Saturday, September 27, 2014

Glenn Greenwald: How Former Treasury Officials and the UAE Are Manipulating American Journalists

The tiny and very rich Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar has become a hostile target for two nations with significant influence in the U.S.: Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Israel is furious over Qatar’s support for Palestinians generally and (allegedly) Hamas specifically, while the UAE is upset that Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (UAE supports the leaders of the military coup) and that Qatar funds Islamist rebels in Libya (UAE supports forces aligned with Ghadaffi (see update below)).

This animosity has resulted in a new campaign in the west to demonize the Qataris as the key supporter of terrorism. The Israelis have chosen the direct approach of publicly accusing their new enemy in Doha of being terrorist supporters, while the UAE has opted for a more covert strategy: paying millions of dollars to a U.S. lobbying firm – composed of former high-ranking Treasury officials from both parties – to plant anti-Qatar stories with American journalists. That more subtle tactic has been remarkably successful, and shines important light on how easily political narratives in U.S. media discourse can be literally purchased.

Thomas Frank: In Brownbackistan, everything is awesome! And don’t let any liberal tell you different

Sam Brownback's wrecking crew built "model red state" with huge tax cuts. They gutted Kansas and people now know it

If you visit the campaign web site of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who is fighting a difficult battle for re-election, you will see a series of large-type boasts about his nonexistent economic achievements, and then you will read this:
“Our administration has accomplished this and so much more in my first term as Governor. . . . Help me stand up for Kansas against an over-reaching federal government. Join Lt Governor Colyer and I today.”
Yes: Join I today. The governor of Kansas wrote this—or signed it, anyway—and just above a list item declaring “Investing in Education.”

How to make Isis fall on its own sword

Degrade and destroy? The west should try to disrupt the canny militants into self-destruction, because bombs will only backfire

Chelsea E Manning in Fort Leavenworth, Tuesday 16 September 2014 11.00 EDT

The Islamic State (Isis) is without question a very brutal extremist group with origins in the insurgency of the United States occupation of Iraq. It has rapidly ascended to global attention by taking control of swaths of territory in western and northern Iraq, including Mosul and other major cities.

Based on my experience as an all-source analyst in Iraq during the organization’s relative infancy, Isis cannot be defeated by bombs and bullets – even as the fight is taken to Syria, even if it is conducted by non-Western forces with air support.

I believe that Isis is fueled precisely by the operational and tactical successes of European and American military force that would be – and have been – used to defeat them.

10 Ways Conservatives Sell Their Failed Policies

By Alex Henderson

September 24, 2014  |  A big problem for modern-day Republicans and the Tea Party is that when they are too forthcoming with their ideas—handing social security over to Wall Street oligarchs, outlawing abortion for rape victims, wiping out what’s left of the New Deal, turning the United States into a Christian fundamentalist theocracy—they risk alienating swing voters. So wingnuts often use warm, fuzzy language to make negative things sound positive. Terrible working conditions are sold as “right to work” laws. Being abused by health insurance companies is called “self-determination,” butchering the social safety net is sold as “self-reliance.”

‘They Ordered Us To Kill All The People’

by Sebastian Rotella
ProPublica, Sep. 30, 2013, 9 a.m.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Shaken by sobs, his head bowed, a former Guatemalan commando testified last week that he wept as he hurled a little boy to his death in a village well 31 years ago while a commanding officer, Lt. Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes, snarled: “This is a job for men!”

Sosa, now a 55-year-old U.S. citizen, watched that grim testimony from a defense table guarded by U.S. marshals in a federal courtroom here. His former comrade-in-arms, Gilberto Jordán, accused Sosa of playing a lead role in one of the worst war crimes in the recent history of the hemisphere: the massacre of 250 people in the Guatemalan hamlet of Dos Erres in 1982. Sosa is charged with fraudulently obtaining U.S. citizenship years later by concealing his participation in the massacre.

Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash

A confidential report and a fired examiner’s hidden recorder penetrate the cloistered world of Wall Street’s top regulator—and its history of deference to banks.

by Jake Bernstein
ProPublica, Sep. 26, 2014, 5 a.m.

Barely a year removed from the devastation of the 2008 financial crisis, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York faced a crossroads. Congress had set its sights on reform. The biggest banks in the nation had shown that their failure could threaten the entire financial system. Lawmakers wanted new safeguards.

The Federal Reserve, and, by dint of its location off Wall Street, the New York Fed, was the logical choice to head the effort. Except it had failed miserably in catching the meltdown.

The Tenacity of Free Market Fundamentalism

Posted on September 26, 2014 by Yves Smith

This is an important and wide ranging conversation about the history of economic ideas and how it played out in political discourse, specifically, how free market fundamentalism, an idea that appeared to be dead in the 1940s, survived and became dominant.

One of the themes in this talk between Fred Block, professor of sociology at UC Davis, and Rob Johnson of INET is the conflict between the idea of “freedom” at the root of free market fundamentalism, which means “freedom to be left alone” versus democracy. As this discussion makes clear, markets cannot self-regulate. They become bare-fisted brawls for assets and power. Perversely from the perspective of the free market fundamentalists, aka libertarian utopians, for markets to deliver the positive benefits ascribed to them, you need government intervention: good access to court systems to enforce contracts and other rights, regulation to contend with externalities and curb predatory practices which are purely extractive, as well as the accumulation of monopoly/oligopoly power.

The $1-Billion-a-Year Right-Wing Conspiracy You Haven’t Heard Of

Jay Michaelson

Are you female, gay, non-Christian, or otherwise interested in the separation of church and state? Get to know The Gathering, a shadowy, powerful network of hard-right funders meeting Thursday in Florida.
Have you heard of the $1,750-per-person “Gathering,” which starts Thursday in Orlando, Florida?

Probably not. But if you’re female, gay, non-Christian, or otherwise interested in the separation of church and state, your life has been affected by it.

The Gathering is a conference of hard-right Christian organizations and, perhaps more important, funders. Most of them are not household names, at least if your household isn’t evangelical. But that’s the point: The Gathering is a hub of Christian Right organizing, and the people in attendance have led the campaigns to privatize public schools, redefine “religious liberty” (as in the Hobby Lobby case), fight same-sex marriage, fight evolution, and, well, you know the rest. They’re probably behind that, too.

IBM’s solar concentrator can produce energy, clean water and AC

By Lucas Mearian

IBM Research and Switzerland-based Airlight Energy today announced a new parabolic dish that increases the sun's radiation by 2,000 times while also producing fresh water and air conditioning.

The new Concentrator PhotoVoltaics (CPV) system uses a dense array of water-cooled solar chips that can convert 80% of the sun's radiation into useful energy.

Managing a Nightmare: How the CIA Watched Over the Destruction of Gary Webb

By Ryan Devereaux

Eighteen years after it was published, “Dark Alliance,” the San Jose Mercury News’s bombshell investigation into links between the cocaine trade, Nicaragua’s Contra rebels, and African American neighborhoods in California, remains one of the most explosive and controversial exposés in American journalism.

The 20,000-word series enraged black communities, prompted Congressional hearings, and became one of the first major national security stories in history to blow up online. It also sparked an aggressive backlash from the nation’s most powerful media outlets, which devoted considerable resources to discredit author Gary Webb’s reporting. Their efforts succeeded, costing Webb his career. On December 10, 2004, the journalist was found dead in his apartment, having ended his eight-year downfall with two .38-caliber bullets to the head.

The SEC Coverup for Private Equity: Worse Than for TBTF Banks

Posted on September 25, 2014 by Yves Smith

In a mere four months, the SEC has gone from calling out widespread abuses in the private equity industry to not just walking back its detailed criticisms, but actually enabling a coverup.

Readers may recall that in May, SEC inspection chief Andrew Bowden gave what was by regulatory standards a blistering speech describing widespread misconduct in the private equity industry. His detailed account followed SEC Chairman Mary Jo White setting forth uncharacteristically clear-cut details of private equity abuses in testimony to Congress.

Bowden was specific about the extent of the abuses by general partners, which included what amounts to theft, as in taking funds they weren’t entitled to. Bowden categorically stated that the bad acts implicated over half the firms they’d examined. Moreover, he described in considerable detail the types of grifting they’d found so far. Privately, the SEC has made clear that the abuses weren’t concentrated at small fry but were across the spectrum of firms, including the very top players.

Inside the Koch Brothers' Toxic Empire

Together, Charles and David Koch control one of the world's largest fortunes, which they are using to buy up our political system. But what they don't want you to know is how they made all that money

By Tim Dickinson | September 24, 2014

The enormity of the Koch fortune is no mystery. Brothers Charles and David are each worth more than $40 billion. The electoral influence of the Koch brothers is similarly well-chronicled. The Kochs are our homegrown oligarchs; they've cornered the market on Republican politics and are nakedly attempting to buy Congress and the White House. Their political network helped finance the Tea Party and powers today's GOP. Koch-affiliated organizations raised some $400 million during the 2012 election, and aim to spend another $290 million to elect Republicans in this year's midterms. So far in this cycle, Koch-backed entities have bought 44,000 political ads to boost Republican efforts to take back the Senate.

What is less clear is where all that money comes from. Koch Industries is headquartered in a squat, smoked-glass building that rises above the prairie on the outskirts of Wichita, Kansas. The building, like the brothers' fiercely private firm, is literally and figuratively a black box. Koch touts only one top-line financial figure: $115 billion in annual revenue, as estimated by Forbes. By that metric, it is larger than IBM, Honda or Hewlett-Packard and is America's second-largest private company after agribusiness colossus Cargill. The company's stock response to inquiries from reporters: "We are privately held and don't disclose this information."

'Fracking' wastewater that is treated for drinking produces potentially harmful compounds

Concerns that fluids from hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," are contaminating drinking water abound. Now, scientists are bringing to light another angle that adds to the controversy. A new study, appearing in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, has found that discharge of fracking wastewaters to rivers, even after passage through wastewater treatment plants, could be putting the drinking water supplies of downstream cities at risk.

Health insurers turning into who knows what?

Commentary: squeeze on profits will continue to transform the industry

By Wendell Potter, 5:00 am, September 22, 2014 Updated: 5:00 am, September 22, 2014

As I wrote last week, one of the nation’s biggest employers — Boeing — is pioneering a concept in providing health care benefits to its employees that eliminates insurance companies as middlemen.

What Boeing is doing represents a seismic shift in health care financing and delivery that potentially will have more far-reaching effects than Obamacare, primarily because it is coming from the private sector, not the government. It is a shift that the big health insurers have been anticipating and preparing for since long before the Affordable Care Act was enacted.

The Right-Wing’s Trashy Response To The Biggest Climate March Ever

Posted on

On Sunday, as many as 400,000 people descended on New York City to demand that world leaders finally get serious about global warming.

But all some news sites could talk about was the trash.

“Litterbug Climate Marchers Leave Behind Piles of Trash” reported Breitbart, over a compilation of pics and tweets documenting the admittedly unsightly piles of bags, cups, cans and signs that marchers left behind on corners and sidewalks and piled around garbage cans. The self-satisfied hosts of Fox News’ “The Five” admonished the marchers to “practice what they preach.” The Independent Journal Review tisked that the trash “distinctly contradicts the purpose of the march in the first place.”

America’s dark economic secret: How a giant gimmick has wages and jobs hanging by a thread

Welcome to the "gimmick economy" -- where it's not about good products or labor, but something far more scary

David Dayen

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s announcement of a series of new rules to reduce the financial incentives behind corporate inversions tells you a lot about where our economy sits right now. Productivity and growth scarcely matter as much as what I would call the “gimmick economy.” Companies now spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out not how to beat their competition, but how to prosper from tricks and loopholes their accountants find buried in the law. Every corporation has become, at the root, a financial company, adept at moving money around on paper and little else. And the government has to scramble in a never-ending race to keep up with the innovations.

To start with, understand what a corporate inversion is: an on-paper transaction involving a merger between a larger U.S. company and a smaller counterpart abroad. No worker moves overseas as a result of the merger. No production facilities or corporate offices transfer. Instead, the address on the corporate masthead changes from America to the low-tax alternative where the overseas company is headquartered. It’s a completely fictitious pretension, no different than if I used a handicapped placard to park in good spots everywhere I went, and then limped around after getting out of the car.

Shocking Racist Ideas Are Getting Treated as Science in Leading National Publications

By Steve Rendall

September 22, 2014 | Nicholas Wade was a leading New York Times science writer for three decades, at one point the editor of the “Science Times” section. He retired from full-time work at the paper in 2012, and in May 2014 published A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, a book that has been described as a full-throated defense of “scientific racism” (New Statesman, 5/20/14 [3]). Wade’s embrace of the pseudoscience of eugenics raises questions about his tenure at theTimes, and about corporate media vigilance when it comes to racism.

Media frequently fail to challenge racism in high places (FAIR Blog, 6/27/14 [4]) - in part because some highly placed corporate media figures are themselves attracted to racialist ideologies. Extra! (4/05 [5]) documented this after New York Times columnists David Brooks (12/7/04 [6]) and John Tierney (10/24/04 [7]) approvingly cited the work of Steve Sailer, a central figure in the promotion of racist and anti-immigrant theories.

Paul Krugman: Errors and Emissions

Could Fighting Global Warming Be Cheap and Free?

This just in: Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news?

I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses.

The United Kingdom Nearly Died for Margaret Thatcher's Sins

Robert Kuttner, September 23, 2014

The Scots got sick and tired of Thatcherite policies imposed from London.

Why on earth did the Scots, largely quiescent as part of Great Britain for three centuries, suddenly become the mouse that roared?

It wasn't because they became besotted watching re-runs of Braveheart or Rob Roy, or even because they coveted more of a share of North Sea oil revenues. No, the Scots got sick and tired of Thatcherite policies imposed from London.

Thanks to the partial form of federalism known as "devolution" provided by the Labour government of Tony Blair in 1997, Scotland got to keep such progressive policies as free higher education and an intact national health service, while the rest of the U.K. partly privatized the health service and began compelling young people to go into debt to finance college like their American cousins.

Attacks on abortion, voting, follow similar paths

By Irin Carmon and Zachary Roth

The laws sound innocuous, even boring. Requiring photo identification to vote, or hospital credentials to perform an abortion. Changing building requirements for clinics, or schedules for elections.

But seen together, state measures that have swept the nation in recent years restricting access to voting and to abortion could represent some of the keenest successes of the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

The bulk of these restrictions have been passed since Republicans took control of a slew of state legislatures in 2010: Voter ID laws were passed in states like Texas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, along with cuts to early voting in several more. Medically unnecessary restrictions have also been placed on abortion clinics in all three of those states, and similar laws threaten to close clinics in Louisiana, Alabama and Oklahoma.

Sam Houston State study finds gang life is short-lived

HUNTSVILLE, TX 9/24/14 -- Although membership in a gang often is depicted as a lifelong commitment, the typical gang member joins at age 13 and only stays active for about two years, according to a study at Sam Houston State University.

"Gang membership is not a fixed identity or a scarlet letter," said David Pyrooz in an article published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology. "Media and popular culture have led to misconceptions about gangs and gang membership, chief among them the myth of permanence, as reflected in the quote from West Side Story –'When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dyin' day'."

Dean Baker: The Mysteries of Inequality Are Only Mysterious to Elites

Developing explanations for the growth in inequality over the last three decades has been a huge growth industry in economics and policy circles. Many economists have made their careers with a novel explanation of how the natural development of technology and the market has concentrated income and wealth in the top 1 percent. It’s even better if you can show that inequality hasn’t risen. While the explanations that blame inequality on technology can get complicated, there were three items in the last week that painted the picture very clearly for the rest of us.

First, we got new data from the Federal Reserve Board and the Census Bureau, both of which showed that typical families are still seeing very little benefit from the recovery to date. The Fed released the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finance which showed median family wealth was still below the 2010 level in spite of the run-up in the stock market.

Census data on poverty show results of economic policy gone wrong

Michael Hiltzik

The headline number in last week's release of Census Bureau data on poverty was pretty good. It was widely noted that the rate dropped significantly for the first time since 2006, with especially sharp declines among children and Latino families.

A peek under the hood, however, reveals the dismal realities of the modern U.S. economy. Other than the population over 65 and under 18, wages and economic mobility are frozen solid. The national safety net is barely keeping up with need. And years of austerity politics — cutoffs of unemployment benefits, premature termination of low-income assistance programs, resistance in some regions to bringing healthcare coverage to low-income residents via Medicaid — have kept millions of Americans mired in near-poverty or in economic stagnation.

American elites have completely failed to understand what the Fed should be doing right now

By Jared Bernstein

Here are a few questions I’d like you to consider, and you don’t need to be an economist to give a valid responses. In fact, it’s better if you’re not.

Which do you think is a bigger problem facing the U.S. economy right now: a) inflation, or b) unemployment? Do you think wages are growing: a) too quickly, or b) too slowly? Which is the bigger threat to the economy: a) that it overheats, or b) is undercooked?

I’m going to make the bold assumption that most of you answered “b” on all of the above. And in a moment, I’ll provide the data to confirm your gut. What’s unsettling, and in need of explanation, is why so many influential voices, from the punditry to the markets, answer “a.”

Paul Krugman: Those Lazy Jobless

Last week John Boehner, the speaker of the House, explained to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute what’s holding back employment in America: laziness. People, he said, have “this idea” that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.” Holy 47 percent, Batman!

It’s hardly the first time a prominent conservative has said something along these lines. Ever since a financial crisis plunged us into recession it has been a nonstop refrain on the right that the unemployed aren’t trying hard enough, that they are taking it easy thanks to generous unemployment benefits, which are constantly characterized as “paying people not to work.” And the urge to blame the victims of a depressed economy has proved impervious to logic and evidence.

Professors on food stamps: The shocking true story of academia in 2014

Forget minimum wage, some adjunct professors say they're making 50 cents an hour. Wait till you read these stories

Matt Saccaro

You’ve probably heard the old stereotypes about professors in their ivory tower lecturing about Kafka while clad in a tweed jacket. But for many professors today, the reality is quite different: being so poorly paid and treated, that they’re more likely to be found bargain-hunting at day-old bread stores. This is academia in 2014.

“The most shocking thing is that many of us don’t even earn the federal minimum wage,” said Miranda Merklein, an adjunct professor from Santa Fe who started teaching in 2008. “Our students didn’t know that professors with PhDs aren’t even earning as much as an entry-level fast food worker. We’re not calling for the $15 minimum wage. We don’t even make minimum wage. And we have no benefits and no job security.”

The GOP Social Security Deception Game Is On - Here's How to Fight Back

Sunday, 21 September 2014 13:22
By Isaiah J Poole, Campaign for America's Future | Op-Ed

The Social Security deception game that Republican candidates have resorted to playing in recent election cycles is back. But, at a rally on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) showed how candidates and activists can defeat the gamesmanship and be true champions of strengthening Social Security.

The deception game is showing up in ads such as one now being aired in New York’s 21st congressional district, in which Republican Elise M. Stefanik is running against Democrat Aaron G. Woolf for a seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Bill Owens. The ad claims that Woolf supports policies that would dramatically cut Social Security benefits, while Stefanik says that she is committed to policies that “protect and preserve Social Security.”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Paul Krugman: Missing-A Massive "Skills Gap"

Claims that there is a huge "skills gap" in the United States - that much of our unemployment is structural, reflecting an inadequately prepared work force or something like that - generally rest on claims that there is an unusual situation in which many jobs are vacant even as many workers remain unemployed.

For example, at the beginning of this year Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, wrote an article in Politico with Marlene Seltzer about the alleged skills gap that began, "today, nearly 11 million Americans are unemployed. Yet, at the same time, 4 million jobs sit unfilled. This is the 'skills gap' - the gulf between the skills job seekers currently have and the skills employers need to fill their open positions."

Thomas Frank: All these effing geniuses: Ezra Klein, expert-driven journalism, and the phony Washington consensus

Ezra Klein and his data brigade think political science will save us. But expert opinion is why we're in this mess

In a recent article on Vox, Ezra Klein declared that his generation of Washington journalists had discovered political science, and it is like the hottest thing on wheels. In the old days, he writes, journalists “dealt with political science episodically and condescendingly.” But now, Klein declares, “Washington is listening to political scientists, in large part because it’s stopped trusting itself.” Klein finds that political scientists give better answers to his questions than politicians themselves, because politicians are evasive but scientists are scientists, you know, they deal in “structural explanations” for political events. So the “young political journalists” who are roaring around town in their white lab coats frightening the local bourgeoisie “know a lot more about political science and how to use it” than their elders did.

Hence Klein’s title: “How Political Science Conquered Washington.”

The Solution to ISIS is the First Amendment

Matt Stoller

As the elite panic about ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant — continues apace, it’s worth looking at how violations of the First Amendment have allowed this group to flourish, and just generally screw up US policy-making. The gist of the problem is that Americans have been lied to for years about our foreign policy, and these lies have now created binding policy constraints on our leaders which make it impossible to eliminate groups like ISIS.

Let’s start by understanding what ISIS actually is. First, ISIS is a brutal fascistic movement of radical Sunni militants, well-armed and well-trained, and bent on the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate throughout the Middle East. Second, it may also be and almost certainly was an arm of a wealthy Gulf state allied with the United States. This contradiction probably doesn’t surprise you, but if it does, that’s only because it cuts against a standard narrative of good guys and bad guys peddled by various foreign policy interests. The reality is that ally and enemy in post-colonial lands is often a meaningless term —it’s better to describe interests. A good if overly romanticized Hollywood illustration of this dynamic is the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, about the secret collaboration between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan Israel and the CIA to undermine the Soviets in Afghanistan. This foreign policy apparatus is usually hidden in plain sight, known to most financial, political, military, and corporate elites but not told to the American public.

Fed: Forget “Escape Velocity,” Not Gonna Happen, Ever

by Wolf Richter • September 18, 2014

Wall Street’s and the media’s attention was riveted single-mindedly on whether or not the Fed would include in its statement the two words, “considerable time,” the two vaguest, stretchable latex words available that describe absolutely nothing and leave the door wide open for wishful thinkers of every stripe. That’s what the Fed’s gyrations since the financial crisis have so successfully accomplished; they have reduced the market, a place of price discovery, to a crummy joke.

The Fed delivered those two words, but during the press conference, Fed Chair Janet Yellen doused them with so many qualifiers that they’ve become even more meaningless, if that were even possible.

Did Senator Orrin Hatch Just Censor Testimony on the Retirement Crisis?

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: September 18, 2014

Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah, is not the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. That post is held by Democrat Ron Wyden – whose party currently holds the majority of seats in the Senate. But this Tuesday, in a hearing that he was not even chairing, Senator Hatch appeared to be attempting to censor the speech of the witnesses before they testified by admonishing them not to use a list of specific words and phrases.

How Did Being a Public School Teacher Become So Controversial?

By Dana Goldstein
September 17, 2014 | Editor’s note: The history of teaching in America is one that is bedeviled with blame. For at least two centuries, we, the public, have engaged in continuing battles over the quality of those individuals who dedicate their lives to educating our children, with little knowledge of the historical context out of which our attempts at education “reform” grow. In her new book, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession [3], education journalist Dana Goldstein presents a first-of-its-kind history of public school teaching, “bringing the lessons of history to bear on the dilemmas we confront today.” The following is an excerpt from the introduction to the book.
I began this book in early 2011 with a simple observation: Public school teaching had become the most controversial profession in America. Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, and even the Democratic governor of deep blue Massachusetts, sought to diminish or eliminate teachers’ rights to collectively bargain. Teacher tenure was the subject of heated debate in statehouses from Denver to Tallahassee, and President Obama swore in his State of the Union address to “stop making excuses” for bad teachers. One rising-star Republican, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, even became a conservative folk hero after appearing in a series of YouTube videos in which he excoriated individual public school teachers—all of them middle-aged women—who rose at public events to challenge him on his $1 billion in education budget cuts, even as he cut $1.6 billion in corporate taxes.

No other profession operates under this level of political scrutiny, not even those, like policing or social work, that are also tasked with public welfare and are paid for with public funds. In 2010 Newsweek published a cover story called “The Key to Saving American Education.” The image was of a blackboard, with a single phrase chalked over and over again in a child’s loopy handwriting: We must fire bad teachers. We must fire bad teachers. We must fire bad teachers. Wide-release movies like Waiting for “Superman” and Won’t Back Down, funded by philanthropists who made their fortunes in the private sector, portray teacher tenure and its defender, teachers unions, as practically the sole causes of underperforming schools. Everywhere I traveled as a reporter, from the 2008 Democratic National Convention to the 2010 meeting of former president Bill Clinton’s Clinton Global Initiative, powerful people seemed to feel indignant about the incompetence and job security of public school teachers, despite polls showing that the American public considers teachers highly respected professionals, nearly on par with medical doctors.

Dean Baker: The Myth That Sold the Financial Bailout

Monday marked the sixth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The investment bank’s bankruptcy accelerated the financial meltdown that began with the near collapse of the investment bank Bear Stearns in March 2008 (saved by the Federal Reserve and JPMorgan) and picked up steam with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac going under the week before Lehman’s demise. The day after Lehman failed, the giant insurer AIG was set to collapse, only to be rescued by the Fed.

With the other Wall Street behemoths also on shaky ground, then–Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson ran to Capitol Hill, accompanied by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and New York Fed President Timothy Geithner. Their message was clear: The apocalypse was nigh. They demanded Congress make an open-ended commitment to bail out the banks. In a message repeated endlessly by the punditocracy ever since, the failure to cough up the money would have led to a second Great Depression.

The claim was nonsense then, and it’s even greater nonsense now.

Amanda Marcotte: Conservative Christians Trying Their Damnedest to Make America's Kids Wildly Ignorant

September 17, 2014 | One of the biggest obstacles for the conservative movement when it comes to recruiting new members is, to be frank, reality itself. History, science, economics are all fields constantly churning out information that makes right-wing ideology look silly, nonsensical and even delusional. In response, the conservative movement has launched a massive media campaign against reality that spreads out on Fox News, talk radio and the web, but despite all this, conservatives are not satisfied. The kids are who conservatives really want. That’s why the right is relentless about its attempts to get into public schools, throw out actual information and replace it with false and misleading ideology. Whether or not they’ll actually be successful in tricking kids into becoming conservatives is up for debate, but in the meantime, they are doing a lot of damage to childrens' ability to get a decent education.

The latest battle in the ongoing war to turn public schools into propaganda machines for the right is being fought in the state of Texas. The state is often at the center of conservative-fomented education controversies, as right-wingers there keep trying to sneak creationism into the science classroom [3]. Texas also continues to maintain its abysmally high teen pregnancy rate by pushing sex “education” that usually doesn’t bother [4] to mention contraception. While the right has been losing some ground on those two issues, a new report from the Texas Freedom Network [5] suggests that conservatives have been able to inject a shocking number of lies and disinformation into public school history classrooms.

20 Years Later, Parts Of Major Crime Bill Viewed As Terrible Mistake

by Carrie Johnson
September 12, 2014

Twenty years ago this week, in 1994, then-President Bill Clinton signed a crime bill. It was, in effect, a long-term experiment in various ways to fight crime.

The measure paid to put more cops on the beat, trained police and lawyers to investigate domestic violence, imposed tougher prison sentences and provided money for extra prisons.


And if Clinton and Congress reflected the punitive mindset of the American people, what they didn't know was that soaring murder rates and violent crime had already begun what would become a long downward turn, according to criminologists and policymakers.

How the Defense Industry Bankrolls Pro-War Pundits

Monday, 15 September 2014 15:50
By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed

The US military media industrial complex is corrupting our airwaves.

As the debate over ISIS and US actions against that terrorist group continues, we're seeing more and more so-called "policy experts" appearing on the mainstream media, explaining why American military action against ISIS is our only choice.

Well, as it turns out, these "policy experts" who are so quick to pitch war and military conflict are often really just shills for our nation's military industrial complex, and they're being paid very handsomely for all of their fear-mongering.

Fast Food Franchise Owners Ask Congress For Help To Stop Worker Campaign For Wages, Union

by Alan Pyke, Posted on September 16, 2014 at 9:33 am

The fast food industry is hoping that a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill can blunt the momentum that fast food workers have gained through nearly two years of strikes and multiple lawsuits.

The International Franchise Association (IFA) is flying fast food store owners and other franchisees into Washington on Tuesday to drum up congressional opposition to a recent legal decision that could make corporations liable for how franchise employees are treated. The trade group expects more than 350 business owners from both the franchisee and franchisor sides of the business model to show up at its event this week, according to The Hill.

Demonizing the Minimum Wage

By William Finnegan

With the midterm elections approaching, the United States Congress finds itself in an exaggerated version of its customary posturing gridlock. Among the many urgent issues that it almost certainly won’t address this year are immigration reform, gun control, the Keystone XL Pipeline, the fate of the Export-Import Bank, and the federal minimum wage. A bill to raise the minimum wage from its current level, $7.25 per hour, to $10.10 an hour, over the course of two years, has been rattling around on Capitol Hill for eighteen months—with, it now seems, no hope of passing. Because the federal minimum wage has never been indexed to the cost of living, the debate over its efficacy and morality is regularly reëngaged as its value sinks and Congress is called upon to act.

The arguments against—a hundred years’ worth—were recently collected by a group of scholars calling itself the Cry Wolf Project. They sound hair-curling. “The minimum wage has caused more misery and unemployment than anything since the Great Depression,” Ronald Reagan said in 1980. “Rome, two thousand years ago, fell because the government began fixing the prices of services and commodities,” Guy Harrington, of the National Publishers Association, told Congress in 1937. The Fair Labor Standards Act, which set a national minimum wage of twenty-five cents an hour, in 1938, and also abolished most child labor, “constitute[d] a step in the direction of communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism,” according to the National Association of Manufacturers. In the view of its opponents, the minimum wage—or raising an existing minimum—will always and inevitably damage the economy, kill jobs, doom American freedom, and/or harm the very people that it is meant to help. This litany of alarm has a dismal record as a description of reality, and yet has not changed much over the past century.

US Corporate Executives to Workers: Drop Dead

Posted on September 16, 2014 by Yves Smith

The Washington Post has a story that blandly supports the continued strip mining of the American economy. Of course, in Versailles that the nation’s capitol has become, this lobbyist-and-big-ticket-political-donor supporting point of view no doubt seems entirely logical.
The guts of the article:

Three years ago, Harvard Business School asked thousands of its graduates, many of whom are leaders of America’s top companies, where their firms had decided to locate jobs in the previous year. The responses led the researchers to declare a “competitiveness problem” at home: HBS Alumni reported 56 separate instances where they moved 1,000 or more U.S. jobs to foreign countries, zero cases of moving that many jobs in one block to America from abroad, and just four cases of creating that many new jobs in the United States. Three in four respondents said American competitiveness was falling.

Harvard released a similar survey this week, which suggested executives aren’t as glum about American competitiveness as they once were…

Fixing Climate Change May Add No Costs, Report Says


In decades of public debate about global warming, one assumption has been accepted by virtually all factions: that tackling it would necessarily be costly. But a new report casts doubt on that idea, declaring that the necessary fixes could wind up being effectively free.

A global commission will announce its finding on Tuesday that an ambitious series of measures to limit emissions would cost $4 trillion or so over the next 15 years, an increase of roughly 5 percent over the amount that would likely be spent anyway on new power plants, transit systems and other infrastructure.

When the secondary benefits of greener policies — like lower fuel costs, fewer premature deaths from air pollution and reduced medical bills — are taken into account, the changes might wind up saving money, according to the findings of the group, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

When Rulers Can’t Understand the Ruled

Johns Hopkins study finds significant gap in demographics, experience and partisanship between Washingtonians and the Americans they govern

Johns Hopkins University political scientists wanted to know if America’s unelected officials have enough in common with the people they govern to understand them.

The answer: Not really.

Surveying 850 people who either work in government or directly with it, researchers found that the inside-the-Beltway crowd has very little in common with America at large.

The United States Heading for a Crash

by Immanuel Wallerstein

President Barack Obama has told the United States, and in particular its Congress, that it must do something very major in the Middle East to stop disaster. The analysis of the presumed problem is extremely murky, but the patriotic drums are being turned to high pitch and almost everyone is for the moment going along. A cooler head might say that they are all flailing around in desperation about a situation that the United States has the major responsibility for creating. They don't know what to do, so they act in panic.

The explanation is simple. The United States is in serious decline. Everything is going wrong. And in the panic, they are like a driver of a powerful automobile who has lost control of it, and doesn't know how to slow it down. So instead it is speeding it up and heading towards a major crash. The car is turning in all directions and skidding. It is self-destructive for the driver but the crash can bring disaster to the rest of the world as well.

The Great Avian Die-Off: Two Reports Point to Grim Future for US Birds

Monday, 15 September 2014 12:34
By Patrick Glennon, Truthout | News Analysis

Billions to None

Many Americans living today cannot conceive just how innumerable the passenger pigeon was. Until the late 19th century, the species' numbers were biblical in proportions. It flew in flocks up to a billion strong, stretching for hundreds of miles and blackening the sky with its immensity. For people living at the time, the prospect of such a creature becoming extinct would probably have been equally hard to conceive.

But it happened.

In September 1914 - a hundred years ago this September - the last passenger pigeon died in captivity in Cincinnati. The last confirmed wild passenger pigeons were shot down over a decade earlier, in 1902. Over the course of several decades, a creature that once comprised up to 40 percent of the continental bird population ceased to be.

Paul Krugman: How to Get It Wrong

Last week I participated in a conference organized by Rethinking Economics, a student-run group hoping to promote, you guessed it, a rethinking of economics. And Mammon knows that economics needs rethinking in the wake of a disastrous crisis, a crisis that was neither predicted nor prevented.

It seems to me, however, that it’s important to realize that the enormous intellectual failure of recent years took place at several levels. Clearly, economics as a discipline went badly astray in the years — actually decades — leading up to the crisis. But the failings of economics were greatly aggravated by the sins of economists, who far too often let partisanship or personal self-aggrandizement trump their professionalism. Last but not least, economic policy makers systematically chose to hear only what they wanted to hear. And it is this multilevel failure — not the inadequacy of economics alone — that accounts for the terrible performance of Western economies since 2008.

Wall Street Is Coming to Fleece Your Town

By Ellen Brown

September 12, 2014 | In an inscrutable move that has alarmed state treasurers, the Federal Reserve, along with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, just changed the liquidity requirements for the nation’s largest banks. Municipal bonds, long considered safe liquid investments, have been eliminated from the list of high-quality liquid collateral. assets (HQLA). That means banks that are the largest holders of munis are liable to start dumping them in favor of the Treasuries and corporate bonds that do satisfy the requirement.

Muni bonds fund the nation’s critical infrastructure, and they are subject to the whims of the market: as demand goes down, interest rates must be raised to attract buyers. State and local governments could find themselves in the position of cash-strapped Eurozone states, subject to crippling interest rates. The starkest example is Greece, where rates went as high as 30% when investors feared the government’s insolvency. Sky-high interest rates, in turn, are the fast track to insolvency. Greece wound up stripped of its assets, which were privatized at fire sale prices in a futile attempt to keep up with the bills.

Why US Middle East Policy is Fraught with Danger


The United States is reluctantly but decisively becoming engaged in the civil wars in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to combat Isis, which calls itself Islamic State.

President Barack Obama will outline his plans in a speech today to create a grand coalition of Western and regional powers to contain and defeat Isis, which has established a quasi-state stretching from the frontiers of Iran to the outskirts of Aleppo.

The US is encouraged by the formation on Monday of what it sees as a more inclusive government in Iraq under Haider al-Abadi, the new Prime Minister. He replaces Nouri al-Maliki who, in his eight years in office, became a hate figure for the Sunni minority as the architect of Shia dominance and arbitrary power. Mr Maliki’s government was notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional, its 350,000-strong army routed in June by a few thousand Isis fighters in northern and western Iraq. Fear of Isis has led former rivals and opponents such as the US and Iran, Kurdish parties and Shia and Sunni politicians in Baghdad, to sink some of their differences, though these have not gone away.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jamie Dimon Gets a Personal Call from the Prez; Seniors Get Garnished

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: September 12, 2014

Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves to make sure we are not sleepwalking in a Dickensian dream. Earlier this week we heard Senator Elizabeth Warren tell a Senate Banking session how JPMorgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, got a $8.5 million raise after craftily negotiating away all of the bank’s crimes with the payment of billions in shareholders’ money. (Two of those crimes, by the way, were felony counts for aiding and abetting Bernie Madoff in his Ponzi scheme – also craftily settled under a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department, which effectively puts the bank on probation for two years.)

Primary Tuesday: A Day of Infamy for Democracy Reformers that No One Noticed

By Steven Rosenfeld

September 10, 2014 | The political events of Tuesday, September 9, will soon be forgotten—if they ever were noticed in the first place. But those handful of people who have been paying attention to the downward spiral of American democracy, there’s no nice way to say this. It was a disaster, unless you consider losing everywhere somehow a noble gesture.

What happened? On the three frontlines of the modern democracy reform movement, three different strategies failed to win enough votes to achieve their stated goals. In the U.S. Senate, a constitutional amendment proposal to empower Congress to re-regulate campaign contributions and spending not only devolved into the predictable partisan divides, but Senate Democratic leaders couldn’t even keep enough members present, literally a quorum, to keep debating it. A final Senate vote is expected this week, where there is zero chance that it will get two-thirds majority needed to pass.

The ISIS Speech: Obama and the Dogs of War

Can he control them once they are unleashed?

—By David Corn | Wed Sep. 10, 2014 10:23 PM EDT

Here is President Barack Obama's challenge: how to unleash the dogs of war without having them run wild.

This dilemma applies to both the political and policy considerations Obama faces, as he expands US military action in Iraq (and possibly Syria) to counter ISIS, the militant and murderous outfit that now calls itself the Islamic State and controls territory in northern Iraq and eastern Syria. In a speech from the White House on Wednesday night, Obama announced what was expected: The United States would widen its air strikes against ISIS in Iraq, "take action" of some sort against ISIS in Syria, ramp up military assistance for the Syrian opposition, keep sending advisers to assist the Iraqi military's on-the-ground-campaign against ISIS, and maintain pressure on Iraqi politicians to produce a national government that can represent and work with Sunnis and, consequently, undercut ISIS's support and appeal in Sunni-dominated areas of the country—all while assembling a coalition of Western nations and regional allies. (He gave no details about the membership of this under-construction alliance.) The goal: to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS. There were no surprises in the speech, and this strategy of expanded-but-limited military intervention—Obama referred to it as a "counterterrorism campaign" different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—has a fair amount of support from the politerati and the policy wonks within Washington and beyond, as well as from the public, per recent polling. But whatever he calls it, the president is attempting a difficult feat: waging a nuanced war.

Playing God

The Rebirth of Family Capitalism or How the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Sam Walton, Bill Gates, and Other Billionaires Are Undermining America

By Steve Fraser

George Baer was a railroad and coal mining magnate at the turn of the twentieth century. Amid a violent and protracted strike that shut down much of the country’s anthracite coal industry, Baer defied President Teddy Roosevelt’s appeal to arbitrate the issues at stake, saying, “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for... not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men of property to whom God has given control of the property rights of the country.” To the Anthracite Coal Commission investigating the uproar, Baer insisted, “These men don’t suffer. Why hell, half of them don’t even speak English.”

We might call that adopting the imperial position. Titans of industry and finance back then often assumed that they had the right to supersede the law and tutor the rest of America on how best to order its affairs. They liked to play God. It’s a habit that’s returned with a vengeance in our own time.

Paul Krugman: The Inflation Cult

Wish I’d said that! Earlier this week, Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica, writing on The Times’s DealBook blog, compared people who keep predicting runaway inflation to “true believers whose faith in a predicted apocalypse persists even after it fails to materialize.” Indeed.

Economic forecasters are often wrong. Me, too! If an economist never makes an incorrect prediction, he or she isn’t taking enough risks. But it’s less common for supposed experts to keep making the same wrong prediction year after year, never admitting or trying to explain their past errors. And the
remarkable thing is that these always-wrong, never-in-doubt pundits continue to have large public and political influence.

Tech Giants Pull Massive Bait-and-Switch on Your Privacy

By Marcy Wheeler

September 11, 2014 | President Obama just announced war (of sorts) in the Middle East — but he’s not going to wait for Congressional authorization to go to war. But that’s not the only area where the president is threatening to make Congress an afterthought.

In spite of reports [3] that the bill may not get a vote before November’s elections, supporters of the USA Freedom Act [4] have done several interesting things to push its passage in the last weeks.

Neocons Revive Syria ‘Regime Change’ Plan

President Obama plans to violate international law by launching airstrikes inside Syria without that government’s consent, even though Syria might well give it. Is Obama playing into neocon hands by providing a new argument for “regime change” in Damascus?

by Robert Parry

Official Washington’s ever-influential neoconservatives and their “liberal interventionist” allies see President Barack Obama’s decision to extend U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State terrorists into Syria as a new chance to achieve the long-treasured neocon goal of “regime change” in Damascus.

On the surface, Obama’s extraordinary plan to ignore Syrian sovereignty and attack across the border has been viewed as a unilateral U.S. action to strike at the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but it could easily evolve into a renewed effort to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government, ironically one of ISIS’s principal goals.

MaxSpeak: In defense of social insurance

Posted on September 11, 2014

On Twitter I said: “The basic income movement is an attack on the strongest political pillar of social-democracy: social insurance.” I’ve inveighed against the Universal Basic Income in the past, so here I go again. Another edition of old man yelling at clouds.

Too many moving parts, too many

It is axiomatic in the planning "bidness" that a good plan is as simple as possible. Any well done plan is set within a "universe" of assumptions concerning the situation in which the plan is viable or even needed. For that reason there must exist among the planners a clear and valid understanding of the environment in which the plan will be executed. I do not see that lucidity of thought in the Obama government

The various tasks assigned by a plan must be capable of accomplishment and they must not be mutually interfering, i.e., they must not block each other as they are performed. The tasks in a plan are colloquially referred to by planners as "moving parts." Another planning axiom holds that the more moving parts there are in a plan, the more probable is failure in execution.

US gov’t threatened Yahoo with $250K daily fine if it didn’t use PRISM

Yahoo fought against helping with warrantless surveillance in 2007 but lost.

by Joe Mullin - Sept 11 2014, 5:58pm EST

Yahoo reports that it is on the verge of releasing 1,500 pages of documents related to a long court battle over its participation in the PRISM program, a National Security Agency program revealed last summer as part of the Snowden leaks.

A leaked top-secret slide about PRISM shows that Yahoo was one of the first participants, having begun contributing to the database in March of 2008. It did so under severe duress. Company executives believed the government's demand for data was "unconstitutional and overbroad" and fought it in court.

Obama’s Long War in the Middle East

There’s a frightening enthusiasm for war among pundits—and now the public seems ready to go along too.

William Greider, September 10, 2014

Do not be misled by White House double-talk: the United States is embarking on another Long War in the Middle East. This one will belong to Barack Obama, and it may extend beyond his presidency. Secretary of State John Kerry said as much. “It may take a year. It may take two years. It may take three years. But we’re determined it has to happen,” Kerry vowed.

Actually, it may take ten years, or longer. Americans have heard this bold, brave talk before. It has led to costly failure for our country and horrendous losses for humanity. The United States went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and finally intends to withdraw in 2016—making it the longest war in US history. The Taliban, though, are almost as strong as ever, merely waiting for US troops to leave. Washington launched its unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq in 2003, conquered the country and installed a new government, but troops were not withdrawn until the end of 2011. Now Iraq’s civil war has reignited, only on a much broader front that includes the devastating civil war next door in Syria. Fight we must, Obama says. It’s as if we’ve learned nothing from our post-9/11 failures.

Amanda Marcotte: 7 Women Working Tirelessly to Screw Over Other Women

September 11, 2014 | A lot of people assume the term "female misogynist" is an oxymoron. How can a woman be opposed to the fight to help women achieve equality? The sad fact of the matter is, as long as there has been feminism, there have been women who find it personally advantageous to reject feminism and instead argue for continuing social systems that perpetuate women’s inequality, male dominance, and even violence against women. (There were even plenty of women who were willing to argue against women’s suffrage back in the day.) Here is a list of seven women who have made a career out of opposing women’s struggle for social, political and economic equality.

The American fear-mongering machine is about to scare us back into war again

Thanks to a say-anything media, hawkish politicians and an Orwellian administration, a war-weary public is terrified. Are there any red lines anymore – or just launch buttons?

Trevor Timm, Wednesday 10 September 2014 07.00 EDT

Did you know that the US government’s counterterrorism chief Matthew Olson said last week that “there’s no credible information” that the Islamic State (Isis) is planning an attack on America and that there’s “no indication at this point of a cell of foreign fighters operating in the United States”? Or that, as the Associated Press reported, “The FBI and Homeland Security Department say there are no specific or credible terror threats to the US homeland from the Islamic State militant group”?

Probably not, because as the nation barrels towards yet another war in the Middle East and President Obama prepares to address that nation on the “offensive phase” of his military plan Wednesday night, mainstream media pundits and the usual uber-hawk politicians are busy trying to out-hyperbole each other over the threat Isis poses to Americans. In the process, they’re all but ignoring any evidence to the contrary and the potential hole of blood and treasure into which they’re ready to drive this country all over again.

Murky Special Ops Have Become Corporate Bonanza

By Ryan Gallagher

The U.S. government is paying private contractors billions of dollars to support secretive military units with drones, surveillance technology, and “psychological operations,” according to new research.

A detailed report, published last week by the London-based Remote Control Project, shines a light on the murky activities of the U.S. Special Operations Command by analyzing publicly available procurement contracts dated between 2009 and 2013.

The Two-Front War for the Future of the Internet

Posted on Sep 10, 2014
By Thor Benson

To many Americans, the net neutrality controversy seems like a guillotine hovering over a fiber optic cable. They’re watching as the strands of the rope unwind, jeopardizing the very thing they love—an open and accessible Internet.

Net neutrality is inextricably tied to Internet company monopolies and mergers. The larger an Internet company is and the more online real estate it controls, the more it can make its own rules, drive out the possibility of competition and flex its muscle in Washington. Companies like Comcast operate in many places where they are the only option for getting Internet service, and they also shell out millions of dollars a year in political donations to maintain influence on policy decisions.

Low Wage Growth, High Long-Term Unemployment Recognized as International Problem

Posted on September 10, 2014 by Yves Smith

When the OECD, World Bank, and the International Labor Organization agree on something, it’s a sign something serious is afoot. In this case, the three groups have issued a joint paper, G20 labour markets: outlook, key challenges and policy responses, which despite the anodyne title, gives a grim account of the prospects for workers in major economies.

The general outline of findings won’t come as much of a surprise to the cognoscenti. What is novel is having such authoritative bodies state in such an unvarnished manner how bad things are.

Investors Haul In Nearly Half the Tobacco Settlement Cash

An updated tally by ProPublica shows that tobacco bondholders are due $2.6 billion of the $6 billion in this year’s payouts to state and local governments from Big Tobacco.

by Cezary Podkul and Claire Kelloway
ProPublica, Sep. 11, 2014, 8 a.m.

Each April, cigarette manufacturers pay states billions of dollars to reimburse them for the health-care costs of smoking. About $100 billion has been paid so far, all under a landmark 1998 legal settlement with Big Tobacco. The payments are to go on forever as long as people smoke.

Much of the money, however, doesn't go to government coffers anymore. As ProPublica reported last month, a large chunk now flows to investors – the result of deals that politicians and Wall Street bankers arranged to get cash up-front by trading away the tobacco income decades into the future.

Nature of evil isn’t so banal, disturbing new research suggests

PARIS – What prompts ordinary people to commit acts of evil?

The question has been debated by philosophers, moralists, historians and scientists for centuries.

One idea that carries much weight today is this: you, me — almost anyone — is capable of carrying out atrocities if ordered to do so.

Commanded by an authoritarian figure, and wishing to conform, we could bulldoze homes, burn books, separate parents from children or even slaughter them, and our much-prized conscience would not as much as flicker.

Called the “banality of evil,” the theory has been proffered as an explanation for why ordinary, educated Germans took part in the Jewish genocide of World War II.

Now psychologists, having reviewed an opinion-shaping experiment carried out more than 50 years ago, are calling for a rethink.

Illegal loggers blamed for murder of Peru forest campaigner

Authorities confirm killing of Edwin Chota and three other men, with reports saying they were shot in front of villagers

Dan Collyns in Lima
The Guardian, Monday 8 September 2014 23.01 EDT

Illegal loggers are being blamed for the murder of four Asheninka natives including a prominent anti-logging campaigner, Edwin Chota, near the Peruvian frontier with Brazil.

Authorities in Peru have confirmed that Chota, the leader of Alto Tamaya-Saweto, a community in Peru’s Amazon Ucayali region, fought for his people’s right to gain titles to their land and expel illegal loggers who raided their forests on the Brazilian border. He featured in reports by National Geographic and the New York Times that detailed how death threats were made against him and members of his community.

Michael Hudson: Losing Credibility – The IMF’s New Cold War Loan to Ukraine

Posted on September 8, 2014 by Yves Smith
By Michael Hudson, a research professor of Economics at University of Missouri, Kansas City, and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, who publishes regularly at his website. His latest book is “The Bubble and Beyond
In April 2014, fresh from riots against the kleptocrats in Maidan Square and the February 22 coup, and less than a month before the May 2 massacre in Odessa, the IMF approved a $17 billion loan program to Ukraine’s junta. Normal IMF practice is to lend only up to twice a country’s quota in one year. This was eight times as high.

Four months later, on August 29, just as Kiev began losing its attempt at ethnic cleansing against the eastern Donbas region, the IMF signed off on the first loan ever to a side engaged in a civil war, not to mention being rife with insider capital flight and a collapsing balance of payments. Based on fictitiously trouble-free projections of the ability to pay, the loan supported Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, long enough to enable the oligarchs’ banks to move the money quickly into Western hard-currency accounts before the hryvnia plunged further and was worth even fewer euros and dollars.

Paul Krugman: The Deflation Caucus

On Thursday, the European Central Bank announced a series of new steps it was taking in an effort to boost Europe’s economy. There was a whiff of desperation about the announcement, which was reassuring. Europe, which is doing worse than it did in the 1930s, is clearly in the grip of a deflationary vortex, and it’s good to know that the central bank understands that. But its epiphany may have come
too late. It’s far from clear that the measures now on the table will be strong enough to reverse the downward spiral.

And there but for the grace of Bernanke go we. Things in the United States are far from O.K., but we seem (at least for now) to have steered clear of the kind of trap facing Europe. Why? One answer is that the Federal Reserve started doing the right thing years ago, buying trillions of dollars’ worth of bonds in order to avoid the situation its European counterpart now faces.

Paul Krugman: Scots, What the Heck?

Next week Scotland will hold a referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom. And polling suggests that support for independence has surged over the past few months, largely because pro-independence campaigners have managed to reduce the “fear factor” — that is, concern about the economic risks of going it alone. At this point the outcome looks like a tossup.

Well, I have a message for the Scots: Be afraid, be very afraid. The risks of going it alone are huge. You may think that Scotland can become another Canada, but it’s all too likely that it would end up becoming Spain without the sunshine.

Bureaucracy consumes one-quarter of US hospitals' budgets, twice as much as other nations

Health Affairs study says single-payer reform could save $150 billion annually on hospital overhead

A study of hospital administrative costs in eight nations published today in the September issue of Health Affairs finds that hospital bureaucracy consumed 25.3 percent of hospital budgets in the U.S. in 2011, far more than in other nations.

Administrative costs were lowest (about 12 percent) in Scotland and Canada, whose single-payer systems fund hospitals through global, lump-sum budgets, much as a fire department is funded in the U.S.

The study is the first analysis of administrative costs across multiple nations with widely varying health systems. It was carried out by an international team from the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany and the Netherlands, and was coordinated by researchers at the City University of New York (CUNY) and the London School of Economics.

Ground-breaking research shows that there could be increased numbers of psychopaths in senior managerial positions and high levels of business

A BREAKTHROUGH by a talented University of Huddersfield student has shown for the first time that people with psychopathic tendencies who have high IQs can mask their symptoms by manipulating tests designed to reveal their personalities. It raises the possibility that large numbers of ruthless risk-takers are able to conceal their level of psychopathy as they rise to key managerial posts.

Carolyn Bate (pictured), aged 22, was still an undergraduate when she carried out her groundbreaking research into the links between psychopathy and intelligence, using a range of special tests and analysing the data. She wrote up her findings for the final-year project in her BSc Psychology degree. Not only was she awarded an exceptionally high mark of 85 per cent, her work has also been accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology – an unusual distinction for an undergraduate.

Fleshing Out Nixon’s Vietnam ‘Treason’

September 8, 2014

Exclusive: Out of the Watergate scandal came a favorite mainstream media saying: “the cover-up is always worse than the crime.” But the MSM didn’t understand what the real crime was or why President Nixon was so desperate, as James DiEugenio explains in reviewing Ken Hughes’s Chasing Shadows.

By James DiEugenio

One of America’s great political mysteries continues to come into sharper focus: Did Richard Nixon sabotage President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968 to win that election and did Nixon’s fear of exposure lead him to create the burglary team that got caught at Watergate in 1972?

Pieces of this puzzle began to fall into place even in real time as Beverly Deepe, the Christian Science Monitor’s Saigon reporter, got wind of Nixon’s treachery before the 1968 election although her editors spiked her article when they couldn’t get confirmation in Washington. [See’s “The Almost Scoop on Nixon’s ‘Treason.’”]

Thomas Frank: Finally, Wall Street gets put on trial: We can still hold the 0.1 percent responsible for tanking the economy

Too Big To Fail bailouts let them get away with it. The amazing result of California fraud trial could change that

The Tea Party regards Barack Obama as a kind of devil figure, but when it comes to hunting down the fraudsters responsible for the economic disaster of the last six years, his administration has stuck pretty close to the Tea Party script. The initial conservative reaction to the disaster, you will recall, was to blame the crisis on the people at the bottom, on minorities and proletarians lost in an orgy of financial misbehavior. Sure enough, when taking on ordinary people who got loans during the real-estate bubble, the president’s Department of Justice has shown admirable devotion to duty, filing hundreds of mortgage-fraud cases against small-timers.

But high-ranking financiers? Obama’s Department of Justice has thus far shown virtually no interest in holding leading bankers criminally accountable for what went on in the last decade. That is ruled out not only by the Too Big to Jail doctrine that top-ranking Obama officials have hinted at, but also by the same logic that inspires certain conservative thinkers—that financiers simply could not have committed fraud, since you would expect fraud to result in riches and instead so many banks went out of business.

Ralph Nader: Nuclear Power’s Insanities—Taxpayer-Guaranteed

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) – the corporate lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for the disintegrating atomic power industry – doesn’t have to worry about repercussions from the negative impacts of nuclear power. For nuclear power is a government/taxpayer-guaranteed boondoggle whose staggering costs, incurred and deferred, are absorbed by American taxpayers via a supine government regulatory and subsidy apparatus.

So if you go to work at the NEI and you read about the absence of any permanent radioactive waste storage site, no problem, the government/taxpayers are responsible for transporting and safeguarding that lethal garbage for centuries.

As the World Burns, Our Political Class Whoops It Up with the Plutocracy

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

September 4, 2014 | There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart, a poet wrote, and as this year’s summer winds toward its end and elections approach, gratitude is indeed what our politicians have flowing from that space where their hearts should be.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is grateful to his friend Rick Anderson, the CEO of Delta Airlines. In late July, a week after McConnell treated him to breakfast in the Senate Dining Room, checks for McConnell’s super PAC came winging their way from Anderson and his wife, as well as Delta’s political action committee.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Why Peak Oil Refuses to Die

by Richard Heinberg

Perhaps you’ve seen one of the recent barrage of articles claiming that fears of an imminent peak and decline in world oil production have either been dispelled (because we actually have plenty of oil) or are misplaced (because climate change is the only environmental problem we should be concerned with). I’m not buying either argument.

Why? Let’s start with the common assertion that oil supplies are sufficiently abundant so that a peak in production is many years or decades away. Everyone agrees that planet Earth still holds plenty of petroleum or petroleum-like resources: that’s the kernel of truth at the heart of most attempted peak-oil debunkery. However, extracting and delivering those resources at an affordable price is becoming a bigger challenge year by year. For the oil industry, costs of production have rocketed; they’re currently soaring at a rate of about 10 percent annually. Producers need very high oil prices to justify going after the resources that remain—tight oil from source rocks, Arctic oil, ultra-deepwater oil, and bitumen. But oil prices have already risen to the point where many users of petroleum just can’t afford to pay more. The US economy has a habit of responding to oil price hikes by swooning into recession, and during the shift from $20 per barrel oil to $100 per barrel oil (which occurred between 2002 and 2011), the economies of most industrialized countries began to shudder and stall. What would be their response to a sustained oil price of $150 or $200? We may never know: it remains to be seen whether the world can afford to pay what will be required for oil producers to continue wresting liquid hydrocarbons from the ground at current rates. While industry apologists who choose to focus only on the abundance of remaining petroleum resources claim that peak oil is rubbish, the market is telling Houston we have a problem.

Secret Network Connects Harvard Money to Payday Loans

By Zeke Faux | Sep 4, 2014 1:17 PM ET

Alex Slusky was under pressure to put the money in his private-equity fund to work.

The San Francisco technology financier had raised $1.2 billion in 2007 to buy and turn around struggling software companies. By 2012, investors including Harvard University were upset that about half the money hadn’t been used, according to three people with direct knowledge of the situation.

Marcy Wheeler: Patriot Act’s Absurd New Spawn: Just When You Thought it Couldn’t Get Any Worse

September 4, 2014 | Congress may be preparing to reinforce two horrible FISA Court decisions and an abusive government search with no debate in the coming weeks: a decision to give national security orders unlimited breadth, one making it legal for the government to investigate Americans for activities protected under the First Amendment, and the FBI’s “back door” searches of Americans’ communication content collected under the FISA Amendment Act Section 702 authority.

On Tuesday, the ACLU and the Department of Justice argued about the legality [3] of the NSA’s phone dragnet program before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Much of the discussion focused on the implications of the government’s theories that it can collect all phone records in the United States based on a claim they are “relevant” to standing terrorism investigations. “You can collect everything there is to know about everybody and have it all in one big government cloud,” said Judge Gerard Lynch, describing the implications of the government’s theories to Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery.

Meet The Two Women Who Hold The Future Of The Internet In Their Hands

Ryan Grim, Sabrina Siddiqui
Posted: 09/02/2014 7:31 am EDT Updated: 09/04/2014 2:59 pm EDT

WASHINGTON -- One of the most consequential decisions Washington is set to make in 2014 won't come out of the White House, Congress, or any of the nation's boardrooms, but rather from a nondescript federal building along the city's southwest waterfront. It's here, in the offices of the Federal Communications Commission, that the fate of the Internet will be decided.

The FCC is currently revising rules on "net neutrality" -- or the idea that all web traffic should be treated equally -- after a federal court in January struck down a regulation that forced Internet service providers to abide by the principle. But the court allowed the FCC to go back to the drawing board and craft new net neutrality rules under a different statute that would pass muster. In April, agency Chairman Tom Wheeler introduced a draft proposal that would still effectively end net neutrality, though he puzzlingly claimed in public that it would not.

Why white men hate unions: The South, the new workforce and the GOP war on your self-interest

Labor & white men once stood united. Now they're across a political divide thanks to decades-long war of confusion

Edward McClelland

In mid-August, the Chicago Tribune published a poll showing that Karen Lewis, the outspoken president of the Chicago Teachers Union, was leading Rahm Emanuel, 43 percent to 39 percent, in a hypothetical 2015 mayoral race.

Lewis led a 2012 strike after Emanuel tried to impose longer school days with no pay increases (she got her teachers a raise), and vociferously opposed the closing of 50 schools, which were mostly in black neighborhoods. During a pre-strike rally, she called the mayor “a liar and a bully.” Emanuel returned her contempt, shouting “Fuck you, Lewis!” during a tense private meeting. Lewis recently filed papers to raise money for a possible run against the man she labeled “the murder mayor,” because of Chicago’s high crime rate, and she has a pledge of $1 million from the American Federation of Teachers.