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JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCAwater(Photo: fir0002)Residents of California have been warned by Governor Jerry Brown (D) that should they shower or water trees and gardens at an amount that exceeds the state’s mandatory limits (i.e. cutting urban water use 25 percent) they will be harshly penalized with water fines.

That’s a sensible rule given the fact that California is running out of water statewide. For instance, lakes are vanishing, rivers drying up and snowmelt levels are way below normal at 6%. Worse still, the state’s main source of groundwater is drying up from the consequences of global warming, primarily caused from industrialization and pollution.

California is facing the worst drought in history—so we get it. Be careful. Don’t waste water. Conserve. But I’d like to ask the Gov why the oil and gas companies can use as much groundwater as they want with impunity?

Ranchers would also like to know why fracking has a free pass to use up to 80 percent of the diminishing groundwater, while at the same time there’s not enough grass to feed horses and cattle. Why is the so-called “green” Governor giving the fossil fuel industry a free pass?  

Meanwhile, Californians only use 20 percent of the water supply for personal use. Eighty percent of the water in the state is used for fracking and Big Ag farming.

COLE MELLINO OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDesert(Photo: Tomas Castelazo)California gets most of the attention in drought news coverage because so much of the state is in exceptional drought—the highest level—but 72 percent of the Western U.S. is experiencing drought conditions, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor data.

When California’s snowpack assessment showed that the state’s snowpack levels were 6 percent of normal—the lowest ever recorded—it spurred Gov. Brown’s administration to order the first-ever mandatory water restrictions. California’s snowpack levels might be the lowest, but the Golden State is not the only one setting records. A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finds that nine states reported record low snowpack. The report states:

The largest snowpack deficits are in record territory for many basins, especially in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada where single-digit percent of normal conditions prevail. Very low snowpacks are reported in most of Washington, all of Oregon, Nevada, California, parts of Arizona, much of Idaho, parts of New Mexico, three basins in Wyoming, one basin in Montana and most of Utah.

Only high elevation areas in the Rocky Mountains and Interior Alaska had normal or close to normal snowpack levels. “The only holdouts are higher elevations in the Rockies,” said Garen. “Look at the map and you’ll see that almost everywhere else is red.” Red indicates less than half of the normal snowpack remains. Dark red indicates snowpack levels are less than 25 percent of normal.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aendwagethef1t(Photo: torbakhopper)

The Union City Patch (in the East Bay Area north of San Jose) recently reported that a case of wage theft has been decided on behalf of workers. Among evidence of employer exploitation of nursing home and residential care employees was proof that some of them had been paid as little as $5 per hour.

As the local Patch reported:

Officials with the U.S. Department of Labor have recovered more than $6.8 million in wages for more than 1,300 Bay Area workers who weren’t paid according to labor laws between 2011 and 2014, labor department officials said...

Wage and Hour Division officials investigated hundreds of individual care homes and a majority was in violation of labor laws....

Among the violations officials found were the failure to pay workers for overnight work. Non-monetary violations included failing to provide adequate sleeping accommodations. Some workers had to sleep on the floor. Some workers worked 10 to 14 hours a day and were paid for only eight hours. Other employers paid workers a weekly salary regardless of the hours a person worked and consequently these employers denied workers overtime pay. 

Some employers intimidated or retaliated against their employees or told them not to cooperate with Wage and Hour Division investigators.

It is highly likely, based on anecdotal reports from advocates for low-wage and undocumented workers across the nation – and occasional government investigations - that the wage theft and squalid working conditions found in the Bay Area are not an isolated incident.   

2015.13.4 BF Berkowitz2(Photo: Tony Webster)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Police departments across the country, already involved in a hyper-militarized frenzy, may soon have another disquieting option at their fingertips; Robocops. The term Robocop first came into our collective consciousness with the release of the 1987 science fiction movie of the same name, written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, and directed by Paul Verhoeven. The action movie revolved around the murder of a police officer who is then revived -- with his body replaced by artificial parts. The film’s broad-based dystopian vision included corporate malfeasance, gangsters running amuck, the media, gentrification, authoritarianism, greed, privatization, and capitalism, according to Wikipedia.

The late Roger Ebert called the film "a thriller with a difference." In 2007, Entertainment Weekly named it the #14 in its list of the greatest action movie of all time. A year later, Empire magazine chose it as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, placing at #404, and The New York Times had it on its list of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made. Last year’s RoboCop remake, while not nearly the critical success of the first film, brought in more that $240 million at the box office worldwide.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

awaterbaltshutTurning off the water of life (Photo: Tom Raftery)

Last year, Truthout and BuzzFlash wrote a slew of articles and commentaries about the injustice of the bankrupt City of Detroit systematically shutting off the water of the poor. 

Now this denial of a basic human right - after all, one cannot live without water - is being implemented in Baltimore as it follows Detroit precedent. Although some businesses in Baltimore with money owed on water bills will also be shut off - if the debt to the city is not paid off - the burden will primarily fall on residents of limited means.

According to an article in the April 7 Baltimore Sun:

The city began shutting off service this week to customers at least six months and $250 behind on their bills, she said. About 25,000 delinquent customers owe a combined $40 million in long-overdue bills....

Mitch Jones of the consumer rights group Food & Water Watch, said shutting off service denies Baltimore households access to the "basic human right to water" and also poses a public health risk.

Jones said the city, which has a history of water billing errors, should target businesses with past-due accounts before households. Business accounts make up about 370 of the past-due customers and $15 million of the outstanding debt, officials say.

"The city must act to ensure universal access to safe and affordable water service," Jones said.

The poor are being forced to go without water to drink or shower with as the well-off continue to pump up the profits of the bottled water industry.

P2015.13.4 BF Buchheit(Photo: Ian Carroll)AUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

America's wealth grew by 60 percent in the past six years, by over $30 trillion. In approximately the same time, the number of homeless children has also grown by 60 percent.

Financier and CEO Peter Schiff said, "People don't go hungry in a capitalist economy." The 16 million kids on food stamps know what it's like to go hungry. Perhaps, some in Congress would say, those children should be working. "There is no such thing as a free lunch," insisted Georgia Representative Jack Kingston, even for schoolkids, who should be required to "sweep the floor of the cafeteria" (as they actually do at a charter school in Texas).

The callousness of US political and business leaders is disturbing, shocking. Hunger is just one of the problems of our children. Teacher Sonya Romero-Smith told about the two little homeless girls she adopted: "Getting rid of bedbugs, that took us a while. Night terrors, that took a little while. Hoarding food.."

America Is a 'Leader' in Child Poverty

The US has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. As UNICEF reports, "[Children's] material well-being is highest in the Netherlands and in the four Nordic countries and lowest in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the United States."

Over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies, and almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.

DR. DAVID SUZUKI OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaKochBrosEcoWatchSuzuki(Photo: EcoWatch)Brothers Charles and David Koch run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the U.S., behind Cargill. They’ve given close to US$70 million to climate change denial front groups, some of which they helped start, including Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch and a major force behind the Tea Party movement.

Through their companies, the Kochs are the largest U.S. leaseholder in the Alberta oilsands. They’ve provided funding to Canada’s pro-oil Fraser Institute and are known to fuel the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, which claims a 1992 UN non-binding sustainable development proposal is a plot to remove property rights and other freedoms.

Researchers reveal they’re also behind many anti-transit initiatives in the U.S., in cities and states including Nashville, Indianapolis, Boston, Virginia, Florida and Los Angeles. They spend large amounts of money on campaigns to discredit climate science and the need to reduce greenhouse gases, and they fund sympathetic politicians.

In late January, 50 U.S. anti-government and pro-oil groups—including some tied to the Kochs and the pro-oil, pro-tobacco Heartland Institute—sent Congress a letter opposing a gas tax increase that would help fund public transit, in part because “Washington continues to spend federal dollars on projects that have nothing to do with roads like bike paths and transit.”

The letter says “transportation infrastructure has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” an argument similar to one used by opponents of the transportation plan Metro Vancouver residents are currently voting on. Vancouver’s anti-transit campaign is led by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation—a group that doesn’t reveal its funding sources and is on record as denying the existence of human-caused climate change—along with Hamish Marshall, a conservative strategist with ties to Ethical Oil.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDanSavage(Photo: Weebot)If it seems like the Christian Right never runs out of Culture War targets, that's because the Christian Right never tires of the money-making, headline-grabbing Culture Wars. And, it's been a solid few months for the Christian Right with an uptick in activity: they're defending anti-gay laws in Indiana and Arkansas; continued railing against what they see as a coordinated attack on Christians in the U.S.; beseeched the Supreme Court not to make same-sex marriage the law of the land; supported more and more onerous anti-abortion legislation in the states; and doctored Texas text books to force students to view the Bible as an essential document of the Founding Fathers.

And now, they are about savaging Dan Savage!

An AFA Action Alert, posted Wednesday, April 8, is headlined "Disney/ABC Glorify X-Rated Bully Dan Savage In Prime Time Sitcom." The Alert features a Family Research Council "video montage" containing "examples" of Savage's "vitriolic hate speech"; "but be warned, they are extremely graphic and offensive."

To the folks at the American Family Association, Savage is "one of the cruelest, most vile political activists in America," Monica Cole, Director of OneMillionMoms.com, recently wrote in the AFA's The Stand. "A perusal of Dan Savage's work reveals a career built on advocating violence — even murder — and spewing hatred against people of faith. Savage has spared no one with whom he disagrees from his vitriolic hate speech. We have included examples in the link below, but be warned, they are extremely graphic and offensive."

The AFA's new battle is over a television program just announced by ABC-Disney developed by Savage and "disgustingly titled, 'Family of the Year'" Monica Cole pointed out. (Other reports have the show tentatively named "The Real O'Neals."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

awarrenreagan2Senator Elizabeth Warren (Photo: Edward Kimmel)

Are you old enough to remember the rugged cowboy individualism Madison Avenue creation of the Marlboro Man? The ads became an iconic symbol of the widespread US myth of tough, masculine independence from others in society. 

In many ways, the Marlboro Man merged with the carefully crafted image of Ronald Reagan. Just think about all the photos of him horseback riding on his ranch, for example. This Marlboro Man resonance was captured by BuzzFlash in a photo taken at the entrance to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California (see full text of column), included in a 2008 commentary.

What is ironic, in a tragic way, is how at least three of the men who posed, over the years, as the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer and lung disease, as The Guardian revealed in a 2014 article.

The Marlboro Man ad campaign; the creation of a mythic champion - Ronald Reagan - of a United States where only the individual and wealth counts; and the deaths of millions and millions of people in the US over the years, lured to smoking by the Madison Avenue "Mad Man" image of a virile male who relies on no one but himself: These pieces of the puzzle of US cultural and political history - when assembled together - reveal a tragic narrative that still guides so many people in the US. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

3003262167 958cc14c22 zHow will you feel if your vote doesn't count in the next presidential election? (Photo: kirstencan)

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by at least 450,000 votes, but lost the election due to an unprecedented Supreme Court decision

The GOP is strategizing on how to ensure the election of a Republican president in 2016, even if he or she receives a minority of the popular vote - but this time through a legal legislative strategy. 

First, here is the background to what legislatures in some key electoral states, such as Michigan, are considering making into law.  It begins with understanding gerrymandering, the creation of congressional districts in states every 10 years.  In 2010, the Republicans, with a strong boost from the Tea Party, swept many state legislatures and governorships. State legislatures, not the federal government, determine congressional districts - and it has always been a highly partisan affair.

With precision software that can slice districts up in such a way that one party can win a state vote for Congress by a wide margin, gerrymandering allows for concentrating a disproportionate vote of one party in certain districts, while creating other districts where the margin of victory by the other party is smaller, but still virtually assured.

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