Facebook Slider
Optional Member Code
Get News Alerts!

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

churchtrumpWill Trump succeed in allowing religious organizations to be active in political fundraising and organizing? (Photo: Marie Loughin)

Help us publish more commentaries like this one: Make a tax-deductible donation to BuzzFlash and Truthout today!

Recently, a group of nearly 100 religious leaders sent a letter to President Trump urging him not to allow religious organizations to engage in partisan politics:

At the National Prayer Breakfast, you promised to "totally destroy the Johnson Amendment," which is the provision in the tax code that prohibits public charities and private foundations from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing political candidates or parties.

For more than 60 years, this rule barring campaign intervention has helped keep tax-deductible money out of partisan politics. It has helped maintain the integrity and autonomy of our religious and charitable sectors and preserve the boundary separating church and state. It has guaranteed that Americans’ charitable giving will not be channeled into political campaigns. For those reasons, the current law is overwhelmingly supported by the public. Without this rule, nonpartisan charities and places of worship would be open to manipulation for political ends.

Up to now, charities and religious organizations have been insulated from electioneering, and instead have been committed to doing good work, like alleviating poverty, ministering to the spirit, curing disease, and addressing other basic human and social needs.

Public Citizen, a national watchdog advocating for the common good, referred to Trump's stated goal:

The Johnson Amendment recently has gained national attention after Trump vowed at the National Prayer Breakfast in February to “totally destroy” the law.

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

No ads or "sponsored" content here! Help keep Truthout and BuzzFlash ad-free by making a tax-deductible donation.

Hawking 0322wrp opt(Photo: Jim Campbell/Aero-News Network)Professor Stephen Hawking could one day realize his dream of space travel thanks to Virgin founder and space-enthusiast Richard Branson.

"I have already completed a zero gravity flight which allowed me to float weightless, but my ultimate ambition is to fly into space," Hawking told host Piers Morgan of "Good Morning Britain" on Monday. "I thought no one would take me but Richard Branson has offered me a seat on Virgin Galactic and I said yes immediately."

Branson's spaceflight company aims to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists. However, the venture has faced a number of delays, including a fatal explosion in 2007 during a ground test and test flight crash in 2014. (Might I suggest that if Branson cannot offer the stars to Hawking, maybe Elon Musk's SpaceX can?)

"My three children have brought me great joy—and I can tell you what will make me happy, to travel in space," Hawking said.

The 75-year-old theoretical physicist and cosmologist was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis lateral sclerosis (ALS) when he was 21.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

trump444(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

No ads or "sponsored" content here! Help keep Truthout and BuzzFlash ad-free by making a tax-deductible donation.

The Trump administration has installed political operatives to watch over and "advise" cabinet secretaries and their departments, according to a recent Washington Post article:

Most members of President Trump's Cabinet do not yet have leadership teams in place or even nominees for top deputies. But they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged -- above all -- with monitoring the secretaries' loyalty, according to eight officials in and outside the administration.

This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary's suite. The White House has installed at least 16 of the advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA, according to records first obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act request.

This Week notes an ironic similarity that apparently the Pentagon noticed and The Post got wind of:

Pentagon officials privately call Brett Byers, charged with keeping an eye on Defense Secretary James Mattis, "the commissar," The Post reports, helpfully explaining that the nickname is "a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal."

Vanity Fair headlined a story about the new appointees, "Trump's Soviet-Style Plan to Create His Own Deep State.

2017.21.3 BF Kelly(Photo: Takver)CASSIE KELLY OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that carbon dioxide levels in 2016 broke records for the second year in a row with an increase of 3 parts per million (ppm).

The measurements are coming from the Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory in Hawaii and were confirmed by NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. The numbers show that the rate of CO2 in the atmosphere is now at 405.1 ppm, the highest it has been in more than 10,000 years. Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA's Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, said the findings are accurate and disturbing.

"The rate of CO2 growth over the last decade is 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last Ice Age," Tans said in a press release. "This is a real shock to the atmosphere."

2017.21.3 BF Chow(Photo: Daniel Ullrich)LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

Germany is embarking on an innovative project to turn a hard coal mine into a giant battery that can store surplus solar and wind energy and release it when supplies are lean.

The Prosper-Haniel coal mine in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia will be converted into a 200 megawatt pumped-storage hydroelectric reservoir that acts like a giant battery. The capacity is enough to power more than 400,000 homes, Governor Hannelore Kraft said, according to Bloomberg.

Founded in 1863, the Prosper-Haniel coal mine produces 3,000,000t/y of coal and is one of the few active coal mines remaining in Germany. But the mine is slated for closure in 2018, when federal subsidies for the industry dry up.

Kraft said that the miners in the town of Bottrop will remain employed at the site as it converts to its new function.

Pumped-storage facilities are not a new idea, as such systems are already in operation around the world. However, this is the first time that a coal mine will be used as part of the infrastructure.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

6355404323 cf97f9c58e z (Photo: 401(K) 2012)

 A March study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic policy concludes:

A newly updated report released today provides data that helps dispute the erroneous idea espoused during President Trump’s address to Congress that undocumented immigrants are a drain to taxpayers. In fact, like all others living and working in the United States, undocumented immigrants are taxpayers too and collectively contribute an estimated $11.74 billion to state and local coffers each year via a combination of sales and excise, personal income, and property taxes, according to Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

On average, the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants pay 8 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes every year.

The report later speculates:

Creating a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and allowing them to work here legally would boost their current state and local tax contributions by more than $2.18 billion a year.... Personal income tax collections would increase by $1.1 billion a year. Sales and excise taxes would increase by $702 million, and property taxes would grow by $362 million. As a result, the overall state and local taxes paid by undocumented immigrants as a share of their income would increase from 8 percent to 8.6 percent.

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Cook 0320wrp opt(Photo: Dave LaForest)For more than three months, an underwater pipeline has been spewing hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of processed natural gas per day in Alaska's Cook Inlet, possibly threatening critically endangered beluga whales, fish and other wildlife.

The 8-inch pipeline, owned and operated by Hilcorp Alaska, is leaking more than 210,000 cubic feet of gas per day. The gas is 99 percent methane and provides fuel for four platforms in Cook Inlet.

A notice from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) revealed that Hilcorp knew about the leak as early as December but did not report the leak until Feb. 7 after a helicopter spotted gas bubbling to the surface of the water.

PHMSA said that the natural gas discharge could pose a risk to public safety, the environment and marine mammals and has given Hilcorp until May 1 to permanently repair the line or shut it down.

But conservation groups warn that waiting until May could allow the release of another 16 million cubic feet of gas. Seven groups have submitted a letter to the Trump administration urging for an immediate shutdown of the 52-year-old pipeline.

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Coin 320wrp opt(Photo: US Mint)Before taxes on the rich are cut and social programs decimated, uninformed conservatives should consider who really benefits from U.S. tax laws and assistance programs. 

The Wealthiest Americans Pay Very Little Tax On Their Full Income

When ALL forms of taxes and income are considered, poor Americans pay higher tax rates than the richest 1%. 

The analysis starts with state and local taxes, which are often ignored by apologists for big-income tax cuts. According to The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the state and local tax rate for the poorest 20 percent of individuals is DOUBLE that of the top 1 percent (10.9 percent vs. 5.4 percent). New data from Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman allows us to go further: When unrealized capital gains are included in the wealth-building of the richest 1%, the OVERALL tax rates plunge for the super-rich, causing the poorest Americans to pay the highest rates. 

What is the justification for adding unrealized capital gains to one's income? The 16th Amendment gives Congress the power "to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived." Thus, under an original definition of income developed by the American economists Robert M. Haig and Henry C. Simons in the 1920s and still utilized by financial economists, an increase in the value of a stock or other asset would be subject to taxation even if it's not sold. 

With this more accurate guide to income measurement, the real tax rates paid by the 1% can be calculated. Details can be found here. The bottom line is that poor Americans pay about 25 percent in total taxes, while the 1% pays anywhere from 18 to 23 percent.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Church 0317wrp opt(Photo: kirkenorge)Since President Donald Trump's immigration policy gave law enforcement officials unprecedented power to aggressively target immigrants in the country illegally, the nation's immigrant communities have been living in fear, from the threat of arrest, detention and deportation.

Department of Homeland Security documents "revealed the broad scope of the president's ambitions: to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants; strip such immigrants of privacy protections; enlist local police officers as enforcers; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations," The New York Times' Michael D. Shear and Ron Nixon reported late last month.

"The message is: The immigration law is back in business," said a gleeful Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports restricted immigration. "That violating immigration law is no longer a secondary offense."

One area where enhanced law enforcement appears to be having a profound effect is on church attendance. In a piece titled "Trump's Policies Are Keeping Hispanics Away from Church," Christianity Today's Kate Shellnutt reported that "America's Hispanic churches [are] feel[ing] the impact of President Donald Trump's immigration initiatives in their pews each week."

"These new guidelines create anxiety and concerns about the future of the members of our church and their families," the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance (HBPA), a coalition of Hispanic Southern Baptist pastors, recently stated.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

wallstreet (Photo: Naoki Nakashima)

The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, DC just released a report comparing the bonuses received by Wall Street employees to the earnings of minimum-wage workers. After analyzing the data, IPS concluded, according to a news release:

Wall Street banks handed out $23.9 billion in bonuses to their New York City-based employees last year, according to new figures from the New York State Comptroller. To put these figures in perspective, we've compared the Wall Street payout to low-wage workers' earnings.

    • The total bonus pool for 177,000 Wall Street employees was 1.6 times the combined annual earnings of all 1,075,000 U.S. full-time minimum wage workers.

    • The average Wall Street bonus increased by 1 percent last year to $138,210. Since 1985, the nominal value of the average Wall Street bonus has increased 890 percent, whereas the minimum wage has risen only 116 percent.

    • The much faster increase in Wall Street bonuses has contributed to racial and gender inequality, since workers at the bottom of the wage scale are predominantly people of color and female, whereas those in the financial industry's upper echelons are overwhelmingly white and male.

Page 11 of 1472