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MARK KARLIN AT BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Pipeline-small image seen from belowYesterday, BuzzFlash wrote about how the de facto decision to let Alberta tar sands oil flow into the US -- and particularly Texas refineries and ports -- has already been made, beginning with the third segment of the Keystone Pipeline that is almost completed.

After we wrote the commentary, the House passed a bill that is a power grab by the big oil companies, TransCanada pipeline, and Canada to build a fourth more direct Keystone XL pipeline to Steele City, Nebraska.  It would increase capacity and profit, but it is not necessary for the tar sands oil to flow in the US; it already is.

As Politico reported on the House vote, "The House approved legislation Wednesday to green-light the Keystone XL oil pipeline (the fourth optional segment), giving Republicans a messaging victory heading into the Memorial Day recess."

It's a symbolic victory -- and an assertion of big oil power -- because Alberta Tar Sands oil is already flowing into the US as revealed by two prominent branch line leaks in Arkansas and Michigan.

(Photo: Wikipedia)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Keystone-pipeline-routeDespite Whte House statements, the reality is that the Keystone Pipeline will be up and running this summer. Phase 3 will be completed and the spigot turned on.Yes, regardless of the earnest civil disobedience of groups and individuals protesting the 4th phase of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the reality is that within a month or two, tar sands oil from Alberta will be mainlining its way to Houston and Port Arthur, Texas.

How can that be, you ask, when President Obama has not yet made an official decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline?

The answer is simple: he has.

When Obama approved what is known as the southern leg of the pipeline (Phase 3 on the map to the right), the spigot was opened to transport the climate-killing tar sands oil to refineries and ports in Texas – and facilities along the way. The only issue outstanding is whether Obama will approve a northern branch of the Keystone XL Pipeline that will be more profitable and deliver much more volume than the current stitched together pipeline that is nearing completion.  The southern leg of the pipeline that runs from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Houston and Port Arthur in Texas should be fully constructed, with oil flowing, before Obama might even decide on the northern "express" leg that is a more direct and lucrative option for its owner, TransCanada.

It is tragically ironic that the extremely crude tar sands oil will flow to Texas just after a new report indicates that "the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is on the verge of hitting 400 parts per million, a new milestone." The extremely large release of carbon-dioxide that is feared by pipeline opponents is a by-product of the process at the source used to extract oil and bitumen (a sludgy form of petroleum) from the tar sands. In short, the ruinous pollution occurs in the production process in Alberta, and again in the refining process in Texas – and in processing facilities elsewhere along the way.

(Photo: Wikipedia)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

wallstreet35Wall Street Regulation Takes a Giant Step Backwards to 2008Yes, as the GOP endlessly bamboozles the corporate mainstream media about Benghazi, the multitude of challenges facing the United States continues to mount.

Take for example a widely overlooked "regulation" that rolls the clock back, in many ways, to the Wild West derivatives' market leading up to the 2008 crash.

The New York Times has been one of the few "status quo" newspapers to realize the potentially ominous implications of a new Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) rule that will allow banks too big to fail to gamble with the economy, as if it were 2008 all over again. 

Yes, there has been some increased regulation of Wall Street as a result of the Dodd-Frank law – and other augmented oversight.  But it has been far too little counterweight to the powerful plutocratic forces of Wall Street. 

(Photo: david_shankbone)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

censoredExhilirated by the promise of transparency, accountability and change, it is painful for progressives and those who believe in the guaranteed rights of the Constitution to find themselves in the midst of a Kafkaesque attack on the public's right to know, journalistic investigation of the government, increased prosecution of whistleblowers and unaccountable executive branch censorship.

It is almost incomprehensible to fathom how a president who is a constitutional lawyer has exceeded all his Republican predecessors when it comes to prosecuting and punishing whistleblowers, expanding executive branch secrecy, declaring the most basic information classifed, and intimidating and surveilling journalists.  One can be grateful that the Tea Party has not yet won the White House, but the censorship, prosecution and surveillance state measures being implemented with President Obama's approval are nothing short of creeping fascism.  That is not an exaggeration.

On the heels of the extensive Department of Justice violation of the privacy and professional protections guaranteed Associated Press reporters, Glenn Greenwald reports on how the Department of Justice accused a reporter of aiding and abetting the leaking of classified information in order to put him under extensive surveillance and interception of his communications.

As Greenwald points out:

Under US law, it is not illegal to publish classified information. That fact, along with the First Amendment's guarantee of press freedoms, is what has prevented the US government from ever prosecuting journalists for reporting on what the US government does in secret. This newfound theory of the Obama DOJ - that a journalist can be guilty of crimes for "soliciting" the disclosure of classified information - is a means for circumventing those safeguards and criminalizing the act of investigative journalism itself. These latest revelations show that this is not just a theory but one put into practice, as the Obama DOJ submitted court documents accusing a journalist of committing crimes by doing this.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

everystudentToni Preckwinkle, President of the Cook County Board (the largest county governmental unit in the United States after Los Angeles), lacerated Rahm "Coporate Privatization and Anti-Union" Emanuel for his plan to close public schools in minority areas. Preckwinkle, who became the first bona fide progressive to run the county government that includes Chicago, doesn't buy Emanuel's attempt to continue to weaken public schools and particularly those in minority areas. (90% of the Chicago public schools targeted for closing by Emanuel are in predominantly black neighborhoods.)

In an interview this week with the Chicago Sun-Times, Preckwinkle pointedly castigated Emanuel:

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle broadly criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s education agenda Thursday, saying the Chicago Public Schools teachers’ strike last year had provided the excuse for a sweeping school-closure plan that “weakens our public schools…."

"What was the point of having public hearings?" Preckwinkle said during a 20-minute interview in her office. “Was it all a charade? If you weren’t going to pay any attention to the outcome of the public hearings or the recommendations of the public hearing officers, why would you bother to waste everyone’s time?"

In Chicago where the County Board has for decades been run as a patronage appendage of City Hall, Preckwinkle upended politics as usual with her broadside against Emanuel's education policies.  She wasn't about to offer a euphemistic dissent.  Preckwinkle was blunt in her chastisement of Chicago's mayor who has extremely close political and personal ties to Obama and Bill Clinton:

(Photo: sierraromeo)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Monsanto to Own Our Amber Waves of GrainwheatIt's official, the amber waves of grain in "America, The Beautiful" are now unofficially owned, in growing acreage, by Monsanto and the other giant seed companies.  Not only that, the US State Department and executive branch have been acting as marketing agents for the companies who are patenting the most basic seeds necessary for human survival – and doing it throughout the world.

The non-profit organization Food and Water Watch just released a report in which it concludes:

In the past decade, the United States has aggressively pursued foreign policies in food and agriculture that benefit the largest seed companies. The U.S. State Department has launched a concerted strategy to promote agricultural biotechnology, often over the opposition of the public and governments, to the near exclusion of other more sustainable, more appropriate agricultural policy alternatives.

Russian Television (RT) provided more insight into the basis for the Food and Water Watch findings:

After US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks showed that the State Department was lobbying worldwide for Monsanto and other similar corporations, a new report based on the cables shows Washington's shilling for the biotech industry in distinct detail.The August 2011 WikiLeaks revelations showed that American diplomats had requested funding to send lobbyists for the biotech industry to hold talks with politicians and agricultural officials in "target countries" in areas like Africa and Latin America, where genetically-modified crops were not yet a mainstay, as well as some European countries that have resisted the controversial agricultural practice.

The title of the white paper is "Biotech Ambassadors: How the U.S. State Department Promotes the Seed Industry's Global Agenda"

Although the WikiLeaks cables covered 2005 – 2009, the Obama administration has continued to cozy up to Monsanto, including the appointment of former Monsanto-associated individuals to government positions.  Furthermore, as RT reported, just a short time ago "the president signed into law an agricultural spending bill that included a provision that provides biotech companies with liability from future lawsuits filed over possible health hazards brought on by unregulated and untested GMO products."

(Photo: W9NED)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

gmoIt's not a done deal, but Vermont took the first step toward legally requiring the labeling of foods that have been genetically modified. 

Although the Vermont House moved the legislation one step toward becoming law last week, the GMO industry is fighting it tooth and nail, threatening lawsuits right and left. As a recent Truthout article noted, "Monsanto Threatens to Sue Vermont Over GMO Labeling Bill."

The threat of legal action by multi-billion dollar corporations who are acquiring a monopoly on patented genetically modified food lets states like Vermont know that they will spend unlimited amounts of money on litigation, thus striking fear in state legislators who are worried about economically fragile budgets. As a May 13th Grist article quotes an NPR report:

No representatives on Thursday argued against the concept of more transparent food labeling. The most frequent point of opposition voiced on the floor concerned a likely lawsuit from the biotech or food industries that the Attorney General’s Office estimates could cost the state more than $5 million.

Grist comments on this argument in relation to a failed proposition in California:

(Photo: Chiot's Run)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

rainbowflag

 

UPDATE:

Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday signed a bill making gay marriage legal in Minnesota, the 12th state to take the step, as thousands of onlookers cheered.

 

“What a day for Minnesota!” Dayton, a Democrat, declared moments before putting his signature on a bill. “And what a difference a year and an election can make in our state.”

Washington Post Tuesday Evening, May 14

Original Commentary 

 

When progressives become pessimistic about the ongoing reign of the ruling elite status quo and corporate governance in DC, it is important to remember that some issues that benefit equality and the common good are moving forward in states and at the local level. When Gov. Mark Dayton (D) signs a state marriage equality bill just passed by the Minnesota Senate, it will become the 12th state to allow same sex marriages.

That is progress by any standard, when just a few years back the thought of major politicians of either party -- from any but the deepest blue states supporting this right -- was almost non-existent. Now, even the ever-cautious President Obama is backing it. The Christian Science Monitor reported, Gov. Dayton is expected to sign the legislation as early as today:

Minnesota moved one step closer to becoming the 12th US state to recognize same-sex marriage on Monday when the state Senate voted 37 to 30 to approve a bill establishing equal civil rights to marry for gay men and lesbians.Cheers flooded the Senate chamber and cascaded through the surrounding halls as word spread of the bill’s passage. Minnesota’s House of Representatives approved the measure last week and Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the bill into law on Tuesday.

If he does, Minnesota will become the third state this month to legalize same-sex marriage. The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill May 2, and Delaware's governor signed a bill on May 7. In Minnesota, same-sex marriages could begin as early as August 1.

The momentum toward achieving a progressive goal that seemed as far out of reach as gun control just a decade ago – or less – now has the momentum, with the wind at its back.

(Photo: Wikipedia)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

                                                                                                                                        Mary Joe White, SEC Chair
maryjowhiteMary Jo White is Obama's new chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  She was a controversial candidate, given her and her husband's financial and legal connections to financial firms that are under SEC regulation. In fact, White's fitness for regulating Wall Street was the subject of a BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary on March 13 of this year, "Mary Jo White and the Incestuous Mutually Beneficial Relationship Between Regulators and Wall Street."    

But White is likely to have an early chance to prove that she is not totally part of the elite revolving door that allows the financial and corporate world to, in essence, regulate themselves through having their own become the regulators. White will soon be presented with a proposed SEC rule (the drafting of the regulation preceded her arrival at the agency) which would help to undercut – although not eliminate – the democracy-weakening Citizens United decision.

According to a Tampa Bay Times editorial: 

Shareholders in publicly traded corporations have a right to know if their investment is being spent on political campaigns. And voters have a right to know what interests are trying to persuade them. But three years after the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for American corporations to pour money into campaigns, the transparency it urged in that same decision does not exist. A proposed rule before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission offers the best hope yet that publicly traded corporations will have to fully disclose donations to political organizations.

It's notable that since the 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, few publicly held corporations have donated to super political action committees, which are regulated by the Federal Elections Commission and require disclosure of contributions. Instead, corporations have sent hundreds of millions of dollars to tax-empt groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove's Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, the American Gaming Association or the National Retail Federation, all of whom engage in political activity on behalf of candidates but are not subject to the same PAC disclosure standards.

The proposed SEC rule would end that charade and require publicly traded corporations to reveal how they spend shareholder money for political purposes.

A recent UPI article sheds more light on the possible SEC regulation:

A proposed federal regulation that would undo some of the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling has been languishing at the Securities and Exchange Commission for a year and a half, but there are signs the commission may be making a decision on it relatively soon.The regulation would force tens of millions of dollars in up-to-now secret political donations from corporate general funds into the light.SEC spokesman John Nester issued a statement last week that didn't contain specifics, but indicated the proposed regulation would be up to bat in the coming weeks or months.

As Bill Moyers and Michael Winship noted of White on Truthout:

(Photo: Wikipedia)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

StudentLoanGraphicSen. Elizabeth Warren (D – Massachusetts) once again brings a rare commodity to the US Senate: common sense.

In her first standalone piece of legislation, Warren wants to require that student loans are offered at the same rate that banks pay (currently 0.75 percent from the Federal Reserve).

In her Senate remarks introducing The Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act, Warren bluntly states her rationale: "If the Federal Reserve can float trillions of dollars to large financial institution, surely they can float the Department of Education the money to fund our students, keep us competitive, and grow our middle class."

Needless to say, Warren has her priorities straight when it comes to investing in the future of America.  It is our higher education system – now deteriorating due to austerity measures and rapidly escalating tuition – that built the foundation for US skills and innovation in the private and public sectors.

That is why Warren succinctly stated in her floor speech:

Let’s face it: Big banks get a great deal when they borrow money from the Fed.  In effect, the American taxpayer is investing in those banks.  We should make the same kind of investment in our young people who are trying to get an education. Lend them the money and make them to pay it back, but give our kids a break on the interest they pay. Let’s bank on students.

 

(Graphic: Elixabeth Warren US Senate website)

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