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PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaStrikeFist(Photo: Ralph Chaplin)Americans are feeling the impoverishing effects of the shift from middle-income to low-income jobs. The disappearance -- or, more accurately, downsizing -- of living-wage jobs is documented by numerous reports that reveal the suddenness and the extent of this affront to middle America.

First, the Neoliberal Explanation: It's Not Really Happening

Business writer Robert Samuelson calls the post-recession low-wage recovery a "myth." To support his claim he cites a study from the Economic Policy Institute which, according to Samuelson, proves that "the economy’s employment profile — the split between high- and low-paying jobs — hasn’t changed much since the recession or, indeed, the turn of the century."

But the EPI analysis is based on average wages within industries, rather than on the median, which reflects unequal growth. If the median had kept up with the average over the past 15 years, the current median wage would be $1/hour higher, or about $2,000 per year. The employment profile has actually changed a great deal since the year 2000.

There's more. The EPI analyst claims that "jobs are being added relatively in proportion to their share." But she only considers one year's data, after much of the damage had already been done. Even so, the EPI figures show that the percentage of middle-wage jobs added in 2014 was 6.3 percent less than the overall percentage of middle-wage jobs (42.7% to 40%) -- a rather dramatic change for a single year.

Published in Guest Commentary

COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaErin(Photo: Eva Rinaldi)Environmental activist Erin Brockovich appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to talk about the Flint water crisis. Brockovich said members of the Flint community reached out to her a year ago because they were concerned about how their water looked, tasted and smelled. She sent a team of experts to Flint to investigate and even drafted a protocol for how the city should deal with the problem.

She explained to the audience what went wrong in Flint and what the city needs to do to provide residents with potable water. Colbert then asked Brockovich if Flint was the tip of the “leadberg.” Are there other communities facing similar problems?, he asked.

Brockovich answered with a resounding yes. “I can tell you that Flint, Michigan is the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “I can tell you for certain that this is a national crisis that we are not getting ready to face. The crisis is already here. Even since Flint has hit the national stage, we’ve found out that Sebring, Ohio has the same problem … The same thing is happening in Louisiana, and we’re just now hearing rumors—I haven’t verified it before I came out—we’re having the same situation in Wisconsin.”

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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaClimateWarm(Photo: NASA)In 1996, the Illinois-based Heartland Institute, then only twelve years old, launched a revolutionary project called PolicyFax, which combined conservative advocacy with then state-of-the-art technology to become one of the right’s leading information clearinghouses. In the environmental section of PolicyFax’s 300-page paper catalogue, hundreds of articles were listed, covering a broad range of issues including: air quality, chemicals, endangered species, energy, environmental justice, forestry, free-market environmentalism, global climate change, ozone depletion, regulatory reform, and sustainable development.

PolicyFax was accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and was absolutely free to every elected official in the United States (regardless of position), every significant media worker, and researchers from many other think tanks. Heartland’s complete set of resources would be delivered directly to their desks. In many ways, Heartland’s PolicyFax helped seed the conservative movement’s long-lived project denying global warming; a project that continues unabated to this day.

A report prepared in 2000 – covering the period from 1990-1997 -- titled Challenging Global Warming as a Social Problem: An Analysis of the Conservative Movement’s Counter-Claims, “was the first comprehensive look at how conservative think tanks were trying to shape the conversation on climate,” Heather Smith recently reported in Grist, the very essential online environmental magazine.

According to the report -- prepared by Aaron M. McCright and Riley E. Dunlop, two Washington State University sociologists – information about global warming on the web sites of major conservative think tanks centered around three points: “the evidentiary basis of global warming [w]as weak, if not entirely wrong: if global warming exists, it could “have substantial benefits”; and, “the movement warned that proposed action to ameliorate global warming would do more harm then good.”  

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TED GLICK OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaKinderProtest(Photo: EcoWatch)Over a seven day period last week there was a flurry of step-it-up activity on the East Coast in opposition to the planned expansion of fracking and fracking infrastructure.

It began with a three-day walk over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend in sub-freezing, wintry weather in rural western Massachusetts against Kinder Morgan’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline. Upwards of 200 people took part in the walk, with an average of about 80 people walking 11-12 miles each day. The spirit and energy of the group was powerful.

It continued on Wednesday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with a successful disruption of the last meeting of Gov. Tom Wolf’s gas-industry-stacked pipeline infrastructure commission. The commission was set up to sell the plan to build even more gas pipelines and expand fracking in the state.

And it ended on Thursday in Washington, DC with the 15th consecutive Beyond Extreme Energy disruption of the monthly Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Commissioners’ meeting. This action was followed by one right near the White House at a Bank of America branch. Bank of America is a major funder of the being-built Cove Point, Maryland Liquified Natural Gas export terminal.

Also this past week, on Monday, seven people were arrested at the latest blockade organized by We Are Seneca Lake in Ithaca, New York at the Crestwood gas storage facility; many hundreds have been arrested over the last year and a half in a campaign that shows no signs of letting up.

Published in Guest Commentary

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDamonFlint(Photo: EcoWatch)Matt Damon has joined the escalating outrage over Gov. Rick Snyder’s handling of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and has called on embattled governor to step down from his post.

“At the very least he should resign! At the very least,” the Hollywood actor and co-founder of the nonprofit Water.org told The Daily Beast at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday.

“Listen, everybody’s entitled to a fair trial in the United States of America, but that man should get one. And soon. That’s just my personal opinion.”

Flint’s water disaster started back in April 2014, when an unelected state official switched the city’s main water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money. This ill-fated move has corroded Flint’s aging pipelines and exposed the city’s 102,000 residents—especially children—to the potentially crippling effects of lead poisoning and led to two outbreaks of Legionnaires Disease that has killed 10 people.

To make matters worse, emails released last week revealed that Gov. Snyder and his administration knew about Flint’s water quality issues as early as February 2015 but his administration said the problems would eventually “fade in the rearview.”

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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGuteBible(Photo: Mactographer)On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Donald Trump made a pilgrimage to the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Liberty is the largest Christian University in the world, and is now run by his son Jerry Falwell Jr. At Liberty, Trump said that it was an honor to be compared to the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and he assured the 13,000 people in attendance that he would "protect Christianity."

"Christianity is under siege," Trump added. "Very bad things are happening ... Somehow we have to unify, we have to band together, we have to do really in a really large version what they've done at Liberty ... You band together, you've created one of the great universities, colleges anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, and that's what our country has to do around Christianity."

Raw Story reported that Trump "was ridiculed by some religious leaders after his appearance at Liberty on Monday, during which he tried to shoehorn a Biblical reference into his usual stump speech."

Trump speaking at Liberty University is pretty remarkable given that Trump has never had a close connection to, or even a passing relationship with, the Christian evangelical community. That combined with the fact that back in the day, the Rev. Jerry Falwell was an outspoken critic of Martin Luther King Jr. and what he termed the "so-called freedom movement," certainly made for an unusual cultural moment. To be fair to the late Rev. Falwell, he did eventually repudiate his segregationist past, although he never embraced Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights/freedom struggle during his career.

Trump's appearance at Liberty was followed by his receiving the endorsement of Sarah Palin, which, given her standing in the evangelical Christian community, could nudge a few more evangelical Christians into his column.

Published in Guest Commentary

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBernieBern(Photo: Nick Solari)When I crossed paths with a Democratic Party campaign consultant in Austin last March, I suggested he come out to the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall to hear Bernie Sanders, adding that the Vermont senator was pondering a run for the presidency. "You gotta be kiddin' me," the political pro snorted. "Bernie Sanders? Let me tell ya, his chances are slim and none, and Slim don't live in Bernie's precinct. First of all, no one south of Greenwich Village ever heard of him. Second, who's gonna vote for some old senator from a tiny state of Birkenstock-wearers damn near in Canada?"

So that scoffer was a no-show, but we really didn't have room for him anyway. We had expected about 200 people — the capacity of the hall — but nearly 500 Texans showed up that night to hear the undiluted populist message of this senator "no one ever heard of."

Austin was one of the first stops on a cross-country trip that Sanders was taking to assess whether an unabashedly progressive, movement-building presidential campaign could rally any substantial support. If he ran, he intended to go right at the moneyed elites who've thoroughly corrupted our politics and rigged our economy to squeeze the life out of the middle class. But, would anyone follow? Were people really ready to do this, and could a 74-year-old, notoriously brusque Vermonter with a conspicuous Brooklyn accent be the one to spark such a modern-day American revolt? He wasn't sure, and even if it might work, he assumed it would be a slow build.

I was to introduce him at the Austin event, and as we worked our way from the parking lot, waving to an ebullient overflow group gathered outside the union building, shaking hands with people standing all along the hallway and up the stairwell, then squeezing through the jam-packed crowd in the auditorium — I said to him: "Something is happening here." He nodded and said in an astonished whisper, "Something is happening."

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COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaLeo(Photo: Christopher William Adach)Leonardo DiCaprio blasted the “corporate greed of the coal, oil and gas industries” in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland Tuesday.

DiCaprio was honored along with will.i.am, Yao Chen and Olafur Eliasson for making important contributions to improving the state of the world. He was recognized for his work in tackling climate change through his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and his position as an UN Messenger of Peace.

During his acceptance speech, DiCaprio urged world leaders to do more. “Last month in Paris, world leaders reached a historic agreement that provides a concrete framework to reduce carbon emissions,” he said. “This was an important first step, but we are a long way off from claiming victory in this fight for our future and for the survival of our planet.”

While traveling recently to film a documentary on the impacts of climate change, DiCaprio said he was “astonished to see that ancient glaciers” in Greenland and the Arctic are “rapidly disappearing well ahead of scientific models.” In India, he saw farmers’ fields devastated by unprecedented flooding. He said we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, urged business leaders to divest from fossil fuels and pushed for a rapid transition to renewables.

“We simply cannot afford to allow the corporate greed of the coal, oil and gas industries to determine the future of humanity. Those entities with a financial interest in preserving this destructive system have denied and even covered-up the evidence of our changing climate,” he said. “Enough is enough. You know better. The world knows better. History will place the blame for this devastation squarely at their feet.”

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COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDenmarkWind(Photo: Fanny Schertzer)Denmark produced 42 percent of its electricity from wind power in 2015, even though two major wind farms were offline, according to official data from Energinet, Denmark’s transmissions systems operator. That’s the highest figure recorded to date worldwide and 3 percent higher than the record Denmark set for wind production in 2014.

In fact, two western regions—Jutland and Funen—supplied more electricity from wind than they consumed for the equivalent of 60 days last year. Wind supplied 55 percent of electricity in the western part of the country and 23 percent in the eastern region.

“Hopefully, Denmark can serve as an example to other countries that it is possible to have both ambitious green policies with a high proportion of wind energy and other renewables in the energy supply, and still have a high security of supply and competitive prices on electricity,” the country’s Minister for Energy, Utilities and Climate Lars Christian Lilleholt told The Guardian.

According to Energinet, 2015 was a particularly windy year, which helped Denmark set the new record. But Denmark has been rapidly increasing its overall percentage of wind energy for more than a decade.

“The fact that we are now generating surplus power 16 percent of the time in the Western Danish power grid illustrates that … we can benefit from imports and exports across borders to an even greater extent,” Carsten Vittrup, an adviser to Energinet, said. Denmark sells excess energy mainly to Norway, Sweden and Germany.

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COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCasinoPier(Photo: Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)Bloomberg’s Carbon Clock serves as an ominous reminder that carbon levels are rising rapidly. The clock tracks the monthly average levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The current number is slightly above 400 parts per million (ppm).

“Carbon dioxide pollution is the primary reason the Earth is warming,” Bloomberg explained. “The number you see here estimates the level of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere right now, based on monthly averages.”

Scientists estimate pre-industrial CO2 levels hovered around 280 ppm. When scientists first measured CO2 levels in 1959, they were at 316 ppm. The “danger zone,” according to Bloomberg, is 450 ppm, which we may reach in just a few decades. The climate group 350.org proposes rapidly reducing CO2 levels to below 350 ppm this century to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

And don’t be fooled by carbon’s seasonal cycle, Bloomberg cautioned. CO2 levels fall each spring and autumn when vegetation in the Northern Hemisphere absorbs carbon from the air, but the overall trend is still upward.

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