Notes from the desk of peace activist Polly Mann (b. Nov. 19, 1919)

Good gun news

It’s seldom, if ever, one reads good news about guns. So, this bit of news should be well received. There exists a group with a mission antithetical to that of the National Rifle Association (NRA). it’s called GUNS DOWN AMERICA, organized in 2016 in Orlando, Fla., as a result of the mass shooting incident there. Its mission, as given by its founder and executive officer, Igor Volsky, is to compel the financiers of the gun industry banks to support gun control. The group set up a grading system for these financiers, i.e., banks and legislators. The basis for the grades was publicly available information gathered from media reports, regulatory documents, campaign finance filings and other sources. After the Orlando shooting, Delta Airlines, Hertz and several other companies broke with the NRA. Some banks have changed their positions on loans for guns. Bank of America has announced a new policy.
A grading system was devised to indicate banks’ policy on gun loans. Six banks had failing grades. Citigroup announced it would work only with clients that restricted gun sales. Bank of America said it would stop funding companies that make military-inspired firearms for civilian use. Marianne Lake, JPMorgan Chase’s chief financial officer, said last year the bank’s link to military-style firearms has “come down significantly.” Tricia Schultz, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman, said the bank planned to invest more than $10 million over three years in studying gun-violence prevention and in improving school safety. Her total statement, however, was somewhat ambiguous: “We do not believe that the American public wants banks to decide which legal products consumers can and cannot buy.” Overall it was good news.

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Taxes and prison health care

If you haven’t read the article about health care in U.S. prisons in the March 4th edition of The New Yorker magazine, you should. Even if you’re not particularly concerned about prisons, you really should. If for no other reason than that your taxes could be reduced with an efficient system, read it. It’s not short—a full eight pages, but as I said, it’ll be well worth your time. The following are a few statistics to get you started:
1. Between 1980 and 2015, the U.S. prison population increased from about 500,000 to over 2.2 million.
2. Today the U.S. makes up about 5% of the world’s population yet has 21% of the world’s prisoners.
3. Though African Americans and Hispanics make up about 32% of the world’s population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015.
There are more than 3,000 jails in the U.S., which house some 700,000 people. After the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the jail and prison population jumped from about 300,000 in 1980 to more than 10,000,000-that’s 10 million-today. The standard of care that incarcerated people have a right to receive was set by the American Medical Association.
Companies that provide health care are now spending about $10,000,000,000 (that’s 10 billion).

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Julian Assange

The case of the journalist Julian Assange is in the hands of Western authorities thanks to Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno. Their media is scraping the bottom of the barrel with increasingly absurd claims. Yet there is no evidence. Assange was under total surveillance while in the embassy.
The truth is that since Moreno came into power the country has been making fast strides toward modifying its economy. As the Wall Street Journal reports: “Central to Mr. Moreno’s shift was an interest in deepening ties with the U.S. Mr. Moreno ended Ecuador’s alliance with Venezuela and a leftist bloc of nations, choosing instead to pursue a trade deal with Washington. Ecuadorian business leaders hope removing Mr. Assange from the embassy will speed up talks for a trade agreement with Washington.”
After former Ecuadorian President Rafel Correa tweeted a picture of a document showing that Moreno’s government was “auditing” Assange’s asylum and his naturalization in Ecuador, WikiLeaks asserted that a bailout for the country from the International Monetary Fund was conditioned on its “handing over Assange and dropping environmental claims against Chevron” for its pollution of the Amazon. In February Ecuador signed a deal securing the controversial IMF loan for a total of $4.2 billion, in addition to another $6 billion from other U.S.-dominated financial institutions like the World Bank. After the IMF deal was struck, Ecuador laid off more than 10,000 public-sector employees, slashed spending and decreased the minimum wage.
WikiLeak’s decision to republish the details of Moreno’s use of offshore bank accounts in Panama, entitled INA Investment Corporation Papers, appears to be the main cause for the president’s decision to expel Assange from the embassy. Ecuadorian Communications Minister Andrés Michelena even claimed that the INA Papers were a conspiracy plot between Julian Assange, the former president Rafael Correa and the current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
While Moreno was in Washington for the Inter-American Dialogue, INA, journalist Helena Villar grilled him: “There is some information and the former president said that there was a link between the decision about Assange and the promotion of the INA Papers and the debt with the IMF. What do you have to say about that?”
“A lie,” Moreno said, “We only tell the truth.”
The smear follows a well-established pattern: The U.S. or one of its allies captures an official enemy, and in order to quash any domestic or international support that might ensue, it lies and does whatever is possible to dehumanize their captive.

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Affordable Housing

Something has to be done about the ever-increasing gap between the poor and rich, especially as it relates to the availability of affordable housing for those who need it. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that in no state in the union can a full-time worker earning minimum wage afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment. Why? Because: (a) huge numbers of American jobs have disappeared due to mechanization or have been outsourced to China, India, Mexico and other poor countries, and (b) under capitalism the pressure on wages and increased rent prices have made homelessness a predictable consequence for millions.
Across the country, homeless people have engaged in the acts of basic survival – sleeping, eating, etc., in some of the only spaces open to them—in parks, libraries and other public spaces. Their reactions to their condition have been pathologized or criminalized by law enforcement. Often, they are forcibly removed from their temporary lodgings or arrested and their needs are ignored.
Research shows that the economic gap between rich and poor has profoundly negative effects on society and is a cause for increasing rates of alcoholism and drug use, teenage pregnancy, a breakdown of trust, and mental health issues such as depression and suicide. Unfortunately, those made rich under capitalism have little sympathy for lesser-enriched Americans.
As I said – something has to be done about affordable housing.

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The publication Institute Investor recently published its list showing the ranking of the annual income of hedge fund managers. Topping the list was Ray Dalio, the co-founder of Bridgewater Association, who estimated his annual earnings at $2 billion—that’s $2,000,000,000. Following are other top winners:
*James H. Simmons of Renaissance Technology at $1.5 billion (last year’s top man).
*Kenneth Griffin, founder of Citadel, made $870 million.
*John Overdeck and David Siegel, founders of Two Sigma, made $820 million each.
Other “top dogs” were listed. But my most favorite bit from the article was the following paragraph: “But the magnitude of the hedge fund managers’ compensation raises a very basic question about whether capitalism is ‘broken.’ After all, even if Mr. Dalio took home $5 million, the rest of his income could pay 10,000 families $150,000 each.”

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