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AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

“If you had enough money, you could hardly commit crimes at all. You just perpetrated amusing little peccadilloes.”
- Terry Pratchett

Submitted for your consideration: one Kate Meckler, a top New York City real estate broker, heiress to a tech CEO, and owner of a mansion in Southampton. Meckler had a bit of an oops back in April, and somehow managed to shoplift some $1,644 worth of clothing from Saks Fifth Avenue. As part of her plea deal, her sentence was set as five days of community service. Hooray for the criminal justice system!

Let’s engage in a brief thought experiment. Imagine that Meckler were not a real estate broker and scion of wealth and privilege. Imagine that she were, instead, a single mother working two minimum wage jobs. Of course, she probably wouldn’t have been wandering about Saks Fifth Avenue, but let’s pretend that she had been, and managed to be caught with $1,644 of shoplifted merchandise. That constitutes a class E felony, with penalties including imprisonment for up to four years. Show of hands: how many of you think this hypothetical version of Meckler would have gotten off with five days of community service?

Thought so.

But there’s no need to conduct thought experiments. We can have a look at things out there in the real world where, thanks to mandatory sentencing laws, thousands of people are serving sentences up to and including life without parole for offenses less than that of Meckler. Of course, they’re all “career criminals,” bad people who have led a life of crime, and need to be removed from our streets. Certainly none of them could ever hope to offer the vital contributions to society that a top real estate broker might.

(Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6280517815/in/photolist-ayZi8V-iTWXqp-9AipNF-6kZfRj-9AijLg-jMNpQ-cWGBcw-bJEabn-5G4jgb-aC9Fwa-5d7H4F-8epdw6-82vJFB-bEoaW8-de5FdD-9AjZLn-9kEi17-2G883u-8sRWJT-9bQiyS-xysE-4Bcnxs-92LzHZ-MLpAc-9xKraN-8rGS8Y-8rGScb-8rGS5m-8rGS7o-8rDMcK-8rDMmH-2nynjX-5pimBJ-4Bcnyu-4B85Tz-4B85XK-6B46TT-ePmZsx-ePmZbZ-8rGRVj-dxRo9h-7fk4HX-hLxG48-9qCQLZ-9qCQLp-9qCQJH-jSj96-aYKed2-dfMYvD-8xjJuv" target="_blank"> 401(K) 2012 / Flickr</a>)(Photo: 401(K) 2012 / Flickr)

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Americans constantly hear about the threat of "entitlements," which in the case of Social Security and Medicare are more properly defined as "earned benefits." The real threat is the array of entitlements demanded by the very rich. The following annual numbers may help to put our country's expenses and benefits in perspective.

 

$220 Billion: Teacher Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are just over four million preschool, primary, secondary, and special education school teachers in the U.S., earning an average of $54,740.


$246 Billion: State and Local Pensions

Census data shows a total annual (2012) payout of about $246 billion. Only about $100 billion of this came from state and local governments, with the remainder funded by employee contributions and investment earnings. A recent Pew study showed a little over $100 billion in annual state contributions to pensions, health care, and non-pension benefits.


$398 Billion: Safety Net

The 2013 safety net (non-medical) included the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC (Women, Infants, Children), Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Education & Training, and Housing.

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaMcDonnell(Photo: Gage Skidmore)How far would you go to stay out of jail? Would you publicly humiliate your wife of 38 years, portraying her as some kind of shrieking harridan? Would you put the innermost secrets of your marriage on display, inviting voyeurs to rummage at will?

For Robert McDonnell, the former Virginia governor on trial for alleged corruption, the answers appear to be: "As far as necessary," "Hey, why not?" and "Sounds like a plan."

McDonnell's testimony this week in a Richmond federal courtroom about his wife Maureen's psychological turmoil has been both cringe-worthy and compelling. It has been clear for some time that McDonnell's strategy for winning acquittal amounted to what could be called the "crazy wife" defense. But only when he took the stand did it become apparent how thoroughly he intended to humiliate the "soul mate" he still claims to love.

McDonnell disclosed Thursday that he moved out of the family's home shortly before the trial began. "I knew there was no way I could go home after a day in court and have to rehash the day's events with my wife," he testified.

I guess not. Anyone who said such things in public about his or her spouse would be advised to clear out.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Bankhighlander2(Photo: Brian Katt)

BuzzFlash at Truthout has written many commentaries on how the Obama administration has been - and continues to be - quite lenient with Wall Street when it comes to financial malfeasance. In particular, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have assiduously avoided, for the most part, any serious institutional or personal criminal responsibility for massive fraud committed by banks too big to fail and other mega-financial institutions. 

The settlement this week between the DOJ and Bank of America for its role in the financial fraud that busted the economy in 2008 (including its acquisition of the scam company it acquired, Countrywide Financial) is yet another example of a large fine that looks like punishment, but amounts to much, much less than meets the eye. Indeed, that is the assessment of an August 21 article in the "Dealmaker" section of The New York Times (NYT):

 

"The real financial cost to the bank could be considerably lower," said Laurie Goodman, a specialist in housing at the Urban Institute. "This is helping consumers, but it may not be costing the bank."

 

The actual pain to the bank could also be significantly reduced by tax deductions. Tax analysts, for instance, estimate that Bank of America could derive $1.6 billion of tax savings on the $4.63 billion of payments to the states and some federal agencies under the settlement. Shares of Bank of America jumped 4 percent on Thursday, suggesting investors believe that the bank could take the settlement in stride.

 

"The American public is expecting the Justice Department to hold the banks accountable for its misdeeds in the mortgage meltdown," said Phineas Baxandall, an analyst with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization. "But these tax write-offs shift the burden back onto taxpayers and send the wrong message by treating parts of the settlement as an ordinary business expense."

Given that we are talking about a dominant Wall Street bank and financial behemoth, the takeaway sentence from The New York Times is: "Shares of Bank of America jumped 4 percent on Thursday, suggesting investors believe that the bank could take the settlement in stride." When a bank's stock goes up after what initially appears to be a huge fine, you know that it is nothing more than a slap on the wrist. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

handsup(Photo: Light Brigading)

In the August 19 Washington Post, Los Angeles police officer Sunil Dutta wrote an op-ed entitled: "I'm a cop. If you don't want to get hurt, don't challenge me." The sub-headline was, "It's not the police, but the people they stop, who can prevent a detention from turning into a tragedy."

The authoritarian belligerence of that statement says volumes about why so many police officers are so dangerous to the public whom they are supposed to be serving. Such a stance presumes that a law enforcement official has absolute powers to stop and detain any person in any fashion at anytime. It reflects the presumptuousness of power and assumes a right to use of force against anyone who contests being detained in a democracy.

Truthout Senior Editor and Lead Writer William Rivers Pitt also took note of Dutta's menacing tone in a recent fundraising e-mail for Truthout and BuzzFlash. Pitt noted, "that mindset, combined with unimaginably lethal weapons, is a threat to the very fabric of our democracy."

Clearly, the precipitating factor for Dutta's warning to citizens is the widespread dismay over the murder of Mike Brown and the use of unnecessary militarized police force in Ferguson, along with the revulsion among many at the bellicose swagger, use of brute force and wave of arrests by police in that city.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaKKK(Photo: Ras67)From the What-Is-Not-Surprising-About-This Department: USA Today is reporting that a local chapter of the Missouri Ku Klux Klan is holding a fundraiser for the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen. "All money will go to the cop who did his job against the Negro criminal," according to New Empire Knights of the KKK.

Will there be a white sheet washing contest; a how-many-crosses-can-you-burn in a given time frame contest; a cross-construction competition; an AK-47 raffle?

"We are setting up a reward/fund for the police officer who shot this thug," the Klan group said in an email. "He is a hero! We need more white cops who are anti-Zog and willing to put Jewish controlled black thugs in their place. Most cops are cowards and do nothing while 90% of interracial crime is black (and non-white) on white."

According to USA Today, "Darren Wilson, the officer involved in the Aug. 9 shooting, has been a police officer for six years, four with Ferguson Police Department, and has never had any disciplinary action taken against him. There's no indication Wilson supports the KKK's efforts."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AND TRUTHOUT

domviol(Photo: Jeanne Menjoulet & Cle)Boston Globe reporter Yvonne Abraham wrote a shocking article this month revealing the horrifying extent of domestic violence in the Boston area:

It is all there in the police reports, set out in mundane, relentless detail. Globe data visualization reporter Gabriel Florit analyzed more than four years of reports on domestic violence between intimate partners in Boston, up to April 2014....

The reports are a critical record of the evil enacted in homes across the city. Laid end to end, they reveal the massive scale of the problem. And not just its vastness, but its pervasiveness. The potential for violence saturates every minute of a victim’s day.... You can imagine the moments that exploded, at breakfasts and dinners, in kitchens and living rooms. You can see inside the homes where abusers lurk every day, reaching for whatever object is nearby to impose their will.

What is even more dismaying is that the Globe analysis is only of domestic violence incidents reported to the police. Beyond the dots on a map that the Globe posted of the reported domestic violence, Abraham cautions, "lie countless others to whose homes police never come, because the people who would have made the calls were too embarrassed or afraid. Or because they got so used to torment they couldn’t see it for what it was. Or because their abusers promised to make things better, giving a glimpse of what made them attractive in the first place."

Furthermore, many of the police reports analyzed by the Globe are initial calls for help. Many women, due to threats or dependency, later decide to drop charges, only further to be caught up in the cycle of physical and psychological terror.

Clearly the silent epidemic of abuse is not subsiding - if the Boston area is an indicator.  

Wednesday, 20 August 2014 06:44

House Committee: No Benghazi Scandal

2014.8.20.Benghazi.BFRep. Trey Gowdy (R - South Carolina) meets with the other appointed majority members of the Benghazi Select Committee. (Photo: Caleb Smith / Flickr)

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The House Select Committee on Intelligence, following almost a two-year intense investigation, unanimously determined there is no basis for what has become known as the Benghazi Scandal.

The Committee consists of 12 Republicans and 9 Democrats.

The pretend-scandal began September 11, 2012, when terrorists raided the U.S. consulate, and killed the ambassador and three others.

Although there was confusion, and the Obama administration didn't have all the facts when it began to inform the American people about the events and the causes, there was no evidence of anything even remotely linked to a scandal. However, as expected, the blathering mouths of the extreme right-wing media pundits and politicians, and those who blindly parrot their "talking points" in bars, on front porches, and hunting lodges, kept caterwauling about scandal.

2014.8.20.Berkowitz.BFMove America Forward marches on Washington DC. (Screen grab via Move America Forward / YouTube)

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Move America Forward, the pro-Iraq War group that backed George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq to the hilt, has, since its founding in 2004, claimed that it's all about supporting the troops. However, according to a new report by ProPublica, Move America Forward "has repeatedly misled donors and inflated its charitable accomplishments, while funneling millions of dollars in revenue to the men behind the group and their political consulting firms."

Kim Barker's investigative piece titled "Pro-Troop Charity Misleads Donors While Lining Political Consultants' Pockets," details some of the ethically-challenged practices Move America Forward has used in its fundraising appeals, and how a chunk of the money it has raised has gone, not to support the troops, but to lining the pockets of Republican Party-oriented political consulting firms and Political Action Committees.

Move America Forward (MAF), which claims to be "the nation's largest grassroots pro-troop organization," was the brainchild of Howard Kaloogian, a former California State Assemblyman, and Melanie Morgan, the co-host of a morning drive program on right-wing talk radio in the San Francisco Bay Area. Russo Marsh & Rogers, a Sacramento, California-based public relations outfit with longtime close ties to the Republican Party, helped the group get off the ground. Sal Russo, the Russo of Russo Marsh & Rogers, a longtime GOP political consultant," is listed on the 10-year-old charity's tax returns as chief strategist."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUTunlearnracism(Photo: Light Brigading)

On August 18, the Pew Center for the People & the Press released a poll that reveals "stark racial divisions in reactions to Ferguson police shooting":

Blacks and whites have sharply different reactions to the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests and violence that followed. Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown "raises important issues about race that need to be discussed." Wide racial differences also are evident in opinions about of whether local police went too far in the aftermath of Brown's death, and in confidence in the investigations into the shooting.

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Aug. 14-17 among 1,000 adults, finds that the public overall is divided over whether Brown's shooting raises important issues about race or whether the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves: 44% think the case does raise important issues about race that require discussion, while 40% say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

By about four-to-one (80% to 18%), African Americans say the shooting in Ferguson raises important issues about race that merit discussion. By contrast, whites, by 47% to 37%, say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

In a summary of the poll, Pew recalls that in its survey after Trayvon Martin was gunned down by George Zimmerman, "60% of whites said race received more attention in that case than it deserved." 

Years ago, I heard a speaker discuss how the history of the United States cannot be viewed through a focused lens unless one considers the legacy of slavery, the suppressive humiliating period of Reconstruction, the plantation ghettos of cities in the north and south, and the criminalization of being a black male. All of these require an open racism among many whites and a sub-conscious racial bias among many persons who think of themselves as liberals.

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