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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

15057321270 5a0f1047ed zOil pipelines not only pose an ongoing peril, the companies benefit from not paying taxes and being allowed to charge excessive rates. (Photo: Luke Jones)

Oil pipeline companies represent the predatory flow of capitalism unrestrained by responsibility for environmental destruction, contribution to global warming, scarring the natural landscape, and violating the rights of Indigenous people and others through the use of eminent domain to construct the pipelines. That list of foul deeds is just for starters.

That's why a September 1 article in The Daily Beast by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and friend of BuzzFlash David Cay Johnston is particularly alarming. Johnston details how many large oil pipeline companies are essentially exempt from corporate income tax. Not that anyone should be surprised that a destructive industry should be rewarded with special tax breaks. In fact, just yesterday we highlighted a report on how big banks receive tax breaks for enormous "performance-pay" bonuses given to CEOs. 

What's more, Johnston points out that due to a recent arcane ruling by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, many oil pipeline companies are allowed to include a tax that they don't pay in adjusting their pricing. That's correct: the oil pipeline companies that don't pay a corporate income tax can include the tax that is not levied on them as a "reasonable cost" in pumping up their invoice pricing.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016september1 wallstreetbonuses(Image: Institute for Policy Studies)

The Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC released a report yesterday that details how taxpayers are subsidizing banks and massive CEO bonuses. The 34-page "Executive Excess 2016: The Wall Street CEO Bonus Loophole" confirms that Wall Street financial firms and their executives make out like bandits at the expense of everyday taxpaying Americans:

The more U.S. corporations hand out in CEO bonuses, the less they pay in taxes. This is the result of a loophole that allows firms to write off unlimited amounts of executive pay from their federal taxes, as long as it is in the form of so-called "performance-based" compensation.

Wall Street banks [only temporarily] lost this lucrative CEO pay subsidy when they received taxpayer-funded bailouts in the wake of the 2008 crash, but only until they repaid the funds. Many of them rushed to do so, borrowing in the private market in order to escape this and other public bailout-related pay controls. While homeowners and shareholders were still suffering, the banks were free once again to dole out massive bonuses and write off the entire cost, leaving ordinary taxpayers to make up the difference....

After getting out from under the bailout limits on deducting executive pay, the top 20 U.S. banks paid out more than $2 billion in fully deductible performance bonuses to their top five executives between 2012 and 2015. At a 35 percent corporate tax rate, this translates into a taxpayer subsidy worth more than $725 million, or $1.7 million per executive per year. That $725 million could’ve covered the cost of hiring 9,000 elementary school teachers or creating 13,000 infrastructure jobs for a year.

"Taxpayers should not have to subsidize excessive CEO bonuses at any corporation," lead report author Sarah Anderson, director of the institute's Global Economy Project, noted in an email announcing the finding.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016august30 cubaWill a tsunami of capitalism wash over Cuba? (Photo: Balint Földesi)

Today, Jet Blue airlines is flying the first commercial flight in a little over 50 years from the US to Cuba -- from Fort Lauderdale to the Cuban city of Santa Clara. Up until now, an American could only fly to Cuba on a charter flight and meet certain criteria to visit the island. The "requirements" still remain, but they are broad enough that most people in the US can say that one category or another applies to their visits, and the State Department is not expected to seriously enforce the stipulation. As a result, Cuba may be overrun with tourists and businesspeople.

Indeed, as CNN reports, the number of daily flights to Cuba is expected to balloon quickly:

Soon up to a maximum of 110 daily flights operated by such carriers as JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Southwest and Silver Airways are due to begin flying to the ... island, according to the US Department of Transportation.

This will include service to many Cuban cities. In fact, the most lucrative routes -- to Havana -- have not yet been assigned to airlines by the Department of Transportation. There's no doubt that in a few years, Cuba is going to be hit by a tsunami of consumers and corporate profit seekers. After all, the US has long regarded Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean nations as captive markets. With the conversion of Cuba into a Soviet-aligned nation after Castro's military victory, that country became the lone exception in the hemisphere: a place that was not seen by the US as an extension of its own economic system. Today, the Bolivarian revolution has foundered in Venezuela, and Dilma Rouseff is being impeached in Brazil. Ecuador and Bolivia may put up resistance to US hegemony, but remain deeply entangled in it.

In the CNN article, a recent tourist was concerned that Cuba too may soon be captured by capitalism:

For many Americans, though, the immediate concern is not security but seeing Cuba before the island emerges from the Cold War time warp of the last 50 years.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016august26 bigpharmaBig Pharma is spending millions of dollars trying to defeat a California pro-consumer proposition. (Image:EnvironmentalIllnessNetwork)

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It is hard to grasp the price gouging and unregulated sky-high profiteering of drug companies in the United States, but the rise in the cost of the lifesaving EpiPens -- a drug that can save people from lethal allergic attacks -- certainly offers a searing example. As news accounts have revealed, the pharmaceutical firm Mylan raised the price of the medication by hundreds of dollars after it acquired the injection patent from another firm. There was no increase in production costs, just exorbitant overcharging to achieve extortion-level profits. After all, this is a drug that some people need to live through possible deadly allergic reactions.

As Jordan Weissman of Slate sardonically expressed in an article yesterday, "The CEO who hiked EpiPen prices actually just said, “No one’s more frustrated than me.” Say what? Heather Bresch, the Mylan CEO just quoted, would have us believe that her firm was forced by "the system" to pick the pockets of consumers to purchase a drug without which they could die? Of course, the reality is that Mylan made out like modern day brigands because of greed. The only aspect of the EpiPens scandal that Bresch is likely "frustrated" with is the public relations damage to her company and increased calls to rein in the pricing of Big Pharma. As Weissman quips, "It all almost makes you miss Martin Shkreli; at least he was happy to own his villainy."

Of course, EpiPens is only one medication. As a Truthout article recently detailed, a populist effort to bring pharmaceutical prices down -- at least for those who can least afford costly prescriptions -- is now playing out in California.

MARK KARLIN, BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016august25 remittancesRemittances to Mexico total an estiamated $25 billion and play a key role in the survival of the poor, who comprise more than 45 percent of the population. (Photo: Richard Allaway)

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An August 24 New York Time article reports on how important remittances (money sent home by workers living in other countries) are to the economic stability of nations with high poverty rates:

The millions of migrant workers who drill for oil, deliver pizza or take care of older adults far from home sent nearly $582 billion back to their countries in 2015, according to the World Bank....

....remittances have become crucial to relieving some of the world’s poorest people from hunger and want, just as they have become a major revenue source for a number of fragile nations.

A separate World Bank study found that remittances were the main reason poverty had declined so sharply there in recent years. Not only do families of migrant workers benefit, the study found; so does everybody else, when the families spend that money locally.

 A 2015 Reuters article stated that the Mexican government disclosed:

Two million more Mexicans fell into poverty between 2012 and 2014, government data showed on Thursday, highlighting the challenges President Enrique Pena Nieto faces in meeting pledges to lift millions out of need.

The poverty rate increased by 0.7 percentage point to 46.2 percent last year from 45.5 percent in 2012, equivalent to 55.3 million people in the nation of nearly 120 million, said government social development agency Coneval.

As a result, additional revenue -- such as remittances -- that are sent to Mexico are even more vital for many people's survival. The Mexican economy currently resembles an oligarchy, and dramatic political change in the direction of economic justice does not appear to be on the horizon in the near future. This is due to a variety of factors, including the US's efforts to ensure that Mexico does not engage in real economic reform, which would distract it from becoming a full-fledged member of the neoliberal global economy.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016aug24 trumpaliensPhotoshop of Donald Trump and his friends.  (Photo: IoSonoUnaFotoCamera)

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Oh, how the mainstream corporate media loves to roll out their templated coverage of elections every four years. This "coverage" has everything to do with personality, sports analogies and scripted timelines. And as we've pointed out in recent commentaries for the post-convention summer coverage, the mass media loves to push the candidates toward a so-called "reset" of their campaigns, a few months ahead of the general election. In this scenario, the candidates "pivot" in order to "stay on message," moving toward the mythical "center" of the voting public, which is chockfull of the often-mentioned "independent voters."

These clichéd and lazy journalistic conventions allow reporters to create a political process that is not only ridiculously predictable, but is also a betrayal of any commitment to an exploration of real public policy options.

In short, the mass media is a bit distressed because instead of rewriting articles from campaigns past, they are actually having to try to explain how Trump has managed to go through many short-lived pivots. It must be frustrating to the elite political scribes that Trump appears to be going through a revolving door and ending right back where he started, as a bully, bigoted, authoritarian narcissist.

After all, how could Trump be "pivoting" to the center when his new campaign head is Stephen Bannon, CEO of what is known as the alt-right Breitbart News (until he joined the Trump campaign)? From the beginning, Trump has been in line with the alt-right movement: openly misogynist, Islamophobic, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant and authoritarian.

DR. DAVID SUZUKIE OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

20161aug23 polarbears

The Arctic's Baffin Bay and Davis Strait region is home to seals, bowhead whales, polar bears and up to 90 percent of the world's narwhals. The area's marine waters also provide habitat for 116 species of fish, such as Arctic char, an important dietary staple for Nunavut's Inuit communities.

Although the area is crucial to Inuit for hunting and other traditional activities, the federal government has approved underwater seismic blasting by a consortium of energy companies. They plan to fire underwater cannons from boats to map the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits, in preparation for offshore drilling.

The blasting, approved by Canada's National Energy Board in 2014, is meeting fierce opposition. Alower court affirmed the NEB decision in 2015, claiming Inuit were adequately consulted on the project—something Inuit dispute. To prevent destruction of their hunting grounds, the remote hamlet of Clyde River in Nunavut and the Nammautaq Hunters and Trappers Organizationappealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which agreed to hear the case later this year. A positive decision could halt seismic blasting and affirm the right of Indigenous peoples to decide their own future regarding resource development in their territories, which is central to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, of which Canada is a signatory.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016Aug18 extinctionspeciesThe finishing line for capitalism may be self-extinction. (Photo: Mark Wallace)

Ashley Dawson, author of Extinction: A Radical History, will be featured on Truthout on August 21 in a question and answer about his book. At one point in the interview, he tells Truthout:

Capitalism is predicated on endless expansion. It is a socio-economic system that must grow indefinitely or cease to exist. And it has to grow at a compound rate, leading it to commodify and consume ever-greater portions of the planet at an accelerating velocity. Since we only have one planet, there is clearly a fundamental contradiction between our economic system and the environment upon which it, and all of humanity, ultimately depends. But since capitalism grows in a spatially uneven manner, some people can live obscenely affluent, insulated lives while other people face stark ecological catastrophe. But at some point capitalism will take the entire planet past a point of ecological destruction from which there will be no return, at least on any time scale that is meaningful for human beings.

Current rates of extinction suggest that we are approaching that point. Looked at in historical perspective, species often go extinct, but, at the same time, new species are also constantly evolving in a process called speciation. At the moment, however, the rate of extinction far exceeds the rate of speciation. Studies suggest that over the last fifty years a shockingly high 40 percent of the world’s flora and fauna have become extinct. And this extinction rate is accelerating.

There is a direct relationship between Dawson's argument, which details the various deleterious forces of capitalism that accelerate species extinction, and Naomi Klein's seminal book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, on the relationship between runaway global capitalism and unrelenting climate change. Both books emphasize that one of the species that may be headed for elimination from the planet is us: homo sapiens.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016august17 toxicUnregulated pollution of our public waters enables corporations who privatize water supplies. (Image: Michael Smith)

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An August 5 article in AgMag, a publication of the Environmental Working Group, includes an eye-opening warning about the impact that agricultural pollution can have on drinking water, including a relatively large city such as Des Moines, Iowa:

On Thursday, Des Moines Water Works warned customers of elevated levels of microcystins, the toxins created by cyanobacteria, in their drinking water. These toxins cause acute problems with the liver, including liver failure, among other serious health problems. 

The utility was forced to switch water supplies and caution some residents to avoid consuming too much water.

The utility accelerated the public warning due to increasing concerns about the effects of these agrotoxins on human health....

Des Moines regularly faces nutrient levels three times the allowable standard in its source water, and Water Works is currently involved in a lawsuit attempting to get the growers applying nutrients to take responsibility and clean up the mess.

Of course, nothing could please the profiteering bottled water industry more than a warning not to drink local tap water, given that it boosts the sales of their product. In a recent commentary, I noted that Nestlé is extracting clean water from protected public lands to sell in places such as Des Moines. In short, private water companies make money by selling water in plastic bottles -- which are environmentally destructive -- when public water supplies become polluted.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016aug16 churchchristian(Photo: Marie Loughin)

Is the 2016 election the last stand politically for white Christians in the United States? That's the question academic John Sides implies in a Washington Post interview with Robert P. Jones, the author of the recently released book, The End of White Christian America.

I have written numerous commentaries this election cycle on how Donald Trump is the "great white hope" to restore the White House and the US to representing the interests of white privilege, white tribalism and the restoration of blatant racism as an acceptable political and cultural stance among whites.

When it comes to religion, Donald Trump's ongoing defamation of Muslims and draconian proposals for restricting the access of Muslims to the United States and even intensive monitoring of Muslims within the United States is certainly aimed at opportunistically ratcheting up xenophobia and Islamophobia. However, it is also an attempt to corral white Christians -- particularly Evangelicals -- behind an unabashed bigoted white authoritarian Christian – although perhaps in name only -- presidential candidate.

Trump's extension of Nixon's strategy to include not just southern whites, but all whites who believe in white privilege and that the United States is losing its "Christian heritage" is borne out by clear demographic trends. In a 2015 article, Time concluded "white Christians now make up less than half of America":

White Christians no longer make up the majority of the U.S. population, a new survey has found.

The number of white Christians in America has dwindled to 46 percent of the total population from 55 percent in 2007, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Monday by National Journal’s Next America project.

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