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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aguncst(Photo: Poster Boy NYC)A little more than a week ago, a man who baited two teenagers to burglarize his house so he could shoot and kill them was convicted by a Minnesota jury of premeditated murder. That will not bring back the lives of the two teens he had plotted to shoot to death. However, it does at least indicate a jury somewhere in the United States values lives over the growing NRA-sponsored laws that provide a license to kill.

According to an Associated Press account of the killings carried out by Byron Smith, the shooter even taped the murder:

Ted Sampsell-Jones, a criminal law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said the audio recording was devastating to the defense, noting that Smith's taunts to the victims don't show a man in a panic. 

"It was very powerful, and it makes it very clear that ... he didn't do this because he had to. He did it because he wanted to. And that is not what self-defense is about," Sampsell-Jones said.

The recording captured the sounds of Smith shooting Brady as he came down the stairs. Brady groans after the first and second shots, but is silent after a third shot, and Smith can be heard saying, "You're dead." 

In short, what happened in Minnesota was like baiting two cub bears, only they were real teenagers with real names: 7-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer.

The emergence of the "stand your ground" laws as a legislative initiative of the NRA, of course, reached prominence when George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin, who was guilty of nothing more than walking while black. (One of the tragic ironies is that Martin was staying with his father in the very complex that Zimmerman claimed to be protecting from criminals as a one-man armed vigilante squad.)

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Beirutbarr(Photo: Wikipedia)Republicans and the right wing are adept at turning untoward incidents into multi-year propaganda tools to wound the effectiveness of Democratic presidents. This was the modus operandi with the effort to impeach Clinton - which began in concept before he was even inaugurated - and it is the case with the never-ending strategically obsessive focus on Benghazi.

This is a partisan plan to use the media to taint Democratic initiatives and accomplishments. It is abetted by a media ravenous for the whiff of scandal - even if the Benghazi attack (which occurred on September 12, 2012) had been thoroughly examined long ago. What the Republicans do - and what Boehner is continuing to do with the announcement of yet another investigative committee on Benghazi - is a detriment to resolving the grave issues facing the nation.

Suppose we create this analogy: The Republicans are your doctors. You visit your general practitioner and he or she thoroughly examines you and puts you through diagnostic tests. The next week you return for the results.

The doctor says, "I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you have a hangnail that is going to require aggressive long-term treatment by a team including me and my colleagues. The good news is that you have pancreatic cancer that will go away without any medical intervention. So we will immediately begin a multi-year medical effort to get to the bottom of your hangnail." (Please note that the hangnail analogy is not meant to diminish the loss of four lives in Benghazi; it is meant only to symbolize its relativity to the other solemn issues raised.)

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

MRI(Photo: Wikipedia)

Late last year, amidst the ongoing right-wing assault on extending health care through the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), the Washington Post (WP) reported on an international analysis of medical treatment performed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Among the findings of the OECD research were that the United States ranked 26th in life expectancy, while holding the top position in national spending on health care.

The WP Wonkblog provides the background:

Back in the 1970s, Americans typically lived longer than residents of other countries.

Not anymore: A new report out this morning from the OECD shows that the United States' average lifespan has fallen one year behind the international average, lower than Canada and Germany, more akin to the Czech Republic and Poland.

This 213-page, graph-laden OECD report tells the story of why. It shows the United States as a country that is spending tons and tons on health care--but getting way less than other countries out of that investment. It exposes a country that's really great at buying fancy medical technologies, but not so fantastic at using those medical technologies to extend life. It is, in short, the story of why our health care system is so screwed up.

There are some things that the American health care system is great at and, at the top of the list, it has to be the ability to spend money. We spend more than any other country.

What do we spend that money on? Well, we're usually at the top of the list when it comes to buying fancy medical machines, like MRI and CAT scan technology. When you look at the OECD lists on who has the highest rate of medical technology per capita, the United States always cracks the top three.

Many people and health care pundits in the US consider high-tech medicine as the crown jewel of top medical care. This type of medicine also happens to turn a very large profit for the medical tech manufacturers because the cost of such equipment is higher in the US than in many other developed countries, just as medications are.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

M2 machine gun(Photo: US Navy)

Perhaps a reader's first reaction to the headline of this commentary, "US Government Should Not Allow Civilians to Buy Machine Guns, Silencers and Grenades," is alarmed shock that non-law enforcement and military personnel can even legally purchase such weapons. 

Yet, since 1934, the National Firearms Act has allowed US citizens to buy and own crime-syndicate-associated firearms (including short-barreled shotguns) and explosives. The 1934 law, it should be noted, requires a permit that is a bit more rigorous then just stopping by a gun store. Among the requirements are approval by the local chief of police, a background check, fingerprinting and a $200 tax for each of the machine guns. Nonetheless, there are currently an estimated 500,000 legally registered machine guns in the United States, with Virginia leading the nation with 30,000 registered.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is responsible for processing what are technically known as Title II firearms applications. Traditionally, the ATF - despite pressure from the NRA and other gun advocacy groups - has been appropriately cautious in approving applications for private ownership of fully automatic firearms, silencers and explosives (such as grenades) - and some police departments will not sign applications as a matter of policy (given, one can speculate, that more such weapons on the street will create more potential violence and also threaten the lives of police personnel).

In addition, some states severely restrict or prohibit the private ownership of Title II weapons and explosives. (In an interesting but tragic irony, some states - such as Michigan - allow the ownership of machine guns, but do not allow the private purchase or possession of tasers.)

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
 
deptofjusticeDepartment of Justice (Photo: Wikipedia)In a recent breathlessly written "we have the inside scoop" article, The New York Times would have you believe that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is finally getting serious about filing criminal charges against a couple of banks.

Technically, the Times may prove to be right, but on a practical level, the actions it is predicting would be more of the same kid-glove treatment of too-big-to-fail banks we’ve seen in the past. As BuzzFlash at Truthout noted in commentaries last year, Attorney General Holder has officially stated his concern that prosecuting the largest banks would have adverse affects on our economy. As The New York Times reports about the possibility of looming criminal charges against two foreign banks (emphasis on foreign - Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas, not US):

Federal prosecutors are nearing criminal charges against some of the world’s biggest banks, according to lawyers briefed on the matter, a development that could produce the first guilty plea from a major bank in more than two decades.

In doing so, prosecutors are confronting the popular belief that Wall Street institutions have grown so important to the economy that they cannot be charged. A lack of criminal prosecutions of banks and their leaders fueled a public outcry over the perception that Wall Street giants are “too big to jail.”

Addressing those concerns, prosecutors in Washington and New York have met with regulators about how to criminally punish banks without putting them out of business and damaging the economy, interviews with lawyers and records reviewed by The New York Times show.

That last paragraph is devastatingly revealing.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

amissourMissouri State Capitol (Photo: JeromeG111)If you want to see how just one Wall Street robber baron can squash democracy for the sake of greed and privatization, just look to the Missouri legislature.

According to The Progressive magazine, that's where Rex Sinquefield, a man who made his fortune off of trading in index funds, is spending millions of dollars to forward his personal agenda. Sinquefield has combined personal political giving with backing nonprofit organizations, much like the Koch brothers have done on the national level. The Progressive notes: "Sinquefield and his wife spent more than $28 million in disclosed donations in state elections since 2007, plus nearly $2 million more in disclosed donations in federal elections since 2006, for a total of at least $30 million."

That total does not include the indirect millions spent backing third-party organizations, as The Progressive details:

The jewel in [Sinquefield's] privatization crown is the Missouri-based Show-Me Institute, a rightwing think tank that receives just shy of $1 million every year from the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation. Its tag line is a mouthful: "Advancing Liberty with Responsibility by Promoting Market Solutions for Missouri Public Policy."

Rex Sinquefield is the institute's president, and his daughter is also employed there (and spends her time tweeting rightwing talking points).

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

asunkoch(Photo: Atmospheric Imaging Assembly)If you thought the fossil fuel industry was content to profiteer off of the earth's destruction by not supporting alternative energy, you would be wrong. That is because - as The New York Times editorial board recently pointed out - they are not just passively ignoring alternative energy sources; they are actively opposing them.

In particular, The New York Times chastises the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for financing lobbying in state legislatures to impose taxes on homeowners who install solar energy:

For the last few months, the Kochs and other big polluters have been spending heavily to fight incentives for renewable energy, which have been adopted by most states. They particularly dislike state laws that allow homeowners with solar panels to sell power they don’t need back to electric utilities. So they’ve been pushing legislatures to impose a surtax on this increasingly popular practice, hoping to make installing solar panels on houses less attractive.

Oklahoma lawmakers recently approved such a surcharge at the behest of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative group that often dictates bills to Republican statehouses and receives financing from the utility industry and fossil-fuel producers, including the Kochs. As The Los Angeles Times reported recently, the Kochs and ALEC have made similar efforts in other states, though they were beaten back by solar advocates in Kansas and the surtax was reduced to $5 a month in Arizona.

But the Big Carbon advocates aren’t giving up. The same group is trying to repeal or freeze Ohio’s requirement that 12.5 percent of the state’s electric power come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2025. Twenty-nine states have established similar standards that call for 10 percent or more in renewable power. These states can now anticipate well-financed campaigns to eliminate these targets or scale them back.

The coal producers’ motivation is clear: They see solar and wind energy as a long-term threat to their businesses. 

Given that our lives and the lives of future generations are in jeopardy due to climate change - largely caused by fossil fuels - the formidable effort to make renewable energy more expensive prioritizes profit over safeguarding the future of our species. 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acheneyhannitySean Hannity interviewing Dick Cheney (Photo: Wikipedia)

If you have been watching Jon Stewart lately, you have had the pleasure of witnessing a series of withering attacks on Sean Hannity's hypocrisy.  Furthermore, BuzzFlash (for many years) and Stewart have both sniffed the simmering racism of Hannity and FOX. Yes, it's a coded racism, but it's there - lingering in the smirk of his smug lacerating comments about liberals - and is a strong magnet of attraction to the aged, largely white male, viewing base of FOX.

This came to the forefront again with Hannity's strong support for Cliven Bundy, until Bundy openly expressed his racism - thus breaking the tacit understanding of Hannity, FOX and their viewers to never publicly disclose their bigotry.  Racism on FOX (along with its bigotry cousin: "multiculturalism is destroying the United States") is a primary attraction of the program to its watchers who see white entitlement slipping from their hands. However, it is never to be openly acknowleged -- and even officially renounced if necessary, as Hannity did when he had to walk back his embrace of Bundy after the rancher channeled the opinions of a plantation slave owner on video.

As Jon Stewart pointed out, Hannity is always attacking President Obama and liberals for allegedly selectively applying the law, but when it comes to white male gun loving racists like Bundy (and anyone watching what happened before Bundy's followers threatened law enforcement officers with guns knew that racism and anti-big government sedition fit together like a hand in a kid glove), but gives enormous latitude for white males who express anti-government sentiments, even when the firearms are appointed at Hannity's beloved police.

It is important to note, yet again, that the Nevada state Constitution designates as federal property, by law, the land Cliven Bundy has been using for grazing his cattle on.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abusschool(Photo: loop_oh)
)

It bears repeating again and again that the concept of charter schools is a scam and - more significantly - a betrayal of society's obligation to provide communities filled with economic opportunities to all.

recent article in the Huffington Post - "Big Profits in Not-for-Profit Charter Schools" - lays out one of the most basic complaints about charter schools: The primary parties they enrich are the administrators and nonprofits that run them, along with the for-profit consultants who provide services to allegedly "improve" public education. The article notes that some charter school administrators make "very heady profits":

Currently, there are approximately 2.5 million students enrolled in publicly funded charter schools in the United States. These charter schools are operated by both profit-making companies and "not for profit" organizations. In New York City every charter school is operated by what is known as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In New York State, only 16 out of 209 charter schools are operated by for-profit companies. In other states, particularly Michigan, Florida, and Arizona, for-profit companies dominate the charter school movement. In Michigan, about 65% of the charter schools are run by for-profit educational management organizations

However, operating non-profit charter schools can be very profitable for charter school executives like Eva Moskowitz. Moskowitz earns close to a half a million dollars a year ($485,000) for overseeing school programs that serve 6,700 children, which is over $72 per student. By comparison, New York State Education Commissioner is paid a salary of $212,000 to oversee programs with 2.7 million students or about 8 cents per student. In other words, Moskowitz earns about 100 times more than King for each student enrolled in a Success Academy Charter School. Carmen Farina, New York City School Chancellor is paid $212,000 a year to oversee 1.1 million students or about 19 cents per student.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anevadas(Photo: Thomas Hawk)It is time for politicians to stop enabling domestic white male terrorists. (Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), however, is getting heat for calling them just that.)

The latest incident of domestic white male terrorism was in Nevada, where a veritable make-shift militia presented an armed threat to federal and local law enforcement. Why were they there? Because they were defending the view that Cliven Bundy was being treated unjustly by a US government that was allegedly violating his rights and his beliefs. It sounds like al Qaeda circling a military unit with firepower to defend the beliefs of Osama bin Laden.

Some facts are established: Within the state of Nevada Constitution, much of the former territory's land was ceded to the federal government in return for admission to the union. As a result, several thousand ranchers pay grazing rights for their cattle to make use of federal land. Cliven Brady, who owes the US treasury over a million dollars, says that he is not paying out of principle - since his family, he claims, owned the land before Nevada was a state.

After more than 20 years of Bundy, in essence, cheating other taxpayers by not paying his fair share, the federal government seized his cattle that were living off of federal land.

That is when seditious Americans assembled at his ranch to - reportedly with women and children strategically placed to protect them - threatened US law enforcement and Bureau of Land Management officials with firearms, locked and loaded.

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