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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Will we one day wake up to a completely Walmartized world?

That's a question that is not out of the realm of possibility, considering Walmart's rapid expansion around the globe, including - of course - as a manufacturer and seller in China.

South Africa has given conditional approval to Walmart buying up the nation's third-largest retailer, but is having some second thoughts, according to WalmartWatch.org.

Apparently, some departments in the South African government are now concerned about Walmart's commitment to buying local produce and the issue of local businesses and unions. According to a South African newspaper:

A key condition sought by the three departments is that the merged entity will "at least maintain or increase the percentage of pre-merger local procurement by product category."

The departments' submission suggests that Walmart and Massmart's initial "willingness to co-operate in an attempt to alleviate those concerns" faded significantly last month after the Competition Commission recommended unconditional approval for the proposed merger....

The departments have requested the postponement [of the final approval of the merger] because they now believe that as a result of "the refusal of the merging parties to make any tangible or enforceable commitments, particularly with regard to procurement and small (especially broad-based BEE) businesses," it is necessary for them to intervene more actively in the merger proceedings.

In short, Walmart is saying - as was the mantra in the Bush administration - trust a large corporation to self-regulate itself.

As Ronald Reagan said about the Soviet Union, however, a more appropriate stance in relation to Walmart would be "trust, but verify."

Or better yet, let them show the world that they can be trusted. They've got a lot of work to do there.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

"Utah becomes first in US to have state gun."

In case you are wondering, the winner is a Browning M1911 semiautomatic pistol.

So, right up there with other state symbols of Utah - like the state tree (blue spruce) - is a gun, and a semiautomatic one at that.

As Rosie Gray wrote in The Village Voice:

The timing on this is about as bad as it could get, two months after Gabrielle Giffords' shooting and the debate that provoked about gun control.

Not trying to say that this will spur people to violence, but it's an alarmingly casual way to look at guns. It's almost like people in this country have just forgotten what guns do, as if they're simply fun little playthings and not in fact instruments of death.

What's next, a state nuclear power plant?

Published in EditorBlog

Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout

A few days ago, CNBC's Larry Kudlow said what many wealthy Wall Street investors were probably thinking, and it was shocking.

Kudlow, a cable news financial "pundit," reassured the business world about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami: "The human toll here looks to be much worse than the economic toll, and we can be grateful for that."

On Twitter, Kudlow apologized, but his words represented the heartlessness at the center of today's casino economy: everything is reduced to a financial win or loss.

There is something ethically debased when the financial impact of a disaster is of more concern than the human toll. What happens to a society when money is valued more than life?

Since Kudlow's remark, at least 150 workers in Japan (in teams of 50 at a time) have been exposing themselves to high levels of radiation in order to prevent a nuclear catastrophe. They are the heroes.

Next to them, Kudlow looks extremely small and selfish.

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Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout

Want a confirmation of corporate governance, just look at the Forbes top global corporations for 2010:

1. JPMorgan Chase - United States
2. General Electric - United States
3. Bank of America - United States
4. ExxonMobil - United States
5. ICBC - China

Fortune uses somewhat different criteria and ranks BP as number four and Wal-Mart as number one.

In short, the Forbes and Fortune top US headquartered companies compose sort of the wish list of big contributors to political campaigns. So, if you were running, let's say a re-election campaign for president, you might want to adopt policies that favor these businesses and court key people in their top staffs.

So, would an administration favor Wall Street policies that benefit the likes of JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America, keep any top executives from being indicted, and appoint a top JP Morgan Chase honcho as White House chief of staff? Would that administration have some of the key people behind the de-regulation policies that caused a multi-trillion dollar Wall Street collapse serve as the senior economic policy team in the White House?

Would an administration looking to top-level corporate support for a national campaign reassure General Electric (GE) that it was 100% behind nuclear power plants despite their newly proven catastrophic potential (and this one occurring in a poorly designed GE facility)? Would such an administration appoint the head of GE as his jobs czar when GE's main employment activity appears to be exporting jobs from the US?

Would such a White House re-instate deepwater drilling so soon after a disastrous and preventable massive spill by BP in the Gulf of Mexico, and let BP off with a slap on the wrist after it pretty much dictated post-blow out strategy to the US government?

Would the First Lady team up with Wal-Mart - to brandish its image - on an anti-obesity campaign when Wal-Mart is still primarily selling junk consumer food?

Maybe it's just a coincidence that the top US headquartered global corporations appear to be getting their way with policy in the White House, and that the president is great pals with these "masters of the universe" who run these companies.

Maybe it is just all a big coincidence.

But more likely, this is what happens when the audacity of hope turns into the harsh reality of cynicism.

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Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout

If you don't remember Karen Silkwood, you should if you value your life and the lives of your loved ones.

Silkwood disclosed the numerous dangers lurking at the nuclear power plant in Oklahoma where she worked. In fact, Silkwood - a member of the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union, it should be noted - cited so many potential dangers to staff at the Kerr-McGee facility, that she was asked to testify before the Atomic Energy Commission in 1974.

Later that year, Silkwood was found to be contaminated with 400 times the legal limit for plutonium. Silkwood contended that she had been exposed to the plutonium as retaliation for her whistleblowing.

Having arranged to turn over papers that would have allegedly showed the culpability of Kerr-McGee for multiple risks at the nuclear plant, she was killed when her car ran off the road while she was en route to meet a New York Times reporter. No documents were found in her car and the circumstances of the accident indicated that Silkwood may have been rammed from behind.

In a civil trial, Kerr-McGee made the rather difficult-to-believe claim that Silkwood intentionally poisoned herself with plutonium. Subsequently, 44 pounds of plutonium were found missing from the plant.

Eventually, Kerr-McGee entered into a settlement with Silkwood's family for just over $1 million.

If you don't remember Karen Silkwood, you should.

She exposed the dark side of the nuclear power industry, and likely died for doing so.

Will we end up in the same grave if our government continues to holding up the nuclear industry to be flawless, almost divinely empowered to prevent accidents?

The nuclear industry is a business that is out to make profits. We've already witnessed what Wall Street did by operating that way. Are we prepared to continue to run that risk with nuclear radiation?

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Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout

Yes, it's the tale of two Americas.

To its no doubt cheering readership, The Wall Street Journal reported today that big CEO bonuses are back - and back big time:

CEO bonuses at 50 major corporations jumped a median of 30.5%, the biggest gain in at least three years, according to a study of the first batch of corporate CEO pay disclosures by consulting firm Hay Group for The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, amid a continued unemployment crisis, indications of financial distress and basic subsistence are also soaring:

From November to December of 2010 487,000 Americans were added to the food stamp program. Keep in mind this all occurred while the stock market continued to soar and has rallied nearly 100 percent from the lows reached in March of 2009.

Working and middle class Americans barely have enough to pay for the monthly bills so speculating in Wall Street is likely the least of their concerns. The data on food stamp usage usually trails the current calendar date by one quarter. The latest data we have is from December of 2010. However, we are adding roughly 300,000 people per month to the food stamp program called SNAP. If that is the case, as of today we now have 45,000,000 Americans participating in the food stamp program....

This is the highest percent of Americans on food assistance since the Great Depression when there was no food assistance early on aside from local charities.

It's a tale of two Americas: one gorging on gluttony, and one barely able to survive. And the safety net for those in need is being cut with a machete knife as the richest among us get richer.

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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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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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