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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

14088974046 7a53f6128b z A wall of Marshalsea Prison, where the father of Charles Dickens was imprisoned for being in debt. (Photo: Hornbeam Arts)

You don't need to read Charles Dickens to learn about debtors' prisons. You can just visit Sherwood, Arkansas.

A few months ago the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers' Committee), along with Morrison & Foerster LLP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas (ACLU of Arkansas) filed a class action civil rights lawsuit against Sherwood in federal court. The goal of the legal action is to end the town's practice of using failure to pay court costs and petty fines as justification for imprisoning people for the "crime" of poverty.

According to a news release by the Lawyer's Committee:

The suit was filed on behalf of four individuals who allege their constitutional rights were violated by the Hot Check Division of the Sherwood District Court when they were jailed for their inability to pay court fines and fees in violation of longstanding law forbidding the incarceration of people for their failure to pay debts, and a concerned taxpayer.

"The resurgence of debtors prisons across our country has entrapped poor people, too many of whom are African American or minority, in a cycle of escalating debt and unnecessary incarceration," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The Sherwood District Court epitomizes the criminalization of poverty and the corrupting effect of financial incentives on our local courts. Not only does this 'Hot Check' court completely ignore the long-standing principle that a person cannot be punished because they are poor, but by using coercive practices to collect money from the poorest Arkansans, this debtors' prison scheme generates huge revenues for the city. Revenue from the district court constitutes nearly 12 percent of the city's budget, second only to city and county sales tax..."

BRIAN TRAUTMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

DAPL 1209wrp opt(Photo: Pax Ahimsa Gethen)Over the past eight months, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota have been joined by more than 200 allied tribes and tens of thousands of non-Native activists for a nonviolent resistance campaign against Energy Transfer Partners’ (ETP) $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The pipeline, which has been projected to transport at least 470,000 barrels of oil per day over 1,100 miles from the Bakken oil field to an existing hub in Illinois for delivery to refineries on the Gulf Coast, was rerouted in 2014 from north of Bismarck to the south, taking it through unceded treaty lands of the Sioux. Pipeline construction over this altered route desecrated sacred ancestral sites, and, until last Sunday, was slated to cross the Missouri River at the Lake Oahe reservoir, which would have threatened the safety of the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux and millions of people downstream.

Since April 1, individuals, groups and organizations from around the world have come together at Standing Rock to proclaim Mni Wiconi, Lakota for “water is life.” They have put their bodies and freedom on the line in support of the water protectors of the #NoDAPL effort. Veterans For Peace (VFP), on whose board of directors I currently serve, is one of these organizations. We released a solidarity statement in September. A number of our members have been actively involved in the campaign. In mid-October, I had the great privilege and honor of joining nearly a dozen of my VFP colleagues at the main resistance camp, Oceti Sakowin (the proper name for the Sioux, meaning Seven Council Fires). During my visit, I was welcomed with respect, kindness and love, and treated as a family member – a relative, a profound experience of Mitakuye Oyasin, a Lakota term/prayer meaning "all my relations" or "we are all related."

As of last week, DAPL construction was all but completed. It seemed nothing could stop the Black Snake, as the Native people call it (a moniker that is based on an old Lakota prophecy which speaks of a “black snake” bringing destruction and devastation). Then, last Sunday, following various legal decisions over many months that allowed the pipeline construction to continue, the easement to cross Lake Oahe was abruptly denied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The announcement came down just hours before an evacuation order for the Oceti Sakowin Camp, which was issued by USACE in late November, was set to take effect. USACE added that it would be undertaking an environmental impact statement (EIS) to examine possible alternate pipeline routes. The decision was hailed by many as a significant victory for the #NoDAPL struggle.

2016.8.12 BF Berkowitz(Photo: Gage Skidmore)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Dr. Ben Carson, a failed presidential candidate and a retired neurosurgeon, with absolutely no other housing experience other than he lives in one, has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump for secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Back in September of last year, Carson was seen as a contender for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, and he was rapidly gaining on Trump in the polls. Then, the bottom fell out. Perhaps it was his lackluster performances at the debates, during which he seemed to be sleepwalking. Or perhaps Carson's run was designed merely to increase his name recognition with the public. Carson eventually dropped out and threw his support to Trump. And now, he is reaping the reward.

Carson will enter office as a blank slate. This is perhaps the only area that Trump really might be "draining the swamp," only in this case he's draining it of any experience and competence.

As I wrote in September 2015, "Carson may be soft-spoken and mild-mannered in his demeanor, but he may -- and I say this carefully -- out-Trump Trump when it comes to embodying the wacky."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

3484273661 9efe42315b z(Photo: SEIU 775 )

 Portland, Oregon, has just adopted a new ordinance that will tax excessive CEO pay, according to a news release from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, DC:

In a 3-1 vote, the council agreed to add a surtax on the city's existing business license tax for firms that pay their CEOs more than 100 times what their typical worker receives. This will be the nation's first tax penalty for extreme CEO-worker pay gaps.

IPS issues a report each year called "Executive Excess." In a September commentary, I wrote about this year's report, which found that the nation's top 20 US banks gave their executives more than $2 billion dollars in tax-deductible bonuses over the past four years.

The problem of exorbitant executive pay is not limited to Wall Street and the financial world. One study at Glass Door Research estimated that "the average CEO earns 204 times median worker pay." Estimates vary from study to study, though, and it is hard to pin down numbers for some companies. However, due to a new Securities and Exchange Commission regulation, companies will be required as of 2017 to report information on worker and CEO pay that will lead to the government and other organizations being able to peg the exact CEO-to-worker ratios at any given company. Nonetheless, there is enough public information now to demonstrate that a large number of CEO salaries and bonuses far exceed 100 times the median worker salary.

Sarah Anderson, who is a co-editor of Inequality.org at the Institute for Policy Studies and has been the lead author on all 23 of the Institute's annual "Executive Excess" reports, explained to me how the Portland tax on excessive CEO income will be levied:

Publicly traded companies with extreme pay gaps will pay a surtax on top of the city's current business license tax. The surtax will be 10 percent of the business tax liability for companies with a CEO-worker pay ratio of more than 100-to-1 and 25 percent for companies with a ratio of more than 250-to-1. The Portland government has identified more than 500 corporations that do enough business in the city to be affected by the surtax, including many that regularly dominate the highest-paid CEO lists, such as Oracle, Honeywell, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and General Electric.

Thursday, 08 December 2016 06:44

Trump, Taiwan and the Weapons Deal

2016.8.12 BF Koehler(Photo: Marc Nozell)ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The president-elect stumbles over the protocols of geopolitics and war, tweeting all the way.

It's not just insane. It's awkward.

"Since 1979," the Guardian points out, "the U.S. has acknowledged Beijing's claim that Taiwan is part of China, with relations governed by the 'One China' set of protocols."

But here's what Donald Trump did: He took a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-we. In so doing, he became the first U.S. president or president-elect to speak directly to the Taiwanese leader in 37 years. Furthermore, he referred to her as the president of Taiwan, not the president on Taiwan, seemingly implying that the island province is actually an independent nation, totally freaking out mainland China -- and jolting our relations with that country big time. You don't want the wrong preposition to start World War 4.

Furthermore: "Weeks before President-elect Donald Trump's controversial phone call with Taiwan's president," the Guardian story continues, ". . . a businesswoman claiming to be associated with his conglomerate made inquiries about a major investment in building luxury hotels as part of the island's new airport development."

DAN ZUKOWSKI OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Pipeline 1207wrp(Photo: Oil pipeline)A six-inch crude oil pipeline operated by Belle Fourche Pipeline Company in western North Dakota was shut down following discovery of a leak on Monday. The amount of the spill was not immediately known, but oil has leaked into the Ash Coulee Creek in Billings County.

The site of the spill is about 200 miles from the camp where members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their supporters have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

"It is a significant spill," Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager for the North Dakota Department of health, said.

"A series of booms have been placed across the creek to prevent downstream migration and a siphon dam has been constructed four miles downstream of the release point."

The Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. is part of the family-owned True companies, which also operates Bridger Pipeline LLC. Both pipelines are operated from the same control room in Casper, Wyoming. From 2006 to 2014, Belle Fourche reported 21 incidents, leaking a total of 272,832 gallons of oil. Bridger Pipeline recorded nine pipeline incidents in the same period, spilling nearly 11,000 gallons of crude.

"In general, Bridger has a poor compliance history," wrote a federal regulator charged with overseeing pipeline safety in a 2012 order regarding a 2006 oil spill.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

129360778 788f6a7e86 oMass murderer Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines. (Photo: Davao Today )

Last Friday, Philippines President and authoritarian leader Rodrigo Duterte claimed that Trump endorsed his war on drugs, which has included the extrajudicial killing of thousands of "drug suspects." According to CBS News:

President-elect Donald Trump wished the Philippines well in its bloody war on drugs during a call with President Rodrigo Duterte Friday, according to statements by the Philippine leader.

Duterte said in a video that Mr. Trump was "quite sensitive" to the nation’s controversial drug crackdown, which has resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings since June, when Duterte first took office.

"[Trump] wishes me well in my campaign and said that we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way," Duterte said of the Friday call, in which he described an "animated" president-elect.

"I could sense a good rapport," the Philippines leader said. "He was wishing me success in my campaign on the drug problem. He understood the way we are handling it and he said that there’s nothing wrong in protecting your country."

Wednesday, 07 December 2016 07:40

Jim Hightower: Augustus Trumpus

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Caesar 1207wrp(Photo: Julius Caesar, by Georges Jansoone)All hail Augustus Trumpus! All hail the American Putin, whom none can criticize! All hail the Great All Knowing One, who reveals "realities" that are not there and finds "facts" that mere mortals cannot detect.

Once again, The Amazing Donald has demonstrated his phantasmagoric power of perception, having a new outcome in November's election that others haven't seen. Trump has been greatly perturbed by the official results, which showed that while he won the electoral college majority, he was not the people's choice. Instead, Hillary Clinton won the popular balloting by a margin of more than two million votes. Growing increasingly furious at this affront to his supernatural sense of self, the master of factual flexibility went on Twitter with an amazing revelation: "I won the popular vote," decreed our incoming tweeter in chief!

Wow, how did he turn a two million vote loss into a glorious victory? "I won," he tweeted, "if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."

Wow again! Millions? You'd think such a massive conspiracy — with millions of illegal voters in line at thousands of precincts — would've been noticed by election officials, GOP poll watchers and the media. How did Trump find this truly incredible fact?

Coral reef in Cuba(Photo: Momo)DAVID GUGGENHEIM OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

Our captain watched with some consternation as an unidentified vessel, gray with no markings, headed straight toward our vessel, anchored more than 50 miles off Cuba's southern coast. Others in the crew speculated nervously about the approaching boat, never previously seen in these parts. The boat pulled alongside and two imposing figures boarded, both in olive military uniforms. A mustachioed representative of the Ministry of Interior stood beside his taller colleague whose uniform, like the boat that carried him, bore no markings at all. A sidearm hung imposingly from his belt. He turned to the captain and requested to meet with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

At that moment, Kennedy -- a leading environmental activist, president of Waterkeeper Alliance and son of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy -- was 90 feet below the surface with the rest of our group, observing a dozen or so Caribbean reef sharks tracing mesmerizing circles about us. We were carrying the flag of The Explorers Club, visiting and documenting previously unexplored coral reef ecosystems in Cuba's southern waters.

2016.6.12 BF Berkowitz(Photo: DonkeyHotey)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

He's not 400 pounds, as President-elect Donald Trump might characterize him, nor is he wearing pajamas and tweeting from his basement. The man, who apparently invented the notion that three-million-people voted illegally in the presidential election, is an entrepreneur, longtime Republican Party activist, and now, an accomplished provocateur. Where Gregg Phillips is getting his information from is anybody's guess. Thus far, no proof, only assertions. But that didn't stop Trump from tweeting that he "won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." Nor did it stop InfoWars, a conspiracy theory website run by Trump ally and radio talk show host Alex Jones, from jumping on the bandwagon. Nor did it prevent Vice President-elect Mike Pence from defending Trump's tweet on a recent edition of "This Week," ABC's Sunday morning gabfest hosted by George Stephanopoulos.

There is no denying that unless something absolutely unpredictable happens, Trump will be the next president of the United States. There is also no denying that as of this writing, Hillary Clinton is leading in the popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes. Hillary's growing lead prompted Trump's tweet, which was quickly debunked by fact checkers – given a "Pants on Fire" by the Politifact web site -- derided by several news anchors, and fell into the "What the heck is he talking about" category, a classification that became all too familiar during the campaign, and threatens to be with us throughout Trump's term.

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