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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

SEC22SEC let corporations off the hook for using conflict minerals. (Image: Wikipedia)

 Since April 7, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has no longer required corporations to publicly disclose the use of conflict minerals in their products. Reuters explained the action:

The conflict minerals rule was required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and is supported by human rights groups that want companies to tell investors if their products contain tantalum, tin, gold or tungsten mined from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), in the hope that such disclosures will curb funding to armed groups.

Business groups have contended that it forces companies to furnish politically charged information that is irrelevant to making investment decisions and that it costs too much for companies to trace the source of minerals through the supply chain.

The National Center for Policy Analysis, a pro-business "free market" think tank, was thrilled that companies and shareholders will no longer have to reveal the use of blood-stained minerals to shareholders and the public.

BILL MCKIBBEN FOR ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Reposted from EcoWatch.com

justintrudeauJustin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada. (Photo: John McCallum)

Donald Trump is so spectacularly horrible that it's hard to look away (especially now that he's discovered bombs). But precisely because everyone's staring gape-mouthed in his direction, other world leaders are able to get away with almost anything. Don't believe me? Look one nation north, at Justin Trudeau.

Look all you want, in fact—he sure is cute, the planet's only sovereign leader who appears to have recently quit a boy band. And he's mastered so beautifully the politics of inclusion: compassionate to immigrants, insistent on including women at every level of government. Give him great credit where it's deserved: in lots of ways he's the anti-Trump, and it's no wonder Canadians swooned when he took over.

But when it comes to the defining issue of our day, climate change, he's a brother to the old orange guy in DC.

JONATHAN D. SIMON FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Mitch 0417wrp opt(Photo: Gage Skidmore)When Senator Mitch McConnell pushed the button on the "nuclear option" last week, putting an end to the filibuster as a tactic for blocking confirmation of nominees to the US Supreme Court, some may well have wondered whether the Republican majority leader would one day, when the political shoe was on the other foot, come to regret the action. But McConnell -- whose professed devotion to the hallowed traditions of the Senate yielded politely to his unrivalled strategic and tactical acumen in the service of partisan causes -- had little reason for worry.

Here's why. In establishing a bicameral legislative branch, the Founding Fathers devised the Senate as a body of geographic rather than demographic representation. That is, its numbers would reflect equal representation for each state regardless of how disproportional to population that representation might turn out to be. This at-the-time novel (and quite deliberately anti-democratic) concept, which has had various interesting effects throughout our history, is now crystallizing into what may well prove a blow to our democracy more serious than any intended or imagined by the Founders. As Senator McConnell is doubtless aware, half the population of the United States lives in the nine largest states and is represented by 18 senators; the other half gets to elect 82 senators. As McConnell also knows well, the hyper-polarization and lines of division of our era are such that solid "red" states abound, predominating among the lower-population states that elect four-fifths of the Senate. He can therefore rest easy in the knowledge that, unless those fundamental factors of American politics undergo an extremely unlikely sea change, the Democrats will not regain control of a Senate majority during his tenure and probably long after.  

But, one might object, they are so close, needing a pick-up of a mere three seats to turn the trick. This is an illusion. With every advantage in 2016 (the Republicans had to defend 24 seats to the Democrats' 10), the Democrats nonetheless fell short. In 2018 they will be paying the piper, defending 25 seats (including the two Independents who caucus with the Democrats) to the Republicans' eight. Trump's many failings notwithstanding, virtually no analysts see 2018 as a Senate pick-up year for the Democrats. Beyond that, as long as our nation remains starkly divided, both politically and geographically -- as long as Election Night maps flash a great dollop of red fringed with a thin garnish of blue -- the Republicans will be playing with house money in their quest to maintain control of the Senate.

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Gears 0417wrp opt(Photo: Arthur Clarke)The jobs reports would have us believe our rebound from the recession is almost complete. The reality is very different, and The Economist has some fancy words for it: "Job polarisation," where middle-skill jobs decline while low-skill and high-skill jobs increase, and while the workforce "bifurcates" into two extremes of income. 

Optimists like to bring up the Industrial Revolution, and the return to better jobs afterward. But it took 60years. And job polarization makes the present day very different from two centuries ago, when only the bodies of workers, and not their brains, were superseded by machines. 

Most Workers Today Are Underpaid

Most of our new jobs are in service industries, including retail and health care and personal care and food service. Those industries generally don't pay a living wage. In 2014 over half of American workers made less than $15 per hour, with some of the top employment sectors in the U.S. paying $12 an hour or less.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

PP 0414wrp(Photo: S. MiRK)According to the Associated Press, President Donald Trump is poised “to sign legislation erasing an Obama-era rule that barred states from withholding federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.” It is not the first time the organization, that provides invaluable health services to countless numbers of underserved women, has been in the anti-abortion movement’s crosshairs.

Not to be confused by the facts that only a very small percentage of its work revolves around providing abortion services – offered sans federal funding -- with the White House and Congress firmly controlled by Republicans, there is every indication that Planned Parenthood may be stripped of the $500-+-million a year it receives in government funding.

While the attacks on Planned Parenthood have run the gamut from clinic bombings to threats to clinic staffers, from rabid demonstrations outside clinics to picketing the homes, and leafleting the neighborhoods, of doctors providing abortions, the tool du jour these days is the surreptitious, and thoroughly doctored, video taping of unaware Planned Parenthood staffers.

Recently, the Los Angeles Times’ Jeremy Breningstall, Elizabeth D. Herman and Paige St. John, reported on the activities of David Daleiden “and a small circle of anti-abortion activists [that] went undercover into meetings of abortion providers and women’s health groups. With fake IDs and tiny hidden cameras, they sought to capture Planned Parenthood officials making inflammatory statements.”

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

saveinternet(Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)

Truthout reporter Mike Ludwig wrote an incisive piece on March 28, detailing how internet users were about to lose much of their privacy. He was right. President Trump recently signed a reversal of an Obama administration rule that would have, according to Ludwig, required "internet providers to explicitly ask for your consent before harvesting sensitive personal information and selling it to advertisers, according to privacy advocates." This requirement was promulgated by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), but is now nullified.

Ludwig noted the high stakes of the rule reversal:

Besides preventing providers from selling data to marketers without explicit consent, the rules [kept] providers from "snooping" through your web traffic and injecting ads based on what you're browsing, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Providers could also preinstall software that tracks browsing on your mobile phone and "hijack" your searches on search engines, sending you directly to websites that pay providers to detour traffic in their direction instead of showing you the normal list of search engine results.

In other words, the repeal will block Obama-era privacy protections designed to prevent your personal online data from becoming an all-out corporate commodity.

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Tomahawk 0413wrp opt(Photo: Brad Dillon)A Morning Consult poll winks at me from my inbox: 57 percent of Americans support more airstrikes in Syria.

My eyeballs roll. Hopelessness permeates me, especially because I’m hardly surprised, but still . . . come on. This is nuts. The poll could be about the next move in a Call of Duty video game: 57 percent of Americans say destroy the zombies.

This is American exceptionalism in action. We have the right to be perpetual spectators. We have the right to “have an opinion” about whom the military should bomb next. It means nothing, except to those on the far end of the Great American Video Game, where the results are real.

But painful reality is only news when the media says it’s news. And that means it’s only news when the bad guys perpetrate it. This is because the Orwellian context in which we live is the context of perpetual war — not the old-fashioned kind of war, which required sacrifice and the occasional glorious death of loved ones (not to mention eventual victory or defeat), but modern, abstract war, with smart bombs and spectacular video footage and not much else, except opinion polls. And Trump’s ratings go up when he tosses 59 Tomahawk missiles — about a hundred million dollars’ worth — at a Syrian airfield. Money well spent!

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Coins 0413wrp opt(Photo: Jeff Belmonte)In an insightful song about outlaws, Woody Guthrie wrote this verse: "As through this world I travel/ I see lots of funny men/ Some'll rob you with a 6-gun/ Some with a fountain pen."

The fountain pens are doing the serious stealing these days. For example, while you would get hard time in prison for robbing a bank at gunpoint, bankers who rob customers with a flick of their fountain pens (or a click of their computer mouse) get multimillion-dollar payouts, and they usually escape their crimes unpunished. After all, it's their constant, egregious, gluttonous thievery that has made "banker" a four-letter word in America, synonymous with immoral, self-serving behavior.

Take John Stumpf, for example. The preening, silver-haired, exquisitely-tailored CEO of Wells Fargo was positioned on the top roost of the financial establishment and hailed as a paragon of big-banker virtue... until he suddenly fell off his lofty perch.

It turns out that being "a paragon of big-banker virtue" is not at all the same as being a virtuous human being. Banker elites don't get paid the big bucks by "doing what's right," but by doing what's most profitable — and that means cutting corners on ethics, common decency and the golden rule. Stumpf didn't just cut corners, he crashed through them, driving his big banking machine into the dark realm of immoral profitability by devising a business plan that effectively encouraged Wells Fargo branches to steal from millions of their poorest and most easily deceived customers.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

betsydevoss333Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (Photo: Gage Skidomore)

In a sweeping move this week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put student loan debtors at greater risk of high-pressure collection tactics for government-backed loans, according to Bloomberg:

Obama issued a pair (PDF) of memorandums (PDF) last year requiring that the government’s Federal Student Aid office, which services $1.1 trillion in government-owned student loans, do more to help borrowers manage, or even discharge, their debt. But in a memorandum (PDF) to the department’s student aid office, DeVos formally withdrew the Obama memos.

According to the report in Bloomberg, the Obama administration had taken action through the Department of Education to protect student borrowers from predatory loan collectors:

A recent epidemic of student loan defaults and what authorities describe as systematic mistreatment of borrowers prompted the Obama administration, in its waning days, to force the FSA office to emphasize how debtors are treated, rather than maximize the amount of cash they can stump up to meet their obligations.

Obama’s team also sought to reduce the possibility that new contracts would be given to companies that mislead or otherwise harm debtors. The current round of contracts will terminate in 2019, and among three finalists for a new contract is Navient Corp. In January, state attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, along with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, sued Navient over allegations the company abused borrowers by taking shortcuts to boost its own bottom line. Navient has denied the allegations.

Bloomberg notes the reaction to the move by the Illinois attorney general: "In a statement Tuesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is suing Navient [a large student loan debt collector for the federal government], agreed: 'The Department of Education has decided it does not need to protect student loan borrowers.'"

Wednesday, 12 April 2017 08:21

Trump Doesn’t Know a Damn Thing About Dams

GARY WOCKNER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Dam 0412wrp opt(Photo: Qurren)Donald Trump finally opened his mouth about dams and hydropower last week. The result is as bad as you can imagine.

Daniel Dale, Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star, tweeted what Trump had to say:

"Hydropower is great, great, form of power—we don't even talk about it, because to get the environmental permits are virtually impossible. It's one of the best things you can do—hydro. But we don't talk about it anymore."

But, once again, Trump is dead wrong.

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