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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016 April27whitehouseThe White House and Capitol were primarily built by slaves, as Washington -- which had legal slavery until 1863 -- remains a colony. (Photo: Frank Camp)

It is widely known that slaves were the key labor force that built the White House and the US Capitol. The grotesque injustice and horror of slavery is, therefore, literally embedded in the masonry of our nation's two iconic political symbols.

However, what is more rarely emphasized or even acknowledged in US history text books is that slavery was legal within the District of Columbia right up until Abraham Lincoln signed an emancipation law in DC in 1862. It was signed on April 16, 1862, less than nine months before the national Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

The Washington, DC, government website devotes a page to the history of slavery in the capital:

One result of the intense struggle over slavery was the DC Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862, passed by the Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The act ended slavery in Washington, DC, freed 3,100 individuals, reimbursed those who had legally owned them and offered the newly freed women and men money to emigrate. It is this legislation, and the courage and struggle of those who fought to make it a reality, that we commemorate every April 16, DC Emancipation Day.... 

The area we know as the District of Columbia was selected as the site for the capital of the United States in 1791. It was created by land ceded to the federal government by Virginia and Maryland, two slave-holding states of the Chesapeake region. The District of Columbia, which included Washington City, Georgetown, Washington County and Alexandria (until 1846), became a center for slavery and the slave trade.

A recent article in The New York Times hauntingly describes an incident that reveals the grim reality of slaveholding in DC.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016 07:38

Pens Don't Rob People, Plutocrats Do

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2106 April26pensWill the power of the pen belong to the oligarchs or the people? (Photo: Lawrence Wong)

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Before the typewriter and computer came along, the pen used to be the most vital tool to writers. Just think of Tolstoy writing the more-than-1200 page War and Peace with a quill pen. How intimate the relationship must have been between the author and the writing implement that allowed him to express his masterful vision to the world.

The pen, however, has also served as the tool that allows those with wealth and power to accumulate more wealth and power -- often through stealth -- by signing contracts and other legal documents. Thus, the pen and the ink it contains can be the source of rapturous imagination, but also of predatory greed.

I touched upon this theme in a recent fundraising letter for Truthout in which I noted that the legendary folksinger and anti-fascist Woody Guthrie sang: "Some will rob you with a six gun / And some with a fountain pen." The travesty of bureaucratic plunder has only gotten worse in the last 25 years. The men and women robbing us with pens have become more numerous, massively enlarging the amount of their plunder and acquiring more political clout and immunity from accountability. "Steal big" might be the most apt slogan for Wall Street and the global institutions that can bring down the economy with nary a repercussion.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016April22 freepress32When it comes to freedom of the press, the US is not number one; it is 41st in the world. (Photo: John Flannery)

Don’t trust the corporate media? Neither do we. Click here to donate to BuzzFlash and Truthout and support accurate, independent journalism. 

Despite our First Amendment, much vaunted by jingoistic shills for "American exceptionalism," the United States only rates 41st out of 180 nations in press freedoms, according to a 2016 analysis by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). That puts countries such as Estonia, Cyprus, Belize and Finland ahead of the US.

The report cites several factors in the 2016 US ranking, including:

The main cause for concern for RSF continues to be the current administration’s obsessive control of information, which manifests itself through the war on whistleblowers and journalists’ sources, as well as the lack of government transparency, which reporters have continually criticized. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA operative, was convicted solely on the basis of metadata in January 2015 of disclosing classified information to James Risen and is now serving a 3.5 year prison sentence.

The US presidential election has also been cause for concern. Since the primaries began last summer, journalists have seen their access to campaign events regularly restricted by candidates from both political parties and have been insulted and even bullied on social media. RSF is also still troubled by the arrest of journalists during #BlackLiveMatter protests in Baltimore and Minneapolis. "There is still room for improvement in the country of the First Amendment," says Delphine Halgand, RSF’s US Director.

On April 20, NPR reporter Laura Wagner placed much of the blame for the lackluster rating of US press freedoms on Obama administration policies.

 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016april20 militarybudgUS24The US empire strikes back with a permanent global military presence that enriches corporations while decimating lives. (Photo: National Priorities Project)

Don’t trust the corporate media? Neither do we. Click here to donate to BuzzFlash and Truthout and support accurate, independent journalism.

From the propaganda of the US government -- and its echo chamber in the corporate media -- you would think that our nation is under a dire military threat, with Russia, China and other countries chomping at the bit to enter conflict with the self-proclaimed world superpower. However, just examine the chart above, provided by the National Priorities Project. Take the brightly colored bars representing the next seven highest national expenditures on armed forces and armament, pile them on top of one another, and you will still have a column that falls short of how much the US spends on our global military empire.

As Lindsay Koshgarian of the National Priorities Project comments, much of the massive US "defense budget" (a misnomer considering how much US armed forces activity is aimed at protecting economic and corporate interests, not defending people) is funneled to private contractors:

Pentagon spending is subject to the same rules of corporate greed that plague our entire economy. More than half of the Pentagon budget goes to for-profit contractors.

Let’s get the word out there. The less we spend on Pentagon contractors that profit from fear and conflict, the more we can spend on priorities like education, climate change and infrastructure to move our country forward into the 21st first century. It’s time we joined the rest of the world.

The National Priorities Project chart reveals not only a militaristic policing of the world at extraordinary expense -- using funds that could benefit the welfare of individuals in the US and the world as a whole -- but the inexorable expansion of the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower so famously warned against.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016april jailpresThe presidential campaign and the reality of incarceration nation. (Photo: Woody Hibbard

As the political circus continues to unfold in the form of a three-ring television media primary, stitched together by tacky sports metaphors, maybe the best indicator of the sordid reality of this presidential race is that the two likely major party nominees are the most disliked candidates running. In fact, Trump and Clinton are viewed unfavorably at historically high levels.

Today -- after the New York primary -- there is breathless, sensationalistic coverage of the triumph of a blatantly racist and xenophobic candidate, who is likely to run against another candidate whose appeal appears to be, "Wouldn't you want me sitting in the Oval Office instead of that demagogue, even if I won't promise that I'll change much of anything because that's just reality?"

Yet, if you look past the top headlines, you realize just how much the presidential primary is taking place in an alternative universe, whose interests run directly counter to the needs of most people who live in this country. Discussions of public policy appear to be just window dressing on the 24-hour-a-day pugilistic accounts of candidate attacks on each other - or on the occasional gaffe that drops like a golden goose into the almighty cable television collection plate.

There are tens of millions of people in the US thirsting for transformation, but the results of the New York primary have put a damper on justice - social and economic - as not being "reasonable." 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016April19 marinelepenMarine Le Pen is the face of the rising extreme right in France, as leader of the National Front Party founded by her scurrilous father. (Photo: Rémi Noyon )

An April 17 Spiegel Online article describes the growing vigilante movement in Eastern Europe to hunt down refugees from the Middle East, sometimes physically abusing and robbing them, and expelling them (as described in translation from the original German): 

They patrol as self-appointed vigilantes in riot gear against refugee camps. They help the police and the army in border management....

From the Baltic to Bulgaria -- everywhere in Eastern Europe such right-wing private militias and vigilantes have [grown]. Many of them came years ago out of its niche existence as gun nuts and homeland security fanatics and marched, for example, as a protective force against alleged "Gypsy crime" on. Now they have discovered vigilante activity that they hope to receive increased social acceptance for: the so-called "migrant defense."

"Years of xenophobic propaganda from the very top"

The Czech political analyst and researcher of extremism Miroslav Mares of the Masaryk University in Brno calls [the militias tracking refugees from the Middle East] an "uncontrolled and dangerous phenomenon."

"The new vigilantes have left the area of ​​the subculture," said Mares. "They are well organized, action-ready political forces."

Although Spiegel Online's coverage is focused on the Baltic nations, xenophobia -- not infrequently expressed through violence -- is on the rise across Europe. This includes the lethal impact of Europe's anti-refugee policies on the thousands of refugees who have died trying to circumvent Europe's strict immigration policies. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016 April13citizensunitedtvDemocracy has become, in general, like an auction item. It can be purchased by the highest bidder. (Photo:DonkeyHotey)

Given that the televised presidential primary debates are the most common vehicle through which voters receive information on the candidates and public policy, the journalists who moderate these debates should be initiating a vigorous discussion of campaign finance reform.  However, an analysis released last week by Public Citizen, a nonprofit citizens rights advocacy group, reveals that debate moderators -- who are employed by the networks -- have barely touched upon the issue of campaign finance reform.

In its executive summary of "The Elephant in the Room: Campaign Finance System Little Mentioned in Presidential Debates Despite Americans’ Intense Concern with the Topic," Public Citizen highlights a number of points:

  • The term "Citizens United”"has been invoked only once in more than 1,000 questions asked during the 21 presidential debates conducted so far, and that question was only peripherally about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.
  • All told, when statements by candidates are added to moderators’ questions, the term “Citizens United” has been mentioned just 13 times out of more than 440,000 words spoken during the debates....
  • Only 15 questions asked during the debates have touched on election funding issues generally, and not a single question has sought the candidates’ policy views on our campaign finance system or proposed solutions for fixing alleged problems.

"There's a disconnect between voters and the media, who are not paying attention to something that's front and center for most Americans as never before," Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, told NPR. "They're unwilling to press the candidates on solutions."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016 april12 goldmansachspokerPlaying poker with the future of the US economy at Goldman Sachs (with apologies to dogs). (Photo: Mike Licht)

Illegal Wall Street actions that led to the near economic implosion of 2008 resulted in just another financial settlement with the Department of Justice, according to an April 12 Reuters article:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) has agreed to pay $5.06 billion to settle claims that it misled mortgage bond investors during the financial crisis, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Monday.

The settlement, which Goldman disclosed in January, stems from the firm's conduct in packaging, securitization, marketing and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities between 2005 and 2007, the Justice Department said.

Investors suffered billions of dollars in losses from the securities bought during the period, the department said.

As we've pointed out in numerous BuzzFlash commentaries in the past, the Department of Justice settlements with "banks too big to fail" have amounted to little more than the cost of doing business for the financial entities. As financial columnist Stephen Gendel wrote in Fortune back in 2013, "Assets at the six largest U.S. banks are up 37% from five years ago":

At least one of the widely recognized causes of the financial crisis is not only still around, it has perhaps gotten worse. By every measure I can think of, and I have tried a bunch, the big banks are bigger than they were five years ago, at the dawn of the financial crisis.

This trend is continuing, as CNBC detailed in 2015: "Too big to fail banks just keep getting bigger." 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016april8 trump8When it comes to medical insurance, Trump's ideas are bad for the health of the US  (Photo: Gilberto A. Viciedo )

A Medicare-for-all system would be the most cost-effective, fair and humane way to provide medical care in the United States. It would immediately, for instance, reduce health care costs that are currently inflated by the profits of private insurance companies. It would also improve the availability of medical care by eliminating the for-profit incentive to deny payment for services.Those are just two of many reasons that universal government coverage would be the best way to deliver health care in this country.

Donald Trump, of course, doesn't want to go that route. After all, the Republican Party has spent years obstructing Congress by way of its obsession with repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare -- and this is one issue on which Trump and mainstream Republicans agree.

What does Trump want to replace Obamacare with? That's a good question. According to an article in an April 18 New York Times article, he has offered such a jumble of sketchy suggestions that even conservative critics of the ACA are highly critical of Trump's jerry-rigged ideas: 

Robert Laszewski, a former insurance executive and frequent critic of the health law, called Mr. Trump’s health care proposals "a jumbled hodgepodge of old Republican ideas, randomly selected, that don’t fit together...."

Mr. Trump’s health care platform "resembles the efforts of a foreign student trying to learn health policy as a second language," said Thomas P. Miller, a health economist at the American Enterprise Institute and a harsh critic of President Obama’s health law....

"It took a herculean political effort to put in place the Affordable Care Act," said [James] Capretta [a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative nonprofit group], who worked at the White House Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004. "To move in a different direction, even incrementally, would take an equally herculean effort, with clear direction and a clear vision of what would come next. I just don’t see that in Trump’s vague plans to repeal the law and replace it with something beautiful and great."

Those are just three of the critiques of Trump's sketchy healthcare coverage policies coming from conservative health care policy analysts.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016April7 holybibleMaking the "Holy Bible" the official book of Tennessee violates the constitutional separation of church and state. (Photo: Charlotte Tai)

According to Joel Ebert of The Tennessean, this week the Tennessee legislature finalized passage of a bill making the Christian Bible the official state book:

Tennessee is poised to make history as the first state in the nation to recognize the Holy Bible as its official book.

After nearly 30 minutes of debate, the state Senate on Monday (April 4), approved the measure, sponsored by state Sen. Steve Southerland, with a 19-8 vote, sending the legislation to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.....

If Haslam signs the bill, the Bible would join a list of state symbols such as the raccoon as the state’s wild animal, the Eastern box turtle as the state reptile, the square dance as the state folk dance, milk as the official state beverage and the Barrett M82 sniper rifle as the official state rifle, which lawmakers approved earlier in the session.

Prior to the state Senate vote, the bill had been approved by the Tennessee House of Representatives. 

Official state symbols are largely unknown by residents of any state. How many Californians know that the "official state artifact" is the chipped stone bear? Or how many people in the Lone Star State are aware that the "official state amphibian" is the Texas Toad

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