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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamnightWhose "American Dream" are we talking about anyway? (Photo: badlyricpolice)

It's a bit of a mind-bender to reflect upon Donald Trump in relation to one of the finest novels in the US canon, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Indeed, many an English major may consider it sullying to the legacy of the book to cite it at all in reference to Trump.

Still, some parallels beg consideration. The book's protagonist, Jay Gatsby, is a romantic dreamer who wishes to by loved by a woman who is not of his class. However, there is something more to Gatsby’s desire, which can be interpreted as a yearning for the mythical "American dream."

At the conclusion of the book, Nick Carraway - the narrator of the novel who is sympathetic to Gatsby - writes of Gatsby's futile pursuit of an ineluctable fantasy:

He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city....

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms further.....

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Dreams, after all - the ones that visit us when we are asleep - are beyond our control.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapolicebrutalityRacist policing is enabled by a racist society. (Photo: Elvert Barnes)

Politicians and police chiefs frequently like to label police violence and the murders of people of color as the work of a few bad apples. However, racist policing is endemic to law enforcement in big and small cities alike, because the police in large part function as an occupying force in communities of color - a force that consistently implements policies that perpetuate institutional racism.

In his brilliant, mesmerizing and incisive analysis of race in the United States, Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates cogently addresses this reality:

At this moment the phrase "police reform" has come into vogue, and the actions of our publicly appointed guardians have attracted attention presidential and pedestrian. You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of the country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of the country's criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by an oppressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies - the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects - are the product of democratic will.

We have seen, in recent times, the emergence of a passionate movement of primarily young Black people who have been uncompromising in demanding an end to the incessant anti-Black police violence, as part of a longer-term transformation of a racist society.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaforprofitcFederal student loans are putting billions of dollars into the piggy bank of for-profit college companies masquerading as "non-profits." (Photo: Tax Credits)

For-profit college companies' first priority is reaping a financial windfall, not providing a quality education. Recently, BuzzFlash reported on the bankruptcy of one such higher-education company, which left students saddled with billions of dollars in federal debt after the investors had made money off of billions of dollars in federal tuition loans.

There has been some renewed White House interest in reining in for-profit colleges - but in the absence of congressional action, little can be done.

Recent analysis by The Century Foundation has found that some inventive college corporations - in an attempt to preempt a crackdown on for-profit college schemes - have found a new way to reap the financial rewards of luring students into substandard colleges: convert themselves into IRS-approved nonprofit organizations. Once they receive nonprofit status, these companies then reconfigure themselves to channel a large chunk of their educational functions to the for-profit providers with whom they are linked:

Unfortunately, the conversion to nonprofit status is susceptible to abuse by covert for-profits—schools that obtain the nonprofit label yet continue operating like for-profit institutions—leaving consumers and taxpayers more vulnerable than ever.

Covert for-profit colleges can exist because while the Department of Education relies on the Internal Revenue Service’s judgment of which institutions are and which are not valid nonprofits, the IRS rests its determination on the declarations and self-regulation by the trustees of these nonprofits, based mostly on an honor system. As with other taxpayers, the IRS relies on the honesty of the individuals and corporations that file tax returns, an honesty that is tested only in case of an audit, which often takes place years afterward. 

The report, however, notes that the IRS examines less than a percent of nonprofits annually, therefore leaving a high probability that for-profit colleges seeking to escape scrutiny by becoming officially non-profit - in terms of IRS status - can function without government oversight indefinitely.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasmallplane344Will the friction between the tectonic plates of income inequality cause a social/political earthquake? (Image: Institute for Policy Studies)

Despite the ongoing scrutiny of income inequality and a plethora of advocacy efforts aimed at reversing the trend, the redistribution of wealth upward continues at a dizzying pace.

That's the conclusion of an analysis released today of the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. Conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), the report indicates that the net worth of the top 0.1 percent of the US population continues to swell:

The United States is becoming, as the French economist Thomas Piketty warns, a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power....  

The level of U.S. wealth inequality has grown so lopsided that our classic wealth distributional pyramid now more resembles the shape of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle.

The bulge at the top of our wealth “space needle” reflects America’s wealthiest 0.1 percent, the top one-thousandth of our population, an estimated 115,000 households with a net worth starting at $20 million. This group owns more than 20 percent of U.S. household wealth, up from 7 percent in the 1970s. This elite subgroup, University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez points out, now owns about as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of America combined.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT 

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

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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

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.

Published in EditorBlog

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").

Published in EditorBlog

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. 

Published in EditorBlog
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