BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
When it comes to being restored, re-ordained and returned to the pulpit after confessing to a four-year extramarital affair with a member of his congregation, Sam Hinn, the younger brother of well-known televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn, may have set a new speed record for fallen evangelical leaders.
Older brother Benny is a big-time brand, squirrelling the spotlight for a good chunk of his professional life, and his ministry reels in extraordinary amounts of money. He's traveled the globe, bought mansions, and has lived the good life.
He's also experienced a fair amount of controversy along the way. His prophesies have been way off the mark, including one made in 1989 that Fidel Castro wouldn't outlast the 1990s; he was one of a group of televangelists whose financial shenanigans inspired an investigation by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa); and, two years ago, he was accused of being involved in a messy extramarital affair with Paula White -- another well-known televangelist -- an accusation that threatened his worldwide ministry. Hinn self-recovered and is back televangelizing.
Now, younger brother Sam, who compared to Benny is a minor figure in the world of evangelicals, is grabbing some kinky headlines of his own.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
During a period of blaring "austerity" when a key goal of those with means is to cut pensions that have been fairly earned by public employees, it is astonishing to read that some lobbyists in 40% of US states get paid pensions from the public trough.
According to an August 25 Associated Press (AP) article:
Hundreds of lobbyists in at least 20 states ... get public pensions because they represent associations of counties, cities and school boards, an Associated Press review found. Legislatures granted them access decades ago on the premise that they serve governments and the public. In many cases, such access also includes state health care benefits....
"It's clear that there's a big problem with hypocrisy when these lobbyists have been pushing austerity and benefit cuts for other government workers while they themselves enjoy solid state pensions," said Michael Kink of the progressive group Strong Economy for All Coalition. "`Do as I say, not as I do' seems to be their approach on retirement cuts."
"Workers who have faced cuts in pay and pensioners have a right to be angry - as do voters," Kink said.
Who knows? Some of these private lobbyists who receive taxpayer funded pensions (and in some case healthcare benefits) may even work to advance legislation sponsored by the infamous ALEC.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
First of all, who are they? Mostly the 1%. But the top 2-5% have also done quite well, increasing their inflation-adjusted wealth by 75 percent from 1983 to 2009 while average wealth went down for 80 percent of American households. The rest of the top 20% have been prosperous, realizing a 32 percent gain in inflation-adjusted wealth since 1983. The facts to follow are primarily about the richest 1%, with occasional dips into the groups scrambling to make it to the top.
1. Accumulating almost all the wealth
As evidence of the extremes between the very rich and the rest of us, the average household net worth for the top 1% in 2009 was almost $14 million, while the average household net worth for the bottom 47% was almost ZERO. For nearly half of America, average debt is about the same as average asset ownership.
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The extremes are just as filthy at the global level. The richest 300 persons on earth (about a third of them in the U.S.) have more money than the poorest 3 billion people. Out of all developed and undeveloped countries with at least a quarter-million adults, the U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.
2. Increasing their own wealth without doing anything
In another alarming testament to wealth at the top, the richest 10% own almost 90 percent of stocks excluding pensions. Consider what that means. The stock market has historically risen three times faster than the GDP itself. Since the recession, as the U.S. economy has "recovered," 62 percent of the gain was due to growth in the stock market, which surged as much in four years as it did during the "greatest bull market in history" from 1996 to 2000.
Many stock owners see a couple thousand dollars added to their fortunes every time they go online.
But that's not enough for the very rich. Thanks in good part to the derivatives market, the world's wealth has doubled in ten years, from $113 trillion to $223 trillion, and is expected to reach $330 trillion by 2017. The financial industry has figured out how to double or triple its buying power while most of the world has proportionately less.
BILL QUIGLEY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
“We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted…the Patriot Act. As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.”
- US Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Journalist and scholarly muse Thomas Frank noted in a recent e-mail to colleagues,
September 15 will mark five years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the official beginning of the slump that never ends. It was a moment that smashed the faith of millions of people. And so it’s time for a look back: What did the nation learn from that moment of complete disillusionment?
Well, basically nothing. We came to the turning point and didn’t turn.
Frank was referring to his September dateline Harper's Magazine article (only available in the print edition and behind an online paywall), in which he concluded:
But a society that believes good government to be an impossibility is unlikely to do what is necessary to keep industry honest. Instead, its regulators will come to see the regulated, rather than the public, as their main clients. They will imagine that industry can police itself. They will party with their private-sector pals and spin happily through the revolving door. And the rest of us will resign ourselves to scandal after scandal, as a new generation of looters rises up to claim positions at the trough when the old looters retire. Indeed—to repurpose an immortal statement by a certain Bush Administration economist—given what we now think we know about the system, it would be irrational for them not to loot....
There is one way, however, in which the changes brought about by 2008 have been permanent—one way in which the center will probably never hold again. We are a society that watched as those who obeyed the rules got played by Wall Street and Washington. And it has not only hardened us, made us more blasé about corruption; it has corrupted us. We be held our powerlessness at the hands of the mighty, and we decided that the thing to do was to make Wall Street even stronger. We accepted our powerlessness and then magnified it. Today we all know that another bubble will soon inflate and burst, but we have chosen to live with that— five years from the last, five years to the next! Just grab your cash and hang on.
Frank reflects upon what Elizabeth Warren was, in essence, admonishing Attorney General Holder in a letter to him discussed in yesterday's BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary, "Elizabeth Warren Reads Riot Act to Holder for Not Prosecuting Big Bank Mortgage Fraud."
JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Coincidentally, after reading that the world’s last Amazon rainforest is disappearing for oil profits, a review on Matt Damon’s new film “Elysium” appeared on the same page. It described the earth as gray, barren, little more than a polluted prison for all those not wealthy enough to live on the luxury space station “Elysium,” hovering a short 20-minute shuttle ride above earth. The poor are left to fight in squalid conditions, which is the deplorable situation right now for over half the world’s children.
They are poor because for the last two centuries, industrialists have been raping the earth’s resources without restoring what they took, depleting community economies as they go; it’s a form of capitalism that is so ruthless that it defies the meaning of capitalism; it benefits a few thousand people at the expense of the human race, wildlife habitats, fresh water, oceans, forests—nearly everything that makes the earth a heaven instead of a hell. Read Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” for an in-depth explanation of this parasitical model of capitalism based on corporate privatization.
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Sen. Diane Feinstein and a horde of members of Congress of both parties want to decide who is and who isn’t a reporter. Sen. Feinstein says a “real” reporter is a “salaried agent of a media company.”
She mentions the usual suspects—New York Times, ABC News. She dismisses part-time staff. She dismisses freelancers. She dismisses those who write, often without pay, for the hundreds of alternative publications, and often break news and investigative stories well ahead of the mainstream media. She dismisses anyone who, she says, “have no professional qualifications.”
The reason she wants to define what a reporter is or isn’t is because there’s a proposed federal Media Shield Law that would protect reporters from revealing their sources. Forty states and the District of Columbia currently have shield laws. Sen. Feinstein wants to amend the federal bill to take away existing First Amendment protections from anyone not involved in—apparently—salaried establishment media.
There are people who have minimal qualifications to be a reporter. Many write nothing but screeds. Many have problems with basic language skills. Many have little familiarity with the AP Style Book. Many have an inability to ask probing questions of government officials; many merely transcribe what they’re told, whether from the president, a council member, or a local reader who is the focus of a feature. Some of them are paid salaries and are agents of media companies, which Sen. Feinstein believes are acceptable requirements.
There are also those who frequently allow “deep background” and “off-the-record” comments. Many news media won’t allow sources to go “off-the-record.” If the information isn’t available to the general public, it shouldn’t be available only to reporters. Access to news sources is something reporters enjoy that the average reader doesn’t; but there is a responsibility to the reader and viewer and listener not to hide information.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Okay, so Senator Warren actually wrote a polite, detailed letter to Attorney General Holder. There was no shouting or acrimony.
However, in Washington, for a freshman senator to imply in official correspondence made public that the Department of Justice is not doing its job in investigating, prosecuting and even fining banks and secondary lenders in regards to multiple counts of mortgage lending violations is akin to a freshman at high school accusing the principal of letting teachers steal milk money from the desks of students.
It may be professional in tone, but Warren's letter is a direct challenge to the criminal impunity provided to and limited fines assessed by the DOJ on Wall Street for their multiple schemes to defraud both mortgage borrowers and investors.
The Huffington Post featured the letter, which bluntly states:
I am concerned that this might be yet another example of the federal government's timid enforcement strategy against the nation's largest financial institutions. I believe that if DOJ and our banking regulatory agencies prove unwilling over time to take the big banks to trial or even require admission of guilt when they cheat consumers and break the law -- either out of timidity or because of a lack of resources -- then the agencies lose enormous leverage in settlement negotiations.There are a number of federal agencies involved in the lax regulation and minimal punishment (no jail time) of the financial industry for its key role, particularly in the creation of a toxic subprime mortgage scam, in the economic collapse that burst open in the autumn of 2007.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Does Philip Anschutz, the conservative billionaire owner of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) – a wholly owned subsidiary of the Anschutz Company -- and/or his company, an entertainment and sports empire, bear any responsibility in the death of Michael Jackson?
Anschutz Entertainment Group’s AEG Live knew it could make a fortune if Michael Jackson‘s comeback tour was even mildly successful. During preparation for the “This Is It” tour, which might have been the biggest comeback tour in entertainment history starting with 50 shows in London and then possibly moving on to other worldwide venues, an out-of-shape, exhausted and prescription drug-dependent Jackson died of an overdose of drugs.
EUGENE ROBINSON FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Washington - For all who believe in colorblind justice -- and want to see fewer African-American and Hispanic men caught up in the system -- there are two items of good news: a judge's ruling ordering changes in New York's "stop and frisk" policy and Attorney General Eric Holder's initiative to keep nonviolent drug offenders out of prison.
First, "stop and frisk." Mayor Michael Bloomberg is having a hissy fit over U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin's finding that the policy amounted to "indirect racial profiling." On his weekly radio show, the mayor wouldn't even say Scheindlin's name, calling her "some woman" who knows "absolutely zero" about policing. In an op-ed article for The Washington Post, Bloomberg went so far as to accuse Scheindlin of being "ideologically driven."