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EditorBlog (1457)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afastracktpp(Photo: AFGE)

After being publicly rebuked by President Obama for her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tweeted yesterday: "The Obama Admin says I'm wrong - we shouldn't worry about TPP. So why can’t the American people read the deal?"

Obama singled out Warren on Tuesday when he said on Chris Matthews' MSNBC program:

I love Elizabeth. We're allies on a whole host of issues, but she's wrong on this. When you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts, they are wrong.

As Sam Levine of The Huffington Post points out, however: "While Obama criticized Warren for being wrong on the facts of the deal, it's difficult to know exactly what the deal contains because his administration has deemed the negotiations to be classified."

Yet Warren - and the rest of Congress, not to mention the US public - can't "dig into the facts" of the TPP, because his administration won't disclose them. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

16260167094 e0a88050fd zShouldn't food workers in the US Senate be paid livable wages?  (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)

To paraphrase thoughts of a venture capitalist in a BBC series I was watching last night, if you're riding in a chariot and a few peasants get crushed under the wheels, it's for the overall good. The UK master of the universe - a Brit version of Mitt Romney – argued (like proponents of neoliberalism in the US) that all ships will rise as he creates a more "robust" economy. Of course, the dead peasants won't enjoy that fantasy economy. In addition, all the economic data in the US and UK indicate that the consolidation of wealth doesn't lift all ships: it raises only a few up to the stratosphere, while the tiny boats of the majority of people sink to the lowest tide.

The television film was Turks & Caicos, the second in a brilliant three-part spy thriller about the political takedown of a morally bankrupt and financially incentivized British prime minister clearly based on Tony Blair and his deference to the indefensible Bush administration post 9/11 policies. 

Truthout and BuzzFlash combat the corporate takeover of everything by bringing you trustworthy, independent news. Join our mission by making a tax-deductible donation now!

The resonance of Turks & Caicos on the moral and political corruption of neoliberal economic policy carried over to this morning when I read an article in The Guardian. Written by a cook in the US Senate, Bertrand Olotara, the personal commentary describes the plight of a single father who had to go on food stamps to ensure that his children receive adequate nutrition:

I'm a single father and I only make $12 an hour; I had to take a second job at a grocery store to make ends meet. But even though I work seven days a week – putting in 70 hours between my two jobs – I can't manage to pay the rent, buy school supplies for my kids or even put food on the table. I hate to admit it, but I have to use food stamps so that my kids don't go to bed hungry.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

awarproit3(Photo: Steve Rhodes)

On April 18, a New York Times (NYT) article succinctly stated that the "sale of US arms fuels the wars of Arab states."

The NYT describes the sales bonanza for the US weapons industry:

As the Middle East descends into proxy wars, sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks, countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using it and wanting more. The result is a boom for American defense contractors looking for foreign business in an era of shrinking Pentagon budgets — but also the prospect of a dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn. (Italics inserted by BuzzFlash.)

Last week, defense industry officials told Congress that they were expecting within days a request from Arab allies fighting the Islamic State — Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt — to buy thousands of American-made missiles, bombs and other weapons, replenishing an arsenal that has been depleted over the past year.

Even the dreaded drone industry is now expanding sales outside of the US, according to the NYT: "Soon, the Emirates are expected to complete a deal with General Atomics for a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions in their neighborhood."

Not only does US hegemony and desire to control oil supplies create chaos in the Middle East, it's a profitable region for the enormous US military industry. The more carnage in that region, the more money there is to be made in supplying different factions with multi-million dollar hi-tech and standard weaponry.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aalmart(Photo: Mike Mozart)

2012 article in Mother Jones identified a shocking example of economic equality in the United States:

As Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute points out, the six Walmart heirs now have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined, up from 30 percent in 2007. Between 2007 and 2010, the collective wealth of the six richest Waltons rose from $73 billion to $90 billion, while the wealth of the average American declined from $126,000 to $77,000 (13 million Americans have negative net worth).

Of course, what makes this statistic even more vexing is that as the income divide increases, it increases the perceived need for people with extremely limited incomes to buy at Walmart - or comparable stores that carry inexpensive consumer goods primarily made overseas. As BuzzFlash at Truthout has pointed out before, this is the "self-cannibalization" effect on the US worker who has lost his or her job to manufacturing being moved overseas to nations where rock-bottom wages are the norm. Replacement jobs at minimum wage, if they can be found, then leave the workers with just enough funds to buy goods that used to be made in the US and, therefore, increase the fortune of the Walmart heirs.

According to a recent BloomburgBusiness article that focused on just one Walmart heir: “At the current rate, it would take a full-time Walmart employee working 12 hours a day more than a million years to earn the equivalent of [Christy] Walton's net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.”

So try and wrap your head around the two statistics cited above: 1) Six people (Walmart heirs) have passive net worth - the money is inherited through stock; they don't need to do anything to earn it - equal to more than the bottom 40% of the people in the US; and 2) It would take a Walmart employee working a 12-hour day a million years to earn just one Walmart heir's financial assets.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaincome inequality 2 ratio(Chart: SmartAsset)

According to an analysis conducted by SmartAsset.com, the only time the widening income gap narrowed in recent years - and then only slightly - was when the federal minimum wage was increased during the years from 2007-2009.  However, as the chart above from SmartAsset.com indicates, once the initial impact of the rise in the minimum wage had its effect, the income inequality gap started to rise again. The study focused on average management pay as compared to average food service worker pay.

In using statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, SmartAsset.com found:

While the federal minimum wage has been raised twice in the past 18 years, many states have enacted and raised their own minimum wages to keep pace with inflation and the rising cost of living. The impact of those state laws is evident in the state measurements of the income inequality ratio.

Of the 21 states with a minimum wage either at or below the federal limit (as of 2013), including the five states with no minimum wage law, six rank among the top ten states with the largest disparity between management and foodservice earnings in 2013. On the other hand, none of the seven states that had a minimum wage at least one dollar higher than the federal minimum in 2013 were among the top ten for highest inequality between management and foodservice workers.

The widespread national protests for a $15 minimum federal wage, as well as increased wages in general for the working poor, thus would move toward providing a livable wage to those in the most underpaid jobs. However, the reduction in the inequality gap is only temporary, if the minimum wage doesn't continue to rise. Why is that? Because the salaries of managers, in the comparison provided in the chart above, rise much faster than minimum wage jobs. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

130275552 c44efdbbcb z(Photo: kyle rw)

If you want another indicator of how much the United States has devalued education, take a look at college adjunct instructors. These are essentially part-time professors who are often paid so little, they need government financial assistance to survive.

Given cutbacks in government funding of higher education, increasing top college administrator salaries, recruitment of top professors with higher salaries to help universities compete in a corporatized academic environment and other economic pressures, institutions of higher learning are relying more on part-time faculty who are frequently paid penurious wages.

According to an April 15 article in Marketwatch.com,

A quarter of the growing number of part-timers who are teaching college students need some government help to get by, according to a study from the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

Nearly 100,000 of these part-time faculty, generally known as adjuncts, benefit from the earned income tax credit and, to a lesser extent, Medicaid and the CHIP health-care program for children, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, according to the study.

“It’s shocking, but it’s the reality,” said Carol Zabin, research director at the Center for Labor Research and Education. “Universities are depending much more on part-time and adjunct faculty.”

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ahillaryhardchoiceWhat about Hillary's Chipotle moment? (Photo: Mike Mozart)

If you haven't read about Hillary Clinton's alleged moment of anonymity in a Chipotle franchise the other day, then you need to google the name of the national fast food chain. On Google's news feed, more than 10,000 articles were archived about it as of 9:30 AM EST on April 15.

What purportedly happened to merit such humongous coverage (not to mention television and radio reports galore)? As most of the corporate media reports would have it, the narrative goes something like this: As the former secretary of state and senator was driving in a black van - preciously nicknamed "Scooby" - from Chautauqua, New York, to Iowa (site of the first primary, actually a caucus) on a "meet the people" campaign, she and her trusted aide Huma Abedin stopped for lunch in Maumee, Ohio (just south of Toledo) around 1 PM EST on Monday, April 13. 

Wearing sunglasses, the two ordered their own food (no Secret Service or lackeys to carry the food in site), ate and left. They otherwise went unnoticed, as the news accounts "report."

Despite the fact that some pundits mocked Clinton for not being identified in the Chipotle, the reality is that the early campaign stunt produced enormous publicity that made Clinton look like an everyday citizen of the US buying and carrying her own lunch in a restaurant far different that the usual dining spots of a person paid $200,000 per speech. With just one public relations stunt, Clinton's campaign was able to portray her as an everyday person.

With the tsunami of coverage of Clinton's "Where's Waldo?" moment, why does BuzzFlash at Truthout speculate that the incident was all planned, down to the sunglasses and determined effort to remain unnoticed.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aendwagethef1t(Photo: torbakhopper)

The Union City Patch (in the East Bay Area north of San Jose) recently reported that a case of wage theft has been decided on behalf of workers. Among evidence of employer exploitation of nursing home and residential care employees was proof that some of them had been paid as little as $5 per hour.

As the local Patch reported:

Officials with the U.S. Department of Labor have recovered more than $6.8 million in wages for more than 1,300 Bay Area workers who weren’t paid according to labor laws between 2011 and 2014, labor department officials said...

Wage and Hour Division officials investigated hundreds of individual care homes and a majority was in violation of labor laws....

Among the violations officials found were the failure to pay workers for overnight work. Non-monetary violations included failing to provide adequate sleeping accommodations. Some workers had to sleep on the floor. Some workers worked 10 to 14 hours a day and were paid for only eight hours. Other employers paid workers a weekly salary regardless of the hours a person worked and consequently these employers denied workers overtime pay. 

Some employers intimidated or retaliated against their employees or told them not to cooperate with Wage and Hour Division investigators.

It is highly likely, based on anecdotal reports from advocates for low-wage and undocumented workers across the nation – and occasional government investigations - that the wage theft and squalid working conditions found in the Bay Area are not an isolated incident.   

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

awaterbaltshutTurning off the water of life (Photo: Tom Raftery)

Last year, Truthout and BuzzFlash wrote a slew of articles and commentaries about the injustice of the bankrupt City of Detroit systematically shutting off the water of the poor. 

Now this denial of a basic human right - after all, one cannot live without water - is being implemented in Baltimore as it follows Detroit precedent. Although some businesses in Baltimore with money owed on water bills will also be shut off - if the debt to the city is not paid off - the burden will primarily fall on residents of limited means.

According to an article in the April 7 Baltimore Sun:

The city began shutting off service this week to customers at least six months and $250 behind on their bills, she said. About 25,000 delinquent customers owe a combined $40 million in long-overdue bills....

Mitch Jones of the consumer rights group Food & Water Watch, said shutting off service denies Baltimore households access to the "basic human right to water" and also poses a public health risk.

Jones said the city, which has a history of water billing errors, should target businesses with past-due accounts before households. Business accounts make up about 370 of the past-due customers and $15 million of the outstanding debt, officials say.

"The city must act to ensure universal access to safe and affordable water service," Jones said.

The poor are being forced to go without water to drink or shower with as the well-off continue to pump up the profits of the bottled water industry.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

awarrenreagan2Senator Elizabeth Warren (Photo: Edward Kimmel)

Are you old enough to remember the rugged cowboy individualism Madison Avenue creation of the Marlboro Man? The ads became an iconic symbol of the widespread US myth of tough, masculine independence from others in society. 

In many ways, the Marlboro Man merged with the carefully crafted image of Ronald Reagan. Just think about all the photos of him horseback riding on his ranch, for example. This Marlboro Man resonance was captured by BuzzFlash in a photo taken at the entrance to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California (see full text of column), included in a 2008 commentary.

What is ironic, in a tragic way, is how at least three of the men who posed, over the years, as the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer and lung disease, as The Guardian revealed in a 2014 article.

The Marlboro Man ad campaign; the creation of a mythic champion - Ronald Reagan - of a United States where only the individual and wealth counts; and the deaths of millions and millions of people in the US over the years, lured to smoking by the Madison Avenue "Mad Man" image of a virile male who relies on no one but himself: These pieces of the puzzle of US cultural and political history - when assembled together - reveal a tragic narrative that still guides so many people in the US. 

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