MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Yesterday, Thom Hartmann, lamented in a commentary posted on Truthout that the most recent Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement with Citigroup (its second this year, amid other fines levied by the DOJ for criminal behavior against other banks) was an example of the US government coddling banks engaged in illegal activities while leaving most homeowners who were victims of their malfeasance without adequate compensation or assistance.
Of the $7 billion total settlement, $4 billion will be in the form of a civil monetary payment to the Department of Justice, $500 million will go to state attorney's general and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and an additional $2.5 billion will go towards "consumer relief."
But make no mistake about it. This agreement is another win for the big banks.
Under the agreement, Citigroup will most likely get a $500 million tax write-off. And in pre-market trading on Monday, Citigroup stocks rose by nearly 4 percent, despite the $7 billion agreement.
This is nothing more than a slap on the wrist for Citigroup; basically a cost of doing business.
And as for the mere $2.5 billion in consumer relief, while it will be going towards loan modifications, principal reduction and refinancing for distressed homeowners, it's nowhere near enough. And there are no guarantees it will make its way into the hands of the people Citigroup victimized, either.
As The New York Times reported on the Citigroup settlement:
Wall Street watchdog groups and housing advocates said the terms of the $7 billion settlement highlight how the federal government has fallen short in its effort to hold banks accountable, noting that neither Citigroup nor any of its executives have been criminally charged for the bank’s mortgage problems.
The bible of the financial industry, The Wall Street Journal - contrary to other reports that only a small tax deduction was included in Citigroup's settlement - posted an article, "Citigroup to Get Tax Silver Lining in $7 Billion Settlement."
WALTER BRASCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Gas prices at the pump during the July 4th extended weekend were the highest they have been in six years. This, of course, has little to do with supply-and-demand economics. It has everything to do with supply-and-gouge profits.
Over the past decade, the five largest oil companies have earned more than $1 trillion in profits. Last year, the Big Five—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell—earned about $93 billion in profits. Their CEOs last year earned an average of about $20 million. Included within the profits is $2.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies because it's hard to make a living when your hourly wage, assuming you work every hour of every day, is only $2,283.
"We have been subsidizing oil companies for a century. That's long enough," President Obama said more than a year ago. The Senate disagreed. Forty-three Republicans and four Democrats blocked the elimination of subsidies. Although the final vote was 51–47 to end the subsidies, a simple majority was not enough because the Republicans threatened a filibuster that would have required 60 votes to pass the bill. A Think Progress financial analysis revealed that the 47 senators who voted to continue subsidies received almost $23.6 million in career contributions from the oil and gas industry. In contrast, the 51 senators who had voted to repeal the subsidies received only about $5.9 million.
For a couple of decades, the oil industry blamed the Arabs for not pumping enough oil to export to the United States. But when the Arab oil cartel (of which the major U.S. oil companies have limited partnerships) decided to pump more oil, the Americans had to look elsewhere for their excuses. In rapid succession, they blamed Mexico, England, the Bermuda Triangle, polar bears who were lying about climate change so they could get more ice for their diet drinks, and infertile dinosaurs.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It's not unusual to see headlines in major cities, such as the one in Chicago after the Fourth of July weekend, on the NBC News Windy City website: "More Than 60 Shot Over Fourth of July Weekend."
Politicians, fearing the NRA and having abandoned large areas of urban areas populated by minorities as economic wastelands, often promote putting more people with illegal guns in jail as a solution to what amounts to free-fire zones in poor police-occupied areas of cities. In essence, these are the areas that political leaders (and much of society) have largely discounted as de facto urban reservations for disposable people.
Prison provides a living for a lot of people - for-profit prison corporations, guards, lawyers, judges, the arresting police officers and a whole slew of professional consultants and workers. One thing that it doesn't do is provide economic options for those incarcerated for gun possession charges (or for a myriad of other non-violent technical crimes including drugs) when they are released.
The cost to the taxpayer of keeping an individual in prison is high. The New York Times (NYT) wrote about a 2012 study that found that the average cost for incarceration in the state prisons was $31,286 in the 40 states studied - and federal prisons are even more costly. The NYT reported that New York City spent a whopping $167,731 per prisoner in city jail, the majority probably in jail for nonviolent charges.
ECOWATCH STAFF ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Less than two weeks ago, local communities triumphed over the fracking industry in a precedent-setting case decided by the New York Court of Appeals. The court ruled that the towns of Dryden and Middlefield can use local zoning laws to ban heavy industry, including oil and gas production within municipal borders.
While the court decision is a victory for the two towns, many New Yorkers continue to rally and push for a statewide fracking moratorium. In this vein, Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY) today released a major resource to the public, including public officials, researchers and journalists—the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking.
“This compilation of findings brings together data from many fields of study and reveals the diversity of the problems with fracking—from increased flood risks to increased crime risks, from earthquakes to methane leaks,” said Sandra Steingraber, PhD, at a press conference held today. “What this multitude of threats all has in common is the ability to harm public health. That’s our message to Governor Cuomo and Acting Health Commissioner Zucker.”
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On October 26, 1934 Claude Neal, a black man accused of murdering a young white woman in Jackson County, Florida, was dragged from his jail cell to be lynched. The event was rushed into the afternoon newspapers. When an unruly crowd of several thousand people gathered for the spectacle, the six men in the lynching party got nervous and decided to drive Neal to a secluded spot in the woods. There they tortured him in ways that seem impossible for a human being to imagine.
America can rightfully feel better about itself now, having gone beyond such detestable acts of savagery against fellow human beings. But the assault on people deemed inferior continues in another way. Instead of a single shocking act of physical brutality, it is a less visible means of drawn-out terror that destroys dignity and livelihood and slowly breaks down the body. So insidious is this modern form of economic subjugation that many whites barely seem to notice people of color being dragged to the bottom of one of the most unequal societies in the history of the world.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
There's no objective need for President Obama to visit the Texas-Mexico border and see the immigration crisis first-hand, but he shouldn't have claimed that "I'm not interested in photo ops."
The line about photo ops was so absurd that it's a good thing he wasn't under oath. Every president since Abraham Lincoln has been interested in photo ops. Posing for the cameras amid artfully chosen people and props is something presidents do every day. Obama is very good at it, and there are times when he actually gives the impression that he enjoys it.
Not all photo ops are created equal, though. It's easy to understand why Obama might dig in his heels over a trip to the border that would do nothing but give a false impression. Pictures of the president among a group of Central American children -- some of the tens of thousands who have entered the country without papers in recent months -- would suggest that our dysfunctional government is serious about addressing what has become a humanitarian crisis. Sadly, this is not true.
Reckless loudmouths such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who blast Obama for "lawlessness" on immigration, are pretending not to understand that the flood of unaccompanied children is primarily caused by Obama's adherence to the law.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
David Cay Johnston, a renowned economic journalist covering tax issues, recently asserted that approximately $6.6 trillion in income for US earners has been lost since 2000. It just disappeared.
Why did it vanish? Here is how Johnston explains it in a July 9 Al Jazeera article:
I calculated that enormous figure by comparing the average income Americans reported on their 2000 tax returns with what they reported each year for 2001 through 2012, adjusting for inflation and the growing population. Add up the income for 12 years and it turns out to be $6.6 trillion less than if we had maintained the prosperity of 2000 for a growing population.
Why use 2000 as a benchmark? Well, first off, it marks the end of one era and the start of another. More important, that very good year economically was when George W. Bush, running for president, said American prosperity would get even better if he was elected and his tax cuts — key aspects of which he kept secret until after the election — would ensure American prosperity.
The results: The prosperity of the prior decade was lost. Job growth fell far behind population growth. The median wage (half make more, half less) has been mired since 1998 at a bit more than $500 per week.
So how does this impact taxpayers overall?
STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Part 1 of this two-part series, I briefly reviewed what are perhaps the four most significant elements of the "Cheney Legacy:" the War on Afghanistan, the War on Iraq, the principle that Presidents can violate the Constitution at their pleasure as long as they claim to do so "in the interests of national security" (in Cheney's case through the establishment of the use of torture as national policy such use violates Article VI), and also most important, the attempt to establish Permanent War or at least the Permanent Preparation for Permanent War as the central element of US government policy.In
There are certainly other elements in the "Cheney Legacy." Not particularly in order of importance, one could start the list with the "outing" of the former CIA agent Valerie Plame. This was done in apparent retaliation for the revelation by her husband, Joseph Wilson, that the Nigeria-"Yellow Cake-Saddam Hussein story was a complete fabrication. Committing such an act violated several laws, but of course Cheney hid behind subordinates like "Scooter" Libby and was never held to account for his action. The continued use of the 9/11 tragedy to promote fear over the whole country. In his current attack on President Obama Cheney is specifically use fear-mongering as a central element in that attack.
Then there are the current top-three GOP-termed "scandals:" the "IRS," the VA (which is a scandal, but just not how the GOP defines the term), and of course "Benghazi." The three attacks have in common the use of lies and distortions designed to attack the opposition political party, not to find any solutions to the problems raised. Finally there is the Cheney principle of the Privatization of Government, including or perhaps beginning with the military and intelligence services. Any way that traditional government can be turned to enable profit-making by the private sector is, in Cheney's eyes a good thing. One of the ironies of that policy is that if Edward Snowden had remained as a government employee rather than working for a private intelligence contractor, it is possible that he might have a) not decided to make the revelations that he has, and b) might not have had the opportunity to do so.
JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
While Americans were watching fireworks explode on the 4th, and laboring under the sad delusion that the United States is the land of the free and the brave, I was thinking about the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Massachusetts’ abortion buffer zone law and how some people are free to petition their grievances while anti-war demonstrators, Occupy Wall Street protesters, and environmentalists are either locked away behind chain-link cages designated “free speech zones”, or they’re violently assaulted by the police and thrown in jail.
Recently, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down Massachusetts’ abortion buffer zone law, ruling in favor of anti-abortion protesters who argued that 35 feet away from clinic entrances is a violation of their freedom of speech. The decision rolls back a proactive policy intended to protect women’s access to reproductive health care in the face of persistent harassment and intimidation from abortion opponents.
As reporters have pointed out, buffer zones are not entirely unusual policies. “There are already buffer zones around funerals and polling places,” explained Tara Culp-Ressler at ThinkProgress. “Ironically, the Supreme Court itself has a large buffer zone around it to prevent protesters from picketing on its 252-by-98-foot plaza, requiring demonstrations to take place on the sidewalk.”
And let’s not forget the largest buffer zone of all: The White House, which is more like a military fortress than the People’s House.
On closer inspection of the ruling, it appears that there is a catchword that can be applied to defend protesters, should protesters want to get right in the face of their adversaries; and that word is “counseling” vs. “picketing or protesting.”
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Hobby Lobby ruling is just one of an avalanche of Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions in which the right wing has legislated from the bench. Forget about the largely fictional concept of a "liberal activist bench"; if you can find such an ongoing entity, please respond in the comments section.
The reality is that the 5-4 right-wing, pro-corporate-personhood SCOTUS is masterful at defying Congress and the White House and rewriting laws to suit a partisan agenda, including socially conservative goals. BuzzFlash posted a commentary a few days ago about the absurdity of bestowing religious beliefs on a company, for example.
To put this in context, when Antonin Scalia argued for striking down provisions in the Voting Rights Act (which had just been overwhelmingly reapproved by both houses of Congress), he declared in 2013: "This is not the kind of question you can leave to Congress." What he means, of course, is that a 5-4 majority on SCOTUS has turned it into a de facto legislative body that determines US law by a total of five votes, on behalf of a nation of more than 300 million people.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is joining other Democratic senators in support of the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act. In an email, Warren described the bill:
The bill reverses the Supreme Court's decision by making it clear that employers cannot deny access to any of the health benefits required by the ACA – not immunizations, not blood transfusions, not HIV treatments, and not birth control – while preserving reasonable accommodations for religiously exempt employers [that would mean actual religions, such as the Catholic Church]