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."
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It would make a good front page Washington Post story to learn a bit about the more than a half of a billion dollars that the CIA is going to pay Amazon to develop a spook computer cloud. (For those who don't follow computer technology, "clouds" are the next stage in digital data storage.)
According to the website "Quartz," "Amazon is staffing up for its $600 million cloud for spooks":
You can now add “spymaster” to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s various titles. On Friday June 14, a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report elaborated on previous reports that Amazon had won a $600 million contract to build a “private cloud” for the CIA. (The GAO report was generated when IBM, which had been competing for the contract, protested that it had lost unfairly.)
More than half a billion dollars will buy you a lot of cloud computing, and now, according to postings on Amazon’s own jobs site, the company is staffing up to meet the demand the new contract will require. Specifically, Amazon is looking for engineers who already have a “Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmented Information” clearance, or are willing to go through the elaborate screening process required to get it. TS/SCI is the highest security clearance offered by the US government, and getting it requires having your background thoroughly vetted.
BuzzFlash at Truthout found out about the contract through Heidi Boghosian, author of the just released "Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power, and Public Resistance. (You can obtain the book, which is the Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week by clicking here.)
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
When it comes to getting the truth from corporations and governments on nuclear power, forget about it. There is too much money and too many political careers tied up in a radiocative future to believe any statement -- such as the ones about the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant: "Don't worry, the crisis is over" or "We've got it all under control."
Mainstream media across the world today have blaring headlines, such as the New York Times: "300 Tons of Contaminated Water Leak From Japanese Nuclear Plant:"
Workers raced to place sandbags around the leak at the site to stem the spread of the water, a task made more urgent by a forecast of heavy rain for the Fukushima region later in the day. A spokesman at Tokyo Electric Power, the plant’s operator, acknowledged that much of the contaminated water had seeped into the soil and could eventually reach the ocean, adding to the tons of radioactive fluids that have already leaked into the sea from the troubled plant.
The leaked water contains levels of radioactive cesium and strontium many hundreds of times higher than legal safety limits, Tokyo Electric said. Exposure to either element is known to increase the risk of cancer....
The latest leak comes from one of the site’s 1,000 tanks, about 500 yards inland, Tepco said. Workers discovered puddles of radioactive water near the tank on Monday. Further checks revealed that the 1,000-ton capacity vessel, thought to be nearly full, only contained 700 tons, with the remainder having almost certainly leaked out.
As the fossil fuel industry races to destroy the planet in order to swill champagne bottles of profit as the earth's nurturing eco systems erode into toxic destructive forces, the nuclear industry rushes to justify even more nuclear power as the deadly impact of its current plants is still literally leaking into our environment: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat from the oceans.