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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

A Tale of Two Story Social Media latino(Image: Institute for Policy Studies)

 On Thursday evening, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) released a report that concluded that just 100 of the wealthiest CEOs have amassed retirement funds equal to a little more than 40 percent of the US population's retirement savings.

The analysis concluded: "Just 100 CEOs have company retirement funds worth $4.7 billion — a sum equal to the entire retirement savings of the 41 percent of U.S. families with the smallest nest eggs." Furthermore:

This $4.7 billion total is also equal to the entire retirement savings of the bottom:

  • 59 percent of African-American families

  • 75 percent of Latino families

  • 55 percent of female-headed households

  • 44 percent of white working class households

To put this in perspective, the IPS found that "the top 100 CEO nest eggs are large enough to generate for each of these executives a $253,088 monthly retirement check for the rest of their lives."

Thursday, 15 December 2016 12:08

Politics as Usual Will Not Rescue Planet Earth

BOB KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The Earth seen from Apollo 17(Photo: Wikipedia )

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As we think about the election — what went wrong, what’s been unleashed and what we should do about it — please, please, let us expand our vision beyond some technical fix or updated “message.”

Even if we’re talking about the Democratic Party.

James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute and a longtime member of the Democratic National Committee, discussing the Bernie Sanders phenomenon and the future direction of the party, wrote recently: “Many rank and file Democrats had lost confidence in their establishment and were looking for an authentic message that spoke to their needs.”

He was making the case for a progressive takeover of the party and the naming of Keith Ellison as DNC chair. As I read his commentary, however, even though I essentially agreed with him, I couldn’t get past the word “authentic” — especially linked as it was to the word “message,” which made it sound like the Democrat leadership needs to search its soul and come up with a better ad slogan.

And this is American politics — American democracy — as presented for our entertainment and distraction by the corporate media and the custodians of power. “The people” are acknowledged to be participants in the process of governing, which is to say, the process of creating the future, only to the extent that they have a set of limited, specific interests the powerful have to look out for. Jobs, for instance. Or protection from the enemy of the moment.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016 07:40

Journalists Are Under Siege Around the World

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

1408711192 3da176c380 oWill journalism that reveals the truth become a crime in the US?  (Photo: Yan Arief Purwanto)

 BuzzFlash and Truthout remain ad-free because of support from readers like you. Help keep our site online: Make a tax-deductible donation today.

As this year winds down, it's clear that it was a frightening one for many journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the numbers of reporters serving prison sentences around the world has climbed to 259 thus far in 2016:

Turkey’s unprecedented crackdown on media brought the total number of jailed journalists worldwide to the highest number since the Committee to Protect Journalists began taking an annual census in 1990.

As of December 1, 2016, there were 259 journalists in jail around the world. Turkey had at least 81 journalists behind bars, according to CPJ’s records, the highest number in any one country at a time—and every one of them faces anti-state charges. Dozens of other journalists are imprisoned in Turkey, but CPJ was unable to confirm a direct link to their work.

China, which was the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2014 and 2015, dropped to the second spot with 38 journalists in jail. Egypt, Eritrea, and Ethiopia are third, fourth and fifth worst jailers of journalists, respectively. Combined, the top five countries on CPJ’s census were responsible for jailing more than two-thirds of all journalists in prison worldwide.

Western countries should not feel smug because they have not made the top of the list. As we saw with the arrest of Amy Goodman and other journalists at the Dakota Access pipeline most recently, the US often uses its legal system to harass -- and sometimes rough up -- reporters who are covering protests. These acts by law enforcement do not make the CPJ list because they have not generally resulted in long detentions of reporters. The federal government has occasionally threatened reporters such as New York Times journalist James Risen with prosecution and imprisonment for refusing to testify or to identify a whistleblower, although the legal Department of Justice threats against Risen were eventually dropped after a six-year standoff. (Read my interview with Risen here.)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

 2016decuschamberlog121(Photo: Wikipedia)

A December report by the national consumer advocacy group Public Citizen bluntly concluded that "the U.S. Chamber of Commerce waved its dark money wand on the 2016 elections and elected a slew of GOP politicians beholden to big business." The report found that the Chamber spent 100 percent of its campaign funding on Republican candidates for the first time in its history. Furthermore, because of the Citizens United decision, it did not have to disclose the identities of the donors who supplied its campaign contribution funds.

The Public Citizen analysis found:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was the second largest overall non-disclosing (or “dark money”) outside spender in 2016 congressional races after the National Rifle Association, and it was the largest non-disclosing outside spender in 75 percent of the races in which it spent money. The Chamber involved itself most heavily in races for the U.S. Senate, spending a total of $25.8 million in 10 Senate races. This deluge began with a $10 million ad buy in swing states last spring as a part of their “Save the Senate” campaign, a campaign organized jointly with leading Republicans whose goal was to prevent a Democratic takeover of the closely-divided body. Moreover, for the first time, 100 percent of the Chamber’s general election spending benefited Republican candidates, suggesting that rather than being a nonpartisan voice for American business, the Chamber has become a voice solely for the Republican Party.

The Chamber works closely with the American Legislative Exchange Council  (ALEC), as well as with the Koch brothers' agenda. This bolsters its impact on both the state level and in Washington, promoting an anti-regulation, pro-fossil fuel agenda Congress. In this most recent election, the Chamber's agenda was synergistically matched with President-elect Trump's business and energy platforms. Trump's Cabinet appointees' beliefs reflect the Chamber's goals, too. Furthermore, as noted earlier earlier, the money sources behind the Chamber's campaign donations are undisclosed because it is a 501(c)(6) organization, which now has the right of "personhood" to support candidates through shadowy parallel campaign organizations.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

14088974046 7a53f6128b z A wall of Marshalsea Prison, where the father of Charles Dickens was imprisoned for being in debt. (Photo: Hornbeam Arts)

You don't need to read Charles Dickens to learn about debtors' prisons. You can just visit Sherwood, Arkansas.

A few months ago the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers' Committee), along with Morrison & Foerster LLP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas (ACLU of Arkansas) filed a class action civil rights lawsuit against Sherwood in federal court. The goal of the legal action is to end the town's practice of using failure to pay court costs and petty fines as justification for imprisoning people for the "crime" of poverty.

According to a news release by the Lawyer's Committee:

The suit was filed on behalf of four individuals who allege their constitutional rights were violated by the Hot Check Division of the Sherwood District Court when they were jailed for their inability to pay court fines and fees in violation of longstanding law forbidding the incarceration of people for their failure to pay debts, and a concerned taxpayer.

"The resurgence of debtors prisons across our country has entrapped poor people, too many of whom are African American or minority, in a cycle of escalating debt and unnecessary incarceration," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The Sherwood District Court epitomizes the criminalization of poverty and the corrupting effect of financial incentives on our local courts. Not only does this 'Hot Check' court completely ignore the long-standing principle that a person cannot be punished because they are poor, but by using coercive practices to collect money from the poorest Arkansans, this debtors' prison scheme generates huge revenues for the city. Revenue from the district court constitutes nearly 12 percent of the city's budget, second only to city and county sales tax..."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

3484273661 9efe42315b z(Photo: SEIU 775 )

 Portland, Oregon, has just adopted a new ordinance that will tax excessive CEO pay, according to a news release from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, DC:

In a 3-1 vote, the council agreed to add a surtax on the city's existing business license tax for firms that pay their CEOs more than 100 times what their typical worker receives. This will be the nation's first tax penalty for extreme CEO-worker pay gaps.

IPS issues a report each year called "Executive Excess." In a September commentary, I wrote about this year's report, which found that the nation's top 20 US banks gave their executives more than $2 billion dollars in tax-deductible bonuses over the past four years.

The problem of exorbitant executive pay is not limited to Wall Street and the financial world. One study at Glass Door Research estimated that "the average CEO earns 204 times median worker pay." Estimates vary from study to study, though, and it is hard to pin down numbers for some companies. However, due to a new Securities and Exchange Commission regulation, companies will be required as of 2017 to report information on worker and CEO pay that will lead to the government and other organizations being able to peg the exact CEO-to-worker ratios at any given company. Nonetheless, there is enough public information now to demonstrate that a large number of CEO salaries and bonuses far exceed 100 times the median worker salary.

Sarah Anderson, who is a co-editor of Inequality.org at the Institute for Policy Studies and has been the lead author on all 23 of the Institute's annual "Executive Excess" reports, explained to me how the Portland tax on excessive CEO income will be levied:

Publicly traded companies with extreme pay gaps will pay a surtax on top of the city's current business license tax. The surtax will be 10 percent of the business tax liability for companies with a CEO-worker pay ratio of more than 100-to-1 and 25 percent for companies with a ratio of more than 250-to-1. The Portland government has identified more than 500 corporations that do enough business in the city to be affected by the surtax, including many that regularly dominate the highest-paid CEO lists, such as Oracle, Honeywell, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and General Electric.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

129360778 788f6a7e86 oMass murderer Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines. (Photo: Davao Today )

Last Friday, Philippines President and authoritarian leader Rodrigo Duterte claimed that Trump endorsed his war on drugs, which has included the extrajudicial killing of thousands of "drug suspects." According to CBS News:

President-elect Donald Trump wished the Philippines well in its bloody war on drugs during a call with President Rodrigo Duterte Friday, according to statements by the Philippine leader.

Duterte said in a video that Mr. Trump was "quite sensitive" to the nation’s controversial drug crackdown, which has resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings since June, when Duterte first took office.

"[Trump] wishes me well in my campaign and said that we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way," Duterte said of the Friday call, in which he described an "animated" president-elect.

"I could sense a good rapport," the Philippines leader said. "He was wishing me success in my campaign on the drug problem. He understood the way we are handling it and he said that there’s nothing wrong in protecting your country."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

votedecShouldn't we help people to vote, not prevent them from voting? (Photo: H2Woah!)Isn't extortion illega

You wouldn't know it from a corporate media is that is so intent on cozying up to and normalizing the Trump transition that they have strayed from any moral moorings.  As Bob Koehler observed in a commentary on our site yesterday, as far as the mass corporate media is concerned, "Once agreement congeals and the winner is declared, that's it. The election is over and it's time to move on."

Of course, as Koehler noted, there's an effort underway to have a recount spearheaded by Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein -- with some legal backing from the Hillary Clinton campaign -- but mainstream journalism isn't particularly enamored with the prospect. After all, as Koehler tartly reflected, "in mainstream media land, questioning the results of a presidential election has sort of an unpatriotic stench to it."

Furthermore, the voting process may seem simple to some people -- particularly white suburban voters whom the GOP counts on for victory margins -- but it is actually quite complicated. Greg Palast detailed some of the realities of widespread and varied suppression of the votes of people of color and other likely Democrats in an article this week in Truthout, "The No-BS Inside Guide to the Presidential Vote Recount."

How many ways can votes be annulled, and in how many ways can people who don't vote Republican be kept from voting? Palast details a multitude of possibilities, including voting machine software vulnerabilities, the generally uncounted "provisional ballot" (which Palast calls the "placebo ballot"), requirements involving voter ID cards, absentee ballots that are never counted, etc. Palast uncovers the names of millions of people who are not able to vote because of "caging" scams such as Operation Crosscheck and the denial of the rights of people previously incarcerated following felony convictions to vote in many states (including Florida, which also had a "caging" list that kept many people of color from voting in the 2000 election there).

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

5437288053 624c075aa3 z 1Big Pharma knows that campaign money and lobbyists have more value than life. (Photo: Steven Depolo/a>

I recently wrote about how Big Pharma largely drafted the Medicare Part D legislation signed by George W. Bush in 2006, which resulted in billions of dollars in windfall profits for drug companies. How was this fleecing of seniors in need of medication accomplished?

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) engaged in the customary DC practices of big campaign contributions, lobbying and actually writing passages of the Medicare Part D legislation. What goal did they achieve? They were able to get Congress to prohibit Medicare from negotiating a lower price for the cost of drugs. This meant that seniors were subject to excessive co-pays, because their chosen private insurance providers for Part D were not getting government-negotiated discounts. Insurance companies were also given permission to leave many drugs off their formularies (lists of covered drugs) and to price medications by tiers.

An October 2016 article in Mother Jones notes:

What's more, Part D often pays far more for drugs than do Medicaid or the Veterans Health Administration—which, unlike Part D, mandate government measures to hold down prices. One report found that Part D pays 80 percent more for medicines than the VHA and 73 percent more than Medicaid. While researchers aren't unanimous in their views, an array of experts have concluded that federal negotiating power—if backed up by other cost controls—would bring Part D drug costs more in line.

Mother Jones describes Washington as being "awash in drug industry cash," stating that "last year the drug industry retained 894 lobbyists to influence the 535 members of Congress, staffers, and regulators." That may explain why progressive economist Dean Baker, a regular columnist for Truthout, estimated that perhaps $332 billion could have been saved between 2006 and 2013 if Medicare had been allowed to negotiate prescription costs for Part D.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

5599576288 6d200ac24c z

 Noam Chomsky warns that the real "American Dream" is of plutocracy suppressing majority rule.  (Photo: Andrew Rusk)

During times like these, when we must choose resistance over compliance with an unjust power structure, I recall an exhortation from Maya Angelou:

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.

There will no coming out of the current political nightmare -- which existed before the November election, and exponentially worsened after it -- without a redoubling of advocacy for the common good.

That is what Noam Chomsky concludes in a sobering and informative documentary, Requiem for the American Dream (available from Truthout by clicking here). In the documentary, Chomsky describes 10 reasons why we have arrived at this time of political and social dystopia.

 

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