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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016august26 bigpharmaBig Pharma is spending millions of dollars trying to defeat a California pro-consumer proposition. (Image:EnvironmentalIllnessNetwork)

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It is hard to grasp the price gouging and unregulated sky-high profiteering of drug companies in the United States, but the rise in the cost of the lifesaving EpiPens -- a drug that can save people from lethal allergic attacks -- certainly offers a searing example. As news accounts have revealed, the pharmaceutical firm Mylan raised the price of the medication by hundreds of dollars after it acquired the injection patent from another firm. There was no increase in production costs, just exorbitant overcharging to achieve extortion-level profits. After all, this is a drug that some people need to live through possible deadly allergic reactions.

As Jordan Weissman of Slate sardonically expressed in an article yesterday, "The CEO who hiked EpiPen prices actually just said, “No one’s more frustrated than me.” Say what? Heather Bresch, the Mylan CEO just quoted, would have us believe that her firm was forced by "the system" to pick the pockets of consumers to purchase a drug without which they could die? Of course, the reality is that Mylan made out like modern day brigands because of greed. The only aspect of the EpiPens scandal that Bresch is likely "frustrated" with is the public relations damage to her company and increased calls to rein in the pricing of Big Pharma. As Weissman quips, "It all almost makes you miss Martin Shkreli; at least he was happy to own his villainy."

Of course, EpiPens is only one medication. As a Truthout article recently detailed, a populist effort to bring pharmaceutical prices down -- at least for those who can least afford costly prescriptions -- is now playing out in California.

MARK KARLIN, BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016august25 remittancesRemittances to Mexico total an estiamated $25 billion and play a key role in the survival of the poor, who comprise more than 45 percent of the population. (Photo: Richard Allaway)

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An August 24 New York Time article reports on how important remittances (money sent home by workers living in other countries) are to the economic stability of nations with high poverty rates:

The millions of migrant workers who drill for oil, deliver pizza or take care of older adults far from home sent nearly $582 billion back to their countries in 2015, according to the World Bank....

....remittances have become crucial to relieving some of the world’s poorest people from hunger and want, just as they have become a major revenue source for a number of fragile nations.

A separate World Bank study found that remittances were the main reason poverty had declined so sharply there in recent years. Not only do families of migrant workers benefit, the study found; so does everybody else, when the families spend that money locally.

 A 2015 Reuters article stated that the Mexican government disclosed:

Two million more Mexicans fell into poverty between 2012 and 2014, government data showed on Thursday, highlighting the challenges President Enrique Pena Nieto faces in meeting pledges to lift millions out of need.

The poverty rate increased by 0.7 percentage point to 46.2 percent last year from 45.5 percent in 2012, equivalent to 55.3 million people in the nation of nearly 120 million, said government social development agency Coneval.

As a result, additional revenue -- such as remittances -- that are sent to Mexico are even more vital for many people's survival. The Mexican economy currently resembles an oligarchy, and dramatic political change in the direction of economic justice does not appear to be on the horizon in the near future. This is due to a variety of factors, including the US's efforts to ensure that Mexico does not engage in real economic reform, which would distract it from becoming a full-fledged member of the neoliberal global economy.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016aug24 trumpaliensPhotoshop of Donald Trump and his friends.  (Photo: IoSonoUnaFotoCamera)

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Oh, how the mainstream corporate media loves to roll out their templated coverage of elections every four years. This "coverage" has everything to do with personality, sports analogies and scripted timelines. And as we've pointed out in recent commentaries for the post-convention summer coverage, the mass media loves to push the candidates toward a so-called "reset" of their campaigns, a few months ahead of the general election. In this scenario, the candidates "pivot" in order to "stay on message," moving toward the mythical "center" of the voting public, which is chockfull of the often-mentioned "independent voters."

These clichéd and lazy journalistic conventions allow reporters to create a political process that is not only ridiculously predictable, but is also a betrayal of any commitment to an exploration of real public policy options.

In short, the mass media is a bit distressed because instead of rewriting articles from campaigns past, they are actually having to try to explain how Trump has managed to go through many short-lived pivots. It must be frustrating to the elite political scribes that Trump appears to be going through a revolving door and ending right back where he started, as a bully, bigoted, authoritarian narcissist.

After all, how could Trump be "pivoting" to the center when his new campaign head is Stephen Bannon, CEO of what is known as the alt-right Breitbart News (until he joined the Trump campaign)? From the beginning, Trump has been in line with the alt-right movement: openly misogynist, Islamophobic, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant and authoritarian.

DR. DAVID SUZUKIE OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

20161aug23 polarbears

The Arctic's Baffin Bay and Davis Strait region is home to seals, bowhead whales, polar bears and up to 90 percent of the world's narwhals. The area's marine waters also provide habitat for 116 species of fish, such as Arctic char, an important dietary staple for Nunavut's Inuit communities.

Although the area is crucial to Inuit for hunting and other traditional activities, the federal government has approved underwater seismic blasting by a consortium of energy companies. They plan to fire underwater cannons from boats to map the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits, in preparation for offshore drilling.

The blasting, approved by Canada's National Energy Board in 2014, is meeting fierce opposition. Alower court affirmed the NEB decision in 2015, claiming Inuit were adequately consulted on the project—something Inuit dispute. To prevent destruction of their hunting grounds, the remote hamlet of Clyde River in Nunavut and the Nammautaq Hunters and Trappers Organizationappealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which agreed to hear the case later this year. A positive decision could halt seismic blasting and affirm the right of Indigenous peoples to decide their own future regarding resource development in their territories, which is central to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, of which Canada is a signatory.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016Aug18 extinctionspeciesThe finishing line for capitalism may be self-extinction. (Photo: Mark Wallace)

Ashley Dawson, author of Extinction: A Radical History, will be featured on Truthout on August 21 in a question and answer about his book. At one point in the interview, he tells Truthout:

Capitalism is predicated on endless expansion. It is a socio-economic system that must grow indefinitely or cease to exist. And it has to grow at a compound rate, leading it to commodify and consume ever-greater portions of the planet at an accelerating velocity. Since we only have one planet, there is clearly a fundamental contradiction between our economic system and the environment upon which it, and all of humanity, ultimately depends. But since capitalism grows in a spatially uneven manner, some people can live obscenely affluent, insulated lives while other people face stark ecological catastrophe. But at some point capitalism will take the entire planet past a point of ecological destruction from which there will be no return, at least on any time scale that is meaningful for human beings.

Current rates of extinction suggest that we are approaching that point. Looked at in historical perspective, species often go extinct, but, at the same time, new species are also constantly evolving in a process called speciation. At the moment, however, the rate of extinction far exceeds the rate of speciation. Studies suggest that over the last fifty years a shockingly high 40 percent of the world’s flora and fauna have become extinct. And this extinction rate is accelerating.

There is a direct relationship between Dawson's argument, which details the various deleterious forces of capitalism that accelerate species extinction, and Naomi Klein's seminal book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, on the relationship between runaway global capitalism and unrelenting climate change. Both books emphasize that one of the species that may be headed for elimination from the planet is us: homo sapiens.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016august17 toxicUnregulated pollution of our public waters enables corporations who privatize water supplies. (Image: Michael Smith)

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An August 5 article in AgMag, a publication of the Environmental Working Group, includes an eye-opening warning about the impact that agricultural pollution can have on drinking water, including a relatively large city such as Des Moines, Iowa:

On Thursday, Des Moines Water Works warned customers of elevated levels of microcystins, the toxins created by cyanobacteria, in their drinking water. These toxins cause acute problems with the liver, including liver failure, among other serious health problems. 

The utility was forced to switch water supplies and caution some residents to avoid consuming too much water.

The utility accelerated the public warning due to increasing concerns about the effects of these agrotoxins on human health....

Des Moines regularly faces nutrient levels three times the allowable standard in its source water, and Water Works is currently involved in a lawsuit attempting to get the growers applying nutrients to take responsibility and clean up the mess.

Of course, nothing could please the profiteering bottled water industry more than a warning not to drink local tap water, given that it boosts the sales of their product. In a recent commentary, I noted that Nestlé is extracting clean water from protected public lands to sell in places such as Des Moines. In short, private water companies make money by selling water in plastic bottles -- which are environmentally destructive -- when public water supplies become polluted.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016aug16 churchchristian(Photo: Marie Loughin)

Is the 2016 election the last stand politically for white Christians in the United States? That's the question academic John Sides implies in a Washington Post interview with Robert P. Jones, the author of the recently released book, The End of White Christian America.

I have written numerous commentaries this election cycle on how Donald Trump is the "great white hope" to restore the White House and the US to representing the interests of white privilege, white tribalism and the restoration of blatant racism as an acceptable political and cultural stance among whites.

When it comes to religion, Donald Trump's ongoing defamation of Muslims and draconian proposals for restricting the access of Muslims to the United States and even intensive monitoring of Muslims within the United States is certainly aimed at opportunistically ratcheting up xenophobia and Islamophobia. However, it is also an attempt to corral white Christians -- particularly Evangelicals -- behind an unabashed bigoted white authoritarian Christian – although perhaps in name only -- presidential candidate.

Trump's extension of Nixon's strategy to include not just southern whites, but all whites who believe in white privilege and that the United States is losing its "Christian heritage" is borne out by clear demographic trends. In a 2015 article, Time concluded "white Christians now make up less than half of America":

White Christians no longer make up the majority of the U.S. population, a new survey has found.

The number of white Christians in America has dwindled to 46 percent of the total population from 55 percent in 2007, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Monday by National Journal’s Next America project.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016aug12 demrepDemocracy or Duopoly? (Image: DonkeyHotey)

The corporate media is pretty consistent in its formulaic coverage of presidential races. On July 6, I noted in a commentary how predictable it was that the established pundits were urging that Trump needed to get "on message" in order to be a viable candidate. I pointed out that Trump was already "on message" -- his message was that of a bigoted, sneering demagogue. The establishment political media, however, always covers presidential elections with a template that includes solemnly advice on how presidential candidates must "move to the center" and "stay on message." The idea is that they must give speeches filled with party-line pablum and platitudes in order to win over the much-touted but illusive "independent vote."

If a candidate continues to, in the view of pompous pundits, go "off message," the scribes move to claiming that a particular campaign needs a "reset." For example, on August 8, a Reuters article declared, "Trump seeks a campaign reset with Detroit economic speech." On August 9, a Washington Post article stated that the "next step in Donald Trump’s reset" would be "wooing evangelical pastors." A number of Trump "shock" statements in the past few days have resulted in some talking heads calling for a "reset" on Trump's "reset."

Yes, if a presidential candidate doesn't stay "on message" (which generally means "pivoting" to the mythical "center" as defined by the DC establishment press) then that campaign and candidate need a whole series of "resets."

To those disgruntled by this "lesser of two evils" election, however, the reset that is needed is quite different: What's necessary is to rewind the clock and start over with a new way to choose multiple presidential candidates. Right now, in our two-party system, the way presidential elections are legally structured and covered by the media make a third-party victory extraordinarily improbable. It shouldn't be that way, but it is. We, indeed, have what is often cited as a duopoly on the national level -- or a two-party presidential election franchise.

The two-party dominance of presidential elections has been a major contributor to the creation of a stultified democracy, one in which the institutional interests and the influence of the wealthy and corporations on each party has stifled robust debate and change. What we get are presidential campaigns that reflect the institutional interests of the two parties -- and don't for a moment think that billionaire Donald Trump does not embody both the pro-wealth and, in general, the social policies of the GOP.  Every four years, the media treats candidates as if they can just change costumes ("move to the center," "reset," etc.) and become more electable. Of course, a tacit corporate media assessment of being "on message" involves candidates of either major party adopting economic positions that benefit corporations, since the mass media consists of large corporate ownership, in general.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016aug11 whistleblowerWhistleblowers and confidential journalistic sources are essential to transparency in government. (Photo: Steven Depolo)

The Truthout Progressive Pick of book this week is The Killing of Osama Bin Laden, by famed investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Hersh makes a very persuasive case that the official version of how bin Laden was found and killed was filled more with drama than fact. The White House manufactured a version of the event that was like a Hollywood script, which it actually became in the film Zero Dark Thirty. For outing the fallacies in the White House tale of the bin Laden killing, Hersh was ostracized by both the office of the president and other government agencies, as well as mainstream media reporters and outlets.

Why? Because if Hersh and his sources were correct in how the US came to find bin Laden's location and conduct the operation to assassinate him, then it meant that all the other media outlets who swallowed the official story whole were negligent in investigating the details surrounding the raid.

My first question to Hersh, and his answer -- which will appear in an interview with him on Truthout this Sunday -- reveals why confidential sources and whistleblowers are so important at a time when government narratives crafted for entertainment-driven news outlets go unchallenged:

Mark Karlin: I found your narrative based on research and informants very persuasive. Your version of how Osama bin Laden came to be killed was ridiculed by the White House, the intelligence communities and the military. Why do you think the mainstream press – and even The Guardian – marginalized your sourced account as conspiratorialist?

Seymour Hersh: The mainstream press relies on access. The reporters covering beats – most notably national security beats – must be able to get calls returned and interviews when needed. This does not mean that the reporters on those beats are incompetent or in the hands of the White House – it is just a fact of life that those who cross boundaries, as defined by the White House, do not get the same treatment as those who faithfully reflect the view of the President and his minions.

It is especially so when it comes to crisis reporting – an airplane tragedy, a battlefield victory or defeat. Thus, the White House controlled all details of the story from the moment President Obama announced the kill, and it did all – as White Houses will – to glorify the President’s action and shape the story in ways that would help in Obama’s re-election the next year. The major media lined up for information, and begged and pleaded for any scraps that could be labeled exclusive. Once the narrative was set, any significant change in the story had to be resisted by the White House, and especially by those who wrote the initial stories....

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016aug10 warondrugs(Image: dugg simpson)

David S. Cohen, a writer at Rolling Stone, asserts that Donald Trump's statement about "Second Amendment people" yesterday could definitely be interpreted as condoning the assassination of Hillary Clinton. Here is what Trump said on August 9 in North Carolina: "If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don't know." Cohen argues that Trump was engaging in a verbal act of stochastic terrorism, which the author describes in this way:

[It] means using language and other forms of communication "to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable."

Of course, Trump's "call to arms" became the top presidential campaign story of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.  Trump used to be a frequent guest on the Howard Stern show, and he may have learned from the top "shock jock" how to be a true "shock presidential candidate." Media outlets know that Trump can repeatedly deliver incendiary and grossly offensive statements that grab the interests of readers and viewers in an age when the line between news media and mass entertainment has nearly dissolved.

That trend in campaign coverage -- and Trump's ability to push the edge of the shock envelope a little bit further each day -- has helped leave the discussion of public policy issues of substance out of the presidential contest. Furthermore, what little air is left in the newsroom after the daily Trump outrageous declaration is used for a discussion of the presidential campaign as a horse race or boxing match.

As Stanford Professor David Palumbo-Liu warned in a Truthout commentary yesterday, mainstream corporate media coverage of the 2016 presidential election has focused on personality and entertainment, to the detriment of a discussion of issues that directly impact our lives:

The cult of personality that drives our political campaigns, as frighteningly entertaining as it may be, should not be at center stage, and the tensions that drive voters should not be resolved after one or another candidate disappears. The anger, violence, paranoia and deep racism that propelled Trump to the nomination, even beyond the control of the Republican Party management, will still be there, waiting to find a new champion. We had better be watchful of the new slick package that the next candidate will come in. Whether we end up in the next round of elections with "new Democrats" or "new Republicans," the essential thing is to understand the actual realities that inform our political, social and historical lives, and to probe into the institutions and powerful interests that deliver justice and well-being, unevenly and often brutally.

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