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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Bullet 0717wrp optBullet exiting a flash suppressor. (Photo: Niels Noordhoek)During the Obama years, right wing groups repeatedly issued hysterical calls to stockpile arms against encroachment by the Obama administration. With Trump in the White House, that tune has changed; right wing paramilitary groups are being encouraged by Republican Party officials to stand armed, ready to defend Trumpism. In what appears to be an escalation of an ominous trend, the Multnomah County Republican Party (MCRP) of Portland, Oregon, voted to approve a proposal, brought by MCRP Chairman James Buchal, to allow armed members of Oregon Three Percenters, and the Oath Keepers, to provide security for future pro-Trump, alt-right, and anti-Sharia rallies. 

According to the Guardian, "Brawls and verbal confrontations punctuated the latest in a series of far-right 'patriot movement' events" recently when about "100 attendees clashed verbally and occasionally physically with 'anti-fascist' protesters."

With their members being harassed and shouted down, Buchal told the Guardian that calling in militia groups was their only recourse. Emphasizing violence coming from the left could be shaping a new and dangerous narrative enhancing the legitimacy of rightwing paramilitary groups.

"The Oregon Republican Party's sanctioning of the Three Percenters and other militia-types as security is a sinister turn for American politics," Devin Burghart, vice president on the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR), told me in an email exchange. "Deploying unaccountable, untrained, heavily-armed, and volatile far-right individuals at events where racism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry are core themes is a recipe for disaster.

PATRICIA JACKSON FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

DMZ 0717wrpElectric fences in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. (Photo: Wikipedia public domain)June was the sixty-fourth anniversary of the Korean War. It began in 1950 and ended 1953. Did people at that time in this country, even today, know the truth about our destruction in North Korea?

South Korea did not sign onto the 1953 cease fire armistice agreement with the People's Republic of China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and the United Nations that established a demilitarized zone separated at the 38th parallel. The possibility of using the Atom Bomb was considered during this war. North Korea and South Korea, a country divided, become another proxy war. Today, the risk of nuclear weapons ignites again with the threat of even greater weapons capable of massive destruction.

The countries involved in Korea today are the same, the United States, China, and Russia – then still the Soviet Union. The U.S. still maintains 28,500 troops in South Korea, including a division headquarters, an armored brigade, an aviation brigade, and an artillery brigade. China and Russia have established troops on their borders with North Korea.

Two hot heads of state exchange dangerous rhetoric. Trump's simplistic assessment of the situation offers, "North Korea is looking for trouble." "If China decides to help, that would be great," the post continued. "If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A."

A DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman in turn responds. "The DPRK will react to a total war with an all-out war, a nuclear war with nuclear strikes of its own and surely win a victory in the death-defying struggle against the U.S. imperialists."

MARIANNE HIRSCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

MarianneWarsawView of POLIN Museum, facing the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. This side of the monument shows the Great Deportation of 300,000 Jews to the Treblinka death camp in the summer of 1942. (Photo: Wojciech Kryński) Standing in front of the Ghetto Heroes Monument in Warsaw, Poland, some months ago, I felt immersed in an archaeology of layered histories. The monument commemorates the unique and improbable armed uprising by Jewish ghetto partisans against Nazi forces in 1943. But it also bears witness to how the brutal annihilation of a local minority in the very heart of an urban neighborhood has been both remembered and forgotten during nearly 70 years. Now, standing in front of the remarkable new Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, it speaks not only of heroes, but also of ordinary lives cut short by genocide.

Being there as a child of survivors of the Romanian Holocaust, I felt in touch with witness visitors who preceded me -- descendants of Holocaust victims and survivors like me, tourists, heads of state the world over, as well as visitors whose symbolic import resonates into the future. How could any of us do justice to the victims? What is our responsibility to them and to our own present, to the violence we continue to witness?

When Donald Trump chose not to stop there on his recent visit to Warsaw, he didn't just snub the Jewish community or fail to pay tribute to Jewish resistance, he also rejected an entangled transnational history of responsible witnessing. He thus extricated the United States from a web of shared memory and acknowledgement that goes beyond the nationalist self-congratulation that he fosters.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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.

The state of the Larsen C ice shelf crack in November 2016. Now that it has completely broken away, the new configuration of Larsen C could potentially make it less stable.The state of the Larsen C ice shelf crack in November 2016. Now that it has completely broken away, the new configuration of Larsen C could potentially make it less stable. (Photo: Stuart Rankin)LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

One of the biggest icebergs ever recorded has "finally" broken away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, researchers studying the event announced.

The iceberg, which will likely be dubbed A68, weighs more than a trillion tonnes, has a volume twice that of Lake Erie, and is about 5,800 square kilometers in size -- roughly the size of Delaware.

According to Project MIDAS, the UK-based Antarctic researchers observing the ice shelf, the calving occurred sometime between Monday and Wednesday.

The landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula has been "changed forever," the researchers said. The calving leaves the Larsen C Ice Shelf reduced in area by more than 12 percent, its smallest size ever recorded.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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."

Mutually Assured Destruction is not realism; it's a suicidal standoff, with the certainty that eventually something's going to give.Mutually assured destruction is not realism; it's a suicidal standoff, with the certainty that eventually something's going to give. (Photo: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Follow)ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The United States boycotted the U.N. negotiations to ban -- everywhere across Planet Earth -- nuclear weapons. So did eight other countries. Guess which ones?

The international debate over this historic treaty, which became reality a week ago by a margin of 122 to 1, revealed how deeply split the nations of the world are -- not by borders or language or religion or political ideology or control of wealth, but by possession of nuclear weapons and the accompanying belief in their absolute necessity for national security, despite the absolute insecurity they inflict on the whole planet.

Armed equals scared. (And scared equals profitable.)

The nine nations in question, of course, are the nuclear-armed ones: the US, Russia, China, Great Britain, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and . . . what was that other one? Oh yeah, North Korea. Bizarrely, these countries and their short-sighted "interests" are all on the same side, even though each one's possession of nuclear weapons justifies the others' possession of nuclear weapons.

MICHAEL SEIFERT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ImmigrationRights 0712wrp optAn immigration rights protest march. (Photo: z2amiller)In mid-May, just before the end of the school year, a mother drove to a local grammar school to pick up her three children. As she was parking her truck, a Brownsville police officer, apparently doing traffic duty, asked her for her papers. The woman, however, having suffered an onslaught of news reports about SB4, the Texas "Show Me Your Papers" law, told me that she thought that he meant her immigration documents. The policeman was only asking about her driver's license and proof of insurance.

The woman, shaken, went into the school office to collect her children.

Inside the school, the mother ran into the school secretary. As is the case in many communities, the secretary is considered a reliable source of knowledge. This mom, afraid, pled her case. "But the police have no right to ask me for my papers; they have no right to do that on school property! Who can I complain to?"

The secretary responded, "Ah, but you see, with that new law, SB4, everything has changed. The police can come into the school any time they want and they can take illegal people away. You should be glad that he didn't deport you. But he will be back!"

The mother of three gasped; the secretary went back to answering phones and attending other parents' needs. The mother went home and called her local parish. The priest was able to calm her fears, reminding her that she had the support of her church, and of many others. "I am not sure what exactly we will do as a parish," the priest told me, "But we will come up with something."

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Pence 0712wrp optMike Pence at CPAC. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)Shortly after the November election, The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill observed that while Mike Pence is often seen as the adult in the room, and a "counterbalance" to Donald Trump, "there is every reason to regard him as, if anything, even more terrifying than the president-elect." Scahill called Pence's ascension to vice president "a tremendous coup for the radical religious right."

While many in the nation were celebrating Pride Month – held in June to commemorate the activists who began the modern gay rights movement at the Stonewall Riots -- the White House was silent.

During the same period, Vice President Mike Pence was off singing the praises of Dr. James Dobson, one of America's premier conservative Christian anti-gay political leaders. Pence told a cheering crowd at a celebration in Colorado Springs, Colorado, of the 40th anniversary of James Dobson's "Focus on the Family" radio program, that they have "an unwavering ally in President Donald Trump."

Pence said that the passage of President Trump's health care bill will finally "defund Planned Parenthood once and for all," and he added that "the time is now" to re-engage in politics.

Earlier in June, at Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Road to Majority conference, Pence praised Dobson, calling him his "mentor," when the founder of Focus on the Family received the organization's Winston Churchill Lifetime Achievement Award. Pence assured the audience that Trump will "never stop fighting for the values and ideals that make this nation great."

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