from electioneering, and instead have been committed to doing good work, like alleviating poverty, ministering to the spirit, curing disease, and addressing other basic human and social needs.

Public Citizen, a national watchdog advocating for the common good, referred to Trump's stated goal:

The Johnson Amendment recently has gained national attention after Trump vowed at the National Prayer Breakfast in February to “totally destroy” the law.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

trump444(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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The Trump administration has installed political operatives to watch over and "advise" cabinet secretaries and their departments, according to a recent Washington Post article:

Most members of President Trump's Cabinet do not yet have leadership teams in place or even nominees for top deputies. But they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged -- above all -- with monitoring the secretaries' loyalty, according to eight officials in and outside the administration.

This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary's suite. The White House has installed at least 16 of the advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA, according to records first obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act request.

This Week notes an ironic similarity that apparently the Pentagon noticed and The Post got wind of:

Pentagon officials privately call Brett Byers, charged with keeping an eye on Defense Secretary James Mattis, "the commissar," The Post reports, helpfully explaining that the nickname is "a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal."

Vanity Fair headlined a story about the new appointees, "Trump's Soviet-Style Plan to Create His Own Deep State.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

6355404323 cf97f9c58e z (Photo: 401(K) 2012)

 A March study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic policy concludes:

A newly updated report released today provides data that helps dispute the erroneous idea espoused during President Trump’s address to Congress that undocumented immigrants are a drain to taxpayers. In fact, like all others living and working in the United States, undocumented immigrants are taxpayers too and collectively contribute an estimated $11.74 billion to state and local coffers each year via a combination of sales and excise, personal income, and property taxes, according to Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

On average, the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants pay 8 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes every year.

The report later speculates:

Creating a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and allowing them to work here legally would boost their current state and local tax contributions by more than $2.18 billion a year.... Personal income tax collections would increase by $1.1 billion a year. Sales and excise taxes would increase by $702 million, and property taxes would grow by $362 million. As a result, the overall state and local taxes paid by undocumented immigrants as a share of their income would increase from 8 percent to 8.6 percent.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

wallstreet (Photo: Naoki Nakashima)

The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, DC just released a report comparing the bonuses received by Wall Street employees to the earnings of minimum-wage workers. After analyzing the data, IPS concluded, according to a news release:

Wall Street banks handed out $23.9 billion in bonuses to their New York City-based employees last year, according to new figures from the New York State Comptroller. To put these figures in perspective, we've compared the Wall Street payout to low-wage workers' earnings.

    • The total bonus pool for 177,000 Wall Street employees was 1.6 times the combined annual earnings of all 1,075,000 U.S. full-time minimum wage workers.

    • The average Wall Street bonus increased by 1 percent last year to $138,210. Since 1985, the nominal value of the average Wall Street bonus has increased 890 percent, whereas the minimum wage has risen only 116 percent.

    • The much faster increase in Wall Street bonuses has contributed to racial and gender inequality, since workers at the bottom of the wage scale are predominantly people of color and female, whereas those in the financial industry's upper echelons are overwhelmingly white and male.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CBP Badge(Photo: United States Department of Homeland Security )

Think twice about bringing electronic and digital property, including your regular cellphone, loaded with confidential information through US border crossings.

CNN reports:

In fiscal year 2016, 390 million people entered the US and 23,877 electronic media [device] searches were conducted at the border. In fiscal year 2015 there were only 4,764.

That's a fivefold increase, and that occurred under the Obama administration. Given Donald Trump's proclamations that he will aggressively "protect our borders," the number of electronic and digital media searches at US crossing points is likely to further increase.

An Associated Press article from last month notes:

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation both say they have noticed an uptick in complaints about searches of digital devices by border agents.

The increase has become most noticeable in the last month, said Adam Schwartz, a senior staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“We are concerned that a bad practice that has existed under past presidents has gotten worse in quantity under the new president,” Schwartz said.

Although this practice is an invasion of privacy for everyone who is searched, it hits journalists particularly hard.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR AT BUZZFLASH

trump333(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

On March 9, the Washington Post reported that the Trump Organization had just been granted dozens of trademarks by China, and questioned whether this was another of the many apparent conflicts of interest between Trump the president and Trump the business tycoon:

China has granted preliminary approval for at least 38 Trump trademarks for businesses ranging from hotels and spas to animal training and weather forecasting, reopening a debate about the potential for conflicts of interest under his presidency…

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called it an "astonishing development." After Trump sought valuable trademarks in China for more than a decade without success before his election, "the floodgates now appear to be open," he said in a statement.

Cardin suggested that Beijing officials "have come to appreciate the potential return on investments for China in having a positive, personal business relationship" with Trump as president. He called on the administration to "brief Congress, immediately, on these matters and on the potential constitutional dangers that they present."

China was a regular target of Trump's campaign rhetoric, in which he focused on reforming trade policy and accused China of currency manipulation. However, now that he is president, the trademarks appear to be an example of how the Trump business empire is benefitting from a financial relationship with China.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

refugee(Photo: brxO)

The ill, punitive and callous treatment of many child refugees who have fled to the United States has been widely documented on Truthout. A recent New Yorker article by Lauren Collins documents that this is also an endemic problem in Europe:

Among the 1.3 million people who sought asylum in Europe in 2015 were nearly a hundred thousand unaccompanied children. Most were from Afghanistan and Syria. Thirteen per cent were younger than fourteen years old. The data for 2016 are incomplete, but the situation is comparable. Experts estimate that for every child who claims asylum one enters Europe without seeking legal protection. (The number of unaccompanied minors attempting to enter the United States, most of them from Central America, has also increased dramatically in recent years....) At an age at which most kids need supervision to complete their homework, these children cross continents alone.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Collins writes, the "best interests" of child refugees are supposed to be the foremost priority in how they are treated. The reality, Collins observes, is far different -- and devastatingly destructive:

As a result, refugee children are sleeping on sidewalks and in traffic medians. They are stuck in unofficial settlements like the [infamous refugee camp near Calais, France], whose conditions have been described as “dreadful” (the British Red Cross), “deplorable” (Save the Children), “totally inappropriate” (the European Council on Refugees and Exiles), and “diabolical” (Doctors of the World), or in holding centers such as Amygdaleza, in Greece, where, according to Human Rights Watch, “the detention of children in crowded and unsanitary conditions, without appropriate sleeping or hygiene arrangements, sometimes together with adults and without privacy, constitutes inhumane and degrading treatment.” The children at such places confront a number of dangers: vermin, feces-contaminated water, bullying, petty crime, violence, sexual abuse, and diseases ranging from scabies to tuberculosis.

Collins also notes that since 2014, more than 10,000 of these migrant and refugee children have simply "gone missing."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2670566753 1f2db8b1e1 z (Photo: eirigipics ) 

Although it might be conventional wisdom that Western colonialism no longer exists, this is a dangerous myth. Colonialism persists in the form of the continued oppression of Indigenous peoples worldwide. Moreover, when it comes to the relationship of Europe and the US to the Global South, the old system of direct colonial rule has actually been replaced with financial control over many of the same countries that were colonized. The onerous financial conditions placed on many developing nations through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund -- including austerity measures and spending requirements for goods from developing nations -- represent the colonialist notion of knowing what's in the best interest of other countries. Like colonialism, it also happens to financially benefit the former ruling powers.

The globalization of exploitative labor further reinforces the relationship of capitalism to erstwhile colonialism. The squalid working conditions and meager wages of many workers in the Global South is the focus of a revealing book by John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis, which is this week's Truthout Progressive Pick. Capitalism provides the vehicle for much contemporary imperialism, but is often not perceived as such because it is not as directly visible as, say, an occupying army (although, of course, the US and Europe still occupy countries militarily as well). Colonialism used to be dependent upon direct rule of areas and countries by agents, bureaucracies and militaries representing the colonial power. Now, colonialism largely consists of financial dependencies and labor markets characterized by poverty.

In an excerpt featured on Truthout, Smith reflects on the 2014 collapse of a substandard garment factory building in Bangladesh that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,300 workers:

The collapse of Rana Plaza not only shone a light on the pitiless and extreme exploitation of Bangladeshi workers. It also unleashed a powerful pulse of x-rays that lit up the hidden structure of the global capitalist economy, revealing the extent to which the capital/labor relation has become a relation between northern capital and southern labor -- in no other sector has production shifted so completely to low-wage workers in oppressed nations while control and profits remain firmly in the grip of firms in imperialist countries.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTH

juryduty copy(Photo: Raymond Shobe)

It was a partial victory, but a notable one in the battle to reduce and eliminate bias against people of color in the criminal legal system.

The Los Angeles Times reported in a March 6 article:

The Supreme Court took a strong new stand against racial bias in jury rooms, ruling for the first time that reports of racist comments by jurors may require setting aside a verdict and holding a new trial.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, announcing the court's decision Monday, wrote that the "imperative to purge racial prejudice from the administration of justice" requires setting aside the traditional rule that bars judges from second-guessing what went on in the jury room.

The 5-3 decision announced a limited exception to that rule against second-guessing juries. The new rule covers cases in which "one or more jurors made statements exhibiting overt racial bias that cast serious doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the jury's deliberations and resulting verdict."

However, we cannot simply praise rulings like this one and stop there. The reality is, the ruling is narrow in scope. For instance, this decision doesn't address the frequent issue of prosecutors selecting juries that have few people of color on them and picking whites who they feel might bring a racial bias to their verdict if the defendant is a person of color.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

5440002785 7b1ed0ac3e zDonald Trump, lion tamer of the corporate mass media (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

I remember as a kid being in alone in a snowball fight with about eight opponents. After the first fusillade of hard icy snow pelting me I ran for the nearest cover, a mailbox. I waited a couple of minutes, the recess bell rang, and I was free to walk back into my school with just a few stragglers half-heartedly lobbing snowballs at me. In 2017, Donald Trump represents the crowd of playground bullies. In his case, he employs the tactics of overwhelming the mainstream headline-hungry media through unrelenting shock announcements and tweets.

As his early morning weekend charge via twitter that then President Obama had ordered the wiretapping of Trump at his eponymously named primary home – Trump Tower, in New York – demonstrates, he bases his accusations and "alternative fact" allegations on the notion that the truth is secondary to his manipulating what the media reports.

There has been much speculation that in charging that Obama had Trump's phone tapped, he was diverting attention from media preoccupation with Jeff Sessions having lied to Congress during his confirmation hearings to become attorney general. One can argue that Trump knew his highly dubious claim about being wiretapped by Obama – for which there is no evidence or legal precedent – would rotate off the corporate media radar in the next couple of news cycles, as it pretty much has, but it was necessary to divert increasingly headline-oriented news coverage from continuing to focus on Sessions and the alleged Trump campaign "Russian connection."

It's not the truth that matters to Trump; it's the hurdling of shocking statements, tweets and actions at such a rapid pace, the media can't catch its breath and focus on any one of his reactionary acts or over-the-top statements. His tsunami of allegations and torrent of executive actions race through the mainstream media so fast that they topple over each other.

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