Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Democratic turncoats behind the “Fix the Debt” attack on Medicare & Social Security

2/22/2013 10:00am by Gaius Publius

Most left-side commenters paint “Fix the Debt” — the well-funded campaign to scare Americans into believing the debt is not only going to destroy us all, but that massive cuts to Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid are the only way to “fix” the “problem” — as a billionaire-led, CEO-led operation to kill (or at least seriously maim) the social programs by delivering one blow after another. But Fix the Debt is also a bipartisan operation.

This is about bipartisanship — real bipartisanship, bipartisanship in the bad way.

The Time is Right to Create a 21st Century Infrastructure Bank

Feb 20, 2013 - Georgia Levenson Keohane

President Obama has called for the creation of an infrastructure bank. Congress must follow his lead.

“It's not a bigger government we need,” President Obama said in the State of the Union address, “but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.” The creation of a national infrastructure bank is a “smarter government” idea whose time has come.

Plans for a national infrastructure bank – one that uses federal funds to incent or leverage even greater investment, public and private, in large-scale public purpose projects – have been percolating since the 1990s. President Obama has long been a champion, and the idea has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and backing from the likes of the AFL-CIO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Yet we remain stalled in enacting this kind of finance facility, despite the weight of evidence of its potential efficacy and the urgency of the infrastructure (and financing) need. It is time, as the president urged, to put the nation’s interest before party, and to use this kind of public-private partnership to make the investments vital to our economic prosperity.

Don't Blink, or You'll Miss Another Bailout

Saturday, 23 February 2013 11:13  
By Gretchen Morgenson, The New York Times News Service | Report 

Many people became rightfully upset about bailouts given to big banks during the mortgage crisis. But it turns out that they are still going on, if more quietly, through the back door. 

The existence of one such secret deal, struck in July between the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Bank of America, came to light just last week in court filings.

That the New York Fed would shower favors on a big financial institution may not surprise. It has long shielded large banks from assertive regulation and increased capital requirements.

Paul Krugman: A History Lesson for Scaremongers

Ah, Paris in the 1920s. It was the era of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, sovereign debt and stabilization. Wait, what?

O.K., I've written before about the notion that France in the 1920s offers the closest thing I can find in the historical record to a crisis of the kind the deficit scolds in the United States keep warning us about. We're not at all like Greece; we have our own currency, and our debts are in that currency. So we can't run out of cash, even if the bond vigilantes turn out to be real and lose faith in America. At worst, we're something like France in the 1920s, with its floating exchange rate and large wartime debt — except that our debt isn't nearly as bad as a share of gross domestic product, and we don't have the lingering gold-standard mentality that prevailed across the Western world back then.

So what actually happened to 1920s France?

Paul Krugman: Sequester of Fools

They’re baaack! Just about two years ago, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairmen of the late unlamented debt commission, warned us to expect a terrible fiscal crisis within, um, two years unless we adopted their plan. The crisis hasn’t materialized, but they’re nonetheless back with a new version. And, in case you’re interested, after last year’s election — in which American voters made it clear that they want to preserve the social safety net while raising taxes on the rich — the famous fomenters of fiscal fear have moved to the right, calling for even less revenue and even more spending cuts. 

But you aren’t interested, are you? Almost nobody is. Messrs. Bowles and Simpson had their moment — the annus horribilis of 2011, when Washington was in thrall to deficit scolds insisting that, in the face of record-high long-term unemployment and record-low borrowing costs, we forget about jobs and concentrate exclusively on a “grand bargain” that would supposedly (not actually) settle budget disputes for ever after.

As EPA delays new coal ash rules, residents turn to the courts for relief 

By Kristen Lombardi

Sabrina Mislevy is tired of the odors, the way they “hit” her as she drives by the blue-tinted lake, the way they burn her nose. Like many of her neighbors, Mislevy has grown weary of living near the nation’s largest coal ash pond, Little Blue Run, which straddles the Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio state lines.

In Little Blue Run and beyond, coal ash, waste from the production of electricity, has fouled water supplies and endangered public health. “We want action,” said Mislevy, of Georgetown, Pa., explaining why she has joined some 200 other area residents in launching legal challenges against FirstEnergy Corp., the owner of Little Blue Run.

Her community is just one across the country pursuing legal challenges against coal-ash ponds, landfills and pits — a grassroots onslaught stoked, in part, by slow regulatory action by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pete Peterson's Long History of Deficit Scaremongering

Fix the Debt financier Peter G. Peterson knows a thing or two about debt: he’s an expert at creating it. Peterson founded the private equity firm Blackstone Group in 1985 with Stephen Schwarzman (who compared raising taxes to “when Hitler invaded Poland”). Private equity firms don’t contribute much to the economy; they don’t make cars or milk the cows. Too frequently, they buy firms to loot them. After a leveraged buyout, they can leave companies so loaded up with debt they are forced to immediately slash their workforce or employees’ retirement security.

In 2006, Blackstone ransacked Travelport, a travel reservation conglomerate, piling on $4.3 billion in new debt, then pocketing $1.7 billion to pay shareholders and itself. Travelport promptly fired 841 workers to meet its new debt obligations. It was a great deal for Blackstone but “a horrible one for Travelport,” according to one investment adviser, who described Blackstone as trading in “poisoned waters.”

How Reagan Promoted Genocide

February 21, 2013
Special Report: A newly discovered document reveals that President Reagan and his national security team in 1981 approved Guatemala’s extermination of both leftist guerrillas and their “civilian support mechanisms,” a green light that opened a path to genocide against hundreds of Mayan villages, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Soon after taking office in 1981, President Ronald Reagan’s national security team agreed to supply military aid to the brutal right-wing regime in Guatemala to pursue the goal of exterminating not only “Marxist guerrillas” but their “civilian support mechanisms,” according to a newly disclosed document from the National Archives.

Over the next several years, the military assistance from the Reagan administration helped the Guatemalan army do just that, engaging in the slaughter of some 100,000 people, including what a truth commission deemed genocide against the Mayan Indians in the northern highlands.

Stacking the Deck: The Phony 'Fix the Debt' Campaign

Setting the record straight on Medicare's overhead costs: New study

Traditional Medicare's administrative costs were only 1 percent in 2010, but if you roll in the private insurers' Medicare plans, that figure jumps to 6 percent

The traditional Medicare program allocates only 1 percent of total spending to overhead compared with 6 percent when the privatized portion of Medicare, known as Medicare Advantage, is included, according to a study in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.

The 1 percent figure includes all types of non-medical spending by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plus other federal agencies, such as the IRS, that support the Medicare program, and is based on data contained in the latest report of the Medicare trustees. The 6 percent figure, on the other hand, is based on data contained in the latest National Health Expenditure Accounts (NHEA) report.

The journal article, written by Minneapolis-based researcher Kip Sullivan, finds that the gap between the two measures has been growing over the last two decades as enrollment in private Medicare plans has risen.

American Assassinations For Dummies

From: Mark Ames
TO: The Horrors of War Desk
Date: Feb 13th, 2013

Las Vegas, NV: It’s hard to have a serious conversation about America’s drone assassination policy when no one seems to have a basic grasp of recent history. This cultural amnesia epidemic is starting to get me down— which is partly my fault for paying more than two minutes’ attention to Twitter at a single go.

The problem starts with Reagan, as problems so often do. Most people on the left take for granted that Reagan’s executive order 12333 "banned assassinations" — which is not just a false interpretation, but really awful mangling of one of the dark turning points in modern American history.

They Are Coming for Your Birth Control 

Pro-Lifers Must “Advocate for Sexual Restraint”

by Robin Marty
(Note: Think that anti-choice politicians and activists aren’t trying to outlaw contraception?  Think again.  Follow along in an ongoing series that proves beyond a doubt that they really are coming for your birth control.)

Charlotte Lozier Institute’s Michael New is at it again, with another article reminding us of why the battle over the right to control a woman’s reproduction is about more than just abortion, but also about contraception and the act of sex itself.

Writing in the National Review Online, New posits that the clearest way to determine a person’s opinions on whether abortion should remain legal is to examine whether or not that person believes premarital sex is immoral. It’s a fairly simple gamble to make, and one that doesn’t need any studies or surveys to really back it up. Considering almost 60 percent of Americans think that premarital sex isn’t a sin, and that 95 percent of Americans have had premarital sex (yes, even people who believe they were going to Hell for doing it… well, do it), the idea that the same minority of people would also believe abortion is immoral would make perfect sense.

Nation Could Double Energy Productivity

February 7, 2013
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have long understood that using energy more efficiently can be just as beneficial as finding new ways to produce energy more efficiently.

On Feb. 7, NREL Director Dan Arvizu and a blue-ribbon panel of 20 energy experts drove that message home, declaring that the United States can double its energy productivity by 2030 — and do so in ways that bolster the nation's economy.

Unveiling their recommendations at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Arvizu and other members of the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy said that doubling energy productivity could create a million new jobs, while saving the average household $1,000 a year and reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by one-third.

The Cooperative Way to a Stronger Economy

Co-ops—just like people—can get more done together than anyone can do alone. They come in many forms, and are more common than you might imagine.
by Sarah van Gelder

Our little group of a dozen families was running out of time. After meeting every weekend for three years to plan our hoped-for cohousing community, and after investing much of our savings to acquire a few acres of land, it looked as though our dream would fail. We couldn’t find a bank that would finance a cooperative.

It was our local credit union that saved us. “You’re owned by your members? What’s so odd about that? We’re owned by our members,” the president of the Kitsap Credit Union mused. 

Simpson and Bowles Unveil a New, Wealth-Friendly Austerity Plan


As the prospects for a “Grand Bargain” fade, additional European-style austerity on the American economy is becoming increasingly uncertain. That has meant a greater likelihood of a reappearance by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the two Washington power players whose names have become synonymous with the Deficits First approach to our economic woes.

Today they appeared, right on schedule, bearing yet another plan – and this time it’s even more heavily skewed toward the financial interests of larger corporations and high-earning individuals.

Southern poverty pimps 

The “original sin” of the Southern political class is cheap, powerless labor

Contemporary American politics cannot be understood apart from the North-South divide in the U.S., as I and others have argued.  Neither can contemporary American economic debates.  The real choice facing America in the 21st century is the same one that faced it in the 19th and 20th centuries — Northernomics or Southernomics?

Northernomics is the high-road strategy of building a flourishing national economy by means of government-business cooperation and government investment in R&D, infrastructure and education.  Although this program of Hamiltonianism (named after Washington’s first Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton) has been championed by maverick Southerners as prominent as George Washington, Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln (born in Kentucky to a Southern family), the building of a modern, high-tech, high-wage economy has been supported chiefly by political parties based in New England and the Midwest, from the Federalists and the Whigs through the Lincoln Republicans and today’s Northern Democrats.

Paul Krugman: In the US, Austerity Could Be Disastrous

Most analysts are, rightly, shrugging off the recent surprise report of an actual decline in fourth-quarter gross domestic product in the United States. It will probably be revised away, and in any case it's the result of one-off factors: a drop in inventories and a quirky sharp decline in defense spending.

Still, the report does highlight the role that shrinking government purchases of goods and services are playing in holding the economy back. And yes, I mean shrinking, not just growing more slowly than I'd like. Transfer payments like Medicare and Social Security are rising (although unemployment benefits are falling), but government purchases of stuff — mostly at the state and local level, where the stuff in question includes hiring schoolteachers — has been in fairly rapid decline.

The Real Problem with the Big Banks

Posted by James Surowiecki

Ask what’s wrong with America’s banks, and you’re likely to hear that they’re just too complicated, too opaque. Banks are doing too much trading and not enough traditional lending, and their speculation with complicated financial instruments (like the ones that led to J. P. Morgan losing six billion dollars with its “whale” trade last year) is a recipe for disaster, with the financial crisis of 2007-2008 seen as proof positive of the dangers of too much complexity and too little disclosure. (Thus Jesse Eisinger and Frank Partnoy argue in last month’s Atlantic that the panic of 2008 resulted “from a lack of transparency.”) And so we get calls for banks to simplify their operations—to go back to what’s often called “plain vanilla” banking—and to disclose more about what they’re doing. This quest for simplicity and transparency is understandable in a world of collateralized-debt obligations and endlessly proliferating derivatives. But it doesn’t actually get at the heart of the issue. The fundamental problem with the banks isn’t that they look (and act) more and more like hedge funds. The fundamental problem with banks is what it’s always been: they’re in the business of banking, and banking, whether plain vanilla or incredibly sophisticated, is inherently risky.

Strictly Legal

“In what follows it should always be remembered that there is no question of illegality involved. Everything reported is strictly legal, just as Hitler’s extermination of the Jews was legal – a little point I mention merely to suggest how much weight one may attach to the notion.”
– Ferdinand Lundberg, The Rich and the Super-rich
It was not an earth-shaking decision made this past December by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, if one goes by the breadth of media coverage. (The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s article being an honorable exception, and the source for many of the facts mentioned here.) But it was certainly a judicial moment to take note of, one of those milestones a society passes as it merrily skips down the garden path toward … what, exactly? That is the question.

And here is the story behind what is perhaps the second worst judicial decision of the still-young century, a nose behind the notorious Citizens United ruling, which begot this horror.

Banksters Rip Apart Spanish Health Care

Monday, 18 February 2013 13:54  
By Thom Hartmann, The Daily Take | Op-Ed 

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's latest health care rankings of the 34 most developed nations in the world, the United States ranks dead last in male life expectancy.

We also rank near the very bottom in preventing premature death, infant mortality, total health care coverage, number of practicing doctors, and preventing heart disease deaths.

America faces more than a dozen deadlines, all caused by billionaires and wealth transfer

2/12/2013 10:00am by Gaius Publius

I’ve had an article in draft for some time — “The 16 Deadlines Facing America” — that details each deadline, describes the dangers, and states why each faces an end-point rather than just a periodic fluctuation. (Example of periodic fluctuation: The price of GM stock goes up and down — sometimes the number is good, sometimes bad — but GM stock continues to be traded on the market. Example of an end-point: The market price of tradable tulip bulbs goes up to impossible heights, then crashes so badly that the interest in trading them completely disappears. The market for tradable tulip bulbs is dead forever.)

I’ve identified 16 of these game-over situations facing America today, situations from which there is the possibility of no recovery — not the certainty, but the possibility. As I was working on that article though, looking especially what it would take to reverse each trend, I realized it’s really only one story writ 16 times on 16 separate canvasses.

That story? The song of the predator class, the rich and the rest — “All your money are belong to us.

Dave Dayen: Yes, Katrina, Wall Street Won Again, and Progressives Need to Face Up to That

Yves here. I hope you are as excited as I am that Dave Dayen will be posting at NC when the mood strikes him. Welcome Dave!

By David Dayen, a lapsed blogger, now a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, CA. Follow him on Twitter @ddayen

Greetings, NC readers! Yves has been nice enough to open up her Internet home to me, and I intend to grab the opportunity from time to time.

This offer turned fortuitous after I wrote a little piece from Salon on the “anniversary” of the securitization fraud task force, announced at last year’s State of the Union address. The scare quotes are warranted because, as I detailed, it’s hard to honor an anniversary of something that never really existed in the first place. I don’t remember annual celebrations of the founding of Atlantis, either.

Well, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, got very upset at my characterization of the task force, and scolded me for taking a “victory lap.” I could spend this entire refutation on the revealing attitude behind that phrase. I would have been extremely happy to have been completely wrong about this whole matter if it meant that even one homeowner would get a measure of justice for what they’ve encountered. I don’t tally up my punditry on a whiteboard and seek out the showiest opportunities to boast about my scores.

Wall Street’s Misdeeds Cost Trillions, But It’s Main Street Who’s Getting Nickel-and-Dimed.

By Richard Eskow | February 19, 2013

Take a look at these two sentences:

“(I)f losses from the 2007- 2009 crisis were to reach similar levels (as they did in previous recessions) … losses could exceed $13 trillion.” Government Accountability Office

“You would think that any regulation that could affect a major part of the economy and cost industry and/or consumers millions of dollars to comply with would be based on rigorous and consistent economic analysis.” David C. Johns, Heritage Foundation

Filipino super-typhoon an ominous warning of climate change impact

Philippines is having to adapt and adjust to rapidly deteriorating climatic trends at a great cost to its economy

Simon Tisdall, Sunday 17 February 2013 11.27 EST
When super-typhoon Bopha struck without warning before dawn, flattening the walls of their home, Maria Amparo Jenobiagon, her two daughters and her grandchildren ran for their lives.

The storm on 4 December was the worst ever to hit the southern Philippines: torrential rain turned New Bataan's river into a raging flood. Roads were washed away and the bridge turned into an enormous dam. Tens of thousands of coconut trees crashed down in an instant as unbelievably powerful winds struck. The banana crop was destroyed in a flash – and with it the livelihoods of hundreds of farmers.

The only safe place the family could think of was the concrete grandstand at the village sports stadium. Two months later, Jenobiagon, 36, and her three-year-old granddaughter, Mary Aieshe, are still there, living in one of the improvised tents spanning its steep concrete tiers along with hundreds of other people.

9 Economic Facts That Will Make Your Head Spin

By Lynn Stuart Parramore

February 18, 2013  |  How much will you need for medical expenses in retirement? What does it cost to keep 2.5 million Americans behind bars? Here are a few facts and figures that might surprise you.

1. Recovery for the rich, recession for the rest.
Economic recovery is in rather limited supply, it seems. Research by economist Emmanuel Saez shows that the top 1 percent has enjoyed income growth of over 11 percent [3] since the official end of the recession. The other 99 percent hasn’t fared so well, seeing a 0.4 percent decline in income.


2. Half of us are poor or barely scraping by.
The latest Census Bureau data shows that one in two Americans currently falls into either the “low income” category or is living in poverty. Low-income is defined as those earning between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level. Adjusted for inflation, the earnings for the bottom 20 percent of families have dropped from $16,788 in 1979 to just under $15,000. Earnings for the next 20 percent have been stuck at $37,000.

Thirsty crops and hungry people: Symposium to examine realities of water security

You may have guzzled a half-liter bottle of water at lunchtime, but your food and clothes drank a lot more. The same half-liter that quenched your thirst also produces only about one square-inch of bread or one square-inch of cotton cloth.

Agriculture is in fact one of the world's most insatiable consumers of water. And yet it's facing growing competition for water from cities, industry, and recreation at a time when demand for food is rising, and water is expected to become increasingly scarce. Take irrigation, for example, says Fred Vocasek, senior lab agronomist with the nation's largest crop consulting firm, Servi-Tech, Inc., in Dodge City, KS.

"Irrigation withdrawals in the United States have stabilized since about 1980, but food consumption trends are following the upward population trend," he says. "In other words, we have an increasingly hungry world with stable, or limited, freshwater supplies for food production. So, how do we keep pace with the widening gap?"

Dean Baker: Minimum Wage: Who Decided Workers Should Fall Behind?

It was encouraging to see President Obama propose an increase in the minimum wage in his State of the Union Address, even if the $9.00 target did not seem especially ambitious. If the $9.00 minimum wage were in effect this year, the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage would still be more than 2.0 percent lower than it had been in the late 1960s. And this proposed target would not even be reached until 2015, when inflation is predicted to lower the value by another 6 percent.

While giving a raise worth more than $3,000 a year to the country’s lowest paid workers is definitely a good thing, it is hard to get too excited about a situation in which these workers will still be earning less than their counterparts did almost 50 years ago. By targeting wage levels that roughly move in step with inflation we have implemented a policy that workers at the bottom will receive none of the benefits of economic growth through time. In other words, if we hold the purchasing power of the minimum wage fixed through time, as the country as a whole gets richer, minimum wage workers will fall ever further behind.

Glenn Greenwald: The premises and purposes of American exceptionalism

That the US is objectively "the greatest country ever to exist" is as irrational as it is destructive, yet it maintains the status of orthodoxy

Last week, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon, and the US - the country with the world's largest stockpile of that weapon and the only one in history to use it - led the condemnation (US allies with large nuclear stockpiles, such as Britain and Israel, vocally joined in). Responding to unnamed commentators who apparently noted this contradiction, National Review's Charles Cooke voiced these two assertions:


Nobody can reasonably dispute that North Korea is governed by a monstrous regime and that it would be better if they lacked a nuclear weapons capability. That isn't what interests me about this. What interests me here is that highlighted claim: that the US "is the greatest country in world history", and therefore is entitled to do that which other countries are not.

ALEC's Plan to Kill Union Jobs Everywhere -- Even Outside the U.S.

By Dave Saldana

February 15, 2013  |  It’s an anniversary London, Ontario, did not celebrate. It’s been a year, and the shock has yet to wear off in the Canadian city just an hour’s drive east of Detroit. All that remains is the hardship [3] of carrying on through mass joblessness, and its hand-in-hand partners, surges in poverty, mental health crises and addiction.

It’s a story many American communities will recognize -- but this one involves an American company wooed with a sweetheart deal by the Canadian government for a factory the Americans likely never intended to keep. What they really wanted, it seems, is to bust the union.

The lockout began on New Year’s Day, 2012, when Caterpillar Inc., a U.S. company, left 465 union workers on the pavement. At the Electro-Motive Diesel factory, they made engines and parts for diesel locomotives; Caterpillar subsidiary Progress Rail Services bought up the company in 2010.

The American Housing Market is Set to Screw People Far into the Future

By Sam Pizzigati

February 17, 2013  |  Our political vocabulary is changing all the time. Words that loom large in one generation’s national public discourse can almost totally disappear in the next.

Take the word “segregation.” A half-century ago, newspapers headlined “segregation” on almost a daily basis. This same word today seldom ever appears, either in print or on our computer screens. To our contemporary sensibilities, segregation seems so, well, yesterday.

But segregation still stains America, and not just the lingering legacy of the racial segregation that Americans battled decades ago. America now faces a stark income segregation as well — and this income segregation is getting worse.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Paul Krugman: Raise That Wage

President Obama laid out a number of good ideas in his State of the Union address. Unfortunately, almost all of them would require spending money — and given Republican control of the House of Representatives, it’s hard to imagine that happening.

One major proposal, however, wouldn’t involve budget outlays: the president’s call for a rise in the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9, with subsequent increases in line with inflation. The question we need to ask is: Would this be good policy? And the answer, perhaps surprisingly, is a clear yes. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Case for a Higher Minimum Wage

Posted by John Cassidy

“If a meteor ever smashes the earth,” Molly Ball, of The Atlantic, tweeted on Wednesday, “there will still be 2 economists arguing whether minimum wage laws kill jobs.” More than two, I would say. For the past twenty years, studying the impact of minimum-wage increases has been a growth industry. One extensive review of the literature cited more than a hundred and sixty studies, and that was published in 2007. By now, we may well be approaching the two-hundred mark. And it’s still a contentious issue. Some economists say minimum-wage laws are harmful; others say they aren’t.

When experts disagree like this, it’s tempting to throw your hands up and say, “Who knows?” In this instance, though, there’s no need to despair. While the labor economists and econometricians are still arguing about which of their many studies can be relied upon, there are quite a few things about minimum wages, and their impact on the economy, that we know for sure. Taken together, these things amply justify raising the minimum wage, as President Obama called for in his State of the Union address.

The GOP Plan to Flush Your State’s Economy Down the Toilet

By Lynn Parramore, AlterNet | Op-Ed 

The new “red-state model” seeks to turn your state into Mississippi.

The GOP has plans for a comeback. But it may cost you a lot. The idea is to capitalize on recent Republican state takeovers to conduct an austerity experiment known as the new “red-state model” and prove that faulty policies can be turned into gold.

There will be smoke. There will be mirrors. And there will be a lot of ordinary people suffering needlessly in the wake of this ideological train wreck.

Early education closes achievement gap, brings societal benefits

Virginia Tech Carilion researcher says scientific evidence points to value of early education

The founder of a decades-long scientific study that has proved the enduring benefits of early education today (Feb. 15, 2013) applauded President Barack Obama's recent call for universal access to high-quality preschool in the United States.

"Investing in high-quality early education has dramatic and sustained payoffs not just for the children directly involved, but for society as well," said Craig Ramey, Ph.D., the originator and founding principal investigator of the Abecedarian Project, a scientific study of the potential benefits of early childhood education for economically disadvantaged children.

Malawi's bountiful harvests and healthier children

BOSTON — Through research led by Michigan State University, crop yields have increased dramatically. The children of Ekwendi, Malawi, also have gained weight and are taller. These improvements bring smiles to Sieglinde Snapp, MSU ecologist, and other researchers who have worked in Malawi for many years.

Snapp, a crop and soil scientist at MSU's Kellogg Biological Station, shared the secrets of the initiative's success at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Feb. 14-18 in Boston.

Dean Baker: Why Are Proponents of the Chained CPI So Scared of Data?

Friday, 15 February 2013 14:58

Like the global warming deniers, proponents of basing the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) on a chained CPI are scared to death of data. They are all anxious to assert that the chained CPI is a more accurate measure of the cost of living and therefore it should provide the basis for the COLA. However, they have no research on which to base this assertion.

There is research showing that the chained CPI is a better gage of the cost of living for the population as a whole. But we know seniors have substantially different consumption patterns than the population as a whole. They tend to consume more housing and health care and spend less on new cars, computers, and smart phones. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has constructed an experimental elderly index that shows seniors experience a higher rate of inflation than the population as a whole.

Won't Somebody Please (Not) Think of the Children? On the Benefits of Pre-K for Parents.

Feb 15, 2013  |  Mike Konczal

I wrote a piece I was pretty happy with in The American Prospect called "The Great Society's Next Frontier." Given that health care had passed and wasn't going to be overturned, the question was what would be the next battles for the liberal project. Rather than showing the exhaustion of the liberal project, I found the recent State of the Union a nice checklist of things that have been done, as well as new areas to take the project next, with some markers for a longer-term agenda.

At the Prospect I noted that a mix of "predistribution" and redistribution to expand opportunities while boosting wages were going to be an important part, and two of the ideas that addressed those issues were present in President Obama's State of the Union address: a higher minimum wage and pre-K. Pre-K is going to be a big topic, and this Boston Review symposium by James Heckman is a great place to read what experts are saying.

How Neocons Messed Up the Mideast

February 15, 2013
Special Report: Newly available documents reveal how Ronald Reagan’s neocon aides cleared the way for Israeli arm sales to Iran in 1981, shortly after Iran freed 52 U.S. hostages whose captivity doomed Jimmy Carter’s reelection. The move also planted the seeds of the Iran-Contra scandal, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Just six months after Iran freed 52 Americans hostages in 1981, senior Reagan administration officials secretly endorsed third-party weapons sales to Iran, a move to align U.S. policy with Israeli desires to sell arms to the Islamic republic then at war with Iraq, according to documents recently released by the National Archives.

This Israeli arms pipeline to Iran already was functioning at the time of the policy shift on July 21, 1981. Three days earlier, on July 18, an Argentine plane strayed off course and crashed (or was shot down) inside the Soviet Union exposing Israel’s secret arms shipments to Iran, which apparently had been going on for months.

We Can Work Less, Make More Money and Save the Planet

By David Rosnick

February 13, 2013  |  I am greatly pleased to see such interest [3] in CEPR’s recent report on work hours [4] and climate change.  All evidence points to the idea that gradually reducing annual labor hours per worker will reduce the amount of climate change with which the world will have to cope.  But this does not mean that ordinary workers will have to make a sacrifice.  Rather, this is about how workers may choose to enjoy the fruits of increased productivity—if only they are given the chance to share fully in economic progress.

Throughout the 1950s, workers in the United States enjoyed fewer hours of labor [5] than almost every country in Western Europe.  On average, an employed American worked 1,909 hours in 1950.  Only Sweden—at 1,871 hours—worked less.  By contrast, Greeks averaged 2,712 hours that year; the Irish put in 2,753.

Today, workers in Greece are second only to Poland for the longest working hours in all Europe and labored 330 hours longer in 2012 than their American counterparts.  However, productivities of these countries have climbed dramatically since 1950 as hours have fallen.  In each hour of work in 2012, each American produced 3.2 times as much as in 1950.  This allowed workers to build 2.9 times as much in each year— and do so in 200 fewer hours than in 1950.  In this way, American workers labored a bit less and still prospered materially.

Private Debt – Not Government Debt – Will Destroy America 

Thursday, 14 February 2013 15:15 
By Thom Hartmann, The Daily Take | Op-Ed 

There are two kinds of debt. One that’s relatively harmless. And one that can destroy us all. 

There’s public sector debt – or government debt – which is over $16 trillion. This is the sort of debt that politicians scream and holler about when they demand austerity.

And then there’s private sector debt – the debt owned by you and me and millions of Americans across the nation in the form of credit cards, home and auto loans, along with America's corporate debt. This sort of debt doesn’t seem to bother politicians at all, even though total private sector debt is $38 trillion, more than double government debt.

Murdoch’s Circle: The Growing News International Scandal

by Lena Groeger
ProPublica, Feb. 13, 4:50 p.m.

From phone hacking to bribery, the corruption at News International has involved many players -- increasingly, ones close to Rupert Murdoch. We’ve mapped out the players involved in this growing debacle, organized by their proximity to Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and other senior staff. Keep in mind that in the United Kingdom, officers can make arrests without a formal charge (this Slate explainer provides more details on the British system).

Paul Krugman: Rubio and the Zombies

The State of the Union address was not, I’m sorry to say, very interesting. True, the president
offered many good ideas. But we already know that almost none of those ideas will make it past a
hostile House of Representatives.

On the other hand, the G.O.P. reply, delivered by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, was both
interesting and revelatory. And I mean that in the worst way. For Mr. Rubio is a rising star, to such
an extent that Time magazine put him on its cover, calling him “The Republican Savior.” What we
learned Tuesday, however, was that zombie economic ideas have eaten his brain.

In case you’re wondering, a zombie idea is a proposition that has been thoroughly refuted by
analysis and evidence, and should be dead — but won’t stay dead because it serves a political
purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both.   

Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states

Nonprofit group lets donors fly 'totally under the radar'

By Paul Abowd

In 2009, a network of online media outlets began popping up in state capitals across the nation, each covering the news from a clearly conservative point of view. What wasn’t so clear was how they were funded.

“The source is 100 percent anonymous,” said Michael Moroney, a spokesman for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the think tank that created the outlets.

In fact, 95 percent of Franklin’s revenue in 2011 came from a charity called Donors Trust, according to Internal Revenue Service records.

Conservative foundations and individuals use Donors Trust to pass money to a vast network of think tanks and media outlets that push free-market ideology in the states — $86 million in 2011 alone. The arrangement obscures the identity of the donors wishing to keep their charitable giving private, especially “gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues,” according to the group’s website.

Investigation Reveals How Charter Schools Betray Promises of "Equal Access"

For-profit charter schools have learned how to dodge requirements that keep doors open to students they'd rather not have

- Jon Queally, staff writer 
Corporate school reformers promote privately operated but publicly funded "charter schools" as one of the key components of their profit-friendly approach to solving what they call the failure of traditional public schooling, but a new investigative report from Reuters shows that many such institutions disregard their own promises of inclusion and equal opportunity by creating barriers to needier students while targeting for enrollment those most likely to pad test scores or otherwise enhance their own promises of "success".

As Reuters notes, there are many regulations that guide the admission behavior of charter schools, but because most of these rules are written by states there can be a wide divergence of how school districts operate nationwide. The investigation found that larger charter school operations—like KIPP, Yes Prep, Green Dot and Success Academy—have more equitable admission and enrollment structures, but that smaller, independently-run charters—whose numbers are growing exponentially nationwide as the corporate education reform movement helps remove barriers through state legislation—are inundated with practices that make a mockery of "equal access" to all students.

The Great Wealth Robbery

By Richard Eskow | February 14, 2013

Two important events took place this week. One was President Obama’s call for a higher minimum wage, which got a lot of attention. The other was a new report which showed just how much of our nation’s wealth continues to be hijacked by the wealthiest among us.

That didn’t get much attention.

There’s a Great Robbery underway, although most of its perpetrators don’t see themselves as robbers. Instead they’re sustained by delusions that protect them from facing the consequences of their own actions.

Corporations Advise School Closings, While Private Charters Suck Public Schools Away

By Kristin Rawls

February 15, 2013  |  On Dec. 13, 2012, Philadelphia became the latest major American city to recommend sweeping school closures for the next academic year. Under this new proposal, a total of 37 [3], or about 16 percent, of the district’s 237 public schools [4] will be shuttered this June. That’s down from the 40 schools [5] the city designated for closure back in May, but still represents an unprecedented move in Philadelphia’s history. The School Commission Reform, an outside body appointed to govern Philadelphia schools, has scheduled its final vote for March 7 [6].

Overall, 44 schools [6] will be affected by the shakeup: Of the 37 to be closed [3], three will relocate by merging with other Philadelphia schools. Beyond this, seven other schools will face major restructuring – i.e., though these school programs will remain intact, the schools themselves will be uprooted and moved to other buildings, merged with other schools, and/or forced to add or subtract grade levels. About 15,000 students [7] will be affected by the proposed changes. And though official numbers have not been released, hundreds of teacher and staff layoffs [8] are also expected.

Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks

Anonymous billionaires donated $120m to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science

, US environment correspondent

Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change, the Guardian has learned.

The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising "wedge issue" for hardcore conservatives.

The millions were routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1m or more.

Wall Street wins again

The secret truth: There never was a “task force” dedicated to ferreting out mortgage fraud 

A year ago, President Obama gestured toward the first lady’s box at the State of the Union address at Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York.  Schneiderman had just agreed to co-chair the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities working group, an initiative between state and federal law enforcement officials and bank regulators, designed to investigate and prosecute fraudulent Wall Street activity that led to both the creation of the housing bubble and its collapse. In exchange, Schneiderman dropped his objections to a settlement over some of the banks’ fraudulent post-crash activity, particularly around fraud in foreclosure processing.

Recent profiles of this event have called last night’s State of the Union the “anniversary” of the formation of the working group.  But you can’t really have an anniversary of something that never existed in the first place.  There never was a Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities working group, never a so-called task force dedicated to ferreting out Wall Street fraud — the deceptive origination of mortgage loans, sale of worthless mortgage-backed securities for huge sums, and subsequent unloading of toxic debt to unsuspecting buyers. The working group fails to exist as a tangible entity to this day.  What does exist is the same years-old Financial Fraud Enforcement Group that serves as a conduit for press releases about investigative actions already in progress.

Matt Taibbi: Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail

How HSBC hooked up with drug traffickers and terrorists. And got away with it

February 14, 2013 8:00 AM ET
The deal was announced quietly, just before the holidays, almost like the government was hoping people were too busy hanging stockings by the fireplace to notice. Flooring politicians, lawyers and investigators all over the world, the U.S. Justice Department granted a total walk to executives of the British-based bank HSBC for the largest drug-and-terrorism money-laundering case ever. Yes, they issued a fine – $1.9 billion, or about five weeks' profit – but they didn't extract so much as one dollar or one day in jail from any individual, despite a decade of stupefying abuses.

People may have outrage fatigue about Wall Street, and more stories about billionaire greedheads getting away with more stealing often cease to amaze. But the HSBC case went miles beyond the usual paper-pushing, keypad-punching­ sort-of crime, committed by geeks in ties, normally associated­ with Wall Street. In this case, the bank literally got away with murder – well, aiding and abetting it, anyway.

Paul Krugman: In-Crowd Economics: It's Hip to Fear the Deficit 

Back during the early days of the Iraq debacle, I learned that the military has a term for how highly dubious ideas become not just accepted, but viewed as certainties.

"Incestuous amplification" happens when a closed group of people repeat the same things to each other — and when accepting the group's preconceptions itself becomes a necessary ticket to being in the in-group. A fundamentally flawed notion — say, that the Germans can't possibly attack though the Ardennes — becomes part of what everyone knows, where "everyone" means by definition only people who accept the flawed notion.

Republican-backed for-profit school caught deleting bad student grades

By David Edwards
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 15:58 EST

A for-profit school that was hyped by Republican lawmakers as a solution to Tennessee’s education problems recently admitted deleting bad grades to “more accurately recognize students’ current progress.”

A December email obtained by WTVF showed that Tennessee Virtual Academy’s vice principal instructed middle school teachers to delete “failing grades” from October and September.

U.S. report urges deeper look into breast cancer's environmental links 


A new federal advisory panel report makes a forceful case for more research into environmental causes of breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 227,000 women, killed 40,000 and cost more than $17 billion to treat in the United States last year.

Compiled by the congressionally mandated Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee, the report notes that most cases of breast cancer “occur in people with no family history,” suggesting that “environmental factors — broadly defined — must play a major role in the etiology of the disease.”

Name-brand or generic? Your political ideology might influence your choice

Conservatives and liberals don't just differ when it comes to politics, they may also make different purchases at the grocery store, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Psychological research has shown that conservatives and liberals differ on basic personality traits such as conscientiousness, tolerance for uncertainty, and openness to new experience. Researcher Vishal Singh of New York University Stern School of Business and colleagues hypothesized that the conservative tendency to prefer tradition and convention would be reflected in conservatives' purchasing behavior, leading them to choose established name-brand products over generic brands or new products.

State of the Union: Obama Slams Republicans; Calls for Minimum Wage Raise, Action on Climate Change, Immigration Reform and Gun Control

By Adele M. Stan

February 12, 2013  |  President Barack Obama took the occasion of his State of the Union address Tuesday night to lay a largely progressive agenda, while calling out Republicans for putting the national economy in peril, and with it, the very future of the nation.

Specifically, the president addressed the Republican plan to allow automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester, to take effect because of the refusal of GOP leaders to cut a deal with Obama for more targeted spending cuts and revenue increases. He also called out Republicans for a threat made by some to force a shutdown of the government by refusing to approve the next continuing resolution -- a piece of legislation that allows the government to function in the absence of a budget.

“The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next,” Obama said. “We can’t do it.”

He also made a point of referencing the moment that gave birth to the sequester deal, when in 2011, Republicans in Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling until they exacted a promise of spending cuts from the president. Without the previously routine raising of the debt ceiling, the U.S. would have defaulted on its debt, likely plunging the country into depression, and taking much of the world’s economy with it.

EPA unaware of industry ties on cancer review panel

By David Heath, Ronnie Greene

In September 2010, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency came to a startling conclusion: Even a small amount of a chemical compound commonly found in tap water may cause cancer.

The compound, hexavalent chromium, gained infamy in the Oscar-winning film Erin Brockovich, based on the David-vs.-Goliath legal duel between desert dwellers in Hinkley, Calif., and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The film ends in Hollywood fashion, with the corporate polluter paying $333 million to people suffering from illnesses.

But in real life, the drama continues. More than 70 million Americans drink traces of chromium every day, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization.

The Most Important Chart About the Deficit You'll Ever See

Matthew O'Brien
Feb 12 2013, 4:13 PM ET

The only way to close the budget deficit is to close the jobs deficit

It's State of the Union season, which means it's time for the usual suspects to tell President Obama to "go big" on the deficit. Never mind that jobs, not the deficit, top voters' list of priorities, or that austerity has failed everywhere it's been tried recently (including here). It's always a good time to lament the lack of bipartisan golf-playing and call for a grand bargain.

But what exactly makes a bargain grand in Washington? It's not just a matter of trading spending cuts for higher taxes. If it were, the combination of the sequester and the fiscal cliff tax deal would count. No, it has to be a specific kind of spending cut. It has to be a cut to social insurance. That's what Obama has offered with chained CPI, which cuts Social Security and raises taxes by using a lower measure of inflation to calculate benefits and brackets, but Republicans and centrist pundits don't think that's enough. They want Obama to increase the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 too. Now, this sounds like the kind of "painful choice" that will put us on the path to fiscal sustainability, but it's not. The Congressional Budget Office figures it will only save about $150 billion over a decade, while, as Matthew Yglesias of Slate points out, costing patients twice that much. (If every state implements Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, it might not be regressive; just wasteful.).

Fall on Hard Times, Have Your Kids Taken Away? How America Treats Poor Parents Like Criminals

by Alex Kane

The following article is part of an AlterNet series, Hard Times, USA, which shines a light on poverty in America. Click here for other stories in the series.  [3]
February 3, 2013  |  Shakieta Smith needed a place to go. The homeless mother of two called a Washington, DC shelter hotline last year, but was told there were no available spaces. Then the intake worker told her that “if she and her kids had nowhere safe to sleep, she’d be reported to the city’s Child and Family Services Agency for a possible investigation into abuse and neglect,” the Washington Post reported. [4]

Smith is not the only mother to fear having her children taken away and put into foster care due to homelessness. According to the Post, 32 other families in DC have been threatened in a similar way. And about 25 states in the country “list a caregiver’s inability to provide shelter as part of their definition of abuse and neglect,” though some of those laws have been challenged in court. It’s yet another heartwrenching reminder of the myriad legal troubles that accompany being poor and homeless.

“These people are simply walking in the door for assistance and people don’t have shelter and they’re saying, ‘We’re calling [Child Protective Services] on you?' It’s ridiculous,” homeless advocate Ruth Anne White told the Post.

You Should Be Outraged by What Is Being Done to Our Postal Service 

By Dave Johnson, Campaign for America's Future | Op-Ed 

You are probably hearing that the Post Office is “in crisis” and is cutting back Saturday delivery, laying people off, closing offices, etc. Like so many other “crises” imposed on us lately, there is a lot to the story that you are not hearing from the “mainstream” media. (Please click that link.) The story of the intentional destruction of the U.S. Postal Service is one more piece of the story of crisis-after-crisis, all manufactured to advance the strategic dismantling of our government and handing over the pieces to billionaires.

Germany has more solar power because everyone wins 

Suddenly everyone knows about Germany’s solar power dominance because Fox Newsheads made an ass of themselves, suggesting that the country is a sunny, tropical paradise. Most media folks have figured out that there are some monster differences in policy (e.g., a feed-in tariff), but then latch on to the “Germans pay a lot extra” meme.  Germans do, and are perfectly happy with it, but that’s still not the story.

The real reason Germany dominates in solar (and wind) is its commitment to democratizing energy.

UN’s Water Agenda at Risk of Being Hijacked by Big Business

by Thalif Deen 
UNITED NATIONS - Amidst growing new threats of potential conflicts over fast-dwindling water resources in the world’s arid regions, the United Nations will commemorate 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC.

But Maude Barlow, chairperson, Council of Canadians and a former senior advisor on water to the president of the U.N. General Assembly in 2008-2009, warns the U.N.’s water agenda is in danger of being hijacked by big business and water conglomerates.

Michael Moore and Chris Hedges on the 'Corporate Coup d’√Čtat' and the Govt's Moves to Jail People without Charges or Trial

By Amy Goodman, Michael Moore, Chris Hedges

February 11, 2013  |  

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the ability of the U.S. government to jail people without charge or trial was back in court. A group of reporters, scholars and activists, including Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges, are suing the Obama administration over the controversial provision in the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, saying it could allow for the indefinite detention of journalists and others who interact with certain groups. Well, last Wednesday, the Justice Department asked an appeals court to reverse a judge’s earlier decision blocking indefinite detention, saying the ruling would hamper its ability to fight terrorism. The Obama administration has already won an emergency freeze of the ruling while the case is appealed.

Well, on the same day, Wednesday, an event, just after the court hearing, was held in New York featuring a panel of some of those who were in the courtroom to oppose the NDAA. Joining them was the Academy Award-winning filmmaker and activist Michael Moore and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges. We end today’s show with their remarks. The case is known as Hedges v. Obama. Michael Moore began by responding to a question about how he got involved.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Paul Krugman: The Ignorance Caucus

Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas. 

To be sure, Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

Rating Victims Didn’t Know S&P’s Toxic AAA Born of Greed

By Jody Shenn - Feb 11, 2013

When Charles O. Prince III was chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc. from 2003 to 2007, he didn’t know about a surge in mortgage risk that his own investment bankers loaded on to its bank’s books.

Because such debt carried top credit ratings from firms such as Standard & Poor’s, few financial executives paid attention to the potential dangers.

“If someone had elevated to my level that we were putting, on a $2 trillion balance sheet, $40 billion of AAA rated, zero risk paper, that would not in any way have excited my attention,” Prince told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, according to a transcript of his testimony released in 2011.

Mortgage securities granted top grades started souring in 2007, leading to ballooning losses. Citigroup required a $45 billion federal rescue, the largest of the bank bailouts that put taxpayer money at risk. The Justice Department sued New York-based S&P and parent McGraw-Hill Cos. last week over the damage caused by the practices allegedly behind the inflated rankings that contributed to the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Rick Perlstein: The Constitutional Roadblock to Efforts to Fix Federal Elections

Yesterday The New York Times ran a front-page feature on attempts by Democrats, both in the White House and on Capitol Hill, to pass reforms to fix the scandalously long lines faced by voters at the polls last November. It comes the same day that the Virginia House and Senate passed a bill to disallow the use of a utility bill, pay stub, bank statement, government check or Social Security card as acceptable identification to present at the polls—making it, of course, all the harder for traditionally Democratic constituencies in this crucial battleground state to have their voice heard at the ballot box.

Nation readers will be well aware of the problem, of how profoundly it contributes to our democracy deficit in America, and how neatly it notches with Republican attempts (defensive, they always claim) to sabotage Democratic turnout, at least since future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist was spied intimidating Hispanic voters at Phoenix polling places in 1962. Like me, you probably keep a catalogue in your mind of the most excruciating examples thereunto, like, in this last election, the fact that the Florida ballot was larded with so many right-wing referenda that had to be printed in full, and was so confusing, that it caused four- and five-hour lines even in precincts that weren’t all that crowded.

The Sorry State of Our Union

by Robert Kuttner

President Obama delivers his fifth State of the Union Address on Tuesday. Based on White House leaks, the president will emphasize rebuilding the middle class. He will invoke the importance of education, infrastructure, clean energy, and manufacturing.

These are terrific themes, economically and politically. The only problem is that rebuilding the middle class by the public investments that the society needs is out of the question -- because of the downward drag of a budget politics that the president shares.

Quietly Killing a Consumer Watchdog

If you’d like to know why Republicans are trying to shut down the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, take a look at three things the agency has already accomplished in its first 18 months:
¶It called a halt to predatory practices by mortgage lenders, ensuring that borrowers are not saddled with loans they can’t afford and preventing brokers from earning higher commissions for higher interest rates. 

¶It won an $85 million settlement from American Express, which it accused of deceptive and discriminatory marketing and billing practices.

Tomgram: Michael Klare, Will the Keystone XL Pipeline Go Down?

A Presidential Decision That Could Change the World

The Strategic Importance of Keystone XL

By Michael T. Klare

Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines.  It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet.  If that sounds overly dramatic, let me explain.

Sometimes, what starts out as a minor skirmish can wind up determining the outcome of a war -- and that seems to be the case when it comes to the mounting battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. If given the go-ahead by President Obama, it will daily carry more than 700,000 barrels of tar-sands oil to those Gulf Coast refineries, providing a desperately needed boost to the Canadian energy industry. If Obama says no, the Canadians (and their American backers) will encounter possibly insuperable difficulties in exporting their heavy crude oil, discouraging further investment and putting the industry’s future in doubt.


Why Are Conservatives Trying to Destroy the Voting Rights Act?

Ari Berman, February 5, 2013

In 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another twenty-five years. The legislation passed 390–33 in the House and 98–0 in the Senate. Every top Republican supported the bill. “The Voting Rights Act must continue to exist,” said House Judiciary chair James Sensenbrenner, a conservative Republican, “and exist in its current form.” Civil rights leaders flanked George W. Bush at the signing ceremony.

Seven years later, the bipartisan consensus that supported the VRA for nearly fifty years has collapsed, and conservatives are challenging the law as never before. Last November, three days after a presidential election in which voter suppression played a starring role, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Section 5 of the VRA, which compels parts or all of sixteen states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to clear election-related changes with the federal government. The case will be heard on February 27. The lawsuit, originating in Shelby County, Alabama, is backed by leading operatives and funders in the conservative movement, along with Republican attorneys general in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas. Shelby County’s brief claims that “Section 5’s federalism cost is too great” and that the statute has “accomplished [its] mission.” 

Why Is Washington Reducing the Deficit Instead of Creating Jobs?

December 7, 2012 | J. Mijin Cha
This Demos Explainer explores the tension between political support for deficit reduction versus job creation and economic security policies.

Most available research indicates a significant difference in priorities between the majority of Americans and the affluent that comprise the political donor class, which may explain the current bi-partisan drive for deficit reduction at the expense of stimulus policies, in spite of persistent high unemployment.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

US Air Force veteran, finally allowed to fly into US, is now banned from flying back home

Secret, unaccountable no-fly lists are one of many weapons the US government uses to extra-judicially punish American Muslims

Glenn Greenwald, Saturday 9 February 2013 07.40 EST

In early November, I wrote about the infuriating story of Saadiq Long, the 43-year-old African-American Muslim who - despite having never been charged with any crime - was secretly placed on a no-fly list and thus barred from flying to the US to visit his seriously ill mother. When I met with Long in early November in Doha, Qatar, where he has lived for several years with his wife and her two children while teaching English, he was in the middle of his futile months-long battle just to find out why he was placed on this list, let alone how he could be removed.

Two weeks after that article was published, Long - without explanation - was finally removed from the no-fly list and he flew from Doha to Oklahoma City to visit his mother and other family members. He took several flights to make the 20-hour journey, all without incident. He has remained in Oklahoma for the last ten weeks, visiting his family in the US for the first time in over a decade.

Revealing the Real TANF

by Greg Kaufmann
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again: the American people have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program created in 1996. Both parties tout it as a “success,” but if you look at the numbers—and at the real lives of people who turn to the program for assistance when they are out of work—the picture is bleak, to say the least.

This March, TANF is set to expire and will need to be renewed. It will mark yet another opportunity to have an honest, fact-based discussion about the program. So it was good to see a top-notch panel of experts at the Center for American Progress (CAP) yesterday talking about TANF—“Learning from the Past, Planning for the Future.”

Churning Isn’t Just for Butter Anymore

by Donna Smith

It isn’t often anymore that I learn a new word in the health care system discussion, but this week I did.  Churning.  I was at a meeting here in Colorado where I have taken on a new role in advocating and administering for a publicly financed, universal, single-payer system with Health Care for All Colorado.  And the definition of churning I learned is a sad commentary on a system that still allows access to care based on inequality of coverage that leaves so (Photo: Health Care for All Oregon via Flickr)many people suffering and tens of thousands dying in America every year.

Churning is the policy wonk term for those who qualify and are covered by a public program like Medicaid and who then have access to a private insurance plan through a new job that offers it or through a family member’s coverage but who then lose that coverage and end up back on the public insurance for which they qualify.  They churn.  And they suffer.

Increasing Social Security Benefits: An Idea Whose Time Has Come


rchaeologists of the future will sift through our newspapers, websites, and other ephemera and marvel at the inverted shape of our political debate. They’ll be particularly surprised to discover that, at a time when retirement security was being destroyed for an entire generation, politicians were posturing over how to make the problem even worse by cutting Social Security.

And they’ll marvel over how long it took us to agree on the right solution: Increasing Social Security benefits instead.

Bill Moyers: Why U.S. Internet Access is Slow, Costly and Unfair

February 9, 2013  |  BILL MOYERS: You’ve heard me before quote one of my mentors who told his students that “news is what people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity.” That’s why two books are rattling the cages of powerful people who would rather you not read them. Here’s the first one. Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age by Susan Crawford. Read it and you’ll understand why we Americans are paying much more for internet access than people in many other countries and getting much less in return. That, despite the fact that our very own academics and engineers, working with our very own Defense Department, invented the internet in the first place.

Back then, the U.S. was in the catbird seat – poised to lead the world down this astonishing new superhighway of information and innovation. Now many other countries offer their citizens faster and cheaper access than we do. The faster high-speed access comes through fiber optic lines that transmit data in bursts of laser light, but many of us are still hooked up to broadband connections that squeeze digital information through copper wire. We’re stuck with this old-fashioned technology because, as Susan Crawford explains, our government has allowed a few giant conglomerates to rig the rules, raise prices, and stifle competition. Just like standard oil in the first Gilded Age a century ago.

In those days, it was muckrakers like Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens rattling the cages and calling for fair play. Today it’s independent thinkers like Susan Crawford. The big telecom industry wishes she would go away, but she’s got a lot of people on her side. In fact, if you go to the White House citizen’s petition site, you’ll see how fans of Captive Audience are calling on the President to name Susan Crawford as the next chair of the Federal Communications Commission. “Prospect” magazine named her one of the “top ten brains of the digital future,” and Susan Crawford served for a time as a special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation. Right now she teaches communications law at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law here in New York City and is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Susan Crawford, welcome.

SUSAN CRAWFORD: Thank you so much.