BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On Thursday, January 23, a press release from the United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York announced "an Indictment charging DINESH D'SOUZA with violating the federal campaign finance laws by making illegal contributions to a United States Senate campaign in the names of others and causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission in connection with those contributions." (U.S. v. D'Souza, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-cr-00034.)
The last time we encountered D'Souza, he had resigned as president of Kings College, a small Christian college in New York City, over some extracurricular lovey-dovey stuff with a woman (who was not his wife) at a right-wing conference called "Truth for a New Generation?"
Before that, D'Souza, a right-wing author, pundit and filmmaker, was raking in the dough with his scathing take on President Obama in his documentary titled 2016: Obama's America. The film, which was released prior to the 2012 presidential election and was aimed at providing enough ammunition to defeat Obama, failed politically but was a box office sensation, bringing in over $33 million. It became the fourth highest grossing documentary of all time, and the second most popular political documentary, trailing only Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 by some $80 million.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Addictions of any sort are an indication that people cannot control a facet of their lives. The insatiable desire to acquire unlimited wealth falls into the category of addictions, according to Sam Polk, in a recent New York Times opinion piece.
Polk writes from experience, having walked away with a $3.6 million Wall Street bonus in 2010. He is still, he admits, going through withdrawal from greed. He writes of his unquenchable avariciousness when he was in the midst of his addiction:
Now, working elbow to elbow with billionaires, I was a giant fireball of greed. I’d think about how my colleagues could buy Micronesia if they wanted to, or become mayor of New York City. They didn’t just have money; they had power — power beyond getting a table at Le Bernardin. Senators came to their offices. They were royalty.
I wanted a billion dollars. It’s staggering to think that in the course of five years, I’d gone from being thrilled at my first bonus — $40,000 — to being disappointed when, my second year at the hedge fund, I was paid “only” $1.5 million.
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On February 20, 1864 there was a First Civil War battle at a place in Florida called Olustee. It was not a major battle. It rates half a sentence in the monumental 900 page history of the First Civil War and the major events that led up to it from the beginning of the 19th century by James McPherson. The title of his book, Battle Cry of Freedom, was a slogan interestingly enough, used on both sides, obviously with different meanings: on one side it meant an end to slavery, on the other the freedom to maintain it.
The book is still widely considered to be the best single volume history of the conflict. But now, 150 years after event, that particular battle, which drew so little mention in Prof. McPherson's book, is still front and center in the minds of some and (so far only) figuratively, the battle rages on. It, in which significant numbers of African-American troops fought for the Union side, ended with a Confederate victory.
It happens that there is a three acre Florida state park at the site, which contains three memorials to the Confederate dead. The Florida chapter of an organization called the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War petitioned to have a memorial to the Union dead erected on the site as well. This petition brought forth a very strong objection from the Florida branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
One of their number, ironically named John Adams, stated the reason for the opposition was that "old grudges die hard." You bet your sweet pitootie they do. Here we are, 150 years later, and those sons of Confederate veterans, including the chairman of the Florida House Judiciary Committee, one Dennis Baxley (ironically [R]), cannot stand to have Union dead honored on the same site that their dead are, because of an "old grudge."
Although he didn't say (or least the New York Times article cited didn't quote him saying anything on the subject), the "old grudge" must have to do with the fact that after 11 Southern states seceded from the Union over one or more aspects of the slavery issue, and one of their number opened fire on a Federal fort in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., a civil war ensued, which the Secessionist forces lost. My-oh-my. 150 years later. Couldn't be that many of the issues over which the First Civil War was fought are still at issue, plus a number of new ones, now could it?
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR AT BUZZFLASH
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According to Robert Reich, in a blog entry earlier this month, 2013 was a banner year for the wealthy, as the trickle up of income and asseets continued to gallup along. Reich calls 2013 "the year of the great income redistribution [upward]":
One of the worst epithets that can be leveled at a politician these days is to call him a “redistributionist.” Yet 2013 marked one of the biggest redistributions in recent American history. It was a redistribution upward, from average working people to the owners of America.
The stock market ended 2013 at an all-time high — giving stockholders their biggest annual gain in almost two decades. Most Americans didn’t share in those gains, however, because most people haven’t been able to save enough to invest in the stock market. More than two-thirds of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck.
Even if you include the value of IRA’s, most shares of stock are owned by the very wealthy. The richest 1 percent of Americans owns 35 percent of the value of American-owned shares. The richest 10 percent owns over 80 percent. So in the bull market of 2013, America’s rich hit the jackpot.
Have you hit the jackpot in the last year as income and assets continue a decades-long redistribution to the top? Not me. For 90% of America, we are hitting the bills, not a Las Vegas mega-payoff.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Another insane cold wave -- not the infamous "polar vortex," but its evil twin -- is bringing sub-zero and single-digit temperatures to much of the nation. And global warming may be even more extreme, and potentially more catastrophic, than climate scientists had feared.
This is, of course, no contradiction. The rallying cry of the denialists -- "It's really cold outside, so global warming must be a crock!" -- can only be taken seriously by those with a toddler's limited conception of time and space. They forget that it's winter, and apparently they don't quite grasp that even when it's cold in one part of the world, it can be hot in another.
Indeed, while the United States is having an unusually frigid month, Australia has been sweltering through record-breaking heat. Play had to be interrupted at the Australian Open tennis tournament when temperatures in Melbourne reached 109 degrees; one player said her plastic water bottle began to melt. The extreme heat came as officials reported that 2013 was the hottest year in Australia since record-keeping began more than a century ago.
On the global scale, 2013 was "merely" the fourth-warmest or seventh-warmest on record, depending whether you believe the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The agencies take slightly different approaches in analyzing and extrapolating the available data, which accounts for the discrepancy, but they agree on the big picture: It's getting hotter.
Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2002. Deniers who claim there has been a 15-year "pause" in global warming are cherry-picking the data to fit a pre-cooked conclusion: As a baseline they choose 1998, a year in which global temperatures took a huge, anomalous, one-time leap. If you treat 1998 as the statistical outlier that it obviously is, you see a steady and unbroken rise.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The top individuals on the 2013 Forbes 400 list are generally believed to be makers of great companies or concepts. They are the role models of Paul Ryan, who laments, "We're going to a majority of takers versus makers in America." They are defended by Cato Institute CEO John A. Allison IV, who once protested: "Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let's call it an attack on the very productive."
But many of the richest Americans are takers. The top twenty, with a total net worth of almost two-thirds of a trillion dollars, have all taken from the public or from employees, or through taxes or untaxed inheritances.
Bill Gates may be a knowledgeable and hard-working man, but he was also lucky and opportunistic. He was a taker. In 1975, at the age of 20, he founded Microsoft with high school buddy Paul Allen. This was the era of the first desktop computers, and numerous small companies were trying to program them, most notably Digital Research, headed by brilliant software designer Gary Kildall. His CP/M operating system (OS) was the industry standard. Even Gates' company used it.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
With somewhere around $20 billion in fines for civil and criminal violations, JPMorgan Chase is making history. Of course, as most narcos know, you've got to factor in losing some money to making a lot of money. That means the leaders of the so-called banks too big to fail -- like their drug cartel counterparts -- are doing just fine indeed.
That is just the case with Jamie Dimon. After a year of virtually non-stop settlements with the US government for various violations of regulations and the law (but no criminal indictments or personal fines against Dimon, or prosecuted criminal charges against the JP Morgan Chase), his board felt that a 77 percent increase in his salary to $20 million a year was in order. News of the raise came last week as 90 percent of Americans are still feeling an economy dragging them down.
As a New York Daily News January 26 editorial noted with scorn:
With too-big-to-fail arrogance on steroids, the board members of scandal-tainted JPMorgan Chase have boosted Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon’s salary by 77% to a fat, happy and offensive $20 million.
The entire lot of them are beyond shame.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The current US medical system financially rewards hospitals and doctors (particularly highly compensated specialists) for performing more procedures and treating more diseased people, not for prevention (although the Affordable Care Act makes some progress in that direction). It is perverse: The aging of the US population aside, the healthcare system becomes more profitable institutionally and personally (for medical providers) as the number of diseased patients rises and hi-tech tests and operations are performed.
Furthermore, a recent New York Times article documented that it is not uncommon for multiple specialists to bill for even standard diagnostic procedures, even if their role was minimal or unnecessary.
The net result is that the US healthcare system does not generally look at improving community health; it looks at marketing services to treat disease. The more disease, the greater the revenue.
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The derailment of a 101-car CSX freight train on a bridge in a densely-populated part of Philadelphia this past week should be yet another warning to politicians who have become cheerleaders for oil and gas fracking.
The train had been hauling crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota. A severe snow storm delayed by several days removing the derailed cars and 80,000 gallons of crude oil from the decades-old bridge over I-76 and the Schuylkill River, which flows into the Delaware River. Oil and gas companies using horizontal fracking have made the Bakken the most productive oil shale in the country.
Numerous articles and scientific research studies have already shown the link between horizontal fracking and health and environmental problems. But the transportation of shale oil and gas by trains, trucks, and pipelines poses more immediate threats.
About 92,000 of the 106,000 tanker cars currently in service were built before 2011 when stricter regulations mandated new design. The older cars (DOT-111) have an "inadequate design" and are susceptible to leaks and explosions in derailments, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Railroad accidents in 2013 in the United States accounted for about 1.15 million gallons of spilled crude oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data, according to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Hold the dream with me, as it breaks loose from Jameale Pickett's poem. Something beyond the insane dance of crime and punishment is happening, at least this year, this moment, in Chicago's high schools. Young people are getting a chance to excel and become themselves, as more and more schools find and embrace common sense, also known as restorative justice.
The funding is fragile, precarious, but some schools in struggling communities are figuring out how to break the school-to-prison pipeline, even though the system as a whole remains wrapped up in suspensions, expulsions, zero tolerance and racism.
"The Obama administration on Wednesday urged school officials to abandon unnecessarily harsh suspension and expulsion practices that appear to target black students," the Chicago Sun-Times reported recently.
"In Chicago, although black students in 2009 made up 45 percent of (the Chicago Public Schools') enrollment, 76 percent of all CPS students who received out-of-school suspensions were black, according to Department of Education data. When it came to expulsions, black students made up 80 percent of those who were expelled."
And, as of data from a few years ago, one in four African-American students gets suspended at least once during the school year in Illinois — the highest rate in the nation. Suspensions become blemishes on one's record that are almost impossible to erase. But worst of all, the conflict at the root of every suspension, in the old system of zero tolerance, goes unaddressed — indeed, unacknowledged, either by the school system or the media. Yet every unaddressed conflict festers and grows.