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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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. 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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).

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ahsbcbank(Photo: Michael Fleshman)

Since the great Wall Street bank and financial firm swindle that led to a crash of the US economy in 2008, BuzzFlash has published many an article about the failure of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to criminally charge banks or executives for practices that led to the economic meltdown.

Yes, the Department of Justice has levied several of the "too big to fail banks" with large fines. But these fines, even if they are over a billion dollars in some cases, are written off by the banks as the cost of doing business - and in many cases, they are literally written off as tax-deductible expenses for the year that they are paid in. Although the Department of Justice has also negotiated companion agreements to curtail harmful banking practices (in addition to the fines), it is not yet clear how vigorously it will enforce them.  

In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has levied fines against Wall Street banks in relation to the economic crash and ongoing violations of banking regulations, but the SEC is limited by law to civil - and not criminal - enforcement.

In short, Wall Street emerged from the 2008 near-collapse of the US economy more profitable than ever as a result of a taxpayer bailout - and then what amounted to a financial slap on the wrist from US government enforcement agencies.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aclimatedenialThings don't go better with Koch. (Image: Wolf Gang)

The Koch Brothers, the most noted billionaires in the crusade to corral US democracy into an oligarchy, are back in the news for their funding of climate-denial flummery. In this case, according to The Guardian, they are making news for not revealing how much money they have invested in trying to debunk the reality of global warming:

The Koch brothers’ conglomerate Koch Industries has refused to comply with an investigation by three Senate Democrats into whether the company has funded groups or researchers who deny or cast doubt on climate change.

In response to a request from senators Barbara Boxer, Edward Markey and Sheldon Whitehouse for information about Koch Industries’ support for scientific research, Koch general counsel Mark Holden invoked the company’s first amendment rights.

Notice how the Koch Brothers attorney stresses "first amendment rights" for Koch Industries. This claim of corporate personhood echoes the plutocratic majority opinion in Citizens United: the opinion that companies have the same rights as individuals in elections. Only in this case, the notion of businesses being persons is applied to the funding of propaganda to elevate climate denial into a scientific theory.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

amemorialA memorial to the three men lynched in Duluth, Minnesota, erected in 2003. (Photo: Sharon Mollerus)

The concept that the North of the United States is less racist than the South should be regarded as a relative judgment only. After all, racism afflicts the history of the United States and is institutionalized into its social hierarchy. The US was built on racist cruelty and barbarism - most notably in the near extermination of Native Americans by Whites and the in the ineffably gruesome and ignoble institution of slavery and all the horrors that accompanied it. 

As BuzzFlash has pointed out before, the North was hardly entirely abolitionist during the ante-bellum period. Many lucrative northern businesses - such as textiles and ship building - profited from the processing of cotton picked by slaves and from the illicit transport of slaves (many of whom died in what was known as the "middle passage") from Africa to the Western Hemisphere. Other industries in the North also prospered from slavery, including banks.

The North also shared many racist attitudes with the South, just not always as visibly. Certainly one could easily see racism in action in large Northern cities as most Blacks were confined to living in segregated parts of cities and attending segregated schools, among other denials of rights and economic opportunity.

There is no dearth of historical evidence attesting to racism in the North. One example are the years 1919-20 when racial riots spread across the Northern US (and the South) following WW II. The "red summer" of 1919 carried over into 1920, and on June 15, three Black "roustabouts" for a circus performing in Duluth, Minnesota, were lynched by a White mob estimated in the thousands by the Minnesota Historical Society.

According to the Historical Society: 

In the early morning of June 15th, Duluth Police Chief John Murphy received a call from James Sullivan's father saying six black circus workers had held the pair at gunpoint and then raped Irene Tusken. Little evidence would be found to corroborate these claims. An examination of Tusken that morning by Dr. David Graham, a family physician, showed no physical signs of rape or assault.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

apeacesign2(Photo: Beth)

Christmastime is the worst.

That's when TV advertising, sappy television shows, holiday music and politicians all parrot the theme of a time of peace and goodwill toward all. Of course, the real national purpose of the end-of-year holiday season is the jingle of cash registers and fattening of corporate profits - along with vacations in tropical settings or skiing for those who can afford them.

Come January 1, however, after the football games are over and the last beer is drunk, the United States is off to another year of waging war.  

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 number of people who rely on war and "intelligence gathering" for their incomes and/or profit is enormous.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anincomeineq(Photo: mSeattle)

Wage stagnation has been an ongoing problem for workers. One of the main reasons for this "missing" income rise among the working class - as the stock market continues to break records - is the gargantuan shift of cash and assets upward to the super-rich.

Salaries for low-to-middle-income earners in the US have not only largely stagnated (given adjustment for inflation) since the Reagan "revolution" of tax cuts for the wealthy, they have in many cases gone down, due to the decline in unions, the shift of jobs overseas and the rise of big box retailers. Many people find their wages are actually falling, as they have to accept jobs beneath their skills and previous pay levels.

Progressive journalist Harold Myerson penned a column in the Washington Post on March 11 that analyzes why wages aren't rising even though the stock market is soaring. Although, it's not the exclusive reason for the hardship of the majority of US workers, Myerson pins down a key contributing factor: shareholders of corporations are receiving most of the gains, instead of those who toil to ensure profits.

 

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