Working Life Jonathan Tasini's Ruminations on Work, The Economy, and Politics Fri, 19 Dec 2014 19:31:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bernie Sanders: We need government “working for ordinary people and not just for billionaires” Fri, 19 Dec 2014 19:31:10 +0000

There is an idiotic article now up on a traditional national media’s organization website about Bernie Sanders that is such a piece of shit (stupid, predictable, dishonest) that I was compelled to offer a real, in-depth discussion with Sanders that took place just two days ago. It’s on Iowa Press, a local Iowan show–it’s concrete, lengthy, substantive.

Asked about running for president Bernie Sanders says: “…I want to ascertain is whether or not there is the support to say government has got to start working for ordinary people and not just for billionaires.

The whole video is here. Excerpts:

Asked about the challenge running a 50-state campaign:

It is very difficult and I have been told, I’m not an expert on this, that there are some states where the system is so rigged in favor of the two party system but it’s almost impossible to get on the ballot. And that is one of the issues that we have to consider. But this is what I will say, I think there is a great deal of anger in this country, both among Tea Party people on the right and Occupy Wall Street people on the left who are asking very simple questions. We have seen a huge increase in productivity. Every worker in America is producing more. Why is that worker earning less? How does it happen that the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country? One family, the Walton family that owns Wal-Mart, they own more wealth than the bottom 40% of the American people. And as a result of Citizens United the billionaire class can now buy elections, put huge — I know here in Iowa you have experienced what money can do in terms of TV ads. These guys have an endless supply of money. So I think what all over the country people are saying maybe enough is enough, maybe we want to restore the middle class and restore American democracy.[emphasis added]

This is a crucial point that a number of us have been making, and what makes me interested in a Sanders campaign: if you want to blow up the system, you need to see that the support for taking on the elites, the banks, Wal-Mart, and the like has roots in the Tea Party as well as the “left.”He was asked about how he would pay for rebuilding infrastructure:

Well the money is going to have to come from the same place that it came from to fight a war in Iraq that we never should have gotten into. In other words, if the attitude of republicans is we can’t spend any more money, we can’t invest in education, we can’t invest in infrastructure, then the future of this country is very bleak. Where the money comes from is asking the wealthiest people in this country to begin paying their fair share of taxes.

Was the Affordable Care Act the right way to go?

I think it should have been handled in a different way, no question. And I think the layout of the Internet was clearly a disaster. But let’s back up a little bit and understand this. Many people may not know this. There is one major country on Earth that does not guarantee health care to all people as a right. That country is called the United States of America. So as of today despite the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act you’ve got 40 million people with no health insurance. Many people have high premiums, high deductibles, cannot afford to go to the doctor. Frankly that is a national disgrace. So my own view is that we should take Medicare as it is right now, expand it for all, right now it’s just for seniors, you expand it for all people. You have Medicare for all single payer program guaranteeing health care to all people and we could provide health care far, far more cost effectively than we do now.Borg: And how do you pay for that? Medicare right now is not financially stable.

Sanders: You know how we pay for it? The good news is you’re not going to have to pay any private insurance. Your company that you work for is not going to have to pay any private insurance. Look, we are the only major country on Earth that allows private insurance companies to make huge sums of money off of health care, which I believe is a right. So what you’re doing is doing a transfer, you’re saying sorry private insurance companies, you’re not going to be making huge profits, you’re out of the business and we are going to have a Medicare, which is a government program, health insurance program for all people. I think if you talk to most seniors, and Medicare needs some improvements, but most seniors feel pretty good about Medicare. Let’s expand it to everybody.[emphasis added]

This is just a small portion.Listen to it.

Pass it around.

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Bad Trade News For Net Neutrality Thu, 18 Dec 2014 20:07:20 +0000 Let’s face it. There is nothing good about these dumb-ass trade deals, going back to NAFTA. Add to your list what it does for net neutrality.

Per Public Citizen via my inbox:

The pact would require signatory countries to ensure conformity of their laws, regulations and administrative procedures with the provisions of the TISA; failure to do so could subject a country to trade sanctions. Negotiators are pushing to complete and implement the pact next year.

“This leak reveals a dangerous trend where policies unrelated to trade are being diplomatically legislated through closed-door international ‘trade’ negotiations to which industry interests have privileged access while the public and policy experts promoting consumer interests are shut out,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Given the raging domestic debate over net neutrality, the growing demands for more data privacy and the constantly changing technology, a pact negotiated in secret that is not subject to changes absent consensus of all signatories seems like a very bad place to be setting U.S. Internet governance policies.”

Added Burcu Kilic, a lawyer with Public Citizen, “The Internet belongs to its users. Anyone who cares about an open and free Internet should be concerned that U.S. trade negotiators are seeking to lock in international rules about how the Internet functions, and are doing so in a closed-door process that is not subject to the input of  Internet users. Negotiating rules internationally, behind closed doors, while the domestic discussion is ongoing not only makes an end-run around the domestic process, but excludes the perspectives and expertise needed to make good policy.”

With respect to privacy protections, the leaked text reveals that the U.S. negotiators are pushing for new corporate rights for unrestricted cross-border data flows and prohibitions on requirements to hold and process data locally, thus removing governments’ ability to ensure that private and sensitive personal data is stored and processed only in jurisdictions that ensure privacy.

Such measures are considered critical to ensuring that medical, financial and other data provided protection by U.S. law are not made public when sent offshore for processing and storage, with no legal recourse for affected individuals. Numerous U.S. organizations are pushing for improvements in such policies, which are considerably stronger in other countries. If the proposed TISA terms on free data movement were to become binding on the United States, such needed progress would be foreclosed.

For a more detailed analysis of the leaked text and its implications for net neutrality and data privacy, please see this memo co-written by Professor Jane Kelsey, University of Auckland School of Law, and Kilic of Public Citizen.

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Save The Planet, Don’t Have Babies Wed, 17 Dec 2014 19:58:12 +0000 I suppose this is obvious. More people means a bigger drag on the planet. Some actual research though confirms it.

Per Center for Economic and Policy Research:

The paper finds that an additional 1 percentage point of population growth through the end of the century would coincide with about an additional 2 degrees Fahrenheit in average global temperatures. Over time, the temperature change is greater and becomes increasingly sensitive to population growth.


“There are many positive economic and social policies that can promote this transition to lower birth rates,” including “more security in old age; [t]he education of girls and women and increased economic opportunities for them, as well as affordable contraception and reproductive choice; lower infant and child mortality; [a]nd increased literacy, education levels, and productivity generally.” Moreover, the paper observes that reductions in population growth in high-income countries will have a greater impact on climate change reduction, due to “much higher per capita consumption and greenhouse gas emissions” in those countries.

Full paper here.

Remember, they aren’t saying don’t have sex. Just not babies. Over and out.

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Bernie Sanders: We need “a political revolution” Wed, 17 Dec 2014 02:52:34 +0000 We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, now, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

In Iowa, Bernie Sanders says it clearly: “There’s no way we are going to address the problems facing this country without a political revolution”.

He hasn’t decided whether he will run. But on a day when yet another so-called progressive–Al Franken–embraced the status quo, the representative of the elite, of the permanent war economy and national security state and Wall Street, Sanders is out there making it clear what he stands for.

Per The Des Moines Register, under a headline, “In Iowa, Bernie Sanders calls for a revolution”:

Sanders said it’s extremely difficult to take on “the oligarchy” – the Koch brothers, who are worth $85 billion and are building the most powerful political organization in the country, Wall Street, drug companies, and other economic entities that spend unlimited money in politics to “literally buy candidates.””When you take these guys on – if you’re going to take them on – you have to know that you’re going to have the kind of grassroots support necessary to run that campaign. And that’s what I’m trying to ascertain,” Sanders said.

He said he needs to see a mass mobilization of millions of people willing to engage in “a real struggle against the billionaire class.”

“Yes! Yes,” some people answered.


If he runs for president, Sanders told the Ames audience he’d push for money for government infrastructure. He said he believes the best and fastest way to create millions of jobs is fastest way to do is rebuild the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure. He said he wants to fight for health care for all through a single-payer system. He wants to make it easier for workers to form a union. And he wants to break up financial institutions focused only on profit instead of pushing capital into the U.S. economy.[emphasis added to the whole graf cuz yes this a revolution]


“These are not utopian ideas,” Sanders said. “They are not radical ideas. They are fairly common sensical ideas that can happen when you have a government that is directed by the people themselves and not by wealthy powerful corporate interests.”Frances Mendenhall, 66, drove from Omaha, Neb., to see Sanders.

“He’s just fearless,” she told the Register after the speech. “And he’s right on all the issues. He’s talking about a nationwide uprising. It has got to happen, and he can’t do it alone.

Iowa State University student Colin John, 20, called Sanders’ speech “inspiring.”

“It’s definitely not mainstream. He’s not pro-establishment or pro-money in politics,” John said.

John said he’d vote for Sanders over Clinton, partly because she has taken “hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wall Street for doing speeches. She’s going to represent their interests over the average 99 percent.”
[emphasis added]

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ONE TRILLION DOLLARS: Wasted On “The Longest War”…80% By This President Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:05:17 +0000

That would be the Afghanistan War. Putting aside the death and destruction from this immoral folly, if you want to know where the money for bridges went, or the money we could use to shore up pensions might have gone, or the money we could use for EXPANDING Social Security…it’s in the cities, mountains and plains of Afghanistan.

And most of the tab has been picked up by Barack Obama.

The Financial Times, a pretty sober publication, has this:

The Afghanistan war, the longest overseas conflict in American history, has cost the US taxpayer nearly $1tn and will require spending several hundred billion dollars more after it officially ends this month, according to Financial Times calculations and independent researchers.Around 80 per cent of that spending on the Afghanistan conflict has taken place during the presidency of Barack Obama, who sharply increased the US military presence in the country after taking office in 2009.[emphasis added]

And swallow this:

With the Iraq war having already cost the US $1.7tn, according to one study, the bill from the Afghanistan conflict is an important factor in the broader reluctance among the American public and the Obama administration to intervene militarily in other parts of the world — including sending troops back to Iraq.John Sopko, the government’s special inspector-general for Afghanistan, whose organisation monitors the more than $100bn that has been spent on reconstruction projects in the country, said that “billions of dollars” of those funds had been wasted or stolen on projects that often made little sense for the conditions in Afghanistan.

“We simply cannot lose this amount of money again,” he said. “The American people will not put up with it.”

Adjusted for inflation, Mr Sopko said the amount the US had spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan was more than the cost of the Marshall Plan to rebuild western Europe.[emphasis added]

The FT also provide this short sidebar calculating what the money could have been used for:

FUND the US government to September 2015

PAY the US total student loan debt of $10.8tn

COMPLETE a third of the $3.6tn needed for repairs to rail, roads and levees

FUND Medicare for two years

EXTEND Bush tax cuts for eight years (total cost $1.35tn)[emphasis added only for those things that are worth doing]

Of course, I’m not for giving a penny to pay for foolish, immoral tax cuts, not to mention extending them.So, each time you hear the phrase, “Cut Medicare”, reply “Afghanistan”.

Each time you hear students, rightly, march about the high cost of tuition, reply “Afghanistan”.

Each time, we listen to the moronic debate over the budget and “balancing the budget”, reply “Afghanistan”.

Every time you hit a massive pothole, remember “Afghanistan”.

And it ain’t over: the cost to care for the veterans who have come home shattered will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars in the years to come.

As a complete aside, or maybe not so complete: be careful what you want to “purchase” blindly…the blind love for a certain senator today feels exactly like the hero worship, uncritical belief followed in 2007. Some of us are entirely not surprised.

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Bernie Sanders To Intro Bill to Break Up Big Banks Mon, 15 Dec 2014 00:30:09 +0000 Straightforward.


“Enough is enough,” Sanders said. “Today, almost all of the too-big-to-fail banks are bigger and even more powerful than they were before we bailed them out. The six largest financial institutions have over $9.8 trillion in assets — the equivalent of more than 60 percent of GDP.  They issue over half of the mortgages and more than two-thirds of the credit cards in America“If Congress cannot regulate Wall Street, there is just one alternative.  It is time to break these too-big-to-fail banks up so that they can never again destroy the jobs, homes, and life savings of the American people.

At the beginning of the new Congress, I will be introducing legislation that will break these behemoth banks up once and for all. If a financial institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.  I look forward to working with both progressive and conservative Senators who have the courage to stand up to Wall Street and protect the working families of this country,” Sanders said.  [emphasis added]

Yes, people will point out that the Democrats will not control the agenda in the Senate beginning in the new session.BUT…

This is about a public campaign to continue to make the case to the people that banks must be broken up.

It has traction among a broad swath of people, from progressives to the Tea Party. People hate the big banks.

Let Republicans be framed as the protectors of the big banks like Citi…and force the pro-bank Democrats like Chuck Schumer to oppose Sanders’ legislation. Get me some popcorn for this.

Hopefully, he will have an ally in Sherrod Brown who, as I wrote the other day, will be the ranking member on the Banking Committee.

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Wall Street Weeps, Jamie Dimon Screams: Sherrod Brown, Not Schumer, Top Dem 2015 Banking Committee Fri, 12 Dec 2014 19:41:10 +0000

I must have some pent-up energy writing today…oh, well…probably a function of an active inbox today.

But, if you live anywhere near Wall Street and heard massive screaming, garments being torn and saw a distraught Jamie Dimon downing a few shots in the elite bar near the office, here’s why, a bright spot to wrap the week: Sherrod Brown is going to be the ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee in 2015, and, in a hopeful sign to all middle-class people, Chuck Schumer won’t.

From Brown:

“This committee is about ensuring a fair set of rules for all financial institutions while protecting taxpayers and consumers. Serving as Ranking Member will allow me to continue to fight for Ohio consumers, Ohio jobs, and Ohio economic development and for our state’s financial institutions and their customers. We must ensure transparency and accountability for Wall Street and access to credit on fair terms for Main Street.”

Cleverly, he also gives up a few quotes from community bankers:

“Senator Brown has been a great supporter of credit unions and clearly understands the important role Ohio’s cooperative financial institutions play in the lives of their three million members,” Paul Mercer, President of the Ohio Credit Union League, said.. “We are confident that Senator Brown will keep the best interests of Ohioans in mind as he assumes this leadership position of one of the most influential Congressional committees.

The press:

Sen. Sherrod Brown will be the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee in the next Congress, providing the Ohio Democrat with a bigger stage to make his case that Wall Street banks are out of control and need to be reined in by the government.On Friday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced he would pass on the post, which was his for the taking under seniority rules, so he can concentrate on his party leadership duties as the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate.


For Schumer, whether to take the Banking top spot was a political dilemma. If he took the job, he likely would have felt pressure from panel liberals, such as Brown and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), to take an aggressive stance toward his home state industry. If he didn’t, he risked alienating a constituency that would be key to the possibility of him one day becoming Senate Democratic leader.Wall Street officials, meanwhile, would have been looking for a lighter touch from their home state senator, who has often turned to the industry in search of campaign dollars to help both himself and fellow Democrats in elections.

The fact that Brown would get the job if Schumer passed put increased attention on his decision.

In recent years, Brown has emerged as one of Wall Street’s fiercest critics in Congress.[emphasis added]

Ok, so, obviously, Schumer is going to continue to act as Wall Street’s shill. But, Brown (who, I’ll say, personally I would love to see run for president because of his long track record on behalf of workers, against pathetic trade agreements and his tough critique of Wall Street) will at least this spot to continue to try to keep these fuckers in line.

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The Free Market: The Barrel Of A Gun Is Not The Only Weapon of Racism Fri, 12 Dec 2014 18:18:34 +0000 I’ll be marching in the Millions March NYC tomorrow to show solidarity, as organizers say, “For All Those Innocent People of Color Killed By The Misuse of Police Force.” It’s worth remember, in these days when the energy continues to stop the killing of people of color via the barrel of the gun, that another part of racism continues every day: the relentless economic racism leveled by the so-called “free market” against people of color, particularly African-Americans.

And Pew has the info in this new research “Wealth inequality has widened along racial, ethnic lines since end of Great Recession“:

The Great Recession, fueled by the crises in the housing and financial markets, was universally hard on the net worth of American families. But even as the economic recovery has begun to mend asset prices, not all households have benefited alike, and wealth inequality has widened along racial and ethnic lines.The wealth of white households was 13 times the median wealth of black households in 2013, compared with eight times the wealth in 2010, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Likewise, the wealth of white households is now more than 10 times the wealth of Hispanic households, compared with nine times the wealth in 2010.

The current gap between blacks and whites has reached its highest point since 1989, when whites had 17 times the wealth of black households. The current white-to-Hispanic wealth ratio has reached a level not seen since 2001. (Asians and other racial groups are not separately identified in the public-use versions of the Fed’s survey.)


From 2010 to 2013, the median wealth of non-Hispanic white households increased from $138,600 to $141,900, or by 2.4%.Americans’ Wealth Since Great RecessionMeanwhile, the median wealth of non-Hispanic black households fell 33.7%, from $16,600 in 2010 to $11,000 in 2013. Among Hispanics, median wealth decreased by 14.3%, from $16,000 to $13,700. For all families — white, black and Hispanic — median wealth is still less than its pre-recession level.

That racism is locked in a concrete time capsule that stretches back generations. But, it is worth emphasizing that every time Congress embraces some new tax cut for business or undercuts a regulation that is trying to keep banks and Wall Street from robbing us again, as they did in the recent financial crisis, there is effectively a racist element to those steps because people of color are hurt disproportionately when the elites go wild and plunder our wealth.

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Even The Right-Wing Business Press Admits: Big Tax Give Away Won’t Create Jobs Fri, 12 Dec 2014 15:13:26 +0000

It’s no surprise to people in the reality-based world–you know, the people who look at facts–that most corporate tax cuts are not going to create jobs. All that bleating from the bi-partisan chorus that fawns over the “job creators” (read; overpaid corporate executives) and never met a corporate tax break it didn’t like (especially tax breaks that oil up those campaign contributions…looking at you, Steny Hoyer) ignores the reality that the promised jobs, in return for tax cuts, just don’t materialize–not to mention jobs thatpay a decent wage.

But, it’s worth noting that, sometimes, even the business press has to throw out a factual article about taxes. And this one is pretty good and eviscerates the “bonus depreciation” huge tax give-away just passed in the spending putrid bill, courtesy of the White House and a bunch of Congressional Democrats.

The background on “bonus depreciation” costs from Citizens for Tax Justice:

Bonus depreciation could be far more costly than it appears. The official revenue estimate provided by Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) shows that this tax break will reduce revenue by $1.5 billion. However, if Congress continues to extend these tax breaks throughout the coming decade — a very real possibility given Congress’s history in recent years — bonus depreciation will reduce revenue by $244 billion over that period, accounting for 35 percent of the cost of tax extenders and the most expensive provision in the package. This is explained in the box on the following page.Bonus depreciation is a significant expansion of existing breaks for business investment. Unfortunately, Congress does not seem to understand that business people make decisions about investing and expanding their operations based on whether or not there are customers who want to buy whatever product or service they provide. A tax break subsidizing investment will benefit those businesses that would have invested anyway but is unlikely to result in much, if any, new investment.

Companies are allowed to deduct from their taxable income the expenses of running the business, so that what’s taxed is net profit. Businesses can also deduct the costs of purchases of machinery, software, buildings and so forth, but since these capital investments don’t lose value right away, these deductions are taken over time. In other words, capital expenses (expenditures to acquire assets that generate income over a long period of time) usually must be deducted over a number of years to reflect their ongoing usefulness.

In most cases firms would rather deduct capital expenses right away rather than delaying those deductions, because of the time value of money, i.e., the fact that a given amount of money is worth more today than the same amount of money will be worth if it is received later. For example, $100 invested now at a 7 percent return will grow to $200 in ten years.

Bonus depreciation is a temporary expansion of the existing breaks that allow businesses to deduct these costs more quickly than is warranted by the equipment’s loss of value or any other economic rationale.

A report from the Congressional Research Service reviews efforts to quantify the impact of bonus depreciation and explains that “the studies concluded that accelerated depreciation in general is a relatively ineffective tool for stimulating the economy.”

That CRS study also says:

Most economists would agree that investment in the assets eligible for the expensing allowance is driven more by expectations for future growth in sales and profits by firms that use these assets, the nature of the assets, and conditions in debt and equity markets than by tax considerations.

Essentially, it says: this is just free money corporations pocket and has little or no bearing on whether a company will act on a particular investment.Now, to the right-wing business press: The Wall Street Journal:

With Congress poised to extend a raft of tax breaks, consider this: One such break has helped AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. slash their recent tax bills by billions of dollars without leading to the intended increase in investment or jobs.The measure, known as “bonus depreciation,” lets companies offset their income with investments they have made more quickly. It was enacted in 2008 as part of the economic stimulus package with the goal of giving companies an incentive to build more factories or upgrade more equipment, creating jobs and giving a boost to sluggish economic growth in the process.

But that isn’t how it has worked, at least at AT&T and Verizon, whose vast networks of towers and cables make them two of the country’s biggest investors in infrastructure.

AT&T estimated its federal tax bill last year at $3 billion, down from about $5.9 billion in 2007, before the tax relief was enacted. Verizon estimated that it would get $197 million back last year, compared with a 2007 bill of $2.6 billion.

Meanwhile, the companies have kept their capital spending relatively flat since the stimulus was adopted, and their employee count has dropped by more than 100,000 people, a fifth of their combined work forces.
[emphasis added]

So, essentially, the companies screwed the people twice: firing tens of thousands of people from jobs and, then, dipping back into their pockets via the Treasury to take tax money (paid out of hard-earned wages) to reduce their tax bills.By the way, the CEO of AT&T, Randall L. Stephenson, made over $20 million last year, including new stock awards of $13,566,538, ranking him #59 in the 2014 Equilar Top 200 Highest Paid CEO ranks. The CEO of Verizon, Lowell C. McAdam, ranked only #117, and was paid, poor soul, a paltry $15.7 million, including $9,375,077 in new stock grants.

Where do you think the free money pocketed by these companies goes, if it isn’t creating new jobs?

Uh, huh.

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The Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton Difference: One Condemns Torture, The Other… Thu, 11 Dec 2014 18:59:00 +0000

The differences between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on economic policy, foreign policy and basic morality are many. But, in the wake of confirmation about the most revolting, despicable, debasing of whatever moral principles this country claims to adhere to, the differences are stark.




“A great nation must be prepared to acknowledge its errors. This report details an ugly chapter in American history during which our leaders and the intelligence community dishonored our nation’s proud traditions,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders. “Of course we must aggressively pursue international terrorists who would do us harm, but we must do so in a way that is consistent with the basic respect for human rights which makes us proud to be Americans.“The United States must not engage in torture. If we do, in an increasingly brutal world, we lose our moral standing to condemn other nations or groups that engage in uncivilized behavior,” the senator added.


Senator Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent who calls himself a Democratic socialist, denounced the tactics described in the report and said in an interview that he was especially disturbed by the Senate panel’s conclusion that the C.I.A. misled the White House and Congress about them. “If anyone is lying to elected officials, they should be fired immediately,” he said.

Clinton…uh, I can’t quote anything because apparently she has said virtually nothing, other than apparently to take the giant step of saying, well, the public should get read the report, not the other day but way back in her memoir:

Her memoir from serving as Mr. Obama’s first-term secretary of state included only a single sentence on torture, and the words “torture” and “interrogation” are not in the index. In remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations over the summer, however, she called for the release of the report, saying, “The American people deserve to see it,” but she also noted that she opposed prosecuting “people who were doing what they were told to do.”

Ah, leadership. Morality.It’s possible her pollsters are running focus groups to come up with five sentences that say absolutely nothing.

This isn’t hard. Even the megaphone of the elite, The New York Times has called the Senate report, “a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.”

This is what large segments of the Democratic elites in the party are rallying behind and standing for: an individual who voted for an illegal, immoral war, a war that was the backdrop for the torture, and a person who cannot bring herself to decry, as Sanders says, an act that destroys the country’s moral standing.

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Koch Brothers “Project Snow” SECRET Tax Scam, Dodges Taxes, Hides Money In Luxembourg Wed, 10 Dec 2014 12:55:05 +0000 Overnight, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists broke open a new scandal involving the Koch Brothers intricate plan, dubbed “Project Snow”, to dodge taxes.

I’ve previously written about the ICIJ’s ground-breaking work revealing how hundreds of international companies cut secret dealswith Luxembourg’s tax authorities to avoid paying taxes.

The Koch Brothers revelations, however, are new, and involves other big companies like Disney and Skype. It’s a scam enabled by the four largest accounting firms: Price WaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and KPMG. Here are the details:

Koch’s Luxembourg transactions revealed by the new documents involved its chemicals and polymers subsidiary Invista BV, which makes Lycra-brand fiber and Stainmaster-brand carpets.The Koch documents, also prepared by Ernst & Young, describe “Project Snow,” a 26-step restructuring of Invista designed, they say, to simplify the company’s structure, centralize its cash flow into Luxembourg, and pay down debt.

The restructuring was worked out in a series of four meetings in late 2008 and early 2009 between Ernst & Young employees and Marius Kohl,  head of the Bureau d’imposition Sociétés VI, part of Luxembourg’s revenue authority, according to the tax ruling. Kohl, now retired, approved thousands of tax deals over 22 years that helped save companies billions of dollars.

The documents show that in the restructuring, which took place starting in September 2008, the subsidiaries of Invista passed hundreds of millions of dollars back and forth, converting shares to debt and occasionally dissolving firms.  Tax-free “hidden distributions” among subsidiaries are just one type of head-spinning transaction included in the confidential tax ruling approved by Luxembourg authorities. Another section describes a $736 million loan that gets passed from company to company until a U.S.-based subsidiary becomes “both the debtor and creditor of the same debt,” and the debt is canceled.

Each step in the tax ruling includes a separate interpretation of how it will impact the company’s taxes in Luxembourg.  In most instances, the transactions are exempt.

Central to Koch’s restructuring deal is an internal company bank, Arteva Europe S.à.r.l., which manages the cash flows of the company’s European operations through Luxembourg. Arteva had established a Swiss branch that likely benefited from low tax rates in Switzerland. Luxembourg officials agreed to treat the Swiss branch as separate from the Luxembourg company, according to the tax deal.

From 2010 through 2013 the company paid $6.4 million in taxes on $269 million in profits. Its highest annual tax rate was 4.15 percent.

Arteva reported no staff costs in its annual financial reports filed in Luxembourg. In Switzerland, Arteva’s branch shares an address in Zurich with a firm called Tax Partners AG, whose principals are also listed in public filings as the deputy branch managers of Arteva, according to reporting by ICIJ partner, The Guardian. The branch manager of Arteva Switzerland describes himself on the web site LinkedIn as “tax director, Europe” for Koch International Shared Services. [emphasis added]

By the way, one of these companies was part of a U.S. election fraud:

Koch Industries admitted in 2011 that one of the key companies in its Luxembourg holdings, Invista S.à.r.l., had funneled a dozen illegal campaign contributions to state political candidates in Virginia, Delaware and Kansas and to the U.S. Democratic Governors Association. The company agreed to pay a fine of $4,700.In its submission to the Federal Election Commission the company said that “the violations resulted from a general lack of knowledge among company personnel of either the nature of Invista’s legal structure or of the restrictions that applied to it as a foreign company.”

Just to recall, what the Koch Brothers is doing is part of the general robbery of the U.S. Treasury undertaken by many companies who keep money stashed abroad–that amount is now almost $2 trillion–through a variety of scams, particularly through so-called “tax inversions” (which I’ve written a number of pieces about including here, here and here)So, now, let every potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016 (oh, and, alleged “Democratic” governor of New York State, who received more money from the Koch Brothers than Scott Walker) answer the simple question every voter might want to know: when you pocket the Koch Brothers money, can we assume that you support the fleecing of American taxpayers, who, unlike the Koch Brothers, have to pay their taxes in a transparent way?

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Ebola: It’s All About Class Warfare and Corruption Tue, 09 Dec 2014 15:38:44 +0000 In the list of serious “first world problems”–or maybe “first world stupidities”–you can list the hysteria around Ebola in the U.S. i.e., the non-existent Ebola crisis in this country. And, of course, as soon as the media found some other thing to focus on, no one cares anymore that thousands of people–black people–have died and continue to die from Ebola. But, the real point to make is that Ebola isn’t just a disease–it’s a result of relentless global class warfare and corruption.

This came back to me in reading a report about to be released by the International Labour Organization called–drumroll for this this gripping title–“Addressing the Global Health Crisis: Universal Health Protection Policies”. It’s going to be officially released Friday in conjunction with Universal Health Coverage Day.

The upshot of the report:

80 per cent of the population across 44 countries are without any health protection and are therefore deprived of the right to health. These countries include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Globally, some 40 per cent of the population is excluded from social protection in health.


In many countries, such as Sierra Leone, 75 per cent of total health expenditure comes from private resources in the form of out-of-pocket payments, which has led to deep impoverishment.The extent of impoverishing out-of-pocket payments in a country increases with the level of the population living below the poverty line. “Thus, it is the poorest with the highest needs who suffer the most from having to pay out-of-pocket healthcare expenses,” explained Xenia Scheil-Adlung, Health Policy Coordinator at the ILO.

It is no accident, then, that Sierra Leone now has the highest number of Ebola cases in the world.And:

Another major factor leading to the global health crisis concerns the shortage of health workers, who are often poorly paid. Globally, the ILO estimates that 10.3 million additional health workers are needed to close the current gaps and ensure the delivery of universal health care. In countries such as Haiti, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone, as many as 10,000 people have to rely on services provided by five or fewer health workers, whereas in a high-income country like Finland there are 269 health workers available for 10,000 people.

You can see this in the graphic here:

attribution: None Specified

If you wonder why 17,800 people have fallen ill to Ebola in just three countries–Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea–and 6,187 have died, that grey area on the map is the story. I won’t defend our corrupt system here–it’s an outrage that the drug and insurance sleazebag industries rob millions of people of their hard-earned money, a robbery Obamacare did not stop. But, the reason one or two people who got sick in West Africa survived when they were treated in the U.S. has everything to do with that light blue color in the U.S. and the grey in Africa–pretty basic things like replacing fluids in very sick patients happen in the U.S. but there is nothing like that system in Africa.In other words, there is no health system to care for people in Africa, and in many other communities in the world.

This is a system born out of relentless class warfare and corruption in Africa over several generations. Class warfare conducted by colonial powers who pillaged country after country and the leaders who were installed in many African countries to act as puppets for the colonial powers, leaders who amassed vast fortunes, and still drain the country of billions of dollars they stash in bank accounts overseas while their people starve and die.

Just so we don’t let the class warfare outside of Africa go unnoticed: the other telling section that jumped out at me was titled, again with usual ILO panache, “Effects of fiscal consolidation measures on the health crisis” (I kid the ILO but I love these guys and the work they do):

Fiscal consolidation policies aiming at economic recovery by reducing government deficits and debts might result in the opposite if they focus on health care. This is due to the fact that contracting public budgets for health protection has the potential to reduce economic productivity and increase poverty.The impacts of such policies can also be observed in the current health crisis both, in OECD countries and in low and middle income countries. While, only a few countries managed over the last years to increase at least legal health protection–e.g. the USA, China, and the Philippines–many others implemented fiscal consolidation measures impacting negatively on the availability and affordability of health services and of essential drugs such as antibiotics, and the creation and maintenance of infrastructure.[emphasis added]

Yes, march, protest and criticize the system of policing that doesn’t care about the lives of black men and women. But, then, carry the banner against the global class warfare that kills millions of people of all colors–and, in the case of Ebola, thousands of black men, women and children–just because the voracious “free market” system denies people basic health care.
Translation: All that obsession about deficits–the obsession here and in Europe–will just mean more sick and dead people.But, hey, what’s a few millions dead or sick people if it’s all in the service of handing more money to elites, either through economic austerity, tax cuts or just outright bribery and theft? Small price to pay, eh?


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Can We All Dance Around The $42 BILLION Bonfire? Mon, 08 Dec 2014 21:32:06 +0000 It gets to a point, in this crazy world–the world in which our bridges are falling down, roads are crumbling, hospitals are closing down, schools don’t have enough supplies for kids–when flushing $42 billion down the drain just seems like no big fucking deal. In the pathetic bi-partisan world of budget nonsense and more give-aways for corporations and the elite, $42 billion is seen as a “compromise.”

Ah, yes, tax extenders. Bully to the president for threatening to veto the first deal Harry Reid was willing to let pass the Senate. But, even in its slimmed down version, the one the Senate will take up, $42 billion just gets pissed away.

The climate-change deniers in the House have already passed the “compromise”. Per Citizens for Tax Justice:

Here are just a few of the problems with H.R. 5771:

■ Most of the tax breaks fail to achieve any desirable policy goals. For example, they include bonus depreciation breaks for investments in equipment that the Congressional Research Service have found to be a “relatively ineffective tool for stimulating the economy, a tax credit for research defined so loosely that it includes the work soft drink companies put into developing new flavors,and a tax break that allows General Electric to do financial business offshore without paying U.S. taxes on the profits.■ The tax breaks cannot possibly be effective in encouraging businesses to do anything because they are almost entirely retroactive. The tax breaks actually expired at the end of 2013 and this bill will extend them (almost entirely retroactively) through 2014. These tax provisions are supposedly justified as incentives for companies to do things Congress thinks are desirable, like investing in equipment or research, but that justification makes no sense when tax breaks are provided to businesses for things they have done in the past.

■ The bill increases the deficit by $42 billion to provide tax breaks that mostly benefit businesses, even after members of Congress have refused to enact any measure that helps working people unless the costs are offset. The measures that Congress refused to enact without offsets include everything from creating jobs by funding highway projects to extending emergency unemployment benefits.


If approved by the Senate and signed by the President, the bill will cap a long debate over the fate of the tax extenders, the provisions that Congress has often enacted every couple of years to extend a long list of temporary tax breaks that mostly benefit businesses. While the Senate seemed ready this year to enact an $85 billion bill to extend these breaks for two years, the House of Representatives took a different approach and approved several bills that would make some of these tax breaks permanent, increasing the budget deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars.An attempt by lawmakers from both parties to combine these approaches — making some breaks permanent while extending the rest for two years at a total cost of $450 billion — was torpedoed by the President’s veto threat last week. In response, the House Republican leadership brought to the floor the new bill to extend most of the breaks for just one year, at a cost of $42 billion.

The cost of the tax extenders will be far greater if Congress does not break its habit of extending these provisions over and over. In that scenario, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that these tax breaks will cost about $700 billion over the coming decade.[emphasis added]

CTJ has a detailed breakdown and discussion of the tax extenders.

IDIOTIC waste of money.

Given that this is just a huge waste of money, why not just pile up in the public squares of Americas, distribute the cash say roughly a billion dollars per state, and just torch it. Make a big bonfire–at least some people without homes can get a temporary moment of warmth because, probably the most useful thing you can do with this pile.

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Global Robbery In One Simple Graph Fri, 05 Dec 2014 18:54:07 +0000

Sorry, I don’t share the optimism or excitement in the headlines about the new job figures–partly because I don’t believe this lasts. It’s funny how the elites wants to always demand that we think about how the world has become “global” when it means demanding wage cuts and acceptance of shitty trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership. But, when it comes to trumpeting the go-go U.S. “recovery”, the facts of the world are put to the side.

Especially when it comes to talking about ROBBERY.

I recently wrote about the robbery of peoples’ wages in the U.S., a robbery covered up with  the innocuous word “stagnation”.

The robbery is simple: people have worked their asses off for four or five decades, productivity has soared and only a drop of that has translated into higher wages. That’s robbery.

Now, here’s a graph released today by the International Labor Organization which looks at productivity and wage growth across the globe:

What you see here is simple. Unlike the little month-to-month snapshot we get on jobs figures, this looks at period of about 12 years.People everywhere have been very productive.

And their wages have been pathetic, compared to how productive they have been.

That is ROBBERY on a global scale.

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Class Warfare=The Squeeze, Shaky Life And Volatility Wed, 03 Dec 2014 18:56:03 +0000 The steady robbery of peoples’ hard work has taken place over the past five decades, with the pace accelerating over the past twenty years. What this robbery does is basically squeeze people so hard that their lives become a shaky, volatile daily existence. Proof of the class warfare isn’t hard to find.

Yesterday, you could read this piece, “Basic Costs Squeeze Families” (subscription):

The American middle class has absorbed a steep increase in the cost of health care and other necessities as incomes have stagnated over the past half decade, a squeeze that has forced families to cut back spending on everything from clothing to restaurants.Health-care spending by middle-income Americans rose 24% between 2007 and 2013, driven by an even larger rise in the cost of buying health insurance, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of detailed consumer-spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That hit has been accompanied by increases in spending on other necessities, including food eaten at home, rent and education, as well as the soaring cost of staying connected digitally via cellphones and home Internet service.

With income growth sluggish, discretionary spending on things like clothing and movies, live shows and amusement parks has given way.

The data—drawn from 14,000 households that either keep diaries on their spending for two weeks or agree to quarterly interviews—helps explain why so many retailers are turning in persistently lackluster results, and why the household-products business has shown virtually no growth for years. It also helps illuminate why the consumer-led U.S. economy has been so slow to rebound from the financial crisis.[emphasis added]

You think? It’s something that I and many other have pointed out: when you have an economy powered mostly by consumer spending and people don’t have money to spend, shit won’t get bought…is this not obvious? Whether it is a good thing that 60-70 percent of the economy is driven by buying more stuff is an important topic but, right now, that’s the real world.The Fed showed this, as I wrote here:

Families at the bottom of the income distribution saw continued substantial declines in average real incomes between 2010 and 2013, continuing the trend observed between the 2007 and 2010 surveys.


For the median family with debt, debt burdens also fell between 2010 and 2013: Leverage ratios, debt-to-income ratios, and payment-to-income ratios all fell. The fraction of families with payment-to-income ratios greater than 40 percent declined below the level seen in 2001.


Retirement plan participation in 2013 continued on the downward trajectory observed between the 2007 and 2010 surveys for families in the bottom half of the income distribution.

And, today, we got more from U.S. Financial Diaries which “tracked every dollar earned, spent, borrowed, saved, and shared by 235 low- and moderate-income households in five states”. What it found was:

In the Diaries’ research, nearly all of the 235 households studied experienced a drop in monthly income of at least 25 percent in a single year. The main culprits were reduced work hours, health problems and shifts in household size, like a needy relative coming to stay.“Low pay is also unsteady as well,” said Jonathan Morduch, who oversees the diaries’ project. “This is a hidden inequality that often gets lost.”

That strain explains why more than three-quarters of those surveyed said financial stability was more important than moving up the income ladder.

And the story of one family:

Across the country, nearly seven million people working part time would prefer full-time jobs but can’t find them. While their numbers are down from the peak a couple of years ago, these involuntary part-timers still account for 4.5 percent of the labor force, compared to an average of 2.7 percent before the recession.Here in northern Kentucky, the Vories not only turned to the Brighton Center for food, they also applied for federal mortgage assistance, timed payments to grace periods, borrowed from family and relied on their church and friends.

They reluctantly cashed in Mr. Vories’ 401(k) retirement account, absorbing the 10 percent penalty in return for a much-needed $4,500. And they borrowed a total of $2,500 from their bank at a 10 percent interest rate.

“You think, ‘How can you afford that?’ ” Mr. Vories said, “but because it’s getting our bills paid, you do.”

None of that was necessary when Mr. Vories was steadily earning $425 a week. Fidelity matched his weekly 401(k) contributions and offered good health insurance that covered most of the medical bills from 9-year-old Caleb’s severe ADHD and 6-year-old Josh’s mild autism.

They could afford the occasional night out with dinner and a movie. He was a few months away from the seven-year mark and a bump up in pay and vacation days, when he lost his job in February 2013.

Over the next 10 months, Mr. Vories said he applied for 75 jobs. Nothing.

Last December, he received a letter promising a three-month extension of his unemployment insurance, so he and Erica bought Christmas presents for the boys, a little Fender guitar for Caleb, and a drum set for Josh. But then congressional Republicans and Democrats deadlocked and no extended benefits were approved.

The take home pay for Ms. Vories, 34, took a hit because she had to buy health insurance for the family. She signed up for a higher-paying night shift from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., hoping to make up for the unexpected loss of her husband’s unemployment insurance check. Despite the extra $250 a month, she had to stop after five months.

“You’re basically a zombie,” Ms. Vories said. “I saw the boys basically on Saturday, and you’re just playing catch-up.”

They reduced their church contributions. During the winter, they turned the heat down to 64 degrees. “We had one little space heater, and we would take it to whatever room we were in,” Mr. Vories said.

Still, the bills piled up. “We would get one week behind, then we would get two weeks behind, then three weeks behind,” Mr. Vories said.

Mr. Vories’s job with the I.R.S. during tax season brought home $375 a week, but it lasted only six weeks. Thanks to help from the Hardest Hit Fund, a temporary federal mortgage assistance program, they avoided losing their home.

They kept the house, but didn’t have enough money to fix the central air-conditioning that quit right before the temperature shot past 90 degrees. They closed off the family room downstairs because of the sweltering heat. Parishioners at their church lent them a couple of window units.

A few weeks later, the Vories’s 2002 Toyota Corolla quit on their way back from a church tent revival meeting. With only one car, Ms. Vories had to stop working the early shift, which had allowed her to be home in time to meet the school bus. Mr. Vories’s mother pitched in to babysit.

In September, Mr. Vories stopped by LaRosa’s pizzeria, where he got his first job at 15, washing dishes after school. He was overjoyed to hear they needed a delivery driver.

But then in mid-October, as they we were driving home from visiting family, their Nissan van was totaled in a car accident. It was a heartbreak, because they had just poured in more than $1,000, given by Ms. Vories’s parents, in repairs.

“It just feels like money down the drain,” Mr. Vories said, shaking his head.

Proud of an above-average evaluation at the I.R.S., Mr. Vories said he was hopeful he would be rehired after the new year for seasonal work, which could ultimately turn into a full-time job.

In the meantime, Mr. Vories is delivering pizzas, using his parents’ Mercury Grand Marquis.[emphasis added]

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Dale Scott, Veteran Baseball Umpire, Comes Out Tue, 02 Dec 2014 23:23:38 +0000 You know, one day very soon, this isn’t going to make headlines. It just won’t matter because it will be so accepted as part of the fabric of society. Today, however, it’s still important to cheer for the men and women who come out in the workplace who, because of their relative influence, can move the needle.

Today, it’s Major League Baseball’s umpire Dale Scott:

As a Major League Baseball umpire for 29 years, where going relatively unnoticed means that you are doing your job well, Dale Scott has kept a low profile.He has umpired three World Series and three All-Star Games. He recently worked as the crew chief for the National League division series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals.

But Scott, 55, now will be known as the first publicly gay active major league umpire. He has not hidden the fact that he is gay for many years, but made it public with an article published Tuesday.

“If this ‘revelation’ happens to touch someone, somewhere, that’s what’s important to me,” Scott said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I’m not here to wave the flag and try to say, ‘Look at me, look at me.’ I just know that’s the way it is when something like this comes out. It’s kind of against my nature, but it’s something that I thought was time.”

Scott has been in a relationship with Michael Rausch since 1986, when they met in a Portland, Ore., bar during Scott’s first off-season after reaching the majors. They were married in California last year. Baseball officials and fellow umpires have known that Scott is gay since the late 1990s, he said.

The other day I wrote about basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s outspoken comments about Ferguson and racism. In the same vein, Scott’s willingness to speak about the man he loves will probably reach a lot of people, through the sports portals that cascade into every home.

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