Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Unhappy Days for America

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam Simon and Schuster, 386 pp., $28.00

Nicholas Lemann

Robert Putnam made the leap from the academic prominence he had already achieved to something much broader in 1995 with an article in the Journal of Democracy called “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.” Whenever an article in a small publication causes the kind of sensation that “Bowling Alone” did—it generated a great deal of enthusiasm in government and in the foundation world—it says something about the intellectual climate of the moment when it was published. Putnam’s main point was that community life outside government and business—the proliferation of voluntary organizations that observers since Tocqueville have noted as a special feature of American culture—had severely eroded. He presented this apparent decline in “social capital” as alarming, and his argument had a powerful effect on people who had grown up in a world of Parent-Teacher Associations, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, and bowling leagues, and who now lived in circumstances where such institutions didn’t seem to exist.

Wall Street’s Fatal Flaw: Confusing “Disruptors” With “Corruptors”

By Pam Martens: May 19, 2015

In the late 1990s, Salomon Smith Barney’s telecom analyst, Jack Grubman, was viewed by his powerful firm as a “disruptor.” He was throwing out the old rules on how a telecom analyst should interact with a company on which he was delivering research to the public and creating a new, innovative model. Instead of following the old rules and remaining pristinely independent and objective, Grubman was sitting in on board meetings at WorldCom, giving investment advice to its executives, while simultaneously issuing laudatory research to induce the investing public to buy the stock.

1776: The Revolt Against Austerity

Steve Pincus

Was the Declaration of Independence a powerful indictment of British austerity policies? Does America’s founding document need to be seen as part of an economic debate about the British Empire? These questions may seem jarring, almost anachronistic. But eighteenth-century political argument, like that of our own day, often revolved around responses to fiscal crisis. Just as political debates in Britain and the United States today turn in large part on the response to the great recession of 2008, so the events that made the United States were shaped by the British imperial government’s reaction to the debt crisis of the 1760s. What made the Declaration so offensive to British politicians then, and what makes it highly relevant to Europeans and Americans today, is that America’s founders offered a blueprint for a different kind of state response to fiscal crisis.

Kansas's shocking new law will take poor people’s money and give it to big banks

Updated by Dylan Matthews on May 22, 2015, 10:10 a.m. ET

Kansas Republicans have put forward a new policy initiative that's almost shocking in its clear intent to harm the interests of poor people. The provision, which takes effect July 1, will ban welfare recipients from taking out more than $25 in benefits a day from an ATM.

Other broadly similar benefits-restriction measures — things like laws that require drug testing for welfare or food stamp recipients, for example, or that ban food stamp recipients from buying seafood or steak — normally have at least a veneer of an anti-fraud or public health rationale. But the ATM rule is simply a financial hardship and a logistical hassle that can't possibly help anyone other than banks collecting the fees.

NSA bulk phone records collection to end despite USA Freedom Act failure

- Administration has not applied to secret court for 90-day extension
- USA Freedom Act fails in early hours after long Senate session
- Senators reject bill to scrap NSA bulk collection

Spencer Ackerman

Even as the Senate remains at an impasse over the future of US domestic surveillance powers, the National Security Agency will be legally unable to collect US phone records in bulk by the time Congress returns from its Memorial Day vacation.

The administration, as suggested in a memo it sent Congress on Wednesday, declined to ask a secret surveillance court for another 90-day extension of the order necessary to collect US phone metadata in bulk. The filing deadline was Friday, hours before the Senate failed to come to terms on a bill that would have formally repealed the NSA domestic surveillance program.

Drone Warfare’s Costs and Benefits

Lethal drones are President Obama’s weapon of choice in striking at suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists in remote areas, but – as with any weapon of war – there must be a cost-benefit analysis, including whether drone strikes create more enemies than they kill, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

President Barack Obama’s announcement last month that earlier this year a “U.S. counterterrorism operation” had killed two hostages, including an American citizen, has become a fresh occasion for questioning the rationales for continuing attacks from unmanned aerial vehicles aimed at presumed, suspected, or even confirmed terrorists.

This questioning is desirable, although not mainly for hostage-related reasons connected to this incident. Sometimes an incident has a sufficient element of controversy to stoke debate even though what most needs to be debated is not an issue specific to the incident itself. More fundamental issues about the entire drone program need more attention than they are getting.

Why Some Kids Go to Prison for No Reason and Some Kids Go to College No Matter How Badly They Act

The heartbreaking, everyday tragedies witnessed by sociologist Alice Goffman in a poor Philadelphia neighborhood.

By Alice Goffman

On the path that American children travel to adulthood, two public institutions oversee the journey. One institution, the one we hear a great deal about, is college. Many of you may remember the excitement you felt as you set off for college, maybe some of you are in college right now, and you feel this excitement this very this minute. College may have its shortcomings – it's really expensive, it leaves young people in debt -- but all in all, it’s a pretty good path. Young people graduate from college with pride, with great friends, with a good deal of knowledge about the world, maybe with a future spouse, and hopefully with a job, or the ability to get one.

I want to talk about the second major public institution that is overseeing the journey from childhood to adulthood in the United States, and that institution is prison. The young people on this journey are going to court dates instead of class, they are meeting with probation officers instead of with teachers, their junior year abroad is instead a trip to a state correctional facility, and they are graduating not with degrees in business and English but with criminal records.

Richard Eskow: The Big Banks Are Corrupt – And Getting Worse

The Justice Department’s latest settlement with felonious big banks was announced this week, but the repercussions were limited to a few headlines and some scattered protestations.

That’s not enough. We need to understand that our financial system is not merely corrupt in practice. It is corrupt by design – and the problem is growing.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Exclusive: The CIA Is Shuttering a Secretive Climate Research Program

Scientists used the Medea program to study how global warming could worsen conflict. Now that project has come to an end.

—By Tim McDonnell | Thu May 21, 2015 2:44 PM EDT

On Wednesday, when President Barack Obama spoke at the US Coast Guard Academy's commencement ceremony, he called climate change "an immediate risk to our national security." In recent months, the Obama administration has repeatedly highlighted the international threats posed by global warming and has emphasized the need for the country's national security agencies to study and confront the issue.

So some national security experts were surprised to learn that an important component of that effort has been ended. A CIA spokesperson confirmed to Climate Desk that the agency is shuttering its main climate research program. Under the program, known as Medea, the CIA had allowed civilian scientists to access classified data—such as ocean temperature and tidal readings gathered by Navy submarines and topography data collected by spy satellites—in an effort to glean insights about how global warming could create security threats around the world. In theory, the program benefited both sides: Scientists could study environmental data that was much higher-resolution than they would normally have access to, and the CIA received research insights about climate-related threats.

No, Neil deGrasse Tyson, We Don't Get the Democracy We Deserve, We Get the Democracy Our Elites Give Us

Blaming the voters only serves to indemnify the rich. We should stop doing it.

By Adam Johnson

Recently at a graduation ceremony for seniors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the brilliant scientist and public commentator Neil deGrasse Tyson delivered a not-so-smart thought:
"It has become a pastime to blame politicians for the ills of the world. I understand the urge to do that ... but at the end of the day, the politician is a representative of an electorate. If you have an issue with politicians it's because you have an issue with your fellow citizens who put them there."
This statement couldn’t be any more false, the logic any more toxic. It’s a sentiment that dates back centuries but was most famously summed up by the 18th-century French writer Joseph de Maistre, who said, “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.” It’s a popular cliche. There’s only one problem: decades of research tell us it’s untrue.

Paul Krugman: Trade and Trust

One of the Obama administration’s underrated virtues is its intellectual honesty. Yes, Republicans see deception and sinister ulterior motives everywhere, but they’re just projecting. The truth is that, in the policy areas I follow, this White House has been remarkably clear and straightforward about what it’s doing and why.

Every area, that is, except one: international trade and investment.

I don’t know why the president has chosen to make the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership such a policy priority. Still, there is an argument to be made for such a deal, and some reasonable, well-intentioned people are supporting the initiative.

Matt Taibbi: World’s Largest Banks Admit to Massive Global Financial Crimes, But Escape Jail (Again)

Five of the world’s top banks will pay over $5 billion in fines after pleading guilty to rigging the price of foreign currencies and interest rates. Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland pleaded guilty to conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged in the $5 trillion FX spot market. UBS pleaded guilty for its role in manipulating the Libor benchmark interest rate. No individual bank employees were hit with criminal charges as part of the settlements. We are joined by Matt Taibbi, award-winning journalist with Rolling Stone magazine.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the felons on Wall Street. Five of the world’s top banks will pay over $5 billion in fines after pleading guilty to rigging the price of foreign currencies and interest rates. Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland pleaded guilty to conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged in the five trillion foreign exchange—$5 trillion foreign exchange spot market. UBS pleaded guilty for its role in manipulating the Libor benchmark interest rate. On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the deal.
ATTORNEY GENERAL LORETTA LYNCH: We are here to announce a major law enforcement action against international financial institutions that for years participated in a brazen display of collusion and foreign exchange rate market manipulation, and will, as a result, pay a total of nearly $3 billion in fines and penalties. As a result of our investigation, four of the world’s largest banks have agreed to plead guilty to felony antitrust violations. They are Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Barclays PLC and the Royal Bank of Scotland PLC.

Brian Beutler: Charles Murray and the Right's Plan to Subvert Democracy

Early last week, a watchdog website hosted by People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, reacted with alarm to a political-legal strategy outlined in a new book by the conservative social theorist Charles Murray. Normally when liberals assail Murray it’s in connection with his infamous tome The Bell Curve, which made him synonymous with race science—specifically the presumption that I.Q. differences between whites and blacks can be partially attributed to genetics.

Twenty years later, Murray has moved on to a more direct form of conservative activism, and taken a critical look at the mixed record of various expensive right-wing efforts to roll back the New Deal consensus. As you might expect from someone as deterministic as the author of The Bell Curve, Murray has concluded that the conservative movement’s shortcomings must be explained via reference to its political DNA and the political DNA of its competitors. But rather than reason much as he did two decades ago that these shortcomings reflect the intrinsic weakness of his ideology, he has concluded instead that the system is rigged against it. Appealing as populist libertarian ideas are to him and his cohort, or as they should be in the abstract, they simply can’t compete in a democratic environment with downwardly distributive progressivism. For the right to gain advantage, it will have to change terrain.

Noam Chomsky Reads the New York Times -- Explains Why 'Paper of Record' Is Pure Propaganda

A front-page article is devoted to a flawed story about a campus rape in the journal Rolling Stone, exposed in the leading academic journal of media critique. So severe is this departure from journalistic integrity that it is also the subject of the lead story in the business section, with a full inside page devoted to the continuation of the two reports. The shocked reports refer to several past crimes of the press: a few cases of fabrication, quickly exposed, and cases of plagiarism (“too numerous to list”). The specific crime of Rolling Stone is “lack of skepticism,” which is “in many ways the most insidious” of the three categories.

It is refreshing to see the commitment of the Times to the integrity of journalism.

Paul Krugman: Conservatives and Keynes

Tony Yates asks, “Why can’t we all get along?” Lamenting another really bad, obviously political defense of austerity, he declares that
it’s disappointing that the debate has become a left-right thing. I don’t see why it should.
But the debate over business-cycle economics has always been a left-right thing.

Obscure Government Document Shows Elizabeth Warren Is Right About TPP

By Zaid Jilani

As opponents and advocates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continue to battle it out, the debate over the agreement has largely focused on the issue of trade – whether jobs will be lost or gained, what the agreement will do to our trade deficit, and other related matters.

It's worth pointing out that the United States already trades heavily with the other 11 nations included in the TPP talks. As Paul Krugman says [3], “this is not a trade agreement. It's about intellectual property and dispute settlement; the big beneficiaries are likely to be pharma companies and firms that want to sue governments.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has been particularly critical of the so-called Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions [4], which would empower corporations to use international courts to sue the U.S. government and others who are enacting regulations and protections that harm their profits.

Why Are We in the Middle East?

by Jeff Faux

To placate their pique at his effort to get a non-proliferation agreement with Iran, Barack Obama met last Thursday at Camp David with Saudi royals and leaders of the other five feudal dictatorships of the Persian Gulf. He reaffirmed the United States "ironclad" commitment to their security and promised even more military aid and cooperation. After the personal dust-up between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu settles, we can expect the Administration and Congress to add even more steel to our commitment to protect and subsidize Israel by adding more to its already vast store of sophisticated weapons.

Thus, we take another step deeper into the tragedy of U.S. intervention in the Middle East that has become a noxious farce.

Bosses Are Turning Poverty-Wage Workers Into ‘Managers’—and Barring Them From Overtime in the Process

Michelle Chen

If you’re one of the millions working in retail, some days you might work late at the register or do the store opening in hopes of clocking a little overtime pay. And you might hope to eventually rise to a higher-ranked managerial position. But did you know that promotion might just mean a smaller paycheck for the same job?

Welcome to the promotion from hell: Federal law says time-and-a-half is for ordinary laborers, and management is exempt from overtime provisions. So congratulations, as a shop “manager,” you no longer qualify for overtime—but still end up doing basically the same work for less.

I’ve Read Obama’s Secret Trade Deal. Elizabeth Warren Is Right to Be Concerned.

By Michael Wessel

“You need to tell me what’s wrong with this trade agreement, not one that was passed 25 years ago,” a frustrated President Barack Obama recently complained about criticisms of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). He’s right. The public criticisms of the TPP have been vague. That’s by design—anyone who has read the text of the agreement could be jailed for disclosing its contents. I’ve actually read the TPP text provided to the government’s own advisors, and I’ve given the president an earful about how this trade deal will damage this nation. But I can’t share my criticisms with you.

I can tell you that Elizabeth Warren is right about her criticism of the trade deal. We should be very concerned about what's hidden in this trade deal—and particularly how the Obama administration is keeping information secret even from those of us who are supposed to provide advice.

The Engineered Ignorance of Fox News

By Josh Marshall

You probably saw this story yesterday about a failed GOP congressional candidate from Tennessee who was arrested and charged with conspiring to lead a militia attack - using the assistance of an existing 'militia' which goes by the initials OAF - on a Muslim community in Hancock, New York. "We shall be Warriors who will inflict horrible numbers of casualties upon the enemies of our Nation and World Peace,” he wrote in a Facebook post. And in a call intercepted by federal investigators, he told one woman “When we meet with this state, the people that we will seek will know who we are. We will be cruel to them. And we will burn down their buildings."

But there's one element of this story buried in the piece. The supporting role of Fox News. Not long after the terror attacks in Paris at the beginning of the year, Fox News went on a tear about no-go zones in Paris, Birmingham and other places - a run of fabrications so extreme that the station was compelled to issue one of the only retractions and apologies the network has ever issued.

Paul Krugman: Errors and Lies

Surprise! It turns out that there’s something to be said for having the brother of a failed president make his own run for the White House. Thanks to Jeb Bush, we may finally have the frank discussion of the Iraq invasion we should have had a decade ago.

But many influential people — not just Mr. Bush — would prefer that we not have that discussion. There’s a palpable sense right now of the political and media elite trying to draw a line under the subject. Yes, the narrative goes, we now know that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake, and it’s about time that everyone admits it. Now let’s move on.

Michael Hiltzik: It’s not about ‘free speech’

Attacks on public employee unions, especially teachers unions, have become a permanent feature of the political landscape. But you’d be hard pressed to find one as incoherent and dishonest as a lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Los Angeles against six California and national teachers unions.

The lawsuit purports to defend the “free speech” rights of its plaintiffs, four California schoolteachers. But its real goal is to silence the collective voice of union members on political and educational issues. Its lesson is simple: If you don’t like the decisions your organization or community reaches through the democratic process, just refuse to pay for them.

How US Working Women Are Being Run Over

The following is an excerpt from Under the Bus:

By Caroline Fredrickson, The New Press | Book Excerpt

Women occupy jobs that are excluded from legal protections, making the workers very easy to exploit and underpay. Even when there are protective laws, they are easy for employers to ignore, because there is very little enforcement. So, in addition to dominating the low-wage workforce, women, particularly women of color, dominate the unregulated or minimally regulated workforce. These facts have a growing relevance because not only is this group already surprisingly large, but these jobs are also the ones more and more people will hold in coming years. Projections for job growth forecast that, in the future, we will see the biggest increase in job categories that are low paid and currently dominated by women. As more and more men are shut out of manufacturing jobs with decent wages, men are facing these same conditions. Stephanie Coontz, a frequent commentator on women and work, wrote in the New York Times that "millions of men face working conditions that traditionally characterized women's lives: low wages, minimal benefits, part-time or temporary jobs, and periods of joblessness. Poverty is becoming de-feminized because the working conditions of many men are becoming more feminized."

Small is beautiful – an economic idea that has sadly been forgotten

It is chilling that so many thinkers, politicians and academics have signed up to the deadening consensus of globalisation

Madeleine Bunting

EF Schumacher's Small is Beautiful was the first book on politics I ever read; it was the only book about politics I ever saw my father read or heard him talk about. It arrived in our cottage in rural North Yorkshire as a manifesto from a radical countercultural world with which we had no contact. Re-reading its dense mixture of philosophy, environmentalism and economics, I can't think what I could possibly have understood of it at 13, but in a bid to impress my father I ploughed on to the end.

Looking back over the intervening almost four decades, the book's influence has been enormous. "Small is beautiful" was a radical challenge to the 20th century's intoxication with what Schumacher described as "gigantism". For several decades, mass production methods were producing more cheap goods than ever before; the mass media and mass culture opened up new opportunities to a wider audience than ever. It was creating bigger markets and bigger political entities – his book came on the eve of the vote on the European Common Market in 1975 – but he believed such scale led to a dehumanisation of people and the economic systems that ordered their lives.

Pension Funds Lose Money On Salesmen, State Retirees Pay, Study Shows

By Matthew Cunningham-Cook, David Sirota

The only thing Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to say about his state’s pension system is that he thinks the required payouts are so burdensome, there should be a constitutional amendment that would allow him to cut them.

Rauner himself is a former private equity executive who managed hundreds of millions of dollars from public pension funds (including some in Illinois). As the pension funding crisis has become increasingly acute, he has avoided talking about how his own industry may have contributed to the crisis: specifically, through high fees and underperformance -- and, according to a new report, influence peddling.

Senate Democrats Work with Republicans to Throw Medicare Under the Bus as Part of TPP Fast Track Sausage-Making

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

I got an email blast on Medicare and TPP from Democracy for America, so I immediately discounted it because DFA, and besides, there wasn’t any linky goodness, but then I thought “This could be really bad,” so I looked into it. Here’s the paragraph in question from DFA:
There’s a big — brand new — attack on Medicare that’s just been added in the Senate to the Fast Track bill for the TPP. The bill would cut a whopping $700 million from Medicare, hurting seniors who need access to health care.
That’s right, Republicans insisted on cutting Medicare spending to pay for a Trade Adjustment Assistance program that Democrats got added to the bill in order to support workers who lost their jobs due to trade deals like the TPP.

Why Your Wages Aren’t Going Up

Even as the unemployment rate goes down

James Kwak

Unemployment is down to 5.4%! Yay!

That was the summary of last week’s unemployment report. Yet the two-track “recovery” — about to enter its seventh year — continues. Average hourly wages increased by only 0.1% in April and 2.2% for the past twelve months, which amounts to basically nothing when you take inflation into account.

This is what the new normal looks like. Wages barely rise during periods of economic “expansion” (you know, the opposite of recession), then fall when unemployment spikes during a recession. In the long run, that means that average real earnings actually go down, and household income can only keep up if people work more hours. Yet the number of full-time jobs is lower today than it was before the financial crisis.

Progressives can’t trust Hillary Clinton: What’s behind her bizarre alliance with the Christian right?

Clinton's mixed record on social and cultural issues might be explained by surprising views on faith and politics

Paul Rosenberg

As Hillary Clinton launched her 2016 presidential bid, there were rumblings of concern about how progressive she would really be on economic issues, particularly given her wealthy donor base. Seemingly conscious of these concerns, Clinton herself stressed a populist message in her video announcement, as well as in the form of her initial road-trip foray to Iowa. She even said that “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all—even if it takes a constitutional amendment.”

John Nichols of The Nation is right to argue this is still too cautious, and Clinton has barely addressed the fight for a $15 minimum wage (outside of a vague tweet), which has already galvanized a growing movement for economic justice. But at least there are challenges being raised which hold out the prospect of moving Clinton in a more progressive direction.

What Is LuxLeaks and Why Are Journalists Being Charged?

By Lizabeth Paulat, Care2 | Report

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of LuxLeaks. Anyone? LuxLeaks, also known as the Luxembourg Leaks, is one of the most interesting cases of international tax evasion of our time, and yet very few news outlets are talking about it.

Here are the basics: hundreds of companies were caught using tax avoidance schemes in the country of Luxembourg. It was exposed by a group called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and now those who exposed this massive tax issue are under threat.

Losing the American Republic

Decades of letting neocons dictate a hawkish foreign policy have put the American Republic in profound danger, just as presidents from George Washington to Dwight Eisenhower predicted, warnings that Americans must finally take to heart, says ex-U.S. diplomat William R. Polk.

By William R. Polk

In The Financial Times of April 23, Philip Stephens begins a perceptive article with the obvious statement that “It is easier to say that Obama never gets it right than to come up with an alternative strategy.”

Of course it is. It was never easy to construct a coherent policy, but it was never impossible. The problem we face today is different. It is that for a long time we have not been presented by our leaders with any strategy. So the obvious question a citizen (and a taxpayer) should demand be answered is why, despite all the effort, all the proclamations and all the lives and money we are spending, does almost every observer believe that we do not have a policy that we can afford and that accomplishes our minimal national objectives? In this first part of a two-part essay, I will address that problem.

Wielding New Evidence, Watchdogs Push IRS to Investigate ALEC for Tax Fraud

By Mike Ludwig

AT&T told an investor that its main focus within the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been on "state legislation aimed at achieving a favorable business climate."

A spokesman for BP said the company participates in ALEC "to help educate policy makers about energy and natural resource issues that affect our business."

Wall Street Analyst Encouraged Rail Company to Lobby Against Train Safety Rules

By Lee Fang

Positive Train Control, a technology system used to monitor trains and automatically keep them from reaching unsafe speeds, would likely have prevented the tragic Amtrak derailment earlier this week and many other train crashes in recent years, according to the National Transportation Safety Board and train safety experts.

But ever since Congress passed a law in 2008 requiring train companies to implement PTC by the end of 2015, the railroad industry has mounted a ferocious lobbying campaign to delay the rule.

Former Congressional Candidate And Minister Arrested For Plotting To Attack Muslim Community In New York, But Let Out On Bail

Robert Rankin Doggart ran for congress last year.

By Zaid Jilani

For years, far-right media outlets, including Fox News, have warned of so-called “no go zones” where Muslims have taken over Western cities and enacted their own form of religious law. One of these mythical zones has been identified as Hancock, New York.

It is difficult to imagine that there is no impact of years of demonizing the Muslim community and spreading paranoia about sharia law. Therefore it's hardly surprising that someone was recently arrested actually plotting to attack Hancock.

Joseph E. Stiglitz--Opinion: The secret corporate takeover hidden in the TPP

Corporations would be able to overturn laws and regulations that protect us

NEW YORK (Project Syndicate) — The United States and the world are engaged in a great debate about new trade agreements. Such pacts used to be called “free-trade agreements”; in fact, they were managed trade agreements, tailored to corporate interests, largely in the U.S. and the European Union. Today, such deals are more often referred to as “partnerships,” as in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

But they are not partnerships of equals: the U.S. effectively dictates the terms. Fortunately, America’s “partners” are becoming increasingly resistant.

FBI Spied On Activists Because Protecting Corporate Interests Is Roughly Equivalent To Ensuring National Security

from the our-disregarded-internal-policies-trump-your-First-Amendment-rights dept

by Tim Cushing

That whole thing about the FBI not surveilling people based solely on First Amendment activity? The thing that's been in all the (FISA) papers (and agency policies)? Yeah, the FBI hasn't heard of it either.
The FBI breached its own internal rules when it spied on campaigners against the Keystone XL pipeline, failing to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened files on individuals protesting against the construction of the pipeline in Texas, documents reveal.
Internal agency documents show for the first time how FBI agents have been closely monitoring anti-Keystone activists, in violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.

37 Ways to Reform the Economy So It’s Not Rigged for the Rich, According to Progressive Economists

Unlike the presidential candidates, Joseph Stiglitz, Elizabeth Warren and the Roosevelt Institute offer specifics.

By Steven Rosenfeld

A new report written by scores of progressive economists has laid out a detailed agenda to dismantle, reverse and fix how the laws and policies governing the American economy are rigged to benefit the wealthiest individuals and largest corporations.

The report, “Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity,” has just been released by the Roosevelt Institute, where Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined chief economist Joseph Stiglitz at a press conference.

The New World Disorder


Three decades ago, with the end of the Cold War and the dismantling of the South American dictatorships, many hoped that the much talked about ‘peace dividend’ promised by Bush senior and Thatcher would actually materialise. No such luck. Instead, we have experienced continuous wars, upheavals, intolerance and fundamentalisms of every sort – religious, ethnic and imperial. The exposure of the Western world’s surveillance networks has heightened the feeling that democratic institutions aren’t functioning as they should, that, like it or not, we are living in the twilight period of democracy itself.

The twilight began in the early 1990s with the implosion of the former Soviet Union and the takeover of Russia, Central Asia and much of Eastern Europe by visionless former Communist Party bureaucrats, many of whom rapidly became billionaires. The oligarchs who bought up some of the most expensive property in the world, including in London, may once have been members of the Communist Party, but they were also opportunists with no commitment to anything other than power and lining their own pockets. The vacuum created by the collapse of the party system has been filled by different things in different parts of the world, among them religion – and not just Islam. The statistics on the growth of religion in the Western world are dramatic – just look at France. And we have also seen the rise of a global empire of unprecedented power. The United States is now unchallengeable militarily and it dominates global politics, even the politics of the countries it treats as its enemies.

Could Fast Track Ultimately Destroy Dodd-Frank? (Yes.)

George Zornick

Senator Elizabeth Warren opened up a new battle in the war against the Obama administration’s trade policy last week, when she charged that the fast-track trade authority now being considered by Congress could ultimately allow a Republican president to gut many of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms.

This provoked a heated response from the White House and its allies, who not only disputed Warren’s claim but bizarrely (and under the cover of anonymity) suggested she was just trying to juice up the Draft Warren presidential movement.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

No Money, No Vote: Ohio Republicans’ Diabolical Plan For A Poll Tax

by Ian Millhiser

Twenty-four members of the Ohio House of Representatives — all Republicans — cosponsored a bill introduced last week that would require many Ohio residents to pay an actual poll tax in order to vote. Poll taxes are forbidden by the Constitution.

Under this legislation, many voters would have to pay a fee in order to obtain an ID card that they need to vote, thus effectively imposing a tax on the right to vote.

Paul Krugman | Debunking the "Nation of Takers" Myth

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty in the United States, and the date provoked a flurry of studies correcting some widespread myths. Perhaps the most notable was an enlightening progress report from the Council of Economic Advisers.

What needed correcting? Basically, the "nation of takers" narrative, according to which we have been contributing ever-greater sums toward helping the poor, all without making a dent in the poverty rate.

The 10 Biggest Lies You’ve Been Told About the Trans-Pacific Partnership

You can call it "misleading" or "offering half-truths," but when push comes to a shove, these are lies.

By David Dayen / Salon

Today, the Senate makes a critical test vote on the Obama Administration’s trade agenda, kicking off a process that the White House hopes to end with the signing of an agreement between 12 nations called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In preparation for this vote, President Obama has been deliberately antagonizing his critics, mostly liberal Democrats. Senator Elizabeth Warren is “a politician, like everybody else,” Obama said Friday to Yahoo News, who has “got a voice that she wants to get out there,” framing her concerns as insincere self-aggrandizement. Those concerns, Obama added, are “absolutely wrong.”

This is not the first time that Obama and his aides have depicted opposition on trade as deliberate misinformation designed to stir up a left-leaning political base, or generate campaign contributions; my favorite is the claim that Warren is merely trying to energize a non-existent Presidential campaign.

Court case shows how health insurers rip off you and your employer

Commentary: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan added hidden fees to hospital claims

By Wendell Potter

If you think you’re paying too much for employer-sponsored health coverage, you might want to forward this to the HR department. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that your health insurer has been ripping off both you and your employer—to the tune of several million dollars every year—for decades.

Many Americans, according to various polls, blame Obamacare for every hike in premiums despite the fact that the rate of increase for most folks was actually greater before 2010, the year the law went into effect.

Just Shake Your Head

By Josh Marshall

I always try to remind myself not to criticize with stories like the one I'm about to describe, or perhaps better to say, not to forget the core reason for providing a comprehensive national plan to provide health insurance for everyone who needs it. But this story really puts that sentiment to the test, as well as exposing the perverse politics and perceptions on this issue in Republican-run states.

Luis Lang needs an expensive eye operation to save his eyesight. But he can't afford it, can't get covered for the procedure and he blames President Obama and his over-complicated ACA legislation.

Feds Spent $3.3 Billion Fueling Charter Schools but No One Knows What It's Really Bought

By Jonas Persson, PR Watch | Op-Ed

Madison, Wisconsin - The federal government has spent more than $3.3 billion over the past two decades creating and fueling the charter school industry, according to a new financial analysis and reporters' guide by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). (The new guide can be downloaded below.)

Despite the huge sums spent so far, the federal government maintains no comprehensive list of the charter schools that have received and spent these funds or even a full list of the private or quasi-public entities that have been approved by states to "authorize" charters that receive federal funds. And despite drawing repeated criticism from the Office of the Inspector General for suspected waste and inadequate financial controls within the federal Charter Schools Program - designed to create, expand, and replicate charter schools - the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is poised to increase its funding by 48% in FY 2016.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will lead to a global race to the bottom

The trade deal will lead to offshored American jobs, a widened income inequality gap and increased number of people making slave wages overseas

Rose Aguilar

At a time when economic inequality around the globe continues to widen, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will only make things worse. Unlike what President Obama claims, the agreement will only encourage a race to the bottom, in which a small percentage of people get ridiculously rich while most workers around the globe stay miserably poor. We can’t let that happen.

Today, President Obama is visiting Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon to garner support for the trade deal, which would be signed by the US and 11 Pacific Rim countries. That’s an apt place for Obama to beat the free-trade drum – Nike, like the TPP, is associated with offshoring American jobs, widening the income inequality gap, and increasing the number of people making slave wages overseas. Since the passage of NAFTA in 1993, we’ve seen the loss of nearly five million US manufacturing jobs, the closure of more than 57,000 factories, and stagnant wages. This deal won’t be any different.

Is the Government Harassing and Censoring Scientists for Studying Ties Between Pesticides and Bee Deaths?

By Reynard Loki, AlterNet | Report

Following reports that scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture are being harassed and their research on bee-killing pesticides is being censored or suppressed, a broad coalition of farmers, environmentalists, fisheries and food-safety organizations urged an investigation in a May 5 letter sent to Phyllis K. Fong, USDA Inspector General.

"The possibility that the USDA is prioritizing the interests of the chemical industry over those of the American public is unacceptable," states the letter, which was signed by more than 25 citizens' groups concerned that a forthcoming report by the White House Task Force on Pollinator Health, which is co-chaired by the USDA, will be compromised.

How Republicans have made a science out of white working-class resentment

Right-wingers love to denounce the left's reliance on "identity politics." It's about time they look in the mirror

Heather Digby Parton

My first exposure to the term “identity politics” came from conservative commentators who used it to complain about civil rights. (It usually went hand-in-hand with derisive right-wing phrases like “playing the race card” and “professional poverty pimp.”) Indeed, I assumed for years that it was a catch-all conservative insult for anyone who sought equality and advancement for marginalized constituencies. That’s my bad. As it happens, the term has a serious academic pedigree and is hotly debated in intellectual circles so it’s not just another right wing epithet.

Nonetheless, that is exactly the way the term used today, and there are certain left-leaning types who use it as such as well. Interestingly, both sides lodge a similar complaint in terms of practical politics: “Identity politics” is seen as a scam to dupe racial and ethnic minorities, gays and women into voting for Democrats who pander to their personal concerns, letting their economic interest and the nation’s best interest as a whole be obscured in the process. The right sees this as a matter of ignorance, while the much smaller faction on the left that subscribes to a similar view sees it as a kind of selfish naivete. The left, to be fair, also thinks that right-wingers are being duped into voting against their economic interest by Republicans who pander to their personal concerns about religion and culture. (See: the “What’s the Matter with Kansas” critique.) So, in these lefties minds, it’s an equal opportunity duping. Still one cannot help but notice that most of the people on both sides who complain about their fellow citizens being duped by politicians pandering to their narrow concerns have rarely walked in the shoes of those to whom the pols are allegedly pandering. It undoubtedly looks a little different from that perspective.

Seymour M. Hersh: The Killing of Osama bin Laden

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

Paul Krugman: Wall Street Vampires

Last year the vampires of finance bought themselves a Congress. I know it’s not nice to call them that, but I have my reasons, which I’ll explain in a bit. For now, however, let’s just note that these days Wall Street, which used to split its support between the parties, overwhelmingly favors the G.O.P. And the Republicans who came to power this year are returning the favor by trying to kill Dodd-Frank, the financial reform enacted in 2010.

And why must Dodd-Frank die? Because it’s working.

Another Progressive Champion in the Senate? Alan Grayson Enters the Ring

As a congressman, Grayson has been an advocate for a whole spectrum of issues important to the left.

By Zaid Jilani / AlterNet

In September 2009, after a summer of boisterous healthcare town halls where Democrats fended off thousands of angry Tea Party activists, a Democratic congressman from central Florida stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and flipped the debate on its head with a short speech:
It’s my duty and pride tonight to be able to announce exactly what the Republicans plan to do for healthcare in America… It’s a very simple plan. Here it is. The Republican healthcare plan for America: "don’t get sick.” If you have insurance don’t get sick, if you don’t have insurance, don’t get sick; if you’re sick, don’t get sick. Just don’t get sick.…If you do get sick, America, the Republican healthcare plan is this: “die quickly.”

Environmental exposure to hormones used in animal agriculture greater than expected

Indiana University

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Research by an Indiana University environmental scientist and colleagues at universities in Iowa and Washington finds that potentially harmful growth-promoting hormones used in beef production are expected to persist in the environment at higher concentrations and for longer durations than previously thought.

"What we release into the environment is just the starting point for a complex series of chemical reactions that can occur, sometimes with unintended consequences," said Adam Ward, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the IU Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs. "When compounds react in a way we don't anticipate -- when they convert between species, when they persist after we thought they were gone -- this challenges our regulatory system."

The Clintons and Their Banker Friends

by Nomi Prins

The past, especially the political past, doesn’t just provide clues to the present. In the realm of the presidency and Wall Street, it provides an ongoing pathway for political-financial relationships and policies that remain a threat to the American economy going forward.

When Hillary Clinton video-announced her bid for the Oval Office, she claimed she wanted to be a “champion” for the American people. Since then, she has attempted to recast herself as a populist and distance herself from some of the policies of her husband. But Bill Clinton did not become president without sharing the friendships, associations, and ideologies of the elite banking sect, nor will Hillary Clinton. Such relationships run too deep and are too longstanding.

Is the news behaving more like advertising?

By Damaris Colhoun

When The Wall Street Journal set out to redesign its digital products, it changed more than the look of its website. The paper is forming teams of engineers, designers, and reporters, adapting their content to mobile and social platforms, making their news experiences more personal, and bringing analytics into the editorial department. In other words, it’s changing the essence of the newsroom.

Similar changes are happening at newspapers around the country. As users continue to discover stories through search and social instead of through homepages, news organizations are stepping up their efforts to track where those users are going and how they’re behaving. They’re moving to meet them where they are, and to deliver them content across a range of devices, especially mobile.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

At INET Conference, Warren Adds Two Pieces to Her Financial Reform Framework

Posted on May 6, 2015 by David Dayen

The reason I’m filling in today and tomorrow is that Yves is in Washington for the INET Finance and Society conference, which is unique because it features a dozen and a half speakers, every one of them a woman, from Fed Chair Janet Yellen to IMF Chair Christine Lagarde to the SEC’s Kara Stein to CFTC’s Sharon Bowen to Treasury’s Sarah Bloom Raskin to many more, from the U.S. and around the world. Anat Admati of Stanford University organized the event, and you can watch the webcast tomorrow at this link. Maybe you’ll spy Yves stalking the halls.t

As INET’s Rob Johnson said by way of introduction at tonight’s opening dinner, “the old boy’s club was not a committee that saved the world.” He quipped that the best think you could do for financial reform is to only have women regulate it. While gender does not define a willingness to go hard at the banks for their practices, it certainly appears that a group of them represent outsiders, unwilling to accept elite spin and able to fight the prevailing wisdom. So I’m pretty excited about this conference and bummed that I couldn’t make it out to D.C.

Traditional universities quietly join with for-profit colleges to roll back regulations

Alec MacGillis, ProPublica

The Obama administration is set to achieve one of its top domestic policy goals after years of wrangling. For-profit colleges, which absorb tens of billions of dollars in U.S. grants and loans yet often leave their students with little beyond crushing debt, will need to meet new standards or risk losing taxpayer dollars.

But as the July 1 deadline approaches, the troubled industry has been mounting a last-ditch effort to avert or roll back the new rules. And suddenly it’s getting a lift from a set of unlikely allies: traditional colleges and universities.

Chemistry student in sun harvest breakthrough

Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen

The Sun is a huge source of energy. In just one hour planet Earth is hit by so much sunshine that humankind could cover its energy needs for an entire year if only we knew how to harvest and save it. But storing sunshine is not trivial. Now a student at Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen has researched his way to a breakthrough which may prove pivotal for technologies trying to capture the energy of the sun, and saving it for a rainy day.

Anders Bo Skov has recently started studying for his Master's degree in chemistry at University of Copenhagen. Together with his supervisor, Mogens Br√łndsted Nielsen, he is publishing the paper "Towards Solar Energy Storage in the Photochromic Dihydroazulene-Vinylheptafulvene System" in the journal "Chemistry - A European Journal".

Lynn Stuart Parramore: The New Corrupt Elite That Is Running Our Economy

Talking about old systems of power and corruption doesn't begin to capture new realities.

Social anthropologist Janine Wedel, author, most recently, of Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt Our Finances, Freedom, and Security, has spent decades getting to the bottom of how powerful people wield influence. In her view, old ways of talking about formal systems of power and corruption don't begin to capture new realities. Truth and transparency, she warns, have devolved into performance art. The buck stops nowhere. Could women be particularly suited to disrupt the unaccountability structured into the DNA of many of today's financial, corporate and governmental organizations? Wedel weighs in. (Accountability is a key topic in a May 5-6 conference sponsored by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, " Finance and Society," which features Brooksley Born, Elizabeth Warren, and other influential women who have challenged corrupt systems of power.)

Lynn Parramore: You've discussed a fascinating new kind of power broker on the world stage—a nimble, opportunistic person who floats between private and public institutions. How has this figure operated in the financial arena? Are such players different from lobbyists and other traditional influence peddlers? Can you give some examples?

Janine Wedel: In the financial arena, a well-known duo is Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, both former treasury secretaries. Rubin reached the heights at Goldman Sachs. He then went to Treasury in the 1990s, then on to Citigroup. In the lead-up to the financial crash, both Goldman and Citigroup earned billions on the unregulated derivatives he and Summers (and others) championed while in public office.

New report: Forests could be the trump card in efforts to end global hunger

One billion people worldwide depend on forests and trees for balanced diets and sustainable incomes

Burness Communications

New York/Vienna (6 May 2015)- About one in nine people globally still suffer from hunger with the majority of the hungry living in Africa and Asia. The world's forests have great potential to improve their nutrition and ensure their livelihoods. In fact, forests and forestry are essential to achieve food security as the limits of boosting agricultural production are becoming increasingly clear.

That's according to the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date on the relationship among forests, food and nutrition launched today in New York at a side event of the United Nations Forum on Forests. The new report released by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), the world's largest network of forest scientists, also underlines the need for the most vulnerable groups of society to have secure access to forest foods.

Corinthian Colleges Secretly Funded D.C. Think Tanks, Dark Money Election Efforts

By Lee Fang

The spectacular crash of Corinthian Colleges after years of systematically deceiving thousands of students into enrolling into low-quality, high-cost education programs has once again raised questions about how the for-profit college industry staved off stronger rules governing the $1.4 billion per year in federal loans that helped keep Corinthian afloat.

Some hints emerged today in the giant chain’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Delaware. It shows that Corinthian made secret payments to an array of political consultants, think tanks and political dark money groups.

16 Million Refugees Are Not Some Other Country's Problem

A Marshall Plan now is cheaper than military action to deal with collapsing states later.

Gershom Gorenberg

The world today is facing a crisis of people fleeing their home countries in the greatest numbers seen since World War II. How is it responding?

Item: Two Eritrean refugees who reached Israel by crossing the Sinai desert went to court Thursday, asking for an injunction preventing the government from deporting them to Rwanda. The policy of forced deportation is new, but a recent report by Israeli refugee-rights organizations shows that in case after case, Sudanese and Eritrean asylum-seekers who supposedly left voluntarily in 2013-2014 did so under pressure, including threats of indefinite detention. Those sent to Rwanda were in turn expelled by authorities there almost immediately. Others were sent back to Sudan, where some were imprisoned and tortured for the crime of visiting an enemy state—Israel. Dozens of refugees who "voluntarily" left Israel for Africa are now trying to reach Europe: by land to Libya, then across the Mediterranean on smugglers' boats.

The Case That Blew the Lid Off the World Bank's Secret Courts

By Jim Shultz, Foreign Policy in Focus | News Analysis

There's an international awakening afoot about a radical expansion of corporate power - one that sits at the center of two historic global trade deals nearing completion.

One focuses the United States toward Europe - that's the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) - and the other toward Asia, in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Both would establish broad new rights for foreign corporations to sue governments for vast sums whenever nations change their public policies in ways that could potentially impact corporate profits.

How Gilded Ages End

Protecting democracy from oligarchic dominance is, once again, a central imperative of American politics.

By Paul Starr

Rising inequality seems to pose an insurmountable political problem. If the underlying causes are technological change and globalization, the forces appear to be unstoppable. Alternatively, if the causes are primarily political and involve the power of corporate and financial interests, the forces driving inequality may also appear to be overwhelming. Some people may conclude in despair that, for all practical purposes, nothing can be done.

That conclusion, however, is unjustified for two reasons—first, because things have been and can be done to check increased inequality even in the short term; and second, because limiting the political power of concentrated wealth is a cause with deep American roots and wide support that is a difficult but achievable long-term goal.

The Five-Step Process to Privatize Everything


Law enforcement, education, health care, water management, government itself -- all have been or are being privatized. People with money get the best of each service.

At the heart of privatization is a disdain for government and a distrust of society, and a mindless individualism that leaves little room for cooperation. Adherents of privatization demand 'freedom' unless they need the government to intervene on their behalf.

How to Truly Eradicate Poverty

We need more than just a safety net. We need a blueprint to create good jobs for all.

Dorian T. Warren

As a 19-year-old single mom, Kelvishia struggles to make ends meet for herself and her toddler, Jarvis. While working, Kelvishia was studying for her GED through a program for parents who receive financial help. That is, until she was fired from her job because she had to miss work to take care of Jarvis. With her job went the government help. Without that aid, Kelvishia’s hopes for a GED were dashed. She was striving to get ahead, but the realities of life just made it too hard.

This spiral of despair has to stop—for Kelvishia and for far too many Americans like her.

The Wealth Problem

Aspiring to own a home and pursue an education are quintessentially American ideals. It's time to make those dreams accessible again.

By Robert Kuttner

The postwar boom was a time of broadly shared prosperity, when working- and middle-class people not only enjoyed steadily increasing incomes but were also able to accumulate lifetime wealth. The measures that made possible this wealth-broadening included expansion of homeownership under a reliable, well-governed system of mortgage finance; the development of a retirement system, with Social Security complemented by private pensions; debt-free higher education; and rising real wages. Each of these instruments interacted with the others.

Today, these mechanisms have all gone into reverse. Meanwhile, the capacity of the already-rich, the parentally endowed, and the well-situated to accumulate financial wealth has only intensified. Wealth inequality gets less attention than income inequality, but it is every bit as important. And the two are related. Wealth helps generate income and the capacity to earn income. Decent income increases the capacity to save and to amass wealth. As public systems for wealth-broadening collapse, private wealth within families provides asset endowments to the young and positions the next generation to become upper-income earners like their parents.

21 States Will Take Away Your Driver's License If You Can't Pay Your College Loans, But Activists Are Fighting Back

A grassroots project in Montana is a blueprint for activism across the country.

By Michael Arria / AlterNet

Thanks to the work of local organizers pressuring lawmakers, Montana residents will no longer have their drivers licenses suspended if they fall behind on their student loan payments. This April, a Montana law that allowed the state to revoke licenses for that infraction was scrapped. However, in at least 21 states, similar laws remain on the books.

The criminalization of low-income Americans’ everyday life has experienced a fair amount of coverage lately in the wake of the Department of Justice's report on Ferguson. That report detailed how steep fees and fines for nonviolent offenses inevitably strapped residents of Ferguson with ridiculous debts. Those debts are then criminalized in a process the report called "illegal and harmful.” If poor people fall behind on their payments, they could even face jail time. Although student debt is not generally interpreted in quite the same way, portions of it have certainly been criminalized. Perhaps nothing showcases this fact more than states’ ability to suspend people’s licenses if they default on their loans. Nearly 30% of US workers now need a license in order to perform their jobs, which means that defaulting on a student loan could effectively mean losing a job.

Corporate Media Blacks Out Coverage of Bill to Overturn Corporate Personhood

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: May 4, 2015

Last Wednesday, the grassroots organization, Move to Amend, held a press conference at the National Press Club to announce that six members of the U.S. House of Representatives were introducing legislation to overturn Citizens United v FEC to make free speech and all other rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution available only to “natural persons,” not corporations or limited liability companies. The legislation would also give Federal, state and local governments the ability to limit political contributions to “ensure all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process.”

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer Pushes To Give Wall Street More Pension Cash

By David Sirota, Matthew Cunningham-Cook

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has a relatively low public profile, but he’s the official in charge of one of the largest pools of capital in the world: When he speaks, the financial sector listens. So when he issued a report last week condemning the $2.5 billion in pension fees paid by New York City to Wall Street firms, he touched off national headlines about whether such expenditures by public retirement systems make financial sense.

“Money managers are being paid exorbitant fees even when they fail to meet baseline targets,” said Stringer, a Democrat. “Fees have not only wiped out any benefit to the funds, but have in fact cost taxpayers billions of dollars in lost returns. It’s clear that the status quo needs to change.”

Baltimore Activists Recount How Police Unions Crushed Accountability Reforms

By Lee Fang

Only weeks before Freddie Gray’s death while in custody of Baltimore police, cops from around the state filled a committee hearing room in Annapolis to aggressively lobby against a wave of reform bills aimed at increasing police accountability in Maryland. The police won: every bill to make it easier to investigate and prosecute police misconduct went down to defeat, leaving the state’s extraordinarily cop-friendly laws in place. (It’s a measure of the egregious circumstances of Gray’s death and the public outcry afterward that six police officers have nevertheless been indicted.)

Civil rights advocates say they were heavily outgunned — metaphorically — by the police.

Rumors have it

Study: Trying to correct political myths may only entrench them further

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Bad news, fans of rational political discourse: A study by an MIT researcher shows that attempts to debunk political rumors may only reinforce their strength.

"Rumors are sticky," says Adam Berinsky, a professor of political science at MIT, and author of a paper detailing the study. "Corrections are difficult, and in some cases can even make the problem worse."

In Baltimore and other cities, police have used 'rough rides' as payback in the past

By Joseph Tanfani

For about 44 minutes, a police wagon carrying a handcuffed Freddie Gray traveled the city's streets. By the time it arrived at a police booking station, Gray had stopped breathing, suffering from a catastrophic spinal injury that would kill him a week later.

Now, the six officers who were involved in Gray's death have been arrested — with the most serious charge, second-degree murder, falling on the driver of the van, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. Prosecutors say Gray, left unsecured and shackled on his stomach on the floor of the van, suffered his “severe and critical neck injury” during the trip.

1 in 4 U.S. Renters Use Half of Income to Pay for Housing

Average hourly wages have risen 2.1 percent, while rental prices have increased 3.7 percent in the past 12 months

Josh Boak / AP

(WASHINGTON)—More than one in four U.S. renters have to use at least half their family income to pay for housing and utilities.

That’s the finding of an analysis of Census data by Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit that helps finance affordable housing. The number of such households has jumped 26 percent to 11.25 million since 2007.

Bernie Sanders Calls For 'Political Revolution' Against Billionaire Class

Self-described socialist and 2016 presidential candidate takes aim at influence of big money and criticises Clinton Foundation, Koch brothers and others.

By Martin Pengelly / The Guardian | May 3, 2015

Heralding what he called “the most unusual political career in the US Senate”, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidateBernie Sanders on Sunday called for “a political revolution” against “the billionaire class”.

He then seemed to include the overwhelming favourite for the Democratic nomination, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in that “billionaire class”.

Paul Krugman: Race, Class and Neglect

Every time you’re tempted to say that America is moving forward on race — that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be — along comes an atrocity to puncture your complacency. Almost everyone realizes, I hope, that the Freddie Gray affair wasn’t an isolated incident, that it’s unique only to the extent that for once there seems to be a real possibility that justice may be done.

And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities that poison the lives of too many Americans.

The Investor Arbitration Clauses in TPP Are Indeed Very Bad

Posted on May 3, 2015 by Lambert Strether

I like Tyler Cowen’s restaurant reviews a lot, but sometimes I think he should stick to doing them; I think that right now, in fact. Here’s a throwaway post from Cowen on ISDS provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). tl;dr: Move along people, move along. There’s no story here. In longer though not very long form, after posing this rhetorical question in the headline:
How bad are the investor arbitration clauses in TPP?

The Myth Of The Absent Black Father

by Tara Culp-Ressler, Posted on January 16, 2014 at 4:53 pm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published new data on the role that American fathers play in parenting their children. Most of the CDC’s previous research on family life — which the agency explores as an important contributor to public health and child development — has focused exclusively on mothers. But the latest data finds that the stereotypical gender imbalance in this area doesn’t hold true, and dads are just as hands-on when it comes to raising their kids.

That includes African-American fathers.

Digby: Right Wing Populism in a Nutshell

Howie at DWT featured a piece this morning about a fatuous right wing attempt to co-opt the legacy of the great Barbara Jordan in the cause of bigotry. (Don't ask ... ) He quotes a piece from the National Review that spells out their thinking:
On April 15, the editors of the New York Times felt compelled to denounce a Washington Post op-ed by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), in which he called for reduced immigration to help raise the wages of American workers. The Times' editors were particularly miffed that “Mr. Sessions accuses the financial and political ‘elite’ of a conspiracy to keep wages down through immigration” (“elite” is put in sneer quotes, as if there were no elite). What is important to note is not the Times’ ad hominem attack on Sessions (“choosing . . . to echo an uglier time in our history”) but the fact that the editors believed that the senator’s populist argument required an official response.

David Suzuki: How to Save the Monarch Butterfly

The monarch butterfly is a wonderful creature with an amazing story. In late summer, monarchs in southern Canada and the northern U.S. take flight, traveling more than 5,000 kilometers to alpine forests in central Mexico. The overwintering butterflies cling to fir trees there in masses so dense that branches bow under their weight.

The monarch’s multigenerational journey northward is every bit as remarkable as the epic southern migration. Three or four successive generations fly to breeding grounds, lay eggs and perish. The resulting caterpillars transform into butterflies and then take on the next leg of the trip. Monarchs arriving in Canada in late summer are often fourth or fifth generation descendants of butterflies that flew south the previous year.

Anti-Science GOP 'Eviscerates' NASA Spending on Climate Change Research

NASA administrator says proposal 'guts' crucial Earth science program and 'threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate'

by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

Reinforcing the GOP's reputation as anti-science, Republicans in the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on Thursday voted to slash NASA spending on the branch that studies climate change issues.

According to news reports, the NASA authorization proposal, passed along party lines, would cut between $300-500 million in funding to NASA's Earth Sciences division, which researches the planet's natural systems and processes—including climate change, severe weather, and glaciers. The bill will now go to the full House for a vote.

The Policy Machine

The dangers of letting algorithms make decisions in law enforcement, welfare, and child protection.

By Virginia Eubanks

Public services are becoming increasingly algorithmic, a reality that has spawned hyperbolic comparisons to RoboCop and Minority Report, enforcement droids and pre-cogs. But the future of high-tech policymaking looks less like science fiction and more like Google’s PageRank algorithm.

For example, according to the Chicago Tribune, Robert McDaniel, a 22-year-old Chicago resident, was surprised when police commander Barbara West showed up at his West Side home in 2013 to warn “the most dangerous gangbangers” to stop their violent ways. McDaniel, who had a misdemeanor conviction and several arrests on a variety of offenses—drug possession, gambling, domestic violence—had made Chicago’s now-notorious “heat list” of the 420 people most likely to be involved in violent crime sometime in the future. The list is the result of a proprietary predictive policing algorithm that likely crunches numbers on parole status, arrests, social networks, and proximity to violent crime.

Paul Krugman: Ideology and Integrity

The 2016 campaign should be almost entirely about issues. The parties are far apart on everything from the environment to fiscal policy to health care, and history tells us that what politicians say during a campaign is a good guide to how they will govern.

Nonetheless, many in the news media will try to make the campaign about personalities and character instead. And character isn’t totally irrelevant. The next president will surely encounter issues that aren’t currently on anyone’s agenda, so it matters how he or she is likely to react. But the character trait that will matter most isn’t one the press likes to focus on. In fact, it’s actively discouraged.

David Simon on Baltimore’s Anguish

Freddie Gray, the drug war, and the decline of “real policing.”

By Bill Keller

David Simon is Baltimore’s best-known chronicler of life on the hard streets. He worked for The Baltimore Sun city desk for a dozen years, wrote “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” (1991) and with former homicide detective Ed Burns co-wrote “The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood”1 (1997), which Simon adapted into an HBO miniseries. He is the creator, executive producer and head writer of the HBO television series “The Wire” (2002–2008). Simon is a member of The Marshall Project’s advisory board. He spoke with Bill Keller on Tuesday.

BK: What do people outside the city need to understand about what’s going on there — the death of Freddie Gray and the response to it?

DS: I guess there's an awful lot to understand and I’m not sure I understand all of it. The part that seems systemic and connected is that the drug war — which Baltimore waged as aggressively as any American city — was transforming in terms of police/community relations, in terms of trust, particularly between the black community and the police department. Probable cause was destroyed by the drug war. It happened in stages, but even in the time that I was a police reporter, which would have been the early 80s to the early 90s, the need for police officers to address the basic rights of the people they were policing in Baltimore was minimized. It was done almost as a plan by the local government, by police commissioners and mayors, and it not only made everybody in these poor communities vulnerable to the most arbitrary behavior on the part of the police officers, it taught police officers how not to distinguish in ways that they once did.

Fracking Titans Spend Millions Proselytizing School Children

by Brie Shea, Investigative Reporting Fellow, RH Reality Check

For more than 30 years, Dennis Prager has been a conservative radio host and author. His broadcasts air three hours a day, five days a week across the country, beating the conservative drums against what he sees as a host of “liberal” evils—marriage equality, feminism, and multiculturalism. He has called campus rape culture a “gargantuan lie to get votes” promoted by the “feminist left.”

More recently, Prager has developed an ingenious method of getting his conservative opinions to a new kind of audience, one harder to reach via traditional media channels.

Pesticides alter bees' brains, making them unable to live and reproduce adequately

New research in The FASEB Journal suggests that the neonicotinoid class of pesticides do not kill bees but impair their brain function to disturb learning, blunt food gathering skills and harm reproduction

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

In research report published in the May 2015 issue of The FASEB Journal, scientists report that a particular class of pesticides called "neonicotinoids" wreaks havoc on the bee populations, ultimately putting some crops that rely on pollination in jeopardy. Specifically, these pesticides kill bee brain cells, rendering them unable to learn, gather food and reproduce. The report, however, also suggests that the effects of these pesticides on bee colonies may be reversible by decreasing or eliminating the use of these pesticides on plants pollenated by bees and increasing the availability of "bee-friendly" plants available to the insects.

New survey: Percentage of Texans without health insurance drops dramatically

Rice University

HOUSTON - (April 30, 2015) - The percentage of Texans without health insurance dropped 31 percent since enrollment began in the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) Health Insurance Marketplace, according to a new report released today by the Episcopal Health Foundation and Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The report found that from September 2013 to March 2015, the percentage of uninsured adult Texans ages 18-64 dropped from 25 to 17 percent.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Two takes on Bernie Sanders:

Matt Taibbi: Give 'Em Hell, Bernie

Bernie Sanders is more serious than you think

Many years ago I pitched a magazine editor on a story about Bernie Sanders, then a congressman from Vermont, who'd agreed to something extraordinary – he agreed to let me, a reporter, stick next to him without restrictions over the course of a month in congress.

"People need to know how this place works. It's absurd," he'd said. (Bernie often uses the word absurd, his Brooklyn roots coming through in his pronunciation – ob-zert.)

The Problem With Bernie


So, Bernie Sanders made his call. He is going to run for President of the United States and he is going to do so as a Democrat. Even if he wins the nomination, one can be quite certain that the reactionary forces of US capitalism will oppose him in every way they can. Additionally, and more insidiously, so will a fair number of liberal champions of US capitalism to his right in the Democratic Party. Yet, he has made his claim and it is one he will have to live with, no matter what price he ends up paying. Given the nature of national electoral politics in the United States, his chances of winning the party nomination are small, much less the presidency itself.

Who is Bernie Sanders and what does he stand for? Now that he is a candidate, it’s fair to assume that his biography will be dissected across the media spectrum. To much of the US population, he is still the most radical politician from the Left they have ever seen. This is especially true for anyone who came of age politically since Ronald Reagan’s first term in the White House. What interests me more is the gradual transition he has made politically from socialist (more or less) to social democrat and from that to liberal Democrat. The anecdotes that follow reveal something of that retreat.

Mega, Giga, Tera: Inside the Biggest Investment Boom in History

By Kanya D'Almeida, Truthout | News Analysis

Consider this: We have entered an age in which a single "mega" (million-dollar) project can easily exceed the national economy of a low-income country; a single "giga" (billion-dollar) project can outpace the earnings of a middle-income state; and a single "tera" (trillion-dollar) investment project can compare with the GDP of one of the world's top 20 richest nations.

Research reveals that we are living through the largest investment boom in human history. Oxford University's Bent Flyvbjerg, an economic geographer who specializes in mega-project planning and management, estimates global mega-project spending at between $6-9 trillion annually. This is 8 percent of the world's combined GDP.

Paul Krugman: The austerity delusion

The case for cuts was a lie. Why does Britain still believe it?

n May 2010, as Britain headed into its last general election, elites all across the western world were gripped by austerity fever, a strange malady that combined extravagant fear with blithe optimism. Every country running significant budget deficits – as nearly all were in the aftermath of the financial crisis – was deemed at imminent risk of becoming another Greece unless it immediately began cutting spending and raising taxes. Concerns that imposing such austerity in already depressed economies would deepen their depression and delay recovery were airily dismissed; fiscal probity, we were assured, would inspire business-boosting confidence, and all would be well.

People holding these beliefs came to be widely known in economic circles as “austerians” – a term coined by the economist Rob Parenteau – and for a while the austerian ideology swept all before it.

The victimization quandary: To help victims we have to stop blaming them

But how do we do that?

Rutgers University-Newark

(NEWARK, NJ) - April 29, 2014 - A woman is brutally assaulted, but rather than receiving the sympathy she deserves, she is blamed. If she had dressed differently or acted differently, or made wiser choices, others say, she would have been spared her ordeal. For victims, this "victim blaming" is profoundly hurtful, and can lead to secondary victimization.

Psychologists have long realized that blaming victims is a defense mechanism that helps blamers feel better about the world, and see it as fair and just. But ways to prevent victim blaming have been elusive -- until now.

No Cost for Extremism

Why the GOP hasn't (yet) paid for its march to the right.

By Jacob Hacker, Paul Pierson

According to the news media, 2014 was the year that the GOP “Establishment” finally pulled Republicans back from the right-wing brink. Pragmatism, it seemed, had finally triumphed over extremism in primary and general election contests that The New York Times called “proxy wars for the overall direction of the Republican Party.”

There’s just one problem with this dominant narrative. It’s wrong. The GOP isn’t moving back to the center. The “proxy wars” of 2014 were mainly about tactics and packaging, not moderation.

Katha Pollitt: There’s a Reason Gay Marriage Is Winning, While Abortion Rights Are Losing

Are these two “culture wars” issues really that similar?

Why are reproductive rights losing while gay rights are winning? Indiana’s attempt to enshrine opposition to gay marriage under the guise of religious freedom provoked an immediate nationwide backlash. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has allowed religious employers to refuse insurance coverage for birth control—not abortion, birth control—to female employees; new laws are forcing abortion clinics to close; and absurd, even medically dangerous restrictions are heaping up in state after state. Except when the media highlight a particularly crazy claim by a Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, where’s the national outrage? Most Americans are pro-choice, more or less; only a small minority want to see abortion banned. When you consider, moreover, that one in three women will have had at least one abortion by the time she reaches menopause, and most of those women had parents, partners, friends—someone—who helped them obtain it, the sluggish response to the onslaught of restrictive laws must include many people who have themselves benefited from safe and legal abortion.

Paul Volcker Invests in Foreign Banks as He Lectures on U.S. Bank Reform

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: April 27, 2015

Last Monday, former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker held a press conference at the National Press Club to release his nonprofit’s plan for reforming U.S. bank regulation. Volcker’s plan includes elevating the Federal Reserve to even greater heights as a super regulator of a consolidated system. That’s exactly the opposite of what Congress has in mind as it holds hearings on fatal conflicts of interests between the Fed and Wall Street.

At the press conference, Volcker delivered a thoroughly discredited statement suggesting some deep-pocketed backers are putting words in his mouth. Volcker said: “The Federal Reserve is the best-equipped, the most independent and most respected financial agency of the United States government.”

Dean Baker | The Battle Over the Trans-Pacific Partnership and "Fast Track" Gets Hot

President Obama must be having trouble getting the votes for fast-track authority since the administration is now pulling out all the stops to push the deal. This has included a press call where he apparently got testy over the charge by critics that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secret trade deal.

Obama insisted the deal is not secret, but googling "TPP" will not get you a copy of the text. Apparently President Obama is using a different definition of "secret" than the ordinary English usage.