Sunday, April 27, 2014

'Drop Everything and Take Action': Activists Issue Clarion Call to Save the Internet

As a countdown begins, time to show "FCC largest protest it's every seen" say defenders of net neutrality

- Jon Queally, staff writer

There's no time like the present to save the future of the internet.

That's the message from the nation's largest and most active organizations focused on the issue of online freedom and net neutrality.

Following this week's news that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is preparing a push to pass new rules that would allow the nation's internet providers to create a two-tiered, two-speed internet by allowing corporations to pay for privileged access to broadband "fast lanes," the group's opposed to the move are warning the American people that if they don't act quickly and aggressively, the open internet they know and love could be destroyed forever.

What Happens When a Dark Money Group Blows Off IRS Rules? Nothing.

The Government Integrity Fund spent most of its money on election ads, despite IRS rules prohibiting a social welfare nonprofit from doing so.

by Kim Barker and Theodoric Meyer
ProPublica, April 25, 2014, 11:08 a.m.

To see how easy it is for a dark money group to ignore the Internal Revenue Service, look no further than the loftily named Government Integrity Fund.

The Fund, an Ohio nonprofit, spent more than $1 million in 2012 on TV ads attacking Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and praising his Republican opponent, Josh Mandel. Now the Fund's tax return, which ProPublica obtained from the IRS this week, indicates that the group spent most of its money on politics — even though IRS rules say nonprofits like the Fund aren't allowed to do that.

The NSA Comes Home: Police Departments Conceal Phone Tracking Equipment From Courts

Saturday, 26 April 2014 09:54
By Candice Bernd, Truthout | Report

The intricate surveillance equipment used by the federal government to track and store the cellphone data of millions of people and to monitor terrorism suspects is making its way to Main Street.

Police departments across the nation have been trying to conceal their use of cellphone tracking equipment from local courts because of nondisclosure agreements that allow the departments to use the devices on loan - as long as they promise the manufacturer they will keep it a secret.

The devices, manufactured by the Florida-based Harris Corporation, are commonly used at the federal level, but are also proliferating across local and state police departments. The technology has been purchased under various names, including StingRay, HailStorm, Harpoon, AmberJack, KingFish and RayFish, and mimics a cellphone tower.

We Know How to Save the Internet: Towns and Cities Across America Are Doing It

By David Morris

April 25, 2014 | With the announcement by the FCC that cable and telephone companies will be allowed to prioritize access to their customers, only one option remains that can guarantee an open Internet: owning the means of distribution.

Thankfully an agency exists for this: local government. Owning the means of distribution is a traditional function of local government. We call our roads and bridges and water and sewer pipe networks public infrastructure for a reason.

In the 19th century, local and state governments concluded that the transportation of people and goods was so essential to a modern economy that the key distribution system must be publicly owned. In the 21st century the transportation of information is equally essential.

We're NOT Number 1: Guess Which Country Now Has a More Affluent Middle Class Than America

By Lynn Stuart Parramore

April 23, 2014 | Fancy living up in Canada? Granted, it’s a bit chilly. But the middle class up there has just blown by the U.S. as the world’s most affluent [3]. America’s wealthy are leaping ahead of the rest of much of the globe, but the middle class is falling behind. So are the poor. That’s the sobering news from the latest research put out by LIS, a group based in Luxembourg and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

After taxes, the Canadian middle class now has a higher income than its American counterpart. And many European countries are closing in on us. Median incomes in Western European countries are still a bit lower than those of the U.S., but the gap in several countries, including the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain, is significantly smaller than it was a decade ago. However, if you take into account the cost of things like education, retirement and healthcare in America, those European countries’ middle classes are in much better shape than ours because the U.S. government does not provide as much for its citizens in these areas. So the income you get has to be saved for these items.

5 Easy Ways You Can Save Hundreds on Your Water Bill Each Year

By Cliff Weathers

April 23, 2014 | When it comes to conserving water, it’s amazing how small adjustments to your lifestyle can have a big impact. Water rates have surged across the nation in the past 15 years as communities deal with aquifer depletion, drought and water-utility privatization. Consumers in some 30 communities are paying double what they were in 2000, with the rates in Atlanta, San Diego and San Francisco tripling. As water continues to become a more precious commodity, finding better ways to save it becomes more important all the time.

While there are hundreds of small ways [3] we can all save water, here are five tips that can go a long way to help the local ecology, cut your water bill in half or more, and maybe make life around the house a little more enjoyable.

Disgorge the Cash

By J.W. Mason

Companies used to borrow in the markets as a last resort finance investment in their business. Now it’s a front for shareholder giveaways

“All these people have a sort of parlay mentality, and they need to get on the playing field before they can start running it up. I’m a trader. It all happens for me in the transition. The moment of liquidation is the essence of capitalism.”
“What about the man in Rigby?”
“He’s an end user. He wants to keep it.”
I reflected on the pathos of ownership, and the ways it could bog you down.
—Tom McGuane, Gallatin Canyon

In January 2010, Wall Street Journal columnist Brett Aronds wrote a peevish article about Apple. Instead of wasting its money on this stupid tablet thing, he said, the company should “hand it back to its rightful owners. … The money belongs to stockholders: Give. Indeed Jobs should go further. Apple should—gasp—start borrowing, and hand that money back, too … the biggest innovation we’d like to see from Apple this season isn’t the iPad or iSlate or iTablet. It’s the iGetsomemoneyback.”

Given the spectacular success of the iPad launch a few months later, Aronds’ complaint would seem singularly ill timed. But no: It was prescient. In 2012, under the prodding of activist investor Carl Icahn, Apple announced it would begin paying dividends for the first time in its history. And it began a share-repurchase program to “return capital to shareholders” (in the words of its press release) that rapidly expanded in size. By last year, Apple’s share repurchases had reached a pace of $30 billion per year, on top of $11 billion in dividends. This tribute to shareholders represents four-fifths of the company’s cash from operations and slightly exceeds its $37 billion reported net income for 2013, compared with just $8 billion spent on fixed investment and $4 billion on R&D.

Paul Krugman: Distortions Fuel Paranoia About Inflation

I've been thinking about how we talk about - or don't talk about - the desirability of low inflation targets.

As I noted recently, the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook report makes a compelling case for raising the target above 2 percent - but avoids saying so explicitly, resorting to coded euphemisms. Meanwhile, inflation paranoia is very much a partisan thing. In my notes for a recent class at Princeton, I listed the signatories of an open letter to Ben Bernanke, then the chairman of the Federal Reserve, from 2010 warning about dollar "debasement" from quantitative easing; it's obvious that everyone on the list is a highly committed Republican, and some people with the right ideological credentials are on board even though they have no relevant professional credentials. (William Kristol and Dan Senor, monetary experts?)

The FCC’s New Net Neutrality Proposal Is Even Worse Than You Think

By Marvin Ammori

In 2008 and 2012, President Obama campaigned on the incredibly popular idea of network neutrality—a law that would forbid phone and cable companies from changing the Internet and charging websites new tolls, and different tolls for new fast lanes and slow lanes on the internet. Yet yesterday, the New York Times reported that the man Obama appointed as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, has made a complete turnaround on network neutrality. He is now proposing rules that authorize massive discrimination by cable and phone companies, legalizing new tolls on tech companies, and pretty much putting our entire Internet economy under the control of a few politically connected, powerful phone and cable companies.

Understandably, the Internet exploded.

You don’t know the half of it. It’s even worse than you realize. The rules on paper are bad, and their enforcement will be even worse. That’s because you would need a small army of telecommunications lawyers and economists to bring a case under the new rules.

Why Canada may be heading down the 'slippery slope' toward American-style health care

By Wendell Potter
The Huffington Post, April 14, 2014

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- During the year leading up to the 2008 presidential primaries, my insurance industry colleagues and I were working hard to influence the debate on health care reform.

Our number one objective: make Americans so afraid of "heading down the slippery slope toward socialism" that no candidate would even consider supporting a Canadian-style, single-payer health care system.

Leading the scare campaign behind the scenes was the trade association, America's Health Insurance Plans. With help from a right-wing Canadian outfit called the Fraser Institute, which has received funding from the Koch brothers and other American donors, AHIP put together a three-ring binder of talking points for insurance company executives to use in speeches and media interviews.

Revealed: ALEC's 2014 Attacks on the Environment

Friday, 25 April 2014 11:42
By Nick Surgey, PR Watch | Report

An internal tracking document-- obtained from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) by the Center for Media and Democracy/the Progressive Inc. under Texas public records law -- reveals the scope of ALEC's anti-environmental efforts in 2014.

The spreadsheet (dated from late March 2014 and made public by CMD/The Progressive today) reveals ALEC tracking a total of 131 bills that, amongst other things, roll back state renewable energy standards, increase costs for American households with solar, hype the Keystone XL pipeline, push back on proposed EPA coal regulations that protect human health, and create industry-friendly fracking rules despite growing national and international concerns about fracking.

That “Iron Law” Of Oligarchy Is Back To Haunt Us

by Danny Schechter

The word Oligarchy has finally come home.

For years, it was a term only used in connection with those big bad and sleazy Mafioso-type businessmen in Russia.

Russia had Oligarchs; we didn’t. That became a big difference between the official narrative of what separated our land of the free and the home of the brave from THEM, the snakes in the shades and private planes, in the post-Soviet period.

The FCC Is About to Axe-Murder Net Neutrality -- What You Should Know

By Dan Gillmor

April 24, 2014 | In January, a federal appeals court rejected regulations [3] designed to assure some measure of fairness in the way America's internet service providers (ISPs) handle information traveling through their networks. The problem, according to the court, was not so much that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)couldn't insist on what is called "network neutrality" – the idea that customers, rather than ISPs, should decide priorities for information they get online. No, the issue was that the FCC had tried to impose broadband rules under the wrong regulatory framework. And the court all but invited the FCC to fix its own mistake and rewrite its own updated rules.

The FCC's new chairman, the former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler, said he would comply, rather than appeal. "Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency," he said in a February statement [4].

Now, based on a slew [5] of frightening [6] news reports [7] Wednesday night and a "clarification" [8]from the FCC Thursday, we know how the agency – or at least the former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler – proposes to respond: it won't exercise its supreme regulatory authority in the manner the court suggested.

No, not at all.

Scathing Report Finds Rocketship, School Privatization Hurt Poor Kids

Posted by Ruth Conniff on April 24, 2014

Gordon Lafer, a political economist and University of Oregon professor who has advised Congress, state legislatures, and the New York City mayor's office, landed at the airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, late last night bringing with him a briefing paper on school privatization and how it hurts poor kids.

Lafer's report, "Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin," released today by the Economic Policy Institute, documents the effects of both for-profit and non-profit charter schools that are taking over struggling public schools in Milwaukee.

"I hope people connect the dots," Lafer said by phone from the Milwaukee airport.

Report: Solitary Confinement Used to Punish Female Prisoners Who Report Rape

—By Dana Liebelson | Thu Apr. 24, 2014 7:52 AM PDT

When an incarcerated pregnant woman in Illinois slept too long through mealtime, a guard decided to punish her by placing her in solitary confinement. While in isolation, the woman—who had a long history of depression—was denied access to her prenatal vitamins and was not given water for hours. She soon became highly anxious. This is one of the disturbing ways that US prisons treat incarcerated women who are pregnant, transgender, mentally ill, or who report that they are raped, according to a new report published Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Many of the reasons women are placed in isolation are highly subjective, the reports notes: "Because many cases come down to the word of a prisoner against the word of a corrections officer, a guard’s bad day can easily turn into a solitary confinement sentence for a prisoner for retaliatory reasons, such as a prisoner’s filing a grievance."

Goodbye, Net Neutrality; Hello, Net Discrimination

Posted by Tim Wu

In 2007, at a public forum at Coe College, in Iowa, Presidential candidate Barack Obama was asked about net neutrality. Specifically, “Would you make it a priority in your first year of office to reinstate net neutrality as the law of the land? And would you pledge to only appoint F.C.C. commissioners that support open Internet principles like net neutrality?”

“The answer is yes,” Obama replied. “I am a strong supporter of net neutrality.” Explaining, he said, “What you’ve been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you’re getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different Web sites…. And that I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet—which is that there is this incredible equality there.”

Meet the Banking Caucus, Wall Street's secret weapon in Washington

Lawmakers help industry donors beat back tougher rules

By Daniel Wagner, Alison Fitzgerald - 6:00 am, April 24, 2014 Updated: 10:11 pm, April 24, 2014

The lawmakers were at an impasse.

More than two hours into a meeting of the House Financial Services Committee last month, the members were bickering over two versions of a bill designed to ease a new regulation that affected banks, part of the sweeping 2010 overhaul of financial laws known as the Dodd-Frank Act.

The dispute? Whether to give the banks everything they asked for, or whether to give them even more.

Paul Krugman: The Piketty Panic

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the new book by the French economist Thomas Piketty, is a bona fide phenomenon. Other books on economics have been best sellers, but Mr. Piketty’s contribution is serious, discourse-changing scholarship in a way most best sellers aren’t. And conservatives are terrified. Thus James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute warns in National Review that Mr. Piketty’s work must be refuted, because otherwise it “will spread among the clerisy and reshape the political economic landscape on which all future policy battles will be waged.”

Well, good luck with that. The really striking thing about the debate so far is that the right seems unable to mount any kind of substantive counterattack to Mr. Piketty’s thesis. Instead, the response has been all about name-calling — in particular, claims that Mr. Piketty is a Marxist, and so is anyone who considers inequality of income and wealth an important issue.

Wall Street's Outrageous Pension Swindle 

By David Sirota

April 25, 2014 | In the national debate over what to do about public pension shortfalls, here's something you may not know: The texts of the agreements signed between those pension funds and financial firms are almost always secret. Yes, that's right. Although they are public pensions that taxpayers contribute to and that public officials oversee, the exact terms of the financial deals being engineered in the public's name and with public money are typically not available to you, the taxpayer.

To understand why that should be cause for concern, ponder some possibilities as they relate to pension deals with hedge funds, private equity partnerships and other so-called "alternative investments." For example, it is possible that the secret terms of such agreements could allow other private individuals in the same investments to negotiate preferential terms for themselves, meaning public employees' pension money enriches those private investors. It is also possible that the secret terms of the agreements create the heads-Wall-Street-wins, tails-pensions-lose effect -- the one whereby retirees' money is subjected to huge risks, yet financial firms' profits are guaranteed regardless of returns.

In lab tests, the antimicrobial ingredient triclosan spurs growth of breast cancer cells

Some manufacturers are turning away from using triclosan as an antimicrobial ingredient in soaps, toothpastes and other products over health concerns. And now scientists are reporting new evidence that appears to support these worries. Their study, published in the ACS journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, found that triclosan, as well as another commercial substance called octylphenol, promoted the growth of human breast cancer cells in lab dishes and breast cancer tumors in mice.

Net Neutrality Finally Dies at Ripe Old Age of 45 

—By Kevin Drum | Wed Apr. 23, 2014 3:38 PM PDT

Apparently net neutrality is officially dead. The Wall Street Journal reports today that the FCC has given up on finding a legal avenue to enforce equal access and will instead propose rules that explicitly allow broadband suppliers to favor companies that pay them for faster pipes:

The Federal Communications Commission plans to propose new open Internet rules on Thursday that would allow content companies to pay Internet service providers for special access to consumers, according to a person familiar with the proposal.

The proposed rules would prevent the service providers from blocking or discriminating against specific websites, but would allow broadband providers to give some traffic preferential treatment, so long as such arrangements are available on "commercially reasonable" terms for all interested content companies. Whether the terms are commercially reasonable would be decided by the FCC on a case-by-case basis.

Scholar Behind Viral 'Oligarchy' Study Tells You What It Means

Sahil Kapur – April 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

A new political science study that's gone viral finds that majority-rule democracy exists only in theory in the United States -- not so much in practice. The government caters to the affluent few and organized interest groups, the researchers find, while the average citizen's influence on policy is "near zero."

"[T]he preferences of economic elites," conclude Princeton's Martin Gilens and Northwestern's Benjamin I. Page, who work with the nonprofit Scholars Strategy Network, "have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do."

TPM spoke to Gilens about the study, its main findings and its lessons.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Massive new fraud coverup: How banks are pillaging homes — while the government watches

When financial crimes go unpunished, the root problem of fraud never gets fixed -- and these are the consequences

David Dayen

Joseph and Mary Romero of Chimayo, N.M., found that their mortgage note was assigned to the Bank of New York three months after the same bank filed a foreclosure complaint against them; in other words, Bank of New York didn’t own the loan when they tried to foreclose on it.

Glenn and Ann Holden of Akron, Ohio, faced foreclosure from Deutsche Bank, but the company filed two different versions of the note at court, each bearing a stamp affirming it as the “true and accurate copy.”

Mary McCulley of Bozeman, Mont., had her loan changed by U.S. Bank without her knowledge, from a $300,000 30-year loan to a $200,000 loan due in 18 months, and in documents submitted to the court, U.S. Bank included four separate loan applications with different terms.

An unemployed aid program could help millions. Why aren’t more states using it? 

By Ylan Q. Mui
April 23 at 12:34 pm

One of the last drips of federal aid for unemployed workers will expire next summer -- and few people even know it exists.

Under federal legislation passed in 2012, the program provides funding for states that allow workers who have been forced into part-time positions to receive unemployment benefits. The payments are prorated for hours worked, and economists say the benefits encourage struggling companies to keep their employees rather than lay them off. Economists say the program could help millions of struggling, part-time workers.

America’s Surge Toward Oligarchy

April 24, 2014

Exclusive: With the rapid concentration of wealth in a few well-manicured hands and the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court declaring money to be speech, the American surge toward oligarchy has gained what looks like an unstoppable momentum, as JP Sottile explains.

By JP Sottile

Is America an oligarchy? Thanks to a new study from Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University, social media, Op-Ed pages and the blatheri are all atwitter at the implication that American democracy is a sham.

In Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, Gilens and Page used a data-set of 1,779 policy issues from 1981 to 2002 to compare actual policy outcomes with the prevailing policy preferences of three income groups: “10th income percentile (quite poor), the 50th percentile (median), and the 90th percentile (fairly affluent).”

Not surprisingly, the policy desires of the 90 Percenters (earning at least $146,000 per year) are the most likely to become policy outcomes.

The Cult of the Boss: Why Do Americans Admire Businessmen?

John Summers
April 17, 2014

Conservatives invoke Adam Smith and Friedrich von Hayek in their defense of the free market. Liberals invoke John Maynard Keynes for his defense of government intervention. Only in Thorstein Veblen, however, may a sane person hope to understand the carnival of mendacity that has sent America spiraling into the abyss.

Veblen, nearly forgotten today, grew up in a gilded age disfigured, like our own, by robber barons, predatory monopolies, financial panics, lockouts, strikes, and mass unemployment. Then as now a priestly class of economists rationalized such phenomena while the people, overwhelmed by a swell of ignorance and greed, emulated the pecuniary values of business. A long agricultural crisis devastated the country. Politicians intoned assurances that these were temporary abnormalities in a Sound System, just as our own Depression is cast as a trial of faith, a crisis of confidence.

A Chance to Remake the Fed 

 David Dayen
April 21, 2014

Two vacant slots offer progressives the opportunity to ensure the Board finally cracks down on Wall Street.

Janet Yellen has only chaired the Federal Reserve for a few months, but you could forgive her if she feels like the new kid in school that nobody wants to sit with at lunchtime. With the resignation of Jeremy Stein earlier this month, there are only two confirmed members of the seven-member Board of Governors: Yellen and Daniel Tarullo. Three nominees—Stan Fischer, Lael Brainard and Jerome Powell, (whose term expired but has been re-nominated)—await confirmation from the Senate. Another two slots are vacant, awaiting nominations. One consequence of the shortage of Fed governors is that regional Federal Reserve Bank presidents, chosen by private banks, now outnumber Board members at monetary policy meetings, allowing the private sector to effectively dictate monetary policy from the inside, and creating what some call a constitutional crisis.

Cow manure harbors diverse new antibiotic resistance genes

Manure from dairy cows, which is commonly used as a farm soil fertilizer, contains a surprising number of newly identified antibiotic resistance genes from the cows' gut bacteria. The findings, reported in mBio® the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, hints that cow manure is a potential source of new types of antibiotic resistance genes that transfer to bacteria in the soils where food is grown.

Thousands of antibiotic resistance (AR) genes have already been identified, but the vast majority of them don't pose a problem when found in harmless bacteria. The real worry is when these genes appear in the types of pathogenic bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses or hospital infections.

US Has A 'Secret Exception' To Reasonable Suspicion For Putting People On The No Fly List

by Mike Masnick, Fri, Apr 18th 2014 7:44am

from the also-known-as-the-'because-we-wanted-to' dept 

Over the past few months, we covered the bizarre trial concerning Rahinah Ibrahim and her attempt to get off the no fly list. In January, there was an indication that the court had ordered her removed from the list, but without details. In February, a redacted version of the ruling revealed that the whole mess was because an FBI agent read the instructions wrong on a form and accidentally placed her on the no fly list, though we noted that some of the redactions were quite odd.

However, earlier this week, the court finally released the unredacted version, and we'll have a few things to say about the choice of redactions in a later post. But first, there were three main "reveals" from the newly unredacted version. The first is that Ibrahim was actually put on multiple lists by mistake (and never for any clear reason) and was actually dropped from the no fly list years ago (though the other lists created the same effective problem in barring her from being allowed to travel to the US). The second is that the US government has a "secret exception" to the requirement that there be "reasonable suspicion" to put someone in various terrorist databases, and that secret exception was later used on Ibrahim. And third, that despite the implications from the redacted versions, the fully unredacted ruling shows that Ibrahim is still likely blocked from coming to the US for separate undisclosed reasons, even though the government fully admits that she is no threat. All of these things were hidden by the redacted version.

Jared Diamond: We Could Be Living in a New Stone Age by 2114

The Pulitzer-winning author explains why he adapted his classic book "The Third Chimpanzee" for kids: because we need them to fix our mistakes.

—By Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney | Fri Apr. 18, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Jared Diamond didn't start out as the globe-romping author of massive, best-selling books about the precarious state of our civilization. Rather, after a Cambridge training in physiology, he at first embarked on a career in medical research. By the mid-1980s, he had become recognized as the world's foremost expert on, of all things, the transport of sodium in the human gall bladder.

But then in 1987, something happened: His twin sons were born. "I concluded that gall bladders were not going to save the world," remembers Diamond on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast. "I realized that the future of my sons was not going to depend upon the wills that my wife and I were drawing up for our sons, but on whether there was going to be a world worth living in in the year 2050."

Yet Another Reason to Hate SCOTUS: It's Made It Easier for Payday Lenders to Prey on the Poor

By Kathleen Geier

April 21, 2014 | The Supreme Court doesn’t like poor people very much.

Recent rulings by the Court have had a profoundly harmful impact on the health, lives, and livelihoods of poor folks. The best-known example is the Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act, which allowed states to opt out of Medicaid. That is an option that 24 states have chosen to take. It will leave nearly six million low-income Americans without health insurance [3]. They would have had that insurance were it not for the Supreme Court. How many people will lose their health, and their lives, because the Supreme Court denied them health coverage? I would love to know.

There’s A Hidden Timebomb In The Senate Rules That Will Go Off If A Supreme Court Justice Retires

By Ian Millhiser, April 20, 2014 at 11:09 am Updated: April 20, 2014 at 6:55 pm

As Jonathan Chait notes, only five Republican senators voted to confirm Justice Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, and three of those senators — Judd Gregg, Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe — are no longer in the Senate. If Republicans take the Senate this November, there is a very real possibility that no one President Obama nominates to a Supreme Court vacancy, no matter what their record or qualifications, could be confirmed to the Court.

We made a similar point in 2012, when Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock defeated Lugar in a Republican Senate primary after he attacked Lugar for his support of Kagan and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. As we wrote then, “[i]n light of this incident, it is unlikely that any of the few remaining Republicans who backed an Obama Supreme Court appointee will be willing to risk their careers by doing the same again.”

The Latest "Cosmos" Explains How Corporations Fund Science Denial

Neil Tyson explores the surprising connection between the age of the Earth and the dangers of lead.

—By Chris Mooney | Mon Apr. 21, 2014 1:49 PM PDT

The most amazing thing about Fox's new Cosmos series is that it exists at all. A program that is, at its core, educational, airing at 9 p.m. on Sunday and competing with shows like Game of Thrones…in what universe does that happen?

Today's audiences are not accustomed to this sort of fare, and the show certainly hasn't been a runaway success when judged by the most traditional metric: ratings. Last night, though, Cosmos powerfully demonstrated that those who haven't watched it yet really ought to give it a shot (watch here). Simply put, Cosmos told a magnificent scientific story that drew together (yes, really) the tale of how we determined the age of the Earth (about 4.5 billion years old) and of how one courageous scientist showed, in the face of intense challenges, the dangers of leaded gasoline.

How One Profitable Company Took Home A Tax Refund Equal To All Of The SNAP Benefit Cuts

By NH Labor | April 22, 2014

Last year the Republicans in the House pushed to cuts the SNAP program by $5 billion dollars over the next ten years. These draconian cuts reduced benefits to millions of hungry children. The GOP claims we need to balance the budget and they refuse to make changes to the tax rates, which would lead to higher revenues. “NO NEW TAXES!” Republicans across the country have vowed, even signed pledges, not to raise taxes or create any new taxes. Because the Republicans are unwilling to make changes to our tax system, they insist on making cuts to programs like SNAP, to balance our budget.

Our taxes help to pay for everything from the town snowplow driver to the roads we drive on. They pay for the schools and the teachers who educate our children. They pay for the police officers and firefighters who keep us safe, day and night. That is what our taxes pay for. Taxes are the financial foundation that our community is based on.

Why Economist Thomas Piketty Has Scared the Pants Off the American Right

By Lynn Stuart Parramore

April 21, 2014 | Thomas Piketty is no radical. His 700-page book Capital in the 21st Century is certainly not some kind of screed filled with calls for class warfare. In fact, the wonky and mild-mannered French economist opens his tome with a description of his typical Gen X abhorrence of what he calls the “lazy rhetoric of anticapitalism." He is in no way, shape, or form a Marxist. As fellow-economist James K. Galbraith has underscored in his review of the book, Piketty "explicitly (and rather caustically) rejects the Marxist view" of economics.

But he does do something that gives right-wingers in America the willies. He writes calmly and reasonably about economic inequality, and concludes, to the alarm of conservatives, that there is no magical force that drives capitalist societies toward shared prosperity. Quite the opposite. He warns that if we don't do something about it, we may end up with a society that is more top-heavy than anything that has come before — something even worse than the Gilded Age.

For this, in America, you get branded a crazed Communist by the right. In this past weekend's New York Times, Ross Douthat sounds the alarm in an op-ed ominously tited "Marx Rises Again [3]." The columnist hints that he and his fellow pundits have only pretended to read the book but nevertheless feel comfortable making statements like "Yes, that’s right: Karl Marx is back from the dead" about Piketty. TheNational Review's James Pethokoukis joins in the games with a silly article called "The New Marxism [4]" in which he repeats the nonsense that Piketty is some sort of Marxist apologist.

Don Quijones: “Uncreative” Destruction – The Troika’s Hostile Takeover of Europe

Posted on April 16, 2014 by Yves Smith

By Don Quijones, a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain. His blog, Raging Bull-Shit, is a modest attempt to challenge some of the wishful thinking and scrub away the lathers of soft soap peddled by our political and business leaders and their loyal mainstream media. Originally published at Testosterone Pit

After four long years of “service”, the Troika’s frontline role in sustaining and exacerbating crisis conditions in Southern Europe is finally beginning to attract some of the attention it deserves. In my home city of Barcelona, a coalition of left-wing groups recently held an event to raise awareness about the Troika’s “neo-liberalisation” of Southern Europe. Even Europe’s shoe-shine institution, the European Parliament, has promised to launch an enquiry into the Troika’s operations after the European elections in May.

Since its inception at the beginning of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, the unholy alliance between the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission has visited untold damage on the economies and societies of a long and fast-growing list of countries.

Is America an Oligarchy?

Posted by John Cassidy

From the Dept. of Academics Confirming Something You Already Suspected comes a new study concluding that rich people and organizations representing business interests have a powerful grip on U.S. government policy. After examining differences in public opinion across income groups on a wide variety of issues, the political scientists Martin Gilens, of Princeton, and Benjamin Page, of Northwestern, found that the preferences of rich people had a much bigger impact on subsequent policy decisions than the views of middle-income and poor Americans. Indeed, the opinions of lower-income groups, and the interest groups that represent them, appear to have little or no independent impact on policy.

“Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” Gilens and Page write:
Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
That’s a big claim.

The Corruption of Mainstream Media

Sunday, 20 April 2014 09:35
By Danny Schechter, Consortium News | Op-Ed

The United States' mainstream media still pretend they are custodians of "serious journalism," but those claims continue to erode as the corporate press shies away from its duty to challenge propaganda emanating from various parts of the US government.

First the good news: The Pulitzer Prize for Public Service was not only the best covered of its awards this year, but it recognized a series of disclosures that made many media outlets nervous, if not adversarial – the publication of National Security Agency secrets leaked by Edward Snowden.

The award recognized the reporting by the Guardian in England and also Bart Gellman’s work in the Washington Post even as they, did not recognize the work directly of Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras whose independent reporting appeared in many newspapers.

You want a good internet economy with lots of jobs? Here’s How.

2014 April 18
by Ian Welsh

I’ve been blogging for a long time, and I was managing editor of both the Agonist, and FDL. While at both jobs, advertising income wasn’t my responsibility, except indirectly (I was responsible for traffic), I kept an oar in and an eye out.

Here’s the deal: advertising revenue collapsed. In particular it collapsed in 2007/8, and it kept collapsing. The reason it collapsed is that in the old days you sold your ads direct, or through brokers who offered good deals. As time went by, however, the percentage offered dropped and dropped and dropped. The brokers consolidated, and one broker took the lion’s share of the market: Google.

The reasons are simple enough: Google can offer the widest portfolio of websites to advertise on, and for all but the best branded websites, it determines more traffic than any single other factor. For people with no brand, it determines almost all the traffic.

Paul Krugman: No Time for Sargent

I’m a little late to this, but there’s lately been some buzz about the unearthing of Tom Sargent’s 2007 graduation speech, in which he briefly laid out 12 principles of economics. For the most part the speech is getting favorable attention. So let me be a spoilsport. It’s not so much that what Sargent said is wrong, although some of his principles are by no means universally agreed upon, even in normal times. What’s so striking about Sargent’s points is that it’s hard to think of a worse time to cite them. And the people citing that old speech clearly have ulterior motives.

So, about the not so time-dependent points: Sargent declared as a principle, “There are tradeoffs between equality and efficiency.” Well, every economist would agree that Cuban-type equality is bad for efficiency. But would reducing our current level of inequality reduce efficiency? That’s far from clear: there are a number of reasons to believe that high levels of inequality have adverse effects on economic growth – and evidence to that effect is coming not from fringe leftists but from places like the IMF.

Dean Baker: Economic Policy in a Post-Piketty World

Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the 21st Century, has done a remarkable job of focusing public attention on the growth of inequality in the last three decades and the risk that it will grow further in the decades ahead. Piketty’s basic point on this issue is almost too simple for economists to understand: if the rate of return on wealth (r) is greater than the rate of growth (g), then wealth is likely to become ever more concentrated.

This raises the obvious question of what can be done to offset this tendency towards rising inequality? Piketty’s answer is that we need a global wealth tax (GWT) to redistribute from the rich to everyone else. That is a reasonable solution if we’re just working out the arithmetic in this story, but don’t expect many politicians to be running on the GWT platform any time soon.

Paul Krugman: Sweden Turns Japanese

Three years ago Sweden was widely regarded as a role model in how to deal with a global crisis. The nation’s exports were hit hard by slumping world trade but snapped back; its well-regulated banks rode out the financial storm; its strong social insurance programs supported consumer demand; and unlike much of Europe, it still had its own currency, giving it much-needed flexibility. By mid-2010 output was surging, and unemployment was falling fast. Sweden, declared The Washington Post, was “the rock star of the recovery.”

Then the sadomonetarists moved in.

The story so far: In 2010 Sweden’s economy was doing much better than those of most other advanced countries. But unemployment was still high, and inflation was low. Nonetheless, the Riksbank — Sweden’s equivalent of the Federal Reserve — decided to start raising interest rates.

Study casts doubt on climate benefit of biofuels from corn residue

The fuel could generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline

Lincoln, Neb., April 20, 2014 -- Using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and can generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline, according to a study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The findings by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln team of researchers cast doubt on whether corn residue can be used to meet federal mandates to ramp up ethanol production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Paul Krugman Tells Bill Moyers That Inherited Wealth Is Destroying Our Country

By Bill Moyers

April 18, 2014 | In this clip, economist Paul Krugman tells Bill Moyers that America is on the road to becoming a society controlled not by self-made men or women, but by their offspring. “Those of you who talk about the 1 percent, you don’t really get what’s going on. You’re living in the past. You’re living in the ’80s. You think that Gordon Gekko is the future,” he says, referring to the character in Wall Street, who became a symbol of unrestrained greed.

“[R]ight now, what we’re really talking about is Gordon Gekko’s son or daughter. We’re talking about inherited wealth playing an ever-growing role,” he concludes. Watch the entire show to learn more about what the Nobel prize winning economist has to say about Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

The mentality of J Edgar Hoover’s FBI undergirds today’s surveillance state

People forget that the FBI is the NSA's primary partner in domestic spying, which allows them to work in secret

Trevor Timm, Saturday 19 April 2014 10.00 EDT

The new documentary 1971, about the formerly anonymous FBI burglars who exposed the crimes of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, debuted to a rapt audience at the Tribeca film festival last night. As the filmmakers noted in an interview with the AP, the parallels between Nixon-era FBI whistleblowers and Edward Snowden's NSA revelations are almost eerie in their similarity.

But while the NSA connection seems obvious, the movie will actually shed light on the domestic intelligence agency with far more power over ordinary Americans: the modern FBI.

Everyone seems to forget that the FBI is the NSA's primary partner in the latter's domestic spying operations and that, in fact, the NSA's job would be impossible without them. Whenever you see a company deny giving any data to the NSA remember: It's because it's not the NSA asking (or demanding) the information of them, it's the FBI. They use the same Patriot Act authorities that the NSA does, and yet we have almost no idea what they do with it.

Tech Companies Adopt Astroturf to Get Their (Wicked) Way

Sunday, 20 April 2014 00:00
By Toshio Meronek , Truthout | News Analysis

In 2013, the 10 biggest tech companies upped their spending on lobbying by 16 percent over the previous year. Companies like Amazon, Google and IBM spent far more than most pharmaceutical firms, the National Rifle Association, RJ Reynolds Tobacco, and others that we tend to associate with trying to control the conversation in Washington DC. And just like these other lobbiers, tech megacorps are casting a lot of their money toward causes that increase social and economic inequality, like pushing for cheaper labor and tax breaks for the richest of the rich.

To achieve these goals, tech corporations have begun embracing a strategy that is widely known as "astroturfing": Lobbying in a sneaky, roundabout fashion, by setting up their own faux-grassroots organizations. Executives at tech's largest companies, like Facebook, LinkedIn and Microsoft spend millions on lobbying indirectly through nonprofit groups that promote a grassroots image, but are in reality the tentacles of corporate interests that are just trying to forward their own agendas.

The Neoliberal Turn in American Health Care

by A.W. Gaffney

The failings of the Affordable Care Act are rooted in a long shift away from the idea of a truly universal health care.

Last year’s three-ring Congressional shutdown circus — for many little more than a desperate rearguard action by an isolated rightwing fringe to undo the fait accompli of Barack Obama’s health care reform — reinforced with each passing day the gaudy dysfunction of the American political system. But we miss something crucial if we construe the perseverance of Barack Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) as nothing more than the overdue victory of commonsense health care reform over an irrelevant and intransigent right, or, even more, as the glorious culmination of a progressive dream for American universal health care long deferred.

Wall Street deregulation pushed by Clinton advisers, documents reveal

Previously restricted papers reveal attempts to rush president to support act, later blamed for deepening banking crisis, Saturday 19 April 2014 09.28 EDT

Wall Street deregulation, blamed for deepening the banking crisis, was aggressively pushed by advisers to Bill Clinton who have also been at the heart of current White House policy-making, according to newly disclosed documents from his presidential library.

The previously restricted papers reveal two separate attempts, in 1995 and 1997, to hurry Clinton into supporting a repeal of the Depression-era Glass Steagall Act and allow investment banks, insurers and retail banks to merge.

If the GOP's Obamacare Hissy Fit Seems Bad—You Won't Believe the Plot to Overthrow FDR

By Joshua Holland

April 18, 2014 | Every baby step toward guaranteeing American working people a minimum of economic security with new social insurance programs has been greeted with howls of horror and outrage — and predictions that the end of the Republic is near. Every new addition to the safety net has been met with a concerted campaign by conservatives and the business establishment to undermine it. Eighty years after it was signed into law, the Social Security Act, arguably Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signature piece of legislation, still is under attack from the right.

Last week, historian Harvey J. Kaye told Bill Moyers [2] how FDR created a progressive generation that helped change American society in dramatic ways. Investigative journalist Sally Denton details a darker reality of that period in her 2011 book, FDR, a Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right [3]. It was a time, she writes, in which radicals of various stripes questioned the viability of American democracy and a group of bankers went so far as to plot to overthrow the president.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The problems of HFT, Joe Stiglitz edition

April 15, 2014 @ 8:04 pm
By Felix Salmon

Never mind Michael Lewis. The most interesting and provocative thing to be written of late about
financial innovation in general, and high-frequency trading in particular, comes from Joe Stiglitz. The
Nobel prize-winning economist delivered a wonderful and fascinating speech [1] at the Atlanta Fed’s
2014 Financial Markets Conference today; here’s a shorter version of what Stiglitz is saying.

Oklahoma students know less about evolution after Biology I than they did before taking it 

By Scott Kaufman
Friday, April 18, 2014 11:28 EDT

A study published in the latest edition of Evolution: Education and Outreach demonstrated “the average student…completed the Biology I course with increased confidence in their biological evolution knowledge yet with a greater number of biological evolution misconceptions and, therefore, less competency in the subject.”

The study, conducted by Tony Yates and Edmund Marek, tested biology teachers and students in 32 Oklahoma public high schools via a survey the pair called “the Biological Evolution Literacy Survey.” The survey was administered to the teachers first, to get a benchmark of their grasp of evolutionary theory. The survey was then administered twice to the students — once before they took the required Biology I course, and once after they had completed it.

Paul Krugman: Salvation Gets Cheap 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pools the efforts of scientists around the globe, has begun releasing draft chapters from its latest assessment, and, for the most part, the reading is as grim as you might expect. We are still on the road to catastrophe without major policy changes.

But there is one piece of the assessment that is surprisingly, if conditionally, upbeat: Its take on the economics of mitigation. Even as the report calls for drastic action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, it asserts that the economic impact of such drastic action would be surprisingly small. In fact, even under the most ambitious goals the assessment considers, the estimated reduction in economic growth would basically amount to a rounding error, around 0.06 percent per year.

Beware of backroom deals in the name of 'science'

The term 'sound science' has become Orwellian double-speak for various forms of pro-business spin, says Colin Macilwain.

16 April 2014

Scientific and environmental groups enjoyed a small victory in Washington DC earlier this year, when an insidious little item called the sound-science bill was removed from farm legislation signed into law by US President Barack Obama on 7 February.

The defeat of the bill was but a minor skirmish, however, in a broader, global war that rumbles on over how science should be used in regulating everything from smoking to pollution.

Tom Frank interviews Barbara Ehrenreich: “You’re the anti-Ayn Rand”

Belief, Richard Dawkins, Jesus and the minimum wage, "The Fountainhead" and more, in our exclusive conversation

Thomas Frank

I’ve been a devoted fan of Barbara Ehrenreich’s writing ever since I discovered Fear of Falling, her book about middle-class dreams, during a summer vacation when I was in graduate school. Reading it on a beach somewhere, I felt a light went on in my head; she was describing the culture of our times in a way that was both persuasive and accessible, and yet that I had come across nowhere else, not even in academia. For her 2001 book, the massive best-seller Nickel and Dimed, she took a series of service jobs incognito and told the world what the experience was like. Bright-Sided, which she published in 2009, saw her turn her painstaking scrutiny on the quasi-religious industry of positive thinking.

Somewhere along the line, I became Barbara’s friend, and it occurred to me that the factor that makes each of her books so completely unique in American intellectual life is her persistent sensitivity to matters of social class. She can always see through the smokescreen, the cloud of fibs we generate to make ourselves feel better about a world where the work of the many subsidizes the opulent lifestyles of the few. That, plus the fact that she writes damned well. Better than almost anyone out there, in fact.

Karl Polanyi Explains It All

Robert Kuttner
April 15, 2014

Want to understand our market-crazed era? Rediscover the 20th century’s most prophetic critic of capitalism.

In November 1933, less than a year after Hitler assumed power in Berlin, a 47-year-old socialist writer on Vienna’s leading economics weekly was advised by his publisher that it was too risky to keep him on the staff. It would be best both for the Österreichische Volkswirt and his own safety if Karl Polanyi left the magazine. Thus began a circuitous odyssey via London, Oxford, and Bennington, Vermont, that led to the publication in 1944 of what many consider the 20th century’s most prophetic work of political economy, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time.

Polanyi, with no academic base, was already a blend of journalist and public intellectual, a major critic of the Austrian School of free-market economics and its cultish leaders, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Polanyi and Hayek would cross swords for four decades—Hayek becoming more influential as an icon of the free-market right but history increasingly vindicating Polanyi.

Conventional farmers drop their plows in favor of conservation

By Nathanael Johnson

The Michael and Adam Crowell duo works this way: Michael handles the crops, and Adam handles the dairy cows; Michael is the colorful wisecracker, and Adam is the straight man; Michael casts about for a word when his tongue outpaces his memory, and Adam fills it in; Michael is the father, and Adam is the son.

I visited their dairy farm near Turlock, in California’s Central Valley, to get a look at the growing trend of conventional farmers adopting ecologically friendly techniques. In the Midwest, where farmers grow a small number of grain crops, this transformation has led to a new normal, with the majority of farmland under some form of conservation management.

Food shortages could be most critical world issue by mid-century

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The world is less than 40 years away from a food shortage that will have serious implications for people and governments, according to a top scientist at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"For the first time in human history, food production will be limited on a global scale by the availability of land, water and energy," said Dr. Fred Davies, senior science advisor for the agency's bureau of food security. "Food issues could become as politically destabilizing by 2050 as energy issues are today."

Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It's Not a Democracy 

By Tom McKay April 16, 2014

The news: A new scientific study from Princeton researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn't a democracy any more. And they've found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.

Here's why your student loans are about to get more expensive

Updated by Libby Nelson on April 15, 2014, 8:30 a.m. ET

Bad news for college students: new federal student loans are getting more expensive.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday that undergraduate student loans issued this fall will have an interest rate of 5.04 percent, up from 3.86 percent for 2013-14.

The Middle Class Is Not ''Normal''

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 14:57
By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed

There's nothing "normal" about having a middle class. Having a middle class is a choice that a society has to make, and it's a choice we need to make again in this generation, if we want to stop the destruction of the remnants of the last generation's middle class.

Despite what you might read in the Wall Street Journal or see on Fox News, capitalism is not an economic system that produces a middle class. In fact, if left to its own devices, capitalism tends towards vast levels of inequality and monopoly. The natural and most stable state of capitalism actually looks a lot like the Victorian England depicted in Charles Dickens' novels.

At the top there is a very small class of superrich. Below them, there is a slightly larger, but still very small, "middle" class of professionals and mercantilists - doctor, lawyers, shop-owners - who help keep things running for the superrich and supply the working poor with their needs. And at the very bottom there is the great mass of people - typically over 90 percent of the population - who make up the working poor. They have no wealth - in fact they're typically in debt most of their lives - and can barely survive on what little money they make.

In Denial

Conservatives Line Up To Oppose Minimum Wage Increase

Yesterday, during a public forum hosted by Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), a fast food worker named Shaneeka Rainer stood up to ask the Congressman to support increasing the minimum wage. Rainer has worked an entire decade receiving only one raise: when Congress increased the minimum wage in 2007.

How LBJ Saved the Civil Rights Act

Fifty years later, new accounts of its fraught passage reveal the era's real hero—and it isn’t the Supreme Court.

Michael O'Donnell, Mar 19 2014, 9:06 PM ET

In the winter of 1963, as the Civil Rights Act worked its way through Congress, Justice William Brennan decided to play for time. The Supreme Court had recently heard arguments in the appeal of 12 African American protesters arrested at a segregated Baltimore restaurant. The justices had caucused, and a conservative majority had voted to decide Bell v. Maryland by reiterating that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal-protection clause did not apply to private businesses like restaurants and lunch counters—only to “state actors.” The Court had used this doctrine to limit the reach of the Fourteenth Amendment since 1883. Brennan—the Warren Court’s liberal deal maker and master strategist—knew that such a decision could destroy the civil-rights bill’s chances in Congress. After all, the bill’s key provision outlawed segregation in public accommodations. Taxing his opponents’ patience, he sought a delay in order to request the government’s views on the case. He all but winked and told the solicitor general not to hurry.

And then the conservatives on the Court lost their fifth vote. Justice Tom Clark changed his mind and circulated a draft opinion granting the appeal. In a revolutionary constitutional change, lunch counters and restaurants would suddenly be liable if they violated the equal-protection clause. But Brennan foresaw a new difficulty. By now it was June 1964, and a coalition of northern Democratic and Republican senators looked set to break a southern filibuster and pass a strong civil-rights bill. Would a favorable Supreme Court ruling actually give wavering senators an excuse to vote no? They might say there was no need for legislation because the Court had already solved the problem. So Brennan, ever nimble, engineered a tactical retreat by assembling a majority that avoided the merits of the case altogether. It was an alley-oop to the political branches. They grabbed the ball and dunked it. Ten days after the Court’s decision, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and the president signed it into law.

In the popular imagination, the Supreme Court is the governmental hero of the civil-rights era. The period conjures images of strong white pillars, Earl Warren’s horn-rims, and the almost holy words Brown v. Board of Education. But in Bell, the Court vindicated civil rights by stepping aside. As Bruce Ackerman observes in The Civil Rights Revolution, Brennan realized that a law passed by democratically elected officials would bear greater legitimacy in the South than a Supreme Court decision. He also doubtless anticipated that the act would be challenged in court, and that he would eventually have his say. The moment demonstrated not merely cooperation among the three branches of government, but a confluence of personalities: Brennan slowing down the Court, President Johnson leaning on Congress to hurry up, and the grandstanders and speechmakers of the Senate making their deals, Everett Dirksen and Hubert Humphrey foremost among them. In this age of obstruction and delay, it is heartening to recall that when the government decides to act, it can be a mighty force.

Dean Baker: The Hedge Fund Managers Tax Break: Because Wall Streeters Want Your Money

The coming of tax day provides a great opportunity for everyone to focus on their favorite tax break, and there are many from which to choose. However for all the sneaky and squirrelly ways that the rich use to escape their tax liability, none can beat the hedge fund managers' tax break. This is the way the rich tell the rest of us, because they are rich and powerful, the law doesn't apply to them.

The hedge fund managers' tax break, which is also known as the carried interest tax deduction, is different from other tax breaks in that it has no economic rationale. With most other tax breaks there is at least an argument as to how it serves some socially useful purpose. That is not the case with the hedge fund managers' tax break. This is simply a case where the rich don't feel like paying taxes and are saying to the rest of us, "what are you going to do about it?"

Planned Obsolescence Disguised as Innovation, Oligopoly Disguised as a Free Market, and the Enrichment of Oligarchs

Posted on April 15, 2014 by Yves Smith

Yves here. We are delighted to feature this post from Roy Poses, who with his colleagues at Health Care Renewal, have been providing consistently high quality analysis of the often dubious practices and economics of the health care system.

By Roy Poses, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University, and the President of FIRM – the Foundation for Integrity and Responsibility in Medicine. Cross posted from the Health Care Renewal website

The New York Times published another article in its series on the high cost of US health care. This one, focused on the care of type 1 diabetes mellitus and other chronic diseases, shines some light on the business management practices that now determine how our health care system functions, or not, and implies who benefits the most from them.

Paul Krugman: The Lack of Courage Among Policymakers

The Oxford economist Simon Wren-Lewis recently asked on his blog: "Why does the economic policy pursued or proposed by the left in Europe often seem so pathetic?"

He was citing the government of François Hollande in France as the prime example, but also the limpness of the Labour Party in Britain. And he suggested that the answer is a matter of resources and organization: "Seeking out good advice (and distinguishing it from bad advice) takes either money or time," Mr. Wren-Lewis wrote. "An established government finds this much easier than an opposition or a new government."

Dave Dayen: Wall Street’s wily front group: Inside story of a rental scheme’s secret facelift

How profit-hungry Wall Street landlords are secretly trying to turn themselves into a modest, lovable trade group

The Wall Street rental scheme, the mass purchase of 200,000 single-family homes by hedge funds and private equity firms to convert to rental properties, has run into some trouble. Complaints from renters have proliferated, alleging that repairs go unaddressed, leases violate local tenant ordinances and unnecessary evictions often occur due to negligence. The plan to sell bonds backed by revenue from the rental properties has also stumbled. Collected rents on the initial rental-backed security from private equity giant Blackstone fell 7.6 percent from October 2013 to January 2014, suggesting that the homes aren’t being occupied at a level necessary to make the deal work. The Standard and Poor’s rating agency declined to offer a triple-A rating for the securities, and with fewer foreclosed properties to buy and higher home prices, many investors have cooled on the idea.

CBO Lowers Obamacare's Price Tag By $104 Billion Over 10 Years

Dylan Scott – April 14, 2014, 12:41 PM EDT

In its latest projections for Obamacare, the Congressional Budget Office has lowered the law's costs over the next 10 years by more than $100 billion.

Most of the change can be linked to lower spending on tax subsidies for coverage purchased on and its state counterparts, which can in turn be linked to lower-than-expected premiums.

“We are in great danger”: Ex-banker details how mega-banks destroyed America

"The power has only been more consolidated," warns Goldman Sachs veteran Nomi Prins in an interview with Salon

Josh Eidelson

“It no longer matters who sits in the White House,” former Goldman Sachs managing director Nomi Prins writes in her new book “All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power.” “Presidents no longer even try to garner banker support for population-friendly policies, and bankers operate oblivious to the needs of national economies. There is no counterbalance to their power.”

Prins, who also worked for Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Chase Manhattan Bank, is now a fellow at the think tank Demos and a member of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Federal Reserve Advisory Council. Salon spoke with Prins about a century of presidential coziness with bankers; Barney Frank’s defense of big banks’ power; and how to “break the alliances” before they “break us.” A condensed version of our conversation follows.

The American Dream Turns Into a Global Nightmare

Commentary: 3 delusions that will backfire on us, self-destruct civilization

By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (MarketWatch) — The American Dream? Now a Global Nightmare? A ticking time bomb, a lethal virus spreading worldwide, could destroy the entire world, backfire, take down America and capitalism? Yes.

But, first, a little history: Five years ago Bill Gates and his Billionaires Club asked that question. But gave up. Here’s why.

Gates’ billionaires essentially asked: What do you think is the single, biggest ticking time bomb that will eventually take down global economies? The absolutely biggest one with a trigger mechanism that can ignite, set off a nuclear chain reaction that will throw a permanent wrench in global economic growth, ending capitalism, potentially destroying modern civilization as we know it. Yes, that one. The one that — if not solved soon — renders all efforts to solve all other problems in the world irrelevant, futile and virtually impossible ever to solve. Yes, that one. What is the “big one?”

Paul Krugman: Three Expensive Milliseconds

Four years ago Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, abruptly canceled America’s biggest and arguably most important infrastructure project, a desperately needed new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Count me among those who blame his presidential ambitions, and believe that he was trying to curry favor with the government- and public-transit-hating Republican base.

Even as one tunnel was being canceled, however, another was nearing completion, as Spread Networks finished boring its way through the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Spread’s tunnel was not, however, intended to carry passengers, or even freight; it was for a fiber-optic cable that would shave three milliseconds — three-thousandths of a second — off communication time between the futures markets of Chicago and the stock markets of New York. And the fact that this tunnel was built while the rail tunnel wasn’t tells you a lot about what’s wrong with America today.

IPCC climate change report: averting catastrophe is eminently affordable

Landmark UN analysis concludes global roll-out of clean energy would shave only a tiny fraction off economic growth

Damian Carrington, Berlin
The Guardian, Sunday 13 April 2014 06.19 EDT

Catastrophic climate change can be averted without sacrificing living standards according to a UN report, which concludes that the transformation required to a world of clean energy is eminently affordable.

“It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” said economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team.

The cheapest and least risky route to dealing with global warming is to abandon all dirty fossil fuels in coming decades, the report found. Gas – including that from the global fracking boom – could be important during the transition, Edenhofer said, but only if it replaced coal burning.

GAO report again finds black lung proposal supported by science

By Chris Hamby | 12:00 pm, April 11, 2014 Updated: 12:05 pm, April 11, 2014

A longstanding federal proposal to lower coal miners’ exposure to the dust that can cause black lung disease is supported by substantial scientific evidence.

That’s the conclusion government auditors reached in 2012, answering demands for a study by members of Congress concerned about the rule. And it’s the conclusion the auditors reached again — after another congressional request for a study — in a report released this week.

The Perils of Private Welfare: Job-Based Benefits and American Inequality 

By Colin Gordon - March 27, 2014

American inequality is driven not just by the uneven distribution of wages, but also by the uneven distribution of job-based benefits. More than any other country, the United States relies on private employment and private bargaining to deliver basic social benefits—including health coverage, retirement security, and paid leave. The results—on any basic measure of economic security—have been dismal.

Reliance on private benefits made some sense in a mid-century economy organized around lifetime “family wage” employment in large and stable firms. But even under these circumstances, benefits bypassed many workers. Their coverage was always uncertain (loss of a job meant loss of benefits) and often capricious (consider the health and pension plans that routinely evaporate in corporate restructuring). Good benefits followed good jobs, widening the gap between low-wage workers and everyone else. The expectation of private coverage undercut public programs—which were often structured as ways of supplementing job-based plans or mopping up around their edges. And, across the last generation, the logic of delivering social policy via private employment unraveled with the economy on which it was based.

Capitalism simply isn't working and here are the reasons why

Economist Thomas Piketty's message is bleak: the gap between rich and poor threatens to destroy us

Will Hutton
The Observer, Saturday 12 April 2014 15.30 EDT

Suddenly, there is a new economist making waves – and he is not on the right. At the conference of the Institute of New Economic Thinking in Toronto last week, Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century got at least one mention at every session I attended. You have to go back to the 1970s and Milton Friedman for a single economist to have had such an impact.

Like Friedman, Piketty is a man for the times. For 1970s anxieties about inflation substitute today's concerns about the emergence of the plutocratic rich and their impact on economy and society. Piketty is in no doubt, as he indicates in an interview in today's Observer New Review, that the current level of rising wealth inequality, set to grow still further, now imperils the very future of capitalism. He has proved it.

Global poverty could be up to a third higher than reported

With over one billion people in the world living on less than $1.25 per day, the World Bank aims to end 'extreme poverty' by 2030. But new research suggests that global poverty figures could be underestimated by up to a third, and calls for more robust measurement in the future.

The World Bank figures are widely used by the international community and play a significant role in international strategies to reduce poverty. Critics argue that its estimates are flawed because the 'dollar a day' poverty line is too arbitrary, and insufficiently anchored to any specification of basic human needs.

Charles M. Blow: We Should Be in a Rage

Voter apathy is a civic abdication. There is no other way to describe it.

If more Americans — particularly young people and less-wealthy people — went to the polls, we would have a better functioning government that actually reflected the will of the citizenry.

But, that’s not the way it works. Voting in general skews older and wealthier, and in midterm elections that skew is even more severe.

Charles P. Pierce: George Will Gets Behind The Worst Idea In American Politics

George Effing Will, conservative public intellectual and extremely bad baseball writer, has nurtured within himself a sweet tooth for a lot of the worst ideas in politics -- many of them so bad that even the Rehnquist court turned up its nose at them. He flirted for a while with the term-limits crack pipe. He tried his hand at climate change denial, until enough people wanted to feed him to a starving polar bear that he backed off. I liken these odd enthusiasms to a old sheepdog gone out to play in the yard with puppies, or to your Uncle Manny's trying to do the Electric Slide after a couple of Harvey Wallbangers at a big family wedding.

Spencer Ackerman: CIA and White House under pressure after Senate torture report leaks

Senate committee found CIA interrogations and detentions to be 'brutal' and urges administration to release report as quickly as possible

A leak of the major findings of a landmark Senate inquiry into the CIA’s post-9/11 torture of terrorism detainees led, on Friday, to intensified pressure on the White House and the CIA to release the inquiry speedily and with a minimum of redactions.

The classified study, prepared by the Senate select committee on intelligence, concluded that the CIA’s interrogations, secret detentions and outsourced torture sessions were “brutal, and far worse than the agency communicated to policymakers.”

Gutting of campaign finance laws enhances influence of corporations and wealthy Americans

RINCETON, N.J.—Affluent individuals and business corporations already have vastly more influence on federal government policy than average citizens, according to recently released research by Princeton University and Northwestern University. This research suggests that the Supreme Court's continuing attack on campaign finance laws is further increasing the political clout of business firms and the wealthy.

Neoliberalism, the Revolution in Reverse

By any reasonable measure, the neoliberal dream lies in tatters. In 2008 poorly regulated financial markets yielded a world-historic financial collapse. One generation, weaned on reveries of home ownership as the coveted badge of economic independence and old-fashioned American striving, has been plunged into foreclosure, bankruptcy, and worse. And a successor generation of aspiring college students is now discovering that their equally toxic student-loan dossiers are condemning them to lifetimes of debt. Both before and after 2008, ours has been an economic order that, largely designed to reward paper speculation and penalize work, produces neither significant job growth nor wages that keep pace with productivity. Meanwhile, the only feints at resurrecting our nation’s crumbling civic life that have gained any traction are putatively market-based reforms in education, transportation, health care, and environmental policy, which have been, reliably as ever, riddled with corruption, fraud, incompetence, and (at best) inefficiency. The Grand Guignol of deregulation continues apace.

Paul Krugman: Why We're in a New Gilded Age

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
by Thomas Piketty, translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 685 pp., $39.95

Thomas Piketty, professor at the Paris School of Economics, isn’t a household name, although that may change with the English-language publication of his magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Yet his influence runs deep. It has become a commonplace to say that we are living in a second Gilded Age—or, as Piketty likes to put it, a second Belle Époque—defined by the incredible rise of the “one percent.” But it has only become a commonplace thanks to Piketty’s work. In particular, he and a few colleagues (notably Anthony Atkinson at Oxford and Emmanuel Saez at Berkeley) have pioneered statistical techniques that make it possible to track the concentration of income and wealth deep into the past—back to the early twentieth century for America and Britain, and all the way to the late eighteenth century for France.

The result has been a revolution in our understanding of long-term trends in inequality. Before this revolution, most discussions of economic disparity more or less ignored the very rich. Some economists (not to mention politicians) tried to shout down any mention of inequality at all: “Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution,” declared Robert Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago, the most influential macroeconomist of his generation, in 2004. But even those willing to discuss inequality generally focused on the gap between the poor or the working class and the merely well-off, not the truly rich—on college graduates whose wage gains outpaced those of less-educated workers, or on the comparative good fortune of the top fifth of the population compared with the bottom four fifths, not on the rapidly rising incomes of executives and bankers.