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Wall St. Stoops to Conquer the Rentals Market

When Predatory Equity Hit the Big Apple: How Private Equity Came to New York’s Rental Market -- and What That Tells Us About the Future
by Laura Gottesdiener  - TomDispatch
Things are heating up inside Wall Street’s new rental empire.

Over the last few years, giant private equity firms have bet big on the housing market, buying up more than 200,000 cheap homes across the country. Their plan is to rent the houses back to families -- sometimes the very same people who were displaced during the foreclosure crisis -- while waiting for the home values to rise. 

But it wouldn’t be Wall Street not to have a short-term trick up its sleeve, so the private equity firms are partnering with big banks to bundle the mortgages on these rental homes into a new financial product known as “rental-backed securities.” (Remember that toxic "mortgage-backed securities" are widely blamed for crashing the global economy in 2007-2008.)

All this got me thinking: Have private equity firms gambled with rental housing somewhere else before? If so, what happened?

It turns out that the real estate market in my New York City backyard has been a private equity playground for the last decade, and the result, unsurprisingly, has been a disaster for tenants and the market alike.


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Drone v. Zombie: Indoctrinating the Next Generation

Indoctrinating a New Generation
by William Blum - The Anti-Empire Report
Is there anyone out there who still believes that Barack Obama, when he’s speaking about American foreign policy, is capable of being anything like an honest man? In a March 26 talk in Belgium to “European youth”, the president fed his audience one falsehood, half-truth, blatant omission, or hypocrisy after another. If George W. Bush had made some of these statements, Obama supporters would not hesitate to shake their head, roll their eyes, or smirk. Here’s a sample:
– “In defending its actions, Russian leaders have further claimed Kosovo as a precedent – an example they say of the West interfering in the affairs of a smaller country, just as they’re doing now. But NATO only intervened after the people of Kosovo were systematically brutalized and killed for years.”

Most people who follow such things are convinced that the 1999 US/NATO bombing of the Serbian province of Kosovo took place only after the Serbian-forced deportation of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo was well underway; which is to say that the bombing was launched to stop this “ethnic cleansing”. In actuality, the systematic deportations of large numbers of people did not begin until a few days after the bombing began, and was clearly a reaction to it, born of Serbia’s extreme anger and powerlessness over the bombing.
This is easily verified by looking at a daily newspaper for the few days before the bombing began the night of March 23/24, 1999, and the few days following. Or simply look at the New York Times of March 26, page 1, which reads:

… with the NATO bombing already begun, a deepening sense of fear took hold in Pristina [the main city of Kosovo] that the Serbs would now vent their rage against ethnic Albanian civilians in retaliation. [emphasis added]
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Gorilla Radio with Chris Cook, Mazin Qumsiyeh, Ingmar Lee, Janine Bandcroft Apr. 7, 2014

This Week on GR
by C. L. Cook -
che kokoMarch 30th marks Land Day in Palestine, a commemoration of Israel's 1976 determination to expropriate thousands of hectares of Palestinian territory. Six were killed by the IDF during demonstrations back then; tens of thousands more have died at the hands of Israel since.
2014 marks the United Nations' International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and though the UN is not a welcome voice within Israeli circles when speaking on the Palestinian issue, it is respected around a World already grown weary of the Jewish State's serial criminality.
Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh is a Palestinian writer, activist, and scholar who holds a PhD. in biology and is board certified in medicinal genetics. He also serves as chairman of the board of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People and coordinator of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Beit Sahour.
Mazin is recipient of: the 2011 Social Courage Award from the Peace and Justice Studies Association; the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee's Alex Odeh award; and has been recognized by the American Friends Service Committee Connecticut chapter. Professor Qumsiyeh left the United States and his teaching position at Yale University to return to Occupied Palestine's Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities.
In addition to his many articles and papers, Mazin Qumsiyeh's book titles include: 'Sharing The Land Of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle,' 'The Bats of Egypt,' 'Mammals of the Holy Land,' and his latest, 'Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment.' Professor Qumsiyeh was in Victoria last night, at Camosun College as part of his speaking tour: 'Palestine Today and in the Future.' He will be appearing tonight in Vancouver at SFU Downtown, Harbour Centre.

Mazin Qumsiyeh in the first half.
And; before his 2006 ascent to power in Canada, the current prime minister reportedly told an audience at a right wing think tank confab: "You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it." Whether that is true or apocryphal, taking a quick, cross-country check up proves the point; from warfare to health care, environmental protection to ecological rejection, 'Stephen Harper's New Government of Canada,' has certainly broken the national mold, and none in either the Canadian parliament, or the nation's corporate dominated media seem inclined to pick up the shattered remnants of what once was this country. But, eight years of unprecedented deregulation, and systematic undoing of national institutions later, Mr. Harper and his considerably more hoary "New Government' cohorts are hardly finished their transformative mission.
Ingmar Lee is a long-time environmental defender, activist, writer, and woodsman. He currently lives with his family in the heart of the 'Great Bear Rainforest,' near Bella Bella, where the forests, wildlife, and marine environment are all threatened by various expansive human activities geared for short-term, and largely offshore profit.
Ingmar Lee in the second half.
And; Victoria Street Newz publisher and CFUV Radio broadcaster, Janine Bandcroft will be here at the bottom of the hour to bring us news from our city's streets and beyond for the coming week. But first, professor Mazin Qumsiyeh and Palestine Today and in the Future.

Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, airing live every Monday, 5-6pm Pacific Time. In Victoria at 101.9FM, and on the internet at:  He also serves as a contributing editor to the web news site, Check out the GR blog at:
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The Oligarch Connection: Ukraine and America's Coup

The Age of the Oligarchs
by Robert Parry - Consortium News
koch brothersThe chaos in Ukraine can be viewed, in part, as what happens when a collection of “oligarchs” – sometimes competing, sometime collaborating – take control of a society, buying most of the politicians and owning the media.
The political/media classes become corrupted by serving their wealthy patrons and society breaks down into warring factions.

In that sense, Ukraine could be a cautionary tale for the United States and other countries that are veering down a similar path toward vast income inequality, with billionaire “oligarchs” using their money to control politicians and to pay for propaganda through media ventures.

Oil billionaires David and Charles Koch

Depending on your point of view, there may be “good oligarchs” and “bad oligarchs,” but the concept of oligarchy is antithetical to democracy, a system in which governance is supposed to be driven by the informed consent of the majority with respect for minority rights. Instead, we’re moving toward a competition among oligarchs with the “people” mostly as bystanders to be manipulated one way or the other.

Asteroids Off the Hook: Science Points to Methane As Earth Extinctions Perp

The perp in the greatest mass extinction on earth? Methane
by Gaius Publius - AmericaBlog
In the past, when I’ve written about climate and mass extinctions, I generally single out two of them — the one 65 million years ago that ended the dinosaur era, and the one about 250 million years ago that killed off almost everything then alive and made room for the dinosaurs to develop.
The dinosaur-killing extinction is called the “Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event” since it occurred between the Cretaceous Period and the Paleogene Period. The earlier extinction, also called the “Great Dying,” is the “Permian–Triassic (P–Tr) extinction event” and occurred between those two geological periods.
But starting from the first explosion of life on earth, some 540 million years ago, all geological periods are grouped into just three “eras” — the era of Old Life (Paleozoic Era), the era of Middle Life (Mesozoic Era, or the age of dinosaurs), and the era of New Life (Cenozoic Era, or the age of mammals and man).

Ukraine's Coup Captured in Pictures

Ukraine, a Fascist Coup? - A Photo Essay
by Andre Vltchek - CounterPunch
Ukraine is burning, it is going to the dogs; it has been taken over by an illegitimate government engorged with fascists, neo-Nazis and simple pro-Western opportunists, as well as countless EU and US-sponsored members of various NGO’s.
The West has destabilized an entire nation, supporting right-wingers and fascists. Then it began spreading anti-Russian propaganda, even before Crimea had voted to join its historic homeland.
Everything was well planned, with Machiavellian precision. The EU was hoping to get its hands on the abundant natural resources, heavy industry and a well-educated and cheap labor force. In exchange, it was willing to give… nothing. No sane government would be willing to accept such a deal. Therefore, the only way to push through its agenda, the West began supporting violence and terror, as well as the fascist, neo-Nazi groups. A similar approach is being used by the US and EU in Venezuela, Syria and even Thailand.
Just a few days ago, I concluded my 2,000-kilometer drive, from Kiev to Odessa, and then to the border with Transnistria and Kharkov. I visited destroyed and abandoned villages – a result of the ‘collapse of the Soviet Union’ and Ukrainian flirtation with the market economy, its obedience to the IMF and World Bank. I spoke to workers at an enormous steel plant in Krivoi Rog, located in the country’s industrial heartland. I met several leading intellectuals at the university city of Kharkiv, and I stood on the Ukrainian-Russian border, observing and photographing several Ukrainian tanks and armored vehicles.
All that I witnessed will be included in my in-depth report, which will be published, next week, in CounterPunch.
But right now, I would like to share some images with our readers. Those that I took, and those taken by two brave Ukrainian reporters: Andriy Manchuk and Andrey Nedzelnitsky.
I took the photographs very recently, this week and last week, while both Manchuk and Nedzelnitsky worked in Kiev in January and February 2014.

Honduran Human Rights Abuses, Free Trade Deal Focus of Activist Mission to Ottawa

Honduran Human Rights Leader to Visit Ottawa and Urge MPs to Put Human Rights First
by Americas Policy Group
Prominent Honduran human rights activist Bertha Oliva, general coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared and Detained in Honduras (COFADEH), will visit Ottawa on April 8, 2014 to urge that Canadian trade and investment not trump human rights.
Ms. Oliva will provide first hand testimony to the Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights (SDIR) and the Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) about serious, systematic, increasing human rights abuses in Honduras, as well as concerns that they will be exacerbated by the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement (CHFTA).
Recent reports by Human Rights Watch echo the concerns of Ms Oliva, painting a highly disturbing panorama of police corruption, militarization, lack of judicial and prosecutorial independence, as well as targeted violence against human rights defenders, women and girls, Indigenous, Afro-descendant and campesino (peasant) communities, and LGBTI people.

Greenwald Answers the Empire (Burlesque)

Cartoons and Cueballs: An Exchange with Glenn Greenwald
by Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque
Glenn Greenwald stopped by the place Tuesday to respond to my last post. I thought I would bring his reply out of the comments and feature it here, along with my response. Glenn's statement is a lengthy and, to my mind, remarkable document: a powerful piece of emotional invective put together in the guise of an argument, based on wild and sometimes bizarre leaps of illogic that pack plenty of heat but tend to be short on substance.
Although he begins in friendly tones, and says he welcomes good-faith criticism, especially from the left, the piece becomes fiercer -- and more personal -- as it goes on, until it is abundantly clear that, in his eyes, it is impossible to offer any criticism of the handling of the NSA documents in good faith. Anyone who questions any aspect of the enterprise is a moral coward on a par with the neo-cons of "circa 2002/2003" who supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but didn't want to go fight them. (It might not have been entirely wise for Glenn to refer to this particular stance during this particular time period, but more on that later.) Such critics also secretly wish to see Snowden put in more danger, and disparage his bravery.
There is a great deal more in this vein, some of which touches upon things I have actually said, and many of which do not. But enough intro. Here is Glenn's statement in full, to be followed by my reply.

From Weakness to Weakness: Obama's Foreign Policy Nightmare(s)

New Lows for Obama’s Failed Middle East Policy
by Shamus Cooke - CounterPunch
Obama seemed so traumatized by his Middle East blunders he decided to take a break, giving Ukraine a try instead. The distraction was just what the president needed. And the U.S. media followed obediently, while barely glancing at the flames in the rear-view mirror — until another explosion piqued their interest. The predictable break down of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians occurred when the Palestinian Authority backed out of a “peace process” they had zero to gain from.
Yet another failure after a string of Middle East fiascoes: Obama’s failed “surge” in Afghanistan, his disastrous bombing campaign and regime change in Libya (an international crime initially cheered as a “success” in the U.S. media), and his catastrophic proxy war in Syria, which grinds on with no end in sight and which helped re-ignite the Iraq conflict — another “success” turned disaster for U.S. foreign policy.
Obama has turned away in denial from the chaos he helped create, but the Middle East is still there, still in crisis, and balancing on a razor’s edge: Israel has bombed Syria and the Palestinian territories several times in recent months; while al-Qaeda style extremists still dominate giant swaths of Iraq and Syria (thanks to Obama’s Syrian proxy war). Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt are especially combustible, though one could make such an argument for every single country in the region. Obama’s proxy war in Syria is acting as the fuel.

For Whom the Kerry Clock Won't Toll: Peace Process Deadline Falling on Deaf Ears

Kerry’s Looming Deadline and the Peace Process Industry
by Ramzy Baroud
As the US-imposed April 29 deadline for a ‘framework’ agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority looms, time is also running out for the American administration itself. The Obama administration must now conjure up an escape route to avoid a political crisis if the talks are to fail, as they surely will.
Chances are the Americans knew well that peace under the current circumstances is simply not attainable.
The Israeli government’s coalition is so adamantly anti-Arab, anti-peace and anti any kind of agreement that would fall short from endorsing the Israeli apartheid-like occupation, predicated on colonial expansion, annexations of borders, land confiscation, control of holy places and much more.
Ideally for Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies in the right, far-right and ultranationalists, Palestinians would need to be crammed in disjointed communities, separated from each other by walls, Jewish settlements, Jewish-only bypass roads, checkpoints, security fences, and a large concentration of Israeli military presence including permanent Israeli control of the Jordan Valley. In fact, while politicians tirelessly speak of peace, the above is the exact ‘vision’ that the Israelis had in mind almost immediately following the 1967 war - the final conquest of all of historic Palestine and occupation of Arab lands.

Taiwan's One-Hand Clapping Reunification Movement

On Democracy and the Occupation of the Taiwan Legislature
by Peter Lee - China Matters
With regard to the occupation of the Taiwan legislature and, in particular, the DPP’s determination to sidetrack the democratic process when the numbers were not in its favor on its pet issues, I was the recipient of some indignant feedback along the lines of Gandhi, MLK, etc. i.e. on issues of moral imperatives you gotta do what’s right, not just count the votes.

Color me unconvinced.
The big existential issue is reunification with the mainland. That ship has sailed. 96% of the population regards itself as Taiwanese. 60% oppose reunification, outnumbering proponents of reunification 3:1. The ROC is de facto independent. After 30+ years of elected governments, no political party is going to be able to impose reunification on Taiwan. If the KMT tries, the entire population of Taiwan is welcome to hit the bricks, with my blessing.

With reunification off the table, the key issue is whether Taiwan should tilt toward or away from the mainland economically.