MARK KARLIN, BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
An August 21 Bloomberg Businessweek article raises a shocking dilemma: Money is being garnished from senior citizens' Social Security checks for unpaid student debt.
How is it possible that the elderly may still owe money for college education, and how can anyone live on meager Social Security income, when the federal government is docking – in some cases - thousands of dollars a year?
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In the article, "Student Debt Threatens the Safety Net for Elderly Americans," Bloomberg Businessweek states the facts bluntly:
Until his Social Security check arrived almost $300 lighter last June, Eric Merklein, 67, didn’t know he had outstanding student debt. He’d taken out a loan about 40 years ago to attend Southern Illinois University and believed it had been repaid by his grandmother after he graduated in the early 1970s. When he contacted the Department of Education to ask why he was getting less in his check, Merklein says he was surprised to learn the government was withholding a portion of his benefit to cover the debt.
Merklein is among the more than 2 million Americans age 60 and older carrying student debt, up from about 700,000 in 2005, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The debts are from old loans like Merklein’s and more recent ones that older Americans take to go back to school or pay for college for their kids. In total, this group has $43 billion in unpaid loans, five times what they owed in 2005. The average debt also has risen by more than 60 percent since 2005, to around $20,000 per borrower older than 60....
JONATHAN FRANKLIN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
As a journalist who never enters war zones I have nothing but pride and support for my colleagues who do. It is easy to romanticize the front lines of war, brave souls scurrying for cover in search of that emblematic photo or tracking down the lurking warlord. The reality, as so well noted in a New York Times piece on freelance war correspondents, is that much of modern war coverage is done at poverty levels by brave men and woman (often young) without backup. They pay their own flight, share hotel rooms, skip meals and pray that luck and timing all line up to provide that one scoop which can catapult them into not only temporary fame but perhaps a steady income. Foley was fortunate to work for GlobalPost, a more than reputable organization that spent considerable money trying to save him. Nonetheless, his death is a reminder of the brutal dangers that young reporters face as they seek to bring frontline truths.
When remembering American photojournalist James Foley we would do well to honor his brave journeys not by hyping the dangers of ISIS to the US homeland or crying for increased military budgets but to continue his search for the savage reality that is war. Foley, according to his family, friends and colleagues was a man much interested in justice. "We have never been prouder of our son Jim, he gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people," Diane Foley his mother said.
What is the true value of journalists like Foley? What do they contribute? They bring a snapshot of reality. A flash moment or two of the sickening day to day conflict where it is children and other non-combatants who make up the bulk of the victims. Reporters on the ground who are green and ambitious often do make it to the front rows, either by sure courage or innovative routes. They are not the ones filing from the hotel room or interviewing taxi drivers (always a sure sign of lazy reporting.) If we want to honor the work of photojournalists like Foley we would do well to avoid the grandstanding and blame game ("bomb them back to the Stone Age" rhetoric) and take a trip down to the street level reality in which they live. In Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Libya and the other powder kegs that make up the current chaos of the Mideast, who is dying? Innocents.
DAVID SIROTA ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
As states move to hide details of government deals with Wall Street, and as politicians come up with new arguments to defend secrecy, a study released earlier this month revealed that many government information officers block specific journalists they don't like from accessing information. The news comes as 47 federal inspectors general sent a letter to lawmakers criticizing "serious limitations on access to records" that they say have "impeded" their oversight work.
The data about public information officers was compiled over the past few years by Kennesaw State University professor Dr. Carolyn Carlson. Her surveys found that 4 in 10 public information officers say "there are specific reporters they will not allow their staff to talk to due to problems with their stories in the past."
"That horrified us that so many would do that," Carlson told the Columbia Journalism Review, which reported on her presentation at the July conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Burger King will, according to the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets, abandon its US corporate citizenship in order to legally evade US taxes. This is a process the largest drugstore chain in the United States, Walgreen, was considering earlier this summer, as recounted in a BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary, "Unpatriotic US Corporations Increasingly Move Headquarters Overseas to Decrease Taxes."
Walgreen, after an onslaught of critical reactions to its plans, decided to maintain its world headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois. Burger King, however, is going ahead and flipping its incorporation to Canada by acquiring and then becoming a subsidiary of the Canadian fast food restaurant chain, Tim Horton's. This process is allowed by US law and called a corporate inversion.
The Los Angeles Times writes of the motivation for the move by the fast food hamburger franchiser: "The combined federal, state and local corporate tax rate in Canada is 26.3%, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The combined U.S. corporate rate is 39.1%."
ANASTASIA PANTSIOS OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown on the region's young people is starting to add up.The impact of the 2011
104 of the area's 300,000 young people who were under 18 at the time of the disaster have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shinbun reported yesterday. This form of cancer has been linked to radiation exposure.
But, government officials in Fukushima say they do not believe the cases of thyroid gland cancer diagnosed or suspected in the 104 young people are linked to the 2011 nuclear accident.
It helps their denial that experts disagree on whether these cases of thyroid cancer can be traced back to the meltdown, which released radiation over a large area. While the slow-developing cancer only appeared in young people four years after the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine, radiation biology professor Yoshio Hosoi told The Asahi Shinbun that better tests allow earlier diagnoses.
"Many people are being diagnosed with cancer at this time, thanks to the high-precision tests," he said. "We must continue closely examining the people's health in order to determine the impact of radiation exposure on causing thyroid tumors."
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
To be young, male and black in America means not being allowed to make mistakes. Forgetting this, as we've seen so many times, can be fatal.
The case of Michael Brown, who was laid to rest Monday, is anomalous only in that it is so extreme: an unarmed black teenager riddled with bullets by a white police officer in a community plagued by racial tension.
African-Americans make up 67 percent of the population of Ferguson, Mo., but there are just four black officers on the 53-member police force -- which responded to peaceful demonstrations by rolling out military-surplus armored vehicles and firing tear gas. It is easy to understand how Brown and his peers might see the police not as public servants but as troops in an army of occupation.
And yes, Brown made mistakes. He was walking in the middle of the street rather than on the sidewalk, according to witnesses, and he was carrying a box of cigars that he apparently took from a convenience store. Neither is a capital offense.
When Officer Darren Wilson stopped him, did Brown respond with puffed-up attitude? For a young black man, that is a transgression punishable by death.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
You may have read about the suspension of a Ferguson police officer who aimed his rifle at peaceful protesters in the town and threatened, "I'll F**kin kill you!" last week.
Maybe you also read in The Washington Post this weekend about the past police history of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson who shot Michael Brown to death after ordering him not to walk on the street. According to the Post, Wilson's first police job was in Jennings, Missouri, where the force was so racist and corrupt that the city council voted to rent police services from St. Louis County and disband the city police, which left Wilson without a job. Although Wilson was not formally accused of any major misconduct, the characteristics of the Jennings Police Department sound eerily familiar to those of the Ferguson police force he joined when he was left without a position. Here is how The Washington Post describes Jennings and its relationship to its former town police:
After going through the police academy, Wilson landed a job in 2009 as a rookie officer in Jennings, a small, struggling city of 14,000 where 89 percent of the residents were African American and poverty rates were high. At the time, the 45-employee police unit had one or two black members on the force, said Allan Stichnote, a white Jennings City Council member.
Racial tension was endemic in Jennings, said Rodney Epps, an African American city council member.
"You’re dealing with white cops, and they don’t know how to address black people," Epps said. "The straw that broke the camel’s back, an officer shot at a female. She was stopped for a traffic violation. She had a child in the back [of the] car and was probably worried about getting locked up. And this officer chased her down Highway 70, past city limits, and took a shot at her. Just ridiculous."
Over the weekend, you may have missed the articles about a third Ferguson police officer, Dan Page. In an April speech (that was obtained by the media) to a local chapter of a national pro-gun group of current and former police officers and military personnel called the Oath Keepers, Page didn't even try to code his racism, according to the The Guardian.
AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
“If you had enough money, you could hardly commit crimes at all. You just perpetrated amusing little peccadilloes.”- Terry Pratchett
Submitted for your consideration: one Kate Meckler, a top New York City real estate broker, heiress to a tech CEO, and owner of a mansion in Southampton. Meckler had a bit of an oops back in April, and somehow managed to shoplift some $1,644 worth of clothing from Saks Fifth Avenue. As part of her plea deal, her sentence was set as five days of community service. Hooray for the criminal justice system!
Let’s engage in a brief thought experiment. Imagine that Meckler were not a real estate broker and scion of wealth and privilege. Imagine that she were, instead, a single mother working two minimum wage jobs. Of course, she probably wouldn’t have been wandering about Saks Fifth Avenue, but let’s pretend that she had been, and managed to be caught with $1,644 of shoplifted merchandise. That constitutes a class E felony, with penalties including imprisonment for up to four years. Show of hands: how many of you think this hypothetical version of Meckler would have gotten off with five days of community service?
But there’s no need to conduct thought experiments. We can have a look at things out there in the real world where, thanks to mandatory sentencing laws, thousands of people are serving sentences up to and including life without parole for offenses less than that of Meckler. Of course, they’re all “career criminals,” bad people who have led a life of crime, and need to be removed from our streets. Certainly none of them could ever hope to offer the vital contributions to society that a top real estate broker might.
PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Americans constantly hear about the threat of "entitlements," which in the case of Social Security and Medicare are more properly defined as "earned benefits." The real threat is the array of entitlements demanded by the very rich. The following annual numbers may help to put our country's expenses and benefits in perspective.
$220 Billion: Teacher Salaries
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are just over four million preschool, primary, secondary, and special education school teachers in the U.S., earning an average of $54,740.
$246 Billion: State and Local Pensions
Census data shows a total annual (2012) payout of about $246 billion. Only about $100 billion of this came from state and local governments, with the remainder funded by employee contributions and investment earnings. A recent Pew study showed a little over $100 billion in annual state contributions to pensions, health care, and non-pension benefits.
$398 Billion: Safety Net
The 2013 safety net (non-medical) included the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC (Women, Infants, Children), Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Education & Training, and Housing.
EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
How far would you go to stay out of jail? Would you publicly humiliate your wife of 38 years, portraying her as some kind of shrieking harridan? Would you put the innermost secrets of your marriage on display, inviting voyeurs to rummage at will?
For Robert McDonnell, the former Virginia governor on trial for alleged corruption, the answers appear to be: "As far as necessary," "Hey, why not?" and "Sounds like a plan."
McDonnell's testimony this week in a Richmond federal courtroom about his wife Maureen's psychological turmoil has been both cringe-worthy and compelling. It has been clear for some time that McDonnell's strategy for winning acquittal amounted to what could be called the "crazy wife" defense. But only when he took the stand did it become apparent how thoroughly he intended to humiliate the "soul mate" he still claims to love.
McDonnell disclosed Thursday that he moved out of the family's home shortly before the trial began. "I knew there was no way I could go home after a day in court and have to rehash the day's events with my wife," he testified.
I guess not. Anyone who said such things in public about his or her spouse would be advised to clear out.