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wealthfareIn the United States, wealth is heavily subsidized. (Photo: duncan c)

More than 20 years ago, long before the experts caught on, the writers Mark Zepezauer and Arthur Naiman zeroed in on the upward redistribution of income in the United States. They called it "wealthfare," and used the term to open their 1996 book Take the Rich Off Welfare. Here's the first sentence: "Wealthfare -- the money we hand out to corporations and wealthy individuals -- costs us at least $448 billion a year."

It's no exaggeration to say that the book predicted the US's fortune (or, more accurately, misfortune). Government actions to make the rich richer have become standard fare. There's more allegiance to corporate profits than there is to the common good. "Wealthfare" is the ruling national ethos -- economically, politically, even in the courts; at bottom, Citizens United is a Supreme surrender to the supremacy of money.

Let's explore the first "wealthfare" total of $448 billion in "subsidies, handouts, tax breaks, loopholes, rip-offs and scams." To begin with, the number looks almost puny today. Total tax expenditures (a.k.a. tax breaks) in fiscal year 2018 are expected to cost the federal government more than $1.5 trillion; most Americans will get at least a dollop, but the lion's share by far will line the pockets of people whose pockets are already bulging.

That $1.5 trillion easily tops what the country spends for any other single purpose. In fiscal 2015, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, tax breaks on the federal income tax alone "cost more than Social Security, or the combined cost of Medicare and Medicaid, or defense or non-defense discretionary spending."


oceansfreeoflitterWe need oceans free of plastic debris. (Photo: Raquel Albano)

The Ocean Cleanup, the Dutch foundation aiming to eliminate ocean plastic, unveiled Thursday a major design update to its highly vaunted cleanup system and announced that the technology will be deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the first half of 2018, two years ahead of schedule.

Boyan Slat, the 22-year-old founder and CEO of the nonprofit, said at a presentation in the Netherlands that a "technological breakthrough" has allowed the project to be cheaper and more effective than originally anticipated.

According to Fast Company, instead of the initial estimates of removing 42 percent of the trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over 10 years at a cost of $320 million, the young inventor hopes to remove 50 percent of total trash within five years at a cost "significantly less" than $320 million.

The original design involved massive floating barriers fixed to the seabed that passively corrals plastics with wind and ocean currents.

But the new design involves "a fleet of many smaller systems" that will not be attached to the seabed, Slat said. The AFP reports that each of up to 30 smaller barriers will measure about one to two-kilometers in length.

The updated system will be weighed down by specially designed drifting sea anchors.


Cannabis 0515wrp optA cannabis plant. (Photo: Cannabis Training University)In a recent two-page memo, largely crafted by Steven H. Cook, a veteran drug warrior, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to have morphed into Harry Anslinger, a primary initiator of the decades-long drug wars. In his directive, Sessions has indicated that he is willing to turn back the clock, spend millions of dollars prosecuting drug offenders, push mandatory minimum sentences, exacerbate racial disparities in the justice system, and swell the nation’s federal prison population. Sessions policy could also prove to be a boon to private prison corporations that have federal contracts; with more arrests and convictions, more cells will be needed.

What is still unclear is how Sessions will deal marijuana -- which he has called a “dangerous drug” – in states that have medical marijuana laws, and those states that have voted to legalize marijuana.

“We’ve got too much complacency about drugs,” Sessions said at a summit in Charleston, West Virginia, on May 11, “Too much talking about recreational drugs. It’s the same thing we used to hear in the eighties. That’s what the pro-drug crowd argued then. But we realize the reality, empirical fact -- neighbors, friends, crime -- that this was not a legitimate thing. So we’re going to reverse this trend. I am committed to it. The president is committed to it. … We’re going to come together as a nation and we’re not going to allow this abuse, this threat to our country to erode our capabilities, and destroy good decent people in our country.”

In a pair of recent articles Will New Drug Czar Revive America's Disastrous Drug Wars and Drug Wars 4.0: From Anslinger to Nixon to Reagan to Trump and Sessions, we speculated about whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions was going to bring back the drug wars.


Poverty 0515wrp optA New Jersey neighborhood. (Photo: Phillies1fan777)Americans with wealth and power don't generally care about the middle and lower classes. Even worse, they are doing real damage to the people they don't care about.

But why? Either these well-positioned people are 100 percent out of touch with the realities of middle-class life in our country, or they're contemptuous of those they consider inferior, or they believe so strongly in individual 'freedom' that even the word 'social' is repugnant to them. Or perhaps they're just not smart enough to see the value of people who are different from them.

The assault continues non-stop: Taking away healthcare, either by disposing of the Affordable Care Act or slashing Medicaid; weakening consumer protection laws; repealing fair wage and workplace safety laws; cutting overtime pay; jeopardizing civil rights in the name of "religious freedom"; putting low-income mothers at risk by cutting their maternity care; increasing penalties for minor drug offenses; giving our public lands -- including the homes of Native Americans -- to oil companies; and even denying kids healthy lunches.

A method can be detected amidst the madness, looking at it from the disdainer's point of view.

Mexicans are turning that imported corn into a political weapon against Trump's trade bluster.Mexicans are turning imported corn into a political weapon against Trump's trade bluster. (Photo: Jeff Engel)JIM HIGHTOWER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Comandante Trump, El Jefe, the gringo strongman!

That's the image our current Commander-in-Chief seems to be cultivating. He has surrounded himself with generals, he cavalierly threatens war with all "bad hombres," he is drastically bulking up military spending and he imperiously slaps foreign leaders, whole ethnic groups, and entire nations with demeaning tweets and public rants. Posing as Patton-on-the-Potomac, President Donald Trump is out to "Make America Feared Again."

How is that working out? Look south, to Mexico. Our bellicose president has repeatedly blasted Mexicans again and again as marauding thieves, murderers and rapists. Adding injury to insult, the smirking Trump pledged that he would immediately seal off Mexico by building a 1,800-mile-long, 30-foot high wall -- which he described as "impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful." But the big man and his big wall are crumbling in the face of reality. Start with the cost: $21.6 billion! The congressional leaders of Trump's own party couldn't choke down a number that big, so the interim budget agreement they passed in April provided exactly zero dollars to start building his wall.

What I read and hear feels, instead, like collusion: journalists unquestioningly honoring bureaucratic keep-out signs as objective, even sacred, stopping points.Mainstream journalists unquestioningly honor bureaucratic keep-out signs as objective, even sacred, stopping points while playing up the drama secrecy creates. (Photo: Pixabay)ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

For a journalist -- especially one covering government and politics -- the most suspicious, least trustworthy word in the language ought to be: "classified."

As the drama continues to swirl around Russiagate, or whatever the central controversy of the Trump administration winds up being known as, that word keeps popping up, teasingly, seductively: "It appeared that there was a great deal more (former acting Attorney General Sally) Yates wished she could share," the Washington Post informed us the other day, for instance, "but most of the information surrounding everything that happened remains classified."

And the drama continues! And I have yet to hear a mainstream journo challenge or question that word or ask what could be at stake that requires protective secrecy even as the US government seemingly threatens to collapse around Michael Flynn, America's national security advisor for three weeks, and his relationship to Russia. Is there really any there there?

I'm not suggesting that there isn't. Trump and pals are undoubtedly entwined financially with Russian oligarchs, which of course is deeply problematic. And maybe there's more. And maybe some of that "more" is arguably classified for a valid reason, but I want, at the very least, to know why it's classified. What I read and hear feels, instead, like collusion: journalists unquestioningly honoring bureaucratic keep-out signs as objective, even sacred, stopping points. Public knowledge must go no further because . . . you know, national security. But the drama continues!


wvcapitolWest Virginia capitol, site of journalist's arrest for asking questions. (Photo: David Wilson)

 Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reported yesterday about an egregious example of the criminalization of journalists performing their job in the age of Trump:

West Virginia state police arrested Dan Heyman, a veteran reporter with Public News Service, for repeatedly asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price whether being a target of domestic violence would be considered a "pre-existing condition," allowing health insurance to be denied, under the new Republican healthcare bill.

The charge: "willful disruption of governmental processes."

Capitol police "decided I was just too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job and so they arrested me," Heyman told reporters (The Hill, 5/9/17). "First time I've ever been arrested for asking a question. First time I've ever heard of someone getting arrested for asking a question."

It's not surprising that this would eventually happen, and likely not coincidental that it involved two senior officials in the Trump campaign. After all, the media was a primary target of Trump's during both the primary campaign and the general election season. Trump openly mocked, derided and berated journalists and news outlets that he felt were unfavorable to him. His campaign generally kept the press in pens at campaign events for two reasons: First, to keep them from asking questions of Trump backers that might prove embarrassing to the campaign. Secondly, to serve as an easy target for Trump, as he threw red meat to his followers by attacking the press and pointing to where reporters were confined during campaign rallies. Then, of course, there are his infamous ongoing tweets against specific journalists and news outlets.


Gavel 0510wrp optA courtroom gavel. (Photo: Jonathunder)The Congress just passed the AHCA.  That’s it! I get it! When is the next demonstration to oppose Trumpcare?  I’m in!  This week the citizenry again took to the streets, as they have nearly every week since the presidential election of 2016.  Now more than ever, I understand the passion that drives us to social activism.

My observations of what makes social change work, however, reminds me of the legal battles in support of homeless people in the 1980’s, when ordinary citizens challenged the government to provide care for the homeless.  Back then I was a newly minted social scientist studying the emerging problem of homelessness.  With the numbers of street dwellers increasing, and no organized effort by governmental agencies to address the problem of homelessness, the concerns of ordinary citizens erupted into public demonstrations and episodes of civil disobedience. What I recall most vividly of that period are the bold actions of two young New York City lawyers, concerned citizens who did not hold public office, whose hard work and dedication to social justice would dramatically increase the options of people experiencing homelessness to exit street living and embark upon a path to stable housing.

During that time I was directing community studies of people with severe mental illness who had recently been released from mental hospitals. It quickly became apparent that many of our charges did not have a place to live. They spent their days wandering the city streets, sleeping at night in parks, train stations, or other public places.  Later in the decade, the ranks of people without homes swelled nationwide with men, women, and children whose housing loss was a casualty of the high unemployment, double-digit inflation, and the scarcity of housing options for people with very low incomes. Public services for homeless people were almost non-existent in the prosperous years following World War II, and most communities were not prepared to cope with the crisis of homelessness.  In some cities voluntarism surged, with charitable organizations providing food, clothing, and blankets to people living in public spaces. Church basements and unused public buildings were hastily transformed to house the throngs of people seeking shelter.


PollutionCheck 0510wrp optA mobile pollution check vehicle. (Photo: Hindustanilanguage)A U.S. Steel plant in Portage, Indiana spilled nearly 300 pounds of a cancer-causing chemical into Burns Waterway last month, documents from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) revealed.

The release of hexavalent chromium was 584 times the daily maximum limit allowed under state law, the Times of Northwest Indiana reported, citing the documents. The plant is permitted to release only a maximum of 0.51 pounds daily.

The toxic industrial byproduct was made infamous by the environmental activist and 2000 movie of the same name, "Erin Brockovich."

The leak occurred between April 11 and April 12 and forced the closure of several Lake Michigan beaches and Indiana American Water's intake in Ogden Dunes. Burns Waterway is a tributary that flows into Lake Michigan, a drinking water source for nearby Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.


nestlewaterNestlé is still pumping water from a public spring in California while it uses legal delays to stop opposition. (Usman Ahmed)

 A recent email from the Courage Campaign, a California citizens advocacy group, reveals that Nestlé is still pumping spring water out of public land, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service:

For 38 years, Nestlé has used an expired permit to pump millions of gallons of water a year out of California's San Bernardino National Forest virtually free of charge.... 

We sued to stop this outrageous water grab, but even though the law is on our side, going up against Nestlé's army of lawyers is a huge fight.

The latest input from our attorneys is that this case could drag on for another two years or more.

The Courage Campaign warns that Nestlé is benefitting from the fact that deep corporate pockets are outlasting citizen advocacy legal funds in court:

In 2015, Courage Campaign joined with our allies at Story of Stuff and Center for Biological Diversity in a lawsuit to stop Nestlé's water grab in the San Bernardino National Forest. And ever since, Nestlé's army of lawyers has used an endless series of delay tactics and frivolous motions to drag the case out.

Their strategy is obvious: to drive up our legal bills in hopes that eventually we'll give up. But because of you, our members, their strategy hasn't worked yet and it never will.

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