Wednesday, April 24, 2013

24 Signs That Our Once Proud Cities Are Turning Into Poverty-Stricken Hellholes

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What is happening to you America?  Once upon a time, the United States was a place where free enterprise thrived and the greatest cities that the world had ever seen sprouted up from coast to coast.  Good jobs were plentiful and a manufacturing boom helped fuel the rise of the largest and most vibrant middle class in the history of the planet.  Cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Baltimore were all teeming with economic activity and the rest of the globe looked on our economic miracle with a mixture of wonder and envy.  But now look at us.  Our once proud cities are being transformed into poverty-stricken hellholes.  Did you know that the city of Detroit once actually had the highest per-capita income in the United States?  Looking at Detroit today, it is hard to imagine that it was once one of the most prosperous cities in the world.  In fact, as you will read about later in this article, tourists now travel to Detroit from all over the globe just to see the ruins of Detroit.  Sadly, the exact same thing that is happening to Detroit is happening to cities all over America.  Detroit is just ahead of the curve.  We are in the midst of a long-term economic collapse that is eating away at us like cancer, and things are going to get a lot worse than this.  So if you still live in a prosperous area of the country, don't laugh at what is happening to others.  What is happening to them will be coming to your area soon enough.

The following are 24 signs that our once proud cities are turning into poverty-stricken hellholes...

#1 According to the New York Times, there are now approximately 70,000 abandoned buildings in Detroit.

#2 At this point, approximately one-third of Detroit's 140 square miles is either vacant or derelict.

#3 Back during the housing bubble, an acre of land in downtown Phoenix, Arizona sold for about $90 a square foot.  Today, an acre in downtown Phoenix sells for about $9 a square foot.

#4 The city of Chicago is so strapped for cash that it is planning to close 54 public schools.  It is being estimated that Chicago schools will run a budget deficit of about a billion dollars in 2013.

#5 The city of Baltimore is already facing unfunded liabilities of more than 3.2 billion dollars, but the city government continues to pile up more debt as if it was going out of style.

#6 Today, the murder rate in East St. Louis is 17 times higher than the national average.

#7 According to USA Today, the "share of jobs located in or near a downtown declined in 91 of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas" between 2000 and 2010.

#8 Between December 2000 and December 2010, 48 percent of the manufacturing jobs in the state of Michigan were lost.

#9 There are more than 85,000 streetlights in Detroit, but thieves have stripped so much copper wiring out of the lights that more than half of them are not working.

#10 The unemployment rate in El Centro, California is 24.2 percent, and the unemployment rate in Yuma, Arizona is an astounding 25.6 percent.

#11 It has been estimated that there are more than 1,000 homeless people living in the massive network of flood tunnels under the city of Las Vegas.

#12 Violent crime in the city of Oakland increased by 23 percent during 2012.

#13 If you can believe it, more than 11,000 homes, cars and businesses were burglarized in Oakland during 2012.  That breaks down to approximately 33 burglaries a day.

#14 As I have written about previously, there are only about 200 police officers assigned to Chicago's Gang Enforcement Unit to handle the estimated 100,000 gang members living in the city.

#15 The number of murders in Chicago last year was roughly equivalent to the number of murders in the entire country of Japan during 2012.

#16 The murder rate in Flint, Michigan is higher than the murder rate in Baghdad.

#17 If New Orleans was considered to be a separate nation, it would have the 2nd highest murder rateon the entire planet.

#18 According to the Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center,  Mexican drug cartels were actively operating in 50 different U.S. cities in 2006.  By 2010, that number had skyrocketed to 1,286.

#19 Back in 2007, the number of New York City residents on food stamps was about 1 million.  It is now being projected that the number of New York City residents on food stamps will pass the 2 million markthis summer.

#20 The number of homeless people sleeping in the homeless shelters of New York City has increasedby a whopping 19 percent over the past year.

#21 As I noted yesterday, approximately one out of every three children in the United States currently lives in a home without a father.

#22 In Miami, 45 percent of the children are living in poverty.

#23 In Cleveland, more than 50 percent of the children are living in poverty.

#24 According to a recently released report, 60 percent of all children in the city of Detroit are living in poverty.

As I mentioned at the top of this article, the decline of the city of Detroit has become so famous that it has actually become a tourist attraction.  The following is a short excerpt from an article in the New York Times...

But in Detroit, the tours go on, in an unofficial capacity. One afternoon at the ruins of the 3.5-million-square-foot Packard Plant, I ran into a family from Paris. The daughter said she read about the building in Lonely Planet; her father had a camcorder hanging around his neck. Another time, while conducting my own tour for a guest, a group of German college students drove up. When queried as to the appeal of Detroit, one of them gleefully exclaimed, “I came to see the end of the world!”
For much more on the shocking decline of one of America's greatest cities, please see my previous article entitled "Bankrupt, Decaying And Nearly Dead: 24 Facts About The City Of Detroit That Will Shock You".

So are there any areas of the country that are still thriving?

Well, yes, there are a few.  In particular, those areas that are sitting on top of energy resources tend to be doing quite well for now.

One example is Texas.  In recent years people have been absolutely flocking to the state.  There are lots of energy jobs, the cost of living is low and there is no state income tax.

But overall, things are really tough out there.  Over the past decade America has lost millions of good jobs to offshoring, advancements in technology and a declining economy.

Last year, the United States had a trade deficit with the rest of the world of more than half a trillion dollars.  Overall, the U.S. has run a trade deficit with the rest of the world of more than 8 trillion dollarssince 1975.

All of that money could have gone to U.S. businesses and U.S. workers.  In turn, taxes would have been paid on all of that income which could have helped keep our cities great.

But instead, our politicians have stood idly by as we have lost tens of thousands of businesses and millions of jobs.  If you can believe it, more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities have closed down permanently in the United States since 2001.

We have allowed our economic infrastructure to be absolutely gutted, and so we should not be surprised that our once proud cities are turning into poverty-stricken hellholes.

And this is just the beginning.  The next wave of the economic collapse is rapidly approaching, and when it strikes unemployment in this country will eventually rise to a level that is more than double what it is now.

When that happens, I wouldn't want to be anywhere near our rotting, decaying cities.

Toxic Fallout in Fallujah

Since the assaults on Fallujah in 2004, the city has seen an astronomical rise in birth defects and abnormalities, including some too new to even have a proper medical name. VICE went back to Iraq to investigate.

Filmmaker Claims CIA Kept Innocent Man Jailed to Cover Up Drug Trafficking

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"If you want to, you can question anything to death," says director Eric Stacey, his melodic Californian drawl coming slow and steady down the line. "But my point of view is, if enough people are writing about the same thing from different backgrounds and perspectives, there's got to be something to it."

Stacey, who grew up in old Hollywood watching his father work alongside Hitchcock and Capra, is speaking about his filmAffidavit , currently posted on crowdfunding site USA Projects somewhere between a holocaust memorial made from six million toothpicks and Claud Zeeb's Love Utopitility Vehicles (we're not sure either). If made, Affidavit will dramatise the story of army private William Tyree Jr, currently serving a life term at a maximum security prison in Massachusetts for ordering colleague Erik Aarhus to kill his 22-year-old wife Elaine. Stacey believes he is innocent, and if the promise of a shitload of cocaine isn't enough to entice, how about the CIA supporting Panamanian drug trafficking, army personnel deliberately withholding information that could free Tyree and widespread surveillance of the judiciary by intelligence services?

In 1980 the courts alleged that Elaine Tyree's murder was financially motivated -- Tyree, stationed at Fort Devens, had taken out life insurance policies in the months preceding his wife's death. An affidavit allegedly penned a few months later by Colonel Edward Cutolo -- in command at Fort Devens -- recounts a far more sinister motive. It details his, Tyree's, and CIA and Army personnel's involvement in and knowledge of Special Forces missions enabling the transportation of cocaine from Colombia to Panama's Albrook Army Airfield to help in the funding of, among other things, Manuel Noriega's apparent fight against communism. It also recounts details of surveillance at Tyree's home that would have exonerated the private.

It's pretty incredible stuff, pointing the finger of blame at CIA officials including Edwin Wilson (later convicted of illegally selling arms to Libya), that may or may not have been operating with the agency's direct knowledge. In the years 1975-76, according to Cutolo's affidavit and  Colonel James "Bo" Gritz's book Called to Serve, operation Watchtower involved the erection of beacon towers to allow low-flying planes to operate undetected between Bogota and Albrook. Follow-up operation Orwell was allegedly an effort to monitor politicians, judges and churches in case word of Watchtower got out. has not seen an original copy of Cutolo's affidavit, but has a photocopied version of a  Colonel William Wilson's affidavit verifying the facts. Wilson, a well-respected former Green Beret and investigator for the US Army Inspector General, spent five years investigating Cutolo's affidavit,  interviewing 200 people including former members of the CIA.  Though cannot attest to the authenticity of the document, it appears to have been notarised by an official contracted by the State of Florida.

It's such an extraordinary story that it's easy to cry conspiracy theorist. In its historical context, however, it begins to sound less far-fetched. The alleged missions took place in the years preceding the Iran-Contra affair, an arms-for-hostages scandal that saw the US break an arms embargo with the Middle Eastern nation amid allegations of related funds being diverted to anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua, known as the Contras. An investigation, the John  Kerry Committee report, found "foreign policy considerations [had] interfered with the US's ability to fight the war on drugs", US officials maintaining airstrips used in "covert Contra supply operations" were fully aware drug traffickers were also using the strips, and the State Department contracted four companies owned and operated by drugs traffickers "to supply humanitarian assistance to the Contras". It does not go as far as saying the CIA was complicit, but the implication that it was routinely turning a blind eye to illegal activities to the benefit of US foreign policy -- and detriment of US citizens as drug imports spiked -- was clear.

Why then is Tyree's story, just a few years before the Iran-Contra affair and a few years after Watergate, so hard to believe? Why, despite historical context and testimony, is it still so ridiculous to believe government is so at fault? Why is the conspiracy theorist sidelined in a world where our expectations of state morality have been so diminished?

"We live in an information wilderness," political documentary maker Eugene Jarecki tells, "and so conspiracy theorists have been made a laughing stock by government and their friends in the media, because of course it's a good idea to marginalise critics and turn them into people that shouldn't be taken seriously. What better way to undermine them? Donald Rumsfeld referred to the information wilderness as information asymmetry -- his goal was to maintain information asymmetry over his adversaries, but who were his adversaries? Was it Al Qaida, the Iraqi people? I think the real answer, in part, is the American people."

Jarecki has spent his career challenging the status quo and asking uncomfortable questions. The subject matter of his films -- racially and socially-motivated US drug policy in The House I Live In, and the US government routinely misleading the public into war in Why We Fight -- could have seen him marginalised as a conspiracy theorist. But with credentials like two Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prizes to his name, Jarecki's musings have more sway than an imprisoned army private's.

He argues that a government-induced information wilderness inevitably breeds theorists like himself and Stacey: "When you have an information asymmetry, no wonder you're made to feel ridiculous hypothesising about what's going on. When we're deprived of the information necessary to understand what our government is doing, we're left to hypothesise about the particulars of a story like the Iran-Contra."

There are plenty of examples of US government involvement, to some degree, in enabling drug trafficking (see George Washington University's National Security Archives). But over the years stories have gained little traction. In 1996 investigative reporter Gary Webb  published a series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News on Contras smuggling cocaine to LA and the CIA turning a blind eye to ensure funds trickled back to the rebel group (which, since the  Boland Amendment was passed, Reagan could no longer openly financially support). "His allegations have never been undermined in any meaningful way by those in power," comments documentary-maker Jarecki, yet Webb's publishers backed away from the story as controversy stirred. If it wasn't for the internet, Webb said, his story might not have reached so many people, having been published by a local newspaper. Webb struggled to find work again over the years, before his suicide in 2004.

"There's no question the mainstream media is reluctant to write about events well documented, and incidences of wrongdoing involving official agencies and drug trafficking," Jonathan Marshall, author of  Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America, told "And that reluctance helps breed speculation. It lends credence to the idea that there is some suppression of truth going on. It's partly because there's a well-deserved feeling that mainstream media and official investigations have not adequately pursued legitimate stories; it opens the door for conspiracy theorising."

Jarecki argues the US government has repeatedly used "threats" to national security to pursue any interest it sees fit -- this agenda is widely picked up in the press, and perpetuated by sidelining tales of "rare" wrongdoings. In the case of Watchtower and Orwell, both fit nicely into the anti-communist interest of the day.

"National interest becomes a relevant and guiding term in the shaping of public policy," he says. "Reagan had a personal agenda to be an anti-communist, that made him see Iran-Contra activities as a no-holds bar approach to preventing the spread of communism -- he believed it was so worthy one would stop at nothing to pursue it, even violating the principles of democracy supposedly to defend it. When US Congress blocks him from being involved with the Contras because of their human rights violations, in an act that symbolises the great disconnect between what the public wants and what Reagan wants, he figures he'll get money elsewhere."

So if an individual like Stacey senses there is something awry, an injustice or a false truth, how do they relay it in a meaningful way? Moreover, how can it have any affect on a public opinion already so under duress by ideological propaganda?

Kendrick Oliver, reader in American History at the University of Southampton, suggests an inherent problem in communication is that "truth tellers" believe it is simply enough to do just that: speak their truth.

"The Vietnam My Lai massacre happened in March 1968 and was revealed in November 1969. It was a subject of major headlines with visual content of atrocities. But it didn't change opinion. By that point in the Vietnam war those opposed were opposed -- people continued to support the war and a President persevering the reasons: communism. You assume if you throw content in the direction of an audience then like a magic bullet it will affect consciousness and opinions, balance and consensus. I'm less certain that's the case."

Oliver points to  The Death Of Others, by Executive Director of MIT's Centre for International Studies John Tirman, in which the research scientist highlights the indifference demonstrated by the American public to the death toll of "those we fight and those we fight for". Tirman wrote the book after a press release sent out by his department revealing civilian casualties in Iraq stretched to the hundreds of thousands, made no splash whatsoever. "He subsequently wrote this book on American responses to reports of civilian casualties from World War I to the Vietnam War and found more or less the same thing," says Oliver. "There are arguments it's to do with American frontier ideology, but I don't know too many examples where a nation anywhere has been called to conscious. There's a pattern, whether it's indifference or an unwillingness to spend one's time thinking about these things."

For this reason, Oliver does not believe Affidavit can have the effect its creator is hoping for. "It sounds like a noble gesture, and I hope it gets made, but I do wonder whether it will find an audience or whether the audience will just be the usual suspects that like to listen to these things. So it won't actually make much of a difference."

Nevertheless, he continues, "There's a need for these films to be made to hasten a kind of accounting; to make the public more aware of the things government has been doing behind the scenes".

Aside from finding an audience, director Jarecki believes Stacey's project may also struggle to find funding due to its conspiracy theory rhetoric. "There's nothing wrong in what I read in the suggestions of Affidavit, but there is if you read it as someone being asked for crowdfunding."

"You have to walk very carefully, because it's become easy to be marginalised as a conspiracy theorist if you try to define what the wizard's doing behind the curtain. It's almost like you're looked down upon if you express your democratic right -- no, obligation -- to ask questions about the running of your government. Information asymmetry is designed to leave those of us who critique the system in a state of looking ridiculous. We are not ridiculous."

Trouble is, even those in the know are skeptical about the "truths" behind the affidavits.  Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison -- whose book on US involvement in Golden Triangle drug cartels the CIA attempted to quash -- does not hold much stead in Tyree's claims. "Personally I'm skeptical about the agency having direct involvement," he told "It's not how they work. Usually they have a mission to affect a certain outcome with minimal intrusion, working with operatives to create a favourable climate such as a change of government. They disappear completely, knowing assets are in place."

Cocaine Politics author Marshall agrees: "I've covered that period and not seen any independent verification of Watchtower or any event mentioned here. I would be very cautious before I put much faith in it. In my view there was direct involvement with people in drug trafficking, but the CIA was not involved directly with drug trafficking. It's not as if the CIA has a small budget. There's ample legitimate material out there, and I'm sure there's many things we don't know, but it's important to be scrupulous checking new claims."

Sources have disputed that Tyree was ever a member of the Special Forces (though both Cutolo and Wilson's affidavits point to his record being expunged to remove evidence of Watchtower and Orwell), turning the army private into something of a comic figure and common liar. Others have likewise been ridiculed for their theories. Colonel Bo Gritz for instance, who also claims he worked on Watchtower, went on to carry out dubious Rambo-style rogue trips to rescue US POWs in the 80s, thought to still be held in Vietnam and Laos. The missions were resoundingly seen as a farce and a failure. If that weren't enough to discredit the soldier of fortune, he also fears the implementation of a New World Orderand was a candidate for Vice President of the extremist US Populist Party (of which former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was also a member). But  William Shatner reportedly bought the rights to his life story, so it can't all be bad…

Nevertheless, if Wilson's affidavit is accurate, the facts are damning. It states that the courtroom Tyree's case was held in was bugged (claims separately corroborated and in point 17 of  this appeals court document dismissed because nothing worthwhile was taped), witnesses admitted they were coached in testimony by investigating officer Chief William Adamson and Tyree's attorney did not raise the fact that his home was searched without a warrant (this meant no inventory was taken and a diary Elaine allegedly kept containing details of Watchtower and Aarhus' criminal activities was never recovered).

Wall Street Betting Billions On Single-Family Homes In Distressed Markets

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Big investors are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into real estate hard hit by the housing crash, bringing those moribund markets back to life but raising the prospect of another Wall Street-fueled bubble that won’t be sustainable.

Drawn by the prospect of double-figure profit margins on rents and the resale of homes whose prices plummeted in the crash, hedge funds, Wall Street investors and other institutions are crowding out individual home buyers.

If the chain of easy credit and dangerous leverage that started on Wall Street fanned the housing bubble and eventual crash, some analysts find it disturbing that major investors are the ones snapping up the bargains — and eventual big profits — left in its wake.

“There is the possibility that Wall Street and the banks and the affluent 1 percent stand to gain the most from this,” said Jack McCabe, a real estate consultant based in Deerfield Beach, Fla. “Meanwhile, lower-income Americans will lose their opportunity for the American Dream of building wealth through owning a home.”

Real estate executives say institutional investors — who in some cases are bidding on hundreds of homes a day — account for as much as 70 percent of sales in some Florida markets. Over the past two years, analysts say, they also have accounted for a majority of purchases in other parts of the country where housing prices are rebounding sharply.

The influx of investors may explain why home prices have been rising in parts of the country most affected by the housing crash, despite high jobless rates and relatively few new mortgages being issued by lenders. In the past year, prices have risen 23 percent in the Phoenix area, 15 percent in Las Vegas, 9 percent in Tampa and 11 percent in Miami, according to the Case-Shiller home-price indices . Nationally, prices are up more than 8 percent over the past year.

“I don’t know whether things are as good as they seem to be. A lot of properties are being occupied by institutional investors, not the end-user,” said Scott Kranz, co-principal of Title Capital Management, a firm that helps big investors scout, buy and manage homes in Florida. “The end-user would need to see a great increase in jobs, availability of mortgage money and a loosening of the reins that have been holding them back. But all the economic indicators are that we are not at that point.”

The ability of investors to make cash deals is helping them buy a large portion of the distressed homes that continue to flood the market. Property brokers and others in Florida say traditional buyers — even those able to qualify for financing in a still-tight mortgage market — are finding it difficult to compete with the cash and market savvy of large investors.

“The investors are making it hard for a regular homeowner to buy a property,” said Robert Russotto, a broker with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate in Fort Lauderdale. “They are getting outbid by people with cash.” Russotto noted that out of the 20 home sale contracts he is the process of completing, 17 of the buyers are major investors.

Before the housing crash, big investors almost never wanted single-family homes, largely because of slow returns and the money-draining hassle of managing tenants in often far-flung properties.

But with prices still depressed and with low interest rates and high stock prices limiting prospective returns elsewhere, major investors see the prospect of healthy profits in single-family homes.

“Residential property is an on-fire asset class,” said Kranz, noting that his firm has plowed more than $100 million into residential real estate for investors in the past year and is on course to spend $250 million to buy an additional 2,000 homes in 2013.

At Title Capital Management, nearly four dozen analysts and lawyers are glued to computer monitors — some seven days a week — hunting for deals among the flood of foreclosures that have bedeviled this state.

Aided by its proprietary software, Title Capital sizes up each home for square footage, special features and the prices and rents they can command. The firm’s legal team then scrubs each property for liens and title problems before determining a price that would allow its clients on Wall Street and elsewhere to turn a tidy profit.

The company bids on about 200 houses a day, making it one of the largest players in Florida that help hedge funds and other Wall Street firms buy distressed properties. It is proving to be a lucrative niche.

Last year, famed investor Warren Buffett said on CNBC: “If I had a way of buying a couple-hundred-thousand single-family homes, I would load up on them. It’s a very attractive asset class now. I could buy them at distressed prices and find renters.”

A growing number of private-equity groups have done as much. Over the past year, Blackstone has amassed a portfolio of 20,000 rental homes worth $3 billion, spokesman Peter Rose said. American Homes 4 Rent, a firm run by warehousing magnate B. Wayne Hughes, has bought about 10,000 rental properties, according to news reports.

The strategy makes sense, as a shrinking share of Americans own their homes. After more than a decade of robust increases, the national home-ownership rate peaked in 2004 at 69.2 percent. Since then, it has been in steady decline, falling to 65.4 percent at the end of 2012, according to Census Bureau figures.

The big investor activity is pushing up prices, which is good for the large number of homeowners whose mortgages are larger than their home’s values. But for people being shut out of the biggest bargains offered by the housing market, it means a longer, slower slog to building equity. It also raises the specter of future price declines when investors lose interest or decide to dump their properties.

“Clearly the investors are moving markets in some places,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and author of a popular housing blog. “In some markets at the bottom end, you are looking at 30 or 40 percent gains year to year. That is frightening to me. At some point the music stops. The investors if they get hurt, that is their problem. But invariably a lot of other people will get caught up in that.”

But as things stand, many investors say the opportunities are growing, particularly in Florida. The data firm RealtyTrac reported this month that one in 104 properties in the state had received a foreclosure filing in the first three months of 2013, the highest rate in the nation. On top of that, nearly half of the homeowners with mortgages owe more than their houses are worth, which means many more foreclosures are on the way. Investors think foreclosures could surge for up to five more years.

Dallas Wharton, co-founder of Delavaco Residential Property Trust, a real estate investment firm in Fort Lauderdale, is ready. The firm, which is backed by Canadian investors, started out with 14 homes two years ago and now has 700. Meanwhile, Delavaco is preparing for a public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange that Wharton hopes will raise as much as $40 million.

Wharton said his company is riding a lucrative wave. It is able to scoop up many homes for $60,000 or $70,000, which is just a fraction of the building costs. After making repairs, the company rents them out for as much as $1,700 a month. The firm’s biggest client is the federal Section 8 program, which subsidizes the rents of low-income tenants. Delavaco notes that Section 8 provides “over 60 percent” of the firm’s revenue.

“That’s a pretty good opportunity,” Wharton said, adding that investors help stabilize communities even as they make money. “If the end-user does not have the ability to enter in the market, and they do down the road, have they missed an opportunity? Perhaps. But if it weren’t for investors, where would the market bottom be? What would happen to neighborhoods if homes were just to sit there and rot?”

“Human Beings Have No Right to Water”

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