Monday, December 31, 2012

Michael Hudson: America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff, Part II

Today’s economic warfare is not the kind waged a century ago between labor and its industrial employers. Finance has moved to capture the economy at large, industry and mining, public infrastructure (via privatization) and now even the educational system. (At over $1 trillion, U.S. student loan debt came to exceed credit-card debt in 2012.) The weapon in this financial warfare is no larger military force. The tactic is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain. Indebting companies enables creditors to seize employee pension savings. And indebting labor means that it no longer is necessary to hire strikebreakers to attack union organizers and strikers.

Workers have become so deeply indebted on their home mortgages, credit cards and other bank debt that they fear to strike or even to complain about working conditions. Losing work means missing payments on their monthly bills, enabling banks to jack up interest rates to levels that used to be deemed usurious. So debt peonage and unemployment loom on top of the wage slavery that was the main focus of class warfare a century ago. And to cap matters, credit-card bank lobbyists have rewritten the bankruptcy laws to curtail debtor rights, and the referees appointed to adjudicate disputes brought by debtors and consumers are subject to veto from the banks and businesses that are mainly responsible for inflicting injury.

The Top 12 Political Fallacies of 2012


Our nation was gripped by so many fallacies and delusions in 2012 that the whole Mayan calendar end-of-the-world thing didn’t even make the list.

Even those apocalyptic prophecies were more plausible than the idea that cutting Social Security will help the deficit, that government spending cuts will jump-start the economy, there were no crimes on Wall Street, or that we live in a “divided nation” whose “center” wants more business as usual in Washington.

Here then, without further ado, are our Top 12 Political Fallacies for 2012.

Chris Hedges Explains How Entire Regions Within the US Are Treated Like Exploited Colonies

By Vince Emanuele

December 29, 2012  |  Emanuele: In Chapter One of your new book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, you describe the horrendous conditions endured by the Native American population living in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. This population earns, on average, anywhere from $2,600-$3,500 a year, with 49% of the total population living in official poverty status. However in a broad sense, and to inject a historical context, you describe the systematic destruction of Native culture and society; namely, through the practices of physical termination and cultural genocide. Can you talk about why you began this journey in South Dakota and the importance of recognizing previous national injustices?

Hedges: Well, it's important because that's where the project of limitless expansion and exploitation, especially the plundering of natural resources, began. There you had the timber merchants and the railroad magnates, mine speculators, and land speculators seizing territory on the western plains and exterminated the native populations who resisted. Many of which did not even resist. Then, herding the remnants into what were originally prisoner of war camps, which then finally became tribal residencies and eventually reservations--breaking the natives capacity for self-sufficiency, while creating a culture of dependency. Remember, all of this is for profit. This became the template for which the American Empire expanded: the Philippines, Cuba and all throughout Latin America. And today, places like Iraq and Afghanistan. So that's why we wanted to examine where this ideology first took root; where it was first formed; and what happened to these peoples, because in an age of corporate capitalism, where there are no impediments left, what happened to them, is going to happen to us. In the end, we're all going to be herded on some form of a reservation. 

This book is about these "sacrifice zones." Whether its in Pine Ridge, or southern West Virginia in the coal mines, or whether that be urban decay such as Camden, New Jersey, which is per capita the poorest city in the country, and on target this year to be the most dangerous, per capita in the country. As we've reconfigured American society, there's no longer any mechanisms to restrain these forces. And I think the other reason Pine Ridge is important, is because the native communities were structured very differently. People who hoarded and kept everything for themselves were disposed; everything was communal; there was an understanding that all forms of life, including the natural world, were sacred. This is unacceptable in a capitalist society where human and natural life are commodities that you exploit for money until exhaustion or collapse. We see the devastation visited on the western plains now being visited in places like the Arctic, where 40% of the summer sea-ice now melts, and the response is that it's a business opportunity, where people go and slam down half a billion dollar drill bits. It's insanity of course, because in the end, these forces will not only kill us off, but they'll kill themselves off as well. That is the awful logic behind it. I think Pine Ridge provides a window into how this ideology took root, and how it works.

There's Only One Way To Fix The Deficit — And Actually It's Totally Painless

Joe Weisenthal | Dec. 28, 2012, 1:51 PM

People who insist that the US has a gigantic "spending problem" are ignorant of what really drives the deficit and the national debt, as Henry Blodget easily demonstrated in a series of charts.
 Closing the deficit is not just about lowering spending, relative to GDP, but also about increasing revenue from our very low levels.

So how is that accomplished?

Yank the Chain: Washington's Terrible New Social Security Fix

Timothy Noah
December 11, 2012 | 10:48 am

One “fiscal cliff” remedy favored by House and Senate leaders that President Obama might actually go for is changing how cost-of-living increases are calculated for Social Security recipients. The change has some appeal because it could save $112 billion over ten years. Worse ideas have been tossed Democrats’ way—raising the Medicare eligibility age is one, as TNR’s Jonathan Cohn explains elsewhere on this site. But “chaining” the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a benefit cut disguised as a technical fix. And if budget constraints require cuts in Social Security benefits, those cuts should be targeted at the most affluent recipients—as chaining does not.

Michael Hudson: America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff: Part I

How today’s fiscal austerity is reminiscent of World War I’s economic misunderstandings

When World War I broke out in August 1914, economists on both sides forecast that hostilities could not last more than about six months. Wars had grown so expensive that governments quickly would run out of money. It seemed that if Germany could not defeat France by springtime, the Allied and Central Powers would run out of savings and reach what today is called a fiscal cliff and be forced to negotiate a peace agreement.

But the Great War dragged on for four destructive years. European governments did what the United States had done after the Civil War broke out in 1861 when the Treasury printed greenbacks. They paid for more fighting simply by printing their own money. Their economies did not buckle and there was no major inflation. That would happen only after the war ended, as a result of Germany trying to pay reparations in foreign currency. This is what caused its exchange rate to plunge, raising import prices and hence domestic prices. The culprit was not government spending on the war itself (much less on social programs).

How Bad Is Our Debt Problem, Anyway? And Will a Deal Fix It?

by Theodoric Meyer
ProPublica, Dec. 28, 2012, 12:34 p.m.

President Obama will meet with congressional leaders today in another attempt to avert the fiscal cliff — the automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1 unless Congress can strike a deal. The cuts and tax hikes, which total more than $500 billion, are so large and so sudden that many economists fear they would plunge the country back into recession.

As Washington tries to hash out a deal, we've taken a step back to break down the numbers behind our deficit — how it grew so big, why it is actually shrinking and whether a deal can bring it under control.

Who paid for the Log Cabin Republicans' anti-Hagel NYT ad?

The gay GOP group confirms the ad was funded by outside donors, but refuses to identify them or their cause

Glenn Greenwald, Sunday 30 December 2012 07.29 EST

Last Thursday, the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) placed a full-page ad in the New York Times that attacked Chuck Hagel as anti-Israel and anti-gay and urged President Obama not to appoint him as Defense Secretary. This was quite a strange event for multiple reasons.

First, full-page ads in the NYT are notoriously expensive, particularly for a small, poorly-funded group like LCR; published rates indicate that such an ad can cost well in excess of $100,000, though some discounts are possible with flexible dates (five years ago, the published rate for a black-and-white full-page political ad was $142,000). Second, LCR - which touts itself as "the only Republican organization dedicated to representing the interests of LGBT Americans and their allies"- has virtually no demonstrated prior interest in Israel; the only mention of that country on its entire website is as part of a laundry list of nations which allow gay and lesbians to serve in the armed forces, while its only substantive position on Iran policy is a tepid 2010 statement advocating a single 2010 bill for increased sanctions, something which Obama supported and signed (the group did lend its name to a coalition against Iranian nuclear proliferation). Third, since when does LCR - which endorsed McCain/Palin in 2008 and Mitt Romney with his abundant anti-gay advocacy in 2012 - oppose GOP officials on the ground that they have some anti-gay aspects to their record?

Deprogramming Progressives Indoctrinated into Supporting Austerity

By Bill Black

A little bit of economics can be a truly terrible thing, for the introductory classes in micro and macro-economics are the most dogmatic and myth-filled part of the neo-liberal curriculum. Dogmas that have been falsified for 75 years (such as austerity) are taught as revealed truth. The poor indoctrinated student is then launched into the world “knowing” that austerity is the answer and that mass unemployment and prolonged recessions are small prices to be paid (by others) to achieve the holy grail of a balanced budget. Students are taught that national budgets are really just like household budgets. These dogmas are not simply false, they are self-destructive and cruel. Neo-liberal economics is so bad and has gone downhill at such a rapid rate that it now worships the economic analog to bleeding patients – austerity – as a response to a Great Recession. Millions of people are indoctrinated annually into believing this long-falsified nonsense, and that includes people who consider themselves progressives.

Paul Krugman: Is Growth Over?

The great bulk of the economic commentary you read in the papers is focused on the short run: the effects of the “fiscal cliff” on U.S. recovery, the stresses on the euro, Japan’s latest attempt to break out of deflation. This focus is understandable, since one global depression can ruin your whole day. But our current travails will eventually end. What do we know about the prospects for long-run prosperity?

The answer is: less than we think

New Report Shows Tectonic Shifts in Campaign Spending

Wednesday, 26 December 2012 09:23  
By Adam Crowther, Citizen Vox | Report 

The U.S. Supreme Court was so determined to treat outside groups fairly in its 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision that it put these groups on course to supplant the candidates themselves as the dominant voices in our elections.

That is the finding of a newly released Public Citizen report, Outside Money Takes the Inside Track. The report compares spending by outside groups, which were permitted as a result of Citizens United to use unlimited contributions to influence elections, with that of candidates and national parties, which are subject to contribution limits.

Ask a Democrat: On Social Security, Which Side Are You On?


This is a moment of moral clarity. Right now there are only two sides in the Social Security debate: the side that says it’s acceptable to cut benefits — in a way that raises taxes for all income except the highest — and the side that says it isn’t.

It’s time to ask our leaders — and ourselves — a simple question: Which side are you on?

Nancy Pelosi says she can convince most Congressional Democrats to “stick with the President” as he pursues his gratuitous and callous plan to cut Social Security benefits as part of a deficit deal — even though Social Security does not contribute to the deficit.

Dean Baker: Mr. Incompetent, the Economy Wrecker Alan Greenspan, Was Central to the Formation of the Campaign to Fix the Debt

Monday, 24 December 2012 17:36

Alan Greenspan will go down in history as the person who has done more damage to the U.S. economy and society that anyone who was not a foreign enemy. In fact the destruction he wreaked through his incompetence would also exceed the damage caused by almost all would-be enemies as well.

Greenspan accomplished the remarkable feat as Fed chair of ignoring the growth of the $8 trillion housing bubble. This bubble could not have been easier to see if it had been 500 feet high and lit up with huge neon signs saying "Huge Housing Bubble." But Greenspan insisted the bubble was not there.

Were US Marines Used as Guinea Pigs on Okinawa?

Friday, 21 December 2012 20:59  
By Jon Mitchell, The Asia-Pacific Journal | News Analysis 

Growing evidence suggests that the U.S. military tested biochemical agents on its own forces on the island in the 1960s.

Newly discovered documents reveal that 50 years ago this month, in December 1962, the Pentagon dispatched a chemical weapons platoon to Okinawa under the auspices of its infamous Project 112. Described by the U.S. Department of Defense as "biological and chemical warfare vulnerability tests," the highly classified program subjected thousands of unwitting American service members around the globe to substances including sarin and VX nerve gases between 1962 and 1974. [1]

According to papers obtained from the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the 267th Chemical Platoon was activated on Okinawa on Dec. 1, 1962, with "the mission of operation of Site 2, DOD (Department of Defense) Project 112." Before coming to Okinawa, the 36-member platoon had received training at Denver's Rocky Mountain Arsenal, one of the key U.S. chemical and biological weapons (CBW) facilities. Upon its arrival on the island, the platoon was billeted just north of Okinawa City at Chibana — the site of a poison gas leak seven years later. Between December 1962 and August 1965, the 267th platoon received three classified shipments — codenamed YBA, YBB and YBF — believed to include sarin and mustard gas. [2]

Georgia’s Hunger Games

Fewer than 4,000 adults in the southern state receive welfare, even as poverty is soaring. How Georgia declared war on its poorest citizens—leaving them to fight for themselves.

By Neil deMause  |  Posted Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, at 4:00 AM ET

When the economy crashed in 2008, millions of Americans lost their jobs. Applications for food stamps soared. So did attendance at emergency food providers—soup kitchens and food pantries—that help the estimated 50 million people, working and non-working, who can't afford enough groceries to get through the month.

Unlike in past economic downturns, though, the welfare rolls barely budged. Where 15 years ago 68 percent of poor Americans received cash via Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (as welfare was officially renamed in 1996), today only 27 percent of Americans with incomes low enough to qualify for cash benefits receive them. As the New York Times' Jason DeParle discussed in a front-page article earlier this year, the resulting welfare gap has left at least 4 million families with neither jobs nor cash aid.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Dean Baker: Fareed Zakaria is Unhappy That "The American Left" Chooses Arithmetic Over Peter Peterson

Fareed Zakaria is very unhappy that "The American Left," by whom he means the vast majority of people across the political spectrum who oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare, insist on taking arithmetic seriously. They are refusing to join Peter Peterson and his wealthy friends in the Campaign to Fix the Debt in their crusade to cut these key social insurance programs.

Zakaria tells readers:
 "The American left has trained its sights on a new enemy: Pete Peterson. The banker and private-equity billionaire is, at first glance, an obvious target—rich and Republican. He stands accused of being the evil genius behind all the forces urging Washington to do something about the national debt. ...

Dean Baker: No Santa Claus and Bill Clinton Was Not an Economic Savior

The truth is often painful but nonetheless it is important that we live in the real world. Just as little kids have to come to grips with the fact that there is no Santa Claus, it is necessary for millions of liberals, including many who think of themselves as highly knowledgeable about economic matters, to realize
that President Clinton’s policies sent the economy seriously off course.

In Washington it is common to tout the budget surpluses of the Clinton years as some momentous achievement, as though the point of economic policy is to run budget surpluses. Of course the point of economic policy is to produce an economy that improves the lives of the people in a sustainable way.
Clinton badly flunked this test.

Fiscal Fail: Government Agencies Plan Few Significant Changes For January, Despite Cliff Hype

by Ryan Grim
Posted: 12/22/2012 10:19 pm EST | Updated: 12/23/2012 1:15 pm EST

WASHINGTON -- On Jan. 1, 2000, the world awoke to find that little had changed since the night before. After years of hype around what was then called Y2K -- the fear that computer systems across the globe would collapse, unable to handle the year shifting from '99 to '00 -- the date change turned out to be a momentous non-event.

Next week, the United States is in for much the same, after months of frantic hype about the economic disruption that awaits if Congress and the president fail to reach a deal and the federal government goes "over the fiscal cliff." (The difference between Y2K and the fiscal cliff being that computer programmers worked around the clock to ensure the former was a non-event.)

The so-called fiscal cliff is a combination of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1. But the agencies responsible for implementing those changes, including the IRS and the Pentagon, are well aware that congressional and White House negotiators will most likely come to some sort of deal within weeks or months -- and so they are planning to carry on as usual, according to a broad review of private and public government plans.

The Final Battle

By Chris Hedges

Over the past year I and other plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg have pressed a lawsuit in the federal courts to nullify Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This egregious section, which permits the government to use the military to detain U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers, could have been easily fixed by Congress. The Senate and House had the opportunity this month to include in the 2013 version of the NDAA an unequivocal statement that all U.S. citizens would be exempt from 1021(b)(2), leaving the section to apply only to foreigners. But restoring due process for citizens was something the Republicans and the Democrats, along with the White House, refused to do. The fate of some of our most basic and important rights—ones enshrined in the Bill of Rights as well as the Fourth and Fifth amendments of the Constitution—will be decided in the next few months in the courts. If the courts fail us, a gulag state will be cemented into place.  

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, pushed through the Senate an amendment to the 2013 version of the NDAA. The amendment, although deeply flawed, at least made a symbolic attempt to restore the right to due process and trial by jury. A House-Senate conference committee led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., however, removed the amendment from the bill last week. 

Paul Krugman: When Prophecy Fails

Back in the 1950s three social psychologists joined a cult that was predicting the imminent end of the world. Their purpose was to observe the cultists’ response when the world did not, in fact, end on schedule. What they discovered, and described in their classic book, “When Prophecy Fails,” is that the irrefutable failure of a prophecy does not cause true believers — people who have committed themselves to a belief both emotionally and by their life choices — to reconsider. On the contrary, they become even more fervent, and proselytize even harder.

This insight seems highly relevant as 2012 draws to a close. After all, a lot of people came to believe that we were on the brink of catastrophe — and these views were given extraordinary reach by the mass media. As it turned out, of course, the predicted catastrophe failed to materialize. But we can be sure that the cultists won’t admit to having been wrong.

Oh, wait a second — did you think I was talking about the Mayan calendar thing?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Koch Brother’s Next Target: Hurricane Sandy Victims

Money can buy you many things in this world, but unfortunately for billionaire David Koch, it couldn’t buy him the gift he really wanted this holiday season: the ouster of President Obama. But since Koch is really, really rich, he can afford to spend massive amounts of cash to go after other political targets—like any member of Congress who supports the major aid package to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy. 

Last week, one of Koch’s conservative political organizations, Americans for Prosperity, sent a letter to congressional members threatening to unleash a torrent of political attack ads against them in the next election if they vote for the $60.4 billion federal storm aid package.

“It seems particularly cruel that the Koch political machine would use its vast network of paid activists and professional operatives to kill this bill,” The Nation’s Lee Fang writes. “For one thing, this is David Koch’s community. From his Upper East Side apartment, Koch lives only a subway ride away from the devastation in Red Hook.”

FBI Investigated Occupy Movement as 'Domestic Terrorists, Criminals'

'Coordination between the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and corporate America'

- Craig Brown, staff writer 
The FBI organized a nationwide law enforcement investigation and monitoring of the Occupy Wall Street movement beginning in August of 2011.

Just released heavily-redacted documents revealing the FBI's actions were obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) via a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA). In some documents, the FBI refers to the Occupy Wall Street protests as a "criminal activity" and "domestic terrorism."

Pensions: A Promise is a Promise... Unless it's Inconvenient

Sunday, 23 December 2012 12:22  
By Mike Alberti, Remapping Debate | News Analysis

In 2008, when George Glover decided to retire from his job as a program coordinator for the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training after 33 years, he did so with the expectation of receiving a 3 percent cost-of-living increase in his state pension every year. A statistician by training, Glover had planned methodically for his retirement, making spreadsheets, doing the math. Between Social Security, his state pension, and the adjustments for the cost of living, he figured he would be able to pay all his bills and have a little left over.

“I’m what you might call meticulous,” he said. “I never make a decision without running the numbers first.”

Then, in 2011, the Rhode Island legislature, claiming that the state’s retirement system had become unsustainable, passed a sweeping law — euphemistically dubbed the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act — that made drastic modifications to the pension scheme.

On the News With Thom Hartmann: Republicans in Three States Have Introduced New Voter Suppression ID Laws, and More

Saturday, 22 December 2012 09:15  
By Thom Hartmann, The Thom Hartmann Program


Thom Hartmann here – on the the end of the world...
You need to know this. The Republican Party self-destructed in front of the entire nation last night – as Speaker of the House John Boehner failed to get his members in line to vote on a plan to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff." It was a bad idea to begin with – a plan to let the Bush tax cuts expire for millionaires – but let those same millionaires keep generous tax loopholes, while getting rid of many of the tax breaks used by the middle class. It was another huge giveaway to the rich, but the Republicans Party flew over the cuckoo's nest and couldn't even stomach passing a very, very modest tax increase on billionaires like the Koch brothers. In a statement late Tuesday night, Speaker Boehner said he didn't have enough votes within his own party to pass the measure. He then urged President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to come up with a plan while he sends his Republican House members Christmas vacation. Financial markets are not reacting well to the news. Yesterday's events in the House made the President's hand even stronger in negotiations. A plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff" will not pass out of the House without Democratic support – and everybody knows it now. So it's time to take cuts to Social Security Insurance benefits off the table, and come up with a deal that's more in line with what the nation wants, which is for the rich to pay their fair share in taxes and no cuts to social insurance programs. If a few sensible Republicans in the House don't join Democrats and take this sort of deal, then off the cliff we go, and President Obama's hand will get even stronger.

NRA links violent media to mass shootings, but researchers are skeptical

By Dan Zak,
Blood. Gore. Intense violence.

These are three “content descriptors” shared by four video games cited by the head of the National Rifle Association as evidence that the American media as a whole — not individual ownership of assault weapons — encourages a culture of violence that occasionally manifests as mass shootings like the one in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.

“There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people — through vicious, violent video games with names like ‘Bulletstorm,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Splatterhouse,’ ” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said Friday in Washington at a morning news conference, the first public statement by the association since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Why the US media ignored Murdoch's brazen bid to hijack the presidency

Did the Washington Post and others underplay the story through fear of the News Corp chairman, or simply tin-eared judgment?

Carl Bernstein
The Guardian, Thursday 20 December 2012 11.41 EST

So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch's ultimate and most audacious attempt – thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance – to hijack America's democratic institutions on a scale equal to his success in kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic institutions of Great Britain through money, influence and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press.
In the American instance, Murdoch's goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire – notably Fox News – to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election.

Thus in the spring of 2011 – less than 10 weeks before Murdoch's centrality to the hacking and politician-buying scandal enveloping his British newspapers was definitively revealed – Fox News' inventor and president, Roger Ailes, dispatched an emissary to Afghanistan to urge Petraeus to turn down President Obama's expected offer to become CIA director and, instead, run for the Republican nomination for president, with promises of being bankrolled by Murdoch. Ailes himself would resign as president of Fox News and run the campaign, according to the conversation between Petraeus and the emissary, K T McFarland, a Fox News on-air defense "analyst" and former spear carrier for national security principals in three Republican administrations.

The Case For Going Over The Cliff Remains Strong

I wrote earlier today that I think the failure of Plan B makes a deal more likely than it would have been had the bill passed. But I do want to emphasize that there continues to be an excellent chance that a deal won't be made until January, and a strong case that the otucome will be better on the merits if we wait until January.

One key issue is that, as John Boehner said today, many of his members were reluctant to vote for Plan B because of "a perception" that it would be a vote to increase taxes. That's nuts. The full expiration of the Bush tax cuts is the law of the land. The debate between the White House and the GOP is over how much to cut taxes. But a variety of factors, including the Obama administration's messaging and the Congressional Budget Office's counterproductive insistence on publication of an "Alternative Fiscal Scenario" baseline have clouded this issue. Come January, however, perception changes.

Scandal Alert: Congress Is Quietly Abandoning the 5th Amendment

Conor Friedersdorf

Dec 20 2012, 6:00 AM ET

Meet the prominent legislators who think it's okay to throw Americans in jail forever without charges or trial. 

What everyone must understand is that American politics doesn't work the way you'd think it would. Most people presume that government officials would never willfully withhold penicillin from men with syphilis just to see what would happen if the disease went untreated. It seems unlikely that officers would coerce enlisted men into exposing themselves to debilitating nerve gas. Few expected that President Obama would preside over the persecution of an NSA whistle-blower, or presume the guilt of all military-aged males killed by U.S. drone strikes. But it all happened.

Really thinking about all that may make it easier to believe what I'm about to tell you.

It may seem like imprisoning an American citizen without charges or trial transgresses against the United States Constitution and basic norms of Western justice dating back to the Magna Carta.

Front Group for Military-Industrial Complex Pushes Hard to Slash Social Programs and Avoid Pentagon Cuts

By Steven Rosenfeld

December 20, 2012  |  As the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations drag on in Washington with the media covering Repubican House Speaker John Boehner’slatest [3] temper tantrums, a bipartisancoalition [4] of former government officials with deep ties to the defense industry and Wall Street are ratcheting up the pressure to cut retirement programs while sparing military contractors.

“Fix the Debt – a corporate-backed lobbying group advocating debt reduction with a $60 million budget – has failed to embrace defense spending cuts as a viable deficit reduction option, despite the fact that defense spending makes up over half of discretionary spending,” begins anew report [5] by the Public Accountablity Initiative, a non-profit watchdog group, which focuses on the financial interests of who is behind cutting retirement security programs and other needed safety nets.

“The group’s 'core principles' focus on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid reforms and 'pro-growth' tax reform, and fail to even mention defense spending,” PAI’sreport [6] continues. “Fix the Debt’s eagerness to point the finger at social safety net spending while virtually ignoring defense spending makes more sense in light of its corporate backing. A review of the group’s corporate ties shows that many Fix the Debt leaders have lucrative connections to companies with billions of dollars in defense contracts.”

Paul Krugman: Playing Taxes Hold 'Em

A few years back, there was a boom in poker television — shows in which you got to watch the betting and bluffing of expert card players. Since then, however, viewers seem to have lost interest. But I have a suggestion: Instead of featuring poker experts, why not have a show featuring poker incompetents — people who fold when they have a strong hand or don’t know how to quit while they’re ahead?

On second thought, that show already exists. It’s called budget negotiations, and it’s now in its second episode.

The Latest War on Single Moms

By Irin Carmon

December 20, 2012  |  The United States offers the worst support structure for single parents among all comparable countries — and if anything like House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B carries the day, it’s about to get worse.

Republicans used to love [3] the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit, because they incentivized paid labor and used the tax code instead of cash assistance or programs to help low-income parents, most visibly single mothers. But that was before the cry against the 47 percent, a substantial portion of whom didn’t pay taxes because of such credits.

In the Washington Post, Jamelle Bouie points [4] to an analysis [5] by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing that the two tax credits for low-income families will be slashed under Plan B: “A mother with two children who works full time at the minimum wage of $7.25 and earns $14,500 a year would lose $1,560 of her Child Tax Credit, which would plummet from $1,725 to $165.”

US Manufacturing Wages Not Too High


US manufacturing wages are competitive, but wages are not the only reason companies might not be coming back.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report this week, International Comparisons of Hourly Compensation Costs in Manufacturing, 2011, that debunks the myth that manufacturing worker wages are not competitive with those of other major manufacturing countries. 

The Unequal State of America: The economics paper that rattled Washington

WASHINGTON, D.C. | Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:12am EST

(Reuters) - The work of government economists is often so dry that the public never hears of it. And then there's the work of Thomas Hungerford.

An employee of the Congressional Research Service, Hungerford in 2011 published a paper that found that after-tax income inequality rose 11.2 percent between 1996 and 2006. Rising capital gains and dividends among the wealthy were the main driver of the widening gap, he concluded, accounting for 72 percent of the increase. Tax cuts, he found, accounted for the rest. The cuts had an especially big impact because income from capital gains surpassed salaries for the top 1 percent of earners over that period.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Right’s ‘Limited Government’ Scam

December 18, 2012
Exclusive: Libertarians and Tea Partiers pretend they are the only Americans who believe in “limited government” as envisioned by the Framers, but that is a false conceit. The real history is that Madison and Washington devised a Constitution with broad powers to promote the “general Welfare,” says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A favorite line from the American Right – both well-educated libertarians and know-nothing Tea Partiers – is that the Founders believed in “limited government” and the United States must return to that constitutional principle. But the argument is both nonsensical and insulting.

Everyone believes in “limited government” – unless you’re a totalitarian or a fan of absolute monarchies. Liberals, conservatives, socialists, free-market ideologues and pretty much everyone in between believe in limitations of government power. The point of having a constitution is to set the limits and rules for a government.

Paul Krugman: An Appreciated, and Rare, Reversal of Economic Doctrine

Tuesday, 18 December 2012 12:55  
By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed 

Bruce Bartlett is a mensch.

A mensch, at least as I was taught the term, is someone who takes responsibility for his actions, including his mistakes. Alas, "menschlichkeit" is a rare virtue in modern America, certainly in the political sphere, where nobody ever admits to being wrong about anything.

So all hail Mr. Bartlett, who has written movingly in The American Conservative magazine's December issue about how he came to realize that conservatism and its economic doctrine weren't what he imagined them to be, and in particular how he came to realize that Keynesian analysis had a point. Mr. Bartlett's essay only drives home, of course, how very few economists — whether in the policy/think tank world or in academia — have been willing to do the same. You have to wonder in particular about the prominent economists who threw their support behind Mitt Romney in his late, unlamented campaign.

Frank Rich: America’s Other Original Sin

New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich talks with editor-in-chief Adam Moss about the Newtown tragedy, its political fallout, and our centuries-long worship of the gun.

Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy, was among the 45 percent (!) of Americans that have guns in their homes. So I'm not going to ask you about gun control here; obviously you're for much stricter regulation, as most of your readers are. I want to know your thoughts about the culture of guns in America, and particularly in the last decade, during which public support for gun control has tumbled even as the incidence of mass rampages like Newtown increases, and the American people just get more enamored of their guns. Please try to help me understand why.

The first step on the long path to curing a deep illness in a society is to diagnose it properly and own up to it. We must acknowledge that guns and violence are not some new “modern” problem subject to a quick fix. We must recognize that they have always been intrinsic to the very idea of America and “freedom” — enshrined in our Constitution’s Second Amendment (however one chooses to read it), romanticized in our glorification of both our revolutionary and frontier past, and a staple of our popular culture not just in this era but every era: from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows through The Birth of a Nation, Zane Grey, Stagecoach and The Wild Bunch, gangster movies and gangsta rap, Bonnie and Clyde and Zero Dark Thirty, The Untouchables and The Sopranos. As Garry Wills wrote over the weekend, in America, the gun is a god, and like most gods, it “cannot be questioned.” And it has rarely been questioned over the course of our history except by the outnumbered and outgunned gun-control advocates who remain largely on the margins of American political power.

Wealthiest Kissed, Weakest Kicked: Obama's Ugly 'New Deal' Offers to Cut Social Security

President gives away the store in fiscal negotiations

- Jon Queally, staff writer 
Reports indicate that Obama has willingly affronted public opinion, sound economics, and his political base of supporters by agreeing to make significant cuts to Social Security, health programs, education, and other programs while at the same time making some of the most odious benefits for the nation's financial elite permanent.

In a new deal—though certainly out of step with "the New Deal"—offered by the White House late Monday, President Obama showed that he'd rather cut health and social service programs for the nation's poor and elderly than allow tax rates for some of the nation's wealthiest individuals to go up.

Kochs, ALEC Top Conservative Forces Behind Right-to-Work in Michigan

Tuesday, 18 December 2012 10:17  
By John Logan, Truthout | Op-Ed 

On Tuesday, Michigan became the nation's 24th state, and the most unionized state, to enact right-to-work legislation. Thousand of protesters failed to dissuade Republican governor Rick Snyder from signing a law that will likely weaken unions and lower wages, but do nothing to help the state's economy. Along with anti-union legislation in other Midwestern States, however, it could transform the national political landscape.

For the past two years, the Governor had publicly stated that "divisive" right-to-work legislation was "not on his agenda." Then, at the last minute, he endorsed the bill because it would protect "worker choice" on union membership and help to grow the Michigan economy - both highly questionable claims.  First, under federal law, neither unions nor employers can require employees to join unions in either the public or private sectors, so Snyder is professing to give employees a right that they already enjoy. The legal question here is whether nonmember employees in unionized workplaces should be required to pay an "agency fee" to the unions that are legally required to cover the cost of negotiating for them. Equally dubious are Snyder's claims that right-to-work will boost the Michigan economy, as research indicates lower wages and poorer labor standards, not greater economic development, are the most likely results of the anti-union legislation.

This Is Not America’s Deal


Our leaders in Washington heard from the voters last month. They may need to hear from them again.

According to news reports a budget deal is coalescing around some very unattractive and unwise ideas. The deal’s centerpiece is reportedly the “chained CPI,” a back-door tool for gutting Social Security benefits that also raises taxes on all levels of income – all levels, that is, except the highest.

Monsanto Gets Its Way in Ag Bill

By Jim Goodman, December 13, 2012

“The Farmers Assurance Provision” is the title of a rider, Section 733, inserted into the House of Representatives 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. Somehow, as a farmer, I don't feel the least bit assured.

The only assurance it provides is that Monsanto and the rest of the agriculture biotech industry will have carte blanche to force the government to allow the planting of their biotech seeds.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why You Can Kiss Public Education (and the Middle Class) Goodbye

By Thom Hartmann, Sam Sacks

December 14, 2012  |  Quick - when you hear "public housing," what picture jumps into your mind?  Or "public hospital"? 

All around us, our public institutions are disintegrating, and the most important public institution of all – our public education system – is the next to be ghettoized.

Despite several progressive victories this Election Day, there was one significant defeat in Georgia, as voters approved of Constitutional Amendment 1 [3], which changes Georgia’s Constitution to give Republicans in that state the power to create charter schools as part of Georgia’s public education system. The result will be crucial taxpayer dollars being funneled away from free public schools and directed toward brand new, sometimes for-profit, privately-run charter schools.

Even though studies show [4] that costly private schools don’t produce any better educational results than free public schools, for-profit schools have popped up all around the nation in recent years because of how valuable they are to corporate America. In fact, the historic Chicago Teachers Union strike earlier this year was largely in response to the city’s push to open up more charter schools to replace traditional public schools.

Dean Baker: Serious People Could be Seriously Embarrassed: Why It's Important that We Not Go Off the "Fiscal Cliff"

Friday, 14 December 2012 09:51

Much of the media has spent the last month and a half hyping the impact of the "fiscal cliff," the tax increases and spending cuts that are scheduled to take effect at the end of the year. They have been warning of a recession and other dire consequences if a deal is not struck by December 31st. As we are now getting down to the final two weeks and the prospect that there will not be a deal becomes more likely, many in the media are getting more frantic.

What they fear is yet another huge embarrassment, if people see the deadline come and go and the economy doesn't crash and the world doesn't end. The reality, as all budget analysts know, is that no one will see more taxes coming out of their paychecks until they actually get paid later in the month. If a deal is imminent or actually struck in the first weeks of January then most workers will never be taxed at the higher Clinton era rate. They will be taxed in accordance with the deal that President Obama reaches with the Republicans.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How an Astounding New Right-Wing Lie About the Economy Is Born

By Joshua Holland

December 14, 2012  |  
There's a new economic myth that's now being amplified by the conservative media. It demonizes vital public services and suggests that the poor are doing just fine thanks to the largesse of the country's “makers.” Conservatives are being told that the United States is now spending vast fortunes combatting poverty – more than we dedicate to national defense, Social Security and Medicare.

This new spin is notable not for its mendacity – although it is completely divorced from reality – but because its origins are easily traced, allowing us to see how these kinds of distortions come to be. This one originated with the work of an analyst at the Heritage Foundation who is well known for his intellectual dishonesty. It was then picked up by Republican staffers on Capitol Hill, who lent the claim credibility by requesting a Congressional Research Service report on the analysis. They then further distorted the narrative before distributing it to friendly writers at conservative media outlets, who dutifully reported the falsehood. It will soon become conventional wisdom on the Right, further distorting conservatives' view of taxes and spending.

The Best Reporting on Guns in America

by Blair Hickman, Suevon Lee and Cora Currier
ProPublica, Dec. 14, 2012, 4:34 p.m.

Update: With today's shooting in Newtown, Conn., this article, first published July 24, 2012, unfortunately seems relevant again.

In the wake of last week's shooting in Aurora, Colo., we've taken a step back and laid out the best pieces we could find about guns. They're roughly organized by articles on rights, trafficking and regulation. And include your suggestions in comments.

What If There Is No Fiscal Crisis?

If there is no fiscal crisis, can there be a fiscal cliff?

The current hullabaloo over tax cuts, spending cuts, entitlement programs, and the debt ceiling has yielded much fodder for policy-minded columnists, practically establishing a job creation program for budget-following wonks. Recently, there have been a rash of articles from this set advancing the essential point that raising the eligibility age for Medicare, a proposal that might be on the table (that is, if there is a table), would be awful policy because doing so would remove healthier seniors from the Medicare pool and place this older group into the non-Medicare pool and boost costs there. (Health care costs would presumably go up overall—and particularly for private employers who would have to carry these 65- and 66-year-olds on their policies.) Has this spate of policy op-edding influenced the negotiating positions? We don't know. The talks are all hush-hush. And this week, another policymeister, in one of the most consequential columns of the past fortnight, added another significant contention to the discourse: There is no fiscal crisis.

Paul Krugman: The GOP's Existential Crisis

We are not having a debt crisis.

It’s important to make this point, because I keep seeing articles about the “fiscal cliff” that do, in fact, describe it — often in the headline — as a debt crisis. But it isn’t. The U.S. government is having no trouble borrowing to cover its deficit. In fact, its borrowing costs are near historic lows. And even the confrontation over the debt ceiling that looms a few months from now if we do somehow manage to avoid going over the fiscal cliff isn’t really about debt. 

No, what we’re having is a political crisis, born of the fact that one of our two great political parties has reached the end of a 30-year road. The modern Republican Party’s grand, radical agenda lies in ruins — but the party doesn’t know how to deal with that failure, and it retains enough power to do immense damage as it strikes out in frustration. 

Why Are Anti-Union Laws Called “Right To Work”?

A mini-Explainer on the history of management’s favorite political catchphrase.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill banning mandatory union membership Tuesday. Republicans have been pressing for so-called “right to work” laws across the Midwest. Major labor groups almost uniformly oppose these bills, so why do we call them “right to work” laws?

Because they allow you to work through a strike. Commentator and lexicographer William Safire chronicled the origins of the phrase “right to work” in his Political Dictionary. A 1912 Bernard Partridge cartoon depicted an employer telling a striking worker, “I can’t make you work if you won’t; but if this man wants to, I can make you let him. And I will.” By the 1930s, the phrase “right to work” was common in American political parlance, and it was meant to draw a contrast to labor’s claim of a right to strike.

Michigan Adopts the ALEC Model for Diminishing Democracy

Dear “Chained-CPI”: When You’ve Lost the VFW, You’ve Lost America

By Richard Eskow | December 12, 2012

The “chained CPI” is an attempt to camouflage deep cuts to Social Security and other benefits, along with tax hikes on middle class wages (but not for high incomes), in a forest of numbers and terminology.

Know who’s expert at camouflage? Veterans. And a whole lot of their organizations hate the “chained CPI.”

How Michigan Republicans Caught Labor Off-Guard, Making Law Worse than Wisconsin's

By Adele M. Stan

December 12, 2012  |  It seemed to happen so fast. Actually, it was years in the making: A law designed to eviscerate the membership rolls of labor unions in the state in which the mighty United Auto Workers makes its home was rammed through both houses of the Michigan legislature and signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Rick Snyder. As Wisconsin is to public employee unions, so is Michigan to the unions of the manufacturing sector -- a place emblematic of labor’s political sway, a force now diminished by the new law.

Taken up in a lame-duck legislative session, the prospects for the bill’s passage caught everybody off-guard, thanks to a sudden change of heart by Snyder who had, throughout his term, expressed opposition to any law that, like the one he just signed, would allow workers in union shops -- such as those employed by the big-three automakers whose plants account for more than 136,000 Michigan jobs [3] -- to opt out of paying dues to the unions that represent them.

But Snyder faces re-election [4] in 2014, which means his campaign begins now, with this opening volley. Had the legislature passed the law, drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (the organization funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch that drafted Wisconsin’s anti-union law), and Snyder failed to sign it, he might have faced fierce opposition from Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded astroturf group that was also instrumental in the passage of the Wisconsin law. Even worse (for him), Snyder might have faced a primary challenge.

Poisoning the Well: How the Feds Let Industry Pollute the Nation’s Underground Water Supply

by Abrahm Lustgarten
ProPublica, Dec. 11, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Federal officials have given energy and mining companies permission to pollute aquifers in more than 1,500 places across the country, releasing toxic material into underground reservoirs that help supply more than half of the nation's drinking water.

In many cases, the Environmental Protection Agency has granted these so-called aquifer exemptions in Western states now stricken by drought and increasingly desperate for water.

EPA records show that portions of at least 100 drinking water aquifers have been written off because exemptions have allowed them to be used as dumping grounds.

Economists calculate true value of ‘who’ you know, rather than ‘what’ in US politics

Economists at the University of Warwick have calculated the true value of US political lobbyists, proving the old adage ‘it is not what you know, but who you know’.

In a paper published this month in the American Economic Review Mirko Draca, from the University of Warwick’s Department of Economics, looked at the role of lobbyists in the US. He found their revenue falls by 24% when their former employer leaves government office.

The study examined the so-called ‘revolving door’ of politics, which refers to the movement of people from government service into lobbying positions.

Can Algae-Derived Oils Support Large-Scale, Low-Cost Biofuels Production?

New Rochelle, NY, December 12, 2012—ExxonMobil and many other energy companies are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop transportation biofuels from renewable resources such as the oil or hydrocarbons produced by microalgae. As global supplies of fossil fuels continue to shrink, biofuels derived from algae represent one promising source of low-cost, scalable renewable energy. The feasibility and economic projections for large-scale biofuels production from microalgae are examined in a Review article and accompanying Commentary published in Disruptive Science and Technology, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The articles are available on the Disruptive Science and Technology website.

Microalgae are single-celled organisms that can be grown in open ponds, tubes, or bags, with just sunlight and carbon dioxide, or in the dark and fed sugars or starches. They can be genetically modified to optimize their productivity.

How Michigan’s Right-To-Work Law Came to Be

'The Limits to Growth': A Book That Launched a Movement

In the spring of 1972, a slim book called The Limits to Growth dropped like an intellectual bomb on the developed world’s most optimistic assumptions about itself. Peppered with computer-generated graphs and written in clear, dispassionate language by a team of MIT graduate students led by two young scholars, Dennis and Donella Meadows, the book delivered a seemingly extreme argument, which ran as follows: If 1970 rates of economic growth, resource use and pollution continued unchanged, then modern civilization would face environmental and economic collapse sometime in the mid-twenty-first century. Yes, collapse—as in massive human die-offs.

It was a message that many people in the industrialized world already seemed to feel intuitively. They could see it—or thought they could—in the ever-faster pace of change embodied in highways, smog, telecommunications, jet travel, tasteless frozen TV dinners, urban riots, youth rebellion, and the bloody spectacle of a high-tech military fighting low-tech guerrillas in Vietnam. For many people, the world was moving too fast and in the wrong direction, and The Limits to Growth seemed to prove that point scientifically.

Public Buses Across Country Quietly Adding Microphones to Record Passenger Conversations

By Kim Zetter, 12.10.12, 4:46 PM

Transit authorities in cities across the country are quietly installing microphone-enabled surveillance systems on public buses that would give them the ability to record and store private conversations, according to documents obtained by a news outlet.

The systems are being installed in San Francisco, Baltimore, and other cities with funding from the Department of Homeland Security in some cases, according to the Daily, which obtained copies of contracts, procurement requests, specs and other documents.

This Is Not Wisconsin. It's Worse.

Paul Krugman: The New Republicans: Weighed Down By Plutocrats and Preachers

Thursday, 06 December 2012 09:54 
By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed 

There has been a lot of talk since the presidential election about the possible emergence of a new faction within the Republican Party, or at least among the conservative intelligentsia. These new Republicans, we're told, are willing to be more open-minded on cultural issues, more understanding of immigrants, and more skeptical that trickle-down economics is enough; they'll favor direct measures to help working families.

So what should we call these new Republicans? I have a suggestion: why not call them "Democrats"?

Why Is the Failed Monti a 'Technocrat' and the Successful Correa a 'Left-Leaning Economist'?

by William K. Black
The New York Times produces profiles of national leaders like Italy’s Mario Monti and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa.  I invite readers to contrast the worshipful treatment accorded Monti with the Correa profile.  The next time someone tells you the NYT is a “leftist” paper you can show them how far right it is on financial issues.

The NYT’s slant in describing Monti as a “technocrat” and Correa as a “left-leaning economist” is typical of the dominant media.  Monti and Correa both have doctorates in economics from U.S. universities and both have been professors of economics.  Why does the NYT treat Monti reverentially and Correa dismissively?

Paul Krugman: Robots and Robber Barons

The American economy is still, by most measures, deeply depressed. But corporate profits are at a record high. How is that possible? It’s simple: profits have surged as a share of national income, while wages and other labor compensation are down. The pie isn’t growing the way it should — but capital is doing fine by grabbing an ever-larger slice, at labor’s expense.

Wait — are we really back to talking about capital versus labor? Isn’t that an old-fashioned, almost Marxist sort of discussion, out of date in our modern information economy? Well, that’s what many people thought; for the past generation discussions of inequality have focused overwhelmingly not on capital versus labor but on distributional issues between workers, either on the gap between more- and less-educated workers or on the soaring incomes of a handful of superstars in finance and other fields. But that may be yesterday’s story. 

How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign

Dan Froomkin

Post-mortems of contemporary election coverage typically include regrets about horserace journalism, he-said-she-said stenography, and the lack of enlightening stories about the issues.

But according to longtime political observers Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, campaign coverage in 2012 was a particularly calamitous failure, almost entirely missing the single biggest story of the race: Namely, the radical right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Republican Party, both in terms of its agenda and its relationship to the truth.

Mann and Ornstein are two longtime centrist Washington fixtures who earlier this year dramatically rejected the strictures of false equivalency that bind so much of the capital's media elite and publicly concluded that GOP leaders have become "ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dean Baker: The Nonsense About a Demographic Crisis

One of themes that recurs endlessly in news coverage is that the United States and other countries face a disastrous threat to their living standards as a result of a falling ratio of workers to retirees. This is one that can be easily dismissed with some simple arithmetic.

A falling ratio of workers to retirees means that a larger chunk of what each worker produces must be put aside to a support the retired population. (Btw, this is true regardless of whether or not we have a Social Security or Medicare system. The only issue is whether retirees are able to maintain something resembling normal living standards.) However, that does not imply that the working population must see a drop in their living standards.

From Soap to Cities, Designing From Nature Could Solve Our Biggest Challenges

Saturday, 08 December 2012 13:30  
By Sven Eberlein, Yes! Magazine | Report 

Can a boat be designed to clean the water? How does a spider manufacture resilient fiber? We need products that don’t harm us or the environment, and nature’s already done the research.

Imagine this assignment, says Bill McDonough in a recent TED talk: Design something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, converts nitrogen into ammonia, distills water, stores solar energy as fuel, builds complex sugars, creates microclimates, changes color with the seasons, and self-replicates. Sound impossible? Well, nature’s already completed this one. It’s called 
a plant. And the fact that it does these things safely and efficiently is inspiring engineers and designers to reconceive the ways we manufacture such basics as soap bottles, raincoats, and wall-to-wall carpeting.

Biomimicry and Cradle to Cradle, the two fields of inquiry that frame this emerging discipline, stem from the work of biologist Janine Benyus, architect William McDonough, and chemist Michael Braungart, who realized that the very models they considered key to making safer, more environmentally friendly products were sitting right before us, in the natural world.

CPI Unchained

The sneaky plan to cut Social Security and raise taxes by changing how inflation is calculated.

When Postmasters Attack

Sunday, 09 December 2012 07:48  
By Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes | Report 

Two years ago, there were 574,000 postal workers, not counting temps. Last year, 546,000. This year only 533,000 are braving snow, rain, and gloom of night.

The number will be fewer next year, and every year from now on, until the beloved institution shrinks beyond recognition, if the Postmaster General and other privatization advocates get their way.

“This was a great job, one of the best jobs in America,” said recently retired Oregon letter carrier Jamie Partridge. “It pisses me off that it’s being dismantled.”

Only A Populist Anti-Corruption Movement Can Repair American Democracy, Says Larry Lessig

By Steven Rosenfeld 
November 29, 2012  |  Editor’s note: What follows is a Q&A with Larry Lessig, a Harvard Law School professor [3] who is one of the country’s leading public intellectuals on what needs to happen [4] to repair American democracy for the 21st century. Lessig believes that the impact of private money in politics has created a culture of legal political corruption that is destroying American democracy. He has called for a convening constitutional convention to adopt reforms that he believes Congress would not propose on its own unless tremendous grassroots pressure emerges. AlterNet interviewed Lessig at the 28th Amendment conference [5] in Los Angeles in November.)  

Steven Rosenfeld: We've been at the 28th Amendment conference all day where we’ve heard about all kinds of ideas for reforming our democracy starting with the campaign finance system, going towards constitutional amendments, constitutional conventions, things that could happen with the regulatory agencies in Washington, D.C. Professor Lessig, what progress do you see when you hear with everybody talking now? Stepping back, how do you think this movement is changing or where is it in its development?

Larry Lessig: We’re at the very beginning. And at the beginning people are fumbling to understand both where they should be standing and in which direction they should be walking. I think the movement should celebrate enormous success so far in inspiring a movement around Citizens United that has produced millions of people who think of this as a fundamental problem that has to be addressed. This corruption and the movement to get states to pass resolutions calling on Congress to propose a constitutional amendment I think is a fantastic, important measure of its success. I think that we’ve got to now think what’s the next step, what’s the next move we can make that makes it easier for us to achieve cross-partisan support but also create the pressure on Congress that will be necessary for it to actually be forced to do something.

The Civil Rights Case of Our Generation

The Supreme Court has agreed to consider the constitutionality of gay marriage. This is gonna be big.

It’s going to be one blockbuster of a history-making year at the Supreme Court.

The justices announced Friday that they will hear two cases about gay marriage. The first, United States v. Windsor, is the small step. The second, Hollingsworth v. Perry, is potentially giant. With the choice between staging a nice little one-act play about states that recognize gay marriage and a full-dress, five-act opera about whether states can constitutionally ban it, the court chose the big production. This is it: The civil rights issue of our generation, in the hands of nine justices. As a reporter, I couldn’t be more excited. As a supporter of gay marriage who is also a nervous Nellie, I’m kind of terrified.

The Election Is Over. Now What?

America needs a jobs bill, a better energy policy, and a revamped financial system. Will we get any of those?

After an election campaign costing well in excess of $2 billion, it seems to many observers that not much has changed in American politics: Barack Obama is still president, the Republicans still control the House of Representatives, and the Democrats still have a majority in the Senate. And now America faces the “fiscal cliff.” What next?

Some of Mitt Romney’s advisers seemed taken aback by Obama’s victory: Wasn’t the election supposed to be about economics? They were confident that Americans would forget how the Republicans’ deregulatory zeal had brought the economy to the brink of ruin, and that voters had not noticed how their intransigence in Congress had prevented more effective policies from being pursued in the wake of the 2008 crisis. Voters, they assumed, would focus only on the current economic malaise.