Facebook Slider
Optional Member Code
Get News Alerts!

EditorBlog (1457)


arainbow(Photo: Eric Wagner)

The birth of Indiana Senate Bill 101 - which is the latest in a rash of so-called "religious freedom" laws whose ulterior purpose is to establish legal discrimination against LGBTQ people - is part of the ongoing cultural war backlash among White Christians (and other fundamentalist religious factions, including some Orthodox Jews). 

LGBTQ rights, while still under withering attack in many cases, has been one of the few areas where some social progress has been made, particularly in court rulings allowing LGBTQ marriages and partner rights. Not that the struggle for LGBTQ equality is over; far from it. (In fact, some of the most crucial issues, such as criminalization, remain largely untouched by government and by mainstream LGBTQ organizations.) However, a significant beachhead has been established from which to continue the movement for equality under the law.

The Indiana law that has caused a national uproar has been passed in quite a few other states, without receiving much national press. These laws are modeled, to some extent, after a federal law passed by Congress and signed into law more than 20 years ago, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RRFA) of 1993. Although the law was limited to federal and not state application, it guaranteed the right of people not to be prosecuted for exercising their religion in regards to their personal rituals and rights.

Ironically, the RRFA was enacted on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the firing of two Native Americans who were terminated from their jobs when traces of peyote were detected during a drug test. The individuals argued that peyote was used as part of their tribal religious rituals, but the top court in the land ruled that the job terminations were not a suppression of religious rights. From this case was born a national campaign of religious groups that pushed to pass the 1993 federal law, which is largely unknown; it is not frequently invoked, given that it cannot be applied to state actions.

Fast-forward to 2012 and the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby


acitunited(Image: DonkeyHotey)

It's easy enough to be a journalist, or an advocate for democracy, and write about how money is destroying the electoral process. That can be done without risk of being arrested and tossed into jail.

But a group called 99Rise, with the slogan "together we rise," is dedicated to reversing the Supreme Court decisions and congressional laws that allow for a few people with big money to manufacture the outcome of elections, by putting themselves on the line.  

According to an April 1 news release from 99Rise sent via email to the media,

Five members of the grassroots organization 99Rise disrupted the nation's highest Court this morning, issuing a series of statements protesting recent court rulings that facilitate enormous increases in campaign spending by a tiny fraction the wealthiest 1%. Protestors rose one by one to deliver their statements to the Court, demanding they "Reverse McCutcheon and overturn Citizens United," before raising their index finger in the air, a gesture signifying "one person, one vote" political equality. They were detained and arrested by court security.

"The Supreme Court is deeply complicit in the corruption of our democracy," said Belinda Rodriguez, who participated in protest. "Their McCutcheon and Citizens United rulings have allowed corporations and billionaires to essentially buy our elections with unlimited sums of campaign cash, silencing the vast majority of voters. We're here to send a message that the American people won't stand for it."

This is not an April's Fool's joke; these are real people who are being swept up into the mass-incarceration system because they feel strongly that a robust democracy - not a sham democracy dictated by plutocrats - must become the norm in the USA.


 aelizabethwarren34(Photo: Edward Kimmel)

Elizabeth Warren is reminding the Democrats to show some backbone and not give in to Wall Street's threats to withhold funding to the Democratic National Committee and some national candidates. Why are the big banks trying to intimidate the Democratic Party? Because the most outspoken senator - Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) - is proposing that the big banks should be broken up.

Her reasoning is simple: The few banks that control most of the nation's money are not, as Obama officials often assert, "too big to fail." Warren argues that actually, they are too big not to fail.

A March 27 article from the Guardian provides the context to the threat:

Big Wall Street banks are so upset with Elizabeth Warren’s call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to SenateDemocrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Representatives from Citigroup, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party’s tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week.

Bank officials said the idea of withholding donations was not discussed at a meeting of the four banks in Washington but it has been raised in one-on-one conversations between representatives of some of them. However, there was no agreement on coordinating any action, and each bank is making its own decision, they said.

Will the withdrawal of Wall Street political contributions to the Democratic Party seriously impact elections? The answer is probably not. As The Guardian points out, "The amount of money at stake, a maximum of $15,000 per bank, means the gesture is symbolic rather than material."


apaydayl(Photo: Jason Comely)

If you do not know it, payday loan stores are a legalized loan sharking industry that is now a $46 billion dollar industry, according to National Public Radio. The business preys upon the poor by offering relatively small loans based on an individual showing a paycheck stub.

However, the majority of borrowers aren't able to pay the money back when it is due and the small "stores" that look like currency exchanges start to charge interest rates on the loans that can run into the three digits in the many states where they are unregulated. NPR cites these compelling statistics:

In fact, repeat borrowers are the heart of the payday business. Government researchers found that 4 out of 5 payday borrowers had to renew their loans, typically before their next paycheck. And 1 in 5 renewed at least seven times....

The interest for poor borrowers often far exceeds the original loan in just a matter of weeks, while people of extremely limited means who wanted to avoid debt fall deeper into it.

The website SFGate.com offers one egregious, but not uncommon example, of how the usurious practices and deplorable effects of this cycle of debt - which results in enormous profits for the payday loan industry - impacts those of limited economic means.


apeaceful(Photo: Evelyn Berg)

In a recent BuzzFlash commentary it was noted that "peace is not profitable enough for the United States":

The National Priorities Project, which keeps running expenditure tabs on the costs of war, estimates that the US has now spent nearly $1.7 trillion on wars since 2001. A spokeswoman for the National Priorities Project told BuzzFlash that approximately $823 billion has been spent on the Department of Homeland Security since its creation after 9/11. She also mentioned a Washington Post article from 2013 that estimated the CIA budget at $14.7 billion. Pentagon spending alone - which comprises more than half of the US budget each year - rings in at $554 billion for 2015. To be fair, a lot of this funding overlaps, but the behemoth financial interests of the "war industry" are readily apparent from these figures. Furthermore, these estimates do not include agencies such as the State Department and many unknown "black budget" programs and smaller war and surveillance allocations.....

The dramatic expansion in privatizing war and intelligence services only increases the incentive for trying to find ways to profit from conflict and focusing on the elimination of "enemies." This includes not just the major wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan [which are funded through a supplemental war budget], but numerous spots around the world in which the US is engaged in what are called low-intensity conflicts.

In short, too many institutions, corporations and people depend upon conflict to earn their livings - and in many cases fortunes. In fact, you can add the indirect beneficiaries of the war machine to that list by including stockholders, for example, in publicly traded defense and intelligence companies. After all, the value of their stock and the size of their dividends is dependent upon contracts with the military-intelligence-surveillance-complex. 


armedcampuses(Image: ArmedCampuses.org)

Recent news of the Texas Senate passing legislation that would allow people to carry concealed handguns to be armed on college campuses has been viewed as a new breakthrough for the National Rifle Association (NRA). 

A March 19 article in the Texas Observer reports, "The Second Amendment took center stage this week as the Senate OK'd bills that would allow licensed gun-owners to carry handguns concealed on college campuses and openly everywhere else in public." The legislation, if passed by the Texas House as is and signed by a supportive governor, Republican Greg Abbott, would not allow public universities to individually place prohibitions on carrying concealed handguns.

For those who are alarmed by this development, it is of little reassurance to know that many states already have passed varying degrees of allowing guns on college grounds. In fact, three states - Utah, Idaho and Colorado - not only allow firearms on the grounds of places of higher learning; they prohibit colleges from choosing to opt out of the law and restrict guns on campuses. 

A map on the pro-gun control ArmedCampuses website details the college gun laws in each state (which you can view by clicking here). It's a sobering image that shows that only 13 states completely restrict guns on campuses for students, employees (with the exception of law enforcement) and visitors. All other states have mandated campuses allow a varying range of gun presence options.

Still, the majority of campuses in the United States maintain the ability to prohibit the carrying of handguns by individuals, based on the degree of latitude given them in state laws. (Some states, for instance, only require colleges and universities to allow guns in cars that are parked on campus.) However, the NRA and other pro-gun lobbying groups have been chipping away at this option by pushing laws mandating the right to walk around with a handgun everywhere on college property (although the Texas law would exempt private colleges).


apolicbrut(Photo: Susan Melkisethian)

A shocking new study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois reveals that the discriminatory practice of police stopping and frisking people of color happens at even higher rates in Chicago than in New York. The ACLU of Illinois found that during the summer of 2014,

CPD [Chicago Police Department] conducted more than a quarter million stops of civilians that did not lead to an arrest. When comparing that number of stops to population in Chicago versus New York City at the height of that city’s controversial use of the stop-and-frisk practice, Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as people in New York. Stops per 1000 residents was 93.6 in Chicago, compared to 22.9 (at the highest point in 2011) in New York City. The New York police have been forced to curb significantly their use of stop-and-frisk after a federal judge found the use in that city to be unconstitutional.

Harvey Grossman, legal director for the Illinois ACLU chapter, remarked on the organization's website, "And just like New York, we see that African Americans are singled out for these searches."

The report's conclusions are backed up by painstaking research, including an analysis of so-called "contact cards" that Chicago police officers are required to submit when they stop someone.

The ACLU found that African-Americans - and Latinos to a lesser degree - are disproportionately targeted.


aevictionstop(Photo: Lynn Friedman)

recent study by researchers at Harvard and Rice Universities explored the impact of housing evictions. According to the study's abstract, it finds:

Millions of families across the United States are evicted each year. Yet, we know next to nothing about the impact eviction has on their lives. Focusing on low-income urban mothers, a population at high risk of eviction, this study is among the first to examine rigorously the consequences of involuntary displacement from housing.... Compared to matched mothers who were not evicted, mothers who were evicted in the previous year experienced more material hardship, were more likely to suffer from depression, reported worse health for themselves and their children, and reported more parenting stress.

Mothers, as the Harvard/Rice research concludes, are particularly vulnerable because they most often provide the emotional glue that holds a family together.

It makes sense that families under severe economic stress would become more distressed - and experience more health problems - after eviction, but little research has been done on the topic until now. When it comes to homelessness, three trends have become clear over the past few years: 1) The number of homeless adults, teens and children is rising; 2) the number of homeless shelters is limited; and 3) more cities are prohibiting people who are homeless from sleeping on public property.


avote(Photo: Theresa Thompson)

After President Obama stated in a speech that the United States would be a more robust democracy if everyone voted - and that it would help to reduce the influence of big money - the voter suppression meme emerged loud and clear at Fox News.

Obama, in a speech at the Cleveland City Club on March 19, stated:

It would be transformative if everybody voted. That would counteract money more than anything. If everyone voted, it would completely change the political map in this country. Because the people who tend not to vote are young, they're lower income, they're skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups. And, you know, there are often the folks who are scratching and climbing to get in to the middle class, and they're working hard. There's a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls, we want to get them into the polls.

Fox's response, of course, didn't explicitly advocate imposing voting obstacles on people of color, the poor and the disabled. Instead, several programs on the network took up the meme that only "informed" voters should exercise their voting rights (clearly implying that certain groups are simply not "qualified" to vote). This idea harkens back to the time that the Constitution was created. Contrary to the glossed-over historical narratives that are taught in most schools, voting, in the early days of the US, was more or less limited to White males with property. Blacks, who were enslaved, couldn't vote. Native Americans couldn't realistically vote; they were being killed in large numbers at the time of the founding of the nation. Women of any color couldn't vote. The list of exclusions goes on.


rickscottFlorida Governor Rick Scott (Image: DonkeyHotey)

Although cities, beaches and towns on Florida's coast are in danger of permanent flooding due to global warming, Governor Rick Scott has reportedly issued a gag order on state officials, prohibiting them from even mentioning climate change.

According to the Miami Herald, 

DEP [Florida Department of Environmental Protection] officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget....

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.” 

In the Alice-in-corporate-wonderland world of Rick Scott, global warming is a fiction perpetrated by liberals trying to bring down the free-market system.

Page 7 of 105