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Baltimore Burning: It's Not a Matter of Money. We Tried That

May 7, 2015 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

With the surety of night following day, the Baltimore riots have been followed by calls for more government spending to fight poverty in our distressed inner cities.

President Barack Obama says “massive investments in urban communities” could “make a difference right now.” Representative Elijah Cummings, who represents Maryland in Congress, says, “We have to invest in our cities and our children.” And House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, who also represents the state, says, “But we’re going to have to as a country invest if we’re going to have the kinds of communities we want.”

But the idea that we haven’t been “investing” in Baltimore is nonsense.

Federal and state money has been pouring into the city for decades. From fiscal years 2003 to 2013 (the last year for which these reports are available), Baltimore received at least $2.4 billion in federal assistance and another $1.8 billion in state aid. The city also received roughly $1.8 billion in federal stimulus money, of which more than $1.4 billion has been spent so far. And this doesn’t count the billions of dollars received directly by the people who live in Baltimore through various social welfare programs.

Yet nearly a quarter of the people in the city still live in poverty, 65 percent above the national level. We’ve clearly been throwing a lot of money at poverty in Baltimore without much result.

Part of the problem, unsurprisingly, is that the city does not make very good use of the money it receives.

We’ve clearly been throwing a lot of money at poverty in Baltimore without much result.”

In 2012, for example, Baltimore received $9.5 million in federal funds to deal with the city’s growing homeless problem. But according to an audit by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city did not properly monitor the homelessness funds, paid providers according to a preset formula rather than actual expenditures, lost track of money in several instances, and paid city staffers based on estimates, not the actual time they spent on grant activities.  

The city ended up having to repay nearly a third of the money. Not to worry, though: Baltimore expects to receive another $21.8 million in homelessness assistance this year.

Similarly, the city may end up having to repay a federal education grantdesigned to help the city’s poorest schools, after an audit by the Department of Education found that much …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Second Circuit Declares NSA’s Telephone Dragnet Unlawful

May 7, 2015 in Economics

In a ruling certain to profoundly shape the ongoing debate over surveillance reform in Congress, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that the National Security Agency’s indiscriminate collection of Americans’ telephone calling records exceeds the legal authority granted by the Patriot Act’s controversial section 215, which is set to expire at the end of this month. Comments Cato scholar Julian Sanchez, “While the court didn’t reach the crucial question of whether the program violates the Fourth Amendment, the ruling gives civil libertarians good reason to hope that a massive and egregious violation of every American’s privacy will finally come to an end.”

…read more

Source: CATO HEADLINES

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The Brussels Elite’s Bizarre Euro Fixation

May 7, 2015 in Economics

By Marian L. Tupy

Marian L. Tupy

“Grexit is not an option,” says the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. Meanwhile, in Greece, the national debt is approaching 180 percent of GDP, the estimated growth rate was recently slashed from 2.5 percent to 0.5 percent, tax revenue is collapsing, and each episode of debt repayment to international creditors is as suspenseful as a Hitchcock movie.

Some well-meaning economists continue to hope that remaining in the euro will eventually lead to supply-side reforms that will reinvigorate the Greek economy and replenish its treasury. Time, however, is not on the Greeks’ side. A growing number of observers, not to mention the markets, believe that Grexit (a Greek exit from the euro) is inevitable. Meanwhile, politicians in Brussels keep parroting the usual “No retreat. No surrender.” Instead of relying on sober analysis, they cling to the unity of the euro zone with a fervor more appropriate to religious dogma.

Having grown up in the 1980s in Czechoslovakia, I recall the importance of dogma. According to Marx and Lenin, Communism was the culmination of social evolution. As such, Communism was, by definition, a “perfect” state of human affairs, characterized by equality, social concord, material plenty, and peace. Serious deviation from the central principles of Communism was strictly verboten — no matter how repressive the state was or how empty the shops became.

The EU’s economic acolytes dismiss the heretical suggestion that imposing a common currency was a bad idea.”

There was a genuine fear on the part of the nomenklatura that any experimentation, such as economic liberalization, would bring the whole house of cards down. After all, if one part of the dogma, say central planning, was discarded, why not the leading role of the Communist party, or even (gasp!) the goal of a Communist society itself? Thus it was very important to deny economic and social problems or, if they could not be denied, minimize them. Propaganda, the apparatchiks gambled, would fill the gap between the supposed workers’ paradise and the dreary reality of everyday life.

I thought of life behind the Iron Curtain when I read the comments made by Jean-Claude Juncker earlier this week. Speaking at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, Juncker said that “Grexit is not an option… . If we were to accept, if Greece were to accept, if others were to accept that Greece could leave the area of solidarity and prosperity that …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Punched, Groped, Beer Thrown in My Face: Being a Woman at a Concert Can Be Terrifying

May 7, 2015 in Blogs

By Amy McCarthy, Salon

The unpredictable nature of live concerts can lead to very unsafe scenarios for female fans.


A few weeks ago, as I stood in line to buy beer at a Josh Abbott Band concert in Thackerville, Oklahoma, I noticed that a group of drunk frat boys had decided to cut in front of me. The beer line was exceedingly long, and there was no way that I was waiting even longer for this group of bros to slur their order at the bartender. As soon as a space opened, I quietly stepped back in front of them and waited to order my beer. As soon as I did, one of the guys in the group yelled, “Back of the line, you fat cunt!” before physically charging at me and threatening violence until a security guard broke up the kerfuffle and sent the offending bro back into the massive (and rowdy) crowd to calm down.

In the nearly 10 years that I have been attending and reviewing live music, I have been punched, groped and had beer thrown in my face. I have snuck out of shows early to escape the aggressive advances of a man who just wouldn’t take no for an answer. I have watched and intervened as men tried to take advantage of falling-down-drunk women who could barely keep their eyes open. I have seen artists make sexually inappropriate remarks about me and other women from the stage. Unfortunately, my experience as a woman in music is not unique.

To be female and a fan is to be in a pretty precarious position pretty much all of the time. Depending on the genre you enjoy, male fans who share your interests might call you a “poser,” or insinuate that you’re not as punk or metal or hip-hop (or aswhatever) as you claim to be. They will mansplain your favorite genre to you, even if you’re a scholar. Most important, though, the dangerous and unpredictable nature of concert culture means that it is often entirely unsafe to be a woman in a dark, crowded music venue.

Most women who frequently attend …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Inside the Clintons' Cozy Relationship With the Big Banks

May 7, 2015 in Blogs

By Nomi Prins, TomDispatch

Whatever her populist pitch may be in the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton has not publicly condemned Wall Street.


To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  here.

[This piece has been adapted and updated by Nomi Prins from chapters 18 and 19 of her book  All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Powerjust out in paperback (Nation Books).]

The past, especially the political past, doesn’t just provide clues to the present. In the realm of the presidency and Wall Street, it provides an ongoing pathway for political-financial relationships and policies that remain a threat to the American economy going forward.

When Hillary Clinton video-announced her bid for the Oval Office, she claimed she wanted to be a “champion” for the American people. Since then, she has attempted to recast herself as a populist and distance herself from some of the policies of her husband. But Bill Clinton did not become president without sharing the friendships, associations, and ideologies of the elite banking sect, nor will Hillary Clinton.  Such relationships run too deep and are too longstanding.

To grasp the dangers that the Big Six banks (JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) presently pose to the financial stability of our nation and the world, you need to understand their history in Washington, starting with the Clinton years of the 1990s. Alliances established then (not exclusively with Democrats, since bankers are bipartisan by nature) enabled these firms to become as politically powerful as they are today and to exert that power over an unprecedented amount of capital. Rest assured of one thing: their past and present CEOs will prove as critical in backing a Hillary Clinton presidency as they were in enabling her husband’s years in office. 

In return, today’s titans of finance and their hordes of lobbyists, more than half of whom held prior positions in the government, exact certain requirements from Washington. They need to know that a safety net or bailout will always be available in times of emergency …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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FBI Admits to Using High-Tech Spy Planes to Monitor Freddie Gray Protests

May 7, 2015 in Blogs

By Adam Johnson, AlterNet

FBI won't say whether Joint Terror Task Force was used.


Baltimore joins a growing list of cities where anti-police brutality protests have fallen under the purview of FBI’s surveillance apparatus. According to yesterday’s Baltimore Sun, federal authorities used their sophisticated fleet of spy aircraft to “watch over Baltimore in the wake of rioting”. FBI spokeswoman Amy Thoreson insisted the aircraft were used to help Baltimore Police “keep an eye out for criminal activity”:

“The aircraft were specifically used to assist in providing high-altitude observation of potential criminal activity to enable rapid response by police officers on the ground,” Thoreson said. “The FBI aircraft were not there to monitor lawfully protected first amendment activity.”

The admission was in response to amatuer sleuths noticing unsual flight activity about the Baltimore area. As the Washington Post reported on Tuesday:

Discovery of the flights — which involved at least two airplanes and the assistance of the FBI — has prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to demand answers about the legal authority for the operations and the reach of the technology used. Planes armed with the latest surveillance systems can monitor larger areas than police helicopters and stay overhead longer, raising novel civil liberties issues that have so far gotten little scrutiny from courts.

Civil libertarians have particular concern about surveillance technology that can quietly gather images across dozens of city blocks — in some cases even square miles at a time — inevitably capturing the movements of people under no suspicion of criminal activity into a government dragnet. The ACLU plans to file information requests with federal agencies on Wednesday, officials said.

The airplane’s surveillance technology, as Arstechnica points out, was perfected overseas in US wars Iraq and Afghanistan. It comes equipped with high-defintion day and night surveillance systems as well as Stingray or “dirtybox” cell phone interception capacity – devices that can target mobile phones and listen to phone conversations in real-time.

While the FBI is insisting that the planes were only used after the “riots” began – and third party accounts seem to back this up – it should be …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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McConnell's PATRIOT Act Plan

May 7, 2015 in Economics

By Patrick G. Eddington

Patrick G. Eddington

In a February 2013 Reuters op-ed, then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) criticized President Obama’s spending plans. “By eliminating waste and reforming government to make it leaner and more efficient,” he wrote, “we can remove roadblocks that hold back private-sector growth and job creation. Those same policies will also help lower spending, putting it on a more sustainable path.”

At the end of April 2015, now-Majority Leader McConnell put forward a proposal that would continue indefinitely a failed government program that has costs taxpayers billions.

A special-interest perk for a Kentucky-based business? No. I am speaking of some crucial provisions of the PATRIOT Act, which are set to expire in June unless Congress reauthorizes them.

Federal mass-surveillance programs represent just the latest in a long and dishonorable line of costly government boondoggles.”

As Politico reported this week, McConnell is pursuing a “pure extension” of the law. He is doing so despite the findings of a presidential review group 18 months ago that one expiring provision, the act’s Sec. 215 metadata program, was useless: “Our review suggests that the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of … telephony metadata was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.”

And storing all of that useless information — the overwhelming majority of it the communications of innocent Americans, collected in violation of the Constitution according to one federal district judge — has required the NSA to build one of the biggest data centers on the planet, at a cost of $1.7 billion, to hold it all.

Supporters of the surveillance status quo are clearly not concerned that this and similar programs also deemed worthless are budget-busting forms of “digital security theater.” They have, however, resorted to a shopworn but still popular tactic: fear-mongering mixed with historical revisionism.

McConnell’s key ally, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R., NC), told Politico that proposed reforms to NSA’s surveillance powers would make it so the intelligence community couldn’t “connect dots.” Of course, that formulation is a familiar one, appearing first in a 2002 USA Today storyon the emerging findings of the Congressional Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, which would go on to conclude that managerial and analytical failures, not a lack of information, is what hampered our ability to foil the 9/11 attacks.

That finding would be echoed and amplified by the 9/11 Commission …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Sorry, Right-Wing Bible-Thumpers: Americans Would Prefer a Gay Pres to an Evangelical One

May 7, 2015 in Blogs

By Kali Holloway, AlterNet

New poll is good news for the sane among us leading into the 2016 general election.


In a segment that, were we actually on TV, we might totally be tempted to call “Suck It, Bible-Thumping Right Wingers,” we offer the fact that more Americans now say they would feel comfortable with a presidential candidate who is gay or lesbian than one who is evangelical Christian. That’s right: In a newly released poll sponsored by NBC News and the definitely-not-liberal Wall Street Journal, 61 percent of respondents said they would be “enthusiastic” or “comfortable” with an LGBT presidential candidate. Just 52 percent of respondents said the same about an evangelical runner.

The poll, released a few days ago, listed a range of character traits of hypothetical presidential candidates, and asked respondents to describe their feelings as either “enthusiastic,” “comfortable,” “have some reservations,” “very comfortable” or “not sure.”

Lest you chalk up the answers to an overrepresentation of very young voters, consider that the majority of poll participants were age 30 and over (82 percent). A few more interesting notes:

Respondents were much more in favor of a gay or lesbian candidate than they were “a leader of the Tea Party movement.” A mere 33 percent of those polled were jazzed – that is, enthusiastic or even comfortable – about voting for one of those wackadoos.

And people were most “enthusiastic” (meaning, not just “comfortable,” but super stoked) about the prospect of a woman presidential candidate – at least, a full 30 percent were.

In any case, the study is chock full of attitudes on current candidates and how the parties and President are doing. To look it over in its entirety, visit click here.

 

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…read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Robert Reich: The Nightmarish Future for American Jobs and Incomes Is Here

May 7, 2015 in Blogs

By Robert Reich, RobertReich.org

Even knowlege-based jobs will disappear as wealth gets more concentrated at the top in the next ten years..


What will happen to American jobs, incomes, and wealth a decade from now?

Predictions are hazardous but survivable. In 1991, in my book The Work of Nations, I separated almost all work into three categories, and then predicted what would happen to each of them.

The first category I called “routine production services,” which entailed the kind of repetitive tasks performed by the old foot soldiers of American capitalism through most of the twentieth century — done over and over, on an assembly line or in an office.

I estimated that such work then constituted about one-quarter of all jobs in the United States, but would decline steadily as such jobs were replaced by new labor-saving technologies and by workers in developing nations eager to do them for far lower wages. I also assumed the pay of remaining routine production workers in America would drop, for similar reasons.

I was not far wrong.

The second category I called “in-person services.” This work had to be provided personally because the “human touch” was essential to it. It included retail sales workers, hotel and restaurant workers, nursing-home aides, realtors, childcare workers, home health-care aides, flight attendants, physical therapists, and security guards, among many others.

In 1990, by my estimate, such workers accounted for about 30 percent of all jobs in America, and I predicted their numbers would grow because — given that their services were delivered in person — neither advancing technologies nor foreign-based workers would be able to replace them.

I also predicted their pay would drop. They would be competing with a large number of former routine production workers, who could only find jobs in the “in-person” sector. They would also be competing with labor-saving machinery such as automated tellers, computerized cashiers, automatic car washes, robotized vending machines, and self-service gas pumps — as well as “personal computers linked to television screens” through which “tomorrow's consumers will be able to buy furniture, appliances, and all sorts of electronic toys from their living rooms — examining the merchandise from …read more

Source: ALTERNET