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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afracsand2A frac sand excavation in Wisconsin. (Photo: uwex)

An essential resource needed in the fracking extraction process is a relatively rare sand - and Illinois has one of the largest supplies in the United States. As a result, once again the fossil fuel industry is forcing destructive changes in nature that threaten, in this case, farming in the United States heartland: the nation's breadbasket. This is because the sand exists in deposits under rich Illinois agricutural land.

In a June 8 article, the Chicago Tribune spelled out the financial stakes at play:

Dallas-based Eagle Materials Inc., poised to start operating in LaSalle County, estimates it would sell at least 900,000 tons of sand a year from a single mine on 564 acres. At $110 a ton, the company estimates the mine will generate $99 million a year over the next 45 years, according to a state permit application. Analysts who follow Eagle Materials say about $40 of the $110-per-ton price is pure profit.

"Mining frac sand is a lot like mining regular sand except it's wildly profitable, and that's why everyone wants to do it," said Todd Vencil, managing director of equities research at Sterne Agee, a privately owned brokerage firm based in Birmingham, Ala.

The company paid $8 million to buy the land, according to property and state records, and it expects to invest $25 million to $50 million to get the mine running, according to company filings.

The rolling corn and soybean fields near Starved Rock State Park, 95 miles southwest of Chicago, are coveted by multinational corporations for the fine-grain sand deep below the rich soil. Known as Ottawa white, the sand is uniformly circular — perfect for drillers who pump a mixture of sand and chemicals into fracking wells across the nation.

"In the world, there are not that many — geographically speaking — deposits of very high quality northern white sand that has the technical specifications that are in greatest demand. One of those areas is in Illinois, and it's close to the surface of the earth," said Robert Stewart, executive vice president of strategy, corporate development and communications at Eagle Materials.

Cities in LaSalle County, in north central Illinois, are exempt from a county ban on new sand excavation, and many are cutting deals for royalties that are being paid to towns from the frac sand mining companies.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ajudgesec(Photo: stockmonkeys.com)On Wednesday, June 4, an appeals court overturned an earlier ruling by Federal District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff that would have required the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to crack down harder on Wall Street banks that egregiously violate regulations and the law.

In a 2011 decision, Rakoff prohibited an SEC settlement with Citigroup from proceeding. His objections included that the SEC let Citigroup "off with little more than a slap on the wrist," according to The New York Times. Rakoff admonished the regulatory agency, saying that it could not continuously "punish" serious and massive financial wrongdoing with financial fines without requiring the banks to admit wrongdoing.

The Rakoff 2011 ruling was one of few on the federal level that challenged the SEC's and Department of Justice's (DOJ) practice of allowing Wall Street financial institutions to get away with malfeasance by levying fines that become merely the cost of doing business. In short, as BuzzFlash at Truthout has detailed many times, the primary enforcement institutions over the integrity of our financial system enable prodigious wrongdoing.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

trickledown345(Photo: Bankenstein)If someone insists that it is not raining when it is, you might think that you can persuade him or her by taking the denier to a window and showing him or her the downpour, with drops splattering against the glass.

When the person insists that the drenching rain is really only due to a sprinkler being on - even though the sky is filled with lightning and booming with thunder - you know that you have a reality denier in your midst.

The upholders of the reigning economic policy in the US - trickle-down economics - are once again taking issue with data that disproves that the concentration of wealth will benefit the economy as a whole. Such is the case in financial media criticism of Thomas Piketty's data in Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which Piketty has already refuted. (You can watch a highly informative conversation between Piketty and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), in which he handily dismisses challenges to his book.)

Aside from periodic economic studies that debunk the idea that the concentration of capital in the hands of the few improves the US gross domestic product and expands jobs and wages - as BuzzFlash at Truthout discussed in a commentary last week - there is a more compelling refutation of the notion that letting the rich get richer benefits everyone: reality.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ahomeless6(Photo: Vlastula)

BuzzFlash at Truthout has posted several commentaries on the war on the homeless, including one yesterday entitled, "Liberal Bastion of San Francisco Bay Area Continues NIMBY Crackdown on Homeless." In April, we offered the commentary, "Criminalizing People Who Live in Cars Is a New Low in the War on the Poor."

Nothing increases homelessness like income inequality. Other causes of people in the United States living without permanent shelter include a decrease in services for persons with mental health needs, less funds for agencies that provide homeless services (including places to sleep), foreclosures, domestic violence, loss of work, gentrification and the lack of availability of inexpensive single room occupancy housing, teenage runaways without resources, etc.

As a result, we have seen a nationally spreading war on the homeless that aims to make them disappear without assisting them.  Many cities and communities, as BuzzFlash noted in our commentary yesterday, regard the homeless as a form of urban blight.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

bulbphotorAlbany CA has arrested the last residents of a longstanding homeless East Bay community on public property known as the Bulb. The Bulb also featured public art such as the figure above. (Photo: David Soto-Karlin)

The East Bay city of Albany, California, a relatively small town (approximately 19,000 residents) - just north of the former bastion of leftist politics and culture, Berkeley - this past Thursday cleared the last homeless residents from public land by charging them with "suspicion of illegal lodging."  

According to the Monday June 2 The Daily Californian:

Police arrested Bulb [the name of the publicly owned landfill in the East bay] residents Amber Whitson and Philip Lewis, along with their friend Erik Eisenberg, on suspicion of illegal lodging. The city began enforcing a no-camping ordinance in October in an effort to relocate the homeless population so that the Bulb can be turned into a state park. Local law firms then filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of the residents, which ended in an April settlement that gave residents $3,000 each as long as they agreed to leave the Bulb by April 25 and stay away from the area for one year.

Twenty-eight residents accepted the money, but Whitson and Lewis refused it, making them the last to leave the Bulb. The two have lived in the Bulb for seven years.

We didn’t take the money because you can’t buy someone’s home,” Whitson said.

Although Albany is not as economically prosperous as the now upper-end Silicon Valley housing values of the increasingly wealth-dominated Berkeley, it is following a trend in the Bay Area that includes a war on the homeless. A 2010 citywide vote San in Francisco, the poster board symbol of alleged "degenerate" liberal values for the right wing, made sitting or lying on public sidewalks illegal from 7 AM to to 11 PM. This, even though, the San Francisco Police Department found the law utterly ineffective and a waste of law enforcement time.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aendincome(Photo: quinn.anya)The US economy shrunk (according to just released revised figures) for the first time in three years. TIME online reports:

The U.S.' Gross Domestic Product contracted by 1 percent in the first quarter of 2014, marking the first contraction in years as government economists revised earlier figures by taking stock of additional glum measures

The U.S. economy shrunk by 1% in the first quarter of 2014, according to government data released Thursday, marking the first economic contraction in three years.

The figure, from revised estimates released by the Commerce Department, was revised downwards from an earlier estimate of 0.1% growth in gross domestic product, as government economists took stock of additional glum measures. The Commerce Department noted that on top of a winter wallop to retail and construction, real GDP was dragged down further by a rise in imports and a marked decline in inventory growth. The last time real GDP contracted was in the first quarter of 2011 at the tail end of a punishing recession.

Even though many mainstream media reports quote "analysts" who claim that the downturn was an anomaly - and that consumer demand should increase in the second quarter - the anemic performance of the Gross Domestic Product has implications for an increase in equality.

That is the outlook if you agree with the one of the basic tenets in economist Thomas Piketty's widely discussed new book: "Capital in the Twenty-First Century."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

apinochetOur man in Chile, Augusto Pinochet.(Photo: Wikipedia)New revelations about the Chilean military overthrow of the popularly elected Salvador Allende regime in 1973 once again confirm that the US is supportive of democracies that enhance US economic interests, but it is the enemy of those that don't.

According to a May 23 article on the History News Network website:

Covert U.S. planning to block the democratic election of Salvador Allende in Chile began weeks before his September 4, 1970, victory, according to just declassified minutes of an August 19, 1970, meeting of the high-level interagency committee known as the Special Review Group, chaired by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. "Kissinger asked that the plan be as precise as possible and include what orders would be given September 5, to whom, and in what way," as the summary recorded Kissinger's instructions to CIA Director Richard Helms. "Kissinger said we should present to the President an action plan to prevent [the Chilean Congress from ratifying] an Allende victory and noted that the President may decide to move even if we do not recommend it."

The document is one of a compendium of some 366 records released by the State Department as part of its Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. The much-delayed collection, titled "Chile: 1969-1973," addresses Richard Nixon's and Kissinger's efforts to destabilize the democratically elected Socialist government of Salvador Allende, and the U.S.-supported coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973. 

The placement of Pinochet in power led to a brutal reign that resulted in the imprisonment, torture and murder of thousands of Chilean citizens considered Allende supporters.

In addition, Henry Kissinger (in his roles as National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State) oversaw US support for the heinous and barbaric Operation Condor.  This was a US-approved (although Kissinger denies it, of course) backing of military governments in the Southern Cone nations in South America. The result was a murderous purge of anyone suspected of sympathizing with alternative economic systems to capitalism or even of populist governments that were run by the non-ruling elite.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anationalsec(Photo: DonkeyHotey)Once again, the media pundits and spineless politicians are wearing somber faces about the misogynistic Isla Vista shootings and deaths. Once again, there are the cries for gun control. However, in the flow of news cycles, the issue of taking on the gun lobby will wash away like the tide until the next white male mass killing with firearms.

The failure of US law enforcement to arrest armed and threatening militia members during the Cliven Bundy standoff - and to stop them from commandeering roads - only reinforces white male entitlement when it comes to guns. Contrast that to Occupy movement protesters who were arrested, beaten and sent to jail (consider the case of recently sentenced Cecily McMillan as an example).

Yes, there are threats to national security, but the biggest ones aren't those we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on against a relatively small number of terrorists.  The most significant peril to our ability to live peaceful and comfortable lives comes from menaces that the DC politicians do little or nothing about.

You can start with allowing the NRA to impose an Ayn Rand vision of guns unlimited on the nation and its resulting toll in about 30,000 deaths a year (homicides, suicides and accidents) and the rippling psychological impact of insecurity on the nation. If al-Qaeda wanted to create the death toll of 10 9/11s each year, they might have gotten better bang for their buck by just financing the gun lobby.

Add to that the scientific validation that we may have passed the threshold on reversing impending catastrophic climate change, as DC elected officials throw campaign fundraising events while the world's environment is deteriorating rapidly. What could be a graver risk to the nation than a sixth mass extinction on this planet? Yes, we have a military-surveillance-intelligence-industrial complex that is a beast that feasts on our tax dollars - but killing civilians in a faraway land with drones is not only a hideous act of murder, it represents the triumph of the self-interest of the so-called defense establishment over what the pressing priorities of ensuring national security really are.  

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

obamawartruth(Photo: Susan Melkisethian)

Okay, okay, yes, it was an accidental error that the White House released the name of the Afghanistan CIA chief to the pool reporter for the Washington Post (WP) this weekend. According to National Public Radio (NPR), the station chief was among a list of people briefing the president while he was on a surprise Memorial Day weekend visit to the troops in that still-festering war zone:

When it realized the error, the White House issued a new list — but by then, the original had been circulated to foreign and domestic news agencies. The information was included in a pool report that was emailed to thousands of recipients Sunday night.

The White House has asked that the CIA official's name not be reported because of safety concerns; NPR and other major U.S. news organizations are abiding by that request.

When the name of a CIA station chief is sent out to thousands of recipients, it is no longer a secret, even if mainstream publications choose to go along with the charade that not publishing the name will keep it one. The reality is that although this particular leak was indeed likely made by mistake, administrations - including the current White House - leak classified information on a regular basis when it is deemed to be in their interests.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

amcdseiu(Photo: SEIU))

A week after a boisterous day of global protests against the financial exploitation of fast food workers in most nations, the rapidly growing movement spread to the annual meeting of McDonald's. With a demand to "McDouble Our Wages," an estimated 500-2000 protesters from around the Midwest gathered at the sprawling headquarter campus of the empire that Ray Kroc built (located in the western Chicago suburb of Oak Brook).

According to The Chicago Tribune, on Wednesday, "138 individuals, including 101 McDonald’s workers, were arrested for trespassing on the company’s property." Workers at the chain of low-cost non-nutritious processed food pit stops put their jobs on the line for a livable salary.

The statement accompanying McDonald's 2013 annual report boasts that while weathering some financial challenges, it generated a healthy bottom line:

  • Consolidated revenue increase of 2 percent (2 percent in constant currencies)

  • Consolidated operating income increase of 2 percent (3 percent in constant currencies)

  • Diluted earnings per share of $5.55, up 4 percent (4 percent in constant currencies)

  • Return of $4.9 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases

Barry Ritholtz, a BloombergView columnist, recorded some facts about earners making the minimum wage:

Last month, we discussed McDonald's and Wal-Mart as America’s biggest [abusers of welfare]. As it turns out, both giants are the beneficiaries of a surprising amount of federal aid: Their employees receive an inordinate amount of Medicaid, food stamps and other public assistance. This allows them to maintain very low wages, and keep profits relatively robust...

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