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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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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

 

apublicschool(Photo: TheeErin)On Tuesday, May 13, Newark elected Ras Baraka (with 54% of the vote) as its new mayor, filling the vacancy left by Cory Booker. Booker had recently won a special election to fill the vacancy in the US Senate left by Frank Lautenberg, who died in June 2013.

 

Ras Baraka, son of the late poet and activist Amiri Baraka, is a public high school principal. A key plank of his campaign was an attack on the privatization of K-12 education. The Star-Ledger (New Jersey’s main newspaper) ran a pre-election article in which Baraka scathingly criticized a state plan to convert public schools to charter schools in Newark:

 

Newark mayoral candidate and South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka blasted the school reorganization plan released by State Superintendent Cami Anderson earlier this week, calling it "radical" and "disruptive" and predicting it will damage the city’s school system.

 

"They say this is about choice, but it is about anything but choice. They are saying we’re going to get rid of your neighborhood schools," Baraka said today. "This is a dismantling of public education. It is an irresponsible and radical plan. It needs to be halted...."

 

"The buildings are the property of the taxpayers of Newark. They are not the state superintendent’s property, they are not the governor’s property," he said. "We don’t want to sell them. We want to repair them."

 

"We will not stand idly by and let this happen," he continued, listing the meetings and rallies by parents and alumni in response to the proposal. "We want to say to parents, we are with you."

 

The Baraka victory in Newark provides a significant boost to opponents of the abandonment of public education in poor communities of color.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aloanstudOccupy PostersOne of the masterful characteristics of Elizabeth Warren is her discipline when it comes to progressive advocacy. She knows how to stay on point.

Of course, progressives rightfully love Bernie Sanders. He is the professor of underscoring the narrative of economic injustice in the United States with facts. His multi-hour filibuster of the Senate in December of 2010 was a tour de force, offering up a true State of the Union address. Bernie is the progressive Jeremiah, the articulator of a righteous public policy path.

Warren may or may not be more progressive than Sanders (we really don't know a lot of her positions on issues that are non-economic, particularly foreign policy), but she is a figure who is focused, disciplined, passionate and has a compelling narrative. On television, Sanders looks like a rumpled liberal professor with whom you nod your head in agreement, but it is not clear that he is breaking through to the middle and working classes. (It should be noted that Sanders was a regular BuzzFlash reader in our early years and always receptive to interviews.)

Warren, however, is a radiant media presence. She has the ability to convey a confidence in her convictions that makes her assertions all the more credible to the viewer. On the verge of finishing up an extensive media exposure tour for her new book, A Fighting Chance, Warren brings a frame to the conversation of economic injustice that is compelling not really because of her academic background, but due to her common-sense phrasing of financial struggles experienced by the 99%.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

acancerpill(Photo: erix!)Big Pharma regularly employs a frayed justification for expensive drugs, particularly for new specialty medications: Monumental research costs must be recouped through sales. In addition, the pharmaceutical industry employs a more emotionally compelling argument that verges on a threat: "If you want to live longer, we can't make a profit on disease-controlling medications unless you pay for us to recoup our development expenses."

In short, a person with a serious illness is confronted with a variation on "your money or your life." This is true even for people who have insurance, given growing copayment requirements on specialty medication.

The May 2014 AARP Bulletin, however, contains a commentary that credibly debunks "the most famous industry-sponsored estimate ... that it costs on average $1.3 billion to develop a new drug and get it approved." The authors of the opinion piece, Donald W. Light and Hagop Kantarjian (both professors of medicine), particularly focus on cancer drugs. Light and Kantarjian charge that the development of a new cancer drug doesn't actually cost Big Pharma more than a billion dollars; the figure, they say, is closer to $125 million. 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aguncst(Photo: Poster Boy NYC)A little more than a week ago, a man who baited two teenagers to burglarize his house so he could shoot and kill them was convicted by a Minnesota jury of premeditated murder. That will not bring back the lives of the two teens he had plotted to shoot to death. However, it does at least indicate a jury somewhere in the United States values lives over the growing NRA-sponsored laws that provide a license to kill.

According to an Associated Press account of the killings carried out by Byron Smith, the shooter even taped the murder:

Ted Sampsell-Jones, a criminal law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said the audio recording was devastating to the defense, noting that Smith's taunts to the victims don't show a man in a panic. 

"It was very powerful, and it makes it very clear that ... he didn't do this because he had to. He did it because he wanted to. And that is not what self-defense is about," Sampsell-Jones said.

The recording captured the sounds of Smith shooting Brady as he came down the stairs. Brady groans after the first and second shots, but is silent after a third shot, and Smith can be heard saying, "You're dead." 

In short, what happened in Minnesota was like baiting two cub bears, only they were real teenagers with real names: 7-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer.

The emergence of the "stand your ground" laws as a legislative initiative of the NRA, of course, reached prominence when George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin, who was guilty of nothing more than walking while black. (One of the tragic ironies is that Martin was staying with his father in the very complex that Zimmerman claimed to be protecting from criminals as a one-man armed vigilante squad.)

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