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Tuesday, 07 November 2017 07:16

Jeff Bezos Wants the Keys to Your House

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AmazonhightowerAmazon is consuming us. (Photo: Public.Resource.Org)

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Jeffrey Preston Bezos is the man of unbounded ambition who founded Amazon, the online retailing colossus that trumpets itself as "Earth's most customer-centric company." He's considered a model of tech wizardry for having totally reinvented retail marketing for our smart-phone, globally-linked age. Amazon peddles a cornucopia of goods through a convenient "1-click" ordering system, rapidly delivering the goods right to your doorstep.

No one has imagined corporate domination more expansively nor pushed it harder or further than Bezos, and his Amazon stands today as the most advanced and the most ambitious model of a future under oligarchic control, including control of markets, work, information, consumerism, media and beyond. He doesn't merely see himself remaking commerce with his vast electronic networks, algorithms and metrics — but rebooting America itself, including changing our society's concept of a job, the definition of community, and even our basic values of fairness and justice. It amounts to a breathtaking aspiration to transform our culture's democratic paradigm into a corporate imperium, led by Amazon.

Amazon's most recent announcement is that it wants to get inside your home — and, ironically, it's using "security" as its rationale. Rather than Amazon leaving products you order on your doorstep, the corporation wants a key to unlock your door so its delivery crews can do you the favor of placing the products you order inside your abode.

Would you give your house key to a complete stranger, letting that person — whose name you don't even know — walk right into your home when you're not there? What could possibly go wrong with that? Other than your being robbed, of course, either by rogue Amazon employees or by hackers who will certainly gain access to the corporation's computerized key codes. Or maybe "Crusher," your Pitbull, mauls the Amazon intruder and you get sued.

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

grandcanyon32The Trump administration wants to allow uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. (Photo: Tony Hisgett)

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service released a recommendation Wednesday to lift former President Obama's uranium mining ban in the watershed of the Grand Canyon.

The move was made in response to President Trump's sweeping "energy independence" executive order in March to ease regulatory burdens on energy development.

“This appalling recommendation threatens to destroy one of the world's most breathtakingly beautiful regions to give free handouts to the mining industry," said Allison Melton, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration's willingness to sacrifice our natural treasures to polluters knows no bounds. But this reckless, shortsighted proposal won't be allowed to stand."

Amber Reimondo, Energy Program Director with the Grand Canyon Trust, had similar sentiments.

"The Forest Service should be advocating for a permanent mining ban, not for advancing private mining interests that threaten one of the natural wonders of the world," Reimondo said. "The Grand Canyon and the people and communities that depend on it cannot be left to bear the risks of unfettered uranium mining, which is what will happen if the moratorium is removed."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

socialsecuritycardThe rich should pay their fair share of Social Security taxes. (Photo: DonkeyHotey)

Anyone who thinks that Social Security payments allow a lavish income for recipients is lost in fantasy. In June 2017, The Motley Fool reported  that "the average person who signed up for Social Security in the past year was awarded $1,413.08 per month in benefits."

Depending on whether a person also benefits from a spousal Social Security income, they're receiving a check that puts them just barely above the poverty level for a single person or solidly above the poverty level for two people receiving Social Security. Included in this average Social Security payment are costs associated with Medicare -- which is not without required expenses, despite the common perception that it provides "free" care. In short, Social Security checks for the average retired working class person are generally just enough to get by on, as long as there are no medical or other emergencies.

Meanwhile, as an article by Sam Pizzigati on Inequality.org underscores, when it comes to paying for Social Security, working class taxpayers are handing over a much more significant portion of their income than are wealthy taxpayers. The tax cuts proposed by President Trump and those being considered by Congress would do nothing, as Pizzigati points out, to end the gift to the rich that stops Social Security taxes being assessed for incomes above $127,200. Earners up to that level have a 6.2 percent tax for Social Security deducted from their earnings.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

kellyjohnWhite House Chief of Staff John Kelly thinks there could have been a "compromise" about slavery. (Image: DonkeyHotey)

Former General John Kelly, White House chief of staff, recently managed to besmirch the wife and mother of Sergeant La David Johnson, along with defaming Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-California), taking Trump's side in an undignified attempt to discredit a Gold Star family. Kelly attempted to bolster Trump's claim that the president didn't dishonor Johnson in a bungled condolence phone call to Johnson's wife. It was clear at that point that Kelly was not going to be a bland general trying to rein in chaos in the White House; he was going to be a public Trump enabler.

This past Monday, Kelly doubled down on his backing of another one of Trump's egregious stances that statues honoring Civil War figures were part of the nation's history -- dedicated to men who should be respected for their heritage, bravery and convictions. This Trump stance came to the fore after the infamous rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, organized by hate groups rallying around a Robert E. Lee statue. On August 17, Trump tweeted, "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments."

An October 31 ThinkProgress article reported,

During an interview on the debut edition of Laura Ingraham’s new Fox News show Monday night, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly praised Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and openly expressed sympathy for the Confederate cause.

Asked about a Virginia church’s decision to remove a plaque honoring Lee, Kelly said, “I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man....”

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

cfpbarbWill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau survive a Republican Congress and president? (Photo: Mike Licht)

On July 14, I wrote a commentary entitled, "Banks Riled by New Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Rule." It was about how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) had issued a regulation that would allow bank consumers to sue for fraud and negligence, instead of being forced into arbitration by clauses in different account agreements (including credit cards). In short, the CFPB overrode the contract arbitration stipulations and also allowed class action suits for widespread bank improprieties.

It was a bit of good news amid the usual torrent of distracting Trump tweets, and it appeared that an act of justice was actually occurring during the Trump administration. As we lament the horrors of the Trump White House, these rare victories are important to note and celebrate.

In a July 10 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau news release, the agency announced its "a new rule to ban companies from using mandatory arbitration clauses to deny groups of people their day in court":

Many consumer financial products like credit cards and bank accounts have arbitration clauses in their contracts that prevent consumers from joining together to sue their bank or financial company for wrongdoing. By forcing consumers to give up or go it alone – usually over small amounts – companies can sidestep the court system, avoid big refunds, and continue harmful practices. The CFPB’s new rule will deter wrongdoing by restoring consumers’ right to join together to pursue justice and relief through group lawsuits....

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Fort McHenry flagThe Fort McHenry Star Spangled Banner: Is the National Anthem inclusionary or exclusionary? (Photo: Wikipedia)

 A new poll reveals that a majority of whites in the United States believe there is discrimination against whites in this country. However, few white respondents claimed to have actually experienced this discrimination themselves. According to NPR,

A majority of whites say discrimination against them exists in America today, according to a poll released Tuesday from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"If you apply for a job, they seem to give the blacks the first crack at it," said 68-year-old Tim Hershman of Akron, Ohio, "and, basically, you know, if you want any help from the government, if you're white, you don't get it. If you're black, you get it."

More than half of whites — 55 percent — surveyed say that, generally speaking, they believe there is discrimination against white people in America today. Hershman's view is similar to what was heard on the campaign trail at Trump rally after Trump rally. Donald Trump catered to white grievance during the 2016 presidential campaign and has done so as president as well.

Yet only 19 percent of the same whites thought that they had ever faced discrimination on the job; around 13 percent thought that they had ever been discriminated against in promotions or salary; and only 11 percent thought that they had faced discrimination in relation to higher education. (Plus, of course, even when it comes to the low percentage of whites who said they experienced discrimination, the facts contradict their perception.)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

opiumpoppyOxyContin is a derivative of opium from poppies. (Photo: Rach)

In the October 30 edition of the New Yorker, reporter Patrick Radden Keefe writes a thorough examination of the role of one pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, in abetting the high number of deaths due to opioid overdoses in the United States. The connection is through the firm's patent on one highly addictive pain killer, OxyContin. Although there are many factors that fuel the opioid crisis in the United States -- including social injustice and economic inequality issues -- Keefe's thoroughly researched article is a telling reminder that the biggest drug pushers in the United States are legal ones: our pharmaceutical companies.

Keefe writes,

Since 1999, two hundred thousand Americans have died from overdoses related to OxyContin and other prescription opioids. Many addicts, finding prescription painkillers too expensive or too difficult to obtain, have turned to heroin. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, four out of five people who try heroin today started with prescription painkillers. The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that a hundred and forty-five Americans now die every day from opioid overdoses.

Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative, at Brandeis University, has worked with hundreds of patients addicted to opioids. He told me that, though many fatal overdoses have resulted from opioids other than OxyContin [such as fentanyl and heroin], the crisis was initially precipitated by a shift in the culture of prescribing—a shift carefully engineered by Purdue. “If you look at the prescribing trends for all the different opioids, it’s in 1996 that prescribing really takes off,” Kolodny said. “It’s not a coincidence. That was the year Purdue launched a multifaceted campaign that misinformed the medical community about the risks.”

In fact, Keefe makes the comparison in his article between drug companies that emphasize sales by persuading doctors to prescribe certain medications and heroin dealers.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

medicalmarijuanaWhen will the US national government take the lead on medical marijuana, not for a long time it appears. (Photo: Chuck Coker)

Peru has just joined a group of nations in legalizing the medical use of marijuana, as its Congress passed the legislation just a few days ago.

The origin of the Peruvian law shows that politicians can sometimes exercise compassion. According to the Guardian,

The legislative approval followed a government proposal to decriminalize the medical use of marijuana for the "treatment of serious and terminal illnesses" after a police raid in February on a makeshift laboratory where a group of mothers made marijuana oil for their sick children.

The laboratory was in the home of Ana Alvarez, 43, who founded the group Buscando Esperanza or Searching for Hope to treat her 17-year-old son Anthony who suffers from a rare and severe form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, as well as tuberous sclerosis, which causes tumors to grow on the brain and other organs.

The arrests led to a mass protest march in front of the Peruvian legislature. It is lamentable that such empathy and concern for health is not recognized on the federal level in the United States. There were 67 votes in favor of the bill in the Peruvian Congress, with only five in opposition and three abstentions.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

epa33Scott Pruitt wants to limit EPA lawsuit settlements. (Photo: mccready)

In a few short months, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has proven that he will use every means at his disposal to swing a wrecking ball through environmental policy. Therefore, it may not be surprising that on October 17 the EPA issued a news release announcing that it will seek not to settle most lawsuits filed by environmental groups. According to the EPA release,

In fulfilling his promise to end the practice of regulation through litigation that has harmed the American public, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued an Agency-wide directive today designed to end "sue and settle" practices within the Agency, providing an unprecedented level of public participation and transparency in EPA consent decrees and settlement agreements.

"The days of regulation through litigation are over," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. "We will no longer go behind closed doors and use consent decrees and settlement agreements to resolve lawsuits filed against the Agency by special interest groups where doing so would circumvent the regulatory process set forth by Congress. Additionally, gone are the days of routinely paying tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to these groups with which we swiftly settle."

Over the years, outside the regulatory process, special interest groups have used lawsuits that seek to force federal agencies – especially EPA – to issue regulations that advance their interests and priorities, on their specified timeframe. EPA gets sued by an outside party that is asking the court to compel the Agency to take certain steps, either through change in a statutory duty or enforcing timelines set by the law, and then EPA will acquiesce through a consent decree or settlement agreement, affecting the Agency’s obligations under the statute.

The directive does not rule out all settlements. It, however, creates an arduous process that will create multiple roadblocks to a third party suing the EPA for not doing its job of protecting the environment and people from toxic pollution and environmental degradation.

Thursday, 19 October 2017 06:25

Trump Ratchets Up Tensions With Cuba

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

cubatrumpTrump wants to move backward on relations with Cuba. (Photo: Balint Földesi)

It did not receive prolonged coverage -- and you may not have noticed -- but over this summer Donald Trump announced that he was tightening the criteria for travel to Cuba. His overall objective was apparently his ideological opposition to the Cuban state, now under the leadership of Raúl Castro. According to a CNN article from June, Trump made the criteria for US citizens traveling to Cuba stricter:

Casting the Obama administration as people who looked the other way on the Castro regime's human rights violations, Trump said that he, as President, will "expose the crimes of the Castro regime."

"They made a deal with a government that spread violence and instability in the region and nothing they got, think about it, nothing they got, they fought for everything and we just didn't fight hard enough, but now, those days are over," Trump said. "We now hold the cards. The previous administration's easing of restrictions of travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime."

Although Trump said he was "completely" canceling Obama's Cuba policy, the change is posture is only a partial shift from Obama's policy....

The Trump administration will begin strictly enforcing the authorized exemptions that allow travel between the US and Cuba and prohibit commerce with Cuban businesses owned by the military and intelligence services.

The Trump White House, however, is not severing embassy ties to Cuba or prohibiting Americans from bringing back goods from Cuba, including rum and cigars.

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