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Monday, 27 April 2015 10:47

"Dr. Evil" Turns Out to Be "Dr. Silly"

2015.27.4 BF Hightower(Photo: IntangibleArts)JIM HIGHTOWER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Big Oil, labor exploiters, industrial food factories, frackers and other corporate profiteers have been paying a lot of money to a man that celebrates himself "Dr. Evil" — the scourge of all progressive groups!

But Rick Berman is not a doctor, not evil and not a scourge. While he is a wholly unprincipled little man, he's just a self-serving huckster who grubs for corporate dollars by offering to do their dirty PR work. His specialty is taking secret funding from major corporations to publicly slime environmentalists, low-wage workers and anyone else perceived by his corporate clients as enemies.

Berman's modus operandi is not exactly sophisticated. Taking money from the likes of Phillip-Morris, Monsanto and Tyson Foods, he sets up tax-exempt front groups (with non-descript names like Center for Consumer Freedom, Employment Policies Institute and Environmental Policy Alliance), posing them as independent research and academic outfits. Each one is an empty shell, run by his small staff of political hacks out of his Washington, D.C., office, and, using the names of the front groups, Berman and Co. buy full-page newspaper ads and write opinion pieces filled with made-up facts and manufactured horror stories for clueless media outlets that amount to raw hatchet attacks on whatever progressive groups or public policies the corporate funders want to kill.

His mad dog style is hardly worrisome to those targeted, for rather than drawing converts to the corporate funder's cause, it merely rallies the usual anti-labor, anti-enviro, anti-"fill in the blank" crowd. But it still appeals to brand-name corporate clients, for Berman promises to spew their message into the media without having any of the nastiness stick to them. "We run all this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors," he assured energy executives last year.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ashelloilcoThe shell that is the logo of Shell should be covered in oil. (Photo: frankieleon)

Newly uncovered documents, disclosed in The Guardian, reveal that Shell has successfully slowed down the growth of renewable energy in Europe.

According to an April 27 article in The Guardian, "Weak renewable energy goals for 2030 [for the EU] originated with [a] Shell pitch for gas as a key technology for Europe to cut its carbon emissions in an affordable way."

Reading news websites, one comes across copious ads claiming that Shell is committed to a sustainable future for the earth. Their intent is to brand Shell as a company working to reduce environmental threats (and, by implication, global warming). Nothing could epitomize the hypocrisy of greenwashing and corporate ads on news content sites more than Shell's Madison Avenue efforts to portray itself as environmentally responsible.

After all, just look on the Shell website, which promotes Arctic exploration for oil and natural gas: 

It is estimated that the Arctic holds around 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of its yet-to-find oil. This amounts to around 400 billion barrels of oil equivalent, 10 times the total oil and gas produced to date in the North Sea. Developing the Arctic could be essential to securing energy supplies for the future, but it will mean balancing economic, environmental and social challenges.

2015.27.4 BF Buchheit(Photo: fsecart)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Because of irresponsible reporting by conservative sources, many Americans have been led to believe that social programs are bankrupting our nation. The mainstream media fawningly concurs, with statements like this from USA Today: "The massive deficits...[and] chronic underfunding...are largely the result of Washington's habit of committing too much money to benefit programs." States are now beginning to attack imagined safety net abuses, such as the use of food stamp funds to pay for fortune tellers and pleasure cruises.

But hungry people rarely waste their modest benefits, and most are eager to work to support their households. Almost three-quarters of those enrolled in food stamps and other social programs are members of working families. And according to the US Department of Agriculture, only 1 cent of every SNAP dollar is used fraudulently.

The real threat is the array of entitlements demanded by the very rich. As they get richer, they're gradually bankrupting the greater part of America, the middle and lower classes. The following annual numbers may help to put our country's expenses and benefits in perspective.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

arefaThe plight of disposable displaced people extends worldwide, as this protest in Australia shows. (Photo: Takver)

Over the last couple of years, reports have flashed through the news cycles about hundreds of refugees drowning as they flee war and poverty, trying to reach Europe. This is a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions, yet it receives only periodic news coverage. Worse yet, the European Union is providing little more than lip service to prevent more refugees from dying; meet the needs of migrants; and address the postcolonial, neoliberal economic issues causing mass migration.

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The Economist, hardly a bastion of progressivism, chastised the European Union on its generally indifferent response to the plight and deaths of the refugees. Its April 24 editorial, published after more than a thousand migrants drowned in the previous two weeks, stated:

The European Union likes to boast that it is a force for good. But in the past ten days as many as 1,200 boat people have drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean. An unknown number were refugees from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia fleeing war or persecution. They perished in part because the EU’s policy on asylum is a moral and political failure.

In a hastily arranged summit, under way as The Economist went to press, EU leaders set out to do something about the drownings. Before them was a ten-point plan designed to enhance rescues, suppress people-smuggling and spread the burden of taking in refugees. Yet, even if Europe’s leaders embraced the plan in full, it would still fall short.

2015.23.4 BF Hoffner(Photo: Bill)ERIK HOFFNER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Community activists from Cajamarca, Peru appeared at the annual shareholders’ meeting of Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation this week to deliver a petition bearing 150,000 signatures protesting the company’s practices in the region, and demanded that it live up to its own goals for human rights and sustainability.

Newmont is majority owner of the massive Peruvian gold mine Yanacocha, the second largest gold mine in the world, and its planned Conga gold and copper mine nearby would be even larger, requiring a farming community to move and the four lakes they rely on for irrigation to be drained.

But the community has so far refused to relinquish its treasured land and lakes, and in response activists say the company has reacted with intimidation and harassment.

One person particularly in the company’s cross-hairs is Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, says activist Mirtha Vásquez, a Peruvian lawyer at Wednesday’s meeting. Acuña de Chaupe’s land abuts one of the four lakes but after de Chaupe refused to sell her land in 2011, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Earthworks reported that her family became the target of harassment and violence in the form of beatings and destruction of the family home. Then Newmont sued her for “land invasion” and violent retaliation, which it lost on appeal in December 2014.

2015.23.4 BF Berkowitz(Photo: DonkeyHotey)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The Koch Brothers, who have pledged to spend at least $1 billion dollars between now and the 2016 elections, first appeared to be building the Good Ship Scott Walker, and now … that may not be putting away their construction gear. At a recent fundraiser for the New York State Republican Party, David Koch told donors that he and his brother were thinking that the Wisconsin’s Governor could be a winning candidate. "We will support whoever the candidate is," David Koch said, "but it should be Scott Walker," according to an account in The New York Times.

While Koch fell short of a full-throated endorsement of Walker, several attendees at the fundraiser told The New York Times that the billionaire brothers seemed to have picked their man. "Scott Walker is terrific and I really wish him all the best,” Koch said. “He’s a tremendous candidate to be the nominee in my opinion." He later added that he wasn’t “endorsing or supporting any candidate for president at this point in time."

A day later, Charles Koch moonwalked his brother’s remarks, telling USA Today that there were four other candidates the brothers were paying close attention to: former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida. "Those are the ones we have talked to the most and who seem to be the possible leaders," he said.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

afastracktpp(Photo: AFGE)

After being publicly rebuked by President Obama for her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tweeted yesterday: "The Obama Admin says I'm wrong - we shouldn't worry about TPP. So why can’t the American people read the deal?"

Obama singled out Warren on Tuesday when he said on Chris Matthews' MSNBC program:

I love Elizabeth. We're allies on a whole host of issues, but she's wrong on this. When you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts, they are wrong.

As Sam Levine of The Huffington Post points out, however: "While Obama criticized Warren for being wrong on the facts of the deal, it's difficult to know exactly what the deal contains because his administration has deemed the negotiations to be classified."

Yet Warren - and the rest of Congress, not to mention the US public - can't "dig into the facts" of the TPP, because his administration won't disclose them. 

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaTallCross(Photo: Dustin Johnston)Former Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann recently told Jan Markell, the host of a radio program "End Times," that the rapture is coming and the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran is bringing it on. "Surprisingly, over 22 percent of Americans believe that the world will end during their lifetime," Roy Speckhardt, the executive director of the American Humanist Association, recently reported in the Huffington Post. "This number is even higher when considering the religious, as 54 percent of Protestants and 77 percent of Evangelicals believe that the 'world is now living in the biblical end times.'"

To Christian filmmaker Paul Lalonde, that is music to his ears.

The filmmaker, who is trying to milk every last drop out of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins' "Left Behind" series of wildly popular apocalyptic novels, has launched a fundraising drive for another Left Behind movie. It appears that production of Left Behind movies will only cease after the Rapture.

Despite the fact that there doesn't appear to be a craving for a sequel to last year's Left Behind box office flop, nevertheless Cloud Ten Pictures producer and CEO, Paul Lalonde, recently announced that a sequel has been green lighted and could be in theaters in the summer of 2016.

The first film, starring Nicolas Cage (actually the second time around for a series of movies based on the "Left Behind" books), garnered only $14 million domestically at the box office and $20 million worldwide. Prior to the release of the first film, Lalonde had pinned his hopes on the star power of Cage and enhanced Hollywood-like real deal action sequences.

"Now," to paraphrase Denzel Washington in the film Philadelphia, "explain to me like I'm a four-year-old why we need another Left Behind movie."

Wednesday, 22 April 2015 07:22

What BP and TEPCO Don't Want You to Know

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDeepWater(Photo: Louisiana GOHSEP)On my way home from the market, I happened to tune in to an interview on a program that airs on our NPR station called Making Contact. The topic of discussion was titled BP Five Years Later: Deepwater Horizon and the Cost of Oil...

Journalists, scientists and residents were interviewed about how BP’s Deep Horizon, (“Deep” is a reference to offshore deepwater drilling) that exploded into raging flames on April 20th 2010, the largest and most devastating oil catastrophe in history, created a crisis of Biblical proportions. Beneath the Gulf’s seafloor is one of the most dangerous places to drill. BP has done more to establish that fact than any other oil company.

The blowout literally transformed an ocean that was teeming with life into a toxic, dead zone. BP is not the only oil company to blame. The oil industry, with the help of their paid-off political officials, has committed egregious crimes of pollution, and irreparable damage with their oil pipes and spills to rich habitats, pelican and turtle sanctuaries, marshes, wetlands and coastal ecosystems since the 1930s. But BP’s blowout was by far the last deadly nail to the Gulf’s coffin.

Layers of oil, like a huge bathtub ring, have settled on the seafloor, the size of Rhode Island, with no signs of recovery. This thick blanket of oil has prevented regeneration of life that begins at the most basic level of the Gulf’s ecology, such as plankton—minute plants and animals that are the foundation of the ocean’s food chain. The plankton cannot survive as waters become hypoxic i.e. depleted of oxygen due to microbes digesting oil and methane gas. Once the foundation of the food chain is contaminated, nothing can survive.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

16260167094 e0a88050fd zShouldn't food workers in the US Senate be paid livable wages?  (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)

To paraphrase thoughts of a venture capitalist in a BBC series I was watching last night, if you're riding in a chariot and a few peasants get crushed under the wheels, it's for the overall good. The UK master of the universe - a Brit version of Mitt Romney – argued (like proponents of neoliberalism in the US) that all ships will rise as he creates a more "robust" economy. Of course, the dead peasants won't enjoy that fantasy economy. In addition, all the economic data in the US and UK indicate that the consolidation of wealth doesn't lift all ships: it raises only a few up to the stratosphere, while the tiny boats of the majority of people sink to the lowest tide.

The television film was Turks & Caicos, the second in a brilliant three-part spy thriller about the political takedown of a morally bankrupt and financially incentivized British prime minister clearly based on Tony Blair and his deference to the indefensible Bush administration post 9/11 policies. 

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The resonance of Turks & Caicos on the moral and political corruption of neoliberal economic policy carried over to this morning when I read an article in The Guardian. Written by a cook in the US Senate, Bertrand Olotara, the personal commentary describes the plight of a single father who had to go on food stamps to ensure that his children receive adequate nutrition:

I'm a single father and I only make $12 an hour; I had to take a second job at a grocery store to make ends meet. But even though I work seven days a week – putting in 70 hours between my two jobs – I can't manage to pay the rent, buy school supplies for my kids or even put food on the table. I hate to admit it, but I have to use food stamps so that my kids don't go to bed hungry.

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