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El_Johns

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Member since: Wed Dec 11, 2013, 03:23 PM
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Better Markets sues Justice Department over JPMorgan deal (JPM immunity for bad mortgage loans)


The non-profit group Better Markets filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department on Monday to block what it called an "unlawful" $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase & Co over bad mortgage loans sold to investors before the financial crisis.

The record settlement, which was reached in November, does not release JPMorgan from potential criminal liability over the mortgages it packaged into bonds. But Better Markets said it was still appalled that the settlement gave the bank "blanket civil immunity" for its conduct without sufficient judicial review.

"The Wall Street bailouts were bad enough, but now taxpayers are being forced to accept a secretive backroom deal that may well have been another sweetheart deal," said Dennis Kelleher, chief executive of Better Markets.

"The Justice Department cannot act as prosecutor, jury and judge and extract $13 billion in exchange for blanket civil immunity to the largest, richest, most politically connected bank on Wall Street," he said.

Better Markets was founded in 2010 to advocate for tough Wall Street reforms.

The lawsuit, which names the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder, was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/10/us-lawsuit-justice-jpmorgan-idUSBREA191ET20140210

A warning: Water privatisation in England and Wales

To see what would be the consequences of the privatisation of the Water Service we need look no further than England and Wales. In 1989 the water and sewage systems in these two countries were privatised. At the time it was billed as the jewel in the crown of the Thatcher Governmet’s privatisation programme. Even in terms of the privatisation of utilities it was unprecedented. In other countries where the water industry had been privatised, it involved concessions or leases under which the private contractor collects all the revenues for a water service, carries the cost of operating and maintaining it, and keeps the surplus as a profit. Britain is unique in having transferred its water and sewage system completely into the private sector.(1)

In 1989, the ten unitary regional water authorities (RWAs) in England and Wales were privatised... The Water Act 1988 transformed these into private companies and sold them off... The Act gave them exclusive 25-year concessions for sanitation and water supply, protecting them against any possibility of competition. This created private monopolies. The Government took a number of steps to boost the profitability of these companies. It wrote off the all the debts of the water companies before privatisation, worth over £5 billion. In addition, they were given a ‘green dowry’ of £1.6 billion. The government also offered the companies for sale at a substantial discount, 22 per cent less than their market value.(4) A very generous pricing regime was established, and the companies were given special exemption from paying taxes on profits.(5) They had a virtual licence to print money, which of course has been exploited to the full. The abuses are so blatant that even the Tory supporting Daily Mail has denounced water privatisation as the “greatest act of licensed robbery in our history.”(6)

The most noticeable impact of privatisation for the public has been the dramatic increase in prices. On average, prices rose by over 50 per cent in the first 4 years... When the water bill is broken down into its components, operating profits, which have more than doubled since privatisation, account for almost the entire increase...(10) One method the water companies have used to increase prices and boost profits is to exaggerate the level of investment required to maintain their network. Forecasts for capital expenditure are consistently higher than actual expenditure, leaving a capital surplus that can be added to profits... Privatisation has also witnessed a massive increase in the fees, salaries and bonuses the directors of the water companies have awarded themselves...

If water privatisation has been a bonanza for business, the corollary is that it has been a disaster for users, the environment, and those employed in the industry... In Britain the consequences of water privatisation have been wholly regressive....

http://www.socialistdemocracy.org/WaterChargesPamphlet/AWarningWaterPrivatisationInEnglandAndWales.html

Mitt Romney's niece is front-runner for Michigan's GOP National Committeewoman

EAST LANSING — A niece of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is seen as the front-runner in a three-way race to succeed Terri Lynn Land as Michigan’s Republican National Committeewoman.

The party’s state committee is to meet in East Lansing on Saturday morning to elect a woman to the unpaid post after Land stepped down to focus on her U.S. Senate race.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, a party activist from Wayne County who worked on her uncle’s presidential campaign, wants the job. So do Sandra Kahn of Saginaw County, who is president of the Republican Women’s Federation of Michigan, and Mary Sears of Houghton County, who is seen as the tea party favorite.

http://www.freep.com/article/20140214/NEWS15/302140122/GOP-insiders-Mitt-Romney-s-niece-front-runner-state-s-GOP-National-Committeewoman

Globalization of Addiction

I've always found it interesting how conquered societies tend to suddenly have addiction problems after conquest: e.g. Native Americans and First Nations in North America (alcohol), Australian aboriginals (alcohol), Irish (alcohol), China after the Opium Wars (opium) etc. Also that the highest rates of opiate dependence in the US occurred roughly coincident with the Gilded Age. I also think the pursuit of profit introduces a "push" factor as well as a "pull" factor into drug consumption, as drugs are no longer used in socially ritualized ways as in pre-capitalist societies, but *marketed* wholesale to as wide a public as can be imagined (Tobacco, alcohol, legal pharmaceuticals, and illegal ones as well).

One of the things I've noticed is that when the economic floor falls out of a community, illegal drugs seem to flood in. I've often wondered if that were by design, if economically suffering communities were targeted.

This website speaks to that.

Global society is drowning in addiction to drug use and a thousand other habits. This is because people around the world, rich and poor alike, are being torn from the close ties to family, culture, and traditional spirituality that constituted the normal fabric of life in pre-modern times. This kind of global society subjects people to unrelenting pressures towards individualism and competition, dislocating them from social life.

People adapt to this dislocation by concocting the best substitutes that they can for a sustaining social, cultural and spiritual wholeness, and addiction provides this substitute for more and more of us.

History shows that addiction can be rare in a society for many centuries, but can become nearly universal when circumstances change – for example, when a cohesive tribal culture is crushed or an advanced civilisation collapses. Of course, this historical perspective does not deny that differences in vulnerability are built into each individual's genes, individual experience, and personal character, but it removes individual differences from the foreground of attention, because societal determinants are so much more powerful. Addiction is much more a social problem than an individual disorder.

This site is about the relationship between addiction on the one hand, and global economic and political realities on the other.


http://globalizationofaddiction.ca/







Fortunately, Nick Reding took a detailed look at the causes of methamphetamine addiction in Middle America...

Reding shows that a major cause of meth addiction was the hollowing out of the rural American society by the rapid expansion of agribusiness.[3] In the last few decades, farms that have run as family operations for generations have been bought up by larger farmers and by agribusiness corporations, which operate them as high tech food factories, rather than family farms. The large farmers sell corn and other crops for less than the cost of production. Their losses are converted to a razor thin profit by government farm subsidies.

At the same time, local packing houses, grain elevators, and other agricultural industries have been bought up by the same agribusiness corporations and run in a much more exploitive manner than before, in order to provide food commodities to the global food export market. Although the local packing plant in Olewein had historically required backbreaking labour of its employees, it had nonetheless rewarded them with good wages, medical insurance, workman’s compensation insurance, and a degree of job security through union membership.

The new owners, a multination al corporation, lowered the wages from $18 an hour to $6.20 an hour as soon as they took over, and eliminated insurance and the union. Other packing plants have deliberatel y encouraged large-scale illegal immigration from Mexico, and paid even lower wages to undocumented immigrant workers despite public knowledge of their illegal practices and attempted court actions against them.[5]

The onslaught of agribusiness has brought about the destruction of families and rural communities and has degraded once-respected working people in the factories of Middle America. Dislocated from the integrated society in which they grew up, people have turned to methamphetamine addiction, alcoholism, and other addictive habits to fill the voids in their lives. Methamphetamine was standing at the ready to become a major addictive compensation because some people were already using it as a stimulant to help endure long hours of work in a country where hard work is a cardinal virtue, and because it can be cheaply manufactured when it cannot be purchased legally.

Meth “cooking” in kitchens and basements was able to provide a source of income for people who no longer could find a respectable job
in the shrinking society of independent farmers or fairly paid industrial labourers, and could no longer find meaning in the law-abiding optimism of their ancestors. At the same time, efforts to reduce the availability of the ingredients used to cook meth illegally by regulating imports of certain precursor chemicals were stymied by the lobbyists of pharmaceutical companies and chain stores that make profits selling the ingredients that are used in the meth labs.[6] The final element in the story is the admission of millions of illegal immigrants to the US to work in the underpaid mid-American agricultural factories. Some of these exploited workers were willing to carry meth and other products from Mexican drug cartels across the border to sell wherever they wound up.[7]

The story of Methland is an extension of the destruction of rural society by agribusiness that began centuries ago in England and has proceeded globally since then, in various forms.[8]

http://globalizationofaddiction.ca/articles-speeches/248-a-train-trip-through-methland.html


The Globalization of Addiction presents a radical rethink about the nature of addiction. Scientific medicine has failed when it comes to addiction. There are no reliable methods to cure it, prevent it, or take the pain out of it. There is no durable consensus on what addiction is, what causes it, or what should be done about it. Meanwhile, it continues to increase around the world.

This book argues that the cause of this failure to control addiction is that the conventional wisdom ofthe 19th and 20th centuries focused too single-mindedly on the afflicted individual addict. Although addiction obviously manifests itself in individual cases, its prevalence differs dramatically between societies. For example, it can be quite rare in a society for centuries, and then become common when a tribal culture is destroyed or a highly developed civilization collapses.

When addiction becomes commonplace in a society, people become addicted not only to alcohol and drugs, but to a thousand other destructive pursuits: money, power, dysfunctional relationships, or video games.

A social perspective on addiction does not deny individual differences in vulnerability to addiction, but it removes them from the foreground of attention, because social determinants are more powerful.

This book shows that the social circumstances that spread addiction in a conquered tribe or a falling civilisation are also built into today's globalizing free-market society. A free-market society is magnificently productive, but it subjects people to irresistible pressures towards individualism and competition, tearing rich and poor alike from the close social and spiritual ties that normally constitute human life. People adapt to their dislocation by finding the best substitutes for a sustaining social and spiritual life that they can, and addiction serves this function all too well.

The book argues that the most effective response to a growing addiction problem is a social and political one, rather than an individual one. Such a solution would not put the doctors, psychologists, social workers, policemen, and priests out of work, but it would incorporate their practices in a larger social project. The project is to reshape society with enough force and imagination to enable people to find social integration and meaning in everyday life. Then great numbers of them would not need to fill their inner void with addictions.

http://www.amazon.ca/Globalization-Addiction-Study-Poverty-Spirit/dp/0199588716/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1281707481&sr=1-1

How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers

Last year was a busy one for public giveaways to the National Football League. In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, McDonnell approved the gift while the state legislature was out of session. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1 billion. But even billionaires like to receive expensive gifts...

In California, the City of Santa Clara broke ground on a $1.3 billion stadium for the 49ers. Officially, the deal includes $116 million in public funding, with private capital making up the rest. At least, that’s the way the deal was announced. A new government entity, the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, is borrowing $950 million, largely from a consortium led by Goldman Sachs, to provide the majority of the “private” financing. Who are the board members of the Santa Clara Stadium Authority? The members of the Santa Clara City Council. In effect, the city of Santa Clara is providing most of the “private” funding. Should something go wrong, taxpayers will likely take the hit.

The 49ers will pay Santa Clara $24.5 million annually in rent for four decades, which makes the deal, from the team’s standpoint, a 40-year loan amortized at less than 1 percent interest. At the time of the agreement, 30-year Treasury bonds were selling for 3 percent, meaning the Santa Clara contract values the NFL as a better risk than the United States government.

Although most of the capital for the new stadium is being underwritten by the public, most football revenue generated within the facility will be pocketed by Denise DeBartolo York, whose net worth is estimated at $1.1 billion, and members of her family. York took control of the team in 2000 from her brother, Edward DeBartolo Jr., after he pleaded guilty to concealing an extortion plot by a former governor of Louisiana. Brother and sister inherited their money from their father, Edward DeBartolo Sr., a shopping-mall developer who became one of the nation’s richest men before his death in 1994. A generation ago, the DeBartolos made their money the old-fashioned way, by hard work in the free market. Today, the family’s wealth rests on political influence and California tax subsidies. Nearly all NFL franchises are family-owned, converting public subsidies and tax favors into high living for a modern-day feudal elite.

In NFL city after NFL city, this pattern is repeated. CenturyLink Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play, opened in 2002, with Washington State taxpayers providing $390 million of the $560 million construction cost. The Seahawks, owned by Paul Allen, one of the richest people in the world, pay the state about $1 million annually in rent in return for most of the revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and broadcasting (all told, perhaps $200 million a year). Average people are taxed to fund Allen’s private-jet lifestyle.

Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University professor of urban planning, calculates that league-wide, 70 percent of the capital cost of NFL stadiums has been provided by taxpayers, not NFL owners. Many cities, counties, and states also pay the stadiums’ ongoing costs, by providing power, sewer services, other infrastructure, and stadium improvements. When ongoing costs are added, Long’s research finds, the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Tennessee Titans have turned a profit on stadium subsidies alone—receiving more money from the public than they needed to build their facilities. Long’s estimates show that just three NFL franchises—the New England Patriots, New York Giants, and New York Jets—have paid three-quarters or more of their stadium capital costs.

Many NFL teams have also cut sweetheart deals to avoid taxes... The National Football League is about two things: producing high-quality sports entertainment, which it does very well, and exploiting taxpayers, which it also does very well. Goodell should know—his pay, about $30 million in 2011, flows from an organization that does not pay corporate taxes.

That’s right—extremely profitable and one of the most subsidized organizations in American history, the NFL also enjoys tax-exempt status. On paper, it is the Nonprofit Football League.

This situation came into being in the 1960s, when Congress granted antitrust waivers to what were then the National Football League and the American Football League, allowing them to merge, conduct a common draft, and jointly auction television rights. The merger was good for the sport, stabilizing pro football while ensuring quality of competition. But Congress gave away the store to the NFL while getting almost nothing for the public in return...

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/10/how-the-nfl-fleeces-taxpayers/309448/

Dying young: Americans less likely to make it to 50

A report released on Jan. 9 by the National Academies paints a dire picture of American health.

Not only do people in the United States die sooner than people in other high-income countries, but American health is poorer than in peer countries at every stage of life — from birth to childhood to adolescence, in youth and middle age, and for older adults.

“The problem is not limited to people who are poor or uninsured,” said Eileen Crimmins, holder of the AARP Chair in Gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology and a member of the National Research Council panel that compiled the report. “Even Americans with health insurance, higher incomes, college education and healthy behaviors, such as not smoking, seem to be sicker than their counterparts in other countries.”

Deaths before 50 account for about two-thirds of the difference in male life expectancy between the United States and other developed countries and about one-third of the difference in female life expectancy, the report found.

Among the 17 peer countries examined by the panel — all high-income democracies with relatively large populations — people in the United States are much more likely to die of almost everything, including injury, noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes, and communicable diseases, such as HIV.

In its report, the expert panel identified several likely explanations for the lack of healthiness of Americans, including high levels of poverty in the United States and a built environment that is designed around automobiles. In addition, while Americans are currently less likely to smoke and drink less, we consume the most calories per person and have higher rates of drug abuse, the report found.

http://news.usc.edu/45586/dying-young-americans-less-likely-to-make-it-to-50/


Americans smoke & drink less than peers in developed countries, but die younger. Even well-off people die younger than their well-off counterparts in other countries.

The War on Young People

America’s latest war, according to renowned social critic Henry Giroux, is a war on youth.

(Giroux says, in the Moyers interview, that something fundamental has changed in US society, in that the ruling class appears to have basically "written off" young people -- subjecting them to increasing repression, debt, and declining job opportunities. I had never thought of it that way before, but it seems to be a good way of expressing what's going on. Youth -- the country's future -- is being "written off" except for a slice at the top. What does that say about the future of the country?)


While this may seem counterintuitive in our youth-obsessed culture, Giroux lays bare the grim reality of how our educational, social, and economic institutions continually fail young people. Their systemic failure is the result of what Giroux identifies as “four fundamentalisms”: market deregulation, patriotic and religious fervor, the instrumentalization of education, and the militarization of society. We see the consequences most plainly in the decaying education system: schools are increasingly designed to churn out drone-like future employees, imbued with authoritarian values, inured to violence, and destined to serve the market. And those are the lucky ones. Young people who don’t conform to cultural and economic discipline are left to navigate the neoliberal landscape on their own; if they are black or brown, they are likely to become ensnared by a harsh penal system.



Giroux sets his sights on the war on youth and takes it apart, examining how a lack of access to quality education, unemployment, the repression of dissent, a culture of violence, and the discipline of the market work together to shape the dismal experiences of so many young people. He urges critical educators to unite with students and workers in rebellion to form a new pedagogy, and to build a new, democratic society from the ground up. Here is a book you won’t soon forget, and a call that grows more urgent by the day.

From Mobil/Exxon to the two presidential candidates, everyone has a cure for the ills of education, but as usual Henry Giroux sees the truth behind the rhetoric. Stop stealing the future from our young people, especially in the working class. Unable to get decent educations, chained to dead-end jobs, our young people are the targets of state-sponsored violence. Giroux knows personally this situation; this book is his intellectual autobiography. Listen to him and act.

—John Carlos Rowe, University of Southern California


http://monthlyreview.org/press/books/pb3447/

Candidate Barack Obama pledged to raise the minimum wage to $9.50/hour by 2011.

During the 2008 campaign, presidential candidate Barack Obama made a pledge to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2011. Promises like this one inspired a generation of young voters, excited long-neglected progressive voters and gave hope to millions of his supporters across the country.

President Obama ran a campaign of soaring rhetoric and uplifting ideas. Amidst two unpopular wars, a rapidly deteriorating financial crisis and the wildly unpopular presidency of George W. Bush, Americans were desperate for a change. He was viewed as a “transformational” candidate, a president who would turn the page on the stagnant politics of Washington.

It is now four (six) years later, and there has been no increase to the minimum wage. There has been no congressional vote, much less a whisper from the White House on the minimum wage.

...Had the minimum wage kept pace with inflation since 1968, today it would be at $10.57 per hour, instead of the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2012/07/24/where-is-obamas-promised-minimum-wage-hike/


I will be very glad if the minimum wage is raised to $10.10, because I'll get a raise. But I confess that I don't believe it will be raised to that, if at all.

Why didn't Obama bring it up when he had a Democratic Congress?

Chicken Soup for the Neoliberal Soul

Sam Polk was one of the wolves of Wall Street. In a self-lacerating memoir in Sunday’s New York Times, Polk looks back at his time as a brash young trader and is disgusted with the person that he used to be. “I was a giant fireball of greed.” “I wanted a billion dollars.” “I was lying to myself.” I, I, I.... Like his fellow “wealth addicts” on the trading floor, Polk was convinced that being rich would solve all of his problems. It didn’t, and he eventually left the wolves’ den (but not before making a killing by short-selling derivatives during the financial crisis)...

But though he’s left Wall Street behind, Polk has not been nearly as successful in escaping the affective and ideological spaces of neoliberalism. His confession is drenched in the therapeutic language of self-help culture: political phenomena like financialization, inequality, and class power are redefined as personal pathologies to be treated with psychotherapy and support groups for those poor souls suffering from wealth addiction.

In the coup de grace, Polk ends by — you guessed it — founding a non-profit organization to make up for all the bad things he’s done. Its purpose? Not to combat the power of finance capital, or even to attend to the spiritual needs of former Wall Street traders, but the eating habits of poor people.

In her excellent new book Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty, the sociologist Jennifer Silva analyzes the ways in which neoliberalism has radically transformed our sense of self. As Silva argues, the assault on working-class organizations and living standards has led many young adults to adopt a profoundly individualistic and therapeutic view of the world and their personal development.

The scores of young workers that she interviewed for her study had no faith in politics or collective action to address their problems or to give their lives meaning. Instead, they deal with the traumas of everyday life by crafting “deeply personal coming of age stories, grounding their adult identities in recovering from painful pasts — whether addictions, childhood abuse, family trauma, or abandonment — and forging an emancipated, transformed, adult self.”

In the language of C. Wright Mills, they lack a sociological imagination that allows them to connect personal troubles to public issues. The social damage wrought by deunionization, financialization, and deeply embedded patterns of gender and racial discrimination are consistently transmuted into evidence of personal shortcomings that, if left uncorrected, hold individuals back from attaining stability and security.

Though Polk is a child of the middle class who made a fortune before turning thirty, the narrative he crafts to explain his personal trajectory bears all of the same characteristics of Silva’s working-class interviewees. He traces all of his personal shortcomings — his youthful drug and alcohol abuse, low-level criminal activity, workplace fistfights, sexual infidelities, and lust for money — to childhood trauma at the hands of an abusive father. In his telling, it is individuals with propensities toward addictive behaviors, not political actors or socioeconomic structures, that are responsible for the vast gulf between the rich and the rest of us. It was not revulsion at the vast social wreckage of neoliberalism, but rather the development of a “core sense of self” honed through years of therapy, that finally spurred his decision to leave Wall Street.

Like his counterparts occupying the lower rungs of an increasingly precarious labor market, Polk has made sense of his life and the world by creating individualized solutions to confront and transcend a traumatic past disconnected from any wider social context. This affective orientation is a generalized condition of neoliberal subjectivity across classes.

At the height of her reign, Margaret Thatcher declared that in the neoliberal counter-revolution, economics was the method but the object was to change the soul. Judging from the bleak emotional landscapes that so many of us seem to inhabit, that project has succeeded beyond its protagonists’ wildest dreams.

The appeal of individualistic and therapeutic approaches to the problems of our time is not difficult to apprehend. But it is only through the creation of solidarities that rebuild confidence in our collective capacity to change the world that their grip can be broken. Until then, the only thing that the Sam Polks of the world can offer us is a solitary bowl of chicken soup for our neoliberal souls.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/chicken-soup-for-the-neoliberal-soul/

Pete Seeger, American Communist



When the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger passed away Monday at the age of 94, remembrances of him unsurprisingly focused less on his music and more on his social activism. All the better — Seeger, the epitome of tireless commitment to “the cause,” would have liked it that way.

Some comments were laudatory, praising every aspect of his advocacy. But most of them struck the balanced tone of the Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews who tweeted: “I love and will miss Pete Seeger but let’s not gloss over that fact that he was an actual Stalinist.”

Such attempts at balance miss the mark. It’s not that Pete Seeger did a lot of good despite his longtime ties to the Communist Party; he did a lot of good because he was a communist.

This point is not to apologize for the moral and social catastrophe that was state-socialism in the 20th century, but rather to draw a distinction between the role of Communists when in power and when in opposition. A young worker in the Bronx passing out copies of the Daily Worker in 1938 shouldn’t be conflated with the nomenklatura that oversaw labor camps an ocean away.

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, time after time American communists such as Seeger were on the right side of history — and through their leadership, they encouraged others to join them there.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/pete-seeger-american-communist/
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