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Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout

SamanthaBeeFeb2011 1Samantha Bee (Photo: Justin Hoch)

 In the middle of a Full Frontal segment on last month's bombings in New York and New Jersey, Samantha Bee launched into an excoriating attack on NBC "tacitly condoning a race-baiting demagogue." It's not just that NBC gave Trump a years-long platform on "The Apprentice" to position him as a credible authoritarian business leader. NBC even featured Trump, while running as a candidate for the GOP nomination, as host of "Saturday Night Live" on November 17, 2015.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Fallon has treated Donald Trump as a guest on "The Tonight Show" as an affable, playful potential president, even tousling his hair as if he were a friendly Golden Retriever. The YouTube clip of Fallon "messing" up Trump's hair -- as Trump plays the affable foil -- has received more than 8 million views, not to mention the vast audience across the United States who watched the original "The Tonight Show" farce. Yes, NBC terminated Trump's association with "The Apprentice" after he began his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants "rapists," but the network didn't terminate its association with him on other programming. It is still making money off of showcasing him to voters, expecting him to draw in big audiences (and increased advertising profits) whenever he appears on NBC.

When Trump was in his full birtherism bloom, accusing President Obama of not being a citizen, the station was fine with having Trump continue to enhance his brand on The Apprentice.  It didn't take x-ray vision to see that birtherism was both a real and symbolic movement to discredit Obama as an American because he is Black. Thus, NBC was fine with having Donald Trump, who was a leader in perpetuating a racist attack on the president of the United States, hosting "The Apprentice."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

octvotingrightsVoting rights are being taken in away en masse, denying the most fundamental right of US citizenship. (Photo: Lauren Shiplett)

 On September 15, I wrote a commentary about how the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law filed a lawsuit to prevent Georgia from implementing an onerous "voter registration verification process." From the title, it may sound sounds like a benign vetting process, but is actually one of the many laws and regulations that Republican-controlled legislatures and governors have been using to place obstacles in the place of non-Republican voters.

This particular voter suppression strategy in Georgia requires voters to show that all the data on four pieces of official state and federal identification match before they are allowed to vote. It sounds harmless enough, but remember that there is virtually no individual voter fraud in the United States involving the casting of a ballot by a person isn't eligible to cast one. There are, however, plenty of instances of voter suppression: denying eligible people the right to vote, along with the possible hacking of vote-counting software, manipulation of final vote counts after the polls close and more.  

Requiring a process such as a four-ID-card data match to be able to vote can be directly traced back to the post-slavery efforts to keep Black people from voting. It provides the opportunity to deny large numbers of people the chance to vote, while not holding other groups of people to the same ultra-stringent requirements.

I offer my wife's ID card situation as an example of the insidious nature of the Georgia regulation. Her legal name is Teresa, but she goes by the name of Terry.  Sometimes she includes her middle name on IDs; sometimes she doesn't. Her passport has her full formal name listed, while her driver's license has her name as Terry. This means that, were she to live in Georgia, she might not be able to vote.  Exactly how consistently such a regulation -- and other non-Republican voter suppression laws -- are applied has not yet been the subject of large scale studies. However, one could speculate that primarily white suburban and rural districts are perhaps less "rigorous" in enforcing voter obstruction laws.

As we've mentioned, there are a multitude of laws and regulations aimed at making it difficult for non-Republicans to vote in Republican-run states. There are, of course, many issues on which the two major parties work as a duopoly, but -- in general -- Republicans in Congress and state legislatures try to prevent people of color and others who are likely to vote Democratic or for a third party from casting a ballot. In general, Democratic legislatures and elected officials in the federal government are for broader suffrage.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

setp30repoWells Fargo even violates the law by repossessing cars of those serving in the military. (Photo: Don Hankins)

On September 9, I wrote about how the banking giant Wells Fargo went on an illegal spree of opening false credit cards, checking and saving accounts; charged customers fees for unrequested "services"; and then fired more than 5,000 employees when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) discovered the illicit activity. The CFPB -- conceived by Elizabeth Warren -- has limited power to address systemic banking abuse, but it did force Wells Fargo to stop these practices and pay an extremely modest fine of less than $200 million.

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf scapegoated the terminated staff, who were paid an average of around $12 per hour. They were likely compelled to open fraudulent "cross-service" accounts to earn bonuses that would give them a living income. Stumpf himself has accumulated a reported $200 million in bank bonuses, while the executive -- Carrie Tolstedt – was expected to "retire" with a $20 million bonus.

Although Stumpf appeared to have escaped blame and financial penalty from the CPFB and other regulatory agencies, in the last week he ran into the buzzsaw of Elizabeth Warren and other senators at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. Warren has for years clamored that big bank executives should be held accountable for systemic deceptive and risky financial behavior in their institutions. Last week, Warren led the outraged condemnation of Stumpf for his nurturing of an environment that rewarded illegal behavior. CNN Money called it an "epic takedown": Warren called for Stumpf's resignation, accused him of "gutless leadership" and relentlessly castigated him for betraying consumers.

Stumpf may have thought that he was going to avoid any accountability after the original CFPB fine, but fortune is not shining upon him now. The treasurer of California has announced that it will halt much of its banking business with Wells Fargo. CNN Money also reported that Stumpf and Tolstedt will be issued multi-million dollar financial "fines" by the Wells Fargo board, in light of the Warren-led Senate committee hearings:

DAN ZUKOWSKI OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

bisenco32Bison in Yellowstone National Park face a harsh winter environment. Taken by Dan Zukowski for EcoWatch.

Three wildlife groups sued the federal government Tuesday, asking for the Yellowstone bison to be listed as a threatened or endangered species in order to protect the iconic animals from hunting and prescribed culling. Currently, park officials manage the population to about 4,000 animals using these methods. The population now numbers about 4,500.

Some 60 million bison, also known as buffalo, once roamed the prairies and grasslands of North America. They provided food, clothing and sustenance to Native Americans. In the 1800s, European settlers began hunting the animals and the U.S. Army undertook a deliberate program of extermination as a way to starve the Native peoples who depended on them. They nearly drove the bison to extinction.

By the time Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, there were only about two dozen bison in the area. The Army was then told to protect this herd. They also brought 21 bison from two private herds to Yellowstone in 1902 to create a larger breeding population. Today's herds in Yellowstone—the only place where wild bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times—descended from these few animals.

The majestic 2,000-pound bison is an iconic symbol of the American West. On May 9, it became our official national mammal when President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law. It is a creature beloved by visitors to Yellowstone National Park—sometimes too much—but outside park boundaries, ranchers aren't fans.

Their concern is a disease called brucellosis. It can be transmitted among bison, elk and cattle, and it can cause pregnant females to abort their calves. But it isn't the bison's fault: the non-native bacteria was introduced by cattle brought to the West by early pioneers. Brucellosis was first discovered in Yellowstone bison in 1917. It's thought they likely contracted the disease from domestic cattle, and today about half the bison herd tests positive for brucellosis.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016foreclosureYour misery is Donald Trump's gain. (Photo: nzlawyer)

Yesterday, I accused Donald Trump of betraying the nation by essentially admitting, in Monday's debate, that he had not been paying federal taxes in at least some recent years -- and characterizing this as a "smart business tactic." 

By yesterday afternoon, the momentum against Trump's statements mounted, and even Vice President Joe Biden was slamming the candidate for touting his failure to pay the costs of running the United States. Trump's position epitomizes his endless illogical and contradictory statements. He implied this dubious achievement proved his ability to run the United States like a business. Of course, this makes no sense because if no one paid their taxes, there would be no government to run.

That's one baffling Catch-22 that should be enough to merit front page news and top television coverage. However, to add to this egregious disregard for the financing of the United States, Trump has also boasted of his savvy in taking advantage of a cratered housing market after 2008. Yes, that means Trump was one of those investors who was seeking to make -- and succeeded in making -- money by bottom-feeding off the housing market implosion of 2008. He advocated predatory tactics that would result in the "American Dream" of homeownership disappearing into a nightmare for countless people.

As Politico reported yesterday:

When Donald Trump said he was hoping for a collapse in the housing market before the Great Recession, it was just smart business sense, he said in the first sharp exchange of the debate.

“In fact, Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis,” Hillary Clinton said when discussing the recovery from the Great Recession. “He said back in 2006, ‘Gee, I hope it does collapse because then I can go in and buy some and make some money. Well it did collapse.”

“That’s called business, by the way,” Trump said, interrupting. But Clinton talked over him.

“Nine million people lost their jobs, five million people lost their homes,” she said.

This has been a periodic accusation leveled at Trump throughout the presidential campaign. It was the first time, however, he responded before a record-breaking audience of approximately 84 million people. To Trump, the misfortunes of many of the Americans he seeks to serve were seen by him as profitable opportunities.

Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlah at Truthout

2106taxtrump(Photo: Phillip Ingham)

Regardless of who one plans to vote for in the November presidential election, it was the general consensus in punditry and instant-polling land that Hillary Clinton made Donald Trump look like a coarse, weary muskrat last night. Particularly in the second half of the debate.

Indeed, CNN sponsored a post-debate snap poll that found Clinton the decisive "winner":

Hillary Clinton was deemed the winner of Monday night's debate by 62% of voters who tuned in to watch, while just 27% said they thought Donald Trump had the better night, according to a CNN/ORC Poll of voters who watched the debate.

Voters who watched said Clinton expressed her views more clearly than Trump and had a better understanding of the issues by a margin of more than 2-to-1. Clinton also was seen as having done a better job addressing concerns voters might have about her potential presidency by a 57% to 35% margin, and as the stronger leader by a 56% to 39% margin.

The consensus of the post-debate Democratic and Republican pundits on MSNBC was that, ironically, Trump lost his stamina after the first third to first half of the debate, even as he bizarrely accused Hillary Clinton of not having the stamina for the job and not "looking" like a president. (Of all the defensive babble that Trump fell back on during the second half of the debate, none appeared more feeble, as The Washington Post pointed out, than his sneering accusation that Clinton did not have the endurance to be president -- while the split screen showed her standing poised and calm, as he wandered into verbal cul-de-sacs.)

However, this is not a commentary about who "won or lost" the debate, whatever one's thoughts may be about the presidential candidates of the two major political parties. Rather, it has to do with a moment in the debate that did not receive widespread coverage: the seeming concesison by Donald Trump that he may not have paid any federal taxes for years. As Hillary Clinton pointed out, Trump is the only major party presidential candidate in decades not to release his recent income taxes. Trump is using the excuse that he can't share them with the public because he is under audit by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but Lester Holt, the moderator last night, pointed out that the IRS allows people under audit to release their income taxes if they want to.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

bankstersgangstersWhy are big bank CEOs not held accountable for the misdeeds of their banks? They just keep making tens of millions of dollars in bonuses off of the illegalities that happen on their watch. (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

To recap, approximately 5,300 Wells Fargo bank staff members -- many paid around $12 an hour -- had been fired earlier this month for allegations of creating millions of fraudulent credit card and savings accounts. It appears that the Wells Fargo employees were feverishly trying to meet high marketing quotas to receive bonuses. It also appears that Wells Fargo executives overlooked the rampant illegal behavior, amidst a climate that emphasizes increasing the number of accounts without scrutinizing the tactics used to do so. The scheme was discovered and investigated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren. Wells Fargo was fined a mere $180 million (plus $5 million in refunds to defrauded clients), which was not much more than the $120 million Carrie Tolstedt -- who heads the Wells Fargo division overseeing the fraudulent activity -- will retire with in the near future.

As I noted in a column last Friday, Warren was having none of the tactics of Wells Fargo executives firing low-level subordinates to escape blame. As she told CNBC last week: "There's a serious problem with senior management at Wells Fargo.... All they do is fire the low-level employees. You can't run a bank like that."

In a Senate Banking Committee hearing on September 20, Warren bluntly raked Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf over the coals,

Warren said that cross selling, the practice of getting customers to sign up for new products from Wells, was designed just to "pump up the stock of Wells Fargo" and increase the value of Stumpf's stock-based compensation.

"You should resign, you should give back the money you made while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission," said Warren.

Stumpf appeared unfazed by Warren's scolding and admitted that he has not fired any high-level Wells Fargo executives over the incident, just the low-paid workers seeking bonuses.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

heckscher32On September 21, Zahara Heckscher blocks entrance to a congressional office to protest TPP pharmaceutical provisions. (Photo: CANCERFAM.ORG )

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In February, I reported on the arrest of Zahara Heckscher, 51, who was protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) within the building entry to the massive pharmaceutical lobby in DC, PhRMA. Heckscher, who was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago, is experiencing its return in an advanced stage after remission.

Heckscher was cuffed and booked along with Hannah Lyon (who is 29 and has aggressive cervical cancer). Both protesters shouted that the TPP was a "death sentence" to many people with serious illnesses. This act of civil disobedience took place on World Cancer Day, February 4.

Yesterday, Heckscher was arrested again, this time while blocking the entrance to the Capitol office of Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado). Heckscher used the time before she was arrested to urge Polis to save the lives of people in his district by taking a stand against passage of the TPP. Heckscher, the organization that she co-founded -- Cancer Families for Affordable Medicine -- and other advocacy groups concerned about affordable medicine have become increasingly worried that President Obama, the Republican leadership and Blue Dog Democrats will try to pass the TPP in a lame-duck session of Congress. This speculation is bolstered by a presidential election in which the candidates of the two largest parties are both on record opposing the TPP. Therefore, from a politically practical perspective, the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress may believe that the period between the November election and the swearing-in of a new president offers the best opportunity for the passage of the trade deal opposed by an increasing number of Americans for a variety of reasons.

For Heckscher, her conviction is born of both personal illness and her concern about others in the US and elsewhere. People will find medication more costly in all signatory nations of the TPP, because of its locking-in of long patents and drug monopolies. For instance, Heckscher now relies upon a medication that costs $54,000 a year. Her insurance company has denied her physician's request for the drug to slow down the cancer. The medication in question is available in some other nations as a generic, but the TPP would prohibit the sale of such generics during the course of a medication's patent throughout the TPP nations. In short, a TPP nation that might sell another brand of the $54,000 drug Heckscher needs for, let's say, $10,000, would be prohibited from doing so.

Also consider this, many people in the US -- particularly seniors -- get vast savings on certain drugs by ordering them from Mexico or Canada. They would find that option essentially closed under the TPP.  This is only one example of how the TPP -- by raising, in general, the cost of medicine in all the signatory nations (including Mexico and Canada) -- will economically impact people in the US who save money by getting some of their medications from nations without stringent patent enforcements.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016refugeeOur comfort in the West creates much of the refugee crisis that the mass media so underreports. (Photo: brx0)

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Just how much does the mainstream press like to spend days upon days getting sucked into a farcical debate about whether Donald Trump is "officially" a birther or not?

I've written it before and I'll write it again: In 2016, if it's not entertaining, it's not news. Donald Trump is like a bigoted vaudeville comedian resurrected from mothballs, a bombastic bloviator who knows how to dominate the midway at a state fair. He is a cross between a tin-siding salesman, a demagogue and -- as he told Marureen Dowd recently -- a promoter of the frisson (shudder of excitement) of violence.

What passes for US mass media today is -- speaking of violence -- a megaphone for vitriol, scapegoating, and cheap "shock jock" tricks. 

Meanwhile, national and global events that shape lives and lead to untimely deaths pass with barely a headline, shoved to the background by the grand carnival known as the 2016 US presidential election.

How many examples of the planet's dire needs -- and potential solutions -- could be covered as part of the daily news if titillation and personality gaffes were not the primary stories driving the news? Occasionally, the reality of our dystopian world receives coverage, like a head bobbing briefly up above the water -- and then sinking back down to drown. That's an analogy that relates directly to one particular reality: As Middle East Eye reported today, at least 39 people were killed this morning when a migrant boat sank off the coast of Egypt. "Over 3,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean on the way to Europe so far this year," according to Middle East Eye.

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016toxicWe're just consumers for toxic products as far as chemical companies are concerned. (Photo: Daniel Go)

Article reprinted with permission from Ecowatch

BuzzFlash and Truthout rely on support from readers like you. If you like what you're reading, make a donation today!

Four of the country's largest chemical companies have been accused of selling billions of dollars worth of harmful isocyanate chemicals but intentionally concealing their dangers to consumers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the past several decades.

EcoWatch learned that the recently unsealed whistleblower lawsuit was served on the chemical companies on Wednesday. The lawsuit was originally filed under seal in federal court in Northern California.

Kasowitz brought this action on behalf of itself and the federal government to recover more than $90 billion in damages and penalties under the FCA, which imposes penalties for concealing obligations to the government.

According to a copy of the lawsuit seen by EcoWatch, "Each of these companies is separately liable to the United States Government for billions of dollars in civil reporting penalties, which continue to accumulate by tens of thousands of dollars daily, and for billions of dollars in similarly increasing breach of contract damages."

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