Saturday, May 31, 2014

Study: American Households Hit 43-Year Low In Net Worth

Study: American Households Hit 43-Year Low In Net Worth
November 30, 2012

WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – The median net worth of American households has dropped to a 43-year low as the lower and middle classes appear poorer and less stable than they have been since 1969.

According to a recent study by New York University economics professor Edward N. Wolff, median net worth is at the decades-low figure of $57,000 (in 2010 dollars). And as the numbers in his study reflect, the situation only appears worse when all the statistics are taken as a whole.

[Chart of changes between 1983 and 2010:]

According to Wolff, between 1983 and 2010, the percentage of households with less than $10,000 in assets (using constant 1995 dollars) rose from 29.7 percent to 37.1 percent. The “less than $10,000″ figure includes the numerous households that have no assets at all, or “negative assets,” which is otherwise known as “debt.”

Over that same period of time, the wealthiest 1 percent of American households increased their average wealth by 71 percent.

As noted by Daily Finance, from 1983 to 2010 the share of total wealth held by the richest 10 percent of American households increased from 68.2 percent to 76.7 percent. Meanwhile, all the rest of Americans lost financial ground.

An August Pew Research Center study found that many in the middle-class are divided on how they believe his gap widened.

Fully 85 percent of self-described middle-class adults say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle-class people to maintain their standard of living. Of those who feel this way, 62 percent say “a lot” of the blame lies with Congress, while 54 percent say the same about banks and financial institutions, 47 percent about large corporations, 44 percent about the Bush administration, 39 percent about foreign competition and 34 percent about the Obama administration.

Just 8 percent put “a lot” of blame on the middle class itself.

“This downbeat take on their economic situation comes at the end of a decade in which, for the first time since the end of World War II, mean family incomes declined for Americans in all income tiers,” the Pew Report stated. “But the middle-income tier—defined in this Pew Research analysis as all adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median —is the only one that also shrunk in size, a trend that has continued over the past four decades.”

Wolff’s focus on total wealth not only measures how much money a household brings in, but also the amount it accumulates. This latter number is very significant — economically secure households are generally more comfortable spending their disposable income, and are less likely to become a drag on the social safety net.

Stark Infographic of Too-Big-to-Fail Banks Represents 1% Consolidation in America
David Harris-Gershon (The Troubadour)
Daily Kos
Fri May 30, 2014

The four banks listed in the infographic below – CitiGroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo – have received nearly $93 billion in taxpayer funds ($92,849,517,353 to be exact) since the bailouts began in 2008.

While they make up a small percentage of the 940 bailout recipients which have, to date, received $611 billion dollars from American taxpayers, they represent a significant chunk of those funds. More importantly, their acquisition trajectories represent the consolidation of major banking institutions in America which have made them "too-big-to-fail," or so we've been told.

Click on the infographic above to enlarge.

The graphic above is not a statistical representation, as it does not display the relative sizes of those banks acquired, nor does it indicate which banks disappeared as a result of forced acquisitions. However, it does visually represent how banking institutions in this country are capable of not just dictating regulatory practices with their undeniable influence and size, but are able to get away with holding the country hostage after those criminal and unethical activities which brought our nation's economy to its knees and is serving to widen growing inequalities in America.

Regarding that latter point, income inequality is higher than its been since 1928, which is partly responsible for a crushing wealth gap in which the bottom 60 percent of Americans own only 3.5 percent of the country's wealth. We have a shrinking middle class with disappearing disposable incomes and an increasing number of Americans with no disposable incomes to speak of. Over 46 million Americans are below the poverty line, many of whom are employed but finding that "hard work is just not enough" anymore.

This is at a time in which behemoth financial institutions are getting larger, consolidating more and more wealth, and being not just financially protected by that consolidation – vacuuming up taxpayer funds from a drowning citizenry – but being legally protected as well.

In 2013, Eric Holder admitted that global financial institutions in the U.S. and abroad have become so large as to be above the law. This truth came into stark focus when the British bank HSBC, which does significant business in America, was neither shut down in the U.S. nor pursued with criminal charges after it admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels.

This and other criminal activities by those in the banking industry and on Wall Street prompted Elizabeth Warren to say two days ago:

A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail, but a big bank breaks the law ... and no one even gets arrested.

Yes, they are shielded from the law. However, they have also been responsible for writing (or underwriting) our regulatory and financial laws which have propped up banks such as BoA, which has illegally defrauded its customers, and whose subprime lender, Countrywide, engaged in widespread mortgage fraud with BoA's knowledge.

Which brings us back to the beginning. The richest in our country continue to consolidate and grow their wealth as an increasing number of Americans slide into poverty or out of the middle class. And the consolidation of financial institutions into behemoth entities don't just symbolize what is happening, they are organically at the root of the problem.

If America has truly become an oligarchy, then the infographic above could be considered one of its banners. It is a banner which will continue to wave, I fear, until we hit a breaking point.

Where that point is, I do not know, nor do I know what the popular response will be when it is reached. However, one thing is certain: our current course will not be able to sustain itself without this country falling apart.

Perhaps that's what it will take.


David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

David Koch frightened PBS into reneging on deal for movie "Citizen Koch"; an angry public then funded the film

The Documentary ‘Citizen Koch’ Regains Money
New York Times
August 12, 2013

One year ago, the filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal thought they had hit the public television jackpot. ITVS, an arm of public television that finances independent documentaries, had signaled interest in subsidizing and broadcasting a film about the influence of big-dollar donors on elections. At the time, Ms. Lessin and Mr. Deal were calling their documentary “Citizen Corp,” and they were expecting $150,000 from ITVS to help them finish producing it.

Then a few things happened. Last fall, the film was renamed “Citizen Koch,” a reference to Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, the billionaire industrialists who are major supporters of conservative causes. Around the same time, ITVS (through its “Independent Lens” series) gave the premiere of a film called “Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream,” which was critical of David Koch and other rich New Yorkers. That film caused heartburn at WNET, the powerhouse PBS station in New York, where Mr. Koch was a benefactor and board member. By April, a few months after “Citizen Koch” had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, the $150,000 expected from ITVS had evaporated.

Now the money is back, but from a new source. After ITVS told Ms. Lessin and Mr. Deal that it was not going to finance the film or consider it for “Independent Lens,” spurring accusations of self-censorship, the filmmakers set up a fund-raising drive on Kickstarter. Last week, that drive passed the $150,000 mark, more than twice the original goal, in effect replacing all the money that ITVS had rescinded. Kickstarter said the number of backers — 3,400 — put “Citizen Koch” in the top 1 percent of all the campaigns the Web site has hosted.

But the filmmakers still do not know how the documentary will be distributed, beyond the DVDs they have pledged to send their Kickstarter supporters. They have looked at streaming services like Netflix; there have been conversations about a theatrical release, too. But PBS stations (by virtue of their being beamed over the public airwaves) are among the preferred ways for documentaries to reach audiences, and the best route to the stations — through ITVS — appears blocked.

On Tuesday, a coalition of progressive groups, including New York’s liberal Working Families Party, said they would deliver a petition with more than 300,000 signatures to WNET’s offices, calling on PBS to show the film. PBS, for its part, says it is not involved; any decisions rest with ITVS, which has a board that selects films for “Independent Lens,” which is then carried by stations.

ITVS declined to answer questions about the film. The organization has not responded to a nine-page letter sent six weeks ago by a First Amendment lawyer retained by Ms. Lessin and Mr. Deal. That letter, unpublicized until now, called on the organization to investigate what happened with “Citizen Koch” and to institute reforms.

“Do you think ITVS will reverse itself?” Ms. Lessin said in an interview. “They haven’t given any indication they will.”

Mr. Deal said: “We’re holding out hope. Our door is open.”

In a statement last spring, ITVS characterized what happened as a mundane editorial choice: “ITVS began negotiations to fund the film ‘Citizen Corp’ based on a written proposal. Cuts of the film did not reflect the proposal, however, and ITVS ceased negotiations.”

The filmmakers say that is not true. The film, they assert, was always intended to focus on the 2012 Wisconsin recall election, in which the incumbent Republican governor, Scott Walker, was supported by the Kochs and other wealthy conservatives. “We didn’t insert them in the film — they inserted themselves into the film we were making,” Mr. Deal said.

The filmmakers meticulously documented — and, in May, shared with The New Yorker writer Jane Mayer — their back-and-forth with ITVS officials, which show that in December, weeks after the “Park Avenue” film (by the widely respected documentarian Alex Gibney) was televised, ITVS officials bristled at the addition of the Koch name in the title and demanded that it be changed. (One called the title “extraordinarily problematic,” they say.)

The WNET president, Neal Shapiro, meanwhile, was furious with ITVS for not giving him notice about the content of “Park Avenue” — so much so that, according to The New Yorker, he “threatened not to carry its films in the future.”

There is no straight line from Mr. Koch to ITVS’s change toward “Citizen Koch;” the PBS ombudsman Michael Getler said flatly in May that “there is no evidence that David Koch interfered with or tried to censor these films.” That same month, Mr. Koch resigned from the board of WNET; when asked why on Monday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Koch did not respond to a request for comment.

But “Citizen Koch” has clearly benefited from fears about corporate influence over public television and, in particular, over ITVS, which has historically prided itself on its independence. “Donors’ money shouldn’t be dictating programming or editorial choices,” Ms. Lessin said.

For progressive groups, some of which view outsize political spending by Mr. Koch and his brother as a grave threat to democracy, the issues surrounding the film play into a larger, more distressing plotline involving the family’s media interests. Last month, Charles Koch confirmed speculation that he and David Koch might be interested in buying the Tribune Company’s newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, in the future.

“The Koch brothers try to purchase cultural respectability on the one hand, even as they advance a hard-right economic agenda,” said Dan Cantor, the executive director of the Working Families Party, which has not previously organized its members around media issues. He said the party was “flabbergasted” by the response to its petition to PBS, which MoveOn, Credo and other advocacy groups also promoted.

Mr. Cantor said he has not seen the film yet. Neither has Mr. Shapiro of WNET, who suggested in a telephone conversation on Monday that invective aimed toward his station is misplaced.

“We have a history of running controversial films; we don’t shy away from them,” he said, also pointing out that programs like “NewsHour” and “Frontline” have repeatedly examined the intersection of money and politics. But WNET does not schedule documentaries on its own; ITVS does.

For now, what the filmmakers have are fresh funds, thanks to the Web. And one more thing that filmmakers everywhere cherish: persuasive evidence, via the fund-raising drive and the petition, that thousands of people want to watch what they have produced.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Balboa Park in San Diego showcases different paths to happiness

This woman charmed a snake. Two snakes, actually.

This woman explained Buddhist thought.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

After 2 days, Clear Channel pulls down billboards that reveal that Judge Lisa Schall was convicted of a crime

San Diego 10 News reports that billboards have been taken down by Clear Channel two days after they were put up.

Carla Keehn is challenging Judge Lisa Schall in the June 3, 2014 election for San Diego Superior Court judge. The advertisements correctly stated that Judge Schall has been convicted of a crime.

See newscast video on You Tube.

Judge Schall has been admonished three times by the Commission on Judicial Competence. The offenses were political support for the governor who appointed her, abusing her contempt power, and drunk driving.

See all posts on Carla Keehn and Judge Schall.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

To Sarah Palin, Chelsea Clinton's pregnancy is just another excuse to be vile

To Sarah Palin, Chelsea Clinton's pregnancy is just another excuse to be vile
by Laura Clawson
Daily Kos
May 07, 2014
Sarah Palin just had to weigh in on how Hillary Clinton might feel about her daughter's pregnancy, and Palin continues to be disgusting:

“She, just knowing that her daughter Chelsea is pregnant with a baby — it’s a real baby!” Palin said during an interview with “Extra” host Mario Lopez on the set of her Sportsman Channel show. “It’s not some disposable something, and I know that will be controversial. But those who, perhaps, they’re in this position now as a parent or a grandparent, they realize sanctity of life, how innocent, how precious it is. And of all places it should be in the womb that these babies are protected. So maybe even on a social issue like that she’ll open her eyes.”

Psst, Sarah. You do know Hillary Clinton had a child herself, right? That would be Chelsea, the woman whose current pregnancy you're talking about. All the evidence suggests that Chelsea is adored by both her parents, and has been all her life. So I'm pretty sure her mother is up on the whole "where do babies come from" thing and nonetheless believes that women who don't want to be pregnant or have a baby should have the right to choose not to do so.

In fact, it's not uncommon for women to find that having a baby, even particularly having a much-wanted baby born prematurely or in crisis, can make them more, not less, pro-choice. When Natasha Chart's son was born five weeks early and had weeks of health problems, she wrote "this pregnancy has further revealed to me why it’s wrong and inhumane to make light of how difficult it is to 'just have the baby,' as anti-choice extremists say everyone should have to do." Dallas Schubert wrote of the experience of having a severely premature baby that the experience made her more, not less, pro-choice, because "I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have my choice taken from me, or to have endured shame and stigma from society for it. I deserved no more and no less support, understanding, and compassion than any other woman facing the complex and difficult decisions that come with being pregnant." Jessica Valenti, who was forced to give birth prematurely to save her own life, writes that "I am also more pro-choice than before. I know first-hand what it's like to have a pregnancy threaten your life, and how quickly—and without warning—things can go wrong."

These are not women who think of pregnancy as "disposable something," in Palin's vile words. Nor, I'm sure, are Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. They're just women who can see complexity and who think women have the right to make choices about their bodies, their health, their lives.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Apple, Facebook, others defy authorities, notify users of secret data demands

Apple, Facebook, others defy authorities, notify users of secret data demands
By Craig Timberg
Washington Post
May 1, 2014

Major U.S. technology companies have largely ended the practice of quietly complying with investigators’ demands for e-mail records and other online data, saying that users have a right to know in advance when their information is targeted for government seizure.

This increasingly defiant industry stand is giving some of the tens of thousands of Americans whose Internet data gets swept into criminal investigations each year the opportunity to fight in court to prevent disclosures. Prosecutors, however, warn that tech companies may undermine cases by tipping off criminals, giving them time to destroy vital electronic evidence before it can be gathered.

Fueling the shift is the industry’s eagerness to distance itself from the government after last year’s disclosures about National Security Agency surveillance of online services. Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google all are updating their policies to expand routine notification of users about government data seizures, unless specifically gagged by a judge or other legal authority, officials at all four companies said. Yahoo announced similar changes in July.

As this position becomes uniform across the industry, U.S. tech companies will ignore the instructions stamped on the fronts of subpoenas urging them not to alert subjects about data requests, industry lawyers say. Companies that already routinely notify users have found that investigators often drop data demands to avoid having suspects learn of inquiries.

“It serves to chill the unbridled, cost-free collection of data,” said Albert Gidari Jr., a partner at Perkins Coie who represents several technology companies. “And I think that’s a good thing.”

The Justice Department disagrees, saying in a statement that new industry policies threaten investigations and put potential crime victims in greater peril.

“These risks of endangering life, risking destruction of evidence, or allowing suspects to flee or intimidate witnesses are not merely hypothetical, but unfortunately routine,” department spokesman Peter Carr said, citing a case in which early disclosure put at risk a cooperative witness in a case. He declined to offer details because the case was under seal.

The changing tech company policies do not affect data requests approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which are automatically kept secret by law. National security letters, which are administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI for national security investigations, also carry binding gag orders.

The government traditionally has notified people directly affected by searches and seizures — though often not immediately — when investigators entered a home or tapped a phone line. But that practice has not survived the transition into the digital world. Cellular carriers such as AT&T and Verizon typically do not tell customers when investigators collect their call data.

Many tech companies once followed a similar model of quietly cooperating with law enforcement. Courts, meanwhile, ruled that it was sufficient for the government to notify the providers of Internet services of data requests, rather than the affected customers.

Twitter, founded in 2006, became perhaps the first major tech company to routinely notify users when investigators collected data, yet few others followed at first. When the Electronic Frontier Foundation began issuing its influential “Who Has Your Back?” report in 2011 — rating companies on their privacy and transparency policies — Twitter was the only company to get a star under the category “Tell users about data demands.” Google, the next mostly highly rated, got half a star from the civil liberties group.

The following year, four other companies got full stars. The preparation of this year’s report, due in mid-May, has prompted a new flurry of activity in the legal offices of tech companies eager to gain a coveted star.

Google already routinely notified users of government data requests but adopted an updated policy this week detailing the few situations in which notification is withheld, such as when there is imminent risk of physical harm to a potential crime victim. “We notify users about legal demands when appropriate, unless prohibited by law or court order,” the company said in a statement.

Lawyers at Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are working on their own revisions, company officials said, although the details have not been released. All are moving toward more routinely notifying users, said the companies, which had not previously disclosed these changes.

“Later this month, Apple will update its policies so that in most cases when law enforcement requests personal information about a customer, the customer will receive a notification from Apple,” company spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said.

The trend toward greater user notification gained new urgency amid the government surveillance revelations made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Although the bulk data collection he disclosed was for national security purposes, not routine criminal investigations, companies grew determined to show that they prized their relationships with customers more than those with authorities — a particularly sensitive issue overseas, where the American tech industry has been lambasted as too cozy with the U.S. government.

“Post-Snowden, there is a greater desire to compete on privacy,” said Marc Zwillinger, founder of ZwillGen, a Washington-based law firm that has major tech companies as clients. “Companies have had notice policies and cared about these issues for years. It’s only now that it’s being discussed at the CEO level.”

The changing legal standards of technology companies most directly affect federal, state and local criminal investigators, who have found that companies increasingly balk at data requests once considered routine. Most now refuse to disclose the contents of e-mails or social media posts when presented with subpoenas, insisting that the government instead seek search warrants, which are issued only by judges and require the stricter legal standard of probable cause.

Subpoenas, by contrast, can be issued by a broader range of authorities and require only that the information sought be deemed “relevant” to an investigation. A 2010 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit backed the industry’s contention that search warrants should be required for digital content, a standard now widely accepted.

For data other than content — such as records showing the senders and recipients of e-mails, the phone numbers registered with accounts or identifying information about the computers used to access services — companies have continued accepting subpoenas but warn investigators that users will be notified before disclosure occurs.

“That was one of the purposeful burdens that was supposed to limit government surveillance,” said Marc Rotenberg, a Georgetown University law professor and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “As a historic matter, the intent always was that a person would be notified.”

The shifting industry practices force investigators to make difficult choices: withdraw data requests, allow notification to happen or go to magistrate judges to seek either gag orders or search warrants, which typically are issued under seal for a fixed period of time, delaying notification. Such choices were made even more difficult by the rising skepticism of magistrate judges, many of whom in recent years have scrutinized such requests more carefully or rejected them altogether, legal experts say.

“It’s sort of a double whammy that makes law enforcement’s job harder,” said Jason M. Weinstein, former deputy assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s criminal division, now a partner at Steptoe & Johnson. “It has the potential to significantly impair investigations.”

Ronald T. Hosko, a former FBI special agent who until his recent retirement oversaw the criminal division at the Washington field office, said the development of cases has been hurt by the threat of user notification, especially during early phases when investigators try to work discreetly, before a suspect potentially can destroy evidence. He said the shift among tech companies has been driven mainly by concern about their public images, at the expense of public safety — an issue he said was particularly acute when it came to cases involving child predators or terrorists.

“My fear is that we will be less secure in our country, in our houses, because of political decisions, because of the politics of the day, rather than what will keep us safe,” Hosko said. “I’m concerned that that gets people killed, that that gets people hurt.”

Companies that have policies to notify users of government data collection say they make exceptions for cases of imminent danger to potential victims, especially if the safety of a child is at risk. In the vast majority of situations, however, users deserve to know who is collecting their data and why, the companies say. The exceptions, they say, should be decided by a judge — not by a company lawyer, and not by an investigator.

“The intent is to make sure it’s not a rubber stamp,” said Dane Jasper, chief executive of, an Internet and phone provider in California whose notification policy has won a star from EFF. “That way we’re not releasing customer information without due process.”

Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.