MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Mary Joe White, SEC Chair
Mary Jo White is Obama's new chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). She was a controversial candidate, given her and her husband's financial and legal connections to financial firms that are under SEC regulation. In fact, White's fitness for regulating Wall Street was the subject of a BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary on March 13 of this year, "Mary Jo White and the Incestuous Mutually Beneficial Relationship Between Regulators and Wall Street."
But White is likely to have an early chance to prove that she is not totally part of the elite revolving door that allows the financial and corporate world to, in essence, regulate themselves through having their own become the regulators. White will soon be presented with a proposed SEC rule (the drafting of the regulation preceded her arrival at the agency) which would help to undercut – although not eliminate – the democracy-weakening Citizens United decision.
According to a Tampa Bay Times editorial:
Shareholders in publicly traded corporations have a right to know if their investment is being spent on political campaigns. And voters have a right to know what interests are trying to persuade them. But three years after the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for American corporations to pour money into campaigns, the transparency it urged in that same decision does not exist. A proposed rule before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission offers the best hope yet that publicly traded corporations will have to fully disclose donations to political organizations.
It's notable that since the 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, few publicly held corporations have donated to super political action committees, which are regulated by the Federal Elections Commission and require disclosure of contributions. Instead, corporations have sent hundreds of millions of dollars to tax-empt groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove's Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, the American Gaming Association or the National Retail Federation, all of whom engage in political activity on behalf of candidates but are not subject to the same PAC disclosure standards.
The proposed SEC rule would end that charade and require publicly traded corporations to reveal how they spend shareholder money for political purposes.
A recent UPI article sheds more light on the possible SEC regulation:
A proposed federal regulation that would undo some of the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling has been languishing at the Securities and Exchange Commission for a year and a half, but there are signs the commission may be making a decision on it relatively soon.The regulation would force tens of millions of dollars in up-to-now secret political donations from corporate general funds into the light.SEC spokesman John Nester issued a statement last week that didn't contain specifics, but indicated the proposed regulation would be up to bat in the coming weeks or months.
As Bill Moyers and Michael Winship noted of White on Truthout:
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" fantasizes a world in which anti-government citizens reject taxes and regulations, and "stop the motor" by withdrawing themselves from the system of production. In a perverse twist on the writer's theme the prediction is coming true. But instead of productive people rejecting taxes, rejected taxes are shutting down productive people.
Perhaps Ayn Rand never anticipated the impact of unregulated greed on a productive middle class. Perhaps she never understood the fairness of tax money for public research and infrastructure and security, all of which have contributed to the success of big business. She must have known about the inequality of the pre-Depression years. But she couldn't have foreseen the concurrent rise in technology and globalization that allowed inequality to surge again, more quickly, in a manner that threatens to put the greediest offenders out of our reach.
Ayn Rand's philosophy suggests that average working people are 'takers.' In reality, those in the best position to make money take all they can get, with no scruples about their working class victims, because taking, in the minds of the rich, serves as a model for success. The strategy involves tax avoidance, in numerous forms.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D – Massachusetts) once again brings a rare commodity to the US Senate: common sense.
In her first standalone piece of legislation, Warren wants to require that student loans are offered at the same rate that banks pay (currently 0.75 percent from the Federal Reserve).
In her Senate remarks introducing The Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act, Warren bluntly states her rationale: "If the Federal Reserve can float trillions of dollars to large financial institution, surely they can float the Department of Education the money to fund our students, keep us competitive, and grow our middle class."
Needless to say, Warren has her priorities straight when it comes to investing in the future of America. It is our higher education system – now deteriorating due to austerity measures and rapidly escalating tuition – that built the foundation for US skills and innovation in the private and public sectors.
That is why Warren succinctly stated in her floor speech:
Let’s face it: Big banks get a great deal when they borrow money from the Fed. In effect, the American taxpayer is investing in those banks. We should make the same kind of investment in our young people who are trying to get an education. Lend them the money and make them to pay it back, but give our kids a break on the interest they pay. Let’s bank on students.
(Graphic: Elixabeth Warren US Senate website)
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
You’re strapped to a metal table, unable to move. They stick a two-foot plastic tube up your nose, then down the back of your throat into your stomach. They squirt in the liquid protein. You gag, bleed, vomit. It’s unbearably painful.
The practice of involuntary force-feeding is condemned by most medical organizations, including the AMA. It’s banned by most governments. It’s torture.
When I read about the process by which authorities are breaking the hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay detention center — a process that’s also used regularly in U.S. federal prisons, by the way — I was struck by the utter efficiency of it. The “food” is transmitted directly from bureaucracy to digestive system, bypassing the consciousness of the individual hunger striker. The human being inhabiting this body is completely irrelevant; he only dies when we say so.
Just think about how powerful we are. Just think about how secure we are.
In the overall context of the war on terror and the harm it has unleashed on the world, the Guantanamo hunger strike, involving 100 of the 166 detainees still being held at the facility — about two dozen of whom are now being force-fed — is a fairly small matter, perhaps. But the symbolic significance of it is beyond description, not only because of the hatred it foments against the United States and the combatants it recruits, but also because of the obvious common decency and common sense it flaunts.
Could anything be plainer? The ruling consensus of the United States is desperate for an enemy, any enemy. There is not the least bit of self-reflection involved.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
As the Internet forces of free exchange, innovation, transparency and privacy have won many battles over the past decade against major bills to stifle he Web (although many incremental encroachments have still been put into place by the Department of Justice and Congress), it has also faced increasing invasions of privacy by the growing corporatization of the net.
The corporate threat to privacy and anonymity was laid out, among other threats of financial behemoths devouring the net, in a recent Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week, "Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy." Appropriately the headline for the excerpt from the prescient book by Robert McChesney was entitled, "The Internet Is in Danger of Being Strangled by Commercialism."
But the future of the Internet as a bulletin board of democracy and innovation still faces a more ominously incremental chipping away at its freedom by the federal government.
That brings BuzzFlash at Truthout to a May 8 New York Times (NYT) article that warns of one more step toward government surveillance of the Internet. In an article entitled, "U.S. Is Weighing Wide Overhaul of Wiretap Laws," states:
The Obama administration, resolving years of internal debate, is on the verge of backing a Federal Bureau of Investigation plan for a sweeping overhaul of surveillance laws that would make it easier to wiretap people who communicate using the Internet rather than by traditional phone services, according to officials familiar with the deliberations.
Not only do we have the Obama administration psychologically torturing Bradley Manning for allegedly providing WikiLeaks files with documents embarrassing to the US governmen (with Manning offering access to transparency that the government should be providing), we now are faced with wiretap fishing expeditions that websites must comply with – if the law is passed -- that will in essence provide law enforcement and intelligence communities with a sanctioned technological open door to the web.
DEE EVANS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
What do these numbers and countries mean?
In 2002 Karachi, Pakistan; 2004, Uzbekistan; 2004, Saudi Arabia; 2006, Syria; 2007, Athens; 2008, Serbia; 2008, Yemen.
No, it's not a puzzle, but given the current nature of our political discourse, the story behind it will no doubt puzzle you.
Listed above are the years and countries where United States' Embassies were attacked under our previous commander-in-chief, George W. Bush. I found this to be quite revealing given the all out "hair on fire" witch hunt that is currently taking place amongst conservative pundits and Republicans in Congress over the embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya last year. Now, I will be the first to say that even one person killed in an attack on our embassies is too many, but the fact that seven (count 'em SEVEN!) embassies were attacked and many people killed under the previous Republican administration and we heard nary a word of dismay is more than puzzling, it's downright unbelievable!
Now where does the Republican hero of heroes stand on the attack meter? There were three embassy attacks during Ronald Reagan's presidency, two in 1983 - Beirut (more than 60 killed including 17 Americans) and Kuwait - and one in 1987 in Italy.
ANN DAVIDOW FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
One explanation for the country’s failure to accomplish reasonable, fair-minded goals may be the inability of our leaders to negotiate in good faith about national priorities. Or, as Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland put it, “It’s about politics, not people.” Politicians tend to talk around issues and rarely address them head on. What may seem a simple matter by regular folks is described in the media and by pundits as complicated and fraught with mysterious gray areas that require endless explanatory interludes as opposed to the plain, unvarnished truth. Often lengthy comments leave a listener as uninformed as ever, except as a tutorial in how politics shapes our lives.
It is fascinating in a way to hear some of the wildly improbable reasons for legislators’ "No" votes on expanded-background gun checks and amazing to see how little it takes to elicit cheers and produce standing ovations at events such as the NRA convention this past week. "We will never give up, never give in," blared Ted Cruz, Joe McCarthy’s love child. Cruz had vowed to filibuster any attempt to tinker with the Second Amendment, or as those on the right characterize the issue, endanger our “freedom” and destroy our God-given right to own firearms. When exactly did gun ownership become synonymous with freedom in any case? Kelly Ayotte, for example, tried to make the case that her negative vote was out of a fear that passage of any new gun regulations could lead to a national gun registry, although that particular outcome is explicitly forbidden in proposed legislation.
Ayotte exemplifies the danger of thinking that soft-spoken, reasonable-sounding people are what they seem to be. The shouters and desk-pounders may appeal to some voters, but the most dangerous members of the Congress and our national parties are the stealthy back-benchers, newly arrived, who gum up the works of a well-regulated political process and roil the partisan brew. And of course, it doesn’t hurt to be on the right side of the NRA no matter how hyper that organization‘s arguments. Ayotte’s audience at her recent town halls, whatever their affiliation, couldn’t understand why there would be any objection to more rigorous background checks.
JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Please watch this video clip that aired on NBC Nightly News about the plans to obliterate 8 million acres of Ecuador’s pristine Rainforest for oil in exchange for the debt Ecuador owes from loans: Tribes in Ecuador will fight Rainforest auction, NBC’s Ann Curry reports.
The Wauroni tribes, who live in the forests of Ecuador, are getting ready to challenge the Ecuadorian government’s plan to sell as much as 8 million acres of Rainforest for oil drilling, saying they are prepared to fight to the death (with pea-shooters) to protect the land.
If I were Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffet, George Soros…, I would implore my wealthy friends to do the most monumental rescue plan of their lifetimes: End this Faustian bargain by paying Ecuador’s debt to China, and whatever else they owe, (estimated $5-7 billion dollars) and save the last pristine Rainforest for the preservation of our existence. They could probably write it off as a charitable contribution.
Naïve? Perhaps, but does anyone else have a better idea? The clock is ticking. It’s a lot of money, granted, but to put this in perspective, the U.S. government spends that much a month on military operations. Money is the answer. And so asking billionaires to ban together to save Ecuador’s Rainforest from oil exploration and pollution is worth a shot. It’s worth contacting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the George Soros Foundation to protect rare medicinal plants for incurable illnesses unique to Ecuador’s Rainforest, and the Clinton Foundation Climate Change the former President devotes 70 percent of his lecture time on solutions to global warming, Michael Bloomberg has acknowledged toxic water problems from gas drilling (fracking). The Google team has invested heavily in green technologies—the list goes on. There are affluent members of our society that are responsible citizens; believe it or not, those two assertions are not always mutually exclusive—unless you’re talking about insanely greedy thugs such as the Koch brothers.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
When we think of electoral shenanigans, we often think of blatantly rigged elections with uncounted votes and hanging chads, overcrowded and understaffed polling places, blatant voter intimidation, the purging of voter rolls, pushing false information about when and where to vote, and forcing legitimately registered voters, whose names do not appear on voting rolls, to cast provisional ballots.
More recently we have heard a great deal about new legislative efforts in a number of states to suppress the vote, including, making it harder to register, cutting down on the period for early voting, implementing photo ID laws, and ending Election Day simultaneous registration and voting.
However, when we think of voter suppression, we don't often think about felon disenfranchisement.
According to a 2010 report by The Sentencing Project titled Expanding The Vote: State Felony Disenfranchisement Reform 1997-2010, while things have been slowly changing for the better in a number of states, "more than 5 million citizens ... [were] ineligible to vote in the midterm elections in November , including nearly 4 million who reside in the 35 states that still prohibit some combination of persons on probation, parole, and/or people who have completed their sentence from voting."
In addition, "Racial disparities in the criminal justice system also translate into higher rates of disenfranchisement in communities of color, resulting in one of every eight adult black males being ineligible to vote."