Unusual punishment

BBC News Magazine: “Why is one county handing down one in six US death sentences?”

Judged by the number of death sentences handed down, Riverside [County, California] has ranked no lower than third among the US’s more than 3,000 counties since 2012, and was first in 2015.

“The county is the most glaring example of a phenomenon that is being seen across the US, which is that even though the death penalty is in broad decline across most of America, there are individual pockets that continue to disproportionately use it,” says Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

He cites a 2013 report done by the centre which found that the majority of people on death row in the US were sentenced to death by fewer than 2% of the counties.

California had 746 people on death row in January 2015, far ahead of the state in second place – Florida, with 400.

Seems hard to square this with the Constitutional prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Former peacekeeping role model tries to reject peacekeepers

2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis


Burundi has consistently been one of the largest contributors to African Union peacekeeping forces for years, but when it comes time for an AU deployment in Burundi suddenly Burundi is a champion of national “sovereignty” and freedom from peacekeeper interference…

“Burundi lawmakers reject AU peacekeeping offer despite spiralling violence” – France24:

Burundi’s parliament on Monday criticised a proposed African Union peacekeeping mission already dismissed by the government as an “invasion force”.


Compaoré wanted for 1987 Sankara murder

Burkina Faso’s former longtime dictator Blaise Compaoré, still in exile since his October 2014 ouster, now faces an international arrest warrant for his role in the bloody 1987 coup that brought him to power against his once-friend Captain Thomas Sankara. The body believed to be that of Sankara, while still not positively identified, is “riddled with bullets” according to an autopsy released in October 2015.

In mid-2015, 17% of student loans hadn’t been paid in a year

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


“School-Loan Reckoning: 7 Million Are in Default” – The Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2015:

Nearly 7 million Americans have gone at least a year without making a payment on their federal student loans, a high level of default that suggests a widening swath of households are unable or unwilling to pay back their school debt.

As of July, 6.9 million Americans with student loans hadn’t sent a payment to the government in at least 360 days, quarterly data from the Education Department showed this past week. That was up 6%, or 400,000 borrowers, from a year earlier.

That translates into about 17% of all borrowers with federal loans being severely delinquent, a share that would be even higher if borrowers currently in school who aren’t yet required to repay were excluded. Millions of other borrowers are months behind but haven’t hit the 360-day threshold that the government defines as a default.

There are 40 million Americans with some outstanding student debt.

Unlike credit card, auto, mortgage and other personal debts, student debts are rarely dischargeable in a personal bankruptcy.

This unusual exception to U.S. bankruptcy law was implemented as part of the so-called “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act” passed in 2005. Lenders lobbied Congress heavily for the law’s passage.

In the 10 years since that law’s creation, the share of bachelor’s degree holders with student debt after graduation rose from 64% to 71%. This potentially exposes even more young people to personal debt crises they cannot discharge.

Another key issue in U.S. student debt is how much of it has come from “for-profit” colleges, diploma mills and shady online universities. In fact, 10 of the 20 institutions that generate the most student debt fall under one or more of those categories.

They represent about 19% of the total 2014 student debt load. That is all the more astounding as they account for only 9% of the total U.S. student body. Evidently, the cost of enrolling at these institutions is high, but the payoff for graduates is low or zero.

This post was produced in conjunction with The Globalist Research Center.

Burundi: Political mass murder or ethnic mass murder?

2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis

Flag of Burundi

Flag of Burundi

Cold comfort from Human Rights Watch — France 24 – “Burundi’s worsening crisis ‘is political, not ethnic’”:

“It’s a different situation from the 1990s,” she said. “This is not an ethnic conflict but a political one, pitting a president who is clinging on to power against a variety of opponents.”

Tertsakian said a handful of politicians had indulged in some sort of ethnic rhetoric to whip up support, but that they had largely failed to ethnicise the crisis.

She added that people targeted by security forces included both Tutsis and Hutus opposed to Nkurunziza.

Nearly a hundred people were killed on a single day in capital clashes with security forces last week.

Last month:
“Burundi appears to be sliding into full-blown meltdown”

120.8 million American adults


“The Middle Class Is No Longer America’s Economic Majority” – HuffPost Business:

There are now more low-income and high-income Americans combined than there are people in the middle class, a study released Wednesday found.

According to a Pew Research Center report, there were 120.8 million adults living in middle-income households and 121.3 million in lower- and upper-income households combined in early 2015, marking the first time in the center’s four decades of tracking this data that the size of the latter groups has transcended that of the first.

The study defines middle income as adults earning two-thirds to double the national median, which translates today to somewhere between $42,000 and $126,000 a year for a three-person household.

One caveat to the narrative is that while the low-income grew 4 points since 1971, the high income share grew by 7. So off the 11 points lost from the middle class, a majority actually exited the top (oddly enough), rather than sinking below:

Since 1971, the percentage of adults living in the low income bracket has increased from 25 percent to 29 percent, and the percentage of adults living in the highest income bracket has shot up from 14 percent to 21 percent. The middle class, meanwhile, has shrunk from 61 percent to about 50.

Of course, mostly the story is that the existing rich just got way richer, very fast.