Monday, July 22, 2013

Exemption Gives Rich People Obscene Real Estate Tax Breaks

Exemption Gives Rich People Obscene Real Estate Tax Breaks
July 14, 2013

The requirements for New York's tax abatement program to entice developers to build new housing tightened in 2008, but rules tend to mean very little when money is involved. This weekend Times reports that recently passed state legislation exempted several luxury buildings under construction from certain requirements for the tax break, including One57 and 30 Park Place. The law gives property owners a 10-year pass on real estate taxes—so the buyer of the $115 million penthouse at One57 would have an annual bill of under $18,000, when they would typically owe $300,000.

The abatement law, known as the 421A program, is complicated and controversial. Created in the '70s to spur economic growth, it has since added affordable housing requirements and tighter restrictions, restrictions that developers apparently had no trouble skirting.

“The idea of the program was that tax subsidies can be an important tool to create residential housing and affordable housing that otherwise wouldn’t be built,” said Vicki Been, the faculty director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. “I don’t see how giving a tax break to a building like One57 helps either of those goals.”

As if to offer some warped concept of "balance," the article notes that these tax breaks could be offset by obscenely high hidden fees tacked on to the sale agreements (the proceeds of which go to the developers, not state or city coffers).

At 432 Park Avenue, which will be the tallest condo in the Northern Hemisphere when it opens in 2015, full-floor penthouses are priced between $72.5 million and $95 million and will be saddled with common charges of more than $17,000 a month.

On top of those costly common charges come fees like the mandatory membership in the building’s gym, known as The Club at 432 Park Avenue, which bases its charges on the size of the apartment, with larger units owing more. Then there is the $2,000 that owners are required to pay annually toward the building’s dining room, and the additional $1,200 in private dining services that owners are required to buy annually, whether or not they use the restaurant.

Pity the owners of the $72.5 million apartments who owe mandatory gym membership fees.

Who are the hostile cranks? These days, it's not the conspiracy theorists

Is this building falling or exploding?

New studies: ‘Conspiracy theorists’ sane; government dupes crazy, hostile
by Kevin Barrett
Veterans Today
July 14th, 2013

Recent studies by psychologists and social scientists in the US and UK suggest that contrary to mainstream media stereotypes, those labeled “conspiracy theorists” appear to be saner than those who accept the official versions of contested events.

The most recent study was published on July 8th by psychologists Michael J. Wood and Karen M. Douglas of the University of Kent (UK). Entitled “What about Building 7? A social psychological study of online discussion of 9/11 conspiracy theories,” the study compared “conspiracist” (pro-conspiracy theory) and “conventionalist” (anti-conspiracy) comments at news websites.

The authors were surprised to discover that it is now more conventional to leave so-called conspiracist comments than conventionalist ones: “Of the 2174 comments collected, 1459 were coded as conspiracist and 715 as conventionalist.” In other words, among people who comment on news articles, those who disbelieve government accounts of such events as 9/11 and the JFK assassination outnumber believers by more than two to one. That means it is the pro-conspiracy commenters who are expressing what is now the conventional wisdom, while the anti-conspiracy commenters are becoming a small, beleaguered minority.

Perhaps because their supposedly mainstream views no longer represent the majority, the anti-conspiracy commenters often displayed anger and hostility: “The research… showed that people who favoured the official account of 9/11 were generally more hostile when trying to persuade their rivals.”

Additionally, it turned out that the anti-conspiracy people were not only hostile, but fanatically attached to their own conspiracy theories as well. According to them, their own theory of 9/11 – a conspiracy theory holding that 19 Arabs, none of whom could fly planes with any proficiency, pulled off the crime of the century under the direction of a guy on dialysis in a cave in Afghanistan – was indisputably true. The so-called conspiracists, on the other hand, did not pretend to have a theory that completely explained the events of 9/11: “For people who think 9/11 was a government conspiracy, the focus is not on promoting a specific rival theory, but in trying to debunk the official account.”

In short, the new study by Wood and Douglas suggests that the negative stereotype of the conspiracy theorist – a hostile fanatic wedded to the truth of his own fringe theory – accurately describes the people who defend the official account of 9/11, not those who dispute it.

Additionally, the study found that so-called conspiracists discuss historical context (such as viewing the JFK assassination as a precedent for 9/11) more than anti-conspiracists. It also found that the so-called conspiracists to not like to be called “conspiracists” or “conspiracy theorists.”

Both of these findings are amplified in the new book Conspiracy Theory in America by political scientist Lance deHaven-Smith, published earlier this year by the University of Texas Press. Professor deHaven-Smith explains why people don’t like being called “conspiracy theorists”: The term was invented and put into wide circulation by the CIA to smear and defame people questioning the JFK assassination! “The CIA’s campaign to popularize the term ‘conspiracy theory’ and make conspiracy belief a target of ridicule and hostility must be credited, unfortunately, with being one of the most successful propaganda initiatives of all time.”

In other words, people who use the terms “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” as an insult are doing so as the result of a well-documented, undisputed, historically-real conspiracy by the CIA to cover up the JFK assassination. That campaign, by the way, was completely illegal, and the CIA officers involved were criminals; the CIA is barred from all domestic activities, yet routinely breaks the law to conduct domestic operations ranging from propaganda to assassinations.

DeHaven-Smith also explains why those who doubt official explanations of high crimes are eager to discuss historical context. He points out that a very large number of conspiracy claims have turned out to be true, and that there appear to be strong relationships between many as-yet-unsolved “state crimes against democracy.” An obvious example is the link between the JFK and RFK assassinations, which both paved the way for presidencies that continued the Vietnam War. According to DeHaven-Smith, we should always discuss the “Kennedy assassinations” in the plural, because the two killings appear to have been aspects of the same larger crime.

Psychologist Laurie Manwell of the University of Guelph agrees that the CIA-designed “conspiracy theory” label impedes cognitive function. She points out, in an article published in American Behavioral Scientist (2010), that anti-conspiracy people are unable to think clearly about such apparent state crimes against democracy as 9/11 due to their inability to process information that conflicts with pre-existing belief.

In the same issue of ABS, University of Buffalo professor Steven Hoffman adds that anti-conspiracy people are typically prey to strong “confirmation bias” – that is, they seek out information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs, while using irrational mechanisms (such as the “conspiracy theory” label) to avoid conflicting information.

The extreme irrationality of those who attack “conspiracy theories” has been ably exposed by Communications professors Ginna Husting and Martin Orr of Boise State University. In a 2007 peer-reviewed article entitled “Dangerous Machinery: ‘Conspiracy Theorist’ as a Transpersonal Strategy of Exclusion,” they wrote:

“If I call you a conspiracy theorist, it matters little whether you have actually claimed that a conspiracy exists or whether you have simply raised an issue that I would rather avoid… By labeling you, I strategically exclude you from the sphere where public speech, debate, and conflict occur.”

But now, thanks to the internet, people who doubt official stories are no longer excluded from public conversation; the CIA’s 44-year-old campaign to stifle debate using the “conspiracy theory” smear is nearly worn-out. In academic studies, as in comments on news articles, pro-conspiracy voices are now more numerous – and more rational – than anti-conspiracy ones.

No wonder the anti-conspiracy people are sounding more and more like a bunch of hostile, paranoid cranks.

Huawei Named Chinese Spy by Ex-CIA Head

Huawei Named Chinese Spy by Ex-CIA Head
By Peter Suciu
E-Commerce Times
Part of the ECT News Network

Chinese firms have been suspected before of spying for their home nation, but this time a prominent U.S. figure says he's aware of concrete evidence of Huawei's activities in that vein. "Almost every company in China is owned by the government one way or another," said analyst Alan Webber. "The line bleeds over between government and private company in China, and it is a huge gray area."

There is hard evidence that Chinese Huawei Technologies has spied for the Chinese government, former U.S. CIA and NSA head Michael Hayden asserted in a recent interview.

The company -- now the world's largest telecommunications equipment maker -- poses an unambiguous national security threat to both Australia and the United States, Hayden said in an interview with The Australian Financial Review.

The Chinese firm has shared extensive knowledge of foreign telecommunications systems, Hayden said. He did not, however, disclose in detail the nature of the evidence.

Hayden is currently principal at the Chertoff Group, a security consultancy, as well as a professor at George Mason University School of Public Policy. He did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

'Put Up or Shut Up'

Huawei was founded in 1988 by ex-military officer Ren Zhengfei as a private company. Today, as a multinational corporation, it has more than 140,000 employees with R&D facilities in China, the United States, Germany, Sweden and Russia.

The company has strongly denied the allegations that it has spied for Beijing.

"Huawei is a world-leading, proven and trusted ICT company,' said Huawei Global Cyber Security Officer John Suffolk in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times by company spokesperson Jannie Luong. "These tired, unsubstantiated defamatory remarks are sad distractions from real-world concerns related to espionage -- industrial and otherwise -- that demand serious discussion globally.

"Once again, we challenge the individuals and organizations that make these accusations to present the evidence publicly," Suffolk added. "If they will not publish them, they should be taken for what they are: a distraction. Huawei meets the communication needs of more than a third of the planet, and our customers have the right to know what these unsubstantiated concerns are."

It's time to "put up or shut up," he said.

The Chinese Connection

Huawei is not the only Chinese firm that has been at the center of allegations of spying for the Chinese government, however. In October of last year the United States House of Representatives' intelligence committee urged American firms to stop doing business with not just Huawei but also ZTE.

At the time, the committee warned that the Chinese government could use equipment supplied by these firms to spy on certain communications and even threaten vital systems.

In Australia, it wasn't just warnings; there, the government barred Huawei from involvement in building a national broadband network.

"Almost every company in China is owned by the government one way or another," Alan Webber, industry analyst and managing partner at the Altimeter Group, told the E-Commerce Times. "It also depends on what your definition of spying is.

"The line bleeds over between government and private company in China, and it is a huge gray area," added Webber, "but we need to ask: Would a U.S. company turn over information to the CIA or NSA? It is possible. Corporations have been used for cover for government agencies."

'Reason to Be Suspicious'

Given that Chinese firms have been at the center of past allegations, it's perhaps not all that surprising that Huawei is at the center of it again.

"There is certainly reason to be suspicious of Huawei, although the report earlier this year from Congress provided no smoking gun," said Jon Lindsay of the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation. "Australia and the UK have also taken action to restrict investment in the company.

"There may be more that's classified we don't know, but there is at least some legitimate circumstantial grounds for suspicion," Lindsay told the E-Commerce Times. "Denials are normal from China, even when the evidence is more convincing than in the case of Huawei."

That said, however, Huawei is a global company and must remain globally competitive, Lindsay pointed out.

"Moreover, it likely has incentives to limit the level of blatant interference that the Chinese government makes for the purpose of espionage," he noted -- "all the more so as the controversy increases."

Conflicts of Interest?

Also worth noting, meanwhile, is that Hayden is on the board of directors at Motorola Solutions, which produces radios, smart tags, barcode scanners and safety products.

In the past, Motorola Solutions and Huawei have been engaged in intellectual property disputes.

"This news is really undercut by Hayden's affiliation with Motorola," Jeffrey Silva, senior policy director for telecommunications, media and technology at Medley Global Advisors, told the E-Commerce Times. "This could give Huawei something to counter with. In this case, the perception has somewhat become a reality."

'The Market Imperatives'

Of course, spying has been part of diplomacy and international relations for years. Yet while the trade craft continues to evolve, so, too, do the players. An especially complicating factor these days is what happens when the corporate interests of large, multinational corporations aren't compatible with those of their home nations.

"Even if there is Chinese government tampering in Western supply chains through Huawei equipment, there are real limits to what could potentially be done," said Lindsay. "Huawei has to ensure that its equipment works reliably well almost all the time if it is to put its equipment into position where it can make money, let alone support Chinese collection.

"If you are a company in the business of mass-producing standardized commodity equipment, how are you supposed to target it against particular targets for espionage?" Lindsay concluded. "Market imperatives tend to really limit the potential for Huawei's involvement in meaningful espionage."


The New Yorker
JULY 22, 2013

TALLAHASSEE (The Borowitz Report)—Opponents of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law are attempting to mobilize support for a new law called Don’t Shoot Me for Absolutely No Reason.

The proposed law, which faces major opposition in the Florida legislature, would make it illegal for people in the state to shoot each other for no reason whatsoever.

“Under the provisions of Don’t Shoot Me for Absolutely No Reason, you will be required to have an actual reason for shooting someone,” said a spokesman for the measure, Harland Dorrinson. “This will be a first in Florida.”

The controversial bill has already drawn the ire of the National Rifle Association, which issued a statement today saying that requiring someone to have a reason to shoot another person would violate the Second Amendment.

“If you force someone to have a reason to shoot someone, soon you will be taking away his right to shoot that person altogether,” the N.R.A. said.

“We are not in principle against the idea of having a reason to shoot someone,” the N.R.A. continued. “But we believe you should be allowed to shoot the person first and have the reason second.”

Even if Don’t Shoot Me for Absolutely No Reason somehow passes in the legislature, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said today that he would veto it, telling reporters, “Making people in Florida have a reason to shoot each other would fundamentally change our way of life.”v

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bill Moyers: "Inequality is real, it's personal, it's expensive and it was created."

Bill Moyers:
"Inequality is real, it's personal, it's expensive and it was created. Today, 1% of Americans are taking home nearly 20% of the country's total income and own nearly 35% of the country's wealth. This didn't happen by accident. As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains, we allowed it to happen."

How Inequality Was Created
July 10, 2013
by Theresa Riley

Great new animated video from former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and the folks behind explaining how inequality was politically engineered.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dozens Injured in Northern Ireland as Protestants Riot Over Blocked Parade Route

Dozens Injured in Northern Ireland as Protestants Riot Over Blocked Parade Route
July 13, 2013

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Hundreds of police reinforcements from Britain were deployed Saturday on Belfast’s rubble-strewn streets after Protestant riots over a blocked march left 32 officers, a senior lawmaker and at least 8 rioters injured.

Northern Ireland’s police commander, Chief Constable Matt Baggott, blamed leaders of the Orange Order brotherhood for inciting running street battles in two parts of Belfast that lasted six hours and subsided early Saturday. He called the group’s leaders reckless and said they had had no plan for controlling the crowds they had summoned.

The fraternity’s annual July 12 marches always raise tensions with the Roman Catholic minority here. In each of the previous four years, violence has broken out after an Orange parade passed by the mainly Catholic district Ardoyne in north Belfast, the most bitterly divided part of the capital.

This year the British authorities ordered the marchers to avoid the stretch of road nearest Ardoyne, an order that the police enforced by blocking the parade route with seven armored vehicles. Orange leaders took that as a challenge and rallied thousands of supporters to the spot, where some attacked police vehicles and the lines of heavily armored officers behind them.

Chief Baggott said the Orange leaders behaved recklessly and should not duck responsibility for the mayhem.

“Having called thousands of people to protest, they had no plan and no control,” said Chief Baggott, an Englishman who has commanded the Police Service of Northern Ireland since 2009.

Orange leaders said the blockade decision was the problem, not the fury of their own members. But they backed off their original threat to mount indefinite street protests across Northern Ireland and ordered a suspension of protests early Saturday. The order’s leaders declined requests for interviews.

Nigel Dodds, north Belfast’s Protestant member of Parliament and an Orangeman himself, had gone to the riot’s front line to appeal for calm and was knocked unconscious by a brick that fell short of police lines. He was released from the hospital on Saturday.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service said it transported eight wounded civilians from the riots. But other rioters are likely to have stayed away from hospitals, because those admitted for riot-related injuries can be identified and arrested by the police.

Britain’s cabinet minister for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, said it was “vitally important for the Orange Order to make clear now that their protests have come to an end.”

“It would be disastrous if we were to see a recurrence of last night’s violence over the next few days,” she said.

The July 12 parades officially commemorate a 17th-century battlefield victory by the Protestants over Catholics. But in practical terms, the mass military-themed mobilizations — including 550 on Friday alone — provide a graphic annual test of whether Protestants still wield control in a land where the government and the police for decades were almost exclusively Protestant...

Friday, July 12, 2013

Texas Confiscating Tampons

TX Confiscating Tampons
Rep. Diane Russell
July 12, 2013

Ummm... yeah. You read that correctly.

Right now, women are flooding the Texas Statehouse to stand with Sen. Wendy Davis as she and her Democratic colleagues fight to protect a woman's right to choose for this afternoon's vote.

Before they get to the gallery, though, security is confiscating tampons and maxipads. You can bring in your gun - just not your tampons. (Filed under: You can't make this up!)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

We can't arrest our way out of the drug war

Smoking while black
by Anthony D. Romero
ACLU Action
July 11, 2013

Never stand on the corner by yourself-that's Alfredo Carrasquillo's first rule about life in the city. But it wasn't enough to avoid getting stopped by the police just for going about his daily life. And when the police found a five-dollar bag of marijuana on him, that meant three days in jail and a guilty plea.

As Alfredo put it, "I'm Black regardless. I can't escape it. And let's be honest. It's not just about smoking. It's also about race." Our new report on the War on Drugs backs him up: even though whites and blacks use marijuana at comparable rates, black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Part of the problem is that when police are seeking out or receiving federal drug war money, they report on arrest numbers, including marijuana arrests. This creates a powerful incentive for police to aggressively go after people like Alfredo with small amounts of marijuana-it's an easy way to get a lot of arrests. Our new report has already been featured in major media outlets including The New York Times, ABC News, and The Guardian-bringing attention to how billions of our tax dollars are funding this wasteful, racially biased numbers game. Now we need to capitalize on this moment so that we can put an end to this injustice.

Urge Attorney General Eric Holder not to reward police for making racially biased, wasteful arrests. Sign the petition to stop including marijuana possession arrests in the performance metrics for state and local police receiving federal money.
v Our report reveals some staggering numbers that confirm the failure of the War on Drugs: in just one year, over $3.6 billion in tax dollars were spent to enforce marijuana laws; in a decade, over 8 million people were arrested, without making us any safer.

In a recent speech, President Obama's drug czar aptly said, "we can't arrest our way out of the drug problem."