Sunday, December 27, 2015

What Really Caused the Implosion of the Occupy Movement—An Insider's View

Taking a hard look at some of the self-sabotaging behaviors of the left.

By Yotam Marom / AlterNet

I’m in a warmly lit apartment on the Lower East Side. It’s a cool night in early October of 2011, the height of Occupy Wall Street.
What a **** whirlwind it’s been. Two months ago I had just moved into my parents’ basement, feeling deflated after the end of Bloombergville (a two-week street occupation outside city hall to try to stop the massive budget cuts of that same year), convinced this country wasn’t ready for movement. Now I’m in this living room with some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, at the shaky helm of a movement that has become part of the mainstream’s daily consciousness. It’s my first time feeling like the Left is more than a scrawny sideshow, and it’s surreal. Truth is, I wasn’t much of a believer until I was caught up in the mass arrests on September 24th, until Troy Davis was murdered by the State of Georgia and I felt the connection in my body, until more people came down and gave it legs. But now it’s real. The rush of rapidly growing numbers, recognition from other political actors, and increasing popular support and media acclaim is electric and overwhelming. It feels a bit like walking a tightrope.

Happy Holidays, Super PACs: FEC Removes Yet Another Block Against Dark Money

Little-noticed rule allows candidates to solicit money for super PACs as long as it's done in a small meeting

by Nadia Prupis, staff writer

The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has quietly released a new advisory opinion that will make it even easier for candidates and their staffers to solicit for super PACs donations.

The opinion states that candidates can ask for funds from donors as long as they are meeting in small groups—as small as three people, according to the Washington Post, which first reported on the story Thursday.

Lynn Parramore: The Sneaky Way Austerity Got Sold to the Public Like Snake Oil

A budget approach cloaked in the aura of science and technical jargon became a tool of manipulation.

Orsola Costantini, Senior Economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, is the author of a new paper, “The Cyclically Adjusted Budget: History and Exegesis of a Fateful Estimate,” which exposes the fascinating — and disturbing — history of how a budget approach cloaked in a scientific and technical aura became a tool to manipulate public opinion and serve the interests of the powerful. In the following conversation, she reveals how austerity has been sold to the public through a process that damages the lives of ordinary people, consolidates knowledge and power at the top, and compromises democracy. As economic inequality reaches new heights and austerity programs are debated around the world (most recently, in Spain and Portugal), understanding how a lie becomes political and economic “truth” has never been more critical.

Lynn Parramore: Your recent work deals with something called the “cyclically adjusted budget.” What is it and what does it mean in the lives of ordinary people?

Orsola Costantini: The Cyclically Adjusted Budget (CAB) is a statistical estimate that aids government officials when they decide what to spend money on and how much they’re going to tax you. It is mostly federal governments that use it, but also international institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Economists will tell you this tool is imprecise. Yet national and international institutions still rely on it to justify important decisions about government spending and taxation.

UGA ecologist finds another cause of antibiotic resistance

University of Georgia

Aiken, S.C. - While the rapid emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has prompted the medical community, non-profit organizations, public health officials and the national media to educate the public to the dangers of misusing and overusing antibiotics, the University of Georgia's J. Vaun McArthur is concerned that there's more to the problem than the misuse of common medications.

McArthur, a senior research ecologist with the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and Odum School of Ecology, believes environmental contaminants may be partly to blame for the rise in bacterial resistance, and he tested this hypothesis in streams on the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River Site.

The Shocking, Unacceptable Levels of Hunger and Homelessness in American Cities

By Kali Holloway

The U.S. Conference of Mayors today released its 2015 Hunger and Homelessness Survey, which gathered information on 22 cities around the country between Sept. 1, 2014, and Aug. 31, 2015. The cities reported on are led by mayors who serve on the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness.

Under Watchful Eyes

The medieval origins of mass surveillance.

By Amanda Power

Humanity, according to the most influential origin story of Western culture, was created naked, unashamed, wholly willing to submit to the scrutiny of the god who made the world and its rules. Through an act of defiance urged on humans by an enemy of their happy state, “their eyes were opened”—they realized their own nakedness and sought to hide from view. The god was so angered by this that he threw them out of paradise to suffer and die. This was the original sin, the disobedience for which humans deserved to be punished through generations, centuries, and until the world ends. It was, quite simply, the pursuit of knowledge not sanctioned by the one who ruled them, and the hunger for privacy from surveillance. Or so the ruling elite, through its rabbis and priests, has told the population for thousands of years, through the brief and vivid story of the Fall.

Exposing BlackRock: Who's Afraid of Laurence Fink and His Overpowering Institution?

By Andrew Gavin Marshall

It's not a bank, nor an insurance company, central bank, finance ministry or sovereign wealth fund. But it advises or owns such institutions. It operates virtually unregulated, often in the background, yet there is scarcely a company, country or region of the planet that this, the world's largest asset management firm, does not touch or influence.

At a mere 27 years of age, BlackRock manages $4.5 trillion in assets, making it the single largest investor on Earth. It manages more wealth than Japan and Germany have in GDP. In fact, only China and the United States have a larger GDP than BlackRock has assets under management. Yet when one includes assets that the company not only manages, but advises upon, the number soars to around $15 trillion, roughly equal to US GDP.

More Than Exxon: Big Oil Companies for Years Shared Damning Climate Research

By Lauren McCauley / Common Dreams

It wasn’t just Exxon that knew fossil fuels were cooking the planet.

New investigative reporting by Neela Banerjee with Inside Climate News revealed on Tuesday that scientists and engineers from nearly every major U.S. and multinational oil and gas company may have for decades known about the impacts of carbon emissions on the climate.

Between 1979 and 1983, the American Petroleum Institute (API), the industry’s most powerful lobby group, ran a task force for fossil fuel companies to “monitor and share climate research,” according to internal documents obtained by Inside Climate News.

How Prefunding Retiree Health Benefits Impacts the Postal Service’s Bottom Line – and How Brookings Got it Wrong

Posted on December 21, 2015 by Yves Smith

Yves here. The ongoing effort to eliminate or considerably degrade the level of service provided by the Postal Service, to the benefit of UPS and Fedex, is moving along at a slow enough pace so as to largely escape the attention that it deserves.

This post goes through the detail of how numbers are being cooked to aid in the campaign against the Postal Service. Angry Bear writer run75441 catches a Reinhart/Rogoff level error on a computational level in a recent Brookings paper by Elaine Kamarck that argued for a radical dismembermemt of the Postal Service. Worse, she misrepresents her own data to make the claim that the apparent woes of the Postal Service are fundamental, and not the result of the unheard-of retiree prefunding obligations imposed on the Postal Service.

Dean Baker: Note to the Candidates: Don't Forget About the Federal Reserve Board

Some of the folks watching the Republican presidential debates were struck by the fact that Donald Trump was apparently unfamiliar with the concept of the nuclear triad: that the United States maintains a nuclear force composed of land based missiles, submarine based missiles and strategic bombers that can deliver nuclear weapons. This is the sort of basic knowledge of the US military that someone hoping to be president should have.

In the same vein, there are aspects of economic policy that all the candidates should know. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Federal Reserve Board and its importance to the economy, most of the candidates seem to be failing as badly as Donald Trump did on his nuclear triad test.

Paul Krugman: The Donald and the Decider

Almost six months have passed since Donald Trump overtook Jeb Bush in polls of Republican voters. At the time, most pundits dismissed the Trump phenomenon as a blip, predicting that voters would soon return to more conventional candidates. Instead, however, his lead just kept widening. Even more striking, the triumvirate of trash-talk — Mr. Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz — now commands the support of roughly 60 percent of the primary electorate.

But how can this be happening? After all, the antiestablishment candidates now dominating the field, aside from being deeply ignorant about policy, have a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error. Why don’t Republican voters seem to care?

Dean Baker: Your Retirement Prospects Are Bleaker Than Ever

The vast majority of Americans who expect to retire in the next decade can count on little income other than their Social Security. This is true not only for low-income workers, who have struggled most of their lives, but also for millions of middle-income workers. Although Social Security is a tremendously important program, and provides a solid base that retirees can depend upon, its $16,000 average annual benefit doesn't go very far. Many if not most can expect to see sharp reductions in living standards.

The reason for such bleak retirement prospects is the disappearance of traditional defined benefit pensions and the failure of 401(k)-type plans to fill the gap. A recent analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that, in 2011, only 14% of private-sector employees participated in a defined benefit pension plan. The participation rate has been falling quite rapidly, so it was almost certainly lower in 2015.

Seymour Hersh's bizarre new conspiracy theory about the US and Syria, explained

The investigative journalist says Pentagon leaders conducted a secret alliance with Assad and Putin to undermine Obama.

Updated by Max Fisher on December 21, 2015, 11:40 a.m. ET

Seymour Hersh, an investigative journalist famous for uncovering the 1968 My Lai massacre and the mid-2000s Abu Ghraib scandal, says there's another scandal afoot, and it's bigger than anything he's previously reported. Perhaps even bigger than his story from this May alleging that the US staged its mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

Seymour Hersh, an investigative journalist famous for uncovering the 1968 My Lai massacre and the mid-2000s Abu Ghraib scandal, says there's another scandal afoot, and it's bigger than anything he's previously reported. Perhaps even bigger than his story from this May alleging that the US staged its mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

Seymour M. Hersh: Military to Military

Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war

Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.

The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya.

Paul Krugman: ‘The Big Short,’ Housing Bubbles and Retold Lies

In May 2009 Congress created a special commission to examine the causes of the financial crisis. The idea was to emulate the celebrated Pecora Commission of the 1930s, which used careful historical analysis to help craft regulations that gave America two generations of financial stability.

But some members of the new commission had a different goal. George Santayana famously remarked that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What he didn’t point out was that some people want to repeat the past — and that such people have an interest in making sure that we don’t remember what happened, or that we remember it wrong.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Judge: No evidence of crimes in Planned Parenthood videos

SAN FRANCISCO -- Recordings secretly made by an anti-abortion group at meetings of abortion providers do not show criminal activity and could put the providers at risk, a federal judge said Friday, citing the recent shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick made the comments during a hearing over the National Abortion Federation's request for a preliminary injunction that would continue to block the release of the recordings. Orrick did not immediately issue a ruling. He previously issued a temporary restraining order blocking the recordings pending the outcome of the preliminary injunction hearing.

Hasty, Fearful Passage of Cybersecurity Bill Recalls Patriot Act

Jenna McLaughlin

Congress easily passed a thinly disguised surveillance provision—the final version of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA— on Friday, shoehorned into a must-pass budget bill to prevent a government shutdown before the holidays.

Born of a climate of fear combined with a sense of urgency, the bill claims to do one thing—help companies share information with the government to heed off cyber attacks—and does entirely another—increases the U.S. government’s spying powers while letting companies with poor cyber hygiene off the hook. It’s likely to spawn unintended consequences.

US agency rarely intervened in projects that could risk endangered species

Of 88,000 actions assessed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, only two triggered more significant action in past seven years, new study finds

Oliver Milman

The US government has not halted a single project out of the 88,000 actions and developments considered potentially harmful to the nation’s endangered species over the past seven years, a new study has />
An analysis of assessments made by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the agency very rarely used its powers to intervene in projects that could imperil any of the US’s endangered plants and animals, which currently number almost 1,600.

2016 Ballot Effort to Privatize California Public Employee Pensions Faces Rocky Start, New Poll Finds

Pension reduction is not a top issue for voters.

By Steven Rosenfeld

The conservative obsession to cut public employee pensions is facing an uphill climb in California, according to a newly released poll that found ambivalent support for a pair of 2016 ballot measures pushed by former San Jose and San Diego officials.

According to a Capital & Main-David Binder statewide poll of 500 likely voters, there’s roughly a 40-40 split, with the rest undecided, for both measures. The first would move newly hired state and local government employees from traditional pensions to 401(k)-style plans. The second would impose a cap on how much government could pay for retirement benefits for new hires, where the most paid would be 13 percent of wages.

In US, poverty dampens genetic influence on IQ

An analysis of data gathered from 14 independent studies indicates that the influence of genes on intelligence varies according to people's social class in the US, but not in Western Europe or Australia. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Research suggests that genes and environment both play a critical role in shaping a person's intelligence. A longstanding hypothesis in the field of behavioral genetics holds that our potential intelligence, as set by our genes, is more fully expressed in environments that are supportive and nurturing, but is suppressed in conditions of poverty and disadvantages. While some studies have provided evidence supporting this hypothesis, others have not.

Natural or manmade quakes? New technique can tell the difference

Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

A new study by Stanford researchers suggests that earthquakes triggered by human activity follow several indicative patterns that could help scientists distinguish them from naturally occurring temblors.

The findings were presented this week at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco.

Justice Ginsburg’s Ominous Warning About Creeping Corporate Power

by Ian Millhiser

If you’re a business looking for new ways to squeeze money out of your consumers without having to worry about whether doing so is illegal, than you had a very good day in the Supreme Court on Monday. In its first divided decision of the current Supreme Court term, the Court held in DIRECTV v. Imburgia that the satellite television company DIRECTV could effectively immunize itself from many suits claiming that they charged illegal fees, despite the fact that this decision cuts against language in DIRECTV’s own contract. Only three justices, the conservative Clarence Thomas and the liberals Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, dissented.

On the surface, not very much is at stake in DIRECTV. The company allegedly charged early termination fees that violate California law. If the plaintiffs win, they get their fees back. So this is hardly a case where some innocent’s life or livelihood is at stake.

Anti-corruption reforms should pay more attention to threats of violence

University of Gothenburg

In low-income countries, government officials who refuse to be bribed to turn a blind eye to crimes are often threatened with violence. Up until now, not enough attention has been paid to this problem when anti-corruption reforms have been developed. Moreover, systems with merit-based salaries can even increase corruption. This has been shown in a doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg.

It is difficult to find measures that will reduce small-scale corruption in, for instance, countries where the police often accept bribes in order to turn a blind eye to crimes. One explanation for this is the social expectations within these bureaucracies: few officials stand to gain anything personally by being the first person to refuse a bribe and therefore the most effective measure would be to change the whole system at once if possible. Another frequently used explanatory model states that corruption can best be counteracted by changing the incentives for the officials, i.e. more monitoring and heavier penalties for those who commit irregularities, and higher pay for those who stick to the rule book.

Here’s what you need to know about the new Paris climate agreement

By Ben Adler

PARIS, France — The Paris Agreement to address climate change, adopted on Saturday, will be remembered as a big step forward and at the same time a frustrating set of compromises and omissions.

The COP21 conference brought every country to the table, they all accepted the science of climate change, and they agreed to work together to do something about it. But some proved more ambitious than others, and the rich countries didn’t come up with enough money to get the best deal possible.

Paul Krugman: Hope From Paris

Did the Paris climate accord save civilization? Maybe. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it’s actually the best climate news we’ve had in a very long time. This agreement could still follow the path of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which seemed like a big deal but ended up being completely ineffectual. But there have been important changes in the world since then, which may finally have created the preconditions for action on global warming before it’s too late.

Until very recently there were two huge roadblocks in the way of any kind of global deal on climate: China’s soaring consumption of coal, and the implacable opposition of America’s Republican Party. The first seemed to mean that global greenhouse emissions would rise inexorably no matter what wealthy countries did, while the second meant that the biggest of those wealthy countries was unable to make credible promises, and hence unable to lead.

David Dayen: The Real Roots of the Rising Right

Financial crises always result in a far-right political bump, a new study finds. But Democrats made this one worse.


Rank-and-file Democrats have had a fairly bad run politically since the 2008 elections. They lost the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. They’ve lost more than 900 state legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers, and eleven governorships. Republicans enjoy their largest majority in the House since 1930, and the largest percentage of state legislatures ever.

Open up your pundit suggestion box and you can pull out a panoply of rationales for this unprecedented misery: Backlash against an historically anomalous president. Low turnout in midterm elections when left-leaning constituencies stay home in disproportionate numbers. Sophisticated GOP voter-suppression techniques supporting that low-turnout strategy. The post-Citizens United power of Big Money.

Joseph Stiglitz: Inequality is now killing middle America

Life expectancy is now declining for middle-aged white Americans, especially those with a high school education or less


his week, Angus Deaton will receive the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics “for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.” Deservedly so. Indeed, soon after the award was announced in October, Deaton published some startling work with Ann Case in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – research that is at least as newsworthy as the Nobel ceremony.

Analysing a vast amount of data about health and deaths among Americans, Case and Deaton showed declining life expectancy and health for middle-aged white Americans, especially those with a high school education or less. Among the causes were suicide, drugs, and alcoholism.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Paul Krugman: Empowering the Ugliness

We live in an era of political news that is, all too often, shocking but not surprising. The rise of Donald Trump definitely falls into that category. And so does the electoral earthquake that struck France in Sunday’s regional elections, with the right-wing National Front winning more votes than either of the major mainstream parties.

What do these events have in common? Both involved political figures tapping into the resentments of a bloc of xenophobic and/or racist voters who have been there all along. The good news is that such voters are a minority; the bad news is that it’s a pretty big minority, on both sides of the Atlantic. If you are wondering where the support for Mr. Trump or Marine Le Pen, the head of the National Front, is coming from, you just haven’t been paying attention.

How to Spread the World's Wealth Beyond Corrupt Elites

We need a new kind of politics that addresses how rich privilege is directly related to the plight of the poor.

By Simon Reid-Henry

We have reached a crossroads in our history. For all the achievements and riches of our time, the world has never been so unequal or more unjust. A century ago, at the time of the First World War, the richest 20% of the world’s population earned eleven times more than the poorest 20%. By the end of the twentieth century they earned seventy-four times as much. Today, despite seven decades of international development, three decades of the Washington Consensus, and a decade and a half of Millennium Development Goals, our world is even more divided among the haves, the have-nots, and—as President George W. Bush once quipped in an after-dinner speech—the have-mores.

When it comes to wealth, rather than income, the picture is more extreme. Globally, the richest 1% now own nearly half of all the world’s wealth. The poorest 50% of the world, by contrast—fully 3 billion people—own less than 1% of its wealth. Anyone with assets of more than $10,000 a year is an exception to the global norm and is better off than 70% of everyone else alive. Yet most of us are so preoccupied by the relative few with more that we rarely stop to notice this. There is growing awareness today of the consequences in rich countries of rising income inequality: we know what it means to talk of the 1% there. But when it comes to the much greater gaps between rich and poor the world over, we confine ourselves still to talk of “global poverty”.

One Year After the Senate Torture Report, No One’s Read It and It Might Be Destroyed

Murtaza Hussain

One year ago today, the Senate Intelligence Committee published a highly redacted executive summary of its investigation into the CIA’s torture and rendition program. The 525-page summary was shocking in many of its details, revealing the torture and rape of detainees held in CIA custody and encompassing treatment far in excess of even the torture techniques formally authorized by the Bush administration.

Despite the passage of 12 months, the actual report, comprising 6,700 pages, still has not been made publicly available. In fact, reading it appears to be prohibited among officials in the executive branch. Nearly a month and a half after the report’s initial release, it had not even been taken out of the package in which it was delivered to the Department of Justice and Department of State, according to government lawyers. Even the organization that was the subject of the report, the CIA, tightly controlled internal access and made “very limited use” of it, as had the Department of Defense, the lawyers said in a court filing.

Brian Beutler: Trump Proves That Liberals Have Been Right All Along

The left nailed the pathology of the conservative movement years ago. The Donald is just making that impossible to deny.

If you’ve been following Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and his effect on the Republican primary closely, you were perhaps beset Monday by a strange sense of speechlessness—one born less of ineffability than of tedium.

Trump’s plan to prohibit Muslim immigration into the U.S. is indeed extreme, but to students of the Trump phenomenon and conservative politics more broadly, it was neither unexpected nor the source of any new or profound lesson.

Economic Elites Will Only Give Up Power and Wealth When Forced to Do So

By Les Leopold, Labor Institute Press | Book Excerpt

The following is the introduction to Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice, by Les Leopold:

The United States is among the richest countries in all of history. But if you're not a corporate or political elite, you'd never know it. In the world working people inhabit, our infrastructure is collapsing, our schools are laying off teachers, our drinking water is barely potable, our cities are facing bankruptcy, and our public and private pension funds are nearing collapse. We - consumers, students, and homeowners - are loaded with crushing debt, but our real wages haven't risen since the 1970s.

How can we be so rich and still have such poor services, so much debt and such stagnant incomes?

A Safety Net for On-Demand Workers?

A new paper suggests how to better regulate the gig economy, but the plan may only reinforce its worst abuses.

Steven Greenhouse

For many Americans who care about how workers are treated, their biggest concern about the much-ballyhooed “on-demand” economy is the way that Uber, Lyft, and other “gig economy” companies have rushed to treat their workers as independent contractors. For employers, the advantages of this strategy are huge (as I explain in my deep dive for the Prospect about Uber’s questionable labor practices): You don’t have to follow minimum wage, overtime, or employment discrimination laws, you don’t have to make employer contributions to Social Security, Medicare, or unemployment insurance, and your workers can’t unionize.

A new paper, released on Monday, has some provocative recommendations about how to deal with this phenomenon—the nation’s oh-so-cool on-demand companies scurrying to dodge all or nearly all responsibilities and obligations to their workers. The paper posits that workers who get their work through an app or platform—like Mechanical Turk or Task Rabbit—are a new type of worker. The paper—by Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist who once headed Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, and Seth Harris, a former deputy secretary of labor—says it’s often maddeningly difficult to determine whether Uber drivers, GrubHub deliverymen, or Task Rabbit workers are employees or independent contractors. They say that many workers fall between the two categories (a notion that some experts, like Harvard Law School’s Ben Sachs, take strong issue with), and they propose that Congress update the nation’s labor laws and create a third category of workers: independent workers.

What Hillary Clinton Didn’t Tell You in Her New York Times OpEd

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens

Yesterday, the New York Times gave Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton a free infomercial (a/k/a OpEd) to spin her toothless plan “to rein in Wall Street.” Hillary begins by telling us this:
“Seven years ago, the financial crisis sent our economy into a tailspin. Over five million people lost their homes. Nearly nine million lost their jobs. Nearly $13 trillion in household wealth was wiped out.”

Greenpeace exposes sceptics hired to cast doubt on climate science

Sting operation uncovers two prominent climate sceptics available for hire by the hour to write reports on the benefits of rising CO2 levels and coal

Suzanne Goldenberg

An undercover sting by Greenpeace has revealed that two prominent climate sceptics were available for hire by the hour to write reports casting doubt on the dangers posed by global warming.

Posing as consultants to fossil fuel companies, Greenpeace approached professors at leading US universities to commission reports touting the benefits of rising carbon dioxide levels and the benefits of coal. The views of both academics are well outside mainstream climate science.

In social movements, 'slactivists' matter

A new study of Twitter use during social protests finds that a critical periphery of 'slacktivists' greatly amplify a movement's message

University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communication

You know them well. You might even be one of them.

They're the people who tint their Facebook profile pictures with the French flag to support Parisians, or pink to get behind Planned Parenthood. They sign online petitions, share activist videos, and retweet celebrities who take a political stand. They're willing to lift a finger for a cause -- mainly the one used to tap 'like' or 'share' or "retweet."

Some dismiss them as 'slacktivists,' but a new study in PLOS One finds that these peripheral players actually play a critical role in extending the reach of social movements -- even doubling them.

Sanders' Climate Revolution Would Cut 80% of Emissions by 2050

Environmental platform calls for swift shift to renewable power system, a ban on extreme extraction activities, and end of subsidies for Big Oil

by Lauren McCauley, staff writer

A national energy policy that prioritizes the health and well-being of people and planet above the profits of the fossil fuel industry is what voters can expect should Sen. Bernie Sanders be elected President of the United States next year, according to the candidate, who on Monday unveiled his plan to combat the rising crisis of climate change.

The plan calls for a tax on carbon, an end to fossil fuels subsidies, and "massive investments" in energy efficiency and a system powered by non-nuclear, sustainable sources such as wind and solar, enabling a swift transition to a clean energy economy. Sanders estimates these measures would cut U.S carbon pollution by 40 percent by 2030 and over 80 percent by 2050.

Seven Ways Congress Is Trying to Destroy the Endangered Species Act

Members of Congress have introduced more than 80 proposals aimed at gutting the Endangered Species Act this year. Thirteen of these anti-wildlife measures have been added to House and Senate must-pass spending bills. Congressional leaders and the White House are now in intense negotiations that will determine whether these and other anti-environmental provisions are included in the final government spending bill.

By Maggie Caldwell

When one of the leaders in charge of setting our nation's environmental policy boasts about wearing boots made from the skins of endangered species, it is a dark day for anyone who supports the continued protection of creatures great and small. Yet, this is the reality of having Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma heading up the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Inhofe was being flippant when he told a Washington Post reporter that his cowboy boots were probably made from "some endangered species," adding, "I have a reputation to maintain."

Indeed, Senator Inhofe has one of the worst environmental voting records of any sitting senator. And now he and his compatriots on the Hill have one of the most popular and important conservation laws in their crosshairs: the Endangered Species Act. Supported by 90 percent of Americans and remarkably successful in recovering some of the nation's most beloved and iconic creatures - including the bald eagle, American alligator and gray whale - the act is under threat of being dismantled piece by piece, and critter by critter, through legislative fiat.

Big banks may have Fannie, Freddie in their sights, report says

Too-big-to-fail banks are leading a charge to replace the mortgage giants

By Andrea Riquier

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — It’s a housing industry chestnut: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will languish forever in “conservatorship,” the nebulous state they entered as the housing bubble burst in 2008, because no one in Washington has the gumption to make hard policy decisions to change the mortgage giants.

Not so fast, argues a recent investigation by the New York Times.

What President Obama Didn’t Address: Who’s Funding the Hate Campaign Against Muslims?

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens

Last evening, in his speech to the nation from the Oval Office, President Obama reminded Americans that “Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes — and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country.” In his concluding remarks, the President told viewers that our nation was “founded upon a belief in human dignity — that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.” (See full video of the speech below.)

What the President didn’t say is that while the recent mass killing in San Bernardino, California was conducted by a married couple who were Muslim, the Muslim community itself has been under relentless assault by homegrown religious extremists since the attacks on the World Trade towers on September 11, 2001.

Obama’s Credibility Crisis

Exclusive: Inside Official Washington’s bubble, the Important People believe their “group think” is the envy of the world, but the truth is that their credibility has collapsed to such a degree that their propaganda can’t even match up with the head-chopping videos of the Islamic State crazies, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Like the old story of the little boy who cried wolf, the U.S. government is finding out that – just when its credibility is most needed – it doesn’t have any. With all its “soft power” schemes of “perception management,” funding “citizen bloggers” and sticking with “narratives” long after they’ve been discredited, the U.S. government is losing the propaganda battle against ISIS.

That was the conclusion of outside experts who examined the State Department’s online campaigns to undercut ISIS, according to an article by The Washington Post’s Greg Miller who wrote that the review “cast new doubt on the U.S. government’s ability to serve as a credible voice against the terrorist group’s propaganda.”

Killer Drone News Blackout Continues As Mainstream Media Ignore Air Force Whistleblowers

by John Hanrahan

The polls show it and commentators of all political stripes often cite the figures: Killer drone attacks by the U.S. military and the CIA in the Greater Middle East and Africa have strong U.S. public support. According to the Pew Research Center’s most recent poll in May, 58 percent — up slightly from 56 percent in February 2013 — approve of “missile strikes from drones to target extremists in such countries as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.” The numbers of Americans disapproving of drone attacks actually increased from 26 percent to 35 percent over that two-year period — a hopeful sign, but still very much a minority view.

But how well informed can U.S. citizens be on this subject when the major news media time and again ignore or under-report drone-strike stories — as we have discussed here and here in recent weeks? Stories — such as The Intercept’s October series based on a trove of classified materials provided by a national security whistleblower — that would likely raise serious questions about the drone program in many more Americans’ minds if they were actually given the information?

Some Corporate-Owned Colleges Get Certified as Nonprofits to Evade Financial Scrutiny

Mark Karlin

For-profit college companies' first priority is reaping a financial windfall, not providing a quality education. Recently, BuzzFlash reported on the bankruptcy of one such higher-education company, which left students saddled with billions of dollars in federal debt after the investors had made money off of billions of dollars in federal tuition loans.

There has been some renewed White House interest in reining in for-profit colleges - but in the absence of congressional action, little can be done.

What Scott Walker’s Elimination Of Wisconsin’s Living Wage Law Means For Workers

by Bryce Covert

Last year, 100 low-wage workers in Wisconsin decided to sue their governor, Scott Walker (R), over their pay. The state had a century-old statute on the books saying that the minimum wage “shall be not less than a living wage,” enough “to permit an employee to maintain herself or himself in minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.” The workers said they weren’t making enough to meet that standard, demanding the governor take the required action to increase it.

But this week they were handed a final defeat: A judge dismissed their lawsuit. That’s not because Walker’s administration was found to be in compliance with the statute. It’s because rather than increase the state’s minimum wage, the administration simply erased the law.

When Labor Groups and Silicon Valley Capitalists Join Forces to “Disrupt” Protections for Employees

BY Jay Youngdahl and Darwin BondGraham

At the recently convened White House Summit on Worker Voice, President Obama argued that the central economic problem of the day is making sure that everyone who works hard is “getting paid a decent wage with decent benefits, [and] everybody has some basic economic security.” To achieve these goals, Obama said that the power of workers to take collective action must be strengthened. But if a recent letter signed by a number of union leaders, nonprofit executives and tech investors is any indication, advocates for collective action by workers should be concerned.

Recently, 39 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) staffers and leaders, a network of “alt labor” groups and CEOs of and investors in some of the fastest growing “sharing economy” companies signed an open letter titled “Common ground for independent workers.” The letter argues that the on-demand economy is “fundamentally changing the economic landscape across the country, adding value to consumers’ lives and bringing new opportunities for workers.”

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, An Invitation to Collective Suicide

By Andrew Bacevich

Beyond ISIS
The Folly of World War IV

Assume that the hawks get their way -- that the United States does whatever it takes militarily to confront and destroy ISIS. Then what?

Answering that question requires taking seriously the outcomes of other recent U.S. interventions in the Greater Middle East. In 1991, when the first President Bush ejected Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait, Americans rejoiced, believing that they had won a decisive victory. A decade later, the younger Bush seemingly outdid his father by toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan and then making short work of Saddam himself -- a liberation twofer achieved in less time than it takes Americans to choose a president. After the passage of another decade, Barack Obama got into the liberation act, overthrowing the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in what appeared to be a tidy air intervention with a clean outcome. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton memorably put it, “We came, we saw, he died.” End of story.

Hard Left, No Apologies

Joseph P. Williams

LOS ANGELES – He’s host of the most-watched political news program you’ve probably never heard of, especially if you’re middle-aged and watch cable television. An Ivy League-educated conservative-turned-liberal, he’s seized the attention of a coveted viewer demographic, beating out the nation’s largest cable networks – including his former employer.

Cenk Uygur says it’s all part of his grand plan: drive MSNBC and its cable competitors out of business, and teach them a lesson on authenticity in the process.

Who's Behind the Ghost Companies Funding Jeb Bush's Super-PAC?

Two shadowy outfits are helping to bankroll Bush's candidacy.

—By Russ Choma | Wed Dec. 2, 2015 6:00 AM EST

In February, a limited liability company called TH Holdings LLC donated $100,000 to Right to Rise, the super-PAC supporting Jeb Bush's bid for the GOP presidential nomination. That's not extraordinary; quite a few LLCs have donated to the super-PAC, which has so far raised more than $103 million. But TH Holdings is a special case—one that represents the worst-case scenario in the post-Citizens United campaign finance landscape: untraceable corporations shoveling untraceable cash into the political system. Beyond this six-figure contribution, the company appears to have no history of doing business anywhere. And its incorporation records reveal no owners, managers, or officers.

Paul Krugman: Republicans’ Climate Change Denial Denial

Future historians — if there are any future historians — will almost surely say that the most important thing happening in the world during December 2015 was the climate talks in Paris. True, nothing agreed to in Paris will be enough, by itself, to solve the problem of global warming. But the talks could mark a turning point, the beginning of the kind of international action needed to avert catastrophe.

Then again, they might not; we may be doomed. And if we are, you know who will be responsible: the Republican Party.

GOP Again Tries to Kill Net Neutrality With Spending Bill Rider

by Karl Bode

The GOP continues to try and gut net neutrality using fine print. Republicans have buried an anti-net neutrality rider into a government spending bill that would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing the agency's open Internet rules. Those rules were voted on in February and went into effect in June, though they're currently being challenged by ISPs in court.

With the government running on a stopgap funding measure that expires December 11, Congressional ISP allies are hoping to use the urgency to kill net neutrality.

Paul Krugman: Challenging the Oligarchy

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few
by Robert B. Reich
Knopf, 279 pp., $26.95

Back in 1991, in what now seems like a far more innocent time, Robert Reich published an influential book titled The Work of Nations, which among other things helped land him a cabinet post in the Clinton administration. It was a good book for its time—but time has moved on. And the gap between that relatively sunny take and Reich’s latest, Saving Capitalism, is itself an indicator of the unpleasant ways America has changed.

The Work of Nations was in some ways a groundbreaking work, because it focused squarely on the issue of rising inequality—an issue some economists, myself included, were already taking seriously, but that was not yet central to political discourse. Reich’s book saw inequality largely as a technical problem, with a technocratic, win-win solution. That was then. These days, Reich offers a much darker vision, and what is in effect a call for class war—or if you like, for an uprising of workers against the quiet class war that America’s oligarchy has been waging for decades.

A Decade-Old Gag Order, Lifted

by Jameel Jaffer

More than a decade ago, a man named Nick Merrill approached the NYCLU and ACLU with an unusual request for help. At the time, Nick ran a small Internet access and consulting business, called Calyx, in New York City.

A few days earlier, an FBI agent had come by Calyx’s offices and handed Nick a “national security letter” demanding that Calyx turn over sensitive information about one of its subscribers. The letter included a gag order prohibiting Calyx from disclosing to anyone that it had received the demand. It also included an attachment listing the kinds of information that the FBI wanted Calyx to turn over.

ALEC Invites Politicians to "Plan Your 2016 Agenda" at Scottsdale Confab

By Mary Bottari, PR Watch | News Analysis

This year, the American Legislative Exchange Council's winter meeting, which it calls the "States and Nation Policy Summit," will be held in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa from December 2-4.

ALEC has promoted this event as an invitation for legislators to use the meeting to "plan your 2016 agenda."

Impact investing is making headway in Latin America

nvestment strategy grew by a factor of 12 between 2008-2014

Rice University

HOUSTON - (Dec. 1, 2015) - Impact investing, an investment strategy that generates financial returns while directing funds to entities providing goods and services to the poor, is making headway in Latin America, according to an issue brief from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

"Understanding Impact Investing: A Nascent Investment Industry and Its Latin American Trends" outlines challenges and opportunities for the strategy to continue its growth. The brief was authored by Henry Gonzalez, a contributing expert at the institute's Latin America Initiative. His professional experience spans the sectors of finance, emerging markets, impact investing and political and economic development. He is available to discuss his findings with media.

Exxon Targets Journalists Who Exposed Massive Climate Cover Up

'We’ve often wondered if Exxon actually hates our children because they so consistently stand in the way of safeguarding their future,' campaigner said, 'it turns out they apparently hate good journalism as well.'

by Lauren McCauley, staff writer

ExxonMobil has launched a full-throttled "bully" campaign against the graduate students who recently unmasked its scandalous climate change cover-up threatening to pull funds from the university that helped bring to light its dangerous and "most consequential" lies.

In a letter addressed to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and obtained by Politico, the oil giant's vice president of Public and Government Affairs accuses a team of investigative journalism students of violating the school's research policy by "suppressing" or "manipulating" information to produce "deliberately misleading reports" about ExxonMobil's climate change research.

Dean Baker: The Federal Reserve Board's 8 Percent Hike in the Social Security Tax

In the last couple of weeks the prospect of a 0.2 percentage point increase in the payroll tax has become a major issue separating the two leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed an increase of this size to pay for system of paid family leave that is part of his platform. While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also supports paid family leave, she opposes any tax increase on middle-class workers, and insists she can get the money elsewhere.

The intensity of this debate over a tax increase of 0.2 percentage points (at $70 a year for a typical worker), should have people wondering why the candidates aren't talking about the prospect of a much larger tax increase imposed by the Federal Reserve Board. The Fed's tax increase could easily exceed 8 percent of the wages for ordinary workers, yet it is not drawing any attention from the presidential candidates.

The Incredible Shrinking Incomes of Young Americans

It's repetitive for some to hear, but important for everybody to know: You can't explain Millennial economic behavior without explaining that real wages for young Americans have collapsed.

Derek Thompson

American families are grappling with stagnant wage growth, as the costs of health care, education, and housing continue to climb. But for many of America's younger workers, "stagnant" wages shouldn't sound so bad. In fact, they might sound like a massive raise.

Since the Great Recession struck in 2007, the median wage for people between the ages of 25 and 34, adjusted for inflation, has fallen in every major industry except for health care.

David Neiwert: Donald Trump May Not Be a Fascist, But He is Leading Us Merrily Down That Path

People who have studied the extremist right as a historical and sociopolitical phenomenon in depth are acutely aware of a simple truth: America has been very, very lucky so far when it comes to fascistic political movements.

And now, with the arrival of the Donald Trump 2016 phenomenon, that luck may be about to run out.