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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaajebtortJeb Bush is nostalgic for the days of Torture Inc. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

Jeb Bush apparently has stopped trying to put an inch of distance between himself and his brother, George W. Bush, when it comes to the Middle East. 

First, Jeb blamed the current horrors and chaos in Iraq, including ISIS, on President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Then NPR reported in an August 15 article: "Jeb Bush laid out his plan to defeat ISIS this week, calling for a bigger U.S. military presence in the Middle East."

Another one of the George W. Bush administration's pernicious policies also resurfaced recently: Jeb announced that he might reinstitute waterboarding if he were president, according to The New York Times

Jeb Bush said on Thursday that, as president, he would not rule out waterboarding in interrogations, another instance of how his plans to fight Islamic terrorism have drawn comparisons to his brother’s administration.

Enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, which were used by the C.I.A. against Qaeda suspects after Sept. 11 attacks, were prohibited in one of President Obama’s first executive orders in 2009.

Earlier on Thursday, at a forum on national security in Davenport, Iowa, Mr. Bush had declined to commit to preserving that order.

“I’m not ruling anything in or out,” he said in the evening when asked by reporters if he would prohibit waterboarding.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaacourageStructural racism will only be dismantled by people with the courage to disrupt and demand transformative change. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)

It's just a step in the direction of transparency, but California is to be praised for banning grand juries as the entity that decides whether to prosecute police accused of killing individuals. According to the San Jose Mercury News,

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday making California the first state in the nation to ban the use of grand juries to decide whether police officers should face criminal charges when they kill people in the line of duty.

The ban, which will go into effect next year, comes after grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, made controversial decisions in secret hearings last year not to bring charges against officers who killed unarmed black men, sparking protests across the country. Calls for transparency also have come amid national concerns about disparate treatment of blacks and other racial minorities when encounters with cops turned deadly in Baltimore, Cincinnati and South Carolina.

"What the governor's decision says is, he gets it - the people don't want secrecy when it comes to officer-involved shootings," said retired judge and former San Jose independent police auditor LaDoris Cordell, the first African-American appointed as a judge in Northern California and a key supporter of the bill.

This change is not a solution to endemic racism among police forces across the United States, but it will prevent states' attorneys - who generally are protective of the police - from secretly stacking the evidence to favor police officers. Now, charges against police officers who kill will have to be presented in open court in California

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaacapitolofpuertorico.jpaThe capitol of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in San Juan, where neoliberalism meets the failure of the US colonialist enterprise. (Photo: Jorge Láscar)

Around 300,000 Puerto Ricans are estimated to have left the island in the last ten years to seek jobs on the mainland of the United States. Their destinations are varied, although many relocate to New York and more recently Orlando. This flight from Puerto Rico - which includes mostly young and well-educated people and many professionals such as physicians - is negatively impacting the present and future of the island, a de facto colony of the United States since it was "won" by the US in the 1898 Spanish-American War.

Given that Puerto Rico dipped its toes into default on a debt of more than $70 billion this past weekend - and that its population is shrinking from a high of 4 million residents to approximately 3.5 million in 2014 - the exodus of a skilled and educated workforce presents severe challenges to Puerto Rico's economic future. 

In an interview in San Juan on August 5, Carlos Frontera Santana, the adviser on legal and economic issues to the only elected official in the Puerto Rican legislature who represents the Puerto Rican Independence Party - Senator Maria de Lourdes Santiago Negrón - told Buzzflash that the trend "erodes the tax base and contributes to a brain drain." At a time that the bond market, hedge funds and vulture funds are waiting to impose further ruinous austerity on the de facto colony, the flight of Puerto Rico's skilled and professional class, in particular, leads to decreased services (think about fewer doctors and nurses), spiraling unemployment and a shrinking tax base, according to Frontera.

On the one hand, US holders of Puerto Rico's debt are demanding extreme austerity measures in return for any debt relief, just as Germany and the EU did to Greece. Last week, BuzzFlash at Truthout focused on one such suggested requirement in a commentary entitled, "Vulture Hedge Funds Want Education Slashed in Puerto Rico as Condition of Predatory Debt Relief." On the other hand, such requirements accelerate - as Frontera noted - an increased tax burden on a smaller, poorer population that leads to an economic death spiral.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaapoliceIn the end, the structural racism that guides Northern policing can be just as deadly as Southern institutional and personal racism. (Photo: Ian Britton)

Recently, Nancy A. Heitzeg wrote a trenchant analysis on Truthout of the racist, destructive policy known as "broken windows policing." While racism in the South tends to be more direct and apparent, in the North it is often wrapped in a blanket of claims to be implementing "good public policy."

In the end, the structural racism that guides Northern policing can be just as deadly as Southern institutional and personal racism; it just has a different veneer.

In New York City, as Heitzeg notes, the implementation of "broken windows policing" reached its zenith - a period of ruthless enforcement, targeting mostly Black and Brown people - under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He counted on NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton (who is today's commissioner, as well) to carry out the devastating strategy.

Not only does "broken windows" policing - which is still in place, although in "reduced" form under Mayor Bill de Blasio - serve as a primary feeder of the mass-incarceration pipeline, it provides a contextual justification for perpetuating a notion among police officers that Black people are "crimes waiting to happen." This racist outlook - championed by the late James Q. Wilson, a professor at Harvard and UCLA who specialized in public policy - represents the framework of US policing in a larger sense. It's built on a notion that Black people are predestined "criminals."

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaprflagPuerto Rico is being put into an austerity vice by US hedge funds. (Photo of Flag of Puerto Rico: Damian Entwistle)

According to a July 28 article in the Guardian, the financial vultures of the US are circling over Puerto Rico's skyrocketing debt, which totals more than $70 billion dollars. It is an austerity-driven death watch that by now is common practice among predatory "debt distress" consolidators:

Billionaire hedge fund managers have called on Puerto Rico to lay off teachers and close schools so that the island can pay them back the billions it owes.

The hedge funds called for Puerto Rico to avoid financial default - and repay its debts - by collecting more taxes, selling $4bn worth of public buildings and drastically cutting public spending, particularly on education.

The group of 34 hedge funds hired former International Monetary Fund (IMF) economists to come up with a solution to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis after the island’s governor declared its $72bn debt "unpayable" - paving the way for bankruptcy.

The funds are "distressed debt" specialists, also known as vulture funds, and several have also sought to make money out of crises in Greece and Argentina, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the near collapse of Co-op Bank in the UK.

Do you see a pattern here? Vulture capitalists, predatory lenders, austerity, hundreds of billions of dollars in interest (profit) made through impoverishing people and cutting public services.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaamedicareforallProfit-driven health insurance companies drive up the cost of care and drive down the provision of needed medical services. (Photo: Michael Fleshman)

 

With the just-announced pending acquisition of Cigna Insurance by Anthem, the US will be left with three giant health insurance companies. This is unlikely to be a good development for consumers, to say the least. Market consolidation most often leads to fewer consumer choices, higher prices and more corporate profit. Any savings are rarely passed onto consumers.

What's worse for individual health insurance policy holders is that deductibles, copays and maximum out-of-pocket expenses will inevitably rise. Why? Because there will be fewer health insurance vendors to choose from, so the market becomes captive to health insurance companies that are "too big to fail."

The Associated Press (AP) reports about the massiveness of the acquisition of Cigna by Anthem:

The deal announced Friday is valued at $54.2 billion including debt. Shareholders of Cigna, based in Bloomfield, Connecticut, will receive $103.40 per share in cash and 0.5152 shares of Anthem stock for each of their shares. The companies put the total value at $188 per share.

AP notes that this announcement comes on the heels of "Aetna's $35 billion bid for Humana Inc. on July 3," and observes that "the landscape of U.S. health care has been altered in a buyout frenzy." 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaacfpb(Photo: Mike Licht)

In a July 21 entry in her blog, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) warns that the Congressional Republicans are trying to kill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPFB) by literally inflicting a thousand cuts in the budgetary process. Then she makes an argument for why that shouldn't be allowed to happen:

And the fight was worth it. The agency went operational four years ago today, and it has handled 650,000 complaints since it opened its doors – some with money back and some with an apology. Mortgages have gotten clearer and easier to read. Work on credit cards, student loans, checking accounts, small-dollar loans, and other products is headed in the right direction. And in that four years, the consumer agency has forced the biggest banks in this country to return more than $10 billion directly to people they cheated.

Obviously, Warren has a personal interest in the fate of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Against all odds, she formulated its goals, its structure and its responsibilities. Then she had to fight to see its passage through Congress, with sometimes only tepid White House support.

Published in EditorBlog

WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaatrumpsterBigoted draft dodger and scurrilous self-promoter who inherited his wealth.(Image: Donald Trump)

For all those bemoaning the lack of noise in the Republican presidential sweepstakes it’s time to get down on our knees and give thanks to Donald Trump because whatever that man touches turns to loud. He’s the gift that keeps on blaring. Has all the delicate innuendo of concrete curtain rods. Not just a loose cannon, more like a  loose aircraft carrier.
 
To say the campaign of the self-appointed captain of the S.S. Birther got off to a rocky start is like intimating that transatlantic telecommunications cables make substandard dental floss. Critics derided the guy who tried to trademark the phrase “you’re fired!” for hiring extras to pretend to be supporters at his announcement, but another way of looking at it is… he’s already creating jobs.
 
At the beginning of a diatribe where the word “I,” or “I’ve” or “I’m” was used 244 times and that doesn’t include “me,” or “we” or “us,” the billionaire real estate developer trotted out some bizarre illegal immigrant harangue, accusing the Mexican government of sending drug- crazed rapists across the border. Demonstrating why veteran politicians often employ scriptwriters and utilize teleprompters: so they don’t stick their foot so deep into their mouths they can tickle their spleen with their shoelaces.
 
And the price The Donald paid for his bout of verbal incontinence was shooting straight to the top of Republican polls. Sure, he and some of his brands were dropped by a couple of lily-livered corporations like Univision, Farouk Systems, NASCAR, Serta, the PGA, Televisa, NBC Universal & Macy’s. But not all is lost; rumors abound that both Animal Planet and SyFy are interested in producing a mini-series about his hair.
 
Conservative conspiracy theorists accuse Trump of being a Democratic mole whose subversive goal is to make them look like intolerant cretins. But they’re the ones who spent the last 45 years crocheting the ass hat; can’t be surprised when some idiot picks it off the shelf and waltzes around in it.
Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaachiquitaIn Spanish, the image above commemorates the ongoing battle for unionism in Colombia against paramilitary and government killings. In 1928, up to 3000 banana worker activists for a union were massacred by the Columbian military. The assassinations have continued by right wing militias beyond 2008. (Photo: Antonio Tobón Restrepo)

During his time as attorney general, Eric Holder appointed attorneys from his former law firm - the top DC white-collar defense firm of Covington & Burling - to senior positions in the Department of Justice (DOJ). In fact, at the beginning of Holder's term, the top three positions in the DOJ (the head of the DOJ civil division, the head of the criminal division and, of course, the position of attorney general) were held by Covington & Burling "revolving door" lawyers.

If one wants to understand why the DOJ was so lenient with big banks, it is instructive to look back at the infamous Chiquita Banana defense, headed by Holder when he was at Covington & Burling, shortly before he was appointed attorney general.

winter 2008 article in the Guardian provides the context for Holder's defense of Chiquita's indefensible, deadly corporate conduct. 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

 aaaaapentbudg45(Photo: Ralff Somoff)

The National Priorities Project, an organization that analyzes the US budget, projects that "in fiscal year 2015, military spending is projected to account for 54 percent ofall federal discretionary spending, a total of $598.5 billion."

That does not include funding for the National Intelligence Programs - including the Central Intelligence Agency - which will separately receive $45.6 billion dollars in congressional discretionary funding in 2015, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

In addition, no one can accurately track all the military and intelligence discretionary spending buried in other line item allocations. This is because many projects related to military spending are intentionally concealed in unlikely funding areas.

That money is disproportionately going into the bank accounts of private defense contractors.

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