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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aguncst(Photo: Poster Boy NYC)A little more than a week ago, a man who baited two teenagers to burglarize his house so he could shoot and kill them was convicted by a Minnesota jury of premeditated murder. That will not bring back the lives of the two teens he had plotted to shoot to death. However, it does at least indicate a jury somewhere in the United States values lives over the growing NRA-sponsored laws that provide a license to kill.

According to an Associated Press account of the killings carried out by Byron Smith, the shooter even taped the murder:

Ted Sampsell-Jones, a criminal law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said the audio recording was devastating to the defense, noting that Smith's taunts to the victims don't show a man in a panic. 

"It was very powerful, and it makes it very clear that ... he didn't do this because he had to. He did it because he wanted to. And that is not what self-defense is about," Sampsell-Jones said.

The recording captured the sounds of Smith shooting Brady as he came down the stairs. Brady groans after the first and second shots, but is silent after a third shot, and Smith can be heard saying, "You're dead." 

In short, what happened in Minnesota was like baiting two cub bears, only they were real teenagers with real names: 7-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer.

The emergence of the "stand your ground" laws as a legislative initiative of the NRA, of course, reached prominence when George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin, who was guilty of nothing more than walking while black. (One of the tragic ironies is that Martin was staying with his father in the very complex that Zimmerman claimed to be protecting from criminals as a one-man armed vigilante squad.)

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaWWI(Photo: Gsl)"Peace, as we have seen, is not an order natural to mankind: it is artificial, intricate and highly volatile. All kinds of preconditions are necessary." — Michael Howard, The Invention of Peace

And here comes World War I, wrapped in World War II, wrapped in the Cold War: tremors on one of Planet Earth's human fault lines.

We have enough angry, manipulable people on this planet to carry out the game plan of the political ideologues and war profiteers, who are always on the lookout for the next war, the one that's too volatile and "inevitable" to stop. As David Swanson, author of War Is a Lie, put it: "The search for a good war is beginning to look as futile as the search for the mythical city of El Dorado. And yet that search remains our top public project."

And the searchlight stops at Ukraine, full of neo-Nazis, corrupt oligarchs, nuclear reactors, an unelected government, a wrecked economy, a simmering civil war. God help us. Old animosities and ideological divisions come back to life. The United States and NATO stand off against Vladimir Putin's Russia. Thirty-one people — maybe more — die in a burning building in Odessa. This kind of thing could be the pretext for a world war. Sanity is up in flames.

"The crisis in Ukraine is serious," Floyd Rudmin writes at Common Dreams. "At some point soon, reality needs to become the priority. No more name-calling. No more blaming. If there are any adults in the room, they need to stand up. The crisis in Ukraine is going critical, and that is a fact."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Beirutbarr(Photo: Wikipedia)Republicans and the right wing are adept at turning untoward incidents into multi-year propaganda tools to wound the effectiveness of Democratic presidents. This was the modus operandi with the effort to impeach Clinton - which began in concept before he was even inaugurated - and it is the case with the never-ending strategically obsessive focus on Benghazi.

This is a partisan plan to use the media to taint Democratic initiatives and accomplishments. It is abetted by a media ravenous for the whiff of scandal - even if the Benghazi attack (which occurred on September 12, 2012) had been thoroughly examined long ago. What the Republicans do - and what Boehner is continuing to do with the announcement of yet another investigative committee on Benghazi - is a detriment to resolving the grave issues facing the nation.

Suppose we create this analogy: The Republicans are your doctors. You visit your general practitioner and he or she thoroughly examines you and puts you through diagnostic tests. The next week you return for the results.

The doctor says, "I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you have a hangnail that is going to require aggressive long-term treatment by a team including me and my colleagues. The good news is that you have pancreatic cancer that will go away without any medical intervention. So we will immediately begin a multi-year medical effort to get to the bottom of your hangnail." (Please note that the hangnail analogy is not meant to diminish the loss of four lives in Benghazi; it is meant only to symbolize its relativity to the other solemn issues raised.)

Lackawanna College building. (Photo:<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/macgodbrad/7815427418/in/photolist-cUC7hA-cAKKqs-74Ujn5-75G1u7-9jYeSt-271VUC-9X5Lqo-CvL48-fARX9w-fARWp9-fARPQs-fARMsh-fARQEN-fABzvk-fABCoV-fABvur-fABA9Z-is29zK-5FQWZd-eipEDs-8Wr63x-gcRKxF-8QRXNn-5FSgpy-eiVnup-eLyV6R-bVX8d6-aymsfC-6iu5LF-749UL6-6ngs6S-bW1q1n-7giqye-ajE3Bj-ayiKHH-aymsiq-dN26tW-f2htem-ajXLd6-fMTvoe-749UPx-6iu5E4-irZujv-femSoN-is1sAg-is1mJB-irZtz4-is1t7r-is1ERv-is2a8m"> bclinesmith / Flickr</a>)Lackawanna College building. (Photo: bclinesmith / Flickr)

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Lackawanna College, a two-year college in Scranton, Pennsylvania, has sold out its academic integrity.

Its price was $2.5 million.

That's how much Cabot Oil & Gas paid to the School of Petroleum and Natural Gas, whose own nine building campus is in New Milford in northeastern Pennsylvania. On the School's logo are now the words, "Endowed by Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation."

That would be the same Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation that has racked up more than 550 violations since it first used horizontal fracking to extract gas in the Marcellus Shale almost six years ago.

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.

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