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medicareforallMedicare-for-All may be closer than many persons think. (Photo: Molly Adams)

Before the establishment of Medicare, many persons more than 65 years of age who weren't wealthy dealt with a harrowing reality. When they became seriously ill or required a costly procedure, they possibly faced bankruptcy due to lack of health insurance or high deductibles and co-pays. Many also confronted having to go without health care because of costs, sometimes leading to a painful death because of the exorbitant price of medical care without insurance. In fact, the lack of a government health insurance program for the elderly led to seniors being among the poorest age groups in the nation.

This past Sunday, Medicare celebrated its 52nd anniversary. National health care coverage in the United States for seniors had been an elusive goal until the program was launched in 1965. For years, efforts to pass Medicare were thwarted by charges that we still hear today against the Affordable Care Act and proposals for single-payer health care. Government health care insurance for the elderly was called "communist" medicine and accused of being "un-American." Despite his ability to get Social Security enacted in 1935 and launch other government-administered New Deal programs, President Franklin Roosevelt was not able to overcome vigorous opposition to government health coverage for seniors, and was unable to get it passed out of Congress.

It took the determined and wily President Lyndon Baines Johnson, in the post-Kennedy assassination environment, to persuade both houses of Congress to make Medicare -- long a seemingly impossible dream of many advocates -- a reality.


scalesofjustice33The scales of justice are tipping conservative due to the GOP's fast-paced Senate confirmations of federal judges. (Photo: Chris Potter)

Ever since I founded BuzzFlash in 2000, I have written occasional commentaries on how the Republicans are equally tenacious in appointing right-wing federal judges when they control the Senate process as they are in opposing liberal or moderate nominees when there is a Democratic president.

One can point to the nixing of the Merrick Garland appointment to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) under Obama as an example of GOP obstructionism. With Mitch McConnell as the coordinator of the effort, no hearings were even held on Garland and only a few courtesy calls with a few Republican senators were allowed. Garland, Chief United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is regarded as a moderate and respected by the likes of arch-conservative Orrin Hatch.

However, the Democrats did not shine a spotlight on the unfairness of the Republicans, which led to what would have been Garland's seat going to ultra-right-wing jurist Neil Gorsuch, who was fast-tracked to the SCOTUS in the first months of the Trump administration.


charterschools32Corporatizing our schools does not improve the educational system. (Photo: Leigh Blackall)

 According to an evaluation conducted by The Boston Globe, the salaries of the top charter school executives in the city are off the charts:

The median pay package for the top leaders of the 16 charter schools in Boston was $170,000 last year, making most of them among the highest-paid public school officials in Boston, according to a Globe review of payroll data.

One charter school leader, Diana Lam of Conservatory Lab, earned more money than Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang, even though she oversaw a school of just 400 students. Lam, who retired in 2016, collected $275,000 in salary and an additional $23,000 for unused personal time off. Chang received $272,000 in total compensation....

The Globe review revealed other big earners: Roger Harris, executive director and senior adviser at Boston Renaissance in Hyde Park, $210,000; Caleb Dolan, executive director of KIPP Academy in Boston and Lynn, $197,500; Owen Stearns, chief executive Excel Academy in East Boston, $193,000; and Karmala Sherwood, executive director of Helen Davis Leadership Academy in Dorchester, $190,000.

“It’s extraordinary,” said Peggy Wiesenberg, an education advocate who scrutinizes charter-school financing and operations. “These are publicly financed schools and the taxpayers are paying multiple, arguably duplicative top-dollar executive salaries. Will the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Legislature wake up when it comes to financial responsibility here?”

Since the Boston charter schools are not part of the city's public school system, The Globe had to file public records requests with each school to receive the salary information. Although some of the charter school execs earned far less, The Globe article reveals how far the charter school movement has strayed from financial accountability in terms of senior staff.


uruguaylicenseplUruguayan citizens can now legally buy marijuana at their local pharmacies. (Photo: @Doug88888)

Many countries continue to move away from war-on-drugs politics. Contrast the Trump Department of Justice's return to failed anti-drug policies with what occurred in Uruguay this week. It became the first nation in the world to begin the countrywide retail sale of marijuana on July 19. According to the HuffPo,

[Last] Wednesday, Uruguay began sales of legal marijuana for adult residents....

Uruguay’s model will look quite different from the eight U.S. states that have legalized marijuana. Since there is no one-size-fits-all marijuana legalization system, it’s important for each jurisdiction to tailor marijuana regulation to their local needs and contexts, providing the world with different models to learn from.

The Uruguayan model allows four forms of access to marijuana: medical marijuana through the Ministry of Public Health; domestic cultivation of up to six plants per household; membership clubs where up to 45 members can collectively produce up to 99 plants; and licensed sale in pharmacies to adult residents. Regulation will be overseen by the government’s Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA).

The Drug Policy Alliance took note. Hannah Hetzer, the senior international policy manager at the Alliance, said in a press statement:

This is a historic moment. In recent years, Latin American leaders have decried the staggering human, environmental and financial costs of the war on drugs in their region. Uruguay is boldly demonstrating that concrete alternatives to failed prohibitionist policies are possible.


dtrump333Trump uses cyberbullying to achieve strategic objectives and redirect the media. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

....Trump also uses the "bully pulpit" to attract media attention. He understands that media outlets are attracted like moths to a flame to his outrageous bluster and disparagement of anyone he deems his enemy, and this distracts the mainstream press from focusing on his extremist and bigoted policies and gaffes.

For instance, Trump's ignorance of details of foreign policy was on display again during the latest round of tweet salvos harshly criticizing Sessions. As The Huffington Post describes a news conference Trump had with the Lebanese prime minister this week,

President Donald Trump used a White House press conference with a crucial Middle East partner on Wednesday to misrepresent the actions of the U.S. military and his own political positions, as well as demonstrate his cluelessness about the region.

Standing next to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a member of one of the savviest political families in the Middle East, Trump trotted out two lies in quick succession -- perhaps because he believed no one would cotton on, or more likely just because he can....

The two falsehoods on Tuesday were so striking that they partially overshadowed Trump’s other foreign affairs flub. The president was asked about Hezbollah, the armed Lebanon-based group that is tied to Iran and seen as an enemy of the U.S. Trump first said he believed Lebanon was fighting Hezbollah -- actually it forms part of Hariri’s government -- and then declared he would be making a decision on proposed U.S. sanctions against it by Wednesday. In fact, Congress hasn’t even begun to consider those sanctions yet.

Although there was some mainstream corporate media coverage of Trump's lies and lack of knowledge about the Middle East, the story got buried in the media scrum over Trump's derogatory tweets about his own attorney general. Even though Trump is largely trying to protect his own interests in suppressing the Mueller investigation with his blasts against Sessions, he is also aware that he is leading the media away from prominent scrutiny of his reactionary foreign and domestic policies and political appointments. Thus, Trump's "bully pulpit" is also used as a means of manipulating media coverage of his administration. 

Trump may be impetuous in appearing to be governing by tweets, but don't underestimate the strong possibility that he uses cyberbullying strategically.


epa33Democratic senators challenge EPA on the use of a toxic pesticide. (mccready)

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According to Earthjustice, a legal environmental advocacy group, eight Democratic senators introduced a bill yesterday to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to neurological damage in children:

Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA) , Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) unveiled a first-of-its-kind bill that would ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used agricultural pesticide that has been linked to reduced IQ and attention deficit disorder in children. Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate which comes from the same chemical family as sarin nerve gas, is used on staple foods like strawberries, apples, citrus, broccoli, and more.

The Protect Children, Farmers & Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act, or S. 1624, amends the U.S. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act--which oversees food safety--and prohibits all chlorpyrifos use in food. SB 1624 also directs the Environmental Protection Agency to partner with the National Research Council to assess the neurodevelopmental effects and other low-dose impacts that exposure to organophosphate pesticides has on agricultural workers and children. In addition to calling for a ban on chlorpyrifos, the bill educates the public about the history of this nerve agent pesticide and the communities that are in harms' way.

As recently reported in Energydesk, neonicotinoid pesticides -- of which chlorpyrifos is one -- can also cause harm to bees, including negatively impacting the reproductive capacity of three bee species.


healthinsDonald Trump needs go back to school when it comes to understanding health insurance. (Photo: Chris Potter)

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The New York Times fact-checked an interview three reporters from the paper conducted with Donald Trump last Wednesday. The president was in error on several occasions, stating what his aide Kellyanne Conway has called "alternative facts." Perhaps the most astonishing revelation was that Trump appeared not to know the difference between life insurance and health insurance. This is staggering ignorance for a president, not to mention one who is leading the battle against the Affordable Care Act.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that at least 20 million people will lose health coverage in any of the proposed Republican "repeal and replace" bills. So many lives are on the line, and the president of the United States thinks that health insurance works like life insurance.

The New York Times explained Trump's egregious misunderstanding of health insurance as revealed in the interview:

"You're 21 years old, you start working and you're paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you're 70, you get a nice plan," Mr. Trump said. "Here's something where you walk up and say, 'I want my insurance.'"

Mr. Trump's description aligns with life insurance or Social Security more accurately than health insurance. A 21-year-old who took out a whole life insurance policy, for example, would pay premiums until death, and the amount accumulated over the decades would be paid out to beneficiaries.

A 21-year-old who purchases a health insurance policy is not paying premiums to save up for care 50 years down the line.


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.


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.


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.

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