Saturday, May 31, 2014

Why the Oil Industry is Running Into Major Trouble

By Joe Costello

Four decades ago, it was abruptly brought to the world's attention oil was a limited resource. This was of greatest concern for the United States, who at that point had built an economic infrastructure completely oil dependent. With only 5% of the global population, the U.S. consumed over 25% of the world's oil, a model neither sustainable or exportable to the vast majority of earth's population.

Savage capitalism is back – and it won’t tame itself

Back in the 90s, I used to get into arguments with Russian friends about capitalism. This was a time when most young eastern European intellectuals were avidly embracing everything associated with that particular economic system, even as the proletarian masses of their countries remained deeply suspicious. Whenever I’d remark on some criminal excess of the oligarchs and crooked politicians who were privatising their countries into their own pockets, they would simply shrug.

“If you look at America, there were all sorts of scams like that back in the 19th century with railroads and the like,” I remember one cheerful, bespectacled Russian twentysomething explaining to me. “We are still in the savage stage. It always takes a generation or two for capitalism to civilise itself.”

The Real Origins of the Religious Right

They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record’s clear: It was segregation.

By RANDALL BALMER | May 27, 2014

One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. The tale goes something like this: Evangelicals, who had been politically quiescent for decades, were so morally outraged by Roe that they resolved to organize in order to overturn it.

This myth of origins is oft repeated by the movement’s leaders. In his 2005 book, Jerry Falwell, the firebrand fundamentalist preacher, recounts his distress upon reading about the ruling in the Jan. 23, 1973, edition of the Lynchburg News: “I sat there staring at the Roe v. Wade story,” Falwell writes, “growing more and more fearful of the consequences of the Supreme Court’s act and wondering why so few voices had been raised against it.” Evangelicals, he decided, needed to organize.

Some of these anti-Roe crusaders even went so far as to call themselves “new abolitionists,” invoking their antebellum predecessors who had fought to eradicate slavery.

But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny.

Paul Krugman: Thomas Doubting Refuted

OK, Thomas Piketty has replied at length (pdf) to the attempted takedown of his work by Chris Giles, and done it very effectively. Essentially, Giles tried to compare apples and oranges, and the result was a lemon.

The central point here is one that’s familiar to anyone who works at length on inequality issues. We have two kinds of data on distribution of both income and wealth: surveys, in which people are asked what they make or own, and tax data.

Dean Baker: Why Is It So Acceptable to Lie to Promote Trade Deals?

It's not polite to use the "L" word here in Washington, but it's hard not to be more than a bit disgusted with the frequency with which trade pacts are sold as great engines of job creation and economic growth, when they clearly are not. The latest offender in this area is Bruce Ackerman, a Yale Law professor.

In a Washington Post column Ackerman called on President Obama to push for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP), which he described as, "opening the path for job-creating opportunities for workers on both continents." Really, what evidence does Professor Ackerman have for this assertion?

The Pentagon Wants to Tackle Climate Change -- But Congress Forbids It

Mark Strauss

As rising sea levels begin to engulf naval bases and extreme weather exacerbates conflicts worldwide, the military has sounded the alarm that climate change poses a long-term threat to U.S. security. The GOP response? It passed legislation that blocks funding for any Pentagon program that tackles climate change.

Just prior to Memorial Day weekend, the House of Representatives stuck an amendment onto the National Defense Authorization Act, which stipulates that:
None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation's Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order.
In other words, don't even THINK about initiating programs to prepare for the potential impacts of climate change, either in the United States or abroad.

Documents Show the VA Debacle Began Under George W. Bush

The Bush administration was aware of the backlogs and secret waiting lists but failed to fix the problem.

—By Mariah Blake | Fri May 30, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

President Barack Obama and his administration have come under fire following a string of revelations about the huge backlogs of patients at Department of Veterans Affairs clinics and the underhanded tactics many of them used to hide the long wait times for medical care. As of Thursday evening, more than 100 lawmakers were calling on Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to step down. But according to VA inspector general reports and other documents that have gone overlooked in the current firestorm, federal officials knew about the scheme at the heart of the scandal—falsifying VA records to cover up treatment delays—years before Obama became president. VA officials first learned of the problems in 2005, when George W. Bush was entering his second term, and the problems went unfixed for the duration of his presidency.

Paul Krugman: Cutting Back on Carbon

Next week the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce new rules designed to limit global warming. Although we don’t know the details yet, anti-environmental groups are already predicting vast costs and economic doom. Don’t believe them. Everything we know suggests that we can achieve large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at little cost to the economy.

Just ask the United States Chamber of Commerce.

O.K., that’s not the message the Chamber of Commerce was trying to deliver in the report it put out Wednesday. It clearly meant to convey the impression that the E.P.A.’s new rules would wreak havoc. But if you focus on the report’s content rather than its rhetoric, you discover that despite the chamber’s best efforts to spin things — as I’ll explain later, the report almost surely overstates the real cost of climate protection — the numbers are remarkably small.

Colleges are getting millions to steer students toward certain banks

By Danielle Douglas, May 27 at 12:39 pm

There are a few things I remember about my college ID: the goofy picture, class insignia and resident hall sticker on the card. One thing that crucial piece of plastic did not feature was a debit card function. Things have changed.

Now many student IDs double as debit or prepaid cards that come loaded with financial aid money. Colleges promote these hybrid cards as a convenient way for students to manage funds. But the terms of the accounts aren't always transparent, and some cards are riddled with fees. And what's in it for the schools? A few million dollars in payments from financial firms.

An Unexpected Reason Americans Are Overweight

By Martha Rosenberg

Examples of capitulation to Big Food are many in the film. In 1977, the McGovern Report warned about an impending obesity epidemic and suggested revised USDA guidelines to recommend people eat less foods high in fat and sugar. The egg, sugar and other Big Food industries, seeing a risk to profits, demanded that guidelines not say "eat less" of the offending foods but rather eat more "low-fat" foods. Ka-ching. They won over the objection of Sen. McGovern.

Categorising the poor

Posted by Frances Coppola on May 27th 2014

I have been meaning to write this post for a long time. It's the history of what we might call a “British disease” - the desire to judge people's motives rather than addressing their needs.

For centuries, successive British social systems have recognised that there are people who cannot work,whether because they are too young, too old, too ill or too infirm. These people need to be provided for by others – in the first instance families, but where family support networks break down, support must be provided by the wider community.

And for centuries, successive British social systems have also recognised the existence of people who are perfectly capable of working but are not doing so. Most of these people are unemployed due to economic circumstances. But a small minority are not working because they don't want to. And an even smaller minority pretend to be ill, infirm or unfortunate in order to claim benefits, often while working on the sly.

Paul Krugman: Free Markets Are Not Always the Best Medicine

Steven Levitt, in his new book, Think Like a Freak, with Stephen Dubner, thinks he was being smart by telling British Prime Minister David Cameron that he should scrap the National Health Service and let the magic of the marketplace deal with health care. Strangely, Mr. Cameron wasn't impressed.

I think there are several things going on here. One is a Levitt-specific, or maybe Freakonomics-specific, effect: the belief that a smart guy can waltz into any subject and that his shoot-from-the-hip assertions are as good as those of the experts. Remember, Mr. Levitt did this on climate in his last book, Super Freakonomics, delivering such brilliant judgments as the assertion that because solar panels are black (which they actually aren't), they'll absorb heat and make global warming worse.

Big Dairy Is Putting Microscopic Pieces of Metal in Your Food

—By Tom Philpott | Wed May 28, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

The rapid emergence of nanotechnology suggests that size does, indeed, matter. It turns out that if you break common substances like silver and nickel into really, really tiny particles—measured in nanometers, which are billionths of a meter—they behave in radically different ways. For example, regular silver, the stuff of fancy tableware, doesn't have any obvious place in sock production. But nano-size silver particles apparently do. According to boosters, when embedded in the fabric of socks, microscopic silver particles are "strongly antibacterial to a wide range of pathogens, absorb sweat, and by killing bacteria help eliminate unpleasant foot odor." (By most definitions, a particle qualifies as "nano" when it's 100 nanometers wide or less. By contrast, a human hair clocks in at about 80,000 nanometers in diameter.)

Dean Baker: The Wall Street Pension Scam

In recent years there has been a regular drum beat of news stories warning us about the enormous unfunded liabilities of state and local pension funds. Much of this has come from reports issued from well-endowed foundations, most notably the Pew and Arnold foundations who have a joint project on public pensions.

Ostensibly these foundations are simply providing information to allow the public to address a major policy problem. However, it is difficult not to ask whether these foundations may be pursuing a different agenda.

Tomgram: Michael Klare, What's Big Energy Smoking?


Let Them Eat Carbon

Like Big Tobacco, Big Energy Targets the Developing World for Future Profits
By Michael T. Klare

In the 1980s, encountering regulatory restrictions and public resistance to smoking in the United States, the giant tobacco companies came up with a particularly effective strategy for sustaining their profit levels: sell more cigarettes in the developing world, where demand was strong and anti-tobacco regulation weak or nonexistent. Now, the giant energy companies are taking a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook. As concern over climate change begins to lower the demand for fossil fuels in the United States and Europe, they are accelerating their sales to developing nations, where demand is strong and climate-control measures weak or nonexistent. That this will produce a colossal increase in climate-altering carbon emissions troubles them no more than the global spurt in smoking-related illnesses troubled the tobacco companies.

The tobacco industry’s shift from rich, developed nations to low- and middle-income countries has been well documented. “With tobacco use declining in wealthier countries, tobacco companies are spending tens of billions of dollars a year on advertising, marketing, and sponsorship, much of it to increase sales in... developing countries,” the New York Times noted in a 2008 editorial. To boost their sales, outfits like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco also brought their legal and financial clout to bear to block the implementation of anti-smoking regulations in such places. “They’re using litigation to threaten low- and middle-income countries,” Dr. Douglas Bettcher, head of the Tobacco Free Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), told the Times.

Dean Baker: Don't buy the 'sharing economy' hype: Airbnb and Uber are facilitating rip-offs

Dodging taxes and regulation isn't just disruptive – it's bad for the economy

The "sharing economy" – typified by companies like Airbnb or Uber, both of which now have market capitalizations in the billions – is the latest fashion craze among business writers. But in their exuberance over the next big thing, many boosters have overlooked the reality that this new business model is largely based on evading regulations and breaking the law.

For the uninitiated, Airbnb is an internet-based service that allows people to rent out spare rooms to strangers for short stays. Uber is an internet taxi service that allows tens of thousands of people to answer ride requests with their own cars. There are hundreds of other such services that involve the renting or selling of everything from power tools to used suits and wedding dresses.

The Party's Over

Jan-Werner Müller

Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy by Peter Mair
Verso, 174 pp, £15.00, June 2013, ISBN 978 1 84467 324 7

The word ‘party’ – as in ‘political party’ – is in bad odour across the West, though for different reasons in different places. In the United States, everyone from the president down seems to lament the polarisation of politics and the rise of partisanship. But then hostility to parties is nothing new in American history; ‘if I could not go to heaven but with a party,’ Jefferson wrote, ‘I would not go there at all.’ Europeans tend to be less in thrall to the ideals of the one indivisible nation. They worry about the opposite problem: that the parties are all the same. So there’s a problem when parties have distinct ideologies, and there’s a problem when they don’t. What, then, do we really want from them?

Peter Mair’s Ruling the Void offers some disturbing answers to this question. We remain in the dark about the strategies Mair might have recommended to address the crisis of Western democracy – he died of a heart attack in 2011 before his book was finished – but his brilliance as a political scientist comes through clearly, as does the magnitude of the challenge posed by the passing of the ‘age of party democracy’.[*] Modern democracy, Mair tells us, simply cannot work without parties, so that when parties cease to play their proper role, democracy itself is at stake.

Why should tech people care about public pension scandals? I’m glad you asked…

By David Sirota
On May 24, 2014

This week, Pando published the latest in a series of investigations into the connection between political donations and which firms are handed lucrative public pensions contracts. As a result of our reporting, there is now an investigation underway in New Jersey, with the possibility of more to follow.

Still, while most agree that corruption around billion dollar public pension contracts is a story that someone ought to be covering, some readers have wondered whether that someone has to be us.

Dean Baker: Robert Samuelson Wants Us to Default on the National Debt

Thursday, 22 May 2014 04:36

Actually, he probably doesn't, but that would be the logic of his complaint (taken from Gene Steuerle) that "dead men" have established priorities for federal spending. After all, dead men made the decision to borrow the money that constitutes the debt, which thereby obligates the country to pay back the interest and principal.

But Samuelson's complaint is not about the interest and principal being paid back to rich people like Peter Peterson, Samuelson is upset about the money being paid out to ordinary workers (mostly retirees) for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Paul Krugman: Europe's Secret Success

SINTRA, Portugal — I’ll be spending the next couple of days at a forum sponsored by the European Central Bank whose de facto topic — whatever it may say on the program — will be the destructive monetary muddle caused by the Continent’s premature adoption of a single currency. What makes the story even sadder is that Europe’s financial and macroeconomic woes have overshadowed its remarkable, unheralded longer-term success in an area in which it used to lag: job creation.

What? You haven’t heard about that? Well, that’s not too surprising. European economies, France in particular, get very bad press in America. Our political discourse is dominated by reverse Robin-Hoodism — the belief that economic success depends on being nice to the rich, who won’t create jobs if they are heavily taxed, and nasty to ordinary workers, who won’t accept jobs unless they have no alternative. And according to this ideology, Europe — with its high taxes and generous welfare states — does everything wrong. So Europe’s economic system must be collapsing, and a lot of reporting simply states the postulated collapse as a fact.

Chris Hedges: Thomas Paine, Our Contemporary

Cornel West, Richard D. Wolff and I, along with moderator Laura Flanders, next Sunday will inaugurate “The Anatomy of Revolution,” a series of panel discussions focusing on modern revolutionary theorists. This first event will be part of a two-day conference in New York City sponsored by the Left Forum, and nine other discussions by West, Wolff and me will follow in other venues later this year.

Sunday’s event will be about Thomas Paine, the author of “Common Sense,” “The Rights of Man” and “The Age of Reason”—the most widely read political essays of the 18th century, works that established the standards by which rebellion is morally and legally permissible. We will ask whether the conditions for revolt set by Paine have been met with the rise of the corporate state. Should Paine’s call for the overthrow of British tyranny inspire our own call for revolution? And if it should, to echo Vladimir Lenin, what must be done?

An American Banking Revolution Awaits

Sunday, 25 May 2014 12:21
By William A Collins, OtherWords | Op-Ed

These tough economic times require creative alternatives to Wall Street, including more state banks.

Vermonters aren’t like the rest of us: They live in a small state with a flinty history and a legendary suspicion of outsiders.

That independent streak gained luster when 15 Vermont towns voted earlier this year to reinforce this independent tradition by approving a proposal to create a state bank.

The Vermont Economic Development Authority would get a license to do what private banks normally do — only with a mandate to serve the public interest no matter what.

Thomas Frank: The trigger warning we need: “College is a scam meant to perpetuate the 1 percent”

The trigger warning we need: "Borrowing to attend an American college may be hazardous to your dreams"

Is there a greater gift to the hack editorialist than the American university and its taste for sensitivity and euphemism? I doubt it. What wonderful opportunities it presents to wax indignant: Shrinking-violet rich kids in a lather about patriarchy; tenured professors scheming to drain the English language of its animal spirits. It’s a never-ending saga of privilege run amok, which of course allows our op-ed moralists to completely overlook the real scandal on campus—the corporatization of the university, a development that has plunged an entire generation into inescapable debt but that is somehow less visible to the columnist than the latest political-correctness fantasia.

But then comes a campus outrage so gloriously stupid, so fantastically self-negating, that the prof-bashers miss its true significance. Last week, The New York Times described a push at a handful of fancy colleges to require “trigger warnings” on class syllabi, which would alert sensitive students to reading materials that might cause them psychic distress. Note that “trigger warnings” have been actually applied at no college campus to any literary classic. The mere suggestion here and there is all that was needed to make this 100-proof pundit bait. One after another,the columnists piled on, mocking the hypersensitive and moaning about what kids these days have come to.

Dave Johnson: Let’s Stop Searching For A ‘Messiah’ And Build A Movement

After Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) gave her rousing speech at the New Populism Conference Thursday, she, of course, was asked if she was going to run for President. (The crowd was chanting “Run, Elizabeth, Run!”)

Warren replied, “I am not running for president,” which prompted one hopeful progressive to tweet, “Interesting choice of tense.”
Debating A Foreign Policy for the Left: article and response--Dictynna

A Foreign Policy for the Left

By Michael Walzer - Spring 2014

1. The Default Position

Is there such a thing as a leftist foreign policy? What are the characteristic views of the left about the world abroad? When have leftists, rightly or wrongly, defended the use of force? The arguments about what to do in Syria have led me to ask these questions, but I am after a more general answer, looking not only at the left as it is today but also at the historical left. The questions aren’t easy—first, because there have been, and there are, many lefts; and second, because left views about foreign policy change more often than left views about domestic society. Relative consistency is the mark of leftism at home, but that’s definitely not true abroad. Still, it’s possible to make out a kind of default position and then to describe the various alternative positions and the arguments for and against them. I want to join those arguments and suggest why they have gone well, sometimes, and very badly at other times.

The basic position appears early in recorded history. I first discovered it when reading the biblical prophets, who have often been an inspiration to Western leftists. The prophets argued that if the Israelites obeyed the divine commandments, stopped grinding the faces of the poor, and established a just society, they would live in their land forever, safe against Assyrian and Babylonian imperialism. Justice would bring security—and also serve a higher purpose: Israel would be “a light unto the nations.” All that was necessary was to sit still and shine.

A Foreign Policy for the Left? Defending the “Default Position”

By Eric Alterman, Jeff Faux, and Michael Walzer - May 8, 2014

In the following responses to Michael Walzer’s “A Foreign Policy for the Left”(Dissent,
Spring 2014), two interlocutors make the case for the “default position.”

Michael Walzer’s historical tour d’horizon of liberal and leftist attitudes about foreign policy is characteristically thoughtful and generous-minded, consistent with everything Walzer has published in Dissent and elsewhere during the past half-century. It is not, however, useful in the task of guiding us toward a foundation on which to construct an effective left-liberal foreign policy doctrine.

Like so many of those whose views he wishes to critique, Walzer misses the fundamental point about foreign policy: the world is what it is, not what we wish it to be. And it is the way it is in most places owing to centuries, if not millennia, of complex, often overlapping sociological, technological, economic, psychological, and of course cultural developments that have shaped regional history. In order to intervene effectively, therefore, in any one of these places, one must first understand and evaluate these forces before trying to calculate the likely effect of one’s intervention. Does this sound like something American politicians might be good at? I didn’t think so.

Government Treating Peaceful Left Activists Like Terrorists--Again

Paul Waldman, May 23, 2014

Our recent history is full of right-wing terrorism, but it's the harmless liberals who put law enforcement on high alert.

Both liberals and conservatives spend time arguing that the other side contains people who are nutty, highlighting extreme statements in an attempt to convince people that there's something fundamentally troubling about their opponents. There are many differences between the extreme right and the extreme left, perhaps most importantly that the extreme right has a much closer relationship with powerful Republicans than the extreme left has with powerful Democrats. When you find a crazy thing a liberal said, chances are it's an obscure professor somewhere, or a blogger with twelve readers, or a random person at a protest. The crazy people on the right, in contrast, are often influential media figures or even members of Congress, people with real influence and power.
Two articles about the press and government secrets--Dictynna

The Government Isn't Very Good at Deciding What to Keep Secret

So why do so many Americans insist that the state, not the press, should call the shots?
Conor Friedersdorf | May 23 2014, 8:00 AM ET

The U.S. government routinely tries to hide its unlawful behavior. It hides evidence of its incompetence too. That's a matter of historical record, not an opinion. Exposing government misbehavior sometimes requires publishing classified documents—take the Pentagon Papers or the Bush Administration's secret wiretaps.

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Michael Kinsley declares, "The Snowden leaks were important—a legitimate scoop—and we might never have known about the N.S.A.'s lawbreaking if it hadn’t been for them." As he sees it, unauthorized disclosures of classified information typically benefit the public. "Most leaks from large bureaucracies are 'good' leaks," he writes. "No danger to national security, no harm to innocent people, information the public ought to have."

Why the Press Can Publish Any Classified Material It Likes

Justice Hugo Black explained it in his 1971 opinion in New York Times v. United States.
Conor Friedersdorf | May 23 2014, 11:17 AM ET

In 1971, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black set forth his views on the press and its ability to publish classified information whether the government likes it or not. He did so during debate about whether the New York Times and Washington Post could be stopped from publishing leaked, classified Vietnam War documents. His full opinion in New York Times v. United States is online, and here are his words slightly condensed, with my emphasis added throughout.

Black's words are important to consider in the debate over who ought to have the final say on whether secret information is revealed, which I wrote about elsewhere here today. Black was right.

No, David Brooks, we don’t need less democracy

By Matt O'Brien, May 20 at 5:02 pm

Conservatives have lost a few elections, and now some of them think democracy is broken.

Okay, this isn't exactly what they've said. But it's close enough. David Brooks, for one, thinks that we've become "neurotically democratic." That we need to pivot from our system of checks and balances to a system of "elite Simpson-Bowles-type commissions to push populist reforms" if we're going to avoid being disrupted by innovative one-party states like China. In other words, Brooks says, "we need to become less democratic at the national level," so we can implement the kind of policies that Brooks likes.

The University and the Company Man

By Tressie McMillan Cottom - Spring 2014

The U.S. higher education crisis has been well documented. College is overpriced, over-valued, and ripe for disruption (preferably, for some critics, by the outcome-driven private sector). At the same time, many Americans are flailing in the post-recession economy. With rising income inequality, persistent long-term unemployment, and declining real wages, Americans are searching for purchase on shifting ground. Not so long ago, the social contract between workers, government, and employers made college a calculable bet. But when the social contract was broken and policymakers didn’t step in, the only prescription for insecurity was the product that had been built on the assumption of security. We built a university system for the way we worked. What happens to college when we work not just differently but for less? And what if the crisis in higher education is related to the broader failures that have left so many workers struggling?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The ancient roots of the 1%

Heather Pringle

Don't blame farming. Inequality got its start among resource-rich hunter-gatherers

In 79 C.E., the year Mount Vesuvius destroyed it, Pompeii was not one city but two. Its wealthiest families owned slaves and lived in multistoried, seaside mansions, one of which was more than half the size of the White House. They dined in rooms with costly frescoes, strolled in private gardens, and soaked in private baths. Meanwhile, at least one-third of all Pompeiian households scraped to make ends meet, with families dwelling in single rooms behind workshops, in dark service quarters, or in small houses. Such economic disparities were common in the Roman Empire, where 1.5% of the empire's households controlled 20% of the income by the late 2nd century C.E., according to one recent study.

Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream Of A Silicon Reich

> Corey Pein May 19, 2014

One day in March of this year, a Google engineer named Justine Tunney created a strange and ultimately doomed petition at the White House website. The petition proposed a three-point national referendum, as follows:

1. Retire all government employees with full pensions.
2. Transfer administrative authority to the tech industry.
3. Appoint [Google executive chairman] Eric Schmidt CEO of America.

This could easily be written off as stunt, a flamboyant act of corporate kiss-assery, which, on one level, it probably was. But Tunney happened to be serious. “It’s time for the U.S. Regime to politely take its exit from history and do what’s best for America,” she wrote. “The tech industry can offer us good governance and prevent further American decline.” Welcome to the latest political fashion among the California Confederacy: total corporate despotism.

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Another Trade Liberalization Scam

John Weeks, Guest Blogger

The gathering pressure for Congress to “fast track” the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) demonstrates yet again that trade liberalization is one of the few aspects of economic policy about which there is agreement across the mainstream of the political spectrum, in both the United States and Europe. Almost all conservative commentators endorse it with gusto, for centrists it is an article of faith, and even many progressives accept it implicitly by their criticism of industrial country protection.

The neoliberal ideologues sell it by bestowing the label “free trade,” which is allegedly reached by repeated measures of “trade liberalization.” No matter that the TPP has little to do with trade and everything to do with setting loose capital on a global scale. Well tested and demonstrably disastrous in the North American Free Trade Association, this liberating of capital includes 1) global extension of corporate patents under the moniker “intellectual property rights,” 2) shifting enforcement of those patents from national governments and courts to ad hoc international tribunals, and 3) prohibiting as “protectionist” measures protecting labor rights and the environment.

Our Economy Wants You to Be In Debt—5 Things You Can Do to Take Charge

We pored through a debt-resistance manual created by former Occupiers to bring you these practical tips.

by Liz Pleasant
posted May 21, 2014

Last month PM Press published the Debt Resisters' Operations Manual —also known as “the DROM.” But don’t let that menacing-sounding acronym fool you: this is a book written in plain English and filled with tips and tactics for dealing with debt.

The book has been available online since September 2012, but this publishing marks the first time the manual has been printed, bound, and sold. Don't worry, you can still find a free copy online. But, hopefully, getting this book into stores will help its message reach more people—however ironic it might seem to buy one with a credit card.

Permaculture Poised to Conquer the Caribbean

No fertilisers, herbicides, or pesticides but a bold vision to save a region from climate change and resource scarcity

by Mark Olalde

FREEPORT, Trinidad and Tobago - Erle Rahaman-Noronha is not a revolutionary, not in any radical sense at least. He is not even that exciting. In truth, Rahaman-Noronha is merely a man with a shovel, a small farm, and a big dream. But that dream is poised to conquer the Caribbean.

Rahaman-Noronha wants to see ‘permaculture’ – short for permanent agriculture – take root and spreads across the Caribbean, and he is doing his part by teaching anyone who will listen about its benefits.

“Bloodiest Thing the World Has Seen”: David Cay Johnston on Inequality's Looming Disaster

Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston tells Salon how America's economic story could end -- and it isn't pretty

Elias Isquith

Long before anyone knew the name Thomas Piketty, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston was plumbing the hidden depths of the American tax code, revealing the myriad ways it privileges the interests of corporations and the wealthy ahead of those of the 99 percent. Indeed, while it may sometimes feel as if economic inequality is the new trend, Johnston’s career reminds us that the great gulf that separates the rich from the rest in the contemporary United States didn’t happen overnight, but over a course of decades.

Despite coming out during the same year as “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” and “The Divide,” Johnston’s newest release, “Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality,” is a different kind of inequality book. Rather than a sweeping overview of centuries of economic history, or an on-the-ground examination of how our justice system ignores the powerful while brutalizing the rest, Johnston’s book is a collection of essays, speeches and excerpts — a kind of inequality reader. Featuring insights from philosophers, economists, journalists, researchers and even politicians, “Divided” reminds us how inequality is one of those rare problems that truly matters to all of us, no matter what our interests or chosen field.

Paul Krugman: Extraordinary Elite Delusions and the Madness of Commissions

Sorry about slow posting — I’ve been busy drinking too much port at high table both giving talks at Oxford and grading final papers from Princeton. But I did want to weigh in on this Matt O’Brien piece on the problems or lack thereof with democracy.

O’Brien criticizes David Brooks, who argues that we need more Simpson-Bowles commissions of wise men who take the long view; O’Brien argues that democratic institutions demonstrably lead on average to better governance. I’d agree.

Richard Eskow: Did Washington Rescue the Wrong Economy?

Economists Atif Mian and Amir Sufi recently wrote an editorial for The Washington Post headlined “Why Tim Geithner is wrong on homeowner debt relief.” Using data and arguments from their upcoming book “House of Debt,” Mian and Sufi essentially argue that former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s recent public statements got the bailout exactly backwards. Geithner has argued that rescuing homeowners who were left underwater after the 2008 financial crisis wasn’t worth the effort, and that rescuing the banking system was our most urgent priority.

Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times interviewed Sufi and Mian, as well as a number of other economists, for a profile entitled “The Case Against the Bernanke-Obama Financial Rescue.” Their position is the same in both cases, of course, and in essence it’s a simple one: After exhaustive research, Sufi and Mian have concluded that long-term economic damage was not an inevitable outcome of the 2008 financial crisis. Instead, it’s the result of a bailout plan that focused on the wrong segments of the economy.

New, fossil-fuel-free process makes biodiesel sustainable

A new fuel-cell concept, developed by an Michigan State University researcher, will allow biodiesel plants to eliminate the creation of hazardous wastes while removing their dependence on fossil fuel from their production process.

The platform, which uses microbes to glean ethanol from glycerol and has the added benefit of cleaning up the wastewater, will allow producers to reincorporate the ethanol and the water into the fuel-making process, said Gemma Reguera, MSU microbiologist and one of the co-authors.

Paul Krugman: When Government Intervention Works

Brad Plumer, an editor at Vox, tells us an important, little-known tale. It begins with things going badly: "Back in the 1980s and '90s," Mr. Plumer wrote earlier this month, "many fisheries in the U.S. were in serious trouble. Fish populations were dropping sharply. Some of New England's best-known groundfish stocks - including flounder, cod, and haddock - had collapsed, costing the region's coastal communities hundreds of millions of dollars."

So the government got involved. But we know that government is always the problem, never the solution, so you know what came next.

Or maybe you don't. In fact, government intervention has been a big success.

Corey Robin: The Republican War on Workers’ Rights

Midterm elections are like fancy software: Experts love them, end-users couldn’t care less. But if the 2010 elections are any indication, we might not want to doze off as we head into the summer months before November. Midterm elections at the state level can have tremendous consequences, especially for low-wage workers. What you don’t know can hurt you — or them.

In 2010, the Republicans won control of the executive and legislative branches in 11 states (there are now more than 20 such states). Inspired by business groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, they proceeded to rewrite the rules of work, passing legislation designed to enhance the position of employers at the expense of employees.

Banking Deaths: Why JPMorgan Stands Out

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: May 19, 2014

In the past six months, five current workers and two former workers of JPMorgan Chase have died under unusual circumstances. Adding to the tragedy, all seven were in their late 20s or 30s and three of the deaths involved alleged falls from buildings – a rare form of death even during the height of the financial crisis in 2008.

According to the New York City Department of Health, there were just 93 deaths resulting from leaps from buildings in Manhattan and boroughs during 2008 – a time when century old iconic Wall Street firms collapsed and terminated tens of thousands of workers. Those 93 deaths represented just .000011625 of the City’s population of 8 million. JPMorgan’s global workforce population is just 260,000.

A Whistleblower’s Tainted Defeat: CA Appellate Reversal Paves Way for Continued Bank Retaliation 

Posted on May 20, 2014 by Yves Smith

Yves here. A key element that this post’s author, whistleblower Michael Winston, does not mention is that he played an important role in the PBS documentary The Untouchables, which is probably best known for the scene in which Lanny Breuer said he stayed awake at night worrying that he might be hurting banks.

By Michael G. Winston, who served in executive positions for five Fortune 100 companies across three industries (high technology, aerospace and financial services) and has been included in several “Top Business Thought-Leaders” lists. He took a strong and visible stand against the malfeasance he witnessed at Countrywide

I have been called the whistleblower who “conquered Countrywide” by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Gretchen Morgenson of The New York Times. I have also been referred to as “Wall-Street’s Greatest Enemy: The Man Who Knows Too Much,” by the PBS show Moyers & Company and a revelatory article by David Dayen in Salon.

However, I do not feel like a conqueror at all. I feel like a victim who has been repeatedly re-victimized by a system that allows legal loopholes, misrepresentations, and fraud on a trial and appellate court. On May 8, 2014, I was informed that Bank of America, a $100,000,000,000 company with over $2.2 trillion in assets, has placed a lien on my Thousand Oaks home for $96,523.29. Ironic that this is the home I purchased to which I relocated my family when accepting a position for which Countrywide aggressively recruited me. This continues the retaliation that I have experienced by Countrywide and successor BAC for over 7 years. My offense? When they defrauded and abused employees, homeowners, shareholders and taxpayers, I stepped up and challenged them vigorously and took them to court. I won a convincing legal victory. Somehow they found a way to have my strong jury verdict and judicial ruling reversed in my absence (there was no new evidence) and now I must pay this behemoth’s court costs including nearly $65,000 for a bond that was ordered by the court, not requested by me.

Did Scientists Just Solve the Bee Collapse Mystery?

—By Tom Philpott | Tue May 20, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

It's a hard-knock life, scouring the landscape for pollen to sustain a beehive. Alight upon the wrong field, and you might encounter fungicides, increasingly used on corn and soybean crops, and shown to harm honeybees at tiny levels. Get hauled in to pollinate California's vast almond groves, as 60 percent of US honeybees do, and you'll likely make contact with a group of chemicals called adjuvants—allegedly "inert" pesticide additives that have emerged as a prime suspect for a large bee die-off during this year's almond bloom.

The hardest-to-avoid menace of all might be the neonicotinoid class of pesticides, widely used not only on big Midwestern crops like corn and soybeans but also on cotton, sorghum, sugar beets, apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes. They're even common in yard and landscaping products. I've written before about the growing weight of science linking these lucrative pesticides, marketed by European agrichemical giants Bayer and Syngenta, to declining bee health, including the annual die-offs known as colony collapse disorder, which began in the winter of 2005-06.

What's the Real Reason "Capital in the 21st Century" is Doing So Well in the U.S.?

The Real News Network [1] / By Thomas Ferguson [2]

May 16, 2014 | JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

We’re now joined by Thomas Ferguson. He’s a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and he’s also a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

Thanks for joining us, Tom.


DESVARIEUX: So, Tom, French economist Thomas Piketty’s book Captital in the Twenty-First Century, it’s a bestseller. It’s really struck a chord with folks. What do you think is behind this? What do you think this means?

The Right Way to Control the Banks

Roger E. Alcaly
June 5, 2014 Issue
The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do About It
by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig
Princeton University Press, 398 pp., $29.95
Why, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke asked rhetorically in an April 2012 speech, did the collapse of the trillion-dollar market for subprime mortgages set off the most severe financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression? Twelve years earlier, in 2000, the crash of high-flying technology companies such as Cisco Systems and dot-com companies such as Amazon and the now defunct wiped out roughly $6 trillion in assets, but it set off only the relatively short and mild recession of 2001. Cisco and especially Amazon are today much larger.

The answer, now widely accepted but clearly not appreciated sufficiently at the time, is that the 2008 crisis was made possible by an extremely fragile financial system in which banks and many other businesses indulged in excessive leverage—too much borrowing—as well as hazardous reliance on short-term funding and negligent risk management, with lax regulatory supervision by the government.

Paul Krugman: That 80s Show

I’ve been giving various talks and fireside chats here in Oxford, and one thing I keep coming back to is the pivotal role of the 1980s in the development of economic thought.

This isn’t what you usually hear — the 70s have taken on mythical status, and are constantly invoked by inflation worriers, while the 80s get mentioned, if at all, as somehow proving the truth of supply-side economics. But what really happened in the early 80s was a decisive refutation of Lucasian macroeconomics — albeit a refutation met in many places with denial.

Paul Krugman: Springtime for Bankers

By any normal standard, economic policy since the onset of the financial crisis has been a dismal failure. It’s true that we avoided a full replay of the Great Depression. But employment has taken more than six years to claw its way back to pre-crisis levels — years when we should have been adding millions of jobs just to keep up with a rising population. Long-term unemployment is still almost three times as high as it was in 2007; young people, often burdened by college debt, face a highly uncertain future.

Now Timothy Geithner, who was Treasury secretary for four of those six years, has published a book, “Stress Test,” about his experiences. And basically, he thinks he did a heckuva job.

AT&T, Verizon beat back limits on airwaves auction

Federal regulators decline to cap amount of spectrum wireless giants can buy

By Allan Holmes, 4:45 pm, May 15, 2014 Updated: 12:19 pm, May 19, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission handed Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. a victory Thursday when it agreed on a plan to auction valuable radio signals next year that will allow the two giant carriers to bid on most of the frequencies expected to be up for sale.

The agency was under pressure by consumer groups and smaller wireless carriers such as T-Mobile Inc. and Sprint Corp. to cap the amount of spectrum the wireless giants could buy so as to ensure competition in the industry.

The Privatization Scam: Five Government Outsourcing Horror Stories

Dave Johnson

For decades we’ve been subjected to constant propaganda that government is inefficient, bureaucratic and expensive. We’re told that the answer is to “privatize,” or “outsource” government functions to private businesses and they will do things more efficiently and everyone comes out ahead. As a result we have experienced decades of privatization of government functions.

So how has this wave of privatization worked out? Has privatization saved taxpayers money and improved services to citizens? Simple answer: of course not. If a company can make a profit doing something the government had been doing, it means that we’re losing out one way or another. It’s simple math. And the result of falling for the privatization scam is that taxpayers have been fleeced, services to citizens have been cut way back and communities have been made poorer. But the companies that convinced governments to hand over public functions have gotten rich off of the deal. How is this a surprise?

Ellen Brown | Are Private Banks Unconstitutional? 

The movement to break away from Wall Street and form publicly-owned banks continues to gain momentum. But enthusiasts are deterred by claims that a state-owned bank would violate constitutional prohibitions against “lending the credit of the state.”

California’s constitution is typical. It states in Section 17: “The State shall not in any manner loan its credit, nor shall it subscribe to, or be interested in the stock of any company, association, or corporation . . . .”

The language sounds prohibitive, but what does it mean? Hundreds of state and local government entities extend the credit of the state. State agencies make student loans, small business loans, and farm loans. State infrastructure banks explicitly leverage the credit of the state. Legally, state and local governments are extending their credit to private banks every time they deposit their revenues in those banks. When money is deposited, it becomes the property of the bank by law. The depositor becomes a creditor with an IOU or promise to be repaid. The state or local government has thus lent its money to the bank.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

How You'll Get Screwed If Conservatives Kill the U.S. Postal Service

By Alex Henderson

May 14, 2014 | On April 24, members of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and other unions held 56 “Stop Staples” demonstrations in 27 different states. The postal workers, carrying signs that read, “The U.S. mail is NOT for sale,” were protesting against a privatization deal between the U.S. Postal Service and the office supply chain Staples.

Launched in October 2013, the deal allows non-unionized employees of 82 Staples stores to help sort mail. If the program is expanded later this year, that number could increase to 1,500 stores [3]. In a press release, APWU said of the program, “Staples employees, who work for low wages and meager benefits—and who have received minimal training—operate these unsecured postal counters.”

APWU sees the Staples deal as a step toward much greater privatization of the U.S. Postal Service, and they are right to be concerned, not only because of the interests of postal workers, but also, because the privatization or dismantling of the U.S. Postal Service will be terrible for American consumers and small businesses.

Paul Krugman: It's True-An Economy Can Be Damaged by Too Little Spending

Back in 2009, when President Obama was proposing a spending plan to boost the economy and some of us were pleading for a bigger plan, it was common to hear people from both the right and the crazy center declaring that it was all a ruse, an attempt to smuggle in liberal priorities under the guise of fiscal stimulus.

This was, as it happens, completely false -and in the case of the right-wingers, a case of projection. After all, Mr. Obama didn't try to sell permanent spending increases as short-term stimulus measures - but President George W. Bush did exactly that when pushing his tax cuts.

Peddling Tax Dodges: The Way the Rules Get Rigged

Robert Borosage

“The game is rigged and the American people know that. They get it right down to their toes.”
— Senator Elizabeth Warren

The game is rigged in ways big and small, as the powerful act to protect and extend their privileges. Business as usual in Washington is testament to that. Here’s the next fix that the corporate lobby is gearing up to sell in the coming weeks: a repatriation holiday.

“Repatriation holiday” sounds vaguely patriotic, resonant with country and returning home. But repatriation is merely a fancy term for one of the ways global corporations avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

Paul Krugman: Points of No Return

Recently two research teams, working independently and using different methods, reached an alarming conclusion: The West Antarctic ice sheet is doomed. The sheet’s slide into the ocean, and the resulting sharp rise in sea levels, will probably happen slowly. But it’s irreversible. Even if we took drastic action to limit global warming right now, this particular process of environmental change has reached a point of no return.

Meanwhile, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida — much of whose state is now fated to sink beneath the waves — weighed in on climate change. Some readers may recall that in 2012 Mr. Rubio, asked how old he believed the earth to be, replied “I’m not a scientist, man.” This time, however, he confidently declared the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change false, although in a later interview he was unable to cite any sources for his skepticism.

One of the Most Pervasive — and Wrong — Conservative Economic Myths, Debunked

By David Bollier

May 8, 2014 | “Picture a pasture open to all.”

For at least a generation, the very idea of the commons has been marginalized and dismissed as a misguided way to manage resources: the so-called tragedy of the commons. In a short but influential essay published in Science in 1968, ecologist Garrett Hardin gave the story a fresh formulation and a memorable tagline.


The tragedy of the commons is one of those basic concepts that is drilled into the minds of every undergraduate, at least in economics courses. The idea is considered a basic principle of economics—a cautionary lesson about the impossibility of collective action. Once the class has been escorted through a ritual shudder, the professor whisks them along to the main attraction, the virtues of private property and free markets. Here, finally, economists reveal, we may surmount the dismal tragedy of a commons. The catechism is hammered home: individual freedom to own and trade private property in open markets is the only way to produce enduring personal satisfaction and social prosperity.

Justifying wartime atrocities alters memories

PRINCETON, N.J.—Stories about wartime atrocities and torture methods, like waterboarding and beatings, often include justifications – despite whether the rationale is legitimate.

Now, a study by Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School shows how those justifications actually creep into people's memories of war, excusing the actions of their side. The researchers report in Psychological Science shows how Americans' motivation to remember information that absolves American soldiers of atrocities alters their memories.

Students nix IMF chief’s commencement address at Smith College

Eric Stoner
May 13, 2014

On Monday, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde withdrew as the 2014 commencement speaker at Smith College after a petition opposing the decision gathered hundreds of signatures.

Time magazine said “many were shocked by the news,” and then featured several tweets supporting Lagarde.

“Those who objected will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect,” wrote Smith President Kathleen McCartney. “But at what cost to Smith College?”

A better question, perhaps, would be: What has been saved by not having Lagarde speak at the college?

Oil giant Citgo gets off easy in criminal case

By Priscila Mosqueda
6:00 am, May 14, 2014 Updated: 2:55 pm, May 14, 2014

A foreign oil company convicted of polluting a Texas community's air with dangerous chemicals has gotten off easy in a criminal case that could undercut the prosecution of environmental crimes in the United States. The case revolves around Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum’s decade-long violation of the federal Clean Air Act at its refinery in Corpus Christi.

In 2007, the Citgo refinery became the first to be criminally convicted of violating the Clean Air Act by a U.S. jury. The refinery had spent a decade illegally operating two giant oil-water separator tanks without any emission controls. Every day for 10 years, nearby residents breathed noxious fumes emitted from the roofless tanks, including the carcinogen benzene.

Richard Eskow: Look Out, Wall Street, the New Populism is Coming


As Tim Geithner told Andrew Ross Sorkin, Clinton sarcastically told the Wall Street-friendly Treasury Secretary how to “pursue a more populist strategy”:
“You could take Lloyd Blankfein into a dark alley,” Clinton said, “and slit his throat, and it would satisfy them for about two days. Then the blood lust would rise again.”

The “them” in Clinton’s quote is us. And the only people who confuse a cry for justice with “blood lust” are those who have become too close to the unjust.

Paul Krugman: A Push to Rethink How Banks Work

A genuinely interesting debate on financial reform is taking place. I'm not even sure where I stand. But it's certainly worth talking about.

On their blog, the economists Atif Mian and Amir Sufi drew attention to proposals to either mandate or create strong incentives for 100-percent reserve banking, coming from the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf and, more surprisingly, from John Cochrane, a professor at the University of Chicago. Equally surprising - at least to me - is that Mr. Cochrane seems to be more aware of the difficulties of the issue.

Why the FCC Is Ditching Net Neutrality

Charts: The "open internet" is no match for revolving doors and buckets of cash.

—By Josh Harkinson | Fri May 9, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Late last month, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would propose new rules allowing companies like Netflix or Google to pay internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon or Comcast for faster data lanes to deliver video and other content to their customers. In other words, the FCC was proposing to replace net neutrality—the egalitarian internet that we all know—with a pay-to-play platform designed to favor the biggest and richest players.

The backlash online was so huge, swift, and predictable that one might wonder what the hell the FCC bureaucrats were thinking. Could a handful of powerful companies really matter more to the commission than pretty much everybody else who uses the internet? The charts below show how a few wealthy special interests wield huge sway within the FCC, particularly with regard to the net neutrality debate.

The Federalist Impeachment Party

Posted by Jeffrey Toobin

Want to know what’s on the mind of conservative lawyers in Washington? It’s the impeachment of Barack Obama.

That was the message of the Federalist Society’s second annual Executive Branch Review Conference, last week. The purpose of the conclave was to examine whether regulatory actions by the Obama Administration “constitute a form of legal and regulatory overreach.” The answer: You bet. (Apparently, given the timing of these conferences, there was never a need to study whether the Bush Administration engaged in any “overreach.”)

To many liberals, the Federalist Society is like a shadowy cabal out of “The Da Vinci Code.” In truth, the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy, which was founded in the early nineteen-eighties, is basically a platform for the discussion of conservative ideas. True, it’s been a productive network for filling jobs in Republican Administrations, but there’s nothing sinister about that. The group’s meetings are open, video recordings of them are posted on the Web, and, most important, the Federalists invariably invite progressives to participate in their panels. As a result, Federalist conferences feature high-level intellectual combat of a kind rarely seen in the sound-bite-driven capital.

Did Reagan Kill Entrepreneurialism?

Tuesday, 13 May 2014 14:59
By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed

American entrepreneurialism is dying a slow and steady death.

A new report out from The Brookings Institute paints a pretty dreary picture of entrepreneurialism in America over the past 30 years.

As Brookings points out, the firm entry and exit rates (essentially the creation and death of businesses in America), a good measure of the vitality of entrepreneurship, decreased by nearly 50 percent between 1978 and 2011.

Why Are Courts Allowing Redefinitions of Emergency Contraception?

May 14, 2014, Andrea Flynn

In courtrooms across the country the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) “contraceptive mandate” is being hotly contested as a violation of religious liberty. The Supreme Court recently heard two such cases – Conestoga Wood and Hobby Lobby – and is expected to deliver a decision by the end of next month. While larger questions of the religious freedom of corporations loom, underlying claims about emergency contraception threaten to confuse the general population and stigmatize a contraceptive method many women rely on for their health and wellness.

More than 100 cases have been filed against the contraceptive mandate by non-profit organizations, for-profit companies, states, and lawmakers. Plaintiffs in each of the cases argue that the mandate is a violation of their religious liberty, many explicitly stating their opposition to IUDs and emergency contraception (EC), which they define as abortifacients (drugs that induce abortion).

Not the ‘Illuminati’: How Fundamentalist Christians Are Infiltrating State and Federal Government

by Sofia Resnick, Investigative Reporting Fellow, RH Reality Check
and Sharona Coutts, Director of Investigations and Research, RH Reality Check
May 13, 2014 - 4:48 pm

Imagine that a little-known but increasingly powerful group of ideologues had hatched a plan to transform the United States into a Christian theocracy harkening back to the Dark Ages of Europe, a time when society was governed by the laws and officials of the Catholic Church.

Suppose further that this plan had a scary simple strategy: Recruit bright, young law students; put them through an intensive indoctrination program; place them in plum internships across the country; and watch as they swim upstream until they reach the top of the legal system, where they can create, enforce, and interpret laws according to a legal philosophy infused with fundamentalist Christian theology.

Welcome to the world of the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, an annual program established in 2000 by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based nonprofit that is swiftly emerging as a major behind-the-scenes player in many of the nation’s most controversial legal cases involving reproductive rights, sexual justice, and a vast range of other moral and social disputes.

L. A. Like Other Cities Is Being Swindled by Wall Street

By David Sirota

May 13, 2014 | When a city is forced to spend more on Wall Street fees than on basic public services, it is the sign of trouble. When that city is one of America's biggest population centers, it is the sign of a burgeoning crisis.

That's the key takeaway from a recent report looking at what has been happening in Los Angeles over the last few years. Published by the union-backed Fix LA Coalition, the report details how the city has slashed its spending in the wake of revenue losses from the Wall Street-engineered financial crisis. Yet, as the analysis shows, the city is nonetheless still being crushed by Wall Street -- in this specific case, it is being forced to spend $300 million a year on financial fees. For some context, that's more than the city spends each year maintaining all of its roads.

Glenn Greenwald: from Martin Luther King to Anonymous, the state targets dissenters not just "bad guys"

Don't believe the argument that mass surveillance is only a problem for wrongdoers. Governments have repeatedly spied on anyone who challenges their power, says Glenn Greenwald in an extract from his book about Edward Snowden and the NSA, No Place to Hide

A prime justification for surveillance – that it's for the benefit of the population – relies on projecting a view of the world that divides citizens into categories of good people and bad people. In that view, the authorities use their surveillance powers only against bad people, those who are "doing something wrong", and only they have anything to fear from the invasion of their privacy. This is an old tactic. In a 1969 Time magazine article about Americans' growing concerns over the US government's surveillance powers, Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, assured readers that "any citizen of the United States who is not involved in some illegal activity has nothing to fear whatsoever".

The point was made again by a White House spokesman, responding to the 2005 controversy over Bush's illegal eavesdropping programme: "This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people." And when Barack Obama appeared on The Tonight Show in August 2013 and was asked by Jay Leno about NSA revelations, he said: "We don't have a domestic spying programme. What we do have is some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to a terrorist attack."

Ames Lab creates multifunctional nanoparticles for cheaper, cleaner biofuel

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory has created a faster, cleaner biofuel refining technology that not only combines processes, it uses widely available materials to reduce costs.

Ames Laboratory scientists have developed a nanoparticle that is able to perform two processing functions at once for the production of green diesel, an alternative fuel created from the hydrogenation of oils from renewable feedstocks like algae.

The method is a departure from the established process of producing biodiesel, which is accomplished by reacting fats and oils with alcohols.

Thomas Frank: The problem with Thomas Piketty: “Capital” destroys right-wing lies, but there’s one solution it forgets

After "Capital," we'll never talk income inequality or meritocratic myths the same way. But we must talk unions

What makes Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” such a triumph is that it seems to have been written specifically to demolish the great economic shibboleths of our time. The stock market is not an instrument of economic democracy, it seems; nor does every natural-born American get a chance to run (which is to say, to loot) a Fortune 500 company. The gap between the billionaires and the rest of us is not really a matter of talent or education, we learn; nor do the rich really deserve every last penny of their winnings. Yet it seems that those winnings, once won, multiply relentlessly as time passes, in a way that far outstrips wages even in the best years.

The effect of knowing all these things is a healthy one, like when a fever breaks and all those fanciful explanations for things that we had imagined turn out to have been just a dream. The simplest explanations are in fact the true ones, and we owe Piketty thanks for reminding us of this. However, he also has a serious historical blind spot, and it leads even him to wander into the land of make-believe at times, particularly when he is proposing solutions. This is unfortunate, because in reality the simple remedy for inequality has been staring at us all along. We merely need to sober up and look it in the face.

TPP Is Another Upward Transfer of Wealth

Posted on by Lambert Strether
Lambert here: The Democratic leadership has been doing a lot of head fakes to the left, lately. But not on trade! So I guess they care about that.

Roger Bybee, a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Originally published at Triple Crisis.

Those at the top have never done better,” President Obama ruefully acknowledged in his January 28 State of the Union speech. “But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened.”
Yet, moments later, Obama heartily endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which as drafted directly reflects the demands of “those at the top” and would, if passed, severely intensify the very inequality spotlighted by the president. The TPP would provide transnational corporations with easier access to cheap labor in Pacific Rim nations and new power to trump public-interest protections—on labor, food safety, drug prices, financial regulation, domestic procurement laws, and a host of others—established over the last century by democratic governments. The nations currently negotiating the TPP—which together comprise nearly 40%of the world economy—include the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Among them, Malaysia, Brunei, Mexico, Singapore, and Vietnam, are all notorious violators of labor rights The TPP’s labor provisions are far too weak to begin uplifting wages, conditions, and rights for workers in these nations.

Congress Continues To Pretend That SOPA Actually Is The Law

One of the more troubling aspects that we've seen in the past few years is that, despite SOPA failing to pass in Congress, thanks to widespread public outcry, various copyright interests have continued to look for ways to push forward ways to implement SOPA in practice, even if not in law. For example, we recently pointed to how the USTR praised Italy for implementing a plan even more draconian than SOPA, likely leading to a later attempt by the USTR to "harmonize" international laws by requiring the US to do the same in a future trade agreement or treaty. Similarly, the US government still continues to do questionable domain seizures that appear to be a clear First Amendment violation. Even more nefarious, however, may be the various attempts by politicians to push for questionable "voluntary agreements" that effectively implement SOPA anyway.

Paul Krugman: Crazy Climate Economics

Everywhere you look these days, you see Marxism on the rise. Well, O.K., maybe you don’t — but conservatives do. If you so much as mention income inequality, you’ll be denounced as the second coming of Joseph Stalin; Rick Santorum has declared that any use of the word “class” is “Marxism talk.” In the right’s eyes, sinister motives lurk everywhere — for example, George Will says the only reason progressives favor trains is their goal of “diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.”

So it goes without saying that Obamacare, based on ideas originally developed at the Heritage Foundation, is a Marxist scheme — why, requiring that people purchase insurance is practically the same as sending them to gulags.

The Free-Trade Regime: Oligarchy in Action

Free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership undermine democracy and sovereignty.
by Moritz Laurer

The United States is not really a democracy. That’s the (simplified) conclusion of a recent study from Princeton University. Instead, economic elites and special interest groups enjoy tremendous sway in Washington, while “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

Let’s put this assertion to the test by looking at the concrete example of free trade agreements and their relation to democracy and national sovereignty.

Net Neutrality Lessons from Latin America

By Carin Zissis and Rachel Glickhouse May 9, 2014

Will U.S. Internet users soon find themselves paying the price for the fast lane? The Federal Communications Commission is preparing to vote on regulations governing Net neutrality — or the lack thereof. Open-Internet advocates, along with over 100 internet firms, warn the new rules will stifle innovation by allowing large companies to pay internet providers for preferential treatment and faster Internet speeds, thereby creating roadblocks for start-ups and small enterprises. Opponents make the case that, had the same regulations been implemented a decade ago, we would have been stuck using Friendster and AltaVista.

Coincidentally, while the Net neutrality debate heats up in the United States, Latin America’s largest economy has tackled the issue of Net neutrality and Internet access. Brazil just passed a new law internationally hailed by advocates. And Chile passed a landmark Net neutrality law four years ago. What lessons does Latin America have for the United States when it comes to open Internet?

Economics for the 99%: This Is What Food and Shelter For All Looks Like

Wed, 4/16/2014 - by Steve Rushton

“Economics of the majority begins with the most fundamental premise: resources lie idle and economics has the task of explaining that idleness, then proposing public policies to end the waste of human skill and productive wealth," John Weeks asserts in the conclusion to his recently published book, Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy. His approach comprehensively undermines neoclassical economics, which he terms "fakeconomics" – a pseudo-science based on false assumptions, which hold that markets are efficient and resources are never wasted.

In his sharp final section, Weeks alludes to an incomplete project for the 21st century: economics for the 99%. To explore this, specific necessities of life deserve further focus – especially as society continues to waste resources that could alleviate poverty and stop unnecessary deaths. Among the critical points, shelter and food are two human requirements that have hit headlines recently in Britain for being wasted and rotting beyond use.

In the shadows: Some South Florida homeless living in storage units

By Nicole Brochu, Sun Sentinel
6:22 p.m. EDT, May 9, 2014

Lift the rollaway gates on some South Florida storage facilities, and a secret life emerges.

The men and women huddled inside are not just storing old photo albums and family heirlooms. They're living among them.

With nowhere else to go, these homeless have found temporary shelter in the one place that feels like home: the rented unit holding the last of their possessions.

‘We Kill People Based on Metadata’

Supporters of the National Security Agency inevitably defend its sweeping collection of phone and Internet records on the ground that it is only collecting so-called “metadata”—who you call, when you call, how long you talk. Since this does not include the actual content of the communications, the threat to privacy is said to be negligible. That argument is profoundly misleading.

Of course knowing the content of a call can be crucial to establishing a particular threat. But metadata alone can provide an extremely detailed picture of a person’s most intimate associations and interests, and it’s actually much easier as a technological matter to search huge amounts of metadata than to listen to millions of phone calls. As NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker has said, “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.” When I quoted Baker at a recent debate at Johns Hopkins University, my opponent, General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, called Baker’s comment “absolutely correct,” and raised him one, asserting, “We kill people based on metadata.”

Paul Krugman: An American Road to Nowhere

Many American roads are in pretty bad shape - I can attest to that after driving from New Jersey to Massachusetts and back for family business last week. When you combine that fact with the underlying macroeconomic situation (more on that in a minute), the case for spending substantial sums on repair seems obvious.

But President Obama's recent proposal for what is actually a modest infrastructure program - $302 billion over four years for road repairs and transit upgrades - appears to be going nowhere, thanks to a fight over how to pay for it.

Globalization’s ‘Game of Thrones’, Part 1: Dynastic Power in the Modern World

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
7 May 2014

Think of any period in human history when empires and imperialism were common features of society, whether from ancient Egypt, Rome, China, to the Ottomans and the rise of the European and Japanese empires. There is an institution that – with few exceptions – was prevalent across most imperial societies: the family dynasty.

In a world dominated by institutions – organized hierarchically and embedded with their own functions and ideologies – the ‘family unit’ is very often the first and most important institution in the development of individuals. For the rich and powerful, the family unit has been the principal institution through which power is accumulated, preserved and propagated, precisely because the interest is multi-generational, requiring long-term planning and strategy.