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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aplutoberman(Photo: Jon Fowler)

The Citizens United decision opened up the floodgates, providing the plutocracy with even more financial leverage to influence election outcomes. However, even before Citizens United, there were many toolsin which vast sums of money were legally used to ensure that legislative and regulatory bodies - from small towns to Congress - served the interests of corporations and the wealthy. Those tools are now multiplying.

On Monday, February 23, The Guardian reported on one of these oligarchical strategies: the use of disguised front groups (backed by secret big money) to ensure profits at the expense of the public good. The report focuses on an individual lobbyist, Richard Berman, and his firm, which specializes in setting up "false front" studies and organizations. (Of corse, this is just one tool of many that are funded by the uber-rich, to undermine the interests of the majority.)

The Guardian article is entitled, "Lobbyist dubbed Dr Evil behind front groups attacking Obama power rules: Richard Berman routed funding for at least 16 studies and five front groups attacking Environmental Protection Agency rules on power plant emissions." Berman, according to The Guardian, is

the hidden orchestrator of industry campaigns against the Humane Society, Mothers against Drunk Driving, and other seemingly uncontroversial groups....

Over the last year, Berman has secretly routed funding...attacking Environmental Protection Agency rules cutting carbon dioxide from power plants, the Guardian has learned.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anexfinityComcast and other internet monopolizers will continue to make an "xfinity" of profits, even if net neutrality is preserved. (Photo: Mike Mozart)

Comcast, the most dreaded customer service and internet cable provider in the nation, will soon control more than half the US cable and internet market - if the FCC approves its merger with Time Warner Cable, which it is likely to do. According to The Guardian:

And in the meantime cable cutters [persons who are no longer subscribing to cable TV] bemoaning their lack of choice face an even more consolidated market. If the Comcast/Time Warner deals goes through, according to the FCC’s measures some 63% of US consumers will only have one choice of broadband provider.

Proponents of net neutrality like Neil Hunt, chief product officer at Netflix, have previously bemoaned the lack of competition among internet service providers.

“The reality in this country is that we don’t really have competition for which cable provider you really get your broadband from,” Hunt told the Guardian last year. And as such, if companies like Netflix want to reach consumers in all parts of the US, they have to find a way to work with the particular providers servicing those individual areas.

Comcast, which owns NBC and Universal pictures, is a juggernaut. According to Philadelphia Magazine, Comcast generated $68 billion in 2014. It, like the other few major players in cable and the internet (including AT&T), has consolidated internet, cable television and phone services, through investing in fiber optic cables and then reaping windfall profits by acquiring smaller providers and increasing monthly charges to consumers. Although cable subscribers in the US are reportedly decreasing due to the increased diversity of entertainment and news offerings on the internet - as well as frequently shoddy service and high "packaged" pricing for cable - providers such as Comcast are making up for it by charging high fees for fast broadband. 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anoreillycar(Image: DonkeyHotey)

Fox News and Bill O'Reilly certainly epitomize the confluence of "sustaining a self-serving narrative" with using flashy news sets and good-looking anchors to attract advertising dollars. Corporate television news is structured so as to reflect a government and business perspective - that is to convey "news" to reflect the outlook of the neoliberal oligarchical status quo. Fox, however, goes one step beyond and maintains a focus on emotionally charged "framing" of so-called news to reinforce and inflame racist, Christian fundamentalist and ALEC-style political biases. 

War and violence are a mainstay of corporate news coverage, in part, because there is a voyeuristic, sordid viewer interest in "war porn" and everyday violence in the US. In short, death and destruction are good for ratings. Perhaps the apogee of war and violence as spectacles that attract television watchers - and increase ad dollars to the networks - was the breathless promotion of the "shock and awe" opening night invasion of Iraq. It was the carnage of war repackaged as a Disneyland fireworks display. 

This context explains why Brian Williams was probably not a rare exception, when it comes to corporate news celebrities burnishing their resumes with embellished tales of heroism. This type of dramatic embellishment meets the dramatic needs of contemporary television reporting. 

As a result, it should be no surprise that Bill O'Reilly - who once was a TV reporter and is now a bloviating television pundit espousing a caricature of jingoistic, alleged Christian virtues - is being accused of enhancing his war reporting record to make himself appear daring and fearless.  

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

awarter(Photo: spanaut)

It has been clear for years that the US government and mass media's application of the word "terrorism" is highly subjective. If the US kills civilians in drone attacks it is, according to the White House, not terrorism; it's self-defense. If a white male gun enthusiast kills three Muslim students, it's not terrorism; it's a dispute over parking.

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The examples of how violent acts committed by nation-states or white males are not terrorism are virtually endless. That doesn't just apply to the United States, of course. It is the prerogative of white eurocentric culture to attribute violent acts - even on a large scale - of members of the dominant classes to individual pathology rather than "terrorism." BuzzFlash at Truthout is hardly the first site to point out that Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 children and adults in Norway in 2011, is generally described as an extremist, radical or mass murderer, but not a terrorist. On the other hand, the term is often used automatically when a Muslim commits an act of violence.

Breivik's acts, however, actually mirror those of the killers in Paris and Copenhagen, who were immediately branded as terrorists because of their Islamic association. According to an article on the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) website, "At the time of the massacre, Breivik said his actions were 'cruel but necessary' to save Europe from Islam and multiculturalism." In short, he had an agenda to "terrorize" Norway and Europe based on his notions of Aryan supremacy. Yet, no government, to our knowledge, warned its citizens of the terrorist threat of Aryan supremacists after Breivik's carnage, even though he slaughtered nearly 80 people - mostly children at a camp on an island.

This double standard about who is labeled a terrorist and who is not is indicative of the malleable use of the term by Western nations in order to manipulate public opinion.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2000deathsTranslation from the French: In 2012, more than 2000 migrants died in the Mediterranean. (Photo: Denis Bocquet)

National borders are often used to keep the "losers" in global capitalism confined to nations that, due to exploitation and neglect, are economic disaster zones for the majority of their citizens. One need look no further than the draconian, militarized wall on the Mexican border, which prevents people from crossing into the US in order to literally survive. In addition, hundreds of thousands of undocumented Mexican and Central Americans are arrested and deported from living within the US each year.

A short time ago, BuzzFlash interviewed Robert Neustadt about how US border policy with Mexico is in part designed to kill desperate migrants by forcing many of them to travel through the deadly gauntlet of the Sonoran desert.

However, a close reading of international news reveals that the deaths of migrants seeking economic survival or fleeing political turmoil is hardly confined to the Mexican border. In fact, the cruel treatment of those who flee poverty and violence is a worldwide reality.

Last week, Reuters posted an article with what would have been a shocking headline were it have been about the loss of life of white people from developed nations, "More than 300 migrants died this week trying to reach Italy: U.N. agency."

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

3778117956 9537b4de41 o(Image: Alejandra H. Covarrubias)

The endless news analysis about the fate of Brian Williams is symptomatic of a larger phenomenon: The so-called television journalists and pundits in this country often eclipse the news that they are supposed to cover. Even more importantly, Williams' "misremembering" itself points to a greater problem: It threatens to expose the facade of corporate television, breaking down the notion that corporate TV truly informs us about real news priorities.

What concerns Comcast (which owns NBC) and the other corporate networks - including, of course, cable TV - is that if the public starts to view Williams as "untrustworthy," that development may topple the delusion that television news is unbiased. NBC - or any network - needs its high-profile anchors to appear untainted in order to deliver the largest possible audience to corporate advertisers. 

There is a pivotal and memorable scene in the film "Good Night, and Good Luck," about famed journalist Edward R. Murrow, who after a storied career of speaking truth to power is essentially demoted by CBS Chairman William Paley. Before Paley's action (which occurred more than 50 years ago), Murrow is depicted as one of the last television journalists who saw ferreting out the truth as the touchstone of his profession. Why was he humiliated? Because Paley explained to him that it was a new era – an era when news divisions needed to start making money and be guided by overall corporate television financial considerations.

In short, television news abandoned key journalistic standards to make news reporting part of an advertising strategy - one that ensures profitability. Given that the national television news programs viewed by most people in the US are owned by corporations, that means that the selection and editing of the news cannot upset the status quo.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abillbrattonDoes NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton want to head a police force or a paramilitary unit? (Photo: Policy Exchange)

New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton is a danger to the public.

A short time ago, BuzzFlash at Truthout posted a commentary, "NYPD Commissioner Backs Off Idea of Police Patrolling Protests With Machine Guns." In the column, BuzzFlash noted how the NYPD commissioner was well on his way to granting police additional brutal tactics to suppress democracy and physically harm citizens:

Consider a recent news conference given by New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Bill Bratton, in which he proudly announced that a new police unit would prevent terrorist attacks and patrol protests with machine guns. The NYPD commissioner went out of his way to essentially equate terrorists with protesters (implying that the latter group included the recent wave of protesters who publicly condemned the killing of Eric Garner).

Bratton, under pressure from various fronts backed down the next day from his plan to employ a new SEAL type police unit to be employed in protests. This unit - called The Strategic Response Group - will be equipped with machine guns and sniper rifles (what Bratton euphemistically called "long rifles"). A spokesperson did the walk back by "clarifying" that the unit would only be used to oppose "terrorism." That still was not entirely reassuring since Bratton had conflated hypothetical terrorist plots and advocacy protests the day before.

Around the same time last week that he made his initial dismaying announcement about The Strategic Response Group, Bratton was testifying before a New York State Senate committee and did not object to the suggestion that resisting police arrest could be re-classified as a felony.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aritzcarltonLobby of the New Orleans Ritz-Carlton, where Brian Williams stayed during his "coverage" of Hurricane Katrina. (Photo: Britt Reints)

Brian Williams has taken a hiatus from being an anchor for NBC Nightly News due to the fallout from his embellishing a tale of reporting in Iraq. His evolving story of "stolen valor" was clearly used to enhance the image that he was an intrepid, courageous journalist. Now, he and the NBC brass are waiting to see if Williams can ride out the storm he created by "disappearing him" for a couple of weeks.

As television critic Mary McNamara of The Los Angeles Times writes, Williams represents the contemporary conflation - ironic because that is what Williams claims happened with memories of helicoptering around in Iraq more than a decade ago - of purported journalist anchor and image branding. The two are generally mutually reinforcing in this age of news as both entertainment and revenue source for corporate broadcasting - as long as tall tales are not exposed. McNamara writes:

Williams is stepping aside because this time the news is bad. In telling that story, he chose to bolster the Brian Williams brand at the expense of the "NBC Nightly News." 

Modern journalism is beset by many challenges, logistical and fundamental, but none are as potentially dangerous as its growing cultivation of and reliance on personal brand...

Indeed, we now expect our journalists to be personalities, to exist outside the confines of their day jobs in exciting and entertaining ways. It's not enough to deliver the news, star journalists need to tweet humorously and/or with special insight. They need to make cameos in comedies, appear on talk shows and in magazines, to share their style secrets and personal lives, and offer across-the-board commentary.

McNamara's analysis is devastatingly incisive, but BuzzFlash at Truthout would disagree that Williams "chose to bolster the Brian Williams brand at the expense of the 'NBC Nightly News.'" NBC - which is now owned by the predatory Comcast - was delighted that Williams could banter with Letterman or Jon Stewart. When Williams was bolstering his brand with riveting narratives that may have sometimes been at variance with the facts, it helped buttress an audience for the legacy broadcast networks that have been under siege from cable news programs and the internet for years.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acompassion(Photo: Mike Gifford)

For most people with means, adult life is a routine that is built to ensure a life that is lived within a comfort zone. For people without economic means - or individuals and groups struggling with issues of survival or discrimantion and political dominance - it's not a question of living in a comfort zone; it's a question of survival.

For years, BuzzFlash at Truthout has posted commentaries on how many people who live comfortable lives of routine - and have economic means - not only want to reduce or eliminate a social safety net for those who are disabled, can't find jobs, are paid less than survival wages, or in dire need of assistance for a variety of factors not of their choosing. In addition, BuzzFlash has noted, even the presence of homeless people or those in need of food in public spaces visually violates the "comfort zone" of those of economic means. As a result, many municipalities are passing laws that limit the feeding of people in public who have no permanent residences.

To some people, compassion comes as part of their behavioral and genetic makeup. To many others, compassion is a nurtured quality, requiring practice and tools to suppress more selfish instincts. For those in comfort zones that are built like defensive bunkers - to ward off any disruption of routine or challenge to a narrative of personal entitlement - empathy and compassion are unwanted, demanding and violations of privilege.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

LivoniaKnightThe Crusaders. Killing in the name of religion appears hotwired into the human species.(Photo: Wikipedia)

How many people have died, are dying now and will continue to die in the name of religion?

Extremely few religions can claim bragging rights that other religions have been more brutal. Look at history, even the tamest of religious followings have historically had their benighted moment of barbaric conquest.

Mark Morford of The San Francisco Chronicle recently spoke to how religion, which is revered by most societies (as long as it is the dominant religion of that nation or social order) will, according to Morford, "be the death of us":

The main reason we’re on the fun train to self-extermination, and can’t/won’t get off.

It’s not climate change. Not overpopulation. Not war, or disease, or resource abuse. Those are all very real, but they’re also merely the consequence, the end result of centuries of blind, dogmatic adherence to, well, to God.

With this book I thee rule and control. Like, forever.

That’s right, the biggest problem humanity faces – and has faced for just about ever – is religion. Rabid tribalism, delusory moral laws and aggressive, antagonistic superstition that pits us against each other, against nature, against science, against anyone who might have invented a different god (or gods than ours).

Add race, tribalism and nationality to religion and you've got a historical bloodbath that has left bodies in its wake that could probably be piled to the moon.

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