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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

cigphoto(Photo: Azrasta)State and local governments who thought they could quickly close budget holes and implement some public projects with a quick infusion of tobbaco settlement money (from a 1998 settlement with state attorneys general) have generally seen their plans go up in smoke. To be precise, an article in Pro Publica predicts "A handful of states promised to repay $64 billion [to Wall Street] on just $3 billion advanced [in settlement funds]."

Wall Street often uses dazzling promises to secure deals such as this one, where they offer upfront cash in return for agreements that have ballooning interest rates. If sounds like the same as the adjustable-rate mortgage scheme before the economic collapse of 2008, that is because it more or less is, according to Pro Publica.  In the case of states and local governments borrowing relatively small amounts of tobaco settlement cash in advance while committing to long-term debt, the finanical vehicle are named capital appreciation bonds (CABs). Pro Publica calls them toxic:

The CABs promise gigantic payouts [to Wall Street financial firms] — as high as 76 times what’s borrowed — because nothing is due on them for decades. Meantime, interest compounds on both the principal and accumulating balance.

Defaults by state and local governments are rare, but rating agencies have been warning that tobacco bonds in general could go under en masse. Moody’s said in May that up to 80 percent of the tobacco issues it tracks are likely to default.

If we look at the cycle of what happened, the financial vulture attack on funds that were set aside for public benefit is clear.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

(Book cover: The New Press)(Book cover: The New Press)It costs about $88,000 a year to incarcerate a young person in a state facility. Journalist and advocate Nell Bernstein reveals this and other shocking statistics and abuses of juveniles in her new book, Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison, the Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week.

That bill for keeping young people in "detention" is far more than most US workers make in a year. ($51,000 was the median household income in 2013 according to the Census Bureau.)

It is indicative of the racism and classism inherent in the US treatment of juveniles of color and the poor that the tax dollars spent to allegedly punish and "rehabilitate" a young person far exceed the stagnant or falling wages of most US families.

What is all that money used for in a system that is euphemistically called "juvenile detention"? Piper Kerman, author of "Orange Is the New Black", writes: "Burning Down the House by Nell Bernstein reveals a shocking truth: what adults do to children behind the walls of America’s juvenile prisons is criminal." It certainly doesn't resemble anything remotely akin to rehabilitation.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

affordablehousing(Photo: Brooke Anderson)

Late last month, Newsweek reported the approval of construction of an apartment building in Manhattan with a separate entrance for renters who pay less than the market price:

New York City has approved a developer’s Dickensian plan to include a “poor door” in a luxury apartment complex in the Upper West Side.

The prospect of a separate entrance for lower-income residents has been circulating for some time, but as the New York Post reported today, plans by company Extell Development to put a separate entrance for affordable housing tenants, who make 60 percent or less of median income, in the 33-story condo have been given the green light. The property will have 219 units, including 55 affordable units overlooking the street. Those renting and buying the apartments at the market-rate will have waterfront views.

The entrance is part of the Inclusionary Housing Program application, under which developers can build larger projects if they also provide low-income housing, either on- or off-site.

In addition, tenants who are paying lower rents mandated by the city will not be able to use building amenities such as the gym and the pool. In short, if you make less than the wealthy tenants, you are banned to a ghetto section of the tony apartment complex.

Newsweek reposted the twitter of Boston Globe writer Amanda Katz, who offered alternative names for the "poor door": "Service entrance. Portal of destitution. The 99% door. Strivers' entry. The debtor gate. The Porte of Serfs."

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

wage(Photo: Light Brigading)

Despite reassurances from the White House about the economy picking up, a recent survey by the Federal Reserve reveals a far bleaker perception among US wage earners.  

According to Reuters, a Federal Reserve study released on August 7 found most of the 99% pessimistic about their personal income status and economic condition:

In its first large-scale study of household finances, the U.S. central bank uncovered lingering effects of the sharpest economic downturn since the Great Depression, with 42 percent of respondents saying they had delayed major purchases and 18 percent saying they put off a major life decision, including buying a home or getting married, due to the crisis.

Thirty-six percent said they now planned to retire later, according to the online survey.

In a finding that could figure into the Fed's monetary policy debate, three-fourths of households said they expected their incomes to be the same or lower over the next year.

Maybe this is a surprise to the Federal Reserve, but BuzzFlash and Truthout have been reporting for years on the decline in wages relative to inflation. This is due to many factors, but much of it began with Reaganomics and the transfer of income and assets from working Americans to the wealthy. This has gone on through various congressionally sanctioned laws - including grossly excessive tax cuts for the rich - that restructured the economic distribution of the nation's income.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

shamirFormer Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (Photo:Wikipedia)

One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter.

One of the best examples of that may be the now-deceased former Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Shamir.

Shamir, who died at age 96 of Alzheimer's disease in 2012, was a member of the now-dominant political party in Israel: the Likud. When Shamir passed away, Netanyahu effusively praised him: "Yitzhak Shamir belonged to the generation of giants who founded the state of Israel and fought for the freedom of the Jewish people. As prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir took action to fortify Israel’s security and ensure its future."

In the days of the British Mandate leading up to the independence of Israel in 1948, there was a primary Jewish paramilitary force, the Hagannah. The Hagannah more or less evolved into the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) after statehood was established, and many of the state's military leaders for years were its veterans.

However, for some Jewish fighters, the Hagannah was too traditional in its military approach, too modeled on the British army … and not willing to engage in the assassinations of British soldiers. The British were seen by many Zionists as pro-Arab. They particularly incensed creators of Israel by aggressively limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine during the years of the Holocaust, and in the post-war years when Jewish refugees were seeking a place to live.

As a result, two Jewish terrorist groups were formed: the Irgun, and then an even more notorious offshoot which was nicknamed the Stern Gang. Shamir was a member of the Stern Gang, while former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin eventually headed the Irgun. Their mission was to drive the British out of Palestine, and also drive as many Palestinians out of what was to become Israel. The Irgun and the Stern Gang employed terrorist tactics, killing British military officials (and even the British minister of state for the Middle East) and massacring Arabs. Their most historically noted terrorist action against the British was the blowing up of much of the King David Hotel in 1946, then the headquarters for Britain overseeing Palestine. Around 100 people were killed, including 15 Jews.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

waterlife(Photo: Nate2b)

Ominous portents abound that water - necessary for the survival of all life on earth - is under dire threat. In a commentary pondering the notion that we may have passed the threshold of peak potable water, Lucinda Marshall cites some troubling signs:

As Marshall observes, "That, unfortunately is only the prelude of what is to come."

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

handguns3(Photo: joshuashearn)

 

You may have read that due to pressure from gun control groups, some national chains such as Starbucks, Target and Chipotle now discourage gun zealots from openly carrying firearms into their facilities.

According to an April 3 Christian Science Monitor article, however, "Smaller Restaurants Welcome Gun Owners: While Some Large Chains Discourage Guns, More Independent Restaurateurs Are Giving the Green Light." Not only are guns welcome at these diners, but you can even get a discount for carrying a gun at some, the Monitor reports:

"Most that come in are responsible and have their guns holstered," said Jay Laze, owner of All Around Pizza and Deli. Last year, Mr. Laze began giving 15% discounts to diners who either were carrying openly or had concealed-carry permits. "It was good for business, and I've hopefully educated some folks on the Second Amendment and the right to carry."

Bryan Crosswhite, owner of The Cajun Experience, which gives 10% discounts on Wednesdays to those with guns, said he, too, had experienced no serious problems with his program, adding that he won't serve alcohol to patrons openly carrying.

Give Bryan Crosswhite some credit. At least he doesn't give a 20 percent discount if you drink and carry a firearm into his eating establishment. (Although some states, it should be noted, allow for carrying guns into bars and restaurants that serve liquor.)

 

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

sunearth(Photo: The Pix-Jockey)

As the worldwide transportation industry seeks to maximize profits, it may be racing toward its own demise.

The Associated Press (AP) reports:

The transportation sector is a major contributor to climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions, and, worldwide, it’s also one of the most vulnerable sectors to the effects of climate change, according to a new report.

In other words, climate change could mean “sun kinks” could warp train tracks in the heat, airplanes will be more expensive to fly, highway surfaces could soften in heat waves, roadways and bridges could be washed away in rising seas and storm surges, and storms in the open ocean could increase the cost and risks associated with shipping.

Those are the findings of a new report, “Climate Change: Implications for Transport,” released Monday by Cambridge University and sustainable business advocacy group Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) outlining what the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ’s Fifth Assessment Report mean for global transportation.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

medicareforall(Photo: Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

On Wednesday, July 30, many official events celebrated Medicare's 49th anniversary of providing health coverage for seniors. Before President Lyndon Johnson signed the law enacting Medicare coverage, seniors in the United States received erratic often bankrupting care.

By all accounts, all but the most ardent elderly Tea Party stalwarts laud Medicare for its freedom of choice in providers and relative simplicity in claims processing.

Although the Affordable Care Act is hopefully a political holding position until single-payer health care for all is enacted in the US - thus catching the nation up with most of the rest of the developed world - there are still right-wingers whose goal is to dismantle the current Medicare system.

Let us listen to the public - and not the chattering pundit class - for a change on healthcare coverage, as reflected in this letter to the editor in The Hartford Current by West Hartford resident Win Heimer:

There are some in Congress who continue to call for benefit cuts for retirees and disabled Americans. For example, there continue to be calls to cut Medicare benefits by raising the age of eligibility, means-testing benefits, requiring home health co-pays and limiting Medigap coverage. These changes would do nothing to reduce the cost of health care, but instead, shift costs to beneficiaries.

July 30 is Medicare's 49th birthday. What better way to celebrate than by strengthening Medicare through a better alternative that will not harm beneficiaries? Congress should pass the Medicare Drug Savings Act introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Rep. Henry Waxman of California. This legislation will require drug companies to provide the government discounts for low-income Medicare beneficiaries, saving the government and taxpayers $141 billion over 10 years and all but eliminating the need to cut benefits or shift costs to beneficiaries.

Published in EditorBlog

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

wave(Photo: Today is a good day)

As the corporation-backed and religious fundamentalist climate-change deniers continue to receive widespread mainstream media credibility, signs of global warming continue to sweep across the earth.

However, science has a way of having facts on its side, so it is no surprise that the formerly frozen Arctic Ocean is now experiencing high-wave activity. According to the Daily Digest News, "Waves as high as 29 feet [were recently] recorded in a normally waveless Beaufort Sea." (The Beaufort Sea is a section of the Arctic Ocean.):

When most people think of the Arctic, they usually imagine things like polar bears and Santa Clause. What they don’t picture are waves the size of a one-story house, because most of the Arctic Ocean is typically frozen and you can’t have big waves in frozen water. Well, tell that to the scientists from the University of Washington and the Naval Research Laboratory, who recently published their 2012 observation of big waves in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea: During peak times, the waves averaged around 16 feet high.

The highest single wave was measured at 29 feet. Researchers fear that the waves, enabled after decades of expanding ice retreat thanks to global warming, will even further accelerate the ice breaking process in the Arctic region.

“The observations reported here are the only known wave measurements in the central Beaufort Sea,” they wrote in the report, “because until recently the region remained ice covered throughout the summer and there were no waves to measure.”

The study referred to by the Daily Digest News concludes:  "This suggests that further reductions in seasonal ice cover in the future will result in larger waves, which in turn provide a mechanism to break up sea ice and accelerate ice retreat."

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