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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

constamend(Photo: The COM Library)

As US elections have become increasingly determined by the unlimited political spending of shadowy organizations financed by the rich, participatory democracy has further deteriorated. Although the ascension of wealth pulling the strings in Washington DC has long been underway, the 2010 US Supreme Court Citizens United decision put the outcome of elections - particularly on the federal level - more and more in the hands of the 1%.

This is particularly true in an age when television ads, with their negative memes and characterizations, play the most significant role in forming voter perceptions. Given that TV political advertising is extremely expensive in major media markets, corporatist candidates that have the backing of groups formed by the likes of the Koch brothers most often have the ability to dominate the airwaves and a better chance at defining their opponents.

Several campaigns are underway to amend the US Constitution to exclude both the concept of corporate personhood and unlimited political campaign spending in whatever form. These organizations include Move to Amend and Democracy is for People. Proceeding with a constitutional amendment is a rough slog. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

medicareforall(Photo: Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

On Wednesday, July 30, many official events celebrated Medicare's 49th anniversary of providing health coverage for seniors. Before President Lyndon Johnson signed the law enacting Medicare coverage, seniors in the United States received erratic often bankrupting care.

By all accounts, all but the most ardent elderly Tea Party stalwarts laud Medicare for its freedom of choice in providers and relative simplicity in claims processing.

Although the Affordable Care Act is hopefully a political holding position until single-payer health care for all is enacted in the US - thus catching the nation up with most of the rest of the developed world - there are still right-wingers whose goal is to dismantle the current Medicare system.

Let us listen to the public - and not the chattering pundit class - for a change on healthcare coverage, as reflected in this letter to the editor in The Hartford Current by West Hartford resident Win Heimer:

There are some in Congress who continue to call for benefit cuts for retirees and disabled Americans. For example, there continue to be calls to cut Medicare benefits by raising the age of eligibility, means-testing benefits, requiring home health co-pays and limiting Medigap coverage. These changes would do nothing to reduce the cost of health care, but instead, shift costs to beneficiaries.

July 30 is Medicare's 49th birthday. What better way to celebrate than by strengthening Medicare through a better alternative that will not harm beneficiaries? Congress should pass the Medicare Drug Savings Act introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Rep. Henry Waxman of California. This legislation will require drug companies to provide the government discounts for low-income Medicare beneficiaries, saving the government and taxpayers $141 billion over 10 years and all but eliminating the need to cut benefits or shift costs to beneficiaries.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

wave(Photo: Today is a good day)

As the corporation-backed and religious fundamentalist climate-change deniers continue to receive widespread mainstream media credibility, signs of global warming continue to sweep across the earth.

However, science has a way of having facts on its side, so it is no surprise that the formerly frozen Arctic Ocean is now experiencing high-wave activity. According to the Daily Digest News, "Waves as high as 29 feet [were recently] recorded in a normally waveless Beaufort Sea." (The Beaufort Sea is a section of the Arctic Ocean.):

When most people think of the Arctic, they usually imagine things like polar bears and Santa Clause. What they don’t picture are waves the size of a one-story house, because most of the Arctic Ocean is typically frozen and you can’t have big waves in frozen water. Well, tell that to the scientists from the University of Washington and the Naval Research Laboratory, who recently published their 2012 observation of big waves in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea: During peak times, the waves averaged around 16 feet high.

The highest single wave was measured at 29 feet. Researchers fear that the waves, enabled after decades of expanding ice retreat thanks to global warming, will even further accelerate the ice breaking process in the Arctic region.

“The observations reported here are the only known wave measurements in the central Beaufort Sea,” they wrote in the report, “because until recently the region remained ice covered throughout the summer and there were no waves to measure.”

The study referred to by the Daily Digest News concludes:  "This suggests that further reductions in seasonal ice cover in the future will result in larger waves, which in turn provide a mechanism to break up sea ice and accelerate ice retreat."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ggiffordsPolice gather around site where Cong. Gabby Giffords was shot and others killed on January 8, 2011. (Photo: SearchNetMedia)

Larry Pratt, long-time head of the Gun Owners of America (GOA) - which is to the NRA what the Tea Party is to the GOP - believes United States representatives should live in dread of being shot.

According to Right Wing Watch,

Prominent gun lobbyist Larry Pratt is doubling down on his insistence that members of Congress should have a “healthy fear” of being shot, lecturing a congresswoman who felt threatened by one of his group’s members that she just doesn’t understand the Constitution.

Right Wing Watch first reported Pratt’s comments in a March interview with radio host Bill Cunningham. Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, told Cunningham that a member of his group had spoken to a congresswoman who told him, “you want to shoot me, don’t you.”

“Well, that’s probably a healthy fear for them to have,” Pratt said. “You know, I’m kind of glad that’s in the back of their minds. Hopefully they’ll behave.”

Since that veiled threat, Pratt has slyly retreated into translating his words into a disclaimer: “I have never encouraged, or even suggested, that anyone harm anyone.” Then he went on to explain that the fear of being shot is a tool to educate elected representatives about gun rights.

Yet, educating elected officials apparently includes once again implying that the bullet box may replace the ballot box. According to Pratt:

Should you attempt to disarm Americans the way the British crown tried 240 years ago, the same sovereign people who constituted this government using the cartridge box someday may need to reconstitute it, as clearly anticipated by the Declaration of Independence.

Larry Pratt is a spokesperson for the enemy within the United States – and what is more unnerving is that he is not even the most radical zealot of gun extremists.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

tax1(Photo: darya-mead)

It would be an understatement to assert that The New York Times (NYT) was never sympathetic to the Occupy Movement. NYT reporting on Occupy and income inequality has generally served as a mini-me transcript of former Mayor Michael ("I'm with the titans of Wall Street") Bloomberg

Yes, The New York Times does post Paul Krugman and occasional op-eds on income inequality, but usually, its coverage of economic issues leans heavily toward the financial interests of the top percentage earners - the people who buy the luxury goods and services advertised in the paper. When it comes to the economy, the NYT is not the paper of record; it is the paper promoting the interests and lifestyles of the rich.

That was why I was surprised to see buried in the July 26 edition, in a section called Business Day, an article with this headline: "The Typical Household, Now Worth a Third Less." Now, that is a blunt headline, merited by the opening two paragraphs of the story:

Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too.

The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially.

When it comes to economic inequality, it doesn't get any more telling than a study that proves that the "typical" US household has decreased in net worth by a third since 2003. As BuzzFlash has noted, many analysts speculate that 95 percent of the economic rebound from the 2008 crash of the economy has ended up in the hands or offshore accounts of the top 1 percent of US households.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

fairshare(Photo: Michael Fleshman)

It took six years, but President Barack Obama finally used his bully pulpit to chastise US corporations who abandon this country to save taxes.

On June 30, BuzzFlash at Truthout posted a commentary, "Unpatriotic US Corporations Increasingly Move Headquarters Overseas to Decrease Taxes." As BuzzFlash noted then:

According to [The Chicago] Tribune, "Walgreen joins a small but growing number of U.S. multinationals contemplating inversions to lower their tax burden." The Tribune includes a chart of businesses that have moved their headquarters to other countries for tax avoidance purposes (on the second page of the Internet article) - and it is a legal net revenue increasing strategy. It is also noted that "fresh waves of companies have moved or are considering moving to avoid taxes."

....Among the many hypocritical ironies, given this trend of US companies becoming technically non-US companies, are the implications for the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. How can a non-US company have the rights of a US citizen if it is incorporated in another country?

Apparently the president, who has been rather cozy with Wall Street and US corporations for six years, felt a rare gust of populist disdain for businesses that abandon the US to decrease their taxes. He robustly expressed his scorn on July 24, first in a speech at a technical college in Los Angeles and then in a CNBC interview. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT 

hitech(Photo: Toban B.)

Technology has advanced exponentially in the last few decades. In terms of news, it means that we can learn as quickly about an event thousands of miles away as we can about the sudden death of a neighbor.

A couple centuries ago, wars were only learned about when ships came into port from far-away lands with letters, local newspapers and eyewitness accounts. Now, we see the murderous invasion that is occurring in Gaza in real time, including four children obliterated on a beach by an Israeli government gunboat.

We hear immediately of an Israeli attack on a UN “safe zone” shelter that killed 15 Gazans.

We learn all this - and view it - strolling down the street with a smartphone, or on a computer screen, or watching television. If there were an expectation at one point - and there was among some - that technological advancements would bring the peoples of distant lands closer together in harmony, we are now dismayed at how naive such a thought was.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

waterfaucet(Photo: kiranghata)

The privatization of municipal water services is a potential looming reality in Detroit.

According to a June 14 Detroit Free Press article, the emergency manager appointed to administer a state-mandated bankruptcy of the city has been actively exploring turning pubic water services into private profit: 

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s office is studying several bids to privatize the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and could have a selection process completed within two weeks, a spokesman said Monday.

But Orr spokesman Bill Nowling would not release any information about which companies submitted bids by Sunday’s deadline to operate and manage the system relied on by millions of people in southeast Michigan. Nowling said the bids are considered confidential under a federal mediation order.

It hasn't happened yet, in part due to legal, political and PR positioning - including the 15-day temporary reprieve in residential water shut-offs resulting from large protests last week in Detroit.

One reason you can be almost certain that the residential shut-offs will resume is a point made on Next City, a website focusing on "inspiring better cities": "As activists point out, DWSD [Detroit Water and Sewerage Department] is a much more appealing purchase if it loses its debt." In short, by cutting off residents with growing unpaid water bills, the DWSD becomes a more attractive acquisition to the private market. 

Political protests, negative media coverage and ongoing activism could cause the bankruptcy court to force a different outcome than complete privatization: a public-private partnership (in which DWSD would pay a management firm to run the agency) or - the least unlikely given the pro-corporatism statements and actions of Emergency Manager Orr - keeping DWSD a public non-profit service for residents and area businesses.

That Orr would have directed or permitted the DWSD to cruelly accelerate water shut-offs during the Detroit summer heat speaks to the indifference of those running the bankruptcy process toward the people of limited income actually living in Detroit.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

dignityandequal(Image: riacale)

Unfortunately, there are those people in the world who lust for revenge, whose souls are boiling with the toxic and barbaric notion of bloodletting in the name of a perceived "just" grievance. That is the case of Thane Rosenbaum, who The Wall Street Journal describes as "a novelist, essayist and professor at the New York University School of Law [and] the author, most recently, of Payback: The Case for Revenge."

Rosenbaum's "Payback" book argues for the legitimacy of revenge. According to the University of Chicago Press, publisher of Rosenbaum's screed, "What, if anything, distinguishes punishment at the hands of the government from a victim’s individual desire for retribution? Are vengeance and justice really so very different? No, answers legal scholar and novelist Thane Rosenbaum in Payback: The Case for Revenge - revenge is, in fact, indistinguishable from justice."

We admittedly have not had time to read the book since becoming aware of it in an incendiary and barbaric Wall Street Journal commentary written by Rosenbaum yesterday, but the book apparently contends that legal systems should be more active in carrying out revenge on behalf of those who feel wronged.

If that is the case, Rosenbaum runs far afield of any notion of vengeance-best-served-cold when he "argues" in his Wall Street Journal column that - in essence - there can be no civilian deaths caused by the Israeli attack and invasion because, he speciously and abhorrently claims, there are no civilians in Gaza:

On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians when you freely elect members of a terrorist organization as statesmen, invite them to dinner with blood on their hands and allow them to set up shop in your living room as their base of operations. At that point you begin to look a lot more like conscripted soldiers than innocent civilians. And you have wittingly made yourself targets.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

criminalminds(Photo: bridget_willard)

The Center for Effective Government offers some astonishing examples of corporations that withheld information about products that are dangerous to consumers, resulting in death, injury and illness. For instance, consider a profitable pharmaceutical drug being sold even though its potentially deadly side effects were known to the company: In 2008, it was revealed that, "Merck withheld information on the risks of the painkiller Vioxx from doctors and patients for more than five years, resulting in an estimated 88,000 to 139,000 heart attacks, approximately 30 to 40 percent of which were fatal."

Of course, the more recent examples of deaths that resulted from corporations keeping consumers in the dark about dangerous products were exemplified by GM and other auto industry giants. According to the Center for Effective Government:

[There are] multiple cases of corporate misconduct that [lead] to serious injuries and deaths. A recent example involved General Motors' (GM) recall of millions of automobiles with defective ignition switches. For over a decade, GM withheld information about the defective switches from regulators and the public. The company recently conceded that faulty switches are responsible for at least 13 deaths over the past several years, and some regulators believe the actual death toll may be much higher. GM has moved to settle more than 300 claims related to these deadly ignition switches.

On May 16, the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration slapped GM on the wrist with a $35 million civil fine, amounting to less than a day's revenue for the company. Although GM executives were aware of the defects and even asked employees to conceal the safety concerns from the public, not one of them will have to pay a criminal fine or face time in prison.

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards adds, "Toyota intentionally concealed information from the public about defects in their automobiles that caused them to accelerate even as drivers were trying to slow them down, leading to at least five deaths and resulting in no criminal penalties for individual Toyota executives."

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