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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaadairycow(Photo: Kabsik Park)

Michelle Chen reports in The Nation that the wholesome, feel-good, socially conscious image of Ben & Jerry's ice cream is tainted by the exploitation of many dairy workers. These laborers are employed by dairy farmers that Ben & Jerry's contracts with for the milk used in its ice cream.

Ben & Jerry's was started in 1978 by the eponymous Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in a converted gas station in Burlington, Vermont. The bright cartoonish pints, the innovative flavors and the company's opposition to the use of Bovine Growth Hormone and GMOs catapulted the brand into grocery stores across the nation. The ice cream's popularity made Cohen and Greenfield multi-millionaires when they sold Ben & Jerry's to Unilever, a global corporation based in Holland and England, in 2000.

However, there is something rotten in a pint of Cherry Garcia. According to Chen,

Labor advocates say the ice-cream empire’s socially minded branding is greased with the sweat of an exploited workforce, rotten with poverty wages, squalid housing, and abusive bosses. So immigrant workers are barnstorming Vermont’s dairy industry to demand Milk with Dignity....

According to Migrant Justice’s survey of 172 dairy workers, about 40 percent earned less than the state minimum wage of about $9. Roughly a third observed that they were treated worse than US-born workers. And with workweeks averaging about 60 to 80 hours and frequent injuries, the labor conditions were not only harsh but also hostile, with some reporting verbal abuse and being denied medical care or even a break for the bathroom or eating.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaaiowacaucusPassion for a candidate, not a tentative preference, is key to turnout in caucus states such as Iowa. (Photo: DonkeyHotey)

This past weekend, the self-described newspaper "of record" decided that Bernie Sanders might possibly be a "credible challenge" to Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses. That was the verdict of a Sunday article in The New York Times (NYT).

In fact, the NYT - some eight months before people assemble in gyms and rooms throughout Iowa to decide the Democratic nominee for president - gave an official green light to the mass media (which had generally been ignoring Sanders as a candidate) to state that the senator from Vermont is "gaining momentum."

It's key to remember how important horse-race-like coverage of presidential campaigns is to generating viewership and profit for major media outlets. It would not be difficult to conflate ESPN with CNN in this regard: Sports and elections are covered very similarly.

How significant is the transition from the dominant media mostly ignoring Bernie Sanders as a presidential candidate to now taking him somewhat seriously, as indicated by the NYT article? To gain perspective on that, it is worthwhile to revew a key dynamic in the mass media coverage of the last presidential race Hillary Clinton in which Hillary Clinton ran. 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

atoxhaz(Photo: eek the cat)

Why would a nonprofit organization need to launch a website that provides the public with data on exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace? Quite simply, because the US government isn't doing a good job of it.

In a recent news release, PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) states, "Workplace chemical exposures are the nation’s eighth leading cause of death but the US lacks any strategy for preventing the more than 40,000 premature deaths each year." PEER goes on to note:

"More Americans die each year from workplace chemical exposure than from all highway accidents, yet we have no national effort to stem this silent occupational epidemic," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that allowed chemical exposure on-the-job is roughly 1000 times higher than in the general ambient environment. "In the US, environmental protection stops at the factory door."

As a result, PEER has established a web resource that does the work that the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) should be offering online. The database is called, "Put the H back in OSHA."

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

8260830302 00bb81341d zStrengthen the US by investing in education, not Wall Street and government profits on student loans. (Photo: Michael Fleshman)

As college tuition rises in the US, the government and private profiteers are making more money at the expense of students. This hits economically disadvantaged students particularly hard. Higher education is becoming increasingly unaffordable for them, even with loans. Indeed, all young people who think about attending college - except for the scions of the richest families - face an increasing deterrent to receiving a degree: years and years of indebtedness.

Why? Because the potential high debt of going to college versus the uncertainty of financial returns is now a high-risk decision for many young people. This is particularly true in an economy in which even many of those with college degrees face an uncertain and volatile job market.

BuzzFlash isn’t funded by corporate advertising, but by readers like you. Can you help sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation?

A recent article by Susanne Soederberg posted at Dollars and Sense makes the point that the United States is severely weakening its future educational capital, as the government and private sector rake in profits while sacrificing advanced educational opportunities. Soederberg also writes that "educational debt has become a ticking time bomb." 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaanpr(Photo: Alyson Hurt)

Ira Glass, the man who captivates countless National Public Radio (NPR) listeners with his quirky accounts of daily life around the country, recently asserted that NPR should be supported by free market capitalism and advertising.

Could "This American Life" end up being rebranded "This United Airlines Life"?

If you have been hesitating, Glass just gave you a compelling reason to donate to Truthout (which is advertising-free and free of corporate sponsorships) now.

BuzzFlash isn’t funded by corporate advertising, but by readers like you. Can you help sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation?

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) recently reported how Glass, responding to a deluge of criticism for his remarks in an Ad Age article, tried to clarify his statement, but just dug himself a deeper neoliberal hole, asserting that "public radio is ready for capitalism." According to FAIR:

Last week, Glass wrote a column in the public broadcasting trade paper Current (5/13/15) to “clarify” his comments: He was not suggesting that programmers “chase ratings and destroy everything that makes public radio special.” Instead, he meant he wanted “companies [to] come on our shows and pay lots of money,” and then public radio should use that money for good things–not bad things, as you might have assumed that he meant.

“It feels almost insulting to have to say,” Glass says, that he’s not calling for “turn[ing] public radio into a moronic money-grabbing wasteland of commercial shillery.” Likewise, it feels almost insulting to point out to Glass that noncommercial broadcasting was founded to be an alternative to commercial broadcasting.

In the Ad Age account, Glass was a cheerleader for corporate branding and collaboration with NPR.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abreakbigbank(Photo: sharonkubo)

One of the key strategies of power that perpetuates economic and social injustice is the numbing of all opposition by sanctioning the status quo. This is the technique the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) wield in allowing mega-banks to continue to engage in illegal, deceptive and exploitative practices. 

BuzzFlash isn’t funded by corporate advertising, but by readers like you. Can you help sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation.

There are few subjects that BuzzFlash has covered more than the charade of the DOJ and SEC appearing to punish the big banks, while actually leaving them free to continue their systemic practice of dominating the financial industry - not infrequently through financial practices that are not only unethical and immoral, but also happen to violate the law and banking regulations.

Therefore, we are not surprised that the DOJ recently reached another sham settlement with megabanks over illegal activity, collusion to violate banking regulations and fraud. A May 20 article by The Wall Street Journal - the voice of the US and international financial industry - reports on the five banks involved with the settlement: 

Five global banks agreed to pay more than $5 billion in combined penalties and plead guilty to criminal charges to resolve a long-running U.S. investigation into whether traders colluded to move foreign-currency rates for their own financial benefit.

The settlements largely close the book on the latest industrywide investigation, one of a steady stream of probes into mortgage misdeeds, manipulative trading behavior and tax evasion. The biggest global banks have paid more than $60 billion in penalties over the past two years to resolve allegations of wrongdoing.

Most of these fines are tax-deductible, and many of them amount to less than the profits that the banks made from their law-breaking behavior.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acattlebreederHow can the profits of cattle ranchers trump public health? (Photo:Chris Murphy)

If you take your camera to Wyoming, be careful about the photos you take and with whom you share them. Why? Because if you reveal health hazards or pollution in the natural environment that could lead to enforcement efforts to ensure public health, you could go to jail for up to a year.

According to a May 11 article in Slate,

Why the desire for ignorance rather than informed discussion? The reason is pure politics. The source of E. coli is clear. It comes from cows spending too much time in and next to streams. Acknowledging that fact could result in rules requiring ranchers who graze their cows on public lands to better manage their herds. The ranching community in Wyoming wields considerable political power and has no interest in such obligations, so the state is trying to stop the flow of information rather than forthrightly address the problem.

In other words, the Wyoming ranchers don't want to be stopped from creating dangerous health hazards and environmental pollution because it would cost them money. So what's the solution proffered by the western state whose slogan used to be, "Wyoming Is What America Was"? Jail the messenger.

This encroachment on first amendment rights in order to protect profits (over public health and the environment) has a precedent. The cruel factory animal processing industry has been, over the past years, incrementally enacting laws that make the exposure of its pitiless and often health-threatening practices a crime. 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

amcprotestSocial justice movements are the vanguard for change. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

Expecting that the formulaic horserace process of elections will lead to dramatic social and economic change is a bit like going to a movie about revolution and expecting to walk into a transformed world when you leave the theater.

That's one key takeaway of an incisive May 18 article in Jacobin by Michael Schwartz and Kevin Young. The authors cogently argue that "social movements should focus on targeting corporations and oppressive institutions rather than politicians." Why? Because corporations and large organizations (think of the police, the military and lobbying groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and AIPAC, among many others) pull the strings of most politicians, particularly at the state and national levels.

Schwartz and Young state their case with a clarity that has history on their side:

Activists’ decision to target corporations reflects a growing conviction that the government is unresponsive to popular demands because it is unwilling or unable to stop the abuses of the corporate world (this view is supported by recent statistical findings that “the public has little or no influence” on policy). While these movements can change corporate behavior, we believe that they can also influence government policy in ways that direct pressure on politicians cannot....

Inflicting pain on corporations through disruptive mass activism has historically been the best way to reduce corporate opposition to progressive changes, and in turn, the resistance of the politicians who represent them.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

amedship (Photo: Francesco Mazzola Maurizio)

This week, it has emerged that the European Union is considering the use of military force to prevent the massive migration of desperate refugees (particularly on ships from Libya). Representatives from the EU admit that refugees themselves will likely be killed if such action takes place, but they consider the potential deaths to be "collateral damage."

Just last month, we asked in a commentary:

Why is money free to pass through borders in a millisecond-long electronic transaction, while people are forced to die trying?

Given the international trans-border access and preferential treatment that corporations and banks receive from mega-trade accords, why are people in dire need considered so disposable?

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anatparkThe tranquility and beauty of our national parks (pictured is Yosemite) should not be co-branded with a beer company. (Photo: Tom Bricker)

The organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) recently criticized a US National Park Service (NPS) decision to grant "co-branding" rights to Anheuser-Busch in return for a $2.5 million fee. 

In a news release, PEER calls the agreement

a misguided means of reaching out to youth and broadening public support for parks.... To consummate the deal, NPS had to waive its long-standing policy against identifying national parks with "alcohol or tobacco products."

The exclusive "Proud Partner" agreement allows Budweiser to roll-out "patriotic packaging featuring the iconic silhouette of Lady Liberty," in the words of a corporate press release. The authorizing memo signed by NPS Director Jon Jarvis on January 21, 2015 calls for "aligning the economic and historical legacies of two iconic brands…with a corporate entity that has the same goals surrounding relevancy, diversity and inclusion" so as "to distribute our brand across the country." 

The growing corporate branding of the public commons, nonprofit events and just about anything that you can't nail down - in exchange for payment - has become a visual blight. Worse yet, corporate branding has become so omnipresent that businesses become associated with sponsoring the pleasures of public life, thus mitigating the negative perceptions of their exploitative and profiteering practices. 

Published in EditorBlog
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