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Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout

It is ironic that the slogan of General Electric (GE) used to be "We Bring Good Things to Life."

Jeffrey Immelt, the multimillionaire and Obama's favorite CEO, changed that brand identity to "Imagination at Work."

Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a more frightening nightmare and bringing bad things to life than the catastrophe that is now occurring in a GE-constructed nuclear power plant in Japan.

Just the other day, The New York Times featured an article entitled, "Experts Had Long Criticized Potential Weakness in Design of Stricken Reactor."

But with the White House giving full backing to subsidize and build new nuclear power plants in the US, Immelt has little to worry about but a PR problem, lawsuits that his pinstripe firms will string out for years, and a lot of people potentially dying.

Immelt symbolizes the new "Master of the Universe" CEO, who takes risks with our money and our lives and ends up "advising" the president on "creating jobs," when he is exporting GE's workforce. It boggles the mind.

Yesterday, BuzzFlash noted that it is lower-level laborers and management who are risking their lives to stave off an utterly devastating nuclear disaster in northern Japan.

In the last few decades, we have seen how successful the war on workers by the right wing has been. Yet, when lives are to be risked for the failures of the "Masters of the Universe," the "valiant" CEOs are hiding behind PR spokespersons and the campaign-contribution-ready hands of the president and other politicians.

In WWII movies, there's the formula script of the general or lieutenant who is first in line, leading his troops into battle. Not today, not in this corporate world of arriving at the top by thinking about profits first and lives and consumers second.

We can speculate that Immelt is having a fine time on the town, with millions and millions to spare.

Meanwhile, workers in Japan are conducting suicide missions to save us from the failures of cost-cutting corporations and governments that failed to perform their regulatory duties.

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Published in EditorBlog

Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout 

In the potential catastrophic disaster brewing in Japan, there is a lesson to be learned.

The corporations that determine government policy, here and abroad, put our lives and money on the line, not theirs.

Nuclear plants get subsidies in the US and elsewhere; taxpayers subsidize GE, one of Obama's favorite companies - a business that didn't even pay any US taxes in a recent year.

But when the nuclear sites melt down, don't expect Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, to be running in and exposing himself to likely lethal radiation in a last-ditch effort to prevent a catastrophe with potentially worldwide implications.

Fifty workers are shortening the lease on their lives by trying to get just one of the four Japanese power plants in crisis under control. According to Harvey Wasserman, who has been warning about the lethal dangers of nuclear power on BuzzFlash and Truthout for years:

The workers who do this are incomparably brave. They remind us, tragically, of some 800,000 Chernobyl "Liquidators." These were Soviet draftees who were sent into that seething ruin for 60 or 90 seconds each to quickly perform some menial task and then run out.

When I first read that number - 800,000 - I thought it was a typographical error. But after attending that 1996 conference in Kiev, I spoke in the Russian city of Kaliningrad and met with dozens of these Chernobyl veterans. They tearfully assured me it was accurate. They were angry beyond all measure. They had been promised they would not encounter health problems. But now they were dying in droves.

The CEOs get to run crisis PR for GE, defending an indefensible design. The workers expose themselves to lethal radiation to save Immelt's lifestyle and protect the rest of us. Who deserves the greater pay?

But this is not just about con men who rake in billions, export jobs and pay the least wages possible to workers.

No, this is about letting these people get away with risking our lives, not just our money.

This is about potential negligence leading to the possible deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, as it led to so many fatalities and incidents of cancer at Chernobyl. This is about enabling the entrenched elite playing a monopoly game with death, those of the people of Japan and ours here in the US.

Published in EditorBlog

HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The Japanese people are now paying a horrific price for the impossible dream of the "Peaceful Atom."   For a half-century they have been told that what's happening now at Fukushima would never occur.

Our hearts and souls must first and foremost go out to them.  As fellow humans, we must do everything in our power to ease their wounds, their terrible losses and their unimaginable grief.

We are also obliged---for all our sakes---to make sure this never happens again.

In 1980, I reported from central Pennsylvania on what happened to people there after the accident at Three Mile Island a year before.  I interviewed scores of conservative middle Americans  who were suffering and dying from a wide range of radiation-related diseases.   Lives and families were destroyed in an awful plague of unimaginable cruelty.  The phrase "no one died at Three Mile Island" is one of the worst lies human beings have ever told.

In 1996, ten years after Chernobyl, I attended a conference in Kiev commemorating the tenth anniversary of that disaster.  Now, another fifteen years later, a definitive study has been published indicating a death toll as high as 985,000...so far.

Today we are in the midst of a disaster with no end in sight.  At least four reactors are on fire.  The utility has pulled all workers from the site, but may now be sending some back in.

The workers who do this are incomparably brave.  They remind us, tragically, of some 800,000 Chernobyl "Liquidators."  These were Soviet draftees who were sent into that seething ruin for 60 or 90 seconds each to quickly perform some menial task and then run out.

When I first read that number---800,000---I thought it was a typographical error.  But after attending that 1996 conference in Kiev, I spoke in the Russian city of Kaliningrad and met with dozens of these Chernobyl veterans. They tearfully assured me it was accurate. They were angry beyond all measure. They had been promised they would not encounter health problems.  But now they were dying in droves.

How many will die at Fukushima we will never know.  Never have we faced the prospect of multiple meltdowns, four or more, each with its own potential for gargantuan emissions beyond measure.

If this were happening at just one reactor, it would be cause for worldwide alarm.

One of the units has been powered by Mixed Oxide Fuel.  This MOX brew has been heralded as a "swords into ploughshares" breakthrough.  It took radioactive materials from old nuclear bombs and turned them into "peaceful" fuel.

It seemed like a neat idea.  The benefits to the industry's image were obvious. But they were warned repeatedly that this would introduce plutonium into the burn chain, with a wide range of serious repercussions. Among them was the fact that an accident would spew the deadliest substance ever known into the atmosphere.  If breathed in, the tiniest unseen, untasted particle of plutonium can cause a lethal case of lung cancer.

But like so many other warnings, the industry ignored its grassroots critics. Now we all pay the price.

For 25 years the nuclear industry has told us Chernobyl wasn't relevant because it was Soviet technology. Such an accident "could not happen here."

But today it's the Japanese.  If anything, they are better at operating nuclear reactors than the Americans.  Japanese companies own the Westinghouse nuclear division, whose basic design is in place throughout France.  Japanese companies also own the GE nuclear division in Japan. Among others, 23 of the US reactors are extremely close or virtually identical in design to Fukushima I, now on fire.

Jeffrey Immelt, head of GE, is one of the many heavy corporate hitters now advising Barack Obama. Obama says (so far) that he has no intention of changing course in nuclear policy. That apparently includes a $36 billion new reactor loan guarantee giveaway in the 2012 budget.  Energy Secretary Steven Chu has made clear he considers the situation at US reactors very different from those in Japan. Essentially, he says, "it can't happen here."

Chu and others keep saying that our choice is between nukes and coal, that atomic energy somehow mitigates global warming.  This is an important sticking point for millions of concerned citizens, and an important and righteous legion of great activists, who see climate chaos as the ultimate threat.

But especially in light of what's happening now, it's based on a non-choice.  Nukes are slow to build, soaring in cost and clearly have their own emissions, waste and safety problems.  The ancillary costs of coal and oil are soaring out of reach in terms of environmental, health and other negative economic impacts.  The "bridging fuel" of gas also faces ever-higher hurdles, especially when it comes to fracking and other unsustainable extraction technologies.

The real choice we face is between all fossil and nuclear fuels, which must be done away with, as opposed to a true green mix of clean alternatives. These safe, sustainable technologies now, in fact, occupy the mainstream. By all serious calculation, solar is demonstrably cheaper, cleaner, quicker to build and infinitely safer than nukes. Wind, tidal, ocean thermal, geothermal, wave, sustainable bio-fuels (NOT from corn or soy), increased efficiency, revived mass transit all have their drawbacks here and there.  But as a carefully engineered whole, they promise the balanced Solartopian supply we need to move into a future that can be both prosperous and appropriate to our survival on this planet.

As we see now all too clearly, atomic technology is at war with our Earth's eco-systems.  Its centralized, heavily capitalized corporate nature puts democracy itself on the brink.  In the long run, it contradicts the human imperative to survive.

Today we have four reactors on the coast of California that could easily have been ripped apart by a 9.0 Richter earthquake.  Had this last seismic hit been taken on this side of the Pacific, we would be watching nightly reports about the horrific death toll in San Luis Obispo, the catastrophic loss of the irreplaceable food supply from the Central Valley, and learned calculations about the forced evacuations of Los Angeles and San Diego.

There are nearly 450 atomic reactors worldwide.  There are 104 here in the US.

Faced with enormous public demonstrations, the Prime Minister of Germany has ordered their older reactors shut. At very least this administration should follow suit.

The Chinese and Indians, the biggest potential buyers of new reactors, are said to be "rethinking" their energy choices.

As a species, we are crying in agony, to the depths of our souls, from compassion and from fear.

But above all, the most devastating thing about the catastrophe at Fukushima is not what's happening there now.

It's that until all the world's reactors are shut, even worse is virtually certain to happen again.  All too soon.

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Harvey Wasserman edits the NukeFree.org website, and is author of SOLARTOPIA!  OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Has the pro-middle class uprising gone viral in Wisconsin?

Well, let's take the example of Washburn - at the far-northern part of the Badger State Scott Walker is trying to sell off to the highest bidder, as he beats workers down to pre-Industrial Age wages.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that on Saturday night, Walker attended a fundraiser, but was met by perhaps as many as 5,000 protesters, which according to the Duluth News Tribune was "probably at least double the size of Washburn, which has a population of 2,271."

Washburn is in what is known as the North Country of Wisconsin. It's no Madison, and there are no big union towns around. The largest big city nearby is in another state, Duluth, Minnesota.

Protesters, were - as has been the case for days down in Madison - peaceful, energetic and humorous: "Signs included 'Gov. Walker, you probably can't remember me, but ... I can recall you' and 'At least my Grandma's Walker helps her.'"

As the News Tribune reported, one protester took a more expansive view of the challenge posed by the Walker government: "The thing that really got me here is the disparity of wealth that has grown way too out of hand," [Scott] Griffiths said. "This is not a Wisconsin thing. This is a global pandemic of wealth buying power."

If you look at Washburn on a Wisconsin map, you'll find it a rural area not too far from the land's end of the state to the north. If the protests are spreading to Washburn, the battle for economic justice appears to be going viral.

Walker may have been left choking on his walleye pike at the fundraiser as the advocates for livable wages shouted loudly enough to allegedly be heard inside the Republican fundraiser.

It appears that there may be no town that is going to give a pass to Walker's radical agenda.

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Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

"Scott Walker's real agenda in Wisconsin: The Republican governor's budget plan would open the state up to a corporate asset-grab not seen since robber baron capitalism."

That headline is not from BuzzFlash at Truthout; it's from The Guardian UK, and it pretty much nails where the current GOP is at: Milton Friedman on a triple dose of steroids.

Yesterday, BuzzFlash at Truthout speculated about the trend of the government selling off public assets. In the end, this would lead to Grover Norquist's dream of "strangling government and drowning it in a bathtub" (a paraphrase). BuzzFlash, alas, was not being entirely sardonic when we predicted that we will have a manufactured "education crisis" resolved by selling off corporate naming rights (and perhaps ownership) to high schools, privatized teaching (mostly through computers), Wackenhut school security and even pay toilets to cover the costs of privatized sanitation services.

For anyone who thought that this was a parody, read this from The Guardian:

Fast-forward to Scott Walker today. Representing a new breed apart from Wisconsin's earlier Republicans, he is seeking to reopen the asset-grabbing, Gilded Age-style. A plague of rent-seekers is seeking quick gains by privatizing the public sector and erecting tollbooths to charge access fees to roads, power plants and other basic infrastructure....

But who is one to steal from? Most wealth in history has been acquired either by armed conquest of the land, or by political insider dealing, such as the great US railroad land giveaways of the mid-19th century. The great American fortunes have been founded by prying land, public enterprises and monopoly rights from the public domain, because (to paraphrase Willie Sutton) that's where the assets are to take. Throughout history, the world's most successful economies have been those that have kept this kind of primitive accumulation in check. The US economy today is faltering largely because its past barriers against rent-seeking are being breached.

Nowhere is this more disturbingly on display than in Wisconsin. Today, Milwaukee - Wisconsin's largest city, and once the richest in America - is ranked among the four poorest large cities in the United States. Wisconsin is just the most recent case in this great heist. The US government and its regulatory agencies are effectively being privatized as the "final stage" of neoliberal economic doctrine.

Will the likes of Koch Industries, Bank of America, and Wal-Mart "own" your high schools soon? If Scott Walker and much of the GOP across the United States has its way, the answer is not, "That is ridiculous." The answer is, "It is really quite possible."

Just think of your grandchildren looking forward to their 20th reunion from JP Morgan Chase High of Peoria.

Oh, on the upside, they will get a free starter checking account.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The corporate overthrow of democracy is becoming so brazen that the Tea Party governor of Michigan is trying to get a bill passed that would give him the right to declare towns insolvent and turn them over to businesses to run, granting the corporate overseers the power to "fire" elected officials.

In Pennsylvania, the Republican governor is giving an anti-regulation energy company executive "supreme" authority over environmental regulations in the state. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker wants to sell off state public utilities to companies like Koch Industries.

The Guardian UK has just run an article headlined: "Scott Walker's real agenda in Wisconsin: The Republican governor's budget plan would open the state up to a corporate asset-grab not seen since robber baron capitalism."

This got BuzzFlash thinking: what would happen to high schools if the Republicans continue to get their way in legalizing corporate government and the privatization of public assets?

First of all, we would see naming rights sold for high schools as we have seen for stadiums. So the Bronx High School of Science would be renamed the Bank of America High School of Science, with, no doubt, a bank branch open next to the cafeteria.

And speaking of the cafeteria, why pay those public kitchen workers when McDonald's can take over and make the whole school obese?

Of course, students at Bank of America High (the naming rights can be "franchised" for high schools around the US, such as Bank of America High School/Oshkosh) can work off those fries and high-caloric foods at the physical education classes, run under contract by Bally's. If students can't afford the "initiation" fee, they can sit out the classes in a detention hall run by the Wackenhut Services security company.

Naturally, the currently free parking at many high schools will come with a price in the future, as a parking lot company buys rights to charge for spaces. The teachers won't be unionized. In fact, most classes will be via computer and administered by a corporate standardized testing firm. Who needs teachers to train kids how to take a test?

And let's not forget hygiene: a private sanitation firm will take over upkeep of the washrooms, and that will necessitate - you guessed it - pay toilets.

What's frightening about this is not that it is silly; what's scary is that it is all too possible, given the corporate coup that has been simmering for years and is now being fully actualized in the US.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Based on a recent Forbes survey, Rachel Maddow revealed that while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is stripping away the financial security of workers, the Koch brothers increased their wealth by $9 billion last year. Together, Maddow notes, they would rank as the fourth-wealthiest person ($44 billion) in the world.

Meanwhile, the Koch brothers and Karl Rove, among others, are using front organizations to pit working people, who are being exploited, against unions. It's the ultimate in class warfare: make the working class fight each other over an increasingly smaller piece of the financial pie, as the super wealthy run off with the bakery.

That's why ads in Wisconsin - and stories on Fox - are trying to get Wal-Mart low-wage workers to resent that union members receive better benefits, which of course - on a logical level - reinforces to many of us exactly why unions are needed: to prevent the impoverishment of people who labor for a living.

What's not mentioned in these ads, or the right-wing media echo chamber, is why the government is subsidizing the wealthy who don't pay their fair share.

Scapegoating union members while the outlandishly rich just get richer is a gross injustice. There is a price to be paid for democracy, and the Koch brothers - and all the corporations that pay little or no taxes, as well as individuals - should ante up for what this nation has offered them.

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Published in EditorBlog

 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Democracy has its costs, but not $7.5 million in "building repairs" for peaceful demonstrations for economic justice.

That's the figure that the Scott Walker administration said was the cost to date, a few days ago, of "repairing" the state Capitol due to demonstrations that reached 70,000 to 100,000 people on some days. And the advocates weren't there in support of the man who fashions himself the "new" Ronald Reagan. In fact, one Saturday, the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity tried to get some Tea Party supporters of Walker to counterprotest, but could only scramble up a few hundred. They haven't been seen since in Madison.

Once again, we refer our BuzzFlash at Truthout readers to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Political "truth-o-meter," which investigated the claim of $7.5 million in damages to the Wisconsin Capitol and found the figure such an egregious exaggeration that it gave its infamous "pants on fire" lying award to the Walker administration.

But the Walker administration, under fire for trying to turn public opinion against the protesters for a viable middle class, revised its "estimate" down to $347,500.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel concluded:

While urging a judge to scale back protests, a state Department of Administration official said the state Capitol sustained $7.5 million in damage. State officials could not immediately provide a basis for the number, and later backtracked from it. The new estimate: $347,500, some 20 times less than the original one. And there are indications that even that could be high.

This smells like an effort to pour gas on the anti-protester fire. The claim was ridiculously high. And that gets a Pants on Fire rating.

Indeed, the $347,500 may include costs of normal upkeep of the building.

In the battle for whether or not corporations and the wealthy will run America, Walker is employing an army of lies.

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Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Some states have laws to protect you from high-pressure sales men and women.

For instance, in Illinois, a person can receive a full refund on a health insurance policy if the actual certificate of coverage that they receive differs from what the agent said was in it.

But there is no law to protect voters from the "shock doctrine," arm-twisting deception of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Take, for example, Walker's ongoing scare tactic of a catastrophic pension crisis in the Badger State. Well, it doesn't exist.

According to Stateline, which is a "a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States," Wisconsin's pension fund is in fine shape indeed:

Studies show that Wisconsin's state pension program is one of the most solid in the country and has enough funds to cover the promises made not only to current retirees but to those in the future. Wisconsin was hailed as a "national leader" in managing its long-term liabilities for both pensions and retiree health care in "The Trillion Dollar Gap," a Pew Center on the States report last year. (Pew Center on the States is Stateline's parent organization.)

As for the public employee contribution to pension funds, union leaders have already indicated that they would be willing to pay more, even though - in a collective bargaining agreement - pension fund contributions from the employer may simply mean that workers are accepting a lower salary in exchange for a higher pension-fund contribution from their employer. In this case, the state.

So, where is the pension-fund crisis in Wisconsin? It's not there.

"It is surprising that this pension debate is happening here," says Jerry Allen, executive director of the City of Milwaukee's Employees' Retirement System, according to Stateline. "There is no crisis."

The crisis in Madison is Walker and his disingenuous ideological use of the "shock doctrine."

To further reinforce that Walker's goals are to politically crush the unions and become a possible vice presidential candidate on the GOP ticket in 2012, he detached the section of the budget bill eliminating collective bargaining for public employees to pass it in the state senate on March 9, even though he said it was necessary to lower the budget.  But it's not; it's necessary to Scott Walker's strategy of establishing himself as a new "Reagan" in the GOP pantheon.

Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters, has an additional thought on why Walker might be creating a false pension crisis:

"What is this all about? This is all about the money," Schaitberger says. "What this is really about is for Wall Street to be able to get their hands on the $2.7 trillion that are in institutionally managed [pension] plans."

If public employee pensions are converted from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans such as 401Ks, "they know it's the next cash cow for Wall Street," he says. "Individuals will be charged higher fees, they'll be churning their investments and won't really have the ability to measure performance and objectives by those who will now be allegedly helping them prepare for retirement."

So Walker wants to eventually let the same people who crashed the world economy, the gamblers on Wall Street, play roulette with the pensions of middle class workers.

And what role did Wall Street play in Wisconsin's projected budget crisis (not as much in the pension fund, which is doing just fine now)?

According to at least one Wall Street analyst, Goldman Sachs was, in essence, betting that Wisconsin's debt would be increasing, "selling short" -- and thus Goldman Sachs would make money on the taxpayers having to pay more to compensate for a budget shortfall.

The crooks should be in jail, not pulling the strings on people running our government.  Just ask the public workers in Wisconsin. And they are just the first unions Walker will be attempting to take down.

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Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker believes a woman who has been raped and will die in childbirth should not be allowed to live, even if an abortion would save her life.

That's right, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Political Fact "truth-o-meter" confirms that Walker "'wants to make abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.' Walker acknowledges that is his position."

When Walker was running for governor, his opponent charged that Walker would seek an abortion ban without exception. Walker's campaign confirmed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that this would indeed make it illegal for victims of rape or incest or those whose lives were imperiled to end a pregnancy.

Walker's pro-death stance for women who will die giving birth - and his indifference to the horror of rape and incest - exhibits a cruelty that is chilling.

That is why it is no surprise that, buried in his infamous budget, is a direct assault on family planning and Planned Parenthood, in particular. The Cap Times (Madison) gets right to the point: "Walker's elimination of family planning funds could jeopardize federal dollars, close clinics."

But, if Walker is successful, this will be just the first step in the further victimization of women who have been sexually assaulted - and it will be a death sentence for women who will die from complications due to pregnancy.

Walker isn't only trying to kill unions.

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