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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. 

Published in EditorBlog


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


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.

Published in EditorBlog


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


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


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


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.  

Published in EditorBlog


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


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


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
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