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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

 aaaacorny24Don't let the smiley face of Big Agriculture fool you. (Photo: David Clow)

Bigger is not always better. As Wall Street banks and big box stores such as Walmart have shown, bigger is often worse. The list of industries that have consolidated into national and global cartels is long and growing, and so is their collateral damage.

In general, this trend - accelerated by trade agreements such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership - means an increase in the exploitation of labor. It also means an expansion of unregulated practices that lead to global warming, and an elimination of small businesses. (For example, think about the elimination of local pharmacies, office supply stores, banks and bakeries.)

In the case of the financial industry, the consolidation of the money supply in the hands of a few institutions has reverberating global impacts. These institutions engage in predatory lending policies toward individuals and underdeveloped nations. They thrive in these efforts through minimal regulation (in the US and most other G-20 nations), and are abetted by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

This pattern is repeated in other industries, such as agriculture. A column this spring in Dollars & Sense details how Big Agriculture - which includes ancillary industries, such as pesticides and seeds - sells itself as a route to creating more and safer food for a growing population.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaawaterdryWhen the water runs out. (Photo: Marcelo César Augusto Romeo)

Supplies of potable water are being threatened in numerous areas around the world, according to new data released by NASA. Yes, global warming is a culprit, but so are agricultural use and pollution-heavy industries.

In the not-too-distant future, we may see a widespread rationing of drinkable water. Water may then become simply unavailable in some regions. As The Washington Post reported on June 16, "new NASA data show how the world is running out of water":

The world’s largest underground aquifers – a source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people — are being depleted at alarming rates, according to new NASA satellite data that provides the most detailed picture yet of vital water reserves hidden under the Earth’s surface.

Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced during the decade-long study period, researchers announced Tuesday. Thirteen aquifers declined at rates that put them into the most troubled category. The researchers said this indicated a long-term problem that’s likely to worsen as reliance on aquifers grows.

Scientists had long suspected that humans were taxing the world’s underground water supply, but the NASA data was the first detailed assessment to demonstrate that major aquifers were indeed struggling to keep pace with demands from agriculture, growing populations, and industries such as mining.

If you are wondering how important aquifers are to maintaining a fresh water supply, just look to California. 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaawarrendimon(Photo: AFGE)

Normally elected officials in DC wrap themselves in hackneyed statements when talking about Wall Street. After all, what Washington politician wants to bite the hand that provides a sizable chunk of many candidates' campaign funds?

That's why Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Massachusetts) reaction to a patronizing, sexist remark by JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was more than a breath of fresh air; it was like a brief release from the prison of "don't-offend-the-finance-industry" beltway jabberwocky.

Earlier this month, Dimon attempted to impugn Warren's knowledge of Wall Street by stating, "I don’t know if she fully understands the global banking system." A number of commentaries rightfully attacked Dimon for "mansplaining." In fact, Dimon - who somehow is still CEO of JP Morgan Chase even though his bank has conceded to several charges of financial wrongdoing in Department of Justice settlements - and his colleagues view Warren as a serious potential threat to their dodgy practices.

By now, you may have likely read Warren's fearlessly frank response to Dimon, as told to The Huffington Post. Warren didn't, like most DC Wall Street pawns, offer a mealy-mouthed statement such as, "I am sure that Mr. Dimon misspoke, and I continue to hold him in high regard."

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaausterity(Photo: 401(K) 2012

Here is a lamentable historical fact to consider when reflecting upon a recent cruel proposal of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to deny heat and air conditioning assistance to the poor: In 1995, a severe heat wave in Chicago caused approximately 750 deaths among residents who could not afford air conditioning. 

Illinois has one of the largest debts among US states, with billions of dollars in additional unfunded liability. The state legislature - which is currently controlled by Democrats - is wrangling over a budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. Rauner is threatening to veto the proposed Democratic state financial plan because it includes a projected deficit, which the Democrats want to resolve at a later date.

Rauner, who champions austerity for the poor and working class while promoting economic incentives for corporations, appears largely indifferent to the lesson of 1995 in Chicago. Indeed, according to The Chicago Tribune, the governor is proposing saving a paltry "$90 to $95 million a year" by denying energy subsidies to the poor and elderly to pay for air conditioning and heat:

The governor's plan to withhold state money that helps poor residents pay their electric and gas bills was met with concern and resistance Thursday [June 11] at a hearing in Chicago.

Seniors, people with disabilities and parents of young children shared stories of hardship at the Loop hearing, saying in written or oral testimony that they rely on the money to heat and cool their homes during frigid Illinois winters and sweltering summers. The program, they said, also helps preserve basic decencies such as the ability to cook, refrigerate food, wash clothes and take a hot shower. 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaacalwaterCalifornia needs more water not a pricey water bar. (Photo: Joyce Cory)

The idea of a gourmet water bar - with prices as high as $20 a bottle - sounds like the punch line to a bad joke about drought-stricken California. However, it's for real.

According to an article in Yahoo Finance, the Ray's and Stark Bar in Los Angeles has a 46-page menu of bottled water and is a rousing financial success. Yahoo Finance describes the bar's growth since it opened two years ago:

Business at the bar has jumped 500% and his [the manager's] water menu has expanded to two other locations, including the Hollywood Bowl. His $50 per person water tasting class has sold out each session since it began this year. 

“[Customers] are going into the water menu, looking for different springs, saying ‘I like this, this has so much sodium, this has so much magnesium,’” he says.

No, this is not excerpted from a satirical story in The Onion. 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaacnnlogo3(Photo: Gregor Smith)

You may not know that sometimes the "news" that you are reading in a newspaper, online, or watching on television is not really "objective" news at all: it's paid-corporate PR that is known as native advertising.

The reason that you might not realize that you are reading an article or whole section that is nothing more than an ad disguised as news is that often the disclaimers that "this content is paid for" (or some variation in wording) are in such small type, you can hardly see them. Add that to the fact that regular news consumers are now often reading information at a dizzying pace so that even if there were a large disclaimer, it might go unnoticed by readers surfing through news sources.

In short, the line between the already corporate-influenced and self-serving mass media news coverage and ads is becoming increasingly blurred. It's hard to imagine that the corporate imprimatur on what is news and the frame in which it is presented could get worse, but it is.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

astpetevictmemRelatives of an estimated 16 - 25 million Russians who lost their lives during WW II hold placards in memory of their loved ones on Victory Day (May 9, 2015) in St. Petersburg. (Photo: Bobchik)

It was the 70th celebration of Victory Day over Nazi Germany on May 9 in St. Petersburg, Russia, and I was there. On the Internet in my hotel, I read that the US was snubbing the day. Victory Day honors the Russian WW II dead and Russians take pride in the defeat of an adversary that nearly conquered the Soviet Union.

Obama and Western European leaders did not send senior officials to the largest Victory Day gathering in Moscow, ostensibly to further repudiate Russian President Vladimir Putin for the ongoing Ukraine crisis.

However, being in St. Petersburg on what is also called the "Great Patriotic War Victory Day," I saw a massive outpouring of modern Russian, now capitalist, citizens carrying placards with photos of ancestors who died in WW II.  As the Business Insider reported in a 2014 article, "In terms of total numbers, the Soviet Union bore an incredible brunt of casualties during WWII. An estimated 16,825,000 people died in the war, over 15 percent of its population." Some estimates run in the range of 20 - 26 million Russians killed in WW II, which would raise the percentage of mortalities among the population at the time to approximately 20 – 25 percent of the then Soviet population. By contrast, the US lost approximately 420,000 soldiers, according to the Business Insider, or roughly one percent of the nation's population.

What's more, during the nearly 900-day gruesome Nazi siege of St. Petersburg (known as Leningrad in WW II) - the History website estimates the loss of "an estimated one million Soviet lives [including military defenders], perhaps hundreds of thousands more." It is possible then that perhaps half of current St. Petersburg residents have relatives going back one to three generations who died as a result of the war.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

walmartmarket(Photo: Mike Mozart)

Joann Lo, Co-Director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, recently wrote on Capital & Main:

Walmart, number one on the Fortune 500 list of American companies, has net sales totaling $473.1 billion. With foodstuffs making up 55 percent of its sales, this corporation controls 25 percent of grocery sales in the U.S. Consequently, Walmart’s actions and inactions reverberate through the food chain, making huge impacts on agricultural practices, treatment of workers, consumer health, the environment and outsourcing of jobs. In recognition of these impacts, Walmart has created an  "Ethical Sourcing" standards manual for its suppliers. But our investigation of Walmart’s practices shows that the thirst for extraordinary profits too often wins out over a code of ethics.

The Food Chain Workers Alliance just released a report, "Walmart at the Crossroads." The analysis concludes, "Walmart’s commitments to improving standards appear to be mostly a public relations stunt and haven’t translated into improvements in conditions for most of its food supply chain."

BuzzFlash pointed out in a column this week that Ben & Jerry's, now a wholly owned subsidiary of the global corporation Unilever, tries to avoid responsibility for the squalid working conditions and substandard pay of many of its dairy farm workers through a so-called voluntary compliance program for subcontracted dairy farms, Walmart hides behind voluntary compliance "ethical sourcing" guidelines.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

7789005262 3460d3de0b zDid the US revolt against monarchal rule only to return to dynastic "democracy"? Statue of King George III. (Photo: Les Haines)

It's the battle of the brands.

Do you prefer a Clinton or a Bush? Do you prefer a Coke or a Pepsi?

With this morning's news that Jeb Bush will announce his run for the Republican presidential nomination on June 15, it is quite possible that the 2016 presidential election could be a match-up of Bush v. Clinton.

The conventional (albeit jingoistic) narrative of the founding of the United States tells us that the Revolutionary War ended in the courageous overthrow of monarchal rule. The upcoming election seems, in many ways, a possible return to dynastic power.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaworldcupLamborghini sponsorship of 2014 Brazil World Cup (Photo: Sponsorship Pilot)

On Wednesday, June 3, NBC News reported that international "red notices" had been issued for top officials of FIFA, the primary international soccer organization, which decides the location of the World Cup. NBC notes reports:

Interpol issued wanted-person notices Wednesday for six people accused by the Department of Justice of being involved in a vast corruption network surrounding soccer's FIFA governing body.

The so-called "red notices" - which do not have the power of an international arrest warrant - were issued at the request of U.S. authorities, Interpol said in a statement.

Former FIFA vice president Jack Warner and former FIFA executive committee member Nicolás Leoz were the top names on Interpol's list, followed by Alejandro Burzaco, Hugo Jinkis and Mariano Jinkis, all heads of marketing businesses based in Argentina, and José Margulies, who runs Brazilian broadcasting firm Valente Corp. and Somerton Ltd.

Meanwhile, the previously defiant president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, resigned.

video on NBC News discloses that the 2014 Super Bowl in Brazil generated $4.8 billion in revenue. That's not sports; it's a global business empire.  

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