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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

adissent 1(Photo: Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

The unsparingly caustic Charles P. Pierce recently identified the dominant political culture in the United States as one of cruelty. In his Esquire blog on June 20, Pierce zeroed in on the rise of schadenfreude as the current national pastime:

There is a new kind of systematized cruelty in our daily lives, in how we relate to each other, and in how we treat our fellow citizens, and, therefore, there is a new kind of systematized cruelty in our politics as well....

We cheer for cruelty and say that we are asking for personal responsibility among those people who are not us, because the people who are not us do not deserve the same benefits of the political commonwealth that we have. In our politics, we have become masters of camouflage. We practice fiscal cruelty and call it an economy. We practice legal cruelty and call it justice. We practice environmental cruelty and call it opportunity. We practice vicarious cruelty and call it entertainment. We practice rhetorical cruelty and call it debate. We set the best instincts of ourselves in conflict with each other until they tear each other to ribbons, and until they are no longer our best instincts but something dark and bitter and corroborate with itself. And then it fights all the institutions that our best instincts once supported, all the elements of the political commonwealth that we once thought permanent, all the arguments that we once thought settled -- until there is a terrible kind of moral self-destruction that touches those institutions and leaves them soft and fragile and, eventually, evanescent. We do all these things, cruelty running through them like hot blood, and we call it our politics.

A large segment of the public responds to political campaigns that - often in coded language - vilify and blame those who are in economically distressed circumstances. It is the most selfish of cruelties: justifying one's heartlessness and venom by accusing those in need of deserving their condition.

This self-righteous malice is also used to stifle dissent. Take, for instance, the reaction of the North Carolina legislature, which responded to the principled challenge mounted by Moral Mondays - in which crowds seeking to restore compassion to government protested at the state capitol – by passing a prohibition on "imminent disturbances" earlier this year.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ewarrenporch(Photo: mdfriendofHillary)

Nearly a year ago (on July 11, 2013), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013, which is described on her Senate website as: 

A bill to reduce risks to the financial system by limiting banks' ability to engage in certain risky activities and limiting conflicts of interest, to reinstate certain Glass-Steagall Act protections that were repealed by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, and for other purposes.

The purpose of the bill is to restore economic stability to the United States by once again limiting the expansion of banking into high-risk activity and financial areas that create a conflict of interest, as indicated in the bill itself:

(1) to reduce risks to the financial system by limiting banks' ability to engage in activities other than socially valuable core banking activities; 

(2) to protect taxpayers and reduce moral hazard by removing explicit and implicit government guarantees for high-risk activities outside of the core business of banking; and

(3) to eliminate conflicts of interest that arise from banks engaging in activities from which their profits are earned at the expense of their customers or clients.

However, it is nearly a year since Warren (with nine Senate cosponsors and a companion bill in the House) introduced the bill, and it is currently languishing in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. 

In a June 13th media alert (via email), Public Citizen pointed out that the Glass-Steagall act protected this nation from egregious financial shenanigans - such as the economic meltdown of 2008 - for a half a century:

Unless you got stinking rich in the run-up to the Great Recession, there’s nothing good you can say about the way Washington tore down the regulatory firewall between commercial and investment banking. The idea to dismantle the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which protected our economy so well for 50 years, was a disaster waiting to happen from the start. Had that key financial regulation been left intact, Americans wouldn’t have suffered such enormous loss and hardship to satisfy Wall Street’s insatiable greed.

Monday, June 16, mark[ed] the 81st anniversary of the passage of the original Glass-Steagall law. We need to renew its principles to protect consumers from suffering the consequences when tricky, high-risk financial instruments like derivatives that banksters engineer to increase their profits and personal fortunes go bad.

The 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act (S. 1282) sponsored by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is designed to restore the essentials of the original law separating the banking business of high-flying speculators from other banking practices to protect Main Street.  Public Citizen and Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition of more than 200 organizations on whose executive committee Public Citizen sits, are leading the call to the U.S. Senate to support this critical financial reform. 

Those who remember know that the repeal of Glass-Steagall occurred, with the support of the Clinton administration, in 1999. 

 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anamericandream(Photo: marmet553)

Rarely is living in a car in an urban area a decision of choice.

The increasing economic impoverishment and long-term unemployment of people in the United States - as well as the number of people with mental health issues who do not have residences or access to residential facilities - is making a vehicle the residence of last resort.

In Los Angeles, a federal court struck down a municipal ordinance that made it a crime to use a car for overnight shelter. According to The Los Angeles Times:

For the second time in two years, a federal appeals court has struck down a key enforcement tool in Los Angeles' efforts to deal with burgeoning homelessness, declaring a ban on living in vehicles an invitation to discriminate against the poor.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided unanimously Thursday that a city ordinance prohibiting people from living in vehicles was unconstitutionally vague. That ruling followed a 9th Circuit decision in 2012 that prevented Los Angeles from confiscating and destroying possessions that homeless people leave temporarily on sidewalks.

The judge who wrote the opinion - representing a 3-0 appeals court panel ruling - chastised the city of Los Angeles for punishing poverty instead of trying to assist those in need:

"The City of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens," wrote Judge Harry Pregerson, who was appointed by President Carter. "Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

amtrak3(Photo: Wikipedia)

Add this to another adverse side effect of fracking: On some major (and secondary routes), long freight trains filled with fracking oils and extraction supplies allegedly delay Amtrak trains for hours, enraging passengers and likely decreasing Amtrak usage on the affected routes.

Although a quick Google search of Amtrak and fracking reveals that this disruption due to fracking shipments has occurred in various parts of the nation, the most affected route appears to be the Empire Builder, which runs from Seattle to Chicago.  Indeed, the Midwest Amtrak PR representative, Mark Maglari, referred BuzzFlash at Truthout to an Amtrak service alert warning passengers of delays on the Empire Builder route:

Passengers traveling aboard Empire Builder trains can encounter significant delays due to very high volumes of freight train traffic along the route. During the previous weeks in May and June, delays averaged between three and five hours. While delays to the Empire Builder have primarily been occurring west of St. Paul, MN, passengers should anticipate delays in both directions.

Maglari pointed out what is confirmed by other sources: BNSF Railway Company owns the tracks that Amtrak uses in North Dakota. Given that the tracks are the property of BNSF, it decides which trains have de facto priority passage (even though a federal law is supposed to give priority to Amtrak), and it has apparently given fracking and oil container car shipments passage scheduling times that impede the passage of Amtrak passenger trains (and, apparently, trains carrying farm goods that are perishable).

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anonukes322(Photo: Dizzy)

The recent White House announcement of executive branch-mandated carbon cuts has evoked much debate about whether the incremental step is going to have any significant impact on rolling back the global warming juggernaut.

According to Environmental Protection Agency Chief Gina McCarthy, however, a key objective of the federal regulation to cut back on coal power plant emissions is not in question. McCarthy, in a meeting with Chicago corporate executives, revealed that the White House's primary aim in implementation of moderately increased carbon cutback requirements is to kick-start the US nuclear power industry.

In a June 18 business section article of The Chicago Tribune, Julie Wernau reports:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday that the federal agency's proposed carbon rules are designed to boost nuclear plants that are struggling to compete.

There are a handful of nuclear facilities that because they are having trouble remaining competitive, they haven't yet looked at re-licensing (to extend their operating lives). We were simply highlighting that fact,” McCarthy said at a round-table discussion with business leaders in Chicago.

The comments by the highest-ranking official charged with carrying out the Obama administration's environmental policies firmly positions the U.S. as a supporter of nuclear power, which doesn't emit carbon. Those views run counter to Germany, which is phasing out nuclear power over health and environmental concerns after Japan's nuclear disaster in 2011.

The headline of the Tribune story reinforces McCarthy's statement on the White House's public policy goal: "EPA: Carbon rules could ensure nuclear power's survival."

As an Illinois state senator and as a candidate for president in 2008, Obama voiced his support of the nuclear power industry. However, since that time - particularly post-Fukushima - the revival of the nuclear energy has not been prominent in the president's remarks about reducing global warming.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anarmyAn Army of occupation, not liberation. (Photo:US Army)

You can start with the profoundly tragic irony that the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld Iraq War of 2003 created a terrorist threat instead of ending one. That point was made yesterday in a BuzzFlash commentary by Steve Jonas, "Real Goal of Iraq War in 2003: Oil and Inciting Terrorism to Create Permanent Conflict."

The devastating implications of how the invasion of Iraq ignited an al Qaeda offshoot uprising are also emphasized by Peter Bergen, CNN's security analyst:

From where did ISIS spring? One of George W. Bush's most toxic legacies is the introduction of al Qaeda into Iraq, which is the ISIS mother ship.

If this wasn't so tragic it would be supremely ironic, because before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, top Bush officials were insisting that there was an al Qaeda-Iraq axis of evil. Their claims that Saddam Hussein's men were training members of al Qaeda how to make weapons of mass destruction seemed to be one of the most compelling rationales for the impending war. After the fall of Hussein's regime, no documents were unearthed in Iraq proving the Hussein-al Qaeda axis despite the fact that, like other totalitarian regimes, Hussein's government kept massive and meticulous records

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency had by 2006 translated 34 million pages of documents from Hussein's Iraq and found there was nothing to substantiate a "partnership" between Hussein and al Qaeda.

Two years later the Pentagon's own internal think tank, the Institute for Defense Analyses, concluded after examining 600,000 Hussein-era documents and several thousand hours of his regime's audio- and videotapes that there was no "smoking gun (i.e. direct connection between Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda.)"

When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R - SC) argues that the US needs to recommence warfare in Iraq because another 9/11 might occur, he is one of the senators who bears the responsibility for this hypothetical occurrence, given that he was a captain of the cheerleading squad for the Iraq War when it was launched on the basis of lies.

In a revealing 2007 Atlantic interview with former Secretary of State Colin Powell (he of the infamous mendacious UN speech warning of the horrors of Saddam Hussein's virtually nonexistent chemical warfare capabilities), David Samuels asked:

You were famously quoted as saying “if you break it, you own it” about the consequences of an American invasion of Iraq. So do we own it? And, as a practical matter, is it possible for the United States to declare at this late date that we don’t take part in other people’s Civil Wars, and to withdraw our troops?

To which Powell replied, tacitly admitting that the cynical narrative of bringing democracy to Iraq was a cover story:

The famous expression, if you break it you own it—which is not a Pottery Barn expression, by the way—was a simple statement of the fact that when you take out a regime and you bring down a government, you become the government. 

In what fashion other than ownership of the nation can the invasion be considered a success, as Steve Jonas argues, when the launching of the war against Iraq produced the very threats that it was supposed to eliminate - threats that did not exist at the time in 2003? 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aawallstTo the Pentagon, non-violent protesters against the ruling elite are potential terrorists. (Photo: Nataraj Metz)

In a June 12 Guardian column entitled, "Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown: Social science is being militarised to develop 'operational tools' to target peaceful activists and protest movements," Nafeez Ahmed writes of a painfully ominous Pentagon research initiative:

A US Department of Defense (DoD) research program is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar program is designed to develop immediate and long-term "warfighter-relevant insights" for senior officials and decision makers in "the defense policy community," and to inform policy implemented by "combatant commands."

Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis – the DoD 'Minerva Research Initiative' partners with universities "to improve DoD's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US."

Among the projects awarded for the period 2014-2017 is a Cornell University-led study managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research which aims to develop an empirical model "of the dynamics of social movement mobilization and contagions." The project will determine "the critical mass (tipping point)" of social contagions by studying their "digital traces" in the cases of "the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey."

Notice that the word "contagion" is used in association with democratic movements overseas. The Department of Defense (DOD) is concerned, it appears, that democracy might go viral and contaminate governments in a way that will force military intervention in order to preserve empire.

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.

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