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aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaakalaThe NRA enables terrorism. It's not even debatable. (Photo: Bartosch Salmanski)

It's been more than a decade since then Attorney General John Ashcroft prohibited the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) from stopping people on the US government terrorist watch list from purchasing guns.

Indeed, since Ashcroft issued the order after 9/11 not to interfere with people suspected of terrorist involvement from buying firearms, BuzzFlash has been calling attention to the contradictions embodied by those in the NRA and Congress who say that we need guns to protect ourselves against terrorists, while also ensuring that people they suspect of being terrorists can purchase guns without hindrance. Regardless of what you think of the existence of the terrorist watch list in the first place, the hypocrisy is striking.

As a November 20 Associated Press (AP) article noted,

People on the U.S. government's terrorist watch list often can't board commercial airliners, but they can walk into a gun store and legally buy pistols and powerful, military-style assault rifles....

According to a March analysis by the Government Accountability Office, people on the FBI's consolidated Terrorist Watchlist successfully passed the background check required to purchase firearms more than 90 percent of the time, with more than 2,043 approvals between 2004 and 2014. The office is an investigative branch of Congress....

Under current federal law, however, association with a terrorist organization doesn't prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives.

If someone is denied a gun purchase from a retail firearms store, it is only because they don't qualify for other reasons.

Published in EditorBlog


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatrumpTrump combines the skills of an entertainer, self-promoter and demagogue in advancing his political "brand." (Photo: Michelle)

Like many reality-based individuals, until recently I thought of Donald Trump as a somewhat amusing, somewhat disturbing combination of the Joker from Batman, a carnival barker and a used-car salesman successfully persuading a sucker to buy a vehicle without a motor.

I smugly waited for common sense to tighten its grip on the Trump zeppelin until it burst.

Time after time, colleagues and friends would say, "This time Trump's gone too far." They predicted a rapid descent of his Republican candidacy as a result of his latest "take your pick" outlandish statement. However, except for a couple of weeks when Ben Carson began to rise in the polls, challenging Trump's lead, the bombastic billionaire Pied Piper has continued to lead the GOP field. Not that Carson would be a salvation from Trump. (Addressing that point, Stephen Colbert recently nicknamed Trump and Carson "offensive" and "bizarre," respectively, in a sketch.)

Last week, even mainstream media pundits were speculating that Trump had finally imploded as a result of a rambling, surreal speech in Iowa. Trump's remarks included a mock reenactment of Ben Carson allegedly stabbing the belt buckle of a classmate when he was a teenager, implied that Carson had a pathology similar to that of a "child molester," and declared that Iowans who support Carson are "stupid." 

Published in EditorBlog


aaaaaaaaadonaldtrDonald Trump finds a new xenophobic target, refugees fleeing for their lives from the civil war in Syria. (Mark Hammermeister)

Refugees fleeing the ongoing carnage in the Middle East are a made-to-order target for Donald Trump's demagogic xenophobic fearmongering.

Trump's campaign statements are primarily built on evoking fear, fear of "the other," fear of foreign powers, fear of non-Christians, fear of the government. His most abiding appeal to the amygdala (the base of fear in the brain), is to stoke the fright and vitriol of white privilege. In doing so, he finds daily hot buttons to push using variations on incarnations of "the other" to feed the beast of his voter base. 

Trump can glide from slandering Mexicans to defaming refugees from the Middle East with a destructive glibness that is as dangerous as it is facile. It is not surprising that Trump's claim that Obama was only sending refugees to states with Republican governors was rated by POLITIFACT as a pants-on-fire lie. That claim was only one small arrow in Trump's quiver of fear-evoking arrows aimed at stirring up the emotional cauldron of his followers. Indeed, Trump, according to The Washington Post, commented today that he "is refusing to rule out extreme measures that include warrantless searches or faith-based identification requirements" of Muslims in the US.

Published in EditorBlog


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.

Published in EditorBlog


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").

Published in EditorBlog


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. 

Published in EditorBlog


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.  

Published in EditorBlog


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.

Published in EditorBlog


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.

Published in EditorBlog


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.

Published in EditorBlog
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