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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.

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." 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaaawilsonbirthYes, President Woodrow Wilson, Democrat, said this and worse. This quotation appeared in The Birth of a Nation. (Image: elycefeliz)

Blatant racism and the notion of inherent white superiority have often been justified by their proponents as divinely mandated in the name of Christ.

Take, for instance, how the justification of white supremacy plays itself out in one of the first-ever box office smashes, the explicitly racist silent film The Birth of a Nation.

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The AMC Filmsite, edited by Tom Dirks, notes of The Birth of a Nation:

The domestic melodrama/epic originally premiered with the title The Clansman in February, 1915 in Los Angeles, California, but three months later was retitled with the present title at its world premiere in New York, to emphasize the birthing process of the US. The film was based on former North Carolina Baptist minister Rev. Thomas Dixon Jr.'s anti-black, 1905 bigoted melodramatic staged play [and novel], The Clansman, the second volume in a trilogy:

    • The Leopard's Spots: A Romance of the White Man's Burden, 1865-1900

    • The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan

    • The Traitor

Evidencing the reverence paid to the KKK - even by many Northerners - it should be noted that The Birth of a Nation was the first film screened inside the White House. In this case, it was shown for the "pleasure" of President Woodrow Wilson.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaajebsirJeb Bush continues the family tradition of backing policies that would compel workers to labor longer hours to make the wealthy richer. (Image: DonkeyHotey)

Indicating that he is completely cocooned in a 1% bubble - or that he simply has a self-serving and reckless disregard for the facts - GOP presidential aspirant Jeb Bush recently asserted that "people need to work longer hours to create a stronger US economy.

Statistical data indicates that as wealth has increasingly been consolidated upwards to a minute percentage of the US population, worker productivity has increased, as wages have remained stagnant. The impact of this phenomenon is that the rich profit from decades of rising productivity, with workers, on average, receiving no increased compensation.

As ABC News reported in its coverage of the Jeb Bush "longer hours" statement:

A 2014 Gallup poll found that already many Americans employed full-time report working, on average, 47 hours a week, while nearly 4 in 10 say they work at least 50 hours a week.

US workers toil more hours than workers in any other large, industrialized country, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A couple of days ago, The New York Times published a telling chart (which you can view by clicking here and scrolling down) entitled, "The Growing Gap Between Productivity and Pay."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaahistorydisneyThe US cannot long endure Disneyesque fantasizers who want to return to dangerous illusions about the nation's history. (Photo: Orange County Archives)

So what politicians and pundits who champion a return to the past - as if the US experienced some golden age of democracy and fairness - are really advocating is the entrenchment of a society ruled by white property owners and corporations.

Politicians who would lead us back to an illusionary historical model for the future are eroding the promise of democracy. They are trying to govern as if the US were the Magic Kingdom - but no wand of manufactured nostalgia will actually transform the moral infrastructure of this nation.

If we are to begin that process of transformation, we must first of all acknowledge the reality of our history.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaavotersuppressionUniversal suffrage in the US is still under vigorous attack. (Photo: Michael Fleshman)

A federal lawsuit is currently challenging a wave of voter restriction laws in North Carolina, according to a recent article on Facing South:

Arguments begin this week in federal court in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in N.C. NAACP v. McCrory, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the most restrictive voting law in the nation. Outside the courthouse, voting rights advocates will gather for prayer, teach-ins and a mass march. They compare what's happening today to a watershed moment in the 20th century fight for voting rights.

"This is our Selma," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, N.C. NAACP president. "The people of North Carolina are standing up — in the courts and the streets — because we refuse to accept the revival of Jim Crow tactics used to block access to the ballot for African-American and Latino voters."

Facing South reports that a Supreme Court ruling unleashed the latest round of disenfranchisement efforts against people of color:

Two years ago in June, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Alabama case Shelby County v. Holder struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, effectively lifting federal pre-clearance requirements for voting law changes in jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination, most of them in the South. In the year following that ruling, at least 10 of the 15 states that had been covered in whole or part by pre-clearance requirements introduced legislation making it harder for voters to cast ballots.

Unfortunately, the clarion call for restrictive voting laws - based on patently false claims of "massive voter fraud" - is not confined to the South. For instance, just-announced GOP presidential hopeful Gov. Scott Walker has led the drive for restrictive voting laws in Wisconsin. Indeed, the voting limitations implemented by Republican legislatures in a number of states had their origins in the South.

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