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GERALD E. SCORSE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

wealthfareIn the United States, wealth is heavily subsidized. (Photo: duncan c)

More than 20 years ago, long before the experts caught on, the writers Mark Zepezauer and Arthur Naiman zeroed in on the upward redistribution of income in the United States. They called it "wealthfare," and used the term to open their 1996 book Take the Rich Off Welfare. Here's the first sentence: "Wealthfare -- the money we hand out to corporations and wealthy individuals -- costs us at least $448 billion a year."

It's no exaggeration to say that the book predicted the US's fortune (or, more accurately, misfortune). Government actions to make the rich richer have become standard fare. There's more allegiance to corporate profits than there is to the common good. "Wealthfare" is the ruling national ethos -- economically, politically, even in the courts; at bottom, Citizens United is a Supreme surrender to the supremacy of money.

Let's explore the first "wealthfare" total of $448 billion in "subsidies, handouts, tax breaks, loopholes, rip-offs and scams." To begin with, the number looks almost puny today. Total tax expenditures (a.k.a. tax breaks) in fiscal year 2018 are expected to cost the federal government more than $1.5 trillion; most Americans will get at least a dollop, but the lion's share by far will line the pockets of people whose pockets are already bulging.

That $1.5 trillion easily tops what the country spends for any other single purpose. In fiscal 2015, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, tax breaks on the federal income tax alone "cost more than Social Security, or the combined cost of Medicare and Medicaid, or defense or non-defense discretionary spending."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

wvcapitolWest Virginia capitol, site of journalist's arrest for asking questions. (Photo: David Wilson)

 Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reported yesterday about an egregious example of the criminalization of journalists performing their job in the age of Trump:

West Virginia state police arrested Dan Heyman, a veteran reporter with Public News Service, for repeatedly asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price whether being a target of domestic violence would be considered a "pre-existing condition," allowing health insurance to be denied, under the new Republican healthcare bill.

The charge: "willful disruption of governmental processes."

Capitol police "decided I was just too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job and so they arrested me," Heyman told reporters (The Hill, 5/9/17). "First time I've ever been arrested for asking a question. First time I've ever heard of someone getting arrested for asking a question."

It's not surprising that this would eventually happen, and likely not coincidental that it involved two senior officials in the Trump campaign. After all, the media was a primary target of Trump's during both the primary campaign and the general election season. Trump openly mocked, derided and berated journalists and news outlets that he felt were unfavorable to him. His campaign generally kept the press in pens at campaign events for two reasons: First, to keep them from asking questions of Trump backers that might prove embarrassing to the campaign. Secondly, to serve as an easy target for Trump, as he threw red meat to his followers by attacking the press and pointing to where reporters were confined during campaign rallies. Then, of course, there are his infamous ongoing tweets against specific journalists and news outlets.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

nestlewaterNestlé is still pumping water from a public spring in California while it uses legal delays to stop opposition. (Usman Ahmed)

 A recent email from the Courage Campaign, a California citizens advocacy group, reveals that Nestlé is still pumping spring water out of public land, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service:

For 38 years, Nestlé has used an expired permit to pump millions of gallons of water a year out of California's San Bernardino National Forest virtually free of charge.... 

We sued to stop this outrageous water grab, but even though the law is on our side, going up against Nestlé's army of lawyers is a huge fight.

The latest input from our attorneys is that this case could drag on for another two years or more.

The Courage Campaign warns that Nestlé is benefitting from the fact that deep corporate pockets are outlasting citizen advocacy legal funds in court:

In 2015, Courage Campaign joined with our allies at Story of Stuff and Center for Biological Diversity in a lawsuit to stop Nestlé's water grab in the San Bernardino National Forest. And ever since, Nestlé's army of lawyers has used an endless series of delay tactics and frivolous motions to drag the case out.

Their strategy is obvious: to drive up our legal bills in hopes that eventually we'll give up. But because of you, our members, their strategy hasn't worked yet and it never will.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

SEC22A Wall Street attorney is now in charge of "regulating" Wall Street. (Photo: ebayink)

There Trump goes again, continuing his mission to deregulate Wall Street. As The Washington Post reported on May 2:

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed the nomination of Jay Clayton, a Wall Street lawyer with decades of experience helping companies to weather regulatory scrutiny, to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission.

As chairman of the SEC, Clayton will police many of the same large banks that he has spent decades representing, including Goldman Sachs and Barclays. He also would play a key role in President Trump's efforts to roll back the 2010 financial reform legislation known as the Dodd-Frank Act....

Clayton’s nomination continues Trump's track record of nominating Wall Street insiders for high-level positions, despite Trump's criticism of the industry during the presidential campaign.

As for Clayton's credentials to head the agency that is in charge of implementing many Wall Street regulations -- including major sections of the Dodd-Frank Act that modestly increased reporting requirements and transaction regulations -- The Post notes:

Clayton, who made more than $7 million last year, is also among six people with ties to Goldman Sachs chosen by Trump to serve in his administration. Clayton's 15-year relationship with the bank includes advising Goldman during some of its most troubled moments. (He is also married to a Goldman Sachs wealth manager.)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

wallstreetWhy aren't individual bankers accountable for massive fraud on Wall Street? (herr_hartmann)

Over the years since the financial meltdown of 2008, BuzzFlash has published numerous commentaries about banks being fined for deceptive practices relating to subprime mortgages. Here we are in 2017, and banks are still being fined for illicit activity dating back 10 or more years. A May 3 Reuters article reports:

Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN.S) paid $400 million to settle claims that the Swiss bank sold toxic mortgage securities that contributed to the demise of three federal credit unions, a U.S. regulator said on Wednesday.

The National Credit Union Administration said the settlement resolves the 19th of 20 lawsuits it filed in the last six years against banks over their underwriting or sale of securities to five credit unions that failed in 2009 and 2010.

Including a $445 million accord with UBS Group AG (UBSG.S) announced on Monday, the NCUA said it has recovered roughly $5.1 billion from the banks from these lawsuits.

The collapsed credit unions were persuaded by the banks to invest in high-risk mortgage securities in the years before their demise. In fact, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) has successfully argued that the banks' insidious profiteering off of knowingly distressed securities led to the failure of the credit unions.

MARK KARLIN, BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

brian williams

 William Berkowitz rightly commented in April on the corporate media's cheerleading of war in his In These Times commentary, "Why the Corporate Media Loves a Bombing":

“The missiles flew, the explosives exploded, the nation was again at the cusp of war and the media were again at peace.” That's how media critic Bob Garfield led off a special edition of NPR's On the Media titled “How the Press Gets Seduced By War,” after President Trump ordered the dumping of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian airbase [recently]....

The problem with the media becoming unabashed cheerleaders for this, or any other military action, is that serious questions about the consequences of such actions don’t get asked. They get swept away in the fog of self-righteous blather and misguided patriotic fervor.

The corporate media becomes witting or unwitting enablers, in it for the phosphorescence, for the punch to the gut, for promoting the government’s narrative of “We’re all in this together and we’re doing something against evil.”

In many ways, the corporate media is still into "shock and awe" mode. There is nothing like submarine-launched missiles hurtling into the darkness of the night to make "good television." That means a larger viewership and higher ad revenue.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

singlepayerAre Trump and Medicare for All an oxymoron? (Photo: Michael Fleshman)

A group of physicians and business leaders has written a letter to Donald Trump requesting that he consider a single-payer health care system, which the letter calls "Medicare for all." They argue:

The reality is the United States is already paying enough to provide excellent health coverage to every person in the United States from birth to death if we did not waste hundreds of billions of dollars on the insurance industry and the bureaucracy it creates for businesses, health providers, the government and patients.

The answer to the healthcare crisis is obvious and simple: expand and improve Medicare for every person in the United States. Medicare has provided the funding for the health needs of the elderly and chronically ill since 1965. It is a proven, made-in-America, system that other countries have chosen as the basis of their universal health systems. We can do the same and create the greatest healthcare system in the world.

Although beseeching Trump to support a single-payer health care system may sound like an exercise in futility, a February 27 article in Truthout argues that the policy void created by the political conflict over the Affordable Care Act offers an opportunity.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH

syrianflagThe United States should also be blamed for the deaths of thousands of Syrian Children. Syrian Flag Above (Wikipedia)

 Chemical attacks, such as the one that occurred this month in Syria are grotesque and horrifying. According to the Guardian, President Trump was deeply upset by the killing of children:

"I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me – big impact," Trump said in the White House Rose Garden. "My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much … You're now talking about a whole different level...."

"It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal – people were shocked to hear what gas it was. That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines."

The Economist describes the attack:

On April 4th a chemical attack struck the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a province in northern Syria controlled by an alliance of rebel groups, including a powerful faction linked to al-Qaeda. At least 85 people, including 20 children, died, according to doctors and a Syrian monitoring group. The World Health Organization said victims appeared to display symptoms that tally with the use of a deadly nerve agent such as sarin (as opposed to, say, a less powerful one such as chlorine).

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

waltdisncycoThe Disney Company should take a tip from Tinker Bell and fly away from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (Wallace Naylor II)

Almost 60 organizations have called on the Walt Disney Company to resign from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Public Citizen, a progressive advocacy group that is a member of the campaign, stated in a news release:

The Walt Disney Company should join other Fortune 500 companies, such as Apple, Pacific Gas & Electric and CVS, that have stopped funding the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for political, policy and moral reasons, almost 60 non-profits wrote in a letter to Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger today. The groups commend Disney for its public commitments to action on climate change and for refusing to depict casual tobacco use in most of its Disney-branded films. However, with its membership and financial support of the Chamber, Disney is helping to bankroll an organization that actively opposes climate change remedies and promotes making a profit from tobacco.

"It becomes tough to take Disney's commitments to public health and the environment seriously when Disney continues funding the pro-tobacco and anti-environmental agenda of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce," said Daniel Dudis, director of Public Citizen's Chamber Watch project. "The Chamber's views do not represent those of Disney, or presumably most of Disney's customers or shareholders. We think it of the utmost importance for companies like Disney to stop funding the Chamber agenda."

Apple, Exelon, CVS, General Mills, Unilever and several other companies have already left the organization due to its reactionary policies, as noted.

 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

driverslicenseYou can't drive to work if you don't have a driver's license. (Photo: Sam Cox)

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According to a Prison Policy Initiative analysis, "More than 191,000 driver's licenses are suspended every year for drug offenses unrelated to driving."

However, the Drug Policy Alliance reported this month that an effort is underway in Congress to repeal the onerous federal law that has caused this destructive process in a number of states: U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke (D-TX-16) has introduced bipartisan legislation with Representatives Justin Amash (R-MI-3), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-8), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI-5), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), and Mia Love (R-UT-4) that would repeal a 26-year-old federal law that mandates states to automatically suspend driver's licenses for anyone convicted of a drug offense or risk losing federal highway aid money.

Since this mandate was adopted in 1991, 38 states [and the District of Columbia] have opted-out, demonstrating that the policy is counterproductive.

A 2015 Boston Globe article describe the hardships the law has caused:

The 26-year-old law was designed, in part, to deter drug use.

There's little evidence it has served as a deterrent. However, it has left tens of thousands of former convicts struggling to find work and do other basic things, like get to the grocery store. On a snow-encrusted day last winter, [Edwin] Melendez had to bundle his infant son to his chest and set out to the hospital on foot when he feared the boy was catching pneumonia.

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