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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

MRI(Photo: Wikipedia)

Late last year, amidst the ongoing right-wing assault on extending health care through the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), the Washington Post (WP) reported on an international analysis of medical treatment performed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Among the findings of the OECD research were that the United States ranked 26th in life expectancy, while holding the top position in national spending on health care.

The WP Wonkblog provides the background:

Back in the 1970s, Americans typically lived longer than residents of other countries.

Not anymore: A new report out this morning from the OECD shows that the United States' average lifespan has fallen one year behind the international average, lower than Canada and Germany, more akin to the Czech Republic and Poland.

This 213-page, graph-laden OECD report tells the story of why. It shows the United States as a country that is spending tons and tons on health care--but getting way less than other countries out of that investment. It exposes a country that's really great at buying fancy medical technologies, but not so fantastic at using those medical technologies to extend life. It is, in short, the story of why our health care system is so screwed up.

There are some things that the American health care system is great at and, at the top of the list, it has to be the ability to spend money. We spend more than any other country.

What do we spend that money on? Well, we're usually at the top of the list when it comes to buying fancy medical machines, like MRI and CAT scan technology. When you look at the OECD lists on who has the highest rate of medical technology per capita, the United States always cracks the top three.

Many people and health care pundits in the US consider high-tech medicine as the crown jewel of top medical care. This type of medicine also happens to turn a very large profit for the medical tech manufacturers because the cost of such equipment is higher in the US than in many other developed countries, just as medications are.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

M2 machine gun(Photo: US Navy)

Perhaps a reader's first reaction to the headline of this commentary, "US Government Should Not Allow Civilians to Buy Machine Guns, Silencers and Grenades," is alarmed shock that non-law enforcement and military personnel can even legally purchase such weapons. 

Yet, since 1934, the National Firearms Act has allowed US citizens to buy and own crime-syndicate-associated firearms (including short-barreled shotguns) and explosives. The 1934 law, it should be noted, requires a permit that is a bit more rigorous then just stopping by a gun store. Among the requirements are approval by the local chief of police, a background check, fingerprinting and a $200 tax for each of the machine guns. Nonetheless, there are currently an estimated 500,000 legally registered machine guns in the United States, with Virginia leading the nation with 30,000 registered.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is responsible for processing what are technically known as Title II firearms applications. Traditionally, the ATF - despite pressure from the NRA and other gun advocacy groups - has been appropriately cautious in approving applications for private ownership of fully automatic firearms, silencers and explosives (such as grenades) - and some police departments will not sign applications as a matter of policy (given, one can speculate, that more such weapons on the street will create more potential violence and also threaten the lives of police personnel).

In addition, some states severely restrict or prohibit the private ownership of Title II weapons and explosives. (In an interesting but tragic irony, some states - such as Michigan - allow the ownership of machine guns, but do not allow the private purchase or possession of tasers.)

The White Student Union "celebrates European heritage” during May Day demonstrations in Washington DC, May 1, 2013. (Photo: <a https://www.flickr.com/photos/coolrevolution/8703172252"> cool revolution / Flickr</a>)The White Student Union "celebrates European heritage" during May Day demonstrations in Washington DC, May 1, 2013. (Photo: cool revolution / Flickr)STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Racism in the United States and its predecessor colonies has a long history, dating back virtually to the original founding of those colonies. In the North, it began in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with paternalistic attitudes towards Native Americans, which quickly degenerated into military aggression, forced removal/eviction, and eventually genocide. In the South of course, it began with the importation of the first slaves. During the course of the 17th century, slavery was justified by the artificially developed dogma of white supremacy, which quickly bred the twin dogma of racism.

The intellectual justification of slavery in the Southern United States was based entirely on the concept of white supremacy, as stated clearly by the Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate states of America:

"Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race. Such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's law. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery - subordination to the superior race - is his natural condition."

(Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/3946088788/in/photolist-71GJHA-czsTL9-7tGiQL-7Vtwvj-81KDmQ-8xjJuv-8LuPFC-aTfXaD-bJS7or-71GJGb-7C3s9a-92fxL3-83Dvti-77eiZo-7eKY6d-7gPfgp"> Truthout / Flickr</a>)(Image: Truthout / Flickr)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, "It's really American to avoid paying taxes, legally...It's a game we play...I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game."

It's not a game for Americans who need jobs and education and public transportation and infrastructure repair. But public services continue to be cut, while the wealthiest Americans benefit the most from a government they say they don't want. They need government, but they don't want to pay for it.

Here are some reasons why the super-rich should be paying a lot more in taxes.

1. $2 of Every $5 Owned Today was Created in the Last Five Years, and Went Mostly to the Richest 10%, Mostly Untaxed

And most of it was accumulated passively, and unproductively, by just waiting out the stock market. As America's wealth increased from $47 trillion to an incredible $80.66 trillion in just five years, the richest 1% are estimated to have added an average of $5 million each to their fortunes. They pay no wealth tax, they can defer their income taxes, and they pay a reduced capital gains tax when they decide to cash in.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acruel(Photo: meophamman)His is a legitimate “rags to riches” story. However, instead of using his millions to improve the lives of the poor, and working people, our protagonist is bullying his way to political power in pursuit of an agenda that benefits the privatizers and the rich and powerful. You probably never heard of him, you wouldn’t know him if you ran into him at a St. Louis Cardinal game at Busch Stadium, or rode in the same elevator to the top of the city’s Gateway Arch. If you live in Missouri – thereby directly effected by the way he wields his wealth -- and if you want to understand how one very wealthy and powerful individual goes about the business of building influence throughout the state, consider the story of Rex Sinquefield.

According to a new report by the Center for Media and Democracy titled, A Reporter’s Guide to Rex Sinquefield and the Show-Me InstituteWhat Reporters, Citizens, and Policymakers Need to Know, since 2008, Sinquefield, a financial tycoon, “has poured tens of millions of dollars into elections and referenda to try to secure legislators and laws to advance his agenda. He has dumped millions into front groups and lobbying entities to massage politicians, spin the press, and try to soften up public opinion toward his personal wish list for changing Missouri law.”

Rex Sinquefield “is one of the top right-wing political funders in the country, and the single top political spender in Missouri, where he has spent at least $31.5 million since 2006 seeking to reshape Missouri laws, legislators, and policies according to his own ideological mold," said co-author Brendan Fischer, General Counsel of the Center for Media and Democracy. "Plus, like the Kochs, he pursues his agenda through a diversity of avenues, including his pet think tank the Show-Me Institute and front groups and lobbying entities, in order to massage politicians, spin the press, and try to soften up public opinion toward his personal wish list for changing Missouri law."

A Reporter’s Guide points out that two years ago, “Sinquefield told the Wall Street Journal that what he had spent so far is ‘merely the start of what he’ll spend to promote his two main interests: rolling back taxes” and what he describes as “rescuing education from teachers unions.’ He has also invested in groups working to thwart fair wages in Missouri, and undermine other long-standing union rights.”

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaAbuGhraib(Photo: US Army)Ten years ago, photos of the crucifixion — and worse — were released to the American public. The media still call it "the Abu Ghraib scandal," as though, oops, the awkward repercussions for Team Bush were the torture photos' primary horror.

No one talks about "the Auschwitz scandal." The depth of our moral wrong has yet to be plumbed.

Ten years later . . . the hooded man with arms outstretched, electrodes attached to his fingers, revisits the national conscience. Iraq is in a shambles. The prison itself was closed in mid-April because Sunni insurgents are too much of a threat in the region. We wrecked and contaminated two countries in reckless pursuit of revenge and national interest.

Ten years later, a 6,300-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on the U.S. detention and "enhanced interrogation" program is due to be released, or partially released, at some point in the near future — pending declassification, i.e., censorship, of its findings by the White House and even the CIA itself.

McClatchy DC, to which portions of the still-secret report were leaked, recently reported: "The investigation determined that the program produced very little intelligence of value and that the CIA misled the Bush White House, the Congress and the public about the effectiveness of the interrogation techniques, committee members have said."

In other words, the pain and degradation we inflicted on detainees — including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, extreme stress positions, wall-slamming and so much more ("working the dark side," as Dick Cheney infamously put it) — yielded little or no information we were actually able to use. We tortured, we strip-mined, these men and women for nothing.

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaNeedle(Photo: Biggishben)No one who supports the death penalty should have the slightest problem with the way Clayton Lockett died.

Lockett, a convicted murderer, spent 43 minutes in apparent agony Tuesday night as the state of Oklahoma tried to execute him by injecting an untested cocktail of drugs. Instead of quickly losing consciousness, he writhed in obvious distress and attempted to speak. Witnesses described what they saw as horrific.

Prison authorities halted the procedure -- they were going to revive Lockett so they could kill him at a later date, presumably in a more aesthetically pleasing manner -- but the condemned man suffered a heart attack and died.

The state postponed a second execution that had been scheduled for the same night, but I wonder why. We fool ourselves if we think there is a "humane" way to way to kill someone. Sure, the second inmate, Charles Warner, probably would have suffered an equally agonizing death. But isn't this the whole point?

When I read about the crimes Lockett committed, I wish I could support capital punishment. When I read about what Warner did, I want to strangle him with my own hands. But revenge is not the same thing as justice, and karmic retribution is not a power I trust government to exercise. The death penalty has no place in a civilized society.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
 
deptofjusticeDepartment of Justice (Photo: Wikipedia)In a recent breathlessly written "we have the inside scoop" article, The New York Times would have you believe that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is finally getting serious about filing criminal charges against a couple of banks.

Technically, the Times may prove to be right, but on a practical level, the actions it is predicting would be more of the same kid-glove treatment of too-big-to-fail banks we’ve seen in the past. As BuzzFlash at Truthout noted in commentaries last year, Attorney General Holder has officially stated his concern that prosecuting the largest banks would have adverse affects on our economy. As The New York Times reports about the possibility of looming criminal charges against two foreign banks (emphasis on foreign - Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas, not US):

Federal prosecutors are nearing criminal charges against some of the world’s biggest banks, according to lawyers briefed on the matter, a development that could produce the first guilty plea from a major bank in more than two decades.

In doing so, prosecutors are confronting the popular belief that Wall Street institutions have grown so important to the economy that they cannot be charged. A lack of criminal prosecutions of banks and their leaders fueled a public outcry over the perception that Wall Street giants are “too big to jail.”

Addressing those concerns, prosecutors in Washington and New York have met with regulators about how to criminally punish banks without putting them out of business and damaging the economy, interviews with lawyers and records reviewed by The New York Times show.

That last paragraph is devastatingly revealing.

(Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/texasgovernor/11227220684"> Official Texas Governor's Office Photograph by Jeremy Newman</a>)(Photo: Official Texas Governor's Office Photograph by Jeremy Newman)JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

He's back. And, this time, he has eyeglasses.

Yes, Rick "Oops" Perry, is back, pitching himself for another presidential run. What fun! Who can forget the Texas governor's nationally televised pratfall during a 2011 presidential debate, when he couldn't remember the third federal agency he intended to ax? Well, he later sniffed on Fox & Friends, "If anybody's looking for ... the smoothest debater, I readily admit I'm not that person." Clearly not.

But Rick, you weren't "debating"; you were simply trying to recite your own three talking points. One, two ... oops! And the issue isn't whether you're smooth, but whether you're stupid — way too stupid to be president of the United States of America. That's a role in which this Texan would need to match wits, not with such lamebrains as Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann, but Russia's Vladimir Putin.

But wait — there's a new Rick! As mentioned, this go-round he's sporting black-framed, designer eyeglasses, which his makeover consultants insist make him look smarter. Actually, the bespectacled Perry looks like a guy squinting at the thermostat to see if he can get his IQ up to room temperature.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

amissourMissouri State Capitol (Photo: JeromeG111)If you want to see how just one Wall Street robber baron can squash democracy for the sake of greed and privatization, just look to the Missouri legislature.

According to The Progressive magazine, that's where Rex Sinquefield, a man who made his fortune off of trading in index funds, is spending millions of dollars to forward his personal agenda. Sinquefield has combined personal political giving with backing nonprofit organizations, much like the Koch brothers have done on the national level. The Progressive notes: "Sinquefield and his wife spent more than $28 million in disclosed donations in state elections since 2007, plus nearly $2 million more in disclosed donations in federal elections since 2006, for a total of at least $30 million."

That total does not include the indirect millions spent backing third-party organizations, as The Progressive details:

The jewel in [Sinquefield's] privatization crown is the Missouri-based Show-Me Institute, a rightwing think tank that receives just shy of $1 million every year from the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation. Its tag line is a mouthful: "Advancing Liberty with Responsibility by Promoting Market Solutions for Missouri Public Policy."

Rex Sinquefield is the institute's president, and his daughter is also employed there (and spends her time tweeting rightwing talking points).

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