Saturday, February 22, 2014

This amazing washing machine uses virtually no water

By Holly Richmond

Nearly a quarter of the water your household uses goes into your washing machine, and the average family of four will use 12,000 gallons of water a year on laundry. What if there were a way to de-stankify your clothes without draining the ocean?

Now there is, thanks to British company Xeros, which has made what it says is the first true leap forward for washing machines in 60 years. Using only a cup of water — about 90 percent less than normal washers — Xeros’ washing machine tumbles clothes with a million little plastic beads that absorb dirt when humidity is present.

Federal Government Soon to Know Everywhere You've Driven

Paul Waldman
February 20, 2014

There are more license-plate cameras installed all the time. Now the government wants to put all the data together in one database.

Well here we go. A few days ago, Ars Technica spotted a listing on a federal government website, explaining that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is looking for a vendor who can assemble for them a database that brings together data from the all the license plate cameras that more and more police departments across the country are installing. You don't like the fact that the government has a file somewhere listing every call you've made on your cell phone? How do you feel about them knowing everywhere you've driven?

Matt Stoller: “Free Trade” Pacts Were Always About Weakening Nation-States to Promote Rule by Multinationals

Posted on February 21, 2014 by Yves Smith

Yves here. I hope those of you who are in countries being browbeaten to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will circulate this post widely.

By Matt Stoller, who writes for Salon and has contributed to Politico, Alternet, Salon, The Nation and Reuters. You can reach him at stoller (at) or follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller. Originally published at Observations on Credit and Surveillance

Here’s part one of this series on the origins of NAFTA and our current trading regime.

It’s amazing what you find in the Congressional Record. For example, you find American political officials (liberal ones, actually) engaged in an actual campaign to get rid of countries with their pesky parochial interests, and have the whole world managed by global corporations. Yup, this actually was explicit in the 1960s, as opposed to today’s passive aggressive arguments which amount to the same thing.

Here’s the backstory.

Paul Krugman: The Stimulus Tragedy

Five years have passed since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act--the 'stimulus'--into law.  With the passage of time, it has become clear that the Act did a vast amount of good.  It helped end the economy's plunge; it created or saved millions of jobs; it left behind an important legacy of public and private investment.

How Tea Party Absolutism Cost The GOP A Huge Win On Entitlements

Sahil Kapur –

House Speaker John Boehner wanted to seal the so-called grand bargain, and was willing to reciprocate with the $800 billion in new tax revenues that the president sought in return. Democratic leaders were grudgingly willing to support Obama on what they feared was a lopsided deal for conservatives.

Brilliant teen publishes paper on saving the climate with ammonia-fueled cars

By Holly Richmond

Doo Won Kang hasn’t even graduated from high school yet, but he’s already a climate activist and published author. The senior at Alexandria, Va.’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology not only founded a student initiative to tell teens about climate change, but he also wrote an 18-page paper on transportation solutions to lower carbon emissions. And the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently published an excerpt from his paper, making him officially way more impressive than we were at 18.

How Dark Money Flows Through the Koch Network

By Al Shaw, Theodoric Meyer and Kim Barker, ProPublica
Feb. 14, 2014

Fundraising by the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch supports a tangle of nonprofits, sometimes referred to as the Kochtopus, all aimed at advancing conservative causes. Two groups, the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce and TC4 Trust, handed out almost $264 million from mid-2011 to October 2012 to 30 other nonprofits.

Paul Krugman: When Journalists Choose to Speculate Rather Than Report

Earlier this month, Dave Weigel at Slate looked at the media's disastrous initial handling of a Congressional Budget Office report - CBOghazi, hah! - and addressed one of my pet peeves: reporting that skips right past the actual policy issues to speculation about how they will play politically. I think of this as "second-order" reporting, and it's almost always a bad thing.

I wrote about this during the 2004 presidential campaign, when I did some painful research, wading through two months of TV news transcripts.

Virginia House Committee Quietly Kills Bill That Would Have Repealed Mandatory Ultrasound Law

by Emily Crockett, Reporting Fellow, RH Reality Check
February 19, 2014 - 10:31 am

In a Friday afternoon vote that allowed for neither audience testimony nor a recorded roll-call vote from its members, a Republican-dominated subcommittee in the Virginia House of Delegates voted against repealing the state’s 2012 mandatory ultrasound law.

After five banker deaths in January, a sixth: J.P. Morgan exec jumps in Hong Kong

By John Byrne
Wednesday, February 19, 2014 10:09 EST

Across the world, bankers are plummeting to their deaths.

In the latest of a series of fatal falls,  a 33-year-old J.P. Morgan employee leapt from the roof of J.P. Morgan’s Hong Kong headquarters on Tuesday, above, plunging thirty stories to his death.

The employee’s role at the bank was unknown. Witnesses say police tried to stop the man from jumping to no avail. The employee’s death is just the latest in a string of seeming suicides that have wreaked havoc in the moneyed class over the past months.

The New Fascism: Terms and Conditions

Tuesday, 18 February 2014 14:13  
By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed 

Let's talk about those pesky terms and conditions.

Last month, I had a chance to talk with John McAfee, the founder of the popular McAfee computer security programs.

We talked about how people usually don't read the terms and conditions of the smartphone applications that they download onto their phones.

But McAfee did read the terms and conditions of the Bank of America smartphone application, and what he saw was pretty shocking.

Glenn Greenwald: On the UK’s Equating of Journalism with Terrorism

As my colleague Ryan Deveraux reports, a lower U.K. court this morning, as long expected, upheld the legality of the nine-hour detention of my partner, David Miranda, at Heathrow Airport last August, even as it acknowledged that the detention was “an indirect interference with press freedom”. For good measure, the court also refused permission to appeal (though permission can still be granted by the appellate court). David was detained and interrogated under the Terrorism Act of 2000.

The UK Government expressly argued that the release of the Snowden documents (which the free world callsaward-winning journalism“) is actually tantamount to “terrorism”, the same theory now being used by the Egyptian military regime to prosecute Al Jazeera journalists as terrorists. Congratulations to the UK government on the illustrious company it is once again keeping. British officials have also repeatedly threatened criminal prosecution of everyone involved in this reporting, including Guardian journalists and editors.

Congress Is About to Shower More Tax Breaks on Corporations After Telling the Unemployed to Drop Dead

If Congress decides it cannot spend money to help working families and the unemployed without offsetting the costs by cutting spending, then lawmakers should also refuse to enact tax cuts for businesses unless they can offset the costs by closing business tax loopholes. Sadly, both Democrats and Republicans refuse to acknowledge this commonsense principle as they discuss enacting the so-called “tax extenders” without closing any business tax loopholes — after failing to extend Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) because of a dispute over how to offset the costs.

Paul Krugman: In Argentina, the Rules Still Apply

In an article published on Slate earlier this month titled "Argentina Did the Right Thing in 2002, the Wrong Thing Last Year," the commentator Matthew Yglesias said what needed to be said about Argentina's economic troubles: there's no contradiction at all between arguing that Argentina was right to follow heterodox policies in 2002, but that it is wrong to reject advice to curb deficits and control inflation now.

I know some people find this hard to grasp, but the effects of economic policies, and the appropriate policies to follow, depend on circumstances. I would add that we know what those circumstances are! Policies like running deficits and printing a lot of money are inflationary and bad in economies that are constrained by limited supply; they are useful and good when the problem is persistently inadequate demand. Similarly, unemployment benefits probably lead to lower employment in a supply-constrained economy; they increase employment in a demandconstrained economy; and so on.

Toxins in Huggies and Pampers Aren't What You Want to Put Near Baby's Skin

By Jill Richardson

Dioxins [4] are a class of potent carcinogens (cancer causers) that are not made on purpose but are created as a byproduct of industrial processes like chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and some natural processes like volcano eruptions. The name dioxins refers to hundreds of chemicals, out of which about 30 are the most toxic. The most toxic, TCDD, was the contaminant in the infamous Agent Orange that made it so deadly. They are considered persistent pollutants because, once created, they hang around for a long time without breaking down and they stay in the human body for a long time, too.

Dean Baker: Thomas Friedman Escaped and Is Writing About Economics Again

Saturday, 15 February 2014 21:33

Thomas Friedman is loose in Silicon Valley, the economic hub best known for colluding to rip off its workers. He can't contain his enthusiasm for "start-up America," telling readers;
"What they all have in common is they wake up every day and ask: 'What are the biggest trends in the world, and how do I best invent/reinvent my business to thrive from them?' They’re fixated on creating abundance, not redividing scarcity, and they respect no limits on imagination. No idea here is 'off the table.'"

Bill Moyers: David Simon on Our Rigged Political System

David Simon, journalist and creator of the TV series The Wire and Treme, returns to talk with Bill Moyers about the triumph of capital over democracy.

“If I could concentrate and focus on one thing … and start to walk the nightmare back, it would be campaign finance reform” Simon says.

Simon warns that if we don’t fix our broken election system — by getting big money out of elections and ending gerrymandering — we will have reached “the end game for democracy.”

Paul Krugman: Barons of Broadband

Last week’s big business news was the announcement that Comcast, a gigantic provider of cable TV and high-speed Internet service, has reached a deal to acquire Time Warner, which is merely huge. If regulators approve the deal, Comcast will be an overwhelmingly dominant player in the business, with around 30 million subscribers.

So let me ask two questions about the proposed deal. First, why would we even think about letting it go through? Second, when and why did we stop worrying about monopoly power?

Chris Hedges: Our Sinister Dual State

On Thursday the former National Security Agency official and whistle-blower William E. Binney and I will debate Stewart A. Baker, a former general counsel for the NSA, P.J. Crowley, a former State Department spokesman, and the media pundit Jeffrey Toobin. The debate, at Oxford University, will center on whether Edward Snowden’s leaks helped or harmed the public good. The proposition asks: “Is Edward Snowden a Hero?” But, on a deeper level, the debate will revolve around our nation’s loss of liberty.

The government officials who, along with their courtiers in the press, castigate Snowden insist that congressional and judicial oversight, the right to privacy, the rule of law, freedom of the press and the right to express dissent remain inviolate. They use the old words and the old phrases, old laws and old constitutional guarantees to give our corporate totalitarianism a democratic veneer. They insist that the system works. They tell us we are still protected by the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Yet the promise of that sentence in the Bill of Rights is pitted against the fact that every telephone call we make, every email or text we send or receive, every website we visit and many of our travels are tracked, recorded and stored in government computers. The Fourth Amendment was written in 1789 in direct response to the arbitrary and unchecked search powers that the British had exercised through general warrants called writs of assistance, which played a significant part in fomenting the American Revolution. A technical system of surveillance designed to monitor those considered to be a danger to the state has, in the words of Binney, been “turned against you.”

Time to Restore the Power of the National Labor Relations Act

Monday, 17 February 2014 09:48  
By Ellen Dannin, Truthout | Op-Ed 

One in seven Americans - that is 46.5 million of us - live in poverty. And in the wake of the Great Recession, there is more to poverty today than just a bad economy. We have an increasingly unequal society in which the top 1% holds 40% of the wealth. According to a Global Post study, the United States leads the trend toward greater inequality which is rising faster - and already greater - here than in nearly all other developed countries.

Until the Reagan Administration, the minimum wage was set at a level that allowed one wage earner to support a family. The minimum wage has never been required to keep up with inflation nor been benchmarked to ensure that a full-time worker's wages can keep a family above the poverty line. As a result, many workers' families have now become destitute.

Brian Beutler: Ted Cruz just doomed the GOP--but not in the way you think

He won a small battle with his debt limit gambit, but also made the GOP's extortion tactics much harder. Here's why

Last week the seams holding together factions of the Republican party burst open once again. And once again, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was the guy scraping at them with a scalpel.

He didn’t shut down the government, or talk himself hoarse on the Senate floor. But he did spoil his leadership’s plan to let Senate Democrats increase the debt limit on their own without implicating any individual Republicans — including the highest-ranking Republican, who just happens to be in the midst of an unexpectedly tough election.

Stanford scientist to unveil 50-state plan to transform US to renewable energy

Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson and his colleagues recently developed detailed plans to transform the energy infrastructure of New York, California and Washington states from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable resources by 2050. On Feb. 15, Jacobson will present a new roadmap to renewable energy for all 50 states at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago.

The online interactive roadmap is tailored to maximize the resource potential of each state. Hovering a cursor over California, for example, reveals that the Golden State can meet virtually all of its power demands (transportation, electricity, heating, etc.) in 2050 by switching to a clean technology portfolio that is 55 percent solar, 35 percent wind (on- and offshore), 5 percent geothermal and 4 percent hydroelectric.

Congress twists the relevant facts on purpose

Commentary: lawmakers deliberately distorted a recent Congressional Budget Office report

By Wendell Potter, 6:00 am, February 10, 2014, Updated: 9:50 am, February 10, 2014

If you’re curious about what I used to do as a PR guy for the health insurance industry, how I often took facts and figures and twisted them to advance a specific political or financial agenda, take a look at the behavior of some members of Congress last week.

Like I used to do, they took numbers in a report from a government agency — in this case the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office — and twisted their meaning to suggest something never intended by the report’s authors. Like I used to do, they misled the public with statistics to advance their team’s ultimate agenda, which, of course, is to win votes in November. And if getting people to vote against their own best interests means making comments that not only are dishonest but also contradict what they’ve said previously, so be it.

Usurious Returns on Phantom Money: The Credit Card Gravy Train

The credit card business is now the banking industry’s biggest cash cow, and it’s largely due to lucrative hidden fees.

by Ellen Brown
You pay off your credit card balance every month, thinking you are taking advantage of the “interest-free grace period” and getting free credit. You may even use your credit card when you could have used cash, just to get the free frequent flier or cash-back rewards. But those popular features are misleading. Even when the balance is paid on time every month, credit card use imposes a huge hidden cost on users—hidden because the cost is deducted from what the merchant receives, then passed on to you in the form of higher prices.

Research on urban ghettos must recognize differences among cities

Research on urban neighborhoods must take into account differences among cities and rely on some techniques that have not been used extensively by sociologists studying neighborhood effects, according to Mario Small, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago.

Small, who is also dean of UChicago's Division of the Social Sciences, studies urban neighborhoods and has studied the diversity of experiences for people living in poor neighborhoods in cities across the country.

Food Hubs: Sustainable agriculture's missing link

Nathanael Johnson

A few years ago, I bought a little share in a dairy farm so I could receive my own portion of creamy Jersey milk. Each week I’d fish a heavy Mason jar out from under a blanket of tinkling ice cubes. It was delicious, and when it went off it only got better: mixed with scalloped potatoes, salt, and onions, the fermenting milk transformed in the oven into cheesy ambrosia.

But there was a big problem with this milk: It waited for me on the other side of town. It took me a little over an hour to fetch it by car. I know because I didn’t have a car at the time, and so I’d rent a Zipcar and try to run the errand in under an hour. Then the farm started asking for members to drive out regularly to do chores. That was too much for me. I bailed out and went back to buying milk at Safeway.

Making biodiverse agriculture part of a food-secure future

Policy makers should value environmental, health benefits of small-scale local farming, researcher argues
Is biodiverse agriculture an anachronism? Or is it a vital part of a food-secure future?

Given the need to feed an estimated 2.4 billion more people by the year 2050, the drive toward large-scale, single-crop farming around the world may seem inexorable.

But there's an important downside to this trend, argues Timothy Johns, Professor of Human Nutrition at McGill University in Montreal, in a paper to be presented Saturday, Feb. 15, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.

Brian Beutler: Right-wing nuts’ anti-gay implosion: How a new ploy can doom the party

What began as opposition to a contraception mandate, on religious grounds, is now a real can of worms. Oops!

An anti-gay bill that may become law in Kansas could test the consistency of conservatives who oppose the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer sponsored insurance include birth control coverage.

What does being gay have to do with birth control, other than that religious conservatives regard both as sinful forms of contraception?

I’ll get to that in a minute.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Paul Krugman: Troubles in Turkey

"There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full." - Henry Kissinger

O.K., did we need this? Turkey? Who was paying attention to Turkey? Some people were, of course, because that was their job.

The International Monetary Fund released the results of its latest Article IV consultation - regular reports that are supposed to provide a sort of early warning system - just over a month ago. It mentioned some worries. For example, according to the I.M.F.: "The most concerning aspect is the widening short FX position of the nonfinancial corporates.

Rick Perlstein: From & Friends

Al From makes two assertions in his new memoir. The first is announced in its title. The New Democrats and the Return to Power argues that the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the group he founded in 1985 to push the Democratic Party to the right, has won: the party has been reformed, and there is no going back to the dark days when, according to From, Democratic presidential candidates suffered humiliation after humiliation at the ballot box for the party’s thralldom to protectionism, isolationism, “constituency groups” and the dread leviathan Jesse Leo Jackson.

The second point is that From and friends deserve all of the credit for the Democratic Party’s transformation. Again and again, our hero narrates his arrival, just in the nick of time, to save the day: “My interjection had stopped the headlong dash into social democracy…. Hillary came over to me and said she and Bill had discussed what I had said and had agreed I was right.” And again: “In a cab crossing the Triborough Bridge in New York, I flipped open my cell phone and called the President of the United States…. [W]hen Clinton and I finished our discussion, I was confident that he would sign the bill.” According to Al From, if you favor NAFTA, tougher laws on crime, welfare reform and, above all, an economic policy focused exclusively on “growth” instead of distributional fairness, you can thank Al From.

Time to End the Cheney/Halliburton Loophole

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 14:38  
By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed 

We live in a fracked up country, but thanks to Dick Cheney, there’s pretty much nothing we can do about it.

Over the past decade, the extraction of natural gas through a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has emerged as one of the fossil fuel industry’s biggest money makers.

In fact, according to Bloomberg, fracking was the biggest reason American oil output hit a 25-year high in 2013.

The boom in fracking is, quite literally, hitting close to home.

Even fact will not change first impressions

February 14, 2014 - Knowledge is power, yet new research suggests that a person's appearance alone can trump knowledge. First impressions are so powerful that they can override what we are told about people. A new study found that even when told whether a person was gay or straight, participants generally identified the person's sexual orientation based on how they looked – even if it contradicted the facts presented to them.

"We judge books by their covers, and we can't help but do it," says Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto. "With effort, we can overcome this to some extent, but we are continually tasked with needing to correct ourselves." The less time we have to make our judgments, the more likely we are to go with our gut, even over fact, he says.

Paul Krugman: Inequality, Dignity and Freedom

Now that the Congressional Budget Office has explicitly denied saying that Obamacare destroys jobs, some (though by no means all) Republicans have stopped lying about that issue and turned to a different argument. O.K., they concede, any reduction in working hours because of health reform will be a voluntary choice by the workers themselves — but it’s still a bad thing because, as Representative Paul Ryan puts it, they’ll lose “the dignity of work.”

So let’s talk about what that means in 21st-century America.

Plastic shopping bags make a fine diesel fuel, researchers report

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Plastic shopping bags, an abundant source of litter on land and at sea, can be converted into diesel, natural gas and other useful petroleum products, researchers report.

The conversion produces significantly more energy than it requires and results in transportation fuels – diesel, for example – that can be blended with existing ultra-low-sulfur diesels and biodiesels. Other products, such as natural gas, naphtha (a solvent), gasoline, waxes and lubricating oils such as engine oil and hydraulic oil also can be obtained from shopping bags.

The Vampire Squid Strikes Again: The Mega Banks' Most Devious Scam

By Matt Taibbi
February 12, 2014 11:00 AM ET

Call it the loophole that destroyed the world. It's 1999, the tail end of the Clinton years. While the rest of America obsesses over Monica Lewinsky, Columbine and Mark McGwire's biceps, Congress is feverishly crafting what could yet prove to be one of the most transformative laws in the history of our economy – a law that would make possible a broader concentration of financial and industrial power than we've seen in more than a century.

But the crazy thing is, nobody at the time quite knew it. Most observers on the Hill thought the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 – also known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act – was just the latest and boldest in a long line of deregulatory handouts to Wall Street that had begun in the Reagan years.

The Wolf of Sesame Street: Revealing the secret corruption inside PBS’s news division

By David Sirota
On February 12, 2014

[Update 14th Feb 2014: Following Pando's exposé, PBS has announced it will return John Arnold's $3.5m donation.]

On December 18th, the Public Broadcasting Service’s flagship station WNET issued a press release announcing the launch of a new two-year news series entitled “The Pension Peril.” The series, promoting cuts to public employee pensions, is airing on hundreds of PBS outlets all over the nation. It has been presented as objective news on  major PBS programs including the PBS News Hour.

However, neither the WNET press release nor the broadcasted segments explicitly disclosed who is financing the series. Pando has exclusively confirmed that “The Pension Peril” is secretly funded by former Enron trader John Arnold, a billionaire political powerbroker who is actively trying to shape the very pension policy that the series claims to be dispassionately covering.

The Troika and the New York Times Bury the Issues, not just the Lead

By William K. Black

On February 6, 2014, Mario Draghi, the head of the ECB said a series of contradictory things each of which indicated a failure to understand economics – and the BBC article about his policies failed to point out or analyze this failure.  Draghi’s primary message, in response to news that “Eurozone inflation slowed to 0.7% in January from 0.8% in December” was:
“We have to dispense with this idea of deflation. The question is – is there deflation? The answer is no.
We have to treat the recovery with extreme caution. It is very fragile. It is starting from very low levels but it is proceeding.”

As I explained in my January 25, 2014 column, the troika consists of the ECB, the EU Commission, and the IMF.  The troika’s definition of the “recovery” it hopes for in Spain is grim.  The troika made Spain its poster child for the success of austerity in late 2013.  In early 2014 Spain admitted that unemployment had risen to 26 percent and the troika’s most over-the-top propagandist for austerity, Ollie Rehn, was the only one willing to comment on that news.

James Surowiecki Promotes Myth of Consumer Empowerment in the Face of the Crapification of Almost Everything

Posted on by Yves Smith

There’s nothing like getting a missive from the alternative reality where neoliberalism works and all consumer problems can be solved by more diligent shopping (and remember, since we are all consumers first and citizens second, the corollary is that pretty much any problem can be solved by better shopping).

The current sighting is a story in the New Yorker by James Surowiecki, The Twilight of Brands, that tries to tell us, in all seriousness, that companies now have to be on their toes because consumers are more vigilant and less loyal. He starts with the backlash against yoga clothes maker Lululemon when quality fell sharply, and states his thesis:
It’s a truism of business-book thinking that a company’s brand is its “most important asset,” more valuable than technology or patents or manufacturing prowess. But brands have never been more fragile. The reason is simple: consumers are supremely well informed and far more likely to investigate the real value of products than to rely on logos. “Absolute Value,” a new book by Itamar Simonson, a marketing professor at Stanford, and Emanuel Rosen, a former software executive, shows that, historically, the rise of brands was a response to an information-poor environment. When consumers had to rely on advertisements and their past experience with a company, brands served as proxies for quality; if a car was made by G.M., or a ketchup by Heinz, you assumed that it was pretty good. It was hard to figure out if a new product from an unfamiliar company was reliable or not, so brand loyalty was a way of reducing risk. As recently as the nineteen-eighties, nearly four-fifths of American car buyers stayed loyal to a brand.
This is utterly backwards. The reason “brands have become more fragile” does not not reside in demanding, disloyal customers, but in short-sighted corporate behavior.

Paul Krugman: Writing Off the Unemployed

Back in 1987 my Princeton colleague Alan Blinder published a very good book titled “Hard Heads, Soft Hearts.” It was, as you might guess, a call for toughminded but compassionate economic policy. Unfortunately, what we actually got — especially, although not only, from Republicans — was the opposite. And it’s difficult to find a better example of the hardhearted, softheaded nature of today’s G.O.P. than what happened last week, as Senate Republicans once again used the filibuster to block aid to the long-term unemployed.

What do we know about long-term unemployment in America?

First, it’s still at near-record levels. Historically, the long-term unemployed—those out of work for 27 weeks or more — have usually been between 10 and 20 percent of total unemployment. Today the number is 35.8 percent. Yet extended unemployment benefits, which went into effect in 2008, have now been allowed to lapse. As a result, few of the long-term unemployed are receiving any kind of support.

Gaius Publius: Rising Inequality: Economic Recovery Driven Almost Entirely by the Rich

I’m going to call this a news item and let you draw the obvious conclusions.

First, the money quote, then the article that contains it. The quote:
In 2012, the top 5 percent of earners were responsible for 38 percent of domestic consumption, up from 28 percent in 1995, the researchers found.

Even more striking, the current recovery has been driven almost entirely by the upper crust, according to Mr. Fazzari and Mr. Cynamon. Since 2009, the year the recession ended, inflation-adjusted spending by this top echelon has risen 17 percent, compared with just 1 percent among the bottom 95 percent.

Chris Hedges: Legalizing Oppression

The lynching and disbarring of civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart, who because she has terminal cancer was recently released from prison after serving four years of a 10-year sentence, is a window into the collapse of the American legal system. Stewart—who has stood up to state power for more than three decades in order to give a voice to those whom authorities seek to crush, who has spent her life defending the poor and the marginalized, who wept in court when one of her clients was barred from presenting a credible defense—is everything a lawyer should be in an open society. But we no longer live in an open society. The persecution of Stewart is the persecution of us all.

Stewart, 74, is living with her husband in her son’s house in New York City after being released from a Texas prison a month ago. Because she is disbarred she cannot perform any legal work. “Can’t even work in a law office,” she said softly last week when I interviewed her at the Brooklyn home. “I miss it so terribly. I liked it. I liked the work.”

Dean Baker: The disastrous idea for privatizing Fannie and Freddie

A new bill proposes that government guarantee mortgage-backed securities

In his State of the Union Address on Jan. 28, President Barack Obama briefly referred to his hopes for reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored and publicly traded entities that support the mortgage market by buying and securitizing mortgages. Both companies failed during the 2008 financial crisis and had to be taken over by the government.

By “reforming,” the president unfortunately doesn’t mean “improving.” Rather, he likely means “privatizing.” In fact the most likely form of privatization at this point would feature the sort mix of private incentives and government guarantees that makes another financial disaster virtually certain.

The smart money in Washington is betting on the Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act, sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Mark Warner, D-Va. The Corker-Warner bill, put together by two of the more centrist senators in both parties, does not simply get the government out of the mortgage guarantee business — an idea that actually has a plausible argument in its favor.

Behold how badly our political journalists have lost the freakin’ plot

I read hundreds of bylined works of journalism a week. Every so often one of them forces me to go back and read it over and over…

This is usually because the writing contains within it a density of pressthink — my subject here — that cannot be gotten through in one or two tries. It happened this week with a post by Chris Cillizza, one of the Washington Post’s franchise players on the national politics beat: Why the CBO report is (still) bad news for Democrats.

Ordinarily I would summarize what Cillizza was writing about, quote from his piece, and try to isolate what’s screwy or revealing about it. But Dave Wiegel did that at Slate already. And I did it for a very similar piece published on Cillizza’s site in 2012. See my post: Everything That’s Wrong with Political Journalism in One Washington Post Item.

An Elegantly Simple Way to Revolutionize Government

Saturday, 08 February 2014 10:07 
By Carmen Yarrusso, Truthout | Op-Ed 

What started as a somewhat complex mathematical analysis of the game of politics using game theory (the mathematical study of strategic decision making) has evolved years later into an extraordinarily simple idea that would revolutionize government at all levels.

Deception is the lifeblood of our political system. A system claiming to work for the best interests of the people, while in fact largely working for corporate special interests, must necessarily be riddled with elaborate lies and deception. Our political system, with great help from mainstream media, is designed to foster mass deception rather than expose it. But a simple rule change to our game of politics would instantly and reliably expose deception. This would destroy the status quo and revolutionize government.

Richard Eskow: Reagan Remembered: The Failed Legacy of Our First Corporate Politician

January 20 marked the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as President. And February 6 marked the 103rd birthday of the former sports announcer, actor, governor of California and 40th President of the United States of America. Reagan’s economic legacy is one of failure, but in another way it could be argued that he was genuinely transformative: as the first celebrity politician for the modern corporate state.

Every president is ultimately judged on great ideas, visions, and responses to historical forces. Some of the forces that shaped the Reagan presidency could be seen with the unaided eye, like the fall of Communism (a long-developing trend that came to a head during the Reagan administration). Others were less visible but nevertheless shaped his Presidency.

US lead in science and technology shrinking

The United States' (U.S.) predominance in science and technology (S&T) eroded further during the last decade, as several Asian nations--particularly China and South Korea--rapidly increased their innovation capacities. According to a report released today by the National Science Board (NSB), the policy making body of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and an advisor to the President and Congress, the major Asian economies, taken together, now perform a larger share of global R&D than the U.S., and China performs nearly as much of the world's high-tech manufacturing as the U.S.

Evidence in NSB's biennial report, Science and Engineering Indicators, which provides the most comprehensive federal information and analysis on the nation's position in S&T, makes it increasingly clear that the U.S., Japan, and Europe no longer monopolize the global R&D arena. Since 2001, the share of the world's R&D performed in the U.S. and Europe has decreased, respectively, from 37 percent to 30 percent and from 26 percent to 22 percent. In this same time period, the share of worldwide R&D performed by Asian countries grew from 25 percent to 34 percent. China led the Asian expansion, with its global share growing from just 4 percent to 15 percent during this period.

Paul Krugman: Health, Work, Lies

On Wednesday, Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, said the obvious: losing your job and choosing to work less aren’t the same thing. If you lose your job, you suffer immense personal and financial hardship. If, on the other hand, you choose to work less and spend more time with your family, “we don’t sympathize. We say congratulations.”

And now you know everything you need to know about the latest falsehood in the ever-mendacious campaign against health reform.

Let’s back up. On Tuesday, the budget office released a report on the fiscal and economic outlook that included two appendices devoted to effects of the Affordable Care Act.

Paul Krugman: Economic Exaggerations in Europe

Hmm. Allies of British Prime Minister David Cameron's government are now taunting French President François Hollande for having run the French economy "into the sand," according to The Financial Times - presumably in contrast with Britain's triumph.

How does that look in terms of, you know, the actual numbers?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ronald Reagan: Worst President Ever?

February 6, 2014

From the Archive: Ronald Reagan, who was born on Feb. 6, 1911, ranks among the most honored U.S. presidents of modern times with his name etched into public buildings across the country. Even Democrats shy from criticizing his legacy. But is this Reagan worship deserved, Robert Parry asked in 2009.

By Robert Parry (Originally published June 3, 2009)

There’s been talk that George W. Bush was so inept that he should trademark the phrase “Worst President Ever,” though some historians would bestow that title on pre-Civil War President James Buchanan. Still, a case could be made for putting Ronald Reagan in the competition.

Granted, the very idea of rating Reagan as one of the worst presidents ever will infuriate his many right-wing acolytes and offend Washington insiders who have made a cottage industry out of buying some protection from Republicans by lauding the 40th President.

Paul Krugman: Regarding Three-Piece Suits, Breakfast Meetings and Overwork

No, this isn't about "American Hustle"; it's a commentary on James Surowiecki's interesting article in The New Yorker on the cult of long working hours. I don't exactly disagree with his argument, but I'd place the emphasis a bit differently.

First of all, he's right that for what he calls knowledge workers - I'd just say elite workers in general - the whole time ethos has changed. When I was growing up on Long Island, there was a clear class hierarchy in commute times. Early trains were filled with menial workers; the later the train, the more and fancier the suits, with executives starting their day at 9:30 or 10 a.m. These days, if anything, it is reversed: There are a lot of hard-driving suits on the early trains, and the later trains are much more mixed.

The Koch Brothers Left a Confidential Document at Their Last Donor Conference—Read It Here

A list of one-on-one meetings between VIP donors and the Kochs and their operatives offers a revealing look into their mighty political machine.
There's one main rule at the conservative donor conclaves held twice a year by Charles and David Koch at luxury resorts: What happens there stays there.

The billionaire industrialists and their political operatives strive to ensure the anonymity of the wealthy conservatives who fund their sprawling political operation—which funneled more than $400 million into the 2012 elections—and to keep their plans private. Attendees of these summits are warned that the seminars, where the Kochs and their allies hatch strategies for electing Republicans and advancing conservative initiatives on the state and national levels, are strictly confidential; they are cautioned to keep a close eye on their meeting notes and materials. But last week, following the Kochs' first donor gathering of 2014, one attendee left behind a sensitive document at the Renaissance Esmeralda resort outside of Palm Springs, California, where the Kochs and their comrades had spent three days focused on winning the 2014 midterm elections and more. The document lists VIP donors—including John Schnatter, the founder of the Papa John's pizza chain—who were scheduled for one-on-one meetings with representatives of the political, corporate, and philanthropic wings of Kochworld. The one-page document, provided to Mother Jones by a hotel guest who discovered it, offers a fascinating glimpse into the Kochs' political machine and shows how closely intertwined it is with Koch Industries, their $115 billion conglomerate.

AOL is leading the way to make 401(k)s worse for everyone

In our imperfect 401(k) system, there's one critical perk that many employees appreciate and count on: companies matching some part of their retirement savings every paycheck.

So when IBM changed its 401(k) system in 2012 to hand out employee matches in one lump sum at the end of the year, there was an uproar. Those who left the company before Dec. 15 would not see any matched dollars unless they were retiring. And employees would also miss out on all the compounding throughout the year from the contributions.

Senior US congressman Mike Rogers: Glenn Greenwald is 'a thief'

  • Rogers accused journalist of illegally selling NSA documents
  • Congressman is chairman of the House intelligence committee
  • Greenwald denounces Rogers for 'fabrications and lies'
Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Tuesday 4 February 2014 18.01 EST 
A senior US legislator has accused the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald of illegally selling National Security Agency documents provided to him by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, suggested Greenwald was a “thief” after he worked with news organizations who paid for stories based on the documents.

“For personal gain, he’s now selling his access to information, that’s how they’re terming it … A thief selling stolen material is a thief,” Politico quoted Rogers as saying after a committee hearing on Tuesday. Rogers said his source for the information was “other nations' press services”.

The Four Principles of Prosperity

by Ian Welsh
All economic theories are statements about what sort of people we are, or rather, what sort of people we should be. Economics has homo economicus, economic man, the rational utility maximizer who always acts in his or her own interest. We know that humans aren’t rational and we know that we don’t always do what is best for us, or even know what it is, but economics stands, nonetheless.

Economic man is prescriptive: it is about how we believe we should act. In ordinary terms a rational utility maximizer is a greedy, selfish bastard: a functional sociopath. They are concerned with other people’s well-being precisely and only to the extent that that affects their own. That we strive to realize this philosophy in our society is obvious from a perfunctory look at how we run our primary economic institutions: corporations. Our society insists and has put into law that corporations be concerned only with profit and nothing else(x). Our culture celebrates greed, we declare that “greed is good”. We believe that if everyone acts selfishly, for themselves, in freely agreed upon contracts, no matter how unequal the power of the people entering into them “freely”, that maximum well-being will result.

Mounting evidence links lead's toxic effects to criminal behavior

When crime rates drop, politicians like to give themselves pats on the back for being "tough on crime." But a new theory explaining why violence has declined across the country since the 1990s is gaining credence, and it has nothing to do with the criminal justice system. An article in Chemical & Engineering News details the mounting data that suggests taking lead out of gas and paint has played a critical role.

Dean Baker: CBO Says Obamacare Will Raise Wages

Apparently a lot of media folks have made such a habit of repeating Republican talking points that they can't see what is right in front of their eyes. The Republicans are touting the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to reduce the number of people working.

Guess what? This was one of the motivations for the ACA. It is a feature, not a bug. There are a lot of people who would prefer not to work and would not work if they had some other way to get health care insurance. Imagine a 62 year-old with diabetes and other health conditions. No insurer will touch this person. If they can get insurance at all they are looking at bill that will certainly run well over $10k a year. If this person has a job that provides insurance they will keep it until they qualify for Medicare no matter how much of a struggle it is to go to work each day.

Job Creationism: The Myth of the Entrepreneur as God

Wednesday, 05 February 2014 09:09  
By David Gespass, Truthout | Op-Ed

The State of the Union Address from President Obama, and the reactions to it, were sadly predictable. Take, for example, the issue of the economy and "getting America back to work," a refrain we have been hearing for a decade during which corporate profits and CEO salaries have exploded, not enough jobs exist for all those seeking work and millions who are employed are still destitute. Parenthetically, the chauvinist conceit of referring to the United States as "America," thereby consigning Canada and every country in Central and South America to nonexistence, is a matter for a separate article.

Approach helps identify new biofuel sources that don't require farmland

While the debate over using crops for fuel continues, scientists are now reporting a new, fast approach to develop biofuel in a way that doesn't require removing valuable farmland from the food production chain. Their work examining the fuel-producing potential of Streptomyces, a soil bacterium known for making antibiotics, appears in ACS' The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters. The method also could help researchers identify other microbes that could be novel potential fuel sources

The "Skills Gap" Is a Convenient Myth

Sunday, 02 February 2014 12:04  
By Toni Gilpin, Labor Notes | News Analysis 

Haven't seen too many "Help Wanted" signs lately? You haven't been looking hard enough. At factories across the country, thousands of good jobs are going begging.

If that doesn’t sound quite right to you, take it up with the National Association of Manufacturers. NAM and other industry groups insist at least 600,000 factory positions remain open.

Ocean temperatures spiked in 2013

By John Upton

Perhaps climate skeptics should be forced to walk the plank — so they can feel for themselves where so much of the globe’s extra heat is ending up.

The mainstream media repeatedly uttered the false but reassuring-sounding phrase “global warming pause” last year, a reference to an unexpected decline in the rate at which land temperatures have been recently warming, but meanwhile temperatures in the world’s oceans were spiking.

Sam Pizzigati: What Will Reversing Inequality Really Take?

In the fierce debate over our top-heavy distribution of income and wealth, egalitarians have vanquished both inequality’s deniers and defenders. Now the debate is shifting to the most pivotal question of all.

America’s ongoing debate over economic inequality may be turning a new page.

In the debate’s first chapter, starting the 1980s, scholars, pundits, and policy makers did battle over whether the United States was becoming more unequal.

We still have some “denialists” floating around in right-wing think tank circles. But this debate has essentially ended. No serious analyst any longer argues that the gap between America’s rich and everyone else hasn’t jumped substantially.

Future near perfect: How humans can still save the day by 2050

Though scientists and environmentalists often feel obligated to hawk the apocalyptic view of the world-to-come, there is a neglected version of the future well worth considering: the one where we win.

British environmentalist Jonathon Porritt is in the optimism business. He’s one of the founding directors of the Forum for the Future, a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the gospel of a sustainable future. “I hear good news every day,” he says, which makes us wonder what newspapers he’s reading. But he seems to mean it.

One American City Enjoys a Hyperfast Internet--Any Surprise Corporations Don't Control It?

By The Thom Hartmann Show

This morning, President Obama spoke to a crowd at a middle school in Adelphi, Maryland about the importance of high-speed internet access for America’s students.

But while high-speed internet access may still seem out-of-reach for many Americans, down in Chattanooga, Tennessee it’s been a reality for a long time.

That’s because Chattanooga is home to “The Gig,” a taxpayer-owned, high-speed fiber-optic network.

Nate Heckmann: Peter Schiff is Wrong About Everything

Posted on by Yves Smith
Yves here. I’m of two minds about featuring a post about Peter Schiff, since criticizing him treats him as being a more legitimate commentator than he is. But some targets ask so hard for a debunking that it’s hard to resist.

Schiff has been in the press recently for having said on the Daily Show that some people, such as the “mentally retarded,” didn’t even deserve minimum wage but should be paid only $2 an hour. But being offensive is not the worst of his sins.

Schiff is a money manager who claims to be an economist but has no formal credentials.* He such a terrible money manager that one wonders why the SEC hasn’t come calling. He lost 60% to 70% of customer assets in a two-year period when he was supposedly making correct macro calls. It isn’t just that he made disastrously bad timing decisions. He violated one of the basic rules of investment management, which is diversification (as of the last time his account results were made public, his picks represented only 2 bets: energy and gold, and that via small gold stocks or trusts). And he also appears to loaded up his customers with lots of risk. If so, he might have violated “know your customer” rules.

Universal pre-K: France is about 180 years ahead of America on preschool education

Universal pre-K is a long tradition in France, and one that American parents might envy.

By Claire Lundberg

I started the New Year in Paris with a mission: to enroll my daughter in école maternelle, France’s universal preschool program. This required a visit to our local city hall. As I walked across the park that sits between it and my apartment, I felt a little emotional—Sophia had just turned 2 in November, and now in just a few months she’d be headed off to school? It didn’t seem possible.

But I had no second thoughts about sending her to maternelle in the fall. Though school isn’t mandatory in France until age 6, all 3-year-olds are guaranteed a place in maternelle, and over 95 percent of French 3-to-5-year-olds attend. It’s the one part of France’s educational system that everyone seems to agree is great. It’s also remarkably cost-efficient: France paid 12.8 billion euros in 2007 to educate just over 2.5 million preschool age children—a cost of about 5,000 euros per student, or about $6,700. (By way of comparison, the state of New Jersey spends about $13,000 per student in their own, nonuniversal pre-K program, and Mayor de Blasio proposes allocating about $10,000 per student in New York City.) In the U.S., fewer than three in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K programs, and we rank in the bottom third of developed countries in early childhood education, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Why Power Elites Are So Afraid of Telling the Truth

by Kevin Zeese, Margaret Flowers 

The reality is that the current economic and political systems are in crisis. The economy will not recover and the government cannot function to meet people’s needs or to protect the planet. Structural change is needed but the power elites are addicted to the current system. They happily funnel more wealth to the top with confidence that their own pockets will be filled. There is no room in their lives for attention to anyone else.

Dean Baker: Silicon Valley billionaires believe in the free market, as long as they benefit

Google, Apple and other tech firms likely colluded to keep their workers' wages down. So much for that libertarian worldview

Last week, Mark Ames published an article that should forever destroy any connection between the Silicon Valley tech billionaires and their supposed libertarian worldviews. The article reports on a court case that alleges that Apple, Google, and other Silicon Valley powerhouses actively conspired to keep their workers' wages down. According to documents filed in the case, these companies agreed not to compete for each others' workers dating at least as far back as 2005. Workers in the industry have filed a class action suit that could lead to the payment of billions of dollars in lost wages.

This case is striking on many levels, the most obvious being the effective theft of large amounts of money by some of the richest people on the planet from their employees. This is pernicious, but not altogether surprising. After all, the boss stealing from the workers is as dog bites man as it gets. Few would be surprised that rich people were willing to break the law to get even richer.

The Internet You Know and Love Is in Real Danger

By Sandra Fulton

The court ruled that for the FCC to preserve net neutrality, it must first reclassify the Internet as a "common carrier" – a term used to describe a utility like plain-old telephone service or an electric company – so that it can be subject to particular government regulations. Today we delivered a petition with more than 1 million signatures calling on them to do just that.

Rethinking Economics: From the UK, a Global Student Movement Takes Shape

Sunday, 02 February 2014 10:13  
By Ruby Russell, | News Analysis 

When the financial crisis hit in 2007, economics students at respected institutions around the world found that theories handed down in classrooms failed to explain the reality outside, and an international movement began to demand a change in the way economics is taught.

“The crash was a wake-up call,” says Yuan Yang, who started her undergraduate studies in Philosophy and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford, at the height of the crisis in 2008. “On the one hand, we were being taught as if the financial system was not an important part of the economy. And on the other hand, what the markets were doing was quite different, so we asked, 'Why is there this disconnect?'”

Dean Baker: The Attack of the Robots: Economists' Silly Fantasies

Economists are not very good at economics. We know this because we had a huge housing bubble that collapsed, which almost none of them saw. The pre-crash projections from the Congressional Budget Office imply that this downturn has already cost us more than $7.6 trillion or $25,000 per person. This could have been prevented if we had economists in policy positions who understood how the economy worked.

But even if economists aren’t very good at dealing with the economy, they still can provide value to society. In particular they can be a great source of entertainment. That’s how we should view the story that robots will take all of our jobs and leave most of the population unemployed.

Paul Krugman: Delusions of Failure 

The Republican response to the State of the Union was delivered by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican representative from Washington — and it was remarkable for its lack of content. A bit of uplifting personal biography, a check list of good things her party wants to happen with no hint of how it plans to make them happen.

The closest she came to substance was when she described a constituent, “Bette in Spokane,” who supposedly faced a $700-a-month premium hike after her policy was canceled. “This law is not working,” intoned Ms. McMorris Rodgers. And right there we see a perfect illustration of just how Republicans are trying to deceive voters — and are, in the process, deceiving themselves.

5 Big Education Stories to Watch in 2014

By Owen Davis

January 16, 2014  |  For people looking to "disrupt” public education, it’s become requisite to bemoan the “educational status quo [3]” — a phrase meant to evoke images of poor kids striving against the impediments of failing schools and incompetent teachers. Those who question these disruptors’ methodologies are cast aside as hidebound intransigents who likely have some vested interest in an ossified order.

But as a report [4] from Bolder Broader Approach, a progressive advocacy group, noted last year, a new “status quo” has not so quietly taken root. “A popular set of market-oriented education ‘reforms,’” such as test-based teacher evaluation and public school choice, “look more like the new status quo than real reform.”

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Study: Watching Fox News Makes You Less Informed Than Watching No News

By Michael Kelley

This post originally appeared in Business Insider on May 22, 2012.

Media outlets such as Fox News and MSNBC have a negative impact on people’s current events knowledge, while NPR and Sunday morning political talk shows are the most informative sources of news, according to Fairleigh Dickinson University’s newest PublicMind survey.

Researchers asked 1,185 random nationwide respondents what news sources they had consumed in the past week and then asked them questions about events in the U.S. and abroad. On average, people correctly answered 1.6 of five questions about domestic affairs.

Paul Krugman: Talking Troubled Turkey

O.K., who ordered that? With everything else going on, the last thing we needed was a new economic crisis in a country already racked by political turmoil. True, the direct global spillovers from Turkey, with its Los Angeles-sized economy, won’t be large. But we’re hearing that dreaded word “contagion” — the kind of contagion that once caused a crisis in Thailand to spread across Asia, more recently caused a crisis in Greece to spread across Europe, and now, everyone worries, might cause Turkey’s troubles to spread across the world’s emerging markets.

It is, in many ways, a familiar story. But that’s part of what makes it so disturbing: Why do we keep having these crises? And here’s the thing: The intervals between crises seem to be getting shorter, and the fallout from each crisis seems to be worse than the last. What’s going on?

Another Religious Right Tale Of Anti-Christian Victimization Gets Thoroughly Debunked

Submitted by Kyle Mantyla on Wednesday, 1/29/2014 10:24 am

We have seen it happen time and again: some right-wing group issues a one-sided press release about a student supposedly being unfairly discriminated against in school simply for exercising their Christian faith and the entire Religious Right movement immediately flies into an outrage, spreading the story far and wide as undisputed truth. Then days or weeks later, the real story emerges once school officials are given an opportunity to investigate and explain what really happened and it inevitably reveals that the Religious Right version was completely false, by which point it is already too late because the fake version has already been accepted as gospel and just continues to spread forever.

Paul Krugman: What Happens When Opportunities Are Lost

National Review recently published what was actually an interesting report by Kevin Williamson on the state of the Appalachian region, providing a valuable portrait of its woes - plus an account of how people make food stamps fungible by exchanging them for cases of soda, which they then trade for cash or other things.

But the piece also has a moral: the big problem, Mr. Williamson argues, is the way government aid creates dependency. It's the Paul Ryan notion of the safety net as a "hammock" that makes life too easy for the poor. But do the facts about Appalachia actually support this view? No, they don't.

Indeed, even the facts presented in the article don't support it. Mr. Williamson dismisses suggestions that economic factors might be driving social collapse in this region: "If you go looking for the catastrophe that laid this area low," you'll eventually discover a terrifying story: Nothing happened."

Scary New Surveillance State Idea: Government Tracking Students from Preschool to Workforce

By Aaron Cantú

Enthusiasts say they hope the constant tracking will help policy-makers identify the precise factors that make a successful student, and foster the creation of well-informed education policy, while opponents worry that growing intrusiveness will normalize the mass surveillance and obsessive record-keeping of humans foretold in dystopian literature.

The $100 million repository that will catalog all the information is called inBloom, an initiative funded primarily through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

The Republican Conspiracy Has Worked

Wednesday, 29 January 2014 15:08  
By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed 

Republicans should be thrilled with President Obama’s State of the Union address. That’s because the extremely limited vision of government he presented last night is exactly what Republicans have been plotting to create since day one of the Obama White House.

In his fifth State of the Union address, the president essentially said that he is going to go it alone. His major policy plan for 2014 is to bypass Congress altogether and use targeted executive orders to get things done.

The Great Lakes Go Dry: How One-Fifth Of The World’s Fresh Water Is Dwindling Away

By Joanna M. Foster, on January 28, 2014 at 11:23 am

The frozen opalescent lake and thin, gray sky fade together into white light where the horizon should be. Tall, skeletal grasses shiver on the beach in a wind that makes any sliver of exposed skin burn. The Arni J. Richter, an icebreaking ferry, is about to pull away from Northport Pier for its second and final trip of the day to Washington Island. It’s loaded with food and fuel for the more than 700 hardy residents who call the remote island, just north of Door County peninsula in Wisconsin, home.

People have lived on Washington Island for over 160 years. They’re proud of their tight-knit community and their Icelandic heritage. But life on the island is threatened. For the past 15 years, islanders have watched Lake Michigan slowly disappear. Last January, the lake hit a record low, 29 inches below the long-term average as measured since 1918. The Richter Ferry was just inches away from grounding in some spots along its increasingly treacherous six-mile route to the island.

Mirabile Dictu! Post Office Bank Concept Gets Big Boost

Posted on by

Naked Capitalism readers have frequently called for the Post Office to offer basic banking services, as post offices long have in many countries, notably Japan. That idea has gotten an important official endorsement in the form of a detailed, extensively researched concept paper prepared by the Postal Service’s Inspector General. I’ve embedded it and strongly urge you to read and circulate it.

One of the stunning parts in reading the document is to see how wildly successful this program could be, precisely because traditional banks are withdrawing from many of the neighborhoods in which moderate and lower-income people live, and non-banks offer targeted, richly priced services, too often designed to take advantage of desperation or simple lack of alternatives. Even though most of us are aware of this general picture, the USPS IG, dimensions the scale of this problem and the costs to the affected households

27 Shocking Numbers That Reveal the True State of the Union

Scary statistics on unemployment, inequality, climate change and more

by Tim Dickinson
JANUARY 28, 2014

In tonight's State of the Union speech, we're likely to hear a lot about the nation's continuing recovery from the Great Recession, and about President Obama's determination to run an executive end-run around obstructionist Republicans in order to kick the economy into a higher gear.

But as the nation pauses for this annual moment of reflection on our fiscal and social health, too many leading indicators get short shrift. Here are 27 statistics – on unemployment, inequality, the drug war, defense spending, climate change and more – that underscore the troubled reality of America in 2014:

1. New income generated since 2009 that has gone to the top 1 percent: 95 percent
2. Financial wealth controlled by the bottom 60 percent of all Americans: 2.3 percent
3. Record combined wealth of the top 400 richest Americans: $2,000,000,000,000
4. Real decline in median middle-class incomes since 1999: $5,000

Wendy Davis' Daughters Strike Back At GOP Smear Machine

Paul Krugman: Hollande Takes a Wrong Turn

"You shall not crucify mankind upon a croissant d'or."

That was the economist Alan Taylor's response (in correspondence) to French President François Hollande's embrace of Say's Law - Mr. Hollande literally said that "supply actually creates demand" in a press conference - together with his shift to, again in his own words, supply-side policies.

The amazing thing to me, aside from Mr. Hollande's haplessness, is the extreme pessimism that has evidently enveloped the French elite. You'd think that France was a disaster area. Yet the numbers, while not good, just aren't that dramatic.