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EditorBlog (1802)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

foreclos7 30Eminent domain has been in the news the past few years because of how corporations and wealthy individuals are getting government agencies to use the power of public seizure of property for private gain.

That's how, in large part, George W. Bush made a fortune with the Texas Rangers ballpark and surrounding land without having to risk a whole lot of money.  That is how the Keystone XL Pipeline is being moved across its southern leg whenever landowners put up resistance.

But now Richmond California, an impoverished city in the Bay Area where home prices have gone down not up, is strongly considering asserting eminent domain to seize homes from secondary lenders and re-sell them to their owners at current market value.

According to the New York Times, this has enraged banks and the secondary lenders who they sell underwater mortgages to.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

oilwp7 29The American Petroleum Institutue (API) is to the oil industry what the National Rifle Association is to the gun industry: the gold standard for advocating for destructive policies on behalf of their respective industries.

Of course, in DC, the Petroleum Institute is basically perceived as a lobbying group with clout equaled by perhaps only the financial industry, so API is a respected trade association that has what the news industry considers the sin qua non of legitimacy in the nation's capital: power, money and legislative success.

So maybe it is no surprise to see the Washignton Post (WP) Monday, July 29th, e-mail alert sponsored by -- you guessed it -- The American Petroleum Institute.  And this wasn't one of those subtle advertising payment opportunities, where the name of the sponoring corporation or organization is dropped in at the end of the e-mail.

This is how the subject line of the e-mail reads: "Subject: [Washington Post] Monday Morning Headlines--Presented by the American Petroleum Institute [Jul 29, 2013]." Now, it is true that the WP may write negative articles on the oil industry now and then, but the credibility that the API gains with a marquee headline such as this one is priceless.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

police8 26It's sadly what we've come to expect: advocates for saving the planet -- and present and future lives with it -- and those who protest financial crimes and improprieties get arrested, charged, and often serve jail time, but those responsible among the corporate and financial elite go free.

In this case, the headline on mlive.com (as in Michigan) that came to our attention reads, "Four protesters arrested at Enbridge pipeline construction site charged with felony." 

Enbridge is a massive intertnational oil and gas pipeline company (based in Canada) that, as noted in a study by the Polaris Institute, fesses up to large scale environmental damage:

Thousands of litres of dangerous fluids are released from the company ’s pipelines and holding tanks into the environment each year.

According to Enbridge’s own data, between 1999 and 2010 , across all of the company’s operations there were 804 spills that released 161,475 barrels of hydrocarbons into the environment.

This amounts to approximately half of the oil that spilled from the oil tanker the Exxon Valdez after it struck a rock in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1988.

Enbridge's most infamous spill in the US occurred along a pristine stretch of the Kalamazoo River in July of 2020.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

studebtIt's not officially the law yet, because the House of Representatives has to pass it (which it will), but the Republican orchestrated student interest rate bill passed out of the Senate on July 24th is a variation on the Wall Street sub-prime ballooning mortgage scam. 

Why is that?

Because the "free market" Republicans tied student loan interest rates to market rates determined by the Federal Reserve.  That means current students will get a break because the Fed's policy has been to suppress interest rates to try and stimulate economic growth. But the Fed has been hinting that it may start raising interest rates given that the economy has picked up some steam.

And federal student aid must be reapplied for every year, so the interest rates may increase for each year, theoretically, in the course of four years if market rates increase at that time. As a Department of Education website warns: "When you fill out the FAFSA, you are applying for aid for a specific year. In order to receive aid the next year, you’ll need to submit that next year’s FAFSA." (FAFSA is the acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.)

Thus, as the economy grows, interest rates for incoming students -- and current students -- will rise in future years.  Fortunately, there are some caps to educational indentured servitude. According to the Houston Chronicle, "The bill also places a cap on interest rates, which will ensure that rates do not rise above 8.25 percent for undergraduates [receiving Stafford loans], 9.5 percent for graduates and 10.5 percent for PLUS loans [which are taken out by parents of students]."

Obama has pledged to sign the bill, but it was only passed out of the Senate because of almost unaninmous support of the Republican minority (only one "no" GOP vote), while 18 Democrats opposed it.  Among the opponents were Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Jack Reed who supported amendments that were defeated that would have mitigated another monetized market-based approach to higher education.

Most students at colleges and universities, along with their parents, are already reeling under higher tuitions and special fees resulting from "austerity" cutbacks.  Our public college and university system is eroding in quality and accessibility, threatening the future educational foundation of our nation's private and public institutions -- including the corporate world that profits from our public educational system -- including, of course, colleges and universities.  The great US higher educational system that has played an enormous role in creating the brain trust and creativity for our national innovation and wealth is in peril.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

surv7 24According to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), the City of Oakland will likely soon approve the acceptance of additional federal funding to complete a citywide surveillance center based on anti-terrorist models. However, its mission will be expanded to include public surveillance that extends to general law enforcement. If one recalls, this would have likely included the violent suppression of the Occupy Movement in Oakland and port worker strikes in the recent past.

As the CIR reported on July 18:

With this city [Oakland] repeatedly roiled by civil protests and the public’s attention sharply focused on government surveillance, local officials are pushing forward with a federally funded project to link surveillance cameras, license-plate readers, gunshot detectors, Twitter feeds, alarm notifications and other data into a unified “situational awareness” tool for law enforcement.

The Domain Awareness Center, a joint project between the Port of Oakland and city, started as a nationwide initiative to secure ports by networking sensors and cameras in and around the facilities. The busy port is one of seven U.S. maritime facilities that the Department of Homeland Security considers at highest risk of a terrorist attack.

Since its inception in 2009, the project has ballooned into a surveillance program for the entire city. Some officials already have proposed linking the center to a regional Department of Homeland Security intelligence-gathering operation or adding feeds from surveillance cameras around the Oakland stadium and arena complex.

Mission creep toward an integrated surveillance state extending far beyond the original claim of protecting Americans from terrorists now seems inevitable,  Indeed CIR found:

The Oakland Domain Awareness Center currently does not have privacy guidelines or limits for retaining the data it collects, raising concerns from civil libertarians and privacy advocates.  Eighteen license-plate readers mounted on Oakland police vehicles and city infrastructure already collect and retain millions of license-plate records.

Linda Lye, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California who led protests against the Alameda County sheriff’s proposed purchase of an aerial drone this year, called the Oakland surveillance center “a classic illustration of mission creep.”

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

koch7 23David Koch and his brother are leading proponents of what could be called anarcho-capitalism.On a Sunday inside the DC beltway talk show, "Face the Nation," Speaker of the House John Boehner responded to questioning about a do-nothing Republican dominated House of Representatives this way:

House Speaker John Boehner says Congress "should not be judged on how many new laws we create" but on "how many laws ... we repeal."

Boehner was, of course, re-inforcing the perennial GOP posture that government is too big and too regulatory -- that government itself is the problem, as Ronald Reagan declared.

It's not just coincidental that the current five-decade long assault on government (and remember how active ALEC is at the state level dismantling regulations) coincided with the rise of the uber-capitalist jihad of the wealthy to seize even more of the nation's assets while pushing the middle class into the lower class and the unemployment line.

In short, the infamous 1971 Lewis Powell memo to the Chamber of Commerce that is considered the blueprint for the increasing concentration of wealth in a few hands showed the true intentions of the GOP anti-government fervor: the attaining of a free market without constraints.

Such a marketplace is an ideal that one can call anarcho-capitalism.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

banksters7 22Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase...Just Fill in the Blank. Card is Transferable to Any Wall Street Master of the Universe.No, this is not yet another commentary about a top Wall Street player escaping potential criminal charges.  Criminal charges? Are you kidding?  Going to jail or even being criminally indicted is about as likely for a Wall Street master of the universe as Edward Snowden getting a free ride on Air Force One and joining the Obama family on a Christmas vacation trip to Disney World.

No this column is about a key Wall Street executive, Blythe Masters, who the New York Times (NYT) reports is likely to escape even US government-assessed civil damages for what is alleged fraudulent trading (to increase profit) of electricity prices in California and Michigan:

Even as the nation’s top energy regulator is poised to extract a record settlement from JPMorgan Chase over accusations that it manipulated power markets, the agency is expected to spare a top bank lieutenant who federal investigators initially contended made “false and misleading statements under oath,” according to people briefed on the matter.

Blythe Masters, a seminal Wall Street figure who is known for developing exotic financial instruments, emerged this spring at the center of an investigation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] into accusations of illegal trading in the California and Michigan electricity markets.

Of course, BuzzFlash at Truthout cannot say whether or not the allegations against Ms. Masters are accurate or provable, but the NYT notes:

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

martin7 21In one respect -- amidst an acquittal verdict of George Zimmerman that has been interpreted depending upon the prism through which one sees racism in America -- what Trayvon Martin did when encountered by the stalking, armed-vigilante who defied police orders to stop following Martin, was quite simple: Martin followed the ALEC-NRA sponsored law.  He "stood his ground."

A Turner Broadcasting HLN article states the legal base for a "Stand Your Ground" right to kill someone (and ironically details the double standard of the application of the law as applied to a black woman):

The “Stand Your Ground” doctrine in can be found in Florida Statute § 776.013(3) (2012).  Here are some key parts of the legislation:

§ 776.013.  Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm 

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

The “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida essentially gives individuals the right to protect themselves or others from serious bodily harm or death, and it gives them the right to use deadly force if no other non-lethal options are available. Most states give people this right within their own home, but Florida permits individuals to stand their ground anywhere they have a right to be without requiring them to retreat first.

In Florida, you can use deadly force anywhere as long as you:

--Are not engaged in an unlawful activity

--Are being attacked in a place you have a right to be

--Reasonably believe that your life and safety is in danger as a result of an overt act or perceived threat committed by someone else toward you.

By any account, munching on a packet of skittles and walking not far from the gated community his father lived in -- the same one where Zimmerman resided -- Trayvon Martin fits these criteria for having had the right, under Florida law, to kill Zimmerman, except he wasn't armed with anything but some candy.  Zimmerman had the official NRA apparel strapped onto him: a loaded handgun.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

censorstop7 19The Washington Post recently obtained a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo that warned staff not to read articles -- get this -- printed in the Washington Post that covered whistleblower revelations about classified information.

Specifically, DHS -- and we are not making this up -- implied that there could be legal repercussions for employees who read Washington Post stories about whistleblowers and the information that they disclose.  In particular, a DHS memo prohibited reading of such articles from any computer outside of the DHS office:

The Department of Homeland Security has warned its employees that the government may penalize them for opening a Washington Post article containing a classified slide that shows how the National Security Agency eavesdrops on international communications.

An internal memo from DHS headquarters told workers on Friday that viewing the document from an “unclassified government workstation” could lead to administrative or legal action. “You may be violating your non-disclosure agreement in which you sign that you will protect classified national security information,” the communication said.

The memo said workers who view the article through an unclassified workstation should report the incident as a “classified data spillage.”

"Classifed data spillage."  This "data spillage" is in the press and on the web around the world -- and DHS is implying that the NSA is monitoring employees use of computers outside the office to see if they are reading such media coverage, so much for not spying on Americans.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

dumpphil7 17Poor rummage through garbage to survive in the PhilippinesAs we repeatedly focus on wealth inequality in the United States (i.e.; just four hundred persons in the US have as much in assets and income as the bottom 50% of Americans), a video points out the even more extreme global wealth disparity.

There are many reasons for this.  Take for example institutional sources that contribute to this trend.  The World Bank, for interest, oversees "loans" to developing nations.  But by creating long-term indebtedness, these struggling counties end up owing at least $600 billion dollars in interest on loans whose principals have, in essence, already been paid off in actual dollars.

These usorious interest rates end up in the hands of the bankers and the shareholders of the financial institutions that are inter-related with the World Bank through the nations that govern it, particularly the United States which calls the shots.  Criticisms of the World Bank focus on how it creates financial conditions that result in debt dependency: of the nations that borrow from it, therfore negatively impacting the economic prospects of the vast majority of its residents.

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