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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

citigroup(Image: Mike Licht NotionsCapital.com)

Yesterday, Thom Hartmann, lamented in a commentary posted on Truthout that the most recent Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement with Citigroup (its second this year, amid other fines levied by the DOJ for criminal behavior against other banks) was an example of the US government coddling banks engaged in illegal activities while leaving most homeowners who were victims of their malfeasance without adequate compensation or assistance.

Hartmann wrote:

Of the $7 billion total settlement, $4 billion will be in the form of a civil monetary payment to the Department of Justice, $500 million will go to state attorney's general and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and an additional $2.5 billion will go towards "consumer relief."

But make no mistake about it. This agreement is another win for the big banks.

Under the agreement, Citigroup will most likely get a $500 million tax write-off. And in pre-market trading on Monday, Citigroup stocks rose by nearly 4 percent, despite the $7 billion agreement.

This is nothing more than a slap on the wrist for Citigroup; basically a cost of doing business.

And as for the mere $2.5 billion in consumer relief, while it will be going towards loan modifications, principal reduction and refinancing for distressed homeowners, it's nowhere near enough. And there are no guarantees it will make its way into the hands of the people Citigroup victimized, either.

As The New York Times reported on the Citigroup settlement:

Wall Street watchdog groups and housing advocates said the terms of the $7 billion settlement highlight how the federal government has fallen short in its effort to hold banks accountable, noting that neither Citigroup nor any of its executives have been criminally charged for the bank’s mortgage problems.

The bible of the financial industry, The Wall Street Journal - contrary to other reports that only a small tax deduction was included in Citigroup's settlement - posted an article, "Citigroup to Get Tax Silver Lining in $7 Billion Settlement."

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

prisonwire(Photo: x1klima)

It's not unusual to see headlines in major cities, such as the one in Chicago after the Fourth of July weekend, on the NBC News Windy City website: "More Than 60 Shot Over Fourth of July Weekend."

Politicians, fearing the NRA and having abandoned large areas of urban areas populated by minorities as economic wastelands, often promote putting more people with illegal guns in jail as a solution to what amounts to free-fire zones in poor police-occupied areas of cities. In essence, these are the areas that political leaders (and much of society) have largely discounted as de facto urban reservations for disposable people.

Prison provides a living for a lot of people - for-profit prison corporations, guards, lawyers, judges, the arresting police officers and a whole slew of professional consultants and workers. One thing that it doesn't do is provide economic options for those incarcerated for gun possession charges (or for a myriad of other non-violent technical crimes including drugs) when they are released. 

The cost to the taxpayer of keeping an individual in prison is high. The New York Times (NYT) wrote about a 2012 study that found that the average cost for incarceration in the state prisons was $31,286 in the 40 states studied - and federal prisons are even more costly. The NYT reported that New York City spent a whopping $167,731 per prisoner in city jail, the majority probably in jail for nonviolent charges.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

trickled453(Photo: David_Shankbone)

David Cay Johnston, a renowned economic journalist covering tax issues, recently asserted that approximately $6.6 trillion in income for US earners has been lost since 2000. It just disappeared.

Why did it vanish? Here is how Johnston explains it in a July 9 Al Jazeera article:

I calculated that enormous figure by comparing the average income Americans reported on their 2000 tax returns with what they reported each year for 2001 through 2012, adjusting for inflation and the growing population. Add up the income for 12 years and it turns out to be $6.6 trillion less than if we had maintained the prosperity of 2000 for a growing population.

Why use 2000 as a benchmark? Well, first off, it marks the end of one era and the start of another. More important, that very good year economically was when George W. Bush, running for president, said American prosperity would get even better if he was elected and his tax cuts — key aspects of which he kept secret until after the election — would ensure American prosperity.

The results: The prosperity of the prior decade was lost. Job growth fell far behind population growth. The median wage (half make more, half less) has been mired since 1998 at a bit more than $500 per week. 

So how does this impact taxpayers overall?

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

hobbyconta(Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

The Hobby Lobby ruling is just one of an avalanche of Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions in which the right wing has legislated from the bench. Forget about the largely fictional concept of a "liberal activist bench"; if you can find such an ongoing entity, please respond in the comments section. 

The reality is that the 5-4 right-wing, pro-corporate-personhood SCOTUS is masterful at defying Congress and the White House and rewriting laws to suit a partisan agenda, including socially conservative goals. BuzzFlash posted a commentary a few days ago about the absurdity of bestowing religious beliefs on a company, for example.

To put this in context, when Antonin Scalia argued for striking down provisions in the Voting Rights Act (which had just been overwhelmingly reapproved by both houses of Congress), he declared in 2013: "This is not the kind of question you can leave to Congress." What he means, of course, is that a 5-4 majority on SCOTUS has turned it into a de facto legislative body that determines US law by a total of five votes, on behalf of a nation of more than 300 million people.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is joining other Democratic senators in support of the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act. In an email, Warren described the bill:

The bill reverses the Supreme Court's decision by making it clear that employers cannot deny access to any of the health benefits required by the ACA – not immunizations, not blood transfusions, not HIV treatments, and not birth control – while preserving reasonable accommodations for religiously exempt employers [that would mean actual religions, such as the Catholic Church]

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Saddam rumsfeldDonald Rumsfeld was Saddam's friend before he was his enemy. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The lies about weapons of mass destruction fell down upon the people of the United States like water rushing down Niagara Falls as Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld used fear to jump start a war early last decade.

Republicans are, after all, good at sales and marketing. They are masters of getting voters to either buy or support products that they don't need - or using propaganda and mendacious campaigns to create a state of abject fear that succumbs to the government launching a military invasion allegedly to ensure national security.

In fact, in the summer of 2002, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card dismissed the notion that the administration would start pushing a war with Iraq at that time. To paraphrase Card's remark, "You don't start pushing a war until the fall, when people are back from vacation."

There is the indelible farcical, pathetic and vile image, of course, of George W. Bush pretending to "comically" search for weapons of mass destruction under the dais table at a White Horse Correspondents' Dinner. The stenographers of the DC press corps ignominiously roared with laughter.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

cuba(Photo: flippinyank)

While the US has been causing impoverishment and the breakdown of civil society in Latin America - as noted in a BuzzFlash commentary yesterday - it has been continuing its decade-long boycott of Cuba. That action has lost US businesses hundreds of billions of dollars as other nations invest in the island. The boycott is a symbol of the lingering visceral vile toward Castro and the word communism.

Castro is in ill health, and Cuba appears about ready to burst out of the Soviet era as one of the last two communist nations on earth (along with North Korea). Cuba, however, differs from North Korea in that, while it is still subject to the cult of a one-man dictatorship, Cubans are on the last legs of a fading and disintegrating experiment in Soviet-style government. North Korea has one of the largest armies in the world; Cuba since the former Soviet Union cut it off years ago has a military force that is a shadow of it former strength.

Nonetheless, the aging pro-Batista exile community in Florida and the neocons with a Cold War hangover continue to enforce a boycott on the island 90 miles from the Keys that now threatens national security much less than Cliven Bundy and his militia supporters. In fact, on a threat-level scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being the greatest threat to the US), Cuba probably scores about a 25.

There is another very interesting aspect of the US government's focus on Cuba as a political punching bag. Virtually any Cuban who makes it to dry ground in the US will not be deported. It used to be that no Cuban immigrants were kicked out of the US, but after the 1980 Mariel boat lift, in which Castro allegedly put "undesirables" and boats and sent them sailing to Florida, Cubans had to make it to the US land mass to be considered refugees who would not be deported. Only if they are intercepted at sea are they sent back to Cuba.

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A child, center, wears a shirt with the words "Don't deport my mom" during a news conference held by immigrant families and children's advocates in Washington, July 7, 2014. The group later marched to the White House to protest President Barack Obama's response to unaccompanied children and families crossing the border. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)A child, center, wears a shirt with the words "Don't deport my mom" during a news conference held by immigrant families and children's advocates in Washington, July 7, 2014. The group later marched to the White House to protest President Barack Obama's response to unaccompanied children and families crossing the border. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

It is worth debunking just two myths that have been generated in the mainstream media and anti-immigrant organizations about the alleged flood of young people from south of the border.

First of all, most reliable accounts indicate that approximately 75 percent of the youths reaching the US border with Mexico are from Central America, particularly Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. These young people risk a harrowing journey across the spine of Mexico, where they are shook down for money, sometimes kidnapped, sometimes shot by paramilitary groups or the police, and in general face a gauntlet of life-threatening obstacles as they attempt to traverse Mexico to reach the United States. (Often the journey involves riding on top of a notorious freight train that is seen as a source of income and slave labor to different thugs in Mexico.)

How serious a risk is the undertaking of being young and in flight? Consider that you see photos of young people with only one arm. Often that's from falling under the train that moves from south to north in Mexico, sometimes from being thrown off the top of the cars because they could not pay enough money to bandits shaking them down.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

endcorpor(Photo: shannonkringen)

Okay, I will concede that the issue in the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) Hobby Lobby decision was the not the payment of taxes per se. Yes, SCOTUS granted the owners of Hobby Lobby the right to deny federally mandated coverage of some types of contraception. However, even the so-called "narrow" ruling broadened just the next day, according to Mother Jones

Less than a day after the United States Supreme Court issued its divisive ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has already begun to toss aside the supposedly narrow interpretation of the decision. On Tuesday, the Supremes ordered lower courts to rehear any cases where companies had sought to deny coverage for any type of contraception, not just the specific types Hobby Lobby was opposed to.

Again, the issue was not technically a ruling on taxes, but it was a decision in favor of bestowing personhood on a corporation (a corporation must be considered "human" if it is to have religious beliefs) and allowing the "corporate person" to avoid paying for mandated federal health services.

That sets the precedent, it seems (with a grateful acknowledgement to Jon Oliver for the idea), that the Supreme Court should allow real persons to withhold a percentage of their income taxes that go toward wars and prisons, if they so wish. Of course, the federal courts have repeatedly rejected the right of individual taxpayers to withhold a portion of their taxes in objection to how the money would be spent. On the other hand, it just ruled that a business, which is not a person, doesn't have to spend money on a specific type of federally mandated health care.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

taxrates(Photo: mSeattle)

Salon recently posted an article entitled, "Conspiracy of the Plutocrats: Secrets of the Wealth-Inequality Explosion Revealed - Piketty Protégé Gabriel Zucman Explains How the World's Wealthiest Are Scamming Governments for Trillions."

Economist Gabriel Zucman contends that an estimated $7.6 trillion is illegally held by the 1% in illegal offshore amounts that are not subject to US taxes. This is because the IRS doesn't officially know about the existence of this stash of money, which far exceeds the US debt.

However, as BuzzFlash at Truthout detailed in one example yesterday, there are plenty of legal ways for the wealthy and corporations to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. The BuzzFlash commentary focused on the growing trend of US corporations moving their headquarters overseas to countries with lower tax rates, thus officially no longer being US companies.

Indeed, it is important to remember that the great redistribution of money from the middle class to the wealthy accelerated with Ronald Reagan's "trickle up" economics. As has been well documented, the oligarchical plan to transfer earnings and cash from the 99% to the 1% has been a success beyond the dreams of even those who devised it.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

corporatecontr (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

Could Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairwoman Mary Jo White require the disclosure of big political contributions by corporations, particularly in the wake of the Citizens United decision?

Apparently the answer is "yes," according to a June 30 "Comment Is Free" column in The Guardian, by journalist Alexis Goldstein:

The disclosure of corporate political donations doesn't require Congress: the administration could simply propose new regulations under its existing authority. Unfortunately, despite having a Democratic chair – Mary Jo White – the Securities and Exchange Commission, which could mandate such disclosures, is either too intimidated (or too captured) to act.

Despite congressional shenanigans, blame for regulatory inaction on the issue sits squarely on the shoulders of the Democrat-led SEC. After adding a political disclosure rule to its 2013 agenda, the agency quietly dropped the rule for this year.

Goldstein writes that there are probably two primary reasons that the SEC is not forcing disclosure of anonymous corporate political campaign funds: 1) the Republicans are putting budgetary pressure on the SEC; and 2) it is more than possible that former top-tier corporate attorney Mary Jo White doesn't want to force accountability.

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