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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016may11 terrorwareisenIn the absence of newly declared war, how would the military-industrial complex prosper without terrorism? (Image: KAZ Vorpal)

The National Priorities Project recently sent out an email with the subject line, "Terrorism means business, if you're a defense contractor." The message bluntly states:

If you're a defense contractor, terrorism means business, and business is good.

According to recent reports, the corporate defense behemoth Lockheed Martin's revenue rose 15.7% and shares rose 1.5% following the news that President Obama was committing an additional 250 troops in Syria. 

Lockheed Martin was the biggest federal contract in 2014, pulling in more than $32 billion in federal contracts, including $25 billion in Pentagon contracts. Its federal haul makes it practically an honorary state.

In fact, the Project states that the contracts received by Lockheed Martin in 2014 exceed federal grants allotted to each individual state, with the exceptions of the high-population states of California, New York and Texas.

In a blog entry on the National Priorities Project site, research director Lindsay Koshgarian states, "Lockheed and its defense industry companions have made enough profits from taxpayer dollars. It’s past time to show them that terrorism doesn’t pay.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016May10 rednosewal24A 2015 billboard promoting Red Nose Day, a corporate branding opportunity to allegedly reduce childhood poverty in the United States. (Photo: Steven Feldman)

Red Nose Day, which has an affiliated campaign in the UK, is described by its sponsoring organization, Comic Relief Inc. (which the Red Nose Day website notes "is not connected to the former American charity Comic Relief that was supported by Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg"), as follows:

Red Nose Day is a fundraising campaign run by the non-profit organization Comic Relief Inc., a registered 501(c)(3) American public charity. Funds raised go to the Red Nose Day Fund and last year benefited children in all 50 states and 15 countries internationally through programs to keep children and young people safe, healthy and educated. Comic Relief Inc. in the US and Comic Relief UK are independent sister organizations that are joined by their shared vision of a just world, free from poverty and the mission to drive positive change through the power of entertainment…

The US Red Nose Day initiative distributes the money it raises to charities in the US, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Oxfam of America, Covenant House and the National Council of Raza. There appears little doubt from the statistics cited on the Red Nose Day website that some poor children are indeed aided by the Red Nose Day commercial tie-in efforts, and that some incremental good will come out of the initiative.

Red Nose Day is officially on May 26, when "a live 2-hour primetime television event that brings together the biggest stars for a night of fun and laughs” -- as described on the Red Nose Day website -- will air on NBC. In 2015, according to the site, "Red Nose Day raised $23 million, changing the lives of children all over the USA and around the world."

The campaign’s slogan -- "Laugh. Give. Save a kid" -- does raise pesky questions about a corporate promotional charity event that unabashedly offers to combine fun, comedy and helping "kids who need it most." That is because it does not appear that any systemic change results from Red Nose Day that would permanently reduce or eliminate poverty, and $23 million is a paltry amount, when a sea of transformative change is needed. Red noses are not going to eliminate, reduce or have a significant impact on the condition of youth poverty in the United States. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016may6 bclinton24Hillary Clinton has suggested that she might appoint her husband, who played a leadership role in championing trade deals that have hemorrhaged jobs from the US, as jobs czar to create manufacturing positions. Say what? (Photo: Eric Austin)

Politicians in tight spots often say the most puzzling things. While campaigning in coal country, where large numbers of miners are without jobs, Hillary Clinton has been met by grassroots opposition to her (hopefully accurate) comment earlier this year that coal, as a fuel, is on its last legs.

As Politico reported on May 2,

Clinton has faced increased scrutiny and backlash from coal-producing areas of the country after boasting at a March town hall, "We're going to put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business." Though she followed up by saying that the United States should "make it clear that we don't want to forget those people," the remark created consternation in the coal community. On Sunday, Bill Clinton confronted protesters in West Virginia unhappy with his wife's comments.

The Hill reported on May 5 that current polling shows Clinton potentially facing an embarrassing loss to Bernie Sanders in the upcoming West Virginia primary on May 10, but also confronting the possibility that Donald Trump could carry the state in November:

West Virginia is shaping up to be a terrible state for Hillary Clinton

Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout

2016 May5AmericanDreamThe so-called "American Dream" needs to be less about money and materialism and more about justice, quality of life and the common good. (Photo: James Walsh)

According to the findings of a Marist Poll commissioned by Boston PBS station WGBH earlier this year, "The American Dream [is] still alive, but ... a majority of U.S. residents believe the American middle class is just a vestige of the past." That WGBH summary of the poll notes:

While 58% [of parents] think their children will be better off than they are now, about one-third, 33%, say their children will be in a worse position. The picture becomes bleaker when the focus shifts to the future of America’s youth, in general. Nearly half of residents, 48%, believe most children in the United States will grow up to be worse off than their parents while 43% say children, overall, will be better off....

A news release that I received on April 5 from a publicist for WGBH put it more bluntly:

A majority of U.S. residents believe the American middle class is just a vestige of the past, according to an Exclusive Point Taken-Marist Poll, commissioned by WGBH Boston for its new late-night, multi-platform PBS debate series Point Taken. But, despite a pessimistic view about the viability of the American middle class, most adults nationally think the American Dream is attainable for themselves, 69%. Although fewer, many think it is in reach for other Americans, 58%, as well.

Given the nation's radical and growing income inequality, the perceptions of those surveyed in the poll [as shown in charts]  appear rosier than the reality of the economic chasm in the US.  The poll raises the question about how the hope of achieving an economic dream can defy economic data, given that most of those polled thought the middle class was dying. Where will the 69 percent of those who believe that "the American Dream" is attainable end up? That's 69 percent too many people to squeeze into the 1 percent.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016May4 trumpburkeTrump International Hotel and Tower, the second tallest skyscraper in Chicago. (Photo: get directly down)

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, may talk about ending government corruption and reducing the taxes of his followers. However, as an April 30 Chicago Sun-Times investigation reveals, Trump saved $11.7 million in Cook County property taxes on his Chicago complex by employing a clout-heavy Chicago alderman as his local attorney:

A law firm headed by Ald. Edward M. Burke, one of Chicago’s most powerful Democrats, has helped Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and investors in his luxury downtown hotel cut their property taxes by 39 percent over seven years, saving them $11.7 million, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis has found.

Burke — one of 47 Chicago aldermen who voted to approve development of Trump International Hotel & Tower in 2002 — won reductions in six of the seven years for the hotel, retail and other commercial space in the skyscraper, records show.

Now, Burke’s law firm, Klafter & Burke, is trying to get partial refunds of those taxes for the billionaire and his investors. The firm has filed appeals in court and to a state agency, arguing the taxes paid were too high in some years.

Burke is among an elite group of current and former Chicago politicians working for law firms that specialize in helping property owners navigate Cook County’s arcane property-tax system. These clout-heavy lawyers try to persuade other elected officials — the Cook County assessor, the Cook County Board of Review’s commissioners and judges — to lower the estimated values of buildings and other real estate.

Trump and his investors saw their property taxes on the opulent Chicago Trump Tower lowered by almost 40 percent – and they are now seeking a rebate on the reduced taxes that they have paid. What this means is that other property taxpayers in Cook County, where Chicago is located, will have to pony up to pay the amount that Trump's business is saving.

 MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016 april29stoparmsfairStop the arms fairs and the hundreds of billions of dollars in weaponry sales and help put a stop to war. (Photo: StoptheArmsFair)

On Waging Nonviolence, Javier Gárate wrote of his acquittal -- and those of his fellow activists -- for attempting to symbolically blockade the London Arms Fair in September 2015:

After a week-long trial that ended on April 15, a judge from the Stratford Magistrate Court in London found me and seven co-defendants not guilty for our actions last September to shut down the Defence Security and Equipment International arms fair, or DSEI, on the basis that we were preventing a greater crime. This is a huge victory in the long struggle to shut down … the largest arms fair in the world, which takes place in east London every other year.

The last fair was in September 2015, and it saw more than 1,500 exhibitors from around the world displaying the latest technology of the war industry. DSEI is an invitation-only event, where invites go to governments, industry representatives and specialized press. Delegations from repressive regimes and countries violating human rights — such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel — walk through its corridors every other year browsing the latest weaponry [and most significantly signing contracts for billions of dollars]. 

The focus of Gárate and his fellow opponents of the global weaponry industry was the 2015 Defence Security and Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition held in London. RT took a look at some of the biggest corporate beneficiaries of worldwide weapons sales and found these two companies among those leading the pack:

Lockheed Martin

With net sales for 2014 totaling $45.6 billion, US-based Lockheed Martin is the largest arms company in the world. Lockheed received $22 billion in contracts from the US Department of Defense alone in 2014, roughly 9 percent of all contracts awarded by the Pentagon.

Lockheed has weathered several high profile scandals since its founding in 1912. The company was caught bribing Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka in 1976, a revelation which forced his resignation. Last month the company paid $4.7 million to the Justice Department to settle charges it won a lucrative contract by paying a former US Representative-turned-lobbyist with taxpayer funds. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016 1pril26boscboardIt will be at least a couple of more years before most of New Orleans Parish schools are likely returned to the community school board, but - as of this moment - they will still be charter schools inflicted by the elites. (Image: Orleans Parish School Board)

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In New Orleans, charter schools -- which make up almost the entire school district -- aren't going anywhere anytime soon. However, due to ongoing clamorous community objection to them (and the way in which they are not accountable to school board oversight), some things may be changing. For the first time, the Louisiana legislature appears poised to return all New Orleans schools -- including about 75 percent of students who are taught in charter schools, administered independently by the state through the Recovery School District -- to the governance of the Orleans Parish School Board.

As the April 27 Baton Rouge Advocate reported:

The House Education Committee voted 11-2 to advance legislation that would transfer control of 52 public schools — all charters — run by the state Recovery School District for the past decade to the Orleans Parish School Board by 2018, 2019 at the latest.

Even with the move, charter schools would retain much of their autonomy.

That last qualification is a big one, because it appears that charter schools will be able to legally flout many directives from the parish's school board, according to the Advocate:

Parents and critics voiced concerns that charter school operators are being given too much control in the arrangement set up in the Senate legislation [which has already passed in the state].

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016 April27whitehouseThe White House and Capitol were primarily built by slaves, as Washington -- which had legal slavery until 1863 -- remains a colony. (Photo: Frank Camp)

It is widely known that slaves were the key labor force that built the White House and the US Capitol. The grotesque injustice and horror of slavery is, therefore, literally embedded in the masonry of our nation's two iconic political symbols.

However, what is more rarely emphasized or even acknowledged in US history text books is that slavery was legal within the District of Columbia right up until Abraham Lincoln signed an emancipation law in DC in 1862. It was signed on April 16, 1862, less than nine months before the national Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

The Washington, DC, government website devotes a page to the history of slavery in the capital:

One result of the intense struggle over slavery was the DC Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862, passed by the Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The act ended slavery in Washington, DC, freed 3,100 individuals, reimbursed those who had legally owned them and offered the newly freed women and men money to emigrate. It is this legislation, and the courage and struggle of those who fought to make it a reality, that we commemorate every April 16, DC Emancipation Day.... 

The area we know as the District of Columbia was selected as the site for the capital of the United States in 1791. It was created by land ceded to the federal government by Virginia and Maryland, two slave-holding states of the Chesapeake region. The District of Columbia, which included Washington City, Georgetown, Washington County and Alexandria (until 1846), became a center for slavery and the slave trade.

A recent article in The New York Times hauntingly describes an incident that reveals the grim reality of slaveholding in DC.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016 07:38

Pens Don't Rob People, Plutocrats Do

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2106 April26pensWill the power of the pen belong to the oligarchs or the people? (Photo: Lawrence Wong)

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Before the typewriter and computer came along, the pen used to be the most vital tool to writers. Just think of Tolstoy writing the more-than-1200 page War and Peace with a quill pen. How intimate the relationship must have been between the author and the writing implement that allowed him to express his masterful vision to the world.

The pen, however, has also served as the tool that allows those with wealth and power to accumulate more wealth and power -- often through stealth -- by signing contracts and other legal documents. Thus, the pen and the ink it contains can be the source of rapturous imagination, but also of predatory greed.

I touched upon this theme in a recent fundraising letter for Truthout in which I noted that the legendary folksinger and anti-fascist Woody Guthrie sang: "Some will rob you with a six gun / And some with a fountain pen." The travesty of bureaucratic plunder has only gotten worse in the last 25 years. The men and women robbing us with pens have become more numerous, massively enlarging the amount of their plunder and acquiring more political clout and immunity from accountability. "Steal big" might be the most apt slogan for Wall Street and the global institutions that can bring down the economy with nary a repercussion.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016April22 freepress32When it comes to freedom of the press, the US is not number one; it is 41st in the world. (Photo: John Flannery)

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Despite our First Amendment, much vaunted by jingoistic shills for "American exceptionalism," the United States only rates 41st out of 180 nations in press freedoms, according to a 2016 analysis by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). That puts countries such as Estonia, Cyprus, Belize and Finland ahead of the US.

The report cites several factors in the 2016 US ranking, including:

The main cause for concern for RSF continues to be the current administration’s obsessive control of information, which manifests itself through the war on whistleblowers and journalists’ sources, as well as the lack of government transparency, which reporters have continually criticized. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA operative, was convicted solely on the basis of metadata in January 2015 of disclosing classified information to James Risen and is now serving a 3.5 year prison sentence.

The US presidential election has also been cause for concern. Since the primaries began last summer, journalists have seen their access to campaign events regularly restricted by candidates from both political parties and have been insulted and even bullied on social media. RSF is also still troubled by the arrest of journalists during #BlackLiveMatter protests in Baltimore and Minneapolis. "There is still room for improvement in the country of the First Amendment," says Delphine Halgand, RSF’s US Director.

On April 20, NPR reporter Laura Wagner placed much of the blame for the lackluster rating of US press freedoms on Obama administration policies.

 

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