Monday, April 30, 2012

'Wrong Font Size' Keeps Michigan's 'Shock Doctrine' in Place

- Common Dreams staff 
Opponents of Michigan's emergency manager law who had gathered more than enough petitions to put the law on the November ballot were told yesterday that it wouldn't happen because the petitions had used the wrong font size.

Organizers had hoped to suspend Public Act 4, the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act, also known as the “emergency financial manager law” signed by Gov. Snyder last year.  The Center for Public Integrity explained that with the law, "appointed managers can nullify labor contracts, sell public utilities and dismiss elected officials."  Greatly contested was the ability of emergency managers under this law to nullify collective bargaining agreements.
Mad Cow Number Four

News of a new “mad cow” in the United States could not come at a worse time.

The U.S. is in the process of trying to win back Japan and China’s business, not fully restored since the first U.S. mad cow, discovered in 2003. Ninety-eight percent of U.S. beef exports evaporated within 24 hours when Mexico, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and 90 other countries banned US beef. The only reason the European Union didn’t ban U.S. beef was because it had already banned it for excessive use of growth hormones!
Halfway Through the Lost Decade

By Robert Scheer

Does anyone care that the economy is floundering and that we are not getting out of this crisis anytime soon? Housing values are in the cellar, the Fed foresees unemployment remaining unacceptably high for the next three years, and national economic growth is predicted to be, at best, anemic.

Even the substantial rise of stock averages during recent years has been based in large part on the ability of companies such as Apple to outsource jobs and sales to booming markets led by China—while America’s graduating students face mountainous debt and what is shaping up as a decade without opportunity.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Paul Krugman: Death of a Fairy Tale

This was the month the confidence fairy died.

For the past two years most policy makers in Europe and many politicians and pundits in America have been in thrall to a destructive economic doctrine. According to this doctrine, governments should respond to a severely depressed economy not the way the textbooks say they should — by spending more to offset falling private demand — but with fiscal austerity, slashing spending in an effort to balance their budgets. 
European, US Austerity Drive is Suicidal: Nobel Economist Stiglitz

'The Occupy movement has been very successful in bringing those ideas to the forefront of political discussion.'

- Common Dreams staff 
Europe is headed down the same path that most Republicans -- and many Democrats -- are suggesting for the US: reductions in the public sector, cuts in benefits, slashing investments in infrastructure and education.

Nobel Prize-winning U.S. economist Joseph Stiglitz speaking in Vienna, Austria Thursday night said that it's a suicidal path for Europe -- and that such a policy has never worked in any large country.
To Kick Climate Change, Replace Corn With Pastured Beef

—By Tom Philpott | Wed Apr. 25, 2012 10:51 AM PDT

Corn is by far the biggest US crop, and a network of corporations has sprouted up that profits handsomely from it. Companies like Monsanto and Syngenta sell the seeds and chemicals used to grow it, while Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Tyson, and their peers buy the finished crop and transform it into meat, ethanol, sweetener, and a range of food ingredients. Known in Washington as King Corn, the corn lobby wields formidable power in political circles. 
The Coming Right-Wing Clash over the "Half That Pay No Taxes"

by Avenging Angel

In recent years, few Republican talking points have been regurgitated as often as the myth that almost half of Americans pay no taxes. Just last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor complained "we have to question whether that's fair," insisting "you've got to discuss that issue."

And that could be a real problem for some on the right. After all, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush respectively expanded the bipartisan Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit which has helped reduce or eliminate the income tax bill for many low income working families. (It was President Reagan who called the EITC "the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.") And now, some leaders on the religious right are fretting that the GOP's draconian Romney-Ryan budget plan will do away with the vital protections for the "least of these."
Insanity: CISPA Just Got Way Worse, And Then Passed On Rushed Vote

from the this-is-crazy dept

Update: Several people have asserted that Quayle's amendment actually made CISPA better, not worse. I've now posted my thoughts on that.

Up until this afternoon, the final vote on CISPA was supposed to be tomorrow. Then, abruptly, it was moved up today—and the House voted in favor of its passage with a vote of 248-168. But that's not even the worst part.

The vote followed the debate on amendments, several of which were passed. Among them was an absolutely terrible change (pdf and embedded below—scroll to amendment #6) to the definition of what the government can do with shared information, put forth by Rep. Quayle. Astonishingly, it was described as limiting the government's power, even though it in fact expands it by adding more items to the list of acceptable purposes for which shared information can be used. Even more astonishingly, it passed with a near-unanimous vote. The CISPA that was just approved by the House is much worse than the CISPA being discussed as recently as this morning.
The World's Insurers Brace For Climate Change -- Except In America

By Ben Schiller, Yale Environment 360
Posted on April 26, 2012, Printed on April 27, 2012

Given that insurers are likely to be among the first companies affected by climate change, you might expect the industry to be better prepared than most.

But that is not how it appears to many analysts, regulators, and industry representatives, who say insurers are showing a lack of urgency on the twin threats of massive future damage claims from weather-related events, and the prospect of growing climate change-related litigation.
Government-Run Healthcare is More Efficient Than Private Healthcare

Can the government provide healthcare more efficiently than the private market? There's no simple answer to that, but a couple of recent data points suggest the answer is yes.

First there's Medicare. It's true that long-term Medicare costs remain our most critical budget problem, thanks to aging baby boomers and ever-expanding treatments for chronic illnesses and end-of-life care. But per-capita Medicare spending has been on a long downward trend, and that trend has been so steady and predictable that a recent study suggested that spending growth per beneficiary over the next decade would be close to zero.
Report: American Corporations Are Adding More Jobs Overseas Than They Are At Home

By Travis Waldron on Apr 27, 2012 at 9:45 am

With the nation’s unemployment rate still above eight percent, millions of Americans are looking for work, and the country’s biggest corporations are hiring. According to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, however, many of those corporations are adding jobs overseas at a faster pace than they are at home.
The Self-Made Myth: Debunking Conservatives' Favorite -- And Most Dangerous -- Fiction

By Sara Robinson, AlterNet
Posted on April 25, 2012, Printed on April 27, 2012

The self-made myth is one of the most cherished foundation stones of the conservative theology. Nurtured by Horatio Alger and generations of beloved boys' stories, It sits at the deep black heart of the entire right-wing worldview, where it provides the essential justification for a great many other common right-wing beliefs. It feeds the accusation that government is evil because it only exists to redistribute wealth from society's producers (self-made, of course) and its parasites (who refuse to work). It justifies conservative rage against progressives, who are seen as wanting to use government to forcibly take away what belongs to the righteous wealthy. It's piously invoked by hedge fund managers and oil billionaires, who think that being required to reinvest any of their wealth back into the public society that made it possible is "punishing success." It's the foundational belief on which all of Ayn Rand's novels stand.

If you've heard it once from your Fox-watching uncle, you've probably heard it a hundred times. "The government never did anything for me, dammit," he grouses. "Everything I have, I earned. Nobody ever handed me anything. I did it all on my own. I'm a self-made man."
Is Your Candidate For Higher Office "Politically Insane"? Five Telltale Signs

What The Fight Over Student Loans Is Really About

In a reprise of the winter fight over the payroll tax cut, Republicans are now reluctantly agreeing to support something that just weeks ago they strongly opposed: preventing student loan interest rates from doubling later this year.

It’s an issue Republicans fear will fire up the youth vote — a key Democratic constituency — and in an effort to keep that bloc from flocking back to President Obama in November they’re attempting to bigfoot Democrats on their own issue.
World needs to stabilise population and cut consumption, says Royal Society

Economic and environmental catastrophes unavoidable unless rich countries cut consumption and global population stabilises
John Vidal, environment editor
The Guardian,

World population needs to be stabilised quickly and high consumption in rich countries rapidly reduced to avoid "a downward spiral of economic and environmental ills", warns a major report from the Royal Society.

Contraception must be offered to all women who want it and consumption cut to reduce inequality, says the study published on Thursday, which was chaired by Nobel prize-winning biologist Sir John Sulston.
The assessment of humanity's prospects in the next 100 years, which has taken 21 months to complete, argues strongly that to achieve long and healthy lives for all 9 billion people expected to be living in 2050, the twin issues of population and consumption must be pushed to the top of political and economic agendas. Both issues have been largely ignored by politicians and played down by environment and development groups for 20 years, the report says.
Budget Control Act Military Cuts Will Cover the Social Security Shortfall

Thursday, 26 April 2012 11:09 
By Robert Naiman, Truthout | Report 

A key reason that it's relatively easy to scaremonger about predictions regarding Social Security's finances decades in the future is that the language often used to talk about Social Security's finances isn't immediately comparable to anything else that most people can relate to. A number that isn't comparable to other numbers you know is a meaningless number. How big a difference is seven trillion dollars? It sounds like a huge number. But in a context devoid of comparable numbers, it's a meaningless number.
A Fight Bigger Than ALEC

The Editors  April 25, 2012

The American Legislative Exchange Council operated for almost forty years with scant notice, quietly connecting corporate interests with conservative legislators to impose one-size-fits-all “model legislation” on the states. Since ALEC’s secrets began leaking last year, however, its corporate members have been subjected to the sort of scrutiny—and antipathy—that CEOs and investors find most unsettling.
Research shows how PCBs promote dendrite growth, may increase autism risk

April 24, 2012
(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — New research from UC Davis and Washington State University shows that PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, launch a cellular chain of events that leads to an overabundance of dendrites -- the filament-like projections that conduct electrochemical signals between neurons -- and disrupts normal patterns of neuronal connections in the brain.
Tavis Smiley and Cornel West: The Rich and the Rest of Us -- a Poverty Manifesto

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
Posted on April 24, 2012, Printed on April 27, 2012

The following is a transcript of Democracy Now! interview with Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. 

The latest census data shows nearly one in two Americans, or 150 million people, have fallen into poverty — or could be classified as low income. We’re joined by Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, who continue their efforts to spark a national dialog on the poverty crisis with the new book, "The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto." Smiley, an award-winning TV and radio broadcaster, says President Obama has failed to properly tackle poverty. "There seems to be a bipartisan consensus in Washington that the poor just don’t matter. President Obama is a part of that," Smiley says. "I take nothing away from his push on healthcare, but jobs for every American should have been primary issue, number one." West, a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University, says that after the historic U.S. struggles against monarchy, slavery and institutionalized racism, "the issue today is oligarchy. Poverty is the new slavery. Oligarchs are the new kings. They’re the new heads of this structure of domination."
$1.6 Billion in Missing MF Global Funds Traced

@CNNMoney April 24, 2012: 6:49 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Investigators probing the collapse of bankrupt brokerage MF Global said Tuesday that they have located the $1.6 billion in customer money that had gone missing from the firm.

But just how much of those funds can be returned to the firm's clients, and who will be held responsible for their misappropriation, remains to be seen.
Planned Parenthood Worried It's The Target Of New Undercover Sting

A string of suspicious incidents at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country has given the organization reason to believe that anti-abortion activists are targeting it in a new organized sting operation.

According to Planned Parenthood spokesperson Chloe Cooney, clinics in at least 11 states have reported two dozen or more "hoax visits" over the past several weeks, in which a woman walks into a clinic, claims to be pregnant and asks a particular pattern of provocative questions about sex-selective abortions, such as how soon she can find out the gender of the fetus, by what means and whether she can schedule an abortion if she's having a girl.
Social Security and Medicare: Behind the Numbers and the Spin

By Richard RJ Eskow

Here are some headlines you won't see after the government releases new figures on Social Security and Medicare later today:
"Social Security Trust Fund Even Larger Than It Was Last Year"
"Growing Wealth Inequity Will Lead to Social Security Imbalance Later This Century"
"For-Profit Healthcare Poses Threat to Medicare, Federal Deficit, and Overall Economy in Coming Decades"
"Public Consensus Grows For Taxing Wealthy to Restore Long-Term Entitlement Imbalance"
Instead here's what we've already seen:
"Aging workforce strains Social Security, Medicare"
What If Pensions Funds Grabbed the Reins?

Sunday, 22 April 2012 13:37 By Mike Alberti, Remapping Debate

Public and private pension funds in the United States collectively have trillions of dollars in combined assets. They own more than a third of all domestic equity, with stakes in most public U.S. companies, and large holdings of corporate and government bonds, real estate, and infrastructure. They are unique in that they are both very large and have a much longer investment horizon than most other types of investors.

But, with few exceptions, American pension funds do not self-manage the majority of those assets, and they ignore the flexibility that their long-term horizon can bring, experts said. They employ private firms to invest their assets for them, often with a short-term focus and at a high cost. Many of their trustees are political appointees without any experience in finance. And so, instead of being viewed as powerful financial players, with the capacity to initiate deals and lead markets, pension funds act — and are treated by the financial advisors they employ — more like large customers.
Social Model Is Europe’s Solution, Not Its Problem

In the wake of the financial crisis, Europe’s leaders are calling the continent’s social model into question -- it is “done,” according to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. That’s a travesty.

The crisis is, above all, financial. Yet governments aren’t addressing the malfunctions that caused this problem. Instead, they are forcing ordinary people to pay and attacking the social systems that support them.
Michael Hudson: Productivity, The Miracle of Compound Interest, and Poverty

By Michael Hudson
From Hudson’s presentation at the Italian MMT Summit, which was also recorded by Bonnie Faulkner of Pacifica Radio’s Guns and Butter show

Suppose you were alive back in 1945 and were told about all the new technology that would be invented between then and now: the computers and internet, mobile phones and other consumer electronics, faster and cheaper air travel, super trains and even outer space exploration, higher gas mileage on the ground, plastics, medical breakthroughs and science in general. You would have imagined what nearly all futurists expected: that we would be living in a life of leisure society by this time. Rising productivity would raise wages and living standards, enabling people to work shorter hours under more relaxed and less pressured workplace conditions.

Why hasn’t this occurred in recent years? In light of the enormous productivity gains since the end of World War II – and especially since 1980 – why isn’t everyone rich and enjoying the leisure economy that was promised? If the 99% is not getting the fruits of higher productivity, who is? Where has it gone?
States In Northeast Cap And Trade Program Reduce CO2 20% Faster And Grow GDP At Twice The Rate of Other States
By Stephen Lacey on Apr 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Northeastern states participating in America’s first carbon cap and trade program have outperformed the rest of the country in GDP growth and reduction in global warming pollution.

That’s according to a new report from Environment New Jersey, which examined emissions data and economic growth indicators from 2000 to 2009.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Katha Pollitt: Ann Romney, Working Woman?

Has Ann Romney ever worked a day in her life? CNN pundit Hilary Rosen, not a Democratic strategist, said no way, prompting torrents of outrage from Fox, Republicans and New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who loves his mother very much. Bertrand Russell, in his witty essay “In Praise of Idleness,” wrote, “What is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so.” Clearly, between the houses and grounds, the five kids, the Cadillacs, the husband, the business socializing, the campaigning and, let’s not forget, that dog, Ann Romney has altered the position of much matter. Since it is not possible to run smoothly a multimillion-dollar multi-mansioned domestic establishment for seven people without at least some paid help, I’m guessing she probably instructed others in the proper positioning of matter as well. By Russell’s definition, Ann Romney has probably done a lot more work than I have. I sit at my desk and hours go by in which I seem to have hardly altered the position of anything, including myself.
Paul Krugman: In a "Crankocracy," the Rich Call the Shots

Timothy Noah makes an interesting point in the April 19 edition of The New Republic: at least so far, the most visible effect of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has been not so much a flood of corporate cash into politics as a flood of cash from billionaire cranks into politics.

"Super-rich, hard-right tycoons like Foster Friess (mutual funds), Harold Simmons (chemicals and metals), Bob Perry (home-building) and Sheldon Adelson (casinos) are, through the new vehicle called the super PAC, leveraging their fortunes to seize hold of the political process," wrote Mr. Noah, a senior editor at the magazine, in an article titled "Crankocracy in America." "Super PACs have made it so easy for millionaires and billionaires to spend unlimited sums on behalf of a particular candidate that these groups are now routinely outspending Republican presidential primary campaigns."
Paul Krugman: The Transformation of Ben Bernanke
I’ve been rereading Larry Ball’s impressive and disturbing what-happened-to-Ben-Bernanke analysis — an analysis that, I happen to know, has caused much consternation in some circles. (“Surely it can’t be just groupthink! There must be very good reasons the Federal Reserve hasn’t done more!”)

And I think there’s a way to further refine Mr. Ball’s analysis, published on Feb. 28 on Vox, the Center for Economic Policy Research’s online policy portal — a way that makes more sense of Mr. Bernanke’s retreat from earlier positions, albeit one that still doesn’t cast a very flattering light on the Fed.
How "Centrist" Democrats Are Helping Conservatives - and Failing America's Moms

2013 Budget Debate May Be Setting The Standard For Crazy

  1. The House is putting together a FY13 reconciliation package based on the GOP/Ryan plan it passed earlier this year even though (1) reconciliation is required to be based on the budget resolution conference agreement between the House and the Senate, (2) there will be no budget resolution conference report agreement this year and, therefore, there will be no reconciliation, and (3) nothing the House considers for its own private reconciliation has any chance of actually (or perhaps ever) being enacted.
  2. The Senate Budget Committee is trying to mark up a FY 13 budget resolution that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has already said will not be considered by the full Senate.
Boehner, Pelosi Spar Over History Of ‘Grand Bargain’ Fiasco

Nine months after the famed deficit negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner collapsed, the House’s top Republican and top Democrat spent a full week sparring over what really happened at that critical July 2011 juncture. With a debt-limit driven economic crisis looming, Obama and Boehner neared a “grand bargain” on taxes and spending only to watch it splinter, then break apart completely at the 11th hour.

It started Tuesday, when Boehner told CBS Obama “lost his courage” toward the end and unfairly shifted the goal posts at the last minute — a common GOP claim, which the speaker says forced his exit. Obama demanded more revenue after an agreement was struck, the speaker said, and thus “bl[ew] up the deal.”
Meet the Media Companies Lobbying Against Transparency

by Justin Elliott
ProPublica, April 20, 2012, 10:50 a.m.

News organizations cultivate a reputation for demanding transparency, whether by suing for access to government documents, dispatching camera crews to the doorsteps of recalcitrant politicians, or editorializing in favor of open government.

But now many of the country’s biggest media companies, which own dozens of newspapers and TV news operations, are flexing their muscle in Washington in a fight against a government initiative to increase transparency of political spending.
ALEC's Other 'Deadly Force' Campaign to Kill Climate Initiatives

Elliott Negin
Director of News & Commentary, Union of Concerned Scientists

The relatively unknown American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) got a black eye recently when news stories revealed it was a prime mover behind "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida and 24 other states that temporarily shielded the man who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

But the secretive group's influence in statehouses goes a lot further than deadly force, self-defense laws. Since its founding in 1973, ALEC has ghostwritten state legislation across the country on a wide range of issues, from voter ID laws to prison policy to worker protections, as a number of press accounts have pointed out.

What has gone unmentioned, however, is ALEC's longtime stealth campaign to scuttle state--and federal--climate change initiatives, despite the fact that a number of its corporate members publicly acknowledge that global warming is a serious problem. They include General Motors; oil giants BP America, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell Oil; and electric utilities Duke Energy, Entergy and Progress Energy.
MF Global: The Untold Story of the Biggest Wall Street Collapse Since Lehman

By Pam Martens, AlterNet
Posted on April 20, 2012, Printed on April 21, 2012

Only on Wall Street can you bankrupt a company; misplace $1.6 billion of customers’ money; lose 75 percent of shareholders’ money in two weeks; speed dial a high priced criminal attorney and get a court to authorize the payment of your multi-million dollar legal tab from the failed company’s insurance policies; have regulators waive your requirements to take licensing exams required to work in the securities and commodities industry; have your Board of Directors waive your loyalty to the firm; run a bucket shop out of the UK; and still have the word “Honorable” affixed to your name in a Congressional investigations hearing.

This is not a flashback to the rotting financial carcasses of 2008. This putrid saga has been playing out in five Congressional hearings since December with the next episode scheduled for Tuesday, April 24, before the Senate Banking Committee under the auspicious title: “The Collapse of MF Global: Lessons Learned and Policy Implications.” (The title might more appropriately be, “MF Global: Lessons  Never Learned and Policy Implications of a Wild West Financial System Just One TradeAway from the Next Taxpayer Bailout.”)
Before you write that Social Security is bankrupt….

COMMENTARY | April 19, 2012

Two ardent defenders of Social Security offer some context to reporters on the upcoming release of the 2012 Social Security Trustees Report, hoping to offset scary and unfounded headlines.

By Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson

The most important take-away points from the 2012 Trustees Report will be that Social Security has a large and growing surplus; that without any Congressional action, Social Security will continue to pay benefits to America’s eligible working families for decades; and that with modest legislated increases in revenue, it will continue to pay those benefits for the next century and beyond.

Because the economic recovery and wage growth have been slower than expected and the cost of living was higher, this year’s report is likely to project that the number of years that Social Security can continue to pay benefits in full with no Congressional action will be a year or two shorter. But it is still decades away -- and the precise year has fluctuated in virtually every Trustees Report, sometimes sooner, sometimes later. The fluctuation is unsurprising given the uncertainties related to projecting inflation, wage growth, productivity, immigration rates, fertility rates, and other factors so far into the future.
I Don’t Understand Michelle Rhee

by Diane Ravitch

I am trying to understand Michelle Rhee. She has allied herself with the most right-wing governors in the nation, yet she claims to be a Democrat. She has worked with Republican Rick Scott in Florida, Republican John Kasich in Ohio, Republican Chris Christie in New Jersey, Republican Rick Snyder in Michigan, among others. Any governor who wants to cut teachers’ rights and benefits can call on her to stand with him. Wherever there is a governor eager to dismantle and privatize public education, she is there at his side.

In Indiana, she stood with Republican governor Mitch Daniels as he successfully pushed through voucher legislation. In almost every state where charter legislation is under consideration, she is there to promote the glories of privatization. She is active in Georgia and Alabama and many other states, where the charter movement is likely to do serious harm to rural, exurban, suburban, and fragile urban communities, where the public schools are central to the local community.
6 Things You Need to Know About the Government's New Spy Law (CISPA)

By Scott Lemieux, AlterNet
Posted on April 18, 2012, Printed on April 21, 2012

Congress is seriously considering a bill called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). Intended to allow information-sharing both between corporations and between corporations and the government, it presents serious dangers to individual privacy. The most important parts of the proposed act permit corporations to share information about their customers with each other and with the government if they assert that this information-sharing is necessary for national security.

While the need for better sharing of information might be necessary in some cases, in its current form CISPA represents a particular danger – a mutually reinforcing combination of public and private threats to privacy.
ALEC Sends Out an SOS to Breitbart Bloggers

Shortly after issuing a press release announcing that it was disbanding its "Public Safety and Elections Task Force" after 30 years, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held a training for the right-wing blogosphere.

ALEC Director of External Relations Caitlyn Korb spoke yesterday at a Heritage Foundation "Bloggers Briefing," begging conservative bloggers for help while prepping "a very aggressive campaign to really spread the word about what we actually do." Korb appears to be a new ALEC employee who recently worked for the Cato Institute. Both ALEC and Cato have received funding from Koch family foundations. The Heritage Foundation is an ALEC member.
For He's a Jolly Good Scoundrel

Robert Scheer
Posted: 04/19/2012 8:33 am

How evil is this? At a time when two-thirds of U.S. homeowners are drowning in mortgage debt and the American dream has crashed for tens of millions more, Sanford Weill, the banker most responsible for the nation's economic collapse, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

So much for the academy's proclaimed "230-plus year history of recognizing some of the world's most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers, artists, and civic, corporate, and philanthropic leaders." George Washington, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Albert Einstein must be rolling in their graves at the news that Weill, "philanthropist and retired Citigroup Chairman," has joined their ranks.
The Truth Revealed About Debt and Deficits

By Marshall Auerback, AlterNet
Posted on April 18, 2012, Printed on April 21, 2012

It’s hard to open a newspaper or turn on the TV without being bombarded with narratives suggesting that fiscal policy didn’t work and that we therefore need discipline in the form of balanced budget amendments and debt limits. Even those who see themselves as moderates on the issue are embracing a commitment to “eventually” slash deficit spending once recovery gets underway.

But most of this talk arises from a fundamental misunderstanding about the way debt and deficits actually operate.
The Zombie Rises: The Return of Simpson-Bowles

A huge student loan scam

With the help of Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., for-profit colleges are massively ripping off U.S. taxpayers

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass a bill with the impressive, everybody-can-get-behind-this title “Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act.” Sponsored by the ultra-conservative North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx, the bill ostensibly took aim at an issue close to small-government-loving hearts: intrusive federal regulation of for-profit colleges — fast growing, highly profitable outfits like DeVry University or the online-only University of Phoenix.

Like so many of the bills passed by the House since Republicans gained the majority in the 2010 midterm elections, the bill was designed to repeal specific actions taken by the Obama administration. In this case, the issue at hand was the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure greater “program integrity” in the for-profit educational sector. Specifically, a new federal definition of what constitutes a legitimate academic “credit hour” and a new requirement that all online providers of post-secondary education be accredited in each and every state in which they do business.
The Evidence That Might Be Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Undoing

There are times when Sheriff Joe Arpaio has seemed untouchable. In his nearly 20 years in office, he has survived political challenges, court judgments and criminal investigations.

But a ruling filed last week by an arm of the Arizona Supreme Court could prove to be a road map to the Republican lawman’s undoing.

A three-person disciplinary panel of the state’s high court said there was enough evidence to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the sheriff and three of his closest allies participated in what the panel believes was federal crime in December 2009.
10 Things Republicans Don't Want You to Know About Taxes

by Avenging Angel

Tax Day 2012 has been a busy one for the propagandists of the Republican Party.  After the GOP successfully filibustered the Buffett Rule in the Senate, House Speaker John Boehner claimed that Republicans are "listening to the American people."  Of course, what Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney and their allies don't mention is that the Democratic proposal to implement a minimum 30 percent tax on millionaires is wildly popular.  Then again, the list of things Republicans don't want you to know about taxes is a long one.
How the War on Women Became Mainstream

Wednesday, 18 April 2012 13:15  
By Staff, People For the American Way | News Analysis 

In February 2012 the state of Texas decided to cut off reproductive and preventative health services to 130,000 low-income women. The staggering move caps what has been an escalating war on women’s health in state legislatures and in the U.S. Capitol since Tea Party-backed Republican majorities took control of the U.S. House and the majority of statehouses and took a determined minority in the U.S. Senate. While anti-woman rhetoric has been a mainstay of right-wing politics for decades, in the past two years that rhetoric has been turned into a record number of laws – and hurt a record number of women.

Texas’s move is extreme, but it’s not unusual. In fact, when it comes to women’s health, Republicans in the U.S. Congress and in the race for the presidency are trying to remake America in Texas’s image. In refusing funding for its women’s health programs, Texas has jeopardized women’s health – putting the burden especially on low-income women – and increased the risk of unwanted pregnancies, the main reason for abortions. Eliminating the entire federal family- planning program – a step supported by every Republican in the U.S. House and both major GOP presidential contenders – would do the same on a national scale, all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars in increased health–care expenses resulting from the lack of preventative care.
Hang onto that Paycheck! ALEC "Sharpens Focus on Jobs"

This week the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) announced that it would disband its controversial "Public Safety and Elections Task Force" to "Sharpen its Focus on Jobs, Free Markets and Growth." The disbanding of the source of a few of its more extreme proposals on voter ID, "Stand Your Ground/Shoot to Kill," and AZ SB1070 will do little to clean up ALEC's reputation. Each of ALEC's nine task forces is a little shop of horrors of legislative proposals that only Milton Friedman could love.

Focus on jobs, you say? The Center for Media and Democracy's archive of over 800 ALEC "model bills" has exposed a jobs agenda that is nothing less than a ruthless race to the bottom in wages and working conditions.
Investigation: Two Years After the BP Spill, A Hidden Health Crisis Festers

On March 3 Nicole Maurer learned of the proposed settlement between BP and hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast businesses and residents harmed by its 2010 oil spill, the largest in US history.

In her cramped but immaculate trailer on a muddy back road in the small town of Buras, Louisiana, Nicole tells me that the two years since the tragedy began on April 20, 2010, have been “a total nightmare” for her family. Not only has her husband William’s fishing income all but vanished along with the shrimp he used to catch but the entire family is plagued by persistent health problems.
Blamed for Bee Collapse, Monsanto Buys Leading Bee Research Firm

Anthony Gucciardi
April 19, 2012

Monsanto, the massive biotechnology company being blamed for contributing to the dwindling bee population, has bought up one of the leading bee collapse research organizations. Recently banned from Poland with one of the primary reasons being that the company’s genetically modified corn may be devastating the dying bee population, it is evident that Monsanto is under serious fire for their role in the downfall of the vital insects. It is therefore quite apparent why Monsanto bought one of the largest bee research firms on the planet.
ALEC Wants You To Pay 750 Percent More For High-Speed Internet

The corporate front group may change its social policy stance, but it still plans on robbing you blind.

By Zaid Jilani, Republic Report
Posted on April 18, 2012, Printed on April 21, 2012

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the most powerful corporate front group you’ve never heard of. Drawing the vast majority of its financing from big corporations, the group allows these firms to help write bills that it then secretly passes off to state legislators to get turned into laws.

The organization has come under fire recently for backing “Stand Your Ground” laws and voter suppression efforts, leading to an exodus of some of its strongest corporate funders. But the group’s policy agenda stretches far beyond these areas, and impacts just about every area of American life.
Our Chemical Cocktail Evaluated in New Report

by Paula Crossfield
When it comes to the chemicals used in food packaging, there is much we still don’t know. After a recent U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) decision last month to not put further restrictions on bisphenol-A (BPA), a new report today in the Washington Post takes a closer look at studies that reveal that such endocrine-distrupting chemicals are not only ubiquitous, they might also be harmful at much lower doses than previously thought.

The FDA allows around 3,000 chemicals, including BPA and phthalates–a family of chemicals used in lubricants and solvents and to make polyvinyl chloride pliable–at low doses, long considering them additives though they migrate from the packaging instead of being purposefully added by the food manufacturer. But these chemicals are notoriously hard to trace, and have not been studied for their cumulative effects.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rich Countries Seek to Block UN From Working on Global Finance Reforms

Thursday, 19 April 2012 08:28  
By Rick Rowden, Truthout | News Analysis 

n important fight between rich countries and developing countries over the question of UN involvement in researching and advocating for a new global financial architecture has spilled into the open in the weeks leading up to the April 21-26 quadrennial ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). At issue are apparent efforts by the rich countries to water down and block the key planks of UNCTAD's proposed work plan related to needed reforms in finance and the global financial architecture. The proposed work agenda for the next four years is set to be approved in Doha. 
‘No-till farming’ revolution grows in Indiana

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 7:36 EDT

Indiana farmer Mike Starkey does not plow his fields and uses fertilizer only sparingly, but he is on the cutting edge of a growing trend in American agriculture.

Advocates of his “no-till farming” technique say it could provide the low-cost, environmentally-friendly crops the agricultural industry has sought for many years.
Right-Wing ALEC Retreats on Most Controversial Issues
By Brendan Fischer, PR Watch
Posted on April 17, 2012, Printed on April 20, 2012

Under growing public pressure and the departure of multiple corporate members, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has announced it is disbanding the Task Force that has been responsible for some of the organization's most controversial pieces of legislation. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker introduced several bills approved by that Task Force when he was a legislator in the 1990s and early 2000s.

For at least three decades, the corporations, special interest groups, and legislators on the ALEC Public Safety & Elections Task Force (known as the Criminal Justice Task Force until 2009) have approved model bills that promote for-profit prisons and lengthen prison sentences, criminalize immigrants, expand the "war on drugs," thwart evidence-based pre-trial release programs in favor of for-profit bail-bonding, and many other policies.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The War on Public-Sector Workers

Monday, 16 April 2012 09:23  
By Dean Baker, Truthout | News Analysis 

Politicians across the country are using heaping doses of the politics of envy to try to arouse the anger of workers. However, their targets are not the corporate CEOs pulling down tens of millions of dollars a year in pay and bonuses. Nor is it the Wall Street crew that got incredibly rich inflating the housing bubble and then took government handouts to stay alive through the bust. The targets of these politicians' wrath are school teachers, firefighters, and other public-sector workers.

They are outraged that many of these workers still earn enough to support a middle-class family. Even more outrageous, many of these workers have traditional defined-benefit pensions that assure them a modicum of comfort in retirement. Having managed to ensure that most workers in the private sector did not benefit much from economic growth over the last three decades, the same upward redistributionist crew is turning their guns on public-sector workers.
Little-Noticed But Crucial Senate NLRB Vote Coming

Prevention for the Sickest 10 Percent Is Best Treatment Plan for People, Economy

Sunday, 15 April 2012 08:23  
By Jonathan Fleece, Truthout | News Analysis 

Spending on health care in America has skyrocketed over the past 40 years. In 2010, the United States spent an estimated $2.47 trillion on health care. This staggering figure equates to every American spending more than $8,000 on health care. The total spending represented nearly 17.4 percent of the US gross domestic product (GDP). By comparison, in 1980 the share of GDP devoted to health care was only 8.8 percent. This equated to approximately $1,000 per person spending on health care in 1980. In 1970, it was $352 per person. Even when adjusted for inflation this rate of increase in health care spending demonstrates that the US is in the midst of a health care fiscal crisis, and it is getting worse every year.
First They Come for the Muslims

By Chris Hedges

Tarek Mehanna, a U.S. citizen, was sentenced Thursday in Worcester, Mass., to 17½ years in prison. It was another of the tawdry show trials held against Muslim activists since 9/11 as a result of the government’s criminalization of what people say and believe. These trials, where secrecy rules permit federal lawyers to prosecute people on “evidence” the defendants are not allowed to examine, are the harbinger of a corporate totalitarian state in which any form of dissent can be declared illegal. What the government did to Mehanna, and what it has done to hundreds of other innocent Muslims in this country over the last decade, it will eventually do to the rest of us.

Mehanna, a teacher at Alhuda Academy in Worcester, was convicted after an eight-week jury trial of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq and providing material support to al-Qaida, as well as making false statements to officials investigating terrorism. His real “crime,” however, seems to be viewing and translating jihadi videos online, speaking out against U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and refusing to become a government informant.

Stephen F. Downs, a lawyer in Albany, N.Y., a founder of Project Salam and the author of “Victims of America’s Dirty War,” a booklet posted on the website, has defended Muslim activists since 2006. He has methodically documented the mendacious charges used to incarcerate many Muslim activists as terrorists. Because of “terrorism enhancement” provisions, any sentence can be quadrupled—even minor charges can leave prisoners incarcerated for years.
Exposing ALEC: How Conservative-Backed State Laws Are All Connected

By Nancy Scola

A shadowy organization uses corporate contributions to sell prepackaged conservative bills -- such as Florida's Stand Your Ground statute -- to legislatures across the country. 

The recent blowing up of the Invisible Children viral video might have some of us thinking that Malcolm Gladwell was onto something with his biting critique of online politics, the so-called "slacktivism" debate. But the attention to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and, even more so, the connected debate over Stand Your Ground gun laws and the distancing of some of the country's biggest companies from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, shows how online orgnizing actually can work. And that, reasonably, seems to be causing palpitations in the hearts of everyone from Coca-Cola to the Koch brothers.

That's why even if, as Politico reports, the gun debate isn't happening in Washington, the N.R.A. shouldn't be unconcerned.

To itself, ALEC is an organization dedicated to the advancement of free market and limited government principles through a unique "public-private partnership" between state legislators and the corporate sector. To its critics, it's a shadowy back-room arrangement where corporations pay good money to get friendly legislators to introduce pre-packaged bills in state houses across the country. Started in the mid-1970s, ALEC's existence has been long known but its practices, largely, have not; the group hasn't been eager to tie its bills in Wisconsin to those in Ohio to those in North Carolina.
A Guide to the Class Warfare of Presidential Politics

Everyone says there’s a class war going on in the U.S. If so, it is, at least so far, a war of words.
It’s also a war in which a principal tactic is to accuse the other side of fighting a class war, while denying that you’re fighting one yourself. Meanwhile, everybody claims to be on the same side: the side of the people, against the aristocratic elitist snobs who … where did I park my tumbrel? In this war of words, certain words take on a special weight or meaning. Here are a few:

-- Elitist. The verbal class war is like a game of pin-the- tail-on-the-donkey (or elephant, as the case may be). The goal is to pin the other side with the label of “elitist.” In my opinion -- purloined from writers such as Thomas Frank and Thomas Byrne Edsall -- conservatives continually gin up an essentially phony cultural class war over social issues, to distract people from the economic class war that the wealthy are winning.
The Campaign to Privatize the World

by David Macaray
One of the biggest con games going on at the moment is the sustained attack on the U.S. public school system.  It’s being perpetrated by predatory entrepreneurs (disguised as “concerned citizens” and “education reformers”) hoping to persuade the parents of school-age children that the only way their kids are going to get a decent education is by paying for something that they can already get for free.  You might say it’s the same marketing campaign that launched bottled water.

The profit impulse fueling this drive is understandable.  All it takes is a cursory look at the economic landscape to see why these speculators are drooling at the prospect of privatizing education.  Millions of students pulling up stakes, bailing out of the public school system, and enrolling in private or charter schools?  Are you kidding?  Just think of the money that would generate.
Paul Krugman: Europe’s Economic Suicide
On Saturday The Times reported on an apparently growing phenomenon in Europe: “suicide by economic crisis,” people taking their own lives in despair over unemployment and business failure. It was a heartbreaking story. But I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader, especially among economists, wondering if the larger story isn’t so much about individuals as about the apparent determination of European leaders to commit economic suicide for the Continent as a whole.

Just a few months ago I was feeling some hope about Europe. You may recall that late last fall Europe appeared to be on the verge of financial meltdown; but the European Central Bank, Europe’s counterpart to the Fed, came to the Continent’s rescue. It offered Europe’s banks open-ended credit lines as long as they put up the bonds of European governments as collateral; this directly supported the banks and indirectly supported the governments, and put an end to the panic.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Frans de Waal: Moral behavior in animals

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Some of us became aware of primatologist Frans de Waal back in 2008 through his concept of inequity aversion:
[W]e did a study in which capuchin monkeys received either a grape or a piece of cucumber for a simple task.

If both monkeys got the same reward, there never was a problem. Grapes are by far preferred (as real primates, like us, they go for sugar content), but even if both received cucumber, they’d perform the task many times in a row.

However, if they received different rewards, the one who got the short end of the stick would begin to waver in its responses, and very soon start a rebellion by either refusing to perform the task or refusing to eat the cucumber.
Paul Krugman: The US Can Learn from Canada’s 1990s Slump

So, is there still a lot of slack in the United States' labor markets? On the face of it, that seems an absurd question to ask, given the persistence of very high unemployment and an employment-population ratio far below pre-crisis levels.

Yet it is being asked, partly because we don't see strong evidence of falling inflation.

But how good a criterion is that? Sharply rising inflation would be one thing — but we don't see that either. And there's actually pretty good evidence that inflation tends to stall out at low but positive levels in the face of prolonged slumps.
If 25,000 people rally in midtown, is that a story?

COMMENTARY | April 15, 2012
The Occupy movement, active all winter, has been mostly ignored by the press. Now, along with other groups, it is stepping up its rallies and protests against corporate influence and militarism in America. Will there be any press coverage to speak of?

By John Hanrahan
The Occupy movement hasn’t gone away or dissolved but is in action, along with scores of progressive organizations, on a wide front that deserves the attention of the mainstream news media. 
Plans are being set for at least one large antiwar demonstration, scores of smaller-scale, nonviolent actions, Wall Street-related issue-education sessions, and civil disobedience training for, possibly, many thousands of people. In addition, various Occupy groups have been setting up forums and teach-ins on aspects of militarism and corporate influence on the nation’s economic and political life.
The Federal Reserve Turns Left

Washington is lost in a snarl of confusion, cowardice and wrongheaded ideological assumptions that threaten to keep the economy in a ditch for a long time. That prospect is not much discussed in the halls of Congress or the White House. It’s as though the crisis has been put on hold until after the presidential election.

As almost everyone understands, nothing substantial will be accomplished this year. President Obama is campaigning on warmed-over optimism and paper-thin policy proposals. Republicans propose to make things worse by drastically shrinking government spending, when the opposite is needed to foster a real recovery. The president, like the GOP, embraces large-scale deficit reduction. In these circumstances, it’s just as well that the two parties cannot reach agreement. After the election they may make a deal that splits the difference between bad and worse. In the worst case, they might inadvertently tip the economy back into recession.
Wells Fargo Now A Major Shareholder In For-Profit Prisons

Even though crime rates in American have either stabilized or gone down, the incarceration rate (especially for people who are in this country illegally) has gone up - way up. (As this video points out, more people are being incarcerated on civil charges, not criminal.)

Naturally, as with most changes in this country, this has more to do with profit than anything else - and now we find that Wells Fargo is a major shareholder in for-profit prisons. Hmm. So this is what's taken the place of mortgages as the banking cash cow?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Afghan war whistleblower Daniel Davis: 'I had to speak out – lives are at stake'

Soldier wrote detailed report claiming US generals 'have so distorted the truth … the truth has become unrecognisable'

Paul Harris in Washington, Saturday 14 April 2012 06.20 EDT

"I am – how do you say it? – persona non grata," said Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Davis, as he sat sipping a coffee and eating a chocolate sundae in a shopping mall, just a subway stop from the Pentagon.
The career soldier is now a black sheep at the giant defence department building where he still works. The reason was his extraordinarily brave decision to accuse America's military top brass of lying about the war in Afghanistan. When he went public in the New York Times, he was acclaimed as a hero for speaking out about a war that many Americans feel has gone horribly awry. Later this month he will receive a Ridenhour prize, an award given to whistleblowers that is named after the Vietnam war soldier who exposed the My Lai massacre.

Davis believes people are not being told the truth and said so in a detailed report that he wrote after returning from his second tour of duty in the country. He had been rocketed, mortared and had stepped on an improvised explosive device that failed to explode. Soldiers he had met were killed and he was certain that a bloody disaster was unfolding. So he spoke out. "It's like I see in slow motion men dying for nothing and I can't stop it," he said. "It is consuming me from the inside. It is eating me alive."
Taxed by the boss

By David Cay Johnston
April 12, 2012
Across the United States more than 2,700 companies are collecting state income taxes from hundreds of thousands of workers – and are keeping the money with the states’ approval, says an eye-opening report published on Thursday.

The report from Good Jobs First, a nonprofit taxpayer watchdog organization funded by Ford, Surdna and other major foundations, identifies 16 states that let companies divert some or all of the state income taxes deducted from workers’ paychecks. None of the states requires notifying the workers, whose withholdings are treated as taxes they paid.

General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and AMC Theatres enjoy deals to keep state taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks, the report shows. Foreign companies also enjoy such arrangements, including Electrolux, Nissan, Toyota and a host of Canadian, Japanese and European banks, Good Jobs First says.
How Neocons Sank Iran Nuke Deal

April 12, 2012
Exclusive: Iran is resuming talks over its nuclear program with leading international powers – the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany – with the prospect of an agreement to swap some enriched uranium for research isotopes. But a similar plan was torpedoed by U.S. neocons in 2010, recalls Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Two years ago, Washington’s influential neoconservatives – both inside and outside government – shot down a possible resolution to the Iranian nuclear dispute because they wanted a confrontation with Tehran that some hoped would lead to their long-held dream of “regime change.”

In the ensuing two years, the cost of that confrontation has been high not just for Iranians, who have faced harsh sanctions, but for the world’s economy. For instance, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent escalation of bomb-Iran rhetoric contributed to the spike in gasoline prices that seems to be choking off the U.S. recovery, just as job growth was starting to accelerate.
Raising the minimum wage: The right thing to do, and a winning issue, too.

by Laura Clawson for Daily Kos Labor

Raising the minimum wage is once again developing momentum as an issue both federally and in the states. Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. already have minimum wages above the federal level, and at least six others are considering doing so. The New York Times' Steven Greenhouse reports on the efforts to raise federal or state minimum wages—and on the predictable pushback from business interests that oppose a livable minimum wage.

In part, it's time: The last time the federal minimum increased was in 2009, and the bill that increased it had been passed in 2007 after years of fighting to do so. In part, the current $7.25 minimum was too low when it went into effect, and this is a fight that shouldn't end until the federal minimum wage is raised and then indexed to inflation.
Yes, Virginia, This Is Obama’s JOBS Act

A number of people, many of them enthusiastic supporters of President Obama, wrote in to complain about my last piece about the JOBS Act. The gist of many of these letters was that the new deregulatory law could in no way be described as "Obama's JOBS Act."

"This was a Republican bill, birthed by Eric Cantor in the House, and driven by overwhelming Republican support," wrote in one emailer. "All Obama did was sign it. It’s totally dishonest to call it an Obama bill."
Okay, let’s talk about that. But first, a quick note on the bill itself, since I think some people misunderstand the objection to the bill
Corruption Responsible for 80% of Your Cell Phone Bill

Last year, a new company called Lightsquared promised an innovative business model that would dramatically lower cell phone costs and improve the quality of service, threatening the incumbent phone operators like AT&T and Verizon.  Lightsquared used a new technology involving satellites and spectrum, and was a textbook example of how markets can benefit the public through competition.  The phone industry swung into motion, not by offering better products and services, but by going to Washington to ensure that its new competitor could be killed by its political friends.  And sure enough, through three Congressmen that AT&T and Verizon had funded (Fred Upton (R-MI), Greg Walden (R-OR), and Cliff Stearns (R-FL)), Congress began demanding an investigation into this new company.  Pretty soon, the Federal Communications Commission got into the game, revoking a critical waiver that had allowed it to proceed with its business plan.
Fun facts about the top 96 Pentagon arms programs

Every spring, the Government Accountability Office reports to Congress on how well the Pentagon’s major weapons programs are progressing, and its conclusions have not been flattering for a long time.
An ugly foreclosure story, starring Bank of America

Dirma Rodriguez wonders how a house she'd been paying on for years, and which is specially modified for her severely disabled daughter, could be taken from her.

Dirma Rodriguez had five minutes to gather her things and vacate the West Adams house she and her severely disabled daughter had lived in for more than 25 years.

As a property manager changed the locks, Rodriguez fluttered back and forth from the yard — where a pile of stuff lay by the kitchen stove — to her car, where her daughter, Ingrid Ortiz, sat screaming and crying.

How Rodriguez and Ortiz ended up in this predicament is a long, messy story that resounds with a misery all too common in this age of foreclosure.
Wealth Defense Industry: The Real Reason America's Oligarchs Can Squeeze the Rest of Us

By Jeffrey A. Winters, In These Times
Posted on April 9, 2012, Printed on April 14, 2012

In 2005, Citigroup offered its high net-worth clients in the United States a concise statement of the threats they and their money faced.

The report told them they were the leaders of a “plutonomy,” an economy driven by the spending of its ultra-rich citizens. “At the heart of plutonomy is income inequality,” which is made possible by “capitalist-friendly governments and tax regimes.”

The danger, according to Citigroup’s analysts, is that “personal taxation rates could rise – dividends, capital gains, and inheritance taxes would hurt the plutonomy.”

But the ultra-rich already knew that. In fact, even as America’s income distribution has skewed to favor the upper classes, the very richest have successfully managed to reduce their overall tax burden. Look no further than Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, who in 2010 paid 13.9 percent of his $21.6 million income in taxes that year, the same tax rate as an individual who earned a mere $8,500 to $34,500.
Revealed: CISPA -- Internet Spying Law -- Pushed by For-Profit Spy Lobby

Defense industry contractors are lobbying for the cyber security bill in Congress that would expand the government's ability to access information about online activity. 

By Lee Fang, Republic Report
Posted on April 13, 2012, Printed on April 14, 2012

A cyber security bill moving swiftly through Congress would give government intelligence agencies broad powers to work with private companies to share information about Internet users. While some critics are beginning to organize online against the legislation, defense contractors, many already working with the National Security Agency on related data-mining projects, are lobbying to press forward. Like many bad policy ideas, entrenched government contractors seem to be using taxpayer money to lobby for even more power and profit.

The proposal, H.R.3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011, introduced by Congressmen Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), provides companies and the government “free rein to bypass existing laws in order to monitor communications, filter content, or potentially even shut down access to online services for ‘cybersecurity purposes.’” Though the bill has been compared to SOPA given its potential to smother free speech on the Internet, the ill-fated copyright legislation that inspired an intense lobbying battle earlier this year, much of the tech community has has joined with copyright interests to support CISPA.
Right-Wing Religion's War on America

Many in America's Catholic leadership and on the evangelical right claim there's a war on religion. In fact, they are waging a war on individual liberties.

From a posh residence in the heart of New York City that has been described as a “mini-mansion,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan is perhaps the most visible representative of an American church empire of 60 million adherents and vast financial holdings.

Dolan and his fellow clergy move easily through the corridors of political power, courted by big-city mayors, governors and even presidents. In the halls of Congress, they are treated with a deference no secular lobbyist can match.

From humble origins in America, the church has risen to lofty heights marked by affluence, political influence and social respect. Yet, according to church officials, they are being increasingly persecuted, and their rights are under sustained attack.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Millions Against Monsanto: The Food Fight of Our Lives

By Ronnie Cummins, AlterNet
Posted on April 11, 2012, Printed on April 13, 2012

"If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it." -- Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto, quoted in the Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994

"Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job." -- Phil Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications, quoted in the New York Times, October 25, 1998

For nearly two decades, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness have exercised near-dictatorial control over American agriculture, aided and abetted by indentured politicians and regulatory agencies, supermarket chains, giant food processors, and the so-called “natural” products industry.

Finally, public opinion around the biotech industry’s contamination of our food supply and destruction of our environment has reached the tipping point. We’re fighting back.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Paul Krugman: US Hedge Fund Managers Can Buy Anything, Except Respect

Alec MacGillis, a senior editor at The New Republic, has a fantastic piece in the latest edition about how hedge fund managers' love for President Obama has turned into blind, spitting hatred.

His main argument is that it's all about feeling disrespected:
"[I]t wasn't just anyone knocking them — it was the president of the United States, notes Eugene Fama, a legendary finance professor at the University of Chicago ... 'Lots of [hedge fund managers] started out poor, and made a huge amount of money, and created thousands and thousands of jobs in the process. They're used to being the American Dream, and now you have the president who looks at them and sneers at them like they're bad guys. For all the brashness and bravado that goes with their world, it seems the managers are oddly insecure about their purpose."
The Wonderful, Unpredictable Life of the Occupy Movement

Wednesday, 11 April 2012 00:00  
By Arun Gupta, Truthout | Report 

I met Nomi on a bus in Baltimore. She was from Wisconsin and had been involved with Occupy Wall Street. She was part of Occupy Judaism and fondly recalled the Yom Kippur services she attended at the Wall Street occupation with hundreds of other people. Nomi said that, for the first time, she and her friends felt like they could combine the religious and radical dimensions of Judaism. The conversation fell silent as the bus rolled along. Suddenly she turned to me and excitedly announced that she met her girlfriend at Liberty Plaza. I smiled and responded, "That's why Occupy Wall Street matters."

By enabling people to find fulfillment in all parts of their lives, whether romantic, spiritual, political or cultural, the Occupy movement is more than a movement. It is life-changing. People experience themselves as complete social beings, not just as angry, alienated protesters. Nomi said she was no longer involved in the movement, which I thought was more evidence of why the actual occupations were so important.
Koch-Funded GOP Economist Uses New Math To Find That Health Reform Increases The Deficit

George W. Bush’s Social Security privatization guru Charles Blahous — who now works for the Koch-fundedMercatus Center — is out with a new report alleging that the Affordable Care Act adds $340 billion to the deficit. The new math relies on the old “double counting” meme — an argument advanced by Republicans in Congress in the final days of the health care reform debate alleging that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) appropriated the same revenue for extending the solvency of the Medicare trust fund as it did for paying out benefits.
Karl Rove Group That Absurdly Blames Obama For Rising Gas Prices Was Bankrolled By Top Oil Speculator

By Stephen Lacey on Apr 11, 2012 at 3:56 pm

conservative political advocacy group attacking Obama for supposedly raising gas prices received a “seven-figure check” from a leading Wall Street oil speculator.

While conservative organizations — and even Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal – agree that presidents have no control over gas prices, excessive oil speculation has been blamed by economists for 15% of the increase in the price of crude oil over the last decade.
How the Banks Endangered Medicare By SIMON JOHNSON

Simon Johnson is the Ronald A. Kurtz Professor of Entrepreneurship at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management and co-author of “White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You.”

The world’s largest banks have been accused of many things in recent years, including taking excessive risk in the run-up to 2008, doing great damage to the American economy by blowing themselves up and then working hard to resist any sensible notions of financial reform.

All of this is true, but it misses what is likely to be the most profound negative impact of the banks’ behavior on most Americans. The banks’ actions led directly to an increase in government debt, which in turn has made the reduction of that debt by “cutting runaway spending” a centerpiece of the Republican presidential campaign to date.
Windfarms do not cause long-term damage to bird populations: study

By Severin Carrell, The Guardian
Thursday, April 12, 2012 11:39 EDT

A major new study has quashed fears that onshore windfarms are causing long-term damage to bird populations, but found new evidence that some species are harmed when windfarms are built.

The study by conservationists into the impacts on 10 of the key species of British upland bird, including several suffering serious population declines, concluded that a large majority of species can co-exist or thrive with windfarms once they are operating.