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This Week In America, June 3, 2013

Weekly News, 6/3/13

Austerity is a Killer.   Estimates put the number of additional suicides  at 10,000 and up to a million extra cases of depression across Europe and the U.S. since austerity measures were imposed after the financial collapse of 2008.  These findings were highlighted in a new book, The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, authored by economist David Stuckler and physician Sanjay Basu, and the subject of an interview on Democracy Now!

In Greece, where spending on public health has been slashed by 40%, HIV rates have jumped 200%, and the country has seen its first malaria outbreak since the 1970s, reported DN!  "There is an alternative choice that we found in the historical data and through the present recessions: When we place people and their health at the center of economic recovery, it can help get our economy back on track faster and yield lasting dividends to our society," said economist Stuckler.

“We’ve been studying how recessions affect people’s health over the past decade, looking at the Great Depression through the East Asian financial crisis, right through to the present Great Recession,” added Stuckler.  “And what we found is that recessions hurt.  Unemployment, job loss, foreclosure, unpayable debt are risks to health. But what ultimately matters is how politicians respond. And when they make large cuts to social supports, social protections, they can turn recessions into severe epidemics.”

Multinational means low tax.  Reverberations continue over statements by Apple CEO Timothy D. Cook about how his company’s  “creative financial techniques contributed to its low business tax payments,” reported Eduardo Porter in the New York Times.  “Everybody is doing it,” reported Porter. 

That would include Google and its notorious “Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich,” referring the routing of profits through multiple countries to hold down tax liability.  Amazon and Facebook were cited for identical practices.

Starbucks paid only $13 million in British corporate taxes over 15 years on revenue of more than $5 billion.  USC’s Edward Kleinbard told the Times that such “stateless” income could be achieved by “any multinational firm.”

Homeowners standing their ground.  Some 500 activists demonstrated in the nation’s capital, marching to the Department of Justice, to call for criminal prosecution of banks for continued illegal foreclosures and for failure to reset mortgages in the case of 13 million homeowners at fair market value.  

Reporting in The Nation, Greg Kaufmann told the story of a Minnesota resident victimized by “dual tracking”.  That’s where the bank gives owners one set of instructions while pursuing foreclosure based upon another set of facts.   “The bank admitted it had sent her the wrong modification application and foreclosed while she was still in underwriting,” wrote Kaufmann.  Said the victim of the bank’s attorney, “He didn’t have enough courage to look at me….”

Private Prisons a Booming Business.  From 1999-2010, the total U.S. prison population was up 18%--   as the “drug war” rages on, coupled by harsh sentencing guidelines, including mandatory minimum sentences, making this nation’s relative inmate count the highest in the world.
At private prisons, inmate populations exploded fivefold during this same time period, with federal private prison populations rising by 784%, according to the Sentencing Project and reported by Tikkun on Alternet.

Beneficiaries of this growth boom in captivity are companies such as Correction Corporation of America and the GEO Group.   Allegations of corruption have riled the inmate industry, including the “kids for cash” scandal where two Pennsylvania judges were found guilty of selling juveniles to private detention facilities for millions of dollars.

Corporate Free Speech on the Rise.  IMS Health got its start by buying up information from retail drug outlets.  Data contained the who and what behind each purchase, as well as dosages and issuing doctors.  Profiles of hundreds of thousands of patients were thus created and then sold to pharmaceutical manufacturers which, in turn, started to market to physicians, giving rewards to those who prescribed expensive, brand-name drugs.

Eventually, concerns over patient privacy were raised and by 2007, three states had passed bans selling prescription records for commercial purposes: 26 other states were debating bans by late 2010.

IMS Health went to the mat.  It filed separate suits everywhere.  The selling of prescription records, the company argued, is a form of free speech, in keeping with the rise of corporate free speech in the U.S. in recent years.

So it was that In June 2011, the Supreme Court struck down the new data protection privacy laws, citing discrimination against  IMS Health. “The State,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority, “has burdened a form of protected expression. ...”  It was Kennedy, of course, who authored Citizens United, which established that independent political spending by corporations is protected speech.

“Once the patron saint of protesters and the disenfranchised,” writes Tim Wu in The New Republic ,  “ the First Amendment has become the darling of economic libertarians and corporate lawyers who have recognized its power to immunize private enterprise from legal restraint.”

In his article, “The Right to Evade Regulation: How corporations hijacked the First Amendment”, Wu says:  “It is tempting to call it the new nuclear option for undermining regulation, except that its deployment is shockingly routine…. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing to gut the disclosure requirements in new securities regulations, citing the free speech rights of hedge funds and publicly traded companies.”

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