Facebook Slider
Get News Alerts!

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.

Conservative televangelist James Robison speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo:<a href=" https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/12999696943" target="_blank"> Gage Skidmore / Flickr</a>)Conservative televangelist James Robison speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Not since Oscar hooked up with Felix in Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" are we seeing such an unusual pairing: Pope Francis, a man who has expressed deep concern for the poor, the downtrodden, and issues of social inequality, and two controversial televangelists who have rarely seemed interested in anything other than building their ministries into huge money-making empires.

Over the past several months, Pope Francis' outreach efforts have included Protestant evangelicals. In late July, he became the first pope to visit a Pentecostal church in Italy. "Among those who persecuted and denounced Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy people trying to ruin the race, there were also Catholics," Francis said, referencing Mussolini's fascist regime. "I am the pastor of Catholics, and I ask your forgiveness for those Catholic brothers and sisters who didn't know and were tempted by the devil."

The attempt at reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants is nothing new, often been fueled by conservative politicians pursuing a right-wing social agenda. During its heyday, Ralph Reed, the executive director of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, attempted to launch a Catholic auxiliary. In 1994, conservative Catholics and evangelicals in the U.S. created Evangelicals and Catholics Together, an ecumenical document signed by leading Evangelical and Roman Catholic scholars in the United States.

WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaFailTrain(Photo: Epheterson)More fun than fourteen barrels of flunkies watching our elected officials exit Washington like scared rats streaming out of a sewer to escape Godzilla. And really, who can blame them. Anybody who's ever spent a summer in DC can tell you the climate is real similar to Hell. With humidity. Then again, not sure even Hell has winged insects the size of footstools. It's not called Foggy Bottom because that's the first thing that springs to mind when Diane Feinstein walks away, you know.

Funny thing is, this is the same Congress that lies on the verge of breaking all previous records for complete and utter futility. The Zero Zip Zilch Crew. Who have ridden lethargy into the ground and taken loitering to bold new heights. Or is it depths? Folks who would need hydraulic mechanical assists to raise their attitudes from stuporous to torpid. From the lair of the drugged slugs. Debi Does Drowsy.

In essence, they're taking a vacation from nothing. Which is a lot like waking up to take a nap. Topping breakfast off with a sleeping pill. Floating off to a loafing, lay- about layoff. Playing hide and seek with the mirror. And losing.

The 113th Congress is destined to go down in history as the most Do- Nothingest Congress of all time. Accomplishing less than all the other Do- Nothing Congresses combined. Which is saying something, because there were plenty.

"Proud to Put the Nothing in the Do- Nothing Congress." Enshrined as the undisputed heavyweight champion of Indolence. The Friends of Inertia. Slouching towards SlouchVille. The Slacker Congress.

REV. STEPHEN H. PHELPS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaTrident(Photo: Fastfission)I asked a White House correspondent from the Middle East what would happen if during a press conference with the POTUS someone put this question:

Mr. President, given that since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, any non-nuclear nation which we treat as an adversary may be reasonably terrified that the U.S. will invade it too, and perhaps on false pretexts; and given that no nation in possession of a nuclear weapon has ever been attacked by any of its foes; and given that you have declared that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon; what is the U.S. doing to give Iran absolute confidence that neither the U.S. nor any other nation will ever attack it "preemptively," if it agrees to abide without a nuclear defense?

"What would happen?" the correspondent shrugged. "The questioner would never put another question in the White House briefing room. His editor would take him off the desk, maybe fire him. You cannot get an answer to a question like that."

Regardless the accuracy of the correspondent's surmise, it corresponds with a feature of American policy toward other nations: Their pursuit of their self-interest is a priori excluded from the foreign-policy calculus—if they are considered enemies. Like seven-year-olds in a playground fight, our media and masters claim that the motives of foes are malign and ours benign; that they started it, and we only defend ourselves. The fact that Americans believe these constructions has tragic consequences in violence. The fact that leaders who know it is spin spin it anyway can best be explained by the seductions of power that dance in the heads of those who prepare for more war.

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.

Richard Nixon. (Photo<a href=" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Party_%28United_States%29#mediaviewer/File:Richard_M._Nixon,_ca._1935_-_1982_-_NARA_-_530679.jpg" target="_blank">  via Wikipedia</a>)Richard Nixon. (Photo via Wikipedia)BOB FITRAKIS AND HARVEY WASSERMAN ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Richard Nixon was a traitor.

The new release of extended versions of Nixon's papers now confirms this long-standing belief, usually dismissed as a "conspiracy theory" by Republican conservatives. Now it has been substantiated by none other than right-wing columnist George Will.

Nixon's newly revealed records show for certain that in 1968, as a presidential candidate, he ordered Anna Chennault, his liaison to the South Vietnam government, to persuade them to refuse a cease-fire being brokered by President Lyndon Johnson.

Nixon's interference with these negotiations violated President John Adams's 1797 Logan Act, banning private citizens from intruding into official government negotiations with a foreign nation.

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."

The Wall Street Journal. (Photo:<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/illinoislibrary/8291680651/in/photolist-dCH2Me-9AYvYM-eDRW13-9e8fH2-9ebkv9-9e8fvr-7brHJ8-8b11DX-u6etH-awkRRU-2iv3Fb-75WYfa-2iuXiJ-7F2FjD-2iqAGF-2iuXuh-au5NWQ-88qLPS-ehu2qR-7EQtcF-8DAPZr-6Xv3Br-2QhMtV-diFnk9-aMjhnR-diFohG-diFqFv-diFpfa-diFpZV-diFr14-diFnKU-8txPXP-9ZWPbS-95KUnw-3in7t2-83742A-iKeoJG-axzk1t-apbpRL-a9q2W-9xmBx6-oXzsb-aeLG8K-9dgR8H-5VuwZL-5AWpnd-c223F-dsqc1f-hMJKST-iv1RR" target="_blank">  University of Illinois Library / Flickr</a>)The Wall Street Journal. (Photo: University of Illinois Library / Flickr)PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Funny, in a sad sort of way.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) gets respect from the mainstream because it speaks for the money interests. To many of those outside its golden circle, the commentary of its writers is generally suspect, occasionally frightening, and often unintentionally humorous.

Delusion: Middle-class Americans have more buying power than ever before.

WSJ compares the present day to the 1950s, ignoring changes in education costs, health care expenses, debt repayment and financial fees. The Journal built on the delusion by printing the insensitive headline What Recession? and by counseling its readers, Don't be alarmed by high rates of "economic insecurity."

The Journal's "prosperity for all" fantasy includes their assurance that cutbacks in food stamps don't hurt children, even though in real life almost half of food stamp recipients are children.

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.

RON SCHALOW FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaDerail(Photo: B.A.)In a February 24, 2014, article, Think Progress said "Bakken shale crude oil is also the most explosive compared to oil from 86 other locations worldwide."

North Dakota leaders need to take immediate responsibility for the Bakken crude oil train explosions, and require producers to remove all explosive natural gas liquids (NGL's) from Bakken crude before shipping.

The Dot-111 tanker car is not suited for hauling watered down skim milk. It should go, but it is not the main reason for the violent and deadly explosions that have occurred over a 10 month period, from July 2013 to April 2014. The newer 1242 model cracked open during the Lynchburg, VA, derailment going 24 mph.

And, there can never be enough inspections and upgrades of the railroad tracks, and oversight of train movements, but we've been trying to keep trains on the tracks in this country for nearly 200 years, and there were still 1,260 derailments in the U.S. in 2013. Everything helps, but trains will continue to derail.

The explosions - the 300 foot fireballs, walls of fire, incinerated buildings, vaporized humans, fouled water, and poisoned soil - are primarily due to one simple fact, and it has to stop.

Page 13 of 1318