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HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSWAT(Photo: Smallman12q)First, they’ve come for the people of color.  

America’s police forces increasingly serve as a a private corporate army, beyond the reach of the law.  
 
But our nation is distracted by race.  And millions of white Americans are under the illusion that what was done to Michael Brown and Eric Garner can’t happen to them.
 
These un-prosecuted killings of African-American men go way beyond racial prejudice.
 
They are the calling card of an Orwellian state:
 
America’s founders established grand juries to protect citizens from frivolous prosecution.  But today’s corporate state has twisted the system to protect killer police from public scrutiny, putting them above the law. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ademocracyGerrymandering may sink representative democracy (Photo: Filippo Minelli)

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

anincomegap(Photo: Doran)

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

ahypo(Photo: Patty Mooney)

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

aaaFrackBan(Photo: EcoWatch)The little guys aren’t taking this one lying down. In November, voters in Denton, 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.

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.”

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMall(Photo: "Abandoned Mall," by Justin Cozart)It’s now been about a week after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.

During the four-day spree, about 133.7 million shoppers spent about $50.9 billion, according to AP and TIME magazine. 

The psychological necessity to push, shove, and trample strangers while fighting for the right to purchase overpriced merchandize made in China has just begun. Thanksgiving—a day when Americans give thanks the Native Americans didn’t have immigration quotas—begins a 30-day frenzy to buy whatever corporate America is selling. It’s an American tradition to give presents to relatives, friends, business associates, and mistresses, all of whom will also give you presents, which will be opened, sometimes enjoyed, and often returned within a week for something better. Each shopper will spend about $781, according to Statista Research, while boasting about the great bargains they are getting, and how the government spends too much and takes too much of our hard-earned income for unnecessary expenses, like road repair, health care, environmental protection, and food stamps for the impoverished.

To assuage our spirit of greed—and the need to feel loved because we bought someone something—we will drop change into Salvation Army kettles, while disgustingly stepping around the homeless.

We say how much we support the troops, while we go to Christmas parties, get drunk, and then forget those who come home damaged.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abountyAdvocates of justice for Michael Brown gathered in Minneapolis (Fibonacci Blue)

David Parkman reported the other day that unnamed sources claim that Darren Wilson, a former Ferguson police officer who murdered Michael Brown, was paid somewhere in the range of $500,000 for his exclusive "first" post-killing interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. ABC News and Wilson both deny the reports of a fee, but it wouldn't be the first time that a major news network has paid big bucks for a grand spectacle sensationalist interview if Parkman is correct.

In addition, The Root recounted reports that more than one millions dollars was raised from supporters, as of November 30, for Wilson. If both these figures are approximately accurate, then it means that Wilson has financially benefitted to the tune of about $1.5 million, with more donations and "celebrity fees" no doubt to come.

It is worthy of note, as Parkman , that Stephanopoulos conducted a soft ball interview with Wilson. It was as much a dereliction of journalistic professional standards as the non-cross examination of Wilson before the grand jury by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch was a perversion of prosecutorial legal practices.

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHillbillies(Photo: EcoWatch)The process of mountaintop removal mining has made accessing coal seams easier and less labor intensive. It’s also blighted the Appalachian landscape of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia where it’s taking place, destroying 10 percent of the land in central Appalachia, ravaging forests, burying more than 2,000 miles of streams in debris and polluting water supplies with coal ash and chemicals. And it’s helped decimate employment in the coal industry, dealing another blow to one of the country’s poorest regions. It’s great for Big Coal, not so great for ordinary citizens.

In 2009, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), produced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with an interagency action plan “designed to significantly reduce the harmful environmental consequences of Appalachian surface coal mining operations, while ensuring that future mining remains consistent with federal law.”

Today the Alliance for Appalachia, a coalition of grassroots citizen groups, released a study assessing how well that plan had been implemented and what still needs to be done. While pointing to some successes, the group said much stronger actions are needed to avert future disasters like the chemical dump that fouled the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians in January.

“The coal industry is never going to be like it was in the 30s,” said Teri Blanton, a volunteer with the Alliance for Appalachia and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. “The jobs have been on a decline since the beginning. We need to realistically think of the future of Appalachia and fix this mess. We could employ ten times the number of workers just fixing the toxic pollution mountaintop removal has left behind. We need reinvestment in Appalachia—not just clean energy, but cleaning up the messes left behind by dirty energy.”

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

brokenwindowsPeople are not broken windows (Photo: eliz.joy22)

An excellent piece in Colorlines by Kai Wright, "The Ugly Idea That Killed Eric Garner," focuses on the "broken windows" policing policy - applied in cities across the nation - but most prominently in New York City as a "vaunted" law enforcement policy:

NYPD brass had ordered the 120th precinct to make a priority out of interrupting the sale of untaxed cigarettes, according to a Daily News report just after Garner's death. It was a recurring "quality-of-life" issue, a spokesperson told the paper. Garner had been arrested for violating New Yorkers' quality of life in this way eight times. So Pantaleo and his colleagues were doing their job and doing it well. And when Garner pushed back on their outsized response to his petty crime, they escalated further. After all, that is the oxymoronic premise of broken windows policing: the cops should escalate things in order to keep things under control, and that will keep us all safe.

The contradictions within this idea beg unpleasant questions: Who is us and what is danger? Commissioner Bill Bratton gave some indication of the us and them of New York City crime and safety not long after he took the department's helm. In a March speech at the Waldorf-Astoria, Bratton reassured business leaders that he'd stand firm behind broken windows policing.

"We will be focusing on ensuring that aggressive begging and squeegee pests, all those activities that create fear and destroy neighborhoods, graffiti, all those seemingly minor things that were so much in evidence in the '80s and early '90s here, don't have the chance to come back." He vowed a late-night tour of the subway with criminologist George Kelling, one of the intellectual fathers of broken windows. "George and I are going to go out, kind of like old times for us, riding the rails and getting a sense." But don't worry, he insisted, their Old West posse would treat New York City's terrifying "pests" - also known as poor people - "respectfully" and "compassionately."

This policy is nothing more than - as it was in the Garner case - a license to imprision or kill people of color and poor people in the name of the state, simply because they are "undesirables." Garner is like a broken window in Bratton's analogy. By extension, the policy of law enforcement in NYC and many other cities is to fix the "window" by harassing, arresting, prosecuting and killing people who are annoying to the comfortable lifestyles of those with financial assets.

Thursday, 04 December 2014 06:55

Beyond M.A.D.: Reviving Nuclear War

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBoom1(Photo: United States Department of Energy)“Some of the key technocrats and scientists of the Cold War say the nation has become overly confident about its nuclear deterrence. The nuclear enterprise, they say, ‘is rusting its way to disarmament.’”

Let’s meditate on this irony — that disarmament, finally, means no more than growing old and weak and pathetic.

What brilliant Cold War Revival propaganda, masquerading, in theLos Angeles Times last week, as objective reporting. Let’s meditate on the dark chuckles of the Cold War technocrats, as they attempt to summon an extra trillion dollars or so from the national coffers to restore America’s nuclear weapons program to the glory of the 1960s and push on vigorously with the design and development of the next generation of nukes: our national strength, the foundation of our security. All that’s missing from the article — “New nuclear weapons needed, many experts say, pointing to aged arsenal” — is Slim Pickens screaming “Ya-hoo!” as he rides the bomb into human oblivion at the end of Dr. Strangelove.

The ostensible focus of the article, as well as a second article published two weeks earlier, both by Ralph Vartabedian and W.J. Hennigan, is the decrepitude of the American nuclear arsenal, with its myriad sites and delivery systems hampered with out-of-date technology and indifferent maintenance, e.g.: “Today, the signs of decay are pervasive at the Pantex facility in Texas, where nuclear weapons are disassembled and repaired. Rat infestation has become so bad that employees are afraid to bring their lunches to work.”

Oh, the horror. Rats and nukes. Next up, Godzilla? Any serious challenge to nuclear weapons as the ultimate manifestation and symbol of national strength is absent from these articles; so is any rational account of the danger their hair-trigger presence poses to humanity — not to mention the insanity of their ongoing development.

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