Facebook Slider
Optional Member Code
Get News Alerts!
EditorBlog

EditorBlog (1703)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT     elizabethwarrenmarchfinal

What a desert it has been for those who are concerned about justice, democracy, income fairness and the Constitution.  So many hopes have soared on the wings of politicians promising change and an end-to-business as usual in DC, only to have expectations dashed as the candidates are elected, take office and conform to the status quo rather than change it.  It has been a dismaying and enervating slog, sinking in the quagmire of political moral corruption to be limply reassured by the begrudging outlook "that it could be worse."

The danger is that dismay can lead to hopelessness and withdrawal from the great struggle for summoning our better angels.

For years, we have seen with few exceptions (Bernie Sanders, Paul Wellstone, etc.) political figures head to the seat of the US government only to become compromised by corporate control through campaign contributions, the media cult of "conventional wisdom," and co-option by the "reality" of power.

But Ms. Smith has come to Washington, and her name is Elizabeth Warren. In just a couple of months she has taken a fierce tenacious stand for accountability and fairness in regards to Wall Street.   This contrasts with US Attorney General Eric Holder, who represents the dismal disappointment of the Obama promise of change on many fronts, including Holder's failure to criminally prosecute even one Wall Street executive.  

BuzzFlash at Truthout most recently wrote about this in a commentary, "Holder Admits That Department of Justice Believes Big Bankers Are Above the Law. " (The Holder article includes links to many of the numerous pieces we have written on the failure to hold the executives of big banks and financial institutions accountable for real crimes.)

(Photo: Wikipedia)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT  supremecourtfinal35

The Republicans long ago figured out that the way to have legislative control over the United States is to pack the federal courts.  This is a theme that BuzzFlash at Truthout has harped upon since the site began in May of 2000.

Recently, we noted how Antonin Scalia's withering disdain for Congress erupted into open contempt and dismissal of the legislative branch in oral arguments over the Voting Rights Act.  As we noted then:

During oral arguments yesterday about whether or not the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is constitutional, partisan judicial thug Antonin Scalia revealed a new facet of his personality; he is a clairvoyant.

Congressional support for reauthorizing the VRA was overwhelming, even in 2006 when the vote was taken during Bush's second term: the Senate reauthorized it by a vote of 98 to 0. In the House, the vote was 390 to 33.

But Scalia, who has made his trademark being a self-proclaimed "strict constitutional constructionist" who scorns liberal judges who allegedly legislate from the bench, came out of the closet in heaping contempt and derision on Congress for passing the VRA.  Although Scalia has long been perhaps the stellar example of a judge who legislates from the bench (on behalf of the right wing), he's usually coded his usurpation of congressional and other legislative powers in legal mumbo jumbo.

Yesterday, however, the Washington Post editorial board chastised Scalia for openly claiming:

"THIS IS NOT the kind of a question [the VRA, particularly Section 5] you can leave to Congress,” Justice Antonin Scalia pronounced during a Supreme Court argument Wednesday….

We also noted a short time back how the Republicans control the DC Court of Appeals and have now since the Reagan administration.  Because the DC Court of Appeals hears many of the most important federal cases, it has made a very large number of benchmark decisions that have been essentially legislating from the bench and creating an imbalance of power between the three branches of government (something the majority of 5 on the Rehnquist and Roberts Supreme Courts have excelled at).

In that BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary, we focused on DC Court of Appeals Judge David Sentelle, as we have often done over the years: "Republican Federal Judge David Sentelle: [An Example of] How the GOP Has Packed the Courts With Partisan Hacks."

Currently the DC Court of Appeals is short four judges because the Republicans won't allow most of Obama's appointments through (holding up some lower court appointments for literally years).  Then they pack the federal benches when there is a Republican president, and the Democrats only rarely block GOP appointments. 

(Photo: Mark Fischer)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT    handsfinal

Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Edsall pens a thorough debunking of arguments for austerity.  In particular, he provides a detailed analysis that lacerates the arguments made for cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits.

The only significant misstep in Edsall's March 6 commentary is the title: "The War On Entitlements."  Medicare and Social Security are not entitlements; they are earned benefits that most Americans labor very hard to receive during the last stage of their lives.

Headline aside, Edsall launches a full bore critique of the notion of austerity measures such as raising the age at which one receives Social Security and Medicare, means testing, etc.  The reality is that Social Security and Medicare are already flat regressive taxes – and the less affluent assume the biggest burden in terms of the percentage of their income paid toward these earned benefits.

Edsall explains, first of all, about the current inequities in how Social Security and Medicare are funded by taxpayers:

Earned income in excess of $113,700 is entirely exempt from the 6.2 percent payroll tax that funds Social Security benefits (employers pay a matching 6.2 percent). 5.2 percent of working Americans make more than $113,700 a year. Simply by eliminating the payroll tax earnings cap — and thus ending this regressive exemption for the top 5.2 percent of earners — would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, solve the financial crisis facing the Social Security system….

Medicare, in turn, is financed by a flat 1.45 percent tax on the first $200,000 of earnings for a single person and $250,000 for a married couple, matched by the employer, after which it rises by a modest 0.9 percent on all income above the $200,000 and $250,000 levels.

The Medicare and Social Security taxes are jointly known as FICA (for Federal Insurance Contributions Act) — or payroll — taxes. The combined FICA taxes are highly regressive. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center found that the poorest quintile pays a 7.3 percent FICA rate, while the top quintile pays 6.8 percent. The top 1 percent of the income distribution pays a 2 percent rate, and the top 0.1 percent pays just 0.9 percent. In other words, the rate paid by the poorest quintile is 8.1 times as high as the rate paid by the top 0.1 percent.


(Photo: Rosie O'Beirne)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT   cell210

On Wednesday, March 6, US Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, admitting that the Department of Justice believes that Wall Street financial titans are too big to jail.  According to the American Banker,

Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the size and interconnectedness of some institutions has "made it difficult for us to prosecute" in some cases, in response to a question from Grassley, the panel's lead Republican, about the HSBC deal.

"I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute — if we do bring a criminal charge — it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy," said Holder, who cautioned he was speaking generally and not about the HSBC case specifically. "I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large." (Italics added by BuzzFlash at Truthout.)

Addressing bank size is something lawmakers in Congress would "need to consider," he added.

In essence, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States conceded that he cannot uphold laws governing financial fraud and manipulation in regards to those who run large financial entities. His argument is that holding individuals criminally accountable for imploding the economy would endanger the economy.  Say what?  Isn't Holder just giving them further license to plunder away?

Holder's response to the Senate Judiciary Committee came about in a discussion of the hefty fine applied to HSBC for what would appear to be multiple criminal violations of the law, but not accompanied by any charges against individuals.

BuzzFlash at Truthout has repeatedaly chastised the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its ongoing disregard for enforcing the law when it comes to Wall Street.  Regarding HSBC, one of our commentaries was "When Big Banks Like HSBC Are Not Prosecuted Criminally, It May Be Killing Us":

Matti Taibbi has a devastating article in Rolling Stone on how the soon-to-be-departed head of the Department of Justice (DOJ) criminal division, Lanny Breuer, admits that the DOJ won't prosecute banks too big to fail, such as HSBC and UBS – among many others.  Why?

Because as Taibbi quotes Breuer: "Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution."

(Photo: the_kid_cl)

 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT                     cannabis220

The most basic instinct of humans is self-preservation and keeping free from personal harm.  So when you have a nation where police arrest more people for marijuana possession than for violent crime, it would appear that protecting citizens from physical harm takes second place to enforcing archaic laws demonizing a weed that induces euphoria and an urge to eat.

After all, alcohol is socially sanctioned as a way of relaxing with friends or alone.  No one gets busted for sipping from a can of beer on the front porch or drinking champagne at a swanky charity fundraiser.

Yet despite the action of 18 states to legalize the medical use of marijuana -- and in Colorado and Washington State to decriminalize it for recreational use – arrests at the local and federal level are proceeding full steam ahead, to the detriment of public safety – given a limited amount of law enforcement resources.

The Huffington Post recently highlighted an FBI report that revealed, "in 2011, marijuana possession arrests totaled 663,032 — more than arrests for all violent crimes combined. Possession arrests have nearly doubled since 1980, according to" the FBI.

Americans interested in not getting mugged, beaten, hit by their husbands, etc., should think about the implications of a law enforcement culture that ups its arrest records – and wastes police and court time, not to mention prison costs – by making easy marijuana pinches.  This policy is from the White House down, given that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has spent a good part of the Obama years cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries.  President Obama and the DOJ are currently sending mixed signals, with Obama playing the good cop while the DOJ plays the bad cop, leaking that it is pursuing how to strategically challenge the Colorado and Washington State recreational use laws.

(Photo: Wikipedia)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT      money890 Stiffing the Working Class

A recent New York Times (NYT) business article confirms a commentary that BuzzFlash wrote, "A Tale of Two Economies: Skyrocketing Stock Market for the Rich, Devaluation of Work for the Rest," in September of 2012

The March 4 NYT headline lays it out bluntly: "Recovery in U.S. Is Lifting Profits, but Not Adding Jobs." But it's really worse. It's not just that the nation is at a relative plateau of joblessness. Even those who are employed are finding that their wages are not growing relative to the explosion in corporate profits.

The grim figures in terms of the working class speak for themselves in the NYT story:

As a percentage of national income, corporate profits stood at 14.2 percent in the third quarter of 2012, the largest share at any time since 1950, while the portion of income that went to employees was 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966. In recent years, the shift has accelerated during the slow recovery that followed the financial crisis and ensuing recession of 2008 and 2009, said Dean Maki, chief United States economist at Barclays.

Corporate earnings have risen at an annualized rate of 20.1 percent since the end of 2008, he said, but disposable income inched ahead by 1.4 percent annually over the same period, after adjusting for inflation.

As BuzzFlash at Truthout noted in "A Tale of Two Economies" last autumn:

However, what is more important than the unemployment rate is the overall degradation of work and wage stagnation and decline under the current corporate and business climate that devalues labor.  Since around 1990, the working class has been paid less on an inflation-adjusted basis while accumulating more debt.   So even if one has a job in the labor force, if you are among the lower 99% the odds are that you have been feeling economic stress and anxiety for some time….

(Photo: Muffet)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT                   amnesty250

Yes the gun lobby has enabled the arming of child soldiers -- even younger than 10-years-old --and the deadly raging of local militia wars around the world.  No, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is not selling small arms to militias; it is not recruiting child soldiers and giving them guns to fight for "rebel" forces around that commit atrocities; it does not directly sell firearms and weapons to rebel nations that commit massacres of its own people.

But the National Riffle Association has for years held up the United States endorsement of the international Arms Trade Treaty, which would provide a legal framework for limiting the profiteering of weapons that create killing fields, particularly in poorer nations.  

Amnesty International is creating a campaign to stop the NRA from blocking the Arms Trade Treaty this time around:

Children -- no matter where they live -- must be kept safe from gun violence. The United Nations is preparing to finalize a treaty that would help to do just that by helping to stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is standing in the way of these efforts by waging a campaign of misinformation and lies force the U.S. government to oppose the treaty.

Around the globe, over a billion children live in countries impacted by armed conflict that is fueled by small arms and conventional weapons. These children are at grave risk of being abducted and trafficked, used as soldiers and sex slaves, forced from their homes, attacked at school.

“The Arms Trade Treaty represents a call to conscience to the world – and especially to the United States government –to protect civilians and help develop a system that would prevent weapons from flowing into a situation where we know lives are at risk,” said Amnesty International's Michelle Ringuette.  "The U.S. public must not allow its own leaders to ignore the horrific impact of weapons traded into the hands of despots and tyrants. Would we hand a gun to a rapist, murderer or child abuser? Of course we wouldn’t.  But that is what we allow with arms trading with devastating results.”

Amazingly, the Obama White House has not yet taken a position on the next round of treaty negotiations that begin on March 18th.  If you counter that the treaty is not yet written so why should the president take a position at this time, then know this: "a round of treaty talks last July ended when the United States stepped away from the negotiating process," according to Amnesty International.  The political factor behind the US walking away was, at a political level, the NRA.

(Photo: Amnesty International)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT   scalia677575 Short of rocket launchers, Scalia scorns gun control


In a little noted speech reported in the conservative Washington Examiner, the leading Supreme Court judge who regularly legislates from the bench, Antonin Scalia, signaled that he is ready to further rule in favor of more guns in more hands, with even fewer restrictions than now. Examiner columnist Paul Bedard wrote of an early February Scalia interview with NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg:

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, decrying America's demonization of guns, is predicting that the parade of new gun control laws, cheered on by President Obama, will hit the Supreme Court soon, possibly settling for ever the types of weapons that can be owned.

Scalia, whose legacy decision in the 2008 case of District of Columbia vs. Heller ended the ban on handguns in Washington, D.C., suggested that the Constitution allows limits on what Americans can own, but the only example he offered was a shoulder-launched rocket that would bring down jets.

Like his good buddy, Dick Cheney, Scalia likes to hunt birds, although – to be fair – we don't know of any accounts where, like Cheney, Antonin has filled a friend's face full of buck shot instead of a pheasant.  But we now know he draws the line at shooting corralled birds with a rocket launcher.

USA Today reported that Scalia teased Totenberg before an audience at the Smithsonian Associates:

Asked if the Second Amendment's right to bear arms is as unequivocal as the First Amendment's right to free speech, Scalia said, "We're going to find out, aren't we?" -- an indication he expects the court to hear a gun rights case in the near future.

(Image: DonkeyHotey)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT     scalia7575 Scalia admits to legislating from the bench


During oral arguments yesterday about whether or not the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is constitutional, partisan judicial thug Antonin Scalia revealed a new facet of his personality; he is a clairvoyant.

Congressional support for reauthorizing the VRA was overwhelming, even in 2006 when the vote was taken during Bush's second term: the Senate reauthorized it by a vote of 98 to 0. In the House, the vote was 390 to 33.

But Scalia, who has made his trademark being a self-proclaimed "strict constitutional constructionist" who scorns liberal judges who allegedly legislate from the bench, came out of the closet in heaping contempt and derision on Congress for passing the VRA.  Although Scalia has long been perhaps the stellar example of a judge who legislates from the bench (on behalf of the right wing), he's usually coded his usurpation of congressional and other legislative powers in legal mumbo jumbo.

Yesterday, however, the Washington Post editorial board chastised Scalia for openly claiming:

"THIS IS NOT the kind of a question [the VRA, particularly Section 5] you can leave to Congress,” Justice Antonin Scalia pronounced during a Supreme Court argument Wednesday….

“It was clear to 98 senators, including every senator from a covered state, who decided that there was a continuing need for this piece of legislation,” Justice Elena Kagan said, in what might seem a self-evident point.

But not to Justice Scalia. “Or decided that perhaps they’d better not vote against, that there’s . . .none of their interests in voting against it,” he said. Later he elaborated on why he feels free to dismiss this particular congressional action: “I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any senator to vote against continuation of this act. . . . They are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act. Even the name of it is wonderful: the Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?”

(Photo: Wikipedia)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT  slum45 Deteriorated housing leaves blacks behind

In a Washington Post (WP) article entitled "Study ties black-white wealth gap to stubborn disparities in real estate," the Post offers one more piece of proof that the "post-racial" presidency is nothing more than a soundbite.

The backlash of Tea Party racists and the general Republican Southern strategy of race baiting through code words clearly has defined that this is still a nation of two visions: one of a white Christian patriarchal America with Disneyland dreams of an imaginary Main Street and the other of a multi-cultural society of equality and the celebration of national communal values.

However, the facts on the ground reveal a deeper schism not of visions, but of a vastly unequal economic reality.

According to the recent study cited by the WP,

The large and growing wealth gap separating white and black families is the product of stubborn barriers that disproportionately consign African Americans to less-valuable real estate and lower-paying jobs, according to a new study.

A long-term examination of the financial lives of black and white Americans revealed that African Americans typically face a subtle but persistent opportunity gap that has served to widen financial disparities remaining from a long history of overt discrimination, according to a report to be released Wednesday by Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy.

In short, despite an outburst of bitter racial resentment after Obama's election that continues to this day, blacks are faring worse not better than in the past.  Vast areas of urban blight -- where pushing drugs is often the only entrepreneurial opportunity of any livable wage (until you are shot in a turf war) -- have been left to stagnate.  These are the urban plantations of poverty that gave birth to the 1968 riots after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. In fact, they have worsened as the last of the remaining industrial and mid-to-large business base has fled these areas.

(Photo: Ryan Thomas)

Page 59 of 122