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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Fort McHenry flagThe Fort McHenry Star Spangled Banner: Is the National Anthem inclusionary or exclusionary? (Photo: Wikipedia)

 A new poll reveals that a majority of whites in the United States believe there is discrimination against whites in this country. However, few white respondents claimed to have actually experienced this discrimination themselves. According to NPR,

A majority of whites say discrimination against them exists in America today, according to a poll released Tuesday from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"If you apply for a job, they seem to give the blacks the first crack at it," said 68-year-old Tim Hershman of Akron, Ohio, "and, basically, you know, if you want any help from the government, if you're white, you don't get it. If you're black, you get it."

More than half of whites — 55 percent — surveyed say that, generally speaking, they believe there is discrimination against white people in America today. Hershman's view is similar to what was heard on the campaign trail at Trump rally after Trump rally. Donald Trump catered to white grievance during the 2016 presidential campaign and has done so as president as well.

Yet only 19 percent of the same whites thought that they had ever faced discrimination on the job; around 13 percent thought that they had ever been discriminated against in promotions or salary; and only 11 percent thought that they had faced discrimination in relation to higher education. (Plus, of course, even when it comes to the low percentage of whites who said they experienced discrimination, the facts contradict their perception.)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

opiumpoppyOxyContin is a derivative of opium from poppies. (Photo: Rach)

In the October 30 edition of the New Yorker, reporter Patrick Radden Keefe writes a thorough examination of the role of one pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, in abetting the high number of deaths due to opioid overdoses in the United States. The connection is through the firm's patent on one highly addictive pain killer, OxyContin. Although there are many factors that fuel the opioid crisis in the United States -- including social injustice and economic inequality issues -- Keefe's thoroughly researched article is a telling reminder that the biggest drug pushers in the United States are legal ones: our pharmaceutical companies.

Keefe writes,

Since 1999, two hundred thousand Americans have died from overdoses related to OxyContin and other prescription opioids. Many addicts, finding prescription painkillers too expensive or too difficult to obtain, have turned to heroin. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, four out of five people who try heroin today started with prescription painkillers. The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that a hundred and forty-five Americans now die every day from opioid overdoses.

Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative, at Brandeis University, has worked with hundreds of patients addicted to opioids. He told me that, though many fatal overdoses have resulted from opioids other than OxyContin [such as fentanyl and heroin], the crisis was initially precipitated by a shift in the culture of prescribing—a shift carefully engineered by Purdue. “If you look at the prescribing trends for all the different opioids, it’s in 1996 that prescribing really takes off,” Kolodny said. “It’s not a coincidence. That was the year Purdue launched a multifaceted campaign that misinformed the medical community about the risks.”

In fact, Keefe makes the comparison in his article between drug companies that emphasize sales by persuading doctors to prescribe certain medications and heroin dealers.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

medicalmarijuanaWhen will the US national government take the lead on medical marijuana, not for a long time it appears. (Photo: Chuck Coker)

Peru has just joined a group of nations in legalizing the medical use of marijuana, as its Congress passed the legislation just a few days ago.

The origin of the Peruvian law shows that politicians can sometimes exercise compassion. According to the Guardian,

The legislative approval followed a government proposal to decriminalize the medical use of marijuana for the "treatment of serious and terminal illnesses" after a police raid in February on a makeshift laboratory where a group of mothers made marijuana oil for their sick children.

The laboratory was in the home of Ana Alvarez, 43, who founded the group Buscando Esperanza or Searching for Hope to treat her 17-year-old son Anthony who suffers from a rare and severe form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, as well as tuberous sclerosis, which causes tumors to grow on the brain and other organs.

The arrests led to a mass protest march in front of the Peruvian legislature. It is lamentable that such empathy and concern for health is not recognized on the federal level in the United States. There were 67 votes in favor of the bill in the Peruvian Congress, with only five in opposition and three abstentions.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

epa33Scott Pruitt wants to limit EPA lawsuit settlements. (Photo: mccready)

In a few short months, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has proven that he will use every means at his disposal to swing a wrecking ball through environmental policy. Therefore, it may not be surprising that on October 17 the EPA issued a news release announcing that it will seek not to settle most lawsuits filed by environmental groups. According to the EPA release,

In fulfilling his promise to end the practice of regulation through litigation that has harmed the American public, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued an Agency-wide directive today designed to end "sue and settle" practices within the Agency, providing an unprecedented level of public participation and transparency in EPA consent decrees and settlement agreements.

"The days of regulation through litigation are over," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. "We will no longer go behind closed doors and use consent decrees and settlement agreements to resolve lawsuits filed against the Agency by special interest groups where doing so would circumvent the regulatory process set forth by Congress. Additionally, gone are the days of routinely paying tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to these groups with which we swiftly settle."

Over the years, outside the regulatory process, special interest groups have used lawsuits that seek to force federal agencies – especially EPA – to issue regulations that advance their interests and priorities, on their specified timeframe. EPA gets sued by an outside party that is asking the court to compel the Agency to take certain steps, either through change in a statutory duty or enforcing timelines set by the law, and then EPA will acquiesce through a consent decree or settlement agreement, affecting the Agency’s obligations under the statute.

The directive does not rule out all settlements. It, however, creates an arduous process that will create multiple roadblocks to a third party suing the EPA for not doing its job of protecting the environment and people from toxic pollution and environmental degradation.

Thursday, 19 October 2017 06:25

Trump Ratchets Up Tensions With Cuba

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

cubatrumpTrump wants to move backward on relations with Cuba. (Photo: Balint Földesi)

It did not receive prolonged coverage -- and you may not have noticed -- but over this summer Donald Trump announced that he was tightening the criteria for travel to Cuba. His overall objective was apparently his ideological opposition to the Cuban state, now under the leadership of Raúl Castro. According to a CNN article from June, Trump made the criteria for US citizens traveling to Cuba stricter:

Casting the Obama administration as people who looked the other way on the Castro regime's human rights violations, Trump said that he, as President, will "expose the crimes of the Castro regime."

"They made a deal with a government that spread violence and instability in the region and nothing they got, think about it, nothing they got, they fought for everything and we just didn't fight hard enough, but now, those days are over," Trump said. "We now hold the cards. The previous administration's easing of restrictions of travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime."

Although Trump said he was "completely" canceling Obama's Cuba policy, the change is posture is only a partial shift from Obama's policy....

The Trump administration will begin strictly enforcing the authorized exemptions that allow travel between the US and Cuba and prohibit commerce with Cuban businesses owned by the military and intelligence services.

The Trump White House, however, is not severing embassy ties to Cuba or prohibiting Americans from bringing back goods from Cuba, including rum and cigars.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

swamptrumpTrump is making the DC swamp even fouler. (Photo: James Loesch)

When Donald Trump was campaigning for president, he repeatedly promised that if elected he would "drain the swamp" in Washington, DC. Tuesday, October 16 is a regrettable example of how Trump is not only not "draining" the swamp, he is building his own deplorable swamp entirely centered around him.

Yesterday at a White House news conference, for instance, Trump asserted, "People have to be careful, because at some point I fight back.... it won't be pretty." What was Trump responding to? He was threatening Sen. John McCain for criticizing Trump's foreign policy earlier in the day at an awards ceremony, according to CNBC:

Republican Senator John McCain condemned rising nationalism and isolationism in the U.S. that has gone hand in hand with Donald Trump's presidency during an awards ceremony Monday.

"We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil," McCain said, after he was introduced by former Vice President Joe Biden while being honored with the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

McCain's use of the phrase "blood and soil" echoed a neo-Nazi slogan shouted during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August.

McCain, CNBC reported, went onto a more sweeping censure of Trump's foreign policy.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

pruittstopThe EPA raises acceptable radiation exposure to toxic levels. (Photo: Lorie Shaull)

Scott Pruitt, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), isn't just going about destroying environmental safeguards; he has now issued a "guideline" document that states that excessive exposure to radiation is safe for human life. That means he's not only allowing more pollution that can contribute to ill health and degradation of the environment, but he is also putting us at risk when it comes to radiation. According to Bloomberg,

In the event of a dirty bomb or a nuclear meltdown, emergency responders can safely tolerate radiation levels equivalent to thousands of chest X-rays, the Environmental Protection Agency said in new guidelines that ease off on established safety levels....

It could lead to the administration of President Donald Trump weakening radiation safety levels, watchdog groups critical of the move say.

"It’s really a huge amount of radiation they are saying is safe," said Daniel Hirsch, the retired director of the University of California, Santa Cruz’s program on environmental and nuclear policy. "The position taken could readily unravel all radiation protection rules."

The "guideline" doesn't have the standing of a regulation or law, but it is reflective of the EPA's thinking regarding radiation tolerance by humans and is, therefore, worrisome.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

gerrymanderThe first image representing gerrymandering, from the early 1800s. (Photo: Kenny Cole)

The most significant recent case that will have an impact on whether or not we have a robust and fair democracy is before the Supreme Court this session. Oral arguments have already been heard on the partisan practice of gerrymandering.

An October 5 Fortune article defines the practice:

Gerrymandering occurs when voting districts are redrawn to benefit one party over another in elections, forcing the other side to “waste” votes. For example, someone drawing district lines might cluster opposition party voters together in one district in order to concentrate their votes so that they influence only a few seats. Or it could mean grouping those opposition voters into districts where the other party has a lock on power—making it very difficult for the opposing party to win elections there.

Achieving this normally means dividing districts up along highly irregular lines to ensure that voters from each party are concentrated in the right areas and spread thin in others, as the Washington Post illustrates using a popular explanation adapted from Reddit. Now, with the assistance of software, state legislators are able to control gerrymandering or who ends up in a particular district with more precision than ever before.

Although the Democrats sometimes engage in gerrymandering when they control legislatures and the governorship in a state, it is the Republicans who have mastered the technique. Furthermore, as I noted in a September commentary, there are 26 states in which Republicans run all three branches of state government -- a "trifecta" of governance. Only six states are completely run by the Democrats. As a result, the Democrats are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to creating state legislative and congressional districts when they are redrawn after a census.

In the case before the Supreme Court, Gill v. Whitford, the plaintiff attorneys argue that after the 2010 census the Wisconsin legislature created state legislative districts that were highly weighted toward maximizing Republican votes.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

supremecourtusIt's not just the Supreme Court, it's the entire federal bench that is under Trump attack. (Mitchell Shapiro Photography)

On October 7, HuffPost reported the advancement of Donald Trump's appointees to the Federal Bench:

Thursday was a good day for Amy Coney Barrett. A Senate committee voted to advance her nomination to be a federal judge.

It wasn’t a pretty vote. Every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee opposed her nomination. They scrutinized her past writings on abortion, which include her questioning the precedent of Roe v. Wade and condemning the birth control benefit underthe Affordable Care Act as“a grave infringement on religious liberty.” One Democrat, Al Franken (Minn.), called her out for taking a speaking fee from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit that’s defended forced sterilization for transgender people and has been dubbed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But Republicans don’t need Democrats’ votes, and now Barrett, a 45-year-old law professor at the University of Notre Dame, is all but certain to be confirmed to a lifetime post on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit — a court one level below the Supreme Court.

Barrett is the model judicial candidate for this White House: young, conservative, and opposed to abortion and LGBTQ rights.

And there were more horrifying new judges coming down the pipeline, as HuffPost noted:

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

TRequalityAG Sessions removes workplace protections for transgender individiuals. (Photo: Tony Webster)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has revoked an Obama Department of Justice policy that prohibited workplace discrimination against transgender individuals. According to BuzzFeed, which broke the story,

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed a federal government policy that said transgender workers were protected from discrimination under a 1964 civil rights law, according to a memo on Wednesday sent to agency heads and US attorneys.

Sessions' directive, obtained by BuzzFeed News, says, "Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status."

It adds that the government will take this position in pending and future matters, which could have far-reaching implications across the federal government and may result in the Justice Department fighting against transgender workers in court.

"Although federal law, including Title VII, provides various protections to transgender individuals, Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se," Sessions writes. "This is a conclusion of law, not policy. As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress."

Of course, firing, harassing or not hiring a person because they are transgender clearly constitutes sexual discrimination in the workplace. However, Sessions' action is predicated on the notion that Title VII of the 1964 civil rights law exclusively covers cisgender individuals.

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