BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"The Mercers laid the groundwork for the Trump revolution. Irrefutably, when you look at donors during the past four years, they have had the single biggest impact of anybody, including the Kochs." -- Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist.
The publicity shy, Trump-supporting, secretive multi-billionaire hedge-fund tycoon Robert Mercer is a man you wouldn't recognize on the subway, in a supermarket check-out line, or be able to pick out of a line-up. Now, he is finally getting what he has avoided for years; the glare of the public spotlight. A rash of recent articles has unmasked the New York City-based hedge-fund phenomenon. And while Mercer is being reluctantly drawn out of the shadows, his daughter Rebekah, who chaired Mercer's super PAC, Make America Number 1, urged Trump to bring Bannon onto his campaign staff, and subsequently played an important role on Trump's transition team, may be getting over the family's aversion to the limelight.
ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
President Barack Obama's drug war legacy is paved with partially good intentions. It differed greatly between his domestic agenda and around the world. The former showed signs of bravery, challenging decades of draconian and counterproductive policy toward drug users and dealers, reducing the number of incarcerated men and women across the United States.
The latter, however, mostly continued failed ideas of the past and consisted of funding and arming some of the most repressive nations in the world, including Honduras and Mexico, worsening apocalyptic gang and drug violence. Many refugees fleeing to the US are a result of these White House directives.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Most Americans Are Getting Poorer. How "Health Care for the Rich" Is Killing Many of Them
In his report, "This is how American health care kills people," Ryan Cooper tells the heartbreaking story of 29-year-old Matthew Stewart, who required emergency surgery for hepatitis-induced liver damage, but learned that only about $10,000 of his $74,000 bill was covered by his "gold plan" insurance policy, partly because of out-of-network rules even in emergencies. Then, when his insurance provider decided to quit the insurance exchange, Matthew was left without a liver specialist, and he couldn't obtain Medicaid because his state of Texas had refused the option to carry it. His alternative of declaring bankruptcy and leaving the state would be delayed by a lengthy legal process exacerbated by the physical and mental stress of his illness. But the hospitals kept sending their bills.
Evidence for the Financial Collapse of the Great Majority of Americans
The poorest 90% of Americans lost nearly $2 trillion in wealth in 2015-16, an average of $8,500 per adult. Every sector of society lost money except for the richest 1%, whose members gained an average of $1.5 million in that single year.
Wealth is down in part because income is down. Median household income is about $2,000 less than it was ten years ago.
There's much more evidence for the decline of all sectors except the upper class. Almost three-quarters of American consumers die with debt. Anywhere from two-thirds to 80% lack the savings needed for unexpected expenses.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Earlier this month, two protesters received three-day jail sentences for conducting a sit-in at Jeff Sessions' office on January 10, during the attorney general's confirmation hearing. The activists are members of Democracy Spring, a grassroots organization that focuses on democracy and political equality. A recent email from Democracy Spring states:
Kai Newkirk and Tania Maduro plead guilty to one count of unlawful entry.... The two were part of an eight-person peaceful protest calling on Sessions to withdraw his nomination for the position of Attorney General. This was the same Senate Confirmation hearing where then Sen. Sessions lied under oath to Sen. Al Franken, saying he "did not have communications with the Russians."
Newkirk, who served his jail time, noted in an email that it's ironic that his actions, which harmed no one, are the ones being punished:
This sentence serves as a very small reminder of the urgency of this moment of crisis for our democracy and our nation. Jeff Sessions perjured himself, lying under oath about a matter as profoundly important as the apparent interference into our election by an authoritarian foreign government. Yet he remains in the position of our nation's chief law enforcement officer, while peaceful action to defend our democracy is met with arrest and jail time. The integrity of the law has been undermined. Sessions should resign and be charged with perjury.
A video of the January 10 protest can be found on Facebook.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"The wooden carts that residents use to carry vegetables and other wares in the once busy market area instead ferried out cadavers recovered from the rubble last week."
And so . . . another "precision" bomb strike in the US's war against terror. This was the scene in Mosul earlier this month, as reported by the Washington Post. Possibly more than 200 civilians died, buried in the rubble of several buildings, which had been jammed with terrified residents of Iraq's second largest city who were seeking shelter from the war. Many of them -- including women, children -- may have died slowly, buried beneath the rubble, as rescue operations took a week to mobilize.
Words fail me. So I borrow some from Air Force Brigadier Gen. Matthew Isler, who told US News and World Report in the wake of the Mosul strike: "The density of the local fighting for those ground forces has changed. What has not changed is our support, our diligence in making sure we are taking the appropriate levels to make sure we are avoiding any harm to innocent civilians."
MEDEA BENJAMIN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
This week marks the beginning of year three of the Saudi-led military intervention in the civil war in Yemen, an intervention that has resulted in an epic tragedy of destruction and starvation. Tens of thousands of Yemenis marked the occasion by pouring into the streets of the capital, Sanna, to call for an end to the Saudi airstrikes that have been supported by the US military. But instead of pushing to jumpstart stalemated negotiations to end the conflict, the Trump administration seems anxious to get more deeply involved in the war by supporting an attack on the key port of Hodeidah and resuming halted weapons sales.
Greater US support for the Saudis, who intervened in Yemen to try to stop the Iran-friendly Houthis from coming to power, is part of Trump's "get tough" policy on Iran. But further escalation of the war in Yemen, particularly an offensive to seize Hodeidah from the Houthi rebels, will mean even more death and hunger for the Yemeni people. Jeremy Konyndyk, who was the director of foreign disaster assistance at US AID under Obama, said a serious disruption of the Hodeidah port could well "tip the country into famine."
LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The bill is now headed to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is in favor of a statewide fracking ban.
Hogan, who once said that fracking is " an economic gold mine," stunned many with his complete turnaround at a press conference earlier this month.
"We must take the next step to move from virtually banning fracking to actually banning fracking," the governor said. "The possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits."
Once signed into law, Maryland would be the first state with gas reserves to pass a ban through the legislature.
BRUCE CONWAY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The death of the "do or die" GOP health care plan, as the bill was pulled from a floor vote in the House on March 24, 2017, comes as no surprise. It was a non-coherent bill that depended entirely on votes from a large Republican majority in the House, but exposed bitter divisions between the hard-right Freedom caucus and more moderate Republicans. Despite the addition of many late amendments intended to address the concerns of the opposing groups, they often lost as many votes as were gained. This became a momentous defeat for the House Speaker Paul Ryan, President Donald Trump, and the Republican Party on what was intended to be its signature and opening domestic success.
Despite the Republicans having had seven years to develop their own health care plan, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was a hastily drafted assemblage of ideas, largely based on Paul Ryan's 37-page white paper in 2016, Better Way, and the proposed Empowering Patients First Act by Dr. Tom Price, now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. As a replacement for a repealed Affordable Care Act (ACA), the plan would have done away with the individual mandate, promoted a free market approach, deregulated the private health insurance industry, eliminated the ACA's requirement for coverage of essential services, added tax credits and given insurers wide latitude to charge older enrollees higher prices, fully repeal Medicaid expansion, and cut back women's health care. Their longer-term goal was to privatize both Medicare and Medicaid.
Unfortunately and predictably, the debate in the media was superficially covered, disinformation and false promises were common, and legislators at the end did not know what was actually in the bill. As Republicans retreated from the issue, they were unpersuasive as to what they would do next. One day after the defeat of the repeal and replace bill in the House, President Trump declared that "Obamacare will explode. We will all get together and piece together a plan for all the American people. Do not worry." (Oval office statement, March 24, 2017). Meanwhile, leading Democrats hailed this event as a victory for saving the ACA and assurance of ongoing coverage for many millions of Americans.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
A Morning Consult/Politico poll released on March 29 indicates that most Americans want the Republicans to move on from their multiyear obsession with repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act; 51 percent of those surveyed want to end the legislative efforts to overturn the health care law while only 37 percent want the political battle in DC to continue:
After the GOP spent seven years railing against the Affordable Care Act but failed to pass an overhaul to the law last week, most voters want them to stop trying -- except the party base.
However, the exception of the Republican "party base" can still play a role in reviving the effort to dismantle Obamacare. That is because "Among Republicans, 62 percent of registered voters want reform efforts to continue, versus just 30 percent who think lawmakers should stop." Given that the Republicans control Congress and there are three major GOP factions in the House of Representatives -- conservatives, Tea Party members and GOP party-line voters -- it is likely that the jostling over repealing the Affordable Care Act will continue. Morning Consult sums it up: "After the GOP spent seven years railing against the Affordable Care Act but failed to pass an overhaul to the law last week, most voters want them to stop trying -- except the party base."
JONATHAN FRANKLIN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Dispatch from Chile
The road to Parque Pumalín is festooned with dozens of whitewater waterfalls that slip down the steep cliffs into a thick forest overrun by ferns and plants with leaves as big as beach umbrellas. An active volcano threatens to wipe out the sparse human settlements that are scattered like frontier outposts, often holding populations of fewer than 100 residents. The scenery, however, suddenly changes at El Amarillo, a town of perfect picket fences, exquisitely designed bridges and hand-lettered wooden signs offering help on camping and trekking.
It is here that a 25-year experiment in environmental conservation is finally coming to fruition. Parque Pumalín is a million-acre collection of untrammelled vistas and valleys that was patched together by a pair of American conservationists whose mission, known as “wildlands philanthropy”, was to keep the lands free from industrial development.