Obama announces right-wing immigration “reform” in national address

http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/11/20/multimedia/obama-immigration-speech/obama-immigration-speech-videoSixteenByNine540-v2.jpg

By Patrick Martin
21 November 2014

US President Barack Obama delivered a nationally televised address on Thursday night, giving a preview of an executive order on immigration to be signed and made public on Friday.

As with most speeches by Obama, Thursday’s remarks exuded hypocrisy and cynicism. The proposal that Obama is implementing is thoroughly right-wing. His comments combined empty homilies describing the United States as a “nation of immigrants” with proclamations that the estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrant workers must “play by the rules” and be held “accountable.”

The program outlined by Obama would cover less than half of the 11-12 million undocumented immigrant workers and children now in the US, with the remainder subject to immediate detention and deportation as “illegals.” In its six years in office, the Obama administration has already deported more immigrants than any government in US history.

Despite the howls of “amnesty” from sections of the Republican Party, and praise for the White House from its media backers and Democratic Party-affiliated Latino groups, Obama’s executive order is anything but a green light for immigrant workers seeking legal status, economic security and recognition of their human rights.

As Obama explained in his speech, the bulk of the 5 million or so immigrants who qualify for non-deportation and work permits must have lived in the United States more than five years and have children who are American citizens or legal residents. They must register with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), pass a criminal background check, and pay any back taxes. In return, they will “be able to stay temporarily,” Obama said.

Obama’s speech was entirely within the right-wing framework of official American politics, in which workers who come to the United States fleeing poverty and dictatorship—for which American imperialism is principally responsible—and take the hardest and worst-paid jobs are demonized as criminals who must be “held accountable.” Meanwhile, the true criminal class in America, the financial aristocracy that controls both the Democratic and Republican parties, amasses untold and unearned wealth.

Referring to immigrant workers, Obama said, “All of us take offense at anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America.” Who is he talking about? Who is reaping rewards without taking responsibility?

Such terms apply with much greater justice to the parasitic ruling elite that Obama and the congressional Republicans and Democrats represent. These gentlemen were bailed out to the tune of trillions following the 2008 financial crash. But no banker or hedge fund mogul has had to repay these infusions of taxpayers’ money or been held accountable for the financial manipulations and fraud that wiped out the jobs and living standards of tens of millions of working people.

“Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable,” Obama declared. The Obama administration has refused to apply this standard to bankers and speculators who broke laws against swindling, or CIA agents who broke laws against torture, or top officials of the Bush administration who waged illegal wars and lied to the American people. And, of course, the Obama administration itself operates outside the law, trampling on the US constitution in its assertion of unlimited presidential powers to spy on, arrest, detain and even assassinate American citizens.

Under the Obama plan, the majority of workers who have entered the country without legal documents will still be treated as criminals, to be expelled from the country as soon as they are discovered. The four million to five million covered by the executive order will become a federally regimented cheap labor force. Those who register with the DHS will gain only temporary security, subject to the decisions of the next president—or Obama himself if circumstances change in the next two years—in which case the DHS database will become an invaluable resource for the resumption of mass roundups, detentions and deportations.

Obama hailed as a model the reactionary immigration bill passed last year by a bipartisan majority in the US Senate, while complaining that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had refused to bring it to a vote. This bill placed its main emphasis on border security while establishing a draconian 17-year-long process through which some undocumented workers could gain citizenship.

The administration has already implemented many of the Senate bill’s border security measures. Obama boasted of the record number of federal agents, sensors and drones mobilized on the US-Mexico border and announced, as the first part of his executive order, even further militarization: “We’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.”

White House officials said that some provisions of the Senate bill, such as the citizenship process and special provisions for temporary agricultural workers, were beyond the president’s legal authority to enact in an executive order. The immigration measure was drafted under the rubric of “prosecutorial discretion,” in which the president, as chief executive, can decide to prioritize enforcement of immigration laws against particular categories of immigrants, given that the federal government lacks the resources to immediately round up 12 million people.

Obama spent a considerable portion of his speech defining how narrow the executive order would be, including denying Medicaid, food stamps or other benefits to immigrants given work permits.

“This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently,” he said. “It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive—only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.”

As in many of his policy statements, Obama sought to present his immigration order as a happy medium between two extremes. “Mass amnesty would be unfair,” he claimed. “Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability—a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

“Mass amnesty” is, in fact, the only policy compatible with democratic principles. All workers should have the right to live in whatever country they choose with full citizenship rights. But under the capitalist system, capital is globally mobile while the working class is imprisoned within the borders of the nation-state.

Obama’s claim that mass deportation is “contrary to our character” conceals a contradiction. Certainly, for the vast majority of working people, the police state measures that would be required to round up and deport 12 million people, ripping apart millions of families, would be abhorrent. (By one estimate, 13 percent of all school children in California and Texas have at least one undocumented parent).

But for the US ruling elite, and for the Obama administration in particular, “rounding up millions” is perfectly conceivable. In its six years in office, the Obama administration has rounded up nearly three million immigrants already. Large sections of the Republican Party advocate detention and expulsion of millions more.

The dispute between the parties, insofar as it exists, reflects divisions within the ruling elite over how politically explosive such an operation would be and how disruptive of the functioning of large sections of the US economy that depend on superexploited immigrant labor.

Sections of the Republican Party, particularly those linked to the ultra-right Tea Party groups, have long used demagogic attacks on immigrants as a political weapon. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma suggested that any action by Obama perceived as pro-immigrant could touch off vigilante-style actions.

“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation,” he told USA Today. “You’re going to see—hopefully not—but you could see instances of anarchy. You could see violence.”

Obama made repeated appeals to ultra-right sentiment in the course of his television speech, pleading with Republicans that disagreement over immigration should not prevent collaboration in other policy areas once they take full control of Congress in January.

There is particular concern in Corporate America that the immigration issue could disrupt passage of a federal budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which began October 1. A continuing resolution to fund the government expires December 11, and House and Senate Republican leaders have been at pains to reassure Wall Street that there will be no repetition of the 2013 temporary shutdown of the government and no default on federal debt payments.

The Los Angeles Times, in one of the few press commentaries that cut through the pretense of huge disagreements between the two parties, noted Thursday that “the strong reaction by Republican leaders has less to do with opposition to the nuts and bolts of the president’s immigration policy and more to do with fear and anger that the issue will derail the agenda of the new Republican majority before the next Congress even convenes.” This includes making deals with Obama over pro-business measures on taxes, trade and energy policy.

 

 

US government, corporations preparing new offensive against workers’ pensions

http://wealthydebates.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/pension.jpeg

By Jerry White
20 November 2014

The release of the annual report of the US Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is being seized upon by the media and politicians of both parties to press for a new round of devastating cuts to pension benefits for tens of millions of retired industrial and other private-sector workers.

The PBGC is the government insurer for 24,000 defined benefit pension plans, which cover more than 41 million workers, retirees and their dependents. On Monday, the government-backed corporation released a report showing that the long-term projected deficit of its multiemployer program rose by $34 billion in fiscal year 2014 to a record $42 billion. This was largely due to potential losses from shoring up two large pension funds that could become insolvent in the next decade.

Although they were not named in the report, the two funds are reportedly the Teamsters Central States fund and the United Mine Workers fund, which together cover some 10 million current and retired workers. The precarious position of the funds, which are jointly administered by the two unions and trucking and mining companies, is due to the wiping out of hundreds of thousands of jobs, which has left many companies with more retirees than active workers. The pension funds were also hit by stock market losses.

The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal zeroed in on a single paragraph in the report warning that the PBGC could go broke over the next eight years if the current rate of premium payments from corporations continues. The “risk of insolvency” would rise over time, the report said, “exceeding 50 percent in 2022 and reaching 90 percent by 2025.” It added, “When the program becomes insolvent, PBGC will be unable to provide financial assistance to pay guaranteed benefits in insolvent plans.”

Nowhere in the media or political commentary on the report was there any suggestion that the government should carry out a Wall Street-style bailout of the pension insurer. The Post noted that that such a bailout was a “political non-starter” in Washington.

Nor was there any suggestion that Congress should mandate a major increase in contributions from the big corporations, which have extracted billions from the labor of workers while deliberately diverting funds from their pension plans and keeping them chronically underfunded.

Instead, in the name of “saving” the pensions, the capitalist media is demanding savage cuts in the workers’ benefits.

The Wall Street Journal wrote Tuesday that any solution to the agency’s “long-running problems” would likely include “sharp benefit cuts for the plans.” The Post concurred on the same day, saying, “Unless Congress makes changes, which could include raising insurance premiums for multiemployer plans or the controversial move of allowing for preemptive pension cuts in struggling plans,” the PBGC will go bankrupt.

One proposal, cited approvingly by the Wall Street Journal, came from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. A 30 percent benefit cut on average for current retirees, the report said, would allow the Teamsters plan “to remain solvent indefinitely and increase the aggregate welfare of plan participants.”

Leading Democrats and Republicans added their voices to the choir demanding action.

The annual report was “a sober reminder that time is running out” said Congressman John Kline (Republican from Minnesota), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The multiemployer pension system “is a ticking time bomb that will inflict a lot of pain on workers, employers, taxpayers and retirees if Congress fails to act,” he added.

Senate Finance Committee leaders Ron Wyden (Democrat from Oregon) and Orrin Hatch (Republican from Utah) issued a joint statement saying they remained “very concerned” about the multiemployer system.

As usual, the trade unions are willing accomplices in the crime being prepared against the working class. According to the Washington Post, “A coalition of unions and businesses has been pushing for reforms, including more flexible coverage structures and pension cuts in financially struggling plans.”

Last year, “a commission made up of representatives from employer and labor organizations,” the Wall Street Journal reported, issued a proposal “that would include the extreme step of cutting pension benefits for some current retirees in the most troubled plans.”

One such joint labor-management body is the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, which includes the presidents of the Teamsters, the AFL-CIO’s construction trades, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). It has called for congressional action, warning that employers planned to exit the system and “leave retirees behind.”

The union executives could care less about their retired members. These unions have spent decades collaborating in gutting pension benefits in order to boost the corporations’ profits. The threatened liquidation of multibillion-dollar pension investment funds, however, threatens the income and portfolios of the aspiring capitalists who control the unions.

There is an element of deliberate crisis mongering in the PBGC report. The shaky position of the agency has long been known and nothing has been done about it.

Over the last three decades, more and more corporations have jettisoned their employer-paid plans—one of the most important gains won by the working class in the mass industrial battles of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. All but a few have forced current workers onto employee-paid 401(K) plans subject to the vagaries of the stock market.

Earlier this year, aerospace and defense giant Boeing worked in tandem with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) to force 33,000 IAM workers onto 401 (K) plans. The company’s top executive, Jim McNerney, has a special retirement plan valued at $42 million, which will provide him with over $270,000 per month after he quits.

It has long been a standard business practice for American corporations to dump their pension obligations onto the PBGC through bankruptcy. Since Congress established the PBGC as part of the 1975 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the government-backed corporation has paid out billions to cover pension plans terminated by giant corporations, particularly in the steel and airline industries.

As millions of workers know through painful, first-hand experience, when the PBGC takes over an insolvent fund, the workers are hit with brutal benefit cuts. Congress limits the amount the agency can pay to retirees to less than $13,000 a year, effectively condemning the workers to poverty. A worker with a very modest annual pension of $20,000 after 30 years of labor stands to lose more than $7,000 a year—a cut of over 35 percent.

The decks are being cleared for the next stage in the relentless, bipartisan assault on the working class. Private-sector pensions will be targeted along with other supposed “ticking bombs” such as Social Security, Medicare and public-sector pensions.

The nationwide offensive against the pensions of state and municipal workers has already been launched with precedent-setting rulings by federal bankruptcy judges in Detroit and Stockton, California declaring null and void provisions of state constitutions guaranteeing the pension benefits of public employees.

Last week, a federal bankruptcy judge gave final approval to the Detroit bankruptcy settlement, which imposes huge cuts in the pensions and health benefits of retired city workers and imposes 401(k) plans on active workers. This week, the PBGC report has signaled the widening of the attack to include the private sector.

The official justification is the claim that society simply cannot afford to keep the “overgenerous promises” made to workers in an earlier, more prosperous period. The situation is supposedly made worse by the problem of workers living too long after retirement and imposing an unsustainable burden on the rest of the population.

These are self-serving lies pumped out by the ruling class through its political servants and media apologists. Since the financial crash of 2008, the Obama administration’s pro-business policies of bank bailouts, virtually free money for the banks from the Federal Reserve, wage and benefit cuts for auto workers, corporate tax cuts and deregulation have transferred trillions from the working class to the super-rich.

The share of the gross domestic product going to corporate profits is at the highest level since World War II, while the share going to workers’ wages is at the lowest. American corporations are sitting on an estimated cash hoard of $1.5 trillion and using it for stock buybacks, executive bonuses and mergers and acquisitions that are occurring at their most frenzied pace since 2007.

The total $60 billion deficit of the PGBC could be wiped out overnight by using only a portion of the $360 billion being hoarded by tech giants Google, Apple, Cisco and Microsoft, or employing one-tenth of the annual Pentagon budget.

Instead, the financial oligarchy that controls the economy and both big-business parties is determined to steal the pensions that tens of millions need to survive and return workers to the dark days when they labored without end until they died.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/20/pbgc-n20.html

Why America’s housing disaster is back and wreaking terror

“An ongoing criminal enterprise”:

Remember the housing nightmare that busted the economy? The crooks are back and here’s what they’re secretly up to

"An ongoing criminal enterprise": Why America's housing disaster is back and wreaking terror
(Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith)

According to housing analyst RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings shot up 15 percent last month, the largest increase in over four years. Almost 60,000 homes were newly scheduled for auction in October, a spike far beyond the usual seasonal rush to complete repossessions before the holidays. Auctions rose 53 percent in Nevada, 118 percent in New Jersey and an amazing 399 percent in Oregon.

Continued demand for foreclosed properties by institutional investors and increased sale prices finally make it cost-effective to sell these homes, after persistent delays. “Distressed properties that have been in a holding pattern for years are finally being cleared for landing at the foreclosure auction,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

If lenders have finally begun to finish their oldest foreclosure cases, you might assume that they have moved past their problems with processing foreclosures. After all, for years, mortgage servicing companies, who file foreclosures on behalf of the owners of the loans, presented millions of false documents to courts. They also engaged in “robo-signing,” where employees signed affidavits attesting to the validity of foreclosure actions, despite having no knowledge about the underlying cases. The five leading servicers agreed to a $25 billion settlement over these problems, vowing to reform their ways.

But you would be wrong to assume that anything has changed in our foreclosure courts.

New evidence over the last month shows that servicers employ virtually the same improper techniques when foreclosing. Instead of robo-signers, they use robo-witnesses, or robo-verifiers; more on them in a moment. Regardless, they are breaking laws and degrading the integrity of the courts to kick people out of their homes, a sad and enduring legacy of the destruction of the nation’s property system during the housing bubble years.

In 22 U.S. states, lenders must file foreclosure complaints with a court, and prove the facts of the case before a judge. But servicers have shown themselves largely unable to perform this seemingly simple task.



During the housing bubble, mortgages were traded so rapidly, with insufficient documentation, that true ownership has been confused on millions of loans. In addition, servicers operate with such thin profit margins and bare-bones staff that they don’t have the resources to retrace the steps of the mortgages, which may have gone through eight different companies or more. So they have resorted to a number of shortcuts to evict homeowners.

When servicers got caught robo-signing, they stopped. But they trained a new set of employees, best described as robo-witnesses. These low-level personnel work for the servicer’s litigation departments, and they fly around the country from courtroom to courtroom. Reading from a script, robo-witnesses claim to have personal knowledge of their employer’s practices, and that they can swear to the legitimacy of the foreclosures. “They’re trained to parrot a script, you could just bring a parrot in,” said Lisa Epstein, a foreclosure expert now working for a defense attorney.

But these robo-witnesses know pretty much nothing beyond the script; they have no insight into the individual cases in which they’re testifying. “They walk into court having read the documents of the case a moment before,” said Thomas Ice, a foreclosure defense attorney in Palm Beach, Florida. Ice argues that it’s no different than robo-signing, just moved into the courtroom. “They don’t give their signature now, they just perjure themselves in court.”

This has been a standard technique for several years; I first wrote about it in 2012. But now, defense attorneys have adjusted, cross-examining the robo-witnesses and appealing cases because of this mass perjury. And appeals courts in Florida have begun to agree.

In one case last month, the 1st District Court of Appeals reversed a case featuring robo-witness Andrew Benefield. The court found that Benefield “had no personal information” about the authenticity of the documents he testified about in the case.  In another case, the appeals court ruled that the robo-witness swore to the correct loan balance based only on the review of computer printouts, “and she had no information about how and when those records had been prepared or where the data came from.” Other appeals courts in Florida have ruled similarly, effectively making robo-witnesses a failed tactic.

Servicers have run into another problem in Florida, ground zero for the foreclosure crisis. Because of a series of state Supreme Court rulings after the robo-signing scandal, an employee affiliated with the servicer must sign a document that says, “Under penalty of perjury, I declare that I have read the foregoing, and the facts alleged therein are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”

Defense lawyer Evan Rosen of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, decided to depose one of the signers of these verification statements: Lona Hunt, foreclosure specialist for Seterus, servicer for the mortgage giant Fannie Mae. In the deposition, Hunt admitted twice that she never read the complaint at all before she signed the document swearing that the facts were correct.

Hunt testified that she only scanned the foreclosure complaint, checking that the defendant’s name and date of default matched what was on a computer screen.  She misidentified key documents in the case, did not know the meaning of basic legal terms in the complaint, and basically showed little expertise about anything related to mortgages and foreclosures. You can read the deposition here.

It’s impossible for someone with such a limited knowledge base about foreclosures to verify that the facts of an individual case are correct. And keep in mind that this verification process exists in Florida because servicers illegally robo-signed official documents and got caught. The courts decided to increase legal consequences by forcing servicers to verify the truthfulness of their claims. Yet they are robo-signing those verifications too.

So why is this important? If the verifiers cannot verify and the witnesses bear no witness to the facts, so what? Didn’t homeowners default on their loans? Why should they get a free pass? This is the familiar refrain of those who would minimize this misconduct. Some even blame the states for forcing the poor servicers to prove they own the homes they want to repossess.

Here’s the truth. False documents and mass perjury, both criminal violations, make a mockery of the judicial system. It means that the servicers have as much legal right to foreclose as I do. To say that the homeowner is guilty of not paying, so their lender can do whatever they want to force them out of the home, is like saying the murder suspect is obviously guilty, so the cops can plant false evidence. We have a system of law to defend the rights of everyone, and ensure equal treatment.

Moreover, as Jim Kowalski, executive director of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and a longtime foreclosure attorney, told me, “when you have procedural defects in these cases, you will almost always have substantive defects.” Multiple reports and studies verify this. The inspector general for HUD, for example, took a sample of JPMorgan Chase loans and could not find documented proof for the amount owed on 35 out of 36 loans. This gets worse when servicing transfers between several companies; the amount owed becomes subject to a game of telephone, with dollar amounts effectively made up.

That means that the amounts servicers claim borrowers owe have no basis in fact. Multiply that by the tens of millions of outstanding mortgages, and you’re talking about tens if not hundreds of billions in questionable charges, from which nobody is safe. This makes defaults really educated guesses, often driven by the fake fees and incompetence. To compound this, servicers use bogus witnesses and perjured documents to “prove” the defaults are legitimate. The entire system is fraudulent and in need of overhaul.

This is where law enforcement should step in. The Justice Department settled with these same companies over robo-signing, and in the agreements demanded that they never do it again. Well, they’re doing it again; in fact, they never stopped. Bad documents have remained in the system, as Gretchen Morgenson explained over the weekend, being used to continue to punish borrowers. Nobody has rooted out this rot at the heart of our housing market. “It’s happening every day,” lawyer Tom Ice said. “And the world doesn’t care.”

Ninety-five percent of borrowers never show up to defend their foreclosures. Servicers get away with this because they can afford to lose one case if another 20 go through. The only way to fix this crisis on a thorough basis, instead of waiting for one-off judgments in individual cases, is for government officials to enforce the law. Otherwise, literally nobody is safe from the corrupt practices of a mortgage industry acting as an ongoing criminal enterprise.

Child homelessness at all-time high in US

“A permanent Third World in America”

http://mathandreadinghelp.org/cimages/multimages/26/homeless-student.jpg

By Niles Williamson
18 November 2014

America’s Youngest Outcasts, a study released this week by the National Center on Family Homelessness at American Institutes for Research (NCFH), reports that 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point last year, a historic high. The authors of the report warn that if these brutal social conditions persist or worsen, the result will be a “permanent Third World in America.”

More than six years after the height of the foreclosure crisis and fifty years after the declaration of the “War on Poverty,” homeless children account for one out of every thirty children in the country. The number of homeless children increased eight percent between 2012 and 2013 and the total number rose by nearly one million between 2010 and 2013.

This devastating report comes in the sixth year of what President Barack Obama has repeatedly declared to be a great economic recovery. While there has been a recovery for those at the very top, as illustrated by the astronomical rise of the stock market, for most Americans, who have continued to experience a decline in living standards, there has been no recovery at all.

In a particularly nauseating speech delivered at the United Nations in September, Obama insisted that “this is the best time in human history to be born.” The report by the NCFH decisively refutes this ludicrous claim. Rather than the best time to be born, it is the worst of times for millions of children, as they and their families are forced out of their homes and onto the streets.

“Child homelessness has reached epidemic proportions in America,” said Dr. Carmela DeCandia, director of the NCFH. “Living in shelters, neighbors’ basements, cars, campgrounds, and worse, homeless children are the most invisible and neglected individuals in our society. Without decisive action now, the federal goal of ending child homelessness by 2020 will soon be out of reach,” she concluded.

According to the NCFH report, between the end of the Great Depression and the early 1980s, child homelessness was not a widespread or persistent problem. Child homelessness emerged as a significant and persistent social problem in the middle of the 1980s amidst the social counterrevolution inaugurated by the administration of Ronald Reagan.

Based on the latest federal and state data on child homelessness, including the US Department of Education’s annual count of homeless students in public schools and 2013 US Census data, the report singles out six major factors contributing to high rates of child homelessness. They are: the high national poverty rate; the lack of affordable housing; the continuing impacts of the Great Recession; racial disparities; the challenges of single parenting; and the impact of traumatic experiences on families, in particular, domestic violence.

With a child poverty rate of 19.9 percent in 2013, a large number of American children are living at significant risk of being homeless. Families headed by a single mother are particularly at risk, with more than one third of single mother households living in poverty. An estimated 45 million people lived at or below the federal poverty line in 2013.

Affordable housing is essentially nonexistent for the poor in the United States, putting the poorest of the poor at constant risk of homelessness. Nationally, there are only 30 units available for every 100 extremely low-income families seeking housing. Federal housing vouchers have been repeatedly slashed over the last decade, reducing the amount of assistance available for low-wage workers and the unemployed. Waiting lists for housing assistance average two years.

A 2013 study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that there was no state in the US where an individual working a 40-hour minimum-wage job could afford a two-bedroom apartment for his or her family.

Homelessness has been shown to damage the cognitive development of young children, further limiting their opportunities later in life. According to the NCFH report, the effects of trauma associated with homelessness may impair the development of a child’s brain structure, disrupting the ability to learn and blocking the development of social relationships, cognitive skills and emotional self-regulation. Approximately 25 percent of homeless preschool age children have serious mental health problems; this rises to 40 percent among homeless school age children.

The report utilized the broad McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness, which counts adults and children who are at any point in a given year without secure housing, in a temporary shelter, living out of a vehicle, squatting in abandoned buildings, residing in a motel, hotel or campground, doubling up with extended family members, or fleeing domestic violence.

The definition used by the report is much broader than the more limited Housing and Urban Development Department’s Point in Time study, which measures only the number of individuals sleeping outdoors or in homeless shelters on a single day at the beginning of a given year. The HUD count, which found 216,261 homeless family members at the beginning of 2013, left out hundreds of thousands of children and families in transitory shelter.

The NCFH report ranked states according to a composite of four criteria: extent of child homelessness; child wellbeing; risk for child homelessness; and state policy and planning efforts. While there is no part of the United States that is free from the scourge of child homelessness, the severity of the crisis varies by state and region. The states with the worst composite rating are located in the Southeast and Southwest, while those with the least onerous scores are concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast.

Minnesota had the “best” score with a population of 23,608 homeless children in 2013 and a child poverty rate of 14 percent. Alabama had the worst, with a population of 59,349 homeless children in 2013 and a child poverty rate of 27 percent. Last year in California, a staggering 525,000 children experienced homelessness, while 190,000 did in Texas, and nearly 140,000 in Florida.

Despite rising to historic levels, the issue of child homelessness was not once addressed during the midterm elections by the Democrats or Republicans. No new tranche of funding or emergency social program was proposed that would aim to eliminate the social crime of child poverty and homelessness. The callous indifference of Democrats and Republicans alike to the plight of the most vulnerable members of American society is not surprising, as they not only serve the interests of the rich, but are themselves in the wealthiest 10 percent of the country. The year 2012 marked the first time that a majority of congressional members had an average net worth of $1 million or more.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/18/home-n18.html

President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson: Social Welfare Benefits the Free Market

by Big Think Editors

November 13, 2014, 12:00 PM
Olafur-grimsson-bg2-yt

Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson recently visited Big Think to discuss a number of the successes and challenges relevant to his small island nation. These are issues both resonant in the present day as well as looking ahead toward the future. A few weeks ago, Grímsson tackled climate change, obviously a challenge moving forward rather than a success (at least, not yet). As for today, the topic is one that has contributed to the progress and prosperity of the Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland.

Each of those nations, says Grímsson, has a competitive free market economy augmented by a robust social welfare system. These programs ensure that “everybody, irrespective of their income and class, gets the same right to education, to healthcare, and to equal treatment in an economic way.” In countries like the United States, social welfare and economic progress are sometimes seen as opposing goals. As Grímsson explains, social welfare in the Nordic states is integral to economic progress:

“This coexistence of a social welfare society, with a right to education and healthcare equally distributed throughout society, is one of the pillars of our economic and business success. So you cannot find any business organization in any of the Nordic countries, which is advocating that we should decrease this social welfare system. On the contrary, the prominent business leaders of our countries realize that the evolution of this social welfare system in terms of education and healthcare is one of the major reasons why the Nordic businesses have been globally so successful and why our market economies have grown so aggressively.”

Grímsson tells how an established system dedicated to caring for the sick and educating every child allows the business community to focus on what they do best — business.

“The Nordic formula, not just the Icelandic one, but also from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, has created what The Economist, the preeminent weekly economic newspaper in the world, deemed a few months ago perhaps the most successful economic model in the last few decades.”

Finally, Grímsson notes that his American friends who decry the Nordic system and employ words like “socialist” as pejorative terms are completely missing the point. All you have to do is look at Iceland’s economic record, as well as the economies of the other Nordic states, to realize that the rewards of this particular social framework transcend all outdated and myopic biases.

“The evidence is absolutely clear that to provide everybody with a right to education and healthcare is a formula for economic and business success.”

For more on social welfare’s role in the successful Nordic free market economy, watch the following clip from President Grímsson’s Big Think interview:

President Grímsson’s is co-founder of Arctic Circle, a non-profit, non-partisan open assembly focused on Arctic issues.

http://bigthink.com/think-tank/president-of-iceland-olafur-ragnar-grimsson-social-welfare-is-good-for-the-free-market

The pharmaceutical industry has flooded America with antipsychotics.


The Most Popular Drug in America Is an Antipsychotic and No One Really Knows How It Works

Does anyone remember Thorazine? It was an antipsychotic given to mentally ill people, often in institutions, that was so sedating, it gave rise to the term “Thorazine shuffle.” Ads for Thorazine in medical journals, before drugs were advertised directly to patients, showed Aunt Hattie in a hospital gown, zoned out but causing no trouble to herself or anyone else. No wonder Thorazine and related drugs Haldol, Mellaril and Stelazine were called chemical straitjackets.
But Thorazine and similar drugs became close to obsolete in 1993 when a second generation of antipsychotics which included Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Geodon and Abilify came online. Called “atypical” antipsychotics, the drugs seemed to have fewer side effects than their predecessors like dry mouth, constipation and the stigmatizing and permanent facial tics known as TD or tardive dyskinesia. (In actuality, they were similar.) More importantly, the drugs were obscenely expensive: 100 tablets of Seroquel cost as much as $2,000, Zyprexa, $1,680 and Abilify $1,644.
One drug that is a close cousin of Thorazine, Abilify, is currently the top-selling of all prescription drugs in the U.S. marketed as a supplement to antidepressant drugs, reports the Daily Beast. Not only is it amazing that an antipsychotic is outselling all other drugs, no one even knows how it works to relieve depression, writes Jay Michaelson. The standardized United States Product Insert says Abilify’s method of action is “unknown” but it likely “balances” brain’s neurotransmitters. But critics say antipsychotics don’t treat anything at all, but zone people out and produce oblivion. They also say there is a concerning rise in the prescription of antipsychotics for routine complaints like insomnia.
They are right. With new names and prices and despite their unknown methods of action, Pharma marketers have devised ways to market drugs like Abilify to the whole population, not just people with severe mental illness. Only one percent of the population, after all, has schizophrenia and only 2.5 percent has bipolar disorder. Thanks to these marketing ploys, Risperdal was the seventh best-selling drug in the world until it went off patent and Abilify currently rules.
Here are some of the ways Big Pharma made antipsychotics everyday drugs.
Approval Creep
Everyone has heard of “mission creep.” In the pharmaceutical world, approval creep means getting the FDA to approve a drug for one thing and pushing a lot of other drug approvals through on the coattails of the first one. Though the atypical antipsychotics were originally drugs for schizophrenia, soon there was a dazzling array of new uses.
Seroquel was first approved in 1997 for schizophrenia but subsequently approved for bipolar disorder, psychiatric conditions in children and finally as an add-on drug for depression like Abilify. The depression “market” is so huge, Seroquel’s last approval allowed the former schizophrenia drug to make $5.3 billion a year before it went off patent. But before the add-on approval, AstraZeneca, which makes Seroquel, ran a sleazy campaign to convince depressed people they were really “bipolar.” Ads showed an enraged woman screaming into the phone, her face contorted, her teeth clenched. Is this you, asked the ads? Your depression may really be bipolar disorder, warned the ad.
Sometimes the indication creep is under the radar. After heated FDA hearings in 2009 about extending Zyprexa, Seroquel and Geodon uses for kids–Pfizer and AstraZeneca slides showed that kids died in clinical trials–the uses were added by the FDA but never announced. They were slipped into the record right before Christmas, when no news breaks, and recorded as “label changes.” Sneaky.
And there is another “creep” which is also under the radar: “warning creep.” As atypical antipsychotics have gone into wide use in the population, more risks have surfaced. Labels now warn against death-associated risks in the elderly, children and people with depression but you have to really read the fine print. (Atypical antipsychotics are so dangerous in the elderly with dementia, at least 15,000 die in nursing homes from them each year, charged FDA drug reviewer David Graham in congressional testimony.) The Seroquel label now warns against cardiovascular risks, which the FDA denied until the drug was almost off patent.
Dosing Children
Perhaps no drugs but ADHD medications have been so widely used and often abused in children as atypical antipsychotics. Atypical antipsychotics are known to “improve” behavior in problem children across a broad range of diagnoses but at a huge price: A National Institute of Mental Health study of 119 children ages 8 to 19 found Risperdal and Zyprexa caused such obesity a safety panel ordered the children off the drugs.
In only eight weeks, kids on Risperdal gained nine pounds and kids on Zyprexa gained 13 pounds. “Kids at school were making fun of me,” said one study participant who put on 35 pounds while taking Risperdal.
Just like the elderly in state care, poor children on Medicaid are tempting targets for Big Pharma and sleazy operators because they do not make their own medication decisions. In 2008, the state ofTexas charged Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen with defrauding the state of millions with “a sophisticated and fraudulent marketing scheme,” to “secure a spot for the drug, Risperdal, on the state’s Medicaid preferred drug list and on controversial medical protocols that determine which drugs are given to adults and children in state custody.”
Many other states have brought legal action against Big Pharma including compelling drug makers to pay for the extreme side effects that develop with the drugs: massive weight gain, blood sugar changes leading to diabetes and cholesterol problems.
Add-On Conditions
It’s called polypharmacy and it is increasingly popular: Prescribing several drugs, often as a cocktail, that are supposed to do more than the drugs do alone. Big Pharma likes polypharmacy for two obvious reasons: drug sales are tripled or quadrupled—and it’s not possible to know if the drugs are working. The problems with polypharmacy parallel its “benefits.” The person can’t know which, if any, of the drugs are working so they take them all. By the time someone is on four or more psychiatric drugs, there is a good chance they are on a government program and we are paying. There is also a good chance the person is on the drugs for life, because withdrawal reactions make them think there really is something wrong with them and it is hard to quit the drugs.
Into this lucrative merchandising model came the idea of “add-on” medications and “treatment-resistant depression.” When someone’s antidepressant didn’t work, Pharma marketers began floating the idea that it wasn’t that the drugs didn’t work; it wasn’t that the person wasn’t depressed to begin with but had real life, job and family problems—it was “treatment-resistant depression.” The person needed to add a second or third drug to their antidepressant, such as Seroquel or Abilify. Ka-ching.
Lawsuits Don’t Stop Unethical Marketing
Just as Big Pharma has camped out in Medicare and Medicaid, living on our tax dollars while fleeing to England so it doesn’t have to pay taxes, Pharma has also camped out in the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Arguably, no drugs have been as good for Big Pharma as atypical antipsychotics within the military. In 2009, the Pentagon spent $8.6 million on Seroquel and VA spent $125.4 million—almost $30 million more than is spent on a F/A-18 Hornet.
Risperdal was even bigger in the military. Over a period of nine years, VA spent $717 million on its generic, risperidone, to treat PTSD in troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet not only was risperidone not approved for PTSD, it didn’t even work. A 2011 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the drug worked no better than placebo and the money was totally wasted.
In the last few years, the makers of Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa have all settled suits claiming illegal or fraudulent marketing. A year ago, Johnson & Johnson admitted mismarketing Risperdal in a $2.2 billion settlement. But the penalty is nothing compared with the $24.2 billion it made from selling Risperdal between 2003 to 2010 and shareholders didn’t blink. The truth is, there is too much money in hawking atypical antipsychotics to the general population for Pharma to quit.

 

Slashed and Hidden from Sight: The Strange Power of Cursed Paintings

Edwin Landseer, "Man Proposes, God Disposes" (1864), oil painting (via Wikimedia)

Can a painting drive a person to madness? While there is no doubt staring at something like Goya’s unnerving Black Paintings for hours might be destabilizing, the powers of derangement in art are mostly superstition. Yet at the University of London’s Royal Holloway, one painting is regularly draped in a Union Jack flag due to an old fear that its gruesome visuals could snap the sanity from a student’s brain.

Edwin Landseer’s 1864 “Man Proposes, God Disposes” has creeped people out since its debut with its dual polar bears scavenging at the wreckage of the ill-fated Franklin expedition to the Northwest Passage. One creature has a human rib bone rapturously clenched in its fangs, the other lunges at a scrap of fabric drenched in a blood-red color. William Michael Rossetti mourned it the “saddest of membra disjecta.” The widowed Lady Franklin was not surprisingly dismayed, and some even asked if Landseer, known for his noble dogs, was getting a bit unhinged.

College Curator Laura MacCulloch explains: “No one quite knows when the tradition of covering the picture first began but according to an article published in 1984 it seems to have started in the 1970s when a rumour was spread that a student who looked directly at the painting during an exam, went mad and committed suicide.” That student reportedly scrawled “the polar bears made me do it” on their incomplete exam, although there’s no evidence this is more than urban legend. A replica just went on view in Calgary in the Glenbow Museum’s Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, reviving the sinister tale.

Slashes from Abram Balashov's 1913 attack on "Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan" (1885) by Ilya Repin (via Wikimedia)

Supposedly cursed artifacts and art are in almost every museum, from a cursed amethyst held by the Natural History Museum in London to a cursed meteorite at the Field Museum in Chicago. Myths of madness often swirl around radical art, as during an 1874 Impressionism show, one visitor was reported to have raged out and bit people on the street.

There’s also the curious case of a painting stabbed in 1913. Abram Balashov slashed the grisly “Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan” (1885) by Ilya Repin three times, screaming “Stop the bloodshed!” before he was hauled away to a mental institution. Likely Balashov was already unstable before gazing into the horrible blood-shot eyes of Ivan, but it was reportedly just the most extreme of a series of violent responses.

Both the Repin and Landseer paintings weren’t just brutal images, they also attacked the status quo of their respective countries. Repin depicted vividly royal bloodshed, Landseer exposed the failure of infallible Victorian England. Reports of the cannibalism resorted to by the Franklin expedition riled the country with denial, and the total disappearance of the two ships haunted the following decades of exploration (one of the boats was finally found just this year). Perhaps it’s this gory evocation of total defeat that got the superstition started, an unsettling a message as anything for college students at exams.