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The evolving relationship between the US and Cuba could open up new avenues for the booming organic market in the states.(Photo: Theodor Hensolt)LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

The evolving relationship between the U.S. and Cuba could open up new avenues for the booming organic market in the states.

American organic food producers and advocates, including the CEO of the Organic Trade Association and executives from Honest Tea, Stonyfield Farm and Global Organics, will be traveling to Cuba in May to take a closer look at the country’s unique, pesticide-free agricultural system and developing Cuba’s organic industry for export, POLITICO reported.

The trip will be organized by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) of Maine. Star chef Tom Colicchio, Pingree’s friend and outspoken proponent of sustainable agriculture, will also attend.

The five-day trip is sponsored by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, which promotes a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty.

2016.5.4 bf berkowitz(Photo: Chris Potter)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

When reading about the Panama Papers it doesn't take long to recognize that it is, as the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity described it, a massive expose of "a cast of characters who use offshore companies to facilitate bribery, arms deals, tax evasion, financial fraud and drug trafficking." By massive, we're talking about some 11.5 million documents from the database of the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca -- the world's fourth biggest offshore law firm – naming numerous political leaders from countries across the globe involved in secreting away bundles of cash, as well as more than 200,000 companies and 14,153 clients of the firm.

As the Guardian pointed out, "The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ then shared them with a large network of international partners, including the Guardian and the BBC."

And, as the Center for Public Integrity noted, "Behind the email chains, invoices and documents that make up the Panama Papers are often unseen victims of wrongdoing enabled by this shadowy industry."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016April5 kochbrothers5The Koch Brothers, masters of dark money.  (DonkeyHotey)

Money, according to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, should be considered merely a tool that facilitates "free speech" under the First Amendment. The decision infamously extended unlimited dark money political spending even to corporations.

In her prodigiously documented and riveting book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Jane Mayer provides an historical account of how Charles and David Koch tenaciously built a network among the wealthiest people in the United States to buy elections and influence public policy.

In just one telling fact, Mayer provides a glimpse into the oligarchical impact on elections that the Koch network and other rich individuals and corporations are having:

The 100 biggest known donors in 2014 spent nearly as much money on behalf of their candidates as the 4.75 million people who contributed $200 or less. On their own, the top 100 known donors gave $323 million. And this was only the disclosed money. Once the millions of dollars in unlimited, undisclosed dark money were included, there was little doubt that an extraordinarily small and rich conservative clique had financially dominated everybody else.

As a "former family friend" of the Koch brothers said of Charles (as quoted by Jane Mayer), "Maybe he confused making money with freedom."

MARK RUFFALO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

TPP 0404wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)Many pundits were caught off-guard by the transpartisan fury over America’s trade policy rocking the presidential primary season. But it’s no surprise to me. I grew up in a working class family in Kenosha, Wisconsin. So I know why Americans have had enough of shiny promises, job-killing trade deals and Wall Street bailouts that propel ordinary people into an economic nose dive.

Hard working Americans of all political stripes recognize when the rules have been rigged against them, because they live day-to-day with the results. No doubt revolutionary change is an appealing alternative.

Since the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) and World Trade Organization agreements in the mid-1990s, America has lost more than five million manufacturing jobs net. Millions of service sector jobs also have been offshored.

During the NAFTA era, my home state lost 68,000 manufacturing jobs—one out of seven in the state. Just one example: After Chrysler received billions in a 2009 bailout, it shut its Kenosha Engine facility, cut the last 800 jobs and moved operations to Mexico.

The damage extends beyond those who lose their jobs. They compete for non-offshorable service sector jobs, pushing down wages economy-wide, hurting communities coast to coast.

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Books 0304wrp opt(Photo: Johannes Jansson/norden.org)Many of the largest U.S. corporations aren't paying the state taxes that should be funding our schools. Kids are the victims. So are the average Americans who are forced to pay higher property taxes, sales taxes, and excise taxes to meet educational budgets. Government and media sources would have us believe there's no alternative, for in a market-driven world it's heresy to make demands of big business, even when the companies are flagrantly avoiding their taxes.

Illinois: Schools Held Hostage by Just Six Corporate Tax Avoiders

The mayor and governor of Illinois are blaming each other for the Chicago Public School budget crisis, and Illinois colleges are in danger of being shut down. But Illinois lost over $1.3 billion (more than the $1.1 billion school budget shortfall) in 2015 state tax revenue to just six companies (Abbott, ADM, Boeing, Deere, Exelon, United), which together paid much less than 1% of their profits in state taxes, just pennies on the dollar for the required rate of 7.75%.

Yet it’s the children and the taxpayers of Illinois who bear the burden of reform. Illinois has one of the "Ten Most Regressive State Tax Systems," according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. In Chicago, Mayor Emanuel recently announced another $200 million in education cuts and then raised property taxes by a half-billion dollars, but the mainstream media repeatedly hushes up the corporate tax avoidance.

California: Funding Goes to Charters as Corporations Take Tax Refunds

In California, where depleted public schools are giving way to business-happy 'reformers' and charter schools, Google took a $400 million refund on its $8 billion in U.S. profits. Chevron has over half of its oil and gas wells in the United States, yet the company claimed a loss of nearly $3 billion in the U.S., a foreign profit of $7.7 billion, and a refund on all its U.S. taxes. Intel managed to pay 1/2 of one percent in state taxes, on nearly $9 billion in U.S. profits.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT 

2016april1 coaloaklandWill California Governor Jerry Brown allow Oakland to become a coal hub? (Photo: Sicko Atze van Dijk)

Throughout his lengthy political career, California Governor Jerry Brown has probably been called just about everything in the book; from Governor Moonbeam (during his first tenure) to hopeless optimist (his run for the presidency), from crass opportunist (his period as two-term mayor of Oakland), to environmental visionary (his current tenure as Governor leading the fight against climate change). However, he’s probably never been characterized as a “head in the sand” kind of guy, and yet that’s exactly the ground he’s occupying by continuing to remain silent about plans by one of his closest friends and political allies to export millions of tons of coal from Oakland’s port; a plan that could have a devastating environment and heath impact on Oakland communities.

As the Contra Costa Times reported this past November, Oakland is on the precipice of “becoming the largest coal exporter on the West Coast.” And Oakland officials have spent months reviewing “thousands of documents to determine whether they can legally oppose coal shipments from a city-owned bulk commodities terminal being constructed on the old Oakland Army Base.”

One exceedingly important issue is whether city officials, who appear to be remarkably united in their opposition, has the authority to block the plans of Phil Tagami, a prominent Oakland developer who is a longtime friend, political ally and financial supporter of Governor Brown.

“Tagami, a former port commissioner with deep personal and business ties to Gov. Jerry Brown, won the contract to oversee the city's portion of the Army Base redevelopment to transform about 160 acres adjacent to the Port of Oakland into a $500 million logistics center with new shipping terminals and warehouses,” the Contra Costa Times reported.

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

1728461908 57a92b9789 z opt(Photo: Andrew Malone)Millions of Nigerians are urging the Nigerian government to reject Monsanto’s attempts to introduce genetically modified (GMO) cotton and maize into the country’s food and farming systems.

One-hundred organizations representing more than 5 million Nigerians, including farmers, faith-based organisations, civil society groups, students and local community groups, have submitted a joint objection to the country’s National Biosafety Management Agency (NABMA) expressing serious concerns about human health and environmental risks of genetically altered crops.

The groups’ petition follows Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited’s own application to NAMBA that seeks to release GMO cotton (Bt cotton, event MON 15985) into the city of Zaria as well as surrounding towns. Another application seeks confined field trials of two GMO corn varieties (NK603 and stacked event MON 89034 x NK603) in multiple locations in Nigeria.

In a press release, the groups said they are particularly alarmed about the commercial release of Bt cotton into Nigeria, which is being phased out in Burkina Faso due to the “inferior lint quality” of the GMO cultivars.

“We are totally shocked that it should come so soon after peer-reviewed studies have showed that the technology has failed dismally in Burkina Faso,” Nnimmo Bassey, the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, one of the leading opposition groups, said in a statement. “It has brought nothing but economic misery to the cotton sector there and is being phased out in that country where compensation is being sought from Monsanto.”

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

AfricanElephant 0330wrp opt(Photo: Mister-E)Leonardo DiCaprio is using his clout to protect the struggling Leuser Ecosystem, a precious rainforest in Sumatra, Indonesia that’s under threat from industrial development for palm oil.

The Oscar winning actor and prominent environmental activist spent the weekend in the forest with fellow actors Adrien Brody and Fisher Stevens. According to The Jakarta Post, the crew toured Mount Leuser National Park on Sunday where they stopped by the park’s research facility and met three Sumatran orangutans.

During his visit, DiCaprio also posed for a photo with two conservationists and two endangered elephants. The Revenant star posted the image onto his Instagram page and in the accompanying caption, he warned that the expansion of palm oil plantations are “fragmenting the forest and cutting off key elephant migratory corridors, making it more difficult for elephant families to find adequate sources of food and water.”

He added that his philanthropic foundation, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, is supporting local partners to establish “a mega-fauna sanctuary in the Leuser Ecosystem.”

The iconic Leuser Ecosystem, located in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, consists of 6.5 million acres of tropical lowland rainforests, mountains and peatlands. As DiCaprio noted, the area is the last place on Earth where Sumatran orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants coexist in the wild. Without protection, these wildlife species are likely to be pushed to extinction.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016March30 rollingstoneThe first album of the Rolling Stones. Now, they are a global brand who cross promote with global corporations. (Photo: badgreeb RECORDS)

The Rolling Stones played a concert in Havana, Cuba, on March 25. The rock magazine Rolling Stone gushed over it:

In the recent series of monumental arrivals in Cuba — Netflix, Airbnb, a U.S. president — none looms as large as the Rolling Stones, who played to an estimated 500,000 Cubans in Havana on Friday. On an island overlooked by time for more than a half century, the group became the focal point of life for at least a day. The iconic tongue logo sprouted up on T-shirts across Havana, and cabbies, bartenders and friendly locals asked almost anyone, "Do you know the Rolling Stones will play tonight?" as if to confirm that the concert was indeed real....

"This is a new time," Jagger observed to roars from the crowd, a nod to the Stones' once-outlaw status in the country....

Cuban communism might be losing steam, but over an hour into the show it was clear that Mick Jagger is not.

If a half a million people indeed attended the concert, that is about a quarter of the population of Havana....

However, and not to be a curmudgeon about celebrating their classic riffs, they also represent the marketing of music as a brand. That is why Rolling Stone magazine - itself a brand - starts out its coverage of the band's show in Cuba comparing the performance to the arrival of Netflix and Airbnb on the island still officially under a congressional embargo.

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

2016march28 whalesGerman environment minister Robert Habeck and Gerd Meurs, director of the Multimar national park center, hold up some of the waste found in the sperm whales’ bodies. Photo credit: Wadden Sea National Park

Large quantities of marine debris were found in the stomachs of sperm whales that washed up dead in Germany’s North Sea coast earlier this year.

The whales first surfaced in January and February near the coastal town of Tönning in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. After officials ordered a necropsy of the bodies, post-mortem results were announced in a presentation at the Multimar Wattforum Centre on March 23.

Four of the 13 whales had large amounts of plastic waste in their stomachs, and some of the garbage included a 13-meter-long fishing net, a 70-centimeter-long plastic car engine cover and the remains of a plastic bucket, according to a press release from the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park.

“These findings show us the effects of our plastic society: Animals inadvertently take in plastic and other plastic waste and suffer, and at worst, starve with full stomachs,” environment minister Robert Habeck said in a statement (via Google Translate).

“This reminds us that we step up the fight against waste in the sea,” he said.

The whales were said to be all young bulls between the ages of 10 to 15 and weighed between 12 to 18 tons. Before surfacing in the shallow waters of the Wadden Sea in the North Sea, scientists suspected that the last time the whales had anything to eat besides plastic trash was in the Norwegian Sea.

According to the press release, male sperm whales in this population spend their winter in the North Atlantic but in their search for food, they mistakenly migrated to the food-poor North Sea.

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