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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anamtrak2(Photo: Bill Dickinson)

The direct cause of the eight Philadelphia Northeast Corridor Amtrak deaths, which occurred Monday night, will be investigated for some time. Preliminary indications are that the train was traveling at too high a speed when it rounded a curve and derailed.

Most media and policy makers continue to overlook that US transportation policy, in general, has been derailed for years. As The Guardian points out, technology exists that might have prevented the Amtrak accident by automatically slowing the train down before the curve. In fact, The Guardian article charges that the US "lags behind rest of developed world on train safety." However, that is really only a small detail within the larger picture of mass transportation neglect in the US.

The implications of a nation whose politicians - backed by the fossil fuel industry and, literally, an auto-driven economy - disdain mass transportation (except for the for-profit airlines industry) are profound. At least 35,000 people die each year in automobile accidents on the nation's sprawling roadways and little attention is given to the carnage (which includes about 3.8 million injuries resulting in medical care annually, according to the Christian Science Monitor).

Despite approximately one town of people being lost each year to car crashes - and the equivalent of a city larger than Chicago being injured due to automobiles - there is little media coverage or critique of a transportation system dependent upon cars and the resultant loss of lives.

After all, Amtrak is easy pickings for the media. Although it is technically a for-profit corporation due to an act of Congress, it is publicly funded by the self-same legislative body. This means that the media can feed the stereotype of a quasi-government service that is incompetent and dangerous.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aeconomyceo(Photo: seiuhealthcare775nw)

The AFL-CIO just released its executive compensation study covering 2014, and the chasm between workers' and CEOs' pay is rising at an alarming rate.  According to the McClatchy Washington Bureau, the gap continues to "soar":

The ratio jumped to 374-to-one in 2014, up from 331-to-one in 2013, the union report said, noting that back in 1980 it stood at 42-to-one....

[The figures take on new] importance...as economists and policymakers debate the cause of anemic wage growth. Income has been largely stagnant for workers, even as millions of new jobs have been created and the unemployment rate now stands at 5.4 percent.

[The CEO pay] increase of 15.6 percent over the prior year [is] well above the sub-par annual wage growth for workers that’s below 3 percent.

In short, with all the talk of closing the income inequality gap, it is only getting vastly worse, according to the AFL-CIO study.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

atppsecret(Photo: GlobalTradeWatch)

President Obama's patronizing criticism of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's ongoing critique of the still officially secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was as illogical as it was sexist. The president's broadside against Warrenthis past Saturday - in which he called her complaints "absolutely wrong" - was a sign that the TPP fast-track trade authority he covets is in trouble.

Obama's fears of Warren's impact on fast-track TPP legislation were realized on Tuesday when the Senate failed to pass a filibuster-proof vote. According to the Associated Press,

Senate Democrats have dealt President Barack Obama a stinging setback [on May 12] on trade by blocking efforts to begin full-blown debate on his initiatives.

All but one Senate Democrat defied the president Tuesday by voting to prevent consideration of his request for "fast track" trade authority. Such authority would let Obama present trade agreements that Congress could ratify or reject, but not amend.

Proponents needed 60 votes to thwart a Democratic filibuster, but managed only 52 in the 100-member Senate.

It is highly likely that when Obama offered his belittling comments about Warren's position, his advisers had already informed him that virtually the entire Democratic Party Senate caucus was going to vote against granting fast-track TPP authority. 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anincomeeq4(Photo: Quinn Dombrowski)

When The New York Times starts posting articles warning of a dystopian future in the United States due to income equality, you know that the alarm bells are starting to sound even in the corporate mass media.

On April 28, the Times posted an analysis by reporter Eduardo Porter in its economy section. Porter bluntly stated:

But when it comes to the health, well-being and shared prosperity of its people, the United States has fallen far behind.

Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four decades or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong turn along the way.

Porter manages to find a glimmer of hope in the grim statistics about the real state of the union. However, his sliver of optimism is only due to the fact that the deterioration of the nation as a community is so bad that he believes it will ultimately force a political solution. "The silver lining in these dismal, if abstract, statistics," Porter writes, "is that they portend such a dysfunctional future that our broken political system might finally be forced to come together to prevent it."

That's not a lot to hang your hat on. 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

nasandler(Photo: Shinya Suzuki)

According to an April 23 Indian Country Article, "Approximately a dozen Native actors and actresses, as well as the Native cultural advisor, left the set of Adam Sandler’s newest film production, The Ridiculous Six."

Allison Young, a Navajo woman and former film student from Dartmouth, protested the film's demeaning portrayals of Indigenous people. She talked with Indian Country about the situation:

"When I began doing this film, I had an uneasy feeling inside of me and I felt so conflicted," she said. "I talked to a former instructor at Dartmouth and he told me to take this as finally experiencing stereotyping first hand. We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, 'If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.' I was just standing there and got emotional and teary-eyed. I didn’t want to cry but the feeling just came over me. This is supposed to be a comedy that makes you laugh. A film like this should not make someone feel this way."

"Nothing has changed," said Young. "We are still just Hollywood Indians."

"Just Hollywood Indians" is a resounding lamentation, considering the Tinseltown legacy of disseminating negative images of Indigenous people. 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ashelloilcoThe shell that is the logo of Shell should be covered in oil. (Photo: frankieleon)

Newly uncovered documents, disclosed in The Guardian, reveal that Shell has successfully slowed down the growth of renewable energy in Europe.

According to an April 27 article in The Guardian, "Weak renewable energy goals for 2030 [for the EU] originated with [a] Shell pitch for gas as a key technology for Europe to cut its carbon emissions in an affordable way."

Reading news websites, one comes across copious ads claiming that Shell is committed to a sustainable future for the earth. Their intent is to brand Shell as a company working to reduce environmental threats (and, by implication, global warming). Nothing could epitomize the hypocrisy of greenwashing and corporate ads on news content sites more than Shell's Madison Avenue efforts to portray itself as environmentally responsible.

After all, just look on the Shell website, which promotes Arctic exploration for oil and natural gas: 

It is estimated that the Arctic holds around 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of its yet-to-find oil. This amounts to around 400 billion barrels of oil equivalent, 10 times the total oil and gas produced to date in the North Sea. Developing the Arctic could be essential to securing energy supplies for the future, but it will mean balancing economic, environmental and social challenges.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afastracktpp(Photo: AFGE)

After being publicly rebuked by President Obama for her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tweeted yesterday: "The Obama Admin says I'm wrong - we shouldn't worry about TPP. So why can’t the American people read the deal?"

Obama singled out Warren on Tuesday when he said on Chris Matthews' MSNBC program:

I love Elizabeth. We're allies on a whole host of issues, but she's wrong on this. When you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts, they are wrong.

As Sam Levine of The Huffington Post points out, however: "While Obama criticized Warren for being wrong on the facts of the deal, it's difficult to know exactly what the deal contains because his administration has deemed the negotiations to be classified."

Yet Warren - and the rest of Congress, not to mention the US public - can't "dig into the facts" of the TPP, because his administration won't disclose them. 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

16260167094 e0a88050fd zShouldn't food workers in the US Senate be paid livable wages?  (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)

To paraphrase thoughts of a venture capitalist in a BBC series I was watching last night, if you're riding in a chariot and a few peasants get crushed under the wheels, it's for the overall good. The UK master of the universe - a Brit version of Mitt Romney – argued (like proponents of neoliberalism in the US) that all ships will rise as he creates a more "robust" economy. Of course, the dead peasants won't enjoy that fantasy economy. In addition, all the economic data in the US and UK indicate that the consolidation of wealth doesn't lift all ships: it raises only a few up to the stratosphere, while the tiny boats of the majority of people sink to the lowest tide.

The television film was Turks & Caicos, the second in a brilliant three-part spy thriller about the political takedown of a morally bankrupt and financially incentivized British prime minister clearly based on Tony Blair and his deference to the indefensible Bush administration post 9/11 policies. 

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The resonance of Turks & Caicos on the moral and political corruption of neoliberal economic policy carried over to this morning when I read an article in The Guardian. Written by a cook in the US Senate, Bertrand Olotara, the personal commentary describes the plight of a single father who had to go on food stamps to ensure that his children receive adequate nutrition:

I'm a single father and I only make $12 an hour; I had to take a second job at a grocery store to make ends meet. But even though I work seven days a week – putting in 70 hours between my two jobs – I can't manage to pay the rent, buy school supplies for my kids or even put food on the table. I hate to admit it, but I have to use food stamps so that my kids don't go to bed hungry.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

awarproit3(Photo: Steve Rhodes)

On April 18, a New York Times (NYT) article succinctly stated that the "sale of US arms fuels the wars of Arab states."

The NYT describes the sales bonanza for the US weapons industry:

As the Middle East descends into proxy wars, sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks, countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using it and wanting more. The result is a boom for American defense contractors looking for foreign business in an era of shrinking Pentagon budgets — but also the prospect of a dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn. (Italics inserted by BuzzFlash.)

Last week, defense industry officials told Congress that they were expecting within days a request from Arab allies fighting the Islamic State — Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt — to buy thousands of American-made missiles, bombs and other weapons, replenishing an arsenal that has been depleted over the past year.

Even the dreaded drone industry is now expanding sales outside of the US, according to the NYT: "Soon, the Emirates are expected to complete a deal with General Atomics for a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions in their neighborhood."

Not only does US hegemony and desire to control oil supplies create chaos in the Middle East, it's a profitable region for the enormous US military industry. The more carnage in that region, the more money there is to be made in supplying different factions with multi-million dollar hi-tech and standard weaponry.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aalmart(Photo: Mike Mozart)

2012 article in Mother Jones identified a shocking example of economic equality in the United States:

As Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute points out, the six Walmart heirs now have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined, up from 30 percent in 2007. Between 2007 and 2010, the collective wealth of the six richest Waltons rose from $73 billion to $90 billion, while the wealth of the average American declined from $126,000 to $77,000 (13 million Americans have negative net worth).

Of course, what makes this statistic even more vexing is that as the income divide increases, it increases the perceived need for people with extremely limited incomes to buy at Walmart - or comparable stores that carry inexpensive consumer goods primarily made overseas. As BuzzFlash at Truthout has pointed out before, this is the "self-cannibalization" effect on the US worker who has lost his or her job to manufacturing being moved overseas to nations where rock-bottom wages are the norm. Replacement jobs at minimum wage, if they can be found, then leave the workers with just enough funds to buy goods that used to be made in the US and, therefore, increase the fortune of the Walmart heirs.

According to a recent BloomburgBusiness article that focused on just one Walmart heir: “At the current rate, it would take a full-time Walmart employee working 12 hours a day more than a million years to earn the equivalent of [Christy] Walton's net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.”

So try and wrap your head around the two statistics cited above: 1) Six people (Walmart heirs) have passive net worth - the money is inherited through stock; they don't need to do anything to earn it - equal to more than the bottom 40% of the people in the US; and 2) It would take a Walmart employee working a 12-hour day a million years to earn just one Walmart heir's financial assets.

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