Sunday, August 30, 2015

David Cay Johnston: The antidote to economic anxiety is better government

The stock market will recover. Whether jobs and pay will come back for most people is less certain

Sharp recent drops in the U.S., Chinese and European stock markets and the large crowds drawn by two very different men seeking to be president, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, point to the same issue: widespread economic anxiety.

Government policies — and to some degree, technological changes — are creating tectonic shifts in the global economy, in which we can observe a few gigantic winners while most strivers get little for their labor. Social unrest is on the rise in China and Europe because of wage cuts and job instability. That induces continual anxiety, occasional fear and, at the moment, outright panic among heavily leveraged hedge funds and other stock traders.

How The Christian Right Ended Up Transforming American Politics

By Daniel Schlozman

Nowadays, the power of the Christian Right is a given. But that wasn’t always the case. In the last 35 years, it’s gone from burgeoning movement to the GOP’s bread and butter. And although its power has waned in the past few years, the last three and a half decades have been remarkably successful.

On August 22, 1980, a massive National Affairs Briefing organized by preacher James Robison brought 15,000 evangelicals to Dallas to demonstrate their newfound political clout. Robison, who had been forced off the airwaves after he claimed that gays recruit children for sex, announced that day, “I’m sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals and the perverts and the liberals and the leftists and the Communists coming out of the closet. It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet.”

Against Charity

Rather than creating an individualized “culture of giving,” we should be challenging capitalism’s institutionalized taking.

by Mathew Snow

Imagine you came across a child drowning in a small pond and you were the only one around to help. You could easily save the child by wading in, although doing so would ruin your clothing and shoes. But if you don’t, the child will die.

It’s a no-brainer — you should save the child. Would the answer be any different if there were others around who could also help? No. Should it make any difference if the desperate child wasn’t directly in front of you? No.

Research demonstrates millions of plastic particles exist in cosmetic products

University of Plymouth

Everyday cosmetic and cleaning products contain huge quantities of plastic particles, which are released to the environment and could be harmful to marine life, according to a new study.

Research at Plymouth University has shown almost 100,000 tiny 'microbeads' - each a fraction of a millimetre in diameter - could be released in every single application of certain products, such as facial scrubs.

Paul Krugman: A Moveable Glut

What caused Friday’s stock plunge? What does it mean for the future? Nobody knows, and not much.

Attempts to explain daily stock movements are usually foolish: a real-time survey of the 1987 stock crash found no evidence for any of the rationalizations economists and journalists offered after the fact, finding instead that people were selling because, you guessed it, prices were falling. And the stock market is a terrible guide to the economic future: Paul Samuelson once quipped that the market had predicted nine of the last five recessions, and nothing has changed on that front.

2016: The Coming Train Wreck

The Republican demolition derby is worrying. But even more worrying is where that leaves the Democrats.

Robert Kuttner

Six months ago, the 2016 election looked to be predictable and boring: Clinton II vs. Bush III. Advantage: Clinton.

Well, forget about that.

The Republican demolition derby has been getting most of the publicity lately, but one should worry more about the Democrats.

Low-level arsenic exposure before birth associated with early puberty and obesity


NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Female mice exposed in utero, or in the womb, to low levels of arsenic through drinking water displayed signs of early puberty and became obese as adults, according to scientists from the National Institutes of Health. The finding is significant because the exposure level of 10 parts per billion used in the study is the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard, or maximum allowable amount, for arsenic in drinking water. The study, which appeared online August 21 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, serves as a good starting point for examining whether low-dose arsenic exposure could have similar health outcomes in humans.

Paul Krugman: Debt Is Good

Rand Paul said something funny the other day. No, really — although of course it wasn’t intentional. On his Twitter account he decried the irresponsibility of American fiscal policy, declaring, “The last time the United States was debt free was 1835.”

Wags quickly noted that the U.S. economy has, on the whole, done pretty well these past 180 years, suggesting that having the government owe the private sector money might not be all that bad a thing. The British government, by the way, has been in debt for more than three centuries, an era spanning the Industrial Revolution, victory over Napoleon, and more.

Picking Apart One of the Biggest Lies in American Politics: 'Free Trade'

It just enriches huge companies at everyone else's expense.

By Thom Hartmann / AlterNet

In 1992, Ross Perot won almost 20% of the entire presidential vote on the single issue of stopping so-called “free trade.” Today, several presidential candidates are gaining huge traction with similar opposition to NAFTA, CAFTA, and the upcoming Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade Agreement (SHAFTA, now called the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP).

Time has proven Perot right, and his arguments were consistent with a long history of American industrial success prior to the “free trade” era of the past 30+ years.

Having Their Cake and Eating Ours Too

Chris Lehmann

What are billionaires for? It’s time we sussed out a plausible answer to this question, as their numbers ratchet upward across the globe, impervious to the economic setbacks suffered by mere mortals, and their “good works” ooze across the fair land. The most recent count from Forbes reports a record 1,826 of these ten-figure, market-cornering Croesuses, with familiar North American brands holding down the top three spots: Bill Gates, Carlos Slim, and Warren Buffett. Esteemed newcomers to the list include Uber kingpin Travis Kalanick, boasting $5.3 billion in net worth; gay-baiting, evangelical artery-hardeners Dan and Bubba Cathy, of Chick-fil-A fame ($3.2 billion); and Russ Weiner, impresario of the antifreeze-by-another-name energy drink Rockstar ($2.1 billion). For the first time, too, Mark Zuckerberg has cracked the elite Top 20 of global wealth; in fact, fellow Californians, most following Zuckerberg’s savvy footsteps into digital rentiership, account for 23 of the planet’s new billionaires and 131 of the total number—more than supplied by any nation apart from China and the Golden State’s host country, a quaint former republic known as the United States.

Matt Taibbi: America Has A 'Profound Hatred Of The Weak And The Poor'

Living in America has taught Matt Taibbi that we as a society have "a profound hatred of the weak and the poor."

That's one claim the former Rolling Stone writer makes in his new book, "The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap." Taibbi defended this statement in a HuffPost Live interview on Tuesday.

Europe shouldn’t worry about migrants. It should worry about creeping fascism

The greatest threat to our “way of life” is not migration. It is that we will swallow the lie that some human lives matter less than others.


There is an urban legend about boiling frogs, and it goes like this. If you put a frog in a pan of cold water and slowly, slowly turn up the heat, the frog will sit there quite calmly until it boils to death. Creeping cultural change is like that. It’s hard to spot when you’re living inside it. You can stay very still while the mood of a society becomes harder and meaner and uglier by stages, telling yourself that everything is going to be fine as all around you, the water begins to bubble.

This week I had coffee with a friend who has also just come back from a year away – teaching in Spain for her, studying in America for me. For both of us, coming home has been hard. There are some things I missed that simply aren’t there anymore. A particular shade of lipstick at Boots. My favourite zombie show on the BBC. And most of all, a sense of basic tolerance, however pretended-at, a feeling that there are some ways of talking in public about people who are not white, or not British, or in any way “other2, which are the province of far-right hate groups, the Duke of Edinburgh and no one else.

Trumping the Federal Debt Without Playing the Default Card

By Ellen Brown, The Web of Debt Blog | News Analysis

"The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that. So there is zero probability of default."—Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan on Meet the Press, August 2011
In a post on "Sovereign Man" dated August 14th, Simon Black argued that Donald Trump may be the right man for the presidency:
[T]here's one thing that really sets him apart, that, in my opinion, makes him the most qualified person for the job:

Donald Trump is an expert at declaring bankruptcy.

When the going gets tough, Trump stiffs his creditors. He's done it four times!

Paul Krugman: Republicans Against Retirement

Something strange is happening in the Republican primary — something strange, that is, besides the Trump phenomenon. For some reason, just about all the leading candidates other than The Donald have taken a deeply unpopular position, a known political loser, on a major domestic policy issue. And it’s interesting to ask why.

The issue in question is the future of Social Security, which turned 80 last week. The retirement program is, of course, both extremely popular and a long-term target of conservatives, who want to kill it precisely because its popularity helps legitimize government action in general. As the right-wing activist Stephen Moore (now chief economist of the Heritage Foundation) once declared, Social Security is “the soft underbelly of the welfare state”; “jab your spear through that” and you can undermine the whole thing.

How False Narratives of Margaret Sanger Are Being Used to Shame Black Women

by Imani Gandy, Senior Legal Analyst, RH Reality Check

In the wake of the attacks by the Center for Medical Progress, Planned Parenthood’s origins and its founder, Margaret Sanger, have once again become the center of conversations regarding Black women and abortion. And since anti-choice fanatics seem utterly incapable of making an honest argument in support of their position that Black women should be forced into childbirth rather than permitted to make their own decisions about what to do with their bodies, they resort to lies, misinformation, and half-truths about Sanger and the organization she founded.

Dean Baker: Loss of Manufacturing Jobs Isn’t ‘Tectonic’ – It’s a Policy Choice

Wall Street executive Steve Rattner had a column (8/14/15) in the New York Times in which he derided Donald Trump’s economics by minimizing the impact of trade on the labor market. While much of Trump’s economics undoubtedly deserve derision, Rattner is wrong in minimizing the impact that trade has had on the plight of workers.

Rattner tells readers:
In Mr. Trump’s mind (although not in the minds of serious economists), [the trade deficit is] why we’ve lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000.

The Chinese are certainly protectionists, but a shift in manufacturing jobs was inevitable. For centuries, as countries have developed, the locus of jobs has shifted based on comparative advantage.

Inmates Say They Worked Without Pay At Privately Run Nashville Jail

By Travis Loller

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former inmates at a privately run Nashville jail say they worked without pay building bean-bag "cornhole" games, plaques shaped like footballs, birdhouses, and dog beds so that officials could sell them through their personal business at a flea market.

Inmates can legally be required to work without pay, in some circumstances, but jail employees are not supposed to profit from their labor. But former inmates Larry Stephney and Charles Brew say that is what happened with Stand Firm Designs, run by two jail employees and one former employee, according to their business card.

Paul Krugman: Bungling Beijing’s Stock Markets

China is ruled by a party that calls itself Communist, but its economic reality is one of rapacious crony capitalism. And everyone has been assuming that the nation’s leaders are in on the joke, that they know better than to take their occasional socialist rhetoric seriously.

Yet their zigzagging policies over the past few months have been worrying. Is it possible that after all these years Beijing still doesn’t get how this “markets” thing works?

6 Creative New Techniques Republicans Have Developed for Torturing the Poor

Republican-controlled states are sharpening their fight against the poor, and then paralyzing their attempts to fight back.

By David Masciotra / AlterNet

In the 1960s, the Lyndon Johnson administration launched an official War on Poverty. Needless to say, poverty has emerged victorious. The noble and necessary aim of poverty reduction might have helped millions of people create lives of decency and dignity, and it might have helped America assimilate into the developed world as a fiscally responsible and morally honorable nation. But since they fail to narrow the profit margin of the corporate class running America’s political system, poverty reduction programs are basically doomed.

As poverty worsens and spreads, with 25 million Americans constituting the working poor, poverty relief programs face elimination from austerity policymakers on the state and federal levels. In the absence of any war on poverty, America has demonstrated dedication and determination in its war on the poor. In a cruel combination of exploitative profiteering from poverty, and unapologetic hatred for the poor, state governments continue to pick the pockets of the impoverished, relegating low-income earners to a vicious cycle of punishment and recompense; life without parole in the poverty prison.

Social Security at 80: Defending a Program Which Has Defended All of Us

by Nancy Altman

Social Security was signed into law eighty years ago, on August 14, 1935. In those eight decades, it has taught us a number of important lessons.

Social Security has demonstrated that there are some undertakings that government does better than the private sector. Social Security is more efficient, universal, secure, and fair than any counterpart private sector arrangement is or could be.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

TTIP controversy: Secret trade deal can only be read in secure 'reading room' in Brussels

Zachary Davies Boren

The European Commission is making the secret Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal even more secret, introducing a new rule that means politicians can only view the text in a secure 'reading room' in Brussels.

An investigation by German news site Correct!v has revealed that the Commission is cracking down on TTIP security following a series of leaks, purportedly by EU member states who had accessed information on the deal electronically.

The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here

The worst predicted impacts of climate change are starting to happen — and much faster than climate scientists expected

By Eric Holthaus

Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shit really started hitting the fan. Some snapshots: In just the past few months, record-setting heat waves in Pakistan and India each killed more than 1,000 people. In Washington state's Olympic National Park, the rainforest caught fire for the first time in living memory. London reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest July day ever recorded in the U.K.; The Guardian briefly had to pause its live blog of the heat wave because its computer servers overheated. In California, suffering from its worst drought in a millennium, a 50-acre brush fire swelled seventyfold in a matter of hours, jumping across the I-15 freeway during rush-hour traffic. Then, a few days later, the region was pounded by intense, virtually unheard-of summer rains. Puerto Rico is under its strictest water rationing in history as a monster El Niño forms in the tropical Pacific Ocean, shifting weather patterns worldwide.

Exposing Nixon’s Vietnam Lies

Exclusive: After resigning over the Watergate political-spying scandal, President Nixon sought to rewrite the history of his Vietnam War strategies to deny swapping lives for political advantage, but newly released documents say otherwise, writes James DiEugenio.

By James DiEugenio

Richard Nixon spent years rebuilding his tattered reputation after he resigned from office in disgrace on Aug. 9, 1974. The rehabilitation project was codenamed “The Wizard.” The idea was to position himself as an elder statesman of foreign policy, a Wise Man. And to a remarkable degree – through the sale of his memoirs, his appearance with David Frost in a series of highly rated interviews, and the publication of at least eight books after that – Nixon largely succeeded in his goal.

There was another aspect of that plan: to do all he could to keep his presidential papers and tapes classified, which, through a series of legal maneuvers, he managed to achieve in large part. Therefore, much of what he and Henry Kissinger wrote about in their memoirs could stand, largely unchallenged.

Paul Krugman: G.O.P. Candidates and Obama’s Failure to Fail

What did the men who would be president talk about during last week’s prime-time Republican debate? Well, there were 19 references to God, while the economy rated only 10 mentions. Republicans in Congress have voted dozens of times to repeal all or part of Obamacare, but the candidates only named President Obama’s signature policy nine times over the course of two hours. And energy, another erstwhile G.O.P. favorite, came up only four times.

Strange, isn’t it? The shared premise of everyone on the Republican side is that the Obama years have been a time of policy disaster on every front. Yet the candidates on that stage had almost nothing to say about any of the supposed disaster areas.

Trumping One Too Many Bankruptcies

Donald Trump may well be the only capitalist so callous that he can stun a Fox audience

By Rick Perlstein

You really are going to have to pay attention in these Republican debates. Zone out, and you might find yourself looking up with a start at a phrase like “… illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers … freeloading off the system now,” and a cheer so lusty Mike Huckabee might just have offered the entire audience free cars, and spend the rest of the night worrying that you missed something good.

Then again, I Googled it and learned he’s only referring to fiscal policy, specifically his proposal to fund Social Security through a sales tax. I should have just gone back to sleep.

Why the United States' Inequality Problem Is About a Lot More Than Money

By David Cay Johnston

Inequality is about much more than the growing chasm of income and wealth between those at the very top and everyone else in America. It's also about education, environmental hazards, health and health care, incarceration, law enforcement, wage theft and policies that interfere with family life over multiple generations.

In its full dimensions, inequality shapes, distorts and destroys lives in ways that get little attention from politicians and major news organizations. How many of us know that every day 47 American babies die, who would live if only our nation had the much better infant mortality rates of Sweden?

Tech industry's persistent claim of worker shortage may be phony

Michael Hiltzik

Alice Tornquist, a Washington lobbyist for the high-tech firm Qualcomm, took the stage at a recent Qualcomm-underwritten conference to remind her audience that companies like hers face a dire shortage of university graduates in engineering. The urgent remedy she advocated was to raise the cap on visas for foreign-born engineers.

"Although our industry and other high-tech industries have grown exponentially," Tornquist said, "our immigration system has failed to keep pace." The nation's outdated limits and "convoluted green-card process," she said, had left firms like hers "hampered in hiring the talent that they need."

Barbara Ehrenreich: In America, Only the Rich Can Afford to Write About Poverty

A relatively affluent person can afford to write about minimum wage jobs. Yet people experiencing them can’t.

Back in the fat years – two or three decades ago, when the “mainstream” media were booming – I was able to earn a living as a freelance writer. My income was meager and I had to hustle to get it, turning out about four articles – essays, reported pieces, reviews – a month at $1 or $2 a word. What I wanted to write about, in part for obvious personal reasons, was poverty and inequality, but I’d do just about anything – like, I cringe to say, “The Heartbreak Diet” for a major fashion magazine – to pay the rent.

It wasn’t easy to interest glossy magazines in poverty in the 1980s and 90s. I once spent two hours over an expensive lunch – paid for, of course, by a major publication – trying to pitch to a clearly indifferent editor who finally conceded, over decaf espresso and crème brulee, “OK, do your thing on poverty. But can you make it upscale?” Then there was the editor of a nationwide, and quite liberal, magazine who responded to my pitch for a story involving blue-collar men by asking, “Hmm, but can they talk?”

Pollinators and the Rigged Neonic Seed Market

by Ben Lilliston

Farmers are no different from any buyer – they want to know what they’re buying, how much it costs and its expected performance. But in the brave new world of agricultural seeds, where multiple traits and technology are stacked like Microsoft’s operating system, it’s becoming more and more difficult for farmers to separate out what is really needed and discover how much each piece is costing them. In the case of neonicotinoid (neonic) seed coatings used as a pesticide, both the effectiveness and costs are somewhat of a mystery, according to a new paper published by IATP today.

As farm income is expected to drop more than 30 percent from last year, farmers are carefully examining all input costs to see where they can save. With their financial cost and actual effectiveness unclear, neonic seed coatings may be one of those places to cut costs. But the real cost of neonics likely goes well beyond the input price. A growing body of science directly implicates neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides as a contributor to the significant decline of bees and other pollinators. Neonics are applied in multiple ways in agriculture and horticulture but are most prevalent as a seed coating material for commodity crops like corn and soybeans. Based on convincing and mounting evidence, beekeepers, scientists and other individuals concerned about pollinators are working together to spur regulatory action and shifts in the marketplace to reduce the use of neonics.

The Assault on America’s Unions Continues

Posted By David Macaray

Proving that the Domino Theory is alive and well, one more domino fell last week when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled, 4-3, that public sector employees could continue to bask in the superior wages, benefits and working conditions that their union contract provided, but weren’t required to pay their “fair share” of union dues. Not one penny of it.

Previously, taking a perfectly reasonable “no freeloaders allowed” stance, the courts had ruled that workers in an agency shop (where employees aren’t required to join the union representing them) still had to pony up full or partial union dues to defray the costs of the collective bargaining process—the very process that yielded the attractive wages and benefits that caused them to seek employment in a union shop in the first place.

Meet the Hedge Funders and Billionaires Who Pillage Under the Shield of Philanthropy

By Lynn Parramore, AlterNet | News Analysis

America's parasitical oligarchs are masters of public relations. One of their favorite tactics is to masquerade as defenders of the common folk while neatly arranging things behind the scenes so that they can continue to plunder unimpeded. Perhaps nowhere is this sleight of hand displayed so artfully as it is at a particular high-profile charity with the nerve to bill itself as itself as "New York's largest poverty-fighting organization."

British novelist Anthony Trollope once wrote, "I have sometimes thought that there is no being so venomous, so bloodthirsty as a professed philanthropist."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Uncovering ECHELON: The Top-Secret NSA/GCHQ Program That Has Been Watching You Your Entire Life

by Lucas Matney

If history is written by the victors, government surveillance agencies will have an awfully long list of sources to cite.

Domestic digital surveillance has often seemed to be a threat endured mostly by the social media generation, but details have continued to emerge that remind us of decades of sophisticated, automated spying from the NSA and others.

Before the government was peering through our webcams, tracking our steps through GPS, feeling every keystroke we typed and listening and watching as we built up complex datasets of our entire personhood online, there was still rudimentary data to be collected. Over the last fifty years, Project ECHELON has given the UK and United States (as well as other members of the Five Eyes) the capacity to track enemies and allies alike within and outside their states. The scope has evolved in that time period from keyword lifts in intercepted faxes to its current all-encompassing data harvesting.

Paul Krugman: From Trump on Down, the Republicans Can't Be Serious

This was, according to many commentators, going to be the election cycle Republicans got to show off their “deep bench.” The race for the nomination would include experienced governors like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, fresh thinkers like Rand Paul, and attractive new players like Marco Rubio. Instead, however, Donald Trump leads the field by a wide margin. What happened?

The answer, according to many of those who didn’t see it coming, is gullibility: People can’t tell the difference between someone who sounds as if he knows what he’s talking about and someone who is actually serious about the issues. And for sure there’s a lot of gullibility out there. But if you ask me, the pundits have been at least as gullible as the public, and still are.

How stock market's 'spare tire' keeps economy churning during banking crises

University of California - Berkeley Haas School of Business

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY'S HAAS SCHOOL OF BUSINESS--Stories about corrupt CEOs raiding the corporate piggy bank would appear to be the best argument for shareholder protection laws known as "anti-self-dealing laws." But there's another bonus. A new study finds in countries with strong legislation to prevent fraudulent corporate behavior, banking crises have a less severe impact on firms and the economy in general.

The study, "How the stock market can play this critical role is the subject of "Spare Tire? Stock Markets, Banking Crises, and Economic Recoveries," forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, is the first assessment of the role of shareholder protection laws in shaping firms' response to a banking crisis.

Charles Koch Blasts Subsidies & Tax Credits, But His Firm Has Taken $195 Million Worth of Them

By David Sirota

Billionaire Charles Koch told a gathering of conservative donors Saturday that politicians must end taxpayer-funded subsidies and preferential treatment for corporations. That message, though, came from an industrialist whose company and corporate subsidiaries have raked in tens of millions of dollars worth of such largesse.

The Koch-organized conference at a luxury resort in Southern California reportedly attracted roughly 450 conservative donors who have committed to spending nearly $900 million on the 2016 presidential election. The event also is scheduled to include Republican presidential candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

There Goes the Neighborhood

The Obama library lands on Chicago

Rick Perlstein

On January 14, I approached the field house in Washington Park, the 150-year-old jewel of Chicago’s archipelago of green spaces, for the second of two public meetings to discuss the University of Chicago’s bid to host Barack Obama’s presidential library. The university was proposing either this site, at the eastern edge of Chicago’s South Side ghetto, a half mile northwest of the Hyde Park campus, or one at Jackson Park, a mile east on the lakefront, an equally choice expanse developed for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. For months, the question of whether Columbia University—the president’s undergraduate institution—would swoop in and snatch the glittering prize from the benevolent hands of the foundation administering the Obama library had dominated the local political news; the story was second only to the surprising news that mayor Rahm Emanuel might just lose his fight for reelection. A few weeks later, in evident panic at either contingency, the mayor promised he would “move heaven and earth to ensure that the Obama Presidential Library makes its home on Chicago’s South or West Side.” The stakes were high, and the field house was packed. There was overflow from the overflow room.

Colo. Ed Board Members Who Pushed AP History Changes May Face Recall

By Caitlin MacNeal

Three conservative members of the Jefferson County school board in Colorado may face consequences for seeking unpopular changes to the AP U.S. History course last year.

Critics of the school board on Tuesday submitted more than double the number of petition signatures needed to order recall votes for three members of the school board in the November election, according to the Denver Post.

Paul Krugman: China’s Naked Emperors

Politicians who preside over economic booms often develop delusions of competence. You can see this domestically: Jeb Bush imagines that he knows the secrets of economic growth because he happened to be governor when Florida was experiencing a giant housing bubble, and he had the good luck to leave office just before it burst. We’ve seen it in many countries: I still remember the omniscience and omnipotence ascribed to Japanese bureaucrats in the 1980s, before the long stagnation set in.

Politicians who preside over economic booms often develop delusions of competence. You can see this domestically: Jeb Bush imagines that he knows the secrets of economic growth because he happened to be governor when Florida was experiencing a giant housing bubble, and he had the good luck to leave office just before it burst. We’ve seen it in many countries: I still remember the omniscience and omnipotence ascribed to Japanese bureaucrats in the 1980s, before the long stagnation set in.

Group Seeks to Expose Cozy Ties Between US Trade Rep and Wall Street

'Americans deserve to know what Froman has been privately saying to these big banks.'

by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

Citing his cozy ties to Wall Street banks, a group dedicated to exposing corruption and corporate influence in Washington, D.C. has submitted an official Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all correspondence between U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and the 10 largest U.S. financial institutions.

The FOIA request demands access to or copies of emails and other written communications between Froman, the country's top trade negotiator, and banks including JP Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup.

ALEC Confidential: Tales from the Supply-Side

By Bill Raden

“The biggest scam of the last 100 years is global warming!” thundered Stephen Moore to ALEC’s plenary breakfast club this morning. “It’s no surprise that when you give these professors $10 billion, they’re going to find a problem.” Moore then singled out North Dakota for its regulatory-free attitudes toward the fracking industry: “I just have one message for you — drill, baby, drill!”

The annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council began wrapping up business in San Diego Friday on this defiant note from Moore, a former Wall Street Journal writer. This newly hired Heritage Foundation economist is an apostle of completely eliminating state income taxes and has been in a running feud with liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, over Moore’s casual regard for accurate reporting.

Greenhouse gas source underestimated from the US Corn Belt, University of Minnesota-led study shows

University of Minnesota

Estimates of how much nitrous oxide, a significant greenhouse gas and stratospheric ozone-depleting substance, is being emitted in the central United States have been too low by as much as 40 percent, a new study led by University of Minnesota scientists shows.

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, measured how much nitrous oxide is emitted from streams in an agriculturally dense area in southern Minnesota. Agriculture, and specifically nitrogen fertilizers used in row-crop farming, is a major contributor to nitrous oxide emissions from streams, the paper notes.

Paul Krugman: The GOP has never “abandoned its dream” of destroying the social safety net

"It’s the very idea of the government providing a universal safety net that they hate," he argued

Scott Eric Kaufman

In his Monday column at the New York Times, economist Paul Krugman went after GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush for claiming that Medicare ought to be “phased out,” claiming that such talk is emblematic an ideologically motivated desire on the part of the Republican Party to destroy the social safety net — especially if there’s evidence that it’s working.

Krugman began by mocking Bush for espousing yet another obsolete idea. “Mr. Bush often seems like a Rip Van Winkle who slept through everything that has happened since he left the governor’s office,” he argued, because “after all, he’s still boasting about Florida’s housing-bubble boom.”

What happens when policy is made by corporations? Your privacy is seen as a barrier to economic growth

The latest trade deal to be passed by the EU will see us sacrifice our commitment to data protection

Evgeny Morozov

With all eyes on Greece, the European parliament has quietly passed a non-binding resolution on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the controversial trade liberalisation agreement between the United States and Europe. Ironically, it did so a few hours after lecturing Alexis Tsipras, the Greek leader, about the virtues of European solidarity and justice.

If enacted, TTIP, along with two other treaties currently under negotiation– the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) – will considerably limit the ability of governments to rein in the activities of corporations; all three treaties have predictably triggered much resistance.>

Friday, August 14, 2015

Global middle class is 'more promise than reality', with 13 per cent of population qualifying, study finds

The study highlighted the disparity between the middle classes in developing, emerging and developed nations

Kashmira Gander

A truly global middle class is “more promise than reality”, according to a new study exploring how middle income populations have changed since the start of the century.

Experts at the Pew Research Center found that while the middle-classes amounted for just over a tenth of the global population, most barely reached above the official US poverty marker.

Paul Krugman: Zombies Against Medicare

Medicare turns 50 this week, and it has been a very good half-century. Before the program went into effect, Ronald Reagan warned that it would destroy American freedom; it didn’t, as far as anyone can tell. What it did do was provide a huge improvement in financial security for seniors and their families, and in many cases it has literally been a lifesaver as well.

But the right has never abandoned its dream of killing the program. So it’s really no surprise that Jeb Bush recently declared that while he wants to let those already on Medicare keep their benefits, “We need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others.”

The 1 percent’s twisted games: How they’re distorting reality and diluting democracy

Research shows that the rich live in an alternate universe from the rest of us, and bend policy to their will

Sean McElwee

What would America look like if donors didn’t rule the world? It’s an interesting question and one worth pondering as the 2016 Presidential campaigns kick off. Available data reveals that donors not only have disproportionate influence over politics, but that influence is wielded largely to keep issues that would benefit the working and middle classes off of the table.

Do donors really rule the world? Recent research suggests that indeed they do. Three political scientists recently discovered that a 1 percent increase in donor support for a policy leads to a 1 percent increase in the probability the president supports the policy, if the president and donor are in the same party. On the other hand, they find no similar effect from general public opinion on presidential policies. In another study, Brian Schaffner and Jesse Rhodes find, “the roll call voting of members of Congress may be more strongly associated with the views of their donors (including outside donors) than with those of their voting constituents.” So who are these donors?

Matt Taibbi: Sandra Bland Was Murdered

Suicide or not, police are responsible for Sandra Bland's death

So news broke yesterday that authorities in Waller County, Texas, have "full faith" that Sandra Bland committed suicide. They said there was "no evidence of a struggle" on the body of the 28-year-old African-American woman who was ludicrously jailed last week after an alleged lane change violation.

In related news, the Texas Department of Safety ruled that Brian Encina, the officer who arrested Bland, pulled her from her car, and threatened her with a Taser, had merely violated the state's "courtesy policy." The state said there was "no evidence" yet of criminal behavior on Encina's part.

Why Liberals Have to Be Radicals

The reforms needed to restore the country's shared prosperity are to the left of all the candidates, including Sanders.

Robert Kuttner

Just about nothing being proposed in mainstream politics is radical enough to fix what ails the economy. Consider everything that is destroying the life chances of ordinary people:
Young adults are staggered by $1.3 trillion in student debt. Yet even those with college degrees are losing ground in terms of incomes.

The economy of regular payroll jobs and career paths has given way to a gig economy of short-term employment that will soon hit four workers in 10.

The income distribution has become so extreme, with the one percent capturing such a large share of the pie, that even a $15/hour national minimum wage would not be sufficient to restore anything like the more equal economy of three decades ago. Even the mainstream press acknowledges these gaps.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Paul Krugman: The M.I.T. Gang

Goodbye, Chicago boys. Hello, M.I.T. gang.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the term “Chicago boys” was originally used to refer to Latin American economists, trained at the University of Chicago, who took radical free-market ideology back to their home countries. The influence of these economists was part of a broader phenomenon: The 1970s and 1980s were an era of ascendancy for laissez-faire economic ideas and the Chicago school, which promoted those ideas.

How the NSA Is a Servant of Corporate Power

By Bill Blunden

For years public figures have condemned cyber espionage committed against the United States by intruders launching their attacks out of China. These same officials then turn around and justify the United States' far-reaching surveillance apparatus in terms of preventing terrorist attacks. Yet classified documents published by WikiLeaks reveal just how empty these talking points are. Specifically, top-secret intercepts prove that economic spying by the United States is pervasive, that not even allies are safe and that it's wielded to benefit powerful corporate interests.

At a recent campaign event in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton accused [3] China of "trying to hack into everything that doesn't move in America." Clinton's hyperbole is redolent of similar claims from the US deep state. For example, who could forget the statement made by former NSA director Keith Alexander that Chinese cyber espionage represents the greatest transfer of wealth [4] in history? Alexander has obviously never heard of quantitative easing [5] (QE) or the self-perpetuating "global war on terror," which has likewise eaten through trillions of dollars [6]. Losses due to cyber espionage are a rounding error compared to the tidal wave of money channeled through QE and the war on terror.

ALEC Admits School Vouchers Are for Kids in Suburbia

Submitted by Jonas Persson

School vouchers were never about helping poor, at-risk or minority students. But selling them as social mobility tickets was a useful fiction that for some twenty-five years helped rightwing ideologues and corporate backers gain bipartisan support for an ideological scheme designed to privatize public schools.

But the times they are a-changin'. Wisconsin is well on its way towards limitless voucher schools, and last month, Nevada signed into law a universal "education savings account" allowing parents to send their kids to private or religious schools, or even to homeschool them—all on the taxpayers' dime. On the federal level, a proposed amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would have created a multi-billion-dollar-a-year voucher program was only narrowly defeated in the U.S. Senate.

The Vast, Hidden Community Of Racial Hatred In America

by Sacha Feinman

After Dylann Roof allegedly opened fire on worshippers gathered inside the historically black Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston, South Carolina last month, killing nine congregants and claiming that they “rape our women” and “are taking over our country,” a disturbing image circulated online. A Facebook picture of Roof sitting on top of his car and straddling a license plate celebrating the “Confederate States of America” went viral, stoking an outrage that prompted the South Carolina government to permanently lower the Confederate flag that had long flown over the State House.

For some, however, the debate isn’t over. The Ku Klux Klan successfully petitioned to hold a pro-Confederate flag rally in Charleston last week, resulting in five arrests as white racialist groups clashed with counter-protesters such as the New Black Panther Party. Video footage from the scene shows African Americans angrily tearing up a Confederate flag, while Nazis inveighed against the government’s decision to “delete your history.”

Social Security Has Enough Money to Expand Benefits Now, Trustee's Report Shows

Billions are available now and in the near-future.

By Nancy Altman / Huffington Post

The Social Security Board of Trustees has just released its annual report to Congress. The most important takeaways are that Social Security has a large and growing surplus, and its future cost is fully affordable.

It is sometimes reported that Social Security's current costs exceed its revenue, but if that happened, we wouldn't need a report to tell us. The whole country would know, because 59 million beneficiaries would not get their earned benefits as they now do every month. By law, Social Security can only pay benefits if it has sufficient revenue to cover every penny of costs - administrative as well as benefit costs. The claim that Social Security is running a deficit counts only Social Security's income from its premiums, often called payroll contributions or taxes, and disregards one or both of its other two dedicated sources of income: investment income and dedicated income tax revenue. When income from all of Social Security's revenue sources is counted, Social Security ran a $25 billion surplus in 2014.

Elizabeth Warren’s Glass-Steagall Legislation Has Two Fatal Flaws

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: July 20, 2015

When it comes to sleuthing out how Wall Street has gamed the laws, conned the regulators and colluded to corrupt the whole financial system, there is no one in Congress sharper-eyed or more outspoken than Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is also exceptionally well-qualified to lead this Wall Street posse.

Warren was a commercial law professor at Harvard for more than 20 years. She is widely credited with facilitating the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to protect consumers from the insidious rip-offs in mortgages, credit cards, student loans and other financial products.

Goldman Sachs: Masters of the Eurozone

by Gaius Publius

Interesting headline, yes? I have a two-point intro and then the piece.

First, when a "private" group's chief individuals flow back and forth constantly between government and that group, the group can be said to be "part" of government, or to have "infiltrated" government, or to have been "folded into" government. (Your phrasing will be determined by who you think is the instigator.)

For example, a network of private "security consulting" firms does standing business with the (Pentagon's) NSA, and by some accounts performs 70% of their work. Are those firms part of the NSA or not? Most would say yes, to a great degree. It's certain that the NSA would collapse without them, and many of these firms would collapse without the NSA (though many have other ... ahem, international ... clients, which starts an entirely different discussion).

Common chemicals may act together to increase cancer risk, study finds

Oregon State University

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Common environmental chemicals assumed to be safe at low doses may act separately or together to disrupt human tissues in ways that eventually lead to cancer, according to a task force of nearly 200 scientists from 28 countries, including one from Oregon State University.

In a nearly three-year investigation of the state of knowledge about environmentally influenced cancers, the scientists studied low-dose effects of 85 common chemicals not considered to be carcinogenic to humans.

Economic slump, not natural gas boom, responsible for drop in CO2 emissions

University of California - Irvine

Irvine, Calif., July 21, 2015 - The 11 percent decrease in climate change-causing carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. between 2007 and 2013 was caused by the global financial recession - not the reduced use of coal, research from the University of California Irvine, the University of Maryland, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis shows.

Experts have assumed that the drop in emissions reflected a shift toward natural gas, which produces roughly half as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy as coal and was made cheap by the hydraulic fracturing boom. Instead, most of the credit should be given to changing consumer demand and slumping industrial output during the period, according to findings published today in the journal Nature Communications. The results are based on economic analysis of energy use, manufacturing, emissions and consumer demand between 1997 and 2013.

World's Oceans Could Rise Higher, Sooner, Faster Than Most Thought Possible

New research shows that consensus estimates of sea level increases may be underestimating threat; new predictions would see major coastal cities left uninhabitable by next century

by Jon Queally, staff writer

If a new scientific paper is proven accurate, the international target of limiting global temperatures to a 2°C rise this century will not be nearly enough to prevent catastrophic melting of ice sheets that would raise sea levels much higher and much faster than previously thought possible.

According to the new study—which has not yet been peer-reviewed, but was written by former NASA scientist James Hansen and 16 other prominent climate researchers—current predictions about the catastrophic impacts of global warming, the melting of vast ice sheets, and sea level rise do not take into account the feedback loop implications of what will occur if large sections of Greenland and the Antarctic are consumed by the world's oceans.

Swamp power: how the world's wetlands can help stop climate change

From Asia’s peat swamp forests to Europe’s wetlands, swamp farming can provide valuable low-carbon energy, wildlife habitat and a means of depolluting waterways – and help reduce carbon emissions in the process

Arthur Neslen

On a boat drifting through a swampy reed plantation in the Polish Baltic, Szymon Smolczyński surveys his blanket of green crops destined to heat northern European homes.

“Many animals have their homes in our reed fields,” he says. “There are thousands of wild boar in this area and plenty of roe deer too.”

Rich, white & in total control: The clearest evidence yet that our democracy is broken

GOP politicians like Scott Walker work hard to suppress the vote. New data gives us a good idea why

Sean McElwee

This week the Census Bureau released their data on voter turnout in the 2014 election, and the numbers are abysmal. In 2014, only 41.9 percent of the voting age citizen population turned out, the lowest number census has recorded since they began collecting data in 1978. But these broad numbers obscure an even more important reality: that the decline in turnout between the 2012 Presidential election and the 2014 midterm was strongest among low-income people (see chart) and people of color.

As it happens this is also the first election since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act and conservatives rushed to pass discriminatory laws aimed at suppressing voter turnout. There is a large body of evidence suggesting that when voting is easier, more people vote, and that voter suppression laws disproportionately impact the poor and people of color. The turnout numbers from 2014 are dramatic: At the lowest income bracket, less than 1 in 4 citizens of voting age turned out, and only half were registered to vote, a drop of 48 percent from the presidential election. At the highest bracket the Census records data for ($150,000 and above), 80 percent were registered and 57 percent voted, a drop-off of 29 percent from the presidential election. However, another data source that surveys the wealthiest 1 percent found that in 2008, 99 percent voted, suggesting bias at the very top might be even higher.

How the American South Drives the Low-Wage Economy

Just as in the 1850s (with the Dred Scott decision and the Fugitive Slave Act), the Southern labor system (with low pay and no unions) is wending its way north.

By Harold Meyerson

Santayana had it wrong: Even if we remember the past, we may be condemned to repeat it. Indeed, the more we learn about the conflict between the North and South that led to the Civil War, the more it becomes apparent that we are reliving that conflict today. The South’s current drive to impose on the rest of the nation its opposition to worker and minority rights—through the vehicle of a Southernized Republican Party—resembles nothing so much as the efforts of antebellum Southern political leaders to blunt the North’s opposition to the slave labor system. Correspondingly, in the recent actions of West Coast and Northeastern cities and states to raise labor standards and protect minority rights, there are echoes of the pre–Civil War frustrations that many Northerners felt at the failure of the federal government to defend and promote a free labor system, frustrations that—ironically—led them to found the Republican Party.

The Inside Story of the Crony Court that Deep-Sixed the Scott Walker Probe

By Brian Murphy

Yesterday, Scott Walker caught a break when the Wisconsin Supreme Court, on a party line vote, shut down a criminal investigation of his 2012 recall election campaign. The inquiry, called “John Doe” investigation, was led by a Republican special prosecutor on behalf of five Wisconsin county district attorneys who were probing whether Walker had broken state campaign finance laws when he and his aides steered donors to give to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a state-level chapter of the national organization that was then led by one of Walker’s top campaign staffers.

Prosecutors alleged and documents confirmed that Walker and his staff used the Wisconsin Club for Growth to gather recall campaign funds from a variety of in-state and out-of-state corporate and institutional sources, including the Republican Governors Association and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. “We own C.F.G.,” said R.J. Johnson, a Walker campaign official and paid staffer at the Club for Growth who was at the center of the case. In emails obtained as evidence, a Walker fundraiser wrote that “As the Governor discussed … he wants all the issue advocacy efforts run thru one group to ensure correct messaging,” adding that “Wisconsin Club for Growth can accept corporate and personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure.” In all, Wisconsin Club for Growth spent $9.1 million during the 2012 recall election after having dropped more than $800,000 to air misleading ads backing Walker’s 2011 attack on public sector workers and organizing public events, co-sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, on Walker’s behalf. The group also funneled money, some $3 million, to another conservative political organization called Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce that went on to spend $4 million supporting Walker’s 2012 campaign.

Judge Kozinski: There's Very Little Justice In Our So-Called 'Justice System'

from the overrun-by-perverts-and-their-incentives dept

by Tim Cushing

Judge Alex Kozinski has long been one of the few judges willing to speak up against our nation's thoroughly corrupted justice system. It's not the normal form of corruption, where juries and judges are openly bought and sold. It's corrupted, as in bastardized. Or debased. What was set up to provide citizens with a fighting chance against accusations brought by those with vastly more power has instead become exactly the sort of system these checks and balances were meant to prevent. In many cases, prosecutions more resemble railroading than actual due process.

A few years back, Kozinski pointed out one of these contributing factors to this corruption: the deliberate withholding of exonerating evidence from defense lawyers.

Physicians testified for tobacco companies against plaintiffs with cancer, Stanford study finds

Stanford University Medical Center

Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, a small group of otolaryngologists have repeatedly testified, on behalf of the tobacco industry, that heavy smoking did not cause the cancer in cases of dying patients suing for damages, according to a study by a Stanford University School of Medicine researcher.

"I was shocked by the degree to which these physicians were willing to testify, in my opinion in an unscientific way, to deny a dying plaintiff -- suffering the aftermath of a lifetime of smoking -- of a fair trial," said Robert Jackler, MD, professor and chair of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, referring to the physicians cited in the study as a "pool of experts willing to say over and over again that smoking didn't cause cancer."

Paul Krugman: Liberals and Wages

Hillary Clinton gave her first big economic speech on Monday, and progressives were by and large gratified. For Mrs. Clinton's core message was that the federal government can and should use its influence to push for higher wages.

Conservatives, however -- at least those who could stop chanting "Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!" long enough too pay attention -- seemed bemused. They believe that Ronald Reagan proved that government is the problem, not the solution. So wasn't Mrs. Clinton just reviving defunct "paleoliberalism"? And don't we know that government intervention in markets produces terrible side effects?

ExxonMobil gave millions to climate-denying lawmakers despite pledge

Under pressure from shareholders, company promised eight years ago to stop funding climate denial – but financial and tax records tell a different story

Suzanne Goldenberg

ExxonMobil gave more than $2.3m to members of Congress and a corporate lobbying group that deny climate change and block efforts to fight climate change – eight years after pledging to stop its funding of climate denial, the Guardian has learned.

Climate denial – from Republicans in Congress and lobby groups operating at the state level – is seen as a major obstacle to US and global efforts to fight climate change, closing off the possibility of federal and state regulations cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the ability to plan for a future of sea-level rise and extreme weather.

The Augean Stables – How Corruption Has Amended the Constitution

by Gaius Publius

Not something you don't already know if you're a regular reader of these pages, but it's becoming more and more mainstream to deliver a radical* analysis of government in the U.S. That's why I found the following so interesting — the source is former U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate Gary Hart. And believe me, this is a radical analysis.

But first, two definitions. The Augean Stables is a reference to the Fifth Labor of Hercules, one of the Twelve (click to read the context). The task was to clean the king's stables, which housed 1,000 cattle and which hadn't been cleaned in 30 years, the life of the man who owned it. Cleaned of what?

Soulless Economics

'An allegedly impersonal economic structure, which quietly benefits the infinitesimally few who have far more than they need, is no foundation for our future,' the author writes.

by Robert C. Koehler

Austerity, the tool of neoliberal capitalism, stands up to Greek democracy and stares it down. Oh well.

We’re remarkably comfortable with soulless economics.

But we have yielded to this economic model, in thought, word and deed:
“At issue,” USA Today informs us, “is whether Greece has taken adequate steps to cut spending and raise taxes to deserve the new three-year, $59 billion infusion of funds it has requested, and whether it can be trusted to follow through on the austerity program it has proposed as the price for new loans.”