Sunday, May 29, 2016

'Free Market' Authoritarian Leaders Across the Planet Are Stifling Dissent and Enriching the Elites

Job creation is not always a better solution to poverty than welfare spending.

By Vijay Prashad / AlterNet

Earlier this month, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released its important World Employment Social Outlook report for 2016. There was little press coverage. The title is bureaucratic and boring. How does one make news from this drabness? One of the most significant findings is that poverty rates have now declined. The ILO finds that this is because of the immense gains in China and in parts of Latin America—notably Brazil. In parts of Africa and in other regions of Asia—including India—“poverty remains stubbornly high.” Meanwhile, those who have skipped above the poverty line “continue to live on just a few dollars per day, often with limited access to essential services and social protection.” Despite the optimism from the data, the ILO remains cautious. Matters are no-where near celebration. Economic slowdown in China and the coup in Brazil are indicators that the slide backwards is possible.

The U.S. Military Budget Is the Work of True Scam Artists

Slush funds, smoke and mirrors, and funny money equal weapons systems galore.

By William Hartung

Now you see it, now you don’t. Think of it as the Department of Defense’s version of the street con game, three-card monte, or maybe simply as the Pentagon shuffle. In any case, the Pentagon’s budget is as close to a work of art as you’re likely to find in the U.S. government—if, that is, by work of art you mean scam.

The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year—more, that is, than was spent at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military buildup, and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined. And keep in mind that that’s just a partial total. As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans' affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries, and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches a cool $1 trillion.

National Media Retracts Its Claim That There Was Violence at the Nevada State Democratic Convention

Seth Abramson

It was reported by the Associated Press, CBS, and MSNBC. It was reported by CNN and National Public Radio and even Comedy Central. It was reported by — okay, long story short, it was reported by everyone.

Sanders supporters in Nevada committed on-site acts of violence at the state’s Democratic convention.

And that violence was used as proof — by the AP, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, and all the others — that Sanders supporters are no different from Trump supporters and therefore Sanders should exit the Democratic race immediately.

The 7 Biggest Myths and Lies About Social Security

Social Security is not going broke, not by a long shot.

By Steven Hill / Beacon Press

Social Security is bankrupting us. It’s outdated. It’s a Ponzi scheme. It’s socialism. It’s stealing from young people. The opponents and pundits determined to roll back the United States to the “good old days” before the New Deal regularly trot out a number of bogeymen and bigfoots to scare Americans into not supporting their own retirement well-being. That hasn’t worked too well. Americans of all political stripes remain strongly supportive of Social Security and other so-called “entitlements” like Medicare. But the other reason for plastering the media waves with a chorus of myths and lies is to stir up a political climate that causes politicians of both parties to cease looking for better alternatives other than to cut, cut, cut, or even to maintain the inadequate status quo. Below are rebuttals to some of the biggest whoppers regularly told about one of the most popular and successful federal programs in our nation’s history.

Senators demand US halt inquiries into climate denial by oil companies

Five hardline conservatives tell Department of Justice to stop any investigations into whether companies lied to the public about climate change

Alan Yuhas

Five hardline conservative senators, including former presidential candidate Ted Cruz, have demanded the US justice department stop all investigations into whether oil and gas companies lied to the public and shareholders about climate change.

“We write today to demand that the Department of Justice (DoJ) immediately cease its ongoing use of law enforcement resources to stifle private debate on one of the most controversial public issues of our time,” the senators wrote in a letter dated 25 May.

Paul Krugman: Trump’s Delusions of Competence

In general, you shouldn’t pay much attention to polls at this point, especially with Republicans unifying around Donald Trump while Bernie Sanders hasn’t conceded the inevitable. Still, I was struck by several recent polls showing Mr. Trump favored over Hillary Clinton on the question of who can best manage the economy.

This is pretty remarkable given the incoherence and wild irresponsibility of Mr. Trump’s policy pronouncements. Granted, most voters probably don’t know anything about that, in part thanks to substance-free news coverage. But if voters don’t know anything about Mr. Trump’s policies, why their favorable impression of his economic management skills?

The Koch Brothers Are Using This State as Their Right-Wing Laboratory

The Kochs' plan to mold America into a libertarian land free from taxes and regulation begins with funding free-market academic programs.

By Alex Kotch

The state of Arizona will shell out at least $5 million per year to free-market academic centers established with funding from billionaire industrialist and Republican political donor Charles Koch at two of its public universities. Part of a series of budget bills that passed the Republican-dominated state House and Senate, the funding decision met the ire of professors and students concerned that the state had earmarked funds for ideological centers tied to big business and a partisan political figure. Still, GOP Gov. Doug Ducey signed the budget on May 10.

Charles and David Kochs' political influence is no secret to many Americans after the brothers led a massive, $407 million political fundraising effort in 2012. Less well known is the huge investment Charles Koch has made in higher education, giving nearly $108 million to 366 colleges and universities from 2005 to 2014, often funding free-market focused programs. The Kochs’ “Structure of Social Change,” a three-step plan devised in the 1970s to mold America into a libertarian land free from taxes and regulation, begins with funding free-market academic programs. Next, think tanks financed with Koch money take the laissez-faire academic work and package it into easily digestible policy proposals, which, in step three, “citizen activist” groups (Koch-funded “social welfare” nonprofits such as Americans for Prosperity) pressure lawmakers and the public to support.

Thomas Frank: Why Hillary Clinton's 90s nostalgia is so dangerous

Times were good in the last years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. But to put the arch-deregulator in charge of an economy wrecked by financial bubbles is sheer folly

Donald Trump’s campaign to “Make America Great Again” is one big, flatulent exercise in delusional nostalgia, as so many have noted. Given the likely outcome of the American presidential contest, however, it is Hillary Clinton’s delusional nostalgia that may ultimately prove more harmful for the country.

Campaigning in Kentucky recently, she promised that, should she be elected, she would task former president Bill Clinton with “revitalizing the economy, because he knows how to do it”. A few minutes before, she had recited her husband’s qualifications for this job: “In the 90s, everybody’s income went up, not just people at the top. We lifted more people out of poverty than at any time in our recent history.” And so on.

Ah, the 90s. It seems that Hillary, too, longs to make America great again, and she reminded the audience in Kentucky of the specific elements of our lost golden age. First among those gauzy memories: “A budget that is balanced and in surplus” – like the budget Bill Clinton built in the good old days before the spendthrift George W Bush administration came in. There were other ways in which the GOP had diverged from Clinton orthodoxy as well, like their desire to “Cut taxes on the wealthy [and] get out of the way of regulation of all kinds,” sins that, Hillary said, contributed directly to the financial crisis of 2008.

“This will stop only when the American people get fed up”: American exceptionalism, the New York Times, and our foreign policy after Barack Obama

Our smartest modern military historian explains to Salon what's wrong about our adventures in the Middle East

Patrick L. Smith

Part one of my interview with Andrew Bacevich, the soldier-turned-scholar who has just published “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History,” was posted last week. It focused on aspects of what Bacevich, originally, considers one long war now in its 37th year. We looked at the chronology since Jimmy Carter fatefully set the adventure in motion in his 1980 “doctrine” speech, at the American strategy and how it has developed—and at all that is wrong with it.

Somewhere around the halfway mark in our lengthy exchange, which Salon is publishing with only the very lightest edit, the conversation turned. We dilated the lens, let’s say, and found our way into all manner of subjects. He was interesting in his take on the Cold War 1950s as a prelude to the war that is the topic of his book, and on his pilgrim’s progress from West Point cadet to commissioned officer to his retirement and his scholarly work since. He collects old editions of Life Magazine, it turns out. His capacity for critical thought, the honed tool with which he earns his crust, did not develop until after he retired as a colonel, it also turns out. No need to ask about causality on this point: Bacevich is clear as to the dearth of thought in this man’s army.

Just What Were Donald Trump's Ties to the Mob?

I've spent years investigating, and here's what's known.


In his signature book, The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump boasted that when he wanted to build a casino in Atlantic City, he persuaded the state attorney general to limit the investigation of his background to six months. Most potential owners were scrutinized for more than a year. Trump argued that he was “clean as a whistle”—young enough that he hadn’t had time to get into any sort of trouble. He got the sped-up background check, and eventually got the casino license.

But Trump was not clean as a whistle. Beginning three years earlier, he’d hired mobbed-up firms to erect Trump Tower and his Trump Plaza apartment building in Manhattan, including buying ostensibly overpriced concrete from a company controlled by mafia chieftains Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno and Paul Castellano. That story eventually came out in a federal investigation, which also concluded that in a construction industry saturated with mob influence, the Trump Plaza apartment building most likely benefited from connections to racketeering. Trump also failed to disclose that he was under investigation by a grand jury directed by the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, who wanted to learn how Trump obtained an option to buy the Penn Central railroad yards on the West Side of Manhattan.

AI will create 'useless class' of human, predicts bestselling historian

Smarter artificial intelligence is one of 21st century’s most dire threats, writes Yuval Noah Harari in follow-up to Sapiens

Ian Sample

It is hard to miss the warnings. In the race to make computers more intelligent than us, humanity will summon a demon, bring forth the end of days, and code itself into oblivion. Instead of silicon assistants we’ll build silicon assassins.

The doomsday story of an evil AI has been told a thousand times. But our fate at the hand of clever cloggs robots may in fact be worse - to summon a class of eternally useless human beings.

Paul Krugman: Remembrance of Booms Past

If Hillary Clinton wins in November, Bill Clinton will occupy a doubly unique role in U.S. political history — not just as the first First Husband, but also as the first First Spouse who used to be president. Obviously he won’t spend his time baking cookies. So what will he do?

Last week Mrs. Clinton stirred up a flurry of comments by suggesting that Mr. Clinton would be “in charge of revitalizing the economy.” You can see why she might want to say that, since people still remember the good times that prevailed when he was in office. How his role might be defined in practice is much less clear.

“The scope of our failure”: The real story of our decades-long foreign policy disaster that set the Middle East on fire

The brilliant Andrew Bacevich tells Salon why our massive march to folly in Middle East has to be seen as one war

Patrick L. Smith

I first interviewed Andrew Bacevich, the soldier turned scholar, after he spoke at the Hope Club, an old-line gents’ establishment in Providence, Rhode Island. That evening he outlined a dozen or so “theses,” as he called them in honor of the 95 Luther is said to have nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in 1517. He was in essence reading a rough outline of the manuscript then on his desk. It was a powerful presentation, and we met again in a Boston restaurant to talk shortly thereafter. This was roughly a year ago.

The book Bacevich was drafting, “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History,” is now out. And as impressive as his synopsis of its themes was last year, the “dissident colonel,” as I like to call him, did not do this account anything close to justice. It is the first book to explain the Middle Eastern wars we have lived with for 36 years now as one unbroken conflict with many theaters. And it is scholarship of the best kind—carefully researched and referenced, but written with unscholarly grace—to put the point bluntly—and perfectly accessible to the intelligent general reader. You put it down thinking, “I understand a great deal more than I did when I started reading this.”

Is TSCA Rewrite Better than Current Law?

For months we've watched to see if the chemical safety bills moving through Congress would be better than current law. It’s a low bar, because the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976, or TSCA, is widely considered the least effective environmental law on the books.

The bills that passed the House and Senate last year didn't clear the bar, but we hoped Congressional negotiators would cobble together the good parts of both bills to craft better legislation. The compromise that has now emerged – without the support of key House Democrats – has a few improvements, but still falls short in some key respects.

First, the compromise would continue to tie the hands of the states by suspending state action while the Environmental Protection Agency studies a chemical’s safety—a process that could take three years or longer. The compromise would grandfather existing state laws and allow states to quickly act to regulate a chemical that EPA might deem a “high priority” chemical. But if a state fails to act quickly, state action would be suspended for up to three years while EPA completes its review. States have been the only cops on the chemical safety beat, regulating scores of chemicals and driving marketplace innovation. Any legislation that claims to be better than current law would permit state action until an EPA rule is final.

Inside The Looming Disaster Of The Salton Sea

by Alejandro Davila Fragoso

BOMBAY BEACH, CALIFORNIA — The lake is drying up, uncounted dead fish line the shore, and the desert town is losing people.

It could be the plot of a post-apocalyptic movie set in the future, but this is actually happening here and it has been going on for years. It wasn’t always like this, of course. There was a time when this town was booming. There was a time when the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, was the “French Riviera” of the state, and the pride and joy of Imperial County. But that was decades ago, during the Sea’s heydays of the 1950s and 1960s. Back when this area had luxury resorts, piers, yachts, and thousands of visitors, including stars like Frank Sinatra — who owned a house in nearby Palm Springs and would come down to see Guy Lombardo sail his speedboat.

Millions Now Understand That Capitalism Needs Socialism to Work—Which Is Why Bernie Is So Popular

Sanders' vision of democratic socialism is just capitalism with a safety net.

By Alex Henderson

Three short years ago, the idea of a major candidate in a presidential election openly describing himself as a socialist would have seemed unthinkable. President Barack Obama had entered his second term and the Democratic Party had won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections not by running to the left, but by campaigning mostly from the center. In 2013, “socialism” was still a dirty word in American politics. But that was before Bernie Sanders ran for president and before polls showed the word socialist taking on an increasingly positive connotation among millennials in the United States. The word is still rejected by most strategists in the Democratic Party, but in 2016, it at least gets a seat at the table in the marketplace of ideas.

When Sanders officially entered the Democratic presidential primary in April 2015, his campaign was considered a longshot. Sanders, who had been serving in the U.S. Senate as an independent, proudly and openly described himself as a “socialist”—and conventional wisdom in the Democratic National Committee was that running for president as a centrist was essential unless one wanted to suffer a landslide defeat like George McGovern in 1972 or Walter Mondale in 1984. But Sanders has run a disciplined, aggressive campaign that, as of May 15, 2016, had won him 1,473 Democratic delegates and 40 superdelegates. Hillary Clinton, with 2,240 delegates and 524 superdelegates, remains the frontrunner and the likely nominee. But the fact that Sanders has made this much progress in a 21st-century Democratic presidential primary by describing himself as a democratic socialist and campaigning so aggressively on single-payer health care and free higher education is downright historic.

As US politicians romanticize doomed manufacturing jobs, the new working class is suffering

Tamara Draut

My dad was a machinist at a steel factory in Middletown, Ohio. He worked there for 29 years before accepting early retirement, leaving the job with a nice gold table-top clock and a generous pension. He was the fifth generation of Draut’s to work at the plant, and the last. Operating today with a fraction of the workforce, the steel factory no longer dominates my hometown economy the way it did when I was growing up.

Today, politicians of both parties promise to bring back manufacturing jobs. But as much as it pains me to say it, these efforts are misplaced. Instead, we desperately need to direct our attention towards improving the jobs of the new working class—the legions of fast food, retail, health care, and janitorial jobs who now form the backbone of our economy. These are jobs that can’t be outsourced to China, Vietnam, or India. While America’s public intellectuals wax eloquently, and even idolize, the innovation and ideation done by tech workers, the reality that most Americans actually work in a bargain-basement economy remains on the margins of contemporary political discourse.

Richard Eskow: What’s Killing the American Middle Class?

A new study by the Pew Research Center spurred a rash of headlines last week about “the dying middle class.” But the word “dying” might be more appropriate if we were watching the regrettable but inevitable effects of natural forces at work. We’re not. We’re seeing the fruits of deliberate action – and sometimes of deliberate inaction – at the highest levels of power.

The great American middle was never large enough, even at its height. It always excluded too many people – sometimes, shamefully, merely for their skin color. And now, instead of growing and becoming more inclusive, it’s fading away instead.

Recipients of Koch Machine Largess in 2016, So Far

By Lisa Graves and David Armiak, PR Watch | News Analysis

Recent articles in the national media, such as the piece in the National Review, suggest that Charles and David Koch are less interested and less involved in national politics in the 2016 election cycle than in previous years.

This latest PR effort comes despite the fact that $400 million of the $889 pledge by the Kochs through their "Freedom Partners" network has already been invested in the outcome of the 2016 elections, with more money to be spent.

Robert Parry: US Media as Conduits of Propaganda

Exclusive: The “group think” about the Syrian government crossing President Obama’s “red line” in a 2013 sarin attack has collapsed, but The New York Times still reports it as flat fact, an industry-wide problem, writes Robert Parry.

Nothing disturbs me more about the modern mainstream U.S. news media than its failure to test what the U.S. government says against what can be determined through serious and impartial investigation to be true. And this is not just some question of my professional vanity; it can be a matter of life or death.

For instance, did Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cross President Barack Obama’s supposed “red line” against using chemical weapons, specifically in the sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, or not?

Upon this question rests the possibility that a future President Hillary Clinton will invade Syria under the guise of establishing a “safe zone,” a project that would surely expand into another bloody “regime change,” as occurred in Iraq and Libya amid similar U.S. claims about protecting “human rights.”

Fighting for an Alternative to Big Banks

Activists are demanding accessible, affordable financial services through the postal system as part of a broader agenda to rein in Wall Street.

By Katherine Isaac / Institute for Policy Studies

We’ve heard a lot about Wall Street reform in this presidential primary season. Most of the attention has been on the need to break up the “too big to fail” banks, curbing short-term speculation, and reining in executive bonuses.

But we also need to create a financial system that serves the everyday need for accessible, affordable financial services. Nearly 28 percent of U.S. households are at least partially outside the financial mainstream, or underserved by traditional banks. A shocking 54 percent of African-American and 47 percent of Latino households are underserved.

Democratic Senator Issued Shocking Statements About 1%ers Protecting Their Wealth at Oligarch Confab

VA Senator Mark Warner thinks the business class is lacking the political power to influence change in Washington. Wait, what?

By Elizabeth Preza

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) earlier this month urged the business class to band together and influence politics because their collective success means they “have an outsized ability to affect what happens in Washington.”

“If you don’t think the frustration of Americans with our overall system—not just our political system, but our business system, our tax code—is at the boiling point, then Katie, bar the door!” Warner said. “The walls that are gonna have to be built, may not be at borders, they may be around neighborhoods the way they are in many Third World countries around the world.”

The Secret History of Superdelegates

712 Democratic Officials Will Decide Whether Clinton or Sanders Wins the Nomination. Newly published documents show that's what the party planned all along.

By Branko Marcetic

Since its launch, a specter has haunted Bernie Sanders’ run for the Democratic nomination. It’s not his age, though at 74 he would be the oldest president in American history. And it’s not that he’s an avowed socialist, the label that a mere eight years ago was used to smear Barack Obama as a sinister, alien threat to the American way of life. Rather, it has been the so-called superdelegates—the 712 Democratic Party insiders who are free to vote at the nominating convention for the candidate of their choosing.

The corporate media’s early inclusion of the superdelegates in the delegate count created the impression of an inevitable Clinton nomination. Seventy-three percent of superdelegates—520 of the 712—have pledged their support to the former secretary of state, but superdelegates are free to change their minds any time before the Democratic National Convention in July.

Kochs' Grassroots Leadership Academy Training Astroturf Army

By Mary Bottari and David Armiak

With no clear favorite in the 2016 U.S. presidential primary race--following Gov. Scott Walker's early exit and Trump's march toward the nomination--the Koch brothers have turned their attention (and opened their wallets) to races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and state governorships.

But with the Kochs having already spent at least $400 million of $889 million committed to the 2016 election cycle, according to news reports, where is that money being spent?

An under-covered arm of the Koch political operations is a likely recipient of some of that cash and it's called Americans for Prosperity's "Grassroots Leadership Academy."

We May Be About to Witness One of the Great Privatizations of America's Public Lands

How the raid on Malheur screened a future raid on real estate.

By William deBuys / TomDispatch

It goes without saying that in a democracy everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions. The trouble starts when people think they are also entitled to their own facts.

Away out West, on the hundreds of millions of acres of public lands that most Americans take for granted (if they are aware of them at all), the trouble is deep, widespread, and won’t soon go away. Last winter’s armed take-over and 41-day occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon is a case in point. It was carried out by people who, if they hadn’t been white and dressed as cowboys, might have been called “terrorists” and treated as such. Their interpretation of the history of western lands and of the judicial basis for federal land ownership—or at least that of their leaders, since they weren’t exactly a band of intellectuals—was only loosely linked to reality.

The Most Powerful Man in the GOP (And You’ve Never Heard Of Him)

Ever wonder where congressmen come from? No? Well, that’s great news for Rex Elsass, who’s built nearly 50 of them from scratch while turning himself into the most powerful Republican operative you’ve never heard of. Jason Zengerle gets a rare look inside the wildest political-strategy shop in America—and discovers the secrets to manufacturing a Tea Party rock star.

By Jason Zengerle

One morning last summer, Jim Banks—an Indiana state senator who dreams of becoming a congressman—woke before dawn and set off on the three-hour drive from Fort Wayne to Columbus, Ohio. He was going to see the wizard. He was going to see Rex Elsass.

Elsass is the founder and CEO of the benignly named Strategy Group for Media, a political consulting firm with a knack for launching a certain sort of politician—and a track record of recent success that has turned Elsass into one of the richest, not to mention most controversial, operatives in Republican politics.

While you've likely never heard of him, chances are good you know his clients. Name a conservative firebrand and Elsass has likely been on his or her payroll. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich—he's worked with all of them, as well as a slew of Republican agitators who aren't yet household names but are doing everything in their power to change that. Elsass now counts more than 60 members of Congress on his client roster, many of whom belong to the rebellious Freedom Caucus that last fall hounded the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, into early retirement. This year, while most eyes are fixed on the presidential race, he's quietly obsessing over the Republicans' control of Congress, guiding the fortunes of 15 first-time candidates whom he hopes will join his small army already wreaking havoc in Washington.

Rick Perlstein: The Chicago School

How Chicago elites imported charters, closed neighborhood schools, and snuffed out creativity.

This past September, an award-winning Chicago Public Schools principal named Troy LaRaviere published a post on his blog that began, “Whenever I try to take a break from writing about CPS to focus on other aspects of my professional and personal life, CPS officials do something so profoundly unethical, incompetent and/or corrupt that my conscience calls me to pick up the pen once more.”

What had Principal LaRaviere going this time? We’ll get there eventually. But first we have to back up and survey what brought the Chicago Public Schools to this calamitous pass in the first place. It’s hard to know where to begin. Though when it comes to the failings of America’s institutions you can rarely go wrong by looking to the plutocrats.

Travel back with me, then, to July of 2003, when the Education Committee of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago — comprised of the chairman of the board of McDonald’s, the CEOs of Exelon Energy and the Chicago Board Options Exchange, two top executives of the same Fortune 500 manufacturing firm, two partners at top international corporate law firms, one founder of an investment bank, one of a mutual fund, and the CEO of a $220.1 billion asset-management fund: twelve men, all but one of them white — published “Left Behind: Student Achievement in Chicago’s Public Schools.”

Burying the White Working Class

Liberal condescension towards white workers is code for a broader anti-working class agenda.

by Connor Kilpatrick

The white working class is a zombie that doesn’t know it’s dead.

Or if it’s not fully zombified yet, its members are all too busy cleaning their AR-15s and posting racist comments on YouTube to vote for a progressive. That is, if they’re not already on the Trump bandwagon, which they probably are.

At least that’s what the Democratic Party wants you to believe.

Last Tuesday, Bernie Sanders won the 93.7 percent white state of West Virginia with ease, beating Clinton among men and women, young and old. The week prior, he cruised to victory in Indiana, despite no longer apparently being a serious contender for the nomination.

Thomas Frank: Bill Clinton's Five Major Achievements Were Longstanding GOP Objectives

By Mark Karlin, Truthout

Thomas Frank, author of Listen, Liberal, discusses the Hillary Doctrine's basis in neoliberalism, how the Democratic Party stopped governing on behalf of the working class and how President Bill Clinton's major achievements actually enacted conservative goals, and ultimately hurt working people.

Mark Karlin: The innovation class, the creative class, the wealthy class, the professional class with Ivy League degrees: How did President Obama become the avatar for believing these groups should be the decision makers in government?

Thomas Frank: Obama thinks such people should be in charge because they came up through the same system as him. "Because he himself was a product of the great American postwar meritocracy," his biographer Jonathan Alter writes, "he could never fully escape seeing the world from the status ladder he had ascended."

Most of our other Democratic leaders (the Clintons, for example) came up the same way and believe the same thing. Indeed, what Alter describes is standard-issue stuff for Democrats these days. The Democrats are a class party in the fullest sense of the phrase, and the class whose perspective they reflect and whose interests they serve is the highly educated, white-collar professional class. Theirs is a liberalism of the rich.

Noam Chomsky: The Two Biggest Threats Facing the Survival of Humanity

Multiple crises come as voters in the United States prepare to elect a new president.

By Amy Goodman / Democracy Now!

As war spreads across the globe, a record 60 million people were driven from their homes last year. Experts warn the refugee crisis may also worsen due to the impacts of global warming.

Over the weekend, NASA released data showing 2016 is on pace to be by far the hottest year ever, breaking the 2015 record. Meanwhile, many fear a new nuclear arms race has quietly begun, as the United States, Russia and China race to build arsenals of smaller nuclear weapons. These multiple crises come as voters in the United States prepare to elect a new president. We speak with one of the world’s preeminent intellectuals, Noam Chomsky, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years. His latest book is titled "Who Rules the World?"

The House science committee hates science and should be disbanded

The House science committee has become a national embarrassment, and does more harm than good. Let's get rid of it

J.D. Trout

As if named by a Congressional Office of Dark Irony, The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology really seems to hate science.

Its current chair, Lamar Smith, R – Tex., is a climate change denier, seeing a conspiracy in the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, where the vast majority of experts in the world see only good science. In the last four or five Congressional sessions, the attacks on science made by the majority membership of HCSST have become increasingly unhinged and prolonged. Rather than acting on House Resolutions that advanced the aims of science, Lamar Smith assumed the role of small-government gadfly, irritating and exhausting scientific administrators like NSF Director France Córdova, over whose agencies HCSST had some purview.

Charles Koch's Disturbing High School Economics Project Teaches 'Sacrificing Lives for Profits'

Is Koch Industries behind your university or grade school's economics curriculum?

By Alex Kotch / AlterNet

Charles Koch is known for being CEO of industrial giant Koch Industries and a chief financier of the massive conservative political operation he runs with his brother David. In recent years, student activists and investigative journalists have exposed another of Koch’s hats: mega-donor to hundreds of colleges and universities, often funding free-market-focused academic centers housed at public and private schools alike. One Koch-funded program is advocating cutthroat economics to grade school students, even sacrificing lives for profits.

Anti-tax industrialist billionaires like Charles and David Koch stand to gain a lot by financing higher education programs tailored to their ideologies. Richard Fink, the Kochs’ right-hand man for decades, laid out their “Structure of Social Change,” the plan they devised in the late 1970s to shape society with their libertarian ideals. The plan begins with funding academic programs that favor laissez-faire economics, resulting in academic papers promoting the free market and chastising regulation and taxation. Next, think tanks they fund repackage the academic work into more easily digestible policy proposals that “citizen activists” (actually Koch-funded “social welfare” groups like Americans for Prosperity) use to pressure lawmakers.

Clintonism screwed the Democrats: How Bill, Hillary and the Democratic Leadership Council gutted progressivism

Imagine there's no Clintons. It's easy if you try! Without pernicious DLC, liberalism is a stronger movement today


Hillary Clinton today promotes herself as a “reformer with results,” and she’s relied on a widespread impression that she and Bernie Sanders aren’t really that far apart on major issues. After the last round of primaries in the Northeast, she expressed it again:
“Because whether you support Senator Sanders or you support me, there’s much more that unites us than divides us. We all agree that wages are too low and inequality is too high, that Wall Street can never again be allowed to threaten Main Street, and we should expand Social Security, not cut or privatize it. We Democrats agree that college should be affordable to all, and student debt shouldn’t hold anyone back.”

A Global Marshall Plan for Joblessness?

Posted on May 13, 2016 by Yves Smith

Yves here. As an accompaniment to this article, please read (or re-read) Michal Kalecki’s classic essay on the obstacles to achieving full employment.

By Pavlina R. Tcherneva, Associate Professor of Economics, Bard College. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Global unemployment is expected to surpass 200 million people for the first time on record by the end of 2017, according a recent ILO study, and limitations of official statistics suggest that the problem is much larger . As conventional measures increasingly fail to produce tight labor markets and jobless recoveries become the norm, economists grapple with this new reality by calling it secular stagnation and by adjusting upwards the rates of unemployment deemed ‘natural’ — but the human, social and economic costs of this growing problem are rarely considered in economic modeling.

As Wealthy Surge, U.S. Poor and Middle Class Incomes Have Gone Backward

Poorer households saw their income drop from a median of $26,373 in 1999 to $23,811 in 2014, according to new research

by Nadia Prupis, staff writer

Middle- and low-income households in the U.S. made less money in 2014 than they did in 1999 as the middle class lost ground in almost 90 percent of the country's metropolitan areas, a new analysis by the Pew Research Center released Wednesday has found.

The report looked at 229 of the 381 federally designated "metropolitan statistical areas" in the U.S., from Seattle to Boston, which accounted for 76 percent of the nationwide population in 2014. It found that poorer households saw their income drop from a median of $26,373 in 1999 to $23,811 in 2014, while middle-class incomes fell from $77,898 to $72,919 in that same time period.

Neocons and Neolibs: How Dead Ideas Kill

Exclusive: Hillary Clinton wants the American voters to be very afraid of Donald Trump, but there is reason to fear as well what a neoconservative/neoliberal Clinton presidency would mean for the world, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

For centuries hereditary monarchy was the dominant way to select national leaders, evolving into an intricate system that sustained itself through power and propaganda even as its ideological roots shriveled amid the Age of Reason. Yet, as monarchy became a dead idea, it still killed millions in its death throes.

Today, the dangerous “dead ideas” are neoconservatism and its close ally, neoliberalism. These are concepts that have organized American foreign policy and economics, respectively, over the past several decades – and they have failed miserably, at least from the perspective of average Americans and people of the nations on the receiving end of these ideologies.

Neither approach has benefited mankind; both have led to untold death and destruction; yet the twin “neos” have built such a powerful propaganda and political apparatus, especially in Official Washington, that they will surely continue to wreak havoc for years to come. They are zombie ideas and they kill.

Michael Hudson: The Dangers of Free Trade Agreements: TTIP’s Threat to Europe’s Elderly

The most obvious approach to look at how European care for the elderly will evolve is to project technological trends and the costs of people living longer as diagnostic equipment, drug treatments and other medical science continues to improve. This kind of projection shows a rising cost to society of pensions and health care, because a rising proportion of the aging population is retiring. How will economies pay for it?

I want to point to some special problems that are looming on the political front. I assume that the reason you have invited me from America is that my country has been doing just about everything wrong in its health care. Its experience may provide an object lesson for what Europe should avoid (and indeed, has avoided up to this point).

or starters, privatization is much more expensive than European-style Single Payer public health care. Monopoly prices also are higher. And of course, fraud is a problem.

ALEC's 2016 Agenda Moving in the States: A Snapshot

Submitted by Lisa Graves

In states across the country, concerned citizens are asking state and local policymakers to raise the minimum wage, enact workplace reforms including earned sick days and the right to organize, stop the privatization of public schools, and help mitigate climate change. Opposition to these initiatives is fierce and growing and often nationally-driven and coordinated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Working in tandem with deep-pocketed corporations, trade associations, conservative groups and mega-donors--including operatives of the Koch brothers--ALEC is driving an agenda you should know about. As legislators and lobbyists fly to Pittsburgh for ALEC's Spring Task Force Summit May 6, the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of, has the lowdown on ALEC bills moving in states this year.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Explainer: What is wrong with America’s civic education

Any election demands knowledge, attention and wisdom from the whole electorate. When a campaign season does not seem to be going well, there’s often angst about whether the public has been sufficiently educated.

Anxious eyes turn to our public schools.

For instance, writing in The Atlantic recently, Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of education and history at New York University, decried the incivility of the 2016 campaign and named “a flaw with civic education.” He wrote:
Put simply, schools in the United States don’t teach the country’s future citizens how to engage respectfully across their political differences.

The 4th Largest Economy In The World Just Generated 90 Percent Of The Power It Needs From Renewables

by Jeremy Deaton

On Sunday, for a brief, shining moment, renewable power output in Germany reached 90 percent of the country’s total electricity demand.

That’s a big deal. On May 8th, at 11 a.m. local time, the total output of German solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass reached 55 gigawatts (GW), just short of the 58 GW consumed by every light bulb, washing machine, water heater and personal computer humming away on Sunday morning. See the graph below, courtesy Agora Energiewende, a German clean energy think tank. (It’s important to note that most likely, not all of that 55 GW could be used at the time it was generated due to system and grid limitations, but it’s still noteworthy that this quantity of power was produced.)

3 Simplistic Conservative Beliefs That Completely Slow All Progress

These three simplistic conservative beliefs are accepted by virtually all Republicans and, unfortunately, by many Democrats.

By John Ehrenreich

For there to be any possibility of a progressive resurgence, we have to confront the conservative narrative and address the question of why so many Americans buy in to it. George W. Bush famously told then-Senator Joseph Biden, “I don’t do nuance.” The right has been very successful at reducing complex issues to simple slogans. The examples are many: the “Contract with America,” the “Right to Work,” the “Right to Life,” “death panels,” “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,” “weapons of mass destruction.” Complexity is a confusing issue to the Left. We are caught between wanting to imitate the Right, with its catchy phrases, and a respect for the much more complex truth.

Three sets of simplistic conservative belief stand out, accepted by virtually all Republicans and, unfortunately, by many Democrats. First: “We can’t.” The most pressing problem in the United States and the key to most of its problems, say conservatives, is our unbalanced budget and the resultant overwhelmingly large national debt. Raising taxes to deal with it is unthinkable. Higher taxes would burden ordinary taxpayers and businesses, the “job creators,” and would threaten our international competitiveness. The bottom line is that we simply can’t afford to expand government programs (for example, the social safety net).

Report: 2008 Bank Bailouts Are Still Alive

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens

The U.S. is now in its eighth year since the Wall Street bank collapse of 2008 and most members of the general public believe the bailouts are long finished. That’s a fallacy. Last Friday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report showing that there are 16 banks still involved in the original bailout program – one of which, First Bancorp, owes the government $124.97 million or 49 percent of the funds owed by the other 15 banks combined. First Bancorp continues to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the stock symbol, FBP. The common stock of First Bancorp has declined from over $150 a share in 2009 to close last Friday at $3.72. According to the company’s 10K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for year-end December 31, 2015, the U.S. government still owned 4.8 percent of the company’s common stock at that time.

Paul Krugman: The Making of an Ignoramus

Truly, Donald Trump knows nothing. He is more ignorant about policy than you can possibly imagine, even when you take into account the fact that he is more ignorant than you can possibly imagine. But his ignorance isn’t as unique as it may seem: In many ways, he’s just doing a clumsy job of channeling nonsense widely popular in his party, and to some extent in the chattering classes more generally.

Last week the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — hard to believe, but there it is — finally revealed his plan to make America great again. Basically, it involves running the country like a failing casino: he could, he asserted, “make a deal” with creditors that would reduce the debt burden if his outlandish promises of economic growth don’t work out.

They’re still not telling the real story: Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and the analysis you won’t hear on cable news

From Fox News to MSNBC, the pundits are too obsessed with this very second to notice the massive changes underfoot

Paul Rosenberg

After every presidential primary, we were treated to a new round of conventional wisdom about what things mean for both parties going forward. Yet, there’s every reason to be deeply skeptical of these discussions among people who never saw either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders coming. They represent a chattering class that both expected and normalized a “war of dynasties” between Bushes and the Clintons, then marveled at the “depth” of the Republican bench, and spent months obsessing over whether Joe Biden would run, as if he were a figure of mythic proportions.

You can laugh, if you want, but the out-of-touch nature of these treasured campaign narratives now lives on in a new form: an obsessive focus on this election cycle, when, if anything, the one thing it has to tell us is that much larger, long-range changes are afoot, and have been creeping up on us, below the radar, for quite some time. If you’re going to cover politics almost exclusively as a horse race, it makes perfect sense, of course. But that narrow-minded focus is an integral part of the very system that voters are furiously struggling to reject.

Paul Krugman: Truth and Trumpism

How will the news media handle the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? I suspect I know the answer — and it’s going to be deeply frustrating. But maybe, just maybe, flagging some common journalistic sins in advance can limit the damage. So let’s talk about what can and probably will go wrong in coverage — but doesn’t have to.

First, and least harmful, will be the urge to make the election seem closer than it is, if only because a close race makes a better story. You can already see this tendency in suggestions that the startling outcome of the fight for the Republican nomination somehow means that polls and other conventional indicators of electoral strength are meaningless.

They Pretend to Think, We Pretend to Listen

Liberalism in the tank

Ken Silverstein
To understand just how Thomas Friedman, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Gail Collins have been repurposed as purveyors of bold new ideas, it helps to see how the world of liberal think tanks has been upended, ever so gently, by a steady onrush of corporate funding—and corporate-friendly policy agendas
Try to conjure up the dullest, most vapid intellectual experience you can possibly imagine. A Matthew Perry film festival. A boxed set of Kenny G’s entire discography. Al Gore “in conversation” with Wolf Blitzer.

Now imagine something worse. Far, far worse. Once you’ve hit the speculative bottom of the unexamined life, you’d be hard pressed to outdo Thomas Friedman holding forth on “Climate Change and the Arab Spring.” What’s still more disturbing is that Friedman’s maunderings—unlike the foregoing litany of intellectual failures—actually took place, and were recorded for posterity, during a panel event this February at the Center for American Progress, America’s most influential liberal think tank. The great globalizing muse of the New York Times op-ed page was joined on stage by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the Princeton University professor and former State Department deputy to Hillary Clinton.

You may be assured that the trite speculations came fast, flat, and furious. Between numerous mentions of his 2008 book Hot, Flat, and Crowded (not to be confused with 2005’s The World Is Flat), Freidman offered a mix of insights, delivered with his trademark flair for anecdotage in the vein of a Mad Libs pamphlet. Friedman informed the audience, for example, that algebra is an Arabic word—and so clearly the challenge ahead for the tumultuous Arab world is to integrate algebra as well as Islam into its emerging governments. He then went on to sagely counsel the crowd that understanding the Islamic world requires examining ethnic and religious divisions, as opposed to more recent national rivalries—as though no one else had ever heard about the nearly 1,400-year-old Sunni-Shia split that emerged after Muhammad’s death.

ALEC Appoints New Chair To Climate Denial Task Force

Submitted by Jamie Corey

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has named a new corporate chair for its task force that works to oppose action to tackle climate change: Jennifer Jura of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

NRECA is a powerful trade association that represents more than 900 independent electric utilities. Its annual spending lobbying Congress regularly exceeds $2 million each year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This has included lobbying in support of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. It's Political Action Committee gives nearly $3 million per electoral cycle, with the majority going to Republicans.

FCC Approves Horrible Merger, Hurting Consumers Nationwide

Bad news: According to several news reports, the FCC has voted to approve the Charter-Time Warner Cable merger.

by Mary Alice Crim

With Chairman Tom Wheeler at the helm, the agency ignored hundreds of thousands of people who urged it to block this disastrous deal. Instead of standing with the people who use the Internet, he sided with the companies that want to control it.

Here’s Where Things Stand:

Charter now rivals Comcast in size. Together the two companies will offer service to nearly 80 percent of U.S. households. In more than half of Charter’s territory, customers will have no other real option for bundled broadband and pay-TV services. Without real competition, Charter can charge whatever it wants.

And Charter has to charge more: This deal is saddling it with nearly $27 billion in new debt. To repay that, Charter will have to raise its already steep prices. This merger will hit low-income communities and low-income people of color the hardest, forcing many offline.

Climate change is corroding our values, says Naomi Klein

The need for fossil fuels is destroying regions and communities, causing war and famine in the process, argues the activist and author

John Vidal

Climate change is spawning injustice, racism, intolerance and wars, according to author and political activist Naomi Klein.

“It is not about things getting hotter and wetter but things getting meaner and uglier, unless we change the corrosive values that are pitting people against each other,” she said in a lecture held in memory of Palestinian literary critic and political activist Edward Said at the Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank Centre on Wednesday.

“Fossil fuels, which are the principal driver of climate change, require the sacrifice of whole regions and people. Sacrificial zones like the Niger delta and the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, dot the world.

Gutting Habeas Corpus

The Inside Story of How Bill Clinton Sacrificed Prisoners’ Rights for Political Gain

Liliana Segura

On the eve of the New York state primary last month, as Hillary Clinton came closer to the Democratic nomination, Vice President Joe Biden went on TV and defended her husband’s 1994 crime bill. Asked in an interview if he felt shame for his role passing a law that has been the subject of so much recent criticism, Biden answered, “Not at all,” and boasted of its successes — among them putting “100,000 cops on the street.” His remarks sparked a new round of debate over the legacy of the crime bill, which has haunted Clinton ever since she hit the campaign trail with a vow to “end the era of mass incarceration.”

A few days later, on April 24, a lesser-known crime law quietly turned 20. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 — or AEDPA — was signed by Bill Clinton in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. While it has been mostly absent from the recent debates over the crime policies of the ’90s, its impact has been no less profound, particularly when it comes to a bedrock constitutional principle: habeas corpus, or the right of people in prison to challenge their detention. For 20 years, AEDPA has shut the courthouse door on prisoners trying to prove they were wrongfully convicted. Americans are mostly unaware of this legacy, even as we know more than ever about wrongful convictions. Barry Scheck, co-founder and head of the Innocence Project, calls AEDPA “a disaster” and “a major roadblock since its passage.” Many would like to see it repealed.

Paul Krugman: The Diabetic Economy

LISBON — Things are terrible here in Portugal, but not quite as terrible as they were a couple of years ago. The same thing can be said about the European economy as a whole. That is, I guess, the good news.

The bad news is that eight years after what was supposed to be a temporary financial crisis, economic weakness just goes on and on, with no end in sight. And that’s something that should worry everyone, in Europe and beyond.

Doctors call for single-payer health reform, cite need to move beyond Affordable Care Act

American Journal of Public Health publishes physicians' call for sweeping single-payer reform with detailed proposal signed by over 2,200 doctors nationwide

Physicians for a National Health Program

n a dramatic show of physician support for deeper health reform - and for making a decisive break with the private insurance model of financing medical care - 2,231 physicians called today [Thursday, May 5] for the creation of a publicly financed, single-payer national health program that would cover all Americans for all medically necessary care.

Single-payer health reform, often called "Medicare for All," has been a hotly debated topic in the presidential primaries, thanks in part to it being a prominent plank in the platform of Sen. Bernie Sanders. The new physicians' proposal is strictly nonpartisan, however.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to Put End to Mandatory Arbitration for Consumer Loans, Credit Cards

Posted on May 5, 2016 by Yves Smith

It looks like a pervasive abuse is about to bite the dust.

A major way that financial firms have tipped the playing field even further in their direction is the inclusion of mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts. The argument has been that this feature is beneficial to consumers, since arbitration is cheaper that litigation in the event of a dispute. But studies have repeatedly found that to be bollocks. The arbitrators that are chosen to serve are not only screened to be big institution friendly; arbitrators that wind up ruling in favor of customers have this funny way of being moved to the bottom of the selection list, while hanging arbitrators get regular assignments. For instance, from a 2009 report by the Center for Responsible Lending:
Arbitration cases can be unfair not only because consumers have no choice in the matter, but also because prior results from Public Citizen research suggests that consumers may win only 4% of the time. The relationship as currently structured gives arbitration forums and arbitrators a strong incentive to side with “repeat players” that control the flow of ongoing business, rather than a consumer seen only once. In the credit card context as well as many other consumer transactions, it is very difficult to find a product without a forced arbitration agreement hidden somewhere in the fine print.

Thomas Frank: Why must the Trump alternative be self-satisfied, complacent Democrats?

Convinced that the country’s ongoing demographic shifts will bring victory for years to come, the party establishment acts like its candidates need do nothing differently

The year of our discontent rolls on, and now it is Indiana that hands victory to the insurgent senator Bernie Sanders and the protectionist demagogue Donald Trump.

Seven years have passed now since the last recession officially ended, and yet the country’s fury has scarcely cooled. To this day we remain angry at Wall Street; we rage against career politicians; and we are incandescent that the economic system seems to have been permanently “rigged” against working people. Median household income has still not recovered the levels of 2007. Wages are going nowhere. Elite bankers are probably never going to be held accountable for what they did. America is burning.

FBI Chooses Secrecy Over Locking Up Criminals

Jenna McLaughlin

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s refusal to discuss even the broad strokes of some of its secret investigative methods, such as implanting malware and tracking cellphones with Stingrays, is backfiring – if the goal is to actually enforce the law.

In the most recent example, the FBI may be forced to drop its case against a Washington State school administrator charged with possessing child porn because it doesn’t want to tell the court or the defense how it got its evidence – even in the judge’s chambers.

The FBI reportedly used a bug in an older version of the free anonymity software Tor to insert malware on the computers of people who accessed a child-porn website it had seized. The malware gave agents the ability to see visitors’ real internet addresses and track them down.

The Supreme Court Just Refused To Shield Corporate America From A $15 Minimum Wage. What Happens Now?

by Alan Pyke

With the Supreme Court’s decision Monday not to hear the fast food industry’s lawsuit against Seattle, the nation’s first $15 minimum wage law is safe – and opponents of higher pay floors for U.S. workers are running low on options.

The decision upholds two previous rulings that Seattle’s law does not discriminate against franchise firms like McDonald’s. The case was the most prominent legal challenge to a large minimum wage hike in recent years, and one of several to fail.

As Millions of Workers Face Pension Cuts Thanks to Wall Street Greed, Executive Benefits Remain Lavish

The big bank executives who gambled away working Americans' benefits are still getting lavish packages as the social safety net collapses.

By Jake Johnson

In October of 2008, while the economy was in the early stages of what the IMF called "the worst recession since World War II," the Washington Post reported that the "stock market's prolonged tumble has wiped out about $2 trillion in Americans' retirement savings in the past 15 months, a blow that could force workers to stay on the job longer than planned."

Thanks, in other words, to Wall Street's reckless and criminal behavior, workers who were promised a secure retirement were cheated out of the benefits they worked hard — for decades — to attain.

Which brings us to 2016: Just over a week ago, the Washington Post reported (déjà vu?), "More than a quarter of a million active and retired truckers and their families could soon see their pension benefits severely cut — even though their pension fund is still years away from running out of money."

Trickle-Down Economics Has Ruined the Kansas Economy

And it threatens to launch a civil war within the state's Republican Party.

—By Patrick Caldwell

Republicans have long sung the praises of trickle-down economics: Just cut taxes, and the economy will flourish as companies and individuals use the windfall to boost investment and create jobs. But a grand experiment in implementing those policies at the state level has revealed a far less rosy reality—and the consequences are threatening to spark a civil war among Republicans.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, launched an "experiment" in conservative policy after he was elected in 2010, drastically slashing the state's income taxes under the assumption that the move would kick-start Kansas' economy and rev up job creation. With help from Arthur Laffer, Ronald Reagan's mastermind of trickle-down economics, Brownback convinced lawmakers in the state to cut personal income tax rates across the board and eliminate the top tax bracket, with further reductions to come. Kansas also completely erased the income tax bills for the owners of certain "small" businesses, totaling 330,000 by this year and including a host of subsidiaries of Wichita-based Koch Industries. The Koch-funded organization Americans for Prosperity helped Brownback push the bill and has remained a staunch defender of the changes. The tax cuts were sold by Brownback with the idea that they would pay for themselves when a renewed economy boosted state revenues despite the lower rates.

 The Roots of American Conservatism

 Why do the politics of free markets and cultural reaction keep returning like some Republican Freddy Krueger?

By Kim Phillips-Fein

 hen Barry Goldwater sought the Republican nomination for president in 1964, his opponents—especially Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney—pilloried him for holding views that had no basis in reality, which for them meant mainstream politics. Here was a politician who criticized labor unions and had made an enemy of the United Automobile Workers; who rejected any suggestion of peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union; who loathed Social Security and argued that the federal government should play no role in guaranteeing civil rights; and who warned of a growing criminal threat that he seemed to associate with unruly protesters. Perhaps worst of all, Goldwater refused to distance himself from the conspiratorial John Birch Society, accepting their support as he fought for the nomination. When his loyal delegates waged a dogfight at the Cow Palace and secured him the candidacy, he tipped his hat to the Birchers in his acceptance speech: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

 For all the fear of extremism in 1964, neither Goldwater nor his opponents could possibly match the sheer spectacle of the 2016 race for the Republican nomination, with its distinct resemblance to a reality-TV show. Donald Trump’s gold-plated hair is the least of the attractions. With the various candidates taunting each other for being insufficiently pro-gun, anti-immigrant, or pro-life, mocking each other all the while with locker-room humor, it seems that the conservative movement has reached the end of the line. One by one, the putatively mainstream Republicans—the patient Jeb Bush, the stolid Scott Walker, even the obstreperous Chris Christie, all of whom did their duty by attacking public-sector unions, defending the right to work, and pushing tax cuts—have been kicked to the sidelines.

David Dayen: What Good Are Hedge Funds?

Hedge funds make big returns by manipulating markets in ways that are illegal for small investors. Remind us: Why are they permitted?

In the pilot episode of the Showtime drama Billions, a CNBC host grills Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), founder of the hedge fund Axe Capital, at a public forum. “How do you respond to the criticism that hedge funds are the scavengers of the financial sector, and that a select few have undue influence on the markets?”

“We’re not scavengers,” Axelrod replies. “We’re white blood cells scrubbing out bad companies, earning for our investors, preventing bubbles. A hedge fund like mine is a market regulator.”

This claim invites an important debate: Do hedge funds represent an asset to the larger economy, or a menace? Do they really help make markets more efficient and transparent, or do they just exploit opportunities at the expense of other investors?

Maryland climate and health report identifies state's vulnerabilities to climate change

University of Maryland

As world leaders convene in Washington, DC this week for the Climate Action 2016 summit, a new report by Maryland public health leaders, the Maryland Climate and Health Profile report, details the impacts of climate change on the health of Marylanders now and in the future.

Developed by the University of Maryland School of Public Health's Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the report examines the relationship between exposure to extreme weather events and risk of selected health outcomes including food and waterborne illnesses (caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter), hospitalization for heart attacks and asthma, and motor vehicle accidents. Using historical climate data along with health data, researchers were able to describe relationships between exposure to extreme events and risk of these selected diseases. These data, along with the climate projections, were used to calculate health burdens among Marylanders in future decades.

Dean Baker: The Fed's Urge to Raise Interest Rates

The Federal Reserve Board's Open Market Committee (FOMC) decided not to raise interest rates at its meeting last week. However, the FOMC also made clear that a rate hike was still an option for its June meeting.

The decision to put off a rate hike is good news, but the real question is why the Fed is even considering a rate hike. Just to remind everyone, the point of raising interest rates is to slow the economy. Higher interest rates discourage home buying, investment and act in other ways to slow the economy.

'Today Marks the End of TTIP': Greenpeace Leak Exposes Corporate Takeover

The secret documents represent roughly two-thirds of the latest negotiating text, and in several cases expose for the first time the position of the U.S.

by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

Confirming that the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) amounts to "a huge transfer of power from people to big business," Greenpeace Netherlands on Monday leaked 248 secret pages of the controversial trade deal between the U.S. and EU, exposing how environmental regulations, climate protections, and consumer rights are being "bartered away behind closed doors."

The documents represent roughly two-thirds of the latest negotiating text, according to Greenpeace, and on some topics offer for the first time the position of the United States.

KIPP's Efforts to Keep the Public in the Dark while Seeking Millions in Taxpayer Subsidies

By Lisa Graves and Dustin Beilke

Charter schools are big business, even when they are run by "non-profits" that pay no taxes on the revenue they receive from public taxes or other sources.

Take KIPP, which describes itself as a "national network of public schools."

KIPP (an acronym for the phrase "knowledge is power program") operates like a franchise with the KIPP Foundation as the franchisor and the individual charters as franchisees that are all separate non-profits that describe themselves as "public schools."

But how public are KIPP public schools?

Paul Krugman: Wrath of the Conned

Maybe we need a new cliché: It ain’t over until Carly Fiorina sings. Anyway, it really is over — definitively on the Democratic side, with high probability on the Republican side. And the results couldn’t be more different.

Think about where we were a year ago. At the time, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were widely seen as the front-runners for their parties’ nods. If there was any dissent from the commentariat, it came from those suggesting that Mr. Bush might be supplanted by a fresher, but still establishment, face, like Marco Rubio.

A Simple Solution to Boost Workers Across the Planet

There's a progressive way to approach global trade that can help workers abroad and at home at the same time.

By Moshe Adler

In the competition for jobs between U.S. workers and developing world workers, American workers are losing, and the TPP, which the Obama administration touts as being pro-labor, is, like NAFTA, anything but. Under the TPP, signatories will be required “to have laws governing minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health,” but the level of the minimum wage and any other standard is left entirely to each country to determine on its own.

In the competition for jobs between U.S. workers and developing world workers, American workers are losing, and the TPP, which the Obama administration touts as being pro-labor, is, like NAFTA, anything but. Under the TPP, signatories will be required “to have laws governing minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health,” but the level of the minimum wage and any other standard is left entirely to each country to determine on its own.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Paul Krugman: The 8 A.M. Call

Back in 2008, one of the ads Hillary Clinton ran during the contest for the Democratic nomination featured an imaginary scene in which the White House phone rings at 3 a.m. with news of a foreign crisis, and asked, “Who do you want answering that phone?” It was a fairly mild jab at Barack Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience.

As it turned out, once in office Mr. Obama, a notably coolheaded type who listens to advice, handled foreign affairs pretty well — or at least that’s how I see it. But asking how a would-be president might respond to crises is definitely fair game.

Thomas Frank: Withering on the Vine

A tale of two democracies

Were you to draw a Venn diagram of Democrats, meritocrats, and plutocrats, the space where they intersect would be an island seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts called Martha’s Vineyard.

A little bit smaller in area than Staten Island but many times greater in stately magnificence, Martha’s Vineyard is a resort whose population swells each summer as the wealthy return to their vacation villas. It is a place of yachts and celebrities and fussy topiary, of waterfront mansions and Ivy League professors and closed-off beaches. It is also a place of moral worthiness, as we understand it circa 2016. The people relaxing on the Vineyard’s rarefied sand are not lazy toffs like the billionaires of old; in fact, according to the Washington Post, they have “far higher IQs than the average beachgoer.” It is an island that deserves what it has. Some of its well-scrubbed little towns are decorated in Puritan severity, some in fanciful Victorian curlicues, but always and everywhere they are clad in the unmistakable livery of righteous success.

Supreme Court Quietly Approves Rule to Give FBI 'Sprawling' Hacking Powers

Absent action by Congress, the rule change will go into effect in December

by Nadia Prupis, staff writer

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday quietly approved a rule change that would allow a federal magistrate judge to issue a search and seizure warrant for any target using anonymity software like Tor to browse the internet.

Absent action by U.S. Congress, the rule change (pdf) will go into effect in December. The FBI would then be able to search computers remotely—even if the bureau doesn't know where that computer is located—if a user has anonymity software installed on it.

Paul Krugman: The Pastrami Principle

A couple of months ago, Jeb Bush (remember him?) posted a photo of his monogrammed handgun to Twitter, with the caption “America.” Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor, responded with a picture of an immense pastrami sandwich, also captioned “America.” Advantage de Blasio, if you ask me.

Let me now somewhat ruin the joke by talking about the subtext. Mr. Bush’s post was an awkward attempt to tap into the common Republican theme that only certain people — white, gun-owning, rural or small-town citizens — embody the true spirit of the nation. It’s a theme most famously espoused by Sarah Palin, who told small-town Southerners that they represented the “real America.” You see the same thing when Ted Cruz sneers at “New York values.”

It’s almost impossible for students to sue a for-profit college. Here’s why.

By Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

There are all sorts of financial aid, housing and medical forms that most college students can expect to fill out before starting classes, but for the most part only those attending for-profit schools are confronted with a piece of paper that seeks to curb their rights. Enrollment contracts have become a popular way for career schools to protect their financial interest by tucking in clauses that bar students from filing class-action lawsuits or otherwise taking their grievances to the courts.

These so-called mandatory arbitration clauses routinely appear in the fine print of auto loans and credit cards, but a new study from the Century Foundation examines why they have no place in higher education.

The Quiet American

Paul Manafort made a career out of stealthily reinventing the world’s nastiest tyrants as noble defenders of freedom. Getting Donald Trump elected will be a cinch.

By Franklin Foer

Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s palace, is impressive by the standards of Palm Beach—less so when judged against the abodes of the world’s autocrats. It doesn’t, for instance, quite compare with Mezhyhirya, the gilded estate of deposed Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. Trump may have 33 bathrooms and three bomb shelters, but his mansion lacks a herd of ostrich, a galleon parked in a pond, and a set of golden golf clubs. Yet the two properties are linked, not just in ostentatious spirit, but by the presence of one man. Trump and Yanukovych have shared the same political brain, an operative named Paul Manafort.

Ukrainians use the term “political technologist” as a favored synonym for electoral consultant. Trump turned to Manafort for what seemed at first a technical task: Manafort knows how to bullwhip and wheedle delegates at a contested convention. He’s done it before, assisting Gerald Ford in stifling Ronald Reagan’s insurgency at the GOP’s summer classic of 1976. In the conventions that followed, the Republican Party often handed Manafort control of the program and instructed him to stage-manage the show. He produced the morning-in-America convention of 1984 and the Bob Dole nostalgia-thon of 1996.

U.S. Chamber Works Behind the Scenes to Gut Whistleblower Protections

Submitted by Jessica Mason

Efforts to gut the federal False Claims Act backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce got a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday. The federal push builds on previous back-door Chamber efforts through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to discourage states from pursuing fraud claims.

The False Claims Act (FCA) allows the government to recover from businesses that defraud government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and protects whistleblowers who report suspected fraud on government contracts. According to the Department of Justice, cases brought under the FCA resulted in the recovery of $42 billion from 1987-2013, making it an important legal tool for deterring fraud and protecting public funds.

Cruz Super-PAC Head Promotes "Biblical" Slavery For Non-Christians

Bruce Wilson

Since 2013 (and with growing interest, especially since Ted Cruz mounted his bid for the presidency), various authors have sought to address Cruz' ties to the diffuse but widespread movement known as Dominionism.

But most of these various treatments seem to share common flaws - they typically focus on a few details but miss the extensive range of evidence tying Ted Cruz and his campaign to dominionism and its advocates. They also typically neglect to answer an obvious question - why is dominionism a bad thing ? Isn't it just a healthy expression of Christian engagement in the democratic process ?

Pseudoscience in the Witness Box

The FBI faked an entire field of forensic science.

By Dahlia Lithwick

The Washington Post published a story so horrifying this weekend that it would stop your breath: “The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.”

What went wrong? The Post continues: “Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far.” The shameful, horrifying errors were uncovered in a massive, three-year review by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project. Following revelations published in recent years, the two groups are helping the government with the country’s largest ever post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

Did OPEC Just Start Preparing for the End of the Oil Era?

The debacle in Doha may be the beginning of the end for the old oil order.

By Michael T. Klare

Sunday, April 17, was the designated moment. The world’s leading oil producers were expected to bring fresh discipline to the chaotic petroleum market and spark a return to high prices. Meeting in Doha, the glittering capital of petroleum-rich Qatar, the oil ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), along with such key non-OPEC producers as Russia and Mexico, were scheduled to ratify a draft agreement obliging them to freeze their oil output at current levels. In anticipation of such a deal, oil prices had begun to creep inexorably upward, from $30 per barrel in mid-January to $43 on the eve of the gathering. But far from restoring the old oil order, the meeting ended in discord, driving prices down again and revealing deep cracks in the ranks of global energy producers.

It is hard to overstate the significance of the Doha debacle. At the very least, it will perpetuate the low oil prices that have plagued the industry for the past two years, forcing smaller firms into bankruptcy and erasing hundreds of billions of dollars of investments in new production capacity. It may also have obliterated any future prospects for cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC producers in regulating the market. Most of all, however, it demonstrated that the petroleum-fueled world we’ve known these last decades—with oil demand always thrusting ahead of supply, ensuring steady profits for all major producers—is no more. Replacing it is an anemic, possibly even declining, demand for oil that is likely to force suppliers to fight one another for ever-diminishing market shares.

Why the Vampire Squid Wants Small Depositors’ Money in 1 Frightening Chart

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens

Back in 2010, with the public still numb from the epic financial crash and still in the dark about the trillions of dollars of secret loans the Federal Reserve had pumped into the Wall Street mega banks to resuscitate their sinking carcasses, Matt Taibbi penned his classic profile of Goldman Sachs at Rolling Stone, with this, now legendary, summation: “The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Historically, what smells like money to Goldman Sachs has been eight-figure money and higher. As recently as 2013, the New York Times reported that Goldman had a $10 million minimum to manage private wealth and was kicking out its own employees’ brokerage accounts if they were less than $1 million. Now, all of a sudden, Goldman Sachs Bank USA is offering FDIC insured savings accounts with no minimums and certificates of deposits for as little as $500 with above-average yields, meaning it’s going after this money aggressively from the little guy. What could possibly go wrong?

How the CIA Writes History

Jefferson Morley

Last summer I paid a visit to Georgetown University’s Lauinger Library as part of my research on legendary CIA counterspy James Jesus Angleton. I went there to investigate Angleton’s famous mole hunt, one of the least flattering episodes of his eventful career. By the early 1960s, Angleton was convinced the KGB had managed to insert a penetration agent high in the ranks of the CIA.

In researching and writing a biography of Angleton, I constantly confront a conundrum: Was the man utterly brilliant? Or completely nuts?

The NYPD is Running Stings Against Immigrant-Owned Shops, Then Pushing For Warrantless Searches

“It was total entrapment,” says one storeowner.

by Sarah Ryley for ProPublica and the New York Daily News

An undercover NYPD officer entered the spotless Super Laundromat & Dry Cleaners in Inwood, a largely Dominican neighborhood at the northernmost tip of Manhattan. He made his rounds through the store, hawking what he said were stolen gadgets — an iPhone, iPad Mini and iPad.

One man took the bait, agreeing to shell out $200 for all three. He was arrested during the May 2013 sting, and the trouble seemed to end there.

Dean Baker: Patently Absurd Logic on Budget Deficits and Debt

It's spring and the budget deficit hawks are once again singing their scare songs about the deficit and the harm we are doing to our children. This is more infuriating than usual this year, with the story of the poisoning of the children of Flint fresh in our minds. Not only have the budget hawks kept many of these kids' parents from working with their obsession with balanced budgets, they blocked funding that could have been used to fix the water system in Flint and hundreds of other communities around the country.

Just to go through the basic story yet again, the government is not like a family that has to pay off its debt. If we want an analogy, at least start with a corporation that expects to exist in perpetuity. The CEO of GE doesn't go to the board and tell them about his plans to pay off the company's debt. The board doesn't want to hear about plans to pay off the debt; the board wants to hear how he will increase profits. And if that means GE has more debt 10 years from now than today, this is just fine.

Is Liberalism Really “Smug”?

Vox says smugness has reshaped the Democratic Party. How droll.

By Jamelle Bouie

Is liberalism “smug”? In an essay for Vox, Emmett Rensin says yes. “There is a smug style in American liberalism,” he writes. “It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence … but by the failure of half the country to know what’s good for them.”

This “smug style” is informed by programs like The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and its offshoots, The Colbert Report and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. It manifests on Twitter and Facebook, in tweets and status updates and displays of liberal arrogance. It’s present in how liberals talked about figures like Kim Davis, how they relate to people who disagree with them, in public and private.