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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

trumpnaftaTrump's NAFTA renegotiation goals are aimed more at helping corporations than uplifting workers. (Photo: Michael Vadon)

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Do not be fooled by Donald Trump's refusal to pursue the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That "position" appears to be a one-off, as his administration appears headed toward a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that will make it worse -- and will mirror many of the Trans-Pacific Partnership's problems. A recent article in In These Times states:

Trump campaigned and won the U.S. presidential election in no small part due to his anti-free-trade positions. He galvanized millions of voters for whom the considerable promises of globalization have long since given way to the stark realities of rising inequality and declining living standards.

After assuming the presidency, Trump decided it was politically necessary to kill off the wildly neoliberal Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to appease his popular base. This decision was met with dismay by nearly all big corporations and elites from both political parties.

But now, in an act of political judo, Trump is trying to use the same anti-establishment, pro-American rhetoric from his campaign to craft a neoliberal NAFTA renegotiation that will include everything demanded in the recently scuttled TPP – and more. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, as well as others in Trump's administration, have been surprisingly straightforward about these intentions.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ethicswhThe Trump White House rejects normative ethical standards. (Photo: Justin Baeder)

Walter M. Shaub Jr. -- the chief of the Office of Government Ethics -- has just resigned, and he is leaving with a corrosive, blunt warning, according to the New York Times: "I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point [when it comes to White House and government ethics]." The Times states in a July 17 article about an interview with Shaub:

Actions by President Trump and his administration have created a historic ethics crisis, the departing head of the Office of Government Ethics said. He called for major changes in federal law to expand the power and reach of the oversight office and combat the threat.

Walter M. Shaub Jr., who is resigning as the federal government's top ethics watchdog on Tuesday, said the Trump administration had flouted or directly challenged long-accepted norms in a way that threatened to undermine the United States' ethical standards, which have been admired around the world.

"It's hard for the United States to pursue international anticorruption and ethics initiatives when we're not even keeping our own side of the street clean. It affects our credibility," Mr. Shaub said in a two-hour interview this past weekend — a weekend Mr. Trump let the world know he was spending at a family-owned golf club that was being paid to host the U.S. Women's Open tournament. "I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point."

There was no love lost between Shaub, appointed for a five-year term in 2013 by President Obama, and the White House.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

forrentRental units for lower income residents are the new financial target of Wall Street. (Photo: Indiana Public Media)

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A "rentier" is defined in the Random House Dictionary as "a person who has a fixed income, as from lands or bonds." The rentier class consists of those who essentially earn money off of investments instead of working on an hourly or daily wage. Many of the people who rent housing from rentiers -- in other words, renters -- live on another form of fixed income altogether: social security. Others work long hours at low-paying jobs. Renters often can't afford to own their apartments or homes, and, therefore, other entities -- including, increasingly, investment firms -- are financially benefiting from their need for shelter.

A July article on Inequality.org emphasizes how current Republican policy in Washington DC is accelerating the profits of the private sector. As a result, tenants -- including those with low incomes -- are seeing rising rents:

.... while Republicans are proposing severe cuts to housing assistance, they are continuing to support subsidies for private equity firms that are squeezing low-income tenants around the country.

President Trump’s proposed budget would cut $7.4 billion in housing funding by eliminating housing vouchers, cutting public housing funding by $1.8 billion, and significantly reducing homeless assistance grants. While stripping support for low-income Americans, the budget would maintain programs that help fill the pockets of wealthy investors. The biggest private equity player in the housing market is Blackstone, which has become the country’s largest landlord, owning more than $102 billion in real estate.

Inequality.org brought up a specific example of the public purse benefiting the private investor in the context of a rally against rent profiteering held on July 13 in Washington DC.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

elizwarrencfpbThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren. (Photo: Tim Pierce)

In the scrum of unsettling news about an administration and Congress that are enacting harmful right-wing measures on an almost daily basis, it is affirming to note when progress is being made. The Conversation recently ran an article about the important steps that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has already taken to protect consumers in the United States. The brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, the CFPB was included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that passed Congress in 2010. The agency opened in 2011.

One positive step the CPFB has taken is to ban the forced consumer arbitration requirements which are often included in the fine print of consumer agreements for credit cards, loans and other products offered by banks and financial institutions. These requirements have put a stranglehold on consumer efforts to recover fraudulently obtained funds -- and to reform the banking industry by allowing court cases seeking remedies to unfair practices. The ban represents a significant step in the struggle for a pro-consumer footing in relation to the financial industry.

In a July 10 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau news release, the agency announced,

a new rule to ban companies from using mandatory arbitration clauses to deny groups of people their day in court. Many consumer financial products like credit cards and bank accounts have arbitration clauses in their contracts that prevent consumers from joining together to sue their bank or financial company for wrongdoing. By forcing consumers to give up or go it alone – usually over small amounts – companies can sidestep the court system, avoid big refunds, and continue harmful practices. The CFPB’s new rule will deter wrongdoing by restoring consumers’ right to join together to pursue justice and relief through group lawsuits.

"Arbitration clauses in contracts for products like bank accounts and credit cards make it nearly impossible for people to take companies to court when things go wrong," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "These clauses allow companies to avoid accountability by blocking group lawsuits and forcing people to go it alone or give up. Our new rule will stop companies from sidestepping the courts and ensure that people who are harmed together can take action together."

The CFPB news release notes that the regulation applies "to the major markets for consumer financial products and services overseen by the Bureau, including those that lend money, store money, and move or exchange money.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

votetoday22The Constitution and its amendments establish the right to vote, not the right to suppress votes. (Photo: H2Woah!)

Last week, I wrote on how Trump's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity -- spearheaded by infamous former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach -- may be largely an effort to facilitate suppressing non-GOP voters in future elections. The commission has sent out letters requiring every state to submit individual voter registration information to it. How this will help ensure "election integrity" is anyone's guess. However, it may well place the executive branch in a more commanding position to recommend actions to Congress that will either remove non-Republican voters from the rolls or prevent Democrats and Independents -- many of them people of color, poor people, elderly people and students -- from registering to vote. The Guardian reports that the commission has extended its deadline for state data to be submitted, but there is no indication it is planning any major changes in its mission.

Many Republican actions, particularly at the state and the federal levels, are directly aimed at creating requirements that limit who can vote and who can register to vote. There is historical precedent for this, in that only white male landowners could vote in the years after the United States was founded, and other restrictions were imposed in later years, including the Jim Crow voting laws. Part of this thinking reflects the notion, among those who believe that our society is too multicultural, that only whites should be enfranchised. One can speculate that at least among some GOP voters, the promise Trump holds out of increased non-white voter suppression is part of "Making America Great Again."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

marijraceThe injustice of marijuana arrests in New York City. (Photo: keep_bitcoin_real)

Although Bill de Blasio pledged in his campaign for mayor to stop racial inequity in arrests for marijuana possession, a new report by Drug Policy Alliance, "Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York,"reveals that racial disparities in arrest are wide and persistent. When he became New York City mayor in 2014, de Blasio specifically targeted these bias arrests against people of color, saying as reported in Marijuana.com,

There have been, in some cases, disastrous consequences for individuals and families. It hurts their chances to get a good job, to get housing. It hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan; it can literally follow them the rest of their lives.

I think the fact that you will see fewer unnecessary arrests will be good for New York City as a whole. It will be good for New Yorkers of color and young people of color -- there is no question about that. We’ll see how the numbers come out over time but there’s no doubt in my mind it will be a very substantial impact. And for a lot of young people it means they will not have this reality holding them back; a summons is not going to affect their future. An arrest, could. And we want to avoid that unnecessary burden.

According to Marijuana.com, "After winning the mayoral seat, de Blasio and former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced in 2014 that anyone found to be in possession of less than 25 grams would be issued a court summons rather than an arrest."

MARK KARLiN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

energy efficientThe Republicans in DC are rolling back energy efficiency. (Photo: Andy Melton

At a time when the fate of the planet hangs in the balance due to human-caused global warming, efforts to accelerate the use of renewables and achieve energy efficiencies should be proceeding at a full gallop. Needless to say, the White House and Congress are fully favoring carbon-emitting fossil fuels over renewables, but they are also moving to reduce energy efficiency goals.

According to a June report by Public Citizen, a DC-based progressive advocacy organization, the Trump administration is dead set on making appliances, cars and other consumer goods potentially more harmful to the Earth. In addition, the deregulations would cost jobs and greater consumer expenses. According to a June 15 Public Citizen news release,

President Trump and his allies in Congress are seeking to eliminate energy efficiency requirements for appliances, automobiles and other energy consuming applications in an effort that will cost American families and consumers trillions of dollars over time, according to a new report issued today by Public Citizen.

“Trump’s decision to target efficiency initiatives discredits his claim that he withdrew from the Paris climate accord because of concerns that the deal would cost U.S. jobs. These programs unambiguously would help meet the goals of the accord and benefit the U.S. economy and yet Trump is still targeting them,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report, “Blinded by the light.”

Thus, not only are lives and the planet placed in increased jeopardy by the proposed actions, but they also represent a fattened bottom line for corporations at the expense of US consumers.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

betsydevos56Betsy DeVos enables for-profit colleges fleecing students. (Photo: Michael Vadon)

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is being sued for allegedly protecting the financial interests of for-profit colleges over the plight of students with excessive loans. As Politico detailed on July 6:

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia filed suit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday over her delay of regulations meant to protect federal student loan borrowers defrauded by their schools.

The lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in D.C., led by Massachusetts and joined by 18 other Democratic attorneys general, accuses DeVos of illegally delaying the regulations aimed at predatory colleges, which were finalized by the Obama administration and had been set to take effect on July 1.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

volvo32Volvo is helping the internal combustion engine become a dinosaur. (Photo: Allen Watkin)

A July 5 media advisory, distributed in conjunction with a news conference in Stockholm, stated it bluntly: "Volvo Cars, the premium car maker, has announced that every Volvo it launches from 2019 will have an electric motor, marking the historic end of cars that only have an internal combustion engine (ICE) and placing electrification at the core of its future business."

It should be noted that this is applicable to newly designed cars by Volvo in 2019 and will include both 100 percent electric cars and hybrids. In addition, current models will still be manufactured with internal combustion engines, since this commitment only applies to new Volvo designs. However, it is cause for celebration that an automobile manufacturer is outpacing many governments in moving toward vehicles run on renewable energy. Unlike the US under the Trump administration, some nations are also moving away from gas-powered vehicles: The Telegraph reported today that "France plans to outlaw all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040," according to its new environment minister, Nicolas Hulot.

In fact, the Volvo announcement represents a new intensified round for the emerging electric car market. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

voting763Trump's election investigation commission may really be a tool for voter suppression. (Photo: Amanda Wood)

If you think that Trump's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is an effort for him to try and prove that Hillary's 2016 popular vote victory of approximately three million votes was due to fraudulent voters, you are probably wrong. The demand of the infamous vice chair, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, for every state to turn over details of their voter rolls is possibly an attempt to capture the invaluable data for use by Republicans and Trump in upcoming elections.

The commission can't realistically be an attempt to reduce voter fraud, since voter fraud is an infinitesimal occurrence in the United States, as BuzzFlash has reported in the past. In January of this year, the Brennan Center for Justice published a study, "Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth," that concluded:

Most reported incidents of voter fraud are actually traceable to other sources, such as clerical errors or bad data matching practices. [Our] report reviewed elections that had been meticulously studied for voter fraud, and found incident rates between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. Given this tiny incident rate for voter impersonation fraud, it is more likely, the report noted, that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

After all, with modern sweeping data collection and pinpointing of voters for either party a reality, the information, if collected, will be a gold mine at the Trump team's disposal and a staggering advantage to Trump in his manipulation of democracy. Greg Palast has just pointed out in a July 4 advisory that despite protests by many Republican states, Kobach already has a good deal of the information through a national voter suppression project called Interstate Crosscheck that he oversaw as Kansas secretary of state, using state voter registration data provided to him by other Republican secretaries of state.

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