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ND-Dem's Journal
ND-Dem's Journal
March 30, 2015

George Will Must not think Willie Mays Was a Great Baseball Player (Equality better than inequality)

That is the implication of his column touting the virtues of inequality. Will seems to think that we could not get people to work hard to master skills or to be great innovators if they didn't have the prospect of earning billions or tens of billions of dollars. But if we look back through history we can identify an enormous number of tremendously talented and creative individuals who did not get fabulously wealthy or even have any plausible hope of getting fabulously wealthy.

Mays was of course well-paid, but adjusting for inflation, his best paychecks would probably be less than one-tenth of the pay of today's stars. And, there is no shortage of great athletes, writers, musicians, and other performers who never even made Willie Mays type salaries. The same is true of inventors. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the first effective polio vaccine, undoubtedly had a comfortable standard of living, but nothing approaching the wealth of a Bill Gates or even Jamie Dimon.

In fact, if we look back to the period of relative equality from the end of World War II to 1980, the economy made far more rapid progress than it did in the next three and a half decades of rising inequality. If the argument is that people need material incentive to do their best work, then Will has a case. If the argument is that people need the motivation of immense wealth to work hard and innovate, then Will is demonstrably wrong.


March 30, 2015

(UK): Ex-undercover officer reveals that covert police unit spied on trade union members

Whistleblower Peter Francis revealed last night that the undercover police unit he worked for gathered intelligence on members of at least five trade unions.

Below is his full statement that was read out by John McDonnell MP at a meeting in Parliament last night. The meeting was held to launch a new book - Blacklisted : the Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists.

“I am humbled as well as honoured to be offered to speak tonight at such an important book launch here at the prestigious House of Commons.

“However I cannot appear here for a number of reasons, including and primarily, because of some very serious outstanding legal issues/difficulties with the Metropolitan police, that continue to hang over me ever since I became a whistleblower and therefore a potential criminal in their eyes...

“In relation to Mark JENNER aka Mark CASSIDY, exposed last week in the media as being a UCATT member...

“An anonymous and unaccountable Scotland Yard spokesperson has obviously re-quoted their usual attempted ‘Get out of Jail Free card’ response...But tonight, here in this supposed home of UK democracy, please let me state very clearly that Mark JENNER was 100% one of my fellow undercover SDS police officers deployed alongside me in the 1990s.

“Jenner, who has now been very publicly exposed, should be forced to appear in person at the public inquiry to account for his spying on, amongst numerous other political protesters, the totally law-abiding construction union UCATT members whose only ‘crimes’ were being union members.

“I would also like take this opportunity to unreservedly apologise to all the union members I personally spied upon and reported back on whilst deployed undercover in the SDS.



March 30, 2015

CIA aided domestic phone spying

A Justice Department program used to gather data from U.S. cellphones apparently has a secret partner: the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The CIA played a role in helping the U.S. Marshals Service develop technology that imitates cellphone towers, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday. The system, used on airplanes, allows federal agents to scoop up identifying and location information for thousands of cellphones in every sweep.

The spy agency’s role in the so-called “dirtbox” program was previously unknown, and is considered unusual, given that the CIA is banned from most domestic spying operations...
Development of the “dirtbox” devices began approximately 10 years ago when the CIA arranged for the Marshals Service to receive money to conduct surveillance, the Journal reported. The two groups worked together for years to develop the technology, versions of which are used overseas to track terror suspects.

The program relies on specially equipped planes that fly from five U.S. cities. Sweeps gather data from most of the U.S. population, including non-suspects, according to the Journal.


The FBI's operating overseas and the CIA at home. Clusterfucks everywhere.
March 30, 2015

It's Monday and Robert Samuelson Wants to Cut Social Security and Medicare

Yes, once again Robert Samuelson stresses the urgency of cutting Social Security and Medicare. It's the usual pox on both your houses story, but as usual he leaves his thumb on the scale. In discussing the Republicans' proposals to save money by cutting spending, he says that their budget saves $2 trillion over the next decade (@ 0.9 percent of GDP) by repealing Obamacare. This is not quite right. The Republican proposal repeals the spending in the program, but leaves most of the revenue that paid for the spending in place.

In making the case for cutting Social Security and Medicare he suggests raising the retirement age to 69 or 70 over 15 years. By comparison, in 1983 the normal retirement age was raised from 65 to 67 over a 40 year period, so Samuelson is proposing a very abrupt increase in the retirement age. (The increase from age 66 to 67 is being phased in over the years 2016-2022, so Samuelson's rise would overlap with this rise.) More accurately, this should be thought of as a cut in benefits of almost 20 percent over a 15 year period. In addition, Samuelson also wants to raise the age of Medicare eligibility to 69 or 70, implying large increases in health care costs for people between age 65 and 70.

The median retiree will have virtually no income other than Social Security in retirement. The average Social Security benefit is a bit less than $1,300 a month, yet somehow Samuelson views these cuts as being progressive. He does also want to cut benefits for "wealthier" retirees. In order to get any notable savings it would be necessary to have a cutoff for benefit cuts at around $40,000 of non-Social Security income. This gives a whole new definition to the term "wealthier."

The idea that we face any serious budget problems demanding immediate action is a Washington fantasy. For the foreseeable future, with the economy below full employment, we would be much better off with more spending rather than less. Furthermore, if we are worried about the projected deficits toward the end of the 10-year budget horizon the best route would be to have the Fed keep interest rates low and allow the unemployment rate fall back towards its pre-recession level.

The idea that the government can never raise taxes is also bizarre. The Social Security tax was raised by more than two percentage points in the 1980s. This did not prevent healthy job and GDP growth. And, people have shown a willingness to pay more in taxes to preserve benefits. In fact, only about 10 percent of the population even noticed the two percentage point jump in the payroll tax at the start of 2013. So the idea that we can never raise taxes to support Social Security is an invention of Robert Samuelson and the Washington Post gang, not a claim that is based on evidence. It is also worth noting that if workers were receiving their share of productivity gains, any possible increases in Social Security taxes would be trivial by comparison.

Finally, we might expect that people's willingness to pay taxes would be affected by what they get for tax dollars. With a much larger share of health care spending being paid by the government due to Obamacare, it might be reasonable to think that people would be willing to pay some of their savings in higher taxes. This possibility has apparently never occurred to Robert Samuelson and the Washington Post crowd.

It is also worth noting that the huge slowdown in health care cost growth has apparently made no impression on this gang. Why should they let reality interfere with their drive to cut Social Security and Medicare?


Please note that CEPR allows people to repost its content with attribution.

About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. In order for citizens to effectively exercise their voices in a democracy, they should be informed about the problems and choices that they face. CEPR is committed to presenting issues in an accurate and understandable manner, so that the public is better prepared to choose among the various policy options.

Toward this end, CEPR conducts both professional research and public education.... CEPR was co-founded by economists Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot. Our Advisory Board includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz; Janet Gornick, Professor at the CUNY Graduate School and Director of the Luxembourg Income Study; and Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics at Harvard University.

March 30, 2015

Long Before East Village Explosion, Gas Line Reportedly Was Tapped

The explosion and fire that ravaged the area in the Manhattan neighborhood may have been tied to a gas line that was tapped in a potentially hazardous manner more than seven months ago, reports The New York Times. At least 22 people were injured in the incident.

In August, the owners of Sushi Park called Con Edison after smelling a “strong odor” of gas in the basement. Speaking to the Times, owner Hyeonil Kim said that they had called the police, and utility workers reported that gas at the restaurant had been “illegally” siphoned off for use in apartments upstairs in the building, which had been recently renovated.

Kim contacted the building’s landlord, who then hired a plumber to conduct a quick-fix “piping job” that assuaged the problem for the time being...


March 30, 2015

More countries to join China-backed AIIB investment bank

Russia, Australia and the Netherlands on Saturday became the latest three countries to say they plan to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), adding clout to an institution seen as enhancing China's regional and global influence.

The AIIB, seen as a challenge to existing institutions the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, has drawn a cool response from the United States, despite which European U.S. allies including Britain, France, Germany and Italy have already announced they would join the bank.

Other countries such as Turkey and South Korea have also said they would join. Brazil, China's top trading partner, said on Friday it would sign up and that there were no conditions set. "Brazil is very interested in participating in this initiative," the office of President Dilma Rousseff said in a statement...


March 29, 2015

Senate passes Republican budget with deep safety net cuts (& military increases)

The Senate passed a Republican-authored budget plan early on Friday that seeks $5.1 trillion in domestic spending cuts over 10 years while boosting military funding.

The 52-46 vote on the non-binding budget resolution put Congress on a path to complete its first full budget in six years...Two Republican senators who are running or considering running for president, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, voted against their party's budget plan, which is similar to one passed by House Republicans on Wednesday.

In addition to aiming to eliminate deficits within 10 years, both documents seek to ease the path for a repeal or replacement of President Barack Obama's signature health care reform law.

But differences between the two documents still need to be worked out and a combined budget passed next month by both chambers. Doing so would allow Republicans to invoke parliamentary rules to repeal "Obamacare" with a simple majority in the Senate rather than a tough-to-achieve 60 vote threshold.

(OK, I want to know how they would do this so easily when we've been told for ages the 60-vote thing is what's prevented the Democrats from doing anything meaningful...?)

Under the convoluted U.S. spending process, the budgets do not become law, but influence government agency funding bills later in the year. They also showcase the fiscal vision for Republicans who now control both Houses of Congress for the first time since 2006 and are eager to demonstrate their ability to govern.

"This balanced budget is an important first step to help Washington live within its means, just like hardworking families have to do every day," said Republican Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi...

The Senate budget seeks to eliminate U.S. deficits by 2025 without raising taxes through deep cuts to social safety net programs, investments in transportation and education and other domestic programs.

At the same time, it proposes to boost defense spending by adding about $38 billion to an off-budget war funding account, and offers core Pentagon budget increases in subsequent years...


March 29, 2015

80% of Anti-Muslim Attacks in France Against Women, Says Report

80% of the anti-Muslim acts which occur in France are carried out against women a new report published today by Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, has revealed...

Attacks on Muslims have been on the rise in France since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January. Earlier this month the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) published data that showed that between the Charlie Hebdo attacks on 7th January and the end of that month there were 147 ‘acts’ carried out against Muslims.

In the week following the attacks the CFCM reported that 26 separate mosques had been attacked across the country. In some cases the buildings were firebombed and in other grenades were thrown.

Fiyaz Mughal, the director of UK-based interfaith thinktank Faith Matters says that the term ‘acts’ covers a huge range of hostile actions. He says they have received complaints from Muslim women which include: “Spitting, general abuse, pulling and tearing at the niqab and the hijab, plus dog faeces being thrown at women, as well as bottles from passing cars and people shouting things like ‘Muslim whore’ ‘Muslim bitch’ or ‘Muzzie’.”

On why he believes Muslim women might face more abuse than their male counterparts, Mughal says: “All our data... shows that visible women are the ones that are targeted at a street level. This means that women who wear the hijab are the ones that are sometimes targeted for abuse and those who wear the niqab suffer more anti-Muslim hate incidents and more aggressive assaults.”


March 29, 2015

WI, NJ & MO see food stamp cuts resulting from refusal of heating assistance benefits

Wisconsin is one of three states to end a program that allowed residents access to increased food assistance paid for by the federal government through "heat-and-eat" programs.

Wisconsin, New Jersey and Michigan residents will see cuts in federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) benefits as a result of the states' decisions not to increase the amount of heating assistance given to people in poverty.

The choice was prompted by the farm bill reauthorized by Congress in February. As part of the nearly $1 trillion bill, lawmakers changed the requirements of heat-and-eat programs. Before the changes, states that gave residents as little as $1 were qualified to receive an average of $1,080 in additional food stamps. States are now required to contribute $20 per household in order to receive federal food stamp funding.

The farm bill provision was designed to cut spending on food stamps as states dropped out of the program. Sixteen states participated in the program, and had all of them been pushed out, savings were estimated at $8.6 billion over the next 10 years.

But all but three have pledged to pay for the increased minimum through other means in order to continue to qualify for the funding.

Wisconsin, New Jersey and Michigan account for 20 percent of food-stamp recipients among the 16 states.

Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/writers/jessie-opoien/wisconsin-one-of-three-states-to-reject-food-stamp-increase/article_ac1cdac8-ef38-55cf-bac6-732341209772.html#ixzz3Vk7FwpCB

March 29, 2015

Colombian Report on US Military’s Child Rapes

An 800-page independent report commissioned by the US-friendly Colombian government and the radical left rebel group FARC found that US military soldiers and contractors had sexually abused at least 54 children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007 and, in all cases, the rapists were never punished–either in Colombia or stateside–due to American military personnel being immune from prosecution under diplomatic immunity agreements between the two countries.

The report was part of a broader historical analysis meant to establish the “causes and violence aggravators” of the 50-year-long conflict between the government and rebels that’s presently being negotiated to an end. As Colombia Reports (3/23/15) would spell out:

In his report, the historian [Renan Vega] cited one 2004 case in the central Colombian town of Melgar where 53 underage girls were sexually abused by nearby stationed military contractors “who moreover filmed [the abuse] and sold the films as pornographic material.”

According to Colombia’s leading newspaper, El Tiempo, the victims of the sexual abuse practices were forced to flee the region after their families received death threats.

Other Americans stationed at the Tolemaida Air Base allegedly committed similar crimes, but possibly also never saw a day in court due to an immunity arrangement for American soldiers and military contractors agreed by Washington and Bogota.

One case that has called most attention in Colombian media was that of a 12-year-old who in 2007 was raped by a US Army sergeant and a former US military officer who was working in Melgar as a military contractor.

Colombian prosecutors established that the girl had been drugged and subsequently raped inside the military base by US sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz.

However, prosecution officials were not allowed to arrest the suspected child rapists who were subsequently flown out of the country.


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