Category: Corruption

Stephen Roach asks: Is this the last chance for Japan?

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Japan is the petri dish for the struggle against the secular stagnation that is now gripping most major developed economies. And, notwithstanding all of the fanfare surrounding “Abenomics,” Japan’s economy remains moribund. In the six quarters of Shinzo Abe’s latest stint as prime minister, annualized real GDP growth has averaged just 1.4% – up only slightly from the anemic post-1992 average of 1%.

Abenomics, with its potentially powerful combination of monetary and fiscal stimulus, coupled with a wide array of structural reforms, was supposed to end Japan’s “lost decades.” All three “arrows” of the strategy were to be aimed at freeing the economy from a 15-year deflationary quagmire.

Unfortunately, not all of the arrows have been soaring in flight. The Bank of Japan seems well on its way to delivering on the first one – embracing what it calls quantitative and qualitative easing (QQE). Relative to GDP, the BOJ’s monetary-policy gambit could actually far outstrip the efforts of America’s Federal Reserve.

And that’s pretty much what happened in Japan over the last 24 hours – with an appropriately positive response from world stock markets.

But the flight of the other two arrows is shaky, at best. In recent days, Abe has raised serious questions about proceeding with the second phase of a previously legislated consumer-tax hike that has long been viewed as the linchpin of Japan’s debt-consolidation strategy. Abe has flinched because the economy remains weak, posing renewed risks of a deflationary relapse. Meanwhile, the third arrow of structural reforms – especially tax, education, and immigration reforms – is nowhere near its target.

Abenomics, one might conclude, is basically a Japanese version of the failed policy combination deployed in the United States and Europe: massive unconventional liquidity injections by central banks (with the European Central Bank apparently now poised to follow the Fed), but little in the way of fundamental fiscal and structural reforms. The political expedience of the short-term monetary fix has triumphed once again.

All the fixes left undone by the end of Barack Obama’s first term became impossible during his second term. The Republican strategy of doing nothing – was implemented and increased in the heart of the worst recession in decades. As if they cared?

The problems of dying infrastructure remain. The only tax structure revisions possible over the remaining two years of Obama’s second term would be in response to corporate demands – with a few sops thrown in for Democrat election campaigns in 2016. Even education at the broadly collegiate level is starting to crumble.

We grow closer to the Japanese model of self-destruction month-by-month. Stephen Roach’s article is as cogent as ever. Though his prime area of expertise is Asia – he may as well apply the same analysis to the United States.

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Bobby Jindal leads Republican pack in stupid Ebola policies


Governor Jindal announcing policies for health care workers

Louisiana has a message for many of the scientists and medical experts studying Ebola and aiding efforts to fight the deadly virus in West Africa — stay away.

The state sent a letter to members of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which is holding its annual conference in New Orleans next week. If they’ve recently been to any of the West African countries where the virus has infected more than 13,000 people, they shouldn’t attend the meeting…

The society of researchers, medical professionals and scientists dates back more than a century, according to its website, and has members around the world.

The letter disinvites any registrants who’ve cared for people with Ebola in the last three weeks…

There are 3,588 people registered to attend the meeting, though the society doesn’t know how many have recently been in Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone, where the outbreak is located.

Current U.S. policy suggests that people who’ve cared for Ebola patients but haven’t been exposed to the virus monitor themselves for three weeks. The White House has said that mandatory quarantines of health workers from outbreak zones, such as those implemented by New York and New Jersey, aren’t based on science and may discourage relief workers from volunteering…

Tropical diseases thrive in warm, wet, rural conditions that often have poor sanitation, said Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University in New Orleans…“We want people to be able to come back from these regions and discuss and share what they’ve learned,” Garry said in a telephone interview. “That’s what these meetings are all about.”

I expect scare tactics, fear-mongering, ignorance and opportunism from Republican politicians. It’s been their stock in trade for more than a half-century – or longer. But, the addition of STUPID as the leading edge of anti-intellectualism, anti-science ideology really is something new.

The saddest part I fear is that their success at diminishing America’s education system – capability, capacity and modernity – has laid the groundwork for an electorate doing their level best to vote against every rational self-interest.

Uncle Sugar continues to fall behind in affordable broadband

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America’s slow and expensive Internet is more than just an annoyance for people trying to watch “Happy Gilmore” on Netflix. Largely a consequence of monopoly providers, the sluggish service could have long-term economic consequences for American competitiveness.

Downloading a high-definition movie takes about seven seconds in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich, Bucharest and Paris, and people pay as little as $30 a month for that connection. In Los Angeles, New York and Washington, downloading the same movie takes 1.4 minutes for people with the fastest Internet available, and they pay $300 a month for the privilege, according to The Cost of Connectivity, a report published Thursday by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The report compares Internet access in big American cities with access in Europe and Asia. Some surprising smaller American cities — Chattanooga, Tenn.; Kansas City (in both Kansas and Missouri); Lafayette, La.; and Bristol, Va. — tied for speed with the biggest cities abroad. In each, the high-speed Internet provider is not one of the big cable or phone companies that provide Internet to most of the United States, but a city-run network or start-up service.

The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem — the lack of competition in the broadband industry…

For relatively high-speed Internet at 25 megabits per second, 75 percent of homes have one option at most, according to the Federal Communications Commission — usually Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T or Verizon. It’s an issue anyone who has shopped for Internet knows well, and it is even worse for people who live in rural areas. It matters not just for entertainment; an Internet connection is necessary for people to find and perform jobs, and to do new things in areas like medicine and education.

In many parts of Europe, the government tries to foster competition by requiring that the companies that own the pipes carrying broadband to people’s homes lease space in their pipes to rival companies. (That policy is based on the work of Jean Tirole, who won the Nobel Prize in economics this month in part for his work on regulation and communications networks.)

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission in 2002 reclassified high-speed Internet access as an information service, which is unregulated, rather than as telecommunications, which is regulated. Its hope was that Internet providers would compete with one another to provide the best networks. That didn’t happen. The result has been that they have mostly stayed out of one another’s markets.

Unforeseen consequences is often the excuse offered by the corporate pimps in government. Whether getting direct kickbacks – “campaign donations” – or being obedient little trolls while awaiting the promised job opening in private industry, ain’t much to be gained by working on behalf of us ordinary working folks.

New America’s ranking of cities by average speed for broadband priced between $35 and $50 a month, the top three cities, Seoul, Hong Kong and Paris, offered speeds 10 times faster than the United States cities. In my neck of the prairie I have the choice of two of the national ISP’s. One gets me 26mbps download max for $75 all in. Their “competitor” charges about half that amount – for 7mbps.

Competition American style.

Thanks, Mike

Baltimore Police CCTV catches cop beating a civilian

A Baltimore police officer faces misdemeanor assault and perjury charges after an incident with a suspect was caught on video.

Officer Vincent Cosum Jr. was captured on a city surveillance camera on June 15, repeatedly punching Kollin Truss in the face with other officers present. He faces perjury because in his police report he said Truss assaulted him first, a claim not supported by the video evidence.

Truss is now represented by attorneys, who say charging Cosum alone is not adequate.

“The other officers participated,” Truss attorney Tony Garcia told CBS Baltimore. “They held his arms back. Our client was knocked unconscious on his feet.”

Truss’s attorneys have filed a $70 million lawsuit against the city.

The beating prompted a call from city officials and the public to look into complaints against the city’s police department. The mayor has asked the Department of Justice to investigate.

I hope he gets every penny. Corrupt cops only exist with the collaboration of corrupt government. And vice versa. The DOJ is reaching the point where they may as well ask for a separate seat in the Presidential cabinet to deal with the range of corruption from tickets issued as police fundraisers, police brutalization of minorities and young people in general, theft and collaboration with gangs and gangsters.

I’m more and more impressed with CCTV when it’s used to catch cops as well as civilian miscreants.

IRS seizes accounts on suspicion, no crime required

For almost 40 years, Carole Hinders has dished out Mexican specialties at her modest cash-only restaurant. For just as long, she deposited the earnings at a small bank branch a block away — until last year, when two tax agents knocked on her door and informed her that they had seized her checking account, almost $33,000.

The Internal Revenue Service agents did not accuse Ms. Hinders of money laundering or cheating on her taxes — in fact, she has not been charged with any crime. Instead, the money was seized solely because she had deposited less than $10,000 at a time, which they viewed as an attempt to avoid triggering a required government report.

“How can this happen?” Ms. Hinders said in a recent interview. “Who takes your money before they prove that you’ve done anything wrong with it?”

The federal government does.

Using a law designed to catch drug traffickers, racketeers and terrorists by tracking their cash, the government has gone after run-of-the-mill business owners and wage earners without so much as an allegation that they have committed serious crimes. The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up…

“They’re going after people who are really not criminals,” said David Smith, a former federal prosecutor who is now a forfeiture expert and lawyer in Virginia. “They’re middle-class citizens who have never had any trouble with the law.”

On Thursday, in response to questions from The New York Times, the I.R.S. announced that it would curtail the practice, focusing instead on cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally or seizure is deemed justified by “exceptional circumstances…”

The new policy will not apply to past seizures.

RTFA. Contemptible policies made all the worse by their spread throughout our government. The NSA and FBI meet the same lowlife standard. Not that they’re copycats. They’re just behaving like the rest of the phony/law enforcement/foreign legion scumbags in our government. Regal, self-serving hypocrites.

Like so many police agencies in American government, they’re above the law.

Thanks, Mike

NSA documents confirm close working relationship with US companies

Newly disclosed National Security Agency documents suggest a closer relationship between American companies and the spy agency than has been previously disclosed.

The documents, published last week by The Intercept, describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as the fact that the NSA has “under cover” spies working at or with some U.S. companies.

While not conclusive, the material includes some clear suggestions that at least some American companies are quite willing to help the agency conduct its massive surveillance programs.

The precise role of U.S. companies in the NSA’s global surveillance operations remains unclear. Documents obtained by Edward Snowden and published by various news organizations show that companies have turned over their customers’ email, phone calling records and other data under court orders. But the level of cooperation beyond those court orders has been an open question, with several leading companies, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, asserting that they only turn over customer information that is “targeted and specific” in response to legal demands.

Apple’s public acknowledgement of device encryption making it impossible to cooperate with federal snoops has truly pissed off our lazyass spy bureaucrats.

The documents do not identify any specific companies as collaborating with the NSA. The references are part of an inventory of operations, of which the very “fact that” they exist is classified information. These include the:

Contractual Relationships (pg 7)

Backdoors in US Encryption Systems (pg 9)

Whipgenie collecting US communications (pg 7)

NSA going under cover in US companies (pg 7)

Predictably, our elected flunkies who head up Congressional Intelligence committees didn’t have any comment. They’re too busy being obedient, unquestioning.

Thanks, Mike

The biggest voting fraud is a Republican lie and costs taxpayers million$

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Voter ID laws are back in the news once again, with two new opinions from the Wisconsin Supreme Court late last week dealing with the state’s ID requirement, which would allow people to vote only if they provide certain forms of government-issued ID. The Court made some minor changes to the law but otherwise upheld it. However, the ID requirement is still on hold pending a federal lawsuit.

Part of this litigation — and any rational debate about the issue generally — hinges on two things: costs and benefits. The costs of these sorts of laws vary, because the laws themselves differ from state to state (some are far more burdensome than others). The ostensible benefits, though, are all the same. And in addressing these purported benefits, the Wisconsin Supreme Court blew it. Twice.

First, the court cited the idea that ID laws could enhance public confidence–that is, in theory, the laws might make us feel better about elections in that they might provide some security theater. It turns out, though, that this effect is hard to spot. People in states with more restrictive ID laws don’t generally feel better about their elections than people in more permissive states. People who think elections are being stolen, and people who think they’re not, each hold on to that opinion no matter what the governing ID rules in their area…

Second, the court said that ID laws can help stop fraud. It then cited an example of recent fraud … that ID laws aren’t designed to stop. Specifically, it mentioned a case in which a supporter of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was charged with 13 counts of election fraud, including “registering to vote in more than one place, voting where he didn’t live, voting more than once in the same election, and providing false information to election officials,” according to an account by Talking Points Memo. Wisconsin’s ID law would not likely have prevented any of the alleged violations…

I’ve been tracking allegations of fraud for years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop. In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up…

So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country. If you want to check my work, you can read a comprehensive list of the incidents…just click through to the original article.

What does this cost us?

Here in New Mexico with a small population, our Republican secretary-of-state set forth on her white horse to dispose of the thousands of cases of voter fraud she was confident she’d find. She had the blessings of our Republican governor – the state legislature hadn’t the guts to sort out her waste. So, she spent over $200,000 and came up with less than a dozen folks who registered to vote when they weren’t qualified. Of those, a couple tried to vote and were rebuffed. The rest had already discovered they weren’t qualified and didn’t even try to vote.

Add in the cost of new voter IDs where Republicans and Blue Dog Dems passed laws trying to block minorities and seniors from voting. Add in the cost of defending patently unconstitutional laws state-by-state up to the Supreme Court.

Multiply that by big states with big searches paid for by taxpayer dollars and we confront hundreds of millions of wasted dollars. And as Professor Levitt noted, he found 31 bona fide allegations of voter fraud in the whole of these United States since 2000.

Republicans waste more time and taxpayer money on lies than any other crooks in the country. And they don’t even have to throw in a copper bracelet.

The Disappearance of the Forty-Three


PHOTOGRAPH BY OMAR TORRES/AFP/GETTY

Every morning, the newspapers in Mexico City announce how many days it has been since forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School disappeared while in Iguala, Guerrero. On Friday, the number—twenty-eight days—was accompanied by an announcement that the governor of Guerrero state, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, had finally resigned after weeks of outrage over the violence and lawlessness that marked his tenure.

The disappearance of the forty-three has aroused horror, indignation, and protest throughout Mexico and all over the world. An air of sadness, disgust, fear and foreboding hangs over Mexico City, where I live, like the unseasonably cold, gray, drizzly weather we’ve been having. This is usually a festive time of year, with the Day of the Dead holidays approaching, but it’s impossible to feel lighthearted. As one friend put it, the government’s cardboard theatre has fallen away, exposing Mexico’s horrifying truths.

The journalists John Gibler (the author of the book “To Die in Mexico”) and Marcela Turati (who has been reporting on the disappearance in the weekly magazine Proceso and elsewhere) have provided the most complete reports of what happened in Iguala on the night of September 26th. “Scores of uniformed municipal police and a handful of masked men dressed in black shot and killed six people, wounded more than twenty, and rounded up and detained forty-three students in a series of attacks carried out at multiple points and lasting more than three hours,” Gibler wrote to me in an e-mail. “At no point did state police, federal police, or the army intercede. The forty-three students taken into police custody are now ‘disappeared.’ ” On September 27th*, the body of another student turned up. His eyes were torn out and the facial skin was ripped away from his skull: the signature of a Mexican organized-crime assassination.

The Ayotzinapa Normal School trains people to become teachers in the state’s poorest rural schools. The students, who are in their late teens and early twenties, tend to come from poor, indigenous campesino families. They are often the brightest kids from their communities. According to Gibler, six hundred people applied to the class that included the students who disappeared, and only a hundred and forty were accepted. To become a teacher is seen as a step up from the life of a peasant farmer, but also as a way for those chosen to be socially useful in their impoverished communities. When Gibler and Turati went to visit the Ayotzinapa School in early October, only twenty-two students were left. In addition to the forty-three missing classmates, many others had been taken home by frightened parents.

RTFA. Please.

Well written, detailed, the sort of work rarely matched by TV talking heads. And, of course, both the conservative and not-quite-so-conservative American Press is tame as ever on the topic. Even where it’s fashionable to recall we are a nation of immigrants, the specter of Fox News seems to haunt our nation’s editors.

Thanks, Mike

Pic of the Day


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

I was wandering through the week’s best news photos from Reuters and I have to admit it took a second and third look before I realized this wasn’t a photo of ISIS goons beating and kidnapping a young Syrian or Iraqi – it was Israeli police goons beating and kidnapping a young Palestinian.

The only difference is in the details AFAIC.