Thursday, March 31, 2011

GOP House leader Eric Cantor calls for the end of Social Security and Medicare

Now that's rather straight-forward of him. From NPR Morning Edition (my emphasis):

[NPR reporter Audie] CORNISH: That's House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor at a recent speech at the Hoover Institution. Cantor tried to send a clear signal to key voters with concerns about the GOP's plans.

Rep. CANTOR: I mean, just from the very notion that it said that 50 percent of beneficiaries under the Social Security program use those moneys as their sole source of income. So we've got to protect today's seniors. But for the rest of us? For - you know, listen. We're going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.

Oregon Lottery Pays Big, Corporate Tax Not So Much

David Cay Johnston | Mar. 31, 2011 10:36 AM EDT

The long-running drive in America to push the burden of taxes down the income ladder has reached a new milestone in Oregon, which sends a troubling message for where our country's public finances are headed.

Oregon now gets substantially more revenue from state-sponsored gambling than from its corporate income tax.

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, the state agency that forecasts revenue and expenses, said that for the 2011-2013 biennium, the lottery should net the state almost $1.1 billion compared with just under $900 million from the corporate income tax. And while corporate tax revenue should grow as the economy recovers, the lottery will continue to bring in more through at least 2017, the most distant year the forecast covers.

States broke? Maybe they cut taxes too much

WASHINGTON — In his new budget proposal, Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich calls for extending a generous 21 percent cut in state income taxes. The measure was originally part of a sweeping 2005 tax overhaul that abolished the state corporate income tax and phased out a business property tax.

The tax cuts were supposed to stimulate Ohio's economy and create jobs. But that never happened once the economy tanked. Instead, the changes ended up costing Ohio more than $2 billion a year in lost tax revenue; money that would go a long way toward closing the state's $8 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2012.

Shame on Michelle Rhee

by Diane Ravitch

A new report shows student testing irregularities in D.C. under the leadership of star education reform advocate Michelle Rhee. Education expert Diane Ravitch blasts Rhee’s misguided approach. Plus, Dana Goldstein says the report is no surprise.

The corporate education reform movement has had no more visible star than Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. After she left office last fall, she formed a new political organization to raise $1 billion to advocate for the changes she believes in. She has been advising some of the nation's most conservative governors to fight the teachers' unions and rely on standardized tests to fire or reward teachers.

Her credibility was her alleged success in lifting up test scores in the low-performing public schools of the nation's capitol during her nearly four years in charge.

Huckabee: All Americans Should Be Forced at Gunpoint to Listen to David Barton

Chris Rodda
Wed Mar 30, 2011 at 03:52:56 PM EST

While most eyes were on the Conservative Principles Political Action Committee conference in Iowa on Saturday, many of us who follow the religious right were more interested in another conference, also held in Iowa, on Thursday and Friday. This other conference was the Rediscover God in America conference, where all the same potential 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls that appeared at the Saturday's Conservative Principles PAC conference told us what they really think -- that America should be governed by biblical law.

Sure, there was a lot of talk about important issues like the economy at the Conservative Principles PAC conference, but it was at the Rediscover God in America conference that we learned that all of our economic policies should be based on the Bible. And who did we learn this from? None other than Christian nationalist pseudo-historian David Barton, who kicked off the conference with a lengthy presentation of his usual historical hogwash. Then, one by one, as the potential Republican presidential candidates took the podium to let the audience full of pastors know just how Christian they are, each began by gushing about what a great historian and good friend David Barton is.

The Social Security Scam: How Media-Driven Misdirection is Being Used to Hijack Your Future

By Josh Hilgart, New Deal 2.0
Posted on March 30, 2011, Printed on March 31, 2011

As the budget battle rages in Washington, calls to cut Social Security benefits are ramping up. Pundits pushing ‘conventional wisdom’ say that doing so is prudent for a nation facing large deficits. This solution is endorsed by congressional majorities, along with virtually every talking head on television (with varying degrees of rhetorical eagerness or caution, depending on party affiliation). The assumption that deficit reduction can be achieved through cuts to Social Security benefits is so ubiquitous that most Americans would be dumbfounded to learn that this assumption is totally false.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tax Revenues: Awful, Any Way You Look at the Numbers

David Cay Johnston | Mar. 28, 2011 11:27 AM EDT

When society is in the midst of major economic and policy changes, the alligators in the swamp keep us focused on the immediate, so we don't notice as the water slowly rises or drains away.

But we now have so much evidence showing the trend in tax revenues, and the incomes on which they rely, that the awful facts should be obvious. I sure thought so when I wrote my February 28 column. A letter from Kip Dellinger suggests otherwise (Tax Notes, Mar. 21, 2011, p. 1495).

On Social Security, Beware the False Progressives

Halloween has come early this year for Wall Street Democrats who are busy disguising their plans to gut Social Security as "progressive"--and smearing Social Security while they're at it. Exhibit A: financial executive Robert Pozen [1], whose 2005 Social Security proposal [2] was so "progressive" it earned the support of none other than George W. Bush.

Pozen recently took to the pages of the Washington Post [1] to admonish progressives to "lead the charge" on Social Security "reform" (read: cuts). Pozen is certainly not the first pseudo-Democrat to champion benefit cuts under the progressive banner. But what makes Pozen's approach so novel is why he thinks progressives should get behind Social Security "reform." Unlike his colleagues at Third Way [3], who erroneously took progressives to task in January for not even recognizing that in 27 years Social Security will have a modest financial shortfall, Pozen hardly even mentions the solvency question.

North Carolina bill would prohibit cities from upgrading Internet access

The Republican-dominated North Carolina State Assembly this week approved a bill that would prohibit communities from upgrading their internet access, forcing individual municipalities into a private monopoly of managed broadband services by companies like Time Warner and Comcast.

Both firms have been restricting the amount of bandwidth users can consume, even though bandwidth itself is not a tangible, meter-able commodity.

Why I didn't sign deficit letter

By: Joseph E. Stiglitz
March 28, 2011 05:24 AM EDT

I was asked to sign the letter from a bipartisan group of former chairmen and chairwomen of the Council of Economic Advisers that stresses the importance of deficit reduction and urges the use of the Bowles Simpson Deficit Commission’s recommendations as the basis for compromise.

The letter’s signatories believed that their support would show that there was a core to scientific economics that crosses ideological boundaries. While I agree there is a core set of principles to which all card-carrying economists would (or should) subscribe — resources are limited, incentives matter — I did not sign.

The Collapse of Globalization

Posted on Mar 27, 2011

By Chris Hedges

The uprisings in the Middle East, the unrest that is tearing apart nations such as the Ivory Coast, the bubbling discontent in Greece, Ireland and Britain and the labor disputes in states such as Wisconsin and Ohio presage the collapse of globalization. They presage a world where vital resources, including food and water, jobs and security, are becoming scarcer and harder to obtain. They presage growing misery for hundreds of millions of people who find themselves trapped in failed states, suffering escalating violence and crippling poverty. They presage increasingly draconian controls and force—take a look at what is being done to Pfc. Bradley Manning—used to protect the corporate elite who are orchestrating our demise.

We must embrace, and embrace rapidly, a radical new ethic of simplicity and rigorous protection of our ecosystem—especially the climate—or we will all be holding on to life by our fingertips. We must rebuild radical socialist movements that demand that the resources of the state and the nation provide for the welfare of all citizens and the heavy hand of state power be employed to prohibit the plunder by the corporate power elite. We must view the corporate capitalists who have seized control of our money, our food, our energy, our education, our press, our health care system and our governance as mortal enemies to be vanquished.

Corporate Media Takes a Side on the Debate Over "Entitlements"

Pundits and politicians have often said that the thought of cutting Social Security and Medicare are, as Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post described them, the "third rails of American politics. Nobody wants to touch them." This, Cillizza argues, is an unfortunate trend, since chopping these staples to the United States ever-thinning safety net, is the "obvious fix" to our nation's budget problems. "The simple solution is to make cuts to two large government entitlement programs: Social Security and Medicare," he notes.

Despite this often repeated claim that cutting Social Security and Medicare is never discussed in American politics, in reality, the media is relentless in its perpetuation of the myth that cuts to these programs are needed - and right away. In recent months, the media has served to amplify the ideological claims of elites that use the recession - caused by large financial institutions' reckless behavior - as an excuse to further burden the nation's poor and elderly, even as the rich continue to benefit from massive tax breaks and bailouts. The question the media pose is not whether Social Security and Medicare should be cut, but when and how. But there is no debate as to who should sacrifice to balance the budget: the poor and the elderly.

Koch-Backed Right-Wing Group Goes After More Professors, Asking for Emails on Unions and ... Rachel Maddow?

Union busters have long relied on scare tactics to boost anti-worker legislation -- fear, threats and intimidation are standard fare for politicians trying to weaken labor laws, and can be effective if they're holding, say, your family's food stamps over your head.

In one of the most recent examples of this, right-wing think tanks are going after universities and professors for emails that might mention anything regarding the mass protests across the Midwest.

Could the U.S. be headed for a second sub-prime crash?

Average credit score of consumers approved for auto loans has shrunk every month since the first quarter of 2010

By Kyle Daly | 03.29.11 | 12:13 pm

The most succinct and uncontroversial explanation as to just how the recession began is that a massive surge in foreign capital in the early 2000s sent banks scrambling for investment opportunities and they found them by offering more loans to more people. This meant opening loans to consumers with a higher risk of not being able to pay them back — those being the sub-prime mortgages, which became a very familiar term in the early days of the recession. We’re still living through what happened next. And yet amazingly, data indicate that as corporations begin to recover, lenders in some markets are starting to return to the very pre-recession practices that created the crash in the first place.

The Deficit Hawks Target Nurses and Firefighters

Many people might think that the country's problems stem from the fact that too much money has been going to the very rich. Over the last three decades, the richest one percent of the population has increased its share of national income by almost 10 percentage points (Excel spreadsheet). This comes to $1.5 trillion a year, or as the deficit hawks are fond of saying, $90 trillion over the next 75 years.

To put this in context, the size of this upward redistribution to the richest one percent over the last three decades is roughly large enough to double the income of all the households in the bottom half of the income distribution. The upward redistribution amounts to an average of more than 1.2 million dollars a year for each of the families in the richest one percent of the population.

The Real Story of Our Economy: Why Our Standard of Living Has Stalled Out

By Les Leopold, AlterNet
Posted on March 23, 2011, Printed on March 30, 2011

Do public sector workers earn more than private sector workers? Who cares? This boneheaded question has us fighting over the crumbs. (And the answer is no -- all credible studies show that when you account for educational levels, the total compensation packages are about the same.)

The real question is: Why have most workers seen their standard of living stall over the last generation?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Review: Epic Recession - How Did It Happen, How Bad Will It Get?

In the not-too-distant past, bankers, financiers, and investors could do no wrong. They were the wizards of Wall Street, ushering in a new era of economic expansion. But by 2006, it became very clear that their magic was just an illusion. The reality? Millions of homeowners were defaulting on their mortgages, millions of pensioners were watching their 401k's evaporate, and millions of workers were losing their jobs.

Investors and bankers didn't fare nearly as badly. They just shut down their old hustles, moved on down the road, and reopened for business as if nothing had happened.

Throughout this period, billionaire Warren Buffet's advice to investors was exercised in full force - " The first rule is to not lose money. The second rule is to not forget rule number one." - and backed up by the US Treasury.

Paul Krugman: American Thought Police

Recently William Cronon, a historian who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, decided to weigh in on his state’s political turmoil. He started a blog, “Scholar as Citizen,” devoting his first post to the role of the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council in pushing hard-line conservative legislation at the state level. Then he published an opinion piece in The Times, suggesting that Wisconsin’s Republican governor has turned his back on the state’s long tradition of “neighborliness, decency and mutual respect.”

So what was the G.O.P.’s response? A demand for copies of all e-mails sent to or from Mr. Cronon’s university mail account containing any of a wide range of terms, including the word “Republican” and the names of a number of Republican politicians.

REPORT: From Poll Taxes To Voter ID Laws: A Short History of Conservative Voter Suppression

Thursday, ThinkProgress reported that the Ohio House had approved the most restrictive voter id law in the nation — a bill that would exclude 890,000 Ohioans from voting. Earlier this week Texas lawmakers passed a similar bill, and voter id legislation — which would make it significantly more difficult for seniors, students and minorities to vote — is now under consideration in more than 22 states across the country

Maestro Nurtures a New Too-Big-to Fail Crisis: Simon Johnson

Bloomberg Opinion

Just tell the government to back off and all will be fine.

That’s what former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan seems to say in “Activism,” an article published in the Spring issue of International Finance available on the Council on Foreign Relationswebsite.

“Current government activism is hampering what should be a broad-based robust economic recovery,” he writes.

If we follow his advice this time, and if his line of reasoning prevails in the 2012 presidential election, we’ll stumble again into another boom-bust-bailout crisis.

What Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy

By Edward P. Morgan, University Press of Kansas
Posted on March 27, 2011, Printed on March 28, 2011

The following is an excerpt from What Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy by Edward P. Morgan (University Press of Kansas).

The Past as Prologue: Distorted History— Declining Democracy

History always constitutes the relation between a present and a past. Consequently fear of the present leads to a mystification of the past....If we “saw” the...past, we would situate ourselves in history. When we are prevented from seeing it, we are being deprived of the history which belongs to us. —John Berger, Ways of Seeing, 1977

With the destruction of history, contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning. For every imbecility presented by the spectacle, there are only the media’s professionals to give an answer. —Guy De Bord, Comments on the Society of Spectacle, 1988

The democratic that the people are capable of and ought to be making their own history....The reason that democracy persists as an ideal at all is that people at times have transcended their everyday lives in order to make history. —Richard Flacks, Making History, 1988

Forty years after the tumultuous year of 1968 ushered in an era of political backlash and market liberalization, Americans turned out in record numbers and elected Barack Obama as the first African American president. At the precise moment the national networks could officially declare Obama the winner, NBC anchor Brian Williams observed, “We have news. There will be young children in the White House for the first time since the Kennedy generation. An African American has broken the barrier as old as the republic; an astonishing candidate, an astonishing campaign. A seismic shift in American politics.” As Williams continued, viewers watched campaign supporters’ jubilant celebration in, of all places, Chicago’s Grant Park, where forty years earlier a phalanx of Chicago policemen, with billy clubs flailing, charged into a crowd of antiwar protesters in one of the sixties era’s pivotal events.

4 Biggest GOP Lies About Jobs (And Why Obama Must Repudiate Them)

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog
Posted on March 23, 2011, Printed on March 28, 2011

And if all others accepted the lie which the party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became the truth. – George Orwell, 1984 (published in 1949)

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was in the Bay Area on March 21 (specifically, at Stanford’s Hoover Institute where he could surround himself with sympathetic Republicans) to tell this whopper: “Cutting the federal deficit will create jobs.”

It’s not true. Cutting the deficit will creates fewer jobs. Less government spending reduces overall demand. This is particularly worrisome when, as now, consumers and businesses are still holding back. Fewer government workers have paychecks to buy stuff from other Americans, some of whom in turn will lose their jobs without enough customers.

Time for Plan B: Our Civilization Is on the Edge of a Systemic Breakdown

By Scott Thill, AlterNet
Posted on March 26, 2011, Printed on March 28, 2011

"How many failing states before we have a failing global civilization?" asks environmental pioneer Lester Brown in Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, premiering March 30 on PBS as part of its continuing Journey to Planet Earth series. It's a Gordian knot of a question with no simple answer and nothing but complex, demanding solutions, fearsomely put forth as the fate of humanity totters in the balance.

Based on Brown's book of the same name, Plan B is likely the scariest horror film that was ever disguised as a documentary, despite its calm narration from superstar Matt Damon. That's because the acclaimed environmentalist has deeply studied the variety of environmental and geopolitical tipping points we are fast approaching, and found that we're headed for a seriously dark dystopia if we don't turn civilization as we know it around, and fast. A catastrophic confluence of food and water shortages, overpopulation and pollution, collapsed governments and communities and more natural disasters than Roland Emmerich can dream up await us on the other side of Plan A, which Brown calls "business of usual."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

No merit in merit pay for teachers

The latest fad in education is performance-related pay. It didn't work in England in the 1700s, and it doesn't work in the US now

Walt Gardner, Sunday 27 March 2011 13.00 BST

At wit's end over the tortoise pace of school reform, taxpayers constitute a perfect audience for self-styled reformers who claim to have the solution for failing schools. The latest panacea being peddled by these modern-day Elmer Gantrys is merit pay for teachers.

The pitch is straightforward: education is no different from any other policy area in what shapes behaviour. Paying teachers strictly on the basis of their classroom performance will result in positive outcomes for students.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Antarctic Icebergs Play a Previously Unknown Role in Global Carbon Cycle, Climate

Passage of icebergs through surface waters changes their physical and biological characteristics

March 25, 2011

In a finding that has global implications for climate research, scientists have discovered that when icebergs cool and dilute the seas through which they pass for days, they also raise chlorophyll levels in the water that may in turn increase carbon dioxide absorption in the Southern Ocean.

An interdisciplinary research team supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) highlighted the research this month in the journal Nature Geosciences.

Vt. House Passes Single-Payer Health Care Bill

by Chris Garofolo

MONTPELIER -- The Vermont House of Representatives passed a bill calling for a single-payer system Thursday afternoon, putting the state on a path to become the first in the nation to adopt universal access to health care.

Lawmakers voted 92 to 49 after nearly two days of debate, including discussion on the floor until the early morning hours on Thursday.

Chemical that killed thousands in Bhopal finally abandoned by U.S. producer

Sooner than expected, the last major U.S. producer of the chemical that killed thousands in Bhopal, India, 26 years ago –and was nearly released in a 2008 explosion in West Virginia –is ceasing production of the compound.

An announcement Friday by Bayer CropScience, whose plant in Institute, West Virginia, stores 200,000 pounds of methyl isocyante (MIC), coincided with the start of a court hearing in a lawsuit by residents seeking to stop the company from restarting the unit that produces MIC.

Lobbyists Admit Corporate Tax "Holiday" Didn't Work, But Demand It Again

The usual suspects are trying to sell us on yet another scheme to keep from paying their taxes. This one is called a repatriation tax holiday—a huge cut in the tax rate on money companies are holding outside of the country. We did this before and it didn't work out so well for us, so of course they want to do it again.

Multinational corporations hide profits in offshore shell companies to avoid taxes. Here is how the scheme works:

One shell company manufactures in China or another low-cost country, sells the products to a shell company "based" in a tax-haven like the Cayman Islands at a low price so the manufacturer doesn't show much profit. The tax-haven company immediately sells it to their U.S. company at a very high price, so the tax-haven shell company gets most of the profits.

Washington Post On Social Security: Long On Hyperbole, Short On Facts

Journamalism [1] in 2011 is long on hyperbolic headlines and short on actual facts.

If you go to The Washington Post business section this morning, you will see what I mean. Lori Montgomery has turned in, and an editor has seen fit to publish, 700 or so words of ignorant, unresearched blather and nonsense under the headline Social Security splinters Democrats in debate over reining in budget deficits [2]. And the article lives down to the headline. It is a journalistic chimera of unsourced allegations and speculation, innuendo, conflated information and mindlessly regurgitated talking points asserted as fact.

With momentum building to rein in record budget deficits, Democrats are sharply divided over whether to tackle popular but increasingly expensive safety-net programs for the elderly, particularly Social Security.

Social Security does not contribute one penny to the deficit. It is a self-funded program and it is solvent until 2039 if we do nothing, indefinitely if we make a minor tweak and raise the earnings cap.

Rick Scott's Medicaid Overhaul to Benefit…Rick Scott?

Florida's governor is pushing a privatization plan that could be a major boon for health care companies. Like his.

Republican governor Rick Scott's push to privatize Medicaid in Florida is highly controversial—not least because the health care business Scott handed over to his wife when he took office could reap a major profit if the legislation becomes law.

Scott and Florida Republicans are currently trying to enact a sweeping Medicaid reform bill [1] that would give HMOs and other private health care companies unprecedented control over the government health care program for the poor. Among the companies that stand to benefit from the bill is Solantic, a chain of urgent-care clinics aimed at providing emergency services to walk-in customers. The Florida governor founded Solantic in 2001, only a few years after he resigned as the CEO of hospital giant Columbia/HCA amid a massive Medicare fraud scandal. In January, he transferred [2] his $62 million stake in Solantic to his wife, Ann Scott, a homemaker involved in various charitable organizations.

The Voter ID Scam

By Bill Shein
March 23, 2011

We have many problems with our electoral system: Long lines at the polls, registration snafus, noncompetitive districts, proprietary voting-machine software, and so on. The list is long and there’s much work to do.

But we don’t have a problem with voter-impersonation fraud, in which someone shows up at the polls claiming to be someone else. It almost never occurs. Since voter-impersonation fraud is the only crime prevented by requiring voters to have photo ID, such a requirement does nothing to improve our electoral system.

Losing Our Way

So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.

Why the Chamber of Commerce Has Been Wrong on All the Issues -- For 99 Years and Counting

By Bill McKibben, AlterNet
Posted on March 22, 2011, Printed on March 26, 2011

What if I told you I'd found a political group that for a hundred years had managed to be absolutely right on every crucial political issue? A political lodestone, reliably pointing toward true policy north at every moment.

Sorry. But I have something almost as good: a group that manages to always get it wrong. The ultimate pie-in-the-face brigade, the gang that couldn't lobby straight.

Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now

By David Sirota, Ballantine Books
Posted on March 25, 2011, Printed on March 26, 2011

The following is an excerpt from Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now--Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything by David Sirota (Ballantine Books, 2011).

Die, Hippie, Die! Every time one of these ex-hippies comes prancing in from yesteryear, we gotta get out the love beads and pretend we care about people
. - Alex P. Keaton, 1986

For the past several days I've been noticing a steep rise in the number of hippies coming to town. . . . I know hippies. I've hated them all my life. I've kept this town free of hippies on my own since I was five and a half. But I can't contain them on my own anymore. We have to do something, fast! -Eric Cartman, 2005

In 1975, a Democratic Party emboldened by civil rights, environmental, antiwar, and post-Watergate electoral successes was on the verge of seizing the presidency and a filibuster-proof congressional majority. That year, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest were two of the three top-grossing films -- the former a parody using the late-sixties sexual revolution to laugh at the puritanical fifties, the latter based on the novel by beat writer Ken Kesey. Meanwhile, three of the top-rated seven television shows were liberal-themed programs produced by progressive icon Norman Lear, including "All in the Family" --a show built around a hippie, Mike Stivic, poking fun at the ignorance of his traditionalist father-in-law, Archie Bunker.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Anthrax Redux: Did the Feds Nab the Wrong Guy?

By Noah Shachtman

Finally, the investigation was over. The riddle solved. On August 18, 2008—after almost seven years, nearly 10,000 interviews, and millions of dollars spent developing a whole new form of microbial forensics—some of the FBI’s top brass filed into a dimly lit, flag-lined room in the bureau’s Washington, DC, headquarters. They were there to lay out the evidence proving who was responsible for the anthrax attacks that had terrified the nation in the fall of 2001.

It had been the most expensive, and arguably the toughest, case in FBI history, the assembled reporters were told. But the facts showed that Army biodefense researcher Bruce Ivins was the person responsible for killing five people and sickening 17 others in those frightening weeks after 9/11. It was Ivins, they were now certain, who had mailed the anthrax-filled letters that exposed as many as 30,000 people to the lethal spores.

Dividend Lost

By Simon Johnson

Four types of people were directly affected by the Federal Reserve’s decision at the end of last week to allow major banks to increase their dividends and to buy back shares. Three of these groups – bankers, bank shareholders, and government officials – were somewhere between happy and delighted. The four group, US taxpayers, should be much more worried (see also this cautionary letter to the Financial Times by top finance academics).

The bankers’ reaction is obvious. They are officially released from the financial hospital ward that was set up for them in 2008. No matter that this was a very comfortable place with few conditions relative to any other bailout in recent US or world history – there were still restrictions on what banks could do and, naturally, bank executives chafed at these constraints.

My Worlds Collide

Josh Marshall | March 24, 2011, 11:58PM

This is a bizarre, ugly turn of events. And for me it's a little weird because of the people involved. I just found out about it from TPM Reader AS.

Bill Cronon -- or William Cronon, as I think of him -- is a Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin. A few days ago he wrote an oped in the Times critical of Gov. Walker and his push to abolish collective bargaining rights for public employees in Wisconsin. About a week before that, he wrote a blog post -- the first in a new blog called Scholar as Citizen -- examining just who's behind this big anti-union push. He focused on a group called ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council).

The Threat of America's Nativist Far Right

While Peter King holds hearings on homegrown jihadists, the growing menace of white supremacist terror goes unremarked

by James Ridgeway

As emerging reports would have it, Kevin William Harpham, 36, who is accused of setting a bomb to go off at the Martin Luther King Jr Day parade in Spokane, Washington, was yet another "lone wolf" terrorist, acting at his own behest and on his own behalf. Even groups on the racist, radical far right that so clearly inspired him are rushing to disown and denounce the indicted man. Regardless of whether he was a "member" of an organised group, there can yet be no doubt that Harpham saw himself as part of a movement – one that has an especially broad reach in the age of Obama, and roots as deep as American culture itself.

Paul Krugman: The Austerity Delusion

Portugal’s government has just fallen in a dispute over austerity proposals. Irish bond yields have topped 10 percent for the first time. And the British government has just marked its economic forecast down and its deficit forecast up.

What do these events have in common? They’re all evidence that slashing spending in the face of high unemployment is a mistake. Austerity advocates predicted that spending cuts would bring quick dividends in the form of rising confidence, and that there would be few, if any, adverse effects on growth and jobs; but they were wrong.

It’s too bad, then, that these days you’re not considered serious in Washington unless you profess allegiance to the same doctrine that’s failing so dismally in Europe.

Back to Full Employment

This is the lead article in a forum on the possibilities for full employment in today’s economy.

Employment conditions in the United States today, in the aftermath of the 2008–09 Wall Street collapse and worldwide Great Recession, remain disastrous—worse than at any time since the Depression of the 1930s.

Since Barack Obama entered office in January 2009, the official unemployment rate has averaged more than 9.5 percent, representing some fifteen million people in a labor force of about 154 million. By a broader definition, including people employed for fewer hours than they would like and those discouraged from looking for work, the unemployment rate has been far higher—16.5 percent, on average. Still worse, if we count people who have dropped out of the labor force, unemployment would rise to nearly 20 percent, or 30 million people, roughly twice the combined populations of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

One-Year Anniversary: The Incredible Shrinking Obama Health Care Law

The health care crisis grows while the 2010 health reform shrinks.

At its one-year anniversary, the Obama health care law is shrinking while the health care crisis grows. Americans who lack any health coverage still exceeds 50 million, over 45,000 deaths occur annually due to lack of health insurance, and 40 million Americans, including over 10 million children, are underinsured.

Premiums are rising and coverage is shrinking; a new norm is taking hold in America: "Unaffordable underinsurance." This month, the number of waivers granted to the Obama health law broke 1,000, protecting inadequate insurance plans. The expansion of health insurance to the uninsured is becoming a mirage. The Obama administration has told states they could reduce the number of people covered by Medicaid as well as reduce the services provided. And the centerpiece of the law is under court challenge, - the mandate is the first time ever the federal government has forced Americans to buy a corporate product, private health insurance - heading to a close Supreme Court decision.

Intelligence Community Fears U.S. Manufacturing Decline

Last week, the federal government reported that the U.S. trade deficit grew by 33 percent in 2010 to nearly half a trillion dollars. Most of the gap resulted from an imbalance in trade with China, which shipped $365 billion in goods to America but only bought $92 billion in U.S. goods. The resulting U.S. deficit of $273 billion in bilateral trade with Beijing reflects a persistent feature of the Sino-American relationship since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. Over the last ten years, China has mounted the biggest challenge to the U.S. manufacturing sector ever seen, threatening producers of steel, chemicals, glass, paper, drugs and any number of other items with prices they cannot match. Not coincidentally, the United States has lost an average of 50,000 manufacturing jobs every month during the same period.

Five Fun Facts About the $14 Trillion National Debt

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on March 24, 2011, Printed on March 25, 2011

Our public debt – now at around $14 trillion dollars ($14,233,559,283,692.40 as of this writing, to be precise) – has been in the news lately, but how we accrued it, who holds it and whether it represents a problem are not well understood.

In one sense, for better or worse, our growing public debt has put trillions into the pockets of the American people. There's an economic principle known as “Wagner’s law,” which holds that as a country gets wealthier, its tax burden tends to increase.

The Bizarre Religious Myths Mormon Right-Wingers Are Pushing on Tea Partiers -- With Glenn Beck's Help

By Alexander Zaitchik, SPLC Intelligence Report
Posted on March 22, 2011, Printed on March 25, 2011

FAIRMONT, W. Va. — One fine Saturday morning last year, around 60 mostly middle-aged conservatives trickled onto the otherwise deserted campus of Fairmont State University. Clutching notebooks and coffee cups, they looked like groggy Continuing Ed students as they took seats in a modern lecture hall on the ground floor of the school's engineering building. In a sense, they were Continuing Ed students. The room had been booked months in advance for a one-day, intro-level history and civics seminar entitled, "The Making of America."

But this was no ordinary summer school. Randall McNeely, the seminar's kindly, awkward, and heavy-set instructor, held no advanced degree and made no claims to being a scholar of any kind. He was, rather, a product of rote training in a religious and apocalyptic interpretation of American history that has roots in the racist right of the last century. His students for the day had learned about the class not in the Fairmont State summer catalog, but from the website of the obscure nonprofit run by fringe Mormons. Founded as the Freeman Institute in Provo, Utah, in 1971, the outfit now goes by the name National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCSS), and works out of a remote farmhouse in Malta, Idaho (population 177).

Cutting carbon dioxide helps prevent drying

Washington, D.C.—Recent climate modeling has shown that reducing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would give the Earth a wetter climate in the short term. New research from Carnegie Global Ecology scientists Long Cao and Ken Caldeira offers a novel explanation for why climates are wetter when atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations are decreasing. Their findings, published online today by Geophysical Research Letters, show that cutting carbon dioxide concentrations could help prevent droughts caused by global warming.

Cao and Caldeira's new work shows that this precipitation increase is due to the heat-trapping property of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the middle of the atmosphere. This warm air higher in the atmosphere tends to prevent the rising air motions that create thunderstorms and rainfall.

The Truth Behind the Public Pensions Funding Gap

State governors across the nation, led by newly elected right wing Republicans (with several Democratic governors in tow), are whipping up anti-union sentiment by declaring public workers and their unions are the cause of state budget deficits. They argue that various labor costs are driving up their deficits, but the lead cause of those labor costs is overly generous increases public employee pension benefits.

But increases in public employee pension benefits are not the cause of the States’ budget crises. There are, indeed, serious pension funding gaps in many states public pension plans. But a close investigation of these gaps shows clearly they do not exist because of states’ granting public employees exorbitant pension benefits.

Buried Provision In House GOP Bill Would Cut Off Food Stamps To Entire Families If One Member Strikes

All around the country, right-wing legislators are asking middle class Americans to pay for budget deficits caused mainly by a recession caused by Wall Street; they are attacking workers’ collective bargaining rights, which has provoked a huge Main Street Movement to fight back.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Imaginary World in Which Washington Lives

It is a beautiful spring day in Washington. This is a nice respite from the horrors taking place in Japan and the ever-growing nuttiness of DC politics. Enjoying the weather provides a nice alternative to listening to the news or reading the newspaper.

The flood of nonsense in the traditional news outlets just continues to grow. At the top of the list is the steady stream of senators or members of Congress whose response to higher gas prices is to insist on drilling in every square inch of environmentally sensitive territory in the country. This is supposed to reduce our dependence on imported oil and lower the price of gas. Both sides of this assertion are absurd.

Conservatives Tell Liberals Why They Should Support Cuts to Social Security

Showing the sort of balanced journalism that we have come to expect from the Washington Post, its oped page featured a column by Robert Pozen [1], a financial industry executive and proponent of Social Security privatization, telling liberals why they should support cuts to Social Security. The gist of Mr. Pozen's argument is that Social Security is becoming less progressive over time because the gap in life expectancies between higher paid workers and lower paid workers is growing.

Furthermore, because of growing wage inequality, a larger share of wage income is escaping the Social Security tax. In addition, Pozen tells us that the structure of retirement income subsidies is highly regressive since the bulk of the tax benefits go to high income earners.

Merchants of Danger

Fukushima is "a very huge disaster that has caused very large damage at a nuclear power generation plant on a scale that we had not expected," according to the deputy director general of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency [1].

But the risk of disaster was easily calculated, and an effective regulator would have demanded that the Tokyo Electric Power Company take the appropriate precautions. That didn't happen. The ugly truth, here and in Japan, is this: Unless government regains the will and the ability to regulate private industry, more catastrophes are all but inevitable.

Paul Krugman: Commodities and Inflation, a Misunderstood Pair

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Whenever I write about inflation (or the lack thereof), I get a lot of remarkably angry mail from people who are focused on commodity prices. They just can’t imagine why economists and officials like myself and Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, appear to be relaxed about others’ inflation fears when the prices of wheat, oil and other commodities have risen so much lately.

Many of my correspondents don’t seem to realize how small a role commodity prices play in determining overall consumer prices. Not that they have zero effect: for example, the price of oil is a big part of the price of gasoline, which in turn has a big impact on consumer prices.

U.S. vs highest-achieving nations in education

This post was written by Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University, where she was founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. She now directs the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. A former president of the American Educational Research Association, Darling-Hammond focuses her research, teaching, and policy work on issues of school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity.

By Linda Darling-Hammond

The first ever International Summit on Teaching, convened last week in New York City, showed perhaps more clearly than ever that the United States has been pursuing an approach to teaching almost diametrically opposed to that pursued by the highest-achieving nations.

In a statement rarely heard these days in the United States, the Finnish Minister of Education launched the first session of last week’s with the words: “We are very proud of our teachers.” Her statement was so appreciative of teachers’ knowledge, skills, and commitment that one of the U.S. participants later confessed that he thought she was the teacher union president, who, it turned out, was sitting beside her agreeing with her account of their jointly-constructed profession.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

We’re Not Broke

We Could Pay All Our Bills Without Borrowing a Cent

By Michael Linden, Michael Ettlinger | March 21, 2011

Really, we’re not broke.

The notion that the United States is “broke” is a popular talking point for conservative lawmakers. They use the claim to justify cuts in government services for middle-class Americans and those with whom they have ideological quarrels. Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner (R-OH), for example, likes to say that the United States is “broke, going on bankrupt,” which is why he says we absolutely have to slash government services such as poison control centers, meat inspections, law enforcement funding, afterschool programs, and disease research.

Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny

When you walk into the offices of the American Legislative Exchange Council, it's hard to imagine it is the birthplace of a thousand pieces of legislation introduced in statehouses across the county.

Only 28 people work in ALEC's dark, quiet headquarters in Washington, D.C. And Michael Bowman, senior director of policy, explains that the little-known organization's staff is not the ones writing the bills. The real authors are the group's members — a mix of state legislators and some of the biggest corporations in the country.

Paul Krugman: The War on Warren

Last week, at a House hearing on financial institutions and consumer credit, Republicans lined up to grill and attack Elizabeth Warren, the law professor and bankruptcy expert who is in charge of setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Ostensibly, they believed that Ms. Warren had overstepped her legal authority by helping state attorneys general put together a proposed settlement with mortgage servicers, which are charged with a number of abuses.

Crime Rates Are Plummeting -- And No One Knows Why

By Anneli Rufus, AlterNet
Posted on March 20, 2011, Printed on March 22, 2011

Los Angeles' violent-crime rates are four times lower now than they were 1992. The interesting thing is, nobody can really explain why.

As of December 25, last year, only 293 homicides were reported in LA, along with 781 rapes, 10,734 robberies, and 9,129 aggravated assaults. In 1992, that blood-soaked year of the Rodney King Riots, Los Angeles saw 1,092 murders, 1,861 rapes, 39,222 robberies, and 47,736 aggravated assaults.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Paul Krugman: Rantings of an Ex-Maestro

Some people have asked me for reactions to this piece by Alan Greenspan (pdf) on how Obama’s activism is preventing economic recovery. I could go through the weak reasoning, the shoddy econometrics that ignores a large literature on business investment and ignores simultaneity problems, etc., etc..

NPR O'Keefes James O'Keefe With Misleadingly Edited Version Of Interview

Ryan J. Reilly | March 19, 2011, 9:30AM

National Public Radio's "On The Media" gave conservative provocateur James O'Keefe a taste of his own medicine by employing the "black arts of broadcast editing" to create an "utterly dishonest impression" of his views.

Nuclear Nightmare

by Ralph Nader

The unfolding multiple nuclear reactor catastrophe in Japan is prompting overdue attention to the 104 nuclear plants in the United States—many of them aging, many of them near earthquake faults, some on the west coast exposed to potential tsunamis.

Nuclear power plants boil water to produce steam to turn turbines that generate electricity. Nuclear power’s overly complex fuel cycle begins with uranium mines and ends with deadly radioactive wastes for which there still are no permanent storage facilities to contain them for tens of thousands of years.

Atomic power plants generate 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. Over forty years ago, the industry’s promoter and regulator, the Atomic Energy Commission estimated that a full nuclear meltdown could contaminate an area “the size of Pennsylvania” and cause massive casualties. You, the taxpayers, have heavily subsidized nuclear power research, development, and promotion from day one with tens of billions of dollars.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Solar greenhouses: China's winning solution to global energy crisis

20 years of research produces definitive study on benefits of Chinese single-slope greenhouses

BEIJING, CHINA—Solar greenhouses have played a vital role in China's agricultural scene for years. New innovations in greenhouse design are allowing growers to produce more varieties of vegetables, even during long winter months. In a recently published report Chinese scientists called solar greenhouses "the most important type of infrastructures for growing horticultural crops in China." The team of researchers from the College of Agronomy and Biotechnology at China Agricultural University presented an extensive report on single-slope solar greenhouses in a recent issue of HortTechnology. Based on 20 years of systematic studies, the report noted: "Increased proliferation of efficient solar greenhouses in China may contribute to solving worldwide problems such as the energy crisis and global climate change."

Single-slope solar greenhouses are built facing south using support and insulation walls on the north, east, and west sides. A short roof is installed on top of the north wall. The south side is supported by metal or bamboo frames (or a mixture of both materials), and is covered with plastic film and an insulating blanket. These energy-efficient greenhouses use solar energy as the only source of light and heat for winter crop production in the region between latitudes 32°N and 43°N for production of warm season crops such as tomato and cucumber.

Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn’t Start Here)

March 15, 2011

A Study Guide for Those Wishing to Know More

After watching the sudden and impressively well-organized wave of legislation being introduced into state legislatures that all seem to be pursuing parallel goals only tangentially related to current fiscal challenges–ending collective bargaining rights for public employees, requiring photo IDs at the ballot box, rolling back environmental protections, privileging property rights over civil rights, and so on–I’ve found myself wondering where all of this legislation is coming from.

The Walker-Koch Prank Phone Call Reveals A Lot, But Not Nearly Enough

The prank phone call that Governor Scott Walker unhesitatingly accepted from a blogger purporting to be billionaire conservative donor David Koch has received lots of airplay, and it certainly demonstrates that the governor is accustomed to having conversations with deep-pocketed folks who support his cause. If you’ve not actually seen the transcript, it’s worth a careful reading, and is accessible here:

Can Biochar Help Suppress Greenhouse Gases?

New Zealand study shows biochar to decrease nitrous oxide emissions

MADISON, WI MARCH 17, 2011 – Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas and a precursor to compounds that contribute to the destruction of the ozone. Intensively managed, grazed pastures are responsible for an increase in nitrous oxide emissions from grazing animals’ excrement. Biochar is potentially a mitigation option for reducing the world’s elevated carbon dioxide emissions, since the embodied carbon can be sequestered in the soil. Biochar also has the potential to beneficially alter soil nitrogen transformations.

Laboratory tests have indicated that adding biochar to the soil could be used to suppress nitrous oxide derived from livestock. Biochar has been used for soil carbon sequestration in the same manner.

Harry Reid: I will not support any change to Social Security for the next 20 years'

Thanks goodness someone has political instincts they haven't been finessed out of. Harry Reid could not be more definite in this interview with the "let's tweak Social Security" maven Lawrence O'Donnell.

There's a nuclear power discussion starting at 0:35 (remember that Reid is from Nevada, a state that's been targeted as a recipient of nuclear waste). Following that, a lip-lock love song to Henry Clay and Compromise at 1:40.

Web of nonsense

An older article (2009) with an update on Huffington's 'Move your Money'--Dictynna

Financial crises always spark interest in marginal critics of the system. One that’s attracted interest on the left is Ellen Brown, who’s got a book and a website called Web of Debt. She and her kind should be given wide berth.

Brown is a fine example of a mode of thinking that sees the problems of capitalism—like the polarization of rich and poor and the system’s vulnerability to periodic crises—as primarily financial in origin. She writes on her website:

Our money system is not what we have been led to believe. The creation of money has been "privatized," or taken over by a private money cartel. Except for coins, all of our money is now created as loans advanced by private banking institutions—including the private Federal Reserve. Banks create the principal but not the interest to service their loans. To find the interest, new loans must continually be taken out, expanding the money supply, inflating prices—and robbing you of the value of your money.

How people can spend the time it takes to write a book and still get so much wrong? For much of the 19th century, our money system was largely private. Individual banks issued notes of varying reliability, with limited geographic acceptance. And the national and international monetary system was based on gold, an entirely private and stateless standard.

New Hampshire House Approves Tax Cut On Cancer-Causing Cigarettes, Cuts Health And Education Funding

In a flurry of legislative activity this week, the New Hampshire House approved a tax cut on cigarettes even while cutting funding for education, and health care. The ten cent tax cut bucks a national trend of raising taxes on tobacco since “forever” and, according to multiple studies, could lead to a 6.6 percent increase in respiratory cancer deaths.

Republican lawmakers claim that the tax cut, which the New Hampshire chapter of the Koch-funded front group Americans for Prosperity strongly pushed for, will attract out-of-state smokers and raise revenue in the “long run.” Yet a spokesman for Gov. John Lynch (D) notes that the state already has the second-lowest tax burden in the nation. And with rising gas prices, the odds of smokers driving to New Hampshire for their cigarettes are slim.

NPR: The Saga Continues

There’s no more scrupulous or versatile broadcast journalist than NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling. He is one of those reporters who keeps his eye on the sparrow – that is, on small details from individual lives that add up to significant issues of public policy. As he described in a special report this week how the United States Army is clarifying guidelines "that should make it easier for soldiers with traumatic brain injuries from explosions to receive the Purple Heart," it was mind-boggling to think that right wingers in Congress were at that very moment voting to eliminate the modest federal funds that make such essential and authoritative reporting available to anyone in America who cares to tune in.

Warren Christopher, 1925-2011

By James Fallows

Let me break into the sequence of guest voices here to express sadness at news that Warren Christopher has just died, at age 85.

He is best known as the first Secretary of State during the Clinton Administration, and his public image was of a very careful, even colorless person. I had a much more vivid and warmly positive impression of him. Even when I was a child he was a well-known figure in my home town, because he had attended the local college, the University of Redlands, under the Navy's V-12 program, before wartime service and transferring to USC to finish college. He had gone on to Stanford Law School and a Supreme Court clerkship for Justice William O. Douglas, before becoming a prominent California legal and political figure by the mid-1960s. He kept up contacts in our little town, including with my dad, who was an exact contemporary and had become a Navy doctor through the V-12 program in Pennsylvania before moving west.

As the Global Economy Trembles, Our Nation's Capital Fiddles

Why isn’t Washington responding?

The world’s third largest economy suffers a giant earthquake, tsunami, and radiation dangers. A civil war in Libya and tumult in the Middle East cause crude-oil prices to climb. Poor harvests around the world make food prices soar.

All this means higher prices. American consumers, still reeling from job losses and wage cuts, will be hit hard. (Wholesale food prices surged almost 4 percent in February, the largest upward spike in more than a quarter century.)

Congress Opens Investigation Into HBGary Federal Scandal

The U.S. Congress is stepping into the continuing HBGary Federal scandal after global hacktivist group Anonymous exposed proposals by the government-contracted software security firm to damage WikiLeaks and other organizations.

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on Wednesday asked the Defence Department and National Security Agency (NSA) to hand over all contracts they had signed with HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies, Wired reports.

Who Gets Hit With the Tab for the Great Recession?

Governor Scott Walker and a gaggle of Republican governors assault the right of workers to bargain collectively in states across the country. Teachers get laid off as school budgets are cut across the country. Colleges hike tuitions and shut down course offerings. Public workers face furloughs, layoff, cuts in health care and pension benefits. Congress is tied in knots about how much and what to cut. And Republican [1] and bipartisan [2] pressure to go after Social Security and Medicare is escalating.

We should be very clear about what unites these stories, for these struggles will say much about what kind of America emerges from the rubble of the Great Recession.

Who Is Bankrolling A Lawsuit To End The Ban On Foreign Money In U.S. Elections?

When President Obama warned that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision “will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our election,” conservatives began damage control literally before the President could even finish his sentence. Justice Sam Alito infamously mouthed the words “not true” while Obama was speaking. Of course, we subsequently learned the Chamber of Commerce was raising money from foreign corporations and then placed this money in the same account which funds their political attack ads.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Paul Krugman: The Forgotten Millions

More than three years after we entered the worst economic slump since the 1930s, a strange and disturbing thing has happened to our political discourse: Washington has lost interest in the unemployed.

Jobs do get mentioned now and then — and a few political figures, notably Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, are still trying to get some kind of action. But no jobs bills have been introduced in Congress, no job-creation plans have been advanced by the White House and all the policy focus seems to be on spending cuts.

So one-sixth of America’s workers — all those who can’t find any job or are stuck with part-time work when they want a full-time job — have, in effect, been abandoned.

Today's Social Security Propaganda Rebuttal Post

Marketing works. If you put a lot of money into repeating a marketing message over and over and over, eventually people's brains absorb the message. Conservatives have put a lot of money and effort into convincing people that there is something wrong with Social Security, and that effort is paying off.

So maybe it's a good idea to start with some facts. Social Security cannot borrow, so it does not contribute to the deficit. In fact, working people have been paying a large share of their earnings into Social Security to save for their retirement, and because of this the program has been running a huge surplus. The government has been borrowing FROM Social Security to fund tax cuts for the rich. This borrowed money was used to purchase Treasury Notes, just like China does when we borrow from them, and those notes earn interest, just like China's, which also helps fund the program. So all of this money people have been putting aside for their retirement adds up to a huge trust fund, which doesn't get used up until approx 2037 -- if the economy doesn't get better; later if it does. Even then it only runs a bit short.

Wisconsin Judge Temporarily Blocks Gov. Walker's Union-Busting Bill

Various sources are reporting that Dane County, Wisconsin, Judge Maryann Sumi has granted a restraining order temporarily blocking the publication of the union-busting law that was rammed through the Wisconsin state legislature recently.

No Nukes Is Good Nukes: The Intrinsic Problems With Nuclear Power

After the Japanese nuclear disaster, cavalier dismissals of the problems with nuclear power are no longer acceptable.

March 17, 2011 | When it comes to the safety of nuclear power plants, I am biased. And I’ll bet that if President Barack Obama had been with me on that trip to Chernobyl 24 years ago he wouldn’t be as sanguine about the future of nuclear power as he was Tuesday in an interview with a Pittsburgh television station: “Obviously, all energy sources have their downside. I mean, we saw that with the Gulf spill last summer.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

We're Number Two. Why America Is Losing Its Lead In Manufacturing, And How.

When IHS Global Insight revealed this week [1]that China has passed the United States to lead the world in manufacturing output, the response from some in government and manufacturing was to quibble with the data. The correct response is to develop a national manufacturing strategy [2], so that we can once again lead the world in manufacturing, which is a position we’ve held for 110 years.

Why a strategy? Well, Germany has one. China has one. South Korea has one. In fact, every other industrialized nation has a network of currency, trade, tax, investment, innovation, and skills policies that promote domestic manufacturing. We stand alone in allowing our jobs to be freely outsourced overseas. Our economic and training policies spur on a service and financial sector economy at the expense of investments in manufacturing.

The Triumph of Taxophobia

Jonathan Chait

The conservative movement’s embrace of taxophobia is probably the most important development in American political life over the last three decades. It is the one quality that most distinguishes American conservative elites from conservative elites in other countries. They’re more likely to question climate science, more sanguine about people dying for lack of health insurance, and less xenophobic (which is rather nice). But above all—far above all—they hate taxes.

Last Chance for Libya

President Obama has hours, not days, to save the revolution in Libya and across the Arab world.

By Eliot Spitzer
Posted Thursday, March 17, 2011, at 10:28 AM ET

Well, we finally got a no-fly zone, but it is over the nuclear plants in Japan, not over Libyan air space.

As of this writing, the forces of Muammar Qaddafi are proceeding in both western and eastern Libya to retake the cities along the Mediterranean that had joined in the uprising that began on Feb. 15. Momentum has shifted dramatically, with Qaddafi's forces in rapid ascent, and the beleaguered troops of the opposition begging for support—a no-fly zone, arms, logistical support, food, humanitarian aid. Anything! An opposition that was at one point on the verge of toppling Qaddafi has been pushed back hard on its heels, limited to a great extent to the city of Benghazi. Just as with Hungarian freedom fighters in 1956, having been called to the cause of freedom and promised help, they are now abandoned. Qaddafi's military, on the other hand, is now emboldened by the failure of any international military support for the opposition.

Chemical-free pest management cuts rice waste

A novel way of bringing sustainable, pesticide-free processes to protect stored rice and other crops from insects and fungi can drastically cut losses of stored crops and help increase food security for up to 3 billion daily rice consumers.

Published on: 2011-03-16

In 2006, Maria Otilia Carvalho, a researcher from the Tropical Research Institute of Portugal had an ambitious goal: to cut the huge losses of rice – a staple food crop for half of humanity – due to pests, without using toxic pesticides that are increasingly shunned by consumers worldwide. She realised she could not do it alone and turned to EUREKA to support an international collaboration to address a looming threat to world’s rice supplies. Harvested rice is constantly under menace from pest insects and fungi - to avoid the pests, farmers and producers treat the rice with chemical pesticides, which leave residue on rice, potentially harming rice workers and consumers. Even the bigger problem is that insects are developing resistance to chemicals, slowly rendering it useless.
Carvalho was one of several scientists scattered around the world who were working on alternative, eco-friendly methods to protect rice in storage. None of the methods on their own could match the effectiveness of chemicals, but Carvalho thought that pulling them all together into one ‘integrated pest management’ system might wean the industry of pesticides and provide a safer, cleaner food product for the world’s market.

Rockefeller Bill Would Gut the EPA

This morning the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the Upton-Inhofe bill [1] (H.R. 910) on a largely party line vote of 34 to 19. The legislation attempts to overturn the EPA’s scientific finding that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases endanger public health and welfare and thus require regulation. The NRDC's Pete Altman live blogged [2] most of the markup. It will go to a full House vote some time in the next few weeks, where it is expected to pass easily. Meanwhile Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered the same bill as an amendment to an unrelated small business bill.

Now Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller has an alternate proposal [3] which would delay EPA regulations for two years.The problem: his bill would have the same result as Inhofe's: it would kill EPA climate rules [4], as the eminent climate blogger Dave Roberts [5] detailed at Grist.

In Proposed Mortgage Fraud Settlement, a Gift to Big Banks

by Jesse Eisinger
ProPublica, March 16, 2011, 3:13 p.m.

Lurking in a proposed mortgage fraud settlement with the state attorneys general is a clause that could be worth billions for the big banks.

Yes, I mean the settlement that might extract the supposedly large sum of $20 billion [1] from the banks to settle foreclosure fraud. The one denounced as a "shakedown" [2] by Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.

Beyond the crisis of liberalism

There is a groundswell of popular resistance to the forces of reaction, but the left must break out of its defensive posture

The problem of liberalism is that in the US – and this is true of all advanced industrial societies – there has been no significant reform of the existing of economic system for decades. In the United States, since the great era of reform in the 1930s, with the New Deal, the last major reform was the establishment of Medicare in 1966. In the UK and other countries, the main period of reform followed the second world war, with the consolidation of the welfare state.

In the US, Medicare was the last serious political advance; there has been nothing significant since. On education and the environment – which have both been more recent targets of liberal reform – we have gone nowhere, or even regressed. So, given the current configuration of world capitalism, it is apparent that what I define as the liberal reform – that is, reform within the capitalist system – has reached a dead end.

Scary: People Who Watch and Trust Fox News Will Surprise You

By Ilyse Hogue, The Guardian
Posted on March 14, 2011, Printed on March 17, 2011

In the 7 March issue of the Tribune, Mark Seddon reported on the threat that Glenn Beck, "as a sort of hired gauleiter on Fox News", poses to American democracy. The article hit the nail on the head when it comes to Beck's paranoiac propaganda. Seddon, however, misses the broader danger of the Murdoch-owned Fox News: the media outlet's audience is growing even as its programming veers away from broadcast journalism and shapes instead a rightwing political operation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Al Franken: ‘They're coming after the Internet’

AUSTIN, Texas — Sen. Al Franken claimed Monday that big corporations are "hoping to destroy" the Internet and issued a call to arms to several hundred tech-savvy South by Southwest attendees to preserve net neutrality.

"I came here to warn you, the party may be over," Franken said. "They're coming after the Internet hoping to destroy the very thing that makes it such an important [medium] for independent artists and entrepreneurs: its openness and freedom.”

Class Warfare, the Final Chapter

"There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." -Warren Buffett to The New York Times, November 26, 2006

There is overwhelming evidence that we are entering the final chapter of class warfare in the US. Today, in the "public arena," it is forbidden to say class warfare, and many citizens do not regard themselves as working class. The assault on language comes compliments of the propaganda apparatus, which includes: public relations, marketing, corporate media and the entertainment industry, universities, think tanks and so on. Its purpose is to distract our attention from serious matters so we can focus on trivial matters - usually involving consuming. Edward Bernays, the founder of the modern propaganda industry, described the process:

Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government. We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of ... in almost every act of our lives whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.[1]

In addition to inventing the propaganda model still in use today, Bernays' model created support for World War I, first in England and then in the US, calling the war to save Morgan's billions the war for "making the world safe for democracy."

What "Free Trade" Has Cost The World

By Dave Johnson
March 14, 2011 - 11:55pm ET

If you take a job away from someone who is paid a reasonable wage because they enjoy the protections and prosperity of democratic government, move it across a border, and give it to someone living under a thugocracy, forced to work for pennies with no protections whatsoever, it should be just plain obvious that the worker on our side of the border and the worker on the other side of the border are not going to be better off. And when you do this on a massive scale it just stands to reason that most people on both sides of the border are going to be worse off.

But propaganda being what it is we were somehow convinced to try a worldwide experiment in taking good jobs from democracies and turning them into bad jobs in thugocracies. Now, of course, the experiment has run its course and we can see the results.

Defend Social Security Bill Proposed by Sanders and Weiner


WASHINGTON, March 15 - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today introduced legislation that would safeguard Social Security by requiring extraordinary majorities in Congress to approve any reduction in benefits. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) introduced the same measure in the House.

Senators who joined Sanders and Weiner at a press conference today in support of the legislation were Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Their legislation would give Social Security the same parliamentary protection that others in Congress want to put in place in order to make it harder for Congress to increase spending, raise taxes or add earmarks to legislation.

Is Your Drugstore Selling Your Private Information to Big Pharma?

— By James Ridgeway | Tue Mar. 15, 2011 9:50 AM PDT

For years, the big drugstore chains have stoutly denied selling prescription information—patient names, contact information, doctors' names, and prescription details—to pharmaceutical companies for marketing use. Now, that charade has come to an end with two class action suits, accusing CVS and Walgreen of doing just that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Key to Rebuilding Workers' Power: Unrig the Rules

The battle in Wisconsin over the rights of public-sector workers holds the potential to reawaken workers across the country to demand their fair share of the economic pie. This could be an important turning point. However, if workers are to make real progress they must move to alter the rules of the game. These rules have been deliberately rigged against them over the last three decades.

The most obvious of these rules are those governing the rights to unionize, such as those that Gov. Walker directly attacked in Wisconsin. However, this is just part of the story. Unionization has become almost impossible in the private sector, since companies routinely fire workers engaged in an organizing drive.

Paul Krugman: Another Inside Job

Count me among those who were glad to see the documentary “Inside Job” win an Oscar. The film reminded us that the financial crisis of 2008, whose aftereffects are still blighting the lives of millions of Americans, didn’t just happen — it was made possible by bad behavior on the part of bankers, regulators and, yes, economists.

What the film didn’t point out, however, is that the crisis has spawned a whole new set of abuses, many of them illegal as well as immoral. And leading political figures are, at long last, showing some outrage. Unfortunately, this outrage is directed, not at banking abuses, but at those trying to hold banks accountable for these abuses.

A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables

Wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of the world's energy, eliminating all fossil fuels. Here's how

| October 26, 2009

In December leaders from around the world will meet in Copenhagen to try to agree on cutting back greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come. The most effective step to implement that goal would be a massive shift away from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources. If leaders can have confidence that such a transformation is possible, they might commit to an historic agreement. We think they can.

Michigan’s GOP Gov. Slashes Corporate Tax Rate by 86 Percent, Hikes Taxes for Working Poor

As we’ve been documenting, several conservative governors have proposed placing the brunt of deficit reduction onto the backs of their state’s public employees, students, and middle-class taxpayers, while simultaneously trying to enact corporate tax cuts and giveaways. Govs. Rick Scott (R-FL), Tom Corbett (R-PA), and Jan Brewer (R-AZ) have all gone down this road.

Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand

By Chris Hedges

The liberal class is discovering what happens when you tolerate the intolerant. Let hate speech pollute the airways. Let corporations buy up your courts and state and federal legislative bodies. Let the Christian religion be manipulated by charlatans to demonize Muslims, gays and intellectuals, discredit science and become a source of personal enrichment. Let unions wither under corporate assault. Let social services and public education be stripped of funding. Let Wall Street loot the national treasury with impunity. Let sleazy con artists use lies and deception to carry out unethical sting operations on tottering liberal institutions, and you roll out the welcome mat for fascism.

The liberal class has busied itself with the toothless pursuits of inclusiveness, multiculturalism, identity politics and tolerance—a word Martin Luther King never used—and forgotten about justice. It naively sought to placate ideological and corporate forces bent on the destruction of the democratic state. The liberal class, like the misguided democrats in the former Yugoslavia or the hapless aristocrats in the Weimar Republic, invited the wolf into the henhouse. The liberal class forgot that, as Karl Popper wrote in “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

Republicans' Next Move: Get Rid of Pensions Altogether

Some states, like Wisconsin, are asking state employees to contribute more to their pension plans, but others are just scrapping them.

Robert Hiltonsmith | March 11, 2011

The battle over public-sector unions is, at least in part, a battle over benefits: From Wisconsin to New Jersey, public-sector unions are among the last employees who can expect to retire with defined pension plans. Wisconsin, where a political showdown just resulted in reduced bargaining rights for public employees, is expected to release new estimates on state pensions next week, according to The New York Times. The state will likely ask employees to contribute more money to their plans and make other concessions.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Coming Obama Wars

As the new GOP House leaders prepare to probe the White House, ex-conservative attack agent David Brock offers lessons from the Clinton era—and why this time will be much worse.

In recent weeks I’ve been asked what President Obama can expect from GOP investigators now that Republicans control the House. I should know. The last time this happened, after the 1994 midterms, I was a right-wing ring-leader of the anti-Clinton movement.

My answer: this go-around will be much worse. The blow of the coming investigations and accompanying vitriol will be faster, harder, and the political devastation more acutely and widely felt in the Democratic Party than the impeachment of President Clinton.


Cold, very cold...but right on target.--Dictynna

Protesters in DC demonstrate against the PATRIOT Act

By Eric W. Dolan
Sunday, March 13th, 2011 -- 12:34 pm

In Washington, DC on Sunday, demonstrators rallied in front of the White House in protest of repressive governments around the world.

Included in the protests were those opposed to extending the USA PATRIOT Act, which gives law enforcement authorities sweeping surveillance powers that have been criticized for endangering innocent American's civil liberties.

Frank Rich: Confessions of a Recovering Op-Ed Columnist

THE first political columnist I ever encountered, after a fashion, was Walter Lippmann. It happened on a snowy afternoon when I was a kid of 11 or 12 growing up in Washington during the J.F.K. years. My wallet had somehow slipped out of my pocket as I trudged past the National Cathedral on my way home from school. Hours later, my mother barged into my bedroom, interrupting my full-scale sulk to announce a miracle. “I just got a call from Walter Lippmann’s maid,” she said, sounding more excited than the circumstances warranted. “They found your wallet on Woodley Road in front of Walter Lippmann’s house!

The figure no one wants you to see

If Americans were ever presented with the real bill for the total U.S. national security budget, it would actually add up to more than $1.2 trillion a year.

(This article originally appeared on

By Chris Hellman

What if you went to a restaurant and found it rather pricey? Still, you ordered your meal and, when done, picked up the check only to discover that it was almost twice the menu price.

Welcome to the world of the real U.S. national security budget. Normally, in media accounts, you hear about the Pentagon budget and the war-fighting supplementary funds passed by Congress for our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. That already gets you into a startling price range -- close to $700 billion for 2012 -- but that’s barely more than half of it. If Americans were ever presented with the real bill for the total U.S. national security budget, it would actually add up to more than $1.2 trillion a year.