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WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaPSU(Photo: George Chriss)Two of the reasons Pennsylvania has no severance tax and one of the lowest taxes upon shale gas drilling are because of an overtly corporate-friendly legislature and a research report from Penn State, a private state-related university that receives about $300 million a year in public funds.

Opponents of the tax cited a Penn State study that claimed a 30 percent decline in drilling if the fees were assessed, while also touting the economic benefits of drilling in the Marcellus Shale. What wasn't widely known is that the lead author of the study, Dr. Timothy Considine, "had a history of producing industry-friendly research on economic and energy issues," according to reporting by Jim Efsathioi Jr. of Bloomberg News. The Penn State study was sponsored by a $100,000 grant from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an oil and gas lobbying group that represents more than 300 energy companies. Dr. William Easterling, dean of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, said the study may have "crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy."

The Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR), a part of Penn State, announced that with funding provided by General Electric and ExxonMobil, it would offer a "Shale Gas Regulators Training Program." The Center had previously said it wasn't taking funding from private industry. However, the Center's objectivity may have already been influenced by two people. Gov. Tom Corbett, who accepted more than $2.6 million in campaign funds from oil and gas company personnel, sits on the university's board of trustees; billionaire Terrence (Terry) Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, was CEO of East Resources, which he had sold to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion in July 2010.

Pegula and his wife had also contributed about $380,000 to Corbett's political campaign. On the day Pegula donated $88 million to Penn State to fund a world-class ice hockey arena and support the men's and women's intercollegiate ice hockey team, he said, "[T]his contribution could be just the tip of the iceberg, the first of many such gifts, if the development of the Marcellus Shale is allowed to proceed." At the groundbreaking in April 2012, Pegula announced he increased the donation to $102 million.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aconstconvUS no longer looks exclusively like the white male founding fathers. It shouldn't. (Photo: Visit Wikipedia)

The facts of the US Constitution speak for themselves: However lofty and noble the document, the US was founded as a democracy for propertied white males.

 

This is fact.

 

After all, women were not even granted the right to vote until the beginning of the last century. Slaves were each considered three-fifths of a person for the purposes of allowing slaveholder states larger representation in Congress, but obviously, "chattel" was not granted a vote. Native Americans, whose land was confiscated by the expanding states, were not US citizens. There are more examples, but suffice it to say, the white males who pretty much ran the colonies under King George were the same white males, more or less, who ran the newly "emancipated" nation of the United States.

 

The most important contribution of the US to world governance was hardly who was running it. Yes, the country broke away from the reigning concept of monarchal rule by bloodline, but it did not change the principle of governance exclusively by propertied white males. However, the so-called "founding fathers" did do something differently: They created an elastic, resilient Constitution that was subject to amendment and allowed for the evolution of democracy to become more inclusive over time.

 

When Antonin Scalia and the Federalist Society speak of "strict constructionism," they are referring to the Constitution without its amendments. They are also evoking what the governance of the nation looked like when it was founded: white, male and predominantly Christian (although actually many of the revolutionary leadership were deists). Scalia's concept of originalism is as much a historical longing for the gender, religion and race of people who governed and owned property in the US's first couple of centuries as it is an attempt to justify regressive policies, using legal rants that take the shape of twisted pretzels.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aguncst(Photo: Poster Boy NYC)A little more than a week ago, a man who baited two teenagers to burglarize his house so he could shoot and kill them was convicted by a Minnesota jury of premeditated murder. That will not bring back the lives of the two teens he had plotted to shoot to death. However, it does at least indicate a jury somewhere in the United States values lives over the growing NRA-sponsored laws that provide a license to kill.

According to an Associated Press account of the killings carried out by Byron Smith, the shooter even taped the murder:

Ted Sampsell-Jones, a criminal law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said the audio recording was devastating to the defense, noting that Smith's taunts to the victims don't show a man in a panic. 

"It was very powerful, and it makes it very clear that ... he didn't do this because he had to. He did it because he wanted to. And that is not what self-defense is about," Sampsell-Jones said.

The recording captured the sounds of Smith shooting Brady as he came down the stairs. Brady groans after the first and second shots, but is silent after a third shot, and Smith can be heard saying, "You're dead." 

In short, what happened in Minnesota was like baiting two cub bears, only they were real teenagers with real names: 7-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer.

The emergence of the "stand your ground" laws as a legislative initiative of the NRA, of course, reached prominence when George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin, who was guilty of nothing more than walking while black. (One of the tragic ironies is that Martin was staying with his father in the very complex that Zimmerman claimed to be protecting from criminals as a one-man armed vigilante squad.)

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaWWI(Photo: Gsl)"Peace, as we have seen, is not an order natural to mankind: it is artificial, intricate and highly volatile. All kinds of preconditions are necessary." — Michael Howard, The Invention of Peace

And here comes World War I, wrapped in World War II, wrapped in the Cold War: tremors on one of Planet Earth's human fault lines.

We have enough angry, manipulable people on this planet to carry out the game plan of the political ideologues and war profiteers, who are always on the lookout for the next war, the one that's too volatile and "inevitable" to stop. As David Swanson, author of War Is a Lie, put it: "The search for a good war is beginning to look as futile as the search for the mythical city of El Dorado. And yet that search remains our top public project."

And the searchlight stops at Ukraine, full of neo-Nazis, corrupt oligarchs, nuclear reactors, an unelected government, a wrecked economy, a simmering civil war. God help us. Old animosities and ideological divisions come back to life. The United States and NATO stand off against Vladimir Putin's Russia. Thirty-one people — maybe more — die in a burning building in Odessa. This kind of thing could be the pretext for a world war. Sanity is up in flames.

"The crisis in Ukraine is serious," Floyd Rudmin writes at Common Dreams. "At some point soon, reality needs to become the priority. No more name-calling. No more blaming. If there are any adults in the room, they need to stand up. The crisis in Ukraine is going critical, and that is a fact."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Beirutbarr(Photo: Wikipedia)Republicans and the right wing are adept at turning untoward incidents into multi-year propaganda tools to wound the effectiveness of Democratic presidents. This was the modus operandi with the effort to impeach Clinton - which began in concept before he was even inaugurated - and it is the case with the never-ending strategically obsessive focus on Benghazi.

This is a partisan plan to use the media to taint Democratic initiatives and accomplishments. It is abetted by a media ravenous for the whiff of scandal - even if the Benghazi attack (which occurred on September 12, 2012) had been thoroughly examined long ago. What the Republicans do - and what Boehner is continuing to do with the announcement of yet another investigative committee on Benghazi - is a detriment to resolving the grave issues facing the nation.

Suppose we create this analogy: The Republicans are your doctors. You visit your general practitioner and he or she thoroughly examines you and puts you through diagnostic tests. The next week you return for the results.

The doctor says, "I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you have a hangnail that is going to require aggressive long-term treatment by a team including me and my colleagues. The good news is that you have pancreatic cancer that will go away without any medical intervention. So we will immediately begin a multi-year medical effort to get to the bottom of your hangnail." (Please note that the hangnail analogy is not meant to diminish the loss of four lives in Benghazi; it is meant only to symbolize its relativity to the other solemn issues raised.)

Lackawanna College building. (Photo:<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/macgodbrad/7815427418/in/photolist-cUC7hA-cAKKqs-74Ujn5-75G1u7-9jYeSt-271VUC-9X5Lqo-CvL48-fARX9w-fARWp9-fARPQs-fARMsh-fARQEN-fABzvk-fABCoV-fABvur-fABA9Z-is29zK-5FQWZd-eipEDs-8Wr63x-gcRKxF-8QRXNn-5FSgpy-eiVnup-eLyV6R-bVX8d6-aymsfC-6iu5LF-749UL6-6ngs6S-bW1q1n-7giqye-ajE3Bj-ayiKHH-aymsiq-dN26tW-f2htem-ajXLd6-fMTvoe-749UPx-6iu5E4-irZujv-femSoN-is1sAg-is1mJB-irZtz4-is1t7r-is1ERv-is2a8m"> bclinesmith / Flickr</a>)Lackawanna College building. (Photo: bclinesmith / Flickr)

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Lackawanna College, a two-year college in Scranton, Pennsylvania, has sold out its academic integrity.

Its price was $2.5 million.

That's how much Cabot Oil & Gas paid to the School of Petroleum and Natural Gas, whose own nine building campus is in New Milford in northeastern Pennsylvania. On the School's logo are now the words, "Endowed by Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation."

That would be the same Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation that has racked up more than 550 violations since it first used horizontal fracking to extract gas in the Marcellus Shale almost six years ago.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

MRI(Photo: Wikipedia)

Late last year, amidst the ongoing right-wing assault on extending health care through the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), the Washington Post (WP) reported on an international analysis of medical treatment performed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Among the findings of the OECD research were that the United States ranked 26th in life expectancy, while holding the top position in national spending on health care.

The WP Wonkblog provides the background:

Back in the 1970s, Americans typically lived longer than residents of other countries.

Not anymore: A new report out this morning from the OECD shows that the United States' average lifespan has fallen one year behind the international average, lower than Canada and Germany, more akin to the Czech Republic and Poland.

This 213-page, graph-laden OECD report tells the story of why. It shows the United States as a country that is spending tons and tons on health care--but getting way less than other countries out of that investment. It exposes a country that's really great at buying fancy medical technologies, but not so fantastic at using those medical technologies to extend life. It is, in short, the story of why our health care system is so screwed up.

There are some things that the American health care system is great at and, at the top of the list, it has to be the ability to spend money. We spend more than any other country.

What do we spend that money on? Well, we're usually at the top of the list when it comes to buying fancy medical machines, like MRI and CAT scan technology. When you look at the OECD lists on who has the highest rate of medical technology per capita, the United States always cracks the top three.

Many people and health care pundits in the US consider high-tech medicine as the crown jewel of top medical care. This type of medicine also happens to turn a very large profit for the medical tech manufacturers because the cost of such equipment is higher in the US than in many other developed countries, just as medications are.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

M2 machine gun(Photo: US Navy)

Perhaps a reader's first reaction to the headline of this commentary, "US Government Should Not Allow Civilians to Buy Machine Guns, Silencers and Grenades," is alarmed shock that non-law enforcement and military personnel can even legally purchase such weapons. 

Yet, since 1934, the National Firearms Act has allowed US citizens to buy and own crime-syndicate-associated firearms (including short-barreled shotguns) and explosives. The 1934 law, it should be noted, requires a permit that is a bit more rigorous then just stopping by a gun store. Among the requirements are approval by the local chief of police, a background check, fingerprinting and a $200 tax for each of the machine guns. Nonetheless, there are currently an estimated 500,000 legally registered machine guns in the United States, with Virginia leading the nation with 30,000 registered.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is responsible for processing what are technically known as Title II firearms applications. Traditionally, the ATF - despite pressure from the NRA and other gun advocacy groups - has been appropriately cautious in approving applications for private ownership of fully automatic firearms, silencers and explosives (such as grenades) - and some police departments will not sign applications as a matter of policy (given, one can speculate, that more such weapons on the street will create more potential violence and also threaten the lives of police personnel).

In addition, some states severely restrict or prohibit the private ownership of Title II weapons and explosives. (In an interesting but tragic irony, some states - such as Michigan - allow the ownership of machine guns, but do not allow the private purchase or possession of tasers.)

The White Student Union "celebrates European heritage” during May Day demonstrations in Washington DC, May 1, 2013. (Photo: <a https://www.flickr.com/photos/coolrevolution/8703172252"> cool revolution / Flickr</a>)The White Student Union "celebrates European heritage" during May Day demonstrations in Washington DC, May 1, 2013. (Photo: cool revolution / Flickr)STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Racism in the United States and its predecessor colonies has a long history, dating back virtually to the original founding of those colonies. In the North, it began in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with paternalistic attitudes towards Native Americans, which quickly degenerated into military aggression, forced removal/eviction, and eventually genocide. In the South of course, it began with the importation of the first slaves. During the course of the 17th century, slavery was justified by the artificially developed dogma of white supremacy, which quickly bred the twin dogma of racism.

The intellectual justification of slavery in the Southern United States was based entirely on the concept of white supremacy, as stated clearly by the Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate states of America:

"Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race. Such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's law. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery - subordination to the superior race - is his natural condition."

(Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/3946088788/in/photolist-71GJHA-czsTL9-7tGiQL-7Vtwvj-81KDmQ-8xjJuv-8LuPFC-aTfXaD-bJS7or-71GJGb-7C3s9a-92fxL3-83Dvti-77eiZo-7eKY6d-7gPfgp"> Truthout / Flickr</a>)(Image: Truthout / Flickr)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, "It's really American to avoid paying taxes, legally...It's a game we play...I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game."

It's not a game for Americans who need jobs and education and public transportation and infrastructure repair. But public services continue to be cut, while the wealthiest Americans benefit the most from a government they say they don't want. They need government, but they don't want to pay for it.

Here are some reasons why the super-rich should be paying a lot more in taxes.

1. $2 of Every $5 Owned Today was Created in the Last Five Years, and Went Mostly to the Richest 10%, Mostly Untaxed

And most of it was accumulated passively, and unproductively, by just waiting out the stock market. As America's wealth increased from $47 trillion to an incredible $80.66 trillion in just five years, the richest 1% are estimated to have added an average of $5 million each to their fortunes. They pay no wealth tax, they can defer their income taxes, and they pay a reduced capital gains tax when they decide to cash in.

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