Saturday, June 28, 2014

David Sirota: How Corruption Shapes State Policy

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Tennessee—a state that has been called the most corrupt in the country. That’s right, according to a 2010 Daily Beast analysis compiling data about convictions on charges of public corruption, racketeering, extortion, forgery, counterfeiting, fraud and embezzlement, the Volunteer State is America’s single most corrupt. Similarly, a 2012 Harvard study lists Nashville as one of the nation’s most corrupt capitals.

Since I was traveling to the state for a conference about technology and innovation, I had a simple question on my mind: How does such rampant corruption shape state policy?

Scott Beauchamp: Blog On Robot Soldiers and the Recession

June 26, 2014

After more than twelve years in Afghanistan, with approximately 2,200 Americans killed and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, the proposed conclusion to what has ended up being America’s longest war has been met with resigned apathy from many Americans, and predictable vitriol from Congressional Republicans.

The triumvirate of senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Kelly Ayotte called Obama’s promised withdrawal of troops “irresponsible and a triumph of politics over strategy.” Channeling Bush’s counterintuitive reasoning for bloating troop presence in the first place, they went on to call the announcement of American departure “a short-sighted decision that will make it harder to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly.”

Paul Krugman: An Innovation Lesson From Germany: Less Disruption, More Quality

Jill Lepore has written a great article in The New Yorker debunking the hyping of "disruptive innovation" as the key to success in business and everything else. It's not a bah-humbug piece; it is instead a careful takedown, in which she goes back to the case studies supposedly showing the overwhelming importance of upstart innovators, and shows that what actually happened didn't fit the script.

Specifically, many of the "upstarts" were actually long-established firms, and more often than not the big payoffs went not to disruptive innovators but to firms that focused on incremental change and ordinary forms of efficiency and quality.

Kathleen Geier: Ikea and the Business Case for a Living Wage

June 27, 2014

This week, the Swedish furniture giant Ikea announced that it plans to start paying its retail workers a living wage. The new hourly minimum will be based on regional estimates derived from the MIT Living Wage Calculator. Beginning next year, the average minimum wage of Ikea workers will increase by 17 percent, to $10.76 an hour.

Ikea’s new policy may be a sign that retailers are, at last, starting to have second thoughts about the low-wage, race-to-the-bottom business strategy that has dominated the retail sector for decades. Earlier this year, Gap announced that it would raise its minimum pay to $10 an hour, and it’s seen job applications increase by 10 percent as a result. Even the most infamous low-wage employer in America, Walmart, said recently that it would not oppose a minimum wage increase, marking a reversal of long-standing policy (if true).

Brian Beutler: The Maddening Illogic of the IRS 'Coverup' Conspiracy Theory

We know that there aren't many scientists in the Republican congressional delegation, because if there were, they couldn't use the "I'm not a scientist" excuse to duck questions about climate change.

But by sheer coincidence, pretty much every Republican in Congress who's "not a scientist" turns out to be an IT expert, and they've rendered a unanimous judgment: The official explanation of the missing Lois Lerner emails is a lie, and the IRS is perpetrating a coverup.

From Ancient Egypt to Modern America, Spying Has Always Been Used to Crush Dissent

Posted on June 27, 2014 by WashingtonsBlog

What Americans Need to Know About the History of Spying
Americans are told that we live in a “post-9/11 reality” that requires mass surveillance.

But the NSA was already conducting mass surveillance prior to 9/11 … including surveillance on the 9/11 hijackers.

And top security experts – including the highest-level government officials and the top university experts – say that mass surveillance actually increases terrorism and hurts security. And they say that our government failed to stop the Boston bombing because they were too busy spying on millions of innocent Americans instead of focusing on actual bad guys.

Climate: Will We Lose the Endgame?

Bill McKibben, July 10, 2014 Issue
Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent
by Gabrielle Walker
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 388 pp., $27.00
What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change
a report by the Climate Science Panel of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
28 pp., March 2014

Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment
a report by the US Global Change Research Program
829 pp., May 2014 

We may be entering the high-stakes endgame on climate change. The pieces—technological and perhaps political—are finally in place for rapid, powerful action to shift us off of fossil fuel. Unfortunately, the players may well decide instead to simply move pawns back and forth for another couple of decades, which would be fatal. Even more unfortunately, the natural world is daily making it more clear that the clock ticks down faster than we feared. The whole game is very nearly in check.

Let us begin in Antarctica, the least-populated continent, and the one most nearly unchanged by humans. In her book about the region, Gabrielle Walker describes very well current activities on the vast ice sheet, from the constant discovery of new undersea life to the ongoing hunt for meteorites, which are relatively easy to track down on the white ice. For anyone who has ever wondered what it’s like to winter at 70 degrees below zero, her account will be telling.

Are conservatives more obedient and agreeable than their liberal counterparts?

Over the last few years, we've seen increasing dissent among liberals and conservatives on important issues such as gun control, health care and same-sex marriage. Both sides often have a difficult time reconciling their own views with their opposition, and many times it appears that liberals are unable to band together under a unifying platform. Why do conservatives appear to have an affinity for obeying leadership? And why do conservatives perceive greater consensus among politically like-minded others? Two studies publishing in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shed light on these questions.

Bee-ware! Everything we know about neonic pesticides is awful

By John Upton

Neonicotinoid pesticides are great at killing insect pests, which helps to explain the dramatic rise in their use during the past 20 years. They’re popular because they are systemic pesticides — they don’t just get sprayed onto plant surfaces. They can be applied to seeds, roots, and soil, becoming incorporated into a growing plant, turning it into poison for any bugs that might munch upon it.

But using neonics to control pests is like using a hand grenade to thwart a bank robbery.

Amanda Marcotte: Why Do Right-Wing Christians Think 'Religious Freedom' Means Forcing Their Faith on You?

While it seems like a leap even for the most delusional conservatives to believe that their religious freedom can only be protected by giving Christians broad power to force their faith on others, a new report from the People For the American Way shows [3] how the narrative is constructed. The report shows that Christian conservative circles have become awash in legends of being persecuted for their faith, stories that invariably turn out to be nonsense but that “serve to bolster a larger story, that of a majority religious group in American society becoming a persecuted minority, driven underground in its own country.” This sense of persecution, in turn, gives them justification to push their actual agenda of religious repression under the guise that they’re just protecting themselves.

USC scientists create new battery that's cheap, clean, rechargeable… and organic

Scientists at USC have developed a water-based organic battery that is long lasting, built from cheap, eco-friendly components.

The new battery – which uses no metals or toxic materials – is intended for use in power plants, where it can make the energy grid more resilient and efficient by creating a large-scale means to store energy for use as needed.

Glenn Greenwald on Government Snooping: Why It's Dangerous and What We Can Do About It

When it comes to stopping NSA surveillance, it may be more effective to write to Facebook and Google than to government officials.

by Dean Paton
posted Jun 23, 2014

One year ago, Edward Snowden was thrust upon the world stage when he began revealing what he called widespread violations of civil liberties by a growing “surveillance state.”

Glenn Greenwald, one of the three reporters who broke those stories—which won the Pulitzer Prize for public affairs reporting, the Polk Award for national security reporting, and the top award for investigative journalism from the Online News Association—has just published a book about his experiences: No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State.

Shhh. Don’t Wake Congress. Let Them Sleep Through the Next Wall Street Crash

By Pam Martens: June 23, 2014

Two Senate subcommittees held critically important hearings last week so Senators could gauge first hand the level of corruption and self-dealing on Wall Street and 72 percent of the members of those committees failed to show up. Missing in action were Senators Chuck Schumer, Bob Corker, Dick Shelby, David Vitter, Tom Coburn, Tammy Baldwin, and Rand Paul, among many others.

Failure to show up for committee or subcommittee hearings has been tolerated far too long in the U.S. Senate as we reported two years ago when not one member of an 18-member subcommittee, other than the chairman, showed up for a hearing on the failing initial public offering process on Wall Street. It is understandable that Gallup’s new poll last week showed that confidence in Congress has just hit an all-time, historic low of 7 percent.

Five Takeaways from the Newly Released Drone Memo

June 23, 2014
By Brett Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow, ACLU National Security Project at 4:00 pm

Monday morning, a federal appeals court released a government memorandum, dated July 16, 2010, authorizing both the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen, in Yemen.

The publication of the Office of Legal Counsel memo comes, as the court noted, after a lengthy delay. The ACLU (along with the New York Times) has been fighting for this memo since we first asked for it in a Freedom of Information Act request submitted in October 2011.

Monday's release by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is an important victory for transparency. But while the memo advances the public record in significant ways, it still does not answer many key questions about the government's claimed authority to kill U.S. citizens outside of active battlefields. Here are several important takeaways from Monday's release.

Why U.S. Is Not Embracing Inherently Safer Chemical Plants

Chevron Richmond Refinery Explosion Ignored in GOP Red Herring Oversight

Posted on Jun 25, 2014

Washington, DC — Republican lawmakers are using phony whistleblower claims to serve a corporate agenda of blocking critical steps to prevent future chemical plant explosions, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Nearly two years after a massive oil refinery fire sickened 15,000 California residents, the official federal safety report urging adoption of inherently safer technologies still languishes due to both internal and external opposition.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents in fixed facilities. It does not issue fines or citations, but makes recommendations to plants, regulatory agencies, industry organizations and labor. In a House hearing last week, Government Reform & Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa released an 84-page staff report making no mention of a critical February 10, 2014 memo from CSB investigative staff defending their Chair Rafael Moure-Eraso and decrying delay of their report on the Chevron refinery.

Yes, Google works with “former military operations people.” But they won’t tell us who, or from where

By Yasha Levine
On June 24, 2014

Last week, I wrote about how Google’s working with a mysterious set of “former military operations people” on Project Loon — the company’s zany and rather frightening attempt to have an army of WiFi/surveillance balloons that are constantly circling the globe way up in the atmosphere.

The information came via a report by Wired’s Steven Levy. Given Google’s history of close collaboration with the military-industrial complex, it wasn’t terribly surprising. Hell, Google’s DC office is crammed to the brim with former spooks, intelligence officials and revolving door military contractors.

Why Corporate 'Negative Speech Rights' Is as Dangerous as Corporate Free Speech

By Simon Davis-Cohen

June 18, 2014 | We all know about political free speech. With a few exceptions, you can say what you want, whether people listen or not. But corporations have twisted the First Amendment to claim that their free speech rights as “people” also means that they cannot be forced by government to put warning labels on their packaging. An established and growing body of law elevates private marketing above public health warnings.

It's called corporate negative free speech rights, and it falls under one particular area of First Amendment law—commercial speech. It's been wielded in a variety of for-profit settings. Cigarette companies have used this rationale to avoid photos on warning labels. The dairy industry has evoked it to hide the use of manmade bovine growth hormones in milk production. Cell phone companies have cited it to block radiation warnings on their packaging.

TomDispatch: Michael Schwartz, The New Oil Wars in Iraq

It’s the Oil, Stupid!
Insurgency and War on a Sea of Oil
By Michael Schwartz

Events in Iraq are headline news everywhere, and once again, there is no mention of the issue that underlies much of the violence: control of Iraqi oil. Instead, the media is flooded with debate about, horror over, and extensive analysis of a not-exactly-brand-new terrorist threat, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There are, in addition, elaborate discussions about the possibility of a civil war that threatens both a new round of ethnic cleansing and the collapse of the embattled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Underway are, in fact, “a series of urban revolts against the government,” as Middle Eastern expert Juan Cole has called them. They are currently restricted to Sunni areas of the country and have a distinctly sectarian character, which is why groups like ISIS can thrive and even take a leadership role in various locales. These revolts have, however, neither been created nor are they controlled by ISIS and its several thousand fighters. They also involve former Baathists and Saddam Hussein loyalists, tribal militias, and many others. And at least in incipient form they may not, in the end, be restricted to Sunni areas. As the New York Times reported last week, the oil industry is “worried that the unrest could spread” to the southern Shia-dominated city of Basra, where “Iraq’s main oil fields and export facilities are clustered.”

How the Feds Are Recruiting Spies at Campuses Across the US

By Roberto J. Gonzalez

June 11, 2014  |  The following is an excerpt from The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent [3] edited by Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira. Reprinted with permission of University of Minnesota Press.

In July 2005, a select group of fifteen- to nineteen-year-old high school students participated in a week-long summer program called “Spy Camp” in the Washington, DC, area. The program included a field trip to the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, an “intelligence simulation” exercise, and a visit to the $35 million International Spy Museum. According to the Spy Museum’s website, visiting groups have the option of choosing from three different “scavenger hunts,” in which teams are pitted against one another in activities ranging “from code-breaking to deceptive maneuvers. . . . Each team will be armed with a top secret bag of tricks to help solve challenging questions” that can be found in the museum.

On the surface, the program sounds like fun and games, and after reading about the program one might guess that it was organized by an imagina- tive social studies teacher. But for some, “Spy Camp” was more than just fun and games—it was very serious business. The high school program was car- ried out by Trinity University of Washington, DC—a predominantly African American university with an overwhelmingly female student population—as part of a pilot grant from the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to create an “Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence” (or IC Center).

Richard Eskow: A Secret Plan to Close Social Security’s Offices and Outsource Its Work

For months there have been rumors that the Social Security Administration has a “secret plan” to close all of its field offices. Is it true? A little-known report commissioned by the SSA the request of Congress seems to hold the answer. The summary document outlining the plan, which is labeled “for internal use only,” is unavailable from the SSA but can be found here.

Does the document, entitled “Long Term Strategic Vision and Vision Elements,” really propose shuttering all field offices? The answer, buried beneath a barrage of obfuscatory consultantese, clearly seems to be “yes.” Worse, the report also suggests that many of the SSA’s critical functions could soon be outsourced to private-sector partners and contractors.

Lynn Stuart Parramore: Meet the Guy Stealing Your Retirement Savings Right Under Your Nose

Right now, all across the country, the savings of blameless, hard-working people are being nibbled away without their knowledge by unscrupulous actors. And there doesn’t seem to be anything that can be done about it.

The Deadly Disease in Meat That Health Officials Are Ignoring

By Martha Rosenberg

But this month a fourth U.S. death [4] from the human version of mad cow, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), in Texas barely made the news. Neither did therecall [5] of 4,000 pounds of "organic" beef possibly contaminated with mad cow (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE) shipped to Whole Foods and two restaurants, in New York and Kansas City, Mo. The restaurant meat was eaten before the recall, speculated one news [6] source.

Paul Krugman: The Big Green Test

On Sunday Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary and a lifelong Republican, had an Op-Ed article about climate policy in The New York Times. In the article, he declared that man-made climate change is “the challenge of our time,” and called for a national tax on carbon emissions to encourage
conservation and the adoption of green technologies. Considering the prevalence of climate denial within today’s G.O.P., and the absolute opposition to any kind of tax increase, this was a brave stand to take.

But not nearly brave enough. Emissions taxes are the Economics 101 solution to pollution problems; every economist I know would start cheering wildly if Congress voted in a clean, across-the-board carbon tax. But that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. A carbon tax may be the best thing we could do, but we won’t actually do it.

BPA stimulates growth of breast cancer cells, diminishes effect of treatment

DURHAM, N.C. – Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical commonly used in plastics, appears to increase the proliferation of breast cancer cells, according to Duke Medicine researchers presenting at an annual meeting of endocrine scientists.

The researchers found that the chemical, at levels typically found in human blood, could also affect growth of an aggressive hormone-independent subtype of breast cancer cells called inflammatory breast cancer and diminish the effectiveness of treatments for the disease.

Buying Up the Planet: Out-of-Control Central Banks on a Corporate Buying Spree

Monday, 23 June 2014 10:28  
By Ellen Brown, The Web of Debt Blog | News Analysis 
"Finance is the new form of warfare – without the expense of a military overhead and an occupation against unwilling hosts. It is a competition in credit creation to buy foreign resources, real estate, public and privatized infrastructure, bonds and corporate stock ownership. Who needs an army when you can obtain the usual objective (monetary wealth and asset appropriation) simply by financial means?"
Dr. Michael Hudson, Counterpunch, October 2010
When the US Federal Reserve bought an 80% stake in American International Group (AIG) in September 2008, the unprecedented $85 billion outlay was justified as necessary to bail out the world’s largest insurance company. Today, however, central banks are on a global corporate buying spree not to bail out bankrupt corporations but simply as an investment, to compensate for the loss of bond income due to record-low interest rates. Indeed, central banks have become some of the world’s largest stock investors.
Central banks have the power to create national currencies with accounting entries, and they are traditionally very secretive. We are not allowed to peer into their books. It took a major lawsuit by Reuters and a congressional investigation to get the Fed to reveal the $16-plus trillion in loans it made to bail out giant banks and corporations after 2008.

The food industry’s hiding something: How to expose America’s most secretive industry

Will Potter tells Salon about his ambitious new project: Using drones to investigate the facts behind our food

Lindsay Abrams

In 2008, the Humane Society released a shocking video taken in a Southern California slaughterhouse. The footage depicted workers using chains and forklifts to drag cows that were too sick to stand across the floor. The abuse was appalling; the cows’ condition, which indicated a food safety risk, led the USDA to order a recall of 143 million pounds of beef. It was the largest meat recall in U.S. history — and it was all brought about by the work of an undercover whistleblower.

Since then, Big Ag has been hard at work preventing this sort of thing from happening again, but not by actually working to stop abuse — at least, not completely. Instead, the industry’s been pushing states to implement laws, known collectively as “ag-gag,” aimed at silencing activists.

Farming for the Future

Monday, 23 June 2014 09:29
By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Report

As the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) continue to escalate, drought, wildfires, flooding and other extreme weather events continue to intensify and last longer as a result.

In parts of Africa, the sociopolitical translation of this means wars over water, crops and animals, as drought and the ensuing conflict spinning out of it have become the norm.

Wall Street and Washington want you to believe the stock market isn't rigged. Guess what? It still is

Michael Lewis woke up Average Joe investors, but the fat cats are still trying to lull you into financial submission with their intellectual dishonesty

Heidi Moore, Sunday 22 June 2014 07.45 EDT

Most Americans don't think much about the stock market, and that's just fine with Wall Street. Because once you wake up to how screwed up the stock market really is, the financial industry knows you're likely to get very nervous and take your money out.

Many are catching on: between 2007 and 2014, investors pulled $345bn from the stock market. E-Trades are down and worries are up, with 73% of Americans still not inclined to buy stocks, five years after the financial crisis.

11 maps that explain the US energy system

Updated by Brad Plumer on June 12, 2014, 3:20 p.m. ET

Ever wonder what America's energy infrastructure looks like? All those power plants and coal mines and oil wells and transmission lines?

Then you're in luck. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has a fascinating new mapping tool that lets you take a detailed look at every aspect of America's energy system.

Dean Baker | The Sharing Economy and the Mystery of the Mystery of Inequality

Last week I had a fascinating 3:00 AM cab ride from San Francisco airport to a hotel in downtown Oakland. My cab driver was an immigrant from Pakistan who was putting two kids through college. After working for years as a driver he managed to save enough money to buy his own cab, and more importantly to buy the medallion that gives him the right to operate a cab in San Francisco. The medallion cost $250,000. He is still paying $2,300 a month on the loan to get the medallion in an addition to annual fee to the city of $1,500.

The medallion is far from the only cost the city imposes on cab drivers. It requires a special license, which involves four days of classes (i.e. lost work time), plus fees. They also must get a special background check by the FBI and a special badge, both of which involve additional fees. In addition, cab owners must have a special safety inspection for their car and brakes, which means yet more time and fees. And they must carry a $1 million insurance policy to protect passengers, which costs around $750 a month.

Michael Perelman: Why Adam Smith Advocated Controls Over Workers

Posted on by Yves Smith
Yves here. In this post, Michael Perelman continues his discussion of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Here, he focuses on the contradiction between Smith’s laissez faire attitude towards commerce and the need he saw for extensive control of the behavior of workers.

By Michael Perelman, a professor of economics at California State University, Chico

Military Discipline, Market Discipline

Smith addressed two kinds of controls to maintain social and economic order – controls over the market and controls over the workers. Smith’s call for market controls are minimal compared to those that control people. This imbalance should not be surprising considering Smith’s interest in molding the human personality to fit the needs of a market society.

Smith’s suggested controls of personal behavior are vastly more far reaching than one might expect after reading the first part of The Wealth of Nations, where volunteerism promises a world of harmonious prosperity. People’s response to the grain trade suggested that markets were not changing personal behavior the way Smith preferred.

Revealed: ALEC’s 2014 Attacks on the Environment

By Nick Surgey on April 24, 2014

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.

Thomas Frank: Hillary Clinton forgets the ’90s: Our latest gilded age and our latest phony populists 

The gilded age Clinton now laments had its roots in the dark side of Bill's economic record. So why trust her now?

A few weeks ago I was surprised to read that Hillary Clinton acknowledged the current economy to be “a throwback to the Gilded Age of the robber barons.” It wasn’t the comparison itself that astonished me. That we are living in a “new Gilded Age” is a commonplace that is rapidly becoming a cliché. The former senator and secretary of state’s words affected me because they reminded me of the days when talking about a “New Gilded Age” was the opposite of trite; when it was an affront to what every responsible person knew to be true. Specifically, I thought of the mid-1990s, when my colleagues and I at The Baffler magazine used the phrase to describe the era presided over by Hillary Clinton’s husband Bill. We inscribed the expression in the subtitle of our 1997 anthology, “Commodify Your Dissent: The Business of Culture in the New Gilded Age.”

Lynn Stuart Parramore: How Inequality Shapes the American Family

June 18, 2014

How do you decide who to marry, or whether to marry at all? How many children to have? Whether to engage in short-term hookups or long-term partnerships?

We don’t like to think that economic forces outside our individual control can shape the most intimate aspects of our lives, like whether or not we wed, when to have kids, and what kinds of families we create. But a growing body of evidence suggests that inequality is changing not only American family structures, but the roles men and women play and the calculations they make in pairing and establishing households. Inequality changes who we are, individually and collectively.

Bradley Foundation Bankrolled Groups Attacking Criminal Probe

By Brendan Fischer on June 19, 2014

The campaign against Wisconsin’s “John Doe” criminal probe is being led by groups bankrolled by the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, according to a new analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy/

The Bradley Foundation and its directors have given nearly $18 million to groups that are now connected to individuals involved in the John Doe investigation and the campaign against it. That high-profile probe is examining possible campaign finance violations during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections as Wisconsin Club for Growth and other nonprofit "dark money" groups spent tens of millions trying to protect the seats of Scott Walker and Republican legislators.

The Texas GOP's Sara Legvold Problem

She's a nearly bottomless fountain of paranoid racism. So why has she been allowed to play such a prominent role in the Texas GOP?

by Christopher Hooks, Published on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, at 11:05 CST

Ever heard of Sara Legvold? She’s a diminutive, older Cuban-American woman from Roanoke, Texas. She loves animals and small dogs. She’s also friendly with fascists and white supremacists, supports apartheid and is a nearly bottomless fountain of paranoid racism. And for two years, she’s proudly served as an elected member of the Republican Party of Texas’ Executive Committee. She’s served as an elected part of the leadership team of the state GOP—even after they realized who she was, and what she believed.

Paul Krugman: The Incompetence Dogma

Have you been following the news about Obamacare? The Affordable Care Act has receded from the front page, but information about how it’s going keeps coming in — and almost all the news is good. Indeed, health reform has been on a roll ever since March, when it became clear that enrollment would surpass expectations despite the teething problems of the federal website.

What’s interesting about this success story is that it has been accompanied at every step by cries of impending disaster. At this point, by my reckoning, the enemies of health reform are 0 for 6. That is, they made at least six distinct predictions about how Obamacare would fail — every one of which turned out to be wrong.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Wikileaks Exposes Super Secret, Regulation-Gutting Financial Services Pact

Posted on June 20, 2014 by Yves Smith

Wikileaks published an April draft of a critical section of pending “trade” deal called the Trade in Services Agreement, which is being negotiated among 50 countries, including the US, the member nations of the EU, Australia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, South Korea, and Switzerland. TISA would liberalize, as in reduce the ability of nations to regulate, a large range of services.

The document that Wikileaks exposed on Thursday is a portion of the financial services section. It is clearly designed to serve the pet interests of big international players. This agreement is designed to institutionalize the current level of deregulation as a baseline and facilitate the introduction of new products, further ease the movement of funds, data, and key personnel, and facilitate cross-border acquisitions and other forms of market entry.

Digby: He blew it on Iraq, but makes sense now: Peter Beinart’s thoughtful lessons

If there's one Iraq war hawk worth listening to today, it's this one who's truly grappled with his mistake

If there is one Iraq war hawk who has properly grappled with his mistake it has to be Peter Beinart. In fact, he’s written entire books about his own — and America’s — moral failings and the need to confront them with a cold and unsparing honesty if it’s to face threats in the modern world. Indeed, if there’s one Iraq war hawk worth talking to about what’s happening in Iraq today, it’s probably Beinart simply for the fact that he’s one of the few who’s thought this issue through. So, it’s also worth considering his opinion that contrary to popular lefty opinion, the media should be willing to interview the Very Serious People (Paul Krugman’s shorthand for “experts” who never have to account for their failures) — as long as its members will agree to address their own responsibility for the situation.

WikiLeaks Reveals Global Trade Deal Kept More Secret Than the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Thursday, 19 June 2014 14:29
By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report

The whistleblower and transparency website WikiLeaks published on Thursday the secret draft text of the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) Financial Services Annex, a controversial global trade agreement promoted by the United States and European Union that covers 50 countries and is opposed by global trade unions and anti-globalization activists.

Activists expect the TISA deal to promote privatization of public services in countries across the globe, and WikiLeaks said the secrecy surrounding the trade negotiations exceeds that of even the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) that has made headlines in the past year.

The open source revolution is coming and it will conquer the 1% - ex CIA spy

Posted by
Nafeez Ahmed Thursday 19 June 2014 07.30 EDT

The man who trained more than 66 countries in open source methods calls for re-invention of intelligence to re-engineer Earth

Robert David Steele, former Marine, CIA case officer, and US co-founder of the US Marine Corps intelligence activity, is a man on a mission. But it's a mission that frightens the US intelligence establishment to its core.

With 18 years experience working across the US intelligence community, followed by 20 more years in commercial intelligence and training, Steele's exemplary career has spanned almost all areas of both the clandestine world.

Steele started off as a Marine Corps infantry and intelligence officer. After four years on active duty, he joined the CIA for about a decade before co-founding the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, where he was deputy director. Widely recognised as the leader of the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) paradigm, Steele went on to write the handbooks on OSINT for NATO, the US Defense Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Special Operations Forces. In passing, he personally trained 7,500 officers from over 66 countries.

Another Secret Pro-Corporate Trade Negotiation Is Leaked

Dave Johnson

Another secret trade deal has leaked to WikiLeaks and it looks as if it is one more effort to lock into law the interests of certain already-huge corporations above the interests of governments, their citizens and potentially competing businesses.

As with leaks from the secret Tran-Pacific Partnership negotiations, this leak shows that the largest corporations are working to bypass recent efforts by governments to rein them in by pushing through “trade” agreements that override their ability to write their own laws and regulations.

Paul Krugman: Serious Voices Drown Out Sensible Ones in Europe

I've just finished writing a review of Tim Geithner's new book Stress Test. One thing I didn't mention in it was something surprising and refreshing: Mr. Geithner makes fun of Simpson-Bowles syndrome!

"There was a lot of good policy in Simpson-Bowles," he writes, "including cuts in wasteful farm subsidies and increased infrastructure spending to boost growth, but the benefit cuts and tax reforms were pretty regressive and the health care savings very modest. Nevertheless, the plan would attain mythic status among Washington elites as a symbol of noble bipartisan seriousness."

Emails Show Feds Asking Florida Cops to Deceive Judges

By Kim Zetter, 06.19.14 | 9:04 pm

Police in Florida have, at the request of the U.S. Marshals Service, been deliberately deceiving judges and defendants about their use of a controversial surveillance tool to track suspects, according to newly obtained emails.

At the request of the Marshals Service, the officers using so-called stingrays have been routinely telling judges, in applications for warrants, that they obtained knowledge of a suspect’s location from a “confidential source” rather than disclosing that the information was gleaned using a stingray.

A series of five emails (.pdf) written in April, 2009, were obtained today by the American Civil Liberties Union showing police officials discussing the deception. The organization has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with police departments throughout Florida seeking information about their use of stingrays.

Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown

Social science is being militarised to develop 'operational tools' to target peaceful activists and protest movements
A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is designed to develop immediate and long-term "warfighter-relevant insights" for senior officials and decision makers in "the defense policy community," and to inform policy implemented by "combatant commands."

Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis – the DoD 'Minerva Research Initiative' partners with universities "to improve DoD's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US."

Neocons' Shocking Iraq Revisionism

By Eric Alterman

June 20, 2014 | In a column entitled “Bush’s toxic legacy in Iraq [3],” terrorism expert Peter Bergen writes about the origins of ISIS, “the brutal insurgent/terrorist group formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Bergen notes that, “One of George W. Bush’s most toxic legacies is the introduction of al Qaeda into Iraq, which is the ISIS mother ship. If this wasn’t so tragic it would be supremely ironic, because before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, top Bush officials were insisting that there was an al Qaeda-Iraq axis of evil. Their claims that Saddam Hussein’s men were training members of al Qaeda how to make weapons of mass destruction seemed to be one of the most compelling rationales for the impending war.”

The ISIS Fiasco: It’s Really an Attack on Iran

For Once, Not a CIA Plot?


There’s something that doesn’t ring-true about the coverage of crisis in Iraq. Maybe it’s the way the media reiterates the same, tedious storyline over and over again with only the slightest changes in the narrative. For example, I was reading an article in the Financial Times by Council on Foreign Relations president, Richard Haass, where he says that Maliki’s military forces in Mosul “melted away”. Interestingly, the Haass op-ed was followed by a piece by David Gardener who used almost the very same language. He said the “army melts away.” So, I decided to thumb through the news a bit and see how many other journalists were stung by the “melted away” bug. And, as it happens, there were quite a few, including Politico, NBC News, News Sentinel, Global Post, the National Interest, ABC News etc. Now, the only way an unusual expression like that would pop up with such frequency would be if the authors were getting their talking points from a central authority. (which they probably do.) But the effect, of course, is the exact opposite than what the authors intend, that is, these cookie cutter stories leave readers scratching their heads and feeling like something fishy is going on.

The Big Money Behind California's Tenure Lawsuit

Thursday, 19 June 2014 00:00
By Yana Kunichoff, Truthout | News Analysis

On the surface, the ruling in the Vergara v. California lawsuit which effectively abolished tenure and fair hearings for misconduct in California on June 10 pitted nine mostly low-income, public school students, trying to use the power of the courts to patch up an education system they argued is failing them, against the state of California and two of its largest teachers unions.

The lawsuit, filed in May 2012 by a nonprofit called Students Matter, argued that five statutes of California's education code detailing legal protections for teachers, including tenure, made it difficult to fire incompetent teachers. According to the lawsuit, these educators were primarily concentrated in low-income schools. Two years after the suit was filed, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled that the statutes setting forth a two-year review process for teachers to receive tenure and due process procedures prior to dismissal - among others - were unconstitutional.

But dig a little deeper, and a bevy of venture capitalists, charter investors and Obama administration officials invested in the education reform agenda materialize as part of the swirling, multimillion-dollar brew of the Vergara lawsuit.

Billionaires Behind the Attack on Public Education in California Tenure Suit

Sabrina Joy Stevens
June 17, 2014

As outspoken teachers are already finding out, what good are First Amendment rights if you have to choose between exercising them and paying your bills?

Last week, something happened in a Los Angeles courtroom that rocked the education policy world. A judge declared due process rights for teachers—commonly known as "tenure" unconstitutional in the state of California in the case Vergara v. California, so named for one of the several students named as plaintiffs.

Virtually everything about the Vergara trial is misleading, starting with the trial’s name. Though my heart goes out to the students whose district has likely not offered them anything close to the educational resources and opportunities they deserve, this trial has nothing to do with fixing what ails them. Indeed, some of the people bankrolling it, like billionaire Eli Broad, donated millions to a campaign against the Proposition 30 millionaires’ tax that passed as a ballot measure in 2012, and is designed to restore much needed funding to cash-strapped public schools. Then there’s billionaire David Welch.

Vergara v. California really ought to be known as the Welch trial, after the Silicon Valley tycoon whose “lawsuit in search of a district” finally found the one where these students reside, in the City of Los Angeles.

Why Big Oil is giving piles of money to the NRA

By Jim Meyer

Everybody needs one friend who, if things ever go south in a big way, will show up to help. And bring a gun. At least that’s what Big Oil thinks, and so it’s gone one better: It’s made friends with the guys who have all the guns — the NRA.

Is The House Ways And Means Committee Insider Trading?

By Greg Morcroft
on June 19 2014 7:50 AM

Wall Street and Washington don’t like each other all that much but they need each other, and investigations into their relationship rarely reach the level they’ve hit this week as federal prosecutors subpoenaed the powerful Ways and Means Committee and a congressional health care aide.

At issue is how a government decision about how it funds Medicare made it to a handful of stock traders who turned the news into profits ahead of the decision.

Paul Krugman: Does He Pass the Test?

Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises
by Timothy F. Geithner

Midway through Timothy Geithner’s Stress Test, the former treasury secretary describes a late-2008 conversation with the then president-elect. Obama “wanted to discuss what he should try to accomplish.” Geithner’s reply was that his accomplishment would be “preventing a second Great Depression.” And Obama shot back that he didn’t want to be defined by what he had prevented.

It’s an ironic tale for Geithner to be telling, although it’s not clear whether he himself realizes just how ironic. For Stress Test is meant to be a story of successful policy—but that success is defined not by what happened but by what didn’t. America did indeed manage to avoid a full replay of the Great Depression—an achievement for which Geithner implicitly claims much of the credit, and with some justification. We did not, however, avoid economic disaster. By any plausible accounting, we’ve lost trillions of dollars’ worth of goods and services that we could and should have produced; millions of Americans have lost their jobs, their homes, and their dreams. Call it the Lesser Depression—not as bad as the 1930s, but still a terrible thing. Not to mention the disastrous consequences abroad.

Police Can Just Take Your Money, Car and Other Property — and Good Luck Getting It Back

By Aaron Cantú

Gentile’s case is an extreme example, but such occurrences happen on a smaller, broader scale across the country every year. Civil asset forfeiture is one of those arcane statutes you never hear about until it screws you. It’s a legal fiction spun up hundreds of years ago to give the state the power to convict a person’s property of a crime, or at least, implicate its involvement in the committing of a crime. When that happened, the property was to be legally seized by the state.

Paul Krugman: Saving the Planet Won't Kill the Economy

Nate Silver got a lot of grief when he chose Roger Pielke Jr., of all people, to write about the environment for his new web site, FiveThirtyEight. Mr. Pielke, a professor at the University of Colorado, is regarded among climate scientists as a concern troll - someone who pretends to be open-minded, but is actually committed to undermining the case for emissions limits any way he can.

But is this fair?

Well, I'm happy to report that Mr. Pielke recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Financial Times about the economics of emissions caps - something I know a fair bit about - that abundantly confirms his bad reputation.

Startling Medical Research Results Suggest Air Pollution Is Linked to Autism and Schizophrenia

By Cliff Weathers

June 17, 2014 | A study recently released by University of Rochester researchers [3] indicates that air pollution exposure may have a negative impact on mental health and could possibly play a role in schizophrenia and autism. The university's study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The researchers found that air pollution causes inflammation in the brains of newly born mice, which damages the development of “white matter.” The same parts of the brain are known to be affected in humans exhibiting autism and schizophrenia traits. The university researchers say that when mice are exposed to extra fine particle air pollution in the first few weeks of life, they developed neurological abnormalities similar to those seen in humans with the two health disorders. The abnormalities were mostly found in male mice, which also corresponds to the high numbers of men and boys diagnosed with both schizophrenia and autism.

Secret Collaboration Between the Power of Force and the Pursuit of Profit

Wednesday, 18 June 2014 10:12
By Beatrice Edwards, Berrett-Koehler Publishers | Book Excerpt


The Zombie Bill: The Corporate Security Campaign That Will Not Die

Reason to be afraid #4:

The government-corporate surveillance complex is consolidating. What has been a confidential but informal collaboration now seeks to legalize its special status.

July 9, 2012, was a scorcher in Washington, DC, with afternoon temperatures over 100 degrees, when an audience of about fifty think-tankers convened in a third-floor briefing room of the Senate's Russell Office Building on Capitol Hill. Then-Senator John Kyl sponsored the show, although he did not appear in person. He had invited the American Center for Democracy (ACD) and the Economic Warfare Institute (EWI) to explore the topic of "Economic Warfare Subversions: Anticipating the Threat."

At the front of the room, under a swag of the heavy red draperies and the American flag, sat the panel. The lineup was peculiar. The speakers, waiting for the audience to settle in, included a number of very big names from the intelligence community, including General Michael Hayden, by this time the former director of both the CIA and the NSA; James Woolsey, former CIA director; and Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General for George W. Bush.

Cutting the Poor Out of Welfare

Thomas B. Edsall

Over the past three decades, Congress has conducted a major experiment in anti-poverty policy. Legislators have restructured benefits and tax breaks intended for the poor so that they penalize unmarried, unemployed parents — the modern-day version of the “undeserving poor.” At the same time, working parents, the aged and the disabled are getting larger benefits.

Legislative changes in three major programs have driven these shifts.

Democrats propose legislation that would force FCC to ban Internet fast lanes

Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Doris Matsui were set to reveal bicameral legislation today

Sarah Gray

Today the Washington Post reported that Democratic lawmakers in both the Senate and House would unveil legislation aimed to prevent an Internet fast lane.

The proposed bill was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif. It would require the FCC to use its authority to prevent the speeding up of some Internet entities at the expense of others. For example, speeding up a streaming video service at the expense of another Web service.

Meet the Billionaire Brothers You Never Heard of Who Fund the Religious Right

Peter Montgomery
June 13, 2014

The Wilks brothers, whose fortune comes from fracking, give tens of millions to right-wing groups and anti-choice "pregnancy centers," anti-LGBT groups, and organizations affiliated with ALEC.

Last June, presidential hopefuls Rand Paul and Ted Cruz traveled to Iowa for an event convened by David Lane, a political operative who uses pastors to mobilize conservative Christian voters.

Lane is a Christian-nation extremist who believes the Bible should be a primary textbook in America’s public schools, and that any politician who disagrees should be voted out. Lane’s events are usually closed to the media, but he has given special access to the Christian Broadcasting Network’s sympathetic David Brody. Brody’s coverage of the Iowa event included short video clips of comments by brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, who were identified only as members of Lane’s Pastors and Pews group.

Weather-Sensitive Watering, and 4 Other Simple Fixes for California's Drought

—By Gabrielle Canon | Tue Jun. 17, 2014 6:01 AM EDT

There's been a lot of scary news on the drought front lately. In the midst of its third dry year in a row (and what's shaping up to be the driest in 500 years), California faces worsening wildfires and drinking water shortages. The state will likely have to rely on dirty and costly fossil fuels instead of hydropower for energy. Plus, because the state is the nation's largest agricultural producer and international exporter, California's crisis will have severe economic implications for the entire country, including raising the price of your favorite produce.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on water supply options that are now tapped out, and a recent survey showed that Californians are unwilling to invest in any new infrastructure or programs. Are we doomed?

The coming 'tsunami of debt' and financial crisis in America

Forces that caused the world economy to collapse, including income inequality and debt, are again in action, and could drag corporations down in their wake

Dimitri Papadimitriou, Sunday 15 June 2014 12.58 EDT

The US Congressional Budget Office is projecting a continued economic recovery. So why look down the road – say, to 2017 – and worry?

Here's why: because the debt held by American households is rising ominously. And unless our economic policies change, that debt balloon, powered by radical income inequality, is going to become the next bust.

Our macro models at the Levy Economics Institute are showing that the US economy is about to face a repeat of pre-crisis-style, debt-led growth, based on increased borrowing. Falling government deficits are being replaced by rising debts on everyone else's ledgers – well, almost everyone else's.

Pension Funds, Dancing a Two-Step With Ratings Firms

By Gretchen Morgenson

Pension fund investors lost billions of dollars trusting the rosy credit ratings stamped on troubled mortgage securities before the 2008 crisis. In its aftermath, they have spent years and many dollars suing Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, the main purveyors of those dubious grades.

That these funds and other plaintiffs are trying to hold the ratings agencies to account is a good thing.

And yet, there’s a mystifying disconnect in some of these disputes. On one hand, pension funds or state officials are telling the courts that Moody’s and S.&P. were negligent and their ratings marred by flawed methods and conflicts of interest. On the other hand, when the professionals who manage state funds buy bonds or mortgage securities, their investment policies require them to rely on the assessments of — you guessed it — the very same ratings agencies.

Senator Ron Wyden wants to know why IRS has ignored hedge funds’ tax-avoidance strategy

By Reuters
Tuesday, June 17, 2014 7:53 EDT

(Reuters) – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden has asked the Obama administration why the United States failed to stop a tax-avoidance strategy used by hedge funds, including John Paulson’s Paulson & Co, Bloomberg reported.

Wyden asked the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service what they had done to challenge funds that channel investments through insurance companies in tax havens as a way to lower fund managers’ personal income-tax bills, according to the report.

Paul Krugman: Yes He Could

Health Care and Climate: President Obama’s Big Deals

Several times in recent weeks I’ve found myself in conversations with liberals who shake their heads sadly and express their disappointment with President Obama. Why? I suspect that they’re being influenced, often without realizing it, by the prevailing media narrative.

The truth is that these days much of the commentary you see on the Obama administration — and a lot of the reporting too — emphasizes the negative: the contrast between the extravagant hopes of 2008 and the prosaic realities of political trench warfare, the troubles at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the mess in Iraq, and so on. The accepted thing, it seems, is to portray Mr. Obama as floundering, his presidency as troubled if not failed.

Could Politics Trump Economics As Reason for Growing Income Inequality?

Study finds decline in union strength played key role

By: Jeff Grabmeier
Published on June 16, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Most research examining growing income inequality in the United States has focused on economic causes, for seemingly obvious reasons.

But a new study suggests that a different cause – the politically induced decline in the strength of worker unions – may play a much more pivotal role than previously understood.

In fact, the role that union decline has played in growing income inequality may actually be larger than many of the favorite explanations offered by economists, such as the education gap in the United States.

A New Spin from the Inequality Denialist Set

Posted on June 15, 2014 by Staff

A key keeper of the free-market fundamentalist flame wants us to know that all his rich and powerful red-state pals really do care about income maldistribution.

By Sam Pizzigati

The go-to intellectual guardians of our corporate order — those conservative analysts whose op-eds appear regularly in the Wall Street Journal — have a problem. Their defense of plutocracy just isn’t selling.

Two events this spring have now put this failure in particularly stark relief.

First came the cultural phenomenon of Thomas Piketty: An obscure French economist jumps to the top of the bestseller lists with a book that makes a compelling case for no longer tolerating, anywhere on earth, grand concentrations of private wealth.

What Happens If You Have No Welfare and No Job?

By Olga Khazan

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the welfare reform of the 1990s led to many poor mothers being kicked off welfare rolls. While some poor adults could still receive help from food stamps and disability insurance, the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act" dramatically cut how much cash aid they could collect. The hope was that they would find work, but many didn’t.

Meanwhile, spending on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, the only cash assistance program that non-disabled, non-elderly, poor single mothers are eligible for, has dropped precipitously: It was lower in 2007 than it had been in 1970.

That left me wondering—what happened to the moms who had neither jobs nor cash assistance through TANF, which comes with strict time limits?

Thrown Out of Court

How corporations became people you can't sue.

By Lina Khan

Late last year a massive data hack at Target exposed as many as 110 million consumers around the country to identity theft and fraud. As details of its lax computer security oversight came to light, customers whose passwords and credit card numbers had been stolen banded together to file dozens of class-action lawsuits against the mega-chain-store company. A judge presiding over a consolidated suit will now sort out how much damage was done and how much Target may owe the victims of its negligence. As the case proceeds, documents and testimony pertaining to how the breach occurred will become part of the public record.

All this may seem like an archetypical story of our times, combining corporate misconduct, cyber-crime, and high-stakes litigation. But for those who follow the cutting edge of corporate law, a central part of this saga is almost antiquarian: the part where Target must actually face its accusers in court and the public gets to know what went awry and whether justice gets done.

Thomas Frank: Off with their heads! Eric Cantor, the Tea Party guillotine, and the certainty of conservative sell-out

Cantor's just the latest: From Reagan to Rove, the GOP's driven ever-rightward by clash of idealism and betrayal

“We got what we had coming,” wrote Rep. Eric Cantor in his book “Young Guns” in 2010. He was referring to the drubbing his party took in the 2006 Congressional elections.

Back in 1994, he reminded readers, his fellow Republicans had taken control of Congress on a platform of high idealism. Once in power, however, “too often they left these principles behind.” The Republicans in that Congress, Cantor continued, “became what they had campaigned against: arrogant and out of touch. There were important exceptions, but the GOP legislative agenda became primarily about Republican members themselves, not the greater cause.”

Robert Fisk: The old partition of the Middle East is dead. I dread to think what will follow

“Sykes-Picot is dead,” Walid Jumblatt roared at me last night – and he may well be right.

The Lebanese Druze leader – who fought in a 15-year civil war that redrew the map of Lebanon – believes that the new battles for Sunni Muslim jihadi control of northern and eastern Syria and western Iraq have finally destroyed the post-World War Anglo-French conspiracy, hatched by Mark Sykes and François Picot, which divided up the old Ottoman Middle East into Arab statelets controlled by the West.

Dead Economic Dogmas Trump Recovery: The Continuing Crisis in the Eurozone Periphery

Sunday, 15 June 2014 00:00
By CJ Polychroniou, Truthout | News Analysis

In the four bailed-out countries of the European periphery, there is not a trace of solid evidence that the austerity / structural reforms / export-led growth approach insisted upon by the EU and the IMF has paid any solid economic or social dividends, yet it is hailed as a "success."

Four years after the start of the euro crisis, the bailed-out countries of the eurozone (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain) [1] are still facing serious problems, as the austerity policies imposed on them by the European Union (EU) authorities and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) not only failed to stabilize their economies, but actually made matters worse; in fact, much worse: The debt load increased substantially; national output was seriously undermined; unemployment reached potentially explosive levels; a credit crunch ensued; and emigration levels rose to historic heights. Because of these highly adverse effects, the citizens in the bailed-out countries have grown indignant and mistrustful toward parliamentary democracy itself, euro-skepticism has taken firm roots and a cleavage has reemerged between north and south.

A fissure in the dam of political reality: How Eric Cantor’s defeat foreshadows the coming apocalypse

For what could be a portrait of our own societal collapse, look to Robert Pattinson's dystopian drama "The Rover"
Andrew O'Hehir

The unexpected defeat of a sitting House Majority Leader by an obscure primary opponent in one of the safest of all deep-red gerrymandered seats is an event that cries out for interpretation – and we’ve been deluged with those all week long. Most political analysts agree that Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., was punished by Tea Party Jacobins, who perceive him as squishy on immigration and lacking in ideological purity. That might sound like a funny way to describe a guy who has been the ultimate embodiment of an intransigent, obstructionist, do-nothing Congress, but the Tea Partyers had a point. (We’ll get to that.) Or maybe Cantor was ousted by “savvy Democrats” who crossed over to vote against him in Virginia’s open-primary system, or was a victim of covert anti-Semitism, as a Jewish congressman from a district rich in evangelical conservatives.

Maybe the unlikely primary victory of economics professor David Brat demonstrates that money doesn’t matter in politics as much as people think (since Cantor’s campaign outspent Brat’s many times over), and maybe it was the result of a long-term strategy and “dark money” from libertarian billionaires. Maybe the result is a welcome wakeup call for the Republican Party, and maybe it’s a boost to the Democrats’ chances of retaking the House in November (which were, and still are, slim to none). But the people on both sides trying to argue those positions are partisan hacks, desperately trying to spin the Cantor-quake such that it fits into the established Manichaean narrative of American politics. Which it clearly does not. In fact, I would argue that Cantor’s defeat is bad news for both parties and for the stagnant system they represent. If anything, it may signify a nascent or immanent threat to that system.

The single most important fact about American politics

Updated by Ezra Klein on June 13, 2014, 8:00 a.m. ET

Perhaps the single most important fact about American politics is this: the people who participate are more ideological and more partisan, as well as angrier and more fearful, than those who don't.
these divisions are greatest among those who are the most engaged and active in the political process
The finding emerges from Pew's massive survey of 10,000 Americans, which concluded that "Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines — and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive — than at any point in the last two decades."

How Big Pharma (and others) began lobbying on the Trans-Pacific Partnership before you ever heard of it

by Lee Drutman, investigations, March 13, 2014, 9:10 a.m.

In 2009, four years before the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a widely-debated trade deal, few would have noticed a new issue popping up in a handful of lobbying reports. That year, 28 organizations filed 59 lobbying reports mentioning the then far-off trade agreement. Almost half of those organizations were pharmaceutical companies or associations.

It was an early clue as to which industry would take the most active role in trying to shape the trade agreement while it was still secret from the public. From 2009 until mid-2013 (the time during which the language of the agreement was still reasonably fluid), drug companies and associations mentioned the trade agreement in 251 separate lobbying reports – two and a half times more than the next most active industry (at least measured by lobbying reports).

North Carolina is still suing Facebook, wants to pass law banning public from knowing what else it’s doing

By David Sirota
On June 13, 2014

In the last few months, there has been increasing pressure on public officials to stop hiding the basic terms of the investment agreements being cemented between governments and Wall Street’s “alternative investment” industry.

That pressure has been intensified, in part, by two sets of recent leaks showing how these alternative investment companies (private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, etc.) are using the secret deals to make hundreds of millions of dollars off taxpayers. It is also in response to the Securities and Exchange Commission recently declaring that many of the stealth schemes may be illegal.

And yet, as the demands for transparency grow louder, a potentially precedent-setting push for even more secrecy is emerging. Pando has learned that legislators in North Carolina — whose $86 billion public pension fund is the 7th largest in America – are proposing to statutorily bar the public from seeing details of the state’s Wall Street transactions for at least a decade. That time frame is significant: according to experts, it would conceal the terms of the investment agreements for longer than the statute of limitations of various securities laws.

Bill Black: How Hayek Helped the Worst Get to the Top in Economics and as CEOs

Posted on by Yves Smith
By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives

Libertarians are profoundly anti-democratic. The folks at Cato that I debate make no bones about their disdain for and fear of democracy. Friedrich von Hayek is so popular among libertarians because of his denial of the legitimacy of democratic government and his claims that it is inherently monstrous and murderous to its own citizens. Here’s an example from a libertarian professor based in Maryland.
[W]hen government uses its legal monopoly on coercion to confiscate one person’s property and give it to another, it is engaging in what would normally be called theft. Calling this immoral act “democracy,” “majority rule” or “progressive taxation” does not make it moral. Under democracy, rulers confiscate the income of productive members of society and redistribute it to various supporters in order to keep themselves in power.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Al Gore Tells Techpreneurs Some Truths They May Not Want to Hear About Inequality

By David Sirota

June 13, 2014 | Inequality and democracy are the kind of topics you may expect to hear about at a political convention, but not necessarily at a tech industry conference. And so former Vice President Al Gore's discussion at Nashville's tech-focused Southland Conference this week could be viewed in context as a jeremiad spotlighting taboo truths about tech culture and philanthropic traditions.

Discussing the economy, Gore lamented that "we have rising levels of inequality and chronic underinvestment" in public programs. He reminded the crowd that when "95 percent of all the additional national income in the U.S., since the recovery began in '09, goes to the top one percent, that's not an Occupy Wall Street slogan, that's a fact."

The 5 Craziest Planks In Draft Texas GOP Platform: Ban Morning After Pill, Ending Direct Election Of Senators, Defunding ACORN

Submitted by Brian Tashman on Thursday, 6/5/2014 11:50 am

According to a draft party platform obtained by the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Republican Party is ready to support a sweeping right-wing agenda with planks related to the “Benghazi cover up,” the elimination of the minimum wage and “the myth of separation of church and state.”


Not only does the draft platform advocate for the abolition of the Federal Reserve, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Transportation Security Administration and the Departments of Education and Energy, but it also calls for an end to the direct election of U.S. Senators:
Full Repeal of the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: Return the appointment of U.S. Senators by the State Legislatures.
While the state GOP wants Texas voters to lose their right to elect their U.S. senators, the party does on the other hand “support our right to select our judges by direct vote.”

Paul Krugman: A Failed Critique of Piketty

The economist Thomas Piketty has replied at length to the attempted takedown of his work in Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Chris Giles, the economics editor at The Financial Times, and he has done it very effectively. Essentially, Mr. 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.

What Was the Evidence in the Vergara Case? Who Wins? Who Loses?

By diane ravitch
June 11, 2014

Judge Rolf M. Treu, who decided the Vergara case , declared that he was shocked, shocked to learn from Professor Raj Chetty and Professor Thomas Kane of Harvard about the enormous harm that one “grossly ineffective” teacher can do to a child’s lifetime earnings or to their academic gains.

How did he define “grossly ineffective” teacher? He didn’t. How did these dreadful teachers get tenure? Clearly, some grossly incompetent principal must have granted it to them. What was the basis–factual or theoretical–that the students would have had high scores if their teachers did not have the right to due process? He didn’t say.