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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ainter455(Photo: hdzimmermann)If you want to know what a difference a municipally owned internet service can make, just look to Chattanooga, Tennessee. In an article on CNNMoney entitled, "Chattanooga's super-fast publicly owned Internet," journalist James O'Toole describes how Chattanooga is providing the gold standard of internet access, while commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are leaving consumers in the dust, in terms of speed and service:

Chattanooga, Tenn., may not be the first place that springs to mind when it comes to cutting-edge technology. But thanks to its ultra-high-speed Internet, the city has established itself as a center for innovation -- and an encouraging example for those frustrated with slow speeds and high costs from private broadband providers.

Chattanooga rolled out a fiber-optic network a few years ago that now offers speeds of up to 1000 Megabits per second, or 1 gigabit, for just $70 a month. A cheaper 100 Megabit plan costs $58 per month. Even the slower plan is still light-years ahead of the average U.S. connection speed, which stood at 9.8 megabits per second as of late last year, according to Akamai Technologies.

"It's really altered how we think of ourselves as a city," said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. "We're a midsized, southern city -- for us to be at the front of the technological curve rather than at the tail end is a real achievement."

As federal officials find themselves at the center of controversy over net neutrality and the regulation of private internet service; providers; like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Chattanooga offers an alternative model for keeping people connected. A city-owned agency, the Electric Power Board, runs its own network, offering higher-speed service than any of its private-sector competitors can manage.

A November 2013 SlashGear.com article states bluntly: "The vast majority of the US is left with some of the slowest broadband internet speeds in the world. The US ranks 31 on the list of speediest broadband countries according to Speedtest.net."

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abennyBen Bernanke (Photo: Medill DC)

Even The New York Times is finally taking note of the gluttonous excesses of the plutocracy. On May 20, in the Times' Dealbook section, journalist Alexandra Stevenson penned an article entitled, "After Fed, Bernanke Offers His Wisdom, for a Big Fee"

During his eight years as steward [at the Federal Reserve] of the world’s largest economy, Mr. Bernanke’s salary was about $200,000 a year. Now he makes that in just a few hours speaking to bankers, hedge fund billionaires and leaders of industry. This year alone, he is poised to make millions of dollars from speaking engagements.

Mr. Bernanke is following a well-trodden path that his predecessor, Alan S. Greenspan, and other Washington policy makers have taken. On the speaking circuit, he is putting just one foot through the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street, being paid by financial firms but not employed by one.

Investors are dealing with an economy that is in large part the creature of Fed policies under Mr. Bernanke, and they are willing to pay top dollar for his words of wisdom as a result.

Whether Bernanke is being paid for his "wisdom" is open to question. His multi-million dollar speech marathon has the distinct scent of a combination of buying access and running a victory lap to the applause of the economic masters of the universe. Remember, Bernanke may no longer be chair of the Fed, but you can bet he regularly consults and meets with the Fed insiders, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other regulators.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

atowerofcap(Photo: Industrial Worker)

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

peduc(Photo: Sean MacEntee)

In an Op-Ed published in Time this week, 16-year-old Kenyatta Collins argues that the education that she receives in a New Orleans charter school more closely resembles a prison than a place that advances her knowledge and creativity.

"Is my high school, Lake Area New Tech, a prison or school?" Collins asks. Her response is a withering indictment of the white elite push to privatize education:

Students arrive ready for school every morning, but unfortunately must wait outside the building until security guards unlock the doors at 7:30 a.m. It could be raining, hailing, or sleeting, but they will NOT open the doors until then. Once the doors are unlocked, it takes the guards 15 to 20 minutes to search each student and check for uniform violations. That leaves us with just a few minutes to eat breakfast before class starts at 8 a.m. That’s not enough time for 600 students to make it through the cafeteria line. On a typical morning, we are treated like prisoners, which causes students to react in a variety of negative ways.

As for the prevailing attitudes among many whites - and some wealthy people of color - that discipline is the cure for presumed violent and economically depressed urban areas - Collins has a response: 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afastgoodburger(Photo:SteFou!)Today, according to a Truthout article, fast food strikes and protests are going global, as they should:

Workers around the world are emulating the fast-food protests that started in New York in 2012. Their fight for dignity at work, better wages, stable hours, opportunities for advancement and no more wage theft has gone global.

On Thursday, May 15, in the largest job actions in the industry's history, fast-food workers in over 30 countries on 6 continents will participate in protests over poverty wages, lack of full-time positions, poor working conditions and management retaliation. US workers will protest in over 160 cities throughout the country, the tenth and largest round of strikes since the first actions in NYC in November 2012. Fast-food workers participating in the "Fight for 15" include those in Alabama, the Carolinas and other states not known for their labor activism....

While companies try to hide behind the franchise system and the rhetoric of "small business owners," fast-food employers are global corporations with billions of dollars in annual profits. Fast-food workers must fight for decent wages and conditions on a global level.

At a time when corporations are becoming increasingly global, to a great degree they are starting to supercede national boundaries in terms of their labor policies and impact. Yes, it's true that each nation has different laws regarding wages, employment policies, etc., but the overall global capitalist approach to pay workers as a little as possible lessens the impact of isolated national strikes. (It should be noted that according to the Truthout report, a few nations do have wage laws that require a fair salary for fast food workers – but not many and not the US.)

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