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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acellapril.jpag(Photo: Miss Millions)Just the other day, BuzzFlash at Truthout posted a commentary on how some banks and employers are now gouging laborers by paying them in electronic transfer cards - or essentially what we commonly know in the form of gift cards.  As we noted, this means profiteering fees are assessed in a variety of ways for workers to access their hard-earned salaries.

The Des Moines Register recently ran an article describing how a similar tactic is looting former prisoners - along with other fees assessed on those who are incarcerated that are excessive and take advantage of their imprisoned (lacking in basic rights) condition:

Perhaps Iowans don't care about what goes on in prisons, let alone about something as seemingly trivial as the fees imposed on inmates. But any of us could have a daughter, mother or brother who is one mistake away from entering an Iowa prison. If that happens, you will care. When you scrape together a little money to send your son to buy dental floss, you will care.

You will also witness how the loss of freedom, lack of basic pleasures and isolation is more than enough punishment for many incarcerated Iowans. You will know many are poor and mentally ill and give up a day's pay just to make a phone call home.

And then you may start to wonder just how many additional ways the Iowa Legislature can make life more of a struggle for inmates - and their families.

The analysis of prisoner fees includes a scam similar to the electronic salary card that is becoming a profitable business for banks and employers.  

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBloodMoon(Photo: Roadcrusher)Harold Camping, the Oakland, California-based preacher who wrongly prophesized the coming of the End Times is now gone, but there's no shortage of End Timers out there in America. Anne Lotz Graham, the daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, recently wrote a column claiming that the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 could be a sign of the coming of The Rapture; a reboot of the Left Behind movie, based on Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' mega-best-selling Left Behind series of apocalyptic novels, is due in theaters in early October; and now, Pastor John Hagee, the master of his multi-million-dollar domain in San Antonio, Texas, is peddling an End Times book directly linked to "blood moon" eclipses.

Before your head explodes at the thought of yet another story about an End Times-inflamed preacher, consider this. Not only does Pastor Hagee preside over the mega-church, Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, but he also heads a multi-million-dollar medias empire. Not only is he a powerful political player within the Republican Party, but he has established significant political connections in Israel. The faithful have lapped up many of the more than 30 books he has written, including: "Earth's Final Moments," "From Daniel to Doomsday: The Countdown Has Begun," "Can America Survive?: 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are The Terminal Generation" and "Jerusalem Countdown," which was made into a not-very-well-received movie. I think you get the general themes of Hagee's oeuvre!

Perhaps his most significant accomplishment, however, came in 2006, when Hagee founded what is now the largest pro-Israel religious-based lobbying group in the world, the 1.3 million member Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aref(Photo: ItzaFineDay)An email came to BuzzFlash at Truthout the other day with a blazing red warning of five national security threats: "Cyber Attacks • Counterintelligence • Terrorism • Weapons of Mass Destruction • Counterspace."

The organization sending the email, the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA), primarily enriches itself off of defense and national security industry conferences in which vendors market their services and hardware to government buyers. (It is a subsidiary of a larger conference firm, IQPC.) The IDGA meetings have  a veneer of top military, surveillance and prison industry speakers, but the real action for contracts is in the exhibition areas.

Upcoming conferences include:
 
Homeland Security Conference - April 2014
Big Data for Government and Defense - April 2014
Border Management Southwest 2014 - May 2014
Arctic Patrol and Reconnaisance - May 2014
Armored Vehicles Latin America - May 2014
Prisons and Correctional Facilities - June 2014
Mission Command - June 2014

 

Thursday, 17 April 2014 07:08

OK, Humanity, It's Time to Grow Up

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaEvolutionEarth(Photo: NASA)OK, mankind, it's time to grow up, and I see a good way to start: Change the wording of Genesis 1:26.

Change one word.

Last week, I quoted that Bible verse in a column about the increasing velocity of climate change: "And God said . . . let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air," etc. Dominion! Nature belongs to us, to suck dry and toss away. And thus we moved out of the circle of life and became its conquerors, an attitude at the core of the Agricultural Revolution and the rise of civilization. The momentum of this attitude is still driving us. We don't know how to stop, even though most people now grasp that we're wrecking the environmental commons that sustains life.

Addressing the verse and the idea of "dominion," Phil Miller, a minister, wrote: "Some of us understand that word to mean 'stewardship' or 'responsibility.'"

And David Cameron wrote: "One has to wonder what would have ensued had the translation said 'stewardship' rather than 'dominion'? Almost incomprehensible that our future and the future of so many and so much may have hinged on that one word."

If in one of the most defining religious-political texts of the human species we'd been charged with stewardship of the natural world, not some sort of adolescent, consequence-free control over it, what sort of spiritual understanding would have evolved over the millennia? What sort of technology? What would our civilizations look like if we believed in the depths of our beings that they were not distinct from but part of nature? What if, instead of organizing ourselves around the concept that we have enemies to subdue — "survival of the fittest" — we explored the complexity of our connectedness to one another and the whole of creation, even when the connections were barely visible?

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

achildjob(Photo: Lady Buffalo)Remember the childhood tale of the Dutch boy who kept trying to stop the leaks in a dam with his fingers until he ran out of them?

That's what workers are facing in trying to survive.  No matter which attempt at turning them into something akin to indentured servants at the service of corporations you look at, the attacks just keep coming.

Yesterday, BuzzFlash at Truthout posted a commentary on a new insidious scheme to shortchange laborers, "Paying Employees With Gift Cards That Have Fees Is a Deplorable Economic Injustice."

When it comes to compensation for laborers today in the US, the scenario playing out is pay decreases by a thousands cuts.

At a time when some cities and states - and the Obama adminsitration and Democrats in Congress - are advocating for an increased minimum wage, which currently is $7.25, other exploitative forces are fighting against it.  

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 07:52

Jim Hightower | NSA Spying Is Here to Stay

(Image: <a href=" https://www.flickr.com/photos/freepress/7204041778/in/photolist-6fXit2-dnPTse-h6vsLW-mf5D8k-jsTyrY-8zVKYB-Ve81-h6vhnD-5961SS-buHp1F-a5KGQ4-h6vdj9-n4Te9S-5SW6XM-h6wohF-bYAACS-2d9vB-51mWNq-8ZVEoY-6eGaZF-gXAr3c-9nrtoa-8yJPNw-5EAZev-buhxXc-4CCNE9-gn2JL8-bvfkSa-d9XtRE-6yoLQ-85j8xZ-9M9XY8-5R4LVT-cR8337-9GRXE9-6fJJ5y-twENW-dyGtR6-85j8ig-85j8cn-9w1gnw-9uJ17P-bXj2Uf-5pbcGr-eZohaG-dYjn1K-5ppck5-fLJw7e-cR82Hs-cR82t3" target="_blank"> Free Press / Flickr</a>)(Image: Free Press / Flickr)JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

On Monday, April 14, the The Washington Post and The Guardian US newspapers received the Pulitzer for Journalism Public Service for their reports on NSA spying. In light of their hard work, let's recap events of the last year.

Embarrassed and irritated by Edward Snowden's leaks, Obama charged last year at a press conference that Snowden was presenting a false picture of NSA by releasing parts of its work piecemeal: "Rather than have a trunk come out here and a leg come out there," he said, "let's just put the whole elephant out there so people know exactly what they're looking at. ... America is not interested in spying on ordinary people," he assured us. The government, he went on, is not "listening in on people's phone calls or inappropriately reading people's emails."

Six days later, a Washington Post headline declared: "NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year." In an internal audit in May 2012 of its DC-area spy centers, the agency itself found 2,776 "incidences" of NSA overstepping its legal authority. As the American Civil Liberties Union noted, surveillance laws themselves "are extraordinarily permissive," so it's doubly troubling that the agency is surging way past what it is already allowed to do. The ACLU adds that these reported incidents are not simply cases of one person's rights being violated - but thousands of Americans being snared, totally without cause, in the NSA's indiscriminate, computer-driven dragnet.

(Image: <a href=" https://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/7328214492/in/photolist-asUn64-caz1RJ-8Bp9vn-81KDZd-aoCFSk-7aaXLR-8LrRjT-79eX4D-caz4zj-7TP8vs-898z4a-7jRXMJ-7TC27b-8JTEUL-898z64-8inZQE-7aeLVU-7bkQ7T-7bkQ8t-7bCjcn-7jN5xT-8esuCY-78SRhs-8ETevd" target="_blank"> Jared Rodriguez / Truthout</a>)(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

"[B]ecause of dramatic and sustained cuts in mental health funding, we have criminalized mental illness in this country and county jails and state prison facilities are where the majority of mental health care and treatment is administered." -- Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

More than ten times the number of mentally ill people are in prisons across the United States then are under treatment in mental health facilities. As of 2012, according to a new report, there were an estimated 356,000 prisoners with severe mental illness – including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other acute forms of brain disease -- in prisons and jails, while state psychiatric hospitals contained approximately 35,000 patients with severe mental illness.

The combination of the rise in poverty, the lack of housing, and the lack of community support for people with mental illness, has resulted in the increased criminalization of the mentally ill.

In the twenty-first century, jails and prisons have become the new gulag for the mentally ill.

Profile of Adam Smith. (Photo <a href=" http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AdamSmith.jpg" target="_blank"> via Wikimedia Commons</a>)Profile of Adam Smith. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)ERIC ZUESSE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

"The affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many." -- Adam Smith, guru economist for the gluttonous takers of wealth

According to the most comprehensive analysis ever done of secret, virtually entirely untaxed, offshore wealth, it's "well in excess of US $21 trillion." That was as of July 19, 2012. A subsequent and far less scientific study by Oxfam, on May 22, 2013, said "At least $18.5 trillion is hidden by wealthy individuals in tax havens worldwide."

The $21+ trillion estimate was part of a report by James Henry for a team of experts on tax-evasion and avoidance, Nicholas Shaxson, John Christenson, and Nick Mathiason, which was done for the Tax Justice Network (TJN), a nonprofit that is the opposite of libertarians: Instead of saying that tax-cheats are heroes who are "anti-big-government" who should be admired and celebrated by the public, they say tax-cheats are the crooks who steal trillions from the public, and who are the chief source for the impoverishment of billions of people worldwide.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aatm(Photo: SalFalko)As reported over and over again on BuzzFlash at Truthout, worker wages have essentially remained stagnant - when adjusted for inflation - over more than two decades, while the top 1% have increased their share of the newly growing economy by 95%.

On top of that, many of those who have become unemployed due to the recession caused by banks too big to fail, must now work at miniminum wages jobs - if they are lucky enough to find employment.

Furthermore, it appears businesses and banks are continually coming up with new ways to reduce take home pay - whether it is paying for uniforms and equipment needed on the job or replacing permanent workers with part-time ones or temps.  For a few years now, in addition, there has been a growing trend to pay workers not with checks or direct deposits to their banks, but essentially with what are commonly known as gift cards (but are more generally, in essence, pre-loaded electronic transaction cards).

Of course, while a few companies don't charge extra fees, many do.  The businesses save by not cutting checks, but as with many gift cards, the workers are saddled with paying per transaction and other fees to use their own money because of costs levied on the utilization of electronic pay cards.

JACKIE MARCUS FOR BUFFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaReaganGE(Photo: White House Photographic Office)To some degree it matters who's in office, but it matters more how much pressure they're under from the public. —Noam Chomsky 

Where are the senators and congressional members when it comes to supporting the troops? Currently, USS Ronald Reagan sailors are suffering from radioactive illnesses after they were sent on a humanitarian mission to help Japan’s victims during the 2011 devastating earthquake-tsunami which led to three nuclear meltdowns, the worst catastrophic nuclear power plant explosions in history with no end in sight

The president is fond of presenting honorary medals to soldiers. After all, it makes for a great “Hallmark Moment,” a solemn ceremony of attaching a Medal of Honor around a soldier’s neck for the cameras, but where is the president when things go wrong, terribly wrong with nuclear policy?

No wonder there’s a media blackout. After all, we don’t want to get GE into trouble, now, do we? 

Five of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima are General Electric Mark 1 reactors. GE knew decades ago that the design was faulty.  Quite a little irony that the company that President Ronald Reagan worshipped, General Electric, was responsible indirectly for nuking the USS Ronald Reagan—as well as the rest of the world.

Nuclear investors must be elated by the fact that you can’t see how immeasurably hot nuclear radiation is— hence the meaning of the word meltdown.  It’s been postulated - but not proven - that three years of radiation released into the atmosphere has accelerated or contributed to the rapid Arctic ice melt, given the detection of radiation as far north as Canada and Alaska.  In fact, Fukushima radiation fallout is being detected globally, levels alternate between high and low depending on location. 

If you were to ask President Obama about the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns, he would most likely give an answer similar to the one he gave about BP’s 2010 Gulf oil catastrophe: It’s a “leak that’s been sealed.” Sure, a leak that left the entire Gulf of Mexico a permanent dead zone.  Incidentally, BP is back in business, drilling away in deep waters of the Gulf as if nothing happened at all. 

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