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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT 

hitech(Photo: Toban B.)

Technology has advanced exponentially in the last few decades. In terms of news, it means that we can learn as quickly about an event thousands of miles away as we can about the sudden death of a neighbor.

A couple centuries ago, wars were only learned about when ships came into port from far-away lands with letters, local newspapers and eyewitness accounts. Now, we see the murderous invasion that is occurring in Gaza in real time, including four children obliterated on a beach by an Israeli government gunboat.

We hear immediately of an Israeli attack on a UN “safe zone” shelter that killed 15 Gazans.

We learn all this - and view it - strolling down the street with a smartphone, or on a computer screen, or watching television. If there were an expectation at one point - and there was among some - that technological advancements would bring the peoples of distant lands closer together in harmony, we are now dismayed at how naive such a thought was.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

waterfaucet(Photo: kiranghata)

The privatization of municipal water services is a potential looming reality in Detroit.

According to a June 14 Detroit Free Press article, the emergency manager appointed to administer a state-mandated bankruptcy of the city has been actively exploring turning pubic water services into private profit: 

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s office is studying several bids to privatize the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and could have a selection process completed within two weeks, a spokesman said Monday.

But Orr spokesman Bill Nowling would not release any information about which companies submitted bids by Sunday’s deadline to operate and manage the system relied on by millions of people in southeast Michigan. Nowling said the bids are considered confidential under a federal mediation order.

It hasn't happened yet, in part due to legal, political and PR positioning - including the 15-day temporary reprieve in residential water shut-offs resulting from large protests last week in Detroit.

One reason you can be almost certain that the residential shut-offs will resume is a point made on Next City, a website focusing on "inspiring better cities": "As activists point out, DWSD [Detroit Water and Sewerage Department] is a much more appealing purchase if it loses its debt." In short, by cutting off residents with growing unpaid water bills, the DWSD becomes a more attractive acquisition to the private market. 

Political protests, negative media coverage and ongoing activism could cause the bankruptcy court to force a different outcome than complete privatization: a public-private partnership (in which DWSD would pay a management firm to run the agency) or - the least unlikely given the pro-corporatism statements and actions of Emergency Manager Orr - keeping DWSD a public non-profit service for residents and area businesses.

That Orr would have directed or permitted the DWSD to cruelly accelerate water shut-offs during the Detroit summer heat speaks to the indifference of those running the bankruptcy process toward the people of limited income actually living in Detroit.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

dignityandequal(Image: riacale)

Unfortunately, there are those people in the world who lust for revenge, whose souls are boiling with the toxic and barbaric notion of bloodletting in the name of a perceived "just" grievance. That is the case of Thane Rosenbaum, who The Wall Street Journal describes as "a novelist, essayist and professor at the New York University School of Law [and] the author, most recently, of Payback: The Case for Revenge."

Rosenbaum's "Payback" book argues for the legitimacy of revenge. According to the University of Chicago Press, publisher of Rosenbaum's screed, "What, if anything, distinguishes punishment at the hands of the government from a victim’s individual desire for retribution? Are vengeance and justice really so very different? No, answers legal scholar and novelist Thane Rosenbaum in Payback: The Case for Revenge - revenge is, in fact, indistinguishable from justice."

We admittedly have not had time to read the book since becoming aware of it in an incendiary and barbaric Wall Street Journal commentary written by Rosenbaum yesterday, but the book apparently contends that legal systems should be more active in carrying out revenge on behalf of those who feel wronged.

If that is the case, Rosenbaum runs far afield of any notion of vengeance-best-served-cold when he "argues" in his Wall Street Journal column that - in essence - there can be no civilian deaths caused by the Israeli attack and invasion because, he speciously and abhorrently claims, there are no civilians in Gaza:

On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians when you freely elect members of a terrorist organization as statesmen, invite them to dinner with blood on their hands and allow them to set up shop in your living room as their base of operations. At that point you begin to look a lot more like conscripted soldiers than innocent civilians. And you have wittingly made yourself targets.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

criminalminds(Photo: bridget_willard)

The Center for Effective Government offers some astonishing examples of corporations that withheld information about products that are dangerous to consumers, resulting in death, injury and illness. For instance, consider a profitable pharmaceutical drug being sold even though its potentially deadly side effects were known to the company: In 2008, it was revealed that, "Merck withheld information on the risks of the painkiller Vioxx from doctors and patients for more than five years, resulting in an estimated 88,000 to 139,000 heart attacks, approximately 30 to 40 percent of which were fatal."

Of course, the more recent examples of deaths that resulted from corporations keeping consumers in the dark about dangerous products were exemplified by GM and other auto industry giants. According to the Center for Effective Government:

[There are] multiple cases of corporate misconduct that [lead] to serious injuries and deaths. A recent example involved General Motors' (GM) recall of millions of automobiles with defective ignition switches. For over a decade, GM withheld information about the defective switches from regulators and the public. The company recently conceded that faulty switches are responsible for at least 13 deaths over the past several years, and some regulators believe the actual death toll may be much higher. GM has moved to settle more than 300 claims related to these deadly ignition switches.

On May 16, the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration slapped GM on the wrist with a $35 million civil fine, amounting to less than a day's revenue for the company. Although GM executives were aware of the defects and even asked employees to conceal the safety concerns from the public, not one of them will have to pay a criminal fine or face time in prison.

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards adds, "Toyota intentionally concealed information from the public about defects in their automobiles that caused them to accelerate even as drivers were trying to slow them down, leading to at least five deaths and resulting in no criminal penalties for individual Toyota executives."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

cal(Photo: Ken Lund)

Not too long before "Independence Day," US citizens in Murrieta, California, rowdily assembled on July 1 to block buses carrying mostly children seeking refuge from violence and poverty, according to USA Today:

More than 100 people waving American flags and holding signs that opposed "new illegals" waited in the hot sun for the three charter buses to arrive at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Murrieta, about an hour north of San Diego...

Tensions in the crowd increased as it grew in number. Shouting matches ensued as protesters clashed with immigration reform supporters like Lupillo Rivera, who was among those trying to launch a counter-protest.

"We are your baby-sitters, we clean your hotels, we baby-sit your kids," screamed Rivera.

Those on the buses fleeing for their lives and for food to survive were mostly youth and primarily from Central America. The protests in Murietta continued, with the support of the mayor, for days, even though the individuals in humanitarian need were just temporarily being processed in Murietta and then being moved on to other facilities.

As part of a series for Truthout that I have been working on, I have been researching the origins of anti-immigrant mania in the US and its relationship to colonization. After all, one of the egregious ironies of a fever-pitched cry to "secure the border with Mexico" to keep out non-US citizens is that the United States is composed of land seized from its original inhabitants – Native Americans. Moreover, as the US pursued its drive across the continent, its lodestar was a philosophy of "Manifest Destiny," born of a belief in the superiority of the white race.

It is ironic that a nation that annually celebrates its independence from the most expansive colonizer of the 1700's and 1800's - Britain - used its newfound nationhood to become a colonizer of North and South America (the latter through military intervention in governments that were not amenable to de facto US interests).

Returning to Murietta, a brief history of the people who inhabited and had inhabitant rights to that particular area is in order. First, there were the Native Americans who have lived in the West for thousands upon thousands of years (for some, dating back to approximately 17000 BC, and including some 500 tribes).  

Then the colonization started.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

bankdetrup(Photo: jonathan mcintosh)

Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a leader of the Moral Mondays movement, recently pronounced: "We're in a time where corporations are treated like people and people are treated like things."

We are witnessing a glaring example of this injustice in Detroit, where water is being cut off to residents who have not been up to date in paying their bills for a basic human survival need: water. The New Scientist recently reported on warnings that this may lead to a public health crisis:

The decision by the bankrupt city of Detroit to cut off the water supply to 80,000 homes with outstanding water bills is a public health disaster in the making, says the largest professional association of nurses in the US.

National Nurses United has called for an immediate moratorium on the shut-offs, and is leading a march in Detroit on Friday to make its demands clear.

The policy has been condemned by the United Nations as an international human rights violation.

"Nurses know the critical link between access to water and public health," said NNU co-president Jean Ross in a statement released by the organisation. "Lack of water, like unsafe sanitation, is a major health disaster that can lead to disease outbreaks and pandemics. The city must end this shut-off now."

A July 15 Truthout Op-Ed, "A National Call: Come to Detroit, Link Arms to Stop the Water Shut Offs and Fight for Democracy," by Ben Ptashnik excoriates the neoliberal attack on the most basic rights of humans:

The pawns in this crisis, the impoverished residents of Detroit, have already suffered the globalization of this rust belt region, as corporations took their production south, and then abroad. They are underemployed and struggling just to feed their families. The last thing they need is to be viciously set upon by the governor and his Darth Vader-like "manager" who now threaten their health by shutting off the water, the essential basis of civilized life. This attack would never see the light of day in an all-white community. The water shut-off preys most viciously on the poor and sick, elderly, children and pregnant women.

While they are being cut off, millions of dollars are still owed to the city water department by a golf course, corporations, businesses and by thousand of homes foreclosed and now owned by banks or corporations. All of these have not been subjected to shut off, even when their bills are months or years overdue. It is obvious that the African-American community is disproportionately targeted by the governor's emergency manager, who has hired a private company (a wrecking crew) to perform the shut-offs, often without notice, of any resident who is overdue 60 days, on as little as $75.

Ptashnik's commentary on Truthout covers much more expansive ground than just the inhumane water shut-offs; it witheringly criticizes the neoliberal abandonment of Detroit and the current efforts to make a profit off of destroying the city's neighborhood infrastructure.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

citigroup(Image: Mike Licht NotionsCapital.com)

Yesterday, Thom Hartmann, lamented in a commentary posted on Truthout that the most recent Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement with Citigroup (its second this year, amid other fines levied by the DOJ for criminal behavior against other banks) was an example of the US government coddling banks engaged in illegal activities while leaving most homeowners who were victims of their malfeasance without adequate compensation or assistance.

Hartmann wrote:

Of the $7 billion total settlement, $4 billion will be in the form of a civil monetary payment to the Department of Justice, $500 million will go to state attorney's general and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and an additional $2.5 billion will go towards "consumer relief."

But make no mistake about it. This agreement is another win for the big banks.

Under the agreement, Citigroup will most likely get a $500 million tax write-off. And in pre-market trading on Monday, Citigroup stocks rose by nearly 4 percent, despite the $7 billion agreement.

This is nothing more than a slap on the wrist for Citigroup; basically a cost of doing business.

And as for the mere $2.5 billion in consumer relief, while it will be going towards loan modifications, principal reduction and refinancing for distressed homeowners, it's nowhere near enough. And there are no guarantees it will make its way into the hands of the people Citigroup victimized, either.

As The New York Times reported on the Citigroup settlement:

Wall Street watchdog groups and housing advocates said the terms of the $7 billion settlement highlight how the federal government has fallen short in its effort to hold banks accountable, noting that neither Citigroup nor any of its executives have been criminally charged for the bank’s mortgage problems.

The bible of the financial industry, The Wall Street Journal - contrary to other reports that only a small tax deduction was included in Citigroup's settlement - posted an article, "Citigroup to Get Tax Silver Lining in $7 Billion Settlement."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

prisonwire(Photo: x1klima)

It's not unusual to see headlines in major cities, such as the one in Chicago after the Fourth of July weekend, on the NBC News Windy City website: "More Than 60 Shot Over Fourth of July Weekend."

Politicians, fearing the NRA and having abandoned large areas of urban areas populated by minorities as economic wastelands, often promote putting more people with illegal guns in jail as a solution to what amounts to free-fire zones in poor police-occupied areas of cities. In essence, these are the areas that political leaders (and much of society) have largely discounted as de facto urban reservations for disposable people.

Prison provides a living for a lot of people - for-profit prison corporations, guards, lawyers, judges, the arresting police officers and a whole slew of professional consultants and workers. One thing that it doesn't do is provide economic options for those incarcerated for gun possession charges (or for a myriad of other non-violent technical crimes including drugs) when they are released. 

The cost to the taxpayer of keeping an individual in prison is high. The New York Times (NYT) wrote about a 2012 study that found that the average cost for incarceration in the state prisons was $31,286 in the 40 states studied - and federal prisons are even more costly. The NYT reported that New York City spent a whopping $167,731 per prisoner in city jail, the majority probably in jail for nonviolent charges.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

trickled453(Photo: David_Shankbone)

David Cay Johnston, a renowned economic journalist covering tax issues, recently asserted that approximately $6.6 trillion in income for US earners has been lost since 2000. It just disappeared.

Why did it vanish? Here is how Johnston explains it in a July 9 Al Jazeera article:

I calculated that enormous figure by comparing the average income Americans reported on their 2000 tax returns with what they reported each year for 2001 through 2012, adjusting for inflation and the growing population. Add up the income for 12 years and it turns out to be $6.6 trillion less than if we had maintained the prosperity of 2000 for a growing population.

Why use 2000 as a benchmark? Well, first off, it marks the end of one era and the start of another. More important, that very good year economically was when George W. Bush, running for president, said American prosperity would get even better if he was elected and his tax cuts — key aspects of which he kept secret until after the election — would ensure American prosperity.

The results: The prosperity of the prior decade was lost. Job growth fell far behind population growth. The median wage (half make more, half less) has been mired since 1998 at a bit more than $500 per week. 

So how does this impact taxpayers overall?

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

hobbyconta(Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

The Hobby Lobby ruling is just one of an avalanche of Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions in which the right wing has legislated from the bench. Forget about the largely fictional concept of a "liberal activist bench"; if you can find such an ongoing entity, please respond in the comments section. 

The reality is that the 5-4 right-wing, pro-corporate-personhood SCOTUS is masterful at defying Congress and the White House and rewriting laws to suit a partisan agenda, including socially conservative goals. BuzzFlash posted a commentary a few days ago about the absurdity of bestowing religious beliefs on a company, for example.

To put this in context, when Antonin Scalia argued for striking down provisions in the Voting Rights Act (which had just been overwhelmingly reapproved by both houses of Congress), he declared in 2013: "This is not the kind of question you can leave to Congress." What he means, of course, is that a 5-4 majority on SCOTUS has turned it into a de facto legislative body that determines US law by a total of five votes, on behalf of a nation of more than 300 million people.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is joining other Democratic senators in support of the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act. In an email, Warren described the bill:

The bill reverses the Supreme Court's decision by making it clear that employers cannot deny access to any of the health benefits required by the ACA – not immunizations, not blood transfusions, not HIV treatments, and not birth control – while preserving reasonable accommodations for religiously exempt employers [that would mean actual religions, such as the Catholic Church]

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