Later On

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Archive for June 22nd, 2013

The Two Political Parties Are Remarkably Far Apart on Basic Issues

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David Morris writes at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, with this article carried by AlterNet:

The gridlock that plagues Washington leads many, fairly or unfairly, to lump together the two parties and declare a pox on both their houses.  But most state governments are not gridlocked. Just the opposite.  In almost two thirds one party controls both legislative houses (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature) and the governorship:  Republicans 20, Democrats 13.

In these states, parties can translate ideology into policies virtually unimpeded.  An examination of these policies allows us to get behind the name-calling and 30-second sound bites and discover the remarkable difference between the two parties on fundamental issues.

Contrary to popular wisdom, the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats is not on the size of government but the purpose and goals of government.  Both parties believe in taxing heavily and spending lavishly when it comes to protecting our nation from external attack.  Both parties fervently embrace the Declaration of Independence’s insistence that among our “unalienable rights” are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  But their conceptions of security and liberty differ radically.

Democrats believe that governments should not only secure our borders but also advance our personal security.  As reflected in recently enacted state laws, that belief translates into policies extending health care access to as many as possible, raising the minimum wage and expanding unemployment insurance. Republicans vigorously oppose this use of government.  They insist we should not be compelled to be our brothers’ keeper. Of the 13 states that so far have refused the federal government’s offer to pay 100 percent of the costs of expanding health care coverage to millions of their residents, for example, Republicans dominate 12.  All six of the states that are leaning that way are Republican controlled.

What Democrats see as steps to enhance security Republicans view as steps that restrict liberty.  They assert that government-created health exchanges interfere with the right of insurance companies to manage their own affairs while the requirement that everyone have health insurance constitutes an act of tyranny.  Minimum wage laws interfere with the economic liberty of business and the freedom of the marketplace.

Republicans argue that taxes, especially those that tax the rich at higher rates than the poor, interfere with our liberty to pursue happiness by amassing unrestrained wealth.   In the last legislative session Democrat-controlled California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota raised the income tax rate on millionaires while in the last two legislative sessions, Republican-controlled Kansas reduced such rates by 75 percent and legislators in Kansas as well as in North Carolina and Nebraska are openly pushing for the complete elimination of the income tax.

It is important to note that these Republican actions often result less in a tax reduction than in a tax shift from income taxes to sales or property taxes that burden lower income households most heavily.

When it comes to personal liberty, however, Republicans believe in big government. As former Republican Senator and Presidential candidate Rick Santorum observed, “The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire.”  Even if their wants or passions do not harm others.

This legislative session Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota joined 9 other states and the District of Columbia in extending the freedom to marry to include those of the same sex. Meanwhile, of the 25 states with constitutional prohibitions on same sex marriage, 22 are completely controlled by Republicans.  None are Democrat dominant.

Of the 17 states that have enacted medical marijuana laws, 10 are Democratic and only two are Republican. (The rest are not controlled by a single party.) As if to put an exclamation point on this difference, the same day last November that voters in Washington and Colorado approved the legalization of marijuana, voters in Arkansas handily defeated a proposal to allow the drug to be used for medicinal purposes with a doctor’s prescription.

Gun control is an issue that for Republicans and Democrats affects both liberty and security. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 7:31 pm

80 percent of US packaged foods may contain dangerous chemicals

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Interesting article at RT.com:

Roughly 80 percent of all the packaged foods sold within the United States contain chemicals outlawed in other parts of the world, Britain’s Daily Mail reports.

Six common food additives found in an estimated 8-out-of-10 products sold in American stores are banned outside of the US, the Mail claims, putting millions of Americans at risk of consuming chemicals considered too dangerous for humans in other countries.

Grocery shop items including best-selling soft-drinks and cereal sold in the US contain additives such as brominated vegetable oil, olestra and others that have been banned in the European Union and elsewhere.

The Daily Mail cites ‘Rich Food, Poor Food,’ a recently published book by Jayson Calton and Mira Calton, as the source for their claim that the majority of American groceries contain the additives.

Among the common items containing the chemicals are Mountain Dew, Chex Mix and Hungry Man frozen dinners, which are made with additives outlawed overseas due to health risks. The Caltons say these products are filled with some of the six “Banned Bad Boys” that are used in America but absent in supermarkets overseas.

One of the most common ‘Bad Boys’ is different variations of food coloring, which actually is made from petroleum and is found in everyday items like soda, sports drinks, mac and cheese, cake, candy and several other common, American products,” reports the Daily Mail. One of the chemicals in that food coloring, they add, has been proven to cause various different cancers. Those artificial dyes have been outlawed in Norway, Finland, Austria, France and the United Kingdom

Another additive, brominated vegetable oil, has been banned in over 100 countries because it’s been linked to causing major organ damage, birth defects and hearing loss, among other side effects. Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, is used in Mountain Dew, Gatorade, Powerade and Squirt — and around 10 percent of all drinks sold in the US.

A petition started earlier this year to get BVOs out of beverages sold in the US received over 206,000 signatures on the website Change.org.

BVO is banned other places in the world, so these companies already have a replacement for it,” the petition’s author, Sarah Kavanagh, told The New York Times. “I don’t see why they don’t just make the switch.”

Another additive, potassium bromate, is used in American bakeries to speed up the process of preparing wraps, rolls and other bread products. It’s derived from the same chemical as BVO, though, and has been tied to causing kidney damage and cancer. That’s why it’s been outlawed in Europe, Canada and China, but not in the US.

Also on the Calton’s list is . . .

Continue reading.

The article fails to list the safe 20%.

The sad fact is that corporations care nothing whatsoever about their customers’ health. Corporations simply want more profit—always, no limit—and so they are always looking for the cheapest possible production methods and materials.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 1:14 pm

The NSA and 9/11

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Interesting story in ProPublica by Justin Elliott:

In defending the NSA’s sweeping collection of Americans’ phone call records, Obama administration officials have repeatedlypointed out how it could have helped thwart the 9/11 attacks: If only the surveillance program been in place before Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. authorities would have been able to identify one of the future hijackers who was living in San Diego.

Last weekend, former Vice President Dick Cheney invoked the same argument.

It is impossible to know for certain whether screening phone records would have stopped the attacks — the program didn’t exist at the time. It’s also not clear whether the program would have given the NSA abilities it didn’t already possess with respect to the case. Details of the current program and as well as NSA’s role in intelligence gathering around the 9/11 plots remain secret.  

But one thing we do know: Those making the argument have ignored a key aspect of historical record.

U.S. intelligence agencies knew the identity of the hijacker in question, Saudi national Khalid al Mihdhar, long before 9/11 and had the ability find him, but they failed to do so.

“There were plenty of opportunities without having to rely on this metadata system for the FBI and intelligence agencies to have located Mihdhar,” says former Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who extensively investigated 9/11 as chairman of the Senate’s intelligence committee.

These missed opportunities are described in detail in the joint congressional report produced by Graham and his colleagues as well as in the 9/11 Commission report.

Mihdhar is at the center of the well-known story of the failure of information sharing between the CIA and FBI and other agencies.

Indeed, the Obama administration’s invocation of the Mihdhar case echoes a nearly identical argument made by the Bush administration eight years ago when it defended the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Mihdhar and the other hijacker with whom he lived in California, Nawaf al Hazmi, were “experienced mujahideen” who had traveled to fight in Bosnia in the mid-1990s and spent time in Afghanistan.

Mihdhar was on the intelligence community’s radar at least as early as 1999. That’s when the NSA had picked up communications from a “terrorist facility” in the Mideast suggesting that members of an “operational cadre” were planning to travel to Kuala Lumpur in January 2000, according to the commission report. The NSA picked up the first names of the members, including a “Khalid.” The CIA identified him as Khalid al Mihdhar.

The U.S. got photos of those attending the January 2000 meeting in Malaysia, including of Mihdhar, and the CIA also learned that his passport had a visa for travel to the U.S. But that fact was not shared with FBI headquarters until much later, in August 2001, which proved too late.

“Critical parts of the information concerning al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi lay dormant

within the Intelligence Community for as long as eighteen months,” the congressional 9/11 report concludes, “at the very time when plans for the September 11 attacks were proceeding.

The CIA missed repeated opportunities to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 11:54 am

NSA secrets revealed — in 1960

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Another good article from the Washington Post:

David Barrett is a professor of political science at Villanova University, where he teaches a course on U.S. intelligence, and is the co-author of “Blind Over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis.”

The young man was employed by the National Security Agency for only a couple of years before feeling shocked at its intrusions into other countries’ affairs and even private mail addressed to U.S. citizens. He was also disgusted at the contrast between the idealistic language of the president, serving his second term, and the behavior of the government he headed.

The young man talked repeatedly with a close friend who also worked at the NSA. The two tried informing a member of Congress of the agency’s activities. But the representative — Wayne Hays (D-Ohio) — did not expose what they told him. So the two devised a plan to publicize what they considered the extraordinarily hypocritical actions of the government. They would travel secretly to a country where no extradition agreements could affect them and tell the press what the NSA had done.

It was the summer of 1960, and 29-year-old William Martin and 31-year-old Bernon Mitchell told their bosses they were going on a three-week vacation. On June 25, they took a cab from their homes near NSA headquarters in Maryland to National Airport, discussing chess during the ride. They flew to New Orleans and then Mexico City before making their way to Cuba and then — by way of a long boat ride — to the Soviet Union.

A month later, NSA officials obtained a warrant to open a safe-deposit box rented by Mitchell and learned of the defection. In August, the government announced that two mathematicians working for the NSA had defected but played down the significance. But on Sept. 6, 1960, the two walked into the elaborately gilded Soviet Journalists Union headquarters in Moscow and faced an audience of reporters from around the world, including the United States.

Under strong lights, the two cryptologists revealed far more than had ever been disclosed about U.S. intelligence-gathering activities since the NSA was created by secret executive order in 1952. The agency, they reported, “gathers communications intelligence from almost all nations of the world.” They emphasized their disenchantment over the NSA “intercepting and deciphering of the secret communications of its own allies,” naming France, Italy, Uruguay and others. The U.S. government had gone “so far as to recruit agents from among the personnel of its allies” by giving money to a “code clerk working in the Washington embassy of a United States ally for supplying information, which assisted in the description of the ally’s coded messages.” That ally was Turkey, they said.

They also revealed that the CIA’s spy flights over the Soviet Union — which had been exposed in the infamous downing of a U-2 a few months earlier — were not rare: For years the U.S. government had frequently sent military aircraft over the U.S.S.R. to gather intelligence.

A decade and a half before the Senate’s Church Committee would reveal that the U.S. government had attempted the overthrow of various foreign governments, Martin and Mitchell said just that: “Since going to work for the National Security Agency in the summer of 1957, we have learned that the United States government . . . secretly manipulates money and military supplies in an effort to bring about the overthrow of governments which are felt to be unfriendly to the United States.”

Citing press reports, they also claimed that the federal government had opened millions of pieces of mail sent from abroad to U.S. residents.

In sum, the United States had employed intelligence methods “as unscrupulous as it has accused the Soviet government of being.”

Whereas Edward Snowden’s recent revelations have provoked significant debate about whether the NSA’s activities are legal, properly monitored by Congress and justifiable, such a debate did not occur in 1960. Legislators and the press seemed interested in the revelations, but no one expressed sympathy for Martin and Mitchell. They were “self-confessed” traitors, said President Dwight D. Eisenhower. They “ought to be shot,” Harry Truman said. On Capitol Hill, the focus was on who erred in hiring Martin and Mitchell, who had brought about “one of the worst security breaches in American history.” After the government revealed that at least one of the two was gay, there was also debate about whether homosexuals were a threat to national security. (The press routinely referred to them as “close bachelor friends.” Rep. Francis Walter (D-Pa.), who would investigate the personnel security practices of the NSA, referred to Martin and Mitchell as “deviates” and “poor, unfortunate homosexuals.”) . . .

Continue reading. Eisenhower was wrong: the US had not declared war on the Soviet Union, so the two men, though they undoubtedly broke laws, were not guilty of treason.

This does show how difficult it is to change things if agencies continue to operate as they please and no effective oversight is provided.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 11:50 am

Posted in Government, Law, NSA

NSA surveillance may be legal — but it’s unconstitutional

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Laura Donohue writes in the Washington Post:

Laura K. Donohue is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and director of Georgetown’s Center on National Security and the Law.

The National Security Agency’s recently revealed surveillance programs undermine the purpose of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was established to prevent this kind of overreach. They violate the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. And they underscore the dangers of growing executive power.

The intelligence community has a history of overreaching in the name of national security. In the mid-1970s, it came to light that, since the 1940s, the NSA had been collecting international telegraphic traffic from companies, in the process obtaining millions of Americans’ telegrams that were unrelated to foreign targets. From 1940 to 1973, the CIA and the FBI engaged in covert mail-opening programs that violated laws prohibiting the interception or opening of mail. The agencies also conducted warrantless “surreptitious entries,” breaking into targets’ offices and homes to photocopy or steal business records and personal documents. The Army Security Agency intercepted domestic radio communications. And the Army’s CONUS program placed more than 100,000 people under surveillance, including lawmakers and civil rights leaders.

After an extensive investigation of the agencies’ actions, Congress passed the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to limit sweeping collection of intelligence and create rigorous oversight. But 35 years later, the NSA is using this law and its subsequent amendments as legal grounds to run even more invasive programs than those that gave rise to the statute.

We’ve learned that in April, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ordered Verizon to provide information on calls made by each subscriber over a three-month period. Over the past seven years, similar orders have been served continuously on AT&T, Sprint and other telecommunications providers.

Another program, PRISM, disclosed by the Guardian and The Washington Post, allows the NSA and the FBI to obtain online data including e-mails, photographs, documents and connection logs. The information that can be assembledabout any one person — much less organizations, social networks and entire communities — is staggering: What we do, think and believe.

The government defends the programs’ legality, saying they comply with FISA and its amendments. It may be right, but only because FISA has ceased to provide a meaningful constraint.

Under the traditional FISA, if the government wants to conduct electronic surveillance, it must make a classified application to a special court, identitying or describing the target. It must demonstrate probable cause that the target is a foreign power or an agent thereof, and that the facilities to be monitored will be used by the target. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 11:45 am

Where are you when we need you, Philip K. Dick?

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Check out this story in the NY Times: As Scalia (! of all people!) warned, allowing collection of DNA samples as a routine procedure in booking an arrest is a true game-changer.

Here’s the line of development that brought Dick to mind: First, the idea that there will be a national database—quickly followed by an international database—of the DNA data for each citizen is obvious. The data are already digitized, and digital storage is cheap enough—plus those data can be much compressed, I would think. So you have a bunch of digital records to manage, and that means a database. And for ease of search and storage—i.e., to save money—standard formats and interchanges will be established, with the data in the cloud, being updated continually in real time, with each query either matching an existing record or creating a new record.

That is, when you are arrested, just taking your DNA will search the database and create a record for you if none exists; and if one does, your full profile is at the fingertips of the arresting officer on the spot.

You see where this is going: technology advances and soon enough (one decade? two? less?) there will be portable DNA analyzers—small enough to fit into a police vehicle. Run the swab, tuck it in, wait a few minutes, and read the person’s full background—IF they’ve been arrested before.

That would be the problem: all those people not previously arrested. They get pulled over, the test is run, and no matches.

So the next step is to collect DNA on everyone—or almost everyone. Say, getting a driver’s license requires a DNA sample (“so the body can be identified in case of a bad traffic accident,” say). That would pull in enough.

So now the field matches pretty much always include a full profile of information about the person. But it’s sort of static information: nothing about where he’s been in the last few days, for example.

We have to assume here that computers are faster, bandwidths greater, and cloud access immediate, but: it occurs to people that with strategically-placed DNA detectors

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 11:40 am

Posted in Daily life

FBI: Knew About Saudi 9/11 Hijacker Ties—But Lied To Protect “National Security”

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Another from WhoWhatWhy.com by Russ Baker—and again, sort of reads like a conspiracy theorist, but certainly suggestive evidence, but then if it’s true—wow!:

The FBI apparently has known for a decade about links between powerful Saudi interests and the alleged 9/11 hijackers, and has been forced to tacitly admit that it lied about it for all of these years.

In case the import is not clear, let us state emphatically: this is a huge development.

***

In court filings seeking to stave off a media Freedom of Information request, the FBI has stated that releasing documents relating to this issue will harm “national security.”  As proof of the sensitivity of the matter, the FBI gave the judge a document dated April 4, 2002, in which the FBI states that its own inquiries “revealed many connections” between a well-connected Saudi family with a house in South Florida and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

The Sarasota Affair

The Freedom of Information request that prompted these reluctant admissions was filed by the Broward Bulldog, a South Florida nonprofit investigative site which first covered the Saudi connection in 2011.

The Bulldog’s reporting explained how a family living in an exclusive gated community outside Sarasota, on Florida’s West Coast, had apparently vanished suddenly some 10 days before the 9/11 attacks. Investigators, including a swarm of FBI agents, found that the family’s departure was clearly so sudden that they left almost their entire household intact, down to cars, clothing, and food in the refrigerator. Most significant, though, investigators had established that several of the men publicly identified as among the 9/11 hijackers, including purported ringleader Mohammed Atta, had visited the house and/or been linked to it through a web of telephone communications.

The FBI told none of this to Congress, and it was not mentioned in the original 9/11 Commission report released in 2004.

WhoWhatWhy, in an original investigation, went deeper, and established that the owner of the house was  a prominent Saudi businessman who works directly for the Saudi prince most involved with aviation—including being the first Saudi who trained to fly planes in South Florida.  You can read our complete story here.

The significance of this cannot be stated strongly enough. Although many people think they “already know” about ties between the hijackers and Saudi royals, they confuse these important revelations with reports that prominent Saudis were permitted to leave the country shortly after 9/11, as popularized in Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11.

This new revelation is far more significant. The older story shows possible favoritism toward, or at least concern for, well-connected Saudis on the part of the US government in permitting them to leave. The Sarasota story, however, shows . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 11:40 am

When Drones Guard the Pipeline – Militarizing Fossil Fuels in the East

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We’ve already seen an oil company working to convince law enforcement that anyone protesting the oil company’s actions or plans is a terrorist and thus can be treated in accordance with the Patriot Act (which allows imprisonment without charges provided that an authority suspects that the person is a terrorist: mere suspicion is sufficient). Now the next step: drones. Winona LaDuke with Frank Molley report at Honor the Earth:

Someone needs to explain to me why wanting clean drinking water makes you an activist, and why proposing to destroy water with chemical warfare doesn’t make a corporation a terrorist.

I’m in South Dakota today, sort of a ground zero for the XL Keystone Pipeline, that pipeline, owned by a Canadian Corporation which will export tar sands oil to the rest of the world. This is the heart of the North American continent here. Bwaan Akiing is what we call this land-Land of the Lakota. There are no pipelines across it, and beneath it is the Oglalla Aquifer wherein lies the vast majority of the water for this region. The Lakota understand that water is life, and that there is no new water. It turns out, tar sands carrying pipelines (otherwise called “dilbit”) are sixteen times more likely to break than a conventional pipeline, and it seems that some ranchers and Native people, in a new Cowboy and Indian Alliance, are intent upon protecting that water.

This community understands the price of protecting land. And, the use of military force upon a civilian community- carrying an acute memory of the over 133,000 rounds of ammunition fired by the National Guard upon Lakota people forty years ago in the Wounded Knee standoff. That experience is coming home again, this time in Mi’gmaq territory.

Militarization of North American Oil Fields

This past week in New Brunswick, the Canadian military came out to protect oil companies. In this case, seismic testing for potential natural gas reserves by Southwestern Energy Company(SWN), a Texas based company working in the province. It’s an image of extreme energy, and perhaps the times.

SWN exercised it’s permit to conduct preliminary testing to assess resource potential for shale gas exploitation. Canadian constitutional law requires the consultation with First Nations, and this has not occurred. That’s when Elsipogtog Mi’gmaq warrior chief, John Levi, seized a vehicle containing seismic testing equipment owned by SWN. Their claim is that fracking is illegal without their permission on their traditional territory. About 65 protesters, including women and children, seized the truck at a gas station and surrounded the vehicle so that it couldn’t be removed from the parking lot. Levi says that SWN broke the law when they first started fracking “in our traditional hunting grounds, medicine grounds, contaminating our waters.” according to reporter Jane Mundy in on line Lawyers and Settlements publication. This may be just the beginning.

On June 9, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) came out en masse, seemingly to protect SWN seismic exploration crews against peaceful protesters – both native and non-Native, blocking route 126 from seismic thumper trucks. Armed with guns, paddy wagons and twist tie restraints, peaceful protestors were arrested. Four days later the protesting continued, and this time drew the attention of local military personnel. As one Mi’gmag said, “Just who is calling the shots in New Brunswick when the value of the land and water take a backseat to the risks associated with shale gas development?”

The militarization of the energy fields is not new. It’s just more apparent when it’s in a first world country, albeit New Brunswick. New Brunswick is sort of the El Salvador of Canadian provinces, if one looks at the economy, run akin to an oligarchy. New Brunswick’s Irving family empire stretches from . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 11:24 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Free book!: The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive

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Here’s the book, available in various formats (including Kindle). I discovered it via a very interesting (and lengthy) column by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

There are two main schools of thought on income inequality: the fatalists, who contend that rising inequality is the ineluctable result of a changing economy, and the redistributionists, who blame a skewed tax system and lethargic government. Perhaps it’s time to consider a third.

The fatalistsThe fatalist case rests on technology: As we replace human toil with networked computers and tireless robots, those who own the technology or learn to master it benefit, and those whose jobs are displaced by technology suffer. The ease with which we outsource jobs, ship goods and videoconference to China helps people who own companies but hurts those whose jobs are shipped out. The winner-take-all economy is a boon to people who can market themselves or their product globally and a bust for those who can’t.

Of course, this creates a less equal world, the fatalists say. A private equity manager can goose profits at one company by outsourcing the call center and at another by automating production. The new economy is perfectly organized to make this manager richer. Meanwhile, the 52-year-old machinist who was fired isn’t trained in the latest technology, can’t compete with the low wages of a Malaysian 19-year-old and is stuck on the outskirts of Reno, Nev., with an upside-down mortgage. Everything in the new economy is working to make him poorer. Inequality is simply the space between those two lives.

Precisely as this analysis would predict, income inequality has skyrocketed since 1979. Median income for high-school educated men has fallen by 31 percent. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent has seen its pay rocket up 130 percent. And that’s before taxes even enter the picture.

Fatalists conclude that government hasn’t caused inequality — taxes and social services haven’t changed all that much — so government action raising taxes or increasing infrastructure spending, for example, won’t fix it either. The only possible remedy is more education and training for workers, which will take decades. Shame, isn’t it?

effective-tax-rates-since-1960

The redistributionists

The redistributionists agree with much of this analysis. But they think the fatalists understate both how much the government has contributed to inequality by cutting taxes on the rich and not investing in the poor, and how much good it could still do. In a new paper for the Economic Policy Institute, Andrew Fieldhouse makes the most optimistic version of this case.

The effective tax rates for the very rich — that is, the tax rates they actually pay — have fallen precipitously since the 1970s. “The effective tax rate for the top hundredth of a percentile (i.e., tax filers in the 99.99-percent-and-above range by income) has fallen by more than half, from 71.4 percent in 1960 to 34.7 percent in 2004.” So as the rich have gotten richer, the share of income they pay in taxes has declined.

The twist in Fieldhouse’s argument is his identification of a secondary effect by which tax cuts have goosed incomes at the top while holding them down at the bottom. He cites research suggesting that the high tax rates paid by the rich in the mid-20th century gave them little reason to spend time and energy trying to get even richer. If a big raise would be accompanied by a big tax bill, why bother fighting for a raise?

Thus, declining tax rates unleashed the desire of the wealthy to seek a bigger piece of the pie. As it turned out, they had quite a lot of power to get themselves a better deal. They had political power in Washington and state capitals, of course, but also power in the workplace. Since 1979, chief executive officer pay has gone from 29 times what the average worker is paid to 228 times what the average worker is paid. Much of that increase is zero-sum: Income that once might have gone to workers is now diverted to the C-suite, because executives have more bargaining power. And with private-sector unions wasting away, that power increases every day.

Consequently, Fieldhouse concludes that higher taxes on the rich may do more to curb inequality than many realize. First, higher taxes would reduce inequality directly through redistribution. Second, they would lessen it indirectly by discouraging the rich from making great efforts to become even richer. If Fieldhouse is right, then the fatalists are wrong: Pretax inequality can be mitigated by tax policy.

There’s something to this, but ultimately I think Fieldhouse gives the tax code too much credit. Changes he attributed to the tax code are really rooted in political culture. Taxes on the wealthy didn’t lower themselves, after all. Wealthy Americans fought to bring them down. And now that they’ve grown used to those low taxes and high incomes, they will fight to keep them.

Toward the end of the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney’s candidacy was powered in part by a plutocratic revolt against Democratic plans to let the top marginal rate revert to 39.6 percent. The wealthy wouldn’t meet a truly sharp increase in the top income tax rate with a shrug and a renewed disinterest in their wages. If anything, it would increase their class solidarity and political mobilization.

The Bakerites

Yet the fatalist and redistributionist camps also give the government too little credit — and too little blame — for inequality. Both cleanly divide the issue in half: On one side is the way the economy distributes income, on the other the way the government redistributes it. But this misses the space between: the way the government itself changes the economy.

This drives Dean Baker crazy. “Federal government spending averages roughly 20 percent of GDP,” the dyspeptic Washington economist writes in “The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive” (free download!). And that’s just the beginning. “Adding in state and local government spending gets us a bit over 30 percent. This means that all levels of government spending account for less than one-third of the economy. If this is the exclusive realm for political debate, and we ignore the way in which the government structures the larger economy, then we have given up two-thirds of the game,” he writes.

It’s a shame that Baker frames his book as advice for progressives because his argument should also appeal to conservatives. Who the government taxes and how it spends that money, Baker argues, doesn’t begin to describe the myriad ways in which the government shapes the economy. The Federal Reserve’s decision to prioritize low inflation over full employment, for example, is a government intervention of staggering importance, even if it’s rarely presented that way. The same goes for the Treasury Department’s management of the dollar. The duration of patents matters enormously, as do the licensing requirements for high-wage jobs, the regulation of corporate boards and even rules on how much cash banks must keep on hand.

Baker basically agrees with the fatalists who believe the economy has changed in ways that have exacerbated inequality, and he even agrees that changes to the tax code won’t suffice to remedy it. Where he parts with both fatalists and redistributionists is in his belief that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 11:10 am

Non-electric lighting

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Power outages will become more frequent as nuclear power plants have to shut down because during dry times they will lack sufficient water for cooling. Moreover, increasingly violent storms are going to cause outages, and in some parts of the country (DC) power outages are measured in weeks, not hours.

Thus non-electric lighting becomes a useful resource in the home. Here’s a book that offers good guidance: The Book of Non-Electric Lighting. It’s reviewed at Cool Tools.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 11:01 am

Will the DoJ charge Cheney along with Snowden?

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Juan Cole points out that the offense of giving classified information to a journalist (in Cheney’s case, the identity of a covert CIA operative, which also means that all her contacts in other countries were placed in danger) is the same.

However, Obama said, once he was safely elected, that he would not pursue any crimes (war crimes or other crimes) committed in the past except for whistleblowers, whom he would persecute to the ends of the earth. Cheney’s offenses, including instigating an official US program of systematic torture of prisoners and suspects, were to not even be mentioned.

Juan Cole:

The US government charged Edward Snowden with theft of government property and espionage on Friday.

Snowden hasn’t to our knowledge committed treason in any ordinary sense of the term. He hasn’t handed over government secrets to a foreign government. [And even in that case it’s treason only if we are in a declared war witih the recipient of the information. – LG]

His leaks are being considered a form of domestic spying. He is the 7th leaker to be so charged by the Obama administration. All previous presidents together only used the charge 3 times.

Charging leakers with espionage is outrageous, but it is par for the course with the Obama administration.

The same theory under which Edward Snowden is guilty of espionage could easily be applied to former vice president Dick Cheney.

Cheney led an effort in 2003 to discredit former acting ambassador in Iraq, Joseph Wilson IV, who had written an op ed for the New York Times detailing his own mission to discover if Iraq was getting uranium from Niger. (The answer? No.)

Cheney appears to have been very upset with Wilson, and tohave wished to punish him by having staffers contact journalists and inform them that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was secretly a CIA operative. While Cheney wasn’t the one whose phone call revealed this information, he set in train the events whereby it became well known. (Because Cheney’s staff had Plame’s information sitting around in plain sight, Armitage discovered it and then was responsible for the leak, but he only scooped Libby and Rove, who had been trying to get someone in the press to run with the Plame story. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 10:57 am

Wonderful shave with a better aftershave

with one comment

SOTD 22 June 2013

A really fine shave with a few experiments. I’m still using MR GLO for the pre-shave beard wash, but I will today mix 4 variants of the Jlocke98 aftershave (lanolin, jojoba, olive, and emu oils).

The brush is a freebie that came with my Frank Shaving synthetic. I didn’t order it and it has no markings, but it seems like a pretty nice boar brush. I soaked it and used it. Very nice feel and held plenty of lather for the four passes.

The lather from the RazoRock soft soap was, as is typically with RazoRock, extremely good. And the Tradere Solid Bar carries a brand new Kai blade, so the shave was exceptionally smooth and easy.

I’m using the other aftershave balm that I received from Douglas Smythe. This one is solid, rather than a soft paste, and it worked quite well as an aftershave: not nearly so greasy as the other. I decided that the other had somehow separated, and I did try to stir it back together with my finger, but I didn’t get a good mix. Next week I’ll try these as pre-shaves. Still, this one (type B) worked well.

Very nice shave, altogether. And the doorbell just rang with the letter carrier wanting a signature on my new badger+horse Reddit Wicked_Edge shaving brush, which I’ll use for Monday’s shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2013 at 10:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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