MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It's easy enough to be a journalist, or an advocate for democracy, and write about how money is destroying the electoral process. That can be done without risk of being arrested and tossed into jail.
But a group called 99Rise, with the slogan "together we rise," is dedicated to reversing the Supreme Court decisions and congressional laws that allow for a few people with big money to manufacture the outcome of elections, by putting themselves on the line.
According to an April 1 news release from 99Rise sent via email to the media,
Five members of the grassroots organization 99Rise disrupted the nation's highest Court this morning, issuing a series of statements protesting recent court rulings that facilitate enormous increases in campaign spending by a tiny fraction the wealthiest 1%. Protestors rose one by one to deliver their statements to the Court, demanding they "Reverse McCutcheon and overturn Citizens United," before raising their index finger in the air, a gesture signifying "one person, one vote" political equality. They were detained and arrested by court security.
"The Supreme Court is deeply complicit in the corruption of our democracy," said Belinda Rodriguez, who participated in protest. "Their McCutcheon and Citizens United rulings have allowed corporations and billionaires to essentially buy our elections with unlimited sums of campaign cash, silencing the vast majority of voters. We're here to send a message that the American people won't stand for it."
This is not an April's Fool's joke; these are real people who are being swept up into the mass-incarceration system because they feel strongly that a robust democracy - not a sham democracy dictated by plutocrats - must become the norm in the USA.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Justice Department’s recent report on Ferguson, Missouri’s criminal justice system pointed out that African Americans were specifically targeted, seen "less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue." An NPR investigation found that Ferguson collected $2.6 million in fines and fees in 2013, the city’s second largest source of income, a good chunk of which came from minor infractions. While these revelations were shocking to some, they were not particularly surprising to either the majority of Ferguson residents, or to those following recent trends in criminal justice.
Bilking the poor has ushered in an era of offender-financed criminal justice services, a phenomenon that has become a toxic lifeline for many local governments. It has also spurred the growth of private companies whose bottom lines are forged by providing probation services and operating jails and prisons.
Being poor in America has never been easy. Since the advent of poverty programs, stigmatizing poor people -- particularly people of color -- has been a major item in the playbook of conservative politicians. These days, however, the actions of local governments are making being poor that much more difficult.
According to a new Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) report titled, "The Poor Get Prison: The Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty", “Poor people, especially people of color, face a far greater risk of being fined, arrested, and even incarcerated for minor offenses than other Americans.”
“A broken taillight, an unpaid parking ticket, a minor drug offense, sitting on a sidewalk, or sleeping in a park can all result in jail time,” Karen Dolan, an IPS Fellow who directs its Criminalization of Poverty Project, and the lead author of the report, and co-author Jodi L. Carr, a research associate at IPS, point out.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Elizabeth Warren is reminding the Democrats to show some backbone and not give in to Wall Street's threats to withhold funding to the Democratic National Committee and some national candidates. Why are the big banks trying to intimidate the Democratic Party? Because the most outspoken senator - Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) - is proposing that the big banks should be broken up.
Her reasoning is simple: The few banks that control most of the nation's money are not, as Obama officials often assert, "too big to fail." Warren argues that actually, they are too big not to fail.
A March 27 article from the Guardian provides the context to the threat:
Big Wall Street banks are so upset with Elizabeth Warren’s call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to SenateDemocrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.
Representatives from Citigroup, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party’s tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week.
Bank officials said the idea of withholding donations was not discussed at a meeting of the four banks in Washington but it has been raised in one-on-one conversations between representatives of some of them. However, there was no agreement on coordinating any action, and each bank is making its own decision, they said.
Will the withdrawal of Wall Street political contributions to the Democratic Party seriously impact elections? The answer is probably not. As The Guardian points out, "The amount of money at stake, a maximum of $15,000 per bank, means the gesture is symbolic rather than material."
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The distorted belief that wealthy individuals and corporations are job creators has led to sizeable business subsidies and tax breaks. The biggest giveaway is often overlooked: corporations use our nation's plentiful resources, largely at no cost, to build their profits.
There are several factual and well-established reasons why corporations owe a great debt to the nation that has made them rich.
Our Tax Money Pays for Much of the Research
The majority (57 percent) of basic research, the essential startup work for products that don't yet yield profits, is paid for by our tax dollars. When ALL forms of research are included -- basic, applied, and developmental -- approximately 30 percent comes from public money. In 2009 universities were still receiving ten times more science & engineering funding from government than from industry.
All of our technology, securities trading, medicine, infrastructure, and national security have their roots in public research and development. For a pageful of details look here.
Even the business-minded The Economist, with reference to Mariana Mazzucato's book The Entrepreneurial State, admits that "Ms Mazzucato is right to argue that the state has played a central role in producing game-changing breakthroughs, and that its contribution to the success of technology-based businesses should not be underestimated."
LIZABETH PAULAT OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
A recent summit on elephant population and habitat has led to some dire predictions: the African elephant may go extinct within our lifetimes.
Putting the end date at just decades away, the African Elephant Summit, which hosted delegates from various Asian, European and African countries, focused on mitigating poaching and increasing elephant habitats around the continent.
The statistics presented are staggering. In the 1940s, there were thought to be around 3-5 million African elephants in the wild. These days conservation organizations are estimating only 500,000 to 700,000 elephants currently exist. The largest drops came during the 1980′s when the continent saw widespread turbulence. Rather than rising back up from the fall when stability took over much of the region, increased poaching has hastened the elephant’s population decline.
The summit highlighted the link between poverty, infant mortality and poaching, showing a correlation between desperate communities, and how susceptible they can be to engaging in the illegal wildlife trade.
Yet, despite these dire warnings, there is a small beacon of hope in the midst.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
If you do not know it, payday loan stores are a legalized loan sharking industry that is now a $46 billion dollar industry, according to National Public Radio. The business preys upon the poor by offering relatively small loans based on an individual showing a paycheck stub.
However, the majority of borrowers aren't able to pay the money back when it is due and the small "stores" that look like currency exchanges start to charge interest rates on the loans that can run into the three digits in the many states where they are unregulated. NPR cites these compelling statistics:
In fact, repeat borrowers are the heart of the payday business. Government researchers found that 4 out of 5 payday borrowers had to renew their loans, typically before their next paycheck. And 1 in 5 renewed at least seven times....
The interest for poor borrowers often far exceeds the original loan in just a matter of weeks, while people of extremely limited means who wanted to avoid debt fall deeper into it.
The website SFGate.com offers one egregious, but not uncommon example, of how the usurious practices and deplorable effects of this cycle of debt - which results in enormous profits for the payday loan industry - impacts those of limited economic means.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In a recent BuzzFlash commentary it was noted that "peace is not profitable enough for the United States":
The National Priorities Project, which keeps running expenditure tabs on the costs of war, estimates that the US has now spent nearly $1.7 trillion on wars since 2001. A spokeswoman for the National Priorities Project told BuzzFlash that approximately $823 billion has been spent on the Department of Homeland Security since its creation after 9/11. She also mentioned a Washington Post article from 2013 that estimated the CIA budget at $14.7 billion. Pentagon spending alone - which comprises more than half of the US budget each year - rings in at $554 billion for 2015. To be fair, a lot of this funding overlaps, but the behemoth financial interests of the "war industry" are readily apparent from these figures. Furthermore, these estimates do not include agencies such as the State Department and many unknown "black budget" programs and smaller war and surveillance allocations.....
The dramatic expansion in privatizing war and intelligence services only increases the incentive for trying to find ways to profit from conflict and focusing on the elimination of "enemies." This includes not just the major wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan [which are funded through a supplemental war budget], but numerous spots around the world in which the US is engaged in what are called low-intensity conflicts.
In short, too many institutions, corporations and people depend upon conflict to earn their livings - and in many cases fortunes. In fact, you can add the indirect beneficiaries of the war machine to that list by including stockholders, for example, in publicly traded defense and intelligence companies. After all, the value of their stock and the size of their dividends is dependent upon contracts with the military-intelligence-surveillance-complex.
STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Once upon a time there was a dystopian novel, originally published in 1996, in which a candidate of the Republican religious right makes it to the presidency in 2004. The son of a racist truck-driver who first gets elected to the House of Representatives in the time of Newt Gingrich, his name was Jefferson Davis Hague. Hague won the Presidency on a platform of “ending welfare, cutting taxes, emasculating ‘government regulation,’ especially of the environment and for consumer protection, criminalizing abortion, banning ‘sodomy’ [gay marriage was hardly an issue when the book was written in 1994-95], and establishing ‘the centrality of God in America’ ’’ (a phrase in the book actually taken from a fund-raising letter circulated by Newt Gingrich in the summer of 1995). He was able to win the presidency on a platform like that because his Democratic Party opponent was an old-fashioned Bill Clinton-like, Democratic Leadership Council type, center-right, “let’s-all-work-together-to-find-the-middle-ground,” Democrat. He had no stomach for fighting the kind of no-holds-barred fight that would have been necessary to defeat Hague. And so, with a massive turnout, especially of the Christian Right, Hague won easily.
All of Hague’s positions were drawn from real Republican/Religious Right speeches, legislative proposals, platform planks, and etc. from the 1980s and 90s. So the writing in the book was not prescient, just observant. But does this all of it possibly sound familiar now? Well, it should, because it was all there front-and-center in the Presidential-candidacy announcement speech of Ted Cruz on July 23, 2015. In fact it was eerily familiar, and in my view has to be taken very seriously. As a commentator on NPR on March 23 noted, most candidates announce their candidacy on home grounds, often from a favorite place in their states. Picking another location can be considered very symbolic. For example, Ronald Reagan announced his 1980 candidacy at Philadelphia, MS, where the three civil rights workers had been murdered in the Freedom Summer of 1964. And he made it clear that he was not there to memorialize them.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
“There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
The words are those of Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, speaking to Edward R. Murrow in 1955, as quoted recently in an essay by Paul Buchheit. What was he thinking? Six decades later, the words have such a counter-resonance with prevailing thought. They exude an old-fashioned humility and innocence, like . . . striking it rich isn’t necessarily the ultimate point of life?
I read these words and sense so much spilled wisdom in them, so much wasted hope. The world we’ve created is governed these days by two unquestioned principles: commodify and dominate. And it’s chewing up the resources that used to belong to every occupant of the planet.
“Eighty people hold the same amount of wealth as the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people, according to an analysis just released from Oxfam,”Mona Chalabi wrote in January at FiveThirtyEight.com. “The report from the global anti-poverty organization finds that since 2009, the wealth of those 80 richest has doubled in nominal terms — while the wealth of the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population has fallen.”
The winners keep winning and everyone loses.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It makes perfect sense for Senator Ted Cruz to have chosen to make his formal announcement that he is running for the Republican Party's 2016 presidential nomination in front of an audience at the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the country. Cruz, who comes out of the conservative evangelical Christian Right, is going to be courting white evangelical Christian primary voters, so he might as well get started revving up their engines.
Cruz supporters see him as a highly intelligent and articulate spokesperson with an impressive academic background, and a man who is willing to take a principled stand, and stick by it regardless of the circumstances. Many on the left -- as well as some on the establishment right – tend to dismiss Cruz as a buffoon, a self-promoting carnival barker who not only goes off the rails, and is proud to live off the rails.
As is often the case, researcher and investigative journalist Bruce Wilson is cutting through what I am calling "The Fog of Ted Cruz."
In a recent Talk2Action post titled "Ted Cruz: Born From The Heart of the Dominionist Christian Right," Wilson pointed out that both Cruz, and his father Rafael, are steeped in the politics of the Religious Right. Wilson wrote that they both have deep "ties to the dominionist Christian right," and have "made frequent public appearances ... onstage with leaders from the most extreme factions of the Christian right."