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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016june23 rentafrientHas everything become monetized in the gilded age of the internet, even friendship? (Photo: Christopher Paquette)

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Rafie Drencheva came to the United States to study for an MFA in documentary filmmaking at Northwestern University. Upon settling in, thousands of miles from Bulgaria where she was raised, she came across a website -- RentaFriend.com -- that soon became the topic of her required graduation documentary. It also became the source of, well, some friendships that extended beyond a monetary agreement.

I saw Drencheva's film, "Friends for Sale," at a screening recently and was struck by how even finding friends now has been monetized on the web. Although Drencheva hasn't released the short doc for general viewing yet (she is reserving it for film festivals at the moment), suffice it to say that it documents interactions with "friends for rent." These range from fees of $20 for baking cookies with an affable woman to $100 an hour for someone who provides nurturing cuddling.  At one point, Drencheva -- who narrates the film -- exclaims that renting friends can cost as much as a Beyoncé concert.

What struck me as I watched the interactions between Drencheva and the friends she rented -- who all appeared earnest and comforting -- is what role technology has played in the creation of the rent-a-friend concept and site (which will no doubt be followed by a number of similar online endeavors). Is our increasing dependence on digital and mobile phone communication impeding our personal interactions with people? Or is the idea of renting a friend just another niche that already existed, that the internet is now technologically capable of fulfilling more readily? (Oftentimes, the assumption is made that "technology" has created a certain issue in society, when really, that issue was always with us; technology has just made it more widely visible.) The exchange of money for other people's time -- including for companionship -- is not a new concept.

Thursday, 23 June 2016 07:03

It's Time for the US to Disarm Itself

201623.6 BF Koehler(Photo: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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I feel the finger on the trigger. I also feel it on the button.

"Dear President Obama," the letter begins. It goes on to remind him of something he said in his 2008 presidential campaign: "Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment's notice is a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Such policies increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation."

The letter, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, is signed by 90 scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates. It continues: "After your election, you called for taking 'our nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.'"

Presidential campaigns, mass killings, war . . . nuclear war. Washington, we have a problem.

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Oreo 0622wrp opt(Photo: Robbgodshaw)For generations, kids from age 3 to 100 have loved munching on chocolaty Oreo cookies dipped in a glass of milk. But just over a year, ago, the tasty treat suddenly went sour.

In May 2015, bakery workers in Nabisco's monumental 10-story plant in Chicago's Marquette Park neighborhood had been expecting some sweet news from their corporate headquarters. Rumor had it that their renown facility — after more than half a century and millions of Oreos — was about to receive a $130-million modernization investment to upgrade equipment and to add new production lines. So, the future looked bright and spirits were high on May 15 of last year when management convened members of Local 300 of the Bakery Workers Union to announce that the investment was indeed going to be made.

In Salinas, Mexico.

For decades, the Marquette Park community has been proud that the delectable smell of "milk's favorite cookie" wafts through their neighborhood. But the noses of Nabisco's corporate brass are clogged with greed, incapable of sniffing out anything but ever-fatter profits for themselves and other rich shareholders. Taking the NAFTA low road, they intend to move the iconic Oreo brand — and the jobs of 600 top-quality bakery workers — from Chicago to Mexico, where the minimum wage is a bit more than $4. Not per hour, but per day.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

DT 0622wrp opt(Photo: Michael Vadon)Is it the end of the Christian Right as we know it, or is it the beginning of a beautiful relationship? Michael Farris, chancellor of Patrick Henry College, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, and a longtime conservative evangelical leader, claimed in an op-ed piece for The Christian Post that the meeting of 1,000 conservative Christian leaders with Donald Trump “marks the end of the Christian Right.” Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, believes that “it was admirable and honorable for Trump to meet with Christian leaders. [because] [h]e is not our enemy.”

About a thousand evangelical leaders met with Donald Trump in New York City on Tuesday, June 21, in a meeting convened by Dr. Ben Carson and an organization called My Faith Votes. According to The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein and Julie Zauzmer, “Trump won a standing ovation from hundreds of Christian conservatives who came to [the meeting] with a somewhat skeptical but willing attitude toward a man who has divided their group with comments on women, immigrants and Islam.”

The Christian Post’s Samuel Smith reported that Trump “told the crowd he has his religion to thank for the blessings that have been placed in his life.” Trump pointed out that he won several states with a high proportion of evangelical voters. And, he urged the attendees to pray for everyone but pray that the people vote for “one specific person”; that person being Trump.

"Some of the people are saying, 'let's pray for our leaders.' I said, 'You can pray for your leaders, and I agree with that, pray for everyone. But what you really have to do is pray to get everyone out to vote for one specific person,'" Trump said, according to a video posted by conservative Virginia pastor and founder of the S.T.A.N.D. conservative non-profit organization E.W. Jackson. "We can't be politically correct and say we pray for all of our leaders because all of your leaders are selling Christianity down the tubes and selling evangelicals down the tubes and it is a very bad thing that is happening."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016june22The NRA and its state affiliates have championed guns in bars. Now they are lying about it, for the moment. (Photo: Thomas Hawk)

In May, Donald Trump spoke to an National Rifle Association (NRA) conference and received the gun lobby's presidential endorsement. It was not surprising, therefore, that after the appalling massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Trump made statements backing the NRA's long-standing policy of favoring "the right" of patrons to carry guns into bars. Trump's support for "packing heat" in bars and nightclubs included remarks such as the following one -- made at campaign rally on June 17 -- according to Salon:

If we had people, where the bullets were going in the opposite direction, right smack between the eyes of this maniac — if some of those wonderful people had guns strapped right here, right to their waist or to their ankle, and this son of a bitch comes out and starts shooting, and one of the people in the room happened to have it, and goes boom — boom — you know what? That would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight, folks. That would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight. So don’t let them take your guns away.

Little did Trump know that the NRA, which is used to doubling down on its grotesque, lethal proposals, decided to lie about its record of lobbying in states -- often successfully -- to allow gun owners to legally bring their firearms into places that serve liquor. For those who follow the NRA's brash, provocative defense of guns and gun ownership -- after all, even former President George Herbert Walker Bush resigned from the NRA when their leadership called federal agents "jack-booted thugs" in the '90s -- it was a bit of a surprise to watch Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the NRA, denounce Trump's proposition. LaPierre told CBS News, when asked about Trump's ghoulish statement, "I don't think you should have firearms where people are drinking."

Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's lobbying arm (the Institute for Legislative Action), also rebuked Trump's position, stating to ABC News, "No one thinks that people should go into a nightclub drinking and carrying firearms.... That defies common sense. It also defies the law."

Solar Impulse(Photo: Charles Barilleaux)LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

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The Solar Impulse 2 took off earlier this morning from New York City for its historic, sun-powered flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The multi-day odyssey will be the longest and perhaps the most difficult leg in the solar plane's journey around the world.

The aircraft left John F. Kennedy International Airport at 2:30 a.m. and is being piloted solo by Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard.

"It's my first time taking off from JFK," Piccard said over a live feed from the aircraft, according to the AFP.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016 06:40

Newt Gingrich's Last Hurrah

Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump caricatures(Photo: DonkeyHotey)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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It doesn't surprise me one bit that Newt Gingrich is on Donald Trump's short list for vice president. And it wouldn't surprise me if Gingrich really wants the job. Despite leaving Congress in disgrace in the late-1990s, and conducting a failed run for the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nomination, over the past several decades he has rarely  been out of the spotlight. And while he has been consistently rehabbing his image, he remains a rash on the political landscape that, no matter what you do to deal with it, never goes away.

Gingrich has had numerous character-challenging episodes on his resume. In 1994, three days before the mid-term elections, Gingrich used the Susan Smith case  – a South Carolina mother who was then accused of drowning her two young sons -- to garner votes. Then Congressman Gingrich, told an Associated Press reporter that voters were moving toward the GOP: "I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things." Gingrich added, "The only way you get change is to vote Republican. That's the message for the last three days."

After the passage of California's Proposition 8 -- an initiative banning same-sex marriage -- Gingrich told Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly that protesters were representative of "a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us."

In what might be his last chance at grabbing for the gold, Gingrich, an unapologetic Trump supporter appeared to make his boldest pitch yet to being The Donald's running mate. He  recently executed a Joseph McCarthy-like pivot by suggesting that the House of Representatives form a twenty-first century version of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee  "to root out American citizens who plan to commit terrorist attacks in the US," Talking Points Memo's Allegra Kirkland recently reported.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016june20 nestlewaterBottled water that is "pure life." Somehow, we doubt it. (Photo: Usman Ahmed)

The refuse left behind by bottled water is damaging enough to the planet's environment, but it is also troubling that much of the spring water that fills these bottles is pumped from public lands. Take, for instance, Nestlé's Arrowhead bottled water brand. It is extracted via a pipeline from a canyon -- in California's San Bernadino Mountains -- that some environmental and activist groups argue is ecologically sensitive to the water loss. It's clearly a case of a company exploiting public land for profit.  According to a May 9 article in the San Bernadino County Sun: 

Nestlé’s withdrawal of water from a canyon watershed, which environmental groups deem critical for several endangered species, has been a growing controversy for several years.

Outcry has intensified with continuation of the drought.

Late last year, the Center for Environmental Diversity, Story of Stuff Project and Courage Campaign Institute filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing Nestlé’s pipelines, pumps and other structures on federal land after the company’s permit expired 28 years ago.

The U.S. Forest Service, which administers the federally owned land, was paid just $524 last year for 36 million gallons of water from Strawberry Canyon in the San Bernadino forest, according to the County Sun.

Monday, 20 June 2016 08:49

Donald Trump vs. the First Amendment

WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Bill 0620wrp optIf Donald Trump should become president, don’t expect his administration to be a transparent one or one that tolerates dissent and believes in the First Amendment.

At his campaign rallies, even those held at public venues, he forbids, according to his press advisories, “homemade signs, banners, professional cameras with a detachable lens, tripods, monopods, selfie sticks, back packs or large bags.”

The restriction on “professional cameras” is targeted to the media. Apparently, he doesn’t want unflattering pictures of him and his extra large baggage mouth to get to the public, although he is adept at positioning himself in front of the media for every possible story angle. If he were president, he would not have a choice of who can and cannot photograph him, because the First Amendment guarantees that public officials cannot invoke a “prior restraint,” which is what a restriction on photography would be.

Why he doesn’t want “back packs or large bags” is probably because he fears weapons at his rallies. Of course, he has said numerous times that he believes in the Second Amendment right to own and carry weapons, even assault weapons like the handguns and semi-automatic assault rifles that were used to kill 26 at the Sandy Hook elementary school, the 14 killed in San Bernardino, and the 49 killed in an Orlando nightclub.

Not allowing the public to make signs and banners is such a huge violation of the First Amendment that even the most rabid conservatives, and every judge—no matter what their judicial or political philosophy is—would laugh themselves silly at Trump’s belief that as a president he could control the message, like he is doing as a candidate.

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Justice 0620wrp opt(Photo: D. Gordon E. Robertson)While candidates bicker and Congress stagnates, the super-rich enjoy the absence of attention paid to one of our nation's most destructive issues.

The richest Americans are takers of social benefits. Yet they complain about paying 12% to 20% in taxes, even as respected researchers estimate an optimal revenue-producing rate of 80% to 90%, and even with the near-certainty that higher marginal tax rates will have no adverse effects on GDP growth.

The super-rich pay little in taxes because, as Senator Lindsey Graham said, "It's really American to avoid paying taxes, legally...It's a game we play...I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game." In reality, it's a game of theft from the essential needs of education, infrastructure, and jobs.

The Richest Individuals Cheat the Most

According to a recent IRS report, an incredible $406 billion annual gap exists between owed and paid taxes, with individuals accounting for over three-quarters of the total, and with the most egregious misreporting coming from the highest income-takers.

That's about $3,000 per U.S. household in annual lost revenue. Yet even though the IRS retrieves well over $100 for every dollar in salaries paid to their agents, the agency has been rapidly losing staff, making the tax avoidance game a lot easier for the biggest cheaters.

Corporations Cheat Most Creatively

Relative to a dollar of payroll tax, corporations used to pay $3 in income tax. Now they pay 30 cents.

Exxon uses a theoretical tax to 'pay' its bill, and grandfatherly old Warren Buffett's company Berkshire Hathaway uses hypothetical amounts to avoid paying taxes.

Despite having billions in profits and nearly half of its sales in the U.S., Pfizer claimed enormous losses in the United States.

Each year the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) sells contracts worth about a quadrillion dollars, four times more than all the wealth in the world. Yet ZERO sales tax is paid on the purchases.

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