Common Dreams: Raping the Poor

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The 6-Step Process to Wipe Out the Poor Half of America

by Paul Buchheit

One of the themes of the superb writing of Henry Giroux is that more and more Americans are becoming “disposable,” recognized as either commodities or criminals by the more fortunate members of society. There seems to be a method to the madness of winner-take-all capitalism. The following steps, whether due to greed or indifference or disdain, are the means by which America’s wealth-takers dispose of the people they don’t need.

1. Deplete Their Wealth

Recent analysis has determined that half of America is in or near poverty. This is confirmed by researchers Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who point out: “The bottom half of the distribution always owns close to zero wealth on net. Hence, the bottom 90% wealth share is the same as the share of wealth owned by top 50-90% families – what can be described as the middle class.”

The United States has one of the highest poverty rates in the developed world. It’s much worse since the recession, especially for blacks and Hispanics.

From 2008 to 2013 the stock market, which is largely owned by just 10% of Americans, gained 18% per year. Well-to-do stockholders get capital gains tax breaks, including a carried interest subsidy that Robert Reich calls “a pure scam.”

The bottom half of America, relying on regular bank accounts, earn about one percent on their savings.

2. Strip Away Their Income

Earnings due to workers for their years of productivity have been withheld by people in power. Based on inflation, the minimum wage should be nearly three times its current level. An investor report from J.P. Morgan noted a direct correlation between record profits and cutbacks in wages.

We hear occasional news about job growth, but low-wage jobs ($7.69 to $13.83 per hour), which made up just 1/5 of the jobs lost to the recession, accounted for nearly 3/5 of the jobs regained during the recovery. And it’s getting worse. Nine out of ten of the fastest-growing occupations are considered low-wage, generally not requiring a college degree, including food service, health care, housekeeping, and retail sales.

Among rich countries, according to OECD data, the U.S. is near the bottom in both union participation and employee protection laws.

3. Take Away Their Homes

study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition concluded that an average American renter would need to earn $18.92 per hour — well over twice the minimum wage — to afford a two-bedroom apartment. “In no state,” their report says, “can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent.” Over one-eighth of the nation’s supply of low income housing has been permanently lost since 2001.

Little wonder that so many people are homeless: over 600,000 on any January night in the U.S., tens of thousands of children, tens of thousands of veterans, and one of every five suffering from mental illness.

4. Hit Them with Fines, Fees, and Fleecings

The poor half of America is victimized by the banking industry, which takes an average of $2,412 each year from underserved households for interest and fees on alternative financial services; by rental centers that charge effective annual interest rates over 100 percent; by payday lenders who charge effective annual interest rates of over 1,000 percent; and by the burgeoning prison industry, which charges prisoners for food and health care and phone calls and probation monitoring and anything else they can think of.

On top of all this, bubbly TV personalities rave about all the lottery money just waiting to be taken home. Poor families account for most of the lottery sales.

5. Criminalize Them

Matt Taibbi’s recently published book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap contrasts the targeting of the poor for trivial offenses with a tolerance for the architects of billion-dollar financial crimes.

The U.S. court system is flooded with cases for minor infractions, including loitering charges reminiscent of the infamous Black Codes of post-slavery years. The buildup of arrests has added one out of every three U.S. adults to the FBI’s criminal database.

The poor are criminalized for lying down or sleeping in public; for sharing food; for simply having nowhere to go.

6. Most Insidious: Let Their Children Suffer

The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. Almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty. Nearly half of all food stamp participants are children. The number of homeless children has risen by 50 percent in less than ten years.

Early education is certainly part of the solution, for numerous studies have shown that pre-school helps all children to achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged benefiting the most. But even though the U.S. ranks near the bottom of developed countries in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education, Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history.

Meanwhile, public schools in the inner-city are being closed to satisfy the profit urges of the privatizers, who view our children as commodities. Said community organizer Jitu Brown after 50 schools were shut down in Chicago: “It has ripped black communities apart.”

Americans seek reasons for all the violence in our city streets. With so many “disposable” citizens deprived of living-wage jobs and a meaningful education and equal treatment by our system of justice, rebellion in the form of violence is not hard to understand. The privileged members of society would lash out, too, if they were stripped of everything they own and tossed into the streets.

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/12/15/6-step-process-wipe-out-poor-half-america

LUV News: Scalia and Fascism

I have long thought that one of the most pathetic of the butt-kissing fascists who head our government is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  Scalia’s father founded the American Fascist Party in 1934 and, Alan Dershowitz has asserted, sent his son Antonin to military school where they had to pledge allegiance to Mussolini.  From his Supreme Court votes I find it difficult to believe he’s not still pledging allegiance to Mussolini.

As for Mussolini himself, he hated the word fascism, preferring to call it corporate capitalism, the thing we have in the Land of the Free where Scalia can kneel and kiss corporate butt year in and year out from the bench to demonstrate his devotion to fascism.

One should note that Bush family patriarch Prescott Bush was also a member of the American Fascist Party and was one of Hitler’s enablers.  Descendent Jeb appears to be running for the next Bush/Clinton presidential turn, pending a decision by the ruling Forces of Greed and their bribery network.  Fascism (now called corporate capitalism) has been popular with those who run America on behalf of the wealthy of the world.

Scalia doesn’t have a clue what’s in the Constitution, as I’ve pointed out before, although he’s perfectly willing to rule on what it means.  Scalia simply makes things up about what’s in the Constitution to suit his fascist yearnings.  One almost expects him to interpret that the Constitution requires everyone to exhibit a swastika on their sleeve.  

It’s not just that I disagree with his interpretations– he either doesn’t understand basic English, or is a very poor liar.  When he says the Constitution doesn’t forbid torture, it is obvious he doesn’t grasp the meaning of Article VI, which is very clear, let alone the 8th Amendment, which also wastes no words. 

A fascist like Scalia, who condones torture, makes me ashamed to be of the same species.  I would like to see us create a new classification for psychopaths like Scalia, George “I knew nothing” Bush, Dick “I would do it again” Cheney and other supporters of torture, so I would suggest the species “homo nazi.” —Jack Balkwill

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Justice Antonin Scalia Is a Publicity-Seeking Intellectual Midget

 by Dave Lindorff

Sometimes you really don’t need to write much to do an article on something. Writing about the inanity of Justice Antonin Scalia, the ethics-challenged, lard-bottomed, right-wing anchor of the Supreme Court, is one of those times.

Scalia just weighed in on the CIA torture issue in an interview for a Swiss broadcast network, saying that he didn’t think there was anything in the US Constitution that would prohibit torture under all circumstances, and positing a situation — a suspect with knowledge about a hidden nuke to be detonated in Los Angeles — that he suggested would make torture an acceptable tactic.

First of all, if Scalia can say “I don’t know what article of the Constitution” would “contravene” harsh treatment of suspected terrorists, he is either terminally ignorant, or has figured out some talmudic-like gymnastic reasoning to allow him to argue that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment doesn’t apply to torture. Perhaps he thinks that punishment can only refer to what is meted out to a person after conviction, but as he surely knows, for literally centuries the court has been clear that the treatment of suspects is also covered by that ban. Furthermore, the Founders Scalia claims to have such respect for, clearly had in mind the abuses British colonial forces visited upon arrested and detained colonists when they wrote that ban into the Bill of Rights.

But beyond that, the argument about a suspect who knew about a hidden nuke, or an Anthrax or Small Pox bomb, which is hardly an original idea of Scalia’s, has always been silly. Establishing that torture is always illegal, and that its perpetrators are committing a heinous crime, would never stop some cop or FBI agent or CIA agent from torturing such a suspect if he or she thought it could produce the information needed to find and prevent such a bomb. Who would think about future punishment in such a crisis?

Nobody. And if such a situation came to pass, and the bomb was found and disarmed, no one would ever prosecute whoever came up with the information that saved the day. So it’s not a valid argument against an absolute ban on torture at all.

What should be banned is idiots, jerks and self-aggrandizing ideologues like Scalia on the High Court — especially ones who are happy to accept gifts from people who have cases pending before the court.

http://thiscantbehappening.net/node/2589

Naked Capitalism: The Attack on Pensions

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Cromnibus Pension Provisions Gut Forty Years of Policy, Allow Existing Pensions to Be Slashed

Posted on December 15, 2014 by

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Oddly, or not, “progressive” and Democratic loyalist commentary on the Cromnibus bill has — with occasional honorable exceptions  focused almost exclusively on Elizabeth Warren’s fight against a derivatives provision that might benefit big banks, as we saw yesterday, and has been silent about a provision that could do far worse and far more immediate harm to working people who made their retirement plans based on the belief that their pension rights were secure and backed by legislation, and the idea that a contract was a contract. Oldthink, I know!

So in this post I want to rectify that mysterious silence, and take a look at the truly nauseating Kline-Miller amendment, passed by the House, and part of the Senate bill forwarded to Obama for his signature. David Dayensummarizes:

Under the bill, trustees would be enabled to cut pension benefits to current retirees, reversing a 40-year bond with workers who earned their retirement packages.

Michael Hilzick:

Under ERISA, the 1974 law governing pensions in the private sector, benefits already earned by a worker can’t be cut.

Now they can. That’s right. Even if you’re retired and vested in a private pension plan, your benefits could be cut. Congress retraded the deal (if I have the finance jargon right). That’s nauseating even for today’s official Washington. And the bill was passed in a thoroughly bipartisan fashion: Kline is a Minnesota Republican, and Miller is a “liberal” California Democrat. [Reach me that bucket, wouldja?]

Who Does Kline-Miller Affect?

I said your pension could be cut, so here’s how Kline-Miller works and who it applies to. (I don’t have a pension and I’m not a union guy, so bear with and correct me.) Politico:

The House Rules Committee added the Kline-Miller amendment to the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill last night. The measure would give multiemployer pension trustees the option to cut vested benefits in order to save plans headed toward insolvency and would increase insurance premiums to the financially troubled Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).

It works like this: Trustees submit an application of proposed benefit suspensions to the Treasury Department. The Treasury Department consults with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and the Labor Department before approving the application. Following Treasury approval, participants vote on the proposed cuts. If more than 50 percent of participants disapprove, trustees can’t make the cuts. There’s a loophole, however: If the Treasury, the Labor Department and the PBGC determine that the plan would cost the PBGC more than $1 billion [That’s not even real money these days!] upon becoming insolvent, trustees can still implement the cuts.

How many workers will be affected? Michael Hilzick again:

[M]ultiemployer pension plans are generally negotiated by a union to cover employees of all companies in a given industry. About 1,400 such plans cover about 10 million workers, according to the Pension Rights Center. About 150 to 200 of the plans, covering 1.5 million workers, are seriously underfunded and could run out of money sometime during the next 20 years.

Wait, you say. 1.5 million workers isn’t very many, and besides, I have a single employer pension, and so I’m safe from the chopping block. Not so fast! What matters is that a precedent has been set. The Wall Street Journal is practically rubbing its hands:

[The] measure included in Congress’s mammoth spending bill permits benefit cuts for retirees in one type of pension plan, a big shift that lawmakers and others believe could set a precedent for other troubled retirement programs.

Lawmakers and experts, while divided over the merits of the change, largely agreed that it could well be the first of many.

Alicia Munnell, director of Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research says the change:

“is letting the genie out of the bottle. Once it becomes legal to cut accrued benefits, then it’s a different world. It’s really precedent-making change. [While not opposed to giving trustees flexibility, she said] “It needs to be applied very, very judiciously.”

What could go wrong? The bottom line here is that the legalities and the contractual relations and whatever moral commitments were made don’t really matter. What does matter is that whenever there’s a big pot of money lying around that theoreticallly should go to working people — say, retirement funds, but it could be anything — Congress can retrade whatever deal put the money into the pot, and years after the fact, too. Oh, and workers lose the right to challenge the cuts in court. Nice!

Why Is Kline-Miller Wrong?

First, Kline-Miller gives workers no time to adjust. Reuters:

The big problem here is that the plan fails to put retirees at the head of the line for protection. When changes of this type must be made, they should be phased in over a long period of time, giving workers time to adjust their plans before retirement. For example, the Social Security benefit cuts enacted in 1983 were phased in over 20 years and didn’t start kicking in until 1990.

Second, giving workers no time to adjust is all the more egregious, because Kline-Miller was rushed through, even though there was no crisis. Pension Rights:

According to PBGC projections, approximately 150 to 200 plans, covering 1.5 million workers and retirees, could run out of money within the next 20 years.

A problem that affects comparatively few workers that’s twenty years off, and for this we have to set a precedent that up-ends the entire system?  This is worse than the Grand Bargain!  Michael Hilzick:

What’s most irksome about the Congressional maneuvering is the ginned-up atmosphere of urgency around it. For even seriously impaired pension plans, the day of reckoning may be 10 or 20 years off; a lot can happen in that time frame to improve their condition or for other solutions to bubble to the surface.

As Rahm Emmanuel didn’t say, never let a non-crisis go to waste!

Third, Kline-Miller pits workers against each other, and in two ways. Reuters:

The legislation does prohibit benefit cuts for vested retirees over 80, and limited protections for retirees over 75 – but that leaves plenty of younger retirees vulnerable to cuts. And although workers and retirees would get to vote on the changes, pension advocates worry that the interests of workers would overwhelm those of retirees. (Active workers rightly worry about the future of their plans, and many already are sacrificing through higher contributions and benefit cuts.)

First, it’s wrong to have two-tier social insurance. There’s no reason citizens should get a worse deal because they’re younger (and any meaningful Social Security reform would make benefits age neutral. None of this “I’ve got mine” crapola). Second and worse, you can just see different groups of workers fighting over benefits like crabs in a bucket — 50% plus one taking the bigger slice of the shrinking pie. I bet the bosses will love that! This from California “liberal” Miller is one of the more cynical framings I’ve seen:

“We should give (workers) the opportunity and responsibility of trying to save their own pensions”

Yes, by fighting each other!

Fourth, Kline-Miller is a union-busting measure (and as we’ll see in a minute, that’s going to exacebate problems with other pensions). In These Times:s

Jim Carothers, 69, a retired car-hauler from Redford, Mich. who currently gets benefits from the Central States Fund, is more blunt about the stakes.

“I think it would mean the complete death of the labor movement of this country. I don’t know how you would organize people and promise them anything if we get a contract,” Carothers says. “The question becomes, well, why would I join the union then if you can’t deliver what you’re promising? And that for the labor movement strikes me as an incredibly dangerous proposition.”

Exactly. What’s the point of a union contract if Congress can unilaterally retrade the deal after the fact? I thought contracts were supposed to be sacred. Or doesn’t that apply when workers are involved?

What Were the Alternatives to Kline-Miller?

First, there are options available, even accepting that legislation needed to be passed this sesson. Reuters:

[Randy DeFrehn of the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans], AARP and other advocates reject the idea that solvency problems 10 to 15 years away require such severe measures. They have pushed alternative approaches to the problem; one that is included in the deal, DeFrehn says, is an increase in PBGC premiums paid by sponsors, from $13 to $26 per year. Advocates also have called for other new revenue sources, such as low-interest loans to PRGC by the once-bailed-out big banks and investment firms.

So why not have the sponsors pay the full freight? The workers already did! (Though I have to say that getting a loan strikes me as… .Well, let’s call it weak tea. Or weak TINA.)

Second and more radically, unions could and should have been strengthened. Read between the lines of this bland Wall Street Journal article:

Multiemployer plans are administered by unions and are funded by multiple employers in a given industry, typically in fields such as trucking, retail and construction. There are about 1,400 plans in all, covering roughly 10 million people. Because of declining ratios of active workers to retirees, and loose funding standards, some of the larger [Multiemployer plans], such as the Teamsters’ Central States fund, are in dire financial condition.

Yeah, those “declining ratios” just happened naturally, right? Leaving aside the issues of financial mismanagement by trustees and the Great Financial crash, the problem is an actuarial one, right? In These Times:

The national trend of de-unionization coupled with job losses from the recession have meant that fewer and fewer workers are paying into funds as more and more retirees are starting to receive benefits.

So, if the ratio between active workers and retirees has gone out of whack, why not strengthen unions so that there are more “active workers” signed up? Especially since the problem is 10 or 15 years away? Is there some reason a “liberal” California Democrat wouldn’t consider that? (Note above we show why Kline-Miller makes union membership less attractive, so it’s sending union pension actuarial conditions in exactly the wrong direction.)

Third, the think tank behind Kline-Miller is the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans. Here’s their report. It’s titled:

“Solutions not Bailouts”

But what would be so very wrong with — work with me, here — just bailing the pension plans out? I can’t see why bailing out workers isn’t a solution. It certainly was for the banksters! International Business Times:

While Congress responded to the 2008 financial crisis by rescuing the banking industry with an $700 billion bailout [and that’s only TARP!], there’s no rescue on the way for retirees. Lawmakers are offering no bailout to close multiemployer plans’ aggregate $42 billion deficit.

$42 billion? Spread out over decades? That’s chicken feed! What’s wrong with these people?

Conclusion

TINA rears its ugly head. The Times:

Now, with retired coal miners in danger of losing meager pensions, the political system seems unwilling to even consider a taxpayer-supported solution.

The union leaders agree. In These Times:

Thomas Nyhan of the Central State Fund, too, says he’s been backed into a corner by political realities, and supports the NCCMP proposal out of his fiduciary duty to keep the plan solvent.

What’s baffling to me is why Nyhan — along with so many other Obama supporters and Democratic loyalists — don’t try to change “political realities.” Like Elizabeth Warren:

Washington already works really well for the billionaires and big corporations and the lawyers and lobbyists. But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citi bet big on derivatives and lost? What about the families who are living paycheck to paycheck and saw their tax dollars go to bail Citi out just six years ago? We were sent here to fight for those families, and it’s time – it’s past time – for Washington to start working for them.

Indeed. But:

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(To be fair, Google search has been crapified, and I’d be happy to be wrong on this.)

Come on, Democrats. Aren’t retirees with pensions “middle class families”? Or don’t they count? Can’t we stop playing small ball? There Is No Alternative — until there is!

NOTES

[1] It seems clear to me that the entire policy of gutting social insurance for retirement is deflationary. From a financial advice column:

[A CreditCards.com survey] found that a significant percentage of people don’t see an escape from debt. They believe they will die with it. The irony wasn’t lost on me that the survey was taken earlier this month as people piled on debt while holiday shopping.

So how do the two issues — the debt-until-I-die survey and pension battle — tie together?

We are increasingly on our own. Our retirement income is largely going to depend on how much we’ve managed to save and invest for ourselves.

Even those fortunate enough to still have traditional pensions should be making backup plans. You may very well not be able to rely on a once-ironclad agreement of a set and steady stream of income that would come faithfully until you die.

Your backup plan is to expect change. This means staying out of debt and getting rid of the debt you do have as soon as you can, including your mortgage.

So I’m not seeing gutting America’s pension system as a way to boost aggregate demand, that’s for sure. As Illargi says:

Deflation is not about lower prices, it’s about lower spending.

And paying down debt isn’t spending. It’s saving.

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Cruz

LUV News: Torture Tech

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The CIA is making an all-out attack on the torture report released yesterday, despite the fact that the Congress and top officials of the Executive branch have approved of the release.  These sons of bitches at the CIA need to be reined in, they are not supposed to run the government.

Harry Truman said, when he created it with the National Security Act of 1947 that if he thought the CIA would one day spy on Americans he would never have approved it.  Well Harry, they not only spied on Americans, but they recently spied on the Senate, and you made a big mistake.

John Kennedy privately told friends, more than one so it’s corroborated, that he wanted “to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds” after he was reelected, he was so pissed off about the way they ignored the elected officials who are supposed to be running the country.  Of course, Kennedy ran into a bullet before he got to the election and no president since has raised a peep (from everything we see, Obama tried to deep six the torture report but couldn’t convince the Senate, so instead suggested massive redactions).

Watching the corporate media talking heads quote CIA officials all day yesterday my blood pressure climbed to dangerous levels, but I couldn’t turn off the TV, I know many LUV News readers don’t watch it, but I feel I must for LUV News, because this is how the American public are influenced.  Corporate media did this knowing that top CIA officials lied to the President and the Congress, allowing similar lies to be repeated over and over again to the American masses throughout the day, continuing I see, this morning on all “news” channels.

The Senate should be commended for releasing the report, and the CIA should be scattered to a thousand points of the wind, with functions put back under the State Department as it used to be before we started to routinely knock off democracies and replace them with corporate-friendly fascists.  It is now dangerously out of control and is a threat to what little democracy remains in the land.  —Jack Balkwill

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Prescription Drug Costs

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Naked Capitalism: Bill Moyers on the Ultra-Rich

Bill Moyers on the Lives of the Very Very Rich

Posted on December 10, 2014 by

Yves here. While this site talks regularly about the 1% and the 0.1%, we don’t often give a more specific idea of who they are. A recent Bill Moyers show gave a vignette of the super-rich, not just the 0.1%, but the 0.01%, who as we know all too well are playing a vastly disproportionate role in reshaping politics and our society.

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, Americablog, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook.A version of this piece first appeared at digby’s Hullabaloo. GP’s article archive is here

The video is important, not only because it’s well done and very watchable, but because it’s about something almost entirely invisible — the lives of the very very rich — and that invisibility has important political consequences. Most people don’t have any idea what the lives of the very very rich — the “billionaire class” as Bernie Sanders calls them — are actually like. Consider this chart, starting from the bottom:

The bottom line shows what people think is the ideal wealth distribution. But since they know the distribution is out of whack, they take their best guess at how out of whack things are, shown in the middle line. No one has a clue, it seems, that the top line is what’s really going on. In other words (rounding slightly):

  • Ideal: Top 20% owns 30% of all American wealth.
  • Best guess: Top 20% owns 60% of all American wealth.
  • In reality: Top 20% owns 85% of all American wealth.

Now look at the top 1% and you see vast differences in the various strata, the layers. For example, this is from 2011 data (again slightly rounded):

  • Average income of Top 0.01% — $23,800,000
  • Average income of the rest of the Top 0.1% — $2,800,000
  • Average income of the rest of the Top 1% — $1,020,000
  • Average income of the rest of the Top 10% — $161,000

If you just looked at the top 1% as a whole, that huge gap between the 0.01% (the “1% of the 1%”) and everyone else really skews the averages. You have to look at the segments individually to see them properly.

To show that in another way, if there were only 100 total people in the Top 1%, the top one person in that group would take in almost $24 million per year. The next nine would average only $2.8 million. The remaining 90 people would average just $1 million each. That one person is a king.

The Wealth Disparity at the Top Belongs to Just a Few

Keep that income gap of nearly 10-to-1 between the Top 0.01% and the rest of the One-Percent in mind. Now let’s look at the population size. If there are 150 million individual (non-corporate) IRS returns filed each year (very close; see Table 2; pdf), there are 1.5 million in the 1%, and 15,000 in the 0.01%. Of these, roughly 500 are already billionaires by wealth.

Five hundred billionaires, 15,000 people averaging nearly $24,000,000 per year, and every group below them averages about than a tenth or less in earnings. Look at that list above, and notice the bottom bullet. Everyone from the top 2% through the top 10% earns less on average than $200,000 per year — 1/120th of our lucky 15,000.

Why point this out? Because people have no idea what life for the 15,000 is actually like, much less life for someone in the David Koch class. When we think of the wealthy, we imagine MacMansions blown big; we conjure pictures we’ve seen from wealthier neighborhoods, and we just … scale up a bit. We see monster Cadillac SUVs and say, “Ah, the very rich.” People who live like us, but with more stuff.

We know that this can’t be true, quite, but it can’t be off by too much, right? And then we go on with our lives.

One Reason We Don’t Have Revolutions

Our image of the very very rich — MacMansions, only scaled up; nice cars, only pricier; like us, but with more toys — is very very wrong. It’s also one reason we haven’t had a class revolt since the New Deal era. Chris Rock talked about it in the context of Ferguson:

[Q] For all the current conversation about income inequality, class is still sort of the elephant in the room.

[Rock] Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets. If the average person could see the Virgin Airlines first-class lounge, they’d go, “What? What? This is food, and it’s free, and they … what? Massage? Are you kidding me?”

Except even he doesn’t scale up enough. These people never ride first class because they never fly commercial. He rides first class; they own airplanes. They don’t own homes, they own estates and multi-million-dollar condos in buildings like Moyers discusses — so many estates and condos in fact that not one of them is “home” in the normal sense. Now extend that — for most of these people, not one country is home either.

You and me, we live in a city. People like Chris Rock live in a city and get to travel a lot. Real Money lives in the world, everywhere, all of it. And most are loyal to none of it.

Bill Moyers Shows How “Real Money” Lives — In Their “Private Snow Globe”

Now the film. It’s about the lives of the very very rich, the places they buy to rarely live in, and how they’re transforming cities like New York. Enjoy.

From the transcript, a tease (italics mine):

BILL MOYERS: A private city in the sky for the rich — the very, very rich. As Goldberger wrote: “if you seek a symbol of income inequality, look no farther than 57th Street.”

PAUL GOLDBERGER: They’re mostly the international super-rich. It’s a whole category of people. Most people are living there part time and have other residences either in this region, or elsewhere in the US or elsewhere in the world, or all of the above. And they’re people who can afford to spend l0, 15, 20, 30 million dollars on an apartment. …

BILL MOYERS: The penthouse apartment is under contract for a reported $90 million. The hedge fund tycoon behind the deal told The New York Times he thought “it would be fun” to own “the Mona Lisa of apartments,” although he has no intention of living there. …

PAUL GOLDBERGER: There’s a prominent real estate appraiser in New York who referred to these buildings as safe deposit boxes in the sky. Places where people put cash and they rarely visit themselves.

BILL MOYERS: So think of them as plush Swiss banks, with maid service, for people who, as one critic wrote, “see the city as their private snow globe.” When this building, 432 Park Avenue, is finished next year, it will surpass even One57, climbing 150 feet taller than the Empire State Building before its spire.

No pharaoh ever dreamed on so grand a scale. Each tower is a feat of technological, economic and political engineering. Promoted to the very rich as the very best.

Note the amazing images; the text can’t do them justice. Note also the hubris, the mark of the billionaire class.

These people control most aspects of public life. Whether you live poorly or well, you work so they can be richer. You’re fired when they want you fired. You’re killed — in their wars; by their poisons; by their unaffordable health care system; by your poverty; by their police — when they want you to die.

Like fish in water, you live with their greed every day. You watch their propaganda (we call it “entertainment”). You vote for their candidates. Their touch and reach is everywhere, yet they’re invisible to us. The key to their destruction is to expose their lives to view.

I’ve talked about “collapse” — social, political, climatological — most recently on Virtually Speaking. When collapses come, they usually come fast. The last time we came close to collapse was the Great Depression. If we’re poised on the cusp of another, god help us … no one will have fun then, not us, not them. But if things do break apart, it won’t be for lack of patience on our side, but hubris on theirs. They will have forced it themselves … unless they’re stopped.

Humor: The Borowitz Report

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Former Vice-President Dick Cheney on Tuesday called upon the nations of the world to “once and for all ban the despicable and heinous practice of publishing torture reports.”

“Like many Americans, I was shocked and disgusted by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s publication of a torture report today,” Cheney said in a prepared statement. “The transparency and honesty found in this report represent a gross violation of our nation’s values.”

“The publication of torture reports is a crime against all of us,” he added. “Not just those of us who have tortured in the past, but every one of us who might want to torture in the future.”

Saying that the Senate’s “horrifying publication” had inspired him to act, he vowed, “As long as I have air to breathe, I will do everything in my power to wipe out the scourge of torture reports from the face of the Earth.”

Cheney concluded his statement by calling for an international conference on the issue of torture reports. “I ask all the great nations of the world to stand up, expose the horrible practice of publishing torture reports, and say, ‘This is not who we are,’ ” Cheney said.

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The Torture Architects

The ACLU provides this graphic:

https://www.aclu.org/national-security/infographic-torture-architects?iframe=1

CounterPunch: Free-Trade Robber Barons

aa-robber-baron-gorging-on-food

Another World is Possible!

Of COPs and Robber Barons

by ALEXANDER REID ROSS

The Liberal Climate Change Agenda

In 2007, Adam Weissman and I met with a representative from Charlie Rangel’s office, and in that Adam Clayton Powell building conference room aloft Harlem’s historic 125th Street, we warned Rangel’s office that the Peru Free Trade Agreement would lead to the plundering of Peru’s rainforests and oppression of Indigenous peoples. Two years later, Obama was in office, the trade deal passed, and a massacre of Indigenous peoples ensued.

Known as the Bagua Massacre, the carnage took place after then-President Alan García used aspects of the FTA to open up corridors into Indigenous lands and extract timber. Indigenous peoples responded by blockading the rivers and roads, so García sent the military to remove them. In the struggle, thirty-two Indigenous people were slaughtered, leading to an international uproar and eventually the ouster of García. Despite García’s exit, Peru remains among the most dangerous places to be an environmentalist.

According to Global Witness, on average, five environmentalists and land defenders have been assassinated per year since 2002. More than 80 percent of those cases have been linked to military, police, and private security. This September, prominent rainforest campaigner Edwin Chota and three other Ashéninka natives were murdered in front of villagers. Responding to the ongoing slaughter, the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin recently stated, “We are outraged at the ‘colonization’ of the forest, where indigenous peoples are killed with impunity. We are abandoned and stripped of our riches by those in search of rubber yesterday, and today by loggers, miners, oil extractors, and tomorrow anyone who has ‘power.’”

Although the path to free trade and neo-colonialism was implemented before Obama’s time in office, to the chagrin of many of his early supporters, Obama helped Congress ram through four bilateral FTAs during his first term in office. These FTAs were crafted during the reign of the Bush Administration’s trade representative Robert Zoellick, who famously announced trade as a frontier in the War on Terror. The FTAs were backed by Rangel, who has the prestige of being considered the most corrupt man in Congress, and Nancy Pelosi, whose top campaign contributor at the time was Occidental Petroleum, the perpetrators of a grotesquely polluted oil extraction site in Peru that remains unresolved. That the global Climate Summit, the Conference of Parties (COP), is being held in Lima, Peru, today only serves to highlight the genocidal corruption through which the neoliberal agenda foregrounded by the COP destroys the environment in direct contradiction of real solutions to the deepening climate crisis.

A Crisis Beyond Summits

Since the Kyoto Protocol emerged from the 1992 international UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, environmentalists have looked to international institutions like the Conference of Parties (COP) for global solutions to climate change. They have found only disempowerment and a deepening crisis.

As the US refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol while bumping up its carbon emissions and waging everlasting war in West Asia, environmental NGOs began to feel alienated. The conflict came to a head with the notorious 15th annual COP in Copenhagen, which saw borders closed and hundreds of protestors kettled and arrested over a period of days. The ensuing summits in the Global South centers of Cancún and Durban received less protest, but when the COP returned to Europe last year in Warsaw, climate activists tried to send a message to the decision makers by engineering a mass walkout involving more than 800 delegates and civil society representatives.

Major targets continue to be avoided through the COP process, and countries like Japan and Australia have shirked the minimal agreements decided upon in the meetings. This week, the COP has assembled in Lima to relatively little fanfare or protest—or effect—but lots of ambition. “Ambitious” has become the key word for the global climate process that works within the strictures of capital—ambitious in light of a COP comprised of little more than an edifice of false solutions over systemically corrupt and racist architecture.

The North Atlantic, by far the most industrialized and emissions-heavy area in the world, holds most of the capital and clout behind the COP. The Global South has been calling for drastic reductions of emissions by the North, as well as assistance in the reduction of emissions in the South. The BRICS have organized into a negotiating bloc, and express more interest in decreasing emissions than Washington does, but the G7 has not seemed particularly keen on playing ball.

The COP and the Global Land Grab

Since the pressures of the global markets extending from the World Bank, IMF, and WTO currently require huge quantities of fossil fuels, as well as underpaid labor based in the Global South, it is only responsible for the North to assist their allies in the South by granting subvention for the transition away from a globalized, neoliberal economy reliant on fossil fuels. The response from the North through the COP has been the enforcement of the Global Land Grab through agreements like REDD+. Enriching carbon markets, these agreements tend to expel Indigenous peoples from natural reserves cordoned off to compensate for emissions from expanded resource extraction, including farmlands expropriated and converted into agrifuel plantations of oil palm and jatropha for export. Only slightly less of an emissions hog than the Alberta Tar Sands, the cultivation of oil palm has proven a disaster, both for local, sustainable food producers and for the climate, alike, while investors from private equity funds, banks, and foundations largely based in the North have made staggering profits.

Through impressive research, the nonprofit group GRAIN has produced an exhaustive report showing how charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation fill the coffers of agricultural organizations in the US and Europe in the name of producing food for Africans, while bestowing just a tiny percentage of their massive budget on Africa, itself. The Gates Foundation’s project with African countries, known as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa, includes major agribusiness interests in what is called “Triangular Cooperation” (a term that rings eerily similar to the “Triangle Trade”).

Within this system, much like the old Imperialist system of the 19th Century, plantations are opened in Africa by dispossessing locals and reaping the profits. Free trade opens the doors for Northern corporate investment and extraction, while the New Alliance outlaws export bans, so even in the event of widespread starvation, crops will continue to flow out via the free market. At the end of the supply chain, US investment bankers playing the futures market have insurance on their speculation, which is made even more profitable by the disastrous implications of climate change on food systems, vis-à-vis the collapse in food supply and subsequent increase in demand. Hence, the news site allAfrica recently posted in its entirety a press release from a coalition of three Fair Trade producers networks—Fairtrade Africa, NAPP, and CLAC—demanding adequate protection and support from the COP.

Protests and Outcomes

In a bolder manifestation of public dissatisfaction of the COP, environmental activists condemned the participation of the World Bank, specifically, and called for the support of 500 million campesinos and small farmers. The activists also insisted on the fulfillment of the “Green Fund,” which was established to grant $100 per year until 2020, but has not approached one tenth of that.

As is typical of COPs, however, repression against activists is already underway. The Ecuadorian police recently intercepted and detained a bus carrying a group of environmentalists from the Yasuni National Park en route to the conference. The Yasuni became the site of one of the largest land deals since the Global Land Grab commenced, when Chinese investors purchased 100,000 hectares of rainforest land in a protected national park in order to drill for oil in 2012. The surrender of land-based protection and enfranchisement of Indigenous rights in favor of carbon-based trading schemes manifests the new phase of South-South Cooperation through the “neoliberalism with Southern characteristics” framework.

This year’s COP will not decide whether it is the people or the corporations who wield climate power—a question raised by this year’s 400,000-person Peoples Climate March. Instead, as income disparities increase in the North Atlantic, the powers that be seek to engineer a new trans-Atlantic trade deal to undermine unions and environmental standards in Europe, and the North American elite seeks to continue its inexorable pitch into tar sands mining not only in Alberta, but in Utah as well. Perhaps one might consider this a new era of North-North cooperation, which seeks to upend the major unions and coalitions of Europe while demolishing the social wage through the same neoliberal circuits that undermined the national-popular state in the Global South.

Major financial players in the North will continue, however, to seek to increase exploitation of agrifuels, mines, and cheap manufacturing in the South as “sustainable development,” using trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, in which Peru is a signatory nation, to facilitate the export of huge quantities of fossil fuels. This is North-South Cooperation, based on the model of Triangular Cooperation that engages “neoliberalism with Southern characteristics” in the extractivist goals of corporations, banks, equity firms in the North.

The Road to Paris

Next year’s COP will be in Paris, and it is being billed as a kind of gestalt of the COP process—the sum of the parts, a crechendo, perhaps, of the global market since that fateful year of 1994. The historic origin of the Arcades; a city that sought to turn the entire universe into “the inside;” the metropolis that saw Haussman set the standard for modern gentrification and urban planning, Paris can also be seen as the staging ground for the Imperialist form of accumulation by dispossession that links urban displacement with land expropriations abroad. But, it can also be seen as a staging point for revolution.

The way to stop the New Triangular Trade is not by working with COP, but against it. Just as the World Bank will not concede its numerous development projects around the world, through which the Gates Foundation and its ilk only further enrich the top-down institutions of the North Atlantic, it is hard to see how Modi’s government in India or an expansionist China with its eyes on the oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea will hold back the extractionist economic platform propelling the Global Land Grab. But the heartening resistance offered by Indigenous peoples, farmers, and women’s movements around the world will not stand aside and allow the process of global finance to consolidate itself—even if the modern world system is multi-polar.

A different form of development is sorely needed. The world’s disenfranchised are amassing every year in greater numbers to cast off the burden of onerous debt, the destruction of land and life, and forced relocation. We have seen in the US a mass uprising extend from the unlikely site of a suburban area, Ferguson, Missouri, across the world. The same force of displacement that is terrorizing African Americans in the US is also displacing Indigenous peoples in Africa; it is pushing people out of the Yasuni for oil while exploiting the forests of Peru in the wake of terrible massacres.

Far from showing the way to a better solution, the COP will only expedite accumulation, while the rest of the world goes hungry. There is a better way, represented by small farmers feeding their communities while rising up in self-defense against the obtrusive presence of globalized agribusiness and exploitation, Indigenous peoples preserving their life-ways, and autonomous communities linking together to fight patriarchy. Let the slogan of the World Social Forum ring out from Lima to Paris; “Another world is possible!”

Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire and works for Bark. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). This article is also being published at earthfirstjournal.org/newswire.

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