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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

8293879669 5c019705d1 zThe NRA experienced a rare defeat in Congress as surgeon general is confirmed. (Photo: Josh Lopez)

It took a technical parliamentary maneuver by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that backfired, but after long last the National Rifle Association (NRA) has lost a vote.

Vivek Murthy, MD, was confirmed on Monday as the nation's next surgeon general - despite a strong lobbying push against him by the NRA, because he views gun violence as a public health problem. This perspective among many physicians has long been a primal fear of the NRA. The fanatical organization, operating on behalf of the gun industry and armed white males (which is the subtext of its coded appeals to racial fears), is concerned that if gun violence is considered an epidemic, then it might erode the rallying cry of the Second Amendment meme by shifting the focus of the debate on guns.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

439276711 f0dfb6a64c z(Photo: Carlito)

Buzzflash has published many columns about the nationwide war on homelessness: a push to render homeless people invisible by displacing them from economically comfortable residential, business and recreational areas. Increasingly, even feeding those who are hungry has become a crime.

December 10 column in BeyondChron draws attention to "the eviction of what has been called America’s largest homeless encampment: 68 acres of creek-side property inhabited by some 300 men, women, and children residing in tents, shanties, and underground adobe dwellings."

This is occurring in San José, California, and is representative of the expanding attempts to remove homeless individuals and panhandlers from the public view of people with means. This is happening with greater frequency in areas of the country that have more temperate weather, since such cities attract those without money who can live outdoors year round without fear of dying from freezing weather.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

6481958557 dabd470285 o 1The federal spending bill gives most people in the US a lump of coal for the holidays. (Photo: Ladymay)This holiday will bring an odious package of gifts in the form of the omnibus spending bill passed by the House on December 12 - and likely to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by the president by Monday evening.

On the eve of a season of that we commercialize as one of celebrating peace, love and compassion, it looks like Congress and the White House are going to dole out bounties to the oligarchy, financial industry and right wing of the GOP. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has received coverage for her defiant stand against a clause in the bill that rolls back restrictions on the casino derivative trading that was a large contributing factor in the near collapse of the US economy in 2008. This particular feature of the legislation is discussed in an article from PR Watch posted on Truthout, "Congress to Reinstate Taxpayer Subsidies for Reckless Derivatives Trading."

In fact, the Washington Post quotes Warren as calling the trillion dollar bill “the worst of government for the rich and powerful.”

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afreemarissa3Even though Marissa Alexander has agreed to a plea bargain, she is still not free of the long arm of the judicial/incarceration system. (Image: Daniel Arauz)\

Maya Schenwar, the editor-in-chief of Truthout, has written a book that exposes the egregious injustice and pernicious impact of the prison-industrial complex. Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better is an incisive and moving analysis of how the incarceration system in the United States destroys lives and erodes a civil society.

With the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, the US particularly uses incarceration as a form of social cleansing and bias against people of color, as well as poor people, gender-nonconforming people and people with mental illness. In a sweeping narrative that indicts the institution of imprisonment, Schenwar frequently focuses on individuals – including her own sister, who has been in and out of the prison system. The book offers compelling voices to document the inhumanity of confinement behind bars and the extensive collateral damage of life in prison and trying to build a life after release.

Marissa Alexander is one of the millions who has been ripped from her family. BuzzFlash at Truthout talked with Ayanna Banks Harris, co-organizer of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA), on how Alexander's plight represents the egregious wrongs of a system that feeds people into gulags of harsh confinement that take away their lives, break up families and damage communities.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

4302115614 0fb52da183 z(Photo: Max Nathan)

The US media obsession with how a lower unemployment rate should increase holiday buying is undercut by a rarely discussed reality: while the unemployment rate is falling, so are wages and family income for many earners in the US. This means that there are an increased number of holiday shoppers who actually have less to spend – adjusted for inflation - during the pre-Christmas consumer frenzy than in past years.

A December 8 article in The Guardian describes this trend as an increase in "survivalist" consumers as compared to "selectionists":

Survivalists earn less than $50,000 a year and have to make sure they can afford every purchase. 

Selectionists are more affluent. They may still be “careful”, in PwC’s parlance, but they have more disposable income and don’t insist on waiting for the deepest discounts to kick in before buying.

In each of the last three years, however, the survivalists have become an increasingly important part of the mix, rising from 63% of PwC’s annual holiday shopping poll in 2012 to 65% in 2013 and to 67% this year

This confirms other indicators of a widening income gap that is leading to a race to the bottom in retailing in a society built on consumer spending.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ademocracyGerrymandering may sink representative democracy (Photo: Filippo Minelli)

The negative impact of the process known as gerrymandering congressional districts was most evident in the 2012 election. As of March of 2013, Bloomberg News concluded:

A majority of Americans disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, yet the odds remain in the party's favor that it will retain control of the House [as it did in 2014]. One big reason the Republicans have this edge: their district boundaries are drawn so carefully that the only votes that often matter come from fellow Republicans.

The 2010 elections, in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seats across the nation, gave the party the upper-hand in the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional seats. The advantage helped them design safer partisan districts and maintain their House majority in 2012 -- even as they lost the presidential race by about 5 million votes. Also nationwide, Democratic House candidates combined to win about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

In the 2012 congressional election, the Democrats beat the Republicans in the popular vote for Congress (48.8 percent to 47.6 percent), but the GOP ended up with 234 seats and the Democrats only 201.

Bloomberg News explains how devastating strategic gerrymandering can be to undermining the will of the majority of voters. In analyzing results of the 2012 congressional election, Bloomberg provides examples of inequitable representation impact from two states where Republican legislatures gerrymandered congressional districts after the 2010 GOP wave election:

In Pennsylvania, where Democratic votes are concentrated in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Republicans won 13 of 18 House seats while losing the statewide congressional vote, 2.8 million to 2.7 million. In North Carolina, Republicans drew three districts to be overwhelmingly Democratic and won nine of the other ten, even as House Democratic candidates won the statewide vote, 2.2 million to 2.1 million.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anincomegap(Photo: Doran)

BuzzFlash at Truthout has written about major studies which show the income gap widening almost every year since 2008 - at an exponentially faster pace than when the great redistribution of wealth upwards began in the Reagan administration.

There are other indicators in economic reports that confirm the trend of wealth becoming more consolidated with each passing year. Even though the nation's economy added more than 300,000 jobs in November, it is not an indication that workers are getting paid more.

The Guardian, in an article - "CEO pay rises at double the rate of workers" - points out that job growth is not a metric of resolving lopsided income disparity:

The Fed's beige book predicts a mere 0.2% increase in hourly wage growth this month, which is only a modest 2% boost from the previous year....

According to a the 2014 CEO compensation strategy report by Equilar, an executive compensation and corporate governance data firm which conducted the report in association with compensation consultant firm Meridian, the median income of CEOs of S&P 500 companies was $10.1m at the end of 2013. This reflects a 9.5% increase year on year and a staggering 43% jump from 2009. 

These figures may understate the case. 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

brokenwindowsPeople are not broken windows (Photo: eliz.joy22)

An excellent piece in Colorlines by Kai Wright, "The Ugly Idea That Killed Eric Garner," focuses on the "broken windows" policing policy - applied in cities across the nation - but most prominently in New York City as a "vaunted" law enforcement policy:

NYPD brass had ordered the 120th precinct to make a priority out of interrupting the sale of untaxed cigarettes, according to a Daily News report just after Garner's death. It was a recurring "quality-of-life" issue, a spokesperson told the paper. Garner had been arrested for violating New Yorkers' quality of life in this way eight times. So Pantaleo and his colleagues were doing their job and doing it well. And when Garner pushed back on their outsized response to his petty crime, they escalated further. After all, that is the oxymoronic premise of broken windows policing: the cops should escalate things in order to keep things under control, and that will keep us all safe.

The contradictions within this idea beg unpleasant questions: Who is us and what is danger? Commissioner Bill Bratton gave some indication of the us and them of New York City crime and safety not long after he took the department's helm. In a March speech at the Waldorf-Astoria, Bratton reassured business leaders that he'd stand firm behind broken windows policing.

"We will be focusing on ensuring that aggressive begging and squeegee pests, all those activities that create fear and destroy neighborhoods, graffiti, all those seemingly minor things that were so much in evidence in the '80s and early '90s here, don't have the chance to come back." He vowed a late-night tour of the subway with criminologist George Kelling, one of the intellectual fathers of broken windows. "George and I are going to go out, kind of like old times for us, riding the rails and getting a sense." But don't worry, he insisted, their Old West posse would treat New York City's terrifying "pests" - also known as poor people - "respectfully" and "compassionately."

This policy is nothing more than - as it was in the Garner case - a license to imprision or kill people of color and poor people in the name of the state, simply because they are "undesirables." Garner is like a broken window in Bratton's analogy. By extension, the policy of law enforcement in NYC and many other cities is to fix the "window" by harassing, arresting, prosecuting and killing people who are annoying to the comfortable lifestyles of those with financial assets.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abillythanksRev. Bill Talen leads a protest at Monsanto world headquarters on Thanksgiving (Photo:Erik McGregor)

Led by the indefatigable minister of anti-consumerism Billy Talen, protesters assembled at the Monsanto world headquarters in St. Louis on Thanksgiving. 

Talen pointed out that Monsanto represents ruinous global domination of agricultural toxic chemicals and products that contribute to global warming. It is a company that symbolizes what people in the US and around the world should not be thankful for, according to a news release by Talen and his Stop Shopping Choir:

Known by millions as the most environmentally destructive corporation on the planet, Monsanto, for nearly two decades, has been controlling political campaigns and affecting the regulatory process of agricultural systems all over the world. In the U.S. alone, more than 90 percent of soybeans and 80 percent of corn are grown with seeds containing Monsanto-patented genetics.

"Monsanto must be stopped," said Reverend Billy, who has been jailed more than 50 times protesting social and environmental injustices. "Monsanto is the devil and what better day than Thanksgiving to remind the world that eating local, organic food is one way to stop this profit-mongering, biodiversity-destroying monopoly."

Industrial agriculture and the entire globalized food system, which is becoming more large-scale and centralized every day, destroys biodiversity, soils and local food systems, and is responsible for accelerating climate change by contributing more than 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The protesters, many dressed as Pilgrims, partook of an organic meal near the Monsanto complex. 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

asunshinestFlorida government says no to stimulating solar energy (Photo: DonkeyHotey)

Florida's state slogan - emblazoned on its license plates and welcome signs - may be "The Sunshine State," but the fossil fuel industry just got the state Public Service Commission to eliminate a household solar energy rebate program to stimulate use of the free and abundant energy source.

The sun may be a source of prodigious clean and free power, but even in a state where the sun is often hot enough to cook an egg on the hood of a car, the dinosaur polluting power companies have gotten their way. At stake were rebates to households to install rooftop solar units which would generate free - once constructed - energy that would be sold back to a for-profit utility grid. The fossil fuel giants - in this case including Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric, and Florida Power & Light, according to Clean Technica - lobbied the energy oversight agency in Florida and won a vote on November 25. The Tampa Bay Times writes of the triumph of greed and environmental degradation,

State regulators on Tuesday approved proposals to gut Florida's energy-efficiency goals by more than 90 percent and to terminate solar rebate programs by the end of 2015, giving the investor-owned utilities virtually everything they wanted....

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