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Monday, 18 August 2014 05:32

The Carnage of Capitalism

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

caplove(Photo: buridan)

Capitalism is expanding like a tumor in the body of American society, spreading further into vital areas of human need like health and education.

Milton Friedman said in 1980: "The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people." The father of the modern neoliberal movement couldn't have been more wrong. Inequality has been growing for 35 years, worsening since the 2008 recession, as a few well-positioned Americans have made millions while the rest of us have gained almost nothing. Now, our college students and medicine-dependent seniors have become the source of new riches for the profitseeking free-marketers.


Higher Education: Administrators Get Most of the Money

College grads took a 19 percent pay cut in the two years after the recession. By 2013 over half of employed black recent college graduates were working in occupations that typically do not require a four-year college degree. For those still in school, tuition has risen much faster than any other living expense, and the average student loan balance has risen 91 percent over the past ten years.

At the other extreme is the winner-take-all free-market version of education, with a steady flow of compensation towards the top. Remarkably, and not coincidentally, as inequality has surged since the 1980s, the number of administrators at private universities has doubled. Administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country.

These administrators are taking the big money. As detailed by Lawrence Wittner, the 25 highest-paid presidents increased their salaries by a third between 2009 and 2012, to nearly a million dollars each. For every million-dollar public university president in 2011, there were fourteen such presidents at private universities, and dozens of lower-level administrators aspiring to be paid like their bosses. At Purdue, for example, the 2012 administrative ranks included a $313,000-a-year acting provost, a $198,000 chief diversity officer, a $253,000 marketing officer and a $433,000 business school chief.

 (Photo:<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/barclaynix/5787360361/in/photolist-bHBWc4-9PpBxX-hEKDda-9qY26R-8K2BgU-eUAnRY-qMQsf-9PpJBc-aGWtFn-uAjnc-cKdnQm-bZYGp7-4EVu19-nBj5eM-89rFqD-4S9YYV-fPfjJJ-abDDif-78U5HY-cSYs5o-cSYs9A-cSYrHj-cSYrZm-5VyZQv-abANMH-gBMCoe-7pbg8g-gBMdDd-bBYxbq-hnTTc7-cHXXmS-cHXXqW-cHXXsb-cHXXuo-cHXXoA-tPKui-8eFGR5-3PVtPL-5662Cf-4tHj3U-6bBpTh-eUgqys-8jJAan-etGBZM-dxALFf-4EVz4o-7V8Mmz-4FKTnE-5jrKsc-eWpAf" target="_blank"> NixBC / Flickr</a>)(Photo: NixBC / Flickr)

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

You’ve heard about the plastic detritus polluting our oceans. You’ve likely seen plastic bags from grocery stores hanging from trees and telephone poles. Some localities have already banned those single-use plastic bags, including 115 in California. In that state, plastic bags are one of the five most common items littering its beaches, according to Ocean Conservancy’s beach cleanup data.

Now the entire state is moving toward a ban on the bags.

SB 270 proposes a big step toward reducing the use of the bags by prohibiting their use in supermarkets and drugstores by July 1, 2015 and in smaller groceries and convenience stores by July 1, 2016. Paper, reusable and compostable plastic bags would carry a minimum ten cent charge if the bill passes. The bill also includes provisions that encourage manufacturers of one-use bags to transition to reusable bags. If it passes, it would make California the first state to enact a statewide ban on the single-use bags, although Hawaii has bans in all four of its counties.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

mbrownmemorialSigns left after the National Moment of Silence vigil in Chicago on August 14, 2013, commemorate the victims of police killings. (Photo: Joe Macaré)

It is not uncommon for young people of color to be shot by police officers for little other reason than walking down a public sidewalk or street and not being responsive quickly enough when they are told to stop – and the incidents are usually only reported locally. 

But the shooting of Mike Brown took place in Ferugson, Missouri, where there was a perfect storm of combustibles – a majority white police force in a majority black town, a young man with no weapon gunned down by a police officer, follow-up protests in which the racist police force acted as if it was conducting a military campaign, the failure of the police department to disclose public information (including the name of the officer who killed Brown until today), and the ongoing treatment of the black residents of Ferguson as an "enemy" to be abused and arrested. There are even more factors that made Ferguson ignite nationally when other shootings of young male people of color by police have gotten little attention. 

For many older people in the US, the reports and videos of Ferguson evoke anguishing memories of the brutal role of police forces in trying to suppress the civil rights movement of the 1960s. And it's clear that when it comes to police, racist practices are often bound up with political repression. Police powers are still frequently used as a means of such repression - now carried out with advanced military equipment donated or purchased from the Pentagon - as well as occupation of poor areas in cites, particularly large swaths of neighborhoods in which people of color reside who have limited economic means.

ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaCAwaterEcoWatch(Photo: EcoWatch)California is suffering through a record drought. Water is being rationed and its usually fertile agriculture industry is suffering.

Meanwhile, someone in Minnesota or Kentucky or Maryland may be drinking a bit of California’s precious commodityMother Jones reported this week that at least four major bottled water companies—Aquafina, Dasani, Crystal Geyser and Arrowhead—use water from California, either ground (spring) water or tap water. Aquafina and Dasani both bottle and sell treated tap water, while Crystal Geyser and Arrowhead use spring water.

That’s partly because the brands are based or have plants there. In addition, California is the only western state that doesn’t regulate or manage groundwater use.

Mother Jones senior editorial fellow Julia Lurie reported that while the amount of water used to make bottled water pales in comparison to the 80 percent of California water used in agriculture, the idea that water is being directed away from the drought-stricken state is head-scratching. Even a spokesperson for Arrowhead told her that from an environmental standpoint, “tap water is always the winner.”

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Sarah Palin Kuwait Crop2(Photo: Christopher Grammer)It's not a new story that Sarah Palin has always supported one of the most socialistic state financial programs in the USA: the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend.

To refresh your memory, Alaska long ago set up an annual universal payout to state residents, drawn from tax revenue received from oil companies drilling in the state. An Associated Press article from 2011 provides the background:

Most Alaska residents will soon be getting a check for $1,174 [in 2011] simply because they live there.

Each person's share of the state's vast oil wealth was announced with much fanfare in Anchorage Tuesday, with Gov. Sean Parnell ripping open a gold-colored envelope to reveal the number. This day is so widely anticipated in Alaska that the announcement of the Permanent Fund Dividend amount was carried live on television statewide, and dozens tuned in to watch a live webcast by the governor's office.

This year's check is the smallest since 2006 and $107 less than last year's amount, which was $1,281. Parnell warned the amount could diminish more in the future, given market volatilities and the fact that oil production in the state is declining. Nonetheless, he called this year's amount "healthy."

State Revenue Commissioner Bryan Butcher said 647,549 Alaskans were deemed eligible to receive dividends, and about $760.2 million is expected to be paid out. Most Alaskans will get their dividends by direct deposit Oct. 6; the rest will receive checks in the mail.

The only requirement for receiving the payment from the state is proof of residency for at least one year in Alaska, spending at least 72 hours in the state over the prior year and not being classified as a felon [with some other minor qualifications]. The state even helps residents determine these simple prerequisites for receiving the cash on its website.

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaClown(Photo: Graeme Maclean)Ah, August — that time of year when the going gets tough ... and Congress gets going.

On vacation that is. And, to be fair, maybe Congress needs a vacation. All the stress of not passing laws and constantly thwarting any attempt by President Obama to fix America's problems seems to be straining their sanity.

For starters, if you thought that, surely, partisan posturing by far-right congress critters couldn't get any nuttier, you'd be wrong. Last month, the GOP claimed that all the talk about impeaching President Barack Obama is being led by — guess who? — Barack Obama!

If you'll recall, the top Republican leader, John Boehner (having discovered that the larger public is appalled that his party would even consider wasting time on such extremist nonsense) tried to do a political backflip. Impeachment talk, he fumed, is "a scam started by Democrats at the White House." No Republican lawmakers, he barked to the media, are even discussing it.

Boehner, Boehner, Boehner! Apparently he didn't hear Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who's No. 2 on his own GOP leadership team, tell Fox News that he refuses to rule out impeachment. Or Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan, exult that "it would be a dream come true" to impeach Obama, and that he has pursued advice from experts on how to proceed. Or Iowa's Rep. Steve King, saying flatly, "We need to bring impeachment hearings immediately." How about Randy Weber of Texas, who put it unequivocally: "The president deserves to be impeached, plain and simple." And Georgia's Jack Kingston confirmed that: "Not a day goes by when people don't talk to us about impeachment."

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.

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