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EditorBlog (1598)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaartinstThe Art Institute of California (San Francisco), one of the "brands" of the for-profit Education Management Corporation. The company is partially owned by Goldman Sachs. (Photo: Simon Gibson)

The Obama administration has again shown that it is as lax in reining in for-profit college corporations as it is in disciplining Wall Street firms.  

In regards to both Wall Street and for-profit colleges, the executive branch is using relatively insignificant fines - not mandated structural change - against companies that violate regulations, laws, and the public trust through fraud.

Last week, we wrote about the bankruptcy of Corinthian colleges, which used high-pressure sales to lure students into educational programs that promised preparation for jobs that frequently never materialized - in large part due to inadequate training. In total, former Corinthian students with federal loans may owe up to $3.5 billion to the government. A movement to forgive the Corinthian student federal loan debt is currently underway. This would mean that the taxpayer underwrote Corinthian executive salaries and bonuses - as well as investor gains - before the corporation went belly up.

We quoted Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) warning, "If we continue to feed this beast, shame on us, and we should be held accountable by taxpayers for those who are going to make excuses for this industry." 

Based on a Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement announced this week with another for-profit higher education corporation, Education Management Corp. (the second largest such chain in the US), the Obama administration is doing little to eliminate the incentive for such predatory companies to engage in fraudulent practices. Yes, the DOJ did fine Education Management Corp. and force a repayment of loans to a small group of specified students, but that leaves the company benefiting from more than $9 billion dollars in federal loans owed by students, according to a November 16 article in The New York Times.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaabvegasCNN's Jake Tapper hyped the October Democratic debate by asking if one of the candidates might bite the ear off of another candidate. Really. (Photo: You Tube)

As the so-called primary debates continue, one cannot emphasize enough how corporate television and the two major parties have conspired to reduce democracy to entertainment. Yes, it could be argued that the Democratic debates have allowed for a bit more substance than the Republican sparring matches. That, however, is only a relative judgment.

As Candice Bernd recently noted in a trenchant Truthout analysis, what are called primary debates are actually corporation-branded spectacles. They are opportunities for large media conglomerates to enhance their brand image, sell advertising, provide publicity for their "star" reporters, provoke titillating "exchanges" that attract more viewers (and advertisers), create more interest in the election and build relationships with politicians who make decisions about corporate media legislation. Of course, the primary debates whet the appetite of viewers for more election coverage - and enhance spending on political advertising on corporate television, eventually resulting in a windfall of billions of dollars.

In an October 14 BuzzFlash commentary on "privatizing democracy," I noted how the primary debates are negotiated directly between the two major political parties and television stations. As far as we can tell (although the DNC did not respond to our queries about the agreement for the CNN debate in October), the TV stations that air debates own the copyrights to them. That is why, thus far, one can only watch an individual debate on TV on the pay-TV station airing that specific debate (although CNN and the FOX News Business channel allowed free Internet streaming). 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaacorinthianThe for-profit Corinthian college corporation went bankrupt, leaving students billions of dollars in debt. Everest College was one of the Corinthian "brands." (Photo: Jeramey Jannene)

If you doubt that for-profit education is generally a scourge on students seeking knowledge and skills at the college level, just look at the example of what was one of the largest exploiters of higher education: Corinthian Colleges. The Corinthian corporation recently collapsed under the weight of bankruptcy.

According to a November 9 Chicago Tribune article, the demise of Corinthian left a massive number of former students with large college debts to pay off:

Closed by regulators for deceptive practices and dissolved through bankruptcy, for-profit Corinthian Colleges left tens of thousands of former students with dubious degrees and billions of dollars in debt.

A national movement to provide those students with debt relief is underway....

For students left holding the bag, that relief can't come too soon.

"I was ripped off," said Dawn Thompson, a divorced Springfield mother of two who is seeking forgiveness of $150,000 in federal student loans. Most of her debt was amassed through the online paralegal studies program offered by for-profit Everest University, a Corinthian brand.

The damage, however, goes far beyond those students who now owe money for degrees that are tarnished in the job marketplace. For example, many students who were still in their pre-degree studies when Corinthian went belly up accumulated large debts and now have neither a degree nor credits that are transferable to most colleges (given the now questionable quality of a Corinthian "education").

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaakentuckyflagKentucky flag waves over a state that regularly elects politicians who vote against the health interests of the state's citizens. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

With the the election last week of a rabidly anti-Obamacare governor, Tea Party Republican Matt Bevin, the health care of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians is in jeopardy. It is not hyperbole to state that lives are at stake because of Bevin's victory in a low turnout election last week (just 30.7 percent of eligible voters participated, according to CBS-affiliate WKYT.)

Considering the hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians whose lives are cared for as a result of the ACA - not to mention some relief from often-staggering medical bills - how did a governor get elected whose key campaign promise was to end Obamacare in the Bluegrass State?

Low turnout could be one possible answer, but that doesn't explain the fact that some people whose lives may literally depend on the ACA voted for a candidate who promised to end their coverage. 

A telling November 9 Washington Post article focuses on how the majority of those who voted in Pike County, Kentucky, broke for Bevin, even though the Appalachian county has a 23 percent poverty rate and its citizens benefit greatly from the ACA 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaafaith344Faith is not the property of a religion. (Photo: Steve Evans)

A website that labels itself Faithdrivenconsumer.com recently sent BuzzFlash an email announcing a new "Faith Equality Index (FIE)." According to the website, the rating system of corporations, calculated on "faith-based" criteria, will help a religious Christian consumer become "a missionary in the marketplace," allowing them to base their shopping on "faith-driven" values.

One fundamental flaw in the website is associating faith with a specific - fundamentalist Christian - religious outlook. The concept of "faith" is not limited to fundamentalist Christians, or even to those who believe in God; faith can be present without invoking a divinity. If only people who have a "respect for and compatibility with biblically orthodox teachings" - as described on the website – have faith, then most residents of earth are relegated to being "infidels."

In the email announcing the so-called Faith Equality Index, rhetoric is employed that co-opts a more progressive language of diversity and embracing of the human spirit. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaastandyourgroundThe NRA is lobbying to make it easier to have a legal license to kill in Florida. (Photo: Daniel Oines)

The murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, was a lethal example of the racist and mortally flawed "stand your ground" laws. 

If you recall, a "stand your ground" law allows individuals to shoot and, in some cases, even kill other people based on the claim that the shooter "perceived" that their life was being threatened. Technically, the lawyers for Zimmerman (who has since his shooting of Trayvon Martin been involved in several acts of violence and repeatedly tweeted racist comments) argued his case on the basis of what might be called standard self-defense law.

However, the "stand your ground" law was lurking in the background of both the trial and, likely, also the minds of those sitting on the jury that acquitted Zimmerman in 2013. Furthermore, Zimmerman's murder of Martin - after stalking Martin because he was guilty of walking while being a teen Black male - became associated with the deadly and racially charged intent of the "stand your ground law," even if it was not technically at issue in Zimmerman's acquittal.

In an ironic tragedy, it was Trayvon Martin - to whom Zimmerman represented a bodily threat by trailing him and confronting him as an armed vigilante - who would have been able to invoke the "stand your ground" law, because he appropriately feared Zimmerman. However, Martin only had a package of Skittles in his hand, while Zimmerman had a handgun in his.  

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaakochdefendThe American Dream of white privilege is a nightmare. A congressman at a Koch brothers summit. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

On October 31, Marc Fisher of The Washington Post attempted to explore the appeal of the Donald Trump slogan "Make America Great Again." Of course, the notion of "Make America Great Again" is closely related to the shibboleth of "the American Dream."

The concept of a dream that can be realized in reality is fascinating. After all, dreams, in actuality, are a cauldron of images and broken narratives that occur during sleep. Dreams visit us and present suggestive visuals and stories that we - at least, our conscious selves - do not control.

So, when politicians appeal to our "dream" of "Making America Great Again," they are evoking something in us which is a hybrid of conscious desires and a foggy notion of of the subconscious to make the nation - and our lives - "better." That second aspect of the aspirational dream is often vague and visceral, difficult to articulate, something akin to the dreams we experience when we are asleep.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaabencarsonRetired neurosurgeon Ben Carson still knows how to stimulate the part of the brain that induces fear. (Photo: DonkeyHotey)

Internationally acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, now retired, is clearly an expert on how the brain functions. After all, the Republican presidential aspirant was the director of pediatric neurosurgery at the renowned Johns Hopkins Medical Center from 1984 to 2013, and received much acclaim for his skills in the operating room.

That is why it is safe to assume that Carson is well aware of the role of one part of the brain in stimulating fear: the amygdala. The website About Education describes one major role of the amygdala:

The amygdala is involved in autonomic responses associated with fear and hormonal secretions. Scientific studies of the amygdala have led to the discovery of the location of neurons in the amygdala that are responsible for fear conditioning. Fear conditioning is an associative learning process by which we learn through repeated experiences to fear something. Our experiences can cause brain circuits to change and form new memories. 

Opportunistic politicians are well aware of the use of fear in attracting voters who are predisposed to latch onto the invocation of alarmist threats.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaapaulryanSpeaker of the House Paul Ryan will likely continue to champion his war on the poor. (Image: DonkeyHotey)

The corporate media is generally touting Paul Ryan's election as Speaker of the House as a triumph of Republican centrism. Paul Krugman, however, rebuked that notion in an October 10 New York Times commentary, in which he notes that Ryan is,

more or less unique among extreme right-wingers in having the approbation of centrists, especially centrist pundits. That is, he’s a big man within the GOP because people outside seem to approve of him....

And it has been a stunningly successful act. In his heyday, Ryan was the object of an immense, indeed embarrassing, media crush — the word “love” came up a lot....

So Ryan’s current stature is really quite curious, and I’d argue quite fragile. He has been a highly successful con artist, pretending to be the reasonable conservative centrists desperately want to see; he has become a power within his party because of that external achievement. 

The con job of which Krugman speaks involves couching extreme right wing positions in a veneer of budgetary wonkishness. This is particularly true when Ryan claims that he wants to "help" the poor when he is actually conducting a war on the poor that is based on the tacit premise that they are disposable people. Ryan is, indeed, obsessed with reducing government aid to the poor, including assisting them in finding jobs.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaceoretire345Economic injustice benefits the few at the expense of the many in retirement years. (Image: Institute for Policy Studies)

A just-released study on the enormous gap between retirement assets and benefits for the wealthy as compared to the rest of Americans - "A Tale of Two Retirements" - blames the divide on "a shift in the rules to favor corporate executives over other working people."

Key findings of the report, which was authored by Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger for the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Effective Government, include:

  • The company-sponsored retirement assets of just 100 CEOs add up to as much as the entire retirement account savings of 41% of American families (50 million families in total).

  • The 100 largest CEO retirement accounts are worth an average of more than $49.3 million—enough to generate a $277,686 monthly retirement check for each executive for the rest of their lives.

  • David Novak of YUM Brands had the largest retirement nest egg in the Fortune 500 in 2014, with $234 million, while hundreds of thousands of his Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC employees have no company retirement assets whatsoever. Novak transitioned from CEO to Executive Chairman in 2015.

Meanwhile, as BuzzFlash pointed out in an October 15 commentary, US "seniors face year of increased hardship as Social Security benefits stagnate." We pointed out that the government is denying seniors on Social Security a cost-of-living increase next year, even though their costs for food, medical care and rent are increasing. 

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