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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anincomeeq4(Photo: Quinn Dombrowski)

When The New York Times starts posting articles warning of a dystopian future in the United States due to income equality, you know that the alarm bells are starting to sound even in the corporate mass media.

On April 28, the Times posted an analysis by reporter Eduardo Porter in its economy section. Porter bluntly stated:

But when it comes to the health, well-being and shared prosperity of its people, the United States has fallen far behind.

Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four decades or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong turn along the way.

Porter manages to find a glimmer of hope in the grim statistics about the real state of the union. However, his sliver of optimism is only due to the fact that the deterioration of the nation as a community is so bad that he believes it will ultimately force a political solution. "The silver lining in these dismal, if abstract, statistics," Porter writes, "is that they portend such a dysfunctional future that our broken political system might finally be forced to come together to prevent it."

That's not a lot to hang your hat on. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

abernies(Image: DonkeyHotey)

In case you didn't know it, Sen. Bernie Sanders is a socialist - and he doesn't try to evade the identification if you ask him. That alone makes him an unusual politician: he doesn't try to steer away from his principles in order to climb the political ladder.

Officially, Sanders is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate. Now, he will be running for president as a Democrat, while robustly bringing up systemic problems with the US economic system, corporate media and ongoing injustices. 

Sanders says that he hasn't changed his political positions on fundamental systemic change in the US since he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont years ago. Sanders isn't a politician who watches the polls; he keeps his eye on the prize of social and economic justice.

I know because when BuzzFlash started in 2000, we began interviewing Sanders and working with his press secretary, who was then David Sirota (now a progressive columnist and author). Sanders was also a regular reader of BuzzFlash, as he would tell us when we ran into him at venues such as the first Free Press conferences. The egregious flaws in the current US financial, media and political system were the ones he focused on back when we first talked with him. 

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaShakles(Photo: Klaus with K )Since the mid-1980s, prison privatization – a reality from the time of the American Revolution – has experienced unprecedented growth. Totally absorbed with profit making, it is safe to say that daily life for prisoners has not been enhanced. One of the few bright spots for many prisoners has been the face-to-face family visit. Now, along comes something called video visitation, the latest profit-making venture trying to suck up to strapped county jail systems, and suck money out of the pockets of prisoners and their families.

Video visitation is a phenomenon that "has been quietly sweeping the nation's state prisons and county jails," a report by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) pointed out. "Currently, more than 500 facilities in 43 states and the District of Columbia are experimenting with video visitation," according to the non-profit, non-partisan PPI.

Earlier this year, the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) released Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails, "its first comprehensive national survey of the video visitation industry." Maya Schenwar, Truthout's editor-in-chief and the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better, discussed the report in a mid-February piece.

Bernadette Rabuy, Policy and Communications Associate with PPI, and co-author of the report (along with Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, and a co-author of the Prison Policy Initiative's oft-cited previous expose Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden Fees in the Jail Phone Industry), told The Real News Network's Eddie Conway that while video visitation has its upside – allowing family members living far from their imprisoned relatives to stay in touch – it also is "being implemented to replace traditional visits."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

nasandler(Photo: Shinya Suzuki)

According to an April 23 Indian Country Article, "Approximately a dozen Native actors and actresses, as well as the Native cultural advisor, left the set of Adam Sandler’s newest film production, The Ridiculous Six."

Allison Young, a Navajo woman and former film student from Dartmouth, protested the film's demeaning portrayals of Indigenous people. She talked with Indian Country about the situation:

"When I began doing this film, I had an uneasy feeling inside of me and I felt so conflicted," she said. "I talked to a former instructor at Dartmouth and he told me to take this as finally experiencing stereotyping first hand. We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, 'If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.' I was just standing there and got emotional and teary-eyed. I didn’t want to cry but the feeling just came over me. This is supposed to be a comedy that makes you laugh. A film like this should not make someone feel this way."

"Nothing has changed," said Young. "We are still just Hollywood Indians."

"Just Hollywood Indians" is a resounding lamentation, considering the Tinseltown legacy of disseminating negative images of Indigenous people. 

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.

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