Category Archives: Community

Contrasting videos: Compassion vs sociopathy


First up, a video from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on the lethal nature of poverty in America:

Dying Young

Program note:

Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on aging, held a hearing to discuss the extraordinary disparities in life expectancy that exist between regions of the United States and even neighborhoods within cities.

From his website:

Sanders said that a recurring theme from witnesses was that “poverty in America is in fact very expensive.”  He added, “If people don’t have access to health care, if they don’t have access to education, if they don’t have access to jobs and affordable housing then we end up paying not only in terms of human suffering and the shortening of life expectancy but in actual dollars.”

He cited a report by the Institute of Medicine that found Americans have shorter life expectancies than people in 16 other high-income countries. Another study ranked life expectancy in the U.S. 40th for males and 39th for females across 187 countries in 2010. The disparity between the U.S. and other nations occurs despite the fact that Americans spend more on health care than any other country in the world, Sanders noted.

While overall U.S. life expectancy is inching up, the gains are less than in other countries and vary widely depending on income, gender, race and education. Those without a high school degree in the U.S. live shorter lives and experience poorer health than those with higher levels of education.

For women in the United States there is a 12-year gap in life expectancy between wealthy Marin County, Calif., where the average person lives to be 85 years old, and Perry County, Ky., with an average life expectancy of 73 years.

American men live the longest in Fairfax County, Va. Life expectancy for men in the wealthy Washington, D.C. suburbs is 82 years compared to 64 for men in McDowell County, W. Va., just 350 miles away.

Nationwide, the poor have higher rates of many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, depression, and disability, according to Dr. Steven Woolf, director of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The lower people’s income, the earlier they die and the sicker they live,” he said.  “Neighborhoods in Boston and Baltimore have a lower life expectancy than Ethiopia and Sudan. Azerbajian has a higher life expectancy than areas of Chicago.”

By way of contrast, consider this gem from Fox & Friends, and that 70′s porn star clone and Ayn Rand groupie John Stossel, via Think Progress:

Fox News warns against giving money to the poor

From Think Progress:

Donning a fake beard, Stossel sat on a New York City sidewalk with a cardboard sign asking people for help. “I just begged for an hour but I did well,” he said. “If I did this for an eight-hour day I would’ve made 90 bucks. Twenty-three thou for a year. Tax-free.”

Elizabeth Hasselbeck, who recently purchased a $4 million home in Greenwich, gasped in horror at the prospect of poor people earning $23,000 a year. Some people asking for money “are actually scammers,” Hasselbeck warned, seemingly unaware of the irony that the only panhandling “scammer” Fox News identified was Stossel.

Because he was able to successfully convince good-hearted pedestrians that he was poor, Stossel went on to chastise people who gave the homeless money because, in his view, “most are not…for real.”

He implored viewers to stop giving money to poor people because if you do, “you’re an enabler.”

Read the rest.

Occupy Madison: Building homes for the homeless


First Occupy Wall Street buys up medical debt to relieve the burden pon folks who were afflicted by poverty and ill health, and now Occupy Madison builds homes for the homeless.

A heartening report from RT:

Occupy Madison builds ‘tiny home’ for homeless

Program notes:

A group in Madison, Wisc. is taking an innovative approach to helping the homeless. Occupy Madison, an offshoot of the Occupy Movement, has built its first “tiny home” as part of their initiative called, “OM Build.” They hope the house will become part of a cooperative village of eco-friendly homes. The tiny home is less than 100 square feet, and is built largely with recycled materials. RT’s Sam Sacks talks with Occupy Madison organizer Luca Clemente about how OMB Build helps the homeless in more ways than just providing them shelter.

Chart of the day: Growth patterns of U.S. cities


From Urban America: U.S. Cities in the Global Economy [PDF], a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute, an illuminating chart contrasting population growth/decline with per capita GDP share. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG cities

Fukushima: An angry, sorrowful, toxic legacy


AT 27:49, this ABC Australia documentary via Journeyman Pictures provides a penetrating look at the impacts of the 3/11 disaster and its radioactive legacy.

Reporter Mark Willacy asks many of the right questions, and the answers he receives reveal the dual realty in which survivors live each day, haunted by a profound sense of loss mirrored against an deep and justifiable anxiety about the future ahead.

Radiating the People: Fukushima’s Cancer Legacy

Program notes:

It’s what post-Fukushima Japan fears the most; cancer. Amid allegations of government secrecy, worrying new claims say a cancer cluster has developed around the radiation zone and that the victims are children.

In a private children’s hospital well away from the no-go zone, parents are holding on tight to their little sons and daughters hoping doctors won’t find what they’re looking for. Thyroid cancer. Tests commissioned by the local authorities have discerned an alarming spike here. Experts are reluctant to draw a definitive link with Fukushima, but they’re concerned. “I care because I went to Chernobyl and I saw each child there, so I know the pain they went through”, says Dr Akira Sugenoya, a former thyroid surgeon. What terrifies parents most is a government they feel they can’t trust. It’s created a culture of fear; one which has led a number of women post-Fukushima to have abortions because they were worried about birth defects. “The doctors in Fukushima say that it shouldn’t be coming out so soon, so it can’t be related to the nuclear accident. But that’s very unscientific, and it’s not a reason we can accept”, Dr Sugenoya insists. “It was disclosed that the Fukushima health investigation committee was having several secret meetings. I feel the response has been unthinkable for a democratic nation”, Dr Minoru Kamata from the Japan Chernobyl Foundation says.

ABC Australia

Chart of the day II: Transatlantic bugging foes


From a Transatlantic Trends poll from The German Marshall Fund of the United States, Transatlantic Majorities Oppose Domestic Surveillance [PDF]:

BLOG Spook survey

Chart of the day II: America’s 11 hidden nations


From Tufts Magazine, accompanying a piece by author and Maine journalist Colin Woodward drawn from research for his 2011 book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America:

020Tufts_fal2013

Chart of the day: Chineses gov’t revenues


From The Economist:

Live chart: China’s revenue

Program note:

China’s regional and municipal governments spend more than they collect. For more video content from The Economist visit our website.

Postal sellouts: Losing the U.S., British commons


Two videos of note, taking on the neoliberal push to deprive the citizens of the great public commons built up over generations.

The first video, from The Real News Network, focuses on the privatization of the Royal Mail.

Jessica Desvarieux interviews Professor Emeritus John Weeks of the University of London, author of the forthcoming book, The Economics of the 1%: How mainstream economics serves the rich, obscures reality and distorts policy.

From The Real News Network:

UK’s Royal Mail Privatized and Sold to Investors

From the transcript:

The postal service in Britain has, ever since the end of World War II, played a very major role social role. Small communities have post offices. We have a cottage in a village of 500 people. It has a post office. Another village next to us, a post office closed a few years ago because of budget cuts.

Now, to that post office elderly people can go and collect their pensions. They can actually collect it in cash, rather like collecting your Social Security in cash. They don’t have to have bank accounts. If they want a bank account, they can have it through the Postal Service. They don’t have to pay the fees that you would in a normal bank. And it has always been completely safe, because the government guaranteed money that was deposited in the postal service bank.

In addition, the post office would usually be in a shop, and the people that ran it would live in the community. And so they would know people coming in and out. So it played quite an important function. Several years ago, an elderly woman in a village here was ill, and the postmistress noticed that she hadn’t been coming in for several days and called the emergency services. So that’s not an unusual function for the post office to play.

Okay. So one of the big losers will be all the people who use the post office as a source of their, you might say, link to the wider community, because it will become more commercial. In fact, many of the local post offices will become de facto in private hands. That is, not only will they be a privatization process which has occurred in which shares are sold out, but the premises will be owned privately and the functions will be owned by a rather large company, which will then hire the postmaster, the postmistress to run the activity. So to a certain extent this privatization is an extension of what has occurred before.

So the first thing is that a very large number of people in Britain will have worse local services. And this applies to cities, too. There are–it’s quite common where we lived in London. There is a post office within walking distance. And most people have a post office within walking distance. I think almost certainly with the privatization there will be fewer post offices. This will be downsized. And it’s also a place, I should add–not our local post office, but in London, where you can use a computer–if you don’t own the computer, you can go along and use the computer in the post office. Or you can have your photograph taken to get a passport. A whole range of things. There will be fewer of them. It will mean that either you’ll have to have an automobile or you will have to travel by public transport, rather long distances, in order to access these same services.

Our second video comes from Next News Network via WHDT, a Florida-based broadcaster and focuses on the sale of U.S. post offices by a real estate corporation owned by the spouse of California’s plutocratic Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

It’s overly loud, but it covers the basics — and includes a focus on the sale of the main post office ruight here in Berkeley.

From WHDT:

Dianne Feinstein to make 1 BILLION DOLLARS off US Postal properties

From the program notes:

The company that was awarded the contract to sell all of the postal properties is CB Richard Ellis, the world’s largest commercial real estate firm. The chairman of CBRE is a man by the name of Richard Blum, doesn’t ring a bell? He just happens to be Dianne Feinstein’s husband. OK Let me just list a few of CBRE’s highlights with the US Postal Service Properties:

1) CBRE appears to have repeatedly violated its contractual duty to sell postal properties at or above fair market value resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars. For example in Seattle CBRE sold a post office building in 2011 for 8 million dollars, it was assessed for 16 million. Another layer.

2) In a series of apparently non-arms length transactions CBRE negotiated the sale of postal properties around the country to its own clients and business partners. Google the Boston Seaport deals and see if that doesn’t turn your stomach. Another layer.

3) CBRE has been paid commissions up to 6% for representing both the seller and the buyer in many of the negotiations. This raising questions to whether CBRE was doing it’s best to obtain the highest price possible for the postal service or their clients. another stinky layer.

New media meets old: Greenwald v. Keller


From CNN Internacional, we bring you two interesting conversations about the nature and role of the journalist featuring archetypes of the old and new media news media.

In the first, CNN’s David Folkenflik talks with Bill Keller, who for the last 29 years has drawn a paycheck from the New York Times — about as old school a medium as there is — currently as an op-ed columnist and before that,  executive editor.  As might be expected, Keller advocates for the sober “impartial approach,” while ceding a role to form of advocacy journalism Greenwald practices.

From CNN Internacional:

Keller v Greenwald: Bill’s take

Program note:

NYT columnist Bill Keller tells David Folkenflik about his conversation with Glenn Greenwald on the future of news.

The second segment features Glenn Greenwald, a muckraker extraordinaire who has — with the leads and documents provided by Edward Snowden — changed the consciousness of the world more dramatically than anyone else practicing the art today. He makes a particularly telling point, too: Keller’s own paper effectively advocated for the Bush administrations war on Iraq.

Keller v Greenwald: Glenn’s take

Program note:

Glenn Greenwald tells David Folkenflik about his conversation with NYT columnist Bill Keller on the future of news.

The CNN videos are an extension of a 27 October New York Times op-ed dialogue between Keller and Greenwald.

Occupation Nation: A rabble-rousing video


A good old-fashioned rabble-rousin’ radical remix from the folks at Leftist Videos:

Occupation Nation “An Occupy Wall Street Documentary” (FULL)

Program notes:

An hour-long movie of remixed shorts that explore the philosophical roots of the recent movement of the 99%. As zombie banksters threaten to consume all that’s left of our spectacular society, B Media’s fifth video variety show showcases the mycelia network of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Deeply rooted in historical and international precedents that have the potential to turn toxic assets and discarded derivatives into new communities where shared vision and collective decision making empowers us all.

The film calls on our collective conscience to remember the Oaxacan teacher strikes and the Bonus Army, and it explores this new technological globalrevolution by riffing on the work of video ninjas everywhere. Darryl Mitchell and David Graeber’s dialectics break down the bricks of Wall Street, PeeWee Herman interviews Emma Goldman about the black bloc, Mr. Bean gets peppersprayed, and Obama is mic-checked in his Disney World as the police protect the smart ALEC’s running the show.

Special halftime appearance by Clint Eastwood, and Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.

Quote of the day: Europe’s perennial scapegoats


Journalist Ian Birrell, writing in an essay in The Independent headlined “The grim history of the Roma is no fairy tale”:

Europe’s 10 million Roma are still victims of abuse, prejudice and poverty. I was shocked to discover the hatred towards them in Hungary; they are unable to get jobs, segregated, and their children classified as mentally handicapped to keep them out of mainstream schools. The governing party blames them for crime while honouring a leader who deported families to Auschwitz, and vigilante groups terrorise their villages and firebomb their homes. One gang was jailed two months ago for a 14-month murder spree; a child of five was among the dead.

There are similar stories across the Continent, forcing fearful families to the fringes of society.

In Italy, where mobs attacked their camps five years ago and the prime minister responded in the most racist manner by ordering the fingerprinting of all 150,000 Roma, acid was thrown at a mother and her child earlier this month. In the Czech Republic, human-rights groups demanded action to protect Roma from violence and intimidation after riots this summer. In Slovakia, they are being segregated behind imposing walls, a disturbing echo of dismal recent history.

In France, politicians on right and left have scapegoated Roma amid recent economic woes. One prominent figure ridiculously claimed a community of 15,000 people was responsible for one in 10 crimes in a country of 65 million, while the hardline interior minister’s poll ratings rose after calls for them to leave and forced evictions. The hapless president, meanwhile, tied himself in knots over the expulsion of a teenage Roma girl that led his popularity to plunge further.

Stop Watching Us!: Major rally Saturday in D.C.


From their website:

A Rally Against Mass Surveillance

The NSA is spying on everyone’s personal communications. It’s operating without any meaningful oversight.

On October 26th, the 12th anniversary of the signing of the USA Patriot Act, we’re holding the largest rally yet against NSA surveillance. We’ll be handing more than a half-million petitions to Congress to remind them that they work for us — and we won’t tolerate mass surveillance any longer.

A stellar group of whistleblowers, activists, researchers and others from both sides of the political spectrum will be speaking at this historic event. The list includes:

  • Congressman Justin Amash
  • Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich
  • Bruce Schneier, internationally renowned security technologist
  • Former senior NSA executive and whistleblower Thomas Drake
  • Indie pop senation YACHT
  • Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson
  • Lt. Dan Choi, LGBT advocate and U.S. veteran
  • Laura Murphy, ACLU
  • Rainey Reitman, EFF
  • Craig Aaron, Free Press
  • Social critic Naomi Wolf
  • Kymone Freeman, Director of the National Black LUV Fest
  • Khaliah Barnes, EPIC
  • Shahid Buttar, Bill of Rights Defense Committee
  • Malachi Byrd, DC Youth Poetry Slam Team
  • Wafa Ben Hassine, writer and human rights advocate
  • NOT4PROPHET, Hip Hop MC and community organizer
  • Black Alley, DC-based soul-garage band

Location:
Marchers will gather in front of Union Station at 11:30 a.m. by the Christopher Columbus Memorial Fountain in Columbus Circle. Shortly after noon we’ll march to the National Mall at 3rd Street and Madison Dr. NW, in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool, where there will be a stage set up for our rally speakers, musicians, and performers.

And here’s a star-studded video supporting the movement:

Stop Watching Us: The Video

Program notes:

StopWatching.us is a coalition of more than 100 public advocacy organizations and companies from across the political spectrum. Join the movement at https://rally.stopwatching.us - private. This video harnesses the voices of celebrities, activists, legal experts, and other prominent figures in speaking out against mass surveillance by the NSA. Please share widely to help us spread the message that we will not stand for the dragnet surveillance of our communications.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a nonprofit civil liberties law and advocacy center that has been fighting the NSA’s unconstitutional spying for years. Learn more at https://eff.org - private.

A Swiss realization for a Buckminster Fuller dream?


R. Buckminster Fuller was one of the most remarkable people we ever met during a journalistic that gave us encounters with a multitude of remarkable people. It was also our privilege to document his basic ideas in the first published under our own name [we had ghosted others].

One of Fuller’s core ideas was the notion of the bare maximum as a basic ruight of all humanity. If the most calories a maximally physically energetic person needed to maintain healthy life was X calories, then all humans would have the right to that many calories. And so on with all that needed to sustain a vigorous, active fulfilling life.

Swiss artist Enno Schmidt has come to a very similar conclusion, and he and a colleague amassed the 100,000 signatures needed for a Swiss national referendum that would create a guaranteed annual basic income [Grundeinkommen] of 2,500 Swiss francs, or $2771.93 at current exchange rates.

He explains the concept in an interview with Jessica Desvarieux of The Real News Network.

Exclusive: The Activist Behind Switzerland’s Referendum for Guaranteed Income

From the transcript:

. . .it was Daniel and me–who thought, what will be the most necessary film and that what we really want to do? And we decided, yeah, the best thing is people has money enough to do what they really want to be creative, to develop what they can do for other people or need for theirself. And so we start this thing, basic income.

And basic income means enough money to live without need. And in Switzerland it’s only a number to say 2,500 francs. I don’t know how many it is in the States. It’s not to be rich. It’s simply to say, today we are rich enough and there are goods enough that we can say everybody needs an income to live. And why shall we–why have we to bound it to conditions?

And it’s an idea, for example, of the ’60s in the United States. Milton Friedman tried such things. It was a negative income tax, called so.

And we can say it’s a moment in the world, it’s a new century, a new vision, a social vision to say, set the people free by living, and then they do their things. And they are paid for their work, but the basic has to be sure for everybody.

And so we go with this in Switzerland. And the thing in Switzerland is that you have this direct democracy. And that means you can go with such wishes, such an idea. What really changed many things and let you look to all this facts new and to–yeah, it’s a bit of philosophical thing, but it’s a moral thing. It’s to acknowledge where we are now. And you can do this in Switzerland by such an initiative.

His page on the movement’s website [in German] is here. We note that one of the links is titled Jeder ein König That translates to “Everyone a king,” and bears a strong similarity to the catchphrase of Huey Long, the subject of yesterday’s video post. “Every man a king, but no one wears a crown,” declared Long.

Long even wrote a song about it:

An absolute must-watch: A spooky animation


A succint explanation of why the NSA’s panoptic purview really, really matters.

From The Guardian’s YouTube channel:

The NSA files: how they affect you – video animation

Program note:

NSA files and GCHQ revelations have sparked huge debate about surveillance and spying around the world. With all the talk of Prism, Tempora and encryption, it can seem quite a technical topic to some but this really isn’t just a story for geeks. Here’s why

The NSA in a nutshell: How THEY track YOU


We bring you a new crowd-funded video, produced and narrated by actress Evangeline Lilly detailing the basics of National Security Agency surveillance of all of us who conntect to each other by phone or Internet.

Catalyst for the video in the StopWatchingUs rally scheduled for Washington, D.C on 26 October. More here.

How the Government Tracks You: NSA Surveillance

Program notes:

Don’t just watch it, DO SOMETHING: http://TheNSAvideo.com

The U.S. Government has turned the Internet into something it was never intended to be: a system for spying on us in our most private moments. Out of control government surveillance is a dangerous form of censorship. Don’t be intimidated. Share this video.

Narrated by Evangeline Lilly

Brought to you by Fight for the Future and Demand Progress.

Produced by Mata Wata — http://matawata.com

Executive Producer: Evangeline Lilly — http://evangelinelilly.com

Here’s more information on the rally itself:

STOP WATCHING US RALLY
AGAINST MASS SURVEILLANCE

Sat, October 26th in Washington, DC

http://Rally.StopWatching.us

Right now the NSA is spying on everyone’s personal communications, and they’re operating without any meaningful oversight. Since the Snowden leaks started, more than 571,000 people from all walks of life have signed the StopWatching.us petition telling the U.S. Congress that we want them to rein in the NSA.

On October 26th, the 12th anniversary of the signing of the US Patriot Act, we’re taking the next step and holding the largest rally yet against NSA surveillance. We’ll be handing the half-million petitions to Congress to remind them that they work for us — and we won’t tolerate mass surveillance any longer.

Who we are

StopWatching.us is a coalition of more than 100 public advocacy organizations and companies from across the political spectrum. We came together in June 2013 to demand the U.S. Congress investigate the full extent of the NSA’s spying programs. Go here to read our letter to U.S. Congress demanding accountability and reform.

https://rally.stopwatching.us/

Chart of the day: A retail meltdown in Greece


From a new report [PDF] from the Hellenic Statistical Authority. Click on the image to enlarge:

Microsoft Word - A0508_DKT39_DT_MM_07_2013_01_F_EN.doc

Malala Yousafzai wins Europe’s Sakharov Prize


The 16-year-old Pakistani grabbed the world’s attention last year after she was shot in the head by a Taliban soldier for her fierce and eloquent activism on behalf of the education of young women.

The prize is awarded annually for promotion of Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. Another contender for this year’s honor was Edward Snowden.

More from CNN:

Parliament President Martin Schulz called the 16-year-old a “brave advocate for education” who “reminds us of our duty toward children and especially girls.”

The prize is worth about $67,000.

Malala’s activism started after the Taliban banned girls from schools in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in 2009. She anonymously blogged for the BBC in opposition to that order, and became an open advocate for girls’ education.

In 2011, Malala told CNN, “I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk.”

Read the rest.

Her appearance on The Daily Show is a revelation:

The Daily Show: Extended Interview: Malala Yousafzai

Program notes:

In this exclusive, unedited interview, “I Am Malala” author Malala Yousafzai remembers the Taliban’s rise to power in her Pakistani hometown and discusses her efforts to campaign for equal access to education for girls. Malala Yousafzai also offers suggestions for people looking to help out overseas and stresses the importance of education.

UPDATE: The Taliban responds, vows murder

From EUbusiness:

The Pakistani Taliban Thursday said teenage activist Malala Yousafzai had done “nothing” to deserve a prestigious EU rights award and vowed to try again to kill her.

>snip<

“She has done nothing. The enemies of Islam are awarding her because she has left Islam and has became secular,” TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“She is getting awards because she is working against Islam. Her struggle against Islam is the main reason for getting these awards.”

He repeated the TTP’s threat — made numerous times in recent months — to try again to kill Malala, “even in America or the UK”.

Read the rest.

Nader slams Fenstein over Berkeley P.O. sale


And not just Berkeley’s.

From his blog:

October 2, 2013

Dear Senator Feinstein,

This summer protests broke out over the upcoming closure and sale of a historic post office in downtown Berkeley, California.

This century old post office represents a piece of our collective history. It contains New Deal-era murals, architecture and artwork.

Not to mention, it was paid for by the public. Now, against the wishes of many in the Berkeley community, this historic post office is set to be closed and sold off. Unfortunately, post offices across the country, many of which have comparable rich historical value of Berkeley’s downtown post office, are on the chopping block to be closed and sold.

That we have resorted to selling off valuable pieces of our country’s heritage is shameful. But even more reprehensible is the process by which these post offices are being sold off; and this is the reason that we are writing you.

C.B. Richard Ellis Group, Inc. (CBRE), the company chaired by your husband, Richard Blum, has an exclusive contract to negotiate the nationwide sales of U.S. Postal Service (USPS) real estate. An investigative journalist, Peter Byrne, brought to light some of the most disconcerting aspects of CBRE’s involvement in the sale of post offices throughout the country in an article for the East Bay Express titled “Going Postal” (he has also written an e-book by the same name that goes into more detail on the subject).

The highlights from Mr. Byrne’s article indicate that CBRE’s actions in the sale of the USPS’s real estate portfolio are suspicious at best. According to the article, CBRE was awarded its exclusive contract with the USPS in June 2011. The contract requires CBRE to sell postal service properties at or above fair market value. However, the contract also allows CBRE to conduct its own appraisals of each property. Appraisals are best conducted by parties not involved in the sale of the property. The existing contractual arrangement gives CBRE unusual control over determining the value of a property and creates the potential for conflicts of interest.

To demonstrate the problems that this contractual arrangement creates, one only needs to look at the sale of properties CBRE has executed. Mr. Byrne reported that in the first two years of its contract, CBRE sold 52 postal properties at $66 million less than their assessed value. Two examples he cites include an office building CBRE sold in 2011 in Seattle for $8 million that was assessed at $16 million, and a building in St. Paul, Minnesota that sold for about $20 million under its 2009 assessed value of nearly $25 million.

Perhaps of even greater concern is that, according to Mr. Byrne, CBRE has sold 20 percent of the postal service’s real estate portfolio that has been sold to date to its own clients or business partners. Byrne reports that it seems as though CBRE likely represented both the seller and buyer in a number of postal property sales, which if true, would reflect a serious conflict of interest. It would also raise serious ethical concerns about CBRE’s business practices. Disturbingly, Byrne reports that “CBRE’s contract was amended in 2012, at the request of CBRE, to allow it to negotiate on behalf of both the Postal Service and prospective buyers.” How can the U.S. Postal Service reasonably expect that CBRE would obtain the highest value possible for postal properties if CBRE represents both sides of the transaction?

In a June 2013 report, the USPS’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) echoed many of the same types of concerns that Mr. Byrne has revealed. The OIG tellingly observes that, “Outsourcing real estate management services to one supplier is a fundamental change from how the Postal Service previously managed its real estate portfolio.” Notably, the OIG’s report expressed concern about: the potential for a conflict of interest when CBRE is allowed to negotiate on behalf of the seller, the USPS, as well as the buyer; the lack of proper oversight of the CBRE contract; and a failure to establish a maximum contract value, which could lead to cost overruns.

As we have repeatedly said, the U.S. Postal Service is facing a congressionally manufactured financial crisis. Eighty percent of the USPS’s losses since 2006 are directly attributable to the unreasonable requirement enacted in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 that the USPS prefund its future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years in just a ten year time frame. No other private corporation or government agency that we are familiar with is required to bear such a burden. One of your colleagues, Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), echoed this sentiment in May 2012 when he said “Ninety-four percent of the Postal Service’s losses this year are a direct result of an onerous payment, unprecedented in either government agencies or private corporations, to pre-fund 75 years of future retiree health benefits in a 10-year period.”

And of course, this doesn’t even address the fact that the USPS has overpaid between $50 billion and $75 billion to federal pension funds for its employees that the federal government has failed to repay. That makes the USPS a creditor of the U.S. government – more than can be said of large bailed out corporations such as the big banks.

So, in light of those facts, many of these post office sales are not necessary. But is it any wonder that you haven’t been particularly outspoken on this issue in light of the fact that you and your husband, Richard Blum, stand to gain generously from his connection to the sale of post offices throughout the country?

To remove all doubt of impropriety, you should: introduce and champion a bill to immediately suspend all sales of postal properties throughout the country; and call for a close examination of the contract between CBRE and the USPS to sell postal properties.

Sincerely,

Ralph Nader and Jeff Musto

Koch-heads: Billionaires working to keep you sick


Once again, it takes Bernie Sanders to state it clearly. The only socialist in the U.S. Senate, the man from Vermont dissects the real agenda of the Koch brothers and their allies and its real potential costs to those of us without nine zeroes in our net work statements:

Charts of the day: The slow death of print


Two of a series of charts from a new report from the Pew Research Center illustrate the ongoing, agonizing death of the American newspaper.

Asked where they had turned for news during the last 24 hours Boomers, those most closely linked to the traditional print media, revealed this pattern:

BLOG Boomers

And the responses from Gen Xers:

BLOG Boomers xers