Facebook Slider
Optional Member Code
Get News Alerts!
EditorBlog

EditorBlog (1686)

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.

 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

hamiltontrumpAlexander Hamilton (Image: Marion Doss)

At Truthout and BuzzFlash, we don't pull any punches when it comes to criticizing the forces in power. Don't wait to hold the next president's feet to the fire: Make a donation to independent media today!

Hamilton, the stunning biographical musical that won 11 Tony Awards in 2016 and swept just about every other major theater award in 2016, is the current blockbuster on Broadway. The sold-out production is the brainchild of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the script, lyrics and musical score. Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, dazzlingly transforms an account of Alexander Hamilton's life -- particularly around the time of the US revolution -- into a multicultural production with a vibrant hip hop-based musical score.

Miranda largely adhered to historical accuracy -- Hamilton is a hero to modern Federalists, such as the late Antonin Scalia -- but by selecting a cast largely comprised of people of color, he recreated the story in a new light. Hamilton's cast and the way the narrative is interpreted point toward the possibility of an inclusive democracy. So does the score, which incorporates the rhythms of a diverse United States. It's a soundtrack that makes clear the contributions made to the US's musical legacy by the people who were marginalized by this country's white founders.

This aspect of Hamilton became an issue when a casting call was issued for non-white actors, as the production was preparing for its first non-New York cast. (The musical is now playing in Chicago.) The right wing promptly started crying crocodile tears over "discrimination." A Huffington Post post article stated:

But what makes Hamilton work so well is the fact that it's a commentary on America's past through the prism of America's present, its future. It works because the historically white, male founding fathers are being played by a predominantly non-white cast of blacks and Latinos (there are alsoplans to cast women in the roles of men).

Now, what would the musical look like if Alexander Hamilton wasn't played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Aaron Burr wasn't played by Leslie Odom, Jr, but instead the characters were played by two capable, talented white actors? The show would likely still be entertaining, but the context and the conversation would change. It's like suggesting that "For Colored Girls..." or "The Color Purple" have an all-white cast. It's a completely different show. 

The same article notes, "And if you think about it, Hamilton is perhaps as colorblind as castings come -- when else would black and Latino actors get to play the Founding Fathers?"

Saturday, 19 November 2016 07:20

How Republicans Intend to Kill Obamacare

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

obamacare32 (Photo: Tabitha Kaylee Hawk)

Those of us who want to build a better world will have our work cut out for us in the months and years ahead, and the commentary and analysis at Buzzflash will be more important than ever. Can we count on your support?

There are standard dictionary definitions of the word reconciliation – “the restoration of friendly relations” and “the action of making one view or belief compatible with another” among them – and then there is the Congressional process called Reconciliation. The former suggest comity, the latter is the process by which debate is closed down and a budget bill can be passed through the Senate. With Republicans holding a 52 to 48 advantage over Democrats (including two Independents), Reconciliation is how Republicans intend to overturn the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

“House and Senate budget leaders, along with conservative lawmakers, are beginning to unite around a proposal that would avoid a filibuster from Senate Democrats and put a bill repealing key provisions of Obamacare on President-elect Donald Trump’s desk not long after his inauguration—a bill that is likely to earn his signature,” Melissa Quinn, a senior news reporter for The Heritage Foundation’s The Daily Signal, pointed out in a piece headlined “Republicans Begin to Unite Around Obamacare Repeal Plan.”

According to Quinn, the process for repealing Obamacare, an effort that was an epic fail for the GOP over the past few years, is now being honed for immediate action as soon as Trump takes office. And while Republicans are not quite ready to come up with their own health care plan, the process to dismantle is taking on a life of its own.

Under ordinary circumstances, Republicans would need 60 votes to actually pass a bill in the Senate to repeal Obamacare. However, as Quinn reported the day after Election Day, “GOP lawmakers are likely to use a budget tool called reconciliation—a procedure used in the Senate that allows a bill to pass with 51 votes—to roll back key provisions of Obamacare and avoid a Democratic filibuster.”

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

savemedicareMedicare is neither an entitlement nor free. (Photo:Glyn Lowe)

Those of us who want to build a better world will have our work cut out for us in the months and years ahead, and the commentary and analysis at Buzzflash will be more important than ever. Can we count on your support?

House Speaker Paul Ryan wants to raise the Lazarus of privatizing (and phasing out) Medicare from the dead. Paul Waldman of The Washington Post writes of the latest Republican effort to put a dagger through the heart of Medicare:

As part of his strategy, Ryan must convince people that Medicare is all but dead already, so we don’t actually lose much by putting it out of its misery. That’s why he says things like, “Because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke.” This is not just a lie but the precise opposite of the truth, and Ryan knows full well it is; in fact, the ACA extended the solvency of the Medicare trust fund by over a decade. And be warned: Any time you hear Republicans say the phrase “entitlement reform,” understand that phasing out Medicare is what they’re talking about....

If Ryan gets his way, Medicare as a universal insurance program will cease to exist. It will be replaced by “premium support,” or vouchers which seniors will use to buy private insurance. If you can’t afford any of the available plans with what the voucher is worth, tough luck. The whole point is to transfer the expense from Medicare to the seniors themselves. Half a century after Medicare brought health security to America’s seniors, Republicans would snuff it out, leaving some unknown number without any coverage at all and breaking the fundamental promise the government made.

The first deception here is calling Medicare an "entitlement" program. US workers pay into Medicare -- as do their employers -- through the FICA payroll tax, which is deducted from every paycheck. Self-employed individuals have to pay the full FICA tax (which includes) Social Security as part of their income tax. Therefore, Medicare is not a gift. It is an earned benefit.

Furthermore, one of the biggest deceitful conservative talking points about Medicare is that it is "free." Nothing could be further from the truth.

Page 3 of 121