“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ― Isaac Asimov

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The State of White America

Today, less privileged white Americans are considered to be in crisis, and the language of sociologists and pathologists predominates. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 was published in 2012, and Robert D. Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis came out last year. From opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, they made the case that social breakdown among low-income whites was starting to mimic trends that had begun decades earlier among African Americans: Rates of out-of-wedlock births and male joblessness were rising sharply. Then came the stories about a surge in opiate addiction among white Americans, alongside shocking reports of rising mortality rates (including by suicide) among middle-aged whites. And then, of course, came the 2016 presidential campaign. The question was suddenly no longer why Democrats struggled to appeal to regular Americans. It was why so many regular Americans were drawn to a man like Donald Trump.

This Land Is Our Land

One little known fact about Woody Guthrie’s iconic song is that the earliest known recording from 1944 includes the following verse:

There was a big high wall there, that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.

This verse was stripped from the song and largely forgotten until 1997, when an archivist at the Smithsonian heard a master version as it was being transferred to a digital recording for preservation in the National Archives.

This summer, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Parks Service, we must not take our public lands for granted. There are those who would turn these magnificent places over to private interests to exploit the land for its resources or develop and wall off areas for the benefit of a few. We should take note of the nearly forgotten verse from Guthrie’s song and heed its warning.

From EARTHJUSTICE: Leaders in Washington, D.C., largely dismissed the militants involved in the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as law-breaking fringe elements. But at the same time, some in Congress were quietly working up legislation that would indeed sell America’s birthright to the highest bidder.

Confessions of a Payday Lender

Payday Loans

FEDERAL REGULATORS EARLIER this month unveiled new rules aimed at reining in payday lenders and the exorbitant fees they charge. Now expect to hear a lot of what one payday lender named Phil Locke calls “the lies we would tell whenever we were under attack.”

The new rules announced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are relatively straightforward, if not also a disappointment to some consumer advocates. A payday loan is typically a two-week advance against a borrower’s next paycheck (or monthly social security allotment, for that matter); lenders commonly charge $15 on every $100 borrowed, which works out to an annual interest rate of almost 400 percent (600% in Virginia). Under the CFPB’s proposal, lenders would have a choice. One option would require them to perform the underwriting necessary to ensure that a borrower, based on his or her income and expenses, can afford a loan. Another option requires them to limit the customer to no more than six of these loans per year (and no more than three in a row).

The state-by-state interest rates customers are charged on payday loans. The rates are calculated based on a typical $300, two-week loan. Source: Center for Responsible Lending

The state-by-state interest rates customers are charged on payday loans. The rates are calculated based on a typical $300, two-week loan. Source: Center for Responsible Lending

Read more at THE INTERCEPT

Need help? Contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

America’s Water Crisis Extends Far Beyond Flint

Crisis: Clean water is a basic human right. Why are we charging so much for it?

Clean water is a basic human right. Why are we charging so much for it?

America’s water crisis: as with all environmental injustices, this one falls especially hard on non-whites.

Aging infrastructure + warming climate = rising prices. That’s the basic conclusion of a new report showing that clean water is getting more expensive in cities across the country — in some cases, far more expensive than what poor residents can reasonably afford for what should be a basic human right.

Rates vary hugely across the country — water will cost you five times as much in Seattle as in Salt Lake City, for example — but on average, the cost of clean water and wastewater services has risen 41 percent over the last five years, according to an examination of national data by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a human rights advocacy organization.

The new report blames rising water costs on a variety of factors, including:

  • Pollution from industry, agriculture, and fossil fuel production, requiring more communities to clean and treat their drinking water. Climate change, by increasing salinity and algal blooms, makes the problem worse.
  • Population growth and drought in the arid Southwest and elsewhere (the new normal due to climate change), which means water is traveling farther to reach consumers, increasing costs accordingly. Drought surcharges can bring a family’s bill above $300 per month in some places.
  • Increased rainfall from climate change in the East and Midwest, which causes flooding and fills water systems with pollution. Detroit struggles with overflowing sewers during heavy rainfalls, while New York City has to discharge sewage into its harbor after a storm. These situations can require costly upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities.

As with all environmental injustices, this one falls especially hard on non-whites. “Today, one in every two African-American Michiganers live in cities that violate their human rights to water and sanitation,” the service committee reports. Detroit and Flint, whose water problems have made national news over the past year, have majority black populations, as does Lowndes County, Ala., which has no functioning sewer system.

From an article at GRIST

Fully Loaded

Inside the Shadowy World of America’s 10 Biggest Gunmakers

Gunmakers_Beretta_630[1]They are all white, all middle-aged, and all men. A few live openly lavish lifestyles, but the majority fly under the radar. Rarely is there news about them in the mainstream media or even the trade press. Their obscurity would seem unremarkable if we were talking about the biggest manufacturers of auto accessories or heating systems. But these are America’s top gunmakers—leaders of the nation’s most controversial industry. They have kept their heads down and their fingerprints off regulations designed to protect their businesses—foremost a law that shields gun companies from liability for crimes committed with their products.

With this investigation, Mother Jones set out to break through the opacity surrounding the $8 billion firearms industry and the men who control it.

Many of these companies’ top executives have donned the jacket bestowed to members of the Golden Ring of Freedom, an exclusive club for $1 million-plus donors to the National Rifle Association. Several have been the focus of criminal investigations and lawsuits over everything from arms trafficking and fraud to armed robbery and racketeering.

As the debate over gun laws has grown louder, sales have soared. In the year following the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the three largest gunmakers—Sturm Ruger, Remington Outdoor, and Smith & Wesson—netted more than $390 million in profits on record sales. Shares in publicly traded Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson jumped more than 70 percent that year, benefiting institutional investors such as Vanguard, Blackrock, and Fidelity. The hedge fund that owns Remington Outdoor—maker of the assault rifle used in Newtown—saw the annual return on its investment grow tenfold.

Read more at MOTHER JONES

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