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EditorBlog (1608)

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

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016April6 siliconvaleycontractMany Silicon Valley companies are part of the problem when it comes to income inequality. (Photo of Silicon Valley from the air: Patrick Nouhailler)

A recent Washington Post article highlighted how the high-tech industry, particularly in Silicon Valley, is fostering income inequality through the use of contract workers for support positions such as bus drivers and custodians, as well as for "white-collar" positions such as secretaries and accountants. The Post focused on a March 2016 study entitled, "Silicon Valley Industries: Contract Workforce Assessment." It was conducted by the Everett Program at the University of Santa Cruz. 

The Post focuses on some key findings:

There are also some crucial differences between the people who work at Google without working for Google, or work at Facebook without working for Facebook.

Subcontracted workers make about 70 percent of the salary that in-house workers in similar occupations make, or an average of $40,000 a year, compared to $113,300 for directly-hired tech employees --making it incredibly difficult to find an affordable place to live within a reasonable distance from work. According to Census data, they depend more heavily on food stamps, and 30 percent lack health insurance.

So these contracted workers, the ones who are not directly employed by Silicon Valley companies, save the corporations money at the expense of salary, job security and benefits for the workers. Meanwhile, the corporations continue to roll in exorbitant amounts of money; Facebook recently reached a market value of $340 billion.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016April5 kochbrothers5The Koch Brothers, masters of dark money.  (DonkeyHotey)

Money, according to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, should be considered merely a tool that facilitates "free speech" under the First Amendment. The decision infamously extended unlimited dark money political spending even to corporations.

In her prodigiously documented and riveting book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Jane Mayer provides an historical account of how Charles and David Koch tenaciously built a network among the wealthiest people in the United States to buy elections and influence public policy.

In just one telling fact, Mayer provides a glimpse into the oligarchical impact on elections that the Koch network and other rich individuals and corporations are having:

The 100 biggest known donors in 2014 spent nearly as much money on behalf of their candidates as the 4.75 million people who contributed $200 or less. On their own, the top 100 known donors gave $323 million. And this was only the disclosed money. Once the millions of dollars in unlimited, undisclosed dark money were included, there was little doubt that an extraordinarily small and rich conservative clique had financially dominated everybody else.

As a "former family friend" of the Koch brothers said of Charles (as quoted by Jane Mayer), "Maybe he confused making money with freedom."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016March30 rollingstoneThe first album of the Rolling Stones. Now, they are a global brand who cross promote with global corporations. (Photo: badgreeb RECORDS)

The Rolling Stones played a concert in Havana, Cuba, on March 25. The rock magazine Rolling Stone gushed over it:

In the recent series of monumental arrivals in Cuba — Netflix, Airbnb, a U.S. president — none looms as large as the Rolling Stones, who played to an estimated 500,000 Cubans in Havana on Friday. On an island overlooked by time for more than a half century, the group became the focal point of life for at least a day. The iconic tongue logo sprouted up on T-shirts across Havana, and cabbies, bartenders and friendly locals asked almost anyone, "Do you know the Rolling Stones will play tonight?" as if to confirm that the concert was indeed real....

"This is a new time," Jagger observed to roars from the crowd, a nod to the Stones' once-outlaw status in the country....

Cuban communism might be losing steam, but over an hour into the show it was clear that Mick Jagger is not.

If a half a million people indeed attended the concert, that is about a quarter of the population of Havana....

However, and not to be a curmudgeon about celebrating their classic riffs, they also represent the marketing of music as a brand. That is why Rolling Stone magazine - itself a brand - starts out its coverage of the band's show in Cuba comparing the performance to the arrival of Netflix and Airbnb on the island still officially under a congressional embargo.

Bill Berkowitz for BuzzFlash at Truthout

2016march28 justiceWhen will the mass media treat the Indigenous people in the United States with justice and dignity? (Photo: Thomas)

National stories about Native Americans are few and far between, and when they do appear, stereotypes generally prevail. In a recent Nieman Reports article, Jon Marcus reported on the deaths of several Native Americans at the hands of government officials; deaths that have basically gone un-or-under-reported:

* On a cold winter’s night in December 2014, a policeman who maintained that Allen Locke lunged at him with a knife, killed Locke inside his house at Lakota Community Homes in Rapid City, North Dakota. No charges were filed against the officer;

* In Denver, Colorado, Paul Castaway was killed “by police who said he was threatening his mother, though she argues that deadly force was unnecessary in this incident”;

* “William J. Dick III, a 28-year-old suspected armed robber … died in Washington State after a U.S. Forest Service agent shocked him with a Taser”;

* Larry Kobuk, 33, “died after being restrained by officers booking him into the Anchorage Correctional Complex on charges that he stole a car and drove it with a suspended license.”

It's not just police brutality and killing of Indigenous peoples that aren't generally included in ongoing national media coverage.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016march25 scgunsThe confirmation of a United States Supreme Court Justice is being held hostage, in significant part, by the NRA. (Photo: Envios)

Judge Merrick Garland's judicial rulings and Republican fans -- including arch-conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and the more-right-wing-than-you-might-realize presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich -- indicate that Garland is about as weak as you can get, when it comes to a "liberal" Supreme Court nominee. Yet many Republicans continue to refuse to even consider the nomination.

However, the reasons behind the Republican opposition are not as straightforward as they may appear. The New York Times (NYT) has offered an additional key factor behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's obdurate opposition to even allowing hearings on the Garland nomination: The NRA opposes it.

In a March 24 editorial, the NYT editorial board opined:

It turns out that the most important voice in the Supreme Court nomination battle is not the American people’s, as Senate Republicans have insisted from the moment Justice Antonin Scalia died last month. It is not even that of the senators. It’s the National Rifle Association’s.

That is what the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said the other day when asked about the possibility of considering and confirming President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, after the November elections. “I can’t imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame-duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association,” he told “Fox NewsSunday.”

We recently noted that the NRA represents a core financial backer of the Republican Party (and many individual non-urban Democratic politicians), and plays a vigorous role in turning out its members during elections. 

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