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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

May 11, marks the 11th anniversary of BuzzFlash, now a proud member of the Truthout family.

A period of 11 years is eons in terms of Internet history. In fact, BuzzFlash launched months before the Supreme Court anointed George W. Bush as president.

Our mission has always been to advance progressive ideas that benefit the common good and democracy. We have done that for 11 years without any corporate sponsorship or ads, while fostering progressive writers, filmmakers and artists through gifts that come with contributions.

That has been quite a feat in an economy that has for-profit "corporate branding" on everything from television news to sports stadiums to the clothes we wear.

So, BuzzFlash is excited to celebrate its 11th anniversary as a part of Truthout, which also does not accept advertising. Together, we are free to deliver the truth, without any external financial influence, 24 hours a day.

If you want to send an anniversary gift that is an investment in democracy, please click here. Your donations to Truthout/BuzzFlash are deductible to the extent provided by law. Truthout/BuzzFlash is a nonprofit, unionized, journalistic publication, as it should be.

Some BuzzFlash readers have been with us for the full 11 years. We thank you and honor you, and look forward - with you - to the many exciting enhancements coming down the pike at Truthout and BuzzFlash at Truthout.

Mark Karlin
Editor, BuzzFlash at Truthout

 

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NEWS ALERT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The following are recent remarks made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

"Saving money requires a lot of difficult choices.  Which programs do we cut in tough times?  Which priorities are more important than others?  As we've seen here in the Senate and across the country over the last few months, a lot of people have a lot of different answers to those questions.

"Then there are the choices that aren't so tough at all.  There's clear waste in the federal budget and the tax code.  And then there's Big Oil.  We're giving billions and billions of dollars every year - $4 billion to be exact - every cent of it taxpayer money - to oil companies that already are more than successful.

"These oil companies made $36 billion in profits during the first quarter of this year alone.  Exxon made 70 percent more this year than last year.

"The industry's $36 billion in quarterly profits means it's making $12 billion a month.  That's $4 billion a week.  And yet the U.S. government is giving these companies $4 billion a year in corporate welfare?

"Why are taxpayers on the hook for oil companies that are doing just fine on their own?

"If we're serious about reducing the deficit, this is an easy place to start.  It's a no-brainer.  Let's use the savings from these taxpayer giveaways to drive down the deficit, not drive up oil company profits.

"Let's make one thing clear: wasteful subsidies have nothing to do with gas prices.  These oil handouts have existed for decades.  Prices have continued to rise.  Oil executives' paychecks have gone up too.  The $4 billion a gallon Americans are paying at the pump are not related to these subsidies - but those profits are proof enough that they don't need them.

"Even Big Oil CEOs like the head of Shell, and Republicans in Congress including the Speaker of the House, have admitted that these subsidies aren't necessary.

"Some of our conservative colleagues have a hard time stomaching giving a hand to those who need it the most.  We should all agree - in the interest of fairness, common sense, and saving taxpayer money - that we can cut out corporate welfare to those Big Oil firms who need it the least."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The Koch brothers pretty much own the Tea Party; they pretty much own a lot of right-wing think tanks that have steered the nation toward a radical Ayn Rand vision of the world; and now they are buying up professors and dictating extreme right-wing ideology.

Yes, ThinkProgress reports that the Koch Foundation reached an agreement in 2008 to fund professors at Florida State University, as long as they would teach right-wing economic theory. In fact, the Koch Foundation had to approve any faculty hires who were paid with its "donated" funds.

The Saint Petersburg Times reports:

A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University's economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting "political economy and free enterprise."...

Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it's not happy with the faculty's choice or if the hires don't meet "objectives" set by Koch during annual evaluations.

In short, what is happening at a public university in Florida is the sellout of open inquiry by replacing it with corporate control of the faculty and the curriculum - and an extremist one at that.

If this is a harbinger of things to come in our cash-starved public institutes of higher learning, it may signal the end of academic freedom at institutes of higher learning. They could become nothing more than propaganda diploma mills.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Bill Maher is, well, politically incorrect, so he at times even ticks off progressives. But, generally, he is on the side of facts, and therefore proves that truth has a liberal bias.

Given the power of television, as Jon Stewart - among others - has shown, even a short "comic" television segment can be a devastating, sweeping indictment of hypocrisy and failure.

On his HBO show this past weekend, Maher took down the Republican shibboleths in a five-minute irreverent, profane tour de force. Beginning by debunking the "frames" that the GOP is strong on defense and budget reduction, Maher nailed the party as "packaging" that is contradicted by the facts.

The GOP ran up the deficit under Bush after Clinton had balanced the budget; 9/11 happened on their watch, even though Bush was warned of Osama bin Laden planning hijackings in the US (and Bush did nothing); it ran up the deficit further with unending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and ran up the deficit even further by twice increasing tax cuts for the most wealthy, even though we are in wars in two nations.

As BuzzFlash at Truthout has repeatedly noted, the GOP and its echo chamber, particularly on TV and radio, creates false information and scare tactics by repetition.

But occasionally, someone such as Maher manages to condense the counter argument to the Republican mistruths with a devastating monologue that is a tightly wrapped indictment. Maher doesn't get off just a few one-liners; he reveals the failed reality that is the underside of bombastic GOP propaganda.

Take a five-minute break and watch Maher slice and dice the Republican "brand." It will be well worth your time.

*****

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Friday, 06 May 2011 12:59

Five Republican Myths About Medicare

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

There are more than five assertions that the right wing gets wrong about Medicare, but five is a start.

As with many embedded falsehoods in the corporate/wealthy choir book, the Medicare claims by the right are often inconsistent and even contradictory, depending upon which demographic group is parroting them.

BuzzFlash at Truthout noted yesterday that it is imperative that the US discuss public policy issues based on facts, not "factoids" that have no basis in fact.

1) "Medicare is socialist" (often asserted by pre-Medicare age Tea Party members and the vestige of the John Birch Society right wing). Medicare is not socialist. It is a government insurance program that cuts the cost of senior health care by cutting out the profit of private insurers. No health care providers are employed by the federal government for Medicare, as is the case in England, where health care is socialized.

2) "Medicare is not run by the government, so it is not socialized" (sometimes claimed by Republican seniors, who then can argue against "socialized medicine" for the rest of Americans). Medicare is an insurance program administered by the American government through a fund paid into by workers and employers. There are private supplementary insurance policies available for gaps in coverage.

3) "Members of Congress receive the same benefits as Medicare recipients" (occasionally used by supporters of Paul Ryan's Medicare voucher program to "prove" that Republicans in Congress will receive the same care that they are proposing for seniors). Members of Congress receive generous health care insurance through private providers and most of the coverage is paid for by the taxpayer. It is similar to being an employee in a company that provides private health care insurance. It has nothing to do with Medicare coverage.

4) "Medicare is a waste of taxpayer dollars on the poor" (at times used by "poorly informed" Republicans, who don't know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid.) Medicaid is a government insurance program for the very poor; it has nothing to do with Medicare and is funded through the general federal budget, not through employee/employer contributions.

5) "Medicare costs can only be reduced through a voucher program" (frequently used by advocates of Ryan's budget). As Eric Cantor recently admitted, any savings that a voucher program would have would come from rationing care through private insurance. Medicare is not currently rationed. Medicare costs can be reduced through eliminating supplementary private insurance (thus saving seniors money) ; cutting payments to providers, hospitals, medical equipment vendors and pharmaceutical companies (big pharma is making billions from taxpayers because the Bush Administration ensured that Medicare could not negotiate for prescription costs in Medicare Part D); reducing Medicare fraud; raising employer and or employee premium contributions; and raising taxes on for-profit health corporations among other possibilities. None of these would likely lead to rationing, but a voucher program would, according to Cantor, as a result of the inability of less wealthy seniors to pay for supplemental insurance (because the vouchers would cover only a small portion of private insurance premium costs for an elderly person) and, thus, be denied needed care.

These are only five of the Republican message points on Medicare that are factually wrong or misleading. Imagine if Congress and Americans were debating Medicare and health care as a whole based on fact instead of manufactured partisan "factoids."

*****

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

As we hopefully move toward an exit from Afghanistan, let us turn our attention to another debilitating conflict: America's war on reality.

When it comes to creating "facts" out of fiction - through repetition in the corporate media and by the right-wing funded echo chamber - the greatest threat to our nation may come from a misinformed public.

Take a recent New York Times poll which found:

In general, however, few Americans back increasing taxes on American businesses: only 37 percent said corporate taxes should be increased to help reduce the federal budget deficit. The rest agree with an alternative argument that increased taxes would discourage American companies from creating jobs and hurt them in the global marketplace. Thirty-two percent would rather see corporate taxes remain as they are now and 26 percent said taxes on corporate profits should be decreased.

But, reality has shown that American companies are exporting jobs overseas at record rates (more than two million in the last few years); sitting on trillions of dollars rather than investing it; distributing record profits to shareholders and bonuses to executives; and sending funds offshore to avoid US taxes.

Without sufficient consumer dollars in America to support production expansion, and with the cost of labor overseas a fraction of what it is in the US, lowering the tax rates of companies does not generally increase jobs at home. It just increases profits.

Take for example Wal-Mart. According to CNN, Wal-Mart shoppers are "running out of money." CNN notes that "Wal-Mart has struggled with seven straight quarters of sales declines in its stores" in the US.

When the displaced workers who are on minimum wage can't afford Wal-Mart anymore, giving tax breaks to companies isn't going to create many jobs in the United States, because there are fewer people to buy inventory. Why would a company expand when there is decreasing consumer demand? Why would they create jobs in the US when they can increase their profit on a given product ten-fold by paying one-twentieth the labor cost in a sweat shop in a third world nation?

Corporations based in the United States should pay their fair share for supporting a democracy that has allowed them to flourish. Making more Americans aware of the dynamics of modern large corporations - and declining consumer purchasing power in the US - would go a long way in defeating the Chamber of Commerce/Koch brothers' war on reality when it comes to corporate accountability.

*****

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

No, BuzzFlash at Truthout is not making some wild accusation.  This is what Eric Cantor said as reported by the DC political publication, The Hill.

In a remarkable moment of candor, Eric Cantor admitted that the Republican plan for health care will involve rationing.

What's next, GOP "death panels"?

Well, actually, here is Cantor's death panel concession - as in he really means it. According to The Hill, "Cantor said Republicans want a safety net for people who can't afford care but that 'we're not for everyone having the same outcome guaranteed.'" In short, less affluent people will get poorer "outcomes," otherwise known as dying.

Cantor defies the fact proven by Medicare by claiming that private insurers will do a better job at "rationing." As a government-administered insurance program that uses private providers, Medicare reduces administrative costs by what some estimate to be as high as 25 percent. Why? It's simple; private health insurance has to make a profit, and it has to employ people to deny services and claims.

So, turning all health care back to private insurance companies would increase the cost of health care, not reduce it. That can only be done by paying health care providers, pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment suppliers and hospitals less - or increasing premiums for everyone with health insurance, including seniors, to the hilt. And, of course, it is a given that one of the quickest ways to reduce non-Medicare health care costs is to get rid of private insurance, which adds a double-digit percentage to our national medical bill.

Cantor, ironically, fulfills what Sarah Palin was falsely claiming about the Democratic plan for health care reform: the Republicans want health insurance companies to make more money and Americans with less resources to just accept more limited care.

Yesterday, BuzzFlash at Truthout wrote that Paul Ryan should be the first volunteer to go on his proposed Medicare plan as his family insurance policy. Cantor should be the second, and the rest of the Republican caucus should follow suit.

Because the system of health care for the wealthy - and Band-Aids to cure cancer for the rest of us - will closely follow their draconian plans for Medicare.

*****

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

If the politicians in DC are so serious about deficit reduction, then why don't they start by cutting their own pay, health care benefits and pensions?

Doesn't budget control begin at home?

And if Paul Ryan's Medicare plan is so terrific, why don't Ryan and other Congressional supporters of his budget immediately pass a bill that will replace their health care benefits with the Ryan plan?

In fact, why not run a test program with the Koch brothers, members of their Americans for Prosperity and elderly Tea Party supporters? All of them should volunteer to immediately go on the Ryan Medicare, drastically limited "voucher program" - which would leave a high percentage of seniors unable to afford medical insurance - as sort of a test model of Ryan's plans for privatizing and shrinking Medicare.

Then we can see the actual results of a plan that would raise health care costs by adding the profits of corporations and administrative costs to Medicare, while drastically reducing benefits due to the small amount of money allocated to vouchers for each senior - and the for-profit insurance industry profit motivation to deny as much care as possible.

If Ryan is the "visionary" much of the corporate media makes him out to be, let Americans see his "vision" actualized by a trial implementation of his proposed program.

Let Ryan be the first volunteer, after he cuts his pay, pension and other Congressional benefits.

*****

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

No fracking way!

According to the Erie-Times News:

Gov. Tom Corbett defended his proposed budget in his first visit to Erie County as the state's chief executive, and said some universities could make up for the loss of state funds by opening their campuses to natural-gas drilling.

Speaking at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania at a conference for the trustees from the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools, Corbett said six universities on the Marcellus shale formation could open to drilling.

BuzzFlash at Truthout has detailed the toxic cocktail stew used in what is called "fracking" (hydraulic fracturing), a likely cancer-causing process that has ended up in the well and stream water of many areas around fracking sites.

As Thom Hartmann writes in a recent review of "Gasland" (available as a documentary DVD with a minimum donation to BuzzFlash/Truthout): "Instead of just recovering gas, the chemicals often seep into water tables - usually with some of the natural gas - leading to some of the most dramatic scenes in the movie where residents of gas country are able to light their tapwater on fire as it's coming out of the tap."

Since BuzzFlash at Truthout first began monitoring fracking, a populist revolt has arisen against it, particularly in the Marcellus Shale drilling basin that include Pennsylvania. Just type "fracking" into a Facebook search and see how many grassroots groups there are in opposition to the process.

Of course, Corbett, who has received much money in contributions from the drilling industry, may have a couple of ulterior motives for turning higher education into a zombie lab chemistry experiment.

For one, according to the Erie-Times News, "Corbett's proposed 2011-12 budget includes a $2 billion decrease in education funding and 50 percent reduction in aid to colleges and universities. That includes $220 million in aid eliminated from PASSHE's state allocation and $182 million cut from the Pennsylvania State University system's allocation."

It appears Corbett is intent on transforming higher education into lower education, where, at frat parties, students can get drunk and light their tap water on fire for cheap thrills.

As far as drinking the water, we hope that Governor Corbett has set up a college chemotherapy fund, despite his cutbacks for education

*****

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Would Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tell hungry people to go without food?

Apparently so, according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which provides details of Walker's effort to outsource decision making about who should receive food stamps to a for-profit company.

One online publication, Politicususa, labels this latest radical Walker initiative "his Wisconsin food stamp starvation scheme."

Not only is it ethically appalling to implicitly assert that Wisconsin can save money by, in essence, letting a for-profit company ration food stamps to the hungry, it doesn't appear to even work.

According to the Journal Sentinel,

Federal officials pointed to past problems with privatization deals in other states such as Indiana and Texas. In 2009, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration dropped IBM's $1.4 billion contract to handle intake for residents of that state seeking health coverage and food assistance.

The state ended up suing the company for allegedly failing to live up to the contract and provide adequate service to sick and needy residents, said Marcus Barlow, a spokesman for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. The dispute drags on in court.

Furthermore, the Journal Sentinel indicates that Wisconsin will lose money from D.C. if Walker's plan is implemented: "Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to privatize work determining who is eligible for food assistance in the state would violate federal law and could expose the state to a loss of more than $20 million in federal money, federal officials say."

Food stamps have been shown to have a strong positive economic effect, returning more money to the economy than their cost. How is that possible? Because a hungry family that uses food stamps creates jobs for food stores, truck drivers, farmers, food workers, etc.

Walker's rationing of food stamps through a for-profit company is not just callous, it's an economic folly for the taxpayers of the Badger State.

*****

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