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Even After Gun Violence Occurs, the Government Often Fails Survivors

February 25, 2018 in Blogs

By Liz Posner, AlterNet

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A new investigation shows that victim's compensation funds aren't working very well.


The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week claimed 17 lives and resulted in 14 gunshot injuries. As a heightened national conversation around gun control unfolds, we should stay focused on ensuring that the injured students and faculty are adequately provided for. But as a new report by the Trace reveals, in addition to doing a lousy job of preventing gun violence, state governments are doing a poor job of caring for the victims of mass shootings when they occur.

Seven-hundred-and-fifty-thousand Americans were injured by gunfire in the past decade, and 430,000 survived. Surviving gun violence is expensive, and too many victims end up paying for the costs out of pocket. Dr. Robert Sege, who has studied the topic extensively, told NPR, “the direct medical costs that we found for the year 2009 alone was $148 million. But those are the hospital charges. In addition, each child had physician charges. They may have had x-rays. They may have had rehabilitation costs, and of course their parents had lost work.”

This is what happened to Jennifer Longdon, who was shot in her car one night in 2004 along with her husband while the two were leaving the martial-arts studio in Phoenix that he owned. Longdon was left paraplegic after a five-month hospital stay. Mother Jones writes that, “shortly after the shooting, her health insurance provider found a way to drop her coverage based on a preexisting condition. She would be hospitalized three more times in quick succession, twice for infections and once for a broken bone; all told, the bills would approach $1 million in the first year alone. Longdon was forced to file for personal bankruptcy—a stinging humiliation …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Fed's 'Unconventional' Monetary Policies Amount to a War on Saving

February 25, 2018 in Economics

By James A. Dorn

James A. Dorn

The Federal Reserve’s unconventional monetary policies, which
were launched in 2008 and designed to keep interest rates low for a
long time, have devastated the savings of conservative investors.
Yields on traditional savings accounts and money market funds have
been inching up since the Fed began raising its policy rate in late
2015, but real (inflation-adjusted) rates are still negative,
especially when taxes on interest income are factored in.

For seven long years (Dec. 16, 2008-Dec. 16, 2015), the Fed held
its policy rate, the so-called federal funds rate, within a target
range of zero to 0.25%. Savers lost billions of dollars in interest
income and pension funds took on more risk to meet their long-run
commitments. Those investments are now at risk as interest rates
rise and asset prices fall.

One popular money market fund, T. Rowe Price’s “Government Money
Fund” (formerly the “Prime Reserve Fund”) had an average annual
total return of 0.13% over the last 5 years and 0.30% over the last
10 years. Those ultralow nominal rates are in contrast to the
Fund’s 4.82% yield since its inception in January 1976. Nominal
rates increase when inflation is high, as it was in the late 1970s
and early 1980s. What matters to savers are real, after-tax rates.
With expected inflation of about 2%, a nominal interest rate of
less than 2% turns into a real rate of zero.

The Fed’s myopic
low-interest policy has fostered speculation, debt, and greater
inequality of income and wealth.

Bank of America currently pays 0.03% on its standard saving
account, 0.04% on its gold account, and 0.07% on its 1-year
certificate of deposit, all of which translate into negative real
rates. So you might as well spend your money now on consumption
goods — or try to get a much higher yield by going into risky
assets like stocks. And that is what investors have done for more
than nine years.

Stocks have done extremely well: Last year the Dow surged 25%,
but that surge is ending as investors realize rising fiscal
deficits and Fed tightening will push interest rates higher and
asset prices lower. Investors also recognize that there has been a
disconnect between the real economy and the stock market.

When the market goes up by 25% in one year, as it did in 2017,
but the economy grows by about 2.5%, it is reasonable to conclude
that asset prices are overvalued and financial markets must adjust
to that reality. In the past, the Fed has supported stock markets,
but eventually policymakers will have to “take the punch bowl away”
and let market forces determine market …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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America Needs to Get Back to the Basics in Foreign Policy

February 25, 2018 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

An especially pernicious idea regarding U.S. foreign policy was
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s assertion that the
United States was the world’s “indispensable
nation.” It would have been bad enough if that statement had
been a content-less expression of national narcissism. However,
that same arrogant assumption has been the guiding principle of
Washington’s foreign policy since the end of World War
II—and especially since the end of the Cold War. The belief
led to strategic overextension, as the United States embraced
security obligations, both explicit and implicit, around the
world.

Moreover, the problem of America’s strategic overextension
is getting worse, not better. During the Cold War, Washington
maintained a military presence in Western Europe and East Asia, and
pursued a policy of primacy in both regions. U.S. leaders also
adopted an activist, although lower-profile, role in the Middle
East. And, of course, the United States took repeated steps to
prevent attempted Soviet penetration of the Western Hemisphere.
There were also some relatively low-key geopolitical ventures in
Africa. Nevertheless, there was a sense of limits to dangerous,
high-profile missions the United States was willing to
undertake.

We need a new foreign
policy attuned to the realities of a multipolar world in the
twenty-first century.

Both the scope and intensity of Washington’s security
obligations and initiatives have expanded markedly since the end of
the Cold War. During the first decade of the post-Cold War era, the
United States pushed to transform NATO from a defensive alliance
confined to Western Europe and North America into a much larger,
offensive alliance. Washington lobbied to admit new members from
the defunct Soviet satellite empire in Eastern Europe, eventually
moving the alliance right up to Russia’s western border.
Given that expansion, Washington now has a treaty obligation to
defend twenty-seven NATO member countries, most of which have
minimal strategic value to America. With U.S. prodding, the
alliance embarked on “out-of-area” missions, meddling
in two civil wars in the Balkans (Bosnia and Kosovo) and
dispatching troops to Afghanistan.

The United States also greatly expanded its own military
presence and security obligations in the Middle East. The U.S.-led
Persian Gulf War to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait marked the start
of a substantially more activist role. Previously, Washington had
maintained a naval presence in Middle East waters, and occasionally
conducted short-term interventions—as in Lebanon in 1958 and
1982—but it did not try to micromanage the region’s
turbulent affairs on an ongoing basis. That changed after the Gulf
War, and escalated further with the invasion and occupation of
Iraq.

It now seems as though no region is beyond the scope of
Washington’s determination to pursue primacy. The fastest
growing military command is …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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WATCH: Conservative Writer Calls Out Trump Hypocrisy Toward 'Sexual Harassers and Abusers of Women'

February 25, 2018 in Blogs

By Kali Holloway, AlterNet

National Review's Mona Charen was escorted out by security guards.


It’s hard to pick a single highlight/lowlight from CPAC, the annual gathering of conservative American patriots which this year featured an Anglo-Hungarian neo-Nazi, a British anti-Semite and a French Islamophobe. There was one organizer’s admission that black Republicans are mostly useful tokens, Ted Cruz’s self-owning admission that the GOP is full of Homer Simpsons and a multimillionaire gun lobbyist’s complaints about “privileged…elites.” But maybe the most noteworthy moment was when speaker andNational Review writer Mona Charen was led out by security for mentioning Donald Trump’s sexual harassment, pointing out GOP hypocrisy and criticizing the event itself.

“I’m actually going to twist this around a bit and say that I’m disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women in our party who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women,” Charen said, during a panel discussion titled “#UsToo: Left Out by the Left.”

“And because he happens to have an 'R' after his name, we look the other way. We don’t complain. The Republican Party endorsed Roy Moore for the Senate in the state of Alabama even though he was a credibly accused child molester. You cannot claim that you stand for women and put up with that,” she continued.

A smattering of applause followed Charen’s remarks, along with a significant number of boos. In a video of the panel, audience members can be heard yelling “Not true!” and “It was a witch hunt!”

Vox reports that later in the panel, Charen also criticized event organizers for including Marion Maréchal-Le Pen on its list of speakers.

“I think the only reason she was here is because she’s named Le Pen,” Charen observed. “And the Le Pen name is a disgrace. Her grandfather is a racist and a Nazi. She claims that she stands for him. And the fact that CPAC invited her is a disgrace.”

Politico writer Tim Alberti later tweeted that Charen was “escorted outside by 3 security guards.” (Apparently, …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Trump Wants to Deny Struggling Americans Access to Healthy Farmers Market Food

February 25, 2018 in Blogs

By Stephen Gutwillig and Jaclyn Rivera-Krouse, AlterNet

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Getting to choose what you eat seemingly doesn’t apply to poor people.


It's time—literally—for an out-of-the-box approach to the Trump administration's plan to help feed our most vulnerable neighbors.

In last week’s presidential budget, the administration proposed replacing most Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits with a pre-selected box of mostly dry goods like peanut butter, pasta and cereal. They wanted to stop benefit recipients from choosing their own food, including redeeming their federal assistance at farmers’ markets such as those our organization manages across Los Angeles. That’s right, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts or whole grains—any semblance of a product that looks like it came from a farm—were excluded. Meanwhile, the plan was introduced with Orwellian descriptors like “access to a nutritious diet” and “100% U.S. grown and produced food.”

SNAP, formerly food stamps, provides very limited aid to more than 40 million Americans, primarily children, seniors and the disabled. SNAP recipients receive on average $1.40 in benefits per meal, wholly inadequate to address food insecurity among a wide swath of Americans. Nevertheless, the White House budget office seeks to slash SNAP by 30 percent over the next decade. The so-called Harvest Box was reportedly Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's contribution to that effort, touted as a poor people's Blue Apron that would buy American-produced canned goods and save taxpayers billions.

The bipartisan rejection of this scheme was swift, but the strategy behind it painfully transparent. The food box concept hadn't even been floated among congressional Republicans before it materialized fully formed in the president’s budget. Administration officials conceded it had merely been a ploy, a Trumpian distraction to lay the groundwork for massive cuts to federal food aid.

While this cynical grub box proposal is unlikely to advance, it’s worth unpacking the insidious implications that waft from it.

You'll …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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How Two Local Communities Are Fighting Back Against the Trauma of Global Climate Change

February 25, 2018 in Blogs

By Ruben Cantu, Ali Goodyear, AlterNet

We must build resilient communities before disaster strikes.


Communities around the globe are feeling the effects of climate change, from scorching heat waves and out-of-control wildfires to lengthy droughts, rising sea levels and hurricanes. But while we all share the same warming planet, the effects of climate change aren't experienced evenly across societies. Climate change poses a disproportionate threat to communities that already face multiple challenges, including economic disinvestment, higher rates of violence and exposure to other environmental hazards.

When individuals experience severe weather events, violence, displacement and other crises that prevent them from being able to meet their basic needs, they experience trauma, which can have significant and lasting impacts on health and wellbeing. Entire communities can experience trauma in much the same way. Exposure to adverse community experiences—such as violence, systemic racism, serial displacement and climate catastrophes—can result in high levels of trauma across the population and a breakdown of the very social networks that, under other circumstances, help communities survive and recover from traumatic experiences.

Community trauma and climate change converge in communities across the United States. On Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, the Hoh Indian Tribe has lost nearly one-third of their land due to rising sea levels. However, since the reservation is located in a federally designated, 100-year flood and tsunami risk zone, the tribe isn't eligible for federal assistance that would help the tribe relocate their homes and community to safer ground.

In New Orleans, post-Hurricane Katrina, public housing complexes that suffered minimal structural damage were closed and demolished, drastically reducing the supply of affordable housing in the city. These examples illustrate the need to protect communities in the first place, rather than simply responding to disasters after the fact.

Here’s what that can look like.

Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana: A narrow island that sits deep in the marshlands of southern Louisiana, the Isle de Jean Charles is home to the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Native American tribe. This island is the epicenter of cultural traditions and social connection for its residents. Once a place of tremendous physical beauty, biodiversity and cultural importance, these tribal lands are now …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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A New Alliance Is Defending Traditional Territories in the Amazon

February 25, 2018 in Blogs

By Laurel Sutherlin, AlterNet

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A riverside community fights to protect their traditional lands from outside forces.


One of the biggest challenges facing Indigenous and traditional communities fighting to defend their territories around the world is a lack of recognized maps and physical markers demarcating the boundaries of their rightful land. While no ironclad protection, the production of official maps and clear territorial markers that communities, governments, courts and extractive corporations can agree upon is one of the most important tools outside allies can help provide to curtail destructive encroachment of ancestral lands.

This is a story of direct support from afar facilitating successful efforts of a frontline community in Brazil’s Amazon to demarcate their own traditional lands under siege by outside forces.

Community members hand-painted dozens of plaques, which were then posted for miles along the boundary of their established traditional territory. (image: Ailén Vega)

Montanha-Mangabal is a riverside community made up of 101 families whose territory extends nearly 50 miles along the Tapajós River in the Brazilian Amazon. Originally descended from migrant rubber tappers, the river-dwellers of Montanha-Mangabal have occupied their current territory for eight generations—a total of 140 years. The families of the Montanha-Mangabal community depend on the Tapajós River and the surrounding rainforest as the basis for their subsistence livelihoods and this biologically rich, intact ecosystem, some of the best forest remaining in the region, is central to their identity as traditional occupants of this land.

In 2006, the community was recognized by the federal government as the first “traditional riverine” community in Brazil. This designation extends legal protections and territorial rights to communities with distinct forms of social organization, traditional knowledge and subsistence practices that occupy and rely upon a territory …read more

Source: ALTERNET