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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016June29 paramedicGovernment paramedic services in the United States are increasingly being privatized. (Photo: Jim Legans, Jr)

When the issue of privatization of public services is raised, we don't often hear about it in relation to ambulances and paramedics. However, these emergency services -- often a matter of life or death -- are not immune to the shift toward privatization. That is why a June 25 New York Times article on the growing ownership of public emergency services (including fire departments) by investors is particularly chilling:

A Tennessee woman slipped into a coma and died after an ambulance company took so long to assemble a crew that one worker had time for a cigarette break.

Paramedics in New York had to covertly swipe medical supplies from a hospital to restock their depleted ambulances after emergency runs.

A man in the suburban South watched a chimney fire burn his house to the ground as he waited for the fire department, which billed him anyway and then sued him for $15,000 when he did not pay.

In each of these cases, someone dialed 911 and Wall Street answered.

It is a specific branch of Wall Street -- private equity -- that is heavily investing in acquiring public services such as emergency transport. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016June28 tppdncIt appears that Hillary Clinton is trying to have it both ways on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Photo: Cool Revolution)

As a concession to Bernie Sanders and his large electoral following in the Democratic primaries, the Clinton campaign got the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to let him appoint five delegates to the Democratic Party Platform Drafting Committee. Hillary Clinton got to name six representatives to the committee. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the DNC, named four. Considering that the prestigious and vocal progressives of the Sanders camp were outnumbered, you might think that the Clinton campaign had offered nothing more than a symbolic gesture -- and you would be partially correct.

The delegates appointed by Clinton and Wasserman-Schultz rejected many of the proposals put forth by Sanders' appointees. As Common Dreams reported on June 25:

During a 9-hour meeting in St. Louis, Missouri on Friday, members of the DNC's platform drafting committee voted down a number of measures proposed by Bernie Sanders surrogates that would have come out against the contentious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), fracking, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. At the same time, proposals to support a carbon tax, Single Payer healthcare, and a $15 minimum wage tied to inflation were also disregarded.

In a statement, Sanders said he was "disappointed and dismayed" that representatives of Hillary Clinton and DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz rejected the proposal on trade put forth by Sanders appointee Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), despite the fact that the presumed nominee has herself come out against the 12-nation deal.

"Inexplicable" was how Sanders described the move, adding: "It is hard for me to understand why Secretary Clinton’s delegates won’t stand behind Secretary Clinton’s positions in the party’s platform." 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016june23 rentafrientHas everything become monetized in the gilded age of the internet, even friendship? (Photo: Christopher Paquette)

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Rafie Drencheva came to the United States to study for an MFA in documentary filmmaking at Northwestern University. Upon settling in, thousands of miles from Bulgaria where she was raised, she came across a website -- RentaFriend.com -- that soon became the topic of her required graduation documentary. It also became the source of, well, some friendships that extended beyond a monetary agreement.

I saw Drencheva's film, "Friends for Sale," at a screening recently and was struck by how even finding friends now has been monetized on the web. Although Drencheva hasn't released the short doc for general viewing yet (she is reserving it for film festivals at the moment), suffice it to say that it documents interactions with "friends for rent." These range from fees of $20 for baking cookies with an affable woman to $100 an hour for someone who provides nurturing cuddling.  At one point, Drencheva -- who narrates the film -- exclaims that renting friends can cost as much as a Beyoncé concert.

What struck me as I watched the interactions between Drencheva and the friends she rented -- who all appeared earnest and comforting -- is what role technology has played in the creation of the rent-a-friend concept and site (which will no doubt be followed by a number of similar online endeavors). Is our increasing dependence on digital and mobile phone communication impeding our personal interactions with people? Or is the idea of renting a friend just another niche that already existed, that the internet is now technologically capable of fulfilling more readily? (Oftentimes, the assumption is made that "technology" has created a certain issue in society, when really, that issue was always with us; technology has just made it more widely visible.) The exchange of money for other people's time -- including for companionship -- is not a new concept.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016june22The NRA and its state affiliates have championed guns in bars. Now they are lying about it, for the moment. (Photo: Thomas Hawk)

In May, Donald Trump spoke to an National Rifle Association (NRA) conference and received the gun lobby's presidential endorsement. It was not surprising, therefore, that after the appalling massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Trump made statements backing the NRA's long-standing policy of favoring "the right" of patrons to carry guns into bars. Trump's support for "packing heat" in bars and nightclubs included remarks such as the following one -- made at campaign rally on June 17 -- according to Salon:

If we had people, where the bullets were going in the opposite direction, right smack between the eyes of this maniac — if some of those wonderful people had guns strapped right here, right to their waist or to their ankle, and this son of a bitch comes out and starts shooting, and one of the people in the room happened to have it, and goes boom — boom — you know what? That would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight, folks. That would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight. So don’t let them take your guns away.

Little did Trump know that the NRA, which is used to doubling down on its grotesque, lethal proposals, decided to lie about its record of lobbying in states -- often successfully -- to allow gun owners to legally bring their firearms into places that serve liquor. For those who follow the NRA's brash, provocative defense of guns and gun ownership -- after all, even former President George Herbert Walker Bush resigned from the NRA when their leadership called federal agents "jack-booted thugs" in the '90s -- it was a bit of a surprise to watch Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the NRA, denounce Trump's proposition. LaPierre told CBS News, when asked about Trump's ghoulish statement, "I don't think you should have firearms where people are drinking."

Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's lobbying arm (the Institute for Legislative Action), also rebuked Trump's position, stating to ABC News, "No one thinks that people should go into a nightclub drinking and carrying firearms.... That defies common sense. It also defies the law."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016june20 nestlewaterBottled water that is "pure life." Somehow, we doubt it. (Photo: Usman Ahmed)

The refuse left behind by bottled water is damaging enough to the planet's environment, but it is also troubling that much of the spring water that fills these bottles is pumped from public lands. Take, for instance, Nestlé's Arrowhead bottled water brand. It is extracted via a pipeline from a canyon -- in California's San Bernadino Mountains -- that some environmental and activist groups argue is ecologically sensitive to the water loss. It's clearly a case of a company exploiting public land for profit.  According to a May 9 article in the San Bernadino County Sun: 

Nestlé’s withdrawal of water from a canyon watershed, which environmental groups deem critical for several endangered species, has been a growing controversy for several years.

Outcry has intensified with continuation of the drought.

Late last year, the Center for Environmental Diversity, Story of Stuff Project and Courage Campaign Institute filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing Nestlé’s pipelines, pumps and other structures on federal land after the company’s permit expired 28 years ago.

The U.S. Forest Service, which administers the federally owned land, was paid just $524 last year for 36 million gallons of water from Strawberry Canyon in the San Bernadino forest, according to the County Sun.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016June16 radiationwaterThe EPA is proposing to allow a dramatic increase in the radiation in our drinking water in the event of an "emergency." (Photo: John Jones)

With the appropriate concern aroused about levels of lead in drinking water in cities such as Flint, a new threat to health has been raised by a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation. The proposed regulation would allow for a higher level of radioactivity in potable water. On June 8, EcoWatch detailed the alarming development:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)Monday to allow radioactive contamination in drinking water at concentrations vastly greater than allowed under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The new guidance would permit radiation exposures equivalent to 250 chest X-rays a year. Environmental groups are calling the proposal "shocking" and "egregious."

The EPA proposed Protective Action Guides (PAGs) would allow the general population to drink water hundreds to thousands of times more radioactive than is now legal. For example, radioactive iodine-131 has a current limit of 3 pico-curies per liter (pCi/L), in water but the new guidance would allow 10,350 (pCi/L), 3,450 times higher. For strontium-90, which causes leukemia, the current limit is 8 pCi/L; the new proposed value is 7,400 pCi/L, a 925-fold increase....

"These levels are even higher than those proposed by the Bush Administration—really unprecedented and shocking," Diane D’Arrigo, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said.

The advocacy organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has reacted with alarm to the new plan put forth by a government agency that is supposed to be protecting us from toxic substances. The EPA claims it is only being proactive, allowing for potential changed circumstances in the future, should a nuclear reactor failure like Fukushima occur in the United States. Given past problems with nuclear power facilities in the US, that is downright frightening. It brings to mind the 1979 near-catastrophe at the Three-Mile Island nuclear facility in Pennsylvania. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, "The Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI-2) reactor, near Middletown, Pa., partially melted down on March 28, 1979. This was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016June15 netneutralityUS District of Columbia Court of Appeals upholds Net Neutrality, but the battle is not over. (Photo: Free Press)

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A three-judge panel of the DC District Court of Appeals yesterday upheld the Federal Communication Commission's  (FCC) authority to regulate the internet as a "common carrier," similar to telephone service. In effect, this preserves the concept of "net neutrality," which limits the ability of internet providers to provide speed and access advantages to companies who pay higher fees. Although the corporate behemoths now dominating internet transmission (like Comcast and AT&T) plan to appeal, there's no doubt that this decision is significant.

The ruling is a major win in a struggle dating back roughly 15 years to keep the internet from turning into a mainly corporate medium, such as cable television. On Tuesday, The Washington Post described the essence of the ruling:

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the government’s “net neutrality” rules, preserving regulations that force internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T to treat all online traffic — everything from Netflix and cat videos to games and downloads — equally.

The 2-1 ruling is a sweeping victory for the Obama administration and the consumer groups and internet companies that have pushed net neutrality for years. The Federal Communications Commission’s rules block internet service providers from favoring their own services and disadvantaging others; blocking other sites and apps; and creating “fast lanes” for video and other data services that pay for the privilege.

On technical grounds, the ruling upholds the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband service as a utility, much like phone service, and to forbid what it considers unreasonable practices. It applies equally to wired broadband providers like cable companies and mobile ones such as Verizon.

For years -- through two presidential administrations -- the FCC waffled about preserving "net neutrality," first attempting a relatively weak version of regulation, which didn't past muster in the courts. However, in February of 2015, the agency adopted the more stringent regulatory protections that were upheld in the appeals court yesterday.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016june8 choosepeaceCould the United States government live without war? (Photo: Dave Hogg)

For all the self-styled US "patriots" who shout "USA, number one!" at rallies, please take note: A recent study finds that the United States is the 103rd most peaceful nation on Earth, out of a total of 163. This is the finding of the Global Peace Index 2016, conducted by the Institute for Economics & Peace's Vision of Humanity project. As Vision of Humanity notes in its summary of findings:

The 2016 Global Peace Index (GPI) shows the world became less peaceful in the last year, reinforcing the underlying trend of declining peace over the last decade. Results also show a growing global inequality in peace, with the most peaceful countries continuing to improve while the least peaceful are falling into greater violence and conflict....

It shows that amidst the global deterioration the world continues to spend enormous resources on creating and containing violence but very little on peace. The key to reversing the decline in peace is through building Positive Peace - a holistic framework of the key attitudes, institutions and structures which build peace in the long term. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16, which focuses on peace, justice and strong institutions is critical to focusing the international community on the goal of attaining a more peaceful world....

The world continues to spend enormous amounts on creating and containing violence and little on building peace. The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2015 was $13.6 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. This figure represents 13.3 per cent of the world’s economic activity (gross world product) or $1,876 for every person in the world. To put this in perspective, it is approximately 11 times the size of global foreign direct investment. 

Naturally, some people and companies that reap financial profit from conflict are doing quite well.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016june8 twitterryanReposted with permission of the New York Daily News.

Tweet from New York Daily News with image above:

I'M WITH RACIST! Ryan still supports Trump, "definition of racist" https://t.co/0C1JIaQxwN pic.twitter.com/AxlnLYWcv2

— New York Daily News

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is a living oxymoron.

After his Hamlet-like anguish over whether to endorse Donald Trump or not, Ryan finally chose his Janesville, Wisconsin, hometown paper, to announce his backing of Trump in a tepid op-ed this past week. No news conference, no joint appearance, no round of Sunday morning DC pundit talk shows -- just a quiet, lukewarm endorsement of Trump. Ryan apparently believes Trump will help him enact a "bold" regressive Ayn Randian House GOP budget for the US next year. Ryan wrote in the online Janesville GazetteXtra,

Through these conversations [with Trump], I feel confident he would help us turn the ideas in this agenda into laws to help improve people’s lives. That’s why I’ll be voting for him this fall....

For me, it’s a question of how to move ahead on the ideas that I—and my House colleagues—have invested so much in through the years. It’s not just a choice of two people, but of two visions for America. And House Republicans are helping shape that Republican vision by offering a bold policy agenda, by offering a better way ahead.

Donald Trump can help us make it a reality.

Ryan admits he has had his "differences" with Trump. After all, it is more than possible that Ryan would like to run for president in 2020, which means Trump would need to lose in November. If this speculation is accurate, then Ryan needs a lot of wiggle room to distance himself from the bull in the china shop that is Trump. However, that wiggle room is already starting to look like the Grand Canyon, instead of just minor disagreements.

When Trump began his racist crusade to taint the US federal judge who is currently overseeing the pretrial motions in the infamous Trump University class-action lawsuit, which alleges that the presumptive GOP presidential nominee committed fraud, his reluctant GOP "establishment" supporters were mortified. As journalist Callum Borchers writes today in The Washington Post, Paul Ryan is finding his balancing act rather perilous.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016june7 immigrationreformDonald Trump is only against non-white immigration. Immigration advocates (above) express their sentiments.  (SEIU Local 99)

In a cravenly worded June 4 article that appeared to blame anti-Trump protesters for planning and initiating alleged escalating violence (a highly alarmist assertion) at Trump protests, The New York Times stated, "Mr. Gonzales’s group [which protested Trump at a speech he was giving in San Jose] was one of many that arrived on Thursday to express disapproval of Mr. Trump, who has angered many critics with proposals they consider to be anti-immigrant."

Excuse me, but The New York Times, which fashions itself "the paper of record," utterly diminishes its credibility when it distances itself from blaring realities: Trump has, of course, made numerous statements against non-white immigrants, and has made shocking stances on non-white immgration a cornerstone of his campaign. How cowardly is it of the United States' only international newspaper not to state the fact that Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee largely on the promise to build a wall on the US-Mexican border and deport 11 million (non-white) immigrants, while slandering refugees, specifically refugees of color?

I could go further and detail more of Trump's abominable statements against immigrants of color (including his initial appalling claim about Mexican "rapists"), but that would take several columns. As a result, one has to ask how The New York Times could post an article that states, "Mr. Trump, who has angered many critics with proposals they consider to be anti-immigrant"? Isn't the factual statement here, "Mr. Trump, who has angered many critics with proposals [and statements that are incendiary against non-white immigrants, particularly Mexicans and Muslims]"? Instead, the Times delivered a mealy-mouthed phrasing that transforms glaring reality into a "perception" by Mexican-American protesters who Trump has loudly blasphemed and slandered.

Trump's latest racist claim is that a federal judge who is of Mexican heritage cannot impartially hear a class-action case brought by plaintiffs who claim Trump defrauded them. In this specific matter, a civil lawsuit charges that Trump University was set up for the purpose of enrichment by Trump and his marketing staff, fleecing "students" of thousands of dollars in tuition for insipid "courses."

An article in Medium.com details how Trump University "exploited working Americans," yielding large profits for Trump. It quotes Ronald Schnackenberg, former Trump University sales manager: "“Trump University was a fraudulent scheme… it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

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