JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Media outlets across the country trumpeted the stunning news with headlines like this: "Citigroup Punished."
At last, went the storyline, the Justice Department brought down the hammer on one of the greed-headed Wall Street giants that are guilty of massive mortgage frauds that crashed our economy six years ago. While millions of ordinary Americans lost homes, jobs, and businesses — and still haven't recovered — the finagling bankers were promptly bailed out by Washington and continue to get multimillion-dollar bonuses. So, hitting Citigroup with $7 billion in penalties for its role in the calamitous scandal is a real blow for justice!
Well, sort of. Actually ... not so much. While seven billion bucks is more than a slap on the wrist, it pales in contrast to the egregious nature of Citigroup's crime and the extent of the horrendous damage done by the bankers. In fact, when it announced the settlement, the Justice Department itself pointed out that Citigroup's fraudulent acts "shattered lives."
For most of us, paying billions is impossible to imagine, much less do. But this is a Wall Street colossus with $76 billion in revenue last year alone. It rakes in enough profit in six months to more than cover this "punishment." Also, the bank will get to deduct 40 percent of the penalty from its income tax. Then there's this little number that the prosecutors failed to mention when they announced the settlement: Citigroup's taxpayer bailout in 2008 was $45 billion — six times more than it is now having to pay back!
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The World Congress of Families, an anti-gay Religious Right operation with an international focus, had been planning to hold "World Congress of Families VIII – the Moscow Congress" in Russia in September. According to a WCF Press Release, the conference has been suspended because of the "situation in the Ukraine and Crimea (and the resulting U.S. and European sanctions) [which] has raised questions about travel, logistics, and other matters necessary to plan WCF VIII." The "situation" in Ukraine, however, isn't scaring off numerous Religious Right leaders from visiting Ukraine and pitching their wares.
As the late Actor/Comedian/Pianist, Jimmy Durante often said: "Everybody wants to get into de act." Now, it's David Barton's turn. People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch recently reported that Barton, ersatz historian and genuine Christian nationalist had also spent some time in Ukraine, where he met "with members of the government and various religious leaders in order to teach them how to build a proper government based on the teachings of the Bible."
Last week, Buzzflash ran a piece about the American Pastors Network involvement with government and religious entities in Ukraine. However, over the past fifteen years, the Religious Right has launched numerous projects aimed at the Ukrainian people.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The privatization of municipal water services is a potential looming reality in Detroit.
According to a June 14 Detroit Free Press article, the emergency manager appointed to administer a state-mandated bankruptcy of the city has been actively exploring turning pubic water services into private profit:
Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s office is studying several bids to privatize the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and could have a selection process completed within two weeks, a spokesman said Monday.
But Orr spokesman Bill Nowling would not release any information about which companies submitted bids by Sunday’s deadline to operate and manage the system relied on by millions of people in southeast Michigan. Nowling said the bids are considered confidential under a federal mediation order.
It hasn't happened yet, in part due to legal, political and PR positioning - including the 15-day temporary reprieve in residential water shut-offs resulting from large protests last week in Detroit.
One reason you can be almost certain that the residential shut-offs will resume is a point made on Next City, a website focusing on "inspiring better cities": "As activists point out, DWSD [Detroit Water and Sewerage Department] is a much more appealing purchase if it loses its debt." In short, by cutting off residents with growing unpaid water bills, the DWSD becomes a more attractive acquisition to the private market.
Political protests, negative media coverage and ongoing activism could cause the bankruptcy court to force a different outcome than complete privatization: a public-private partnership (in which DWSD would pay a management firm to run the agency) or - the least unlikely given the pro-corporatism statements and actions of Emergency Manager Orr - keeping DWSD a public non-profit service for residents and area businesses.
That Orr would have directed or permitted the DWSD to cruelly accelerate water shut-offs during the Detroit summer heat speaks to the indifference of those running the bankruptcy process toward the people of limited income actually living in Detroit.
ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUTNICOLE D'ALESSANDRO OF
A historic vote in Maine reaffirms that residents want to keep toxic tar sands at bay.
Yesterday, South Portland City Council voted 6-1 to pass the Clear Skies Ordinance, which prohibits bulk loading of tar sands onto tankers at the waterfront and the construction of any infrastructure that would be used for that purpose.
A number of groups, including Protect South Portland, Natural Resources Council of Maine and Environment Maine, have weighed in on the issue after finding that the pipeline transfer and bulk loading of tar sands on the waterfront would increase toxic air pollution, including volatile organic compounds; contribute to climate change threats; pose unacceptable risks of pipelines leaks into lakes and rivers; threaten wildlife; and harm property values.
The bulk loading of crude has never been done in South Portland, and the city plans to keep it that way. This is the first time in which a U.S. city considering loading tar sands oil onto tankers has banned the activity.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Unfortunately, there are those people in the world who lust for revenge, whose souls are boiling with the toxic and barbaric notion of bloodletting in the name of a perceived "just" grievance. That is the case of Thane Rosenbaum, who The Wall Street Journal describes as "a novelist, essayist and professor at the New York University School of Law [and] the author, most recently, of Payback: The Case for Revenge."
Rosenbaum's "Payback" book argues for the legitimacy of revenge. According to the University of Chicago Press, publisher of Rosenbaum's screed, "What, if anything, distinguishes punishment at the hands of the government from a victim’s individual desire for retribution? Are vengeance and justice really so very different? No, answers legal scholar and novelist Thane Rosenbaum in Payback: The Case for Revenge - revenge is, in fact, indistinguishable from justice."
We admittedly have not had time to read the book since becoming aware of it in an incendiary and barbaric Wall Street Journal commentary written by Rosenbaum yesterday, but the book apparently contends that legal systems should be more active in carrying out revenge on behalf of those who feel wronged.
If that is the case, Rosenbaum runs far afield of any notion of vengeance-best-served-cold when he "argues" in his Wall Street Journal column that - in essence - there can be no civilian deaths caused by the Israeli attack and invasion because, he speciously and abhorrently claims, there are no civilians in Gaza:
On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians when you freely elect members of a terrorist organization as statesmen, invite them to dinner with blood on their hands and allow them to set up shop in your living room as their base of operations. At that point you begin to look a lot more like conscripted soldiers than innocent civilians. And you have wittingly made yourself targets.
BRANDON BAKER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Renewable energy continues growing its share of new electricity generation in the U.S.
According to the latest Energy Infrastructure Update from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, solar and wind energy constituted more than half of the new generating capacity in the country for the first half of 2014. Solar and wind energy combined for 1.83 gigawatts (GW) of the total 3.53 GW installed from January to June.
Natural gas constituted much of the remainder of installed capacity with about 1.56 GW. Coal and nuclear energy came to a complete half with zero projects and zero capacity. Last year, coal had two new units during the same time period. Since then, the Obama Administration issued a proposal for U.S. power plants to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent compared to 2005 level. Coal plants account for nearly half of the country’s carbon emissions.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Center for Effective Government offers some astonishing examples of corporations that withheld information about products that are dangerous to consumers, resulting in death, injury and illness. For instance, consider a profitable pharmaceutical drug being sold even though its potentially deadly side effects were known to the company: In 2008, it was revealed that, "Merck withheld information on the risks of the painkiller Vioxx from doctors and patients for more than five years, resulting in an estimated 88,000 to 139,000 heart attacks, approximately 30 to 40 percent of which were fatal."
Of course, the more recent examples of deaths that resulted from corporations keeping consumers in the dark about dangerous products were exemplified by GM and other auto industry giants. According to the Center for Effective Government:
[There are] multiple cases of corporate misconduct that [lead] to serious injuries and deaths. A recent example involved General Motors' (GM) recall of millions of automobiles with defective ignition switches. For over a decade, GM withheld information about the defective switches from regulators and the public. The company recently conceded that faulty switches are responsible for at least 13 deaths over the past several years, and some regulators believe the actual death toll may be much higher. GM has moved to settle more than 300 claims related to these deadly ignition switches.
On May 16, the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration slapped GM on the wrist with a $35 million civil fine, amounting to less than a day's revenue for the company. Although GM executives were aware of the defects and even asked employees to conceal the safety concerns from the public, not one of them will have to pay a criminal fine or face time in prison.
The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards adds, "Toyota intentionally concealed information from the public about defects in their automobiles that caused them to accelerate even as drivers were trying to slow them down, leading to at least five deaths and resulting in no criminal penalties for individual Toyota executives."
ARIEL ZEPEDA FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT, WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY REBECCA SOLNIT
This is the remarkable and ordinary story of the reactions of the people around a woman who woke up bruised with no memory of how she got that way. Ariel Zepeda lets us see how a campus rape can not just go unreported, but unnamed, how people can choose to smooth it over to spare themselves the difficulty of admitting there’s a rapist in their social circle and that justice might require something be done. Zepeda—who I had the pleasure of working with this spring in a writing seminar—is the voice we haven’t heard from yet: the male peer who’s horrified at the conduct of his fellow students but ambivalent about what constitutes an appropriate response. The New York Times’ cover story a week ago demonstrated yet again how awful can be the consequences for a university student who chooses to report being raped; it’s not a choice you can easily make for someone else.
It’s also worth remembering that from Harvard to Stanford, from Berkeley to Notre Dame to University of Connecticut, our finest universities are apparently graduating a new crop of unpunished rapists every year. I don’t know how this epidemic will be stopped, but I’m amazed and moved by the young women organizing on dozens of campuses to address the situation. They are doing much to change it. And I’m convinced voices like Ariel’s will help us see the nuances, the conflicts, dilemmas, blind spots, and pressures that surround these crimes and criminals. Too, this is an issue that men must address, because the most misogynist among us don’t listen to women and absorb the idea that rape is cool rather than reprehensible from what we now call rape culture and from their male peers in particular. Which is why the other voices need to be heard.
-- Rebecca Solnit
She trusted the people at the party. It was her second semester at U.C. Berkeley, at a fraternity party she attended with a group of her sorority sisters. You are vulnerable to new people whenever you try to gain entrance into a society. Some people try to befriend you while others try to take advantage of you. Ultimately, you must be able to trust these strangers. Even if you cannot trust strangers enough to befriend them, you should be able to trust the friends you already have.
The mandatory class on the responsible use of alcohol at U.C. Berkeley consisted of a couple hundred students gathered in an auditorium. We watched a video in which unsuspecting bystanders reacted to a scene in which a man (an actor) attempted to take an intoxicated woman (also an actress) home with him. We were supposed to learn that sex is never okay when drinking is involved, because you cannot fully ensure the other person’s consent. When we discussed the video, a student questioned the usefulness of the exercise, since the actor in the video was vocal about her refusal to leave the bar with the man, while real-life situations are more ambiguous for the bystanders and sometimes the participants.
In a more chaotic environment, like a party, it is nearly impossible to know what people are doing, or to know their intentions. Even if someone were to witness another person engaged in suspicious behavior, most would not get involved or would assume that someone else was responsible for that stranger stumbling away from the party. It is all part of the social experience at universities. You take chances, make mistakes, and try to move on – though this night would be different.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Zoia Horn died Saturday in Oakland at age 96. She was, to understate it, an incredible woman who led an extraordinary life. I had the privilege and honor of working closely with her at the DataCenter, an Oakland, California-based research center, helping her edit the Center's People's Right To Know series of Press Profiles.
Zoia Horn was a librarian who went to prison "as a matter of conscience by refusing to testify against antiwar activists accused of a bizarre terrorist plot," the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out in its obituary.
The case revolved a government investigation of "a plot masterminded by the Rev. Philip Berrigan along with other current or former priests or nuns, to blow up tunnels beneath Washington, D.C., and then kidnap Henry Kissinger, President Nixon's national security advisor, and hold him until the U.S. stopped bombing Southeast Asia," reported the Chronicle.
The government had gotten wind of the plot through "an informant [Boyd Douglas] who had been in prison with Berrigan and then got a job as a library assistant, where he prevailed on Ms. Horn, a tax-withholding opponent of the Vietnam War, to host a meeting with some of Berrigan's friends."
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Not too long before "Independence Day," US citizens in Murrieta, California, rowdily assembled on July 1 to block buses carrying mostly children seeking refuge from violence and poverty, according to USA Today:
More than 100 people waving American flags and holding signs that opposed "new illegals" waited in the hot sun for the three charter buses to arrive at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Murrieta, about an hour north of San Diego...
Tensions in the crowd increased as it grew in number. Shouting matches ensued as protesters clashed with immigration reform supporters like Lupillo Rivera, who was among those trying to launch a counter-protest.
"We are your baby-sitters, we clean your hotels, we baby-sit your kids," screamed Rivera.
Those on the buses fleeing for their lives and for food to survive were mostly youth and primarily from Central America. The protests in Murietta continued, with the support of the mayor, for days, even though the individuals in humanitarian need were just temporarily being processed in Murietta and then being moved on to other facilities.
As part of a series for Truthout that I have been working on, I have been researching the origins of anti-immigrant mania in the US and its relationship to colonization. After all, one of the egregious ironies of a fever-pitched cry to "secure the border with Mexico" to keep out non-US citizens is that the United States is composed of land seized from its original inhabitants – Native Americans. Moreover, as the US pursued its drive across the continent, its lodestar was a philosophy of "Manifest Destiny," born of a belief in the superiority of the white race.
It is ironic that a nation that annually celebrates its independence from the most expansive colonizer of the 1700's and 1800's - Britain - used its newfound nationhood to become a colonizer of North and South America (the latter through military intervention in governments that were not amenable to de facto US interests).
Returning to Murietta, a brief history of the people who inhabited and had inhabitant rights to that particular area is in order. First, there were the Native Americans who have lived in the West for thousands upon thousands of years (for some, dating back to approximately 17000 BC, and including some 500 tribes).
Then the colonization started.