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Friday, 02 September 2016 07:18

Diversity Is Key to a Healthy Planet

DR. DAVID SUZUKI OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Diversity 0902wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)It's been shocking to watch news of the Brexit vote in Britain, Donald Trump's promise to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. and the ongoing threats and violence against ethnic minorities in many parts of the world. I'm not a political or social scientist, but my training as a biologist gives me some insight.

When I began my career as a scientist, geneticists were starting to analyze the molecular properties of single genes within a species. When we started looking at highly evolved species such as fruit flies, we thought we would find that their genes had been honed through selection over time, so they would be relatively homogeneous within single species. Examining one kind of protein controlled by a specific gene, we expected to find them all pretty much the same. Instead, we learned there was a great deal of heterogeneity or diversity. A gene specifying a protein could exist in a number of different states.

This is now called "genetic polymorphism" and is considered to be the very measure of a species' health. Inbreeding or reduction of a species to a small number reduces genetic polymorphism and exposes harmful genes, thereby rendering the species more susceptible to sudden change. In other words, genetic polymorphism confers resilience by providing greater possibilities as conditions shift.

Within ecosystems, species diversity provides greater flexibility to adjust to disturbances. Around the planet, ecosystem diversity has enabled life to flourish under different conditions. Like nested Russian dolls, life seems to have been built on diversity within diversity of genes, species and ecosystems.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

15057321270 5a0f1047ed zOil pipelines not only pose an ongoing peril, the companies benefit from not paying taxes and being allowed to charge excessive rates. (Photo: Luke Jones)

Oil pipeline companies represent the predatory flow of capitalism unrestrained by responsibility for environmental destruction, contribution to global warming, scarring the natural landscape, and violating the rights of Indigenous people and others through the use of eminent domain to construct the pipelines. That list of foul deeds is just for starters.

That's why a September 1 article in The Daily Beast by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and friend of BuzzFlash David Cay Johnston is particularly alarming. Johnston details how many large oil pipeline companies are essentially exempt from corporate income tax. Not that anyone should be surprised that a destructive industry should be rewarded with special tax breaks. In fact, just yesterday we highlighted a report on how big banks receive tax breaks for enormous "performance-pay" bonuses given to CEOs. 

What's more, Johnston points out that due to a recent arcane ruling by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, many oil pipeline companies are allowed to include a tax that they don't pay in adjusting their pricing. That's correct: the oil pipeline companies that don't pay a corporate income tax can include the tax that is not levied on them as a "reasonable cost" in pumping up their invoice pricing.

2016.1.9 BF Katz(Photo: Skeeze / Pixabay)JACKSON KATZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Gender norms influence not just what we think, but how. Consider the pervasive presence of sports metaphors in contemporary American politics. Metaphors are not merely figures of speech. According to the cognitive scientists and philosophers George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980), human thought processes themselves are largely metaphorical.

Metaphors from sports such as basketball and baseball regularly surface in political speech. But arguably the two most metaphorically influential sports in presidential campaign rhetoric are boxing and football. Not coincidentally, they are both violent sports that attract a disproportionate percentage of male participants and fans. It is only possible to speculate about how much of the white male vote is determined by impressions about the relative "manliness" or "toughness" of candidates or political parties. But there is no doubt that for several decades, violence -- both our individual and collective vulnerability to it, and questions about when and how to use the violent power of the state to protect the "national interest" -- has been an ominous and omnipresent factor in numerous foreign policy and domestic political issues (e.g. the Cold War, Vietnam, the "War on Terror," the invasion of Iraq, the emergence of ISIS, gun control, and executive, legislative, and judicial responses to violent crime). The frequent use of boxing and football metaphors in political discourse did not cause violence to become such an important force in our politics, but this usage is one measure of how presidential campaigns can be less about policy differences and complex political agendas than they can be about the selling of a certain kind of executive masculinity, embodied in a particular man whom the public comes to know largely through television and other technologies of mass communication.

Boxing metaphors play a crucial role in defining presidential campaigns as the ultimate arena for masculine competition. Boxing is a prototypical working-class or poor man's (or, more recently, woman's) sport that strips the notion of physical combat to its barest essence: man against man in a fight to the finish.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016september1 wallstreetbonuses(Image: Institute for Policy Studies)

The Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC released a report yesterday that details how taxpayers are subsidizing banks and massive CEO bonuses. The 34-page "Executive Excess 2016: The Wall Street CEO Bonus Loophole" confirms that Wall Street financial firms and their executives make out like bandits at the expense of everyday taxpaying Americans:

The more U.S. corporations hand out in CEO bonuses, the less they pay in taxes. This is the result of a loophole that allows firms to write off unlimited amounts of executive pay from their federal taxes, as long as it is in the form of so-called "performance-based" compensation.

Wall Street banks [only temporarily] lost this lucrative CEO pay subsidy when they received taxpayer-funded bailouts in the wake of the 2008 crash, but only until they repaid the funds. Many of them rushed to do so, borrowing in the private market in order to escape this and other public bailout-related pay controls. While homeowners and shareholders were still suffering, the banks were free once again to dole out massive bonuses and write off the entire cost, leaving ordinary taxpayers to make up the difference....

After getting out from under the bailout limits on deducting executive pay, the top 20 U.S. banks paid out more than $2 billion in fully deductible performance bonuses to their top five executives between 2012 and 2015. At a 35 percent corporate tax rate, this translates into a taxpayer subsidy worth more than $725 million, or $1.7 million per executive per year. That $725 million could’ve covered the cost of hiring 9,000 elementary school teachers or creating 13,000 infrastructure jobs for a year.

"Taxpayers should not have to subsidize excessive CEO bonuses at any corporation," lead report author Sarah Anderson, director of the institute's Global Economy Project, noted in an email announcing the finding.

2016.1.9 BF Kennedy2(Photo: BeforeItStarts)ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR. OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

Earlier this month, my 15-year-old son, Aidan, and I joined a group of environmental activists on a six day float down Utah's Green River. In rafts and kayaks, we paddled Desolation and Gray canyons almost to the Colorado River confluence.

It was my second trip down the Green. In April 1966, I ran the prime white water stretches of the Yampa and Green through western Colorado and eastern Utah near Dinosaur National Park with my father and mother, U.S. Interior Secretary Stuart Udall and five of my 11 siblings. My father's friend, mountaineer Jim Whitaker, had organized that trip. Whittaker also accompanied my family on a Colorado River trip in 1964, down the Middle Fork of the Salmon in the summer of 1965 and on a kayak run on the upper Hudson's wild white water during a blizzard in May 1965. My father's purpose for the latter trip was to block an industry proposal to dam the Hudson River Gorge.

On each of those western trips, my father took us to nearby Navajo, Hopi and Ute reservations where we visited schools and health clinics and saw the despair among America's first nations mired in poverty, racism, oppression and hopelessness. My father taught us the history of the early American explorers, John Wesley Powell, John Charles Freemont, and Lewis and Clarke.

Following his brother, John Kennedy's assassination in 1963, he increasingly found spiritual renewal in wilderness which he considered "the undiluted work of the Creator." He saw white water as a way to struggle with nature without subduing it and he hoped that all that climbing, paddling and privation would imbue his children with the kind of beef jerky toughness he associated with the American character.

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Handshake 0930wrp opt(Photo: Rufino)Instead of griping about the greedheads of Wall Street and the rip-off financial system they've hung around our necks — why don't we "Take On Wall Street"?

You don't have to be in "Who's Who" to know what's what. For example, if tiny groups of Wall Street bankers, billionaires and their political puppets are allowed to write the rules that govern our economy and elections, guess what? Only bankers, billionaires and puppets will profit from those rules.

That's exactly why our Land of Opportunity has become today's Land of Inequality. Corporate elites have bought their way into the policy-making backrooms of Washington, where they've rigged the rules to let them feast freely on our jobs, devour our country's wealth and impoverish the middle class.

"Take On Wall Street" is both the name and the feisty attitude of a nationwide campaign that a coalition of grassroots groups has launched to do just that: Take on Wall Street. The coalition, spearheaded by the Communication Workers of America, points out that there is nothing natural or sacred about today's money-grabbing financial complex. Far from sacrosanct, the system of finance that now rules over us has been designed by and for Wall Street speculators, money managers, and big bank flim flammers. So — big surprise — rather than serving our common good, the system is corrupt, routinely serving their uncommon greed at everyone else's expense.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016august30 cubaWill a tsunami of capitalism wash over Cuba? (Photo: Balint Földesi)

Today, Jet Blue airlines is flying the first commercial flight in a little over 50 years from the US to Cuba -- from Fort Lauderdale to the Cuban city of Santa Clara. Up until now, an American could only fly to Cuba on a charter flight and meet certain criteria to visit the island. The "requirements" still remain, but they are broad enough that most people in the US can say that one category or another applies to their visits, and the State Department is not expected to seriously enforce the stipulation. As a result, Cuba may be overrun with tourists and businesspeople.

Indeed, as CNN reports, the number of daily flights to Cuba is expected to balloon quickly:

Soon up to a maximum of 110 daily flights operated by such carriers as JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Southwest and Silver Airways are due to begin flying to the ... island, according to the US Department of Transportation.

This will include service to many Cuban cities. In fact, the most lucrative routes -- to Havana -- have not yet been assigned to airlines by the Department of Transportation. There's no doubt that in a few years, Cuba is going to be hit by a tsunami of consumers and corporate profit seekers. After all, the US has long regarded Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean nations as captive markets. With the conversion of Cuba into a Soviet-aligned nation after Castro's military victory, that country became the lone exception in the hemisphere: a place that was not seen by the US as an extension of its own economic system. Today, the Bolivarian revolution has foundered in Venezuela, and Dilma Rouseff is being impeached in Brazil. Ecuador and Bolivia may put up resistance to US hegemony, but remain deeply entangled in it.

In the CNN article, a recent tourist was concerned that Cuba too may soon be captured by capitalism:

For many Americans, though, the immediate concern is not security but seeing Cuba before the island emerges from the Cold War time warp of the last 50 years.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Pills 0830wrp opt(Photo: Slashme)Given the cable news network’s obsession with the presidential race, with an occasional break for stories about damage caused by late-summer flooding in Louisiana, tornadoes in the Midwest, and the earthquake in Italy, it is somewhat surprising that news of Mylan Pharmaceuticals’ outrageous price increase of the EpiPen, its lifesaving injection device for those with severe allergies, has received the attention that it has.

According to Paul Keckley, publisher of a weekly newsletter on healthcare issues, Mylan’s EpiPen price increases – 461 percent since 2007 when the EpiPen sold for $100 for a pair – are nothing new, and “are core in their business strategy: this year, it also raised its prices for ursodiol, a generic medicine used to treat gallstones, by 542%, dicyclomine used for irritable bowel syndrome by 400% and metoclopramide, a generic drug that treats gastroesophageal reflux disease by 312%.”

Around the same time news broke of the massive EpiPen price increase, it was also reported that Mylan executives had received a massive salary increase. According to NBC News, “Proxy filings show that from 2007 to 2015, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch's total compensation went from $2,453,456 to $18,931,068, a 671 percent increase.”

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that Mylan, one of the largest generic drug companies in the world, responded to outrage from patients and health care providers, by announcing that “it would it would introduce a generic version of the product, with a price about half of the existing EpiPen’s.” The new generic EpiPen “would have a wholesale list price of $300 for a pack of two, compared with just above $600 for the existing product.”

JAX JACOBSEN OF ECOWATCH FOR  BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article Reprinted with Permission of EcoWatch

2016august30 frackingThey're even starting to ban fracking "down under." (Photo: Daniel Lobo)

The state of Victoria in Australia has voted to ban fracking on its territory, further cementing the moratorium first put in place in 2012. It is the first Australian state to impose such a ban.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced Tuesday.

"It is clear that the Victorian community has spoken," the premier's office said in a statement. "They simply don't support fracking. The government's decision is based on the best available evidence and acknowledges that the risks involved outweigh any potential benefits to Australia."

The Victoria government had conducted a parliamentary inquiry into fracking for onshore gas in the state and received more than 1,600 submissions. Most of these were opposed to fracking.

The newly imposed ban will help protect agricultural industries and workers, the government said.

"Our state is the nation's top food and fiber producer with exports worth $11.6 billion," the statement said. "The permanent ban protects our farmers and preserves Victoria's hard-won reputation for producing high quality food."

More than 190,000 people are employed in the agricultural sector in Victoria.

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016august30 smokeLooking north from Jacqueline Marcus's ranch on a day that the San Luis Obispo County fires were not raging. (Photo: Jacqueline Marcus)

Drought and Chimneys of Fire: It’s Abstract Until It Happens in Plain Sight:

San Luis Obispo County's Chimney Fire

For the last few weeks, we’ve been living under a sky of ash and smoke. The air is hazardous to one’s health; at times, it’s hard to breathe much less take my daily dog walks. A brown veil covers a bronze-colored sun. On the central coast of California, fires are raging at Big Sur, a landmark known for its Redwoods, profound cliffs and pristine beaches. South from here, the Rey Fire in Santa Barbara’s county has grown dramatically, east of Lake Cachuma.

Big Sur is also known for the legendary poet, Robinson Jeffers, who made it his home. It’s a good thing he’s dead—because if he were to see how we’ve trashed our earth and ourselves, he’d be horrified. The flames are spreading south near Hearst Castle, just an hour north of us.

We live on a ranch of dry vegetation which is susceptible to fires. All it takes is a spark. When you know the fires are closing in, you have to face the brutal reality of evacuation: you must be prepared for an escape plan, especially if you need to transport horses and animals. You have to assemble at a minimum what you deem valuable because once the winds shift, the fires can spread faster than all the hard-working fire-fighters and planes combined. There are many families that have met a tragic fate of watching their homes (all their sacred belongings) go up in flames.

The silence is haunting. Less than a decade ago, there were thousands of seasonal birds that migrated to the central coast; it served as a wildlife and bird sanctuary. At this time of year, hundreds of redwing blackbirds would gather in the willow forest where we used to have a pond that dried up after 2012 from the drought. Redwing blackbirds are loud, as if each one among the large assembly demanded the final word in their dispute, then suddenly, absolute silence, only for the cacophony to start up again. This enchanting bird-ceremony became a joyful amusement for me; in fact, the redwing blackbirds have entered the pages of my poetry many a time.

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