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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

avictimiraqCivilians are the biggest casualties of the Iraq War unleashed by the US. (Photo: US Army)

If you are a US family who lost a son or daughter, brother or sister, niece or nephew in the Iraq War, the searing pain of loss can only be compounded by the current implosion of the nation into a failed state of factional warring chaos. 

If you are an Iraqi who lost a son or daughter, brother or sister, niece or nephew in the Iraq War, the devastating grief is now compounded by the realization that the loss was not only due to the vain and imperious assertion of empire, but the abominable slaughter of a civil war is returning to Iraq at this very moment.

Mission accomplished, George W. Bush swaggeringly declared on the stage set of an aircraft carrier those many years ago.  It was supposed to be the shining moment of neocon triumph, the ultimate assertion of United States hegemony and military power as an empire. 

Instead, it was the beginning of a bloody and unnecessary conflict that resulted in more than 100,000 Iraqis killed (and that is probably a conservative estimate), more than 5000 US service men and women killed (and countless wounded or returned to the states with PTSD. Although the waste of money pales in comparison to the loss of human life, hundreds of billions of tax dollars were spent on destroying the homes and businesses of Iraqis and the infrastructure of a nation.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

agunscoffee

It's the third rail of US politics: Never vote against an NRA bill unless you are in a safe urban Democratic district where people prefer paninis to semi-automatics.

Of course, gun makers, gun sellers, gun show vendors, NRA execs and lobbyists - and so many more - make a fortune off the gun male entitlement fetishism in the US. Meanwhile, as the shooting of women by misogynist men, and the shooting of children in schools, and even the shooting of police officers having lunch, is doing far more to destroy the United States than a terrorist group ever could.

Heck, the gun nuts are terrorizing citizens. How do you think a kid feels when a bunch of guys with AK-47s slung over their shoulders are thumping grapefruit at their favorite store because of its name: Target? Those children are - one can presume - emotionally terrorized by the sight of guys walking around with heavy duty guns.  How do their parents explain this to the youngsters: "You see, there are good guys with semi-automatic machine guns in Target and bad guys." "How do you tell them apart," the child might ask. "I can't," the parent helplessly answers.

Of course, the ostentatious open carrying of guns in Texas into just about anywhere is the expected outcome of a climate in which politicians cower in fear that they might be picked off in a primary by the NRA. As a result, they give the gun lobby everything it wants; it's the political version of paying protection money. After all, carrying military-style weapons into Target - or other stores - is akin to saying: "Hey, look at me, I'm a real man and I have a right to scare you half to death because you don't know if I'm a good guy or bad guy, right? So suck on it!" Let's face it; that's the reality of what is going on.

And it is also going on elsewhere, including Arizona, where the gun guys are defiantly buying their lattes open-holstered at Starbucks outlets there.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abritbp(Photo: The Logo Smith)

Wall Street gets away with illegal acts and regulatory violations by paying fines that are merely a cost of doing business. The same people continue running the financial giants and doing what they have been doing for years: pushing throughthe edge of the envelope to make gluttonous amounts of money. They are secure in knowing that neither the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Department of Justice will hold executives accountable.

Such is also the case with the fossil fuel industry. When has an oil, fracking or natural gas company honcho been held accountable for massive spills, injuries, illnesses or deaths due to toxic waste?

The Obama administration actions of actually protecting British Petroleum (BP) after the 2010 Gulf oil spill is a case in point. From the moment that the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and a massive oil leak began, it appeared that the US government was more concerned about insulating BP from accountability and transparency than providing the US public with accurate information and corrective action. 

For those who need a reminder, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History describes the disaster that ensued in the Gulf of Mexico as "the largest accidental oil spill in history." An April 8, 2014, a National Geographic article captures the longevity of the disaster with a headline, "Gulf Oil Spill 'Not Over': Dolphins, Turtles Dying in Record Numbers." The Deepwater Horizon devastation was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the BP's notorious safety and environmental record.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ainvestneig(Photo: sierraromeo [sarah-ji])The Washington Post is not known for exposing the greed, gluttony and financial exploitation of the masters of the universe who run our economy. However, last week, it did focus on an important engine for the growth in the white elite's supercharged drive to privatize public education through charter schools: hedge funds.

Yes, BuzzFlash and Truthout have extensively detailed the flaws behind the concept of charter schools somehow magically changing the urban educational landscape - without resolving the decades-old economic abandonment of large expanses of cities, as well as the incarceration-industrial complex that feeds on minority imprisonment. We've detailed studies that show a lot of money is being made off of shortchanging students in charter schools and pocketing profit (or paying high administration salaries in nonprofit charter schools, as well as their politically connected subcontracting to for-profit consultants and vendors.) We've shown that many analyses find that charter schools perform well in their first year, but then actually trail behind public schools in the Washington DC ultimate measure of education: test results.

An abundance of evidence reveals charter schools are largely a sham that benefits the white ruling elite while destroying the public education that has been the foundation of this nation.

Add a June 4 Washington Post column entitled, "Why Hedge Funds Love Charter Schools," to the journalistic case of the people vs. charter schools. Overall, the commentary adds to the larger charge that charter schools are making a lot of people a lot of money. However, it emphasizes that the radioactive sector of the runaway financial sector, hedge funds, are in on profiting from the charter school racket. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afracsand2A frac sand excavation in Wisconsin. (Photo: uwex)

An essential resource needed in the fracking extraction process is a relatively rare sand - and Illinois has one of the largest supplies in the United States. As a result, once again the fossil fuel industry is forcing destructive changes in nature that threaten, in this case, farming in the United States heartland: the nation's breadbasket. This is because the sand exists in deposits under rich Illinois agricutural land.

In a June 8 article, the Chicago Tribune spelled out the financial stakes at play:

Dallas-based Eagle Materials Inc., poised to start operating in LaSalle County, estimates it would sell at least 900,000 tons of sand a year from a single mine on 564 acres. At $110 a ton, the company estimates the mine will generate $99 million a year over the next 45 years, according to a state permit application. Analysts who follow Eagle Materials say about $40 of the $110-per-ton price is pure profit.

"Mining frac sand is a lot like mining regular sand except it's wildly profitable, and that's why everyone wants to do it," said Todd Vencil, managing director of equities research at Sterne Agee, a privately owned brokerage firm based in Birmingham, Ala.

The company paid $8 million to buy the land, according to property and state records, and it expects to invest $25 million to $50 million to get the mine running, according to company filings.

The rolling corn and soybean fields near Starved Rock State Park, 95 miles southwest of Chicago, are coveted by multinational corporations for the fine-grain sand deep below the rich soil. Known as Ottawa white, the sand is uniformly circular — perfect for drillers who pump a mixture of sand and chemicals into fracking wells across the nation.

"In the world, there are not that many — geographically speaking — deposits of very high quality northern white sand that has the technical specifications that are in greatest demand. One of those areas is in Illinois, and it's close to the surface of the earth," said Robert Stewart, executive vice president of strategy, corporate development and communications at Eagle Materials.

Cities in LaSalle County, in north central Illinois, are exempt from a county ban on new sand excavation, and many are cutting deals for royalties that are being paid to towns from the frac sand mining companies.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ajudgesec(Photo: stockmonkeys.com)On Wednesday, June 4, an appeals court overturned an earlier ruling by Federal District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff that would have required the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to crack down harder on Wall Street banks that egregiously violate regulations and the law.

In a 2011 decision, Rakoff prohibited an SEC settlement with Citigroup from proceeding. His objections included that the SEC let Citigroup "off with little more than a slap on the wrist," according to The New York Times. Rakoff admonished the regulatory agency, saying that it could not continuously "punish" serious and massive financial wrongdoing with financial fines without requiring the banks to admit wrongdoing.

The Rakoff 2011 ruling was one of few on the federal level that challenged the SEC's and Department of Justice's (DOJ) practice of allowing Wall Street financial institutions to get away with malfeasance by levying fines that become merely the cost of doing business. In short, as BuzzFlash at Truthout has detailed many times, the primary enforcement institutions over the integrity of our financial system enable prodigious wrongdoing.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

trickledown345(Photo: Bankenstein)If someone insists that it is not raining when it is, you might think that you can persuade him or her by taking the denier to a window and showing him or her the downpour, with drops splattering against the glass.

When the person insists that the drenching rain is really only due to a sprinkler being on - even though the sky is filled with lightning and booming with thunder - you know that you have a reality denier in your midst.

The upholders of the reigning economic policy in the US - trickle-down economics - are once again taking issue with data that disproves that the concentration of wealth will benefit the economy as a whole. Such is the case in financial media criticism of Thomas Piketty's data in Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which Piketty has already refuted. (You can watch a highly informative conversation between Piketty and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), in which he handily dismisses challenges to his book.)

Aside from periodic economic studies that debunk the idea that the concentration of capital in the hands of the few improves the US gross domestic product and expands jobs and wages - as BuzzFlash at Truthout discussed in a commentary last week - there is a more compelling refutation of the notion that letting the rich get richer benefits everyone: reality.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ahomeless6(Photo: Vlastula)

BuzzFlash at Truthout has posted several commentaries on the war on the homeless, including one yesterday entitled, "Liberal Bastion of San Francisco Bay Area Continues NIMBY Crackdown on Homeless." In April, we offered the commentary, "Criminalizing People Who Live in Cars Is a New Low in the War on the Poor."

Nothing increases homelessness like income inequality. Other causes of people in the United States living without permanent shelter include a decrease in services for persons with mental health needs, less funds for agencies that provide homeless services (including places to sleep), foreclosures, domestic violence, loss of work, gentrification and the lack of availability of inexpensive single room occupancy housing, teenage runaways without resources, etc.

As a result, we have seen a nationally spreading war on the homeless that aims to make them disappear without assisting them.  Many cities and communities, as BuzzFlash noted in our commentary yesterday, regard the homeless as a form of urban blight.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

bulbphotorAlbany CA has arrested the last residents of a longstanding homeless East Bay community on public property known as the Bulb. The Bulb also featured public art such as the figure above. (Photo: David Soto-Karlin)

The East Bay city of Albany, California, a relatively small town (approximately 19,000 residents) - just north of the former bastion of leftist politics and culture, Berkeley - this past Thursday cleared the last homeless residents from public land by charging them with "suspicion of illegal lodging."  

According to the Monday June 2 The Daily Californian:

Police arrested Bulb [the name of the publicly owned landfill in the East bay] residents Amber Whitson and Philip Lewis, along with their friend Erik Eisenberg, on suspicion of illegal lodging. The city began enforcing a no-camping ordinance in October in an effort to relocate the homeless population so that the Bulb can be turned into a state park. Local law firms then filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of the residents, which ended in an April settlement that gave residents $3,000 each as long as they agreed to leave the Bulb by April 25 and stay away from the area for one year.

Twenty-eight residents accepted the money, but Whitson and Lewis refused it, making them the last to leave the Bulb. The two have lived in the Bulb for seven years.

We didn’t take the money because you can’t buy someone’s home,” Whitson said.

Although Albany is not as economically prosperous as the now upper-end Silicon Valley housing values of the increasingly wealth-dominated Berkeley, it is following a trend in the Bay Area that includes a war on the homeless. A 2010 citywide vote San in Francisco, the poster board symbol of alleged "degenerate" liberal values for the right wing, made sitting or lying on public sidewalks illegal from 7 AM to to 11 PM. This, even though, the San Francisco Police Department found the law utterly ineffective and a waste of law enforcement time.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aendincome(Photo: quinn.anya)The US economy shrunk (according to just released revised figures) for the first time in three years. TIME online reports:

The U.S.' Gross Domestic Product contracted by 1 percent in the first quarter of 2014, marking the first contraction in years as government economists revised earlier figures by taking stock of additional glum measures

The U.S. economy shrunk by 1% in the first quarter of 2014, according to government data released Thursday, marking the first economic contraction in three years.

The figure, from revised estimates released by the Commerce Department, was revised downwards from an earlier estimate of 0.1% growth in gross domestic product, as government economists took stock of additional glum measures. The Commerce Department noted that on top of a winter wallop to retail and construction, real GDP was dragged down further by a rise in imports and a marked decline in inventory growth. The last time real GDP contracted was in the first quarter of 2011 at the tail end of a punishing recession.

Even though many mainstream media reports quote "analysts" who claim that the downturn was an anomaly - and that consumer demand should increase in the second quarter - the anemic performance of the Gross Domestic Product has implications for an increase in equality.

That is the outlook if you agree with the one of the basic tenets in economist Thomas Piketty's widely discussed new book: "Capital in the Twenty-First Century."

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