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aaaaaaaaaaaaahedgefund2Hedge funds and charity don't mix well. (Photo: Simon Cunningham)

What is motivating a hedge fund to acquire a Catholic nonprofit hospital system in the San Francisco Bay Area? Is it a burst of Christmas spirit? After all, the Daughters of Charity hospitals serve a significant number of poor people in medical need.

We are skeptical that the acquiring hedge fund, BlueMountain Capital Management fund, is simply serving as a compassionate Santa Claus.

December 14 article on the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate site posed the financial paradox of the acquisition, given that the hospital is known for its care for the poor:

Hospital officials said patients should not notice any major changes. "Patients should see the same level of care and attention and concern for their health," said Rick Rice, spokesman for Daughters of Charity. "We expect that service to continue."

Daughters of Charity, which is based in Los Altos Hills, had been losing about $150 million a year and was searching for a buyer for years. A New York hedge fund seemed an unlikely entity to take over a nonprofit health system that treats a fair number of poor and uninsured patients.

Published in EditorBlog


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapocshallThe future of the earth may hang on the consequential difference between "shall" and "should" when it comes to averting environmental destruction across the planet. (Photo: Robert Hruzek)

A December 13 Politico European Edition article discusses how the replacement of the word "shall" with "should" became a vital necessity to the signing of the final COP21 agreement. According to Politico, the last-minute switch to "should" - in reference to compliance with agreement goals by the signatory nations - was made at the request of the United States. President Obama was allegedly worried that the use of the word "shall" would require legal obligations of the US, ensuring almost certain defeat of ratification of what then would be deemed a treaty by the Republican-controlled Senate.

However, it can be speculated that other nations were also concerned about the legal implications of a mandate as opposed to voluntary compliance with the COP21 goals. In short, by replacing the word "shall" with "should," the nations most responsible for ruinous global warming policies will have a lot of wiggle room in implementing the final document.

The National Resources Defense Council, which generally praises the Paris talks, does, however, inadvertently admit its key failings in an article on the top "takeaways" from the accord:

  • It’s not a formal treaty and it doesn’t commit us [the United States] to any new international legal obligations.

  • It doesn’t contain legally binding carbon targets.

  • Each country has put forth its own voluntary proposals for ambitious carbon reductions.

Published in EditorBlog


aaaaaaaaaaaascaliaPompous bigotry is embedded into Antonin Scalia. (Image: DonkeyHotey)

Antonin Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court three decades ago; he will have served on that "august" body for 30 years as of 2016. As perilous as the condition of the United States is, it's amazing that the nation has not yet imploded from the force of Scalia's judicial brutality. 

After all, Scalia is the Donald Trump of the Supreme Court, casting forth rulings and remarks that poke through the edge of the envelope of both the law and civil society. That may be why some publications, a handful of politicians and a couple of pundits criticized Scalia's racist comments during oral arguments in the latest affirmative action case to appear before SCOTUS. During a hearing this week, Scalia, according to ThinkProgress, stated, "Black students don’t need affirmative action because they benefit from a 'slower track,'" and asserted that Black students would, in general, benefit from "less advanced school[s]."

CNN reported that Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) ripped into Scalia in his Thursday morning opening Senate remarks:

Reid read Scalia's full comments on the Senate floor Thursday morning and tore them apart.

"These ideas that he pronounced yesterday are racist in application, if not intent," Reid said. "I don't know about his intent, but it is deeply disturbing to hear a Supreme Court justice endorse racist ideas from the bench on the nation's highest court. His endorsement of racist theories has frightening ramifications, not the least of which is to undermine the academic achievements of Americans, African-Americans especially."

Scalia doesn't render judicial opinions so much as he issues partisan diatribes that include enough legal mumbo jumbo to make it appear as if his fish wrap of law is actually respected jurisprudence - rather than a week-old newspaper that last held a rancid cut of carp.

Over the years, Scalia has rendered court-watchers dismayed but helpless, as his outrageous comments and legal opinions spew forth unchecked. In 2009, we noted one particularly shocking written legal finding that didn't raise much of a stir nationally. In an appeal to the Supreme Court to re-hear the case of condemned prisoner Troy Davis, based on possibly exonerating evidence that had been disclosed since his original trial, Scalia wrote that he opposed a new trial. Why? Because, Scalia argued - and we are not making this up - there is apparently nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the execution of a person who is convicted and later produces exonerating evidence.

Published in EditorBlog


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamnightWhose "American Dream" are we talking about anyway? (Photo: badlyricpolice)

It's a bit of a mind-bender to reflect upon Donald Trump in relation to one of the finest novels in the US canon, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Indeed, many an English major may consider it sullying to the legacy of the book to cite it at all in reference to Trump.

Still, some parallels beg consideration. The book's protagonist, Jay Gatsby, is a romantic dreamer who wishes to by loved by a woman who is not of his class. However, there is something more to Gatsby’s desire, which can be interpreted as a yearning for the mythical "American dream."

At the conclusion of the book, Nick Carraway - the narrator of the novel who is sympathetic to Gatsby - writes of Gatsby's futile pursuit of an ineluctable fantasy:

He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city....

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms further.....

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Dreams, after all - the ones that visit us when we are asleep - are beyond our control.

Published in EditorBlog


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapolicebrutalityRacist policing is enabled by a racist society. (Photo: Elvert Barnes)

Politicians and police chiefs frequently like to label police violence and the murders of people of color as the work of a few bad apples. However, racist policing is endemic to law enforcement in big and small cities alike, because the police in large part function as an occupying force in communities of color - a force that consistently implements policies that perpetuate institutional racism.

In his brilliant, mesmerizing and incisive analysis of race in the United States, Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates cogently addresses this reality:

At this moment the phrase "police reform" has come into vogue, and the actions of our publicly appointed guardians have attracted attention presidential and pedestrian. You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of the country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of the country's criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by an oppressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies - the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects - are the product of democratic will.

We have seen, in recent times, the emergence of a passionate movement of primarily young Black people who have been uncompromising in demanding an end to the incessant anti-Black police violence, as part of a longer-term transformation of a racist society.

Published in EditorBlog


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaforprofitcFederal student loans are putting billions of dollars into the piggy bank of for-profit college companies masquerading as "non-profits." (Photo: Tax Credits)

For-profit college companies' first priority is reaping a financial windfall, not providing a quality education. Recently, BuzzFlash reported on the bankruptcy of one such higher-education company, which left students saddled with billions of dollars in federal debt after the investors had made money off of billions of dollars in federal tuition loans.

There has been some renewed White House interest in reining in for-profit colleges - but in the absence of congressional action, little can be done.

Recent analysis by The Century Foundation has found that some inventive college corporations - in an attempt to preempt a crackdown on for-profit college schemes - have found a new way to reap the financial rewards of luring students into substandard colleges: convert themselves into IRS-approved nonprofit organizations. Once they receive nonprofit status, these companies then reconfigure themselves to channel a large chunk of their educational functions to the for-profit providers with whom they are linked:

Unfortunately, the conversion to nonprofit status is susceptible to abuse by covert for-profits—schools that obtain the nonprofit label yet continue operating like for-profit institutions—leaving consumers and taxpayers more vulnerable than ever.

Covert for-profit colleges can exist because while the Department of Education relies on the Internal Revenue Service’s judgment of which institutions are and which are not valid nonprofits, the IRS rests its determination on the declarations and self-regulation by the trustees of these nonprofits, based mostly on an honor system. As with other taxpayers, the IRS relies on the honesty of the individuals and corporations that file tax returns, an honesty that is tested only in case of an audit, which often takes place years afterward. 

The report, however, notes that the IRS examines less than a percent of nonprofits annually, therefore leaving a high probability that for-profit colleges seeking to escape scrutiny by becoming officially non-profit - in terms of IRS status - can function without government oversight indefinitely.

Published in EditorBlog


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasmallplane344Will the friction between the tectonic plates of income inequality cause a social/political earthquake? (Image: Institute for Policy Studies)

Despite the ongoing scrutiny of income inequality and a plethora of advocacy efforts aimed at reversing the trend, the redistribution of wealth upward continues at a dizzying pace.

That's the conclusion of an analysis released today of the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. Conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), the report indicates that the net worth of the top 0.1 percent of the US population continues to swell:

The United States is becoming, as the French economist Thomas Piketty warns, a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power....  

The level of U.S. wealth inequality has grown so lopsided that our classic wealth distributional pyramid now more resembles the shape of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle.

The bulge at the top of our wealth “space needle” reflects America’s wealthiest 0.1 percent, the top one-thousandth of our population, an estimated 115,000 households with a net worth starting at $20 million. This group owns more than 20 percent of U.S. household wealth, up from 7 percent in the 1970s. This elite subgroup, University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez points out, now owns about as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of America combined.

Published in EditorBlog


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaakalaThe NRA enables terrorism. It's not even debatable. (Photo: Bartosch Salmanski)

It's been more than a decade since then Attorney General John Ashcroft prohibited the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) from stopping people on the US government terrorist watch list from purchasing guns.

Indeed, since Ashcroft issued the order after 9/11 not to interfere with people suspected of terrorist involvement from buying firearms, BuzzFlash has been calling attention to the contradictions embodied by those in the NRA and Congress who say that we need guns to protect ourselves against terrorists, while also ensuring that people they suspect of being terrorists can purchase guns without hindrance. Regardless of what you think of the existence of the terrorist watch list in the first place, the hypocrisy is striking.

As a November 20 Associated Press (AP) article noted,

People on the U.S. government's terrorist watch list often can't board commercial airliners, but they can walk into a gun store and legally buy pistols and powerful, military-style assault rifles....

According to a March analysis by the Government Accountability Office, people on the FBI's consolidated Terrorist Watchlist successfully passed the background check required to purchase firearms more than 90 percent of the time, with more than 2,043 approvals between 2004 and 2014. The office is an investigative branch of Congress....

Under current federal law, however, association with a terrorist organization doesn't prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives.

If someone is denied a gun purchase from a retail firearms store, it is only because they don't qualify for other reasons.

Published in EditorBlog


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatrumpTrump combines the skills of an entertainer, self-promoter and demagogue in advancing his political "brand." (Photo: Michelle)

Like many reality-based individuals, until recently I thought of Donald Trump as a somewhat amusing, somewhat disturbing combination of the Joker from Batman, a carnival barker and a used-car salesman successfully persuading a sucker to buy a vehicle without a motor.

I smugly waited for common sense to tighten its grip on the Trump zeppelin until it burst.

Time after time, colleagues and friends would say, "This time Trump's gone too far." They predicted a rapid descent of his Republican candidacy as a result of his latest "take your pick" outlandish statement. However, except for a couple of weeks when Ben Carson began to rise in the polls, challenging Trump's lead, the bombastic billionaire Pied Piper has continued to lead the GOP field. Not that Carson would be a salvation from Trump. (Addressing that point, Stephen Colbert recently nicknamed Trump and Carson "offensive" and "bizarre," respectively, in a sketch.)

Last week, even mainstream media pundits were speculating that Trump had finally imploded as a result of a rambling, surreal speech in Iowa. Trump's remarks included a mock reenactment of Ben Carson allegedly stabbing the belt buckle of a classmate when he was a teenager, implied that Carson had a pathology similar to that of a "child molester," and declared that Iowans who support Carson are "stupid." 

Published in EditorBlog


aaaaaaaaadonaldtrDonald Trump finds a new xenophobic target, refugees fleeing for their lives from the civil war in Syria. (Mark Hammermeister)

Refugees fleeing the ongoing carnage in the Middle East are a made-to-order target for Donald Trump's demagogic xenophobic fearmongering.

Trump's campaign statements are primarily built on evoking fear, fear of "the other," fear of foreign powers, fear of non-Christians, fear of the government. His most abiding appeal to the amygdala (the base of fear in the brain), is to stoke the fright and vitriol of white privilege. In doing so, he finds daily hot buttons to push using variations on incarnations of "the other" to feed the beast of his voter base. 

Trump can glide from slandering Mexicans to defaming refugees from the Middle East with a destructive glibness that is as dangerous as it is facile. It is not surprising that Trump's claim that Obama was only sending refugees to states with Republican governors was rated by POLITIFACT as a pants-on-fire lie. That claim was only one small arrow in Trump's quiver of fear-evoking arrows aimed at stirring up the emotional cauldron of his followers. Indeed, Trump, according to The Washington Post, commented today that he "is refusing to rule out extreme measures that include warrantless searches or faith-based identification requirements" of Muslims in the US.

Published in EditorBlog
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