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citizensunited32Large donors support an army of litigators to achieve campaign finance deregulation. (Photo: DonkeyHotey)

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization, released a detailed report last week that reveals many of the largest donors behind legal moves to achieve campaign finance deregulation. Much has been reported about the impact of loosening campaign finance laws on elections, but the Center's analysis offers insight into who is funding the legal cases that are allowing big money to have such an unprecedented impact on elections.

Of course, the most noted of these legal decisions was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which the Center describes in a second article about the modern history of campaign finance deregulation:

In a case that continues to have an enormous impact on elections at all levels of government, the court reversed decades of decisions by allowing corporate and union dollars to pay for ads and other campaign materials that urge voters to vote for or against a candidate for office. The 5-4 decision affected what are known as "independent expenditures." Such funds are used by an outside party to pay for materials that favor or oppose a candidate, but the spending must be "independent" -- the outside party isn't allowed to coordinate it with the candidate. The decision led to the creation of super PACs -- which accept unlimited donations and use the funds mostly on political advertising -- and "dark money" organizations, nonprofits that do essentially the same thing but are not required to reveal their donors.

However, Citizens United was preceded and followed by other regulation-loosening decisions, including Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 and McCutcheon, Republican National Committee v. Federal Election Commission in 2014.


Betsy 1120wrp optBetsy DeVos at CPAC. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)This is being written before a final vote has been taken on President Trump's higher-taxes-for-the-middle-class-and-the-poor bill has been voted on, so as of now, there hasn't been much in the way of legislation for the Trump administration to hang its hat on. But downstream, there are lots of awful things underway. To paraphrase an old Henny Youngman tag line: Take the work of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. … Please!

In her first few months as secretary, the Michigan billionaire, DeVos, who needed the vote of vice-president Mike Pence to break the tie in the Senate over her confirmation, has been involved in several controversial battles over the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, Title IX, guns in the schools, rolling back regulations on the for-profit college industry, and her efforts to shrink the Dept. of Education.

According to The Washington Post's Moriah Balingit and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, "The department's workforce has shrunk under … DeVos, who has said she wants to decrease the federal government's role in education, including investigations and enforcement of civil rights in schools. In all, the department has shed about 350 workers since December — nearly 8 percent of its staff — including political appointees. With buyouts offered to 255 employees in recent days, DeVos hopes to show even more staff the door."


OnePercent 1120wrp opt(Photo: Kate Ausburn / Flickr)Inequality, like a malignant tumor, is growing out of control, and the only response from Congress is to make it even worse. Those at the richest end of the nation seem to have lost all capacity for understanding the meaning and values of an interdependent society. They've convinced themselves that they deserve their passively accumulated windfalls, and that poorer people have only themselves to blame for their own misfortunes. 

It's Getting Uglier Every Year

The average 1% household made nearly $2.6 million in the 12 months to mid-2017. Mostly from the stock market. Here's how: 

- The U.S. increased its wealth by over $8.5 trillion (see Table 2-4, mid-2016 to mid-2017). 

- The 1% took $3.27 trillion of that (38.3 percent: see Table 6-5). 

- Each of 1.26 million households, on average, took nearly $2.6 million. In greater detail, the poor segment of the 1% averaged about $1.44 million for the year, the .1% averaged about $7.2 million, and the .01% (12,600 households) averaged nearly $65 million in just the past year.


Cow 1117wrp opt(Photo: Jelle / Flickr)To be perfectly honest, most of us would be hard-pressed to have a handle on the range of the myriad of functions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We would likely get the part about meat and poultry inspections, and maybe the fact that the agency oversees the food stamp program, but otherwise we would be pretty unclear about the scope of the agency's work. As Michael Lewis reports in the December issue of Vanity Fair, most of what the USDA does "has little to do with agriculture," as it spends only a "small fraction" of its $164 billion budget (2016) on farmers.

Among other things, the USDA "runs 193 million acres of natural forest and grasslands [and] It is charged with inspecting almost all the animals people eat." The agency runs a "massive science program; a bank with $220 billion in assets; plus a large fleet of aircraft for firefighting," There's more; it finances and manages numerous programs in rural America, "including the free school lunch for kids living near the poverty line."

A Vanity Fair USDA Organizational Chart has the Secretary and Deputy Secretary up top, and seven Undersecretaries: National Resources and Environment; Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services; Rural Development; Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services; Food Safety; Research, Education and Economics (Science); and, Marketing and Regulatory Programs.


Friday, 17 November 2017 05:31

Americans Own 42 Percent of the World's Guns


 mandalaybayLas Vegas Mandalay Bay Hotel, site of one of the numerous recent mass shootings. (Photo: Don Barrett)

In a November 7 article in The New York Times by Max Fisher and Josh Keller, the two reporters reflect upon the somber phenomenon of mass shootings in the United States. Faced with an unrelenting occurrence of such incidents, they attempt to ascertain the enabling circumstances for such atrocities. They conclude,

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

The top-line numbers suggest a correlation that, on further investigation, grows only clearer.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

One must be wary of assessments that attribute a complex problem to only one factor, as this one does. However, the United States has 4.4 percent of the world population but 42 percent of the world's guns.

KAJAKI, Afghanistan – British Sgt. Rab McEwan, Kajaki Operational Mentoring Liaison Team, and a translatorA British Sergeant and a translator discuss how to proceed in Kajaki, Afghanistan. (Photo: ResoluteSupportMedia)EMILY YATES FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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Imagine you're being forced to flee your home. Not just your home, but your country, and not just for now, but forever. 

Imagine you can only pack one carry-on sized bag, weighing no more than 50 pounds, from which you must rebuild your entire life. Everything else stays behind.

Imagine getting to your new, foreign home, only to discover that your funds are nowhere near enough to live on, your education and work skills don't translate into a local job, and you're immediately in debt to the government for the flight that brought you to safety. You have no health care, the culture you're now immersed in is entirely unfamiliar to you and every day is a struggle to adjust to a life you never thought you'd be living. 

Now imagine the reason you must do this is because the United States military invaded and occupied your country, and instead of resisting, you chose to assist.

Thursday, 16 November 2017 06:49

Trapped in a "Man's World"

Former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy MooreFormer Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore in 2011. (Photo: Wikimedia)ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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Things fall apart, the center cannot hold . . .

The "man's world" I grew up in is shattering into fragments of shame, contrition and desperate denial. Allegations of sexual harassment and abuse are catching up with powerful perps, sometimes decades after the fact. On Capitol Hill, we now know about a "creep list." Women shouldn't ride alone in an elevator with these guys. This is our democracy.

The only real surprise in all this is that suddenly it matters . . . that women -- as well as young males, children of both genders -- were harassed, humiliated, raped by powerful male adults: that "me too" resonates in the news. At one time, outright denial of a sexual abuse allegation wasn't even necessary because, even if it were true, so what? That was then. The idea of "a man's world" was solid and, well, boys will be boys.


lepagepaulTea Party Republican Maine Governor Paul LePage opposes a just-passed voter initiative to expand Medicaid. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Although it wasn't widely reported amid the Democratic victories in last week's off-year elections, a big win occurred in Maine for low-income individuals and households that need Medicaid. After years of Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage actively opposing and preventing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Medicaid expansion in Maine, a ballot initiative passed expanding health coverage for the poor by nearly 60 percent of the vote.

Of course, there was intractable and heated opposition to the voter proposal by LePage and his supporters. One of the arguments against the bill was that it would raise the cost of licenses for hunting and fishing, according to The American Prospect. The Prospect noted that the pro-ballot-initiative forces ran a savvy campaign to dispel misleading charges:

Mainers for Health Care, the statewide coalition that helped lead the successful yes campaign, countered the hunting and fishing license price hikes and other tall tales by relentlessly repeating a few salient data points. Medicaid expansion would create 6,000 new jobs and give the state a $500 million infusion of federal funding each year. Most importantly, the measure would provide health care to 70,000 Mainers.

To get out the vote, canvassers hit the road and knocked on more than 200,000 doors. But according to Mainers for Health Care's David Farmer, the decisive factor was the coalition's decision to deploy a "leadership team" of people who would be newly eligible for Medicaid if the measure passed.

One of the women on the "leadership team" earns "$7,000 a year from a newspaper route and sells her plasma to have enough money to take her kids to McDonald's." She also is a caregiver to her three disabled adult children.


Piling 1115wrp optDigging a well in Kabul. (Photo: Dr. Hakim Young)"My family's water well has dried up," 18-year-old Surkh Gul said.

"Ours too," echoed 13-year-old Inaam.

A distressed Surkh Gul lamented, "We have to fetch water from the public well along the main road, but that water is muddy, not fit for drinking. I get bottled water for my two-year-old daughter. At least someone in the family should stay healthy."

Inaam chipped in, "Fortunately, for now, the water that we fetch from a nearby mosque is clean."

A U.S. and Afghan Geological Survey of Kabul Basin's water resources found that about half of the shallow groundwater supply wells could become dry by 2050 due to declining recharge and stream-flows under projected climate change.


Radioactive 1115wrp opt(Photo: Reyhan Dhuny / Flickr)An airborne plume of radioactive ruthenium 106 from a nuclear accident was detected "in the atmosphere of the majority of European countries," from late September through mid-October, according to France's Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute (IRSN) — but the source is still unknown. As of November 10, 2017, the manmade element has been identified in at least 28 countries.

While many news agencies are calling the cloud "harmless" and reporting the good news — that radiation levels are low and that no health consequences have been observed — radiation experts tell EnviroNews the scene may not be so peachy at ground zero where the release occurred. The question is: where exactly is ground zero?

In a report, the IRSN used wind and weather patterns, coupled with readouts from radiation monitoring stations throughout Europe, to deduce the "most plausible zone of release lies between the [Volga River] and the [Ural Mountains]." According to NPR, Jean-Christophe Gariel, Director for Health at the IRSN, said, the plume "has been traced to somewhere along the Russia-Kazakhstan border."

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