Sunday, January 25, 2015

EXCLUSIVE: Sherrod Brown on GOP’s “shameful” plans, economic populism — and those teenage letters

Leading liberal tells Salon about Republican duplicity, the left's future and how his young self would see him now

Elias Isquith

As Salon noted earlier this month, one of the very first things the new all-GOP Congress did (literally on day one) was to make an arcane rule change that many say could result ultimately in cutting Social Security. While a number of liberal groups and groups devoted to protecting Social Security (not always one-and-the-same) immediately sent up a warning cry, few politicians have been as forceful in their denunciation of the move as Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who recently described the move as “dangerous” and warned it will “set the stage to cut benefits for seniors and disabled Americans.”

To hear more from the senator about Social Security’s imperiled future, as well as what he and his fellow Democrats in the Senate will try to do to preserve it, Salon spoke with Brown over the phone yesterday. In addition to Social Security, our conversation touched on House Democrats’ ambitious new plan to cut taxes for the middle class, Antonio Weiss’ decision to withdraw his nomination to the Treasury, and Brown’s reaction to recently unearthed letters of his from his youth decrying then-President Nixon and championing social justice. Our conversation is below and has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

The Perfect Storm for Wall Street Banks

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: January 14, 2015

JPMorgan Chase reported 2014 fourth quarter earnings this morning, missing analyst estimates. Analysts had expected $1.31 per share while the actual number came in at $1.19. Listening to the conference call this morning, there was the impression that the $1.19 would have been worse had the bank not released loan loss reserves in a number of business areas.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, was back to characterizing the bank’s P&L as the “fortress balance sheet.” The London Whale credit derivatives traders almost blew up the fortress in 2012 and the markets are becoming skeptical as to just how much visibility there is on energy and emerging market loans souring on the books of the mega Wall Street banks.

5 Signs the American Economy May Be on Shakier Ground Than You ThinkE

It's not quite time to pop the champagne.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore

Lots of people are cheering that the U.S. economy has shown signs of strengthening. The stock market looks to be doing better than anyone expected, and unemployment is under 6 percent. But are things really as good as they seem? We are a bit skeptical. Let’s take a look at some signs that things are not altogether well in the American economy.

1. The middle class is still shrinking.

It’s no secret: The American middle class is in rough shape and is no longer the world’s beacon of economic opportunity. The latest jobs report data shows not stagnant, but falling wages, the bulk of it happening with nonsupervisory workers. That is very bad news.

Then there’s the fact that the share of the nation’s economic gains going to the middle class has fallen to near-record lows. As the costs of childcare, higher education and housing keep going up, more folks feel the squeeze. Obamacare has done a number on people in the middle, who are mostly not entitled to subsidies and must therefore pay an outsized portion of their income for insurance.

Thomas Frank: It’s not just Fox News: How liberal apologists torpedoed change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street

Center-left pundits have carried water for the president for six years. Their predictable excuses all ring hollow Thomas Frank

As the Obama administration enters its seventh year, let us examine one of the era’s greatest peculiarities: That one of the most cherished rallying points of the president’s supporters is the idea of the president’s powerlessness.

Today, of course, the Democrats have completely lost control of Congress and it’s easy to make the case for the weakness of the White House. For example, when Frank Bruni sighed last Wednesday that presidents are merely “buoys on the tides of history,” not “mighty frigates parting the waters,” he scarcely made a ripple.

Advocates Fear Obama Can't Be Trusted In New Social Security Fight

By Dylan Scott, Published January 12, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

When House Republicans signaled last week that they would provoke a fight over Social Security in the next two years, progressive stalwarts like Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren decried the action, with Brown alleging the GOP wanted to "set the stage to cut benefits for seniors and disabled Americans.”

But notably silent on the Republican stance, which prevents what has been a routine transfer of revenue between the retirement and disability funds, upping the chances of a crisis for the latter in late 2016, was the Democratic official who might actually be at the table if conservatives succeed in forcing negotiations in the next Congress: President Barack Obama.

Why is the financial industry so afraid of this man?

Joseph Stiglitz has won a Nobel Prize for economics. So why has he apparently been blacklisted by regulators?

Sean McElwee and Lenore Palladino

If the government were creating a new panel to advise on financial regulation, it would make sense to include a Nobel Laureate considered one of the most influential living economists. Yet Joseph Stiglitz has been barred from such a panel, telling Bloomberg he was out because “they may not have felt comfortable with somebody who was not in one way or another owned by the industry.”

The fight to keep Stiglitz off the panel is indicative of a much deeper problem — how the financial industry manipulates the regulatory system. The financial industry does not want Stiglitz on the panel for a simple reason: he has committed the crime of advocating for a modest financial transaction tax. Stiglitz argues that while financial markets normally serve the important function of capital intermediation, some forms of trading, like high-frequency trading, make markets less stable and amount to making money by moving money around. To reduce the incentives for such trading while raising revenue, he has put forward the possibility of a tax on some forms of short-term trading. Such a proposal has gained traction within academia and is already being implemented in Europe. (And it actually used to exist in various forms in the United States.)

House Budget Chair Signals Big Social Security Reforms A-Coming

by Dylan Scott, Published January 12, 2015, 3:54 PM EST

The new House Budget Committee chairman hinted Monday that he had big plans for Social Security reform in the next two years, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A week after the House voted on a rule that critics say could force a manufactured crisis in the disability program in late 2016, a potential leverage point for Republicans aiming for changes, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) told a conservative audience that he wanted his committee to tackle Social Security.

The Fed’s and Republicans’ War Against Dodd Frank and How That Preserves the Greenspan Put and Too Big to Fail

Posted on January 12, 2015 by Yves Smith

A new story by Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times highlights how the Federal Reserve and the Republicans* are on a full bore campaign to render Dodd Frank a dead letter, with the latest chapter an effort to pass HR 37, a bill that would chip away at key parts of Dodd Frank.

Mind you, we weren’t wild about Dodd Frank precisely because the bill did far too little to stop the reckless practices that produced the crisis. But both the Fed and the newly ascendant Congressional Republicans are keen to restore as much as possible the status quo ante that proved so lucrative to the banks, both the pre-crisis period and the bailouts, which stands as the greatest transfer of wealth in history. So even mild reform must be swept away.

Lessons from Vermont

What does Vermont’s failed single-payer plan tell us about future reform efforts?

by A.W. Gaffney

Has the tide of health care justice turned — in the wrong direction? Last month, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin announced that he could no longer “responsibly support” a funding plan for his long-awaited “single-payer” plan for the state. It wasn’t long before some on the Right claimed a historic victory.

“As crises of faith go,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board gloated, “this is Mikhail Gorbachev circa 1991 territory.” After all, single-payer health care, according to the Journal, is not merely “the polite term for socialized medicine,” but nothing less than “the ultimate goal of the political left.”

Alan Taylor: Surprising New Findings Point to “Perfect Storm” Brewing in Your Financial Future

by Lynn Parramore on January 08, 2015

Lynn Parramore: Looking back in history at 17 countries, you discovered something interesting about the private sector financial credit market. What did you find?

Alan Taylor: Our project compiled, for the first time, comprehensive aggregate credit data in the form of bank lending in 17 advanced countries since 1870, in addition to some important categories of lending like mortgages.

Is Nothing Sacred at JPMorgan?

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: January 9, 2015

JPMorgan appears incredibly adroit at ever creative means of running its reputation through the mud. Last August the Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis filed a lawsuit in Federal Court alleging that its endowment funds meant to feed and shelter homeless families and children, keep food banks stocked, and give exhausted pastors a sabbatical, ended up as a wealth transfer scheme at JPMorgan.

Stopping the Biggest Corporate Power Grab in Years

How fighting back against one arcane, Nixon-era trade negotiating procedure could put a stop to a global corporate coup.

By Arthur Stamoulis / Foreign Policy in Focu

When global justice groups wanted to halt expansion of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999, they organized massive demonstrations in Seattle, where the official ministerial conference was being he

Tens of thousands of people filled the streets. Groups held rallies, marches, and teach-ins, conducted civil disobedience, and in many cases faced attacks by police. With delegates unable to even reach the convention hall, the opening ceremony was cancelled, and the talks eventually fell apart. The “Battle of Seattle” not only succeeded in derailing the Millennial Round of negotiations, it also turned opposition to corporate globalization into international headline news.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Republican Strategy To Repeal Dodd-Frank

By Simon Johnson

On January 7, 2015, Day 2 of the new Congress, the House Republicans put their cards on the table with regard to the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms. The Republicans will chip away along all possible dimensions, using a combination of legislation and pressure on regulators – with the ultimate goal of relaxing the restrictions that have been placed on the activities of very large banks (such as Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase).

The initial target is the Volcker Rule, which limits the ability of megabanks to place very large proprietary bets – and their ability to incur massive losses, with big negative consequences for the rest of us. But we should expect the House Republican strategy to be applied more broadly, including all kinds of measures that will reduce capital requirements (i.e., make it easier for the largest banks to fund themselves with relatively more debt and less equity, taking more risk while remaining Too Big To Fail and thus benefiting from larger implicit government subsidies.)

New GOP Congress Fires Shot At Social Security On Day One

ByDylan Scott, Published January 6, 2015, 5:34 PM EST

With a little-noticed proposal, Republicans took aim at Social Security on the very first day of the 114th Congress.

The incoming GOP majority approved late Tuesday a new rule that experts say could provoke an unprecedented crisis that conservatives could use as leverage in upcoming debates over entitlement reform.

The largely overlooked change puts a new restriction on the routine transfer of tax revenues between the traditional Social Security retirement trust fund and the Social Security disability program. The transfers, known as reallocation, had historically been routine; the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said Tuesday that they had been made 11 times. The CBPP added that the disability insurance program "isn't broken," but the program has been strained by demographic trends that the reallocations are intended to address.

Greg Palast: Greece Is a Crime Scene, and Vulture Funds Are to Blame

By Michael Nevradakis, Truthout | Interview

Investigative reporter and bestselling author Greg Palast discusses with Truthout the results of his investigation into the actions of so-called vulture funds and their role in the destruction of the Greek economy. He also examines the eurozone and alternative examples of economic development available.

Michael Nevradakis: In light of the upcoming elections, Greece at the present time has unemployment that has surpassed 27 percent, youth unemployment at around 60 percent, hundreds of thousands of Greeks who have migrated abroad, a social state in shambles, and a government in the process of selling off key state industries, public lands and utilities. What is your take on the current economic situation in Greece?

Greg Palast: Well, it's fascinating, because if you read the Western press, Greece is now a "success story." By success meaning you're paying off your creditors; your stock market has recovered and the bond market has recovered somewhat. So as far as most of the press is concerned, everything is fine in Greece. The fact that people are unemployed, that people are still losing their homes and livelihoods, doesn't mean much to the press, because all that matters is the stock market and your creditors.

House GOP's New Rule Allows Republicans to Hide Tax Cuts

By Crystal Shepeard, Care2 | Report

On Tuesday, the 114th Congress’ term officially began with Republicans holding the majority in both chambers for the first time in eight years. After the photo ops of swearing in ceremonies with the Vice President and congressional members’ families, Congress wasted no time to get to work (something that wasn’t done much in the previous session). Most of the day was about finding co-sponsors and votes for bills that would make great press releases for constituents back home. In the House of Representatives, however, a very important new rule was passed that will change how legislation is evaluated.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provides nonpartisan economic analysis on the costs for any budgets or legislation proposed by Congress. When changes in taxation are involved, the nonpartisan Joint Committee On Taxation (JCT) issues reports regarding the revenue side. These two departments work together to create projections highlighting how a change in current policy would play out in certain scenarios.

Dean Baker: Congress Starts the New Year Off By Kicking the Disabled

Tens of millions of people made New Year's resolutions last week, but few were as creative as the one pushed through Congress yesterday. Apparently, the new Congress decided that its first order of business should be to go after workers who are no longer able to hold jobs due to injury or illness.

It did this in a technical move that is likely to escape the attention of most of the public. The Republican Congress voted to ban any reallocation of Social Security tax revenue between the retirement fund, designated for retirees and survivors, and the disability fund for disabled workers. This matters because the disability fund is projected to face a shortfall some time in 2016. If no steps are taken by that point, workers suffering from cancer, heart disease or other disabling conditions will see their benefits cut by almost 20 percent.

Eliminating ACA subsidies would cause nearly 10 million to lose insurance, study finds

Eliminating government subsidies for low- and moderate-income people who purchase coverage through federally run health insurance marketplaces would sharply boost costs and reduce enrollment in the individual market by more than 9.6 million, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Modeling the likely effects of ending subsidies in 34 states where the federal government operates insurance marketplaces for individuals, researchers found that such a move would cause individual market enrollment to drop by 70 percent among people buying policies that comply with the federal Affordable Care Act.

Richard Eskow: The Right Tries (and Fails) to Justify Its Assault on Social Security

How does the right justify the kind of action Congress took this week, when it moved to cut disability benefits for millions of people by 20 percent? Answer #1: With buzzwords and rhetorical dodges. Answer #2: Not very well.

For details on the House’s action, we pointed yesterday to a number of well-informed analyses – by Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, Kathy Ruffing, Alan Pyke, Dean Baker, and Michael Hiltzik. Republicans moved to cut Social Security disability benefits by blocking a routine reallocation of funds. That’s bad enough, but their end game is even worse: broad Social Security cuts and the privatization of the entire program.

GOP’s new attack on Social Security: Yet another result of government for the 1 percent

Why is the GOP Congress immediately targeting Social Security? Because it's what their real constituents want

Elias Isquith

As I and many others wrote at the time, one of the few unifying characteristics of last year’s midterm elections was their paucity of greater meaning. Granted, that’s always the case with midterms, at least to some degree, when the literally hundreds of federal and state-level elections lack a presidential campaign around which to position themselves. But as I argued then and still believe today, the 2014 cycle was especially perfunctory, especially shambolic and especially tangential to the truly important issues facing the United States today. And voters seemed to agree — or at least that’s my explanation for why so few of them bothered to show up.

However, even if I still can’t quite tell you what 2014 was about, I can tell you one thing that it most certainly wasn’t about: a supposedly pressing need to make significant cuts to Social Security, which remains one of the precious few big government programs that still enjoys high levels of widespread, bipartisan support. That’s not to say Americans don’t support reforming Social Security, or that they’re not open to considering making some benefit cuts (primarily for the wealthy); they do and they are. But it is to say that no one could argue, at least not with a straight face, that cutting Social Security benefits was a major topic of the year’s many debates. And yet, according to two of the Senate’s most popular and influential liberals, that’s one of the very first things the new, GOP-controlled Congress is trying to do.

Paul Krugman: Presidents and the Economy

Suddenly, or so it seems, the U.S. economy is looking better. Things have been looking up for a while, but at this point the signs of improvement — job gains, rapidly growing G.D.P., rising public confidence — are unmistakable.

The improving economy is surely one factor in President Obama’s rising approval rating. And there’s a palpable sense of panic among Republicans, despite their victory in the midterms. They expected to run in 2016 against a record of failure; what do they do if the economy is looking pretty good?

Progressives Seek Control Of The Democratic Party

BySahil KapurPublishedJanuary 9, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

As Republicans take control of Congress for the first time since 2006, the Democrats' crushing midterm defeat and the rise of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have empowered the progressive wing to step up their fight for the soul of the party ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Their message: Stop catering to big business. Listen to populists like Warren on how to rebuild the tarnished brand. Champion transformative ideas that will improve the lives of middle class Americans. If not, Democrats are toast in 2016.

Without Fox News, There Would Have Been No Iraq War

—By Kevin Drum | Mon Jan. 5, 2015 12:24 PM EST

Max Ehrenfreund points to an interesting tidbit this morning. A pair of researchers have released a working paper that attempts to figure out if watching Fox News makes you more conservative. They do this by exploiting the fact that channel numbers on cable systems are placed fairly randomly throughout the country, and people tend to watch channels with lower numbers. Thus, in areas where Fox has a low channel number, it gets watched a little bit more in a way that has nothing to do with whether the local viewers were more conservative in the first place.

So does randomly surfing over to Fox News tend to make you more right-wing? Yes indeed! "We estimate that Fox News increases the likelihood of voting Republican by 0.9 points among viewers induced into watching four additional minutes per week by differential channel positions." And this in turn means that we owe the Iraq War to Fox News: "We estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the average county's Republican vote share by 1.6 percentage points."

One Million Americans Are About to Lose Their Food Stamp Benefits

By Cliff Weathers

One million of the nation’s poorest people will be cut from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program by the end of 2016 even if they're actively pursuing work, according to Center of Budget Policy and Priorities [3].

Better known by its former name, the Food Stamp program, in some areas SNAP will reinstate a three-month limit on benefits for unemployed adults between 18-50 who are not disabled or raising children. These individuals will lose SNAP even if they are unable to find jobs and not part of job training programs that meet the requirements for food assistance benefits. Many states do not have such programs.

Paul Krugman: Twin Peaks Planet

In 2014, soaring inequality in advanced nations finally received the attention it deserved, as Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” became a surprise (and deserving) best seller. The usual suspects are still in well-paid denial, but, to everyone else, it is now obvious that income and wealth are more concentrated at the very top than they have been since the Gilded Age — and the trend shows no sign of letting up.

But that’s a story about developments within nations, and, therefore, incomplete. You really want to supplement Piketty-style analysis with a global view, and when you do, I’d argue, you get a better sense of the good, the bad and the potentially very ugly of the world we live in.

Kansas Is Totally Screwed

Sam Brownback's tax cuts are wrecking the state's budget.

—By Patrick Caldwell | Wed Jan. 7, 2015 6:25 AM EST

In 2012, when Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback first pitched his plan to drastically slash the state's income taxes, he promised "a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy." Brownback brought in Arthur Laffer, Ronald Reagan's trickle-down economics guru, to help sell the idea that the cuts—which zeroed out taxes for 200,000 businesses and slashed rates for top earners—were guaranteed to boost the state's fortunes, prop up the economy, and bring in countless new jobs as businesses and individuals flocked to Kansas to escape the tyrannies of higher-tax states.

Two years later, those rosy predictions have turned to doom and gloom. Next week, when the state legislature kicks off its new session, lawmakers will face a daunting budget deficit that will require either overturning Brownback's tax cuts or shaving hundreds of millions from the state's budget. A recent string of court cases mandating increased funds for education will make that job trickier. Thanks to Brownback's efforts to transform the state into the Koch brothers' dreamland, Kansas is now mired in a fiscal disaster.

10 Rules for Dealing with Cops, By a Cop

By Neill Franklin

As a 33-year law enforcement veteran and former training commander with the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department, I know how easy it is to intimidate citizens into answering incriminating questions or letting me search through their belongings. This reality might make things easier for police looking to make an easy arrest, but it doesn't always serve the interests of justice. That's why I believe all citizens should understand how to protect their constitutional rights and make smart decisions when dealing with officers of the law.
Unfortunately, this important information has remained largely unavailable to the public, despite growing concerns about police misconduct and the excesses of the war on drugs. For this reason, I agreed to serve as a technical consultant for the important new film, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. The 40-minute docudrama aims to educate the public about basic legal and practical survival strategies for handling even the scariest police encounters. It was produced by the civil liberties group Flex Your Rights and is narrated by former federal judge and acclaimed Baltimore trial lawyer William "Billy" Murphy, Jr.

The Finance Industry Is Gorging Itself on Your Future—The Trend Lines Will Blow You Away

We have to curtail the power of high finance.

By Les Leopold / AlterNet

Increasing debt and runaway inequality are of a piece. That's because debt at compound interest rates is extremely powerful. Borrow a little today, and in time, you could be destitute. To get a feel for its power, imagine you borrowed just one nickel at 5% interest when Christ was born. You would now owe the tidy sum of $225,438,991,066,856,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 — more money than ever existed in the history of the world. Which is to say, those who wield the power of debt, wields enormous economic power.

In our society we've given that power to private financial corporations, and they've done a masterful job in pushing us to the brink of debt peonage. The problem extends far beyond the much ballyhooed federal government debt. The power of debt extends to nearly every aspect of modern life. Our homes, schools, roads, bridges, highways, utilities, corporations and virtually every product and good produced and sold depend on debt. By some estimates as much as 30 cents of every dollar we spend goes to cover interest payments on the debt accrued to make all that we buy. (For example of the $6.5 trillion of private enterprise income in 2012, 36.8% went to interest payments.)

Big money breaks out

Top 100 donors give almost as much as 4.75 million small donors combined.

By Kenneth P. Vogel | 12/29/14 5:32 AM EST

The 100 biggest campaign donors gave $323 million in 2014 — almost as much as the $356 million given by the estimated 4.75 million people who gave $200 or less, a POLITICO analysis of campaign finance filings found.

And the balance almost certainly would tip far in favor of the mega-donors were the analysis to include nonprofit groups that spent at least $219 million — and likely much more — but aren’t required to reveal their donors’ identities

Paul Krugman: The Obama Recovery

Suppose that for some reason you decided to start hitting yourself in the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You’d feel pretty bad. Correspondingly, you’d probably feel a lot better if and when you finally stopped. What would that improvement in your condition tell you?

It certainly wouldn’t imply that hitting yourself in the head was a good idea. It would, however, be an indication that the pain you were experiencing wasn’t a reflection of anything fundamentally wrong with your health. Your head wasn’t hurting because you were sick; it was hurting because you kept hitting it with that baseball bat.

How Goldman Sachs May Provoke Yet Another Major Financial Crisis

The banking giant had a role in Greece's financial problems too.

By Ellen Brown

Greece and the troika (the International Monetary Fund, the EU, and the European Central Bank) are in a dangerous game of chicken. The Greeks have been threatened with a “Cyprus-Style prolonged bank holiday”if they “vote wrong.” But they have been bullied for too long and are saying “no more.”

A return to the polls was triggered in December, when the Parliament rejected Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ pro-austerity candidate for president. In a general election, now set for January 25th, the EU-skeptic, anti-austerity, leftist Syriza party is likely to prevail. Syriza captured a 3% lead in the polls following mass public discontent over the harsh austerity measures Athens was forced to accept in return for a €240 billion bailout.

Paul Krugman: Tidings of Comfort

Maybe I’m just projecting, but Christmas seemed unusually subdued this year. The malls seemed less crowded than usual, the people glummer. There was even less Muzak in the air. And, in a way, that’s not surprising: All year Americans have been bombarded with dire news reports portraying a world out of control and a clueless government with no idea what to do.

Yet if you look back at what actually happened over the past year, you see something completely different. Amid all the derision, a number of major government policies worked just fine — and the biggest successes involved the most derided policies. You’ll never hear this on Fox News, but 2014 was a year in which the federal government, in particular, showed that it can do some important things very well if it wants to.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Michael Hudson: The War on Pensions – The US Budget Anti-Pension Law

Posted on January 3, 2015 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. His latest book is “The Bubble and Beyond.”

On the Senate’s last day in session in December, it approved the government’s $1.1 trillion budget for coming fiscal year.

Few people realize how radical the new U.S. budget law was. Budget laws are supposed to decide simply what to fund and what to cut. A budget is not supposed to make new law, or to rewrite the law. But that is what happened, and it was radical.

Wall Street’s representatives in Congress – the Democratic leadership as well as Republicans – took the opportunity to create an artificial crisis. The press called this “holding the government hostage.” The House – backed by the Senate – said that it would shut the government down at some future date if two basic laws were not changed.

How Congress Has Already Cut Your Social Security Benefits

(Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a new book, “Social Security Works! Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All,” published by The New Press, 2015, all rights reserved. Order a copy here [4].)

By Nancy J. Altman, Eric R. Kingson

It’s not widely recognized, but Social Security is gradually weakening. Still the most important source of retirement income for the vast majority, Social Security benefits have been chipped away, and will be roughly 24 percent lower for workers born after 1959.

Here’s why.

In 1983 Congress passed legislation that included significant reductions in benefits. Very importantly, the 1983 legislation raised Social Security’s full retirement age from age 65 to 67, a change that is still being phased in. The 1983 amendments set the Social Security “full retirement age” at 66, gradually phased in for those born in 1943 through 1954. It will then gradually increase to age 67, fully phased in for those born after 1959.

David Cay Johnston: The success of Obamanomics

What’s not to like about the economic record of this president?

By a host of measures, the U.S. economy has done exceptionally well under President Barack Obama. So why does he receive such poor approval ratings, especially from the most prosperous and economically conservative Americans?

The investor class should be thrilled. Under Obama, the Dow has risen an astonishing 126 percent, to a record high of 18,030. Under President George W. Bush, the index fell by a quarter, from 10,587 to 7,949.

Guess Who's Watching The Hen House?

posted by DownWithTyranny

During the election, we talked a bit about how the CIA and other spy agencies worked hard to insert their own operatives into Congress as members, with the object of getting control over oversight of their own agencies. There were some successes (William Hurd in Texas) and some failures (Kevin Strouse and Bobby McKenzie) but electing Members of Congress isn't the only way the National Security State can keep control of their shit. This week, investigative journalist Lee Fang, writing for Republic Report, exposed another: high-paid lobbyists being hired by Intelligence shills to run the oversight committees. How about... Blackwater in charge? - See more at:

Blaming Parents, and Other Neoliberal Pastimes

Emmett Rensin, David Shor

The State of California believes the following things to be true: first, that reading to children will make them smarter. Second, that parents ordinarily disinclined for reasons of time or temperament from this activity may be won over by means of thirty-second radio spots. These are strange beliefs, but they are not uncommon.

Too Small to Fail, a nonprofit nominally led by Hillary Clinton, believes the same. Among the organization’s many laudable efforts to improve early childhood health and education is a less laudable (but no less costly) attempt to use advertisements to convince poor parents to read to their children. This, the group claims, will bolster kids’ intelligence, and thereby their tests scores, and thereby their futures. Chicago has a similar program. Their slogan: “Take time to be a dad.”

These efforts will fail. Not because PSAs and chipper radio spots won’t conjure quality reading time in the schedules of parents rushing from a 5 p.m. quitting time to the start of a 6 p.m. second shift (although they won’t, of course), but because reading to children, even young children, will not necessarily make them smarter.

Murdoch, Scaife and CIA Propaganda

Special Report: The rapid expansion of America’s right-wing media began in the 1980s as the Reagan administration coordinated foreign policy initiatives with conservative media executives, including Rupert Murdoch, and then cleared away regulatory hurdles, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Reagan administration pulled right-wing media executives Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife into a CIA-organized “perception management” operation which aimed Cold War-style propaganda at the American people in the 1980s, according to declassified U.S. government records.

Although some records relating to Murdoch remain classified, several documents that have been released indicate that he and billionaire Scaife were considered sources of financial and other support for President Ronald Reagan’s hard-line Central American policies, including the CIA’s covert war in Nicaragua.

What's left of our schools once the Midas cult moves on?

by Tom Sullivan

What happens to America and its children once investment gurus decide the K-12 market is no longer the place to invest money? When education is no longer the Big Enchilada? When they dump their charter schools back on the states? Or raze them to build condos?

Those who have followed the school deform movement know that standing just behind parents expressing genuine concern for their children are investors. Millionaires and billionaires are targeting public education for the same reason banksters pimped mortgage loans. For the same reason Wall Street tried to privatize Social Security. For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks.

No, China does not hold more than 50 percent of U.S. debt

By Glenn Kessler, December 29, 2014

At a recent gathering of fact checkers sponsored by the American Press Institute, George Washington University assistant professor Emily Thorson presented some interesting data concerning policy misperceptions held by the American public — perceptions which are common among both liberals and conservatives.

Among the incorrect beliefs held with conviction, no matter the party: China holds more than 50 percent of the U.S. debt; there is no time limit for benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, commonly known as welfare; salaries for all members of Congress is a bigger part of the federal budget than salaries for all members of the military. In other words, these were beliefs not colored by partisanship. (The welfare answer is fascinating given that President Bill Clinton in 1996 signed a bipartisan bill that cut off benefits at 60 months.)

We Forgot To End Poverty

Poverty remains at record highs. Is that because welfare reform failed, or because it succeeded all too well?

BY Chris Rhomberg

In September, the Census Bureau released the latest figures on poverty in America. You may not have noticed, because the report made barely a ripple in the media or the midterms. It showed that from 2012 to 2013, the overall poverty rate fell by half a percentage point, to 14.5 percent—the first statistically significant decline since 2006.

The modest turnaround might be cause for hope, but poverty still remains well above the pre-Great Recession rate of 12.5 percent in 2007. In raw numbers, 45.3 million people lived below the poverty threshold in 2013. That’s close to the peak of 46.2 million in 2010, the greatest number in the more than 50 years the government has tracked the data.

New G20 Rules: Cyprus-style Bail-ins to Hit Depositors AND Pensioners

Posted on December 1, 2014 by Ellen Brown

On the weekend of November 16th, the G20 leaders whisked into Brisbane, posed for their photo ops, approved some proposals, made a show of roundly disapproving of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and whisked out again. It was all so fast, they may not have known what they were endorsing when they rubber-stamped the Financial Stability Board’s “Adequacy of Loss-Absorbing Capacity of Global Systemically Important Banks in Resolution,” which completely changes the rules of banking.

Russell Napier, writing in ZeroHedge, called it “the day money died.” In any case, it may have been the day deposits died as money. Unlike coins and paper bills, which cannot be written down or given a “haircut,” says Napier, deposits are now “just part of commercial banks’ capital structure.” That means they can be “bailed in” or confiscated to save the megabanks from derivative bets gone wrong.

'A Terrible Idea': The Full Failure of E-Voting, E-Counting, 'Open Source' and Internet Voting [VIDEO] Or, 'The British Version of Me'...

Posted By Brad Friedman On 22nd December 2014

This guy, Tom Scott of Computerphile, is right on the money in every respect, when it comes to electronic voting --- be it via touch-screen computers, paper ballot optical-scan systems or, God forbid, Internet Voting. If I was British, and younger, and better looking, and smarter, this would be me...

(link to a video posted at bradblog)

After almost 11 years at this, it's great to see that at least a few folks are finally getting it. While many understand some of the problems of e-voting, too many still think those probs can be solved with "paper trails" or "open source systems" or Vote-by-Mail or, somehow, even Internet Voting (via phone, tablet or elsewhere). Scott clearly understands, and smartly explains in the short video above, why the problems of electronic voting and tabulating cannot be solved by any of those methods, no matter how much many otherwise well-intentioned folks may wish they could be.

Dean Baker: New Year's Resolutions: Ten Ways to Combat Upward Redistribution of Income

The big gainers in the last three decades (a.k.a. the 1%) like to pretend that their good fortune was simply the result of the natural workings of the market. This backdrop largely limits political debate in Washington. The main difference is that the conservatives want to keep all the money for themselves, while the liberals are willing to toss a few crumbs to the rest of the country in the form of food stamps, health care insurance, and other transfers.

While the crumbs are helpful, the serious among us have to be thinking about the unrigging of the economy so that all the money doesn't flow upward in the first place. Here are 10 ways in which we should be looking to change the structure of the market in 2015, so that all the money doesn't flow to the 1%.

The Future the US Budget Foretells

The key drafters of the U.S. Constitution may have had dreams of a government to “promote the general Welfare” but that goal has long since been lost to factionalism and special interests, a reality that is growing worse as money increasingly buys American politics, as Lawrence Davidson describes.

By Lawrence Davidson

I can make high-probability predictions for 2015 and the near-beyond without the benefit of a crystal ball, tarot cards or tea leaves. The only thing that I need is a list of items from the new 2015 U.S. federal budget. Here are some of my forecasts and the budget items that make them so highly probable:

–There will be more deadly truck-related accidents than necessary on the nation’s highways in 2015. That means more deaths, injuries, highway delays, stress and frustration. How do I know? Because the 2015 budget rolls back the safety requirement that truckers need to get more rest between driving assignments.


–Either in 2015 or soon thereafter there will be another major banking crisis requiring the outlay of enormous sums of public money to avert economic meltdown. How do I know? Because the 2015 federal budget rolls back the requirement, put in place after the last financial crisis, that forced the trading of derivatives to be done by corporate entities separated from the banks and not covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company.

Democracy Under Threat-- Or Is It Already Too Late?

posted by DownWithTyranny

Saturday morning I woke up bright and early and feeling chipper. I tweeted an upbeat statement about Bernie Sanders' likely presidential run: Just once before we pass on, shouldn't we have a president NOT owned by Big Business & Wall St.? It's still up to us And then I started thinking about the implications of the "It's still up to us" phrase. Is it? I revisited an interview Tom Hartmann had done (above) a few months ago with Martin Gilens, Professor of Politics at Princeton University. Gilens was on Hartmann's show because he co-authored, along with Professor Benjamin Page of Northwestern University a controversial new study, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. What Gilens and Page have put forward in their study is that American democracy has slowly become weaker and weaker as an all-powerful and very determined oligarchy has taken complete control of the country's decision making processes. These people didn't want to see another FDR running the country and they were determined to create a system to prevent it. They already owned the Republican Party-- which did not work for them in stopping the rise of Roosevelt-- and they set about to take over the Democratic Party, almost entirely achieved now. More than that, they have used their wealth to infiltrate and capture every aspect of the decision making process, from state government and mass media to all the crucial flex points where consequential decisions are made. - See more at:

The Victory of ‘Perception Management’

Special Report: In the 1980s, the Reagan administration pioneered “perception management” to get the American people to “kick the Vietnam Syndrome” and accept more U.S. interventionism, but that propaganda structure continues to this day getting the public to buy into endless war, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

To understand how the American people find themselves trapped in today’s Orwellian dystopia of endless warfare against an ever-shifting collection of “evil” enemies, you have to think back to the Vietnam War and the shock to the ruling elite caused by an unprecedented popular uprising against that war.

While on the surface Official Washington pretended that the mass protests didn’t change policy, a panicky reality existed behind the scenes, a recognition that a major investment in domestic propaganda would be needed to ensure that future imperial adventures would have the public’s eager support or at least its confused acquiescence.

How States Are Redistributing the Wealth

By David Sirota

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama was lambasted for supposedly endorsing policies of wealth redistribution. The right feared that under an Obama presidency, Washington would use federal power to take money from some Americans and give it to others. Yet, only a few years later, the most explicit examples of such redistribution are happening in the states, and often at the urging of Republicans.

The most illustrative example began in 2012, when Kansas’ Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a landmark bill that delivered big tax cuts to high-income earners and businesses. Less than two years after that tax cut, the state’s income tax revenues plummeted by a quarter-billion dollars—and now Brownback is pushing to use money for public employees’ pensions to instead cover the state’s ensuing budget shortfalls.

The Future of Financial Reform: Conceiving the Financial System of the 21st Century

by Jay Pocklington on December 22, 2014

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England (BoE) and Chairman of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), may well be the man of the hour. When he gives a speech entitled “The Future of Financial Reform” as he recently did at the Monetary Authority in Singapore, people listen.

In his remarks, Carney emphasized curbing bankers’ compensation. It is little surprise that these particular remarks made all the headlines – this is kind of news the public has been waiting for. The fact that bankers received a record $140 billion in 2009 after banks received bailouts should enrage anyone. However, Carney offers a more subtle and nuanced understanding of the modern financial system and does not simply repeat populist anti-banker sentiments. As the head of the Bank of England he is at the forefront in conceiving a financial system for the 21st century – how to regulate it to make it safe and fair, and make it serve the needs of the real economy.

The Gap Between the Rich and the Rest of Us Is The Widest It's Been In 30 Years. Here's One Reason Why.

Lots of Americans don't have bank accounts.

—By Erika Eichelberger | Fri Dec. 26, 2014 6:15 AM EST

The wealth gap between the richest 20 percent of Americans and everyone else is the widest it's been in three decades, according to a report released last week by the Pew Research Center. Many factors contribute to this great divide: tax rates on the rich have been falling for decades; the Great Recession decimated the assets of a lot of low- and middle-income folks; and technology is replacing workers. One often-overlooked factor, though, is that 16.7 million poor Americans don't have a bank account. Lack of access to this basic financial tool cramps poor Americans' ability to prove credit-worthiness and build assets, and forces them to rely on expensive alternative financial services, trapping them in a cycle of debt and instability.

Even this organic advocate thinks African farmers need herbicide

By Nathanael Johnson on 24 Nov 2014

Why aren’t agroecological techniques farming spreading faster among poor farmers? If you are a farmer in the rural part of an undeveloped country, where it’s hard to get synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, and genetically modified seeds, it only makes sense to turn to a form of agriculture that eschews those things. Instead of requiring technological inputs, agroecology and organic farming require skills — which are free and non-proprietary. Organic farming also builds up the organic matter in the soil, which helps it catch and hold moisture; that’s especially important in semi-arid lands without irrigation infrastructure.

So why don’t we see organic production raising developing rural areas out of poverty? I’ve seen two possible explanations: Big Agribusiness is sabotaging the nascent growth, or farmers aren’t getting the training they need.

I see the first explanation all the time, but I don’t see evidence.

The simple move Obama could make to strengthen the rest of us

You're working more hours and not getting paid for them. We can fix that -- and put more people to work. Here's how

Paul Rosenberg

“The economy” in the abstract is doing relatively well, with strong job growth, a booming stock market, and rising GDP. But the American people aren’t feeling it—and Democrats have paid a serious political price as a result—simply because the concrete, individual experience is quite different. Raising the minimum wage is one way to get at the problem—but for a problem that big, it’s a limited line of attack. There are millions of Americans making well more than the minimum wage, yet still doing much worse than their similarly situated parents did a generation ago.

“So what’s changed since the 1960s and ’70s?” progressive billionare venture capitalist Nick Hanauer asked in Politico back in November. “Overtime pay, in part,” he answered: “Your parents got a lot of it, and you don’t. And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class.”