Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rents are skyrocketing and it's not just the poorer classes that are getting displaced

5 worst cities to be a renter (unless you’re fabulously wealthy)

5 worst cities to be a renter (unless you're fabulously wealthy)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.
The housing market is supposedly recovering, yet the homeownership rate is dropping. Meanwhile rents in urban areas were already high but now are absolutely skyrocketing. What’s going on? As millions lost their homes many of the houses were and are being bought up by large investors. And what do these investors want? They want rent and lots of it. According to a NY Times report, In Many Cities, Rent Is Rising Out of Reach of Middle Class, “In December, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan declared ‘the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has ever known.’ ”
Since the Great Recession the squeeze on 99% of us has gotten much tighter. What does this mean for people looking for a place to live? People used to be able to buy a house and put down roots. But in most cities buying a house is just out of the question for most people. Prices are back up and climbing fast, while salaries and wages for most of us are stagnant if not falling. So coming up with a down payment and qualifying for a mortgage is beyond the reach of many city-dwellers.
And now already-strapped home-buyers are competing with the big money. Many of the houses that come up for sale are sold in “all cash” deals, which means regular people are competing with “investors.” Because these investors pay cash sellers know they don’t have to wait for a buyer to get approved for a mortgage that could fall through.
In The Coming Nightmare of Wall Street-Controlled Rental Markets, Rebecca Burns, Michael Donley and Carmilla Manzanet of In These Times explain that investors have already purchased around 200,000 single-family houses to convert into rentals. And even as the “recovery” takes hold, they write, “In the final months of 2013, the rate of homeownership dipped to an 18-year low of 65.2 percent, down from a 69.4 percent peak prior to the 2007 financial crisis, according to U.S. Census data.” These houses are not going to homeownership, they are being turned into rentals – to be rented back to the people who used to live in them. According to Stan Humphries, the chief economist of Zillow, between 2007 and 2013 the United States added, on net, about 6.2 million tenants, compared with 208,000 homeowners.


With Wall Street as your landlord things can only go one way. As rents rise you face eviction so they can move someone in who will pay more – especially in areas where tenants have been able to get rent control ordinances passed. Bloomberg News gives an example of a community facing an eviction assault. In the story, In Silicon Valley, a New Investment: Eviction, Bloomberg describes how one company now owns 70% of the apartments in East Palo Alto and is systematically evicting tenants in rent-controlled units, writing, “Equity Residential has filed 236 unlawful detainer, or eviction, cases that have been unsealed in San Mateo County Superior Court since December 2011, according to the court website. At least 160 cases — or 68 percent — ended with a writ of possession of real property, giving the tenant 24 hours to move out.”
So with home-buying out of the question in many cities rents are high and climbing fast. Especially if you want to rent a house instead of an apartment.  Renting an apartment or a house brings different stresses because apartments are built to be rented, while houses can be sold and you have to move. In expensive (bubble?) places like Silicon Valley people who are lucky enough to find a house to rent (typically $3,000+ a month) live in fear that the owner will sell and boot them, or drastically increase the rent.

The 5 Worst Cities for Renters
What does all of this mean for working people looking for a place to live? It depends on where you are. CBS News reports, “Although the average rent across the U.S. is $1,231 per month, in certain areas it can be triple that number.” What are the worst places in the country for renters? There are some considerations for looking into the worst cities to rent. It is not just which city has the highest rents, it also matters what the percent of median household income this represents – if you make the median income for the area. It costs more to live in Beverly Hills, but people who live in Beverly Hills generally make enough to afford it.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition Los Angeles is the “least affordable” big city because median rent now makes up 47 percent of median income, but it isn’t one of the 5 highest rent areas. It’s least affordable because so many people have low incomes. And Miami is next on the “least affordable” list because median rent makes up 43.2 percent of median income. Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies also looked at what percent of their income renters are spending in various area and found that nationally half of all renters are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. This is up from 38 percent of renters in 2000.

Of course, this doesn’t matter to a person making the minimum wage. The National Low Income Housing Coalition looked at how many hours minimum-wage employees have to work per week in each state just to rent an apartment and still be able to survive. (See this chart.) West Virginia was lowest at 63 hours. Hawaii was 175 hours. California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C. were all over 130 hours.
So using a number of sources, here is a list of 5 cities with shockingly high rents.

#1 Williston, North Dakota
Why Williston? It is located right in the middle of the “oil boom” and as a result has some of the highest rents in the country. According to Courtney Craig at the Apartment Guide blog, “A 700-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Williston easily can cost more than $2,000 per month. Looking for a little more space? A three-bedroom, three-bath apartment could cost as much as $4,500 per month.”
The reason for the high rents is more of a reflection on how bad things are in the rest of the country than how good things are in Williston. People are hurting for good-paying jobs and for a while there was so much work available that people flocked to Williston. The population grew from 14,700 in 2010 to more than 30,000 now, and the housing stock is used up. But so are the jobs. So with few jobs and even fewer places to live Williston is having problems. A recent Wall Street Journal story told of how “Jay Jones, a 25-year-old pipe fitter from Virginia, arrived in Williston last July in his 1993 Buick Century with a makeshift bed he installed in place of the back seats. He stayed in his car until October, when temperatures started to drop.” According to a local KFYR report, “Currently, Williston Public School District #1 has 133 homeless students.” And a recent FOX headline says even more: Dark side of ND’s oil boom: Meth, heroin, cartels _ all part of growing drug trade.

#2 is San Francisco, Silicon Valley and San Jose
Census Bureau numbers from 2010 to 2012 show that San Francisco’s median rent was $1,463 and this holds all the way down to San Jose, with a median rent of $1,441. That means that half of the housing – almost all of which is occupied by longer-term tenants with rent control — are rented for $1,463 or less, and half – the only places you will see on the market — for more; often for much, much more. (Note that CNN reported in February that San Francisco has seen rents rise 12.3 percent year-over-year through January to a median average of $3,350 for a two-bedroom apartment. “An apartment in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood that rented for $2,100 in 2010, for example, now rents for $3,200 a month…”)
But median pay is higher in the city itself. 37.6 percent of rentals in San Francisco go for 35 percent or more of household income. As you go south this changes. In San Jose it is 43.8 percent of rentals going for more than 35 percent or more if household income. (The earlier-mentioned CBS report says the median San Jose studio apartment is $1,455 and the median two-bedroom apartment is $2,350.)
Part of the problem is that San Francisco itself has a very limited area for housing. Surrounded on three sides by water there’s only so much land to use. So if more housing is to be built it has to be in buildings that go upward – mid- to hi-rise. But the city has zoned most of the land to prohibit buildings taller than 40 feet! As a result most of the new housing is luxury housing for the wealthy that will bring the builder top dollar. One problem is landlords evicting lower-income apartment dwellers so they can turn the buildings into condominiums for higher-income people. According to a Reuters report, “evictions in the city jumped 25 percent to 1,716 in the year ended February 2013, according to a report by San Francisco’s budget and legislative analyst.”
The result of these high — and rapidly increasing – rents is social disruption. Well-paid Silicon Valley tech employees come to the city to live in hip neighborhoods, causing rents to skyrocket (never mind buying). People of more modest means are being pushed out, and they are not happy. People have been protesting what are called “Google buses.” These are plush, usually-white buses companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other tech companies provide for their own employees to get to work. Meanwhile these and similar companies are famous for dodging their taxes, leaving cities and regions with little ability to upgrade transportation infrastructure or address larger social problems.

#3 Boston
According to the same Census Bureau survey of 2010-2012 Boston’s median rent is $1,260 per month (CBS: Median studio apartment: $2,000, median two-bedroom apartment: $3,505.)
Boston’s “Long-time insider” Mark Pearlstein explains the market, saying, “Rents are at an all-time high, as are sales prices. And I’m starting to see greed by all the property owners who are really trying to push the rents even higher.”
Bobby Sisk reports at WBZ-TV, in Future Of Boston: Expensive Housing Market Puts Squeeze On Workers, that “For many families, finding an affordable place to live is a struggle, whether buying or renting.” People are “moving farther and farther outside the city because it’s getting too pricey.”

#4 Washington, D.C.
Washington, DC’s median rent is $1,236 (Census Bureau 2010-2012) — 40.7 percent of median household income.  (CBS: median studio apartment: $1,675, median two-bedroom apartment: $3,110.) It would take a wage of $28.25 an hour to support a modest 2-bedroom home in DC.

Rents are so high and have been rising so fast in DC that it has inspired a group ofcandidates to run on the “The Rent Is Too Darn High” slate for D.C. mayor and the Democratic State Committee. The reason this committee matters is that DC is fighting to become a state so they can be represented in Congress. Republicans just oppose giving DC statehood because a large percent of the population is black and votes Democratic, states get two senators and Republicans don’t want two more Democrats in the Senate. The idea is to get DC statehood into the national Democratic Party platform.
Petula Dvorak at the Washington Post explains in D.C.: A city divided and increasingly unaffordable,
“We never could’ve imagined, 20 years ago, that this would be an issue, that the city would be too expensive to live in,” said Sekou Biddle, a former D.C. Council member who ran on the Rent slate and won a seat as the at-large member of the Democratic State Committee.
Her column notes that DC has lost half of its affordable housing units in the past decade. “Meanwhile, all those fancy high-rises we see going up are increasingly unaffordable for the new folks moving in and making decent salaries.”

#5 New York.
It is so notoriously hard to find a place to rent in Manhattan that the joke goes, “I’m so sorry to hear about Mr. Collins. Does that mean his apartment is available?” And the frequently-heard 1%’er complaint is, “You Try to Live on 500K in This Town.”
But even for all of New York City — not just Manhattan – Census Bureau 2010-2012 puts the city at #5 with median rent at $1,187 and for a studio apartment: $2,300.

Like San Francisco there is little room in the New York area to build new housing, except up. And much of the new housing going up is targeted toward the luxury market that can afford to pay much higher prices. (See Ain’t Nothin’ Going On but the Rent: In NYC, $100 Million Apartments Are a Thing.) As a result rents are skyrocketing but New York City has rent control, allowing people to remain in their (rented) homes with reasonable rent increases. But as “market rate” rents increase dramatically landlords have been raising the stakes to get people to move out so they can charge more. There are reports of landlords destroying their own apartments in an effort to get tenants out. There is a bill before the NY state legislature making this kind of “rent sabotage” a crime.
According to a recent NY Times story, “New York’s new Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to expand the number of homes affordable to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers to ease the housing crunch. But tenant advocates say that, in order to make a dent, the mayor must also focus on the loss of affordable apartments.” “The mayor has also promised to set up a fund to help tenants, most of whom go to housing court without lawyers, fight landlord wrongdoing.” De Blasio has also pledged to create 200,000 new homes for low- to moderate-income New Yorkers within 10 years.
In America you’re all set if you have a lot of money. People with a lot of money (the 1%) “own” almost everything. They have “property rights.” The rest of us have to pay them to let us use the things they own, like a place to live. The payment for those things is called “rent.” We even have to rent the money to buy things – for example mortgages, car loans, credit cards, etc.
But all is not lost Detroit is having an art boom and the rent is low. The average two-bedroom rental in the Detroit/Ann Arbor/Flint area goes for $843. Flint, Michigan’s median house sellsfor a little over $40,000.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lake Erie Toxic Water Linked To Fermi Nuclear Plant

By Yoichi Shimatsu
Exclusive to Rense

City officials in Toledo, Ohio, have repealed their warning about drinking impure water from Lake Erie even though toxic concentrations are not significantly lower than in early August when a ban on tap water was imposed. That advice against consuming even boiled tap water came after the discovery of rising levels of poisonous compounds from a harmful type of algae blooming in the lake.

The about-face in public-health policy is the unfortunate outcome for a municipal government that cannot feasibly supply bottled water for daily use by 400,000 area residents. Declaring lake water to be safe, however, doesn’t make it any safer. Instead of facing up to the actual causes of declining water quality, Toledo officials can only hope the blue-green algae blooms will cease before voters start to keel over with kidney damage and liver cancer.

Lake Erie’s water is being contaminated by microcystin LR, a protein-based toxin released by a harmful strain of cyano-algae (cyano is Greek for the color blue and in this case unrelated to cyanide). The medical term for microcystin poisoning, which induces headaches, fatigue and renal damage, is the Caruaru syndrome, named after a Brazilian village where inhabitants died after drinking contaminated water. Toxic blooms can occur in tropical regions and semitropical south China but are rare in temperate climes.

Convergence of Interests

For many years, activists with the local Beyond Nuclear movement have complained that algae blooms on Lake Erie are caused by unnaturally high temperatures from releases of wastewater used to cool Reactor 2 at the Enrico Fermi nuclear plant.

Fermi’s 26-year-old Reactor 2 is a GE boiling water unit identical to two reactors that melted down at Fukushima. This year’s abnormally cold weather across the Midwest shows clearly that warm-water releases from the Fermi facility are the only possible cause of heating in the southern half of Lake Erie, as asserted by anti-nuclear activists..

Plant operator Detroit Edison, a subsidiary of DTE Corporation, claims the outflows from Fermi 2 are in compliance with environmental regulations on lake temperature. Any management admission of unreported hot-water releases could ruin chances of regulatory approval of a planned Reactor 3.

The Fermi facility is located in Monroe County, Michigan, between Detroit and Toledo, at the geographic center of the massive algae blooms along the western and southern shores of Lake Erie. Satellite photos from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) show the lake water outside the facility is clear, likely due to the fact that nothing grows in overheated wastewater. Toward the west and east the lake is deeply tinted aqua-green from algae.

Algae blooms with the consistency of split pea soup is caused by two factors: the warming of fresh water and introduction of dissolved phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizer residues out of the mouth of the Maumee (Miami) River in the Toledo area.

There is also contamination at the political level. The confluence of agriculture chemicals and nuclear wastewater is difficult to challenge because of converging interests of agribusiness and nuclear energy. Detroit Edison’s parent company DTE operates a political action committee (PAC) that donates to the election campaigns of Ohio and Michigan congressman, including House speaker John Boehner. The major promoter of genetically modified corn and soybeans, Cargill, has an even longer recipient list of Midwestern politicians. The smart money is not e armarked for water purity.

Resurgent Blooms

From the 1960s until the ‘80s, algae flourished in Lake Erie due to rising use of phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizer for soybeans and corn in the Maumee watershed in eastern Indiana, northern Ohio and southern Michigan. The expansion of agribusiness and the lucrative global trade in grain through the Chicago commodities exchange were the driving force for intensive farm output achieved by spreading chemical fertilizers.

In the interval between then and now, farming methods were radically altered to lessen the effect of farm chemicals on water quality, resulting in the disappearance of algae blooms for two decades. Untreated sewage dumping into Lake Erie was also drastically reduced, belatedly following the 1978 Clean Water Act.

In summer 2008, however, cyano-algae started to reappear, and then three years later a massive bloom blotted out the southern half of the lake shore. Blue-green algae are photosynthetic and add oxygen to the water, but after dying and rotting in huge quantities form a black sludge, creating oxygen-starved dead zones.

The resurgence in algae growth is baffling because agricultural use of phosphorus and nitrogen are lower than in during historical high levels of the past. Improved farming practices such as no-tillage and crop rotation have lowered fertilizer application, on many farms by a third. Concentration of chemical residuess is also prevented by the rapid flow of water through shallow Erie, which has the shortest water-retention period of any of the Great Lakes. It takes only two years for inflows from the Maumee to exit out the N iagara River, and then past the much-celebrated falls, into Lake Ontario.

Environmental scientists attribute recent algae blooms to two trends: sediment from heavy rainfall in spring 2011; and a higher ratio of dissolved reactive phosphorus easily absorbed by algae as compared with insoluble phosphates in fertilizer.

The Heat’s On

This year’s bloom provides insights into the role of heat and isotopes from nuclear power plants as stimulants for toxic algae growth. So far 2014 has been one of 10 coldest years in Midwestern history. Water temperatures in Lake Erie off Cleveland, northeast of Toledo, have been slow to snap out of an unseasonably cold spring, rising to only the Fahrenheit 50s in June and the 60s for most of July.

Algae, in contrast, require water temperatures of 70-90 degrees F before rapid cell division that multiplies their numbers.. This differential means that hot-water flows out of Fermi must be raising surface temperatures by 10 to 15 degrees F, a huge jump considering the lake’s vast volume.

Radiation Spurs Algae Growth

Blue-green algae are biologically complex for single-cell plants due to their photosynthetic capability, which uses sunlight for energy. Though microscopic, algae are tiny engines that produce complex molecules such as ethanol and fats that can be used to produced biofuel.

Their biochemical complexity makes algae susceptible to radiation, especially in their watery environment. As in the case of marine animals of the North Pacific now being decimated by Fukushima radiation, very low radioisotope concentrations in water can have a permanent effect on species mortality. Algae respond to threats much like microorganisms, by pushing cell division into overdrive. (In higher organisms, increased cell division is expressed as gigantism.)

Among the many types of uranium decay products that escape nuclear plants, one radionucleotide produced in nuclear power plants has an especial affinity for algae. Phosphorus-32 is extracted from nuclear reactors for biological research into tracing the rate of uptake of phosphorus in the vascular system of plants.

Phosphorus-32, a beta-ray emitter, could have a role in triggering the formation of algae blooms in Lake Erie by promoting mutation of their defense mechanisms. Radiation with P-32 and other uranium products could be favoring sub-species that produce mycrocystin LR over harmless types of algae, thereby increasing the amount of toxin in Lake Erie.

Threat Fermi

Enrico Fermi nuclear plant, named after the Italian-Jewish physicist who designed the world’s first nuclear reactor known as Chicago Pile-1 and worked on the Manhattan Project, has a history of serious technical breakdowns. Fermi 1 was an early-model fast-breeder reactor, which had to decommissioned due to frequent technical failures before it could ever produce power on a commercial basis. Fermi-2, a GE Mark 1 unit, suffered a major turbine failure on Christmas Day 1993, which required lake water to be pumped into the hot w ell.

In June 2010, a tornado on Lake Erie made a direct hit on the Fermi-2 reactor, resulting in the downing of transmission lines and a power blackout for 30,000 homes. While Detroit Energy reported no damage to the reactor itself, the following year’s massive algae bloom could well have been a consequence of emergency water pumping into and out of the reactor building. Fermi-2 was again temporarily shut down in June 2012, that time by failures in the steam condenser system, a situation similar to the “corrosion” (c over word for cracks) in pipes that forced last year’s closure of Southern California Edison’s San Onfre plant.

If, indeed radioactive isotopes were released into Lake Erie, the consequences for human health and the ecosystem could already be farther-ranging than heat-caused algae blooms and biotoxins in drinking water. Already, cancer rates around Erie are higher than the national average. Citizen-based radiation monitoring is much needed for an accurate threat assessment.

Japanese earthquake
Erie provides water to Cleveland and Buffalo, New York, in addition to Toledo and Detroit, meaning a nuclear accident would devastate America’s breadbasket and industrial heartland. Contamination could also reach the Lake Ontario cities of Toronto, Canada, and Rochester, New York, and even flow to Montreal. Enrico Fermi nuclear plant has been described by Midwestern anti-nuke activists as “Fukushima on Lake Erie.” As a researcher who works inside Japan’s nuclear exclusion zone, all I can say is: One Fukushima is one too many.

Yoichi Shimatsu, a Thailand-based science writer who conducts field research inside the Fukushima exclusion zone, was the founder of one of the first modern organic farms in the American Midwest and worked extensively in Indiana agriculture.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Iraq’s Turmoil CreatesRefugee's, /Central America's children? Send them home!!

Iraq’s Turmoil ~~~~  America’s Response to Child Refugees

Refugees?..From Iraq?..Why not do with them as the TParty wants to do with the Central Americans children on out borders..ship them home..no matter the violence..Not In My backyard!!

During a press conference Saturday, President Obama maintained that he would not send combat troops into Iraq, but called on countries to help refugees on the run from the Sunni Al-Qaeda offshoot Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As the crisis worsens in Iraq, internal displacement is becoming a more and more serious problem, while neighboring countries are also facing questions of what to do with those seeking refuge over the border.

Just this week alone, the rapid advance of ISIL forces in several cities of Iraq has forced the internal displacement of about 195,000 refugees, including adherents of the religious Yazidi sect, Palestinians, and Turkmen living in Iraq — a move that has sent neighboring countries and international agencies scrambling to accommodate the refugee crisis within Iraq.
“We feel confident that we can prevent ISIL from going up a mountain and slaughtering the people who are there,” Obama said, referring to the Yazidis, the most recent refugees caught up in ISIL’s wrath. “But the next step will be complicated logistically. How do we give safe passage for people coming down from the mountain and where can we relocate them so that they are safe. That is what we have to do internationally.”
To meet the need of refugees, this week, Turkish officials began building up a camp to house 20,000 ethnic Turkmen in Iraq’s Dahuk province (about 50 miles north of Mosul). A Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) official confirmed that while the camp was predominantly set up for the Turkmen minority, it would remain open to other nationalities fleeing violence. The AFAD official told Reuters, “There is no preparation right now for building a camp or camps inside Turkey for those coming from Iraq. There is no such need. There is no refugee exodus from Iraq, as was the case in Syria.”
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this week that it would increase aid for the 1.5 million refugees, noting that the stability of the Iraqi northern Kurdish province was “very important” since the region acts as a buffer zone for his country. Although Turkey sent thousands of tents and 200 trucks to Iraq, the country is also taking in some of these refugees. The Chicago Tribune noted that 150 Yazidis were placed in state-run facilities along Turkey’s Sirnak province and the city of Batman. Still, Turkey is already overwhelmed by about one million Syrian refugees — about 300,000 of whom live in state-run camps, and the half-million Iraqis displaced after the First Gulf War.
Overall, nearly 200,000 internally displaced people have fled away from major cities, like Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city captured by ISIL this week, with the greatest concentration of people fleeing towards the northern provinces of Dahuk, Erbil, and Kirkuk, and Sulaymaniyah, near Turkey. Between January and July, there were at least 1.2 million displaced refugees within Iraq. And in June, the United Nations upgraded Iraq’s crisis to a level 3 humanitarian disaster — the most severe rating it has.
In its attempt to establish an Islamic caliphate stretching from Syria to Iraq, ISIL has targeted, forcibly converted, or killed Iraqi minority religious groups including the Yazidis, Christians, Shi’a Muslims, and ethnic minorities like the Shabak and Turkmen. At least 40,000 Yazidi adherents have taken to the Sinjar Mountains, and reports indicate thousands of Christians fled Mosul (the second largest city in Iraq) after ISIL took over the city in June.

America’s Response to Child Refugees

The media’s characterization of what’s going on at our southern border as a “crisis,” politicians pointing fingers at one another and Washington’s refusal to provide the resources necessary to care for a small wave of refugees — not to mention the bipartisan push to send them back home — is just as shameful when one considers the context.

America’s Response to Child Refugees on the Border is Downright Shameful

In this Wednesday July 9, 2014 photo, Iraqi refugee children from Mosul stay at a temporary camp for refugees who fled from Mosul and other towns outside Irbil, northern Iraq, nearly a month after Islamic militants took over the country's second largest city. (AP Photo)
In this July 9, 2014 photo, Iraqi refugee children from Mosul stay at a temporary camp for refugees who fled from Mosul and other towns outside Irbil, northern Iraq, nearly a month after Islamic militants took over the country's second largest city. (AP Photo)
Those seething with so much rage and xenophobia that they’d hurl ugly epithets in the faces of children fleeing bloody violence in Central America bring shame to the whole nation. But the response of mainstream America hasn’t been much better.
The media’s characterization of what’s going on at our southern border as a “crisis,” politicians pointing fingers at one another and Washington’s refusal to provide the resources necessary to care for a small wave of refugees — not to mention the bipartisan push to send them back home — is just as shameful when one considers the context.
In June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that in 2013, the global population of refugees from war and persecution hit 51.2 million — exceeding 50 million for the first time since World War II.
Half of them were children.
The vast majority were “internally displaced persons,” homeless people within their home countries. Many live in fetid refugee camps run by underfunded NGOs, where they face continuing privation and abuse.
There are over ten million refugees in Africa, and five million in Asia. More than six million people have been displaced for years, and in some cases decades. The UN estimates that 6.3 million people have been displaced in Syria alone.
The US has had a hand in this global crisis. According to the UNHCR, Afghanistan accounts for the world’s largest population of refugees; in Iraq, many of the two million people who fled the country after the US-led invasion in 2003 are now returning, despite the fact that many of its 1.7 million internally displaced citizens remain homeless, and more than one million new refugees have fled ISIS, or The Islamic State. Iraq has also absorbed about one million refugees from Syria.
Many countries with nowhere near the wealth or infrastructure of the United States have kept their borders open on humanitarian grounds, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The BBC reported in June that “the UN is concerned that the burden of caring for refugees is increasingly falling on the countries with the least resources. Developing countries are host to 86% of the world’s refugees, with wealthy countries caring for just 14%.”
This immense global tragedy rarely even makes the evening news here. But step back and contrast those grisly statistics with what Americans are casually referring to as a “crisis.”
Of the world’s almost 12 million international refugees (and people living in what the UNHCR calls “refugee-like situations”), less than 400,000  – or three percent — are in Latin America.
Refugees by continent, 2007-2011. (Source: World Bank calculations based on UNHRC data.)
In recent years, 20,000 to 40,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended at our Southern border, and nobody paid much attention. This year, that number is projected to exceed 60,000 — an estimated 36 percent of whom have a parent in this country —  and that uptick is causing a national freakout.
It’s anything but a crisis. The US is not only one of the world’s wealthiest countries, we also have one of the lowest population densities in the developed world.
To the degree that there is a crisis on the Southern border, it’s one of our own making: Border Patrol has been overwhelmed by the spike in detainees, especially children, and Congress refuses to devote the modest resources required to care for them in a dignified way. (As economist Dean Baker pointed out, Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to address the spike in refugees — most of which would be spent sending them back to a bloodbath rather than caring for them — represents just one-tenth of 1 percent of the federal budget.)
This is not our finest hour.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bush Family Fortunes, and Iraq Oil Regime by Greg Palast

Published on Mar 30, 2013
Like most lefty journalists, I assumed that George Bush and Tony Blair invaded Iraq to buy up its oil fields, cheap and at gun-point, and cart off the oil. We thought we knew the neo-cons true casus belli: Blood for oil.
But the truth in the confidential Options for Iraqi Oil Industry was worse than "Blood for Oil". Much, much worse.

The key was in the flow chart on page 15, Iraq Oil Regime Timeline & Scenario Analysis:
"...A single state-owned company ...enhances a government's relationship with OPEC."
Let me explain why these words rocked my casbah.

I'd already had in my hands a 101-page document, another State Department secret scheme, first uncovered by Wall Street Journal reporter Neil King, that called for the privatisation, the complete sell-off of every single government-owned asset and industry. And in case anyone missed the point, the sales would include every derrick, pipe and barrel of oil, or, as the document put it, "especially the oil".

That plan was created by a gaggle of corporate lobbyists and neo-cons working for the Heritage Foundation. In 2004, the plan's authenticity was confirmed by Washington power player Grover Norquist. (It's hard to erase the ill memory of Grover excitedly waving around his soft little hands as he boasted about turning Iraq into a free-market Disneyland, recreating Chile in Mesopotamia, complete with the Pinochet-style dictatorship necessary to lock up the assets -- while behind Norquist, Richard Nixon snarled at me from a gargantuan portrait.)

The neo-con idea was to break up and sell off Iraq's oil fields, ramp up production, flood the world oil market -- and thereby smash OPEC and with it, the political dominance of Saudi Arabia.
General Jay Garner also confirmed the plan to grab the oil. Indeed, Garner told me that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld fired him, when the General, who had lived in Iraq, complained the neo-con grab would set off a civil war. It did. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld replaced Garner with a new American viceroy, Paul Bremer, a partner in Henry Kissinger's firm, to complete the corporate takeover of Iraq's assets -- "especially the oil".

But that was not to be. While Bremer oversaw the wall-to-wall transfer of Iraqi industries to foreign corporations, he was stopped cold at the edge of the oil fields.
How? I knew there was only one man who could swat away the entire neo-con army: James Baker, former Secretary of State, Bush family consiglieri and most important, counsel to Exxon-Mobil Corporation and the House of Saud.

(One unwitting source was industry oil-trading maven Edward Morse of Lehman/Credit Suisse, who threatened to sue Harper's Magazine for my quoting him. Morse denied I ever spoke with him. But when I played the tape from my hidden recorder, his memory cleared and he scampered away.)
Weirdly, I was uncovering that the US oil industry was using its full political mojo to prevent their being handed ownership of Iraq's oil fields. That's right: The oil companies did NOT want to own the oil fields -- and they sure as hell did not want the oil. Just the opposite. They wanted to make sure there would be a limit on the amount of oil that would come out of Iraq.

The problem with Saddam was not the threat that he'd stop the flow of oil -- he was trying to sell more. The price of oil had been boosted 300 percent by sanctions and an embargo cutting Iraq's sales to two million barrels a day from four. With Saddam gone, the only way to keep the damn oil in the ground was to leave it locked up inside the busted state oil company which would remain under OPEC (i.e. Saudi) quotas.

The James Baker Institute quickly and secretly started in on drafting the 323-page plan for the State Department. In May 2003, with authority granted from the top (i.e. Dick Cheney), ex-Shell Oil USA CEO Phil Carroll was rushed to Baghdad to take charge of Iraq's oil. He told Bremer, "There will be no privatisation of oil -- END OF STATEMENT." Carroll then passed off control of Iraq's oil to Bob McKee of Halliburton, Cheney's old oil-services company, who implemented the Baker "enhance OPEC" option anchored in state ownership. Some oil could be released, mainly to China, through limited, but lucrative, "production sharing agreements".

And that's how George Bush won the war in Iraq. The invasion was not about "blood for oil", but something far more sinister: blood for no oil. War to keep supply tight and send prices skyward. Oil men, whether James Baker or George Bush or Dick Cheney, are not in the business of producing oil. They are in the business of producing profits.

And they've succeeded. Iraq, capable of producing six to 12 million barrels of oil a day, still exports well under its old OPEC quota of three million barrels.
The result: As we mark the tenth anniversary of the invasion this month, we also mark the fifth year of crude at $100 a barrel

Truly Creepy Details about Congressman Massa, Argentina and Billionaire Vulture Paul Singer

Getting into Massa's Drawers:
Truly Creepy Details
about the Congressman

Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Exclusive for Buzzflash.com
by Greg Palast
For the two weeks before tickle-and-grope charges busted open on him, and before his resignation from Congress, our BBC Television investigations team was hunting for Representative Eric Massa.
We wanted to know what he had hidden in his drawers. Not his knickers, which have captivated America's peep-show media, but Massa's file drawers where he keeps his dirtier secrets.
Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass about Massa's creepy little peccadilloes. But I care an awful lot about creeps that quietly backed him.
Massa plays himself as a two-fisted Progressive Democrat, telling the President to jam his fake health care bill where the Rahm don't shine, and he gave the Iraq war his middle finger. I mean, the guy was on Rachel Maddow.

That's the television Massa. But what about the Congressman Massa? And why was he ducking us?
I specifically wanted to ask the New York Congressman about Paul Singer: "Swift Boat" Singer, the guy who funded the vile attacks on Presidential Candidate John Kerry. "Swift Boat" Singer — reportedly the biggest funder of the Republican Party in New York. Our information was that the demi-billionaire Singer was backing Massa.

Singer's nickname isn't really Swift Boat. It's "The Vulture."
Singer is a speculator, the predator-in-chief of the flock of financiers, collectively known as "vultures," who buy up the right to collect on old loans made to the world's poorest nations. Vultures use law suits, political muscle, and in some cases, bribery, to get nations like Congo and Liberia to pay these hedge funds up to 100 times what the vulture originally paid for the debt.
As you can imagine, vultures don't have lots of friends; and those they have they must purchase.
The vultures had been looking for some morally challenged congressperson to front a bill to help them crank billions from the budgets of Third World nations. The law that could make demi-billionaire Singer a billionaire is called, "The Judgment Evading Foreign States Accountability Act" (H.R. 2493).
In effect, the bill says that if Argentina (and other Third World nations) don't pay Mr. Singer and his vulture buddies the billions they demand, then the US government will act as Singer's enforcement arm, hanging out Argentina to dry, cutting off trade between our countries.
Now, as Mr. Singer became Mr. Checkbook to the Republican Party in New York, you'd assume that his make-me-richer bill would be sponsored by some right-wing GOP troglodyte. Wrong: the rent-boy, the chief sponsor of Singer's bill, was, to our amazement, the "liberal" Democrat Eric Massa.

Two sources tell us that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not amused at Massa's weirdo attack on the financial lifeblood of US allies, nor does the White House favor a law which would provoke seizures of US assets abroad.
Our information was that Massa, crazy-desperate for campaign cash, was now getting juice from Singer and other vultures. I wanted to ask the Republican-turned-Democrat about his funding and about how he ended up in a political tryst with vultures.

The normally television-hungry Congressman refused our every attempt to get him on camera. And Singer's PR flack told me his own boss would speak to me "never, ever."
But we do know the cover story. Massa's bill was promoted by a benign-sounding group called, "The American Task Force Argentina." The ATFA website says their goal is, "Pursuing a Fair Reconciliation of the Argentine Debt Default."
There are some very progressive folk on ATFA's payroll. Its masthead lists "Ambassador Nancy Soderberg." Nancy's not actually an ambassador, but she did hold that title a decade ago under Bill Clinton, and she even worked for Ted Kennedy. The other co-Chair is listed as "The Honorable Dr. Robert J. Shapiro." Shapiro's no longer an "Honorable," but, back in the day, he held that title under Clinton as Undersecretary of Commerce. Now he's a lobbyist.

Liberian under vulture attack
These good liberals charge mucho bucks per hour for their influence. Who picked up the tab? Well, there was FH International and Montreux Capital, vulture funds that tormented West Africa's poorest nation, Liberia.
Those are the vulture funds that, when I came to question them in their New York offices last month, unbolted their name plaque from the building wall and locked their employees inside to hide from our camera crew.
Also behind ATFA: Elliot Associates -- Paul Singer, proprietor.
I wanted to ask Bob Shapiro what he and these other good Democrats were doing with vulture feathers in their wallets. (The Honorable Bob leaped at the chance to appear on BBC TV ... until he was told that the reporter would be Greg Palast. Instantly, Dr. Shapiro became unavailable.)
I'm sure Shapiro would have told me that, unlike Republicans, you can't buy Democrats. True, but apparently, you can rent them.
So, that's the cover. A "liberal" group funded by a right-wing Republican fronting for those trying to shake down Argentina to pay on bogus "loans" that Singer and FH International bought for next to nothing,
If Bob Shapiro will front for predators for cash, that's his business. But if Massa took campaign loot in a quid pro quo for legislation, that's our business.
I don't know the answer. But Massa does. And he won't talk to me. Nor will he talk to the House Ethics Committee.
On March 5, Massa abruptly resigned from Congress - which put an immediate end to the Ethics investigation of his activities.

At first, he said he was quitting Congress because he has cancer. Then he said he resigned because a buck-naked Rahm Emanuel bullied him in the Congressional shower-room and then threatened him over his health care vote. (Foxhole wing-nut Glenn Beck fell for that canard.) Then Massa said he resigned because of an aide's accusation that the Congressman tickled the aide in an "inappropriate" manner. (The mainstream press swallowed that one whole.)
I don't believe any of it. (Senator David Vitter (R-LA), known as "Vitter The **itter," was caught getting diapered by the Washington Madame, and still remains in the Senate voting against what he calls Obama's "immoral" program.)

Would the real Eric Massa please step forward and tell us the real reason he's resigning? Eric, my door's open and my microphone's on.
I don't want to talk about your zipper. I do want to ask you about any connection between speculator money and your save-the-vultures bill.
Unfortunately, despite our many pleas, Mr. Massa, you won't speak to us on camera or off. Apparently the subject of your financier buddies is a little too ticklish.
Greg Palast's investigative reports for BBC Television on vulture funds can be viewed at http://www.GregPalast.com.
Palast will be speaking in Chicago, on Friday, April 9, at 6:30pm, at Columbia College Film Row Cinema in conversation with This is Hell radio host Chuck Mertz.

BuzzFlash highly recommends you watch Greg's "Palast Hunts the Vultures" BBC Report.
Subscribe to Palast's Newsletter and podcasts.
Follow Palast on Facebook and Twitter.
Support Palast's work by making a tax-deductible donation.
Print This Post Print This Post

Friday, July 25, 2014

House GOP poised to kill veterans-aid bill

These days, it’s awfully difficult for major legislation on high-profile issues to generate broad, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. The parties are usually too far apart to build consensus and strike deals.
But in mid-June, the Senate nevertheless came together to support a bipartisan veterans-aid package, written by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). There was some token opposition from the far-right, but they were easily outnumbered – the bill passed with a whopping 93 votes.

At the time, success seemed like a foregone conclusion. The VA scandal was literally front-page news and the demands for action were ubiquitous. When the Senate bill advanced on a 93-3 vote, many assumed the legislation would be on President Obama’s desk within a week.
That was six weeks ago. House Republicans now appear ready to kill the bill altogether.
Democrats and Republicans are struggling to agree on how to pay for legislation that could cost between $25 billion and $30 billion. That logjam is transforming the VA debate from one that united both parties to yet another fiscal fight, prompting the same type of partisan finger pointing that has become familiar after years of budget showdowns.
“They have walked away from it,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of House Republicans. “It’s unfortunate, because we had a strong bipartisan vote, and that doesn’t mean much to the House.”
The bill is currently in a conference committee – the process intended to reconcile competing bills from the House and Senate on the same subject. But in this case, the GOP-led House won’t compromise.
Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said yesterday House Republicans presented him with a “take-it-or-leave-it gambit,” effectively telling the upper chamber to accept the GOP plan or the entire effort would die.
Sanders has offered a series of concessions, all of which have been deemed inadequate by House Republicans.
Any chance House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) might step in and show some leadership on this?
Apparently not. Asked about the bill at a press conference yesterday, Boehner told reporters, “We’ve got a systemic failure of an entire department of our government. And I think understanding just how sick this patient is is critically important, before we start doing what Washington usually does, and that’s just throw money at the problem, throw money at the problem.”
This suggests the Speaker doesn’t understand the basics of the debate. The bipartisan veterans-aid package doesn’t “just throw money at the problem.” It expands VA health care access, tuition assistance, and job training to veterans – just as the House bill does.
The reason the bill is dying has nothing to do with understanding “just how sick” the VA is and everything to do with a disagreement about finances. The fact that Boehner doesn’t know this suggests the veterans-aid bill just isn’t a high priority for him.
To be sure, the fight isn’t necessarily over. As of yesterday, House Republicans weren’t budging and the talks appeared to be unraveling, but there’s still time for GOP lawmakers to change their minds and start negotiating in good faith.
But if that doesn’t occur, it will reinforce a few key fears. First, there’s an impression that congressional Republicans talk a good game when it comes to veterans, but when push comes to shove, they just don’t follow through. It’s happened before, and as of yesterday, it’s happening again.
And second, when former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in late May, many warned that the political world would simply move on, losing interest in the entire story, and giving Congress an excuse to fail. Those warnings look quite prescient now.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Public Domain

The British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Public Domain, Making Them Free to Reuse & Remix

brit library image
Earlier this week, Oxford’s Bodleian Library announced that it had digitized a 550 year old copy of the Gutenberg Bible along with a number of other ancient bibles, some of them quite beautiful. Not to be outdone, the British Library came out with its own announcement on Thursday:
We have released over a million images onto Flickr Commons for anyone to use, remix and repurpose. These images were taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books digitised by Microsoft who then generously gifted the scanned images to us, allowing us to release them back into the Public Domain. The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of.
The librarians behind the project freely admit that they don’t exactly have a great handle on the images in the collection. They know what books the images come from. (For example, the image above comes from Historia de las Indias de Nueva-España y islas de Tierra Firme, 1867.) But they don’t know much about the particulars of each visual. And so they’re turning to crowdsourcing for answers. In fairly short order, the Library plans to release tools that will let willing participants gather information and deepen our understanding of everything in the Flickr Commons collection.
You can jump into the entire collection here, or view a set of highlights here. The latter happens to include a curious image. (See below.) It’s from an 1894 book called The United States of America. A study of the American Commonwealth, its natural resources, people, industries, manufactures, commerce, and its work in literature, science, education and self-government. And the picture features, according to the text, a “Typical figure, showing tendency of student life–stooping head, flat chest, and emaciated limbs.” It’s hard to know what to say about that.
american student
via Boing Boing
Related Content:
The Rijksmuseum Puts 125,000 Dutch Masterpieces Online, and Lets You Remix Its Art
The Getty Puts 4600 Art Images Into the Public Domain (and There’s More to Come)
The Digital Public Library of America Launches Today, Opening Up Knowledge for All
Cornell Launches Archive of 150,000 Bird Calls and Animal Sounds, with Recordings Going Back to 1929