17 December 2011

Where Is the Volcker Rule?

Three years ago, a financial crisis threatened to bring down the United States economy and to spread economic disaster around the world. How far have we come in preventing any kind of recurrence? And will the much-discussed Volcker Rule – attempting to limit the risks that big banks can take – play a positive role as we move forward?

Bad loans were the primary cause of the 2007-8 financial debacle. When the full extent of the problems with those loans became apparent, there was a sharp fall in the values of all securities that had been constructed based on the underlying mortgages – and a collapse in the value of related bets that had been made using derivatives.

Paul Krugan: G.O.P. Monetary Madness

Apparently the desperate search of Republicans for someone they can nominate not named Willard M. Romney continues. New polls suggest that in Iowa, at least, we have already passed peak Gingrich. Next up: Representative Ron Paul.

In a way, that makes sense. Mr. Romney isn’t trusted because he’s seen as someone who cynically takes whatever positions he thinks will advance his career — a charge that sticks because it’s true. Mr. Paul, by contrast, has been highly consistent. I bet you won’t find video clips from a few years back in which he says the opposite of what he’s saying now. 

Hacked climate emails: police seize computers at West Yorkshire home

Police seize equipment as part of investigation into the theft of thousands of private emails from the University of East Anglia

Leo Hickman
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 15 December 2011 12.18 EST

Police officers investigating the theft of thousands of private emails between climate scientists from a University of East Anglia server in 2009 have seized computer equipment belonging to a web content editor based at the University of Leeds.

On Wednesday, detectives from Norfolk Constabulary entered the home of Roger Tattersall, who writes a climate sceptic blog under the pseudonym TallBloke, and took away two laptops and a broadband router. A police spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that Norfolk Constabulary had "executed a search warrant in West Yorkshire and seized computers". She added: "No one was arrested. Investigations into the [UEA] data breach and publication [online of emails] continues. This is one line of enquiry in a Norfolk constabulary investigation which started in 2009."

Senate committee finds most 'trapped' offshore income is already in U.S.

By John Aloysius Farrell
6:00 am, December 15, 2011 Updated: 6:00 am, December 15, 2011
A select group of U.S. multinational corporations have been furiously lobbying for a tax holiday, they say, to bring more than a trillion dollars in so-called “trapped” foreign earnings back home and invest it in the American economy.

But a Senate report released Thursday shows the money is anything but trapped. Some of the richest firms have already brought hundreds of billions of dollars back to America, without paying U.S. taxes, and invested it in US banks, bonds, stocks and other assets.

Walker Enlists Karl Rove Protégé to Promote New Protest Policy

by Brendan Fischer 
As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s new policies restricting protest in the Wisconsin capitol take effect in advance of the anniversary of 2011's historic labor uprisings, the controversial governor has enlisted a new spokesperson to sell the rules, a 28-year old protégé of Karl Rove and new political appointee of the governor.

Madison blogger Joe Vittie broke the story on WisconsinReporters.com about Jocelyn Webster, the person Walker hired as the public face defending the rules. Webster cut her teeth with Rove’s notorious Office of Political Affairs in the George W. Bush Administration. A congressional investigation of the activities of that office yielded allegations -- including specific allegations against Webster -- that Rove’s team was involved in partisan campaigning on the public dime, a claim also leveled at aides of her newest boss during his tenure as Milwaukee County Executive.

Ryan-Wyden Premium Support Proposal Not What It May Seem

Likely Would Shift Substantial Costs to Beneficiaries, Threaten Traditional Medicare, and Produce Few Savings

By Paul N. Van de Water
December 16, 2011

The proposal for Medicare premium support by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) differs in key respects from how many media reports are describing it.[1] Despite claims to the contrary, it likely would shift substantial costs to beneficiaries rather than protect them from such cost increases, could lead to the demise of traditional Medicare over time rather than preserve it, and likely would produce few savings.

Shifts Costs to Beneficiaries

Its sponsors say the proposal would avoid shifting health costs to beneficiaries, but that’s not so.   It would replace Medicare’s guarantee of health coverage with a flat payment that beneficiaries would use to help them purchase either private health insurance or traditional Medicare.  It also would limit the growth in spending per beneficiary to the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) plus one percentage point (presumably on a per capita basis).  But health care costs have risen faster than that for several decades and, as Chairman Ryan acknowledged at a December 15 briefing, if that faster rate continues, the amount of the government’s premium support payment to beneficiaries would be cut back — with more of the costs of coverage shifted to beneficiaries — unless Congress intervened and made offsetting cuts elsewhere within Medicare.

WHO, Specifically, Blocked Millionaire Surtax?

Three myths about the detention bill

By Glenn Greenwald
Condemnation of President Obama is intense, and growing, as a result of his announced intent to sign into law the indefinite detention bill embedded in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). These denunciations come not only from the nation’s leading civil liberties and human rights groups, but also from the pro-Obama New York Times Editorial Page, which today has a scathing Editorial describing Obama’s stance as “a complete political cave-in, one that reinforces the impression of a fumbling presidency” and lamenting that “the bill has so many other objectionable aspects that we can’t go into them all,” as well as from vocal Obama supporters such as Andrew Sullivan, who wrote yesterday that this episode is “another sign that his campaign pledge to be vigilant about civil liberties in the war on terror was a lie.” In damage control mode, White-House-allied groups are now trying to ride to the rescue with attacks on the ACLU and dismissive belittling of the bill’s dangers.

Occupy the Safety Net

This fall, as eye-popping statistics depicting the obscene wealth of the top 1 percent were liberated from obscurity by Occupy Wall Street, some equally revealing figures emerged showing how those on the lowest rungs of our economy are faring. The vicious bite of the Great Recession has left one in three Americans—100 million people—either poor or perilously close to it, one busted car or broken leg away from falling into the vortex of dire need whose gravitational pull is a constant feature of their lives. These figures—drawn from the government’s new Supplemental Poverty Measure, or SPM—provided proof of something these Americans already knew: that the social safety net—the anti-poverty programs that form the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society—remains, even in its stretched and frayed condition, their last, best defense against what FDR called “the hazards and vicissitudes of life.”

The official definition of poverty—developed as a temporary measure by a research analyst at the Social Security Administration named Mollie Orshansky, and formally adopted in 1969—has little relevance to how deprivation is experienced today.

Time Magazine Decides to Throw Numbers to the Wind to Promote Representative Ryan

Thursday, 15 December 2011 14:05

Every budget expert knows that the stories of exploding budget deficits in the tens or hundreds of trillions of dollars (depends how many centuries in the future we wants to count), are driven by our broken health care system. If the United States paid the same amount per person for its health care as other wealthy countries, we would be looking at long-term budget surpluses not deficits. However, people who don't do budget calculations for a living do not generally know that the real story is a broken health care system.

This allows charlatans like Representative Paul Ryan to push nonsense budget plans that mean huge tax cuts for the wealthy, while slashing the programs that low and middle income people depend upon, like Social Security and Medicare. They also know that they can count on innumerate reporters to tout their programs to the sky, since the media is largely controlled by people who also want to see government programs for low and middle and income people slashed.

The End of Welfare as I Knew It

Why Conservatives Can’t Fix Poverty

Newt Gingrich’s new idea offers a stark reminder.
BY James Thindwa

Newt Gingrich’s recent utterances about poor children–they “have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works”–reflect not only the inability of conservatives to talk seriously about poverty, but a mean-spiritedness that, unfortunately, largely eludes public scrutiny.

Apparently, Gingrich and the approving Iowa crowd have never heard of “the working poor”–folks stuck in low-wage jobs (often more than one), but still unable to escape poverty. Based on the crowd’s reaction, Gingrich’s November 28 speech achieved a key objective. Conservatives enjoy being told that poverty is caused by the bad behavior of its victims, a belief famously reaffirmed by Herman Cain (“If you’re poor, blame yourself!”). It is always easier to blame victims than to contemplate real solutions.

The Making of the American 99% And the Collapse of the Middle Class

by Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich
Class happens when some men, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs.
-- E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class

The “other men” (and of course women) in the current American class alignment are those in the top 1% of the wealth distribution -- the bankers, hedge-fund managers, and CEOs targeted by the Occupy Wall Street movement. They have been around for a long time in one form or another, but they only began to emerge as a distinct and visible group, informally called the “super-rich,” in recent years.

Extravagant levels of consumption helped draw attention to them: private jets, multiple 50,000 square-foot mansions, $25,000 chocolate desserts embellished with gold dust. But as long as the middle class could still muster the credit for college tuition and occasional home improvements, it seemed churlish to complain. Then came the financial crash of 2007-2008, followed by the Great Recession, and the 1% to whom we had entrusted our pensions, our economy, and our political system stood revealed as a band of feckless, greedy narcissists, and possibly sociopaths.

Paul Krugnan: In the US, Decidedly Warped Standards for "Mission Accomplished"

Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum say the right thing about revelations that big banks got very easy terms during the 2008 financial crisis: the real scandal isn’t so much that those banks got rescued as that the rest of the population didn’t.

Recently, in an article for Slate titled “How the Fed’s Generosity Made $13 Billion for America’s Biggest Banks,” Mr. Yglesias writes: “It was always clear that massive emergency lending of some kind was going on and also that some people would regard this lending as a dastardly ‘bailout’ that kept banks in business. But what’s really coming into view now is that this lending was not at a penalty rate. It was ultra-cheap money that allowed banks to earn profits designed to help resolve fundamental solvency problems.”

There Goes the Republic

By Robert Scheer

Once again the gods of war have united our Congress like nothing else. Unable to agree on the minimal spending necessary to save our economy, schools, medical system or infrastructure, the cowards who mislead us have retreated to the irrationalities of what George Washington in his farewell address condemned as “pretended patriotism.”

The defense authorization bill that Congress passed and President Obama had threatened to veto will soon become law, a fact that should be met with public outrage. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, responding to Obama’s craven collapse on the bill’s most controversial provision, said, “By signing this defense spending bill, President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in U.S. law.” On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney claimed “the most recent changes give the president additional discretion in determining how the law will be implemented, consistent with our values and the rule of law, which are at the heart of our country’s strength.”

What rubbish, coming from a president who taught constitutional law. The point is not to hock our civil liberty to the discretion of the president, but rather to guarantee our freedoms even if a Dick Cheney or Newt Gingrich should attain the highest office.

Gates Foundation Enables ALEC's Project to Privatize Public Education

In the war being fought over the very survival of public education, the privatizers are forging the future. Is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aiding and abetting them?
I don't know how you feel about Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, and one of the world's richest men. Many people appreciate what he's accomplished. Many think that Gates' wife, Melinda, is doing wonderful work aiding the poor in underdeveloped countries. Gates' dad, who has taken the lead in advocating higher taxes for the wealthy, has always seemed really likable.

In philanthropic circles, the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Pages/home.aspx), which gives some $3 billion annually, especially in fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and mother-child deaths in underdeveloped countries around the world, is highly regarded.

16 December 2011

Startling New Evidence Shows US Troops Helped Despotic Regimes Battle the Arab Spring Uprisings

During 2011, U.S. troops regularly partnered with and trained the security forces of numerous regimes that were actively beating back democratic protests. 
December 13, 2011  |   
As the Arab Spring blossomed and President Obama hesitated about whether to speak out in favor of protesters seeking democratic change in the Greater Middle East, the Pentagon acted decisively.  It forged ever deeper ties with some of the most repressive regimes in the region, building up military basesand brokering weapons sales and transfers to despots from Bahrain to Yemen

As state security forces across the region cracked down on democratic dissent, the Pentagon also repeatedly dispatched American troops on training missions to allied militaries there.  During more than 40 such operations with names like Eager Lion and Friendship Two that sometimes lasted for weeks or months at a time, they taught Middle Eastern security forces the finer points of counterinsurgency, small unit tactics, intelligence gathering, and information operations -- skills crucial to defeating popular uprisings.

Digby: Codifying Chateau d'If

I think one of the most stunning aspects of the administration's decision not to veto an historic expansion of government power to imprison even its own citizens indefinitely and without due process is the context. Sure, we live in a very dangerous world. But we've been living in one at least since the advent of of The Bomb and the last I heard we were picking off Ad Qaeda members three at a time. The fact that this is happening with the war in Iraq wound down and Afghanistan scheduled to do so as well is what's odd.

Obama Reverses Himself: Administration Won't Veto 'Global Battlefield' Indefinite Detentions Measure

President Obama is expected to sign a defense policy bill allowing the military to arrest and indefinitely hold terrorism suspects -- even Americans arrested on U.S. soil. 

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet
Posted on December 14, 2011, Printed on December 16, 2011

The Obama administration Tuesday reversed itself and said it would not veto a major 2012 defense bill that expands the American military’s authority to arrest suspected terrorists anywhere in the world—including Americans on U.S. soil—and hold them indefinitely without charge or the right to a civilian trial.

“We have concluded that the [defense bill’s] language does not challenge or constrain the President’s ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a written statement. “The President’s senior advisers will not recommend a veto.”

Census shows 1 in 2 people are poor or low-income

Nearly half of Americans are low-income as rising expenses, unemployment shrink middle class

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income. 

The latest census data depict a middle class that's shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government's safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

5 Anti-Environment Policies Republicans Don't Want You To Notice

14 December 2011

Dr. Strange: Newt Gingrich and Conservatism's Insane Idea Industry

The Forgotten Leading Actor In The American Dream Story

'Wealth defense industry' protects oligarchs from the rabble and its taxes

COMMENTARY | December 12, 2011

Thousands of lawyers, accountants and consultants work full-time to defend the wealth of the richest Americans, says a Northwestern University political economist. It's their secretive labor that makes the effective tax rate so regressive for the ultra-rich -- and makes everyone else so angry

By Dan Froomkin

Occupy protesters are putting their bodies on the line day and night -- leaving their homes, living in tents, braving the elements, and being treated as criminals by the police.

But the super-rich whose influence they are protesting have others to do their fighting for them.
"Oligarchs can go about their business as literally thousands of fulltime professionals work for their interests," says Northwestern University political economist Jeffrey Winters, author of the 2011 book Oligarchy.

Targeting the Unemployed

The House Republican leadership managed to get one thing right in its bill to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. The bill does, indeed, extend the payroll tax cut for another year, but, beyond that, there is a lot to dislike. To help pay for the package, for instance, the bill would cut social spending more deeply than is already anticipated under current budget caps without asking wealthy Americans to contribute a penny in new taxes.

It also holds the expiring provisions hostage to irrelevant but noxious proposals to undo existing environmental protections. Worse, it would make unemployment compensation considerably stingier than it is now. 

Philip Pilkington: The Austrian Disease – Poor Scholarship, a Priori Bias

By Philip Pilkington, a journalist and writer living in Dublin, Ireland

Recently I wrote an essay claiming that Austrian economics provided a metaphysical-theological basis for what is today called ‘libertarianism’ – a popular, dogmatic political cult in the vein of Marxism-Leninism. The essay was abstract and, quite possibly, a bit obtuse – for that I apologise, but such is the nature of the material.

If I am correct and libertarianism is a political cult and its foundations were laid by the Austrian economists, what real world effects does this have? I pointed out in the aforementioned essay that if the libertarians ever truly seized power the results would probably be – as so often is the case with extremists who preach liberty – totalitarianism. But in all likelihood the libertarians will never get hold of true power – for unlike their Marxist-Leninist brethren, they are a political cult without a broad base of support; they have no proletariat and no peasantry!

A new genre of tires: Call 'em 'sweet' and 'green'

Motorists may be driving on the world's first "green" tires within the next few years, as partnerships between tire companies and biotechnology firms make it possible to produce key raw materials for tires from sugar rather than petroleum or rubber trees. Those new bio-based tires — already available as prototypes— are the topic of an article in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Occupy Economics Departments

by David Morris
On November 2nd nearly 70 students walked out of an introductory economics class at Harvard in solidarity with the Occupy movement. The mainstream media largely ignored the protest. That’s regrettable since the economics profession has provided the intellectual framework and justification for the inequality and centralization of corporate power the Occupiers are challenging.

“You can’t get into so disastrous a situation as we are in now without extraordinarily bad thinking and the economics departments were the source of that bad thinking,” observes Steven Keen, Professor of Economics at the University of Western Sydney and author of Debunking Economics.

Surviving the Second Gilded Age

Wednesday 14 December 2011
by: Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed

It has become difficult to not recognize that we are firmly in the grip of a second Gilded Age. Not only is this return obvious in the homage - if not hysteria - that marks a return to the dream worlds of consumption, commodification and a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, but also in the actions of right-wing politicians who want to initiate policies that take the country back to the late 19th century - a time in which the reforms of the New Deal, the Great Society and the Progressive Era did not exist.

This was a period in which robber barons, railroad magnates and the super-rich spread their corrupting influence throughout the political, economic and cultural landscapes - without having to deal with irritating social reforms such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, child labor laws, environmental protections, affirmative action, civil rights, union rights, antitrust laws, a progressive income tax and a host of other reforms. This was a period when money flowed and privilege shaped practically all aspects of American life, making a mockery out of democracy and imposing massive amounts of suffering on the vast majority of Americans. Women could not vote and were seen as second-class citizens, blacks were treated harshly by Jim Crow policies, young people were exploited through harsh labor, education was limited to the elite, inequality in wealth and income reached extreme disparities, slums festered, and politics was corrupted by the moneyed classes.

The 1 Percent Club’s Misguided Protectors

Published: December 10, 2011

The Republican right is pushing back hard against the 99 percent movement and its focus on the widening chasm between the fortunes of the few at the summit of the income scale and everybody else. Newt Gingrich, who led the field of Republican presidential candidates last week, argued that the concept of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent is “un-American.” His rival Rick Perry, who led the Republican pack in September, answered a question about taxes and inequality by saying “I don’t care about that.”

This indifference is grounded in a proposition that has for decades dominated American debate over redistributive policies like steeper taxes for the rich: that inequality is an expected outcome of economic growth, and that efforts to tamp down inequality would slow growth down. As President Obama said in his speech in Kansas last week, this strain of thought goes back to at least the turn of the last century when “there were people who thought massive inequality and exploitation of people was just the price you pay for progress.”

13 December 2011

Meet the Financial Wizards Working With Occupy Wall Street

The bankers, quants, and hedge fund gurus who want to reform our financial system—by helping OWS kick ass

Matt Stoller: Why Does the Dallas Fed President Want to Destroy West Coast Port Unions?

By Matt Stoller, the former Senior Policy Advisor to Rep. Alan Grayson and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can reach him at stoller (at) gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller. Cross posted from New Deal 2.0

The FOMC is far more secretive than most government agencies, and after reading the transcripts of its meetings, it’s not hard to see why.

The people that really run the world are not elected, but sit on the Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve (FOMC). This is the crew of Fed insiders — mostly regional reserve bank presidents hired by banks as well as finance-friendly Fed governors appointed by the president — who set monetary policy. They are the ones who decide whether interest rates go up or down and whether to heat or cool the economy.

You can actually read the deliberations of their meetings, but only for those that took place five years ago or more. Unlike most federal agencies, their meetings are kept secret for at least five years.

Affordable Solar: It's Closer Than You Think

Last Modified 10:30 AM, December 9, 2011
By Marcia Goodrich

November 30, 2011—It’s time to stop thinking of solar energy as a boutique source of power, says Joshua Pearce.

Sure, solar only generates about 1 percent of the electricity in the US. But that will change in a few years, says Pearce, an associate professor of electrical engineering and materials science at Michigan Technological University. The ultimate in renewable energy is about to go mainstream.

Findings on Biochar, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Ethylene

By Ann Perry
December 13, 2011
Adding a charred biomass material called biochar to glacial soils can help reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists.

Studies by scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are providing valuable information about how biochar-the charred biomass created from wood, plant material, and manure-interacts with soil and crops. As part of this effort, ARS scientists in St. Paul, Minn., are studying biochar activity in soils formed from glacial deposits.

Wonkbook: The real unemployment rate is 11 percent

By Ezra Klein, Published: December 12

Typically, I try to tie the beginning of Wonkbook to the news. But today, the most important sentence isn't a report on something that just happened, but a fresh look at something that's been happening for the last three years. In particular, it's this sentence by the Financial Times' Ed Luce, who writes, "According to government statistics, if the same number of people were seeking work today as in 2007, the jobless rate would be 11 percent."

Remember that the unemployment rate is not "how many people don't have jobs?", but "how many people don't have jobs and are actively looking for them?" Let's say you've been looking fruitlessly for five months and realize you've exhausted every job listing in your area. Discouraged, you stop looking, at least for the moment. According to the government, you're no longer unemployed. Congratulations?

The Warning in Gary Webb’s Death

December 9, 2011
Special Report: Modern American history is more complete because journalist Gary Webb had the courage to revive the dark story of the Reagan administration’s protection of Nicaraguan Contra cocaine traffickers in the 1980s. However, Webb ultimately paid a terrible price, as Robert Parry reports.

By Robert Parry

Every year since investigative journalist Gary Webb took his own life in 2004, I have marked the anniversary of that sad event by recalling the debt that American history owes to Webb for his brave reporting, which revived the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1996 and forced important admissions out of the Central Intelligence Agency two years later.

But Webb’s suicide on the evening of Dec. 9, 2004, was also a tragic end for one man whose livelihood and reputation were destroyed by a phalanx of major newspapers – the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times– serving as protectors of a corrupt power structure rather than as sources of honest information.

Documents Show Boehner Helped Gerrymander Ohio Map Giving GOP 12 of 16 Congressional Seats

By Ian Millhiser on Dec 13, 2011 at 9:50 am

The GOP-controlled Ohio legislature recently approved a heavily gerrymandered Congressional map that gives Republicans an advantage in 12 of the state’s 16 congressional districts, despite the fact that the state is roughly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Moreover, according to newly released documents, Ohio residents can blame the Speaker of the House for turning many of their congressional elections into little more than a sham:

Scott Walker Recall Volunteers Say They Have Proof Of Intimidation By Opponents

First Posted: 12/13/11 10:35 AM ET, Updated: 12/13/11 10:40 AM ET

Volunteers working for the effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) captured a video this week that they claim is proof of the sort of intimidation and harassment they've been subjected to over the past month.

In the video, available at ABC affiliate WISN, a visibly upset Fred Frisby can be seen approaching the camera of Walker recall volunteer Steve Nagel while hurling obscenities and eventually making physical contact. Frisby was later arrested by local police and charged with disorderly conduct.

The Health of Children and Consumers is Threatened by Conservative Push for Corporate Speech Rights

Some pro-business federal judges have shockingly approved a constitutional right for big companies to avoid revealing product dangers on labels.

December 12, 2011  |  In recent years, corporate lawyers representing industries whose products touch millions of American lives have stopped numerous government efforts to better inform the public about possible health risks with an eyebrow-raising legal strategy. They have asserted a constitutional right not to speak, or say more than they want on labels and advertising, and pro-business federal judges have agreed, rejecting the public’s right to know.

In cases involving manmade hormones fed to dairy cows, heart and lung disease caused by tobacco, the nutritional value of foods contributing to childhood and teenage obesity, and even radiation emitted by cell phones, the industries keep returning to court until a business-friendly judge or majority on an appeals court rules that the First Amendment includes the corporate right not to ‘speak’ if it could harm profits.

12 December 2011

Gingrich Plan to Add $1.3T to Deficit, Study Finds

By Richard Rubin and Heidi Przybyla - Dec 12, 2011 3:40 PM ET

The economic plan proposed by Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich would add $1.3 trillion to the U.S. budget deficit in 2015 alone, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

The figures compare the federal government’s take under Gingrich’s proposal with projected U.S. revenue if current tax law ran its course and existing income tax cuts expired.

Sheila Bair Said to Be Top Pick for Foreclosure Accord Monitor

By David McLaughlin and Thom Weidlich - Dec 12, 2011 12:00 AM ET

Ex-Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair is a top candidate among state officials to ensure banks comply with any settlement of a nationwide foreclosure probe, a person familiar with the matter said.

Bair, who led the FDIC from 2006 until this year, is supported by some states as a third-party monitor of any accord with mortgage servicers including Bank of America Corp. (BAC), though Citigroup Inc. (C) opposes her selection, said the person. Selection of a monitor is one of the final issues to be worked out between the banks and state and federal officials, said the person and one other also familiar with the talks. Both declined to be identified because the negotiations are secret.

Lehman Brothers: financially and morally bankrupt

The lesson of Lehman Brothers' failures of fiduciary duty is that large-scale lending should not be entrusted to private banks

Richard Wolff
guardian.co.uk, Monday 12 December 2011 10.27 EST

Last week, federal court Judge James M Peck approved the final phase of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, which began with the investment bank's collapse on 15 September 2008. That bankruptcy, the largest in US history, precipitated the credit markets' disintegration that cascaded into the global economic meltdown that has deepened ever since. With roughly $450bn still owed by the bank, Judge Peck approved that Lehman Brothers has only $65bn left to settle creditors' claims. The latter must thus accept just over 14 cents for every dollar Lehman Brothers owed them. "Thieves," they are probably muttering.

Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy has revealed multiple layers of ramifying corruption and theft among global banks in the US and elsewhere, as well. Many juicy details are covered in the nine-volume court examiner's report of 11 March 2010. It documents the bank executives' mammoth misjudgments in their investment decisions, including their repeated violations of the basic banking principle not to borrow short-term and lend the proceeds long-term. The bank examiner shows misleading statements made about their activities and how they disguised Lehman's financial health and credit-worthiness. It appears that various legal and semi-legal mechanisms were used to manipulate their accounts, and otherwise violate the spirit and letter of laws and regulations.

Up to 1,200 companies working in the recycling sector will be able to save up to 10% thanks to a new system developed by Tecnalia

Tecnalia Research & Innovation has developed a new recycling system enabling the classification of waste from electrical and electronic equipment that cannot be ordered by conventional procedures, due to their similarities in colour, weight and shape. This system has received the EARTO Prize, giving recognition to the most innovative projects at a European level.
How to manage waste has become one of the most important paradigms of contemporary society, given the large quantities of electrical and electronic equipment that is designed, manufactured and finally thrown way, this type of waste not being biodegradable and at times highly toxic. Up to 1,200 companies working in the recycling sector will be able to save up to 10% of their recycling costs thanks to this new system developed by Tecnalia Research & Innovation.

A Tale of Two Deficit Charts

Written by Dean Baker
Monday, 12 December 2011 09:15

Not long after I first came to Washington 20 years ago I was at a conference dealing with Social Security privatization. One of the panelists used a number for the administrative costs of private accounts that was far lower than the numbers I had seen in the literature. After the panel, I asked one of the other panelists about her best estimate of the administrative costs of private accounts. She said that this depended on whether I was interested in advocacy or policy.

I was somewhat taken aback by her response, but after a moment I told her that I was interested in accuracy. I have always felt that this is the best approach to policy questions.

No One Telling Who Took $586B in Fed Swaps

Scott Lanman and Bradley Keoun - Dec 11, 2011 6:01 PM ET

For all the transparency forced on the Federal Reserve by Congress and the courts, one of the central bank’s emergency-lending programs remains so secretive that names of borrowers may be hidden from the Fed itself.

As part of a currency-swap plan active from 2007 to 2010 and revived to fight the European debt crisis, the Fed lends dollars to other central banks, which auction them to local commercial banks. Lending peaked at $586 billion in December 2008. While the transactions with other central banks are all disclosed, the Fed doesn’t track where the dollars ultimately end up, and European officials don’t share borrowers’ identities outside the continent.

Paul Krugman: Depression and Democracy

It’s time to start calling the current situation what it is: a depression. True, it’s not a full replay of the Great Depression, but that’s cold comfort. Unemployment in both America and Europe remains disastrously high. Leaders and institutions are increasingly discredited. And democratic values are under siege.

On that last point, I am not being alarmist. On the political as on the economic front it’s important not to fall into the “not as bad as” trap. High unemployment isn’t O.K. just because it hasn’t hit 1933 levels; ominous political trends shouldn’t be dismissed just because there’s no Hitler in sight.

11 December 2011

Durban climate deal struck after tense all-night session

Talks came close to collapse when India insisted on concessions for developing countries, forcing 3am 'huddle to save the planet'

John Vidal and Fiona Harvey in Durban
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 11 December 2011 03.13 EST

A new global climate deal has been struck after being brought back from the brink of disaster by three powerful women politicians in a 20-minute "huddle to save the planet".

A major crisis had been provoked after 3am on Sunday morning when the EU clashed furiously with China and India over the legal form of a potential new treaty. The EU plan to bind all countries to cuts was close to collapse after India inserted the words "legal outcome" at the last minute into the negotiating text.

EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard, backed by UK energy secretary Chris Huhne, said it would have made the EU plan legally meaningless and would have forced the EU to walk away, effectively collapsing the negotiations.

The Remarkable Political Stupidity of the Street
Friday, December 9, 2011

Wall Street is its own worst enemy. It should have welcomed new financial regulation as a means of restoring public trust. Instead, it’s busily shredding new regulations and making the public more distrustful than ever.

The Street’s biggest lobbying groups have just filed a lawsuit against the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, seeking to overturn its new rule limiting speculative trading.