Category: Politics

Angus Deaton and the Nobel Prize

Angus Deaton has won the Nobel, which is wonderful — dogged, careful empirical work at the micro level, tracking and making sense of individual households, their choices, and why they matter…

Deaton is also a fine writer with important things to say about political economy. Cardiff Garcia excerpts a passage in which he explains why we should care about the concentration of wealth at the top:

There is a danger that the rapid growth of top incomes can become self-reinforcing through the political access that money can bring. Rules are set not in the public interest but in the interest of the rich, who use those rules to become yet richer and more influential…

To worry about these consequences of extreme inequality has nothing to do with being envious of the rich and everything to do with the fear that rapidly growing top incomes are a threat to the wellbeing of everyone else.

As if to illustrate his point…Confessore, Cohen, and Yourish documents the remarkable fact that campaign finance this election cycle is dominated by a tiny number of extremely wealthy people — more than half the total from just 158 families. This money is overwhelmingly flowing to Republicans.

…The biggest piece of the super-rich-super-donor story is money from the financial sector…Basically, we’re looking at the people who brought you the financial crisis trying to buy the chance to do it all over again.

While this process continues, expands, we remain trapped within the confines of a Supreme Court dedicated to the worst ethics of capitalism and corporate greed. The old saw may still be true – we need capital to run an economy, not necessarily capitalists – but, the political establishment of the United States is lined up together to assure that premise is never tested.

The checks and balances built into our Constitution in an attempt to give ordinary working families an opportunity to fight for a better life continue to be compromised by each of the tripartite powers. If there’s anything agreed upon wholeheartedly at the top – it is don’t give ordinary folks a chance to fight back.

Deaton does a great job looking at the economic result of such practices.

California passes strictest law in the land against pumping up meat with antibiotics

California just passed a bill to sharply limit the use of antibiotics in farm animals, making it the first state to ban the routine use of the drugs in animal agriculture.

The law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday bans medically important antibiotics to promote growth in cows, chickens, pigs, and other animals raised for profit. Meat producers will only be able to administer the drugs with the approval of a veterinarian when animals are sick, or to prevent infections when there’s an “elevated risk.” They can’t use the drugs “in a regular pattern.” The policy is more restrictive than the FDA’s national guidelines, which don’t restrict use for disease prevention.

Overuse of antibiotics, both in medicine and in animal agriculture, contributes to the rise of drug-resistant superbugs that kill 23,000 Americans each year and sicken 2 million. Brown vetoed a weaker bill last year. The new law is a win for consumer and environmental advocates who have sought tougher rules for years.

Just seven lawmakers voted against it.

…Consumer demand is driving more companies to kick the antibiotic habit. In March McDonald’s announced plans to stop selling chicken raised with antibiotics. One of its suppliers, Tyson Foods, made a similar commitment the next month. Foster Farms and Perdue are cutting back too. Wal-Mart is asking suppliers to do the same.

“I think we’re seeing the marketplace change, and this legislation will continue to push it in that direction,” said Jason Pfeifle, public health advocate at the California Public Interest Research Group, a consumer group that supports the new law.

Overdue? You betcha.

Like so many progressive policies which grew in size and strength among the general populace – until the two old parties recognized they need to get on board – we still will get to see the most backwards political hacks and pundits crank up their public whining machine. The self-proclaimed Freedom Caucus in Congress, no doubt the majority of Republican candidates for president, probably even the NRA will stand up for God, Country and the right to eat crap food.

I expect the ranks of cowards in Blue Dog caucuses in every Democrat Party in every state East of California will call for more study, preferably until after they reach retirement age or at least until after the next possible primary they might face.

Thoughtful human beings will rejoice – and spend their money buying meat from retailers smart enough to recognize a trend without needing Google to tell them when to do something healthy and modern.

Texas/Mexico pipeline opposition builds in Big Bend country

No pipeline
Click to enlargePhotograph/Tom Dart

Thorny mesquite branches scratched the sides of James Spriggs’ battered old Chevrolet truck as he drove the rutted pathway from his house towards other, less natural, spiky objects.

On his 4,400-acre ranch there are deer, quail, jackrabbits, roadrunners, dragonflies and even the occasional eagle or mountain lion. And there are wooden stakes indicating the route of a natural gas pipeline that will slice through his property against his wishes.

“They stand out, kind of out of the ordinary, when the light’s correct on them,” he said, picking up a stake that lay flat beneath a small tree. Since their discovery, Spriggs and others have made it their mission to protest a proposal that would be routine almost anywhere else in the state.

Many moved to Big Bend because it is spiritually and physically unlike much of the rest of Texas, which long ago kowtowed to the boom-and-bust thrust of Big Oil, with all its possibilities and problems.

Some 426,000 miles of pipelines already crisscross Texas, acting as the cardiovascular system of the state’s thriving economy. Only one large area is untouched, but that is about to change – unless a diverse group of citizens can prevail in an underdog fight against billionaires, anemic regulators and new economic realities…

The oil industry may be squirming because of the low price of crude, but natural gas pipelines are sprouting as a response to soaring demand in Mexico and legal changes there in 2014 that make it easier for foreign exporters to sell the fruits of the Texas fracking boom…

The Trans-Pecos pipeline is a partnership between companies controlled by billionaires: Mexico’s Carlos Slim, reportedly the world’s second-richest man, and Kelcy Warren, head of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which in February welcomed former Texas governor and failed Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry to its board of directors.

They hope that construction will start in the first quarter of next year and in 2017 the 42-inch pipeline will transport 1.4bn cubic feet of natural gas per day from a processing plant near Fort Stockton to the border, where the line will go under the Rio Grande and connect with Mexican infrastructure.

Continue reading

Pic of the day

Gun-toting nutballs at an Islamic Community Centre in Phoenix, AZ

On October 9 and 10, a group calling itself the Global Rally for Humanity plans anti-Islam rallies nationwide. It’s a stunning display of prejudice against Muslims.

Find the terrorists in the photo. Hint: They’re the only ones with guns.

The US “leads” the solar energy revolution by laying off solar energy researchers

On Monday, Oct. 5, Stuart Farrell had planned to take the morning off from his job as a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., after being awake all night taking care of his sick 2-year-old son. But at 10:30 a.m., he received a call asking him to come in for an 11:30 meeting…

Farrell, who had worked in solar energy research at the laboratory for two and a half years, was one of 15 solar research staff members laid off that day due to federal funding cuts, according to NREL public affairs manager George Douglas. And another 40 to 60 staff members are expected to be lost through a voluntary separation program that the lab will initiate on Oct. 12.

Almost all of the researchers already laid off were involved in “next generation,” or long-term, solar research, Douglas said. Farrell’s work, for instance, involved research on improving the efficiency of cadmium telluride solar cells.

It’s the latest sign of a trend that experts say is undermining U.S. efforts to promote alternative energy: Federal funding for solar energy research has declined steadily over the past several years, despite emphasis from the Obama administration on continued investment in research and development of clean energy technologies. These cuts have affected the federal solar program at large, not just solar research at NREL…

“NREL is actually one of the smallest of the national laboratories, and I think it’s been one that has had one of the largest impacts of any of the national laboratories,” said Al Compaan, president and CTO of Lucintech, a company involved in the development of photovoltaic modules. “I’m particularly pained to see any further cuts in funding [to NREL].” For instance, support from NREL was integral to the success of photovoltaic manufacturer First Solar, which Compaan referred to as “one of the bright shining stars in the success of federal government support for solar energy.”…

Yet the budget appropriations have fallen short of the requests over the past few years, and applied research, particularly on long-term, forward-looking technologies like the project Farrell was involved with at NREL, has been one of the areas to suffer. The reasons for the funding cuts could be tied to budget sequestration, or limits on the size of the federal budget, which can force spending cuts in certain areas in order to bring the total budget down…

Despite these reductions, solar energy itself has continued to expand and contribute to decarbonization in the U.S., at least partly thanks to the importation of solar modules from other nations, particularly China. The U.S. market share in photovoltaic manufacturing has dropped significantly since the late 90s, and China has become the major source of module shipments over the past five years…

Jobs, jobs, jobs – the mantra of political hacks from both parties. But, as long as the government is run by an amalgamation of reactionaries and cowards the inevitability of change continues to be driven by the nations with a real dedication to alternative energy.

President Obama can blather all he wants at press conferences celebrating his joint energy and environment agreements with President Xi. At the rate we’re going the only American jobs flowing from the solar revolution will be as installers. Manufacturing for domestic consumption – much less export – will continue to diminish in a nation that would rather dedicate research to new and exciting weapons of mass destruction.

Our politicians take Americans another step backwards – bowing to the Koch Brothers and the fossil fuel empire.

Sex education is a human right — Erika Sánchez

When I was 17, I thought I might be pregnant. I had just fooled around with an acquaintance of mine, and my period was a few days late. Though there was no real penetration and fertilization was practically impossible, I convinced myself that I was carrying a fetus and that my life was over.

I took a pregnancy test. It came back negative, but I was still terrified. What if it was wrong? What if I had taken it too early? I frantically scoured the Internet for information. I was just a few months shy of my 18th birthday and learned that the law required my parents’ consent for an abortion. I knew I would never carry out a pregnancy at such a young age and that my conservative, immigrant parents would never agree to the procedure, so I considered my choices, which included traveling to a state without parental consent laws or asking my friend’s mom to take me to the clinic and pose as my own mother. On top of it all, I worried about the cost. I was hysterical — until I finally got my period.

This experience demonstrates how abysmal my sex education was. The overarching message that girls received in my high school health class was that if we had sex, we were going to get knocked up. Our school’s teen pregnancy rate was very high — we had a daycare full of students’ babies — so it seemed quite plausible to me…

What I needed was information and support, but I didn’t know where to turn. Unfortunately, our education system has not improved much since I was a teenager. Sex education continues to be under attack in the United States despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that a comprehensive curriculum can save young people’s lives. Teaching children about the importance of using condoms and getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, can keep them from making detrimental choices. Experts estimate that one person age 15 to 24 in the U.S. is infected with HIV every hour of every day. But while some developing countries such as Guatemala and Indonesia are taking important steps to improve their sex-education programs, our country keeps gutting them indiscriminately.

RTFA for the breadth of what Erika Sánchez has to say.

I think you and I know who is responsible for lousy education becoming worse. There is a broadly cast minority of Americans whose belief systems are rooted in ignorance, in a conviction that knowledge not only is forbidden fruit; but, a danger to stability and safety – to be prohibited. Only the guidance of some priest, pundit or politician is acceptable. Only rules formulated in the dark Ages can be trusted.

This defines a number of conservative currents in American ideology. They are embraced by fools.

Political hacks whine about ISIS driving Toyota trucks

Here’s a militia convoy in Libya – with armament captured from Gaddafi’s army

Toyota has been put on the spot by the U.S. government, which has asked the Japanese car maker to explain just how Islamic State has got hold of hundreds of its four-wheel-drive vehicles.

The Toyota Hilux pickup — a model similar to the Toyota Tacoma that’s sold in the U.S. — and Toyota Land Cruisers have become fixtures in the terror group’s propaganda videos…

“Regrettably, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Hilux have effectively become almost part of the ISIS brand,” said one former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Mark Wallace….

This crap article doesn’t quote any official government complaint – just whining from news-as-entertainment sources and one out-of-work political appointee.

Wallace is currently chief executive for the Counter Extremism Project, which aims to expose terrorists’ financial networks. “I don’t think Toyota’s trying to intentionally profit from it, but they are on notice now and they should do more,” Wallace added.

The Counter extremism Project was founded by a group of unemployed Bush hacks mostly well-known as pimps for Israel’s apartheid Netanyahu government. Starring former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman.

Questions about ISIS’s use of the vehicles have circulated for years, with the terror group believed to have repurposed older Toyota trucks as well as acquiring hundreds of new vehicles. In a recent ISIS parade, more than two-thirds of the vehicles were white Toyotas with black emblems, and there also were small numbers of other brands such as Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Isuzu…

Tracking who buys and sells used trucks and cars in the Middle East is a farce that could only be thought up by the American flavor of right-wing creep.

The fact is the Toyota HiLux is the most popular pickup truck in the world. Reliable and durable, they last for years. Most of what you see on the tube are diesel-powered, produced by Toyota in Thailand. Bought, stolen or volunteered to serve just about every insurgency and counter-insurgency. They satisfy the needs of most folks in the Middle East regardless of end use. Pretty much everyone in desert country buys white cars and trucks.

Once in a while you see a repainted Chevy – a present from American taxpayers to the Iraq Army – abandoned by soldiers running as fast as possible in the opposite direction from ISIS.

The TPP Free-Trade Charade

This was published just before the “resolution” of negotiations. What changed? Details of how we’re screwed.

As negotiators and ministers from the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries meet in Atlanta in an effort to finalize the details of the sweeping new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), some sober analysis is warranted. The biggest regional trade and investment agreement in history is not what it seems.

You will hear much about the importance of the TPP for “free trade.” The reality is that this is an agreement to manage its members’ trade and investment relations – and to do so on behalf of each country’s most powerful business lobbies. Make no mistake: It is evident from the main outstanding issues, over which negotiators are still haggling, that the TPP is not about “free” trade

For starters, consider what the agreement would do to expand intellectual property rights for big pharmaceutical companies, as we learned from leaked versions of the negotiating text. Economic research clearly shows the argument that such intellectual property rights promote research to be weak at best. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary: When the Supreme Court invalidated Myriad’s patent on the BRCA gene, it led to a burst of innovation that resulted in better tests at lower costs. Indeed, provisions in the TPP would restrain open competition and raise prices for consumers in the US and around the world – anathema to free trade…

Similarly, consider how the US hopes to use the TPP to manage trade for the tobacco industry. For decades, US-based tobacco companies have used foreign investor adjudication mechanisms created by agreements like the TPP to fight regulations intended to curb the public-health scourge of smoking. Under these investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) systems, foreign investors gain new rights to sue national governments in binding private arbitration for regulations they see as diminishing the expected profitability of their investments…

To be sure, investors – wherever they call home – deserve protection from expropriation or discriminatory regulations. But ISDS goes much further: The obligation to compensate investors for losses of expected profits can and has been applied even where rules are nondiscriminatory and profits are made from causing public harm…

Imagine what would have happened if these provisions had been in place when the lethal effects of asbestos were discovered. Rather than shutting down manufacturers and forcing them to compensate those who had been harmed, under ISDS, governments would have had to pay the manufacturers not to kill their citizens. Taxpayers would have been hit twice – first to pay for the health damage caused by asbestos, and then to compensate manufacturers for their lost profits when the government stepped in to regulate a dangerous product.

It should surprise no one that America’s international agreements produce managed rather than free trade. That is what happens when the policymaking process is closed to non-business stakeholders – not to mention the people’s elected representatives in Congress.

That presumes, of course, that our Congress is up to performing required due diligence on behalf of American workers and their families. Something I still need to be convinced of.