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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Spy 1215wrp opt(Photo: Duncan Hull / Flickr)What could be more exciting for a chickenhawk president who bullies, boasts and brags, then to have his own private spy network at his beck and call? According to The Intercept, that's exactly what Erik Prince is proposing.

Prince's latest proposal, as outlined earlier this month by The Intercept's Matthew Cole and Jeremy Scahill, is "to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals."

Over the past few weeks, we've been reporting on some of the proposals, projects, and schemes being hatched by Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious Blackwater private security group (now known as Academi). Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and a friend of Steve Bannon, has been on a tear lately, proposing all sorts of big-money projects including the privatization of the war in Afghanistan War, while seizing that country's minerals; forging a partnership with the Chinese to push forward that country's Silk Road project; and, entertain the possibility of running for Senator from Wyoming.

Published in Guest Commentary
Wednesday, 13 December 2017 07:47

The GOP's Tax Breaks for the Private Jet Set

CHUCK COLLINS AND JOSH HOXIE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Jet 1213wrp optOne of 3M's six private Gulfstream 5 jets. (Photo: Alan Light / Flickr)When you think about who benefits from the Republican tax bill the Senate just passed, think of the people who own and ride in private luxury jets.

We know that the benefits of tax bill are skewed to the very wealthy and a handful of global corporations. Republicans have been rushing this bill fully aware that the more people learn, the less they will like it.

As Edward Kleinbard, the esteemed tax economist and former head of the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation, observed: "We are squandering a giant sum of money" in this tax bill. "It's not aimed at growth. It is not aimed at the middle class. It is at every turn carefully engineered to deliver a kiss to the donor class."

Kleinbard's donor class aren't people that write $100 checks to candidates. He's talking about billionaires who donate to a wide range of campaign organizations, some with their identity obscured, to move a larger agenda.

Published in Guest Commentary

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Wealth 1211wrp(Photo: Ashish Shah / Flickr)America's super-rich are taking not only from their own nation, but also from the rest of the world. Data from the 2017 Global Wealth Databook (GWD: Table 2-4) and various war reports help to explain why we're alienating people outside our borders. 

From 2012 to 2017, global wealth increased by $37.7 trillion, and U.S. wealth increased by $26 trillion. Thus, largely because of a surging stock market, our nation took nearly 70 percent of the entire global wealth gain over the past five years. Based on their dominant share of U.S. wealth, America's richest 10% -- much less than 1% of the world's adult population -- took over HALF the world's wealth gain in the past five years.

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 08 December 2017 06:28

The Democratic Values of Net Neutrality

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Net 1208wrp opt(Photo: Vision Planet Media / Flickr)We're told by politicos, pundits and internet providers themselves that access to the net is crucial to our educational achievement, future prosperity and ability to be self-governing. Yet, while this digital highway is deemed vital to our nation's well-being, access to it is not offered as a public service — i.e., an investment in the common good. Instead, it is treated as just another profit center for a few corporations — so few that selling broadband access to the world wide web has become a very lucrative source of what economists call "monopoly rents," the ability of corporations in a non-competitive market to extract excess profits from customers.

Even with the monopoly rents, the great virtue of the internet is that no one controls its content. This digital communication technology has been so spectacularly successful and so socially valuable because it is a wide-open, democratic forum, accessible on equal terms to all who want to put information, images, opinions, etc. on it or to download any of the same from it. Since its invention, the guiding principle behind the use of this liberating technology has been that no corporation, government, religion or other controlling power should be its gatekeeper, impeding the free and equal flow of communication to and from those who use it (yes, there is some censorship around the world, as well as here at home, but clever users commonly find their way around it).

 

Published in Guest Commentary

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

TeslaBat 1206wrp optA Tesla battery pack. (Photo: Amy Robinson / Flickr)After deploying a solar and battery system to a children's hospital in San Juan this October, Tesla has installed six more similar systems to help power the hurricane-wrecked islands of Vieques and Culebra in Puerto Rico.

In a statement to Bloomberg, Governor Ricardo Rossello's office said that Tesla installed the new units as "a humanitarian effort."

More than two months have passed since Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico's already weakened electric grid. Restoration of power has been set back by frequent outages and mired in controversy (i.e. Whitefish Energy). Electric capacity is only at 68 percent after the Sept. 20 storm hit.

As reported by Electrek, Tesla's Powerpack systems on Vieques and Culebra will act as microgrids until the main grid connected via underwater cables switches back on.

The packs will help provide the 8,825 people in Vieques and 1,797 in Culebra with reliable and renewable energy. The systems are installed at key areas, including a sanitary sewer treatment plant, the Arcadia water pumping station, the Ciudad Dorada elderly community, the Susan Centeno hospital, and the Boys and Girls Club of Vieques.

Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewers Authority executive Elí Díaz Atienza told Electrek that each system has a capacity of 250kW/500kWh and they can run "the Vieques facility 70 percent of the time at 100 percent capacity and the installation of Culebra 100 percent of the time at 100 percent capacity."

Published in Guest Commentary

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CAfire 1206wrp opt(Photo: Doc Searls / Flickr)California is burning again. A massive wildfire fueled by powerful Santa Ana winds has spread some 31,000 acres in Southern California, destroying 150 structures and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate.

The outbreak comes not long after October's string of devastating wildfires in Northern California that killed 44 people—the deadliest in state history.

The Thomas Fire started Monday night in Santa Paula and has burned into the city limits of Ventura, just north of Los Angeles, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. Five-hundred fire fighters are on site with additional fire resources en-route.

Published in Guest Commentary

EMERSON URRY OF ENVIRONEWS ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Escalante 1205wrp optThe Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management / Flickr)Only hours after Donald Trump announced his administration would be significantly shrinking the boundaries for much of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah, environmental groups filed a lawsuit, naming President Donald J. Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Brian Steed as the culprits, for what they say was an "unlawful" act.

On December 4, 2017, the President made the announcement official by signing two proclamations at a speech at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, rescinding protections for nearly two million acres of federal land, in what USA Today called "the largest rollback of national monument designations in history."

The move effectively eliminates Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and replaces it with three non-contiguous units called, "Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits, and Escalante Canyons." One of the proclamations also rolled back protections on Bears Ears National Monument — a pristine area harboring many tribal artifacts and other indigenous ruins, designated by Barack Obama at the end of his presidency.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

WarXmas 1201wrp opt(Photo: Gary Jungling / Flickr)Now that the Fox News Channel has dumped the sex-harassment-plagued Commander Bill O'Reilly, what will happen to the War on Christmas? Will President Donald Trump exercise his commander-in-chiefness, and take control of the troops?

In a December 2016 speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Trump told the audience: "You go into a department store," he said. "When was the last time you saw 'Merry Christmas'? You don't see it anymore. They want to be politically correct. If I'm president, you will see 'Merry Christmas' in department stores, believe me, believe me. "

Shortly after winning the presidency, Trump told a Wisconsin crowd "When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here some day and we are going to say 'Merry Christmas' again. Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas."

Last year, a Public Policy Polling survey found that "60 percent of Trump voters" were certain that there is a War on Christmas.

Published in Guest Commentary

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

PBear 1129wrp opt(Photo: Elizabeth Haslam / Flickr)The fight against new Arctic drilling took a major setback on Tuesday. On the same day that the Senate Budget Committee passed a bill allowing oil and natural gas drilling in Alaska's pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Trump administration granted oil company Eni's request to explore for oil in nearby Alaska waters.

The Department of Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued the permit to Eni yesterday, allowing the oil giant to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea as early as next month.

"Achieving American energy dominance moved one step closer today with the approval of Arctic exploration operations on the Outer Continental Shelf for the first time in more than two years," the department boasted.

In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that initiated the process of rolling back former President Obama's 2016 ban on any new off shore oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Ocean.

Published in Guest Commentary

JOHN GEYMAN, MD FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Medicaid 1127wrp opt(Photo: Don Buciak II / Flickr)An under-appreciated time bomb of block grants to states for Medicaid and other safety net programs is a constant thread within budget plans going forward in Congress and the Trump administration. This is likely to happen soon and have big impacts on the 75 million Americans now covered by Medicaid, many of whom gained this coverage as residents of the 31 states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

As we know, the GOP tax plan that will probably emerge will give huge benefits to corporations and the wealthiest top 10 percent at the expense of the middle class. It will increase the federal deficit by some $1.5 trillion and lead to an attempt to make up that deficit by cutbacks in such "entitlement" programs as Medicare and Medicaid. A convenient way of doing this for Medicaid will be to give block grants to states with the unproven assumption that they can better design and manage their Medicaid programs with more flexibility -- and less federal money! If the costs of state programs exceed their budgets, it will be up to them to make up the difference.

An analysis by Avalere Health has shown that the federal government could save about $150 billion over the next five years through these per capita block grants. Any such savings would be on the backs of the most vulnerable among us.

Let's look at how these block grants will actually work to better understand what their impacts will be on vulnerable low-income Americans and safety net programs across the country.

Published in Guest Commentary
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