MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Maya Schenwar, the editor-in-chief of Truthout, has written a book that exposes the egregious injustice and pernicious impact of the prison-industrial complex. Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better is an incisive and moving analysis of how the incarceration system in the United States destroys lives and erodes a civil society.
With the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, the US particularly uses incarceration as a form of social cleansing and bias against people of color, as well as poor people, gender-nonconforming people and people with mental illness. In a sweeping narrative that indicts the institution of imprisonment, Schenwar frequently focuses on individuals – including her own sister, who has been in and out of the prison system. The book offers compelling voices to document the inhumanity of confinement behind bars and the extensive collateral damage of life in prison and trying to build a life after release.
Marissa Alexander is one of the millions who has been ripped from her family. BuzzFlash at Truthout talked with Ayanna Banks Harris, co-organizer of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA), on how Alexander's plight represents the egregious wrongs of a system that feeds people into gulags of harsh confinement that take away their lives, break up families and damage communities.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
This shattered nation.
“Eric Garner was overweight and in poor health. He was a nuisance to shop owners who complained about him selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. When police came to arrest him, he resisted. And if he could repeatedly say, ‘I can’t breathe,’ it means he could breathe.”
And, oh yeah: “You cannot go out and break the law. What we did not hear is that you cannot resist arrest. That’s a crime.”
This is the police counter-narrative, as reported by the Associated Press. Eric Garner’s choking death was mostly his own fault. It’s another standoff: another line of cops in bulletproof vests, ominously gripping their batons, stepping slowly toward the protesters. “He was a nuisance . . .” Get him, boys. Take him down.
The national divide is solid and four-square. Actual human beings congregate only on one side of it, or the other. If Eric Garner is a nuisance and Michael Brown is a thug and Trayvon Martin is a suspicious-looking kid in a hoodie who didn’t belong in that neighborhood . . . then, whoosh, all their humanity vanishes and “upholding the law” justifies every action against them, including killing them. The cries of grief from their families are just irritating noises. The outrage about it is insubordination.
Either we’re united by our common humanity or we live in a broken world, a nation hellishly divided against itself, a roiling stew of privilege and squalor. And no one in such a world is free — that is to say, fully himself or herself, fully human. Fear rules. Hatred rules.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The US media obsession with how a lower unemployment rate should increase holiday buying is undercut by a rarely discussed reality: while the unemployment rate is falling, so are wages and family income for many earners in the US. This means that there are an increased number of holiday shoppers who actually have less to spend – adjusted for inflation - during the pre-Christmas consumer frenzy than in past years.
A December 8 article in The Guardian describes this trend as an increase in "survivalist" consumers as compared to "selectionists":
Survivalists earn less than $50,000 a year and have to make sure they can afford every purchase.
Selectionists are more affluent. They may still be “careful”, in PwC’s parlance, but they have more disposable income and don’t insist on waiting for the deepest discounts to kick in before buying.
In each of the last three years, however, the survivalists have become an increasingly important part of the mix, rising from 63% of PwC’s annual holiday shopping poll in 2012 to 65% in 2013 and to 67% this year.
This confirms other indicators of a widening income gap that is leading to a race to the bottom in retailing in a society built on consumer spending.
AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
“Alas, the gates of life never swing open except upon death, never open except upon the palaces andgardens of death. And the universe appears to me like an immense, inexorable torture-garden… What Isay today, and what I heard, exists and cries and howls beyond this garden, which is no more than asymbol to me of the entire earth.”
― Octave Mirbeau
After years of delays and redactions and even a last minute intervention from Secretary of State Kerry, a man whose recent career seems devoted to destroying the moral legacy of his early years, the executive summary of the Senate Report on CIA Torture has finally been released. Spoiler alert. Torture? We sure did. There’s nothing that is terribly surprising in the report, beyond the endless brutality of the details, so now the game will shift to arguing over and spinning all the facts that we’ve known for so long.
It was not long after the events of September 11 that justifications were being written for torture. Legal opinions were issued, memoranda that defined the outer boundaries of what was acceptable. And we knew it was happening. And now those same memoranda are being used to grant immunity to those who carried out torture. And the predictable voices are lining up to claim that yeah, we tortured, but look at all the neat intelligence we got out of it. Sure we crossed a moral event horizon but we literally saved America from certain destruction.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
He has a lifestyle that would make Robin Leach blush; he's crafted deals with scoundrels in a number of countries and does the bidding for huge corporations and investment firms; he still maintains that the War in Iraq was the right thing to do; for several years he has represented the Quartet in the Middle East but doesn't have much to show for it; he gets snippy when talking about how few people pay attention to his political opinions.
One could be forgiven if one didn't think very often about former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. If one did, however, one would probably think back to those crazy-ass days in 2002-2003 when President George W. Bush was having a heck of a time trying to round up support for his impending invasion of Iraq. Bush turned to Blair, and, to perhaps the astonishment of the civilized world, Blair adopted the Bush Administration's "weapons of mass destruction" mantra. And for that decision, the man once thought of as an intelligent, articulate and savvy politician, now has the well-deserved reputation as, well, a first class schmuck. And, to top it off, since that time, he can't seem to shake the "Bush's Poodle" appellation.
With the publishing of the Senate's report on torture, Blair's name is in play once again. While the "report provides reams of uncomfortable details about the CIA's use of torture ... for Britons it leaves one key question unanswered," Peter Foster pointed out in a recent column in The Telegraph. "What did Tony Blair, ... and Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary, know of a CIA torture programme that was sanctioned at the very highest levels of the US government? And to what extent were they complicit in giving UK assistance to US operations?"
HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
First, they’ve come for the people of color.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The negative impact of the process known as gerrymandering congressional districts was most evident in the 2012 election. As of March of 2013, Bloomberg News concluded:
A majority of Americans disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, yet the odds remain in the party's favor that it will retain control of the House [as it did in 2014]. One big reason the Republicans have this edge: their district boundaries are drawn so carefully that the only votes that often matter come from fellow Republicans.
The 2010 elections, in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seats across the nation, gave the party the upper-hand in the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional seats. The advantage helped them design safer partisan districts and maintain their House majority in 2012 -- even as they lost the presidential race by about 5 million votes. Also nationwide, Democratic House candidates combined to win about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.
In the 2012 congressional election, the Democrats beat the Republicans in the popular vote for Congress (48.8 percent to 47.6 percent), but the GOP ended up with 234 seats and the Democrats only 201.
Bloomberg News explains how devastating strategic gerrymandering can be to undermining the will of the majority of voters. In analyzing results of the 2012 congressional election, Bloomberg provides examples of inequitable representation impact from two states where Republican legislatures gerrymandered congressional districts after the 2010 GOP wave election:
In Pennsylvania, where Democratic votes are concentrated in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Republicans won 13 of 18 House seats while losing the statewide congressional vote, 2.8 million to 2.7 million. In North Carolina, Republicans drew three districts to be overwhelmingly Democratic and won nine of the other ten, even as House Democratic candidates won the statewide vote, 2.2 million to 2.1 million.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
BuzzFlash at Truthout has written about major studies which show the income gap widening almost every year since 2008 - at an exponentially faster pace than when the great redistribution of wealth upwards began in the Reagan administration.
There are other indicators in economic reports that confirm the trend of wealth becoming more consolidated with each passing year. Even though the nation's economy added more than 300,000 jobs in November, it is not an indication that workers are getting paid more.
The Guardian, in an article - "CEO pay rises at double the rate of workers" - points out that job growth is not a metric of resolving lopsided income disparity:
The Fed's beige book predicts a mere 0.2% increase in hourly wage growth this month, which is only a modest 2% boost from the previous year....
According to a the 2014 CEO compensation strategy report by Equilar, an executive compensation and corporate governance data firm which conducted the report in association with compensation consultant firm Meridian, the median income of CEOs of S&P 500 companies was $10.1m at the end of 2013. This reflects a 9.5% increase year on year and a staggering 43% jump from 2009.
These figures may understate the case.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
There were countless candidates, from individuals to corporations to government officials, all of whom combine the capitalist sense of me-first entitlement with a disdain for the needs of others.
Individuals: The Public is Blocking My Freedom To Take from the Public
AIG's Hank Greenberg, who saved about $300 million when his high-risk insurance company was bailed out by our tax money, sued the federal government because he felt cheated by the bailout, even though without the bailout his stock would have dropped to zero.
Next is Cliven Bundy, who refused to pay grazing fees for the use of our public land, then turned around and blamed government for not maintaining the fences on the land when one of his cattle strayed onto the highway and caused an accident.
Finally we have Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who criticized fracking regulations for "holding back the American economic recovery," and then protested when a fracking water tower was to be built near his home.
Corporations: Sure We Don't Pay Our Taxes, But We Want Tax Relief Anyway
Tax avoidance is reaching new levels of hypocrisy. Caterpillar, which complained that government failure to spend on infrastructure impedes its business, isrecognized as a leading avoider of the federal taxes that could pay for infrastructure.
ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Texas—fed up with oil and gas drilling companies unwilling to work with citizens to put some reasonable protections in place and with state and local regulators for allowing new fracking wells near homes, schools, parks and hospitals—passed a ban on fracking, despite being hugely outspent. The Texas Oil and Gas Association, representing the fracking companies, and the state’s General Land Office responded with lawsuits to protect their “right” to push fracking on unwilling residents.The little guys aren’t taking this one lying down. In November, voters in Denton,
Now Denton is fighting back with lawsuits of its own. Yesterday, with the fracking ban taking effect on Tuesday, the Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DAG) and Earthworks, the groups that led the Frack Free Denton ballot initiative, filed intervention papers in both lawsuits, seeking to assert the right of citizens to decide what happens in their own neighborhoods. The groups are represented by the Texas local government law firm Brown & Hofmeister; attorneys from national environmental organizations Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council are asking the permission of the court to act as co-counsel.
“Denton residents, with Republican and Democratic majorities, voted overwhelmingly to ban fracking,” said DAG president Cathy McMullen. “Our city has the legal power to prevent bakeries from setting up shop in residential neighborhoods. To suggest that we don’t have the legal power to similarly bar fracking, a much more dangerous process, is the height of industry arrogance.”
“The state and industry could have respected Denton communities’ health, safety and property,” said Earthworks’ energy program director Bruce Baizel. “They chose not to. The ban is the result. Now, rather than constructively engage with the community, they simply overlook their regulatory failure and move to overturn democracy through legal action.”