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epa33Democratic senators challenge EPA on the use of a toxic pesticide. (mccready)

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According to Earthjustice, a legal environmental advocacy group, eight Democratic senators introduced a bill yesterday to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to neurological damage in children:

Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA) , Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) unveiled a first-of-its-kind bill that would ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used agricultural pesticide that has been linked to reduced IQ and attention deficit disorder in children. Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate which comes from the same chemical family as sarin nerve gas, is used on staple foods like strawberries, apples, citrus, broccoli, and more.

The Protect Children, Farmers & Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act, or S. 1624, amends the U.S. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act--which oversees food safety--and prohibits all chlorpyrifos use in food. SB 1624 also directs the Environmental Protection Agency to partner with the National Research Council to assess the neurodevelopmental effects and other low-dose impacts that exposure to organophosphate pesticides has on agricultural workers and children. In addition to calling for a ban on chlorpyrifos, the bill educates the public about the history of this nerve agent pesticide and the communities that are in harms' way.

As recently reported in Energydesk, neonicotinoid pesticides -- of which chlorpyrifos is one -- can also cause harm to bees, including negatively impacting the reproductive capacity of three bee species.


healthinsDonald Trump needs go back to school when it comes to understanding health insurance. (Photo: Chris Potter)

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The New York Times fact-checked an interview three reporters from the paper conducted with Donald Trump last Wednesday. The president was in error on several occasions, stating what his aide Kellyanne Conway has called "alternative facts." Perhaps the most astonishing revelation was that Trump appeared not to know the difference between life insurance and health insurance. This is staggering ignorance for a president, not to mention one who is leading the battle against the Affordable Care Act.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that at least 20 million people will lose health coverage in any of the proposed Republican "repeal and replace" bills. So many lives are on the line, and the president of the United States thinks that health insurance works like life insurance.

The New York Times explained Trump's egregious misunderstanding of health insurance as revealed in the interview:

"You're 21 years old, you start working and you're paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you're 70, you get a nice plan," Mr. Trump said. "Here's something where you walk up and say, 'I want my insurance.'"

Mr. Trump's description aligns with life insurance or Social Security more accurately than health insurance. A 21-year-old who took out a whole life insurance policy, for example, would pay premiums until death, and the amount accumulated over the decades would be paid out to beneficiaries.

A 21-year-old who purchases a health insurance policy is not paying premiums to save up for care 50 years down the line.


trumpnaftaTrump's NAFTA renegotiation goals are aimed more at helping corporations than uplifting workers. (Photo: Michael Vadon)

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Do not be fooled by Donald Trump's refusal to pursue the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That "position" appears to be a one-off, as his administration appears headed toward a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that will make it worse -- and will mirror many of the Trans-Pacific Partnership's problems. A recent article in In These Times states:

Trump campaigned and won the U.S. presidential election in no small part due to his anti-free-trade positions. He galvanized millions of voters for whom the considerable promises of globalization have long since given way to the stark realities of rising inequality and declining living standards.

After assuming the presidency, Trump decided it was politically necessary to kill off the wildly neoliberal Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to appease his popular base. This decision was met with dismay by nearly all big corporations and elites from both political parties.

But now, in an act of political judo, Trump is trying to use the same anti-establishment, pro-American rhetoric from his campaign to craft a neoliberal NAFTA renegotiation that will include everything demanded in the recently scuttled TPP – and more. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, as well as others in Trump's administration, have been surprisingly straightforward about these intentions.


ethicswhThe Trump White House rejects normative ethical standards. (Photo: Justin Baeder)

Walter M. Shaub Jr. -- the chief of the Office of Government Ethics -- has just resigned, and he is leaving with a corrosive, blunt warning, according to the New York Times: "I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point [when it comes to White House and government ethics]." The Times states in a July 17 article about an interview with Shaub:

Actions by President Trump and his administration have created a historic ethics crisis, the departing head of the Office of Government Ethics said. He called for major changes in federal law to expand the power and reach of the oversight office and combat the threat.

Walter M. Shaub Jr., who is resigning as the federal government's top ethics watchdog on Tuesday, said the Trump administration had flouted or directly challenged long-accepted norms in a way that threatened to undermine the United States' ethical standards, which have been admired around the world.

"It's hard for the United States to pursue international anticorruption and ethics initiatives when we're not even keeping our own side of the street clean. It affects our credibility," Mr. Shaub said in a two-hour interview this past weekend — a weekend Mr. Trump let the world know he was spending at a family-owned golf club that was being paid to host the U.S. Women's Open tournament. "I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point."

There was no love lost between Shaub, appointed for a five-year term in 2013 by President Obama, and the White House.


forrentRental units for lower income residents are the new financial target of Wall Street. (Photo: Indiana Public Media)

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A "rentier" is defined in the Random House Dictionary as "a person who has a fixed income, as from lands or bonds." The rentier class consists of those who essentially earn money off of investments instead of working on an hourly or daily wage. Many of the people who rent housing from rentiers -- in other words, renters -- live on another form of fixed income altogether: social security. Others work long hours at low-paying jobs. Renters often can't afford to own their apartments or homes, and, therefore, other entities -- including, increasingly, investment firms -- are financially benefiting from their need for shelter.

A July article on Inequality.org emphasizes how current Republican policy in Washington DC is accelerating the profits of the private sector. As a result, tenants -- including those with low incomes -- are seeing rising rents:

.... while Republicans are proposing severe cuts to housing assistance, they are continuing to support subsidies for private equity firms that are squeezing low-income tenants around the country.

President Trump’s proposed budget would cut $7.4 billion in housing funding by eliminating housing vouchers, cutting public housing funding by $1.8 billion, and significantly reducing homeless assistance grants. While stripping support for low-income Americans, the budget would maintain programs that help fill the pockets of wealthy investors. The biggest private equity player in the housing market is Blackstone, which has become the country’s largest landlord, owning more than $102 billion in real estate.

Inequality.org brought up a specific example of the public purse benefiting the private investor in the context of a rally against rent profiteering held on July 13 in Washington DC.


elizwarrencfpbThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren. (Photo: Tim Pierce)

In the scrum of unsettling news about an administration and Congress that are enacting harmful right-wing measures on an almost daily basis, it is affirming to note when progress is being made. The Conversation recently ran an article about the important steps that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has already taken to protect consumers in the United States. The brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, the CFPB was included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that passed Congress in 2010. The agency opened in 2011.

One positive step the CPFB has taken is to ban the forced consumer arbitration requirements which are often included in the fine print of consumer agreements for credit cards, loans and other products offered by banks and financial institutions. These requirements have put a stranglehold on consumer efforts to recover fraudulently obtained funds -- and to reform the banking industry by allowing court cases seeking remedies to unfair practices. The ban represents a significant step in the struggle for a pro-consumer footing in relation to the financial industry.

In a July 10 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau news release, the agency announced,

a new rule to ban companies from using mandatory arbitration clauses to deny groups of people their day in court. Many consumer financial products like credit cards and bank accounts have arbitration clauses in their contracts that prevent consumers from joining together to sue their bank or financial company for wrongdoing. By forcing consumers to give up or go it alone – usually over small amounts – companies can sidestep the court system, avoid big refunds, and continue harmful practices. The CFPB’s new rule will deter wrongdoing by restoring consumers’ right to join together to pursue justice and relief through group lawsuits.

"Arbitration clauses in contracts for products like bank accounts and credit cards make it nearly impossible for people to take companies to court when things go wrong," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "These clauses allow companies to avoid accountability by blocking group lawsuits and forcing people to go it alone or give up. Our new rule will stop companies from sidestepping the courts and ensure that people who are harmed together can take action together."

The CFPB news release notes that the regulation applies "to the major markets for consumer financial products and services overseen by the Bureau, including those that lend money, store money, and move or exchange money.


votetoday22The Constitution and its amendments establish the right to vote, not the right to suppress votes. (Photo: H2Woah!)

Last week, I wrote on how Trump's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity -- spearheaded by infamous former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach -- may be largely an effort to facilitate suppressing non-GOP voters in future elections. The commission has sent out letters requiring every state to submit individual voter registration information to it. How this will help ensure "election integrity" is anyone's guess. However, it may well place the executive branch in a more commanding position to recommend actions to Congress that will either remove non-Republican voters from the rolls or prevent Democrats and Independents -- many of them people of color, poor people, elderly people and students -- from registering to vote. The Guardian reports that the commission has extended its deadline for state data to be submitted, but there is no indication it is planning any major changes in its mission.

Many Republican actions, particularly at the state and the federal levels, are directly aimed at creating requirements that limit who can vote and who can register to vote. There is historical precedent for this, in that only white male landowners could vote in the years after the United States was founded, and other restrictions were imposed in later years, including the Jim Crow voting laws. Part of this thinking reflects the notion, among those who believe that our society is too multicultural, that only whites should be enfranchised. One can speculate that at least among some GOP voters, the promise Trump holds out of increased non-white voter suppression is part of "Making America Great Again."


marijraceThe injustice of marijuana arrests in New York City. (Photo: keep_bitcoin_real)

Although Bill de Blasio pledged in his campaign for mayor to stop racial inequity in arrests for marijuana possession, a new report by Drug Policy Alliance, "Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York,"reveals that racial disparities in arrest are wide and persistent. When he became New York City mayor in 2014, de Blasio specifically targeted these bias arrests against people of color, saying as reported in Marijuana.com,

There have been, in some cases, disastrous consequences for individuals and families. It hurts their chances to get a good job, to get housing. It hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan; it can literally follow them the rest of their lives.

I think the fact that you will see fewer unnecessary arrests will be good for New York City as a whole. It will be good for New Yorkers of color and young people of color -- there is no question about that. We’ll see how the numbers come out over time but there’s no doubt in my mind it will be a very substantial impact. And for a lot of young people it means they will not have this reality holding them back; a summons is not going to affect their future. An arrest, could. And we want to avoid that unnecessary burden.

According to Marijuana.com, "After winning the mayoral seat, de Blasio and former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced in 2014 that anyone found to be in possession of less than 25 grams would be issued a court summons rather than an arrest."


energy efficientThe Republicans in DC are rolling back energy efficiency. (Photo: Andy Melton

At a time when the fate of the planet hangs in the balance due to human-caused global warming, efforts to accelerate the use of renewables and achieve energy efficiencies should be proceeding at a full gallop. Needless to say, the White House and Congress are fully favoring carbon-emitting fossil fuels over renewables, but they are also moving to reduce energy efficiency goals.

According to a June report by Public Citizen, a DC-based progressive advocacy organization, the Trump administration is dead set on making appliances, cars and other consumer goods potentially more harmful to the Earth. In addition, the deregulations would cost jobs and greater consumer expenses. According to a June 15 Public Citizen news release,

President Trump and his allies in Congress are seeking to eliminate energy efficiency requirements for appliances, automobiles and other energy consuming applications in an effort that will cost American families and consumers trillions of dollars over time, according to a new report issued today by Public Citizen.

“Trump’s decision to target efficiency initiatives discredits his claim that he withdrew from the Paris climate accord because of concerns that the deal would cost U.S. jobs. These programs unambiguously would help meet the goals of the accord and benefit the U.S. economy and yet Trump is still targeting them,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report, “Blinded by the light.”

Thus, not only are lives and the planet placed in increased jeopardy by the proposed actions, but they also represent a fattened bottom line for corporations at the expense of US consumers.


betsydevos56Betsy DeVos enables for-profit colleges fleecing students. (Photo: Michael Vadon)

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is being sued for allegedly protecting the financial interests of for-profit colleges over the plight of students with excessive loans. As Politico detailed on July 6:

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia filed suit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday over her delay of regulations meant to protect federal student loan borrowers defrauded by their schools.

The lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in D.C., led by Massachusetts and joined by 18 other Democratic attorneys general, accuses DeVos of illegally delaying the regulations aimed at predatory colleges, which were finalized by the Obama administration and had been set to take effect on July 1.

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