Saturday, December 28, 2013

Judge on NSA Case Cites 9/11 Report, But It Doesn’t Actually Support His Ruling

by Justin Elliott
ProPublica, Dec. 28, 2013, 11:35 a.m.

Update Dec. 28, 2013: In a new decision in support of the NSA's phone metadata surveillance program, U.S. district court Judge William Pauley cites an intelligence failure involving the agency in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks. But the judge's cited source, the 9/11 Commission Report, doesn't actually include the account he gives in the ruling. What’s more, experts say the NSA could have avoided the pre-9/11 failure even without the metadata surveillance program.

We previously explored the key incident in question, involving calls made by hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar from California to Yemen, in a story we did over the summer, which you can read below.

Paul Krugman: The Fear Economy

More than a million unemployed Americans are about to get the cruelest of Christmas “gifts.” They’re about to have their unemployment benefits cut off. You see, Republicans in Congress insist that if you haven’t found a job after months of searching, it must be because you aren’t trying hard enough. So you need an extra incentive in the form of sheer desperation.

As a result, the plight of the unemployed, already terrible, is about to get even worse. Obviously
those who have jobs are much better off. Yet the continuing weakness of the labor market takes a
toll on them, too. So let’s talk a bit about the plight of the employed.

The entire economy is a house of cards waiting to tumble

by David Atkins

Yesterday Digby highlighted the outstanding piece by Matt Taibbi on HSBC executives avoiding even a second of jail time for engaging in blatant drug money laundering for major cartels.

The most shocking bit bears repeating:

Though this was not stated explicitly, the government's rationale in not pursuing criminal prosecutions against the bank was apparently rooted in concerns that putting executives from a "systemically important institution" in jail for drug laundering would threaten the stability of the financial system. The New York Times put it this way:
Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system.
Now, there are a lot of people who read that statement and say "Bull." It's widely assumed on the right that this is just another example of liberal crony capitalism, that all we need to do is let capitalism and the legal system take their course, watch those liberal Brits and New Yorkers flounder, and the free market will take care of everything. Liberals tend to think that campaign finance, big bank lobbying, neoliberal ethics and big business corruption in general leads the justice department to make excuses for the failure to see justice done.

But I would posit a far more shocking conclusion: that the authorities actually believe it when they say such things. And an even more shocking conclusion: that they may well be right.

50 Is the New 65: Older Americans Are Getting Booted from Their Jobs -- and Denied New Opportunities

By Lynn Stuart Parramore

This is not just a story of people in their 60s or 70s. Workers as young as 50 are shocked to find themselves suddenly tossed onto the employment rubbish heap, just when they felt on top of their game. They’re feeling stressed, angry and betrayed by a society which has benefited greatly from their contributions.

As the global population grows older, age discrimination is on the rise. It could be headed for you, much sooner than you think.

The Past and Future of America's Social Contract

By Josh Freedman and Michael Lind

The problem of low pay has dominated headlines this year thanks to striking fast food workers, tone-deaf employers, and a spate of successful campaigns to raise state and local minimum wages.

Behind the news cycle, however, there’s a deeper issue than what Walmart or McDonald’s pay their workers today. Americans are once again wrestling with what they fundamentally want from the social contract—the basic bargain most of us can expect from the economy throughout our lives.

A generation ago, the country’s social contract was premised on higher wages and reliable benefits, provided chiefly by employers. In recent decades, we’ve moved to a system where low wages are supposed to be made bearable by low consumer prices and a hodgepodge of government assistance programs. But as dissatisfaction with this arrangement has grown, it is time to look back at how we got here and imagine what the next stage of the social contract might be.

David Cay Johnston: District Court Rebukes IRS Church Plan Rulings

The IRS Office of Chief Counsel came in for sharp criticism from a federal judge in the first significant decision in five lawsuits by workers who complain that the IRS is helping employers quietly strip away their pension rights.
Hundreds of thousands of workers at hospitals and other nonprofit organizations have been moved into so-called church pension plans, which are exempt from ERISA. IRS private letter rulings enabled each of these moves.
Most of the nonprofits that were granted IRS approval to operate as church plans exempt from ERISA were seriously under funded, the trustees having failed to set aside enough money to pay the old-age benefits workers had earned. The federal government guarantees the pensions of workers in ERISA plans, although when a plan fails, workers typically get less than they had been promised. Workers moved into church plans, however, lose the federal guarantee.

Focus on Ocean’s Health as Dolphin Deaths Soar

Published: December 22, 2013

MIAMI — Like a macabre marine mystery, the carcasses — many badly deteriorated and tossing about in the surf — first turned up along the coast of New Jersey in June. Soon, droves of them washed up in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and most recently Florida, their winter home.

So far this year, nearly 1,000 bottlenose dolphins — eight times the historical average — have washed up dead along the Eastern Seaboard from New York to Florida, a vast majority of them victims of morbillivirus. Many more are expected to die from the disease in the coming months.

Joseph E. Stiglitz: In No One We Trust

In America today, we are sometimes made to feel that it is naïve to be preoccupied with trust. Our songs advise against it, our TV shows tell stories showing its futility, and incessant reports of financial scandal remind us we’d be fools to give it to our bankers.

That last point may be true, but that doesn’t mean we should stop striving for a bit more trust in our society and our economy. Trust is what makes contracts, plans and everyday transactions possible; it facilitates the democratic process, from voting to law creation, and is necessary for social stability. It is essential for our lives. It is trust, more than money, that makes the world go round.

We do not measure trust in our national income accounts, but investments in trust are no less important than those in human capital or machines.

Ninety-Nine Years Ago: A Pause in the War on Christmas

Wednesday, 25 December 2013 11:00  
By David Swanson, War Is a Crime | Op-Ed 

Frank Richards Recalled:
"On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with 'A Merry Christmas' on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one. Platoons would sometimes go out for twenty-four hours' rest -- it was a day at least out of the trench and relieved the monotony a bit -- and my platoon had gone out in this way the night before, but a few of us stayed behind to see what would happen. Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench.

"Buffalo Bill [the Company Commander] rushed into the trench and endeavoured to prevent it, but he was too late: the whole of the Company were now out, and so were the Germans. He had to accept the situation, so soon he and the other company officers climbed out too.

Leaves of Poison 

Why are children working in American tobacco fields?

By Gabriel Thompson, The Nation, November 14, 2013 

The air was heavy and humid on the morning the three Cuello sisters joined their mother in the tobacco fields. The girls were dressed in jeans and long-sleeve shirts, carried burritos wrapped in aluminum foil, and had no idea what they were getting themselves into. "It was our first real job," says Neftali, the youngest. She was 12 at the time. The middle sister, Kimberly, was 13. Yesenia was 14.

Their mother wasn't happy for the company. After growing up in Mexico, she hadn't crossed the border so that her kids could become farmworkers. But the girls knew their mom was struggling. She had left her husband and was supporting the family on the minimum wage. If her girls worked in the tobacco fields, it would quadruple the family's summer earnings. "My mom tends to everybody,"  Neftali says. This was a chance to repay that debt.

Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, The Future Needs Us

Posted by Rebecca Solnit at 4:50pm, December 22, 2013.

The Arc of Justice and the Long Run
Hope, History, and Unpredictability

By Rebecca Solnit

North American cicada nymphs live underground for 17 years before they emerge as adults. Many seeds stay dormant far longer than that before some disturbance makes them germinate. Some trees bear fruit long after the people who have planted them have died, and one Massachusetts pear tree, planted by a Puritan in 1630, is still bearing fruit far sweeter than most of what those fundamentalists brought to this continent. Sometimes cause and effect are centuries apart; sometimes Martin Luther King’s arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice is so long few see its curve; sometimes hope lies not in looking forward but backward to study the line of that arc.

Three years ago at this time, after a young Tunisian set himself on fire to protest injustice, the Arab Spring was on the cusp of erupting. An even younger man, a rapper who went by the name El Général, was on the verge of being arrested for “Rais Lebled” (a tweaked version of the phrase “head of state”), a song that would help launch the revolution in Tunisia.

Paul Krugman: Bits and Barbarism

This is a tale of three money pits. It’s also a tale of monetary regress — of the strange determination of many people to turn the clock back on centuries of progress.

The first money pit is an actual pit — the Porgera open-pit gold mine in Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s top producers. The mine has a terrible reputation for both human rights abuses (rapes, beatings and killings by security personnel) and environmental damage (vast quantities of potentially toxic tailings dumped into a nearby river). But gold prices, while down from their recent peak, are still three times what they were a decade ago, so dig they must.

PBS Drops a Bombshell on the Federal Reserve’s 100th Birthday Party

By Pam Martens: December 22, 2013

PBS promised a “debate” this past Friday night on the “benefits and dangers” of the Federal Reserve as the Fed marks its 100 years of existence tomorrow. Instead of a debate, two famous stock market historians made the same stunning announcement – that the Fed has decided its job is to push up the stock market.

Consuelo Mack’s Wealthtrack program on PBS had invited James Grant, Editor and Founder of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, and Richard Sylla, the Henry Kaufman Professor of the History of Financial Institutions and Markets at NYU’s Stern School of Business. The opening scene for the program shows Sylla in a party hat lighting the candles on the Fed’s birthday cake while Grant snuffs them out – suggesting that Sylla would be making pro-Fed statements while Grant would take the opposing view.

How America abandoned its “undeserving” poor

With poverty on the rise in the late 1970s, Reagan conservatives waged war on the needy — and won 

Michael B. Katz

After the mid-1970s progress against poverty stalled. The 1973 oil crisis ushered in an era of growing inequality interrupted only briefly by the years of prosperity during the 1990s. Productivity increased, but, for the first time in American history, its gains were not shared by ordinary workers, whose real incomes declined even as the wealth of the rich soared. Poverty concentrated as never before in inner city districts scarred by chronic joblessness and racial segregation. America led western democracies in the proportion of its children living in poverty. It led the world in rates of incarceration. Trade union membership plummeted under an assault by big business abetted by the federal government. Policy responded by allowing the real value of the minimum wage, welfare benefits, and other social protections to erode. The dominant interpretation of America’s troubles blamed the War on Poverty and Great Society and constructed a rationale for responding to misery by retrenching on social spending. A bipartisan consensus emerged for solving the nation’s social and economic problems through a war on dependence, the devolution of authority, and the redesign of public policy along market models.

Truman’s True Warning on the CIA

Exclusive: National security secrecy and a benighted sense of “what’s good for the country” can be a dangerous mix for democracy, empowering self-interested or misguided officials to supplant the people’s will, as President Truman warned and ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern explains.

By Ray McGovern

Fifty years ago, exactly one month after John Kennedy was killed, the Washington Post published an op-ed titled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence.” The first sentence of that op-ed on Dec. 22, 1963, read, “I think it has become necessary to take another look at the purpose and operations of our Central Intelligence Agency.”

It sounded like the intro to a bleat from some liberal professor or journalist. Not so. The writer was former President Harry S. Truman, who spearheaded the establishment of the CIA 66 years ago, right after World War II, to better coordinate U.S. intelligence gathering. But the spy agency had lurched off in what Truman thought were troubling directions.

Charts: The Worst Long-Term Unemployment Crisis Since the Depression

Corporate profits have rebounded while more than four million Americans have been without work for six months or longer.

Researchers Find Factors Tied To Voting Restriction Bills Are 'Basically All Racial'

Eric Lach –

NAFTA at 20: State of the North American Farmer

In the United States and throughout North America, NAFTA has accelerated the industrial consolidation of agriculture and pushed out smaller, more sustainable food producers.

By Karen Hansen-Kuhn,

Foreign Policy In Focus is partnering with Mexico’s La Jornada del campo magazine, where an earlier version of this commentary appeared, to publish a series of pieces examining the impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 20 years since its implementation. This is the second in the series.

One of the clearest stories to emerge in the two decades since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented is the devastation wreaked on the Mexican countryside by dramatic increases in imports of cheap U.S. corn.

But while Mexican farmers, especially small-scale farmers, undoubtedly lost from the deal, that doesn’t mean that U.S. farmers have won. Prices for agricultural goods have been on a roller coaster of extreme price volatility — caused by unfair agriculture policies and recklessly unregulated speculation on commodity markets, as well as by increasing droughts and other climate chaos. Each time prices take their terrifying ride back down, more small- and medium-scale farmers are forced into bankruptcy, concentrating land ownership and agricultural production into ever fewer hands.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Not Just the Koch Brothers: New Drexel Study Reveals Funders Behind the Climate Change Denial Effort

A new study conducted by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert J. Brulle, PhD, exposes the organizational underpinnings and funding behind the powerful climate change countermovement. This study marks the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis ever conducted of the sources of funding that maintain the denial effort.

Through an analysis of the financial structure of the organizations that constitute the core of the countermovement and their sources of monetary support, Brulle found that, while the largest and most consistent funders behind the countermovement are a number of well-known conservative foundations, the majority of donations are “dark money,” or concealed funding.

Report Suggests NSA Engaged In Financial Manipulation, Changing Money In Bank Accounts

by Mike Masnick

Matt Blaze has been pointing out that when you read the new White House intelligence task force report and its recommendations on how to reform the NSA and the wider intelligence community, that there may be hints to other excesses not yet revealed by the Snowden documents. Trevor Timm may have spotted a big one.

Paul Krugman: Osborne and the Stooges

There was, I’m pretty sure, an episode of “The Three Stooges” in which Curly kept banging his head against a wall. When Moe asked him why, he replied, “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

Well, I thought it was funny. But I never imagined that Curly’s logic would one day become the main rationale that senior finance officials use to defend their disastrous policies.

Klayman Says Obama, Clinton & DNC Behind Disastrous CNN Interview, Floats Lawsuit

Submitted by Brian Tashman on Thursday, 12/19/2013 10:30 am

Larry Klayman is still reeling from his embarrassing appearance on CNN with host Don Lemon this week, and in a WorldNetDaily interview today says that he may file a defamation lawsuit against the network, charging that the interview was a set up by President Obama, the Clintons and the Democratic National Committee.

Klayman told birther leader and WND correspondent Jerome Corsi that Lemon should be fired for being a “shill” for the DNC and “a well-known ultra-leftist African-American political activist who pursues a LGBT sexual agenda.”

Paul Krugman: Learning to Speak Economese

What we have here is a problem of communication. Actually, mostly that's not true. Most of the arguments about economic policy involve real disputes about how the world works. Sometimes these are smart disputes, like the argument over the effectiveness of quantitative easing, and sometimes they're stupid disputes, like the one over whether the Federal Reserve is debasing the currency, but, anyway, the disputes are about something real.

But to such arguments one must add an extra layer of confusion arising from the way economists use words. Fairly often, a term that is pretty deeply embedded in the professional discourse either sounds strange to outsiders or can be misinterpreted. An example of the first is the term "secular stagnation." I know many of my readers dislike it. It relies on definition 3(c) of "secular" in Merriam-Webster's dictionary: "of or relating to a long term of indefinite duration" — not exactly the meaning that comes to most people's minds.

Right-Wing Front Group Poses as Journalists to Attack Investigation Into Political Money Laundering

By Brendan Fischer

The only name associated with the investigation led by the Milwaukee County's District Attorney's office, Eric O'Keefe, helped launch the Franklin Center's operations in 2009, and his Sam Adams Alliance group provided the majority [3] of its startup budget. O'Keefe has spoken publicly [4] about being subpoenaed in his capacity as director of Wisconsin Club for Growth. Franklin Center's Director of Special Projects [5] John Connors, and the Executive Assistant to the President [5] Claire Milbrandt, also have close ties to a group reportedly involved in the probe. Its former Director of Operations and General Counsel, James Skyles, worked with another group active in the Wisconsin recalls.

Rick Perlstein: The Grand Old Tea Party

A Democratic president begins a new term in the White House. Two years later, America votes a cadre of aggressive conservatives into Congress, loaded for bear. At first the Republican establishment, thrilled to have the Democrats on the run, puts its wariness about the fire-breathers aside. Within a few years, though, the new guys throw out all the old rules of consensus and compromise, and the establishment shows signs of buyer’s remorse. One of the new conservatives, a bulky, take-no-prisoners senator who sees socialist quislings everywhere, takes control of the agenda and threatens to drive the GOP into the ground.

But this is not 2008 or 2013. It’s the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the senator is not Ted Cruz but Joseph McCarthy.

5 Ways the Christian Right Perverts Religion to Push Inhumane, Unfettered Capitalism

By Amanda Marcotte

There’s some truth to that, but if you start to dig a little deeper, it turns out that the Christian right doesn’t just bait believers into voting against their economic interests. On the contrary, the Christian right works fairly hard at trying to create theological arguments to support economic policies Republicans champion, such as slashing the social safety net or allowing unfettered capitalism to rapidly expand income inequality and environmental damage.

The Government Is Quietly Giving Way More Housing Aid To Rich People Than Poor People

Dec. 18, 2013, 4:28 PM

The Center for Budget Policy Priorities released a number of charts today that shows how much the federal government favors high-income households over low-income ones in housing benefits.

This largely results from the fact that homeowners receive significantly more aid than renters and high-income Americans are much more likely to be homeowners.

In 2012, the federal government gave out $240 billion in housing aid. Income data is not available for all of it, but of what is available, more than half went to those with incomes greater than $100,000 ($81.6 billion). Only $40 billion went to those with incomes less than $50,000.

Unemployed Americans Speak Out as Benefits are Slashed at Christmas

Thursday, 19 December 2013 00:00  
By John Dodds, Truthout | Opinion

"One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is sit my two kids down and tell them there might not be a Christmas this year."40-year-old unemployed father from Eubanks, Kentucky
Three days after Christmas this year, 1.3 million laid-off American workers will see their unemployment benefits stopped. In Pennsylvania, the number will be 87,000 people drawing their last check December 28.
"If my wife loses her benefit before she finds a job, we lose our house."
Philadelphia resident
These are working people caught in the worst economic crisis in more than 70 years, one that will not end. Unemployment is still officially 7.0 percent - with nearly 11 million people officially unemployed and millions more out of the labor force or working part time despite wanting full-time jobs.

Volcker Rule Made Meaningless by Abundant Exemptions

By Nomi Prins

The subject of heated debate in financial circles, the Volcker Rule, which was originally passed as part of the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, was finally approved by regulators. It will begin taking effect in April 2014 with full compliance required by July 2015. They say the devil is in the details. Regarding the Volcker Rule, the devil is in the details of its abundant exemptions. These include a laundry list of practices and businesses that mega-banks have performed under one roof, since the 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall, as well as the myriad perks they won along the way to that power-consolidating event.

The 40-Year Slump

By Harold Meyerson

The steady stream of Watergate revelations, President Richard Nixon’s twists and turns to fend off disclosures, the impeachment hearings, and finally an unprecedented resignation—all these riveted the nation’s attention in 1974. Hardly anyone paid attention to a story that seemed no more than a statistical oddity: That year, for the first time since the end of World War II, Americans’ wages declined.

Since 1947, Americans at all points on the economic spectrum had become a little better off with each passing year. The economy’s rising tide, as President John F. Kennedy had famously said, was lifting all boats. Productivity had risen by 97 percent in the preceding quarter-century, and median wages had risen by 95 percent. As economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted in The Affluent Society, this newly middle-class nation had become more egalitarian. The poorest fifth had seen their incomes increase by 42 percent since the end of the war, while the wealthiest fifth had seen their incomes rise by just 8 percent. Economists have dubbed the period the “Great Compression.”

This egalitarianism, of course, was severely circumscribed. African Americans had onl y recently won civil equality, and economic equality remained a distant dream. Women entered the workforce in record numbers during the early 1970s to find a profoundly discriminatory labor market. A new generation of workers rebelled at the regimentation of factory life, staging strikes across the Midwest to slow down and humanize the assembly line. But no one could deny that Americans in 1974 lived lives of greater comfort and security than they had a quarter-century earlier. During that time, median family income more than doubled.

Gaius Publius: TPP trade agreement: Ross Perot on the `giant sucking sound from the East`

As some of you may remember, 1992 Presidential candidate Ross Perot created the phrase “giant sucking sound” to refer to loss of U.S. jobs under the proposed NAFTA agreement:
The “giant sucking sound” was United States Presidential candidate Ross Perot‘s colorful phrase for what he believed would be the negative effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he opposed. … The phrase, coined during the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign, referred to the sound of U.S. jobs heading south for Mexico should the proposedfree-trade agreement go into effect.
Perot ultimately lost the election, and the winner, Bill Clinton, supported NAFTA, which went into effect on January 1, 1994.

Paul Krugman: Auditing the Fed is a Terrible Idea

The Washington Post economics commentator Mike Konczal wrote a very good column recently on why Senator Rand Paul's proposal that the Federal Reserve be "audited" is a bad idea. You should read it; I'd just like to offer a complementary take.

Here's the thing: We know what it means to audit a private bank — it means checking to be sure that it isn't wasting depositors' money or taking undue risks with it. But the Fed isn't in the business of investing, except for tactical purposes. It's there to manage money, not to make it. So what exactly would be audited?

How the wealthiest Americans use this one weird trick to avoid $100 billion in taxes

By Travis Gettys
Tuesday, December 17, 2013 15:42 EST

The wealthiest Americans have avoided paying about $100 billion in taxes through a loophole that essentially makes estate taxes voluntary, according to the attorney who devised the legal maneuver.

Under current law, the wealthy must pay taxes on estates valued at more than $5.25 million for an individual or $10.5 million for couples, with the top rate capped at 40 percent.

But many billionaires get around these taxes by shuffling their company’s stock in and out of trusts, which allows them to give away millions of dollars to their heirs while avoiding taxes on gifts valued at more than $14,000.

Algae to crude oil: Million-year natural process takes minutes in the lab

Process simplifies transformation of algae to oil, water and usable byproducts

RICHLAND, Wash. – Engineers have created a continuous chemical process that produces useful crude oil minutes after they pour in harvested algae — a verdant green paste with the consistency of pea soup.

The research by engineers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory was reported recently in the journal Algal Research. A biofuels company, Utah-based Genifuel Corp., has licensed the technology and is working with an industrial partner to build a pilot plant using the technology.

Matt Taibbi: The Rumored Chase-Madoff Settlement Is Another Bad Joke

Just under two months ago, when the $13 billion settlement for JP Morgan Chase was coming down the chute, word leaked out that that the deal was no sure thing. Among other things, it was said that prosecutors investigating Chase's role in the Bernie Madoff caper – Chase was Madoff's banker – were insisting on a guilty plea to actual criminal charges, but that this was a deal-breaker for Chase.

Something had to give, and now, apparently, it has. Last week, it was reported that the state and Chase were preparing a separate $2 billion deal over the Madoff issues, a series of settlements that would also involve a deferred prosecution agreement.

Dean Baker: Paul Krugman and TPP

I've got to take some issue with my friend Paul Krugman over his blog post pronouncing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) no big deal. As a trade question he is undoubtedly right. The countries in the pact are ones with whom the United States already has extensive trade ties and generally low barriers. Eliminating or reducing the remaining barriers cannot possibly have much impact on the U.S. economy.

However it is a misunderstanding to see the TPP as being about trade. This is a deal that focuses on changes in regulatory structures to lock in pro-corporate rules. Using a "trade" agreement provides a mechanism to lock in rules that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get through the normal political process.

How Rev. Billy Graham Taught the Republican Party to Sacrifice the Poor on the Altar of Big-Business

By CJ Werleman

The genetic makeup of the GOP is one chromosome away from Graham’s DNA. Today’s Republican Party is a neo-Confederate pro-corporation movement, thanks to the supposed life-long Democrat (when he wasn’t endorsing Mitt Romney)—the Reverend Billy Graham. A close friend of Richard Nixon's, it was Graham who helped the disgraced president articulate the “Southern Strategy,” which won Nixon the White House in 1968.

Paradise of untouchable assets

Trusts held in the Cook Islands can put money beyond the reach of American justice.

By Leslie Wayne
6:37 pm, December 15, 2013 Updated: 12:32 pm, December 16, 2013

Picture a paradise where you can be lawsuit-proof. A place to hide your hard-earned assets far from the grasp of former or soon-to-be-former spouses, angry business partners or, if you happen to be a doctor, patients who might sue you.

Lawyers drumming up business say they have found just the place: the Cook Islands. And, thanks to a recently released trove of documents, it’s become clear that hundreds of wealthy people have stashed their money there, including a felon who ran a $7 billion Ponzi scheme and the doctor who lost his license in the Octomom case.

Paul Krugman: No Reason to Fret About France

First things first: France has problems. Unemployment is high, especially among young people; many small businesses are struggling; the population is aging (although not nearly as much as it is in many other countries, Germany very much included.) By just about any measure I can find, however, France looks not too bad by European standards. Gross domestic product has recovered roughly to precrisis levels; the budget deficit is fairly small and the medium-term debt outlook not at all scary; the long-term budget outlook is actually pretty good compared to France's neighbors, thanks to a higher birth rate.

Yet the country is the subject of vituperative, over-the-top commentary. Last year The Economist was declaring that France was "the time bomb at the heart of Europe." Earlier this year, Shawn Tully, an editor at CNNMoney, wrote that that France was in "free fall." The latter actually offered a few specifics, arguing that France faces a "yawning competitiveness gap" due to rising labor costs. Hmm.

There's No Way to Follow the Money

A patchwork of vague and lax campaign-finance regulations mean hundreds of millions of dollars changed hands in 2012 with no one tracking them.

Lee Aitken, Dec 16 2013, 2:01 PM ET

Christmas comes early for campaign watchdogs—or late, depending on your perspective. Thanks to a lag in IRS reporting rules, the tax returns of independent groups that spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2012 election are just now coming due. Considered together with a recent campaign-finance investigation in California, these filings hint at an orgy of self-dealing and “dark money” shenanigans unprecedented in American politics.

The first presidential election since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision spawned what Bloomberg Businessweek called “a Cayman Islands-style web of nonprofit front groups and shell companies.” These not only shielded donors’ identities but also obscured the huge profits of political operatives who moved nimbly between the candidates, the super PACs, and the vendors that get their business.

Gaius Publius: "Liberalism Doesn't Carry the Critique of Capitalism That Progressivism Does"

I’ve been fascinated lately with the meaning of the terms “liberal” and “progressive.” It’s clear that what we now call “liberalism” is really a variant, a side branch of the real thing, and should be more properly named “FDR liberalism” or “social liberalism.” Today’s “liberalism” — FDR-liberalism — is an offshoot of pre-FDR liberalism that diverges from its original meaning in a rather important way, by including a role for government. Prior to FDR, “liberalism” just meant basic free-market capitalism.

That’s why so-called modern (Clintonian) “neoliberals” are so different from FDR liberals, and why they’re so similar to Milton Friedman free-market conservatives.

401(k) Plan Abuses Finally Coming to Light

Posted on by Yves Smith
I doubt that I’m unusual in being a finance type who has heard about 401 (k) abuses and bad practices for a very long time. So it’s gratifying to see the Financial Times that something is finally being done to try to curb this behavior. But that is hardly the full extent of what is rotten in retirement fund land.

Some of the failings reflect a combination of poor implementation of already not-so-hot finance orthodoxy (see a layperson rendering in Benoit Mandelbrot’s The (Mis)Behavior of Markets, or a recap of Mandelbrot and other critiques in chapter 3 of ECONNED). For instance, one mainstay of investing is to diversify across asset classes. It won’t increase your returns but it will lower your risk.

Paul Krugman: Why Inequality Matters

Rising inequality isn’t a new concern. Oliver Stone’s movie “Wall Street,” with its portrayal of a rising plutocracy insisting that greed is good, was released in 1987. But politicians, intimidated by cries of “class warfare,” have shied away from making a major issue out of the ever-growing gap between the rich and the rest.

That may, however, be changing. We can argue about the significance of Bill de Blasio’s victory in the New York mayoral race or of Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement of Social Security expansion. And we have yet to see whether President Obama’s declaration that inequality is “the defining challenge of our age” will translate into policy changes. Still, the discussion has shifted enough to produce a backlash from pundits arguing that inequality isn’t that big a deal.

Dean Baker | The End of the Assault on Social Security and Medicare

When Senator Elizabeth Warren came out for increasing Social Security last month it set in motion a remarkable turn of events. For over a decade the only discussion of Social Security by the Washington power types was over how much to cut it and when. The extreme left position was that current spending was about right.

Senator Warren changed the debate when she endorsed a bill proposed by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin that would index retirees’ benefits to an index that more closely tracks the cost-of-living of seniors. The bill also would raise benefits by roughly $70 a month. As a result of Warren’s prominence in national politics, and the fact that raising Social Security benefits is actually quite popular, the Washington insider types were forced to take the idea seriously.

"Corporatism" is the Latest Hysterical Right-Wing Accusation

The secret history of a smear

by Mike Konczal | December 15, 2013

Right-wing critics have a new favorite word to malign President Obama’s economic policies: corporatism. Naturally, it’s an ugly word. Whether it evokes Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italy or just an image of the rich growing richer through government collusion, it’s a vision nobody would defend. Nobody is for corporatism.

Starting with Tim Carney’s 2009 book Obamanomics the idea that Obama is either consciously or accidently enriching the well-off has become a conservative meme. The right-wing blogosphere uses it, as does conservative intellectual heavyweights like Yuval Levin. Thus liberal readers were surprised the other week to learn that the contraception mandate in health-care reform was “corporatist.” Likewise, it may have been news to you that the Dodd-Frank financial reform overhaul—the one Wall Street is perpetually fighting against—is a corporatist sop to the big banks. The Federal Reserve’s efforts to move the economy closer to something like full employment? Yet more corporatism. Ditto both the stimulus and cap-and-trade.

7 Rip-Offs Corporations and the Wealthy Don't Want You to Know About

By Paul Buchheit


2. Crash the Economy, Get Your Money Back. Die with a Student Loan, Stay in Debt.

The financial industry has manipulated [6] the bankruptcy laws to ensure that high-risk derivatives, which devastated the market in 2008, have FIRST CLAIM [7] over savings deposit insurance, pension funds, and everything else.

But the same banker-friendly "bankruptcy reform" has ensured that college graduates keep their student loans [8] till they die. And sometimes even after that [9], as the debt is assumed by their co-signing parents.

Paul Krugman: The Biggest Losers

The pundit consensus seems to be that Republicans lost in the just-concluded budget deal. Overall spending will be a bit higher than the level mandated by the sequester, the straitjacket imposed back in 2011. Meanwhile, Democrats avoided making any concessions on Social Security or Medicare. Call this one for Team D, I guess.

But if Republicans arguably lost this round, the unemployed lost even more: Extended benefits weren’t renewed, so 1.3 million workers will be cut off at the end of this month, and many more will see their benefits run out in the months that follow. And if you take a longer perspective — if you look at what has happened since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010 — what you see is a triumph of anti-government ideology that has had enormously destructive effects on American workers. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Truth As Well As Reconciliation

Posted December 12, 2013 at 6:00 pm by Richard Rothstein

In the last week, we’ve paid great attention to Nelson Mandela’s call for forgiveness and reconciliation between South Africa’s former white rulers and its exploited black majority. But we’ve paid less attention to the condition that Mandela insisted must underlie reconciliation—truth. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Mandela established, and that Bishop Desmond Tutu chaired, was designed to contribute to cleansing wounds of the country’s racist history by exposing it to a disinfecting bright light. As for those Afrikaners who committed even the worst acts of violence against blacks, they could be forgiven and move on only if they acknowledged the full details of their crimes.

Shining a light on ALEC's power to shape policy

Commentary: American Legislative Exchange Council's behind-the-scenes influence peddling should be getting more attention from the Washington press corps

By Wendell Potter
6:00 am, December 9, 2013 Updated: 9:53 am, December 9, 2013

It’s amazing how a little sunlight will change the behavior of some of the biggest names in corporate America — sunlight here meaning greater transparency and accountability.

It’s also amazing how the U.K.’s The Guardian is covering this changed behavior — and its potential consequences for every American — without much competition from U.S.-based media. It seems that reporters in Washington in particular can’t be bothered.

Over the past several decades, one of the country’s most influential political organizations — the 40-year-old American Legislative Exchange Council — was able to operate largely under the radar. Never heard of it? That’s by design. Founded in 1973 by conservative political operatives, ALEC has been successful in shaping  public policy to benefit its corporate patrons in part because few people — including reporters — knew anything about the organization, much less how it went about getting virtually identical laws passed in a multitude of states.

Rick Perlstein: Chicago and the Municipal-Industrial Complex

December 13, 2013 - 8:16 PM ET

On Tuesday I quoted Chicago anti-privatization activist Tom Tresser about why corporate America is falling in love with cities: “We have a massive global movement of capital which, because they’ve burned their own fucking houses down through their own greed, don’t have the gilt returns that they’re used to receiving…. So the new guaranteed annual returns that big business and big capital are looking for is our assets.”

Consider the very model of the modern major municipal contractor: Cubic. Trading on the NASDEQ with a market capitalization of almost a billion dollars under the adorable stock symbol CUB, Cubic earns over 99 percent of its revenues from government contracts, according to a Credit Suisse equity research report. When it’s not mismanaging urban fare-transit collection systems like Chicago’s Ventra, it does a once-pretty trade as “the leading pure-play provider of [the] defense training and mission support service areas which stand at the heart of modern military practices.” But, as we’ll see, defense isn’t offering the gilt-edged returns it once did. So look for Chicago’s very stupid smart cards to come soon to a city bus near you. Look, in other words, for Cubic to be picking your pocket, too.

The End of the Internet As We Know It

Unless the FCC protects net neutrality, the biggest Internet providers will run amok.

by Jenn Topper

The Internet is the world’s largest shopping mall, library, video store, post office and town square. When you turn on your computer, you’re in the driver’s seat, choosing what you want to read, watch, and hear.

We owe everything we love about the Web to net neutrality, the principle that the Internet is an open platform and service providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner can’t dictate where you go and what you do online.

Without net neutrality, the Web would look a lot like cable, with the most popular content available only on certain tiers or with certain providers. (Imagine AT&T as the exclusive home of Netflix and Comcast as the sole source of YouTube.)

A modern understanding of a long ago confession and a boy’s execution

By Corey Hutchins
6:00 am, December 11, 2013 Updated: 9:53 am, December 11, 2013

ALCOLU, S.C. — A few miles off I-95, past acres of brown-and-white fields where blackbirds circle overhead, this small town in the heart of Deep South cotton country isn't known for much. It has a post office and a few churches, some abandoned houses and some nicer ones, ramshackle trailers and cotton fields.

After church on a recent Sunday there, George Frierson was scuffing a shiny black dress shoe across some gravel at a railroad crossing. Back wh;postID=8032897417947926364en he was a kid the rail line split this tiny, rural town along racial lines. But for blacks like him growing up in Alcolu, the train tracks signified something even more sinister than segregation.

“Where they actually found the girls' bodies, they say it was just along the tracks,” he said.
Frierson is a local historian and community activist who works at the nearby Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church and serves on the county school board. The general area he was marking with his shoe was the scene of a double murder in 1944. Two young white girls out picking flowers had their skulls bashed in and were found in a nearby water-filled ditch.

Actually Existing Capitalism: Wrecking Societies for the Benefit of Big Capital and the Super-Rich

Thursday, 12 December 2013 00:00  
By CJ Polychroniou, Truthout | Op-Ed 

The evidence suggests that capitalism has become wholly predatory and has given up all pretense of being "socially responsible."

Are all of the socioeconomic issues confronting Europe and the United States - recession or stagnant growth, skyrocketing unemployment, lowered prospects for new job creation, a demand shortage, a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, social malaise - merely consequences of the financial crisis of 2007-08?

A strong case can be made that what we have been witnessing since then is not simply a severe financial crisis centered in the developed world but the fact that today's capitalism is simply incapable of functioning in an economic way conducive to maintaining sustainable and balanced growth.

Lurid Subprime Scams Unveiled in Long-Running Fraud Trial

by Matt Taibbi
DECEMBER 12, 2013
Lost amid the hoopla over JP Morgan Chase's record-setting $13 billion settlement this fall was news of another monster court resolution – a $2.46 billion judgment, the largest ever awarded after trial in a securities fraud class action case, handed down in October against a HSBC acquisition called Household International.

It's an old case, with the trial completed way back in 2009 and the fraud in question having all taken place between 1997 and 2002. But it has crucial ramifications for the present, for one key reason:
The evidence uncovered in the Household suit should put to lie once and for all the oft-repeated myth – spread by many of America's most notable dumb people, from Rush Limbaugh to New York City Mayor-unelect Mike Bloomberg – that the financial crisis was caused by the government "forcing" banks to lend to poor people.

In reality, of course, the subprime bubble exploded because financial companies and banks were in a mad rush to get as many iffy borrowers into loans as quickly as possible – and not because they were forced to, but because they made assloads of money doing so.

Too Many Secrets: Fixing the Government's Broken System for Classifying Information

Friday, 13 December 2013 10:41  
By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report 

The sweeping spying and surveillance programs revealed by the Snowden leaks have raised serious questions about whether the United States government values the privacy of foreign governments and its own citizens, but it's clear that the government values its own privacy. The government and its contractors spent nearly $11 billion last year on the system for classifying and declassifying information kept hidden from public view, according to the Information Security Oversight Office.

That’s billion with a "b," and that number may not even include the amount of money spent by secretive national security agencies like the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, which classify the information on how much money they spend on classifying information, according to Elizabeth Goitein, a national security analyst for the Brennan Center for Justice.

Corporate Extortion: States Are Giving Billions to Corporations That Don’t Create Jobs

By Steven Rosenfeld

Beyond the schizophrenic spectre of congressional negotiators saying no to spending as governors are offering [3] mountains of cash is a maddening reality: these taxpayer subsidies do not create the promised jobs or investments, a series of striking academic studies have found. All they do is boost bottom lines by cutting corporate costs.

Paul Krugman: The Punishment Cure

Six years have passed since the United States economy entered the Great Recession, four and a half
since it officially began to recover, but long-term unemployment remains disastrously high. And
Republicans have a theory about why this is happening. Their theory is, as it happens, completely
wrong. But they’re sticking to it — and as a result, 1.3 million American workers, many of them in
desperate financial straits, are set to lose unemployment benefits at the end of December.

Merry Christmas.

Now, the G.O.P.’s desire to punish the unemployed doesn’t arise solely from bad economics; it’s
part of a general pattern of afflicting the afflicted while comforting the comfortable (no to food
stamps, yes to farm subsidies). But ideas do matter — as John Maynard Keynes famously wrote,
they are “dangerous for good or evil.” And the case of unemployment benefits is an especially clear
example of superficially plausible but wrong economic ideas being dangerous for evil.

Personal care products are possible sources of potentially harmful parabens for babies

Through lotions, shampoos and other personal care products (PCPs), infants and toddlers are likely becoming exposed to potentially harmful substances, called parabens, at an even higher level than adult women in the U.S., researchers have reported. They published their findings on parabens, which have been linked to reproductive and other health issues, in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

'Dumb' & 'Cruel': Budget Deal Attacks America's Most Vulnerable

Lauded as a "step in the right direction" by high-level members from both parties, progressives--calling it both 'dumb' and 'cruel'--say that should be a warning to the nation

- Jon Queally, staff writer


That's what University of California, Berkely economist Robert Reich called the budget deal announced by Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan late Tuesday.

Why dumb? According to Reich, the "deal doesn't close tax loopholes for wealthy, restore food stamps to poor, or extend unemployment benefits for jobless."

How the Big Six Cover Tracks in Murder of the Honeybee

Tuesday, 10 December 2013 12:41

By Jennifer Sonntag, Truthout | Op-Ed
The Big Six agrochemical companies have turned the honeybee into a factory animal, a workhorse that cannot exist without antibiotics, and are using the term "Colony Collapse Disorder" to cover the poisoning of pollinators vital to agriculture.
It is only by fiat of a corporate-captured EPA, a bought press and willed ignorance that colony collapse continues to be known as a bee "disorder."

Neonics, systemic pesticides that work through a neurotoxin, which is applied to the seed of a plant and taken up into all its tissue so that the insect is exposed at every turn to a new vehicle bearing the same poison, work in a very orderly manner indeed. Poisoned food crops and the honeybees that pollinate them are perfectly efficient bearers of the values of the Big 6 - Monsanto, Dow, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta and DuPont. The empty beehive isn't mysterious. It is no magician's cabinet. The bees aren't disordered - they are designed. There is, that is, no Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

The Fracking Files: Stratfor Provided Energy Industry with Intel on ProPublica, Environmental Groups

Industry’s 2009 fears of a muscular fracking opposition have come to pass

Long before the first anti-fracking bans were passed in North America, the oil and gas industry was taking stock of its adversaries through profiles and briefings produced by Stratfor, the Austin-based global intelligence company. The company is known for its investigations into activist groups on behalf of some of the world’s largest corporations and government agencies. The documents – part of a massive cache of emails, reports, and communiques published by Wikileaks beginning in early 2012 – reveal an industry concerned about an impending grassroots backlash to the fracking boom. In hindsight, it appears the industry was right to be worried: Today, opposition to oil and gas fracking is one of the most vigorous strands of the larger environmental movement.

Hidden disaster in new budget: Demonic plot to raid pensions

What you won't hear about this new deal: Public workers will get eviscerated, to achieve "deficit reduction"

David Dayen

2013 has not been a pleasant year if you work for the federal government. You’ve been subject to pay freezes, furloughs and shutdowns. One of you got yelled at by a Tea Party Republican at the World War II memorial. And if Congress passes the budget deal announced Tuesday night by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray – a big if – you will get a final Christmas present: You’ll have to pay more into your pension, an effective wage cut that just adds to the $114 billion, with a “B,” federal employees have already given back to the government in the name of deficit reduction.

The deal between House and Senate negotiators Ryan and Murray would reverse part of sequestration for 2014 and 2015, itself a major source of pain for federal workers. But negotiators want to pay for that relief in future years, with the overall package cutting the deficit by an additional $23 billion. And one of the major “pay-fors” is an increase in federal employee pension contributions. President Obama’s 2014 budget included such a proposal, which would have raised the employee contribution in three stages, from 0.8 percent of salary to 2 percent. Congress had already made this shift for new hires; the Obama proposal would affect all workers hired before 2012.

Wanted: Fed Policy Focused on Jobs for Americans Instead of Profits for Banks

By Nomi Prins

The Big Six banks’ stock prices have outperformed the Dow’s rise by a factor of more than TEN times, since early 2009. Moreover, low to zero percent interest rates on citizens’ savings accounts have catalyzed depositors, pensions, and mutual funds to buy more stocks to make up for low returns on bonds and money market instruments, further buoying the stock market.

Paul Krugman: In Europe, a Repudiation of Austerity Policies

The European Central Bank's rate cut has led to huge tensions, with the executive board split and many German economists protesting. As usual, a lot of the argument is about the perception that those lazy Southern Europeans are getting a free ride.

According to an article published recently in the Financial Times: "A commentary by the chief economist of the financial weekly WirtschaftsWoche called the decision a 'diktat from a new Banca d'Italia, based in Frankfurt.'" Why can't those Italians, etc., pull up their socks the way the Germans did?

What Germans — economists as well as the general public — still don't seem to get is how much Germany's success at emerging from its late-1990s doldrums depended on a somewhat inflationary boom in southern Europe. And they therefore also don't realize how much damage Germany is causing by refusing to allow higher inflation in the euro zone.

Who Should Control Our Water?

Posted by Renuka Rayasam

During the Industrial Revolution, when people moved to cities en masse, household and human waste began to mix in Berlin’s gutters. A stench rose from the street. Fouled water lead to deadly outbreaks of cholera and other water-borne diseases. By 1852, the Prussian government had to do something: it hired an English company, Fox and Crampton, to take over the city’s water service. It was one of the early Western experiments in the privatization of water.

Because water is so abundant—it rains from the sky, it collects in the earth—it feels like it should be free. The United Nations even recognized water as a human right in 2010. “It’s not like shoes,” Saskia Solar, a spokeswoman at Berlin’s water authority, told me. “Water is something fundamental to our existence.” But delivering safe water comes at a cost, and the fight over who should bear that cost has transformed water—and the merits and shortcomings of privatizing it—into an ideological battleground.

How We're Destroying Our Kids' Brains

As many as one in six children has a neurodevelopmental disability, and scientists are finding links to pollution.

—By Florence Williams  | Sat Dec. 7, 2013 3:00 AM GMT

This story originally appeared on the OnEarth website.

Carlos Jusino grew up a typical kid in Harlem, rollerblading near the Hudson River, eating at the McDonald's on 145th Street and Broadway, hanging out with friends in his building. Also typical was the fact that many of Jusino's neighbors and family members, including his mother, had asthma. "When I was growing up, she went to the hospital about once a month for asthma," he says. Although he didn't know it at the time, more than 30 percent of the kids in Harlem have asthma, one of the highest rates in the country.

Jusino's family was worried about the air quality around Harlem, but most of its attention was directed to a sewage treatment facility built in 1985 along the West Side Highway next to the Hudson, where a foul-smelling settling tank lay exposed. The plant galvanized the community, including a group of environmental justice activists known as the Sewage Seven. They sued the city and won a settlement in 1994 that helped establish air-monitoring stations around the plant.

Thomas Frank: Home of the Whopper

Let me tell you about this one stretch of Hillsborough Road in Durham, North Carolina. It’s between two freeways, just a short drive from the noble towers of Duke University, and in the space of about a mile, you will find a McDonald’s, a Cracker Barrel, a Wendy’s, a Chick-fil-A, an Arby’s, a Waffle House, a Bojangles’, a Biscuitville, a Subway, a Taco Bell, and a KFC. As you walk down this roaring thoroughfare, you’ll notice that the ground is littered with napkins and bright yellow paper cups. But then again, you aren’t really supposed to be walking along this portion of Hillsborough Road and noticing things like those cups, or that abandoned concrete pedestal for some vanished logo, or the empty Aristocrat Vodka bottle hidden behind that broken Motel 6 sign. This is a landscape meant to be viewed through a windshield and with the stereo turned up. In fact, drivers here sometimes seem bewildered by the very presence of pedestrians, which may be the reason I was almost run down twice.

But it wasn’t a car that struck me on Hillsborough Road, it was a vision: a spontaneous understanding of fast-food efficiency. I was gazing on a simple yellow structure that contained the workings of a Waffle House when it came to me — the meaning of this whole panorama of chain restaurants. The modular construction, the application of assembly-line techniques to food service, the twin-basket fryers and bulk condiment dispensers, even the clever plastic lids on the coffee cups, with their fold-back sip tabs: these were all triumphs of human ingenuity. You had to admire them. And yet that intense, concentrated efficiency also demanded a fantastic wastefulness elsewhere — of fuel, of air-conditioning, of land, of landfill. Inside the box was a masterpiece of industrial engineering; outside the box were things and people that existed merely to be used up.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Saving the Net from the surveillance state: Glenn Greenwald speaks up (Q&A)

The man to whom Edward Snowden entrusted his NSA documents isn't content just to save the Bill of Rights and reinvent journalism. He also wants to stop the Internet from becoming history's most dangerous spy tool.

by Edward Moyer

Big Brother may be watching you. But Glenn Greenwald is watching Big Brother.

That's not a bad take on how the 46-year-old constitutional-law attorney turned crusading journalist turned thorn in the side of the NSA might describe his mission.

At least in part. Greenwald is doing more than just watching. By combing through the tens of thousands of classified NSA documents leaked to him by Edward Snowden -- and publishing in newspapers around the globe report after report on the secretive agency's mass-spying activities -- he's got the whole world watching too.

The Mandela Years in Power


The death of Nelson Mandela, at age 95 on 5 December 2013, brings genuine sadness. As his health deteriorated over the past six months, many asked the more durable question: how did he change South Africa? Given how unsatisfactory life is for so many in society, the follow-up question is, how much room was there for Mandela to maneuver? South Africa now lurches from crisis to crisis, and so many of us are tempted to remember the Mandela years – especially the first democratic government – as fundamentally different from the crony-capitalist, corruption-riddled, brutally-securitised, eco-destructive and anti-egalitarian regime we suffer now. But were the seeds of our present political weeds sown earlier?

The critical decade was the 1990s, when Mandela was at the height of his power, having been released from jail in February 1990, taken the South African presidency in May 1994 and left office in June 1999. But it was in this period, alleges former Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, that “the battle for the soul of the African National Congress was lost to corporate power and influence… We readily accepted that devil’s pact and are damned in the process. It has bequeathed to our country an economy so tied in to the neoliberal global formula and market fundamentalism that there is very little room to alleviate the dire plight of the masses of our people.”

Given much more extreme inequality, much lower life expectancy, much higher unemployment, much worse vulnerability to world economic fluctuations, and much more rapid ecological decay during his presidency, how much can Mandela be blamed? Was he pushed, or did he jump?

South Africa won its democracy in 1994. But regardless of the elimination of formal racism and the constitutional rhetoric of human rights, it has been a “choiceless democracy” in socio-economic policy terms and more broadly a “low-intensity democracy”, to borrow terms coined respectively by Thandika Mkandawire for Africa, and by Barry Gills and Joel Rocamora for many ex-dictatorships. Nelson Mandela’s South Africa fit a pattern: a series of formerly anti-authoritarian critics of old dictatorships – whether from rightwing or left-wing backgrounds – who transformed into 1980s-90s neoliberal rulers: Alfonsin (Argentina), Aquino (Philippines), Arafat (Palestine), Aristide (Haiti), Bhutto (Pakistan), Chiluba (Zambia), Dae Jung (South Korea), Havel (Czech Republic), Mandela (South Africa), Manley (Jamaica), Megawati (Indonesia), Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Museveni (Uganda), Nujoma (Namibia), Obasanjo (Nigeria), Ortega (Nicaragua), Perez (Venezuela), Rawlings (Ghana), Walesa (Poland) and Yeltsin (Russia).The self-imposition of economic and development policies – typically at the behest of financial markets and the Washington/Geneva multilateral institutions – required an extraordinary insulation from genuine national determinations: in short, an “elite transition.”

State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax

State Policy Network co-ordinating plans across 34 US states
• Strategy to 'release residents from government dependency'
• Revelations come amid growing scrutiny of tax-exempt charities
Read key excerpts from the SPN proposals
Portland Press Herald: group's plan to eliminate taxes
Texas Observer: the money behind the fight to wreck Medicaid

Ed Pilkington in New York and Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington, Thursday 5 December 2013 13.21 EST

Conservative groups across the US are planning a co-ordinated assault against public sector rights and services in the key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers' compensation and the environment, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.

The strategy for the state-level organisations, which describe themselves as "free-market thinktanks", includes proposals from six different states for cuts in public sector pensions, campaigns to reduce the wages of government workers and eliminate income taxes, school voucher schemes to counter public education, opposition to Medicaid, and a campaign against regional efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Next, say goodbye to the waiters and waitresses

by David Atkins

The internet, workforce mechanization and deskilling have already decimated America's manufacturing jobs. Soon those forces will be coming for the white collar jobs as well. Also, package delivery people. Cab drivers and car salesmen, too.

But service sector jobs should be OK, right? You still need people to serve other people, right?

About that:
Score one for the machines. On Tuesday, Applebee’s announced plans to install a tablet at every table in its 1,860 restaurants across the United States. Customers will be able to use the devices to order food, pay the bill, and ignore their dining companions by playing video games.

Dean Baker: Pension Theft: Class War Goes to the Next Stage

In the past two days we've seen a federal judge rule that Detroit can go bankrupt, putting its workers' pensions in jeopardy, and we have seen Illinois' Legislature vote for substantial cuts in its retirees' pensions. Undoubtedly these two actions are just the tip of the iceberg. We have opened up a new sport for America's elite: pension theft.

The specifics of the situations are very different, but the outcome is the same. Public employees who spent decades working for the government are not going to get the pensions that were part of their pay package. In both cases we have governments claiming poverty, and therefore the workers are just out of luck.

Snowden and Greenwald: The Men Who Leaked the Secrets

How two alienated, angry geeks broke the story of the year

by Janet Reitman
DECEMBER 04, 2013
Early one morning last December, Glenn Greenwald opened his laptop, scanned through his e-mail, and made a decision that almost cost him the story of his life. A columnist and blogger with a large and devoted following, Greenwald receives hundreds of e-mails every day, many from readers who claim to have "great stuff." Occasionally these claims turn out to be credible; most of the time they're cranks. There are some that seem promising but also require serious vetting. This takes time, and Greenwald, who starts each morning deluged with messages, has almost none. "My inbox is the enemy," he told me recently.

And so it was that on December 1st, 2012, Greenwald received a note from a person asking for his public encryption, or PGP, key so he could send him an e-mail securely. Greenwald didn't have one, which he now acknowledges was fairly inexcusable given that he wrote almost daily about national-security issues, and had likely been on the government's radar for some time over his vocal support of Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks. "I didn't really know what PGP was," he admits. "I had no idea how to install it or how to use it." It seemed time-consuming and complicated, and Greenwald, who was working on a book about how the media control political discourse, while also writing his column for The Guardian, had more pressing things to do.