Category Archives: Elders

And now for something completely different. . .


No, not more theremin music. This time it’s stoner grannies. Or maybe we should say stoned grannies, since none of the trio had ever previously partaken of the noble weed before its legalization in the home state of Washington.

After Paula, Deirdre, and Dorothea take  their tokes, the results are precisely what you might expect.

From Cut Video:

Grandmas Smoking Weed for the First Time (Extended Cut)

Program notes:

We found three grandmas who had never smoked pot and gave them an opportunity to try it for the first time. Then we gave them snacks and had them play cards against humanity.

MexicoWatch: Fear, hope, despair, rage, protest


We begin with an interview with one of the survivors of the 26 September attack in Iguala, Mexico, leading to the abduction and disappearance of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa. From Emergencia MX:

Testimony of a student from Ayotzinapa rural school. Survivor of the attack from Mexican police.

Program notes:

The original interview and video was made by “43″ voices.

EmergenciaMX has retaken their material with the purpose of subtitling it.

Next, the other shoe drops, via BuzzFeed:

Mexican Mayor Charged In Disappearance And Death Of Dozens Of Students

  • The former mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, has been charged with the aggravated murder of six people, as well as the attempted murder of others

The attorney general’s office in the Mexican state of Guerrero announced Thursday they have formally charged the former mayor of Iguala in connection with the deaths and disappearance of dozens of students in September.

Jose Luis Abarca was charged with “aggravated homicide against six people” as well as with the “attempted murder of others,” prosecutors said in a statement on their website announcing the formal detention order.

The 43 students, who belonged to a teacher training college, disappeared Sept. 26 following a confrontation with local police in which six students died.

From editorial cartoonist Carlos Latuff; a caricature of the murderous mayor and his spouse:

BLOG Latuff

From the Washington Post, another face of tragedy:

Parents of missing Mexican students cling to hope

Maria Telumbre knows fire. She spends her days making tortillas over hot coals, and experience tells her a small goat takes at least four hours to cook. So she refuses to believe the government’s explanation that gang thugs incinerated her son and 42 other missing college students in a giant pyre in less than a day, leaving almost nothing to identify the dead.

The discovery of charred teeth and bone fragments offer Telumbre no more proof of her son’s death than the many graves unearthed in Guerrero state since the students disappeared Sept. 26. She simply does not accept that the ashes belong to her 19-year-old son and his classmates.

“How is it possible that in 15 hours they burned so many boys, put them in a bag and threw them into the river?” Telumbre says. “This is impossible. As parents, we don’t believe it’s them.”

A video report on the parents from Reuters:

Parents of missing students criticize Mexico search efforts

Program notes:

Parents of the missing 43 students cast doubt on search efforts to find their sons after a meeting with authorities in the restive state of Guerrero. Nathan Frandino reports.

A political conundrum, via Reuters:

Mexican police play havoc with president’s security pledge

Restoring order to a country torn apart by drug violence was Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s first promise when he took power two years ago, but corruption and police brutality have handed him the biggest crisis of his rule.

Local police abducted 43 trainee teachers in the southwestern city of Iguala on Sept. 26 and handed them over to a drug gang. The gang almost certainly murdered them and torched their bodies, the government says.

The case, still not closed, has infuriated Mexicans and highlights the scale of the challenge that Pena Nieto faces in trying to end shocking violence and impunity.

“What we’re seeing are the results of many years of deterioration, complacency and denial by successive governments,” said Eduardo Olmos, a former mayor of the northern city of Torreon, who purged all but one of its 1,000-strong police force in 2010 when it was infiltrated by the Zetas drug gang.

Similarly, from Slate:

Mexico’s Breaking Point

This is not the first, biggest, or most gruesome mass disappearance during Mexico’s past eight years of brutal drug violence. More than 106,000 have died in what government data term “executions,” “confrontations,” and “homicide-aggressions” since former President Felipe Calderon informally declared his war on drugs in 2006. But the tragedy of Ayotzinapa is different. Rarely has the collusion between local authorities and the cartels been so obvious and the consequences so dire. Unsurprisingly, the events surrounding the case have captivated Mexico and the international community for weeks.

Since coming to power in 2012, President Enrique Peña Nieto has sought to keep his focus on economic growth rather than the violence that the country has become known for internationally. In the aftermath of this incident, Peña Nieto’s approval ratings have sunk to the lowest point of his presidency amid criticism of the government’s sluggish response. He has decried the incident as “outrageous, painful, and unacceptable” but human rights groups say his short statements about the case have been vague and lacking in specific plans for action. He has also been criticized for taking more than a month to meet with the families of victims and for traveling to the APEC summit in China this week as the crisis simmered. Calls for his resignation are getting louder and more widespread.

From the time the war on drugs started, and its massive, hemorrhaging failure became apparent, there have been protests, marches, and calls for action. This time around, the protests’ significance has moved beyond a dull weariness and discontent to raw expressions of pain. This has happened in part because of who the victims are, students from a poor rural town and a university with a strong tradition of activism for social justice (and a strong tradition of having this activism criminalized by the government). This reputation appears to be why the mayor sent police forces to detain them in the first place. According to Mexican media, citing documents from the investigation, José Luis Abarca ordered the police to “teach them a lesson.”

Borderland Beat covers more blowback:

Australia was no reprieve for EPN from the Ayotzinapa students controversy

The G20 summit was held in Australia this year.

The Group of Twenty (G20) as it is known by, is an economic summit is comprised of  19 countries plus the European Union.  President Barack Obama and Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto are two of this years attendees.

If President Pena thought he would be afforded relief  from the hotseat he and his administration find themselves on,  stemming from the normalistas killings….well he was in for a  surprise.

Australia’s Mexican community have been peacefully demonstrating against EPN’s participation in the G20 summit, rather than his choosing to stay in Mexico and working for a solution in  the Iguala student massacres.

And from Mexico News Daily, the parents again:

Ayotzinapa caravan rolls out from Tixtla

  • Parents wish to spread the message that their children are still alive

Three caravans of buses are rolling out across the country this week as part of an effort by the families of the missing students of Ayotzinapa to tell the country they believe their children are still alive.

The first caravan — three buses carrying family members and classmates of the missing students — departed yesterday on a 1,700-kilometer journey from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college in Tixtla, Guerrero, heading north.

The objective is to inform the public about the tragic events of September 26 and 27 in Iguala, Guerrero, when their sons were taken and six people were killed, presumably on the orders of the town’s mayor.

More from Mexico Voices:

Mexico’s Iguala Crisis: Ayotzinapa Students Shift from Violent Protests to Informative Caravans

After five days of violent protests, teachers and students of Guerrero, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Chiapas and Mexico City changed the direction of their demonstrations to performing peaceful, informative protests. Relatives of the disappeared normal school students and members of the Student Federation of Socialist Peasants of Mexico are setting out across the country in caravans and asking people to support locating the disappeared normal school students.

The first caravan took the name “Julio César Ramírez Pontes” and left the Ayotzinapa Normal School at about 11:00 a.m., headed toward Chihuahua. It will tour the states of Zacatecas, Jalisco and Michoacán. The second caravan, named “Daniel Solis” in memory of a student who died in the attack in Iguala last September 26, departed at 4:00 p.m., setting out for the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Morelos and Tlaxcala. The third caravan will visit seven municipalities in Guerrero, including Acapulco. It is expected that the three contingents will meet in Mexico City at the end of their tours.

And more from teleSUR:

Ayotzinapa Families to Meet with Zapatistas

Family members of the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa rural college, who are meeting with the EZLN and the Good Government Council in Chiapas, say that students’ disappearance “is not an isolated incident.”

After a 20-hour trek, the “Daniel Solis Gallardo” convoy –  named after one of the three Ayotzinapa rural college students killed on September 26 by police and hitmen – arrived yesterday in Chiapas, where they were received by thousands of supporters.

Family members announced that they will meet Saturday with members of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), where there will hold a press conference. From there, they proceeded to the Integrative Center of Indigenous Community Development (Cideci by its Spanish acronym) at the University of the Earth in the state’s capital,  San Cristobal de las Casas.

Meanwhile, protests continued in Guerrero. From PressTV:

Mexican protesters call for justice in Chilpancingo

Program notes:

Thousands of demonstrators angered by police corruption and the massacre of 43 students by cartel gangsters, have flooded the streets of Mexico calling for justice.

Mobs of protestors wielding sticks, pipes and stolen riot gear from police marched through Chilpancingo, the capital of the failed state of Guerrero on Friday. The students, who were all trainee teachers, went missing from the drug-infested state, after they planned to crash the politically ambitious mayor’s wife speech back in September. The protesters carried images of the missing male students. Authorities say they were abducted by the now dissmissed police force and handed over to a drug cartel. Three gang members admitted to slaughtered them and incinerated their corpses. Protests have rocked a number of Mexican cities this week, with the Guerrero state congress set ablaze on Tuesday in the escalating demonstrations.

One impact, via NTDTV:

Acapulco Tourism Feels Chill Over Wave of Mexico Violence

Program notes:

Thousands of tourists cancel hotel reservations on holiday weekend because of ongoing violence in Guerrero state.

Closer to Casa esnl in the San Francisco Bay Area [and belated] via Mission Local:

Protest This Saturday for Disappeared Students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico

It is the event that has captured international headlines and captivated much of the world for the last two months: the disappearance of 43 students from rural Guerrero, Mexico. They were taken by local police, turned to a local gang and are presumed murdered. If that wasn’t enough, the governments timid response has reached a boiling point and there are now daily protests throughout Mexico demanding their return.

Mexico attorney general Murillo karam offered some details during the press conference last week: the bodies were left to burn for 15 hours and then tossed to a nearby river. Massive protests have ensued in Mexico City and abroad.

This Saturday, several Bay Area organizations have put together a march that will begin at noon at 24th and Mission to march and protest against the Mexican government response to what’s happened in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

And here’s a video of the march as it happened today via Mexican Monitor:

Ayotzinapa Solidarity Protest in San Francisco

Program notes:

Some 500 people marched from 24th and Mission streets in San Francisco’s Mission District in solidarity with the 43 missing students in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, Mexico. 43 students went missing, and are presumed dead, in Iguala, on September 26. The timid reaction by the government and frustrations with a corruption, extreme violence have lead to daily protests throughout the Mexico. In San Francisco, Calif. many people with connection to Mexico or immigrants themselves, took to the streets on Saturday to demand that the president, Enrique Peña Nieto step down.

From up the road from Casa esnl in Berkeley, a solidarity gathering earlier this week at the University of California [in Spanish] via vlogger edwin rodriguez:

UC Berkeley con Ayotzinapa

Program notes:

Across the countries, not just colleges, but cities have been mobilizing around this. We’ve already held a small vigil on campus, but now its time to start mobilizing for the 20th of November. This is the date people across Mexico plan on mobilizing towards the capital and the date international solidarity is to be displayed.

So to those 43, to the 6 who have already been killed by this unlawful act of governance, by the injustice committed by Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, by their party the PRD.

We Will Continue Standing In Solidarity Until Justice Is Served.

Another gathering today in Sydney, Australia, via vlogger integramedia3d:

Apoyo a Ayotzinapa Sydney Australia

Next, from VICE News, a criticism of the mood north of the border:

Americans Support Mexico’s Anti-Government Protests — As Long as They Stay in Mexico

Since the beginning of the decade, we have become accustomed to the optics of unrest and revolution. Tunisia, Egypt, Ukraine, Venezuela, Brazil — and to a degree, Ferguson, Missouri. The context and struggles may share some resonance, but they’re not interchangeable. I can list these sites of unrest in abstraction only because that is how Western media consumers receive them — contiguous images of tear gas, fire, lines of riot cops, chanting crowds, furious crowds, surging crowds, bleeding, and weeping.

Civil unrest has a consistent visual language across continents and political contexts. What is not consistent, however, are the standards by which Americans evaluate political dissent as justifiable or insupportable. The righteous eruption of protest in Mexico over the massacre of 43 normalista students is the latest instance to draw out a particular American tendency when it comes to watching unrest from afar; a NIMBY attitude to revolution.

If Americans believe the fury in Mexico right now is justified, they are equally obligated to push for a swift end to the war on drugs at home. Yes, there are arguments to continue US drug prohibition, but none of them trump the proliferation of mass slaughter in Mexico. Corruption and state-sanctioned violence there is very much in Americans’ backyard — and Americans should not distance themselves from the struggle against it.

And from the Associated Press, a reminder of other apparently state-sanctioned violence in Guerrero:

Kidnapped Ugandan priest’s remains ID’d in Mexico

The remains of a Ugandan priest kidnapped more than six months ago have been found in a mass grave in southern Mexico, Roman Catholic authorities said Friday.

Father John Ssenyondo, 55, was among 13 bodies in a clandestine grave discovered Nov. 2 in the town of Ocotitlan, said Victor Aguilar, vicar of the Chilpancingo-Chilapa diocese in the southern state of Guerrero.

Dental records were used to identify the priest, who was born Dec. 25, 1958, in Masaka, Uganda. He came to the diocese about five years ago.

Aguilar said Ssenyondo, a member of the Combonian order, was abducted April 30 in the town of Santa Cruz after saying Mass, when a group of people in an SUV intercepted his car.

Plagued by robocalls and longing for drones


One of the realities of growing older is that doctors and pills play an increasingly important role in your life. . .or at least that’s our own experience and friends of a similar vintage tell us it’s theirs too.

But there’s on affliction we didn’t count on: An endless barrage of robocalls.

They fall into two categories, and it’s the second that really piques our curiosity.

The first variety of robocall comes from “Cardholder Services” or some variant thereof, and it begs us to get a consolidation loan to pay off our credit card balances [and never mind that we don’t have credit card balances, since we pay our bill in full every month].

If you “press one for more information,” you get a pitchman or woman, often but not always speaking in an Indian accent, and if you ask them which credit card company they represent, an immediate disconnect follows.

After the first two or three calls, we asked the huckster to remove our name from their list and were assured it would be done.

Yeah, right. The next call came later that same day.

When we went through our four miserable months of chemo a year-and-a-half ago, we received between one and three calls daily with precisely the same spiel.

Getting such calls is bad enough, but it’s vastly worse when you’re riding waves of nausea and fatigue. Disconnect the phone, you say? Well, I couldn’t, since calls from doctors, nurses, and schedulers mandated keeping the line open.

Finally we recalled some advice we once received from a friend who was a Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney years earlier, during another spate of phone hucksterism. “Get a whistle and blow in the mouthpiece.” It didn’t stop the calls, but we did receive a certain cathartic relief.

The Cardholder Services scam is ubiquitous and has been the subject of countless warnings, as in this 27 February 2013 alert from Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen:

Consumer Alert: Don’t Fall for “Cardholder Services” Robocalls

Consumers beware:  Prerecorded phone calls from “Rachel” or “Wendy” from “cardholder services” offering to significantly lower credit card interest rates are likely nothing more than scams, Attorney General George Jepsen said today.

“My office has received numerous complaints and calls about these robocalls, and the best advice for any consumer who receives one of these calls is to immediately hang up,” said Attorney General Jepsen. “For consumers looking to lower their interest rates, your best option is to avoid a persuasive sales pitch, call the customer service number on the back of your credit card and request a reduced rate.”

The automated robocalls claim to have an “important message” regarding an opportunity to reduce high credit card interest rates. Consumers are urged to “press 1″ to connect with a live representative or “press 2″ to discontinue getting such calls. Consumers who press 1 are connected to live telemarketers, who claim that, for a fee, they will deliver a reduced rate on a credit card and see significant savings on finance charges. Often, consumers have no way to screen these calls using Caller ID, as the incoming number is “spoofed,” or displayed as a false number.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that after consumers pay an up-front fee – sometimes totaling thousands of dollars – the companies do little or nothing to lower credit card interest rates. The FTC advises consumers that federal law prohibits companies that sell relief services from charging a fee before a debt is settled or reduced. With few exceptions, prerecorded sales calls such as these are illegal under state and federal law.

Here’s an 3 August 2012 report from Robin Taylor of WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh:

Stopping Robocalls & How They Get Around the Do Not Call List

Four months earlier, in a 6 April article headlined “Scams: 2.6 Billion Robo-Calls Later, Why Won’t Rachel from Cardholder Services Just Go Away?,” Time reported:

The Federal Trade Commission, which in 2010 shut down a massive robo-calling operation that was responsible for a huge number of the calls from Rachel — and Stacey, a similar friendly voice selling auto warranties — said the responsible company made 2.6 billion calls in a year and a half period, of which 1.6 billion were answered by consumers. Of those, 12.8 million people actually spoke with an agent, the FTC said. Yes, it took a lot of calls (generated by computers, which don’t get too tired), but nearly 13 million people bit.

Following that shutdown, the FTC saw a decline in complaints from people on the national Do Not Call registry. But it was short-lived, with complaints soaring to a new record in 2011. Last week, the FTC settled a case against SBN Peripherals (a.k.a. Asia Pacific Telecom), agreeing to a permanent ban from telemarketing and a payment of $3 million in assets.

So, now that the company that made billions of calls is gone, why is Rachel still calling? Why are so many consumers still filing Do Not Call list complaints against her and her ilk? (She recently called my cell phone.)

While SBN and its related companies might have been Rachel’s biggest launching pad, it was hardly her only one. The FTC, which is in charge of policing Do Not Call violators, recognizes consumers’ frustration with Rachel’s persistence and the annoyance of these calls, which do not discriminate between home or cell phone. “Rachel is a sort of generic name recording that different scammers use,” explained FTC spokesman Frank Dorman. “It’s not just one big operation.”

And on 1 November 2012 the FTC announced:

FTC Leads Joint Law Enforcement Effort Against Companies That Allegedly Made Deceptive Cardholder Services Robocalls

  • Agency Gets Court Orders Disconnecting Five of Them

The Federal Trade Commission escalated its campaign against illegal, unwanted robocalls announcing that it pulled the plug on five companies based in Arizona and Florida allegedly responsible for millions of illegal pre-recorded calls from “Rachel” and others from “Cardholder Services.”  State partners in Arizona, Arkansas, and Florida also took legal action against similar companies.

Just two weeks after the FTC held a summit in Washington, DC, to examine the robocall problem, federal courts granted the agency’s request to temporarily halt five robocall operations that allegedly deceived consumers into paying hundreds or thousands of dollars by making phony claims that they could reduce credit card interest rates in return for an upfront fee.

“At the FTC, Rachel from Cardholder Services is public enemy number one,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.  “We’re cracking down on illegal robocalls by bringing law enforcement actions and pursuing technical solutions to the problem.”

The FTC gets more than 200,000 complaints each month about telemarketing robocalls, including calls from “Rachel” that pitch consumers with a supposedly easy way to save money by reducing their credit card interest rates.  After collecting an up-front fee, however, the FTC believes that the companies do little if anything to fulfill their promises.

And that’s just a sample of developments in 2012. More stories followed in 2013, and they’re still coming strong in 2014.

So Rachel, it seems, has more lives than a cat and is harder to kill than Godzilla.

Instead of sending our drones after people in other countries we unintentionally [or otherwise] provoked into striking back, why not send ‘em after Rachel and her enablers? I have had my left endlessly interrupted by anyone with turban, and no Muslim ever awakened me from a rare moment of peaceful sleep in the middle of an onerous course of chemo.

And why not sic the NSA on ‘em? After, they’re real enemies of domestic peace and tranquility. . .at least in our humble opinion.

At the very least, try these sociopathic assholes as organized crime under the federal RICO statutes [the way they should have gone after the banksters].

But wait, you say, didn’t I start this infernal essay with something about the afflictions of the elderly?

We’ve fallen and we can’t get up!

Now here’s where it gets interesting.

Rachel seems to be an omnivore, as predator feasting on the phones of folks of all ages.

But there’s another predator out there who seem to know if you’re receiving Social Security or Medicare benefits.

We learned about it the moment the first call came in back in 2012, and we are reminded of it on more days than not, often three or four times a day.

Once again, WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh was on the story with this segment from 29 August 2013:

Medical Alert Robocall Scheme

From the 4 June 2013 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Senior citizens warned about ‘robocalls’ for medical alert equipment

The state Attorney General issued a warning on Tuesday to older Pennsylvanians about a recent spike in so-called “robocalls” designed to deceitfully obtain billing information to charge $35 a month for purported monitoring services that may be unnecessary.

The businesses sometimes identify themselves as “Senior Medical Alert” or “Senior Medical Advisors,” state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane said. She said recorded messages tell pople they have been approved for medical alert equipment “at no charge.” When people respond, however, they are pressured into providing billing information, Kane said.

She said the robocalls use scare tactics to get seniors to respond quickly. Some seniors have received follow-up calls from telemarketers who are even more aggressive and harassing, Kane said.

A story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that same day marks the only instance we ever felt sympathy for the company that made the most obnoxious commercial ever:

Life Alert rides to the rescue on medical alert robocalls

The suit filed in a California federal court accuses a company named ConnectAmerica.com of robocalling consumers and leading them to believe that the calls and the products being sold are from Life Alert. That’s in no small part, the suit says, because callers sometimes mention the “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up” slogan that most people equate with Life Alert.

Life Alert told the court the robocalls are diluting its trademarked name and slogan.

The company asked the court to order Connect America and partners including LifeWatch Inc. to surrender the profits gained through the calls.

The medical alert calls have become as prevalent as those old Rachel calls used to be.

And here’s an announcement from Colleen Tressler of the Federal Trade Commission issued on 13 January of this year:

To robocall scammers who lied about free medical alert devices: We’ve got your number

The FTC warned people last summer about illegal prerecorded sales calls from scammers pitching safety alert systems for older adults. And now, the FTC and the Florida Attorney General have acted to temporarily halt and freeze the assets of an Orlando-based operation that not only used illegal robocalls to pitch so-called “free” medical alert devices to older consumers, but also lied about the cost and quality. The FTC and the Florida AG are working to permanently ban the operation from illegally pitching their products and to get refunds for victims.

The scammers lied when they said the devices had been bought for consumers by a relative or friend. Really? Don’t you think your friends and relatives would tell you if they bought you a gift, especially if you have to pay an activation and monthly monitoring fee? I know mine would. The scammers continued their lies when they told people they wouldn’t be charged anything before the devices were activated. In fact, the scammers started charging people who agreed to receive the system immediately, regardless of whether the system had been activated or not. Makes me so mad I could spit nails. A lot of the victims were elderly, live alone, and have limited or fixed incomes.

And that worked about as well as the stop-Rachel actions, given that we are getting the calls on average once a day.

On 19 June, the American Association of Retired People notified members:

Two New Twists in Returning Medical Scam

Remember those bogus offers for a free medical alert device? That robocall ripoff, which went viral last year, has returned with a vengeance – with two new twists.

But don’t be fooled. It’s the same old scam that tries to get your credit or bank account information for supposed monitoring fees for the “free” device that never arrives.

Provide that info and you risk identity theft.

The latest twists: Some robocalls now also promise that you’re entitled to $3,000 in money-saving coupons. Others falsely claim that the free-device offer is being made on behalf of AARP.

But what really makes us curious is how the phone criminals [and that’s what they are, even though none ever seems to wind up in handcuffs] managed to get massive lists of older people. Databases were breached. Which ones? How often?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Now the final irony. . .

Whilst compiling this fulminatory response to endless harassment, we mused that at least our cell phone was free from targeting.

Pride goeth before the fall.

No more than 10 minutes later, it rang. Just take a brief survey, we were told by recording, and we would be flown off to the Bahamas, accompanied by a companion, for a free cruise!

We punched O in a futile effort to reach a human, only to discover later while compiling this screed that my button-punching could’ve have inadvertently allowed a breach to personal data.

So don’t push buttons. . .

The cell does have a number capture, which whycall.me traced back to Brooks Fiber Communications in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Two folks logged calls from the number at the site, one reporting the same free cruise spiel, and the other:

Pre-recorded telemarketing message promotes resolving student loans. I NEVER HAD A STUDENT LOAN! This company does not vet their call list! I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND THIS COMPANY TO ANYBODY! ! ! ! ! VERY RUDE.

And to conclude. . .

Two offerings from the Federal Trade Commission’s Robocalls webpage, beginning with a short information video from FTC attorney Kati Daffin:

Robocalls Gone Wrong

Program notes:

Kati Daffin, attorney at the Federal Trade Commission, explains about the recent dramatic increase in illegal telemarketing robocalls, what the FTC is doing about it, and why it’s difficult to trace these calls.

And finally, for the nerds amongst, the infographic: How Does a Robocall Work?, A visual guide. And click on it to embiggen:

BLOG Robocalls

And call out the drones!

Protests: They’re not just for Hong Kong


While the world’s media have been focused on the Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong, they’re not the only demonstrations happening around the world today, first as witnessed in two clips from RT.

First up, protests in Rome again the European Central Bank, a financial engine of the austerity machine now gobbling up the last of the commons across South Europe:

Police clash with anti-ECB protesters in Italy

Program notes:

Thousands of protesters marched against austerity policies as the European Central Bank held a meeting at the Palace of Capodimonte in Naples, Thursday. Police deployed tear gas and water cannon against a group of protesters who attempted to climb the wall and enter the palace complex.

Next, from Argentina, a protest by indigenous people long troubled by land grabs and illegal forest-clearing mobilized to action by a death:

RAW: Cops clash with indigenous Mapuche in Chile

Program notes:

Chilean national police officers clashed with protesters from the indigenous Mapuche community, who gathered outside of the presidential palace in the capital, Santiago, on Wednesday. Mapuche demonstrated to bring attention to the death of a fellow Mapuche who was reportedly run over by a tractor trailer after entering a private plot of land in the Araucania region.

And in Paraguay, thousands of teachers and students have hit the streets to protest cuts in the national education budget.

From TeleSUR English:

Paraguay: Teachers protest budget cuts in public education

Program notes:

Teachers from all over Paraguay took to the streets in the capital city of Asuncion, in defense of public education in the country.

Finally, from Iran’s Press TV, a look at seniors in Paris who have hit the streets to protest cuts in social security benefits by the austerian “socialist” [sic] government of François Hollande:

Protesters in France held a rally against the economic policies of government

Program notes:

Protesters in France have held a rally against the economic policies of the government. The protest came after Paris cut social security payments for nearly half a million citizens. Ramin Mazaheri reports.

Headlines: Pols, cons, econs, lies, and more


Today’s tales from the realms of politics, eocnomics, and the environment begins with one of the reasons a cynic might believe it’s game over. From United Press International:

House bans Pentagon from preparing for climate change

  • Representatives: Amendment “is science denial at its worst and it fails our moral obligation to our children and grandchildren.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted mostly along party lines Thursday to approve an amendment to the $600 billion National Defense Authorization Act which prohibits the Pentagon from using any of its budget to address climate change and specifically instructs the Department of Defense to ignore the latest scientific reports on the threats posed by global warming.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. David McKinley, a Republican whose home state of West Virginia’s economy is heavily leveraged in coal mining, reads:

None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order.

The data the amendment is forcing the Pentagon to ignore are the most recent and comprehensive reports on the dangers the United States faces as a consequence of climate change.

Another reason, from CNBC:

25% of Americans saving $0 for retirement

  • Retirement savings for about a quarter of Americans amounts to … $0.

One in every 4 Americans is not saving for retirement at all, either because they are not thinking about it, do not really know how or, worse, do not feel they can afford to, according to a report by Country Financial.

Americans ages 18-29, often called “millennials,” are among the worst when it comes to saving for retirement, the firm said. Nearly a third—32 percent—aren’t saving at all for their “golden years.”

Bloomberg News excludes:

No Recovery for Workers in the Middle

  • Whether it’s the back seat of a subcompact car or the U.S. labor market, the middle can be an uncomfortable spot.

Highly educated Americans have been enjoying the recovery for quite a while. And low-skilled Americans may finally be recovering some of their lost ground, Bloomberg News reports. The jobless rate for workers with a high school education or less is down about one percentage point since December, for example.

Left out are so-called “middle skill” workers, according to a new analysis [PDF] from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The worse-than-mediocre prospects for these average workers repeats a four-decade trend. Recessions destroy a disproportionate number of middle-income jobs, like those held by secretaries and machine operators, that can be easily outsourced or automated. When the economy recovers, there’s demand for jobs at the top, like doctors and tech workers, and at the bottom, like restaurant workers and home health aides. But most of the jobs in the middle are gone forever.

From Reuters, you gotta beef with that?:

USDA warns of sticker shock on U.S. beef as grilling season starts

The Department of Agriculture has warned of sticker shock facing home chefs on the eve of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the unofficial start of the U.S. summer grilling season.

The agency said conditions in California could have “large and lasting effects on U.S. fruit, vegetable, dairy and egg prices,” as the most populous U.S. state struggles through what officials are calling a catastrophic drought.

The consumer price index (CPI) for U.S. beef and veal is up almost 10 percent so far in 2014, reflecting the fastest increase in retail beef prices since the end of 2003. Prices, even after adjusting for inflation, are at record highs.

China Daily hustles:

US hedge fund raises money from wealthy Chinese to invest abroad

In a milestone for the global hedge fund industry, US-based Citadel LLC has become the first global fund to raise money from wealthy Chinese individuals for investment abroad.

Chicago-based Citadel was one of six foreign hedge funds approved in September by China’s foreign-exchange regulator to each raise $50 million in yuan under the trial Qualified Domestic Limited Partner (QDLP) Program that allows high net worth Chinese to invest abroad via foreign hedge funds.

The company founded by billionaire Ken Griffin won regulatory approval for currency exchange on March 26, meaning it can now convert the yuan to US dollars for investing, according to a statement Wednesday from the Shanghai government’s information office.

China Daily again, with a visitor en route:

2.1m Chinese to visit US this year

An estimated 1.8 million Chinese tourists visited the US in 2013, and that number is expected to grow by 21 percent in to 2.1 million this year.

And US President Barack Obama has signaled that he’s going do what he can to increase not only the number of Chinese visitors, but all foreign tourists.

On Thursday, Obama signed a presidential memorandum giving secretaries at the Homeland Security and Commerce departments four months to come up with a plan to streamline the entry process for foreign visitors to reduce wait times.

A central bankster warning from Reuters:

Central banks must be on guard against currency wars, says ECB’s Coeure

Central banks need to cooperate to avoid a currency war, European Central Bank policymaker Benoit Coeure said on Friday, and the ECB should take account of the euro’s exchange rate in its monetary policy deliberations.

Speaking in Paris, Coeure also said that cutting the ECB’s deposit rate into negative territory was a policy option for the bank but would not be an exchange rate policy.

In a speech on “Currency wars and the Future of the International Monetary System”, Coeure asked whether, from the ECB’s perspective, central banks should take account of exchange rates in monetary policy; whether there is a currency war now; and whether international cooperation is needed in this regard.

Trust us, they say. Via EUbusiness:

Atlantic trade talks: US, EU seek to calm food worries

US and EU officials tried Friday to calm fears that an ambitious transatlantic free trade pact would not erode food safety rules.

Closing out five days of talks to advance the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiators stressed that any deal would not force Europeans to accept US foods already ruled unsafe in the European Union.

“We cannot envisage… changing our food safety law as a result of the trade negotiations,” EU negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero said at a press conference in Washington.

“There’s no intention of forcing the Europeans to eat anything that Europeans don’t want to eat — that’s not what this agreement is about,” said his US counterpart, Dan Mullaney.

From EUbusiness, sure, right:

Germany’s Schaeuble denies austerity sparked populist backlash

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble denied in an interview Friday that the rise of eurosceptics expected in weekend elections was due to austerity policies championed by Berlin.

He was asked by The Wall Street Journal whether anticipated gains by populist and anti-EU parties in the European Parliament vote until Sunday would be the price to pay for years of belt-tightening.

“Some will interpret it that way,” Schaeuble replied. “I think that’s wrong. You can see that our policy to stabilise the eurozone was successful.”

On to Britain and the right rising from BBC News:

Nigel Farage: UKIP to be serious players at general election

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his party will be “serious players” at the 2015 general election after it made gains in council polls across England.

Mr Farage said the “UKIP fox is in the Westminster hen house” after it gained more than 150 council seats.

The BBC’s projected national share of the vote suggests UKIP would have scored 17% in a Britain-wide election. Labour would have got 31% of the vote, ahead of Conservatives on 29% with the Liberal Democrats on 13%.

More from the Independent:

Local election results 2014: Nigel Farage hails Ukip’s ‘political earthquake’ and vows more to come

The three main political parties were last night assessing the damage from local elections in which they were all hit by the “political earthquake” that Nigel Farage’s Ukip promised and delivered.

Mr Farage predicted that his party’s sweeping gains outside London in Thursday’s council elections in England will be matched by coming first when the results of the European Parliament poll are declared on Sunday night.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all put their best gloss on yesterday’s town hall results. But behind the scenes, they were frantically calculating the impact that the new “four-party” political landscape would have on next year’s general election.

The Guardian recommends, righteously:

Jail fraudsters for longer, judges told

  • Guidelines from Sentencing Council instruct judiciary to make harm to victims a central factor in deciding on custody

Longer prison sentences for frauds that target the vulnerable and fresh sanctions against money-laundering are recommended in new judges’ guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council.

The impact of fraud on victims should be a central feature when judges come to consider the level of punishment imposed on convicted fraudsters, the guidance explains. Previous guidelines for many fraud offences referred to the harm done to victims merely as an aggravating factor.

Some of the recommendations significantly raise the starting point in terms of sentence length. The previous range for offences involving more than £500,000, for example, was four to seven years’ custody with a starting point of five years. The range in the new guideline is five to eight years with a starting point of seven.

The London Telegraph scents a bubbly deflation:

London’s property boom is losing its fizz

  • Even the super-rich are baulking at rising prices in the capital and would-be buyers are wary of a rise in interest rates

The Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate, that most canny of residential property owners, recently took the opportunity to offload hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of property in Mayfair and Belgravia, so silly had prices become. And it is not just the playgrounds of hedge fund bosses and Russian oligarchs that are feeling the chill. Long-favoured spill-over districts for those no longer able to afford Chelsea and South Kensington are also experiencing something of a hiatus. Properties aren’t selling, and those that do are frequently failing to achieve asking prices. “The market has come right off,” says one insider with his nose to the ground.

Viewed in this light, the imminent stock market flotation of Zoopla, the online property website, for some ridiculous sum of money may be something of a last hurrah, like the sky-high price put on the estate agent Foxtons back in 2008.

From the Guardian, a fracking letdown:

No shale gas potential in Weald basin, concludes British Geological Survey

  • Ministers deny hyping UK potential after BGS says only a fraction of Weald oil reserves is recoverable

Government hopes that Britain can emulate the US by starting a shale-gas revolution have been knocked back after a long-awaited report unexpectedly concluded there was no potential in fracking for gas in the Weald region of southern England.

Michael Fallon, the energy minister, insisted he was neither “disappointed nor happy” at the findings from the British Geological Survey and denied the government had hyped the potential for extracting shale gas in Britain.

He preferred to focus on more positive BGS findings that there could be 4.4bn barrels of oil in the shale rocks of the area, which stretches from Salisbury to Tunbridge Wells – although in practice recoverable reserves are likely to be a fraction of this.

More from the Independent:

No gas found in the Weald basin: Does this spell the end of the Government’s dream of a fracking revolution?

The Government’s dream of kickstarting a fracking revolution has suffered a major setback after a survey of one of the UK’s great shale gas hopes found no evidence of gas in the area.

And while the same survey – of the Weald basin, stretching from Wiltshire to Kent – did find an estimated 4.4 billion barrels of oil, the scientist who oversaw the project admitted it would be so difficult to extract that the basin would be unlikely to yield even 0.5 per cent of the oil so far extracted from the North Sea.

Robert Gatliff, director of energy and marine geoscience at the British Geological Survey, which produced the report, said: “It’s not a huge bonanza. But we have to see what happens.” He added: “It is going to be a challenge for the industry to get it out.”

By way of stunning contrast, the same basic story refracted through the lens of the stalwart conservative London Telegraph:

Fracking in Tory heartlands ‘in national interest’, says Michael Fallon as report reveals 4.4bn barrels of oil

  • Energy minister denies disappointment as experts say tiny fraction of oil can be recovered and will not lead to “huge bonanza”

Fracking should take place in Tory heartlands of south-east England “in the national interest”, energy minister Michael Fallon has said, despite expert warnings that there was not enough oil in the region to spark a “huge bonanza”.

A British Geological Survey study of the “Weald” basin revealed that 4.4bn barrels of shale oil was likely to lie in the area, primarily beneath Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

But the BGS said that only a small fraction of the oil – potentially 5pc, the equivalent of less than six months’ UK oil demand – was likely to be recoverable through fracking.

Mr Fallon insisted that fracking must go ahead in the area, despite it being largely covered by the South Downs National Park and by the Surrey Hills and High Weald Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – areas in which some Tory MPs have already suggested the drilling should not take place.

On to Norway and a rejection from TheLocal.no:

Norway scuppers China tycoon’s Arctic plan

The Norwegian government has leapt in to buy a huge swathe of Arctic land on the Svalbard archipelago a week after one of China’s richest property tycoons announced he might buy it to build a resort.

The land, a 216 square-kilometre estate with its own mountain and large coal reserves, had been put up for sale by the industrialist and farmer Henning Horn, and his sisters Elin and Kari Horn.

“The government has decided to work for a solution involving a state takeover Austre Adventfjord,” trade minister Monica Maeland said in a statement released on Thursday. “Through public ownership and Norwegian law, we have the best starting point for managing Svalbard for the common good.

Germany next, and a rare exception at a time other countries are doing the opposite, via TheLocal.de:

Ageing Germany lowers retirement age

German lawmakers approved on Friday a major pensions overhaul, criticised by many, including within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, as making little economic sense in a rapidly ageing country.

The new rules will allow some workers to retire at the age of 63, while the norm of 67 is being progressively phased in for workers in Europe’s top economy after a 2007 change.

Together with an improvement in pensions for mothers whose children were born before 1992, the reforms are set to cost Merkel’s left-right “grand coalition” €60 billion up to 2020.

From Deutsche Welle, diplomatic phrasing:

German business confidence takes a breather

  • Confidence among German business leaders has dropped slightly. A closely watched monthly poll by a leading economic think tank revealed executives expected business prospects to worsen later in the year

The Munich-based Ifo economic research institute reported Friday that its benchmark index gauging business confidence among top executives across the nation fell to 110.4 points in May, down from 111.2 points in the previous month.

The latest poll among some 7,000 managers indicated that on average, compared with last month, the executives polled consider the current business environment to be less favorable, and are less optimistic about prospects for the next six months.

In contrast, analysts polled by Reuters penciled in a less pronounced drop in the confidence barometer.

Süddeutsche Zeitung gets behind the wheel:

What’s Driving Gulf Cash To European Holdings

Once upon a time, buying an expensive German car was enough to make a rich sheikh happy. Lately it seems a car doesn’t quite cut it, though a sizeable stake in an entire German car company may do nicely, thank you.

Four years ago, for example, at a Volkswagen general assembly, a man was sitting up on the stage who didn’t look like the others there from the VW family dynasty. The man’s name was Hussain Ali Al-Abdulla, and he was a board member of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) that owns 17% of VW after acquiring most of Porsche’s share options.

Seventeen percent of the common stock of one of the world’s largest automakers is a great deal. But since the Porsche and Piëch families (via Porsche Holding) own over half of VW stocks and the state of Lower Saxony holds a further 20%, this 17% gives the QIA a strategic right to make its voice heard quite clearly — if not direct power.

France next, and an austerian rebuff from TheLocal.fr:

French military top brass threaten to quit over cuts

  • The battle over further cuts to France’s military budget prompted dire warnings from the country’s defence minister and a threat from the heads of the armed forces to resign

France’s defence minister has warned that any further cuts in the military budget would badly hamper operations amid reports that the top brass would quit if there was further belt-tightening.

French President François Hollande will take decisions on the issue in the coming weeks, his entourage said on Friday, following Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s letter to him. The warning comes at a time when France has sent troops to two of its former colonies in Africa, Mali and the Central African Republic, where there has been widespread fighting following coups.

If there are more cuts, “the army will become under-equipped and will not be able to undertake new operations,” said Le Drian.

And from EurActiv, in your heart you know they’re right, far right:

Marine Le Pen and Golden Dawn ‘flirting’

A post EU-election alliance between the French far-right National Front and the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is not entirely ruled out. EurActiv Greece reports.

Officially, Marine Le Pen has sought to distance the National Front from Golden Dawn and other parties it sees as being too extremist.

But the political balances in the next European Parliament and the openly ambiguous stance of Golden Dawn make an alliance still look possible.

Austria next, and the usual accumulation from TheLocal.at:

Austrian millionaires richer than ever before

  • The assets of Austria’s millionaires grew in 2013 by seven percent, to €262 billion, making them richer than ever before

Austria’s millionaires could pay off the country’s entire debt in one shot, and still have another €20 billion left over, according to a report by the Liechtenstein investment company Valluga.

It noted that the gap between rich and poor is widening in Austria.

A total of 4,600 Austrians became millionaires last year. This means that 82,300 people now have financial assets of more than €1 million, not including owner-occupied real estate.

Switzerland next and sounds of another bubble popping from TheLocal.ch:

Property prices plunge in Geneva region: report

After rising steadily for five years, home prices tumbled by an average of more than six percent in the city of Geneva during the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 2013.

That’s the estimate from UBS and real estate consultants Wüest & Partner for average prices of condominiums and villas, according to a report from the Tribune de Genève published on Thursday.

The estimate shows weaker prices across the Lake Geneva region, where an average drop of 2.4 percent was seen, and a slowdown in certain other parts of Switzerland.

Average prices were down by four percent in Lausanne and lower by about 1.5 percent in Winterthur in the canton of Zurich.

On to Spain, and a bankster benediction from New Europe:

S&P raises Spain’s credit rating a notch, cites better economic prospects

Standard & Poor’s rating agency has upgraded Spain’s sovereign credit grade a notch, the third agency to do so in recent months and a further sign the country is turning the corner after five years of economic turmoil.

The agency raised the grade to BBB from BBB-, citing improved economic prospects and praising the conservative government’s structural and labor reforms since 2010.

Two other agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, have also upgraded Spain this year.

El País delivers the grim working class reality:

One in five Spanish job seekers has not worked in three years

  • Long-term unemployment rose 22% last year, to 1.275 million
  • Experts warn problem will be lasting legacy of the economic crisis

Six years into a profound jobs crisis, and the full effects of long-term unemployment are beginning to emerge. Figures from the latest Active Population Survey show that 60% of Spain’s 6 million unemployed have not worked in a year. What’s worse is that among this group, the proportion of people who have been without work for three years or more is growing, and now stands at one out of every five job seekers, according to data published on Friday by the National Statistics Institute (INE).

The Active Population Survey shows that last year there was an average of 1,275,700 job seekers who, having been active previously, had been unable to return to the job market in at least three years. This represents a rise in long-term unemployment of 234,200 people compared with 2012, an increase of 22%.

Admittedly, the pace of the increase has fallen off in the last two years, when long-term unemployment was rising at a rate of 40% a year. But it remains way above the general unemployment rate, which has begun to fall in the last two quarters, as a result of the marked decline in the active population. In 2007 the proportion of people who had gone three years without working was just 13% of all job seekers, while in 2013 that figure reached 21%.

From TheLocal.es, that good ol’ hard times intolerance:

Spanish mayor ‘sorry’ for ‘anti-immigrant’ outburst

A Spanish mayor has apologised after being accused of racism by Romanian immigrants for a foul-mouthed tirade against thieves.

Mayor Josu Bergara was recorded in a meeting last year boasting that he had made sure “the scum no longer come” to his northern town of Sestao.

Five Romanian families lodged a complaint against him in court, accusing him of illegally refusing to register them as residents in the Basque town. They submitted a video of his outburst as evidence of racism to support their case, said the campaign group SOS Racismo, which aided the families.

Italy next, and last minute political vituperation from Corriere della Sera:

Grillo and Renzi Clash as Berlusconi Speaks in Rome

  • M5S leader claims: “Berlinguer is on our side”. Premier replies: “Wash your mouth out”. Berlusconi appeals for moderate vote

Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi took to the hustings in Rome, the former in Piazza del Popolo and the latter at the Palazzo dei Congressi in the EUR district. Meanwhile Beppe Grillo was in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo. The prime minister and the Five Star MoVement (M5S) leader swapped barbs over Enrico Berlinguer. “He’s on our side”, thundered former stand-up comic Grillo. “Wash your mouth out”, was the PM’s reply.

With the race to the polls entering the final straight, the three largest parties took to the streets at almost the same time on Thursday evening for their last rallies before the campaign officially closes. Earlier in the day, Mr Renzi said on Radio1′s Radio anch’io programme: “The risk is that someone might seek to block the reforms. I think that Italy can be a guide for Europe and has an amazing future. If they don’t let me make the reforms, then yes, my project will have failed and I’ll pack my bags”. Speaking in Piazza del Popolo, Mr Renzi recalled that “a united Europe started here” before launching his attack on the M5S leader: “Grillo mentioned Berlinguer in Florence. People who aren’t fit to speak names like that shouldn’t be mentioning them. You can’t say ‘I am beyond Hitler’ and ‘Berlinguer’ in the same breath. Wash your mouth out. Wash your mouth out. Wash your mouth out”.

“I solemnly pledge that all pensioners will get a €1,000 monthly pension, to be on the cabinet’s agenda for its first meetings”. Silvio Berlusconi made the promise at his EUR rally, where he added that a similar measure would be taken “in favour of housewives”. Mr Berlusconi said he was disappointed by Mr Renzi (“He’s meant more spending and more taxes”) and reaffirmed that Mr Grillo was taking advantage of “ordinary people’s desperation”.

From TheLocal.it, political realism?:

Red light district wins Rome mayor’s support

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino has said he is in favour of having a red light district in the Italian capital, following moves in Milan to see the sex trade regulated.

Marino said on Thursday he is “in favour of zones where prostitution is allowed and zones where it isn’t,” although added that as mayor he did not have the power to open a red light district in Rome.

“This overflow of prostitution doesn’t only damage the decorum of the city, but it is a great cause of public annoyance in some neighbourhoods,” he was quoted in Corriere della Sera as saying.

His rethink on regulation of the sex trade follows calls by Matteo Salvini, a Northern League (Lega Nord) politician in Milan, to open a red light district in Italy’s financial capital.

And fueling around with TheLocal.it:

ENI clinches Gazprom deal to cut gas prices

Italian energy major ENI on Friday said it had signed a deal with Russian gas giant Gazprom that will cut gas import prices as part of a revision of its contract.

“The agreement involves a reduction in supply prices and an important change in the price indexation to fully align it with the market,” ENI said in a statement.

It said the deal, which was signed in Russia by Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller and ENI boss Claudio Descalzi, would apply retroactively from the start of 2014.

Aftter the jump, the latest from Greece [including accelerating political fireworks], the latest from the Ukraine, Libyan vexation, Venezuelan vituperation, Thai coup grip intensification, Aussie educational austerity, Chinese economic uncertain and corruption woes, Sony tries again, Japanese financial plans, environmental woes, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Cons, mergers, & Fukunightmares


Long collection of headlines from the worlds of economics, politics, environmental nightmares, and the Fukushima disaster, so we go straight on, first with a headline from New America Media:

FACTS ON ETHNIC ELDERS: Recession Leaves Ethnic Families ‘Beyond Broke’

Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans face an economic “quadruple whammy,” leaving them with little or no financial cushion as they age, finds a new study released Monday.

Titled “Beyond Broke: Why Closing the Racial Wealth Gap is a Priority for National Economic Security,” the study used 2011 Census data to examine household worth for all ages. It found that the medium net worth of households of color from 2005-2011 dropped 58 percent for Latinos, 48% for Asians, 45% for African Americans — but only 21 percent for whites.

“You have the racial gap in pay, the gender gap in pay, the ageism gap in pay and predominantly single-income households,” says Maya Rockeymoore, president of the Center for Global Policy Solutions (CGPS) which commissioned the study. “You’re looking at the intersection of all of these disparities.”

Injustice for all, via NPR:

As Court Fees Rise, The Poor Are Paying The Price

A yearlong NPR investigation found that the costs of the criminal justice system in the United States are paid increasingly by the defendants and offenders. It’s a practice that causes the poor to face harsher treatment than others who commit identical crimes and can afford to pay. Some judges and politicians fear the trend has gone too far.

A conducted by NPR found that defendants are charged for many government services that were once free, including those that are constitutionally required. For example:

  • In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender.
  • In at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for jail and prison stays.
  • In at least 44 states, offenders can get billed for their own probation and parole supervision.
  • And in all states except Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.

But some are doing well, via The Wire:

Tiffany Sold Much More Bling Than Usual This Quarter

Tiffany & Co. had an incredible quarter, blowing away analysts predictions. Tiffany reported $1 billion in revenue during the first quarter, jumping 13 percent from this time last year. Worldwide, sales increased 15 percent. Their income was $125.6 million, a 50 percent jump from 2013. Earnings were up $0.97 a share.

The key to these spectacular earnings numbers was not their highest-end luxury items, but Tiffany’s lower-cost pieces, led by the Atlas Collection. The most expensive piece in that collection is the Atlas Cocktail Watch, which is 18k rose gold and complete with 197 diamonds (just under two carats.) It’s cost is $26,500. While that might be pricey, pieces in the popular Elsa Peretti collection go well above $30,000 and the Yellow Diamonds collection offers a variety of pieces in the $100,000 range.

For these lower priced pieces, the profit margin is actually higher. This helped drive profit margins for the company as a whole. Last year, the margin was 56.2 percent, and this quarter it was up to 58.2 percent.

The Berkeley Blog covers another divide:

The Digital Divide Redux: Broadband, Net Neutrality, and the Comcast-Time Warner Merger

A few months ago, Comcast announced a $45 billion deal to purchase Time Warner. Although much of the initial commentary focused on the potential effect this proposed merger would have in the cable television market (since Comcast and Time Warner are the first-and second- largest cable providers in the US), the effects in the broadband market are far more important.  Research at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society suggests that broadband is an increasingly critical element of social, economic and civic life.

In its 2010 “National Broadband Plan” report, the FCC describes Broadband as “the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.”  Just as the interstate highway system transformed residential life, facilitated the growth of the suburbs, and connected families to the broader economy of a region, broadband is a structural conduit for opportunity and upward mobility and in America today.  Unfortunately, like the interstate highway system and the residential patterns it engendered, broadband access and affordability may yet become a new form of segregation in America.  A research paper [PDF] co-authored by Haas Institute researcher Samir Gambhir notes the inequality of broadband access, affordability and quality experienced by low-income neighborhoods, rural households, and communities of color in particular.

The Comcast-Time Warner merger would give Comcast control over 40 percent of the country’s internet service in 19 of the country’s top 20 cable markets.  Imagine if one corporation privately controlled 40% of the most important roads, streets, highways and bridges in those same markets.  The issue isn’t just access; its affordability and quality (such as internet speed) for low-income families and many marginalized communities. If the Comcast-Time Warner merger reduces competition and increase the price of broadband access, the harms to upward mobility, economic opportunity and our nation would be far reaching.

And another merger warning sign from PC Advisor:

Comcast and Time Warner rank dead last in satisfaction as merger looms

  • A combined company would probably be even worse, according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index.

In the latest survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (via DSL Reports), the two companies landed at the bottom of the list for both TV and Internet services.

Comcast scored 60 points for television service, which is five points less than the industry average, and three points lower than last year’s score. Time Warner Cable scored 56 points, down 4 points from last year, and nine points lower than the industry average. DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse were on top of the list with 69 points. (Incidentally, AT&T is now hoping regulators will approve an acquisition of DirecTV.)

Internet service was even worse. Comcast scored 57 points, down from 62 points last year, while Time Warner’s score dropped to 54 points, from 63 points in 2013. Both companies are now far below the industry average of 63 points, and nowhere near Verizon’s 71 points for its FiOS service.

Via Reuters, serial killers unite:

Exclusive: Reynolds American, Lorillard in advanced merger talks

Reynolds American Inc (RAI.N) is in active discussions to buy Lorillard Inc (LO.N) in a complicated, three-way transaction that could see British American Tobacco PLC (BATS.L) take a major role to back a potential merger, according to people familiar with the matter.

The proposed deal, which is in late stage talks, would unite the second- and third-largest U.S. tobacco companies that have a combined market value of nearly $55 billion, putting brands such as Reynolds’ Camel and Lorillard’s Newport under one roof.

The companies are working to finalize an agreement in as soon as a matter of weeks but the talks will likely take longer given the complex structure, the people said, asking not to be named because the matter is not public.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, pushing the neoliberal agenda to the East:

Japan, U.S. play leading roles in acceleration of TPP talks

The progress made toward this summer’s broad agreement during ministerial-level negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact in Singapore on Monday and Tuesday was largely due to accelerated discussions on tariffs, in response to the substantial agreement made between Japan and the United States.

Cooperation between the two nations to lead TPP talks also proved effective.

Speaking at a joint press conference after the two-day meeting, Australian Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb praised the acceleration of the negotiations as a whole in the wake of the breakthrough between Japan and the United States. He added that the progress in the Japan-U.S. negotiations had set a precedent for future negotiations on the TPP pact.

And pushing it to the West with EUbusiness:

New round of Atlantic trade pact talks opens in Washington

US and European negotiators opened a new round of talks on creating a transatlantic free trade zone Monday amid rising political and public resistance to the deal on both sides.

The fifth round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will cover the details of proposals from the US and EU sides, with no aim to resolve the most difficult divisions between the two sides, officials said.

“This is clearly not the stage in which the difficult political decisions need to be taken,” an EU official said ahead of the talks.

Xinhua predicts:

World economy poised to grow moderately, but lower than pre-crisis levels

The global economy is expected to strengthen over the next two years, despite a downgrade of growth prospects for some developing economies and economies in transition, showed a UN report released here Wednesday.

In the mid-year update of UN World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP), global growth rate was revised down from the forecasts presented in the WESP 2014.

Growth of world gross product (WGP) is now projected at 2.8 percent in 2014 and 3.2 percent in 2015, up from 2.2 percent in 2013, the report said. However, this pace of expansion is still lower compared to the growth level before the 2008 global financial crisis.

And on to Europe, first with Al Jazeera:

EU far-right expects success in elections

  • Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant parties hope to make big gains in vote for a new EU parliament.

From May 22-25, hundreds of millions of people from the European Union’s 28 member countries will vote for members of the European Parliament, one of the EU’s two legislative bodies.

The last elections were held in 2009, before the depths of Europe’s economic and financial crises. Since then, five EU countries – Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus – have required bailouts, and unemployment across the continent, especially among youth, has remained persistently high.

This has led many Europeans to sour on the union – a disenchantment reflected in polling figures that show a significant portion of the electorate plans on voting for far-right parties for the European Parliament.

These parties are highly sceptical of European government and the euro, and staunchly oppose immigration and multiculturalism. Far-right groups look poised to make especially large gains in the Netherlands, Greece, France and Hungary.

Britain next, and austerity rampant with the Independent:

NHS in the red: Hospitals forced to beg Government for equipment loans and electricity bills

The intense financial pressure faced by NHS hospitals has been laid bare in a series of letters, which range from pleas for bailout loans to replace defunct equipment, attempts to fend off legal threats from suppliers and even requests to pay off electricity bills.

Details of requests for short-term financial aid sent to the Department of Health reveal that one NHS trust was threatened with having the electricity supply shut off at a building on their hospital site, while another said it faced an “untenable level of equipment breakdown and obsolescence”.

The 15 loan requests, made in February and March this year, which were released following Freedom of Information requests from the Health Service Journal, reveal the impact of the NHS financial crisis for England’s most hard-up hospitals.

65 NHS trusts in England are already in financial deficit. A recent survey of NHS finance directors revealed that two thirds are concerned their trust will go into the red in the year of the General Election.

On to Paris and anticipated tarnishing from France 24:

Far-right win in European elections ‘will tarnish French image’

Most opinion polls in France forecast an unprecedented victory for France’s far-right National Front party in Sunday’s European elections, an outcome that observers warn will strip France of its influence on the continent.

Surveys indicate that the anti-euro National Front (FN) is poised to claim between 23 and 24 percent of all votes cast in EU parliamentary elections, which are less than a week away.

Buoyant from its best-ever performance in French municipal elections in March, in which it conquered 11 city councils, the far-right FN has campaigned under the slogan “No to Brussels, yes to France.”

A partisan plague from TheLocal.fr:

Immigration in France: No need for ‘Mr Ebola’

As the National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen courts trouble by suggesting the Ebola virus could solve the immigration problem in France, the author of a new OECD report on immigration in Europe says it’s no longer even a significant phenomenon in France.

As expected, given that he is vying for re-election as a member of the European parliament on Sunday, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the controversial honorary president of France’s anti-EU National Front party voiced his opinions on immigration this week.

Le Pen, who has been convicted of hate speech on numerous occasions, could be up in court again after suggesting the deadly Ebola virus could solve the global “population explosion” and thus Europe’s “immigration problem”.

Tracking down an error with AFP:

Red faces as new French trains ‘too wide’ for stations

Cash-strapped France will have to trim back some 1,300 rail platforms at a cost of 50 million euros after realising a brand new fleet of trains are too big to fit its stations, rail operators admitted Wednesday.

The problem affects 182 regional trains supplied by French manufacturer Alstom and 159 from Canada’s Bombardier, due to come into service by 2016.

Two state rail bodies, the Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF) and the Reseau Ferre de France (RFF), acknowledged the embarrassing situation in a joint statement on Wednesday after it was revealed by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine.

Via TheLocal.fr, pimping for laundromats?:

Far-right mayor bans drying laundry in public

The newly elected far-right mayor of the French town of Beziers has once again laid down the law to residents. After imposing a curfew on teenagers and higher fines for dog waste, Robert Ménard has now banned them from drying their laundry on their balconies.

Robert Ménard the far-right mayor of the southern French town of Beziers is back in the headlines this week.

Ménard was only elected two months ago, with the support of Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, but no one can accuse him of putting his feet up once in office.

Off to Austria with TheLocal.at and action contemplated:

Third of Austrians in favour of ‘tax strike’

Some Austrian companies have started a kind of tax strike – by refusing to make some tax payments they want to put pressure on the government to make more savings.

A poll carried out by the OGM market research group, on behalf of the daily Kurier newspaper showed that a third of people asked were in favour of a tax strike and believed that tax money is being wasted.

Fifty-two percent of people thought a tax strike was not justified, while 33 percent thought it was. “Most of the population is not self-employed and view entrepreneurs as rich, because people think they have big companies. Envy plays a role. Nevertheless it’s noteworthy that 33 percent approve of the tax boycott,” OGM pollster Karin Cvrtila said.

Deflating with TheLocal.at:

Real estate bubble: ‘The hype is over’

  • Austria has experienced something of a real estate bubble in recent years, but some experts believe the market is now calming down.

Specialists from the Austrian Chamber of Commerce’s advisory group on real estate have said that while property costs increased significantly in 2013, current signs suggest that this year growth should be relatively flat, according to the Wirtschafts Blatt.

“While there continues to be a general upwards trend – in many regions the price increases have stopped, the hype is over,” real estate chairman Thomas Malloth explained.

In January, the Austrian National Bank (ÖNB) warned of the possibility of a real estate bubble, with prices in Vienna for selected apartments rising by 21 percent over the previous 12 months. Tenants have been complaining about rising rents, which seem to have been driven by speculative investors.

Spain next, and a hard times intolerance intolerance from  El País:

Spanish government asks state attorney to crack down on Twitter hate speech

  • Prosecutor warns of difficulty of tackling all online insults in generalized way
  • “Incitement to hatred” provision cannot be applied to all cases, she says

The initiative began a month ago with an Interior Ministry order to “clean out the web” that resulted in 21 arrests for glorifying terrorism. Some of the suspects had been asking for Basque terrorist group ETA to kill again and mocking the victims of its decades-long campaign.

But the crackdown on hate speech has taken on new urgency following the recent assassination of Popular Party (PP) politician Isabel Carrasco, which spawned an outbreak of messages from people celebrating the murder and calling for further killings of PP members.

This week, Jewish associations reported more than 18,000 offensive messages on Twitter after Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid on Sunday to win the Euroleague title.

Lisbon next and a diktat from Berlin via the Portugal News:

Germany tells Portuguese – Get out or get a job

The Portuguese secretary of state for the communities acknowledged on Wednesday that the government was applying political pressure to avoid the approval of a law by the German CSU party on the repatriation of unemployed immigrants.

“We are following the situation directly through our embassies and hope the decisions that are taken are not going to excessively penalise the Portuguese”, José Cesário told Lusa News Agency.

The ‘Diário de Notícias’ newspaper said on Wednesday that the CSU, one of the parties in Angela Merkel’s coalition government, had put forward a proposal that immigrants who had been unemployed for between three and six months should be repatriated. The paper said the measure could affect more than 5,600 Portuguese who are in Germany without a job.

Off to Italy and another Bunga Bunga scandal from TheLocal.it:

Ex-Berlusconi MP probed over labour aide’s murder

Prosecutors in Bologna have opened an investigation involving the murder of Marco Biagi, a labour ministry adviser who was shot dead in 2002, after it was revealed that senior polticians, including Claudio Scajola, an-ex minister, may have been aware of the danger he was under.

Biagi was assassinated by the extreme-left Red Brigades as he made his way home in March 2012, shortly after Scajola, who was interior minister at the time, had taken away his police escort.

Scajola is currently in jail in Rome after being arrested earlier this month for allegedly helping Calabrian businessman Amedeo Matacena escape a five-year-jail term for mafia collusion conviction.

From ANSA, not in a humoring mood:

Don’t send ‘clowns’ to Europe – Renzi

  • Premier says PD represents ‘seriousness’

Premier Matteo Renzi appealed to the Italian people not to vote for “clowns” in Sunday’s European elections. The broadside by the head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) was aimed at comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo and his anti-estasblishment 5-Star Movement (M5S). The PD is top in most polls, but Grillo is confident his M5S, who are second in the surveys after capturing a stunning 25% of the vote in last year’s general election, can come first with a late surge.

“We don’t need shows and clownery in the European parliament, we don’t need to climb on the roof,” Renzi said on Italian radio referring to a recent M5S protest on the roof of the Italian Lower House. “We need seriousness, people who are well prepared and further Italy’s interests”.

Renzi also blasted the language used in the campaign by Grillo, who, among other things, suggested that the premier will suffer a political “lupara bianca” – a term used to refer to a mafia hit that leaves no trace of evidence – after the European elections.

ANSA again, and he’s makin’ a list:

Grillo calls for ‘people’s trial’ of system after EU poll

Web-based trial to nail blame for Italy’s ‘collapse’

Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), on Wednesday called for putting politicians, industrialists and journalists “on trial” using an online system and popular vote among M5S members after European Parliament elections this month.

The comedian turned politician wrote on his blog that the aim of the Web-based “trial” was to “inform citizens about the theft and embezzlement of a system that led to the collapse of Italy” “Just as you can’t build on rubble, you can’t build a new Italy without clearing the land of those who have plundered, transforming the fifth (sixth?) industrial power into a desert,” Grillo said.

The often foul-mouthed protest leader announced “lists” of suspects would be created.

Bunga Bunga bloviation from Corriere della Sera:

Berlusconi Attacks “Killer” Grillo

Former prime minister says M5S leader “killed three friends in an accident. Watching this gentleman moralise upsets me”. Grillo replies: “He doesn’t even believe what he’s saying any more”

“Grillo is a convicted criminal, a killer”. The Forza Italia (FI) leader went on: “Grillo knows all about staying out of jail. He is guilty of killing three of his friends by ignoring a no entry sign. He got 14 months for multiple manslaughter”. Mr Berlusconi, speaking on the La7 TV talk show L’aria che tira, raised the election campaign stakes. His most direct thrust was: “He ought to have gone to jail but he got away with it. He shouldn’t be talking about that sort of thing. Watching this gentleman moralise upsets me. And he only used to do shows if he was paid cash. He was known for that”.

Mr Berlusconi went on: “He killed three friends, ignoring a warning that there was ice on the road. He managed to get out of the car but his three friends didn’t. They died. He was sentenced to 14 months in jail for multiple manslaughter”. Speaking to Enrico Mentana on La7′s Bersaglio Mobile programme, the FI leader added: “I realise there’s an election coming up but when Renzi compares me to Grillo and says we’re two sides of the same coin, he’s way off the mark”.

Beppe Grillo was quick to respond. The Five Star MoVement (M5S) leader said Mr Berlusconi was a “poor thing who doesn’t even believe what he’s saying any more. He’s talk show-hopping for the sake of his businesses, not the electorate”.

And a Grillo spawn stigmatizes the poor, via TheLocal.it:

Mayor plans to scrap dessert for poor kids

Only wealthy children will be given dessert with their school lunches, while those from poor families will go without, under plans drawn up by a mayor in central Italy.

The mayor of Pomezia, Fabio Fucci, has proposed the two-tier menu system in response to requests from a number of low-income families, Corriere della Sera said on Tuesday.

Under the plan, parents will be able to pick from two menus of different prices. The more expensive one will come with dessert, while children from poorer families will go without the sweet.

The move by the Five Star Movement (M5S) mayor has been met with ire in some quarters.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including new bribery scandals], Russia strikes a massive deal, the Libyan coup intensifies, a Ukrainian election ultimatum, a bumper cr[h]ash crop in Libya, Brazilian World Cup blues, Argentine bankster woes and student discontent, a Venezuelan stalemate, the new Dirty Digger, a bankster blessing for India’s theocon winner, Thai uncertainty, Chinese labor loses and a Putin partnership, an Abenomics push in Japan, environmental woes, stolen baby brains [and not by zombies], and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Via Post Secret: Life in post-New Deal America


From Post Secret, where folks submit the secret thoughts close to the core of their beings, an anonymous message that strikes close to home for esnl:

BLOG Golden

Such is life in an America where the New Deal protections of the 1930′s and the ideals they embodied have been gutted, along with the labor unions that paid a major role in their enactment.

Pension plans have been gutted and the rules of the financial game changed profoundly, resulting in a concentration of wealth as great as that preceding the Great Depression.

Polling shows that most people in most countries believe the world will be worse for their children than it has been for them. We all know the warning signs, though most of us [esnl not included] have a comforting religion or belief system that promises a better afterlife, or at least victory over pain and suffering.

For great many of, anxieties about retirement are real and imminent, as they are for us.

And we also know what it means to be confronted with a cancer where diagnosis means if not certain death, the the high likelihood [80 percent or more] of a short-term lethal outcome.

And so spotting the card at Post Secret sunk home, 13 months after the chemo that has carried its own not-insignificant price.

And such are the thoughts of a Thursday evening. . .