Friday, December 26, 2014

Throwing Tax Breaks At AT&T And Verizon Shockingly Not Creating Promised Jobs, Investment

from the we-don't-appear-to-be-learning-anything dept

by Karl Bode

Time and time again we're told by incumbent ISPs that if lawmakers give them "X," we'll soon be awash in all manner of miraculous network investment and job creation. Sometimes "X" is an acquisition, as when AT&T promised to magically increase competition if it was allowed to remove T-Mobile from the marketplace. Often "X" is broad deregulation. Other times it's significant regulation of they other guy. Sometimes it's just subsidies. Lately we've been told that if we only don't apply net neutrality rules, we'll be awash in amazing network investment and next-generation broadband in no time.

Ground Truth: In Dozier's neglected cemetery, a search for lost boys and the reasons why they died

Ben Montgomery

MARIANNA — The darkness started to fall on the pines and the kudzu-covered fields and on the little cemetery when a thundercloud erupted in the distance, and everybody down in the graves stopped digging and looked up at the sky. "Was that thunder?" one of them asked. The last thing they needed was more rain, because more rain meant more mud and more mud would make it much more difficult to get the bones out of the ground intact and in time for the evening news.

The CNN reporter was pacing in front of the satellite truck, talking into his cell phone and stressing out the public relations people from the University of South Florida. This was the biggest story USF had ever handled. They'd fielded calls from the press about bedbugs in dorms and misbehaving football players and USF's work on the oil spill in the Gulf. But this? Hundreds of reporters and producers had called. The story involved a cemetery at a brutal reformatory known as the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and mysterious deaths. The excavation of a graveyard. The bones of boys coming out of the earth.

Part Two

Bankers Brought Rating Agencies ‘To Their Knees’ On Tobacco Bonds

Wall Street pressed S&P, Moody’s and Fitch to assign more favorable credit ratings to their deals and bragged that the raters complied. Now many of the bonds are headed for default.

by Cezary Podkul
ProPublica, Dec. 23, 2014, 1:53 p.m.

When the economy nosedived in 2008, it didn’t take long to find the crucial trigger. Wall Street banks had peddled billions of dollars in toxic securities after packing them with subprime mortgages that were sure to default.

Behind the bankers’ actions, however, stood a less-visible part of the finance industry that also came under fire. The big credit-rating firms – S&P, Moody’s and Fitch – routinely blessed the securities as safe investments. Two U.S. investigations found that raters compromised their independence under pressure from banks and the lure of profits, becoming, as the government’s official inquiry panel put it, “essential cogs in the wheel of financial destruction.”

Oil Crash: Don’t Believe the Happy Clatter

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: December 23, 2014

There is a mushrooming false narrative taking over the business airwaves: lower oil prices lead to lower prices at the pump which put more cash in consumers’ pockets which will lead to a more robust economy in the United States in 2015.

Yes, there are certainly lower prices at the pump. Yes, that gives consumers more disposable income. But it will decidedly not lead to a more robust economy in the United States for very long.

Rewarding failure by design?

by Tom Sullivan

For the investor class, it is a tragedy of the commons when they don't get a cut from it. That's why, for example, they are so hot to see a middle man in every middle school. Since the GOP took over in North Carolina in 2011, we've been warning about efforts by industry and ALEC to privatize public schools and public infrastructure:
Public private partnerships are a hot, new investment vehicle. PPPs are a way for getting public infrastructure — that you, your parents, and their parents’ parents paid for and maybe even built with their own hands — out of public hands and under the control of private investors who are more than happy to sell your own property back to you at a tidy profit. A turnpike here, an airport there, or your city’s water system. Psst. Hey, bud. C’mere. I got this bridge in Manhattan ...

Fox station apologizes to Black Lives Matter protester for editing chant to say ‘Kill a cop’

David Ferguson

A Baltimore Fox affiliate station apologized to a Black Lives Matter protester on Monday after the station deceptively edited a chant by protesters to say “Kill a cop.”

According to Talking Points Memo, the chant, led by protester Tawanda Jones, actually said, “We won’t stop, we can’t stop, ’til killer cops, are in cell blocks.”

Thank Postal Workers by Fighting to Save the Postal Service

John Nichols on December 23, 2014 - 8:31 AM ET

Postal workers, mail handlers, letter carriers and rural carriers will process and deliver more than 15.5 billion packages, letters, and parcels this holiday season. It’s intense, demanding, long-hours, late-night and weekend work that keeps the promise of a robust national Postal Service outlined in Article 1 of the United States Constitution.

There is something profoundly wrong—not to mention profoundly absurd—about the notion that any federal official would abandon that promise and the workers who keep it.

Wall Street Bank Regulator Issues Outrageous Press Release

By Pam Martens: December 22, 2014

Last week members of both the House and Senate were issuing press releases to express their outrage over the sneaky repeal of a Dodd-Frank financial reform provision meant to stop giant Wall Street banks from using FDIC-insured bank affiliates to make wild gambles in derivatives, thus putting the U.S. economy in grave danger again and the taxpayer at risk for another behemoth bailout.

What was the Federal regulator of these very same banks doing? It was bragging in a press release issued at the end of the same week about the gargantuan risks these insured banks were taking in derivatives.

Secret WTO Trade Deal Threatens Internet Freedom, New Leak Reveals

Newly exposed text of Trade in Services Agreement raises alarm of analysts

by Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Global governments are secretly negotiating a little-known mega trade deal that poses a threat to internet freedoms and boon to corporate interests, analysts warned Wednesday, citing a just-leaked U.S. proposal.

The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), under discussion between a 50-country subset of World Trade Organization members for nearly two years, is so secretive that its talks aren't even announced to the public, making it even more shadowy than the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Paul Krugman: Raising Rates Too Early Could Be Disastrous

The Federal Reserve definitely seems to be gearing up for monetary tightening, even though inflation remains below target. And I agree with Ryan Avent at The Economist: If this happens, it will be a big mistake - just as European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet's decision to raise interest rates in Europe in 2011 was a big mistake, just as the Swedish Riksbank's early rate hike was a mistake, just as Japan's rate hike in 2000 was a mistake.

And you would think that Fed officials would understand that. In fact, I suspect they do, and are somehow letting themselves be bullied into doing the wrong thing anyway. More on that in a minute.

Brian Beutler: Obamacare Enrollment Is Going Exactly as CBO Predicted—Just in Time for Republicans to Break the Agency


Big top-line numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services today show that, five weeks in to the Affordable Care Act’s 2014 open-enrollment period, 6.4 million consumers—including 1.9 million first-timers—have signed up, or were automatically re-enrolled, for coverage on healthcare.gov. That doesn’t count the million-plus enrollees who have signed up so far on state-based exchanges that aren’t run by the federal government.

The current open enrollment period ends seven weeks from now, on February 15, which leaves Obamacare poised to nearly double its first-year enrollment total in year two.

Dean Baker: The Trade Agreement Pinatas


In recent weeks many labor, environmental, and consumer groups have stepped up their criticisms of the Obama administration’s plans for pushing fast-track trade negotiating authority. The purpose of fast-track is to allow the administration to negotiate to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP) and then hand both deals to Congress on a take it or leave it basis.

Under the fast-track rules there would be no opportunity for amendments or delays. The deal must be voted up or down in a narrow time-frame. The idea is that with the bulk of the business community promising large campaign contributions to supporters and threatening to punish opponents, most members of Congress would find it difficult to vote no.

Why you ... you want to punish success!

by Tom Sullivan

I wanted to follow up on Steve Fraser's comments to Bill Moyers. Fraser is wondering when people in this new Gilded Age age will rise up to oppose the robber barons, as our forebears did 100 years ago. He spoke of how, out of the social upheavals that ended the Gilded Age, Americans created a social safety net, a "civilized capitalism that protects people against the worst vicissitudes of the free market." But the wealth worshipers of the second Gilded Age have shredded it, and an even deeper, more pervasive corruption has overtaken Washington, and with a direct line to Wall Street:
It is the consummate all embracing expression of the triumph of the free market ideology as the synonym for freedom. In other words, it used to be you could talk about freedom and the free market as distinct notions. Now, and for some time, since the age of Reagan began free market capitalism and freedom are conflated. They are completely married to each other. And we have, as a culture, bought into that idea. It's part of what I mean when I say the attenuating of any alternatives.

The War to Start All Wars: The 25th Anniversary of the Forgotten Invasion of Panama

By Greg Grandin, TomDispatch | Op-Ed

As we end another year of endless war in Washington, it might be the perfect time to reflect on the War That Started All Wars -- or at least the war that started all of Washington’s post-Cold War wars: the invasion of Panama.

Twenty-five years ago this month, early on the morning of December 20, 1989, President George H.W. Bush launched Operation Just Cause, sending tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of aircraft into Panama to execute a warrant of arrest against its leader, Manuel Noriega, on charges of drug trafficking. Those troops quickly secured all important strategic installations, including the main airport in Panama City, various military bases, and ports. Noriega went into hiding before surrendering on January 3rd and was then officially extradited to the United States to stand trial. Soon after, most of the U.S. invaders withdrew from the country.

8 Shocking Facts About Water Consumption

Anastasia Pantsios | December 15, 2014 2:45 pm

Water is a finite resource. And its preciousness has been driven home by water wars in California, where record drought has agricultural users, fracking interests and home consumers vying for the same supply; in the southwest where the water levels in the rivers, aquifers and reservoirs that provide waters to major communities like Phoenix and Las Vegas are dropping; and in the battles being fought over withdrawing water from the Great Lakes. Reducing our water footprint is essential to conserving this life-giving substance.

FBI’s genetic tests didn’t nail anthrax killer, GAO says

By Greg Gordon, Mike Wiser and Stephen Engelberg
McClatchy Washington Bureau, PBS’ “Frontline” and ProPublica, December 19, 2014

WASHINGTON — For a second time in three years, an inquiry cast doubt Friday on the FBI’s assertion that genetic testing had cinched its conclusion that a now-dead Army bioweapons researcher mailed anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and terrorized the East Coast in 2001.
The long-awaited report from the Government Accountability Office found that the FBI’s exhaustive, cutting-edge attempt to trace the killer with matches of genetic mutations of anthrax samples at times lacked precision, consistency and adequate standards.

Thomas Frank: The New Republic, the torture report, and the TED talks geniuses who gutted journalism

Zillionaire new media barons think themselves geniuses, not say, really lucky to've been Mark Zuckerberg's roommate


Between the crumbling of a landmark Rolling Stone story and the dynamiting of The New Republic, these have been a bad couple of weeks for journalism. But with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture program on Tuesday, the whole doleful parade took a turn toward the comical.

Chapter IV of that report describes the CIA’s efforts to twist public perceptions of its torture program by revealing certain classified information to journalists—information that was wrong, per the report, because its object was to claim great successes for the torture program where few really existed. But said information, regardless of its truth value, was still classified. That, in turn, set up an awkward dilemma for all parties: certain CIA officials wondered whether to do something about the journalists in question for reporting these great dollops of bogusness; other spooks gently suggested that they shouldn’t, since, er, the Agency leaked that stuff to them.

How the Iran-Nuke Crisis Was Hyped

A prized weapon in the U.S. geopolitical arsenal is “information warfare,” the ability to promote false or misleading information to heighten the pressure on an adversary, often using supposedly neutral UN agencies as a front, as may have happened on Iran’s nuclear program, reports Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

In a critique of the handling of the Iran file by the International Atomic Energy Agency, former IAEA Director General Han Blix has called for greater skepticism about the intelligence documents and reports alleging Iranian nuclear weapons work and warned that they may be used to put diplomatic pressure on Tehran.

In an interview with this writer in his Stockholm apartment late last month, Blix, who headed the IAEA from 1981 to 1997, also criticized the language repeated by the IAEA under its current director general, Yukiya Amano, suggesting that Iran is still under suspicion of undeclared nuclear activity

How ALEC Plans to Undo Minimum Wage Increases in 2015

by Nina Liss-Schultz, Reporting Fellow, RH Reality Check
December 18, 2014 - 4:39 pm

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) laid out its blueprint for 2015 at its annual meeting in early December, making public a plan that includes attacks on labor unions, paid sick leave, and minimum wage increases that have proven popular across the political spectrum.

Despite the GOP gains in both Congress and statehouses across the country, the midterm elections saw the passage of several progressive measures fought for years by Republicans. Among those measures were several state and local minimum wage increases.

New York City Cops Seek Federal Court Approval to Mass Arrest Protesters Without Warning

A legal fight from Occupy resurfaces amid 2014's police brutality protests.

by Steven Rosenfeld

December 19, 2014 | As New York Mayor Bill de Blasio takes high-profile steps to try to curtail abusive policing— sympathizing with protesters over Eric Garner’s death and vowing to reform the notorious Rikers Island prison—the city’s Law Department is going back to federal court to seek new authority to make mass arrests at protests.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has agreed to meet in full to reconsider an August ruling that sided with protesters and chastized the New York Police Department for the way it herded and arrested 700 Occupy protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge in fall 2011. It concluded that the cops violated the protesters' constitutional rights and the police did not have “cause” to arrest them.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sanders Slams GOP For Maneuvering to Slash Social Security and Medicare

Tom Price (R-Ga.), incoming Chairman of the House Budget Committee, has vowed to gut 'mandatory spending' on entitlement programs

by Sarah Lazare, staff writer

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Friday slammed the GOP for jockeying to slash Social Security and Medicare in the next Congress, denouncing the plan as a "moral outrage."

"At a time when poverty among seniors is increasing, and millions of elderly Americans lack sufficient income to buy the medicine or food they need, it would be a moral outrage for Congress to cut Social Security," declared Sanders in a statement released Friday. "In fact, instead of cutting Social Security benefits, we should be expanding them."

High socioeconomic status increases discrimination, depression risk in black young adults

Study finds greatest perceived discrimination in black young adults from most highly educated families, removing parental education's protective effect against depression

An investigation into factors related to disparities of depression in young adults has found that higher parental education - which has a protective effect for white youth - can also increase the risk of depression for black youth. The MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) study published online in the Journal of Pediatrics also found that, among high-socioeconomic-status black youth, greater perceptions of being discriminated against cancelled out the protective effects of parental education.

These Ubiquitous Chemicals May Be Making Us Stupid

—By Tom Philpott | Tue Dec. 16, 2014 6:00 AM EST

You may not think much about the class of industrial chemicals called phthalates, which are used both to make plastics more flexible and to dissolve other chemicals. But you're quite likely on intimate terms with them. According to the Centers for Disease Control, they're found in "vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, plastic clothes (raincoats), and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes)."

Because of their ubiquity, researchers routinely find phthalate traces in people's urine, CDC reports. Does it matter? "Human health effects from exposure to low levels of phthalates are unknown," the agency claims. But a growing body of research—summarized here and covered on Mother Jones here, here, here, and here—suggests they're causing us subtle but significant harm.

Paul Krugman: Putin’s Bubble Bursts

If you’re the type who finds macho posturing impressive, Vladimir Putin is your kind of guy. Sure enough, many American conservatives seem to have an embarrassing crush on the swaggering strongman. “That is what you call a leader,” enthused Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, after Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine without debate or deliberation.

But Mr. Putin never had the resources to back his swagger. Russia has an economy roughly the same size as Brazil’s. And, as we’re now seeing, it’s highly vulnerable to financial crisis — a vulnerability that has a lot to do with the nature of the Putin regime.

Sanders Has a Couple More Good Ideas: Break Up Big Banks, Expand Social Security

US senator puts forth two key policy proposals designed to steer economic and political control away from Wall Street and towards the working class

by Jon Queally, staff writer

Promising to put forth and lobby on behalf of two bold progressive policy ideas in the months ahead, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has announced his intention to push for new pieces of legislation in the next session, one of which would break up the nation's largest Wall Street banks and another that would expand the Social Security program for all Americans.

In separate floor speeches in recent days, Sanders announced his plans and explained his thinking on the two policy ideas that he says could help transform the economy from one that works for the rich and powerful back towards one that promotes a stable economy and honors the needs of working people.

Joseph Stiglitz: Economics Has to Come to Terms with Wealth and Income Inequality

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has been writing about America’s economically divided society since the 1960s. His recent book, The Price of Inequality, argues that this division is holding the country back, a topic he has also explored in research supported by the Institute. On December 4th, he chaired the eighth Institute for New Economic Thinking Seminar Series at Columbia University, in which he presented a paper, "New Theoretical Perspectives on the Distribution of Income and Wealth Among Individuals.” In the interview that follows, Stiglitz explores the themes of this paper, the work of Thomas Piketty, and the need for the field of economics to come to terms with the growing gulf between haves and have-nots.

by Lynn Parramore on December 16, 2014

Lynn Parramore: You’ve mentioned that economic inequality was the subject of your Ph.D studies. How did you come to be interested in how income and wealth get divided up in society?

Joseph Stiglitz: Firstly, when you grow up as I did in Gary, Indiana, it was sort of prototypical of a divided America. You had lot of people in poverty. We didn’t have the 1 percent, but we had the 5 percent. I had no idea what real inequality was like, but we had a lot of people at the bottom. And secondly, it goes back to the years I went to college and the Civil Rights Movement. You remember Martin Luther King’s march was a march for the end of discrimination and for economic empowerment. So I think a lot of us realized at that time that we weren’t going to fully address the problems of a divided America — of race discrimination — if we didn’t do something about the economic differentials.

Guelph Researchers Recipe: Cook Farm Waste into Energy

It takes some cooking, but turning farm waste into biofuels is now possible and makes economic sense, according to preliminary research from the University of Guelph.

Guelph researchers are studying how to make biofuels from farm waste, especially “wet” waste that is typically difficult to use. They have developed a fairly simple procedure to transport waste and produce energy from it.

Where is All the 'Missing' Plastic? At the Bottom of the Ocean, Study Finds

'The deep sea floor could be the ultimate resting ground for the products of our disposable society,' researcher says

by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

Billions of tiny plastic fragments have accumulated in the deep sea, finds a new study published this week in the journal Royal Society Open Science, raising concerns about the organisms that live there, such as coral and bottom-of-the-food-chain invertebrates.

In an attempt to find evidence of "missing" plastic debris—unaccounted for microplastic waste that should, given our "throw-away culture," be more abundant in the world's oceans—scientists looked at samples of sediment and coral retrieved from 16 sites in the Mediterranean Sea, the North Atlantic Ocean, and southwestern Indian Ocean.

Paul Krugman: Oil Prices: The Impact of the Plunge

I am trying to get up to speed on the impact of the oil price plunge, and one of the more important stories is unfolding in President Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Obviously, Russia's recent problems stem from other things besides oil prices, namely the situation in Ukraine and the fallout thereof.

Colleges are cutting deals with Wall Street to steer students into debit cards

By Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

Not too long ago, it was pretty common to see credit card companies peddling plastic on college campuses. They’d have tables or booths set up at registration events or student fairs. These guys were so ubiquitous at my campus that I figured they had cut a deal with the school. Turns out that they did.

Hundreds of universities used to allow credit card companies to market their products on campus for a cut of the proceeds, without disclosing the terms of their agreements to students or their families. Schools would take in millions of dollars, while card companies extended credit to unemployed 18-year-olds at orientation.

Why Police Unions Are Lashing Out Against Cop Critics Like Never Before

ByDylan Scott, PublishedDecember 17, 2014, 6:00 AM EST

As the backlash continues against police violence in the aftermath of multiple African-Americans being killed by officers, one wrinkle in the ongoing debate has been the aggressive reaction of law enforcement itself to the public criticism and protest.

Among the recent examples, a New York City police union has urged members to ban Mayor Bill de Blasio from their funerals if they die in the line of duty, saying it would be "an insult to that officer’s memory and sacrifice" after the mayor's handling of Eric Garner's death at the hand of an NYPD officer. A St. Louis police association demanded that the NFL and St. Louis Rams discipline players who walked onto the field before a game making the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture associated with the Michael Brown shooting. A police union in Cleveland called a Browns player's T-shirt protesting the Tamir Rice and John Crawford shootings there "pretty pathetic."

These 7 Men Owned The Company Linked To CIA Torture

Hunter Walker

The US Senate report on the CIA's so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that was released on Tuesday said a firm identified only as "Company Y" was responsible for developing many of the tactics used during the questioning of terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

After the release of the details of the Senate investigation, NBC News reported the company that worked to develop these techniques and received more than $80 million from the government for its work was a firm based in Spokane, Washington, called Mitchell, Jessen & Associates.

FOIA reform dies while the press looked the other way

RIP Improvement Act of 2014

By Kelly J O'Brien

More than two years of work by open government advocates collapsed on Thursday night when House Speaker John Boehner closed the final legislative session of the 113th Congress without bringing the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 to a vote.

Similar legislation passed the House with a vote of 410-0 earlier this year, and the Improvement Act was given unanimous consent in the Senate on Monday, so it is safe to say that if the bill had come to the floor it would now be on its way to the President’s desk.

Billion Dollar Surveillance Blimp to Launch over Maryland

By Dan Froomkin

In just a few days, the Army will launch the first of two massive blimps over Maryland, the last gasp of an 18-year-long $2.8-billion Army project intended to use giant airships to defend against cruise missiles.

And while the blimps may never stave off a barrage of enemy missiles, their ability to spot and track cars, trucks and boats hundreds of miles away is raising serious privacy concerns.

The project is called JLENS – or “Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System.” And you couldn’t come up with a better metaphor for wildly inflated defense contracts, a ponderous Pentagon bureaucracy, and the U.S. surveillance leviathan all in one.

The devalued American worker

The past three recessions sparked a chain reaction of layoffs and lower pay

Written by Jim Tankersley

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Midway through the last game of the 2013 Carolina League season, after he’d swept peanut shells and mopped soda off the concourse, Ed Green lumbered upstairs to the box seats to dump the garbage.

Green was already 12 hours into his workday. He rose at dawn to lay tar on the highway. As the sun sank, he switched uniforms and drove to BB&T Ballpark, where he runs the custodial crew for a minor-league baseball team. Now it was dark and his radio was crackling. It was his boss, asking him to head back downstairs. Green walked onto the first-base line and into a surprise. In front of 6,000 fans, the Winston-Salem Dash honored him as the team’s employee of the year.

The Right Is Coming for Your Birth Control—They Just Don't Want You to Know It, Yet

By Katie McDonough

December 15, 2014 | Anti-choice conservatives want the public to believe that abortion and birth control are the same thing so that it becomes impossible to access both. But because openly going after birth control has shown itself to be a form of political death, politicians and anti-choice advocacy groups have been working to conflate contraception and abortion when it’s politically convenient. The lie is by design, and it’s working.

It’s no accident that Hobby Lobby contested the birth control requirement of the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that it believed, despite overwhelming medical evidence, that some of the contraceptives covered were abortion-inducing drugs. And that this line — that emergency contraception and IUDs end rather than prevent pregnancy — has found an audience with Supreme Court justices, politicians, media pundits and regular people.

Three Members of Congress Just Reignited the Cold War While No One Was Looking

By Dennis Kucinich

Late Thursday night, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a far-reaching Russia sanctions bill, a hydra-headed incubator of poisonous conflict. The second provocative anti-Russian legislation in a week, it further polarizes our relations with Russia, helping to cement a Russia-China alliance against Western hegemony, and undermines long-term America’s financial and physical security by handing the national treasury over to war profiteers.

Here’s how the House’s touted “unanimity” was achieved: Under a parliamentary motion termed “unanimous consent,” legislative rules can be suspended and any bill can be called up. If any member of Congress objects, the motion is blocked and the bill dies.

Dean Baker: The Biggest Economic Myths, Debunked

December 16, 2014 | With the holiday season upon us, the time for end-of-year lists is fast approaching. To beat the rush, today I give my list of the top dead and enduring myths of 2014.

The good news is that two myths that caused great confusion over the last several years are now headed to the trash bin of history. While many prominent pundits may still repeat them to demonstrate that prominent pundits really don't have to care about reality, everyone in the reality-based community now knows them to be nonsense.

CRomnibus Disaster Signals a Sad New Normal in D.C.

By David Dayen, The Fiscal Times

House Democrats, under the thought leadership of Elizabeth Warren, waged a monumental yet ultimately unsuccessful fight against two dangerous provisions in the so-called “CRomnibus” year-end spending package. But regardless of whether or not the budget bill included a rollback of derivatives reforms, or a nearly ten-fold increase in the donation limits for party committees, the battle on Thursday illuminated how the next two years in Washington will play out, and it doesn’t bode well for anyone who doesn’t employ a personal registered lobbyist.

In fact, the high-profile measures obscured how the CRomnibus boosts special interests at the expense of ordinary people in a host of other ways. Nobody in the Democratic coalition objected as vociferously to these other giveaways to right-wing hobby horses and corporate wish lists. And given how the White House basically turned on its own party, all too happy to accept the roll-backs of liberal priorities, it’s clear that this kind of legislative sausage-making will be the norm, not the exception, come 2015.

Joe Firestone: The Lawless Society

Posted on December 13, 2014 by Yves Smith

Yves here. This post lays bare the depth of corruption in the US. We addressed the problem of what Joe Firestone calls “the lawless society” and presented some initial thoughts about the necessity of pressuring political parties rather than working within them in our Skunk Party Manifesto. A key section:
Corruption is the biggest single problem. Until we tackle that, frontally, it will be impossible to get any good solutions or even viable interim measures to the long and growing list of problems we face. Conduct that would have been seen as reprehensible 40 years ago, like foreclosing on people who were current on their mortgages, or selling drugs even when the company knows they increase heart heart attack and stroke risk enough to be fatal for a meaningful percentage of patients, barely stirs a raised eyebrow today.

Paul Krugman: Wall Street's Revenge

Dodd-Frank Damaged in the Budget Bill


On Wall Street, 2010 was the year of “Obama rage,” in which financial tycoons went ballistic over the president’s suggestion that some bankers helped cause the financial crisis. They were also, of course, angry about the Dodd-Frank financial reform, which placed some limits on their wheeling and dealing.

The Masters of the Universe, it turns out, are a bunch of whiners. But they’re whiners with war chests, and now they’ve bought themselves a Congress.

Citigroup Will Be Broken Up

Monday, 15 December 2014 09:32
By Simon Johnson, The Baseline Scenario | Op-Ed

Citigroup is a very large bank that has amassed a huge amount of political power. Its current and former executives consistently push laws and regulations in the direction of allowing Citi and other megabanks to take on more risk, particularly in the form of complex highly leveraged bets. Taking these risks allows the executives and traders to get a lot of upside compensation in the form of bonuses when things go well – while the downside losses, when they materialize, become the taxpayer’s problem.

Citigroup is also, collectively, stupid on a grand scale. The supposedly smart people at the helm of Citi in the mid-2000s ran them hard around – and to the edge of bankruptcy. A series of unprecedented massive government bailouts was required in 2000-09 – and still the collateral damage to the economy has proved enormous. Give enough clever people the wrong incentives and they will destroy anything.

Richard Eskow: We Lost the ‘CRomnibus’ Fight, But at Least Someone’s Fighting

Last week Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) warned that “the House of Representatives is about to show us the worst of government for the rich and powerful.” They promptly did, and the Senate quickly followed suit. We are now at greater risk of another derivatives-based financial crisis, and billionaires and corporations now have even more influence over the two party’s entrenched establishments.

The “CRomnibus” spectacle was a return to the showdown days of past years, with another phony “drama” ginned up around a “must-pass” bill in order to serve up a “compromise” – a “bipartisan” one, of course – that serves the interests of corporations and wealthy individuals.

Peter Temin: Lessons From the Great Depression

George Santayana once wrote that those who could not remember the past were condemned to repeat it. And looking at today’s policy makers at work seeking to combat the huge challenge of unemployment in the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, it appears that there is a lot of collective amnesia evident amongst this crowd.

The parallels with the mistakes of the 1930s echo. Peter Temin, currently Gray Professor Emeritus of Economics, MIT, and former head of their Economics Department, has written extensively about the Great Depression. He argued persuasively in that book that the cause, spread and recovery from the Depression must be found in the monetary and fiscal policy regimes amongst the authorities of Great Britain, the US, France and Germany. The Great Depression, according to Temin, was the result of a shock to the system produced by World War I, coupled with an ideologically constrained response that exacerbated a bad situation and turned it into a crisis.

Bail-In and the Financial Stability Board: The Global Bankers' Coup

Saturday, 13 December 2014 10:23
By Ellen Brown, The Web of Debt Blog | News Analysis

On December 11, 2014, the US House passed a bill repealing the Dodd-Frank requirement that risky derivatives be pushed into big-bank subsidiaries, leaving our deposits and pensions exposed to massive derivatives losses. The bill was vigorously challenged by Senator Elizabeth Warren; but the tide turned when Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorganChase, stepped into the ring. Perhaps what prompted his intervention was the unanticipated $40 drop in the price of oil. As financial blogger Michael Snyder points out, that drop could trigger a derivatives payout that could bankrupt the biggest banks. And if the G20's new "bail-in" rules are formalized, depositors and pensioners could be on the hook.

The new bail-in rules were discussed in my last post here. They are edicts of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), an unelected body of central bankers and finance ministers headquartered in the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. Where did the FSB get these sweeping powers, and is its mandate legally enforceable?

Generations of Victims: Bhopal's Unending Catrastrophe

Thirty years after the worst chemical accident in history, the disaster is hitting a new generation. The victims have received little help, professional clean-up has not happened and there are no signs the ongoing environmental catastrophe will end.

By Anne Backhaus and Simone Salden in Bhopal, India

When the monsoon washes away the dust of the Indian summer from the landscape, huts and people of Bhopal, the dry basin behind the slum of J.P. Nagar turns into a lake. Laughing children swim in it, fishermen wait for the telltale tug on their lines to signal a catch, and buffalos greedily devour the succulent stems of water lilies.

In Hinduism, water is considered the source of all life. But in Bhopal, a cycle of death begins with each year's rainy season.

"The people can't see, smell or taste the poison," says Rachna Dhingra, "but it's there." It's in the water, in the flesh of fish and in the milk of the water buffalo, and it's in the dark mud that slum residents scrape from the shores of the lake to fill the cracks in their houses.

How Superstar Companies Like Apple Are Killing America’s High-Tech Future

by Lynn Parramore on December 09, 2014

Few would argue that America’s fortunes rise and fall on its ability to generate technological innovations — to put bold ideas to work and then bring them to market. William Lazonick, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Matt Hopkins, research associate at the Academic-Industry Research Network, have investigated how the technology knowledge base gets created, what has gone wrong in America’s approach to innovation, and why the truth about who invests in the process is poorly understood. In the interview that follows, Lazonick shares findings from two recent papers that are part of the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s project on the “Political Economy of Distribution.” He explains why successful companies like Apple need to make fundamental changes to the way they allocate resources and stop throwing away America’s most valuable asset for future innovation — you.

Lynn Parramore: Let’s talk about where high-quality, low-cost technology products actually come from. Who pays for the research that goes into creating a product like the iPhone?

William Lazonick: The iPhone didn’t just magically appear out of the Apple Campus in Cupertino. Whenever a company produces a technology product, it benefits from an accumulation of knowledge created by huge numbers of people outside the company, many of whom have worked in government-funded projects over the previous decades. ├ľner Tulum, a researcher at The Academic-Industry Research Network (theAIRnet), has shown how all of the technologies in the iPhone ­– things like touch-screen technology, GPS, and so on — originated with government spending, funded by taxpayer money.

Is the Koch Brothers' Curriculum Coming to Your Child's School?

Thursday, 11 December 2014 15:43
By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed

The Koch brothers are trying to rewrite history.

Caitlin MacNeal over at TPM is reporting that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has "encouraged" state high school teachers to start teaching a curriculum that was drafted by a Koch brothers-funded group.

The Koch brothers-funded conservative takeover of public education in North Carolina started back in 2011, when that state's legislature passed a law requiring public schools to offer a history course based on the United States' "Founding Principles."

What They Haven't Told Us About the European Financial Crisis

By Michael Nevradakis, Truthout | Interview

University of Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang, author of 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, discusses the ongoing financial crisis in Europe, the economic situation in Greece, the myths surrounding the crisis and the new economic bubble, which he argues is about to burst.

Michael Nevradakis: In your book, you debunk many of the myths about capitalism that we often hear in the media and in conventional teachings of economics, myths that are often seen as conventional wisdom. What are some of the biggest myths that you have identified?

Ha-Joon Chang: Well, at least 23 of them, as I wrote in the book. I mean, there are more. But I think there are a few important ones that have played quite a big role in shaping our economy and society in the way it has evolved in the last two or three decades.

Paul Krugman: Mad as Hellas


The Greek fiscal crisis erupted five years ago, and its side effects continue to inflict immense damage on Europe and the world. But I’m not talking about the side effects you may have in mind — spillovers from Greece’s Great Depression-level slump, or financial contagion to other debtors. No, the truly disastrous effect of the Greek crisis was the way it distorted economic policy, as supposedly serious people around the world rushed to learn the wrong lessons.

Now Greece appears to be in crisis again. Will we learn the right lessons this time?

Buried Within Omnibus Bill, a 'Long-Term Blank Check for War Spending'

Analysts warn that "emergency" war spending fund, which was supposed to be temporary, has become permanent fixture that inflates Pentagon's budget

by Sarah Lazare, staff writer

The government funding bill that narrowly passed the House of Representatives on Thursday has been widely criticized, including from within Congress, as a give-away to Wall Street. However, its 1,600 pages raise numerous other red flags for activists and analysts, including a bloated military budget and what journalist Julia Harte calls "a long-term blank check for 'war' spending."

The bill approves $554 billion overall in Pentagon spending—in keeping with the trajectory of a country that spends more on the military than the next 11 countries combined. As Dave Gilson points out in Mother Jones, this sum means that total Pentagon funding during 2015 is "close to what it got during the height of the Iraq War" and "close to its highest level since World War II."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: “Corrupt, toxic and sociopathic”: Glenn Greenwald unloads on torture, CIA and Washington’s rotten soul

Glenn Greenwald tells Salon how the torture report exposes true evil — and a nation drowning in hypocrisy

Elias Isquith

It took years until the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report — which shows not only that the CIA’s torture regime was larger and more vicious than understood, but that the agency repeatedly lied about it to the White House and Congress — was finally released to the public. But it only took hours before President Obama was once again urging the nation to look forward, not back. “Rather than another reason to refight old arguments,” read a White House statement, “I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past.” When members of the media asked whether that meant the White House considered torture to be ineffective, as the report claims, an anonymous official said Obama would not “engage” in the ongoing “debate.” On the issues of rape, waterboarding and induced hypothermia, apparently, reasonable minds can differ.

If You Thought Stop-And-Frisk Was Bad, You Should Know About Jump-Outs

by Nicole Flatow

Iman Hadieh was standing outside a bar smoking with some new friends on the evening of October 6 when the police cars came. It was about eight young black men, and her, a woman of Palestinian origin who describes herself as white.

“I can’t tell you how many vehicles descended upon us because it all happened so fast,” she said. The cars were unmarked. But she knew it was the cops when they jumped out in black vests and hats, some with their guns drawn, she said. Some she didn’t see jump from their cars, but they appeared instead to come out of nowhere. She estimates there were 10 or 12 officers in all. Two witnesses who live on the block confirmed seeing a group of about 8 people lined up against a wall and frisked. They did not see the initial jump-out and could not confirm whether officers had their guns drawn.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wall Street Moves In For The Kill

Richard Eskow

It’s been six years since Wall Street’s recklessness and criminal fraud caused trillions of dollars in economic damage and nearly shattered the global economy. The 2008 financial crisis opened millions of Americans’ eyes to the widespread corruption and mismanagement in the financial industry, and built public support for stronger bank oversight. Initial steps were taken in that direction, primarily in the Dodd/Frank financial reform bill, and more remains to be done.

But today Wall Street is on the offensive. Banks are expanding their political influence, fighting to roll back the measures already in place and working to block further reforms. In our money-driven political system, they have plenty of ammunition with which to wage their battle

Inside the Koch data mine

Meet the guys building the right’s new machine.

By Mike Allen and Kenneth P. Vogel, 12/8/14 5:32 AM EST

The Koch brothers and their allies are pumping tens of millions of dollars into a data company that’s developing detailed, state-of-the-art profiles of 250 million Americans, giving the brothers’ political operation all the earmarks of a national party.

The move comes as mainstream Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, are trying to reclaim control of the conservative movement from outside groups. The Kochs, however, are continuing to amass all of the campaign tools the Republican National Committee and other party arms use to elect a president.

The State of Workers’ Wages Around the World

Posted on December 9, 2014 by Yves Smith

Yves here. Some of this Real News Network interview with Richard Wolff, who is currently a visiting professor at the New School, on a new ILO report on workers’ wages covers familiar ground. Wage growth in advanced economies has been much slower than that in emerging economies, in large measure due to multinational moving jobs overseas to exploit lower labor costs. But the interesting part of the conversation is Wolff’s argument on why this is in fact not defensible conduct and what countries like the US ought to do about it.

Wolff praises Germany at the end. Not everyone would agree with this assessment. Germany implemented a series of labor market reforms known as the Hartz reforms from 2003 through 2005. Here are two discussions: German labour reforms: Unpopular success and Hartz IV reform did not reduce unemployment in Germany.

Warmer Pacific Ocean could release millions of tons of seafloor methane

Off the West Coast of the United States, methane gas is trapped in frozen layers below the seafloor. New research from the University of Washington shows that water at intermediate depths is warming enough to cause these carbon deposits to melt, releasing methane into the sediments and surrounding water.

Researchers found that water off the coast of Washington is gradually warming at a depth of 500 meters, about a third of a mile down. That is the same depth where methane transforms from a solid to a gas. The research suggests that ocean warming could be triggering the release of a powerful greenhouse gas.

Why the Founding Fathers Thought Banning Torture Foundational to the US Constitution

by Juan Cole

I have argued on many occasions that the language of patriotism and appeal to the Founding Fathers and the constitution must not be allowed to be appropriated by the political right wing in contemporary America, since for the most part right wing principles (privileging religion, exaltation of ‘whiteness’ over universal humanity, and preference for property rights over human rights) are diametrically opposed to the Enlightenment and Deist values of most of the framers of the Unites States.

We will likely hear these false appeals to an imaginary history a great deal with the release of the Senate report on CIA torture. It seems to me self-evident that most of the members of the Constitutional Convention would have voted to release the report and also would have been completely appalled at its contents.

You're Likely to Be a Lot Poorer Than You Were a Few Years Ago—And It's All By Design

By Les Leopold

December 5, 2014 | The typical American is even poorer than his or her equivalent in Greece. The median Australian is four times wealthier. The Canadians are twice as wealthy. The U.S. continues to lead the world in billionaires [3] (571 in 2014, with China a distant second at 190). But after decades of financial deregulation and attacks on employee rights, Americans rank 26th in median wealth (defined as assets owned, minus debts owed for the person on the middle rung of the wealth ladder).

All by Design

During the Cold War, our working class was the envy of the world. We argued that our free-enterprise system, not communism, created the best conditions for a rising standard of living for all. Indeed, there was much to boast about. Real wages were increasing year after year. American workers were free to go on strike and did. Most importantly, the children of working people could climb the economic ladder—upward mobility was real.

Paul Krugman: Recovery at Last?


Last week we got an actually good employment report — arguably the first truly good report in a long time. The U.S. economy added well over 300,000 jobs; wages, which have been stagnant for far too long, picked up a bit. Other indicators, like the rate at which workers are quitting (a sign that they expect to find new jobs), continue to improve. We’re still nowhere near full employment, but getting there no longer seems like an impossible dream.

And there are some important lessons from this belated good news. It doesn’t vindicate policies that permitted seven years and counting of depressed incomes and employment. But it does put the lie to some of the nonsense you hear about why the economy has lagged.

Study finds early warning signals of abrupt climate change


A new study by researchers at the University of Exeter has found early warning signals of a reorganisation of the Atlantic oceans' circulation which could have a profound impact on the global climate system.

The research, published today in the journal Nature Communications, used a simulation from a highly complex model to analyse the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), an important component of the Earth's climate system.

Why Poor People Stay Poor

Saving money costs money. Period.

By Linda Tirado

I once lost a whole truck over a few hundred bucks. It had been towed, and when I called the company they told me they’d need a few hundred dollars for the fee. I didn’t have a few hundred dollars. So I told them when I got paid next and that I’d call back then.

It was a huge pain in the ass for those days. It was the rainy season, and I wound up walking to work, adding another six miles or so a day to my imaginary pedometer. It was my own fault that I’d been towed, really, and I spent more than a couple hours ruing myself. I finally made it to payday, and when I went to get the truck, they told me that I now owed over a thousand dollars, nearly triple my paycheck. They charged a couple hundred dollars a day in storage fees. I explained that I didn’t have that kind of money, couldn’t even get it. They told me that I had some few months to get it together, including the storage for however long it took me to get it back, or that they’d simply sell it. They would, of course, give me any money above and beyond their fees if they recovered that much.

Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General

SUBHEADINGGOESHERE

By ERIC LIPTON, DEC. 6, 2014

The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.

But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.

Jane Dough Gets a Pitch for a Private Equity “Senior Housing Fund”

Posted on December 7, 2014 by Yves Smith

Yves here. This description of a senior housing fund play lets mere mortals get a taste of what private equity would like to do to you down the road, provided you live long enough for them to target you for rent extraction.

By Jane Dough, who grew up in the suburbs of an industrial city, went to college, worked a few years, inherited a buttload of money, and retired. This is what it’s like to be closeted, conflicted, unheroic, and rich. Originally published at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
“A lot of the buffalo have been shot and you’ve got to get really creative out there to get opportunities. Memory care is a fantastic opportunity… It’s low-hanging fruit.” — Senior Housing News
- – -

In early November I received a pitch document offering me the opportunity to invest in a private equity fund in the area of “senior housing.” I also got a 300-plus-page legal document, called an “investor kit” so that I could act fast on this tremendous investment opportunity! I can’t actually quote from these documents or refer to the buyout firm or senior housing fund by name or someone will come and take me away in the night. All names are fictional.

– – –

To: David Smith, CEO

Buyout Investment Group

The Conundrum Fund

Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you for the information about your “senior housing” private equity fund. I’m leaning towards taking a pass. If I may, I’d like to explore with you why that might be.

First, a disclaimer: In your pitch booklet you call me a “sophisticated investor,”2 but in fact I’m pretty clueless about private equity. I had to read numerous articles just to be able to write you this letter, and even then I’m on shaky ground.

Having said that …

You have grandmothers, right? Older parents? Elderly relations in general?

Zinn Coeditor: That All "Voices" Make History Is a "Dangerous Idea to Those in Power"

By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview

Mark Karlin: "Voices of a People's History" is so expansive and revelatory, it is only appropriate to begin by discussing a normally undisclosed aspect of the colonial revolt against Britain. The book has a section devoted to documenting the economic and social inequality that existed among the colonial settlers and the revolutionary army. That, I am sure, comes as quite a surprise to many schooled on the myth of a nation founded as egalitarian, don't you think?

Anthony Arnove: Howard was attentive to many aspects of US history that tend to be ignored or deliberately downplayed. But he was especially attuned to class conflict. The common metaphor of the United States as a family conceals sharp divisions that have always existed. And, as you point out, it wasn't just that those conflicts existed between the colonial settlers and the indigenous population, whom they systematically dispossessed and slaughtered, or between the colonial population and the millions of slaves they forcibly brought here to work and die under the most brutal conditions.

Conservative lobby group Alec plans anti-environmental onslaught

- Corporate lobbying network plans to draft bills attacking protections - Bills will reportedly aim to expand offshore oil drilling and cut EPA budget

Suzanne Goldenberg

The corporate lobbying network American Legislative Exchange Council, commonly known as Alec, is planning a new onslaught on a number of environmental protections next year when Republicans take control of Congress and a number of state legislatures.

The battle lines of Alec’s newest attack on environmental and climate measures will be formally unveiled on Wednesday, when the group begins three days of meetings in Washington DC.

Thomas Frank: Ann Coulter and David Brooks play a sneaky, unserious class card

Post-Ferguson and Staten Island, conservatives are trying to divide with the snob card again. Too bad Dems let them

A few days ago, New York Times columnist David Brooks took the occasion of the outrage in Ferguson, Missouri, to call for a national effort to combat “classism,” an unfortunate form of prejudice that, he says, results from widening inequality. Nowadays, Brooks asserted, “classism intertwines with racism” to produce a truly monstrous complex of attitudes toward the people at society’s bottom.

If you are a newcomer to the culture-war labyrinth, you might be surprised to hear a leading conservative deplore “classism,” because it’s the right’s beloved free-market system that has opened the yawning crevasse between the classes—between the people who work and the people who own. But in truth class grievance is central to the cosmology of modern conservatism. They love nothing more than to denounce snobbery—just as long as they are able to attribute that vice to scholarly liberal weaklings who disdain the plainspoken ways of middle America. David Brooks himself wrote one of the best-known iterations of this stereotype, back in the days when people were just beginning to associate red states with proletarian authenticity and blue states with upper-class pretension. (And back in October, he argued against the scourge of “partyism”.)

In world first -- UNSW researchers convert sunlight to electricity with over 40 percent efficiency

UNSW Australia's solar researchers have converted over 40% of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever reported.

The record efficiency was achieved in outdoor tests in Sydney, before being independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at their outdoor test facility in the United States.

Toiletry chemicals linked to testicular cancer and male infertility cost EU millions, report says

Nordic Council calls on EU to ban damaging compounds found in household products that cost millions due to their harmful impact on male reproductive health

Damian Carrington

The hormone-mimicking chemicals used routinely in toiletries, cosmetics, medicines, plastics and pesticides cause hundreds of millions of euros of damage to EU citizens every year, according to the first estimate of their economic impact.

The endocrine disruptor compounds (EDCs) are thought to be particularly harmful to male reproductive health and can cause testicular cancer, infertility, deformation of the penis and undescended testicles.

The years of Obama-bashing have helped bring racism, sexism, and all the other "-isms" of hate out of the shadows

by Ken

Last night I indicated that I meant to come back to Ian Welsh's post yesterday, "In Light of Eric Garner," in which he urged us: "Understand this, if you understand nothing else: the system is working as intended." He argued that the Staten Island prosecutor case who succeeded in getting the grand jury to bring no indictment in Garner's death --
made the decision that the system wants: police are almost never prosecuted for assault or murder and on those rare occasions that they are, they almost always get off.

Donovan did what the legal system wanted him to do.

As for the police in question, well, they did what the legal system wants them to do, as well."
Where are several points here I wanted to come back to.

Chemicals Released During Natural Gas Extraction May Harm Human Reproduction and Development

Scientists draw conclusions after review of more than 150 studies; suggest further scientific study

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations combine directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to release natural gas from underground rock. Recent discussions have centered on potential air and water pollution from chemicals used in these processes and how it affects the more than 15 million Americans living within one mile of UOG operations. Now, Susan C. Nagel, a researcher with the University of Missouri, and national colleagues have conducted the largest review to date of research centered on fracking byproducts and their effects on human reproductive and developmental health. They determined that exposure to chemicals released in fracturing may be harmful to human health in men, women and children and recommend further scientific study.

Big Changes in Fine Print of Some 2015 Obamacare Plans

By Charles Ornstein, Lena Groeger and Ryann Grochowski Jones, ProPublica | Report

At first glance, the 2015 health plans offered by the Ohio nonprofit insurer CareSource look a lot like the ones it sold this year, in the Affordable Care Act's first enrollment season.

The monthly premiums are nearly identical, and the deductibles are the same.

But tucked within the plans' jargon are changes that could markedly affect how much consumers pay for health care. Generic drugs will soon be free, but the cost of expensive specialty medications will increase. Co-payments for visits to primary-care doctors will go down, but those for emergency room trips will be higher.

400 Reasons Our Lives Feel Squeezed

Sam Pizzigati

We don’t know who exactly filed the tax returns with America’s 400 largest incomes in 2010. The IRS won’t reveal any of these 400 individually by name.

But a just-released new IRS annual report on America’s highest incomes has revealed just about everything else about these top 400, from how much they claim in deductions to how much their incomes have swelled over time.

US Government Study Predicts TPP Trade Agreement Will Produce Practically No Extra Growth For Anyone

from the just-like-TAFTA/TTIP dept

by Glyn Moody
Fri, Dec 5th 2014 1:04am

As their name suggests, free trade agreements are designed to help trade flourish between the countries involved. The hope is that when trade increases, society as a whole benefits. One of the key metrics for assessing that outcome is to look at changes in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which provides one index of economic activity in a country. It does not, of course, measure other things that may be important to people, such as public services or quality of life, but it's widely used.

GDP growth is one of the main benefits that will flow from US-EU TAFTA/TTIP, according to its supporters. They point to a study from the CEPR group in London, which was conducted on behalf of the European Commission as part of the preparations for negotiating a trade agreement with the US.

Paul Krugman: The Inequality Connection


In early December, I'm supposed to talk at a Columbia University conference on inequality and its consequences. One issue I'll have to address is the ongoing question of whether rising inequality makes countries more vulnerable to financial crises, makes it harder to recover from such crises, or in some other way degrades performance.

I've been wary of this line of argument, in part because it appeals so much to my general leanings: Inequality worries me a lot, and it would be great if it was bad on the macroeconomics side, too. So I bend over backward not to buy into that proposition too easily.

Now they’re trying to steal 2016: The demented GOP schemes to rewire the Electoral College and elect a Tea Party president

Republicans know they can't win the popular vote. You won't believe sick schemes they've launched to get around it

Paul Rosenberg

Republicans have only won the popular vote for president once in the last 25 years, a steep decline in their fortunes from the period from 1972 to 1988, when they won the popular vote every time but one–1976, the aftermath of Watergate. Add to that massive policy failures and demographic trends against them, and the motivations to cheat are overwhelming.

Voter suppression seemed promising at first—and it’s helpful in many downticket races—but it’s not going to be enough to secure the White House. So they’ve been working on another idea as well—make the popular vote totally irrelevant by leaving red states just as they are, with statewide winners getting all the electoral votes, while making electoral votes more or less proportional in as many blue states as possible—many of which the GOP controls at the state level. If they can rewrite the rules fast enough, they could even win in 2016, with no more votes than Mitt Romney received.

Wall Street to Workers: Give Us Your Retirement Savings and Stop Asking Questions

Big banks are more than happy to take workers' retirement funds—as long as those workers don't want to know what those banks are doing with the money.

BY David Sirota

If you are a public school teacher in Kentucky, the state has a message for you: You have no right to know the details of the investments being made with your retirement savings.

That was the crux of the declaration issued by state officials to a high school history teacher when he asked to see the terms of the agreements between the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System and the Wall Street firms that are managing the system’s money on behalf of him, his colleagues and thousands of retirees.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Paul Krugman: Democrats Against Reform


It’s easy to understand why Republicans wish health reform had never happened, and are now hoping that the Supreme Court will abandon its principles and undermine the law. But it’s more puzzling — and disturbing — when Democrats like Charles Schumer, senator from New York, declare that the Obama administration’s signature achievement was a mistake.

In a minute I’ll take on Mr. Schumer’s recent remarks. But first, an update on Obamacare — not the politics, but the actual policy, which continues to rack up remarkable (and largely unreported) successes.

Falling

William McPherson

The rich are all alike, to revise Tolstoy’s famous words, but the poor are poor in their own particular ways.

Any reasonably intelligent reader could blow that generalization apart in the time it takes to write it. But as with most generalizations, a truth lies behind it. Ultimately, what binds the rich together is that they have more money, lots more. For one reason or another, the poor don’t have enough of it. But poverty doesn’t bind the poor together as much as wealth and the need to protect it bind the rich. If it did, we would hear the rattle of tumbrels in the streets. One hears mutterings, but the chains have not yet been shed.

The Dismantling of Medicaid

Once considered one of the crowning achievements of The Great Society, Medicaid is now being steadily chipped away—and patients are suffering because of it.

BY Michael Collins

Plagued by a poorly designed medical reimbursement process that rewards health care professionals for providing medically unnecessary care and yet doesn’t pay enough for many specialists or small providers to deal with burdensome administration, the popular program has been a target of reform for decades. With state budgets hollowed out and a budget regime that cuts investments in health to fund tax breaks for corporations, legislators are now looking to cut costs—and if there’s time, improve the quality of care.

When Suzanne Klug took her daughter Tamara to an orthopedic surgeon in the winter of 2012, the first question the doctor asked her was, “Why are you here?”

Workers vs. Undocumented Immigrants: The Politics of Divide & Conquer

Posted on November 29, 2014 by Yves Smith

Yves here. Obama’s plan to give 4 million illegal immigrants temporary suspension from deportation has amped up the intensity of the already-heated debate over immigration and competition for US jobs from foreign workers.

This Real News Network interview with Bill Barry, who has organized documented and undocumented workers in the textile industry, makes an argument at a high level that many will find hard to dispute: that the fight over immigration reform and the status of undocumented immigrants diverts energy and attention from the ways in which a super-rich class is taking more and more out of the economy, to the detriment of laborers. Barry also argues that getting rid of undocumented immigrants would not produce much in the way of wage increases. The experience of Alabama, which implemented an extremely aggressive immigration law, would tend to confirm Barry’s argument. Farmers, for instance, weren’t able to find substitutes for migrant workers, even when they offered higher wages. What it would take to get US natives to take those jobs was more than what those employers were willing to pay. The same is likely true for many of the other backbreaking jobs performed by undocumented workers, such as working in meatpacking plants.

An Economic Agenda for America: 12 Steps Forward

By Sen. Bernie Sanders

The American people must make a fundamental decision. Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all? Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy? These are the most important questions of our time, and how we answer them will determine the future of our country.

The long-term deterioration of the middle class, accelerated by the Wall Street crash of 2008, has not been pretty. Today, we have more wealth and income inequality than any major country on earth. We have one of the highest childhood poverty rates and we are the only country in the industrialized world which does not guarantee health care for all. We once led the world in terms of the percentage of our people who graduated college, but we are now in 12th place. Our infrastructure, once the envy of the world, is collapsing.

Big banks broke America: How to achieve the ultimate revenge against them now

Since looting all of us for a generous bailout, you'd have thought they'd all lie low. Here's what they did instead

Robert Hennelly

They just can’t help themselves. Like the drunk that ruins family holiday gatherings year after year, the big banks, once they are caught in yet another episode of their serial criminality, feign contrition, pay billions in fines, and swear to go forth and sin no more.

But these repeat offenders know the law does not apply to them. These 21st century pirates of the Caribbean were actually rewarded for sacking and pillaging America. They never have had a greater share of the pie and they have no allegiance other than global wealth accumulation beyond the reach of any social contract.

Paul Krugman: Being Bad Europ

The U.S. economy finally seems to be climbing out of the deep hole it entered during the global financial crisis. Unfortunately, Europe, the other epicenter of crisis, can’t say the same. Unemployment in the euro area is stalled at almost twice the U.S. level, while inflation is far below both the official target and outright deflation has become a looming risk.

Investors have taken notice: European interest rates have plunged, with German long-term bonds yielding just 0.7 percent. That’s the kind of yield we used to associate with Japanese deflation, and markets are indeed signaling that they expect Europe to experience its own lost decade.

Christian right’s rage problem: How white fundamentalists are roiling America

Far-right Christians like Todd Starnes think their nation's in danger. You won't believe what they want to do next

Edwin Lyngar

Over the past few years, America has been divided by religion. The culture wars have heated up with secularists on one side and God-fearing Americans on the other, and to understate things: They disagree. But does that mean we hate one another? If the animosity is so intense, what kind of outrage goes too far? Bonnie Weinstein has tackled this issue in an important but very troubling book out Dec. 2, titled “To the Far Right Christian Hater … You Can Be a Good Speller or a Hater, But You Can’t Be Both: Official Hate Mail, Threats, and Criticism From the Archives of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.”

Married to Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the author has collected and annotated a sampling of the hate mail the foundation has received over the past few years. This hate mail is not trolling or anonymous “Internet comments.” The letters are specific and threatening and most often include a return address or email. The Weinsteins’ home has been vandalized — many times — and the family has had to take serious and expensive security measures. It’s no joke. As I read the book, curled up on my couch, my wife kept asking if I was OK. My face was fixed in an expression of horror and disbelief as I read the rage, hate and cruelty cataloged on every page. Bonnie has uncovered a shocking reality: Self-professed Christians deny the fundamental humanity of other people they don’t even know.

The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Let’s talk one more time about why inequality matters. Some people say it doesn’t, but they’re living in an ideological fairyland on the far side of the looking glass. In the real world, inequality is a deep and divisive force. We see that politically all the time, as the rich buy elections and then shape the laws to their advantage.

But in this episode let’s look at just one of the basic needs of life affected by inequality – a place to live. Across our country, millions of people of ordinary means can’t afford decent housing. In New Jersey, just on the other side of the Hudson River from where I’m sitting, three out of five renters can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment at market rates. And across the continent, in San Francisco, residents – including many from an anguished middle class -- have taken to the streets to protest the narcissistic capitalism of Silicon Valley that provides an elite few with what they want instead of the many with what they need. We could continue city by city, state by state: because among our largest, richest 20 metro areas, less than 50 percent of the homes are affordable. Less than 50 percent.

That Hot US-EU Trade Deal? Destroys 600,000 EU Jobs – Study

Cutting wages – bad as that is – does not necessarily translate into the creation of new jobs, debt-crisis countries in the EU periphery have shown. But then, who would win in the TTIP?

by Don Quijones • November 29, 2014

In a 1994 interview with Charlie Rose, the British billionaire financier James Goldsmith delivered a stark, eerily prescient warning of the state the world would be in today if it succumbed to the freer borders and more centralized, corporate-owned governance envisaged by trade regimes such as NAFTA and GATT (the predecessor to the World Trade Organization).

Goldsmith was spot on about just about everything, from the threats posed by derivatives – then in their infancy – to the risks of industrializing agriculture throughout the developing world [You can watch the full interview here].

HOTEL 22: The Dark Side Of Silicon Valley

Josie Ensor, The Telegraph

Jimmy hands $2 worth of dimes to the conductor and finds a seat at the back of the bus.

He settles himself in for what is going to be a long night - taking off his scuffed leather shoes and resting his head against a window opaque with condensation.

Yes, There's An Ethics Committee In Congress-- But It's Main Job Is White-Washing Criminal Behavior Of Colleagues-- Like Mikey Suits Grimm

Yesterday, when I wrote this post, it was November 27, 2014. I was shocked when I saw the posts I had written on November 27, 2012 and November 27, 2013, both about how the House Ethics Committee was asked by the FBI to defer any investigation into the only Member of Congress currently under indictment, Michael "Mikey Suits" Grimm. The Staten Island Republican, who was just reelected, in an increasingly blue district, 56,221 (55.4%) to 42,786 (42,786), is a former FBI employee who betrayed the agency by joining the Gambino Crime Family (Mafia); he also knows where an awful lot of bodies are buried and the FBI is handling his various corruption cases with kid gloves, priority number one being to protect itself-- both institutionally and it's own corrupt officials. And then there's the Netanyahu connection to the Grimm case, another kerfuffle in the scheme of things which would have at least considered expulsion years ago if not for... well, no one says exactly-- just that they've been asked to hold his investigation in abeyance. And it just happened again!

Paul Krugman: Pollution and Politics

Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced proposed regulations to curb emissions of ozone, which causes smog, not to mention asthma, heart disease and premature death. And you know what happened: Republicans went on the attack, claiming that the new rules would impose enormous costs.

There’s no reason to take these complaints seriously, at least in terms of substance. Polluters and their political friends have a track record of crying wolf. Again and again, they have insisted that American business — which they usually portray as endlessly innovative, able to overcome any obstacle — would curl into a quivering ball if asked to limit emissions. Again and again, the actual costs have been far lower than they predicted. In fact, almost always below the E.P.A.’s predictions.

From the New Right to Neoliberalism: the Threat to Democracy Has Grown

By Jean Hardisty, on October 7, 2014

The U.S. is in the grip of an unprecedented dominance of right-wing ideologies and policies. Many progressive commentators see that the same band of New Right actors that have long pushed a conservative agenda are up to their old tricks, trying to block any reformist progress under a Democratic president. But what we are experiencing now is not simply “more of the same.” There has been a political shift in the Right’s reigning ideology. The shift is from the Right’s fixation on capturing and consolidating power to establishing rule by the laws of unfettered capitalism.

The Right’s current success owes much to its persistent pursuit of a well-established social agenda and its increased emphasis on existing economic goals. To maintain that we are in the “old” struggle alone is to miss the rise of what we might call the Right’s “Chamber of Commerce” wing. This sector has a storied history that many people, aside from economists, often gloss over. Its current manifestation embraces a far-reaching, effective, and increasingly entrenched ideology: “neoliberalism.”

The Tech Worker Shortage Doesn't Really Exist

By Josh Eidelson | November 24, 2014

Along with temporary deportation relief for millions, President Obama’s executive action will increase the number of U.S. college graduates from abroad who can temporarily be hired by U.S. corporations. That hasn’t satisfied tech companies and trade groups, which contend more green cards or guest worker visas are needed to keep tech industries growing because of a shortage of qualified American workers. But scholars say there’s a problem with that argument: The tech worker shortage doesn’t actually exist.

“There’s no evidence of any way, shape, or form that there’s a shortage in the conventional sense,” says Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University. “They may not be able to find them at the price they want. But I’m not sure that qualifies as a shortage, any more than my not being able to find a half-priced TV.”

The Making of Ferguson

Long before the shooting of Michael Brown, official racial-isolation policies primed Ferguson for this summer’s events.

By Richard Rothstein

In 1968, Larman Williams was one of the first African Americans to buy a home in the white suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. It wasn’t easy; when he first went to see the house, the real estate agent wouldn’t show it to him. Atypically, Williams belonged to a church with a white pastor, who contacted the agent on Williams’s behalf, only to be told that neighbors objected to sales to Negroes. But after the pastor then gathered the owner and his neighbors for a prayer meeting, the owner told the agent he was no longer opposed to a black buyer.

Williams had been living in the St. Louis ghetto and worked as an assistant school principal in Wellston, a black St. Louis suburb. His wife, Geraldine, taught in a state special education school. They could afford to live in middle-class Ferguson, and hoped to protect their three daughters from the violence of their St. Louis neighborhood. The girls would also get better educations in Ferguson than in Wellston, where Williams worked, because Ferguson’s stronger tax base provided more money per pupil than did Wellston’s; Ferguson could afford more skilled teachers, smaller classes, and extra enrichment programs.

Talking to James Risen About Pay Any Price, the War on Terror and Press Freedoms

By Glenn Greenwald

James Risen, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for exposing the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program, has long been one of the nation’s most aggressive and adversarial investigative journalists. Over the past several years, he has received at least as much attention for being threatened with prison by the Obama Justice Department (ostensibly) for refusing to reveal the source of one of his stories—a persecution that, in reality, is almost certainly the vindictive by-product of the U.S. government’s anger over his NSA reporting.

He has published a new book on the War on Terror entitled Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War. There have been lots of critiques of the War on Terror on its own terms, but Risen’s is one of the first to offer large amounts of original reporting on what is almost certainly the most overlooked aspect of this war: the role corporate profiteering plays in ensuring its endless continuation, and how the beneficiaries use rank fear-mongering to sustain it.