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Sat Dec 15, 2012, 12:39 AM


Weekend Economists Plead the Fifth; December 14-16, 2012

Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Actually, I should plead the Ninth...

sorry for the delay. I went straight from work to rehearsal...not that we are singing Beethoven's Ninth, alas. We are doing Poulenc's Gloria, Bach's Jesu, Joy...and several traditional carols. Performance Sunday, 4 PM. Be there!

Yes, this weekend we are celebrating the Master himself: Ludwig van Beethoven,
baptized 17 December 1770, died 26 March 1827). He was a German composer and pianist, a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music. He remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets. He also composed other chamber music, choral works (including the celebrated Missa Solemnis), and songs.

Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of the Holy Roman Empire, Beethoven displayed his musical talents at an early age and was taught by his father Johann van Beethoven and Christian Gottlob Neefe. During his first 22 years in Bonn, Beethoven intended to study with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and befriended Joseph Haydn. Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 and began studying with Haydn, quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. He lived in Vienna until his death. During the late 18th century, his hearing began to deteriorate significantly, yet he continued to compose, conduct, and perform after becoming completely deaf.

Background and early life

House of birth, Bonn, Bonngasse 20, now the Beethoven-Haus museum

Beethoven was the grandson of Lodewijk van Beethoven (1712–73), a musician who came from Mechelen in present-day Belgium who moved at the age of twenty to Bonn. Lodewijk (Ludwig is the German cognate of Dutch Lodewijk) was employed as a bass singer at the court of the Elector of Cologne, eventually rising to become Kapellmeister (music director). Lodewijk had one son, Johann (1740–1792), who worked as a tenor in the same musical establishment, and gave lessons on piano and violin to supplement his income. Johann married Maria Magdalena Keverich in 1767; she was the daughter of Johann Heinrich Keverich, who had been the head chef at the court of the Archbishopric of Trier.

Beethoven was born of this marriage in Bonn. There is no authentic record of the date of his birth; however, the registry of his baptism, in a Roman Catholic service at the Parish of St. Regius on 17 December 1770, survives. As children of that era were traditionally baptised the day after birth in the Catholic Rhine country, and it is known that Beethoven's family and his teacher Johann Albrechtsberger celebrated his birthday on 16 December, most scholars accept 16 December 1770 as Beethoven's date of birth. Of the seven children born to Johann van Beethoven, only Ludwig, the second-born, and two younger brothers survived infancy. Caspar Anton Carl was born on 8 April 1774, and Nikolaus Johann, the youngest, was born on 2 October 1776.

Beethoven's first music teacher was his father. Although tradition has it that Johann van Beethoven was a harsh instructor, and that the child Beethoven, "made to stand at the keyboard, was often in tears," the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians claimed that no solid documentation supported this, and asserted that "speculation and myth-making have both been productive." Beethoven had other local teachers: the court organist Gilles van den Eeden (d. 1782), Tobias Friedrich Pfeiffer (a family friend, who taught Beethoven the piano), and Franz Rovantini (a relative, who instructed him in playing the violin and viola).[ Beethoven's musical talent was obvious at a young age. Johann, aware of Leopold Mozart's successes in this area (with son Wolfgang and daughter Nannerl), attempted to exploit his son as a child prodigy, claiming that Beethoven was six (he was seven) on the posters for Beethoven's first public performance in March 1778.

Some time after 1779, Beethoven began his studies with his most important teacher in Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe, who was appointed the Court's Organist in that year. Neefe taught Beethoven composition, and by March 1783 had helped him write his first published composition: a set of keyboard variations (WoO 63). Beethoven soon began working with Neefe as assistant organist, at first unpaid (1781), and then as a paid employee (1784) of the court chapel conducted by the Kapellmeister Andrea Luchesi. His first three piano sonatas, named "Kurfürst" ("Elector" for their dedication to the Elector Maximilian Frederick (1708–1784), were published in 1783. Maximilian Frederick noticed Beethoven's talent early, and subsidised and encouraged the young man's musical studies.

A portrait of the 13-year-old Beethoven by an unknown Bonn master (c. 1783)

We will be looking into the life and music of this master...Maestro, If you please!

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Reply Weekend Economists Plead the Fifth; December 14-16, 2012 (Original post)
Demeter Dec 2012 OP
Demeter Dec 2012 #1
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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 12:42 AM

1. We lost a bank tonight


Community Bank of the Ozarks, Sunrise Beach, Missouri, was closed today by the Missouri Division of Finance, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with Bank of Sullivan, Sullivan, Missouri, to assume all of the deposits of Community Bank of the Ozarks.

The two branches of Community Bank of the Ozarks will reopen on Saturday as branches of Bank of Sullivan...As of September 30, 2012, Community Bank of the Ozarks had approximately $42.8 million in total assets and $41.9 million in total deposits. In addition to assuming all of the deposits of the failed bank, Bank of Sullivan agreed to purchase essentially all of the assets.

The FDIC and Bank of Sullivan entered into a loss-share transaction on $37.3 million of Community Bank of the Ozarks' assets....The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $10.4 million. Compared to other alternatives, Bank of Sullivan's acquisition was the least costly resolution for the FDIC's DIF. Community Bank of the Ozarks is the 51st FDIC-insured institution to fail in the nation this year, and the fourth in Missouri. The last FDIC-insured institution closed in the state was Excel Bank, Sedalia, on October 19, 2012.

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Response to Demeter (Reply #1)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 12:45 AM

2. $10M is just a bagatelle...Ludvig wrote several. Here is one performed by Glen Gould


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Response to Demeter (Reply #1)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 07:11 AM

5. A credit union went down in the afternoon.


G.I.C. Federal Credit Union seized, closed by federal regulator
By Teresa Dixon Murray, The Plain Dealer
on December 14, 2012 at 3:30 PM, updated

A federal regulator has closed G.I.C. Federal Credit Union in Euclid because it was insolvent.

The troubled credit union "had no prospect for restoring viable operations," the National Credit Union Administration said.

Founded in 1936, G.I.C. had 3,476 members and about $15 million in assets, according to the NCUA.

Customers' deposits are federally insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund for up to $250,000 each.

Some of the credit union's accounts will be transferred by the NCUA to Steel Valley Federal Credit Union of Cleveland. Steel Valley is a full-service credit union with $37 million in assets and 7,800 members.


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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 12:47 AM

3. As it's nearly midnight, and the news is viciously depressing, I shall return in the morning


Do try for some peace, everyone. Tomorrow we get to start cleaning up, again.

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 01:04 AM

4. Before I completely forget, I was shopping at Costco with a Client


For $400 plus tax you can buy yourself a drone.

That's right! It hovers, it downloads to youtube via wifi, it's mostly made of styrofoam, and it's yours for cash.


Also available through Amazon.com


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Response to Demeter (Reply #4)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 07:14 AM

6. Wish I had known earlier.

My wife called me yesterday afternoon on her way home from her Holiday Lunch at work. She said she was stopping there, and asked if I needed anything.

All I got was oatmeal. And I coulda had a drone.

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Response to Demeter (Reply #4)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 01:37 PM

29. Wow, Remote Controlled airplanes are so advanced

Not looking forward to when the local police could use them to spy on us.

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 08:17 AM

7. Is Education a Human Right or a Privilege for the Wealthy?




Over the last 40 years, higher education in the United States has been transformed into a commodity that produces automatons to serve big-finance capitalism, prevents campuses from being a source of societal transformation and creates modern indentured servants through debt slavery.

Today, there is over $1 trillion in college debt with graduates entering a job market that cannot fully employ them, resulting in rapidly rising defaults. In fact, while tuition has grown 72 percent since 2000, employment for graduates with bachelor degrees has declined by almost 15 percent over the same time period.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed on December 10, 1948, and ratified by the United States, declares that, "Everyone has the right to education" and declares higher education "shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit." The purpose of education is broader than creating workers for big business; it is to "be directed to the full development of the human personality."

Unfortunately, rather than treating education as a right, the United States has moved in the opposite direction to treat it as a commodity. As a result, education has become entangled with big finance. Author Danny Weil describes private for-profit educational institutions such as Phoenix University as behaving like a criminal cartel that target poor and working-class students who are eligible for federally insured student loans, writing: "They set up at welfare offices, hang out at laundromats in low-income neighborhoods, recruit at public housing units, and their 'recruiters' patrol the streets of distressed neighborhoods in automobiles or on foot, looking for vulnerable working-class bodies they can register for government cash."


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Response to Demeter (Reply #7)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 08:20 AM



...In the 1960s, college campuses were the source of unrest seeking equal rights for women and minorities, environmental protection, an end to the Vietnam War and transformation of the economy. People in power expressed concern. President Nixon's education adviser, Roger Freeeman, urged in 1970 that, "We have to be selective about who we allow to go through higher education" because "We are in danger of producing an educated proletariat."

In 1971, before being appointed to the Supreme Court, Lewis Powell wrote a confidential memo to the US Chamber of Commerce urging defense of free enterprise and noted, "a priority task of business - and organizations such as the Chamber - is to address the campus origin of this hostility." He laid out a plan for big business to take control of the direction of the country. Regarding campuses, he highlighted the power business had over universities because they relied on "i) tax funds generated largely from American business, and (ii) contributions from capital funds controlled or generated by American business."

...Debra Leigh Scott describes how higher education has been destroyed in five easy steps. The defunding of higher education opened the door to greater influence by corporations. It also weakened students by increasing tuition, which saddled them with high debt in a poor job market. Professors were weakened by moving them from solid, tenured to fragile, adjunct positions with low job security and low wages, while the number of corporate administrative managers who are paid high salaries and consulting fees expanded. For example, three dozen college presidents earned over $1 million last year. Former senator Bob Kerrey earned $3 million at the New School in New York despite a multi-million dollar shortfall in the school budget. Harvard's top endowment managers now make about 20 times what a professor makes, with the top endowment manager making $3 million.

What is to be done about it? The consensus of people we have talked to is that in the long run, education advocates need to seek free college education as a human right, not a privilege for the wealthy. More immediately, students and their supporters need to organize for a debt jubilee, and if ignored, organize debt strikes; adjunct professors need to organize to demand security; and government needs to increase funding for higher education...


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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 08:29 AM

9. Picking Up a $170 Billion Tab: How US Taxpayers Are Paying the Pentagon to Occupy the Planet



(THERE ARE)...more than 1,000 bases the United States uses to ring the globe (with about 4,000 more in the 50 states and Washington, D.C.). This complex of military installations, unprecedented in history, has been a major, if little noticed, aspect of U.S. power since World War II.

During the Cold War, such bases became the foundation for a “forward strategy” meant to surround the Soviet Union and push U.S. military power as close to its borders as possible. These days, despite the absence of a superpower rival, the Pentagon has been intent on dotting the globe with scores of relatively small “lily pad” bases, while continuing to build and maintain some large bases...

Americans rarely think about these bases, let alone how much of their tax money -- and debt -- is going to build and maintain them. For Dal Molin and related construction nearby, including a brigade headquarters, two sets of barracks, a natural-gas-powered energy plant, a hospital, two schools, a fitness center, dining facilities, and a mini-mall, taxpayers are likely to shell out at least half a billion dollars. (All the while, a majority of locals passionately and vocally oppose the new base.)

How much does the United States spend each year occupying the planet with its bases and troops? How much does it spend on its global presence? Forced by Congress to account for its spending overseas, the Pentagon has put that figure at $22.1 billion a year. It turns out that even a conservative estimate of the true costs of garrisoning the globe comes to an annual total of about $170 billion. In fact, it may be considerably higher. Since the onset of “the Global War on Terror” in 2001, the total cost for our garrisoning policies, for our presence abroad, has probably reached $1.8 trillion to $2.1 trillion.



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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 08:34 AM

10. Martin Luther King Jr. On 'Right To Work': 'We Demand This Fraud Be Stopped'



What would Martin Luther King Jr. tell Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder about the so-called "right to work" bill his party is rushing into law? Here's what he said in 1961:

“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”

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Response to Demeter (Reply #10)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 08:38 AM

11. Labor Unions on the Brink By Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks, The Daily Take



Ten thousand workers converged on the Michigan state capitol ... for the latest labor battle in what's been a three decades long losing war for labor rights in America. And with their backs against the wall, Michigan unions face annihilation (and the subsequent annihilation of organized labor across America) or redemption. It's through unions that working Americans got living wages, the forty-hour work week, and benefits and pensions so they could raise a family, reach the American Dream, and retire comfortably. The Middle Class was built on the backs of organized labor.

But today unions are dying.

It was disconcerting back in February of this year when Indiana transformed into a Right-to-Work for less state – a sign that the union-busters have moved into the nation's Rust Belt, where organized labor was born. And it's downright frightening now that Michigan – home of the powerful auto unions – has suffered the same fate.

Michigan is the fifth most unionized state in the nation, with nearly one-third of all voters living in union households. But Michigan's organized labor community was outmatched, or at least caught off guard, by a corporatist sneak attack led by Dick DeVos and the Koch brothers last week. They forced Republican Governor Rick Snyder to renege on earlier promises, turn his back on working people, and throw support behind Michigan becoming the 24th Right-to-Work-for-Less state in America. Now, workers in Michigan can expect the lower wages, minimal benefits, and more deadly workplace accidents that accompany Right-to-Work-for-Less laws wherever they spring up. And labor unions in the state will watch helplessly as critical revenue dries up and organizations fracture under the weight of unionized freeloaders who now have "the choice" to not pay their union dues.

The Koch's strategy can be summed up in one sentence: If this can happen in Michigan, then it can happen in any state....A third of the American workforce was unionized forty years ago, today it's just above a tenth. And if you're looking strictly at private sector unions, fewer than 7% of workers are unionized...

It's just possible Rick Snyder's Michigan could be a Todd Akin moment that the Republican Party will live to regret.


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Response to Demeter (Reply #11)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 08:43 AM

13. The Lansing-Beijing connection Harold Meyerson



China has a problem: rising inequality. The gap between profits and wages is soaring. Although elements of the government have sought to boost workers’ incomes, they have been thwarted by major companies and banks “that don’t want to give more profit to the country and let the government distribute it,” Qi Jingmei, a research fellow for a government think tank, told the Wall Street Journal. Of course, if China permitted the establishment of unions, wages would rise. But for fundamentally political reasons — independent unions would undermine the Communist Party’s authority — unions are out of the question.

Meanwhile, the United States also has a problem of a rising gap between profits and wages. The stagnation of wages has become an accepted fact across the political spectrum; conservative columnists such as Michael Gerson and David Brooks have acknowledged that workers’ incomes seem to be stuck. What conservatives haven’t acknowledged, and what even most liberal commentators fail to appreciate, is how central the collapse of collective bargaining is to American workers’ inability to win themselves a raise. Yes, globalizing and mechanizing jobs has cut into the livelihoods of millions of U.S. workers, but that is far from the whole story. Roughly 100 million of the nation’s 143 million employed workers have jobs that can’t be shipped abroad, that aren’t in competition with steel workers in Sao Paulo or iPod assemblers in Shenzhen. Sales clerks, waiters, librarians and carpenters all utilize technology in their jobs, but not to the point that they’ve become dispensable.

Yet while they can’t be dispensed with, neither can they bargain for a raise. Today fewer than 7 percent of private-sector workers are union members. That figure may shrink a little more with new “right to work” laws in Michigan — the propagandistic term for statutes that allow workers to benefit from union contracts without having to pay union dues.

Defenders of right-to-work laws argue that they improve a state’s economy by creating more jobs. But an exhaustive study by economist Lonnie K. Stevans of Hofstra University found that states that have enacted such laws reported no increase in business start-ups or rates of employment. Wages and personal income are lower in those states than in those without such laws, Stevans concluded, though proprietors’ incomes are higher. In short, right-to-work laws simply redistribute income from workers to owners...Those who doubt that the intent of Michigan’s laws is more political than economic should consider the two kinds of unions exempted from its reach: police and firefighter unions. Their contracts are among the costliest that local governments confront: Police and firefighters generally (and rightly) retire earlier than do other public employees, with relatively generous pension benefits. But in Michigan, police and firefighter unions often endorse Republicans. Shrinking their treasuries and political power by subjecting them to right-to-work strictures would only damage Republicans’ electoral prospects (and may well play poorly to voters).

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Response to Demeter (Reply #13)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 08:47 AM

15. If Labor Dies, What's Next? Harold Meyerson



...Coming on the heels of the failure of the Democratic Congress of 2009–2010 to amend the National Labor Relations Act so that private--sector workers wouldn’t risk their jobs by forming a union, the Midwestern setbacks struck a growing number of commentators as labor’s death knell. Losing jobs as technology transformed workplaces, losing both jobs and middle-class wages as globalization transformed the economy, and blocked by statute and employer opposition from expanding—unions, some concluded, were history.

Within the labor movement, a number of leaders and activists quietly shared the same pessimism. They had invested in organizing with little to show for it. They had invested in politics but found that the Democrats they’d helped elect could not—or worse, would not—come to their aid. In 2008, they had seen the entire edifice of deregulated capitalism totter and almost collapse, plunging the nation into its deepest and most intractable recession since the 1930s. But unlike the ’30s, when workers flocked to unions, the current recession has only intensified labor’s downward spiral and business’s ascent. “What would it take for labor to come back?” one senior union staffer asked earlier this year. “This was the crisis we were waiting for, and it didn’t do it.”

...Today, there are millions more unionized teachers than unionized truckers. Of the six unions with more than a million members, two are headed by lesbians and one by an African American, a level of diversity in these troglodytic institutions not to be found on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley. A number of unions, particularly the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), play a central role in the political mobilization of Latinos, the group most likely to transform the American electorate. The AFL-CIO opposed the Iraq War and last year provisioned Occupy Wall Street.

But labor’s anachronistic image persists, and for a reason: It stubbornly represents blue-collar workers long after they’ve gone out of style and their numbers have diminished. It speaks for autoworkers and steelworkers, for the cutting-edge industries of 1935. To the young, even to most campus activists, unions are a holdover from their great-grandparents’ generation, speaking a language as incomprehensible as Old English: solidarity, shop stewards, seniority, strikes. Where are unions in the new economy? Can a union do anything for a temp? A part-timer? A software writer? A barista? Will anyone under 30—will anyone over 30—even notice if unions cease to be?


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Response to Demeter (Reply #10)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 10:18 AM

20. How Michigan Republicans Caught Labor Off-Guard, Making Law Worse than Wisconsin's



A law that seemed to happen overnight was actually years in the making, but Gov. Snyder's election-year fear of a Koch-funded group may have tipped the balance...It seemed to happen so fast. Actually, it was years in the making: A law designed to eviscerate the membership rolls of labor unions in the state in which the mighty United Auto Workers makes its home was rammed through both houses of the Michigan legislature and signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Rick Snyder. As Wisconsin is to public employee unions, so is Michigan to the unions of the manufacturing sector -- a place emblematic of labor’s political sway, a force now diminished by the new law...Taken up in a lame-duck legislative session, the prospects for the bill’s passage caught everybody off-guard, thanks to a sudden change of heart by Snyder who had, throughout his term, expressed opposition to any law that, like the one he just signed, would allow workers in union shops -- such as those employed by the big-three automakers whose plants account for more than 136,000 Michigan jobs -- to opt out of paying dues to the unions that represent them.

But Snyder faces re-election in 2014, which means his campaign begins now, with this opening volley. Had the legislature passed the law, drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (the organization funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch that drafted Wisconsin’s anti-union law), and Snyder failed to sign it, he might have faced fierce opposition from Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded astroturf group that was also instrumental in the passage of the Wisconsin law. Even worse (for him), Snyder might have faced a primary challenge. The Michigan governor was no doubt emboldened in his back-tracking by the results of the Proposal 2 referendum, which, had it passed, would have enshrined collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. The measure’s defeat -- by a 15-point margin in an election dominated by Democratic wins from the presidency on down -- gave Republicans a “head count,” writes Rich Yeselson at the American Prospect. “The head count said simply that the UAW and allied unions did not have the unqualified support of most Michigan voters." (In fairness to the unions, it should be said that opponents waged a relentless air campaign against the proposal in the final two weeks of the election, according to Karla Swift of the Michigan AFL-CIO, drawing from a virtually bottomless well of money provided by the likes of the Kochs, the DeVos family that created the Amway empire, and assorted business interests.)

So, head count no doubt taken into consideration, Snyder gambled that his embrace of the law its proponents call “right to work” would cost him less at the polls than it would to piss off the Kochs and their friends. Until that point, however, Snyder -- who is an anti-choice right-winger -- had his apologists among Michigan’s smart set, notably the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press, the state’s best-known newspaper. And the editorial board was not amused. To be proven so wrong in its backing of a public official whose shortcomings they so often lent cover -- well, smart-set people such as editorial board members don’t like being left with egg on their faces. And so they wrote:

In short, we trusted Snyder's judgment.

That trust has now been betrayed -- for us, and for the hundreds of thousands of independents who voted for Snyder with the conviction that they were electing someone more independent, and more visionary, than partisan apparatchiks like Wisconsin's Scott Walker or Florida's Rick Scott.

(Here’s hoping editorial board members will remember this moment the next time they’re inclined to side with a self-described moderate who is actually a right-winger.)

But unions are not totally without blame in this equation. As Ruth Conniff of the Progressive, a publication known as a stalwart supporter of labor, points out, unions, especially the UAW, made perhaps too many concessions along the way, weakening their power and the public perception thereof. And, as Harold Meyerson notes in his comprehensive TAP piece (“What Happens if Labor Dies?”), by the 1980s unions were hardly working to broaden their membership. "Lulled during the years of labor’s power into thinking they’d attained sufficient numbers to keep on winning better contracts, they largely stopped organizing,” Meyerson writes, “devoting only 4 percent of their budgets to recruiting new members." The next step for Michigan labor leaders and their allies is to get a referendum on the ballot that would essentially repeal the just-passed union-busting law. It will be a hard fight, and could take several years to win, Yeselson writes, but it’s winnable. But that’s just Michigan. What’s needed is a national, progressive strategy that encompasses labor battles -- after all, this is the essence of the class war fight -- with all the other progressive issues. (Just a day after passing the anti-labor law, Michigan’s legislature introduced a bill that would allow healthcare providers to opt out of providing care that goes against their religious beliefs.) Most of these battles take place at the state level. Progressives need an ALEC of their own -- and a lot of boots on the ground.


Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. She co-edited, with Don Hazen, the AlterNet book, Dangerous Brew: Exposing the Tea Party's Agenda to Take Over America. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/addiestan . Send tips to: adele@alternet.org

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Response to Demeter (Reply #20)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 10:23 AM

21. Not Just Union-Busting: 5 Other Terrible Things Michigan Republicans Did in the Lame Duck



...several other nasty legislative items slipped through with barely a peep from the media. Want to know what else the Michigan legislature was up to recently? We've run it down.

1. Doctors can refuse healthcare for women if they feel like it

Under the “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act,” which passed last week, “health care providers could refuse to perform certain medical procedures, and employers could opt not to provide coverage for certain medical services as a matter of conscience,” MLive.com reports...The Republican-supported bill goes beyond a 1978 state law allowing medical professionals and institutions to refuse to perform abortions based on their “conscience”; it extends to contraception and “other services and medications that they oppose as a matter of conscience” as well.

2. Ridiculous anti-sharia bill introduced

Never mind that sharia law is not, has never been, and will never be a threat in Michigan – that didn’t stop state Republicans from introducing a bill to stop “foreign laws that would impair constitutional rights,” according to the Detroit Free Press. The bill, which was on the agenda for the last day of the session but does not appear to have been passed, doesn’t use the word “sharia,” though it is clear what the bill is all about. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has described it as an “anti-Islam” bill that is “among those that seek to impose government-sanctioned discrimination on followers of a minority faith.” Indeed, it is similar to bills introduced in states like Oklahoma and Florida in recent years.

3. Another anti-union law on the books

As if the right-to-work-for-less bill wasn’t enough, Michigan Republicans also pushed through a revamp of the “emergency manager” legislation that was just repealed last month. ThinkProgress reports:

The initial version gave broader powers to state-appointed emergency managers who oversee townships that are struggling financially.

Among those powers was the ability to void union contracts and labor agreements. The new version, introduced by state Rep. Al Pscholka (R), makes small changes but still includes the provision granting the manager authority over labor contracts, as the Detroit Free Press reports.

The new version of the law passed on Thursday.

4. Anti-abortion “super bill” passes

Michigan Republicans were awfully busy this session curbing women’s health rights. The omnibus anti-abortion law, called “the nation’s worst” by ThinkProgress when it was introduced over the summer, passed this week as well. The Ms. Magazine blog reports on the “super bill”:

HB 5711 requires that clinics meet the same standards and regulations as surgical centers and that fetal remains are to be treated the same as a dead human body, including authorization from the local or state registrar before cremation. The bill also requires that doctors provide a written "risk assessment" to patients at least 24 hours before having a procedure and prohibits the use of telemedicine to prescribing abortion-inducing medication. Doctors will also have to certify that a woman is not being coerced into having an abortion by asking probing and invasive questions as a result of HB 5711.

Good lord.

5. Denying food stamps for hungry citizens because of "moral" objections

This is the hunger equivalent of the above "conscience" anti-abortion and -contraception bill (via Booman Tribune):

In another stunning legislative maneuver, Michigan Republicans passed a bill last night (attached as an amendment to an appropriations measure) that provides Michigan grocery store clerks may refuse to accept Food Stamps (under the Federal Government's Supplemental Nutritional Assistance program or SNAP as it is more commonly known) for payment of qualifying purchases if they have "moral objections" or believe that accepting food stamps as payment for food is a "matter of conscience." Furthermore, the clerks may not be fired by or otherwise penalized by their employers for refusing to accept food stamps or other means of federal food assistance such as EBT cards. The Obama administration has refused to make an announcement regarding the legislation until Governor Snyder signs the Bill into law, which he is expected to do later today. However, several activist organization have indicated they intend to file lawsuits to overturn the legislation.

So Michigan: quite a week you had there.


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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 08:39 AM

12. Doing my share to cut back on a bank's earnings...

*Finally* got my refi done!!

Chase will be getting over $100k less in interest (assuming I keep the note for the full 30 years)

what a relief!

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Response to Roland99 (Reply #12)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 08:44 AM

14. Congrats!


But we can still take down the TBTF, right?

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Response to Demeter (Reply #14)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 09:21 PM

39. hellz yeah!

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 09:01 AM

16. Man named in Connecticut shooting recalled as shy, awkward



Adam Lanza was memorably smart and heartbreakingly shy during his years at Newtown High School in Connecticut......In interviews with neighbors and people who grew up with him, no one claimed to know the tall, gangly young man well. Family members told others he had Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism whose sufferers are often brilliant but socially inept.

"It was almost painful to have a conversation with him, because he felt so uncomfortable," recalls Olivia DeVivo, who sat behind him in English. "I spent so much time in my English class wondering what he was thinking."

...He joined the tech club at Newtown High School, and was seen at shows and assemblies working on the sound and light equipment. But there is no record of his having finished high school...Nancy Lanza and her husband, Peter, divorced in 2008. Peter Lanza, a vice president at GE Energy Financial Services, recently remarried, and appeared to be caught off guard when reporters approached him near his home in Stamford, Conn.

"Is there something I can do for you?" he asked a reporter waiting at his house as he arrived home Friday, according to the Stamford Advocate. Told that his name had been linked to the school shooting in Newtown, his face darkened suddenly and he rolled up the window and drove into his garage.


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Response to Demeter (Reply #16)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 09:45 AM

17. It takes a village, it takes a community, and

the oligarchs are trying to make sure that the only community that survives is theirs.

Their objective seems to be to isolate the rest of us, turn us against each other. Locked in our "homes" with nothing but our guns, until we turn on each other and the survivors seek "security" as slaves.

Look at the institutions they're destroying. Unions, with that famous solidarity. Public education, where ALL are taught to think and be productive. Middle class financial security/independence. The infrastructure of roads that allow us to travel and visit and learn and share. Health care that is increasingly for the rich only. Government (community) oversight of safe food, safe consumer goods, safe medicines. Corruption of the judiciary and incarceration of any seen to be a threat. . . . to the oligarchy.

Reagan -- may he rot in hell forever -- started with the unions and famously with mental health care. Until someone stands up and says it out loud and in public, nothing will change.

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Response to Demeter (Reply #16)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 10:55 AM

54. The Geography of U.S. Gun Violence



...state-level data for 2008 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [PDF].

A useful follow-up analysis was recently posted by Harry Moroz over at Next American City. Moroz relied on CDC data from 2006 to 2007 [PDF], which covers the 50 largest metros and their constituent center cities. This data set also breaks out two key types of gun violence — gun-related homicides and suicides — as well as total gun-related deaths. As such, these data provide a more precise take on the geography of gun-related death at the metro and city levels. Moroz writes:

Based on the CDC data, almost 60 percent of U.S. firearm homicides occur in the 62 cities of the country’s 50 largest metros. However, only 27 percent of suicides do. In 2006, firearm suicides were a primarily suburban (and non-central city) phenomenon, which is likely weighing down the relationship between firearm deaths and the city unemployment rate.

Moroz finds a close relationship between city unemployment and murder by gun (and has some nice scatter-graphs to show it). The correlation between city unemployment at the overall rate of gun deaths is considerable (.55), and the correlation between it and gun-related murders is even higher (.72).

The first map above shows the overall rate of gun-related deaths per 100,000 people by metro. The rates vary substantially from a high of 32.8 in New Orleans to a low of 3.6 in Boston. Birmingham has the second highest rate with 20.5, followed by Memphis with 19.8. Las Vegas (17.6) and Jacksonville (17.5) round out the top five metro rates. After Boston, the metros with the lowest rates include San Jose (3.8), followed by Providence (4.1), New York (4.8), and Hartford (4.8).


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Response to Demeter (Reply #54)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 11:04 AM

56. On the Guns Thing, I would Just Like to Point Out…



See the differences? See the statistically significant correlation between homicide by firearms and ownership of firearms? See the massive difference between the United States and other developed countries?

Now, since yesterday, we have heard a whole bunch of rationalizations as to why this has nothing to do with guns. So, let me unpack some of these rationalizations.

Rationalization #1: violence is part of human nature.

If that were the case, the rates of violence between the United States and comparable countries would be, well, comparable. Heck, violence rates all over the world would be roughly at the same rate. There is nothing “natural” about violence. There is nothing genetic about it. It is not universal. To state that violence is universal and part of human nature fails to explain the scatterplot above.

Rationalization #2: If the killers had not used guns, they would have used something else (follows a long list of potential weapons).

Except, they did not, did they. These killer had access to these alternative weapons all along. So why did they pick guns? R#2 does not explain the choice of guns in the first place. The reason they picked guns was that guns are available relatively easily. They are also lethally effective (and a lot of people pointed out that the Chinese attacker went after the same number of children with a knife and none of them died). And the kind of guns these killers chose were those that would provide them with great and easy means of piling up a solid body count. Also, no one knows whether the killers would have turned to other weapons. had guns not been available. It is pure speculation...Actually, we may suspect that they would not. When other societies removed weapons, the number of homicides drops to low levels. Again, just look at the scatterplot above. To be fair though, the scatterplot below shows what percentage of homicides were committed with firearms. The correlation becomes weaker, but still holds with three outliers.

In other words. countries where forearms ownerships is lower than the US are not full of murderers using other weapons available to them.


Now, you will note that the arguments on masculinity, white privilege, mental illness and health care in general, inequality and gun policy are all arguments that we are told to not make because it is insensitive. Then, ask yourselves, who benefits when these issues are not discussed and problems not solved?

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 10:05 AM

18. i find that i'm very Tired today...

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Response to xchrom (Reply #18)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 10:31 AM

22. Me, too


How can one continue to live, faced with wholesale slaughter of innocents?

The "Coventry Carol" is a Christmas carol dating from the 16th Century. The carol was performed in Coventry as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of Matthew. The carol refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod orders all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed. The lyrics of this haunting carol represent a mother's lament for her doomed child. It is the only carol that has survived from this play.

The only manuscript copy to have survived into recent times was burnt in 1875.[2] Our knowledge of the lyrics is therefore based on two very poor quality transcriptions from the early nineteenth century, and there is considerable doubt about many of the words. Some of the transcribed words are difficult to make sense of: for example, in the last verse "And ever morne and may For thi parting Neither say nor singe" is not clear. Various modern editors have made different attempts to make sense of the words, so such variations may be found as "ever mourn and say", "every morn and day", "ever mourn and sigh". The following is one attempted reconstruction.

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

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Response to Demeter (Reply #22)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 10:41 AM

25. ...

Thank you

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Response to xchrom (Reply #25)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 01:07 PM

28. Another December, another tragedy


I remember quite clearly the day of the fire. I was 10 years old and had just walked home from my school, which was a block from my house. It was a cold day, and as soon as I got home I turned on the television to watch "Susan's Show." How soon the news department at Channel 2 (CBS, WBBM in Chicago) broke in with the news of the fire at Our Lady of the Angels School, I don't know, but all that afternoon and evening we watched it. Just my parents and me, as I had no siblings at the time. And there was something so horrific about it, so devastating to me at that age, that I never forgot it. Years later I worked (briefly) for a law firm that represented an insurance company that fought to deny benefits to the victims and their families on policies of student insurance.

The school building had passed a safety inspection not long before the fire. However, the almost 50-year-old building was not required to meet the safety codes of the day; it had been "grandfathered" in rather than upgraded to meet even the standards of 1958.

As a result of that fire, 87 children died that day, and five others later. Three nuns also died. The "fire summary" page of the website closes with:

In the only positive outcome of the tragedy, sweeping changes in school fire safety regulations were enacted nationwide, no doubt saving countless lives in subsequent years.

At that time, the safety of children was deemed to be more important than the dollars that would have to be spent to retrofit older schools -- public and private -- with fire escapes and alarms and remove more combustible building materials. The pictures of tiny coffins, the television images of grief-stricken parents, the nightmares of survivors -- all those made more of an impact than, "Think of the cost!"

If and when the people of this country decide that a culture that promotes, encourages, and glorifies gun violence and protects virtually unlimited and unrestricted gun ownership is not worth the deaths of children, then maybe there will be a change. Unless and until that culture changes, nothing else will.

The BF and I were talking about this very issue this morning. He, too, remembered the Our Lady of the Angels fire. And he jokingly suggested that maybe the "safety" measure needed was to have an armed guard in every classroom. To which I replied, "And the mass murderers who carefully plan their attacks would know that, and the first person they took out would be the guard, because the guard would be part of that culture. Culture can be changed, but it's not easy. Then again, nothing worth having is ever easy."

As has been said often elsewhere, fuck the NRA.


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Response to Tansy_Gold (Reply #28)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 01:51 PM

30. How horrible

I don't even remember that tragedy, I would have been almost 10. Actually, I don't even remember watching TV for much of anything back then, or even now.

So sad for the families.

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Response to Tansy_Gold (Reply #28)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 02:40 PM

31. Oh yes. Something to tell the children.

There was a time when responding to a tragedy meant real changes.

Seems remote now.

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Response to xchrom (Reply #18)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 08:35 PM

61. Me three....

... I've been mia last few weeks 'cause I was real busy ... meant to post more this weekend but just didn't have the heart .... skimming around this site and seeing low-count posters popped up defending guns guns guns ... and worse, some long-time posters too...and a really idiotic piece on commondreams - essentially, we're all responsible but we can't do anything ... can't even imagine why they published it over there.

Just all too much.

But a second to Tansy's post above, too.

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 10:08 AM

19. UK's loss of AAA rating starting to look inevitable


Britain will be downgraded if the budget deficit rises because of weak growth. And it will be downgraded if the government shows any sign of backsliding on its commitment to austerity. The message for George Osborne from the rating agency S&P was that he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

Any temptation to feel sorry for the chancellor in these trying circumstances should be resisted. It was Osborne who turned the UK's AAA credit rating into a virility symbol in his early days at the Treasury when he was out to show what a tough guy he was. Now, unless something entirely unexpected happens in the next few months, he faces the very real threat that the people he has courted so assiduously will humiliate him with a debt downgrade.

Make no mistake, the chances of this happening are higher than the one in three quoted by S&P when they put Britain on negative watch. The economy has moved sideways for two years, weak growth has meant the deficit has not come down as quickly as expected, the end of austerity has been pushed back deep into the next parliament, and Osborne will miss one of the targets he set himself – to have debt as a share of national income falling by 2015-16. It is hardly surprising that the warning bells are ringing at S&P and that they have now fallen into line with their rival credit rating agencies: Moody's and Fitch.

The chancellor will only be spared the embarrassment of a downgrade if the economy starts to show signs of a decent recovery in 2013. For this to happen, the euro crisis would need to be resolved, inflation would need to come down so that real incomes can rise, the Bank of England's Funding for Lending Scheme would need to get credit flowing to the parts of the economy that need it, businesses would have to start investing. Few expect this to happen, and the likeliest outcome is for another year of weak growth that will prompt at least one, and probably all three, of the rating agencies into a move.

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 10:36 AM

23. 10 Best Countries In Which To Be Born in 2013 (Hint: America Isn't One Of Them)



They call this the "born index” or "life satisfaction index," and it explains which countries lead the pack as the best place to be born in 2013. America, which used to be number-one on this very same index back in 1988, has plummeted to number 16. It’s understandable in terms of our miserable healthcare system, growing social stratification and workplace policies; we hang out toward the bottom of the lists when it comes to maternal health, paid leave for parents or family sickness. And yes, we have zero mandatory vacation hours...But there’s a lot more to this index. Here’s the methodology from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Readers may disagree with the importance of some of these (such as divorce rate, for instance):

“material wellbeing" as measured by GDP per head (in $, at 2006 constant PPPS)
life expect­ancy from birth
quality of family life, based primarily on divorce rates
state of political freedoms
job se­curity (measured by the unemployment rate)
climate (measured by two variables: the average deviation of minimum and maximum monthly temperatures from 14 degrees Celsius and the number of months in the year with less than 30mm rainfall)
Personal physical security ratings (based primarily on recorded homicide rates and ratings for risk from crime and terrorism)
quality of community life (based on membership in so­cial organizations)
governance (measured by ratings for corruption)
gender equality (measured by the share of seats in parliament held by women)

Let’s look at this year's life satisfaction index and see which countries -- some predictable, some surprising -- do better than the US on this particular scale.


Australia and New Zealand.

Scandinavian Countries: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, are all in the top 10. (Even Finland comes in at no. 11, ahead of the US.)

Singapore is one of the most consistently top-ranked Asian places to live, with an authoritarian government apparently offset by great healthcare, education and infastructure. Another city with fine infrastructure, Hong Kong, also made the list.

The Netherlands


Why has America dropped so much lower than it once was? As Laza Kekic, who is the director of country forecasting services at Economist Intelligence Unit, writes:

America was helped to the top spot back in 1988 by the inclusion in the ranking of a “philistine factor” (for cultural poverty) and a “yawn index” (the degree to which a country might, despite all its virtues, be irredeemably boring). Switzerland scored terribly on both counts...

However, there is surely a lot to be said for boring stability in today’s (and no doubt tomorrow’s) uncertain times.

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 10:41 AM

24. I'm off to battle the Elements and the Stupidity


Hold the thread while I'm gone. Keep it together, people. We are all counting on each other...

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 11:17 AM

26. Monopoly's [the game] Forgotten Socialist Beginnings


Monopoly's Forgotten Socialist Beginnings: Private Property as "Erroneous and Destructive Principle”

by Abby Zimet

... the world's best-selling, capitalism-loving board game began life as a way to teach the radical philosophy of Henry George, a 19th-century writer and activist who argued that "private property is robbery" ... As the United Labor's candidate for mayor of New York, George offered a radical vision - government-run social services, public-owned utilities, free transportation - supported by a big-tent coalition with slogans like "Honest Labor Against Thieving Landlords" and "Hi! Ho! The leeches must go!" He lost. But from that vision came what was originally called The Landlord's Game, with cards that said not "Go!" but “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages” ... now we just have Boardwalk. Zinn's People's History, lost again.

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 12:28 PM

27. For McAffe

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 07:19 PM

32. 46 Trillion Reasons to Evolve Society Right Now




Due to technological advancements, over the past 35 years there has been an explosion in production, distribution, profits and wealth creation. Most of that welath increase has gone to only one-hundredth of one percent of the population, to the modern day aristocracy. In the United States, the 400 richest people now have as much wealth as 185 million people combined, nearly 60 percent of the entire population. US millionaire households have at least $46 trillion in wealth, yet only one-tenth of one percent of the population makes one million a year. $46 trillion. Can you comprehend how much money that is and what could be done with that stunning amount of wealth, the implications, the possibilities? Especially given the capabilities of modern technology. Think about how we could evolve society with that astonishing amount of wealth, and how much better off we would ALL be if we did.

It’s hard to comprehend how much wealth $46 trillion represents. One trillion is equal to 1000 billion, or $1,000,000,000,000. People cannot comprehend that much wealth because there is no frame of reference, no comparison of scale or historical precedent. An entire generation of stratospheric wealth has been systemically denied to the people and hoarded into the hands of a few. It’s the greatest theft of wealth in history, a crime against humanity. Once you wrap your mind around how much wealth $46 trillion is, and realize how profoundly society can be transformed by it, you begin to grasp the fact that we’ve been living under neo-feudal rule. If Americans had a real understanding of how much wealth is being kept from them, we would have a full-blown societal evolution right now.

There’s no doubt about it; the denial of wealth is what keeps us in check, in debt. As a wise man once said, “There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One by sword, the other by debt.” The harsh, unavoidable truth is that we live in a system of debt slavery. The indentured servant is now the indebted consumer, indebted to a modern day aristocracy that thinks we are merely wage slaves and glorified peasants. Instead of using the advancement of technology and exponential increase in production, distribution and wealth creation to empower humanity, these modern neo-feudal lords are pathological in their shortsighted greed.

When you understand the wealth at hand, you begin to recognize the crime against humanity that is afoot. We live in the richest, most technologically advanced society in human history. Yet here we are, in the 21st century, with the highest number of people living in poverty in American history. People can’t afford to pay their medical bills. Millions upon millions of American families foreclosed on. An all-time record number of children going hungry, as record-breaking profits and record-breaking bonuses are handed out to the bailed out aristocracy. It’s a massive crime against humanity. We have people walking this earth who crashed the global economy, then profited from it. They are responsible for the impoverishment of tens of millions of people, and for their recklessness, they get bailed out and then have the audacity to not only keep their jobs, but to give themselves all-time record-breaking bonuses, bonuses on the backs of hardworking American taxpayers. Their scandalous and shameful behavior makes the Robber Barons look like Boy Scouts. It’s so shortsighted, unstable and unsustainable. Pathological shortsighted greed is humanity’s most severe disease.


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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 07:21 PM

33. How the Feds Let Industry Pollute the Nation's Underground Water Supply



Federal officials have given energy and mining companies permission to pollute aquifers in more than 1,500 places across the country, releasing toxic material into underground reservoirs that help supply more than half of the nation's drinking water.

In many cases, the Environmental Protection Agency has granted these so-called aquifer exemptions in Western states now stricken by drought and increasingly desperate for water.

EPA records show that portions of at least 100 drinking water aquifers have been written off because exemptions have allowed them to be used as dumping grounds.

"You are sacrificing these aquifers," said Mark Williams, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado and a member of a National Science Foundation team studying the effects of energy development on the environment. "By definition, you are putting pollution into them. ... If you are looking 50 to 100 years down the road, this is not a good way to go."


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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 07:26 PM

34. 6 Republican Economic Myths Obama and Dems Must Stop Repeating



1. Spending Cuts Spur Growth

2. Only Private-Sector Job Growth Matters

3. Public Employees Are a Problem

4. Education and Training Restore Family-Supporting Wages to Dislocated Workers

Corporate decisions have resulted in minimal job creation in the US over the last decade or so, especially when compared with their expansion overseas. From 1999 to 2009, US firms increased employment by less than 1 percent, in stunning contrast to increases between 20 and 38 percent for every other decade since 1940. Further, between 2000 and 2010, major US corporations increased their overseas workforce by 2.4 million jobs, even as they vaporized 2.9 million jobs in America, as the Wall Street Journal reported.

In this context, leading Republicans are eager to champion worker retraining as the most important government response to the “inevitable” dislocations caused by the relocation of work to low-wage nations. This approach steers the public discourse clear of questioning their corporate sponsors’ decisions to abandon US workers and communities in favor of low-wage workers toiling in societies where labor rights are crushed.

Instead, the retraining “solution” focuses the spotlight on helping US workers to adjust to the consequences of corporate choices that remain unchallenged.

This view also plays on the faith that the American economy is constantly engaged in a re-invigorating process of “creative destruction.” Some outdated jobs may be wiped out, but they will inevitably be replaced by a plentiful supply of work in innovative new industries...

5. The “Skills Gap”: ...Calling this situation a “skills shortage” badly mischaracterizes the situation, according to a conclusion reached in a study by the Boston Consulting Group: “’Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates is not a skills gap.”

6. American Corporate Taxes Are Among the Highest in the World

...On paper, the official US corporate tax rate is 35 percent, but very few corporations pay anywhere near that rate. In practice, effective corporate tax rates for U.S. firms are actually among the lowest in the 30 advanced nations belonging to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The Bush Treasury Department found that between 2000 and 2005 U.S. corporations paid only 13.4 percent of their profits in corporate income taxes, well below the OECD average of 16.1 percent.

Another indicator of the real situation: “Corporations paid on average 47.4 percent of their profits in federal taxes in 1961; in 2011 the percentage fell to 11.1 percent,” Robert W. McChesney reported recently in Monthly Review.

Obama’s habit of repeating this lie is not only perplexing, but dangerous. To have a Democratic president reiterate a crucial corporate/Republican talking point only adds credibility to two ongoing campaigns to radically cut corporate taxes even further....

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 07:29 PM

35. Michigan Republicans' Corporate Servitude Law



Michigan has just passed a corporate servitude law. It is designed to take away many of the worker rights that unions have conferred throughout their history: The right to a living wage. The right to equal pay for women. The right to deferred payments in the form of pensions. The right to negotiate workplace standards and working conditions. The right to overtime pay....The law is intended to destroy unions, or at least make then ineffective. It says simply that workers do not have to pay union dues to take a job — even if they get benefits previously negotiated by a union. Most workers who don't have to pay dues won't pay, and that will defund the unions, killing them and taking away rights unions have fought hard for over generations. Without workers negotiating as a unified group, corporations will not have to grant those union-created rights. Corporations will have take-it-or-leave-it power over individual workers. In short, this is corporate servitude: you do what you are told and take what you are offered.

The deeper truth about unions is that they don't just create and maintain rights for workers; they work for and create crucial rights in society as a whole. Unions created weekends, the eight-hour workday, and health benefits. And through their politics, they have been at the center of support for civil rights and other social justice issues. In short, unions don't just work for their members. They work for all of us. Including businesses: workers are profit creators. Since Democratic candidates tend to support the same progressive views, defunding unions would take away their power to campaign for Democratic candidates. The new Michigan law is thus also a partisan law supporting the Republican party....Language matters. Republicans understand this better than Democrats. Republicans have called their corporate servitude law a “right to work” law, as if the law conferred a right instead of taking many away. The first principle of political and social communication in cases of conflict is: Avoid the other side’s language. The Democrats keep violating this principle, using the Republicans’ name for this law. In this way they are helping Republicans, because using the Republican language activates Republican framing, not just for this law, but for conservative ideology at the deepest level.

Progressives and conservatives have opposing views of democracy. For progressives, democracy is based on citizens caring about each other and acting responsibly on that care, with both individual and social responsibility, to provide through the government protection and empowerment for all. Government thus becomes a means by which citizens pay for public provisions to benefit all: public infrastructure (roads, bridges, hospitals, public buildings), public education, public health and safety (clean air, clean water, safe food, disease protection), a patent office to protection innovations, a justice system, and networks for energy, communication, and transportation. Without all these public provisions, we are not free: business cannot thrive (if it can operate at all) and we cannot live decent, civilized private lives. It is a deep truth about our democracy: our freedom depends on such public provisions and the private depends on the public. Unions both defend these freedoms and add to them the worker rights unions have created.

Conservatives don't accept this truth, if they perceive it at all. They tend to see democracy as providing “liberty” — the liberty to pursue one’s own interests and well-being through personal responsibility, without being responsible for the interests or well-being of others and without others being responsible for them.


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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 07:34 PM

36. Let's Take Back the Banks from Greedy Financiers



...North Dakota is currently the only U.S. state to own its own depository bank. The BND was founded in 1919 by Norwegian and other immigrants, determined, through their Non-Partisan League, to stop rapacious Wall Street money men foreclosing on their farms.

All state revenues must be deposited with the BND by law. The bank pays no bonuses, fees or commissions; does no advertising; and maintains no branches beyond the main office in Bismarck. The bank offers cheap credit lines to state and local government agencies. There are low-interest loans for designated project finance. The BND underwrites municipal bonds, funds disaster relief and supports student loans. It partners with local commercial banks to increase lending across the state and pays competitive interest rates on state deposits. For the past ten years, it has been paying a dividend to the state, with a quite small population of about 680,000, of some $30 million (£18.7 million) a year.

Young writes:

Intriguingly, North Dakota has not suffered the way much of the rest of the US – indeed much of the western industrialised world – has, from the banking crash and credit crunch of 2008; the subsequent economic slump; and the sovereign debt crisis that has afflicted so many. With an economy based on farming and oil, it has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the US, a rising population and a state budget surplus that is expected to hit $1.6bn by next July. By then North Dakota’s legacy fund is forecast to have swollen to around $1.2bn.

With that kind of resilience, it’s little wonder that twenty American states, some of them close to bankruptcy, are at various stages of legislating to form their own state-owned banks on the North Dakota model. There’s a long-standing tradition of such institutions elsewhere too. Australia had a publicly-owned bank offering credit for infrastructure as early as 1912. New Zealand had one operating in the housing field in the 1930s. Up until 1974, the federal government in Canada borrowed from the Bank of Canada, effectively interest-free.

. . . From our western perspective, we tend to forget that, globally, around 40 per cent of banks are already publicly owned, many of them concentrated in the BRIC economies, Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Banking is not just a market good or service. It is a vital part of societal infrastructure, which properly belongs in the public sector. By taking banking back, local governments could regain control of that very large slice (up to 40 per cent) of every public budget that currently goes to interest charged to finance investment programs through the private sector.


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Sat Dec 15, 2012, 07:39 PM

37. What do the Budget Thugs Trying to Gut the Safety Net Really Know About the Economy? By Dean Baker



....The "line" from Fix the Debt, an organization that includes the CEOs of many of the country's largest corporations, and allies like The Washington Post is that we better have cuts to Social Security and Medicare because they say so. Note that they did not try to push this line in the elections. Everyone knows that cuts to these programs are hugely unpopular across the political spectrum. The Fix the Debt strategy was explicitly to wait until after the election. They would then go into high gear pushing their agenda of cutting Social Security and Medicare regardless of who won the elections. Remember, we need these cuts because they say so. It is worth repeating the "they say so" part, because this is the only way we could know that cuts to Social Security and Medicare are necessary. It is possible to tell stories about countries where a meltdown in financial markets forced sharp budget cuts, but there is zero evidence of that for the United States. Investors are willing to lend the U.S. government vast amounts of money at extremely low interest rates. The only reason that we have for believing that financial markets will panic if we don't make the Social Security and Medicare cuts that the Debt Fixers want to make is because they say so.

For this reason, it is worth considering what the Debt Fixers know or don't know about the economy. This means bringing up a still fresh wound: why did none of these people see the housing bubble whose collapse wrecked the economy? It is important to understand the bubble was not hard to see, nor did it require much knowledge of economics to realize that its collapse would devastate the economy. The bubble was an unprecedented nationwide run-up in house prices. For the 100 years from 1896 to 1996, nationwide house prices had, on average, just tracked the overall rate of inflation. In the decade from 1996 to 2006, house prices rose by more than 70 percentage points in excess of the rate of inflation. How could anyone following the economy miss this? There are reports on house prices released every month; did none of the Debt Fixers ever look at them during the bubble years?

And there was no explanation for this extraordinary run up of prices in the fundamentals of the housing market. Population and income growth in the last decade were slow, not fast. And there was no corresponding increase in rents. If fundamentals were driving the explosion in house prices, then there should have been some pressure on rents, as well. And vacancy rates were hitting all-time highs. How does that fit with a supply-and-demand story driving up house prices? The fact that the housing bubble was driving the economy was also not hard to see. Typically, housing construction is less than 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It peaked at more than 6 percent of GDP in 2005. Couldn't the Debt Fixers find the GDP data released every month by the Commerce Department?

Housing wealth was also driving a consumption boom as the saving rate fell to nearly zero in the years from 2004-2007. Did the Debt Fixers think that people would keep borrowing against their homes when the equity in their homes disappeared? The bursting of the bubble meant a loss in annual demand of more than $1 trillion when the construction and consumption boom both collapsed. What exactly did the Debt Fixers think would replace this demand? Did they think that firms would suddenly double their investment as they saw their markets collapse? Did they think that consumers would just spend like crazy even as their housing wealth vanished? If they have a theory as to how the economy could quickly replace the demand generated by the housing bubble without large government budget deficits, it would be great if they would share. The reality is that the Debt Fixers and their allied economists and policy wonks saw none of the above. They were completely out to lunch in their understanding of the economy.

The Debt Fixers and their allies will have to explain for themselves how they managed to miss something as huge and important to the economy as the housing bubble. However, missing an $8 trillion housing bubble is not a small mistake. It is the sort of thing that, in other lines of work, gets you fired and sent looking for a new career....This means that when we get a whole bunch of seemingly important and knowledgeable people telling us that we must cut Social Security and Medicare because the markets demand it, we have to remember that these are people who were just recently shown to be completely out to lunch in their economic judgment. If the Debt Fixers expect the country to take their pronouncements seriously, they should be forced to answer one simple question: when did you stop being wrong about the economy?

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Sat Dec 15, 2012, 08:01 PM

38. The “People’s Bailout” was Just the Beginning: What’s Next for Strike Debt?



...Gokey helped create the Rolling Jubilee, a "People's Bailout" project which has raised over $465,000. With that money, the activist group Strike Debt plans to buy $9 million of Americans' medical and educational debt for pennies on the dollar—and then cancel it.

Strike Debt, which grew out of Occupy Wall Street, wants to foment conversation about the debt we rack up in pursuit of basic needs, and the industries that profit from that debt. Gokey is currently on a year-long unpaid leave from teaching to help organize the Rolling Jubilee and upcoming Strike Debt projects...

...Fabien: How did Strike Debt's organizers find each other and come up with the idea of Rolling Jubilee?

Thomas: This idea has been floating around activist circles for a couple of years. I first encountered it in Zuccotti Park last October, and I thought, this is a brilliant idea—somebody needs to make it happen. And everyone said, “Okay, well you make it happen.”

So I've been working on it for 14 months now, and Strike Debt itself formed after May Day. We saw in the park that debt was one of the ties that binds the 99% together. A lot of us there just had this massive amount of debt and no adequate work to pay it back...

Fabien: According to RollingJubilee.org, you've raised enough money to abolish about $8.7 million in debt. How much debt has been bought to date?

Thomas: This process takes some time. On November 12 or so, shortly before the telethon, we closed on our first debt purchase. We had raised $5,000, which we spent to purchase $100,000 worth of medical debt.

We are in the process of lining up a bigger buy as we speak, but I don't know how long it's going to take. There's a certain due-diligence process that needs to take place, and a lot of research and reviewing different portfolios. We're in the middle of that now, and we'll act on that as soon as we possibly can.

In the future, we are going to be looking beyond medical debt, toward other kinds of debt. But as a conservative estimate, we should be able to abolish 20 times the amount of money we raised, even factoring in all of the associated costs of the process, like accounting and mailing letters to debtors informing them their debt has been abolished,.

We won't know for sure how much debt we can abolish until we actually abolish it, but 5 cents on the dollar is conservative. You can find out-of-statute debt that is being sold for one tenth of one penny on the dollar. This is debt that, technically, people no longer legally owe, but debt collectors buy it anyway because it's legal for them to trick former debtors into paying it....


http://strikedebt.org/ http://strikedebt.org/#initiatives



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Sun Dec 16, 2012, 06:52 AM

40. Some tax hikes, spending cuts now seen as inevitable in January


President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner are continuing their talks, but key officials in both parties now believe that Washington will be unable to avoid some mix of the tax increases and automatic spending cuts mandated next month by the austerity measures known as the “fiscal cliff.”

Senior Democratic and Republican officials say the best-case scenario will be for a less ambitious deal to extend middle-class tax cuts and forestall tax hikes on most Americans.

But such a deal would still set in motion a series of steep spending cuts at some federal agencies and allow key tax provisions to expire, raising taxes for many. “I don’t know if we fall off the cliff, but I think we’re at least going to jump out of a tree,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).

That assessment hasn’t stopped Obama and Boehner (R-Ohio) from trying to reach a broader pact before year’s end. The two spoke by phone Friday afternoon, after news broke of the massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut, and officials in both parties confirmed that Boehner was considering allowing tax rates to rise for those earning more than $1 million annually, in exchange for cuts in entitlement programs.

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Response to xchrom (Reply #40)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 09:01 AM

42. I really don't see the downside to this...


Anything that soaks the rich and defunds the war machine is a good thing.

Although it's more like a tiny insult than a big hit.

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Response to Demeter (Reply #42)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 09:05 AM


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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 07:02 AM

41. Why don’t bad ideas ever die?


This time of year is filled with retrospectives and “best of” lists. I’d prefer a more enlightened discussion about bad ideas. Or rather, zombie ideas: the memes, theories and policies that refuse to die, despite their obvious failings. Why do we embrace the terrible, fall in love with the wrong, bet money on the fictitious? Nowhere is this truer than in the fields of economics and investing. Together they have produced a long list of thoroughly debunked ideas. Despite this, many of these zombie ideas still have a vice grip on amateurs and professionals alike. What is it about us and this intellectual voodoo? We keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. It is maddening. Let’s count the ways:

1 Shareholder value: Since the early 1980s, this theory had claimed that corporate management should concentrate primarily on increasing share prices. In practice, it is fraught with problems: Short-term focus on quarterly earnings leads to a decline in long-term research and development, typically to the detriment of a company’s long-term prospects. Short-termism and stock-option compensation causes management to focus on immediate quarterly returns. It has also led to earnings “management,” accounting fraud and a raft of management scandals. Shareholders derive much less value than the name implies.

2 Homo economicus: A primary principle underlying classical economics, it states that humans are rational, self-interested actors possessing an ability to make objective, intelligent judgments about matters of investing and money. This turns out to be hilariously wrong. We are all too often irrational, frequently emotional and regularly engage in behaviors that work against our self-interest. Homo economicus? Try Nogo economicus.

3 Economics as a science: Consider how wrong the economics profession has been about, well, nearly everything: They misunderstood the risks of derivatives; economists developed models that assumed home prices would not fall (!). They misunderstood why the recovery from the 2001 recession produced so few jobs or why the current recovery was worse in so many ways. Oh, and despite myriad signs, they missed the worst recession since the Great Depression even as it was on top of them. The sooner they admit that their field is not a hard science, the better off we all will be.

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 09:29 AM

44. HSBC Couldn't Track $60 Trillion in Suspicious Activity?


HSBC was able to track Eliot Spitzer's 3 deposits to a holding account for an escort service. But they couldn't track $60 trillion in suspicious activity transfers from drug cartels and al-Qaeda that benefited them? Could it be because Spitzer was investigating the banks? Cenk Uygur breaks down the financial hypocrisy.

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Response to Demeter (Reply #44)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 09:50 AM

46. +1

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 09:49 AM



ACCRA, Ghana (AP) -- Ghana's government said Sunday it will abide by the U.N. Tribunal's order for the immediate release of an Argentine navy training ship seized two months ago at the request of an American hedge fund.

In a statement signed by Deputy Foreign Minister Chris Kpodo, the government said, "We will carefully consider the Tribunal's Order with a view to ensuring that it is given effect."

The ARA Libertad training ship was impounded Oct. 2 in the port of Tema at the behest of private creditors as collateral for unpaid bonds dating from Argentina's economic crisis a decade ago. Argentina appealed to the U.N.'s International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for the ship's release, arguing that as a warship the Libertad is immune from being seized.

In an expedited ruling by a United Nations court in Germany, the court ordered that Ghana "forthwith and unconditionally release the frigate ARA Libertad" and ensure the ship and its crew can leave Ghanaian waters. It also ordered that the vessel be resupplied as needed.

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Response to xchrom (Reply #45)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 10:57 AM



Take that, you vulture!

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 09:51 AM

47. Happy Birthday Bradley! Write him a letter of support!



Let Bradley know you care! Write him a letter of support for his 25th birthday – his third behind bars.

By the Bradley Manning Support Network. December 6th, 2012.

Military whistle-blower Bradley Manning will turn 25 on December 17th. It will be his third birthday in prison, and by the time his court martial begins it will have been almost three years in prison: one year of which in the Quantico marine brig, where he was held in solitary confinement against the recommendations of mental health professionals. His trial is scheduled to start next March, and he needs our support. Please take a few minutes to mail Bradley a birthday message, and to send a gift to his Defense Fund.

Bradley can receive mail at the following address:

Commander, HHC USAG
Attn: PFC Bradley Manning
239 Sheridan Ave, Bldg 417
JBM-HH, VA 22211


...Manning turns 25, in prison, Dec. 17, which is also the second anniversary of the day a young Tunisian set himself on fire in protest of his country’s corrupt government, sparking the Arab Spring. A year ago, as Time magazine named the protester as the “Person of the Year,” legendary Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg offered praise that rings true today: “The Time magazine cover gives protester, an anonymous protester, as ‘Person of the Year,’ but it is possible to put a face and a name to that picture of ‘Person of the Year.’ And the American face I would put on that is Private Bradley Manning.”


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Response to Demeter (Reply #47)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 09:57 AM

48. indeed. nt

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 09:58 AM



WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rural lawmakers worry that $9 billion in annual federal crop insurance subsidies are an easy target for spending cuts in a "fiscal cliff" deal so they're shopping around for a late compromise on a farm bill to protect them.

The chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture committees already were set to make a sizable contribution to deficit reduction through a new farm bill. There were $2.3 billion in annual cuts to other farm programs and food stamps in a Senate-passed version and $3.5 billion in annual cuts in a measure awaiting House action.

But they hit an impasse this past week while trying to merge the bills into a single package. It's the same problem confronting President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who so far are unable to come up with an alternative to the broad wave of automatic tax increases and spending cuts that begin to hit in the new year.

The farm-state leaders hope that if they can agree on a farm bill, the White House and Boehner might include it as a deficit-reducing component of a broader fiscal cliff deal.

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Sun Dec 16, 2012, 10:00 AM

50. Schizophrenics, Psychopaths Holding America Hostage By Dr Brian Moench



My father, a psychiatrist whose practice focused on the severely mentally ill, used to say, "Well, schizophrenia is better than no phrenia," and, "In poker, a paranoid always beats one of a noid." He also pioneered the subspecialty of forensic psychiatry, before it had a name, in that he was often asked as an expert witness to evaluate psychopaths and the competency of criminals to stand trial. Not all criminals are psychopaths, and certainly not all psychopaths have violated the law. Serious mental illnesses are family tragedies not to be trivialized. But in ruminating about a post-election America, I've been struck by how large portions of the country are mired in schizophrenic distortions of reality and how prominent business leaders and politicians overtly display personality traits common to psychopaths. Vestiges of widespread mental illness abound.

Although hurricane Sandy has likely been the trigger for a sharp rise in the percentage of the population who believes the climate crisis is serious and must be addressed in public policy, still, about 30 percent of American adults don't believe it, and there is no indication that the leaders of the Republican Party have joined the "Reality" Party. Let's briefly outline how disconnected this position is...Eighty international scientific societies have endorsed the concept of a primarily human-caused climate crisis that is already starting to threaten the health and well-being of millions, and soon to be billions, of people in the next few decades. The total number of scientific organizations that dispute this is zero. If you were watching a basketball game where the score was 80 to 0, with one minute left in the fourth quarter, and you decided to bet your entire nest egg on that losing team, no one would argue that you were not severely delusional. Almost weekly, more studies are published strongly suggesting that the chaos and destruction built into the greenhouse gas phenomenon has been underestimated and that climate-related extreme outcomes are happening even faster than worse case predictions of even a few years ago. Our own Pentagon, the insurance industry, the World Bank, the United Nations, the American Meteorological Society and virtually every other country in the world accepts the science. The American Republican Party and the Fox News/right wing entertainment complex are the only organizations in the world that deny the validity and reality of the science. And because the Republicans control the US House of Representatives, there is no hope any legislation will be passed to address the climate crisis. Inability to discern reality is the hallmark of schizophrenia.

...Much has been written about the Karl Rove/Republican/right wing/Fox News bubble and their group delusion in truly believing that their polling heralding a Romney victory was superior to everyone else's reality. Rove is also widely thought to be the source of the famous quote from a George W. Bush insider, offered to Ron Suskind for an article in the New York Times Magazine in 2004, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." That's how schizophrenics talk and think. Psychopaths often appear normal, even charming. Underneath, they lack conscience and empathy, making them manipulative, volatile and often (but by no means always) criminal. The psychologist Kevin Dutton in his book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths, notes society, and especially Wall Street, admires and rewards many of the qualities of psychopaths - fearlessness, emotional sterility, supreme confidence, ruthlessness, lack of remorse, refusal to take responsibility, narcissism and delusions of grandeur. Who could argue that those characteristics virtually defined the Wall Street crowd responsible for blowing up the world's economy in 2008? In fact, a recent study showed psychopaths were four times more common among business leaders than among the general population. [1] A 2005 British study compared the psychological profiles of 39 senior business executives at leading British companies with those of mental patients in the UK's Broadmoor Special Hospital. The business leaders scored a clear "victory" in the three traits normally used to identify the emotional dysfunction of psychopaths: histrionic personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and compulsive personality disorder. Other studies suggest that financial elites, like psychopaths, are more likely to feel like rules and societal constraints don't apply to them. Mitt Romney's entire business and political career, especially his approach to paying taxes, is the freshest, most conspicuous example of this personality trait.

Dr. Dale Archer, a psychiatrist and frequent guest on "FoxNews.com Live" of all places writes, "Physically, studies have shown that the brain chemistry is different in powerful politicians, leading to sensation seeking and risky behavior. They have lower levels of the brain chemical monoamine oxidase-A, which means they have higher highs when they engage in risky behavior and that they get bored much more easily than the norm." Enter the 71 corporate CEOs behind the current Campaign To Fix The Debt. These are CEOs making the media rounds and spending $30 million dollars pounding the table on achieving federal deficit reduction exclusively by dismantling the social safety nets - Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - while they sit on their own massive retirement funds averaging $9.1 million. These are the same CEOs who have contributed mightily to and benefited personally from the deficit they now want closed. Their companies have received trillions in federal war contracts, subsidies and bailouts, as well as specialized tax breaks and loopholes that virtually eliminate the companies' tax bills - companies like Goldman Sachs, Honeywell, AT &T and Boeing. And no, they are not offering to reduce their feeding at the public trough, instead they want us to turn away the poor, disabled and the vulnerable, calling government support for them "low priority spending." Meanwhile, CEOs of the major fossil fuel companies have enough scientific expertise to know that their business model of extracting all the carbon they can get their hands on threatens the very survival of all of mankind, yet they are undaunted in doing exactly that. Who cares about the collapse of civilization when there are quarterly profits to be made? How are these captains of the fossil fuel industry not psychopaths? Psychopaths are notoriously refractory to treatment or behavioral modification, another trait they share with business and political elites. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me...They think, deep down, that they are better than we are.” Our nation's responses to the climate crisis, the federal deficit, our economic stagnation and many of our other serious challenges are still being held hostage by people who manifest a detachment from reality as profound as that of schizophrenics. We are still allowing a powerful elite, who behave like psychopaths, to steer our government towards protecting their interests at the expense of everyone else. The greatest threat to the United States will never be Al Qaeda, Russia, China or Iran. It will be our failure to wrest control of public policy from the inmates of our own insane asylum.


Dr. Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists

1. Babiak P, Neumann CS, Hare RD. Corporate psychopathy: Talking the walk. Behav Sci Law. 2010 Mar-Apr;28(2):174-93.

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 10:08 AM

51. US Government’s Foreclosure Scam Is Ignored By ‘Lamestream’ Media By Ted Newcomen



The ‘lamestream’ media has been both conspicuously and curiously lax at explaining how the US government buys up bailed-out bank’s toxic assets. This is achieved through the home foreclosure process, which rewards corrupt & incompetent financial institutions and simultaneously screws working American families who are trying to get a foothold on the affordable housing ladder. For readers benefit, this is how the scam works in my particular part of the United States:

A couple of years back I attended a foreclosure auction on the steps of Centreville Courthouse on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The foreclosed property, a small townhouse just over 4 years old had been vacated by the owner who simply handed in his keys & walked away. The original mortgage holder, Countrywide, was then stuck with the original loan for the home, the missed interest & Escrow payments, and all legal fees etc. Countrywide, as we all know, went out of business and the property was acquired by Bank of America - a recipient of $45 billion in taxpayer TARP funds! It was fascinating to watch the courthouse foreclosure auction as the bids curiously went well over the fair market price of the property. It was not possible to determine the identities of the bidders but from what I observed they effectively blocked at least one young local couple out of the process. I was totally mystified why anyone would pay so much money for the property, so a couple of weeks later decided to do a little investigating and asked the Clerk of the Courts to see the documentation trail to follow the foreclosure process, and this is what I discovered. The original over-inflated purchase price for the home paid by the first owner during the housing boom in November 2005 was $212,900, including a mortgage for $170,000. By the time the owner was in default in June of 2009 the outstanding balance owed was still $168,501. By July 2010 this had racked up to $189,993 including missing interest payments, Escrow debits, and unexplained but seemingly very lucrative 'corporate advances' made to the lender. Now remember, this property may have been owned by Bank of America but that is basically the US taxpayer.

The bank then put the home up for auction at the Centreville courthouse where they sold the property for $198,178 (incl.commissions, fees etc). Not only did the bank get back their original loan, but they got enough money to cover all the missed mortgage payments, all their legal fees, and even made a nice little profit on the deal! I later found out from court documents that the winning bid that paid well over the current fair market price for this home & effectively excluded all local buyers was non other than Freddie Mac. Yes, the government-backed mortgage broker who with its zombie twin Fannie May looks like costing the US taxpayer another $154 billion in handouts before this fiasco is over!

Anyway, the town house then remained empty for months and I lost interest in the outcome. However, a recent follow up investigation reveals that the property was finally put up for sale with a local real estate agent who sold it in July 2011 for $160,000. That’s almost $40,000 less than the figure paid at auction by one government subsidized organization to a government bailed out bank – all done with US taxpayer’s money! Now think about it – really think about it! All over the USA in hundreds of courthouses, there are thousands, maybe even millions of foreclosed homes that have been sold, or will be sold into a rigged market, by dysfunctional financial institutions to incompetent government backed mortgage brokers. Here we have the ultimate ‘legal’ scam! The crooked banksters get back all their losses and even make a profit; Freddie Mac makes money on the fees it charges, and working Americans are bid out of buying affordable homes at foreclosure auctions but they still have to borrow money from those same bailed out banks and mortgage brokers when the properties are finally sold in the open market - and its all done with our taxpayer $’s!

I’m no lawyer but surely if ordinary citizens indulged in such price-rigging practices they would be considered unethical if not actually illegal – either a restraint of fair trade or outright fraud? This is crony capitalism on an industrial scale and the results of the recent US elections will change absolutely nothing and nobody in the media is talking about it! Why?

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 10:14 AM

52. Class war redux: how the American right embraced Marxist struggle


Conservatives and Republicans used to keep quiet and private about their views on classes and class war in the United States. They ceded those terms to leftists and then denounced their use. The US was, they insisted, a mostly "classless" society, civilization's pinnacle achievement. We were a vast majority of wondrously comfortable and secure consumers.

Workers or capitalists, like classes, were antiquated, disloyal, and irrelevant concepts. True, a few fabulously rich people were visible (likely, film or sports celebrities or "entrepreneurial innovators": their antics and luxuries were fun to mimic, admire, or deplore. An annoying and assuredly small underclass of the poor also existed: likely, persons "destroyed" by drugs or alcohol.

However, over recent decades, that approach has given way to a harsher view of US society, and the world beyond. At first, in their homes, country clubs, and unguarded moments with friends, conservatives and Republicans redefined their prime political enemy as the "moochers". Those people – Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called them "the 47%" always voting Democrat – depend on government handouts, and vote accordingly to secure those handouts.

Moochers include welfare recipients, the poor receiving Medicaid, students getting subsidized college loans, illegal immigrants, and, sometimes, also those "entitled" to get social security and Medicare benefits. They are all society's real "exploiters", using government to tax the other 53% of the people for the funds doled out to the 47%.

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Sun Dec 16, 2012, 10:49 AM

53. UBS faces $1.6 billion fine over Libor rigging



...Citing unnamed sources, Tages-Anzeiger daily said the bank would admit 36 traders around the globe manipulated yen Libor between 2005 and 2010...People familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday UBS could reach a $1-billion-plus settlement and admit to criminal wrongdoing by its Japanese arm, where one of its traders manipulated yen Libor and euroyen contracts. Between 25 and 30 people have left UBS over the matter, the sources said. The Swiss bank had hoped for a softer touch from regulators by cooperating in industry-wide probes and was surprised by the size of the expected settlement, they added. A 1.5 billion franc settlement would be the biggest ever paid by the bank, recovering from a $2.3-billion trading fraud by London-based trader Kweku Adoboli for which it was fined 30 million pounds ($48.36 million) last month....A settlement would make UBS the second major bank to be sanctioned for its role in the Libor scandal. Britain's Barclays (BARC.L) paid a $450 million fine in June.


Tages-Anzeiger said the fine, together with restructuring charges of 500 million francs from plans to cut 10,000 staff as UBS winds down its fixed income business, would probably push the bank to a fourth-quarter loss. UBS had already said costs related to the investment banking overhaul would lead to a fourth-quarter and full-year loss after it posted a third-quarter net loss of 2.172 billion francs. It is due to publish full-year results on February 5. By admitting to a charge against its Japanese subsidiary, UBS would stop short of admitting wrongdoing at a group level, which could be fatal for a bank as it could lose its license.

Chairman Axel Weber, who joined UBS this year after stepping down as head of the German central bank, has been on a whirlwind diplomatic tour over the probe, the Tages-Anzeiger reported...Swiss newspapers noted that Mark Branson, now responsible for overseeing big banks for Swiss financial markets regulator Finma, was chief executive of UBS Japan at the time of the alleged rate rigging. A Finma spokesman said Branson had removed himself from Finma's investigation into Libor to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest but declined to comment further.

In 2009, UBS paid $780 million to settle a messy U.S. investigation into tax evasion by admitting it had helped wealthy Americans evade and cheat on their taxes. ($1 = 0.9218 Swiss francs) ($1 = 0.6204 British pounds)

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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 11:14 AM

57. Obama to Run Most Health Marketplaces as States Opt Out



More than half of the state exchanges to be created under the 2010 U.S. health-care overhaul are expected to be run by the federal government, offering insurers and consumers uniform criteria in those areas.

While a final tally won’t come until at least today, 32 states have said they’ll let the U.S. build all or most of their exchanges or are expected to, according to Avalere Health, a Washington-based consultant. Sixteen and Washington, D.C. said they plan to build their own, with the rest unclear. That puts the onus on the Obama administration to set up the marketplaces at the heart of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to expand medical coverage to as many as 30 million people...


...“State versus federal isn’t the issue,” said Jay Angoff, a former Obama administration health official who is now a partner at Mehri & Skalet in Washington. “The issue is, will the exchange be strong or weak. That is, will the exchange use the bargaining power that it has to drive down rates.”

...Avalere projects that the number of states in partnership with the government may eventually reach 12. The deadline for states to declare whether they’ll assist the U.S. on exchanges is Feb. 15. ...Funding for states to build their own exchanges is essentially unlimited, and the U.S. has given $1.8 billion so far, including to some states that have said they won’t complete the work, Cohen said in prepared remarks for a congressional hearing on the issue Dec. 13. Money for the federal exchange is in shorter supply, coming mostly from a $1 billion appropriation made by the health law.


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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 11:30 AM

58. You Hate "Right To Work" Laws More Than You Know. Here's Why



The Michigan GOP apparently blindsided everyone with the union-busting "right to work" laws they just rammed through the state. Certainly my labor friends were caught off-guard tactically by the Republicans’ speed and choice of battleground.

For most of the county, though, the confusion has to do with what "right to work laws" are and why they’re so bad. You can see it written on the faces of the morning cable news hosts on CNN and even MSNBC — trying to pretend like they know what "right-to-work" laws actually mean, flummoxed by the brazen Orwellian neologism of the phrase and sweating over the possibility that they might have to explain it. Lucky for them, and for most of the media establishment (and for the Koch brothers), few people even know what questions to ask about "right to work laws." All they know — kinda — is that they’re bad for unions, and that those unions seem to know exactly how bad things are about to get.

Today, in most of America, unions have it bad. And part of the reason it’s bad is because we no longer know how to organize. Imagine trying to organize workers in your call center or warehouse, or your software gaming firm or your human rights NGO, as they’re doing at Amnesty International. The pressures against you — from worker cynicism and colleagues’ fear of losing their jobs, to personal relations with your boss and superiors, the bills you have to pay, and simple questions like "how do I organize" and "how do I know I won’t be screwed" — not to mention the inevitable appearance of company snitches, provocateurs, and just run-of-the-mill assholes and idiots... I’m not even talking here about your company’s ability to fire you, demote you, abolish your department, slash your pay, pretty much whatever the Hell they want ever since Reagan busted the air traffic controller’s union... This is the lot of American labor organizers in 2012 , except for in a few remaining pockets of America where union power and memory is still strong and tightly woven into the local cultural DNA.

Michigan is one of those places, which is why crushing labor power there would be as inspiring to the rightwing oligarchs who just got creamed at the polls as, say, the rise of the Tea Party was in early 2009...


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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 11:46 AM

59. Defying Gravity A gripping history of the 40 years since wealth started falling up By Dan Froomkin



Who stole the American Dream? The short answer to the question in the title of Hedrick Smith's new book is: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Wal-Mart. But the longer answer is one heck of a story, told by one of the great journalists of our time. In his sweeping, authoritative examination of the last four decades of the American economic experience, Smith describes the long, relentless decline of the middle class—a decline that was not by accident, but by design.

He dates it back to a private memo—in effect, a political call to arms—issued to the nation's business leaders in 1971 by Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a corporate attorney soon to become a Supreme Court justice. From that point forward, Smith writes, corporate America threw off any sense of restraint or social obligation and instead unstintingly leveraged its money and political power to pursue its own interests. The result was nothing less than a shift in gravity. Starting in the early 1970s, every major economic trend—increased productivity, globalization, tax law overhauls, and the phasing out of pensions in favor of 401(k)s—produced the same result: The benefits fell upward. Smith, a 1970 Nieman Fellow, is at his very best as he examines, one by one, the key economic shifts of the last 40 years and shows that in each case the money flowed to the very richest Americans, particularly those on Wall Street, while impoverishing the middle class.

Nowhere was that more blatantly the case than in the housing sector. We are all well aware of how the bursting of the housing bubble has left many middle-class Americans without the nest egg they were counting on for their retirement. But Smith describes how the banks had been sucking the home equity out of the middle class for years before that. "Instead of enabling ordinary Americans to achieve The Dream, they fashioned stratagems that stole the dream," Smith writes, describing what he calls the "New Mortgage Game." The sales pitch "was that homeowners should think of their houses not as nests … but as ATM machines," Smith writes. The goal was "perpetual hock"—and correspondingly high fees. The banks "seduced millions of middle-class families into draining the precious equity that they had painstakingly built up in their homes" and the result was "a monumental transfer of the absolute core of middle-class wealth from homeowners to banks. Trillions of dollars in accumulated middle-class wealth were shifted from average Americans to the big banks, their CEOs, and their main stockholders."


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Response to Demeter (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 11:51 AM

60. Friends, I Wish I Had Better News to Post


But it looks like this will be a Christmas with neither snow nor comfort. Keep it all together, and we will come out on the other side, to Spring. Spring always brings something of hope and comfort, in that despite the evil machinations around us, the grass grows, flowers bloom, and the birds sing.

I'm stopping here, for all our sakes. Bad news should be taken in measured doses.

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Response to Demeter (Reply #60)

Mon Dec 17, 2012, 01:06 AM

62. I am so grateful for the replies to the pro gun talking points that I am seeing on DU

One more round of people who only post to FB from work on Monday and we should have all said our piece.

My 6 year old grandson wanted to talk about the shooting so his, Mom an elementary school teacher, had an opportunity to think about what she might say on Monday to her other kids.

We cannot end the battle between being safe in our homes and those who feel that means you cannot be too safe or have to many guns or ammunition but this should start to swing things back into balance.

Hard, cruel life lessons that our our grandparents hoped we would never have to learn, again and that instead we would build on what they learned in the generation's before and tried to teach us.

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