Is Iran sending refugees to Syria as cannon fodder?

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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The Daily Star (Lebanon) — “Iran enlists Afghan refugees as fighters”

But interviews with Afghan fighters and relatives of combatants killed in Syria point to a vigorous – and sometimes coerced – recruitment drive of Shiite Hazara refugees by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps propping up Assad’s floundering regime. […]
Haider, she said, was lured by the monthly salary of $700 – a tidy sum for a laborer with no combat experience – and the promise of an Iranian residency permit, an attractive inducement for refugees who otherwise live in constant fear of deportation. […]
Haider’s premonition came true – a few days after he left, an Iranian official informed his relatives, also refugees in Tehran, that he had been killed in battle.

 

Lebanon gov’t hastily builds concrete wall, then tears it down

As previously explained, Beirut, Lebanon is in the midst of a series of protests against the dysfunctional national government for failing to arrange for trash collection in the capital. The government began panicking and backtracking after riot police violently assaulted protesters. But that didn’t mean they were actually planning to fix anything. They just didn’t want to have another crackdown.

This might be the weirdest possible solution:

The protests turned violent over the weekend, prompting the government to erect a concrete wall outside its main building to prevent protesters from reaching it.

Within hours, the wall was filled with anti-government graffiti.

“State of Shabiha,” one young man scrawled, an Arabic term for thugs. Another drawing showed a man’s body wrapped in a black cloth below a caption that read: “The shroud of the state.”

On Tuesday, authorities began removing the wall, just 24 hours after it was installed.

“They won’t fool us by removing the wall,” said Sarhan, the You Stink supporter. “Remove it or not, we don’t care. We want… an end to sectarianism. We want to build a state,” he said.

 
Popping a concrete wall into place — I assume they used pre-fab barriers rather than pouring it on-site — definitely sends a pretty specific message: “We are ‘fraidy-cats.” That’s in line with the rather pathetic, frantic pinwheeling of the Prime Minister after the crackdown.

“I was never in this for a position in government, I am one of you. I am with the people. Do not pit this conflict [as] one camp against the other. Target all the politicians.”

 
Delusional, tone-deaf speechifying to try to placate protesters is usually a pretty good sign of the impending fall of a government.

Also a nice touch, in building the wall, to give everyone at the protests a media-friendly canvas on which to paint their frustrations. Have Lebanon’s leaders never heard of all the political graffiti on the West Bank security barrier or the West Berlin wall?

Are Trump’s bankruptcies worse than other business law manipulations?

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The Washington Post earlier this month described Trump’s business bankruptcies:

The 69-year-old real estate tycoon has never filed for personal bankruptcy and has for years portrayed the Chapter 11 bankruptcies of his glittering hotels and casinos as calculated, even shrewd maneuvers, and facts of life in the high-stakes worlds of mega-development and commercial finance.

The Trump-tied bankruptcies have all been filed under Chapter 11, a provision allowing troubled companies to stay in business while restructuring their business model or reducing their debts. In the business world, those filings are far more common, and far less disastrous, than Chapter 7 bankruptcies, in which companies are liquidated to satisfy debts.
[…]
An estimated 5 percent of the 500 biggest U.S. companies have filed for bankruptcy in the past two decades, Georgetown law professor Adam Levitin said.

 
While I am not defending Donald Trump’s view of his activities, I do have to ask: Are Trump’s business bankruptcies really worse than other corporate legal manipulations?

True, Chapter 11 bankruptcy is uncommon by comparison to other maneuvers through American business and tax law, but is it worse? Major U.S. companies use and abuse legal provisions constantly to evade and avoid taxes to the government. Trump used the law to avoid creditors — at major investment banks and funds, so let’s not weep too hard (and most of them came out the other side of his restructurings with lucrative deals).

Some US companies do complicated maneuvers like “offshore reincorporation” and other tax-avoidance mergers. He used Chapter 11 for cashflow management purposes. If companies use the US legal code to boost their profits and cashflow via tax avoidance, how is that better than Chapter 11 bankruptcy?

Trump made business deals on the (correct) assumption that he could fall back on restructuring laws. Other firms make deals based on assumptions that they can fall back on tax loopholes.

Perhaps you are both unswayed by moral arguments and unpersuaded by his argument that he was using the system to his advantage like everyone else. Perhaps you would prefer to judge his record solely on what these bankruptices says about his ability to run businesses.

Well, what about comparing it to popular and trendy legal maneuvers that are questionable long-term business practices? Many companies have been borrowing heavily to shower money on their shareholders, instead of using it to invest in expansion:

This practice of borrowing to pay shareholders instead of borrowing to invest, as you might guess, basically means shareholders are profiting against the company’s future financial health, rather than from current (or future) returns on its previous (or current) investments. That means literally raiding the companies’ future earnings to generate payout cash now. The company will eventually have to pay back the borrowed money with interest, but it will not have gained anything from that borrowing because it was used to rain money down on shareholders instead of actually growing the company’s operations. This means companies are putting themselves deeper into a long-term hole, even as wealthy shareholders […] rake in money in the short-term.
[…]
Down the line, a lot of American companies could have very high debt burdens while also being very underdeveloped compared to foreign competitors who invested in keeping up with the times and growing their long-term potential earnings. That will make them vulnerable to bankruptcy and other problems.

 
Maybe it’s true that Trump flew closer to the sun (and did so sooner) than these other future Icaruses, but the effect will eventually be the same.

Once again, one finds that Trump is not the epitome of evil. He is merely reflecting back a refined and purified vision of what America has become in its re-expanding dark corners. Those corners of our society exercise financial and political power in a dangerous direction. He didn’t make it that way. This is our country. We allowed this to happen.

AFD Micron #19

Curt Schilling’s tweet: “It’s said only 5-10% of Muslims are extremists. In 1940, only 7% of Germans were Nazis. How’d that go?” wouldn’t make his point even if the numbers were accurate. Unless Curt Schilling is suggesting discrimination against Muslims is the only way to be effective against Muslim terrorists because discriminating against Germans is such an effective way of dealing with Nazis…. which would be a little weird for a guy named Curt Schilling.

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Justin’s Story: Hurricane Katrina’s 10th Anniversary – A Radio Documentary

Description: Justin recounts his evacuation from New Orleans in August 2005, what happened afterward, and what has happened to New Orleans in the 10 years since then. Running time: 1 hour, 2 minutes.
(Interstitial narration by Kelley. Produced by Bill. Recorded during August 2015 in Newton MA and New Orleans LA.)

Documentary

Don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, Justin’s video game blog.

(Image Credit: Vybr8 / Wikipedia) Caption: A merged derivative of two satellite photos of New Orleans. One was taken on March 9, 2004 and another on August 31, 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The middle frame of the three-image gif is a fabricated blend of the two source images.

(Image Credit: Vybr8 / Wikipedia) Caption: A merged derivative of two satellite photos of New Orleans. One was taken on March 9, 2004 and another on August 31, 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The middle frame of the three-image gif is a fabricated blend of the two source images.

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U.S. homeownership in 2015 (in a global context)

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Statistics and analysis compiled for and by The Globalist Research Center.

In the second quarter of 2015, the homeownership rate among U.S. households reached a new recent low of 63.4%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This was the lowest reported rate since 1967!

Homeownership in the United States had reached an all-time high of 69.2% in 2005, two years before the housing bubble burst in late 2007. Following the recession, prospective buyers shifted instead into renting. Growth in the rental market — approaching record occupancy levels in many areas of the country — is one of the factors driving down the share of homeowners in the overall pool of households.

At the same time, U.S. home buying and home prices have actually increased recently. But that demand has largely come from institutional investors, speculators, and foreign buyers. This makes it harder for ordinary homebuyers, especially in the youngest generation of would-be first-time buyers, to break into the market.

For comparison to some other major economies’ homeownership rates, about 53% of German households own their homes, 73% of Italian households own their homes, and 90% of Chinese households own their homes. The global average, however, is slightly below the latest U.S. homeownership rate.

But not all homeowners are created equal. In Romania, 95.6% of households own their own homes as of 2013 — the highest ownership rate of any EU country. And eight of the ten EU member countries with the highest rates of homeownership are all former Warsaw Pact or Soviet states. (Another is ex-Yugoslavian.) The ownership level is similar in Russia itself, where 84% of housing was owner-occupied as of 2010. All of this is at least partially related to rapid housing privatizations in the early 1990s. However, there are concerns that many of the homes in those countries, constructed in the suburbs and countryside during the Communist era, might not hold up much longer. Little new construction occurred in the decade after 1991. This could potentially put much of the housing stock in jeopardy and add major stress to those already relatively poor European nations.

Homeownership promotion has long been a goal of U.S. public policy — maybe because of its cultural association with early American colonists, homesteading pioneers, and the American Dream. Today its promoters seek to encourage building up equity and to ensure a steady need for jobs in the construction industry. The George W. Bush Administration, for example, promoted what it called an “ownership society.”

The general idea (in theory, at least) is that when people living in a home-owning household reach retirement age, the equity they have in their residence can provide a major source of funds to finance their retirement.

Home-owning households are generally wealthier, as least on paper, because a residence is often their largest asset. However, that asset is usually not a readily accessible source of cash.

Moreover, more than two-thirds of American homeowners in 2014 had mortgages on their homes. Homeownership is far less associated with debt in China, for example, than it is in the United States. Taking out a mortgage to buy a property is very uncommon in that country, barely reaching double-digits as a percentage share of homeowners in 2010.

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