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fedcourtatlantaU.S. District Court of Appeals, Atlanta (Photo: Steven Martin)

BuzzFlash has long covered the way in which Republican senators are more aggressive than Democrats in shaping the judiciary to achieve partisan goals. It is a subject that necessitates ongoing examination, because the GOP is resolute in attaining its objective of a right-wing federal court.

The latest flouting of Senate tradition and rules concerns a process used by both parties to delay federal judiciary nominations. It is a somewhat arcane procedure known as "blue slipping" nominees. Senators of states where nominees would serve have long been able to prevent or delay Senate Judiciary Committee hearings by simply withholding a blue slip with the name of the person under consideration from being submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee chairperson. Whether one agrees with the procedure or not, what's important to note is that the Republicans have used the option frequently to prevent Democratic nominees to the federal bench over the years.

In a recent email from People for the American Way, the progressive advocacy organization noted that in November,

[Republican] Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley announced he was going to move forward with scheduling a hearing for an extreme Trump judicial nominee -- one who is on Trump’s list for possible Supreme Court justices -- despite the fact that he has not received approval from both home-state senators for going forward. Although he adamantly supported the tradition requiring approval from both home-state senators when it came to stopping President Obama’s nominees from moving forward, Grassley is more than happy to throw them out when it comes to moving Trump’s nominees forward. Obliterating more than 100 years of Senate traditions, and in the face of his own promises not to do so, he has now scheduled the hearing for judicial nominee David Stras.


graduateschoolphotoGOP House would have graduate students subsidizing tax breaks for the wealthy. (Photo: Kevin Harber)

The Senate and House versions of tax restructuring bills still need to be reconciled in a conference committee, but both pieces of legislation clearly favor shifting tax deductions toward the wealthy. However, there are different provisions in each bill that create particular winners and losers. For example, in the House version, graduate students would get the shaft by having tuition wavers taxed. 

It's hard to believe that elected officials in Washington, DC could think of a more perverse way to diminish the nation's knowledge base. Given the often marginal incomes of graduate students, it is likely that many students would forgo graduate school rather than assume the significant additional financial burden of taxed tuition waivers. A recent article in Inside Higher Ed, which notes that many students are protesting the bill, explains this likely impact:

"If it’s filled with any, or most of, the provisions aimed at higher ed, then I’ll have to drop out of my program," said Tom DePaola, a doctoral candidate in education policy at the University of Southern California....

"I was really brought out here [to protest in Washington DC] when I saw that they were going to tax our tuition waivers as income," said Skyler Reidy, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in history at USC. "It’s going to force people out of grad school."


whistleblowerphotoFederal whistleblowers are trapped in a Trump swamp. (Photo: Michael Fleshman)

According to a December 5 Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) news release, whistleblowers who are punished or fired from federal agencies are now unable to fully appeal their personnel cases because of Trump administration inaction. In specific, Trump has failed to appoint nominees to the three-member U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). There are currently two vacancies, and the third member will be leaving in March.

The US Merit Systems Protection Board is the highest decision-making body regarding federal personnel actions within the government. Its decisions can be appealed to the court system. However, absent a functioning board it cannot render decisions in cases regarding retaliatory action against whistleblowers, for instance. Thus, whistleblowers who have been punished by a federal agency have no recourse at the MSPB board level regarding the government personnel system.

According to PEER,

This situation effectively nullifies the Whistleblower Protection Act, which is enforced by the MSPB. For example, at an agency such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is notorious for its reprisals against employees reporting wrongdoing and dangerous conditions, a whistleblower facing firing may have little recourse. If the whistleblower wins a favorable initial decision from an MSPB administrative judge, the agency could void the effects of that victory merely by filing an appeal to the full MSPB where it would join the growing, seemingly interminable backlog – and during all of this the whistleblower would be off payroll.

“By its inaction, the Trump White House has not just removed the merit system cop from the beat, it has shuttered the entire police station,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein.


publicschoolsapartheidPublic schools should benefit the commons. (Photo: kristina dymond)


Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos doesn't believe in public education. She is an avid proponent of the school privatization movement, which operates through vouchers, charter schools and other means. Author Noliwe Rooks argues that school privatization enables the continuation of historic educational apartheid, oppressing people of color. Rooks wrote the book Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and Public Education, featured as the Truthout Progressive Pick last week. Rooks, the director of American Studies at Cornell University, argues that the so-called "education reform" privatization movement manifests as segregated education, rebranded.

In the introduction to her book, Rooks invokes the term "segrenomics" as the means by which profiteers make money from segregated and unequal education. In an interview with Truthout, she explains the term:

Segrenomics is a term I came up with to describe what I saw in so many discrete educational periods in [the US] where there was a consistent cycle for plundering funds supposedly for our nation's most vulnerable students and then hoarding those same funds to educate students who were either wealthy, or white and often times ... both.

I began to see that the separately unequal educations that define our nation were not merely the product of an apartheid imagination designed to educate different segments of our society into what a scholar named Horace Mann Bond termed the American social order, but was also a lucrative business model that from the 19th century on has aided the financial bottom lines of wealthy businesses. Looked at with that understanding, I began to see that the thicket of separate and unequal educational experiments described in the book (vouchers, charter schools, alternatively certified teachers and superintendents), many of which failed to educate the children they were created for, simply would not have been proposed if there was no money to be made from them.

Rooks also notes that "segrenomics" is "a specific form of capitalism that relies on segregation to do its work."


teacherdeductionThe House wants to take a pittance from self-sacrificing teachers and give it to the rich. (Photo: firedoglakecom)

The Senate and the House tax bills are being called "tax reform" by many media outlets. The bills, which will be headed to conference committee once a bill passes the Senate, differ, but neither could be called "reform" in any positive sense. In this way, they reflect the politics of "welfare reform" -- a "reform" that made the US fundamentally more inequitable. In essence, they are both legislative vehicles to restructure the tax formula to put more money in the pockets of the nation's wealthiest individuals and families. In USA Today, op-ed columnist Andy Slavitt argues that both bills are also aimed squarely at cutting government expenditures on health care, thus increasing individual medical costs.

In addition, the plans will impact education on multiple fronts. Just one example: Currently, according to the HuffPost, K-12 teachers can deduct up to $250 a year off their gross income for personal expenses on classroom material. Due to the underfunding of many schools, a large number of teachers spend out-of-pocket money for the benefit of their students. The House bill budgets the savings of providing this small tax credit at around $210 million a year. That's not a lot to the federal government, but rescinding it effectively transfers the saved money into the hands of the richest Americans.


groundcombatvehicleGround combat vehicles. (Photo: DVIDSHUB)

If you are free from November 29 to December 1, you can attend the "Future Ground Combat Vehicles: Delivering Cutting Edge Solutions for Mechanized Modernization" in Detroit. It's being run by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement, which profits from putting on military-industrial conference "trade" shows that focus on weaponry and combat paraphernalia. However, it won't be cheap: The cost for "vendors, consultants and solution providers" is $2,160 for a three-day all-access pass.

You're in luck, nevertheless, if you work for the military or government, because there is "no cost to all military and government employees" who wish to attend. This is generally the case in the invitations for such military and weapons-focused conferences. Why? Because the purpose is to attract vendors who are buying access to intermingle with current and past military personnel who might give corporations an edge on contracts. The military does nothing to discourage its staff from participating in such conferences. Why should it? After all, both sides of the military-industrial complex work together to expand the supply and demand for weaponry, combat gear and the infrastructure of state violence.

This year, the featured speaker at this conference is an Army commander, according tothe conference brochure:

General Robert B. "Abe" Abrams assumed duties as the 22nd Commander of United States Army Forces Command, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on 10 August 2015. As Commander of the United States Army's largest organization, he commands 229,000 active duty Soldiers, and provides training and readiness oversight of U.S. Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve units. In total, the Forces Command team includes 776,000 Soldiers and 96,000 Civilians. Prior to his current command, he was the Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense.

Abrams is accompanied by a plethora of active military officer faculty, a retired brigadier general from Israel and three corporate speakers. This abundance of senior and project manager military personnel ensures that vendors can make key contacts for future military projects.


citizensunited32Large donors support an army of litigators to achieve campaign finance deregulation. (Photo: DonkeyHotey)

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization, released a detailed report last week that reveals many of the largest donors behind legal moves to achieve campaign finance deregulation. Much has been reported about the impact of loosening campaign finance laws on elections, but the Center's analysis offers insight into who is funding the legal cases that are allowing big money to have such an unprecedented impact on elections.

Of course, the most noted of these legal decisions was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which the Center describes in a second article about the modern history of campaign finance deregulation:

In a case that continues to have an enormous impact on elections at all levels of government, the court reversed decades of decisions by allowing corporate and union dollars to pay for ads and other campaign materials that urge voters to vote for or against a candidate for office. The 5-4 decision affected what are known as "independent expenditures." Such funds are used by an outside party to pay for materials that favor or oppose a candidate, but the spending must be "independent" -- the outside party isn't allowed to coordinate it with the candidate. The decision led to the creation of super PACs -- which accept unlimited donations and use the funds mostly on political advertising -- and "dark money" organizations, nonprofits that do essentially the same thing but are not required to reveal their donors.

However, Citizens United was preceded and followed by other regulation-loosening decisions, including Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 and McCutcheon, Republican National Committee v. Federal Election Commission in 2014.

Friday, 17 November 2017 05:31

Americans Own 42 Percent of the World's Guns


 mandalaybayLas Vegas Mandalay Bay Hotel, site of one of the numerous recent mass shootings. (Photo: Don Barrett)

In a November 7 article in The New York Times by Max Fisher and Josh Keller, the two reporters reflect upon the somber phenomenon of mass shootings in the United States. Faced with an unrelenting occurrence of such incidents, they attempt to ascertain the enabling circumstances for such atrocities. They conclude,

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

The top-line numbers suggest a correlation that, on further investigation, grows only clearer.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

One must be wary of assessments that attribute a complex problem to only one factor, as this one does. However, the United States has 4.4 percent of the world population but 42 percent of the world's guns.


lepagepaulTea Party Republican Maine Governor Paul LePage opposes a just-passed voter initiative to expand Medicaid. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Although it wasn't widely reported amid the Democratic victories in last week's off-year elections, a big win occurred in Maine for low-income individuals and households that need Medicaid. After years of Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage actively opposing and preventing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Medicaid expansion in Maine, a ballot initiative passed expanding health coverage for the poor by nearly 60 percent of the vote.

Of course, there was intractable and heated opposition to the voter proposal by LePage and his supporters. One of the arguments against the bill was that it would raise the cost of licenses for hunting and fishing, according to The American Prospect. The Prospect noted that the pro-ballot-initiative forces ran a savvy campaign to dispel misleading charges:

Mainers for Health Care, the statewide coalition that helped lead the successful yes campaign, countered the hunting and fishing license price hikes and other tall tales by relentlessly repeating a few salient data points. Medicaid expansion would create 6,000 new jobs and give the state a $500 million infusion of federal funding each year. Most importantly, the measure would provide health care to 70,000 Mainers.

To get out the vote, canvassers hit the road and knocked on more than 200,000 doors. But according to Mainers for Health Care's David Farmer, the decisive factor was the coalition's decision to deploy a "leadership team" of people who would be newly eligible for Medicaid if the measure passed.

One of the women on the "leadership team" earns "$7,000 a year from a newspaper route and sells her plasma to have enough money to take her kids to McDonald's." She also is a caregiver to her three disabled adult children.


climatedenialjpgThe Trump administration is firmly in the climate change denial camp. (Photo: Amaury Laporte)

The Heartland Institute is back with a vengeance. After years of being written off by environmentalists as a fringe group pushing fringe ideas and policies, Heartland has found a love connection with officials from the Trump administration.

You would be justified if you were asking yourself, what in heaven’s name is The Heartland Institute? Sit back, you may be in for a bumpy ride!

Founded in 1984 by Joseph L. Bast and David H. Padden, Heartland has never enjoyed the praise or prestige heaped upon such conservative institutes as the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution or the American Enterprise Institute. While consistently pushing a free-market, pro-privatization agenda, over the years it placed a major emphasis on climate change denial.

Nevertheless, Heartland became one of the more innovative conservative think tanks. Not because of its free-market ideology, but early on it developed a method of providing critical information to hundreds, if not thousands, of legislators – both state and national – and journalists, columnists and editorial board members.

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