Friday, November 29, 2013

Secretive Corporate Deal in the Works Could Establish Special Closed Door Courts for Big Business

By Thomas Mc Donagh

If you hadn't yet heard about the TPP, there is a reason for that. Not even members of the US Congress have been allowed to see the negotiating text. Thanks to a set of leaks however, we´re beginning to get glimpses of exactly how dangerous the agreement is. The Wikileaks revelations have shone an urgent public light on the agreement’s onerous implications regarding intellectual property.

In 2012, however, another leak [5] uncovered what may be an even more dangerous aspect of the TPP. The proposed investment chapter of the deal revealed plans to expand the system of international investment tribunals that deal with what is called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’. These are closed-door courts that take direct aim at the ability of governments across the world to enact environmental, public health and other protections for their citizens.

Rick Perlstein: Thanksgiving Forty Years Ago: There but for the Grace...

It’s a rough for too many families this Thanksgiving. With an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent, with a nearly a million of discouraged no-longer-job-seekers, ashamed and invisible, not even showing up in that total; with an unemployment rate for black teenagers of 36 percent and, as The Nation’s George Zornick points out, the season of feasting a season of fasting for too many families on food stamps—cheer can be hard to find.

Keep our suffering neighbors in your thoughts as you celebrate. And for a possibly cheering contrast, consider a time when things were even worse: 1973, which I’ve researched for my upcoming book on the 1970s, when it was oh-so-much harder to head over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house because the Arab oil embargo quadrupled the price of a barrel of crude.

Ratio of Job Seekers to Job Openings Holds Steady at 2.9-to-1, Equal to the Worst Month of Early 2000s Downturn

By Elise Gould | November 22, 2013

The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the total number of job openings increased by 69,000 in September, after a downward revision of 39,000 to earlier data. Taken together, the September level of job openings remained at 3.9 million. However, there were 11.3 million job seekers in September (unemployment data are from the Current Population Survey and can be found here). That means there were 2.9 job seekers for every job opening in September. In other words, for nearly two out of every three job seekers, there simply were no jobs. To put today’s ratio of 2.9-to-1 in perspective, it matches the highest the ratio ever got in the early 2000s downturn (the ratio stood at 2.9-to-1 in September 2003). In a labor market with strong job opportunities, the ratio would be close to 1-to-1, as it was in December 2000 (when it was 1.1-to-1).

Monsanto, the TPP and Global Food Dominance

Control oil and you control nations,” said US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the 1970s.  “Control food and you control the people.”

Global food control has nearly been achieved, by reducing seed diversity with GMO (genetically modified) seeds that are distributed by only a few transnational corporations. But this agenda has been implemented at grave cost to our health; and if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) passes, control over not just our food but our health, our environment and our financial system will be in the hands of transnational corporations.

Profits Before Populations

Genetic engineering has made proprietary control possible over the seeds on which the world’s food supply depends. According to an Acres USA interview of plant pathologist Don Huber, Professor Emeritus at Purdue University, two modified traits account for practically all of the genetically modified crops grown in the world today. One involves insect resistance. The other, more disturbing modification involves insensitivity to glyphosate-based herbicides (plant-killing chemicals). Often known as Roundup after the best-selling Monsanto product of that name, glyphosate poisons everything in its path except plants genetically modified to resist it.

Dean Baker: The Importance of Bubbles: Who's Pocketing the Cash

The NYT had an interesting piece discussing the bubble in social media type companies, however the article misses a couple of important issues. The bursting of the current bubble will not have the same consequences for the economy because it has not yet grown large enough to move the economy in the same way as the stock bubble of the 1990s or the housing bubble in the last decade. Both of those bubbles led to consumption booms through the wealth effect, in addition to a boom in whacky Internet start-up investment and housing construction. That story could change if the bubble keeps growing, but thus far it is not large enough to move the economy in a big way.

Lara Logan, producer on leave after CBS finds ‘60 Minutes’ Benghazi story deficient

McClatchy Foreign StaffNovember 26, 2013

— Jeff Fager, the executive producer of the venerated news program “60 Minutes,” announced Tuesday that he had asked reporter Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan to take a leave of absence after numerous questions surfaced about the veracity of an Oct. 27 report on the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The request that the two leave their jobs was the culmination of an internal “journalistic review,” first reported by McClatchy, which found the segment “deficient.”

Dean Baker: Technology Didn't Kill Middle Class Jobs, Public Policy Did

The story is that innovation rapidly reduced the need for factory workers and other skilled labor. The data just doesn't support it

A widely held view in elite circles is that the rapid rise in inequality in the United States over the last three decades is an unfortunate side-effect of technological progress. In this story, technology has had the effect of eliminating tens of millions of middle wage jobs for factory workers, bookkeepers, and similar occupations.

These were jobs where people with limited education used to be able to raise a family with a middle class standard of living. However computers, robots and other technological innovations are rapidly reducing the need for such work. As a result, the remaining jobs in these sectors are likely to pay less and many people who would have otherwise worked at middle wage jobs must instead crowd into the lower paying sectors of the labor market.

Want to Cut Government Waste? Find the $8.5 Trillion the Pentagon Can’t Account For

By Lauren Lyster | Daily Ticker – Mon, Nov 25, 2013 9:23 AM EST

If you thought the botched rollout of Obamacare, the government shutdown, or the sequester represented Washington dysfunction at its worst, wait until you hear about the taxpayer waste at the Defense Department.

Special Enterprise Reporter Scot Paltrow unearthed the “high cost of the Pentagon’s bad bookkeeping” in a Reuters investigation. It amounts to $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996 that has never been accounted for. (The year 1996 was the first that the Pentagon should have been audited under a law requiring audits of all government departments. Oh, and by the way, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with this law.)

Former Walmart Exec Leads Shadowy Smear Campaign Against Black Friday Activists

Lee Fang on November 26, 2013 - 3:16 PM ET

As activists continue to organize demonstrations at McDonalds, Walmart and other low-wage firms, big protests are planned against retailers for mistreating their workers this Black Friday. In response, union-busting consultants are ramping up efforts to marginalize them.

Last night—Worker Center Watch, a new website dedicated to attacking labor-affiliated activist groups like OUR Walmart, Restaurant Opportunities Center, and Fast Food Forward—began sponsoring advertisements on Twitter to promote smears against the protests planned for Black Friday. In one video sponsored by the group, activists demanding a living wage and better working conditions for workers are portrayed as lazy “professional protesters” who “haven’t bothered to get jobs themselves.”

Wonkbook: Everything you need to know about the Iran deal

Posted by Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas on November 25, 2013 at 8:48 am

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 5% percent. Under the terms of the deal, Iran can't have uranium enriched beyond five percent. That means they need to dilute much of the 20 percent uranium they have on-hand. Uranium needs to be enriched to 90 percent to work in a bomb.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: The catch is that getting uranium to five percent is actually a lot harder than getting it from five percent to 90 percent, as this Business Insider graph shows.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) a Wonkbook briefing on Iran; (2) working around; (3) the Fed giveth, and the Fed taketh away; (4) the political scientist's take on filibuster reform; and (5) climate talks yield progress.

Study reveals how badly frackers lie about jobs

By John Upton

The fracking industry wouldn’t lie, would it? But how else to explain the massive discrepancies between the number of jobs that it claims to create and the number of jobs that it actually creates? Perhaps it’s just confused about what’s going on at its own operations.

Whatever the reason, the gulf between fracking propaganda and reality has been laid bare in a new report led by the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative, a watchdog group that studies employment trends, economic development, and community impacts associated with fracking and proposed fracking in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

PCBs still affecting our health decades later

Chemical banned by the US 3 decades ago hurts seniors' cognitive performance

Although PCBs have been banned in the United States since 1979, University of Montreal and CHU Sainte-Justine researcher Maryse Bouchard has found that higher levels of the toxin was associated with lower cognitive performance in seniors. There is a significant association between PCB levels and cognitive abilities among individuals aged 70 to 84 years; the correlation was also detected to a lesser extent among people aged 60-69 years. This analysis also showed that the association differed by sex. Women in the older age group had the largest diminution in cognition in relation to exposure. "While most studies have looked at the impact of PCBs on infant development, our research shows that this toxin might affect us throughout our lives," Bouchard said.

The Long Shadow Of Iran Contra

I am a simple man. Years ago, I made it a policy of mine that I would approve of any deal with Iran so long as it didn't involve selling missiles to the mullahs. I developed this policy in January of 1981, when I was in Washington covering the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, and the Iranians, in one last attempt to stick it to Jimmy Carter, refused to release the remaining American hostages until Reagan had taken office. Almost immediately, the propagandists in the employ of the new president started floating to a credulous media that the Iranians had done so because they were terrified of the awesome awesomeness of Ronald Reagan. Turns out, of course, that they did it in exchange for Reagan's unfreezing their American assets and also because Reagan's people opened up a yard sale at the Pentagon where the Iranians could get good deals on TOW missiles. Ronald Reagan, as we all know, would never negotiate with -- let alone sell weapons to -- nations that sponsored terrorism. That is why Ronald Reagan was a great man who has many large and ugly buildings named after him.

(Whether or not these deals were cut by officials of the Reagan campaign prior to the election -- in other words, whether or not Bill Casey et. al. committed something like treason by undermining American foreign policy in order to win an election -- is still very much an open question. But there were, ahem, precedents.)

Chris Hedges: Shielding a Flickering Flame

>With the folly of the human race—and perhaps its unconscious lust for self-annihilation—on display at the U.N. Climate Talks in Warsaw, it is easy to succumb to despair. The world’s elite, it is painfully clear, will do little to halt the accelerating destruction of the ecosystem and eventually the human species. We have, through our ingenuity and hubris, unleashed the next great mass extinction on the planet. And I suspect the reason we have never discovered signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is because extraterrestrial societies that achieved similar levels of technological development also destroyed themselves. There are probably more wreckages of advanced civilizations, cursed by poisoned ecosystems, floating through the universe than we imagine.

The death spiral we face means that resistance will increasingly break down along two lines—those who have children and those who do not. It is one thing to sacrifice one’s self. It is another to sacrifice one’s children. No matter how grim and apocalyptic the world becomes, a parent is compelled to protect his or her child. One cannot totally give up hope. When resistance becomes an act of almost certain futility and suicide, and this is what is fast approaching, violent confrontation will mean the extermination of your children. And that is too much to ask of a parent. Parents—and I am one—do not make great revolutionaries. We have to go home to put a child to bed. Those who do not have children more easily rise up. Most parents, for this reason, are able to embrace only nonviolent protest. And nonviolent mass protest offers, as long as we remain in a period of relative stability, our best hope. Resorting to violence would, right now, make things worse. But as societies unravel, as desperation becomes worldwide, both nonviolence and violence will do little to alter our impending self-destruction. In the coming struggle against the global corporate elite there will be two sets of priorities—those of parents and those of fighters. These differing priorities will have to be respected if we are to build a cohesive movement. There are some things a mother or a father cannot, and perhaps should not, do.

Paul Krugman: California, Here We Come?

It goes without saying that the rollout of Obamacare was an epic disaster. But what kind of disaster was it? Was it a failure of management, messing up the initial implementation of a fundamentally sound policy? Or was it a demonstration that the Affordable Care Act is inherently unworkable?

We know what each side of the partisan divide wants you to believe. The Obama administration is telling the public that everything will eventually be fixed, and urging Congressional Democrats to keep their nerve. Republicans, on the other hand, are declaring the program an irredeemable failure, which must be scrapped and replaced with ... well, they don’t really want to replace it with anything.

Up Close With Small-Town White Male Rage

By Michael Kimmel

Who are the white supremacists? There has been no formal survey, for obvious reasons, but there are several noticeable patterns. Geographically, they come from America’s heartland—small towns, rural cities, swelling suburban sprawl outside larger Sunbelt cities. These aren’t the prosperous towns, but the single-story working-class exurbs that stretch for what feels like forever in the corridor between Long Beach and San Diego (not the San Fernando Valley), or along the southern tier of Pennsylvania, or spread all through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, across the vast high plains of eastern Washington and Oregon, through Idaho and Montana. There are plenty in the declining cities of the Rust Belt, in Dearborn and Flint, Buffalo and Milwaukee, in the bars that remain in the shadows of the hulking deserted factories that once were America’s manufacturing centers. And that doesn’t even touch the former states of the Confederacy, where flying the Confederate flag is a culturally approved symbol of “southern pride”—in the same way that wearing a swastika would be a symbol of German “heritage” (except it’s illegal in Germany to wear a swastika).

There’s a large rural component. Although “the spread of far-right groups over the last decade has not been limited to rural areas alone,” writes Osha Gray Davidson, “the social and economic unraveling of rural communities—especially in the midwest—has provided far-right groups with new audiences for their messages of hate. Some of these groups have enjoyed considerable success in their rural campaign.” For many farmers facing foreclosures, the Far Right promises to help them save their land have been appealing, offering farmers various schemes and legal maneuvers to help prevent foreclosures, blaming the farmers’ troubles on Jewish bankers and the one-world government. “As rural communities started to collapse,” Davidson writes, the Far Right “could be seen at farm auctions comforting families...confirming what rural people knew to be true: that their livelihoods, their families, their communities—their very lives—were falling apart.” In stark contrast to the government indifference encountered by rural Americans, a range of Far Right groups, most recently the militias, have seemingly provided support, community, and answers.

American Futures: The Shortcomings of the Governing Class

By Jeff Faux

The Future:
Six Drivers of Global Change

by Al Gore
Random House, 2013, 592 pp.
 The Great Deformation:
The Corruption of Capitalism in America

by David Stockman
Public Affairs Books, 2013, 768 pp.
Americans’ perception of the future bounces between two contradictory visions. One is that the country is drifting toward decline. Polls report widespread belief that the younger generation of Americans will be worse off than their parents, that U.S. influence in the world is weakening, and that our governing institutions are incompetent and corrupt. At the same time, a majority thinks that although the country may be going to hell, they and their families will prosper.

According to a Pew survey, 63 percent of Americans think that forty years from now the standard of living of the average family will not improve, with 36 percent thinking it will get even worse. At the same time, 64 percent are optimistic that they personally and their families will be better off. Indeed, like the citizens of Lake Wobegon, over 70 percent of Americans believe that their income is above average. This perceived disconnect between one’s personal fate and one’s country’s surely helps explain the low level of public outrage in this post-crash era of high unemployment and falling wages.

A Saudi-Israeli Defeat on Iran Deal

Exclusive: The Saudi-Israeli alliance hoped to sink a deal between Iran and world powers that limits but doesn’t end Iran’s nuclear program, so the deal’s signing in Geneva is both a defeat for that new alliance and a victory for President Obama and diplomacy, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The interim agreement restraining Iran’s nuclear program represents a stern international rebuke to the new Saudi-Israeli alliance which sought to thwart the deal and maneuver the United States into another military confrontation in the Middle East.

Despite increasingly hysterical rhetoric from Saudi Arabia, Israel and their many media and political allies, the world’s leading powers – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – hammered out an agreement that increases chances for a peaceful settlement with Iran. Over the next six months, Iran and the so-called “p-5-plus-1” can now try to devise a permanent framework for ensuring that Iran keeps its word about not wanting a nuclear bomb.

Seniors Are Getting Systematically Screwed By How We Pay Social Security — And It's Been Happening For Years

Danny Vinik
Nov. 22, 2013, 9:43 AM

For decades now, the real purchasing power of social security benefits has been falling.

In real terms, the benefits seniors receive are considerably less than what their parents received a few decades ago. It's time we do something about it.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) use a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) called CPI-W each year to calculate how much social security benefits should grow to keep up with inflation. Their purchasing power would quickly degrade rapidly if such an adjustment were not made. Here's the problem: CPI-W underestimates how much the cost-of-living for seniors increases each year.

Chomsky: Business Elites Are Waging a Brutal Class War in America

By Noam Chomsky

An article that recently came out inRolling Stone, titled “Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail,” by Matt Taibbi, asserts that the government is afraid to prosecute powerful bankers, such as those running HSBC. Taibbi says that there’s “an arrestable class and an unarrestable class.” What is your view on the current state of class war in the U.S.?

Well, there’s always a class war going on. The United States, to an unusual extent, is a business-run society, more so than others. The business classes are very class-conscious—they’re constantly fighting a bitter class war to improve their power and diminish opposition. Occasionally this is recognized.
We don’t use the term “working class” here because it’s a taboo term. You’re supposed to say “middle class,” because it helps diminish the understanding that there’s a class war going on.

Kennedy Week: The Myth of Camelot and the Dangers of Sycophantic Consensus Journalism

Rick Perlstein

The Life magazine dated November 22, 1963, which would have arrived on newsstands around November 15, featured a terrifying story by Theodore White, author of the groundbreaking bestseller The Making of the President 1960. Titled “Racial Collision,” and subtitled “the Negro-white problem is greatest in the North where the Negro is taking over the cities—and being strangled by them,” it was a terrifying intimation of an imminent racial holocaust. The first of two parts, the conclusion ran in the issue dated November 29—which ordinarily would have appeared on newsstands on November 22 but was held back to put the martyred President Kennedy on the cover, and to include, inside, several thousand words of what must have been some very speedily written copy about his death. That second part was even scarier. It reported terrors like Adam Clayton Powell’s call for “ ‘a Birmingham explosion in New York City’ this fall”; Communist infiltration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle; a civil rights group’s fears that it would be labeled “a front for the white man” unless a peaceful march was turned into “a violent putsch on government offices”; and some protesters&rssquo; demand for cash reparations for slavery—“There is a warning if such sin-gold is not paid by white Americans to black Americans, the ‘power structure’ is inviting ‘social chaos.’ ” And it quoted James Forman of the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee reaching the following unsettling conclusion: “85% of all Negroes do not adhere to nonviolence.”

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Michael Hudson: Push against offshore secrecy an uphill battle

Big players are taking unprecedented steps to stop offshore abuses, but financial crime fighters worry reforms don’t go far enough

By Michael Hudson, 8:00 am, November 20, 2013 Updated: 8:06 am, November 20, 2013
In June 2000, international groups rolled out blacklists targeting offshore refuges that shelter tax dodging and money laundering. Some observers predicted “the death of tax havens.”

By 2002 the campaign had, as one tax analyst put it, “dissolved into a series of toothless pronouncements.”

In 2009, offshore centers faced new attacks as the United States pursued an investigation of Swiss banks and nations hit by economic crisis sought to boost tax revenues. “Tax havens and bank secrecy are finished,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared.

Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts

There's no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it's rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.

Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6AM, go to school (I have a full courseload, but I only have to go to two in-person classes) then work, then I get the kids, then I pick up my husband, then I have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 1230AM, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I'm in bed by 3. This isn't every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr. Martini and see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork. Those nights I'm in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won't be able to stay up the other nights because I'll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can't afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn't leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn't in the mix.

Saving the city from climate change, one house at a time

By Greg Hanscom
Alex Washburn was one of those New Yorkers who stayed put, defying Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s orders to evacuate when Superstorm Sandy came stomping into town. But unlike those who dug in their heels out of stubbornness or helplessness, Washburn stuck around out of pure curiosity. He’s Bloomberg’s chief urban designer — the guy responsible for shaping the city’s parks, streets, and other public spaces — and he wanted to meet Sandy in person.

“I wanted to watch, feel, understand what a storm surge meant,” he says. “If I don’t understand it viscerally, I can’t design for it.”

Paul Krugman: Expanding Social Security

For many years there has been one overwhelming rule for people who wanted to be considered serious inside the Beltway. It was this: You must declare your willingness to cut Social Security in the name of “entitlement reform.” It wasn’t really about the numbers, which never supported the notion that Social Security faced an acute crisis. It was instead a sort of declaration of identity, a way to show that you were an establishment guy, willing to impose pain (on other people, as usual) in the name of fiscal responsibility.

But a funny thing has happened in the past year or so. Suddenly, we’re hearing open discussion of the idea that Social Security should be expanded, not cut. Talk of Social Security expansion has even reached the Senate, with Tom Harkin introducing legislation that would increase benefits. A few days ago Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a stirring floor speech making the case for expanded benefits.

How a Shadowy Network of Corporate Front Groups Distorts the Marketplace of Ideas

Thursday, 21 November 2013 09:39  
By Joshua Holland, Moyers & Company | Interview 

In 1971, Lewis Powell, who would become a Supreme Court justice the following year, penned a memo calling on the American business community to aggressively engage in shaping the country’s political discourse and regulatory landscape. The “American economic system is under broad attack,” he wrote. He said the time had come to fight back. “Business must learn . . . that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination — without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.”

For Powell, it was all about organizing and planning over the long-term to sway public opinion and shape public policies. “Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations,” he wrote.

The myths of Obamacare's 'failure'

Los Angeles TimesNovember 19, 2013  

Attacks on the Affordable Care Act have stepped up over the last week or so. You'd think that the healthcare reform known as Obamacare is leading to the wholesale loss of affordable insurance by huge sectors of the American public, many of whom will be impoverished by being forced into low-quality health plans at exorbitant prices.

You'd think the entire reform is on "life support," as the usually judicious National Journal put it, speculating that Democrats may soon start calling for its repeal.

Read more here:

Paul Krugman: A Permanent Slump?

Spend any time around monetary officials and one word you’ll hear a lot is “normalization.” Most though not all such officials accept that now is no time to be tightfisted, that for the time being credit must be easy and interest rates low. Still, the men in dark suits look forward eagerly to the day when they can go back to their usual job, snatching away the punch bowl whenever the party gets going.

But what if the world we’ve been living in for the past five years is the new normal? What if depression-like conditions are on track to persist, not for another year or two, but for decades?

Naming Names: The 90 Companies Destroying Our Planet

Analysis highlights the small number of profit-driven entities that are driving us towards destruction, but can a climate revolution from below challenge their rule?

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Narrow it down to the real power-brokers and decision-makers—the CEO's of fossil fuel companies or the energy ministers from the largest petro-states—says climate researcher Richard Heede, and the actual individuals most responsible for the political world's continued refusal to address the planetary crisis of climate change "could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two."

In a newly compeleted study by Heede and his colleagues at the Climate Accountability Institute, their analysis shows that a mere 90 companies, some private and some state-owned, account for a full two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions that are now driving perilous rates of global warming.

Most of NSA’s data collection authorized by order Ronald Reagan issued

By Ali Watkins
McClatchy Washington Bureau, November 21, 2013

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency’s collection of information on Americans’ cellphone and Internet usage reaches far beyond the two programs that have received public attention in recent months, to a presidential order that is older than the Internet itself.

Approved by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, Executive Order 12333 (referred to as “twelve-triple-three”) still governs most of what the NSA does. It is a sweeping mandate that outlines the duties and foreign intelligence collection for the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies. It is not governed by Congress, and critics say it has little privacy protection and many loopholes. What changes have been made to it have come through guidelines set by the attorney general or other documents.

How Wall Street — not pensioners — wrecked Detroit

While clueless elites continue to blame "reckless public pensions," a new report tells a very different story

David Sirota

In its house editorial yesterday, USA Today retold the now-accepted story of Detroit’s bankruptcy. Railing on “reckless public pensions,” the newspaper told its readers that the Motor City is “Exhibit A for municipal irresponsibility” because it allegedly “negotiated generous pensions” that were too lavish. In this fable, the average Detroit pensioner’s $19,000 a year stipend — which many get in lieu of Social Security — is somehow defined not only as excessive, but also as the primary cause of the city’s financial problems. Detroit, thus, becomes a weapon in the larger Plot Against Pensions, as the right holds it up as a cautionary tale supposedly showing that A) police officers, firefighters and sanitation workers are greedy and B) America cannot afford to fulfill negotiated agreements to pay public-sector workers a subsistence retirement benefit.

No doubt, there is a tiny grain of truth in this otherwise inaccurate story. Yes, it is true, Detroit is a cautionary tale for governments about financial management and legacy costs. However, it is not a cautionary tale about allegedly greedy employees living the MTV Cribs life off taxpayers. As an eye-opening new report from a former Goldman Sachs executive documents, it is instead yet another cautionary tale about Wall Street’s too-good-to-be-true schemes that end up being, well, too good to be true.

Special Report: The Pentagon's doctored ledgers conceal epic waste

By Scot J. Paltrow

LETTERKENNY ARMY DEPOT, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Linda Woodford spent the last 15 years of her career inserting phony numbers in the U.S. Department of Defense's accounts.

Every month until she retired in 2011, she says, the day came when the Navy would start dumping numbers on the Cleveland, Ohio, office of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Pentagon's main accounting agency. Using the data they received, Woodford and her fellow DFAS accountants there set about preparing monthly reports to square the Navy's books with the U.S. Treasury's - a balancing-the-checkbook maneuver required of all the military services and other Pentagon agencies.

Liberals aren't like the rest, or so they think

Liberals tend to underestimate the amount of actual agreement among those who share their ideology, while conservatives tend to overestimate intra-group agreement, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

These findings may help to explain differences in how political groups and movements, like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, gain traction on the national stage:

"The Tea Party movement developed a succinct set of goals in its incipient stages and effectively mobilized its members toward large-scale social change quite quickly," says psychological scientist Chadly Stern of New York University. "In contrast, despite its popularity, the liberal Occupy Wall Street movement struggled to reach agreement on their collective mission and ultimately failed to enact large-scale social change."

Elizabeth Warren on Social Security: “It’s Values, Not Math”

November 18, 2013
The following remarks on Social Security were made on the floor of the United States Senate on Monday by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. As Warren notes, “the conversation about retirement and Social Security benefits is not just a conversation about math. At its core, this is a conversation about our values.” Warren places the debate about Social Security in the context of a broader “retirement crisis” for the American middle class and explains why “we should be talking about expanding Social Security benefits – not cutting them.” 

The fight to provide retirement security for all Americans has an eloquent advocate in Sen. Elizabeth Warren, as the following speech demonstrates.
— Richard Eskow

Dean Baker: Bubbles are Not Funny: The 99% Gets Blasted When They Burst

First, while the economy may presently need asset bubbles to maintain full employment (a point I made in Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy [4]), it doesn't follow that we should not be concerned about asset bubbles. The problem with bubbles is that their inflation and inevitable deflation lead to massive redistribution of wealth.

In the case of the housing bubble in particular we saw millions of people lose much or all of their wealth from buying homes at bubble-inflated prices. The loss of housing wealth is especially devastating because housing is a highly leveraged asset even in normal times and it is an asset often held by middle and moderate income households. It was great that the bubble was able to spur growth and get the economy close to full employment, however the subsequent crash was pretty awful. It would be incredibly irresponsible to go through another round like this.

Paul Krugman: The Dollar Will Be All Right

Oh, dear. I'm starting to notice a shift in the scare talk. Cries that "We're about to turn into Greece, Greece, I tell you," are getting a bit fainter, maybe because of what I've been writing in response. But taking their place are dire warnings that the dollar's role as a reserve currency is endangered.


People who talk like this generally have no idea what they are saying — that is, they have no idea what the dollar's role really is, what might endanger that role, and why it matters (to the extent that it does).

Think the Tea Party Is Crazy? Europe's Rising Neo-Fascism Is a Taste of What's Coming If Austerity Prevails in America 

By Marshall Auerback

The U.S. could be headed in the same direction if the austerity-pushers have their way. Europe is a case study in what happens when mainstream parties on both the right and the left fail to deliver relief to the people. Extremists seize the opportunity to assert themselves, and things get ugly very fast.

Bringing countries together in the European Union was supposed to make violent nationalist conflict a thing of the past. Member countries were supposed to prosper economically. But now countries like Greece and Spain are fracturing politically and falling into a downward economic spiral.

People new to power more likely to be vengeful

New research has shown that people who are not accustomed to holding power are more likely to be vengeful when placed in charge. Experienced power-holders, on the other hand, were found to be more tolerant of perceived wrongdoing.

The research, co-led by Dr Mario Weick of the University of Kent, and Dr Peter Strelan, of the University of Adelaide, Australia, explored for the first time the relationship between power and revenge.

The research concluded that revenge and other acts of aggression are more likely to be enacted by individuals who are new to holding power and feel more vulnerable to threats, relative to those who feel more self-assured and experienced in their exercise of power.

State “Stink Tanks” Exposed

Dave Johnson

How many times have you read or heard in the news something along the lines of “a new report from the Institute of Free Markets and Liberty finds that giant corporations and billionaires create jobs if given tax cuts,” or how about your classic “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You“? Well guess what, a new report from an actual, honest think tank exposes a national network of corporate PR firms masking themselves as think tanks. The report calls these corporate-front PR firms “Stink Tanks.”

The Stink Tanks

The report, titled, exposes the State Policy Network (SPN), an $83 million web of right-wing “think tanks” in every state across the country. These organizations present themselves as nonpartisan, objective and scholarly, But instead of being actual, honest “think tanks” all of these organizations are funded by and/or work for groups like the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers and other billionaire conservative and corporate funders like the Waltons, the Bradley Foundation, the Roe Foundation, and the Coors family. Instead of acting as honest “think tanks” they instead operate as PR firms. The “reports” and “studies” these organizations issue always support the legislative efforts of these conservative billionaires and corporations.

The glorious, dystopian future envisioned by our libertarian masters

by David Atkins

I've written often before about how much of the war between the American left and right is essentially the building of sand castles in the face of the oncoming tide of globalization, deskilling and mechanization of the workforce accompanied by catastrophic climate change. Many of the public policy battles in this country are fought between the one-percenters simply trying to loot what's left before it all crashes and burns, and neoliberals desperately trying to pump up asset prices and force everyone into engineering programs to disguise the destruction of the regular wage economy. The far right and progressive left, meanwhile, are each trying to bring back the social and economic norms of the 1950s and early 1960s, respectively, in efforts of utter futility.

In this environment it's rare to find columnists who are asking themselves the right questions. It's rarer still to find ones who have the right answers. But it's when conservatives and libertarians ask the right questions and come up with their honest responses that we see the crippling danger of allowing them anywhere near the levers of power.

How Privatizers Are Killing Our Schools

Privatizers believe that any form of working together as a community is anti-American. To them, individual achievement is all that matters. They're now applying their winner-take-all profit motive to our children.

Environmental toxins linked to heart defects

Children's congenital heart defects may be associated with their mothers' exposure to specific mixtures of environmental toxins during pregnancy, according to research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2013.

Congenital heart defects occur when the heart or blood vessels near the heart don't develop normally before birth. Defects may be caused by chromosomal abnormalities, but the cause is unknown in most cases.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Paul Krugman: The Money Trap

When Greece hit the skids almost four years ago, some analysts (myself included) thought that we might be seeing the beginning of the end for the euro, Europe’s common currency. Others were more optimistic, believing that tough love — temporary aid tied to reform — would soon produce recovery. Both camps were wrong. What we actually got was a rolling crisis that never seems to reach any kind of resolution. Every time Europe seems ready to go over the edge, policy makers find a way to avoid complete disaster. But every time there are hints of true recovery, something else goes wrong.

And here we go again. Not long ago, European officials were declaring that the Continent had turned the corner, that market confidence was returning and growth was resuming. But now there’s a new source of concern, as the specter of deflation looms over much of Europe. And the debate over how to respond is turning seriously ugly.

CIA Creating Vast Database of American's Personal Financial Records: Report

Collected data goes beyond basic financial records and uses Social Security numbers to tie financial activity to a specific person

- Jon Queally, staff writer 
Claiming the same authority as the NSA does for its bulk collection of domestic internet and phone data, the clandestine Central Intelligence Agency is compiling a "vast database" that includes the personal financial records of Americans, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In a news story published Friday, the Journal reporting shows the CIA program "collects information from U.S. money-transfer companies including Western Union" and that  some of the data goes "beyond basic financial records, such as U.S. Social Security numbers, which can be used to tie the financial activity to a specific person."

The Yellen Hearing: Dreams, Reality, and the Fed 

Richard Eskow

Janet Yellen went to Capitol Hill today to be interrogated by some senators about the kind of job she plans to do once she’s confirmed as Chair of the Federal Reserve.

Many politicians expect little from the Fed because they think it has less power and flexibility than it does. For its part, the right thinks it has exercised more power than it has. Yellen won’t transform anybody’s view of the Fed, but at least she has a sense of the gravity of our ongoing economic situation.

EXCLUSIVE: Volkswagen Isn’t Fighting Unionization—But Leaked Docs Show Right-Wing Groups Are

By Mike Elk

After Volkswagen issued a letter in September saying the company would not oppose an attempt by the United Auto Workers (UAW) to unionize its 1,600-worker Chattanooga, Tenn., facility, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was flabbergasted.

"For management to invite the UAW in is almost beyond belief," Corker, who campaigned heavily for the plant’s construction during his tenure as mayor of Chattanooga, told the Associated Press. "They will become the object of many business school studies—and I'm a little worried could become a laughingstock in many ways—if they inflict this wound."

Paul Krugman: Alan Greenspan, Doing His Best to Make Things Worse

Steven Pearlstein, a columnist at The Washington Post, read Alan Greenspan's new book, and discovered that the former Federal Reserve chairman believes that he bears no responsibility for all the bad things that happened on his watch - and that the solution to a financial crisis is, you guessed it, less government.

What Mr. Pearlstein didn't mention in a recent column, but I think is important, is Mr. Greenspan's amazing track record since leaving office - a record of being wrong about everything, and learning nothing therefrom. In particular, it has been more than three years since Mr. Greenspan warned that we were going to become Greece any day now, and declared the failure of inflation and soaring rates to have arrived already "regrettable."

Companies Use Obamacare Confusion To Sell 'Junk Insurance'

Eric Lach –

"She started to basically tell me how bad the exchanges are, and that the exchanges are only for the very sick people," Mortimer told TPM in an interview last week. "And she said, 'Have you had cancer, heart attack, you or your husband?' And I said no. And she said, 'Good, because if you said yes, I would have had to recommend the exchanges.'"

Stop-and-frisk: only 3% of 2.4m stops result in conviction, report finds

Report by New York attorney general is first detailed examination of policy deemed unconstitutional earlier this year

Adam Gabbatt, Thursday 14 November 2013 13.18 EST

New York’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, hailed by the city’s mayor and police chief as crucial in fighting crime, could boast only a 3% conviction rate between 2009 and 2012, according to a report by the state attorney general released on Thursday.

The report by Eric Schneiderman, the first detailed examination of the policy’s arrest and conviction rate, used data from the New York Police Department and the Office of Court Administration to examine approximately 2.4m stops over the three-year period. Those stops resulted in almost 150,000 arrests, but only half of those led to a conviction or a guilty plea.

Paul Krugman: The Mutilated Economy

Five years and eleven months have now passed since the U.S. economy entered recession. Officially, that recession ended in the middle of 2009, but nobody would argue that we’ve had anything like a full recovery. Official unemployment remains high, and it would be much higher if so many people hadn’t dropped out of the labor force. Long-term unemployment — the number of people who have been out of work for six months or more — is four times what it was before the recession.

These dry numbers translate into millions of human tragedies — homes lost, careers destroyed, young people who can’t get their lives started. And many people have pleaded all along for policies that put job creation front and center. Their pleas have, however, been drowned out by the voices of conventional prudence. We can’t spend more money on jobs, say these voices, because that would mean more debt. We can’t even hire unemployed workers and put idle savings to work building roads, tunnels, schools. Never mind the short run, we have to think about the future!

Exclusive: US blocks publication of Chilcot’s report on how Britain went to war with Iraq

Washington is playing the lead role in delaying the publication of the long-awaited report into how Britain went to  war with Iraq, The Independent has learnt.

Although the Cabinet Office has been under fire for stalling the progress of the four-year Iraq Inquiry by Sir John Chilcot, senior diplomatic sources in the US and Whitehall indicated that it is officials in the White House and the US Department of State who have refused to sanction any declassification of critical pre- and post-war communications between George W Bush and Tony Blair.

Americans’ personal data shared with CIA, IRS, others in security probe

McClatchy Washington BureauNovember 14, 2013 

— U.S. agencies collected and shared the personal information of thousands of Americans in an attempt to root out untrustworthy federal workers that ended up scrutinizing people who had no direct ties to the U.S. government and simply had purchased certain books.

Federal officials gathered the information from the customer records of two men who were under criminal investigation for purportedly teaching people how to pass lie detector tests. The officials then distributed a list of 4,904 people – along with many of their Social Security numbers, addresses and professions – to nearly 30 federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

Read more here:

Facebook and Microsoft help fund rightwing lobby network, report finds

Ed Pilkington in New York, Thursday 14 November 2013 09.33 EST

Some of America’s largest technology and telecoms companies, including Facebook, Microsoft and AT&T, are backing a network of self-styled “free-market thinktanks” promoting a radical rightwing agenda in states across the nation, according to a new report by a lobbying watchdog.

The Center for Media and Democracy asserts that the State Policy Network (SPN), an umbrella group of 64 thinktanks based in each of the 50 states, is acting as a largely beneath-the-radar lobbying machine for major corporations and rightwing donors.

Its policies include cutting taxes, opposing climate change regulations, advocating reductions in labour protections and the minimum wage, privatising education, restricting voter rights and lobbying for the tobacco industry.

TPP Leak Confirms the Worst: US Negotiators Still Trying to Trade Away Internet Freedoms

by Maira Sutton and Parker Higgins
After years of secret trade negotiations over the future of intellectual property rights (and limits on those rights), the public gets a chance to looks at the results. For those of us who care about free speech and a balanced intellectual property system that encourages innovation, creativity, and access to knowledge, it’s not a pretty picture.

On Thursday, Wikileaks published a complete draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement’s chapter on “intellectual property rights.” The leaked text, from August 2013, confirms long-standing suspicions about the harm the agreement could do to users’ rights and a free and open Internet. From locking in excessive copyright term limits to further entrenching failed policies that give legal teeth to Digital Rights Management (DRM) tools, the TPP text we’ve now seen reflects a terrible but unsurprising truth: an agreement negotiated in near-total secrecy, including corporations but excluding the public, comes out as an anti-user wish list of industry-friendly policies.

Randy Wray: What If China Dumps US Treasury Bonds? Paul Krugman Inches Toward MMT

Yves here. While I agree with Wray’s post, there’s a small caveat I wish he had included: China will continue to take US dollars as long as it exports to the US. There does not appear to be any near or intermediate term risk of that changing. Ironically, the US and other advanced economies have been urging China to rebalance, as in generate more of its demand for its manufacturing capacity internally and export less. China has not made much progress in that direction. Japan was also encouraged in the 1980s to become more consumer driven. Instead they managed to engineer an bubble and bust, and only Abenomics (not necessarily by design) has led to a reversal of the island nation’s long-standing trade surpluses.

By Randy Wray, a professor of economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Cross posted from New Economic Perspectives

Our deficit hysterians love to raise the specter of China. Supposedly Uncle Sam is at the mercy of the Chinese, who have a stranglehold on the supply of dollars necessary to keep the US government above water. If the Chinese suddenly decided to stop lending those scare dollars, Uncle Sam would be forced to default.

Can anyone, please, explain to me how the sovereign issuer of the US dollar—Uncle Sam—could ever run out of his supply of dollars? Please, give me one coherent explanation of how that could happen.

Pivotal Trans-Pacific Partnership Section Revealed

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 09:39  
By Staff, | Press Release 

The TPP has been shrouded in secrecy from the beginning because the Obama administration knows that the more people know about it, the more they will oppose the agreement. The release of the full Intellectual Property chapter today by Wiikileaks confims what had been suspected, the Obama administration has been an advocate for transnational corporate interests in the negotiations even though they run counter to the needs and desires of the public. 

JPMorgan’s Fruitful Ties to a Member of China’s Elite


To promote its standing in China, JPMorgan Chase turned to a seemingly obscure consulting firm run by a 32-year-old executive named Lily Chang.

Ms. Chang’s firm, which received a $75,000-a-month contract from JPMorgan, appeared to have only two employees. And on the surface, Ms. Chang lacked the influence and public name recognition needed to unlock business for the bank.

Frank Rich: CBS’s Benghazi Report Was a Hoax, Not a Mistake

Every week, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich talks with contributor Eric Benson about the biggest stories in politics and culture. This week: Lara Logan apologies for her Benghazi report, Bill Clinton calls for Obamacare changes, and The New Republic forwards Elizabeth Warren as the anti-Hillary.

On Sunday, CBS News correspondent Lara Logan issued a short and, many commentators felt, insufficient apology for her now-discredited 60 Minutes report on the Benghazi consulate attack. A year ago, Logan had publicly mocked the notion that the Benghazi attack was a protest gone awry and advocated for a stronger U.S. military response. Should CBS have given her this story? How can Logan or her network satisfactorily explain the botched report? And do you see a double standard at work between Logan's fate (issuing a halfhearted apology, so far) and Dan Rather's much harsher penalty for his questionable 60 Minutes report in 2004?

Lara Logan’s story was not a mere journalistic mistake, but a hoax comparable to such legendary frauds as Life magazine’s purchase of the billionaire Howard Hughes’s nonexistent “autobiography” in the seventies and Rupert Murdoch’s similarly extravagant embrace of the bogus Hitler “diaries” in the eighties. In Logan’s case, she perpetrated an out-and-out fictional character: a pseudonymous security contractor who peddled a made-up “eyewitness” account of the murder of four Americans in Benghazi. The point seemed to be to further Benghazi as a conservative political cause (instead, Logan’s hoax boomeranged and extinguished it) and to melodramatically exploit the tragic slaughter of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues as titillating prime-time network entertainment. Logan’s phony source, who in fact was at a beachside villa and not on site to witness anything, cooked up violent new “details” for the Benghazi narrative that seemed to have been lifted from a Jean Claude Van Damme movie.

How Franklin D. Roosevelt Botched Social Security

The seeds of neoliberal economic policy were planted during the founding years of twentieth century liberalism. The Democrats’ current embrace of  fiscal conservatism is claimed by contemporary self-proclaimed New Dealers to be a repudiation of the founding bequest, a capitulation to reactionary Republican dogma. Budget deficits, we are told, were legitimated by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the New Deal as a legacy to future Democratic regimes. The political obligation to enhance social welfare is supposed to have trumped the old-time Hooverian taboo against government expenditures beyond government receipts.

Objections to this policy are thought to have been refuted not merely by Keynesian economic theory but mainly by successful practice: once Roosevelt put into place large scale deficit-funded projects like the Works Progress Administration, the economy was launched into its steepest cyclical expansion to this day, from 1933 to 1937.  Reagan’s tirades against budget deficits are said to be a throwback to pre-Rooseveltian times and outdated orthodoxy. Imagine the chagrin of  “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” when Clinton and Obama betrayed the heritage of the New Deal by seconding the Republican commitment to fiscal orthodoxy. The rustling sound you are supposed to hear is FDR tossing in his grave.

House Pushing Back on Trade Deal; More Detail on How Secret Arbitration Panels Undermine Laws and Regulations

Wow, this is amazing. Word has apparently gotten out even to Congressmen who can normally be lulled to sleep with the invocation of the magic phrase “free trade” that the pending Trans Pacific Partnership is toxic. This proposed deal among 13 Pacific Rim countries (essentially, an “everybody but China” pact), is only peripherally about trade, since trade is already substantially liberalized. Its main aim is to strengthen the rights of intellectual property holders and investors, undermining US sovereignity, allowing drug companies to raise drug prices, interfering with basic operation of the Internet, and gutting labor, banking, and environmental regulations.

The update from the New York Times:
The Obama administration is rushing to reach a new deal intended to lower barriers to trade with a dozen Pacific Rim nations, including Japan and Canada, before the end of the year.
But the White House is now facing new hurdles closer to home, with nearly half of the members of the House signing letters or otherwise signaling their opposition to granting so-called fast-track authority that would make any agreement immune to a Senate filibuster and not subject to amendment. No major trade pact has been approved by Congress in recent decades without such authority.

Dean Baker: The Obama Pledge on Keeping Your Insurance

President Obama has been getting a lot of grief in the last few weeks over his pledge that with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in place, people would be able to keep their insurance if they like it. The media have been filled with stories about people across the country who are having their insurance policies terminated, ostensibly because they did not meet the requirements of the ACA.  While this has led many to say that Obama was lying, there is much less here than meets the eye.

First, it is important to note that the ACA grand-fathered all the individual policies that were in place at the time the law was enacted. This means that the plans in effect at the time that President Obama was pushing the bill could still be offered even if they did not meet all the standards laid out in the ACA.

The plans being terminated because they don't meet the minimal standards were all plans that insurers introduced after the passage of the ACA.

Corporate America’s New Scam: Industry P.R. Firm Poses as Think Tank!

How the media fell hook, line and sinker for the propagandist, respectable-sounding "Employment Policies Institute"
by Lisa Graves
When scholars at University of California, Berkeley, recently released a study finding that low wages in the fast food industry cost taxpayers $7 billion every year in social supports to subsidize salaries of low-income workers, they ran into a respectable-sounding opponent. The professors had argued that the minimum wage should be increased to relieve the burden on taxpayers who underwrite supersize restaurant industry profits.

But as the bona fide academic study rolled out, multiple media outlets ran comments criticizing the report’s numbers and methodology from the scholarly sounding “Employment Policies Institute.”  The Austin Business Journal characterized EPI as a think tank “which studies employment growth,” while the Miami Herald ran a quote from Michael Saltsman, whom the paper named as EPI’s “research director.”

Paul Krugman: Who's Afraid of China?

The Slate commentator Matthew Yglesias recently noted an uptick in warnings from Very Serious People that China might lose confidence in America and start dumping our bonds. In an article published earlier this month, he focuses on China's motives, which is useful.

But the crucial point, which Mr. Yglesias touches on only briefly at the end, is that whatever China's motives, the Chinese wouldn't hurt us if they dumped our bonds - in fact, it would probably be good for the United States.

Saving the Ozone May Slow Earth's Warming Rate

By Tim Radford

The ozone layer was the second great atmospheric crisis of the late 20th century (the first involved the urban smog and acid rain that triggered clean air legislation in Europe and the US). CFCs were the safe, enduring gases used as refrigerants: their only problem was that - once they reached the stratosphere - they unexpectedly began to destroy the ozone layer that screens out harmful ultraviolet light.

Scalia’s chance to smash unions: The huge under-the-radar case

A Supreme Court case being argued Wednesday could take away a tactic that's kept unions alive

Josh Eidelson

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on an under-the-radar case that could deal a major blow to already embattled U.S. unions. As Harvard labor law professor Benjamin Sachs told the New York Times, the case now facing Antonin Scalia and company could be “the most significant labor case in a generation.”

The case, Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall, involves the constitutionality of “card check neutrality agreements” between unions and companies they’re trying to organize. That’s the technical-sounding term for agreements that pave the way for unionization by restricting companies from running union-busting campaigns, and by committing companies to recognize a union and start negotiating if a majority of workers sign union cards, rather than holding out for a government-supervised election. In exchange, unions can agree not to publicly shame and slam the company – which means calling off the kind of public pressure campaign often necessary to compel companies to sign away their union-busting rights.

Poverty Is America's #1 Education Problem

By David Sirota

Before looking at that study, consider some of the ways we already know that the dominant storyline about education is, indeed, baseless propaganda.

Mistaking Omniscience for Omnipotence: A World Without Privacy

Tuesday, 12 November 2013 09:55
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch | News Analysis

Given how similar they sound and how easy it is to imagine one leading to the other, confusing omniscience (having total knowledge) with omnipotence (having total power) is easy enough. It’s a reasonable supposition that, before the Snowden revelations hit, America’s spymasters had made just that mistake.  If the drip-drip-drip of Snowden’s mother of all leaks -- which began in May and clearly won’t stop for months to come -- has taught us anything, however, it should be this: omniscience is not omnipotence.  At least on the global political scene today, they may bear remarkably little relation to each other. In fact, at the moment Washington seems to be operating in a world in which the more you know about the secret lives of others, the less powerful you turn out to be.

Thom Hartmann: The Plot to Destroy America -- and What We Can Do to Stop It

There are very few Americans still alive who heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in March 1933, address the nation as he was being sworn into office. Which is why many Americans today believe that when FDR famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he was talking about World War II. But Roosevelt said that long before Hitler had even fully consolidated his own power in Germany.

Instead, the fear—and the war—was here in America. He was speaking of the Great Depression.

The week of his inauguration, every state in the country closed their banks. The federal government couldn’t make its own payroll. A quarter of working-​age Americans were unemployed— some measurements put it at a third— and unemployment in minority communities was off the scale.

Penn and Drexel Team Demonstrates New Paradigm for Solar Cell Construction

For solar panels, wringing every drop of energy from as many photons as possible is imperative.  This goal has sent chemistry, materials science and electronic engineering researchers on a quest to boost the energy-absorption efficiency of photovoltaic devices, but existing techniques are now running up against limits set by the laws of physics.

Now, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University have experimentally demonstrated a new paradigm for solar cell construction which may ultimately make them less expensive, easier to manufacture and more efficient at harvesting energy from the sun.

Why the Hate-Filled, Retrograde Politics of the Tea Party Are Here to Stay

By CJ Werleman

November 11, 2013  |  After last Tuesday’s creaming in the Virginia governor’s race, and with Tea Party negatives creeping toward 75 percent, the political punditry class has divided itself into one of two camps: those celebrating the demise of the Tea Party versus those forecasting its inevitable end. Who’s right? They're both wrong, because it’s not a movement. It’s a geographical region, and if history has taught us anything, southern folk are a pugnacious bunch.

Despite political feel-good rhetoric, there are two Americas. Not just ideologically, but geographically. That’s what still makes this country unique among other Western democracies. America is two distinct nations with a distinguishable border that runs the breadth of the country from the Mason-Dixon line across the southern border of Pennsylvania, finishing in some Baptist church somewhere in rural Texas.

Separating myth from reality on Obamacare

News media scare stories, website glitches hide savings for those who look at insurance alternatives

By Wendell Potter, 6:00 am, November 12, 2013 Updated: 9:59 am, November 12, 2013

My heart sank when I got an email late last month from my friend Robert, who has been battling multiple sclerosis for the past decade. He wrote to tell me that he was among the many Americans who in recent weeks received letters from their insurance companies saying that their policies won’t be available next year.

Insurance companies are sending those letters primarily because the policies they will no longer offer don’t provide enough coverage — or have deductibles that are too high — to comply with the Affordable Care Act. In many cases, however, the policyholders getting those letters are simply victims of a business practice insurers have engaged in for years: discontinuing policies because they’re no longer sufficiently profitable.

Mom as the New Face of Anarchy? Police Terrorize Americans Who Object to Right-Wing Lunacy by Using "Anarchist" Label

By Lynn Stuart Parramore

Just ask my 81-year-old mom. In the state of North Carolina, she is a suspected anarchist for wanting children to go to decent schools.

Matt Taibbi: Chase Isn't the Only Bank in Trouble

I've been away for weeks now on a non-financial assignment (we have something unusual coming out in Rolling Stone in a few weeks) so I've fallen behind on some crazy developments on Wall Street. There are multiple scandals blowing up right now, including a whole set of ominous legal cases that could result in punishments so extreme that they might significantly alter the long-term future of the financial services sector.

As one friend of mine put it, "Whatever those morons put aside for settlements, they'd better double it."

Firstly, there's a huge mess involving possible manipulation of the world currency markets. This scandal is already drawing comparisons to the last biggest-financial-scandal-in-history (the Financial Times wondered about a "repeat Libor scandal"), the manipulation of interest rates via the gaming of the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor. The foreign exchange or FX market is the largest financial market in the world, with a daily trading volume of nearly $5 trillion.

Paul Krugman: The Plot Against France

On Friday Standard & Poor’s, the bond-rating agency, downgraded France. The move made headlines, with many reports suggesting that France is in crisis. But markets yawned: French borrowing costs, which are near historic lows, barely budged.

So what’s going on here? The answer is that S.& P.’s action needs to be seen in the context of the broader politics of fiscal austerity. And I do mean politics, not economics. For the plot against France — I’m being a bit tongue in cheek here, but there really are a lot of people trying to bad-mouth the place — is one clear demonstration that in Europe, as in America, fiscal scolds don’t really care about deficits. Instead, they’re using debt fears to advance an ideological agenda. And France, which refuses to play along, has become the target of incessant negative propaganda.