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marmar's Journal
marmar's Journal
December 31, 2014

How a Hedge Fund Made $100 Million From New Jersey’s Desperation

TRENTON, N.J. 2013 When state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff briefed lawmakers on New Jersey’s ailing budget in April, he brought good news. His office had just raised a welcome $92 million thanks to a deal that bailed out two bond issues headed for default.

New Jersey had no legal obligation to make good on the debts, which were backed by payments from a national settlement with the nation’s leading tobacco companies. But Sidamon-Eristoff said the bailout was a “no brainer” because it protected the state’s reputation with lenders and raised badly needed cash.

An examination of this transaction by ProPublica shows that the argument for the deal was far from clear cut. As it bailed out bond investors, New Jersey traded away an estimated $400 million in future tobacco revenues that would have flowed into state coffers starting in 2017.

One undeniable winner, however, was Claren Road Asset Management, a New York hedge fund that walked off with more than $100 million in profits from its investment in the debt, according to interviews with deal participants, an analysis of the bonds’ trading data and previously undisclosed public records. .................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/how_a_hedge_fund_made_100_million_from_new_jerseys_desperation_20141230

December 31, 2014

Robert W. McChesney: "Capitalism as We Know It Has Got to Go"

Robert W. McChesney: "Capitalism as We Know It Has Got to Go"

Tuesday, 30 December 2014 10:32
By Robert McChesney, Monthly Review Press | Book Excerpt

The following is the first chapter of Blowing the Roof Off, "America, I Do Mind Dying":

Please, mister foreman, slow down that assembly line
I don't mind working but I do mind dying.

—JOE L. CARTER, "Please, Mister Foreman," blues song, 1965

THESE ARE PERILOUS TIMES for capitalism, the reigning political economic system of the United States and the world. The economy is stagnating, and Mother Earth is gravely ill. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, we face widening economic inequality, plutocratic governance, endless militarism and mounting planetary ecological degradation.

Not many years ago, this would have sounded hyperbolic to many people. But today, it is not just radicals who are sounding alarm bells. Nobel Prize–winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been writing about secular stagnation in the past year in remarkably alarmist terms, arguing that the rich economies may be caught in decades of slow growth. No less an establishment figure than former World Bank Chief Economist and U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers warned the International Monetary Fund in 2013 that the United States and the advanced economies may be facing a generation of stagnation.(1)

Moreover, some of our leading social and natural scientists have recently established the magnitude of the difficulties we face with cutting-edge research. There is now wide agreement on what the influential French economist Thomas Piketty has demonstrated, which is that growing economic inequality is built into the core logic of the capitalist system.(2) His research also suggests that a new oligarchy of inherited wealth has come to dominate society and the state, and the process is accelerated by stagnation. According to Krugman, writing on Piketty's discoveries, "We're going to look back nostalgically on the early 21st century when you could still at least have the pretense that the wealthy actually earned their wealth. And, you know, by the year 2030, it'll all be inherited." Indeed, "we are seeing not only great disparities in income and wealth, but we're seeing them get entrenched. We're seeing them become inequalities that will be transferred across generations. We are becoming very much the kind of society we imagine we're nothing like.&quot 3)

In other acclaimed new empirical research, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page examined 1,800 policy decisions made by the U.S. government between 1981 and 2002:

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. . . . Ordinary citizens might often be observed to "win" (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.(4)

In short, when organized wealth wants one thing and the mass of the people wants another, money wins—always. "Democracy" has been reduced to powerless people rooting for their favored billionaire or corporate lobby to advance their values and interests, and hoping such a billionaire exists and that they get lucky. Doesn't that sound like the oligarchy that was explicitly rejected in this nation's founding in Philadelphia in 1776, and reaffirmed in Lincoln's speech at the bloodstained earth of Gettysburg some four score and seven years later? ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://truth-out.org/progressivepicks/item/28273-robert-w-mcchesney-capitalism-as-we-know-it-has-got-to-go

December 30, 2014

I don't think I hate anyone but.........

....... how I feel about Rudy Giuliani has got to be pretty close. To me, he is the most loathsome species of political opportunist -- one who plays on prejudices and fears.
I lived in New York during the time of the Abner Louima uproar so I've never been fond of Rudy. And everything that he's done since then - including his shameless 911 exploitation - has just confirmed that he's a soulless, utterly corrupt piece of mierda.
That's all.

December 30, 2014

Watch Macklemore Discuss Race In America: 'As A White Person, We Have To Listen'

Macklemore hasn't been in the headlines very much over the past six months. That's intentional according to the Grammy-winning rap star. "We vanished. Purposefully," he said to Ebro in the Morning hosts Ebro Darden and Peter Rosenberg during a recent interview with the Hot 97 radio hosts. The ensuing chat, which lasted for more than an hour, touched on a wealth of hot-button issues: Macklemore's Grammy win, his thoughts on being a white rapper, his massive success, Iggy Azalea and the recent nationwide marches organized to protest of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

"Eric Garner, Mike Brown. Very sad situations. Very, very sad situations. Situations that left so much frustration in me, watching these injustices happen again," Macklemore said. "It was one of those moments of 'How is this happening again right now?' If there's anything positive that has come out of their deaths -- if there's anything positive -- I believe it has brought attention to injustices that have been plaguing America since the jump. Racial profiling. Corrupt judicial system. Police brutality. These are things that now have attention. Now people are talking about these things. Which is great. People are mobilizing. I've been inspired by the mobilization."

As for his place in the movement, Macklemore acknowledged that it was a bit complicated in a lengthy answer about race relations in America and his standing as a white male rapper within the discussion:

For me, as a white dude -- as a white rapper -- I'm like, how do I participate in this conversation? How do I participate? How do I get involved on a level where I'm not coopting the movement or I'm not making it about me, but also realizing the platform I have and the reach that I have, and doing it in an authentic and genuine way. Racism is uncomfortable to talk about. White people, we can just turn off the TV when we're sick of talking about racism. We can be like, "Oops, I'm done." It does not work that way for everybody, but that's way we can do. White "liberal" people want to be nice. We don't want to mess up. We don't want to be racists. We want to be like, "We're post-racial and we have a black president and we don't need to talk about white privilege. It's all good, right?" It's not the case. I was talking to somebody the other day, and they said to me, "Silence is an action." It is my privilege that I can be silent about this issue. And I'm tired of being silent about it. I've been silent for a long time about it. Because I didn't want to mess up. I didn't want to say the wrong thing. I didn't want to offend anybody. But it is so imperative right now that we have this race conversation in America. If we're going to progress. If we're going to move past this. If we're going to work together -- truly work together -- we have to get past that awkward stage of the race conversation, step up and just have it. I don't where that starts, other than just speaking about it. You just have to start talking about it. As a white person, we have to listen. We need to listen, direct the attention to people of color on the ground mobilizing, listen to those people, and take some direction on how we can actually make this conversation happen.

Despite his comments, Macklemore hasn't remained completely silent on the deaths of Brown and Garner, at least in terms of his social media presence. "RIP Eric Garner and condolences to his family. We must start holding the police accountable for their actions," he wrote on Instagram earlier in December. "It's challenging to imagine how this could happen and be excused." .............................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/30/macklemore-race-in-america_n_6395286.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000024

December 30, 2014

Peace Activist Kathy Kelly Heads to Prison for Protesting U.S. Drone War

Peace activist Kathy Kelly is about to begin a three-month prison sentence for protesting the U.S. drone war at a military base in Missouri earlier this year. Kelly, along with another activist, was arrested after offering bread and an indictment against drone warfare. Kelly is the co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare.


December 30, 2014

If NYPD treats the mayor this bad in public, imagine what they do to black men when noone is looking

If the NYPD treats the mayor this bad in public, imagine what they do to black men when no one is looking

by David A. Love | December 30, 2014 at 7:39 AM

Let’s talk about the police, specifically the NYPD. New York’s finest have not been acting so fine in recent days, disrespecting Mayor Bill de Blasio and residents of the Big Apple in the process.

Now, if the police will openly defy and disrespect their boss and commander in public, can you imagine what they do to black men when the cameras are nowhere in sight?

One of the more conspicuous voices of defiance and disrespect emanating from the NYPD is Patrick Lynch, the leader of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. Following the December 20 execution of police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos by crazed gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley in Brooklyn, Lynch placed the blame for the murders on Mayor de Blasio. Lynch said “There’s blood on many hands tonight,” adding, “That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the Office of the Mayor.” The PBA head also talked of the NYPD becoming a “wartime police department,” as if he is planning a coup, and declaring war against the citizens of New York City, particularly its black residents.

The ultimate humiliation for the mayor came when hundreds of officers turned their backs on him while he spoke at the funeral of Officer Ramos. Meanwhile, the same police who have opposed the anti-police brutality demonstrations chose the funeral of a fallen cop to protest the mayor and call for his ouster, all while drinking in uniform. And on Monday, de Blasio was greeted with boos and jeers as he spoke at the police academy graduation ceremony.

What’s going on here? We must remember why a certain segment of the force is angry at Mayor de Blasio. He has supported the #BlackLivesMatter protests and spoken out on the need for reform in the police department, and made this one of his campaign themes. Moreover, as a father of a young black man, he did what any parent would do, which is instruct his son on how to conduct himself when in the presence of the police. ...................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://thegrio.com/2014/12/30/nypd-disrepect-mayor-de-blasio/

December 30, 2014

Peace Activist Kathy Kelly Heads to Prison for Protesting U.S. Drone War

Peace activist Kathy Kelly is about to begin a three-month prison sentence for protesting the U.S. drone war at a military base in Missouri earlier this year. Kelly, along with another activist, was arrested after offering bread and an indictment against drone warfare. Kelly is the co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare.


December 30, 2014

The Absurdist Theatre of the NYPD

The Absurdist Theatre of the NYPD

by Kasai Rex
December 29, 2014 at 14:15

By now, you’ve likely heard the story of how Ismaaiyl Brinsley—who once testified in a Georgia court that he suffered from mental illness—began the morning of December 20th. He entered his ex-girlfriend Shaneka Thompson’s apartment in Baltimore County using a key he wasn’t supposed to have, then shot and critically wounded her. A trip on a Bolt Bus and several chilling posts to Instagram later, Brinsley ambushed two NYPD officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, killing the men as they sat in their squad car eating lunch, before turning his weapon on himself.

Though similar threats have streamed into the NYPD—mostly from idiotic trolls outside the N.Y.C area—the general public tends to agree that this tragedy was detrimental to the cause for an end to out-of-control police tactics. (That a few might share the wrong-headed sentiment that murdering any officer is acceptable—or even some sort of victory for “the movement”—is a testament to the deep-seated pain caused by police overreach and violence.) Most have rightly disavowed the actions of Brinsley, casting him as a lone actor with a troubled mind.

Despite this common-sense stance, the department has been “on edge” in the wake of the deaths of Officers Ramos and Liu. (Were they not on edge before all this happened? If not, what kind of mood lead to the November 20th killing of unarmed Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn project stairwell by rookie cop Peter Liang; or the heavy-handed, militaristic response to protests earlier in December; or the laundry list of prior allegations of brutality and general wrongdoing by NYPD officers?)

Just three days ago, cops expressed their discontent by hiring a plane to fly above New York City, bearing a banner stating “De Blasio Our Backs Have Turned to You.” This wild stunt would foreshadow a throng of cops actually turning their backs on de Blasio at the funeral of Officer Ramos in a truly remarkable scene. The deaths of Ramos and Liu were undeniable tragedies. However—given de Blasio’s recent calls for the suspension of large-scale, peaceful protests of Eric Garner’s death-by-NYPD-chokehold (and the non-indictment of the officer responsible)—this display by those sworn to protect and serve careens into the realm of the absurd. ......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://magazine.good.is/articles/brinsley-nypd-turned-their-backs-on-us

December 29, 2014

Chris Hedges: The Prison State of America

from truthdig:

by Chris Hedges

Prisons employ and exploit the ideal worker. Prisoners do not receive benefits or pensions. They are not paid overtime. They are forbidden to organize and strike. They must show up on time. They are not paid for sick days or granted vacations. They cannot formally complain about working conditions or safety hazards. If they are disobedient, or attempt to protest their pitiful wages, they lose their jobs and can be sent to isolation cells. The roughly 1 million prisoners who work for corporations and government industries in the American prison system are models for what the corporate state expects us all to become. And corporations have no intention of permitting prison reforms that would reduce the size of their bonded workforce. In fact, they are seeking to replicate these conditions throughout the society.

States, in the name of austerity, have stopped providing prisoners with essential items including shoes, extra blankets and even toilet paper, while starting to charge them for electricity and room and board. Most prisoners and the families that struggle to support them are chronically short of money. Prisons are company towns. Scrip, rather than money, was once paid to coal miners, and it could be used only at the company store. Prisoners are in a similar condition. When they go broke—and being broke is a frequent occurrence in prison—prisoners must take out prison loans to pay for medications, legal and medical fees and basic commissary items such as soap and deodorant. Debt peonage inside prison is as prevalent as it is outside prison.

States impose an array of fees on prisoners. For example, there is a 10 percent charge imposed by New Jersey on every commissary purchase. Stamps have a 10 percent surcharge. Prisoners must pay the state for a 15-minute deathbed visit to an immediate family member or a 15-minute visit to a funeral home to view the deceased. New Jersey, like most other states, forces a prisoner to reimburse the system for overtime wages paid to the two guards who accompany him or her, plus mileage cost. The charge can be as high as $945.04. It can take years to pay off a visit with a dying father or mother.

Fines, often in the thousands of dollars, are assessed against many prisoners when they are sentenced. There are 22 fines that can be imposed in New Jersey, including the Violent Crime Compensation Assessment (VCCB), the Law Enforcement Officers Training & Equipment Fund (LEOT) and Extradition Costs (EXTRA). The state takes a percentage each month out of prison pay to pay down the fines, a process that can take decades. If a prisoner who is fined $10,000 at sentencing must rely solely on a prison salary he or she will owe about $4,000 after making payments for 25 years. Prisoners can leave prison in debt to the state. And if they cannot continue to make regular payments—difficult because of high unemployment—they are sent back to prison. High recidivism is part of the design. .........................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_prison_state_of_america_20141228

December 29, 2014

Juan Cole: GOP Figures used racist Ape imagery for Obama before North Korea did

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)–

North Korea lashed out at President Barack Obama on Saturday, blaming him for the Sony film, “The Interview,” and for the North Korean internet outage, adding “”Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds like a monkey in a tropical forest..” Given the long history of racist associations of African-Americans with animal primates, it seems indisputable that this metaphor was meant as a racist slur.

North Korea, however, was simply treading a path that was already well worn by some prominent American GOP voices.
Former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld said just last spring that “a trained ape” could do Obama’s job better than he does.
Glenn Beck said in 2010,

” “Special interest! What planet have I landed on? Did I slip through a wormhole in the middle of the night and this looks like America? It’s like the damn ‘Planet of the Apes.’ Nothing makes sense! The guy who’s helped destroy all these pensions, Andy Stern, is now on the financial oversight committee. Is this who we want to take advice from?

“The unions who have collapsed all of the businesses, who have collapsed all of their pensions, they are bankrupting everything they touch, and we go to them and we say, yes, tell me, what should we do? It’s like any marital tips from Tiger Woods.”

There isn’t very much doubt, especially given the further reference to Tiger Woods as a philanderer (with white women) that the Planet of the Apes crack was a piece of race-baiting.

In spring of 2011 a senior GOP official from Orange County, Ca., sent around by email with a picture attached of Obama as monkey. ......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.juancole.com/2014/12/figures-imagery-before.html

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