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Monday, 20 June 2016 08:49

Donald Trump vs. the First Amendment

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Bill 0620wrp optIf Donald Trump should become president, don’t expect his administration to be a transparent one or one that tolerates dissent and believes in the First Amendment.

At his campaign rallies, even those held at public venues, he forbids, according to his press advisories, “homemade signs, banners, professional cameras with a detachable lens, tripods, monopods, selfie sticks, back packs or large bags.”

The restriction on “professional cameras” is targeted to the media. Apparently, he doesn’t want unflattering pictures of him and his extra large baggage mouth to get to the public, although he is adept at positioning himself in front of the media for every possible story angle. If he were president, he would not have a choice of who can and cannot photograph him, because the First Amendment guarantees that public officials cannot invoke a “prior restraint,” which is what a restriction on photography would be.

Why he doesn’t want “back packs or large bags” is probably because he fears weapons at his rallies. Of course, he has said numerous times that he believes in the Second Amendment right to own and carry weapons, even assault weapons like the handguns and semi-automatic assault rifles that were used to kill 26 at the Sandy Hook elementary school, the 14 killed in San Bernardino, and the 49 killed in an Orlando nightclub.

Not allowing the public to make signs and banners is such a huge violation of the First Amendment that even the most rabid conservatives, and every judge—no matter what their judicial or political philosophy is—would laugh themselves silly at Trump’s belief that as a president he could control the message, like he is doing as a candidate.

Published in Guest Commentary

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Justice 0620wrp opt(Photo: D. Gordon E. Robertson)While candidates bicker and Congress stagnates, the super-rich enjoy the absence of attention paid to one of our nation's most destructive issues.

The richest Americans are takers of social benefits. Yet they complain about paying 12% to 20% in taxes, even as respected researchers estimate an optimal revenue-producing rate of 80% to 90%, and even with the near-certainty that higher marginal tax rates will have no adverse effects on GDP growth.

The super-rich pay little in taxes because, as Senator Lindsey Graham said, "It's really American to avoid paying taxes, legally...It's a game we play...I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game." In reality, it's a game of theft from the essential needs of education, infrastructure, and jobs.

The Richest Individuals Cheat the Most

According to a recent IRS report, an incredible $406 billion annual gap exists between owed and paid taxes, with individuals accounting for over three-quarters of the total, and with the most egregious misreporting coming from the highest income-takers.

That's about $3,000 per U.S. household in annual lost revenue. Yet even though the IRS retrieves well over $100 for every dollar in salaries paid to their agents, the agency has been rapidly losing staff, making the tax avoidance game a lot easier for the biggest cheaters.

Corporations Cheat Most Creatively

Relative to a dollar of payroll tax, corporations used to pay $3 in income tax. Now they pay 30 cents.

Exxon uses a theoretical tax to 'pay' its bill, and grandfatherly old Warren Buffett's company Berkshire Hathaway uses hypothetical amounts to avoid paying taxes.

Despite having billions in profits and nearly half of its sales in the U.S., Pfizer claimed enormous losses in the United States.

Each year the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) sells contracts worth about a quadrillion dollars, four times more than all the wealth in the world. Yet ZERO sales tax is paid on the purchases.

Published in Guest Commentary

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Bottle 0615wrp opt(Photo: Epipowell)Ocean plastic pollution is an increasingly devastating crisis, and this new infographic shows exactly where the plastic trash is coming from, where it ends up and why it’s important to start our fight against this environmental scourge at the beach.

The graph, provided by UK-based Eunomia Research & Consulting, shows that more than 80 percent of the annual input of plastic litter, such as drink bottles and plastic packaging, comes from land-based sources. The remainder comes from plastics released at sea, such as lost and discarded fishing gear.

Significantly, Eunomia was able to come up with a new estimate of annual global emissions of “primary” microplastics, such as microbeads, fibers or pellets. (“Secondary” microplastics are the result of larger pieces of plastic breaking down into smaller pieces.)

The firm calculated that emissions of microplastics range from 0.5 to 1.4 million tonnes per year, with a mid-point estimate of 0.95 million tonnes. Vehicle tires are the biggest culprits, releasing 270 thousand tonnes of debris into our waterways annually.

These tiny non-biodegradable pieces of plastic are a cause for worry, as they are being gobbled up by plankton and baby fish like junk food, and works its way up the food chain. Microplastics have been found in in ice cores, across the seafloor, vertically throughout the ocean and on every beach worldwide. As EcoWatch mentioned previously, microplastics are also very absorbent, meaning they pick up the chemicals it floats in.

Published in Guest Commentary
Wednesday, 15 June 2016 06:32

Jim Hightower: Who Says Crime Doesn't Pay?

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Bull 0615wrp(Photo: Aseba)Hey, can we all just stop complaining that our government coddles Wall Street's big money-grubbing banks?

Sure, they went belly-up and crashed our economy with their frauds, rigged casino games, and raw greed. And, yes, the Bush and Obama regimes rushed to bail them out with trillions of dollars in our public funds, while ignoring the plight of workaday people who lost jobs, homes, businesses, wealth, and hope. But come on, Buckos, have you not noticed that the feds are now socking the bankers with huuuuuge penalties for their wrongdoings?

Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs, for example, was recently punched in its corporate gut with a jaw-dropping $5 billion for its illegal schemes.

Wow, $5 billion! That's a stunning amount that Goldman Sachs has agreed to pay to settle federal criminal charges over its shameful financial scams that helped wreck America's economy in 2008. That's a lot of gold, even for Goldman Sachs. It's hard to comprehend that much money, so think of it like this: If you paid out $100,000 a day, every day for 28 years, you'd pay off just one billion dollars. So, wow, imagine having to pull Five Big B's out of your wallet! That's enough to make even the most arrogant and avaricious high-finance flim-flammer think twice before risking such scams, right? Thus, these negotiated settlements between the Justice Department and the big banks will effectively deter repeats of the 2008 Wall Street debacle... right?

Actually, no.

Published in Guest Commentary

SUE DIBB AND DAVIN HUTCHINS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Veggies 0613wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)It’s back! Today is #WorldMeatFreeDay, a great time to think about how the everyday choices we make about the food we eat can impact our health and the health of the planet.

From deforestation to water pollution and climate change, the mark that industrial animal agriculture leaves on the environment is huge.

Globally, livestock production is responsible for around 14 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—that’s more than the emissions from all road vehicles in the world.

Animal agriculture is the largest source of the most powerful greenhouse gasses: methane and nitrous oxide. On top of that, growing crops for animal feed, especially soy, results in the deforestation of rainforests, releasing yet more CO2.

There is now overwhelming evidence, that we can’t possibly avoid catastrophic climate change if we don’t address the impact of high levels of meat consumption. We are already living beyond our planetary means. Feeding a growing and more affluent global population of at least nine billion by 2050 simply isn’t possible unless we make some changes.

We need a “less is better” approach to meat eating. That’s where World Meat Free Day can make a difference; by raising awareness of how simple, small changes can start to have a positive global influence. The World Meat Free Day website has a sustainability calculator that shows how meat-free meals can have an immediate impact on carbon emissions and water usage.

Published in Guest Commentary

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

GMOcorn 0613wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)While genetically modified (GMO) foods seem to proliferate across the U.S., many other nations do not allow such products to enter or grow within their borders.

A Bloomberg article illustrated how the world’s vast patchwork of GMO regulations can deter international trade.

Case in point, even though the Brazilian chicken industry is suffering from a domestic corn shortage this year, companies refuse to buy corn from the U.S. because of Brazil’s stringent regulations on GMOs.

“In recent years, some of the largest commodity trading companies have refused to take certain GMO crops from farmers because the seeds used hadn’t received a full array of global approvals, something that can lead to holdups at ports or even the rejection of entire cargoes,” the article stated.

Brazil happens to be the second largest producer of GMO crops in the world after the U.S., and grows 29 varieties of GMO corn. However, the South American country has had a contentious history over GMOs and does not allow certain varieties to enter the country—the U.S. cultivates 43 types of GMO corn. Brazil also mandates that all products containing GMO ingredients carry a label and, earlier this year, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice fined major food manufacturers including Nestle, PepsiCo and a Mexican baking company for concealing the presence of GMOs in their products.

Published in Guest Commentary

KATIE POHLMAN OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Deforest 0608wrp opt(Photo: World Wildlife Fund)Norway has become the first country to ban deforestation. The Norwegian Parliament pledged May 26 that the government’s public procurement policy will be deforestation-free.

Any product that contributes to deforestation will not be used in the Scandinavian country. The pledge was recommended by Norwegian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Energy and Environment as part of the Action Plan on Nature Diversity. Rainforest Foundation Norway was the main lobbying power behind this recommendation and has worked for years to bring the pledge to existence.

“This is an important victory in the fight to protect the rainforest,” Nils Hermann Ranum, head of policy and campaign at Rainforest Foundation Norway said in a statement. “Over the last few years, a number of companies have committed to cease the procurement of goods that can be linked to destruction of the rainforest. Until now, this has not been matched by similar commitments from governments. Thus, it is highly positive that the Norwegian state is now following suit and making the same demands when it comes to public procurements.”

Norway’s action plan also includes a request from parliament that the government exercise due care for the protection of biodiversity in its investments through Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global.

“Other countries should follow Norway’s leadership, and adopt similar zero deforestation commitments,” Ranum said. “In particular, Germany and the UK must act, following their joint statement at the UN Climate Summit.”

Published in Guest Commentary

PETER WILCOX OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Rainbow 0608wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)I’ve been a captain for Greenpeace for 35 years, fighting for our environment in every corner of the globe. I’ve confronted polluters, poachers, smugglers, terrorists, criminals—both private and corporate, armies, navies, vigilantes and you-name-it. I’ve been arrested, jailed, had my ships chased, shot at, boarded and attacked, and had French commandos bomb and sink my ship under my feet—killing a crew-mate in the process.

Wherever I go, people ask me why I continue to take the risks that I take in defending the Earth. For me, the answer is simple: I care about what our planet will be like in the future. Not in the distant future, but the very-near-term-future in which my daughters Anita and Natasha (ages 24 and 20) will be living while raising their own children.

Many environmental activist organizations—like Greenpeace—are very much involved in stopping human suffering caused by pollution, slavery, nuclear radiation, toxic waste and climate change. In more than 400,000 miles of sailing for Greenpeace, I have seen the human cost of environmental destruction in every corner of the planet.

In 1985, I brought the Rainbow Warrior to Rongelap Atoll, in the Marshall Islands/South Pacific, to evacuate an entire town to another island because their home island had been poisoned by the fallout from a U.S. thermonuclear/hydrogen bomb. The U.S. knew the islanders were going to be in the fallout zone, and deliberately left them there as human guinea pigs to study the effects of radiation on real people.

Published in Guest Commentary

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Solar 0606wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)Thanks to Chile’s major investments in renewables, the Latin American country is seeing an incredible solar boom.

In a new Bloomberg report, Chile Has So Much Solar Energy It’s Giving It Away for Free, solar capacity from the country’s central grid has increased four fold to 770 megawatts since 2013. Another 1.4 gigawatts will be added this year with many solar power projects under development.

Thanks to an economic boost from increased mining production, Chile now has 29 solar farms and another 15 in the pipeline. Enel Green Power Chile Ltda. recently commissioned Chile’s largest solar PV project connected to the grid. The 160-megawatt facility will be located in the northern part of the country in the municipality of María Elena, about 1,300 kilometers north of Santiago.

With so much clean power available, the price of solar has cost absolutely nothing for certain regions in recent months.

Published in Guest Commentary
Monday, 06 June 2016 07:23

Bringing Back Bill Clinton?

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Bill 0606wrp opt(Photo: Molly Gilliam)What's past, as Shakespeare has told us, is prologue.

2016 has been a wild political season. This year, despite the unnerving presidential freak show the Republicans are putting on, Hillary Clinton is the one who recently stunned me. Attempting to convince very wary working class families that she will stand against the abuses of her Wall Street financial backers, while also lifting up the poor and shoring up the middle class, Clinton made this horrifying, spine-tingling declaration: She'll Bring Back Bill! Specifically, Hillary promises that her former-president husband will be put "in charge of revitalizing the economy."

Good grief! Isn't Bill the big galoot who turned his economic policy over to Wall Street's Machiavellian, Robert Rubin? Yes. And didn't Bill break his 1992 campaign promise to raise the minimum wage in his first year, putting it off until his fourth year, and even then providing only a token increase that still left the working poor mired in poverty? Yes, again. And didn't he push into law a "welfare reform" bill that has shredded the safety net for America's poorest, most-vulnerable people? Afraid so.

So let's flash back only two decades ago to that defining achievement of President Bill Clinton's presidency: "[The] end of welfare as we know it." What sounded good in theory was detrimental to millions of Americans. Bill was awfully proud of teaming up with Republican ideologues to reverse FDR's historic commitment of providing "Aid to Families With Dependent Children." While there were some problems and some abuses with this poverty-alleviation program, Clinton signed-on to the right wing's fantasy that simply gutting it would magically make welfare recipients self-sufficient through "the dignity, the power, and the ethic of work."

But his faith in the work ethic lacked any actual ethics. Where were the jobs — much less decent-paying jobs — that were supposed to empower poor people? Bill had no plans for that, except a feeble request that major corporations commit to hiring a number of former-welfare recipients. Surprise — they didn't!

Published in Guest Commentary
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