Friday, January 30, 2015

Supreme Court Moves to Undo Civil Rights Law ... Again

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The U.S. Supreme Court has once again taken it upon itself to reconsider a landmark civil rights law. Under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and subsequent legal precedents, individuals or institutions can be sued for racial segregation in housing even if they cannot prove that the segregation was intentional. But conservatives have long argued that segregation ought to be legal as long as it is not deliberate. Now, the court, under Chief Justice John Roberts, also seems to want to see it that way.

The case in question was brought by a nonprofit organization in Texas called the Inclusive Communities Project, which found that state-funded vouchers for affordable housing were being issued almost exclusively in black neighborhoods, ensuring that white suburbs were spared the presence of low-income residents. So ICP sued the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs saying it was a violation of the Fair Housing Act. Enter the Supreme Court.

It is clear that some justices feel that a reconsideration of the historic law is in order. Two earlier housing cases that the court wanted to take on were settled by lower courts. The Texas case is the third one in three years in which the court has expressed interest. In January, the court heard oral arguments, and while Justice Antonin Scalia, a stalwart conservative, appeared to ask some tough questions last week of the attorney representing Texas, the final ruling is still up in the air. A 5-4 vote in favor of Texas could end up devastating a law that has been in place for more than 40 years.

It should not surprise us that some justices want to end fair housing. In 2013, the Supreme Court eviscerated a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, allowing states to change their voting requirements without having to consult with the federal government. That ruling undermined a protection that had been hard-won by the civil rights movement. Immediately after the 2013 ruling, a number of states jumped at the chance to create obstacles to voting, particularly for poor people of color. The documented impact of the ruling on the November 2014 elections was found to be significant.

Housing discrimination has historically formed the basis of racial segregation in the United States, and sharp disparities still exist along color lines. The language of the Fair Housing Act is simple. It “prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status ... and disability.” What the Supreme Court is considering is whether that language can be used to sue on the basis of “disparate impact,” rather than actual intent. In other words, if the result of an institution’s actions appears racist, that does not mean it is racist. The U.S. has an ugly history of making such fallacious distinctions. In the 1960s, Southern states often administered complicated and confusing “literacy tests” to African-Americans who wanted to register to vote. The tests were designed for failure and enabled Southern officials to claim they were following the letter of the law because as long as blacks passed the test they were allowed to register. It didn’t matter if almost no one could pass the tests. It didn’t matter if there was a racist outcome as long as there was no proof of racist intention. But how does one prove a racist intention?

John A. Powell is a professor of law, African American studies, and ethnic studies, the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion, and the director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley. His latest book is titled “Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society.” He also sits on the board of directors of the Inclusive Communities Project. In an interview Tuesday on “Uprising,” he told me that for the court “to suggest that a body of law that has been in place since the 1960s under fair housing is inappropriate, is really saying, ‘Let’s go back; let’s return to the good old days where we allow discrimination. ...We allow a society that’s highly regulated by race, as long as we can’t prove intent.’ ”

Powell cited the example of climate change: “How many people say, ‘I’m getting up today and I’m going to deliberately try to warm the planet?’ Whether we are trying to make the climate change ... is almost irrelevant. The question is, are we?”

Incidentally, under the current law, if an institution being sued under the Fair Housing Act can prove there is a good reason for disparate impact, it is not held accountable. For example, if a bank is shown to be offering higher cost loans to African-Americans and claims that such a pattern exists because African-Americans have lower credit scores, the existing law protects the bank (even if it shouldn’t). In fact the Fair Housing Act, as it is written, does not go far enough, given the ongoing racial segregation in housing nationwide. And still the Supreme Court is considering gutting this modest protection.

According to Powell, the current configuration of the U.S. Supreme Court seems to espouse an agenda to “curtail civil rights and expand corporate rights.” In fact, there seems to be a strong pattern of expanding the definition of what corporations are entitled to, including treating them as persons, which, as Powell pointed out, is not in the Constitution. At the same time, the court has been narrowing the definition of civil rights. “The court is on a very disturbing trend,” Powell said, “to try to turn back the clock to the early 1950s.”

The hubris of this court is astonishing. The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It was then expanded in 1988 under Republican President Ronald Reagan to include discrimination against people based on disability or familial status. The law has been used hundreds of times to undermine discrimination in housing. Why, then, should the court take it up? Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer asked the same question during the Fair Housing Act case last week: “Why should this court suddenly come in and reverse an important law which seems to have worked out in a way that is helpful to many people, [and] has not produced disaster?”

The judiciary is supposed to interpret law, not make it. Lawmaking is the job of Congress and the president. And yet, as the 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC showed, the court can do away with laws put into place by democratically elected lawmakers simply because it wants to. In the Citizens United case—which is a classic example of the expansion of corporate rights that Powell referred to—the Supreme Court chose to intervene even though it was not asked to, just as it is doing in the case over fair housing.

If fair housing is decimated, the repercussions on other aspects of American society could be widely felt. For example, the already racially segregated public school system is likely to become even more divided. Kids go to school where they live, and if housing discrimination runs rampant, so will educational apartheid.

The maxim that conservatives often employ to celebrate war veterans—“they died for our freedoms”—literally holds true for the civil rights movement. Scores of Americans, black and white, struggled, risked their lives and died so we could have a set of laws that protect us from the worst aspects of institutional racism. The Supreme Court, in taking up the Fair Housing Act of 1968, is once again denigrating the memory of the civil rights movement and thumbing its nose at the brave warriors who fought with blood and tears for racial equality.

Birth Pangs Of The Coming Great Depression

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The signs of the times are everywhere – all you have to do is open up your eyes and look at them.  When a pregnant woman first goes into labor, the birth pangs are usually fairly moderate and are not that close together.  But as the time for delivery approaches, they become much more frequent and much more intense.  Economically, what we are experiencing right now are birth pangs of the coming Great Depression.  As we get closer to the crisis that is looming on the horizon, they will become even more powerful.  This week, we learned that the Baltic Dry Index has fallen to the lowest level that we have seenin 29 years.  The Baltic Dry Index also crashed during the financial collapse of 2008, but right now it is already lower than it was at any point during the last financial crisis.  In addition, “Dr. Copper” and other industrial commodities continue to plunge.  This almost always happens before we enter an economic downturn.  Meanwhile, as I mentioned the other day, orders for durable goods are declining.  This is also a traditional indicator that a recession is approaching.  The warning signs are there – we just have to be open to what they are telling us.
And of course there are so many more parallels between past economic downturns and what is happening right now.
For example, volatility has returned to the markets in a big way.  On Tuesday the Dow was down about 300 points, on Wednesday it was down another couple hundred points, and then on Thursday it was up a couple hundred points.
This is precisely how markets behave just before they crash.  When markets are calm, they tend to go up.  When markets get really choppy and start behaving erratically, that tells us that a big move down is usually coming.
At the same time, almost every major global currency is imploding.  For much more on this, see the amazing charts in this article.
In particular, I am greatly concerned about the collapse of the euro.  The Swiss would not have decoupled their currency from the euro if it was healthy.  And political events in Greece are certainly not going to help things either.  Economic conditions across Europe just continue to get worse, and the future of the eurozone itself is very much in doubt at this point.  And if the eurozone does break up, a European economic depression is almost virtually assured – at least in the short term.
And I haven’t even mentioned the oil crash yet.
There is only one other time in all of history when the price of oil collapsed by more than 60 dollars, and that was just prior to the horrific financial crisis of 2008.
Since the last financial crisis, the oil industry has been a huge source for job growth in this country.  The following is an excerpt from a recent CNN article
The oil sector has added over a half million jobs — many of them high paying — since the recession ended in June 2009. That’s 13% of all US job growth over that period.
Now energy companies and related sectors are laying off thousands. Expect that trend to continue, bears say.
But losing good jobs is just the tip of the iceberg of this oil crisis.
At this point, the price of oil has already dropped to a catastrophically low level.  The longer it stays at this level, the more damage that it is going to do.  If the price of oil stays at this level for all of 2015, we are going to have a complete and total financial nightmare on our hands
For the first time in 18 years, oil exporters are pulling liquidity out of world markets rather than putting money in. The world is now fast approaching a world reserve currency shift. If we see 8 to 12 months at these oil prices; U.S. shale industry will be wiped out. The effect on junk bonds will cascade to the rest of the stock market and U.S. economy.
…and this time there will be nothing left to catch the falling knife before it hits the American economy right in the heart. Not the FED nor the U.S. government can stop what’s coming. Liquidity will freeze up, our credit will be downgraded, the stock market will start to collapse, and then we can expect the FED to come in and hyper-inflate the dollar. This will cause the world to finish abandoning the world reserve currency in the last rungs of trade. This will be the end of the petrodollar.
Something that I have not discussed so far this year is the looming crisis in emerging market debt.
As economic problems spread around the world, a number of “emerging markets” are in danger of having their debt downgraded.  And many investment funds have rules that prohibit them from holding any debt that is not “investment grade”.  Therefore, we could potentially see some of these giant funds dumping massive amounts of emerging market debt if downgrades happen.
This is a really big deal.  As a Business Insider article recently detailed, we could be talking about hundreds of billions of dollars…
Russia this week became the first of the major economies to lose its investment grade status from Standard & Poor’s, falling out off the top ratings category for credits deemed to have a low risk of default for the first time in a decade.
If Moody’s and Fitch follow, conservative investors barred from owning junk securities must sell their holdings. JPMorgan estimates this means they may ditch $6 billion in Russian government rouble and dollar debt.
Russia may have company. Almost $260 billion worth of sovereign and corporate bonds – nearly a tenth of outstanding emerging market (EM) debt – is in danger of being relegated to junk, according to David Spegel, head of emerging debt at BNP Paribas, who calls such credits “falling angels”.
And no article of this nature would be complete without mentioning derivatives.
I could not possibly overemphasize the danger that the 700 trillion dollar derivatives bubble poses to the global financial system.
As we enter the coming Great Depression, derivatives are going to play a starring role.  Wall Street has been pumped full of funny money by global central banks, and our financial markets have been transformed into the greatest casino in the history of the world.  When this house of cards comes crashing down, and it will, it is going to be a financial disaster unlike anything that the planet has ever seen.
And yes, global central banks are very much responsible for setting the stage for what we are about to experience.
I really like the way that David Stockman put it the other day…
The global financial system is literally booby-trapped with accidents waiting to happen owing to six consecutive years of massive money printing by nearly every central bank in the world.
Over that span, the collective balance sheet of the major central banks has soared by nearly $11 trillion, meaning that honest price discovery has been virtually destroyed. This massive “bid” for existing financial assets based on credit confected from thin air drove long-term bond yields to rock bottom levels not seen in 600 years since the Black Plague; and pinned money market costs at zero—-for 73 months running.
What is the consequence of this drastic financial repression along the entire yield curve? The answer is bond prices which keep rising regardless of credit risk, inflation or taxes; and rampant carry trade speculation that can’t get out of its own way because  central banks have made the financial gamblers’ cost of goods—the “funding” cost of their trades—-essentially zero.
Of course I am not the only one warning that a new Great Depression is coming.  For instance, just consider what British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey is saying…
British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey thinks we’ve entered an economic downturn that is “likely to be remembered in a hundred years,” and central banks won’t be able to stop it.
In his Odey Asset Management investor letter dated Dec. 31, Odey writes that the shorting opportunity “looks as great as it was in 07/09.”
“My point is that we used all our monetary firepower to avoid the first downturn in 2007-09,” he writes, “so we are really at a dangerous point to try to counter the effects of a slowing China, falling commodities and EM incomes, and the ultimate First World Effects. This is the heart of the message. If economic activity far from picks up, but falters, then there will be a painful round of debt default.”
Even though most average citizens are completely oblivious to what is happening, many among the elite are heeding the warning signs and are feverishly getting prepared.  As Robert Johnson told a stunned audience at the World Economic Forum the other day, they are “buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand“.  They can see the horrifying storm forming on the horizon and they are preparing to get out while the getting is good.
It can be very frustrating to write about economics, because things in the financial world can take an extended period of time to play out.  Sadly, most people these days have extremely short attention spans.  We live in a world of iPhones, iPads, YouTube videos, Facebook updates and 48 hour news cycles.  People no longer are accustomed to thinking in long-term time frames, and if something does not happen right away we tend to get bored with it.
But the economic world is not like a game of “Angry Birds”.  Rather, it is very much like a game of chess.
And unfortunately for us, checkmate is right around the corner.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Big Business “Regulators” and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP): Opening the Floodgates to Corporate Plunder

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A new leak concerning the talks around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) indicates that the floodgates could be opened even further for corporate influence. The leak has been analysed by the corporate watchdogs CEO and LobbyControl and shows that corporate influence on EU and US policies might dramatically increase via the chapter on so-called ‘regulatory cooperation’.
The leak of the EU draft negotiating proposal dated January 23rd makes unmistakably clear that the EU is seeking a very ambitious chapter that strengthens the role of business in future regulatory legislation possibly via a new institution, the Regulatory Cooperation Body (RCB). Its role would be to coordinate the process of regulatory coherence between the US and the EU and would effectively limit policy space and sideline the public and civil organisations.
Existing and future EU regulation would have to go through a series of investigations, dialogues and negotiations in this Council. This would move decisions on regulations into a technocratic sphere, away from democratic scrutiny. Also, there would be compulsory impact assessments for proposed regulation, which will be checked for their potential impact on trade. This would be ideal for big business lobbies: creating a firm brake on any new progressive regulation in the very first stage of decision-making.
Kenneth Haar of CEO says:
“The proposal fulfills the ambitions of some of the biggest business lobby groups. It will provide them with a big tool box they can use to roll back regulation adopted in the public interest.”
A December 2014 version of the draft indicates that there were even ambitions to include the municipal level in the list of those who are to report on planned regulations that affect trade. Even though this has been taken out of the proposal now, it clearly shows that there are desires on the EU-side to subjugate social and environmental legislation at all levels to international trade.
Max Bank of LobbyControl says:
“Trade Comissioner Malmström has to step back on regulatory cooperation in TTIP. Like Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), it strengthens big business and threatens democracy on both sides of the Atlantic.”
‘Regulatory co-operation’ is a ploy to open the door to massive influence by big business over future laws. The EC argues that its proposal for regulatory co-operation in TTIP is nothing more than a rational dialogue, for example to avoid duplication of laws on both sides of the Atlantic, and that it would not restrict the ability of regulators and legislators to pursue public interest objectives.
However, there has always been a gap between the EC’s documents for public consumption and the actual texts from the negotiations that have emerged via leaks. And the recent leaks of new proposals from December 2014 and January 2015 not only confirm the validity of the criticism but show that the EC’s true negotiating position is even worse than critics imagined.
In late 2012, BusinessEurope and the US Chamber of Commerce had several meetings with the EU Commission to push their agenda. Regulatory cooperation is promoted as a solution to the problem that agreeing on harmonised standards or mutual recognition of standards can prove difficult in the short term. Consequently, on issues such as food standards, chemicals and financial regulation, because negotiators might not be able to strike a deal on common rules between the US and EU while the trade negotiations are under way, regulatory co-operation can provide a space for business groups and regulators to reach results to their liking after TTIP is agreed, in the long term and without much public scrutiny.
BusinessEurope and the US Chamber of Commerce presented the EC with a series of proposals in 2012, which would enable them – in their words – to “co-write regulation”.
Despite claims by the EC that there is no secrecy concerning the negotiations, the notes of European Commission meetings with business lobbyists released to Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) under the EU’s freedom of information law some time back were heavily censored. The documents showed that the EC invited industry to submit wish lists for ‘regulatory barriers’ they would like removed during the negotiations. The documents showed clearly that removing differences in EU and US regulations is the key issue in the talks: in other words, a race to the bottom in setting the lowest barriers possible. It is therefore no surprise that the strong similarities between the EC’s proposals and those of the industry lobbyists sparked a backlash against the onerous privileges being awarded to business groups
When the EC talks about the involvement of interest groups in regulatory issues, it uses the neutral term ‘stakeholder’. The overwhelming majority of lobbyists in Brussels represent business: ‘involving stakeholders’ is another expression for opening yet one more avenue for corporate lobbyists to influence policymaking. Past experiences of involvement of ‘stakeholders’ in ‘regulatory co-operation’ between the EU and the US have demonstrated that these procedures are easily open to big business and often closed to other interest groups.
The agenda of regulatory co-operation is first and foremost about promoting trade – not about securing consumer rights, public health, or any other public policy objective.
And, as if to underline the stitch-up of the European public between officials and big business, the only way the public has access to what is really being negotiated is through leaked documents.
(Much of the text for the above was sourced from the Corporate Europe Observatory website. A more detailed explanation of the issues surrounding regulatory cooperation are discussed here.)

Freedom, Where Are You? Not in America or Europe

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When the former Goldman Sachs executive who runs the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that he was going to print 720 billion euros annually with which to purchase bad debts from the politically connected big banks, the euro sank and the stock market and Swiss franc shot up. As in the US, quantitative easing (QE) serves to enrich the already rich. It has no other purpose.

The well-heeled financial institutions that bought up the troubled sovereign debt of Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain at low prices will now sell the bonds to the ECB for high prices. And despite depression level unemployment in most of Europe and austerity imposed on citizens, the stock market rose in anticipation that much of the 60 billion new euros that will be created each month will find its way into equity prices. Liquidity fuels the stock market.

Where else can the money to go? Some will go into Swiss francs and some into gold while gold is still available, but for the most part the ECB is running the printing press in order to boost the wealth of the stock-owning One Percent. The Federal Reserve and the ECB have taken the West back to the days when a handful of aristocrats owned everything.

The stock markets are bubbles blown by central bank money creation. On the basis of traditional reasoning there is no sound reason to be in equities, and sound investors have avoided them.

But there is no return anywhere else, and as the central banks are run by the rich for the rich, sound reasoning has proved to be a mistake for the past six years. This shows that corruption can prevail for an indeterminable period over fundamentals.

As I demonstrated in my book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, first Goldman Sachs deceived lenders into over-lending to the Greek government. Then Goldman Sachs former executives took over Greece’s financial affairs and forced austerity upon the population in order to prevent losses to the foreign lenders.

This established a new principle in Europe, one that the IMF has relentlessly applied to Latin American and Third World debtors. The principle is that when foreign lenders make mistakes and over-lend to foreign governments, loading them up with debt, the bankers’ mistakes are rectified by robbing the poor populations. Pensions, social services, and public employment are cut, valuable resources are sold off to foreigners for pennies on the dollar, and the government is forced to support US foreign policy. John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Mandescribes the process perfectly. If you haven’t read Perkins book, you have little idea how corrupt and vicious the United States is. Indeed, Perkins shows that over-lending is intentional in order to set up the country for looting.

This is what Goldman Sachs did to Greece, intentionally or unintentionally.

It took the Greeks a long time to realize it. Apparently, 36.5 percent of the population was awoken by rising poverty, unemployment, and suicide rates. That figure, a little over one-third of the vote, was enough to put Syriza in power in the just concluded Greek election, throwing out the corrupt New Democracy party that has consistently sold out the Greek people to the foreign banks. Nevertheless, 27.7 percent of the Greeks, if the vote reporting is correct, voted for the party that has sacrificed the Greek people to the banksters. Even in Greece, a country accustomed to outpourings of people into the streets, a significant percentage of the population is sufficiently brainwashed to vote against their own interests.

Can Syriza do anything? It remains to be seen, but probably not. If the political party had received 55% or 65% or 75% of the vote, yes. But the largest vote at 36.5% does not show a unified country aware of its plight and its looting at the hands of rich banksters. The vote shows that a significant percentage of the Greek population supports foreign looting of Greece.

Moreover, Syriza is up against the heavies: the German and Netherlands banks who hold Greece’s loans and the governments that back the banks, the European Union which is using the sovereign debt crisis to destroy the sovereignty of the individual countries that comprise the European Union, Washington which backs EU sovereign power over the individual countries as it is easier to control one government than a couple of dozen.

Already the Western financial presstitutes are warning Syriza not to endanger its membership in the common currency by diverting from the austerity model imposed from abroad on Greek citizens with the complicity of New Democracy.

Apparently, there is a lack of formal means of exiting the EU and the euro, but nevertheless Greece can be threatened with being thrown out. Greece should welcome being thrown out.

Exiting the EU and the euro is the best thing that can happen to Greece. A country without its own currency is not a sovereign country. It is a vassal state of another power. A country without its own currency cannot finance its own needs. Although the UK is a member of the EU, the UK kept its own currency and is not subject to control by the ECB. A country without its own money is powerless. It is a non-entity.

If the US did not have its own dollar, the US would be of no consequence whatsoever on the world scene.

The EU and the euro were deception and trickery. Countries lost their sovereignty. So much for Western “self-rule,” “freedom,” “democracy,” all slogans without content. In the entire West there is nothing but the looting of people by the One Percent who control the governments.

In America, the looting does not rely on indebtedness, because the US dollar is the reserve currency and the US can print all the money needed in order to pay its bills and redeem its debt. In America the looting of labor has been through jobs offshoring.

American corporations discovered, and if they did not they were informed by Wall Street to move offshore or be taken over, that they could raise profits by moving their manufacturing operations abroad. The lower labor cost resulted in higher profits, higher share prices, huge managerial bonuses based on “performance,” and shareholder capital gains. Offshoring greatly increased the inequality in income and wealth in the US. Capital succeeded in looting labor.

The displaced well-paid manufacturing workers, if they were able to find replacement jobs, worked part-time minimum wage jobs at Walmart and Home Depot.

Economists, if they are entitled to the designation, such as Michael Porter and Matthew Slaughter, promised Americans that the fictional “New Economy” would produce better, higher-paying, and cleaner jobs for Americans than the “dirty fingernail” jobs that we were fortunate our corporations were moving offshore.

Years later, as I have proven conclusively, there is no sign of these “New Economy” jobs. What we have instead is a sharp decline in the labor force participation rate as the unemployed cannot find jobs. The replacement jobs for the manufacturing jobs are mainly part-time domestic service jobs.

People have to hold 2 or 3 of these jobs to make ends meet. These part time jobs offer no medical or pension benefits.

Now that this fact, once controversial believe it or not, has proven completely true, the same bought-and-paid-for spokespersons for robbing labor and destroying unions claim, without a shred of evidence, that the offshored jobs are coming home.

According to these propagandists, we now have what is called “reshoring.” A “reshoring” propagandist claims that the growth of “reshoring” over the past four years is 1,775 percent, an 18 times increase. http://www.manufacturingnews.com/news/2015/A.T.Kearny-No-Data-Supporting-Reshoring-0112151.html [1]

There is no sign whatsoever of these alleged “reshoring” jobs in the monthly BLS payroll jobs statistics.

What reshoring is all about is propaganda to counteract the belated realization that “free trade” agreements and job offshoring were not beneficial to the American economy or its work force, but were beneficial only to the super-rich.

Like people throughout history, the American people are being turned into serfs and slaves because the fools believe the lies that are fed to them. They sit in front of Fox News, CNN, and whatever. They read the New York Times. If you want to learn how badly Americans have been served by the so-called media, read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United Statesand Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States.

The media helps the government, and the private interests that profit from their control of government, control the brainwashed public. We have to invade Afghanistan because a faction there fighting for political control of the country is protecting Osama bin Laden, whom the US accuses without any proof of embarrassing the mighty US with the 9/11 attack. We have to invade Iraq because Saddam has “weapons of mass destruction” that he surely has despite the reports to the contrary by the weapons inspectors. We have to overthrow Gaddafi because of a slate of lies that have best been forgotten. We have to overthrow Assad because he used chemical weapons even though all evidence is to the contrary. Russia is responsible for Ukraine problems, not because the US overthrew the elected democratic government but because Russia accepted a 97.6% vote of Crimeans to rejoin Russia where the province had resided for hundreds of years before a Ukrainian Soviet leader, Khrushchev, stuck Crimea into Ukraine, at the time a part of the Soviet Union along with Russia.

War, War, War, that is all Washington wants. It enriches the military/security complex, the largest component of the US GNP and the largest contributor, along with Wall Street and the Israel Lobby, to US political campaigns.

Anyone or any organization that offers truth to the lies is demonized. Last week the new chief of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors, Andrew Lack, listed the Russian TV Internet service Russia Today as the equivalent of Boko Haram and the Islamic State terrorist groups. This absurd accusation is a prelude to closing down RT in the US just as Washington’s puppet UK government closed down Iran’s Press TV. http://rt.com/usa/225819-rt-isis-point-view-competition/ [2]

In other words, Anglo-Americans are not permitted any different news than what is served to them by “their” governments.

That is the state of “freedom” in the West today. 
[1] http://www.manufacturingnews.com/news/2015/A.T.Kearny-No-Data-Supporting-Reshoring-0112151.html : http://www.manufacturingnews.com/news/2015/A.T.Kearny-No-Data-Supporting-Reshoring-0112151.html
[2] http://rt.com/usa/225819-rt-isis-point-view-competition/: http://rt.com/usa/225819-rt-isis-point-view-competition/

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Sink the Middle Class

Six years into his presidency, President Obama is now taking heat from a surprising place: congressional Democrats, who are lining up against his plan to force the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress without any debate whatsoever.
If approved, the TPP, or as I like to call it, the Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade Agreement - SHAFTA - would create a whole new set of rules regulating the economies of 12 countries on four different continents bordering the Pacific Ocean.
Unfortunately, because the TPP is being negotiated almost entirely in secret, we don't know a lot about it.
What we do know about it, though, comes almost entirely from leaks, and those leaks paint a pretty scary picture.
Thanks to groups like WikiLeaks, we now know the TPP would give big pharmaceutical companies virtual monopoly patent power, let corporations sue countries in international courts over regulations that those corporations don't like, and gut environmental and financial rules.
Given facts like this, you'd think that President Obama would want Congress to actually take the time and debate whether or not the TPP is a good idea for the US public.
But that's apparently not the case.
To push the US onto the TPP as soon as possible, he's asked Congress to give him "fast-tracking" powers that would prevent lawmakers from making any amendments to the TPP.
Instead, the treaty would be sent right to the floor where it would only have to pass a simple majority vote.
Sounds pretty, anti-democratic, right?
Well it is, and that's why Congressional Democrats are now speaking out against President Obama's request for fast-tracking powers.
But the fight against TPP is about more than just whether our elected representatives should get a say in the trade policy of our republic - it's about whether the middle class will survive through the next generation.
As economist Adam Smith pointed out in his classic book The Wealth of Nations, manufacturing is what really creates the wealth of nations. That's because manufacturing creates things of real value, like cars, that can be sold to create wealth. This, in turn, helps create a middle class made up of working people who make the things that fuel the economy.
Every single great power in modern world history has understood this. That's why they protected their domestic industries with strong tariffs that made goods produced by domestic factories cheaper than those made abroad.
The founding fathers understood the importance of manufacturing as well. One of the first things George Washington did when he took office was ask Alexander Hamilton to come up with a plan to boost US manufacturing.
The result was Hamilton's famous "Report on Manufactures," which proposed using tariffs and subsidies to grow the industry of our young republic.
While controversial at the time, Hamilton's report eventually became the playbook for 200 years of trade policy that made the United States the greatest industrial powerhouse the world has ever seen.
And then everything changed.
Starting the 1990s, Washington began embracing a new school of thought about how to grow the wealth of nations. This new school of thought, pushed by Wall Street and corporate America, said that so-called "free-trade" deals were the best and fastest way to riches.
All free-trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA really did, though, was take the most important part of our economy - manufacturing - and send it overseas. According to Public Citizen, NAFTA alone led to a net loss of over 1 million jobs.
As a result of all this, manufacturing now makes up just around 12 percent of our GDP, a far cry from the 1950s, when it made up almost 30 percent of our GDP.
This is about as bad as it gets.
Without a strong manufacturing base, no great power can survive as a great power. It will instead become dependent on foreign goods and the financial world to create wealth out of thin air - a recipe for economic disaster after economic disaster.
And without strong manufacturing jobs that actually create things, the middle class will wither and die, just as it has started to do here in the US over the past few decades.
This is why the current debate over the TPP and fast-tracking is such a big deal.
Two decades of free-trade deals have eviscerated the middle class and bloodied the "American dream."
If President Obama goes ahead and signs us onto another free-trade deal, especially one as destructive as the TPP, that will be like tying a cement block to the feet of a drowning man.
It will spell the end of the US middle class, and, for that matter, the vision of the United States that Alexander Hamilton first put forward more than 200 years ago.
So call your members of Congress today and tell them to "just say no" to the SHAFTA/TPP and President Obama's request for fast-tracking powers.

US Announces Plan To Ration Health Care Under Medicare

Go To Original
The Obama administration has announced a major shift in the way Medicare will pay hospitals and doctors. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced the initiative Monday following a closed-door meeting with representatives of the insurance industry, large employers and doctors’ professional organizations.
The shift moves the health care counterrevolution embodied in the 2010 Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) into high gear. Over the next three years, payments to hospitals and doctors for a large percentage of health care provided under Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for the elderly, will be shifted from the traditional “fee-for-service” model to alternative methods in which health care providers are rewarded for cutting costs and rationing care.
The radical revamping of Medicare will slash costs borne by the government, insurance firms and hospital chains by denying Medicare patients what is presently considered to be normal access to medical procedures, drugs and hospital care. The realignment of Medicare more directly with the profit dictates of the market will become the model for the American health care system as a whole.
Burwell told the media following the meeting, “Today’s announcement is about improving the quality of care we receive when we are sick, while at the same time spending our health care dollars more wisely.” The official line about improving the quality of health care, repeated by Burwell, is a cynical lie.
Medicare provides health insurance for 50 million elderly and disabled Americans at an estimated government cost of $600 billion a year. It is the largest single buyer of health care services in the US. It has for decades been a prime target of corporate interests and politicians seeking to roll back the social reforms of the 1930s and 1960s, who have always encountered massive popular opposition.
The program, notwithstanding the limitations, distortions and cutbacks inevitable within the framework of for-profit medicine, has played a major role in reducing the poverty rate of retirees in the US and extending life expectancy. It has taken a Democratic president, overseeing a conspiracy of the corporations and the state against the people disguised as a “progressive reform,” to initiate in earnest the drive to gut Medicare. The calculated aim is to throw millions of retirees into poverty and slash medical costs by shortening their life spans.
According to the time-table announced Monday, by next year Medicare will make 30 percent of its direct payments to doctors, hospitals and other providers in accordance with “alternative payment models.” Half of Medicare’s direct payments to providers are to be made in line with such models by 2018.
These new models build on experiments begun under the ACA, particularly through the use of so-called “accountable care organizations,” or ACOs. Providers will be given a lump-sum payment for treating a patient throughout a specific episode of care, such as knee replacement surgery, instead of being reimbursed for the individual medical components of that care.
HHS has also set a goal of tying 85 percent of all payments under traditional Medicare to measures of “quality” or “value” by the end of 2016, when Obama leaves office, rising to 90 percent by the end of 2018. How will this operate in practice? Hospitals with high rates of patients readmitted within a month of being sent home will face financial penalties, while those spending less on supposedly unnecessary treatments and tests will be rewarded.
HHS is creating an agency with the Orwellian title “Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network” to enforce these changes. This panel presumably will be tasked with targeting “frivolous” procedures and screenings for elimination in the interest of restoring “value” to the health care system.
HHS Secretary Burwell is ideally suited for leading this attack on Medicare. She is a veteran of the Clinton administration and the Treasury Department. She served as an aid to Microsoft founder Bill Gates, as president of the Walmart Foundation, and as a member of the Metlife insurance company board.
Serving under Obama as budget director from 2013 to 2014, when social spending was slashed by tens of billions, she was tapped by the president to succeed HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last June following the disastrous roll-out of Obamacare’s HealthCare.gov web site. Obama praised her at the time as a “proven manager,” who, as budget director, had overseen a more than $400 billion decline in the federal deficit. She was confirmed as HHS secretary with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Under Obamacare’s individual mandate, individuals and families without insurance through their employers or a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid are required to purchase coverage from private insurers on the ACA’s health care exchanges or face a tax penalty.
The Obamacare ACOs are modeled on those already in existence in the private sector. These are growing in popularity among large employers. Justine Handelman, vice president for legislative and regulatory policy at Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, which represents insurance companies, told Bloomberg, “Medicare is aligning with what is already working in the private sector to move away from fee-for-service. The private sector is further ahead than Medicare right now.”
Burwell has stated that phasing out fee-for-service payments will be a major priority of her tenure as HHS secretary. In addition to expanding ACO’s to Medicare, administration officials said Monday they plan to increase coordination of similar programs with state governments that insure millions of their poorest residents through the Medicaid program.
Seated next to Burwell at Monday’s meeting was Karen Ignagni, chief executive officer of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry’s main lobby group. “Health plans have been in the forefront of implementing payment reforms in Medicare Advantage, Medicaid Managed Care, and in the commercial marketplace,” Ignagni said in a statement. “We are excited to bring these experiences and innovations to this new collaboration.”
This glowing tribute from the CEO of AHIP is further confirmation of the thoroughly right-wing character of Obamacare, which has nothing in common with a true reform of the health care system in the interest of providing universal, quality care. From its inception some five years ago, Obamacare has been aimed at enriching the insurance industry and health industry at the expense of vitally needed health care services for the vast majority of Americans.
It has been designed from top to bottom in the closest consultation with corporate lobbyists and lawyers, with no input from working people.
The sacrifices now being demanded of Medicare recipients in the interest of “quality” and “value” will translate into the withholding of medical treatments and procedures that will undoubtedly result in suffering and untimely deaths for American seniors.
The gutting of Medicare is one prong of an assault on health care that affects the entire working class and considerable sections of the middle class. A second major area of attack under Obamacare is the dismantling of employer-provided health care for active workers and retirees, the system that for nearly 70 years secured health coverage for most US workers.
Obamacare is designed to encourage employers to ditch their health insurance programs and force their workers onto the ACA’s health care exchanges. There, workers are forced, as individuals, to deal with gigantic insurance companies that offer high-priced plans providing sub-standard benefits.
The rich and the super-rich will, of course, continue to receive the best care money can buy.
Opponents of the predominantly fee-for-service system in Medicare bemoan the fact that the $2.9 trillion-a-year US health care system does not result in a healthier population than in those countries that spend far less per capita. It goes unmentioned that the obscene profit-gouging of private insurers, drug companies and hospital groups are responsible for this state of affairs.
The only solution to the health care crisis lies in taking the profit out of medicine, putting an end to privately owned health care corporations, and guaranteeing free, high-quality health care for all through the establishment of a democratically run, publicly owned socialized health care system.