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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.

Published in EditorBlog

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. 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

3003262167 958cc14c22 zHow will you feel if your vote doesn't count in the next presidential election? (Photo: kirstencan)

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by at least 450,000 votes, but lost the election due to an unprecedented Supreme Court decision

The GOP is strategizing on how to ensure the election of a Republican president in 2016, even if he or she receives a minority of the popular vote - but this time through a legal legislative strategy. 

First, here is the background to what legislatures in some key electoral states, such as Michigan, are considering making into law.  It begins with understanding gerrymandering, the creation of congressional districts in states every 10 years.  In 2010, the Republicans, with a strong boost from the Tea Party, swept many state legislatures and governorships. State legislatures, not the federal government, determine congressional districts - and it has always been a highly partisan affair.

With precision software that can slice districts up in such a way that one party can win a state vote for Congress by a wide margin, gerrymandering allows for concentrating a disproportionate vote of one party in certain districts, while creating other districts where the margin of victory by the other party is smaller, but still virtually assured.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anarmyspecial(Photo: The US Army)

For a "3-Day All Access Pass," it will only cost a defense industry corporate or consulting firm $1795 to attend the Special Operations Summit & Warfighter Expo at Fort Bragg from June 22 to June 24. The expense, of course, can be deducted from a company's taxes because it's the cost of doing business after all.

Of course, the entry ticket to the Army Warfighter Expo is a pittance compared to the potential profit return from meeting government employees who can offer contracts - financed by taxpayer dollars - as part of the trillion dollar plus so-called "war on terror." In fact, federal employees can attend the conference free because they are the financial decision makers who attract the paid attendees who are marketing military wares. The firm sponsoring the conference, the innocuously named Institute for Defense and Government Advancement, promotes that:

All Federal Employees, to include Military Personnel, will be granted free admission to our event. Online pre-registration is required as on-site registration will not be permitted. VIP pass includes entry to all conference sessions (including Focus Day), breakfast, lunch, warfighter expo and cocktail reception.

It would appear from the conference sponsor's website that members of the US Special Operations Command (USSOC) will be in abundant presence. Representing the revolving door between the Defense Department and privatized military contractors is one Command Sergeant Major James C. Faris. Retired from the Army Special Operations division, he is now employed as the liaison to the Special Operations Command, in which he served for 27 years of his 31-year military career.

After all, the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement is itself a profiteer off of warfare dollars. It is a division of the even more elusively named International Quality and Productivity Center - a for-profit company - which describes itself on its website as having "an entrepreneurial edge, leading edge research, and a passion for excellence.

Published in EditorBlog
Monday, 06 April 2015 08:55

I Won't Drink No Frackin' Water!

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afrackingwasFracking wastewater (Photo: Faces of Fracking)

Last Friday, we mentioned the story of Patrick Moore, a science denier who runs a consulting firm whose clients benefit from his false claims. Moore refused to drink a glass of glysophate - the key toxic ingredient of Monsanto's Roundup - after asserting in an interview with French television station Canal+ that "you can drink a whole quart of it [glysophate] and it won't hurt you." 

In fact, he refused to drink the glysophate twice after claiming it was harmless - and then stormed off the television set, last heard proclaiming, "I'm not an idiot" and calling the interviewer "a complete jerk." (You can watch the interview by clicking here.)

It was a bit difficult to understand some of the reader comments over the weekend in response to our piece. One reader reacted to the BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary by pointing out that there is a difference between Roundup being safe for agricultural use (which is scientifically contested in and of itself) and for being safe for drinking.

Is this reader implying that when Moore asserts, "You can drink a whole quart of it [glysophate] and it won't hurt you," he is merely indulging in some sort of bizarre metaphor? Moore's expertise is supposed to be his self-proclaimed knowledge of science, chemicals and the environment. He is not a poet, as far as his biographical details reveal. When he is on a television program, weighing in on whether or not an essential ingredient in the Monsanto herbicide is harmful to humans, he is not offering symbolic statements. When Moore states that "You can drink a whole quart of it [glysophate] and it won't hurt you," there is no wiggle room to take his statement as anything other than a literal assertion by a man who says that he makes conclusions on the basis of "facts."

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT


arounduptox

If you haven't been dozing on your keyboard for the last few days, you may have come across this deliciously ironic clip of an avid GMO advocate who refused to drink a glass of Monsanto's allegedly cancer-causing Roundup.

The interview with Dr. Patrick Moore, a vocal public proponent of genetically modified crops, took place on French television, likely in response to a French-based World Health Organization report that glysophate - the key herbicide ingredient in Roundup likely causes cancer. Moore told French Canal + that "You can drink a whole quart of it [glysophate] and it won't hurt you."

According to a widely read Truthout article:

The very same day, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that they had concluded the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, the most widely sold agricultural and household herbicide in the world, billed as one of the most benign herbicides ever manufactured, was a "probable carcinogen." The WHO elaborated that their biggest concern was for occupational exposure, but that the evidence was "convincing" that glyphosate caused cancer in lab rats and mice....

About 90 percent of the world's high volume grains are now "Roundup Ready." Glyphosate residues cannot be removed by washing and they are not broken down by cooking. They remain in food for a year or more, even if the foods are frozen, dried or processed. Eating strictly organic doesn't protect you. Several studies have shown that it is even present in the air we breathe, water we drink and rain that falls from the sky.  Essentially, no one on earth has been spared. A recent study of non-farmworker, urban dwellers in Germany found glyphosate in the urine of every person tested, and at levels five to 20 times the legal limit for drinking water.

Website GMWatch provides the context to Patrick Moore's refusal to drink a glass of Roundup, which he had paradoxically declared completely safe to humans, during the French interview. 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

arainbow(Photo: Eric Wagner)

The birth of Indiana Senate Bill 101 - which is the latest in a rash of so-called "religious freedom" laws whose ulterior purpose is to establish legal discrimination against LGBTQ people - is part of the ongoing cultural war backlash among White Christians (and other fundamentalist religious factions, including some Orthodox Jews). 

LGBTQ rights, while still under withering attack in many cases, has been one of the few areas where some social progress has been made, particularly in court rulings allowing LGBTQ marriages and partner rights. Not that the struggle for LGBTQ equality is over; far from it. (In fact, some of the most crucial issues, such as criminalization, remain largely untouched by government and by mainstream LGBTQ organizations.) However, a significant beachhead has been established from which to continue the movement for equality under the law.

The Indiana law that has caused a national uproar has been passed in quite a few other states, without receiving much national press. These laws are modeled, to some extent, after a federal law passed by Congress and signed into law more than 20 years ago, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RRFA) of 1993. Although the law was limited to federal and not state application, it guaranteed the right of people not to be prosecuted for exercising their religion in regards to their personal rituals and rights.

Ironically, the RRFA was enacted on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the firing of two Native Americans who were terminated from their jobs when traces of peyote were detected during a drug test. The individuals argued that peyote was used as part of their tribal religious rituals, but the top court in the land ruled that the job terminations were not a suppression of religious rights. From this case was born a national campaign of religious groups that pushed to pass the 1993 federal law, which is largely unknown; it is not frequently invoked, given that it cannot be applied to state actions.

Fast-forward to 2012 and the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acitunited(Image: DonkeyHotey)

It's easy enough to be a journalist, or an advocate for democracy, and write about how money is destroying the electoral process. That can be done without risk of being arrested and tossed into jail.

But a group called 99Rise, with the slogan "together we rise," is dedicated to reversing the Supreme Court decisions and congressional laws that allow for a few people with big money to manufacture the outcome of elections, by putting themselves on the line.  

According to an April 1 news release from 99Rise sent via email to the media,

Five members of the grassroots organization 99Rise disrupted the nation's highest Court this morning, issuing a series of statements protesting recent court rulings that facilitate enormous increases in campaign spending by a tiny fraction the wealthiest 1%. Protestors rose one by one to deliver their statements to the Court, demanding they "Reverse McCutcheon and overturn Citizens United," before raising their index finger in the air, a gesture signifying "one person, one vote" political equality. They were detained and arrested by court security.

"The Supreme Court is deeply complicit in the corruption of our democracy," said Belinda Rodriguez, who participated in protest. "Their McCutcheon and Citizens United rulings have allowed corporations and billionaires to essentially buy our elections with unlimited sums of campaign cash, silencing the vast majority of voters. We're here to send a message that the American people won't stand for it."

This is not an April's Fool's joke; these are real people who are being swept up into the mass-incarceration system because they feel strongly that a robust democracy - not a sham democracy dictated by plutocrats - must become the norm in the USA.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

 aelizabethwarren34(Photo: Edward Kimmel)

Elizabeth Warren is reminding the Democrats to show some backbone and not give in to Wall Street's threats to withhold funding to the Democratic National Committee and some national candidates. Why are the big banks trying to intimidate the Democratic Party? Because the most outspoken senator - Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) - is proposing that the big banks should be broken up.

Her reasoning is simple: The few banks that control most of the nation's money are not, as Obama officials often assert, "too big to fail." Warren argues that actually, they are too big not to fail.

A March 27 article from the Guardian provides the context to the threat:

Big Wall Street banks are so upset with Elizabeth Warren’s call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to SenateDemocrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Representatives from Citigroup, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party’s tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week.

Bank officials said the idea of withholding donations was not discussed at a meeting of the four banks in Washington but it has been raised in one-on-one conversations between representatives of some of them. However, there was no agreement on coordinating any action, and each bank is making its own decision, they said.

Will the withdrawal of Wall Street political contributions to the Democratic Party seriously impact elections? The answer is probably not. As The Guardian points out, "The amount of money at stake, a maximum of $15,000 per bank, means the gesture is symbolic rather than material."

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

apaydayl(Photo: Jason Comely)

If you do not know it, payday loan stores are a legalized loan sharking industry that is now a $46 billion dollar industry, according to National Public Radio. The business preys upon the poor by offering relatively small loans based on an individual showing a paycheck stub.

However, the majority of borrowers aren't able to pay the money back when it is due and the small "stores" that look like currency exchanges start to charge interest rates on the loans that can run into the three digits in the many states where they are unregulated. NPR cites these compelling statistics:

In fact, repeat borrowers are the heart of the payday business. Government researchers found that 4 out of 5 payday borrowers had to renew their loans, typically before their next paycheck. And 1 in 5 renewed at least seven times....

The interest for poor borrowers often far exceeds the original loan in just a matter of weeks, while people of extremely limited means who wanted to avoid debt fall deeper into it.

The website SFGate.com offers one egregious, but not uncommon example, of how the usurious practices and deplorable effects of this cycle of debt - which results in enormous profits for the payday loan industry - impacts those of limited economic means.

Published in EditorBlog
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