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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

atowerofcap(Photo: Industrial Worker)

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

peduc(Photo: Sean MacEntee)

In an Op-Ed published in Time this week, 16-year-old Kenyatta Collins argues that the education that she receives in a New Orleans charter school more closely resembles a prison than a place that advances her knowledge and creativity.

"Is my high school, Lake Area New Tech, a prison or school?" Collins asks. Her response is a withering indictment of the white elite push to privatize education:

Students arrive ready for school every morning, but unfortunately must wait outside the building until security guards unlock the doors at 7:30 a.m. It could be raining, hailing, or sleeting, but they will NOT open the doors until then. Once the doors are unlocked, it takes the guards 15 to 20 minutes to search each student and check for uniform violations. That leaves us with just a few minutes to eat breakfast before class starts at 8 a.m. That’s not enough time for 600 students to make it through the cafeteria line. On a typical morning, we are treated like prisoners, which causes students to react in a variety of negative ways.

As for the prevailing attitudes among many whites - and some wealthy people of color - that discipline is the cure for presumed violent and economically depressed urban areas - Collins has a response: 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afastgoodburger(Photo:SteFou!)Today, according to a Truthout article, fast food strikes and protests are going global, as they should:

Workers around the world are emulating the fast-food protests that started in New York in 2012. Their fight for dignity at work, better wages, stable hours, opportunities for advancement and no more wage theft has gone global.

On Thursday, May 15, in the largest job actions in the industry's history, fast-food workers in over 30 countries on 6 continents will participate in protests over poverty wages, lack of full-time positions, poor working conditions and management retaliation. US workers will protest in over 160 cities throughout the country, the tenth and largest round of strikes since the first actions in NYC in November 2012. Fast-food workers participating in the "Fight for 15" include those in Alabama, the Carolinas and other states not known for their labor activism....

While companies try to hide behind the franchise system and the rhetoric of "small business owners," fast-food employers are global corporations with billions of dollars in annual profits. Fast-food workers must fight for decent wages and conditions on a global level.

At a time when corporations are becoming increasingly global, to a great degree they are starting to supercede national boundaries in terms of their labor policies and impact. Yes, it's true that each nation has different laws regarding wages, employment policies, etc., but the overall global capitalist approach to pay workers as a little as possible lessens the impact of isolated national strikes. (It should be noted that according to the Truthout report, a few nations do have wage laws that require a fair salary for fast food workers – but not many and not the US.)

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

 

apublicschool(Photo: TheeErin)On Tuesday, May 13, Newark elected Ras Baraka (with 54% of the vote) as its new mayor, filling the vacancy left by Cory Booker. Booker had recently won a special election to fill the vacancy in the US Senate left by Frank Lautenberg, who died in June 2013.

 

Ras Baraka, son of the late poet and activist Amiri Baraka, is a public high school principal. A key plank of his campaign was an attack on the privatization of K-12 education. The Star-Ledger (New Jersey’s main newspaper) ran a pre-election article in which Baraka scathingly criticized a state plan to convert public schools to charter schools in Newark:

 

Newark mayoral candidate and South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka blasted the school reorganization plan released by State Superintendent Cami Anderson earlier this week, calling it "radical" and "disruptive" and predicting it will damage the city’s school system.

 

"They say this is about choice, but it is about anything but choice. They are saying we’re going to get rid of your neighborhood schools," Baraka said today. "This is a dismantling of public education. It is an irresponsible and radical plan. It needs to be halted...."

 

"The buildings are the property of the taxpayers of Newark. They are not the state superintendent’s property, they are not the governor’s property," he said. "We don’t want to sell them. We want to repair them."

 

"We will not stand idly by and let this happen," he continued, listing the meetings and rallies by parents and alumni in response to the proposal. "We want to say to parents, we are with you."

 

The Baraka victory in Newark provides a significant boost to opponents of the abandonment of public education in poor communities of color.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aloanstudOccupy PostersOne of the masterful characteristics of Elizabeth Warren is her discipline when it comes to progressive advocacy. She knows how to stay on point.

Of course, progressives rightfully love Bernie Sanders. He is the professor of underscoring the narrative of economic injustice in the United States with facts. His multi-hour filibuster of the Senate in December of 2010 was a tour de force, offering up a true State of the Union address. Bernie is the progressive Jeremiah, the articulator of a righteous public policy path.

Warren may or may not be more progressive than Sanders (we really don't know a lot of her positions on issues that are non-economic, particularly foreign policy), but she is a figure who is focused, disciplined, passionate and has a compelling narrative. On television, Sanders looks like a rumpled liberal professor with whom you nod your head in agreement, but it is not clear that he is breaking through to the middle and working classes. (It should be noted that Sanders was a regular BuzzFlash reader in our early years and always receptive to interviews.)

Warren, however, is a radiant media presence. She has the ability to convey a confidence in her convictions that makes her assertions all the more credible to the viewer. On the verge of finishing up an extensive media exposure tour for her new book, A Fighting Chance, Warren brings a frame to the conversation of economic injustice that is compelling not really because of her academic background, but due to her common-sense phrasing of financial struggles experienced by the 99%.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acancerpill(Photo: erix!)Big Pharma regularly employs a frayed justification for expensive drugs, particularly for new specialty medications: Monumental research costs must be recouped through sales. In addition, the pharmaceutical industry employs a more emotionally compelling argument that verges on a threat: "If you want to live longer, we can't make a profit on disease-controlling medications unless you pay for us to recoup our development expenses."

In short, a person with a serious illness is confronted with a variation on "your money or your life." This is true even for people who have insurance, given growing copayment requirements on specialty medication.

The May 2014 AARP Bulletin, however, contains a commentary that credibly debunks "the most famous industry-sponsored estimate ... that it costs on average $1.3 billion to develop a new drug and get it approved." The authors of the opinion piece, Donald W. Light and Hagop Kantarjian (both professors of medicine), particularly focus on cancer drugs. Light and Kantarjian charge that the development of a new cancer drug doesn't actually cost Big Pharma more than a billion dollars; the figure, they say, is closer to $125 million. 

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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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