Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Social Security ain't bankrupt

Here is a very good commentary on the annual report of the Social Security Trustees on the current surplus and future solvency of SS:  Before you write that Social Security is bankrupt….  What is clear is that SS will run a surplus until at least 2033; and under its current construction have enough money to pay 75 percent of promised benefits.  That doesn't sound like "broke" to me.
This commentary on the Trustees' report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research also makes the excellent point that, "The main reason that the program's finances have deteriorated relative to the projected path is that wage growth has not kept pace with the path projected."  In other words, since the 1980s, U.S. wage growth, which is the source of SS financing, has been stagnant. And since Dubya's Great Recession, employment and wages have fallen further, causing a short-term shortfall in revenues.

But even better to read are the comments of learned readers on CEPR's site about the myth of SS's insolvency.  Wrote one reader,  Barkley Rosser, identifying himself as a teacher:  

I also note that [my students] are being asked to support cuts now to their future benefits on the basis of the argument that if those are not cut now, they might have to be cut in the future.  When that is posed to them, they also rather shake their heads in disbelief about how seriously this whole thing has been misrepresented to them.

Another reader, pete, repeated a point I've made several times that SS was never meant to be a pension system:

Most critical is, as skepto is suggesting, to completely end the facade of framing SS as a defined benefits program (it is not, you can read this in your annual statement), and simply re-frame it as old age and disability insurance, with some base levels and trickling off for the wealthy (a SS Buffet rule).  That was the original intent, only modified to bring in the Republicans in the 30s, while ignoring demographics. Then the funding can be done optimally, rather than fraudulently confounding the benefits with the payroll deductions.  

I would only add that the glut of Baby Boomers moving through the SS and Medicare/Medicaid system, like a golf ball through a garden hose, is a problem we have seen coming a long way off, at least since the 1980s.  It's like one of those cheesy scenes in every action film where the hero shouts "Nooooooooooooooo!...", only slowed down to about 40 years.  Enough.  Even if all the Baby Boomers live to be 90, they'll all be dead by 2055.  We just have to let the system gets back to demographic balance, and not dismantle and/or privatize one of the most successful anti-poverty programs ever designed out of fear of a hypothetical.  And it is certainly not the fault of the young that Social Security is the main source of income for most present retirees, aka those "affluent" and "responsible" ones who preach to us about the need to live within our means.

Who's getting rich off War on Drugs

By Mike Riggs
April 22, 2012 | Reason

In a 2011 interview, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that legalization is "not likely to work" because "there is just too much money in it." Clinton was talking about cartels, but the same holds true for the legal industries that owe their profit margins, market shares, and—in some cases—very existence to the war on drugs. Here are four industries you might not realize profit off the drug war.

4.) The Drug Testing Industry

One of the highlights of President Barack Obama's 2012 Drug Control Policy report is a section encouraging drug-free workplace programs, which the report touts as "beneficial for our labor force, employers, families, and communities in general." The report also alludes to the administration's commitment to funding research for an oral drug test that can be conducted alongside a urine analysis.

An entire testing industry helped make those policies a reality, and is pushing for their expansion. One industry group, the Drugs of Abuse Testing Coalition, has spent $90,000 already in 2011-2012 lobbying for "Medicare reimbursement codes and payment rates for qualitative drug screen testing." Another group, the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association, has retained the lobbying shop Washington Policy Association since at least 1999, but according to its filings, has spent less than $10,000 per year on lobbying since then. Another drug testing company, Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, was started by former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and former White House drug chief Robert DuPont.

These groups have successfully pushed for the passage of drug testing laws and regulations across the country, and were behind the Drug Testing Integrity Act of 2008, which made it illegal to buy, sell, manufacture, or advertise "cleansing" products that promise to help consumers "defraud a drug test." A new federal law that allows states to drug test people seeking public assistance is proving to be another boon to such companies: Florida has already spent $118,140 testing welfare applicants; or, $45,780 more than it would have spent if it had just given welfare to the 108 applicants who tested positive for drugs.

3.) The Alcohol Industry

Marijuana legalization advocates like to point out that pot is safer than alcohol, if for no other reason than no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. They also like to point out that the booze industry has been working to subvert drug policy reform for decades, at least going back to the early 90s when the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) FOIA'd the donation records for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and found that it had accepted large donations from Jim Beam and Anheuser Busch.

Alcohol companies were less obvious about their opposition to legalization after being outed by NORML. That lasted until September 2010, when the California Beer and Beverage Distributors donated $10,000 to a police-run campaign opposing Proposition 19, California's marijuana legalization initiative.

2.) The Private Prison Industry 

Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), the country's largest private prison company, has donated almost $4.5 million to political campaigns and dropped another $18 million on lobbying in the last two decades. The company, and others like it, is up to its elbows in drug war spending. Its facilities house low-level drug users and contain in-house rehabilitation programs. CCA even trains its own drug-sniffing dogs. In 2010, the company had revenue of $1.67 billion. Florida-based GEO Group, which has given almost $4 million in campaign contributions and spent $2.28 million on lobbying since 1999, had revenue of $1.27 billion in 2010.

Nowhere is the private prison industry's reliance on the drug war more apparent than in CCA's 2010 report to shareholders. "The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws," reads the report CCA filed with the Securities Exchange Commission.

"For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Legislation has been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior. Also, sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation with electronic monitoring who would otherwise be incarcerated. Similarly, reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities."

According to a report from the Justice Policy Institute, lobbyists for the private prison industry have pushed "three strikes" and "truth-in-sentencing" laws across the country. Both types of laws adversely affect drug users. 

1.) The Addiction Recovery Industry

The business of treating addiction has come a long way since Bill Wilson developed the 12 Step program in the 1930s. It's now a huge industry with deep pockets, an impressive lobbying budget, and a vested interest in paternalistic public health policies. This industry has two big policy concerns: It wants the government to direct users—both hard and recreational—into addiction treatment facilities instead of jail, and it wants the government to require insurance companies to cover addiction treatment like it would any other illness. This doesn't mean the addiction recovery industry doesn't have voluntary clients, just that it wants government to declare drug use a disease, force anyone who has it to receive very specific treatment from very specific doctors, and have a third party pay the bill.

The addiction services industry didn't get this power by wishing for it. Since 1989, addiction services trade groups and individual companies have donated a combined $869,405 to political campaigns and spent almost $5 million lobbying in order to secure direct and indirect government funding of addiction services.

The biggest player on the rehab block is Phoenix House, which was started in 1967 by six Manhattan heroin addicts. Today, Phoenix House runs 150 addiction programs in 10 states, including in-patient and out-patient programs, as well as Phoenix Academy, a series of boarding schools for substance-using teens. Much of its $100 million budget comes from earmarks and government contracts: $250,000 for Phoenix House in Springfield; $480,000 for Phoenix House in Brentwood; $650,000 for Phoenix House in Dallas; $750,000 for Phoenix House in Brooklyn. The list goes on, and on, and on. Those earmarks don't come cheap, however. Between 2002 and 2011, Phoenix House spent $1.28 million lobbying.

Phoenix House also supports the Obama Administration's most recent pledge to spend more money on (much criticized) drug courts and other diversion strategies, as nearly all such programs shuffle drug users through addiction treatment centers. The company also invited former ONDCP senior advisor Kevin Sabet to pre-emptively attack legalization advocates on the Phoenix House website the day Obama's report was released. 

The National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), which bills itself as "the nation's largest association of addiction focused professionals," has spent $134,000 on campaign contributions and $338,000 lobbying Congress since 1995. The most notable recipient is Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), who's received $12,000 in campaign donations from the group. Ramstad is the co-chair of both the House Addiction Treatment and Recovery Caucus and the Law Enforcement Caucus, as well as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee's Subcommittee on Health. In 2008, Ramstad was rumored to be on Barack Obama's shortlist for drug czar. He has a history of earmarking money for addiction treatment facilities and programs, and once earmarked $250,000 for Minnesota Teen Challenge, an Assembly of God-affiliated rehab program that teaches "Addiction is a sin, not a disease."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Adam Smith on selfishness v. self-interest

UPDATE (06.08.2013): Originally, I posted this article without any commentary although I found it extremely interesting, and, I won't kid you, very heartening for my progressive beliefs. For some reason it's one of my most popular posts.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe it's because people of all stripes, even today, see Adam Smith as the final authority on capitalism.  

Personally, I'm not willing to go that far. Experience and scholarship have contributed much to our understanding of capitalism/free enterprise, call it what you will, since Smith's time.  To give one giant example: Keynes. Say what you want, but the guy invented macroeconomics. Until him, there was only microecon, Smith's provenance. So we gotta give prop's where they're due.

Nevertheless, it's certainly worth discovering in the article that follows what Adam Smith himself actually thought about "capitalism," a word that wasn't even invented in Smith's lifetime; it was coined by 19th-century socialists to disparage what they saw as an economic system that exploited the working class.

I'm no economic scholar, I'm not even an entrepreneur. However, during extensive international experience as a consultant I've seen in developing countries what confirms Smith's belief that a certain moral underpinning (trust, fair dealing, a man's word is his bond, deal on a handshake, etc.), not to mention robust courts that enforce verbal as well as written contracts, are necessary for "economic individualism" to flourish without harming the common good. As Americans and Westerners, we overlook their powerful role too often. And it undermines our credibility when we preach the virtues of the "free market" to developing nations: like criticizing the composition of their roof while ignoring the crumbling foundation.  

Speaking of the common good, or general welfare, that's a concept under constant threat in the U.S., although it's specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Constitutional "purists" tell us there are no superfluous words in that revered old parchment, so it's worth contemplating what exactly was meant by the general welfare, and how it can be protected. Alright, enough of my two cents.

A Tale of Two Smiths: What Capitalism's Founder Would Think of Goldman's Greed
By John Paul Rollert
April 20, 2012 | Next New Deal

Adam Smith made a distinction between self-interest and selfishness -- and he knew that too much of the latter would lead a nation to ruin.

It has been over a month since Greg Smith's letter of resignation sent Goldman Sachs into full PR panic mode. Since then, the firm has completed its great "muppet" sweep, Mr. Smith has secured a blockbuster book deal, and Lloyd Blankfein has found himself fighting off stories of a growing power struggle at the top of Goldman high command.

All of this makes for good copy, but it risks obscuring the enduring moral dilemma at the heart of the original letter. Namely, when it comes to doing business, can we make a meaningful distinction between self-interest and selfishness? Or, apropos of Mr. Smith, should a place like Goldman ever hold itself to a higher standard than "How much money did we make off the client?"

Another Smith certainly thought so: Adam Smith, the founding father of modern economics. He first made his name as a moral philosopher with The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a careful diagnosis of the concern we have for others, the attention we show ourselves, and how the tension between the two underwrites a common code of ethics.

One of the principal villains of Smith's work was Bernard Mandeville, an occasional philosopher who impishly elided fine-grained distinctions. His scandalous work, The Fable of the Bees, was an allegorical poem involving a thriving beehive that bore more than passing resemblance to 18th-century England. Accounting for the affluence and ease the bees enjoyed, Mandeville made two contentions sufficient to give any high-minded economist heartburn. 

First, he claimed there was no essential difference, morally speaking, between the con man and the merchant. Both were driven by selfish instincts to get the better of their fellow man (or bee), and to that end, both trucked in deceit. Yes, the con man broke the law, but the merchant hid behind it.

Mandeville's second claim was even more scabrous: So be it. Vice, not virtue, kept the wheels of commerce turning, with the benefits shared by all:
Thus Vice nurs'd Ingenuity,
Which join'd with Time and Industry,
Had carry'd Life's Conveniences,
It's real Pleasures, Comforts, Ease,
To such a Height, the very Poor
Liv'd better than the Rich before,
And nothing could be added more.
If these lines sound a little bit like "greed is good," then you get Mandeville's point. Human beings are selfish, and thank goodness for it. Otherwise, we might end up like the bees, who are nearly wiped out after a spell of virtue saps their ambition, spoils their economy, and exposes them to outside attack.

When he stepped forward to challenge these views, Smith knew that he had to provide a compelling distinction between pursuits that are self-interested and those that are merely selfish. He granted Mandeville that there was "a certain remote affinity" between them insofar as both are motivated by a concern for personal well-being, but he appealed to common sense in saying that that we don't view all human desires equally. My interest in having a clean shirt is not only legitimate, it's laudable, whereas my longing for a panda skin sportcoat is not only illegitimate, it's an outrage.

Fair enough. But how exactly do we make these distinctions? Smith says we come by them naturally, by engaging others and discovering where our desires echo, overlap, and, finally, are at odds with one another. This process, iterative and ongoing, defines our moral sentiments, the felt necessities of right and wrong that shape and restrain our actions.  It also defines for us what Smith called "a fair and deliberate exchange," the very type of interaction at the heart of a commercial enterprise. 

When he turned his attention to economics, Smith did not think of himself as devising a system that was antagonistic or even alien to the one he had already developed. A free market provided individuals a space to engage each other in the pursuit of their own private interests, but that realm was not free from moral sentiments, nor should it be. Engaging in business was no less a part of human interaction than raising children or making friends, and the idea that a commercial sphere dominated by the grossest behavior would not contaminate the rest of society was not only silly, it was dangerously naive.  

This was Smith's greatest difference with Mandeville: He did not believe that a nation in which people pursued their interests irrespective of one another would be affluent. It wouldn't even be stable.  Riven by "hostile factions," society would seethe with conflict, for people with different interests would view each other with "contempt and derision."  In such an environment, Smith observed, "[t]ruth and fair dealing are almost totally disregarded," for the interests of others have no moral claim on us.

Is Goldman Sachs such an environment? Greg Smith says so, but only the people who work there know whether the culture is as "toxic and destructive" as his letter claims. Yet to the degree that clients are viewed with contempt and derision, especially by leadership, Adam Smith would say that we should hardly be surprised, as the other Mr. Smith seems to be, by "how callously people talk about ripping their clients off." This is to be expected. The line between selfishness and self-interest, in business as in all human pursuits, appears only when we feel that the interests of others occasionally require us to restrain our own. When we stop caring, that line disappears, and with it some very worthy things — personal integrity, self-respect, professional pride — that money can't buy.

John Paul Rollert is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Gulag USA

Those socialist regimes of the past were so brutal and awful.  In the U.S. we have the 13th Amendment that would never allow us to force our citizens into slave labor camps....  Oops:

All told, nearly a million [U.S.] prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses or manufacturing textiles, shoes and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between ninety-three cents and $4.73 per day.

Well, at least they're privately-run slave labor camps.  With private outsourcing, I'm sure we can improve on the efficiency of socialist gulags.

By Steve Fraser and Joshua Freeman
April 19, 2012 | The Nation

Koch mafia's raid of CATO continues

Poor, naive CATO Institute.  CATO's thick-as-thieves beneficiary-donor relationship with the Kochs all these years has been like going into business with the mafia.  At first your mafia friends make "good" things happen for you, and they always have ready cash.  Then one fine day your "partner" says to you, "It's all ours now.  Get lost."  And there's nothing you can do about it.

By Lew Rockwell
April 20, 2012 | The LRC Blog

Obama too lazy to fake keeping his SOTU promise

Is this how a crypto-Marxist behaves?  Obama can't even be bothered to fake a half-hearted investigation into banks' criminal behavior!

Face it: when it comes to placing Obama on the political spectrum, the Left is in denial, and the Right is in Fantasy Land.

Goodman: EU, US crises are avoidable, fixable

By Peter S. Goodman
April 18, 2012 | Huffington Post

Europe's economy is like a patient stuck in a hospital run by quack doctors who see sickness as a form of moral failing, and leeches as the preferable cure. The only hope now is that Europe either manages a miraculous recovery or develops a case of something so inarguably lethal that real doctors come running with effective medicine.

Will Europe and its beleaguered currency, the euro, get out of this crisis in one piece? That question is commanding renewed attention as financial markets demand higher rates of interest on loans to the debt-saturated nations at the center of concern, Spain and Italy, thus elevating the prospect that their governments might eventually default. Maybe the euro will endure, and maybe it won't. In any event, Europe seems irretrievably bound for years of retrenchment, diminished living standards and social strife.

"We're going into a long period of stagnation in Europe, with terrible problems that will emerge as a result," declared the former Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, speaking Tuesday at Brown University during a conference on the future of the euro, a proceeding that felt much like an autopsy on a body that never should have been born.

"The crisis found us unprepared," said former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. "How to get out of this? It will be extremely difficult."

Continued anxiety about the fate of the euro is bad news not just for Europe, but for the globe as a whole -- and not least for the United States, whose tenuous recovery from the Great Recession is feeling increasingly vulnerable. Europe constitutes the world's largest marketplace. When its people and companies are hunkered down, unable to spend and invest, the consequences ripple everywhere, including to the American factory floor, where a slowing of production is amplifying broader economic worries.

But here's the most frustrating part of Europe's unrelenting crisis and the drag it is imposing on multiple shores:  It is both self-inflicted and fixable.

The mantra at Tuesday's conference, held by the Watson Institute for International Studies, was that Europe's problems are not financial in nature, but essentially political.  If the members of the eurozone could simply agree to arm their impotent central bank with the authority to sell bonds backed by the full faith and credit of member countries, the crisis would ease.  The central bank could backstop the weakest countries in the eurozone and soothe financial markets now fretting over potential sovereign default scenarios. Borrowing costs would come back down, making it easier for the most indebted eurozone member nations to pay their bills.

This, unfortunately, is much like saying that America's economic problems can be easily fixed (which happens to be correct), so long as you ignore the political reality.   If Americans could merely agree to lift our tax rates back to the level of the Reagan years, invest the resulting revenues in productive pursuits like education and infrastructure, and then squeeze some savings out of a health care system designed primarily to succor oligopolistic insurance companies, our debt problems would disappear.  All true -- and all as politically achievable as forcing Americans to embrace a strict vegan diet.

In Europe's case, the impediments to a proper economic solution stem from the peculiar structure of the eurozone, a currency union without an accompanying political union. Seventeen individual states all share the same money, but still chart their own budgetary courses. In the first decade of the euro, which began trading in 1999, financial markets acted as if the shared currency rendered equivalent the risks of lending to Germany and Greece.  The currency masked the fundamental differences that distinguished the fiscal soundness of individual member states, giving less-disciplined governments access to too much credit.

"It was an accident waiting to happen," said Prodi.

Now that the accident is here, with Mediterranean states confronting untenable debts, a lack of political concurrence is preventing the obvious solution: a real central bank that can print euros by issuing bonds backed by all members.

Germany refuses to entertain this idea, disgusted by the prospect of putting its credit on the line for the sake of aiding weaker eurozone member states. This stance is built on a peculiarly German terror of possible inflation -- an outcome that would be wonderful compared to the current alternatives -- and a moralistic desire to punish the profligate. In the conversation that rules Berlin, hard-working, thrifty Germans cannot be expected to finance endless revelry for free-spending Spaniards, Greeks, Portuguese and Italians.

This central notion is responsible for the austerity that Germany has imposed on member states as a condition of the myriad eurozone bailouts that have so far prevented collapse. But this is where we get back to the leeches: Austerity also ensures that Europe cannot grow robustly, enhancing the debt burdens of weaker states.

"Europe is prescribing a medicine that makes the disease worse," Gusenbauer said.

This is now so apparent that even the International Monetary Fund -- traditionally a stalwart advocate of austerity in the face of budget crises, from Indonesia to Argentina -- now warns that Europe has gone too far.

Moreover, austerity imposed as moral curative misses the origins of the crisis.  Most of the debtor governments ensnared in the euro mess were not living beyond their means before the crisis.  They are now facing impossible debt burdens because they bailed out private banks that lent recklessly. The German refusal to allow euro bonds and the prevailing wave of fiscal austerity is sticking ordinary Europeans with the costs of addressing the sins of wayward banks.

Greece has come to encapsulate the whole euro story in the conventional narrative, but this is bogus. Greece is the only case in which profligacy explains the mess.  The Greeks wasted their money on unbridled government spending, corruption and tax avoidance. The rest of the eurozone landed in peril only after the red ink of private banks washed up on public balance sheets. Indeed, Ireland had much smaller debts than Germany as a percentage of its overall economy before the government rescued the banking system.  So did Spain.

In the United States, a similarly phony morality play is at work as elites wander around sagely discussing the need for the populace to commence living within its means.  American leaders cite fiscal distress as they dismantle many of the institutions that serve regular people, from community colleges to the social safety net.  But we did not get into hock by bingeing on classrooms and food stamps.  We got here via extravagant tax cuts for the wealthiest people and disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, in the logic of the moment, the people who rely upon unemployment checks are going to have to pay to square the books.

In the United States, austerity is nothing more than the product of political dysfunction, an inability among people in Washington to acknowledge simple arithmetic: We need to raise taxes to pay for basic government services.

In Europe, austerity may be the sacrifice required to enable Germans to make peace with transferring some of their prodigious wealth to less-affluent neighbors.

If this is the price established by the political marketplace, it may be better than the status quo -- a long slide toward sovereign default big enough to bring down the euro and usher in another global financial crisis. Yet it is also madness, as if the patient neglected by the hospital is best served by chopping off a finger or two to ensure that the doctors finally see his case as requiring emergency intervention.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Consistent, even when it hurts

A profile in courage for anti-abortion Nebraska Republican, Congressman Mike Flood!

Unusual Alliances Form In Nebraska's Prenatal Care Debate
By Fred Knapp
April 18, 2012 | NPR


Unions matter... everywhere

For those of you who think unions aren't necessary, and at the same time bemoan how U.S. unions make our manufacturers non-competitive compared to low-cost Asian producers, keep in mind this story from Bangladesh, where they pay garment workers 21 cents an hour.  The United States used to harrass and murder its labor leaders with impunity, too, as recently as a few decades ago.

Next time you're buying Tommy Hilfiger and wondering why it's made over there instead of over here, remember that it's partly because they can still torture and kill labor leaders over there, and not over here.

Unions are still relevant, and still a necessary check on the power of impersonal corporations. Everywhere.

By Sarath Kumara 
April 17, 2012 | World Socialist Web Site

Monday, April 16, 2012

Conservative scholar: Obamacare mandate is constitutional

By Mike Sacks
April 16, 2012 | Huffington Post

Yet another prominent conservative legal scholar has stepped forward to urge the Supreme Court to uphold health care reform as firmly within the court's precedents.

In a column published on The New Republic's website, Henry Paul Monaghan, a professor of constitutional law at Columbia Law School, applauded the Supreme Court's conservative justices for their aggressive questioning of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli during oral arguments three weeks ago, but went on to "submit that sustaining the mandate would not give rise to the justices' fears of boundless federal authority."

Moreover, the market for health care is distinctive (if not entirely unique) in several key respects. Virtually all of us will need and obtain health care at some point, but we often cannot predict when or in what ways we will need it. And for the vast majority of us, direct payment for the health care services we obtain would be prohibitively expensive. Yet not obtaining needed medical care can be the difference between life and death.

These features help explain why, unlike many other markets, insurance is the overwhelmingly dominant means of payment in the health care market. They also explain why Congress has required that individuals be given emergency care without regard to their ability to pay. As a result, and again unlike other markets, uninsured individuals who are unable to pay directly for needed medical services necessarily shift the cost of those services to others -- to health care providers, the government, individuals with insurance, and taxpayers.

In that way, Congress is not creating a market which it then seeks to regulate. The insurance-based structure of the health care market is already firmly in place.  That is why it was well within Congress's discretion to design legislation to operate within, and to address problems posed by, this vast market.

Monaghan's arguments echo not only those made by the federal government in its briefs and at oral argument, but also those of the handful of other Reagan-era graybeards of the conservative legal movement who have backed Obamacare's constitutionality in the two years leading up to the Supreme Court's review. And as The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn points out, Monaghan's conservative credibility is rock solid:

In 1985, Monaghan wrote a widely read and cited essay called "Our Perfect Constitution" that was critical of activist judges who used the document to justify expansions of individual rights. In 1986, he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of Robert Bork, the arch conservative that former President Reagan tried (and failed) to place on the Court. In the fall of 2010, Monaghan defended the Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which overturned part of the McCain-Feingold campaign law.

What makes Monaghan's piece unique, however, is that it comes after the oral arguments in which the conservative justices upended conventional wisdom in their apparently enthusiastic embrace of the position put forward by the mandate's challengers, despite the calls for restraint coming from right-of-center jurists who made their names decrying judicial activism.

Between the lines, Monaghan's focus on the unique nature of the health care market reads like a direct appeal to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has never fully embraced judicial restraint as a core principle. Indeed, Kennedy appeared to lean heavily toward striking down the mandate at the oral argument before wavering at the very end.

"I think it is true," Kennedy said, "that if most questions in life are matters of degree, in the insurance and health care world, both markets -- stipulate two markets -- the young person who is uninsured is uniquely proximately very close to affecting the rates of insurance and the costs of providing medical care in a way that is not true in other industries."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Study: Congress most partisan in 100 years

Statistics don't lie, folks: Congressional Republicans are more partisan today than ever.  Political scientists blame it on gerrymandering, the "permanent campaign" cycle of fundraising while in office, and 24/7 cable and internet news media.  

By Frank James
April 13, 2012 | NPR

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Evil Koch bros. sue to take over Evil Cato Institute

This is fun to observe from the sidelines, like watching on Jerry Springer how a dysfunctional family gets in a goofy brawl or girlfriends are pulling one another's hair out, where all sides are so repulsive and stupid that nobody can possibly be in the right and it doesn't matter who wins.

But the most entertaining part is Teabagging, astroturfing FreedomWorks playing the role of Jerry's bouncer Steve Wilkos, trying to break up the fight between Cato's board and the Kochs with such official, "just calm down" statements:

While we [Freedomworks] do not pretend to know all of the particulars of the dispute over ownership shares, it is clear that this hostile takeover bid, if successful, will do irreparable harm to the credibility of Cato, and equally important, will undermine our community's intellectual defenses at a time when the progressive left seems more committed than ever in their aggressive pursuit of government control of the American economy and the most personal decisions of its individual citizens.

"The credibility of Cato"!  "Intellectual defenses"!  Ha-ha, that's great stuff!   

By Paul Blumenthal
April 12, 2012 | Huffington Post

Obamacare won't increase the deficit

Big surprise, a Koch-funded think tank was behind the bogus report that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would increase the deficit.

That claim was false.  In fact, the CBO recently revised its estimates to say Obamacare would cost $50 billion less over 10 years.

By Jonathan Chait
April 10, 2012 | New York Magazine

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Taibbi: By signing JOBS Act Obama winks at fraud

By Matt Taibbi
April 9, 2012 | Rolling Stone

Boy, do I feel like an idiot. I've been out there on radio and TV in the last few months saying that I thought there was a chance Barack Obama was listening to the popular anger against Wall Street that drove the Occupy movement, that decisions like putting a for-real law enforcement guy like New York AG Eric Schneiderman in charge of a mortgage fraud task force meant he was at least willing to pay lip service to public outrage against the banks.

Then the JOBS Act happened.

The "Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act" (in addition to everything else, the Act has an annoying, redundant title) will very nearly legalize fraud in the stock market.

In fact, one could say this law is not just a sweeping piece of deregulation that will have an increase in securities fraud as an accidental, ancillary consequence. No, this law actually appears to have been specifically written to encourage fraud in the stock markets.

Ostensibly, the law makes it easier for startup companies (particularly tech companies, whose lobbyists were a driving force behind its passage) attract capital by, among other things, exempting them from independent accounting requirements for up to five years after they first begin selling shares in the stock market.

The law also rolls back rules designed to prevent bank analysts from talking up a stock just to win business, a practice that was so pervasive in the tech-boom years as to be almost industry standard.

Even worse, the JOBS Act, incredibly, will allow executives to give "pre-prospectus" presentations to investors using PowerPoint and other tools in which they will not be held liable for misrepresentations. These firms will still be obligated to submit prospectuses before their IPOs, and they'll still be held liable for what's in those. But it'll be up to the investor to check and make sure that the prospectus matches the "pre-presentation."

The JOBS Act also loosens a whole range of other reporting requirements, and expands stock investment beyond "accredited investors," giving official sanction to the internet-based fundraising activity known as "crowdfunding."

But the big one, to me, is the bit about exempting firms from real independent tests of internal controls for five years.

When I first read this, I asked myself: how does a law exempting a Silicon Valley startup from independent accounting actually encourage investment? If American companies have to post real, independently-verified numbers when they go public, doesn't that give investors all around the world a big reason to put their money here, instead of investing in, say, Mobbed-Up Siberian Aluminum LLC, or Bangalore Sweatshop Inc.?

In other words, how does letting go to market (and stay on the market for five years!) without publishing real numbers actually help the industry attract more financing in general, when the whole point of all of these controls is to make investment a less risky experience for the investor?

Get ready for the ostensible answer, because you won't believe it. Here's how CNN explained the reasoning behind that exemption:

Having 500 investors or raising $5 million previously forced a company to register with the SEC -- a costly endeavor. Filling out stacks of legal forms and undergoing independent accounting audits can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The law loosens requirements for most companies by raising several thresholds.

We needed Barack Obama and the congress to compromise the entire U.S. stock market because it's too expensive for a publicly-listed company with billion-dollar ambitions to hire an accountant?  That almost sounds like a comedy routine:

SILICON VALLEY EXECUTIVE: Listen, is the hottest thing on the internet. We're so huge it hurts... I can't even walk to my corner bodega without women throwing me their phone numbers!

INVESTOR: I'd love to invest. Can I see your numbers from last year?

SILICON VALLEY EXECUTIVE: Well, that's just the thing. We painted the bathrooms last March, and then we also had that Vitamin Water machine put in the lounge. You know, the one next to the ping-pong table? So we just didn't have any money left over for an accountant. But I estimate our revenues for 2014 to be $4.2 billion.

INVESTOR: Sounds hot! Where do I send the check?

There's just no benefit that the JOBS Act brings to an honest startup company.  In fact, it puts an honest company at a severe disadvantage, because now it has to compete against other, less scrupulous companies that can simply make their projections up on the backs of envelopes.

This is like formally eliminating steroid testing for the first five years of a baseball player's career.  Yes, you can pretty much bet that you'll see a lot of home runs in the first few years after you institute a rule like that. But you'd better be ready to stick a lot asterisks in the record books ten or fifteen years down the line.

In the same way, get ready for an avalanche of shareholder suits ten years from now, since post-factum civil litigation will be the only real regulation of the startup market. In fact, there are already supporters talking up future lawsuits as an appropriate tool to replace the regulations being wiped out by this bill.

The JOBS Act seems like it will invite a replay of the disastrous tech-stock bubble of the late nineties.  That mess was made possible by a historic collapse in accounting standards, with the great investment banks the pioneers of the collapse. In the old days, in the fifties and sixties for instance, you would never take a company public that wasn't profitable at the time of the IPO, or didn't have a multi-year track record of solid revenues.

When the banks stopped insisting on proven track records or real profitability before taking a company public, there was a sudden explosion of stock-market investment into heretofore unknown internet firms. Companies with no track records went from having literally no revenues at all to having five or six billion dollars' worth of market capitalization overnight. Banks explained that the new way to measure a company was by the quality of its ideas, not boring old indicators like revenues.

Even Alan Greenspan told the world that technology had made such great advances that the traditional laws of economics no longer applied, that there was "new paradigm," and that it was possible to have long-term growth without inflation. He essentially told the world that the bubble wasn't a bubble, because all that phony growth was not phony at all, it was just a whole bunch of people properly evaluating great new ideas, albeit before they had actually performed.

And we later found out, of course, a lot of that value wasn't value at all. And a lot of that sharp growth in the nineties was actually caused by complex fraud schemes like "spinning" and "laddering,", wherein banks artificially pumped up startup stocks in exchange for future business, or rigged the IPOs so that they would have fake "bumps" in investment at pre-arranged times.
Sometimes the companies themselves were the victims in the fraud scams, and sometimes the company executives were beneficiaries of fraud. But in virtually all of these schemes, the casual investor was the big dupe in the con.  When the dot-com bubble finally collapsed, costing the world about $5 trillion in losses, the major victims were ordinary people. We can expect a replay of the same thing now, only on a much bigger scale.

The finance world is buzzing over this bill. The reactions I've heard so far range from minutes-long guffaws of dark laughter to bloodcurdling, I-can't-freaking-believe-they-went-this-far outrage. "I thought I had lost the ability to be shocked," one friend of mine, a former regulator, told me this weekend, chuckling at the sheer stones it took to push the law. "But this thing is just inspired. They broke the mold with this one."

There are some crazy side-stories that I'll get to later in the week, including the hilarious influence certain preposterous individuals had in pushing this bill (most notably Steve Case, former co-founder of AOL and a veteran of multiple accounting fraud scandals, who was recruited by both parties to lobby the bill). There are also some remarkable contradictions in the arguments the bill's supporters made when they pushed for the bill's passage. Anyway, more on this to come.

In the meantime, let's just say this is a dramatic step taken by Barack Obama. Nobody should have any illusions about where he stands on Wall Street corruption after this thing. Boss Tweed himself couldn't have done any worse.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

U.S. firms use loopholes to MAKE money on corp. taxes

Here's your daily dose of 99-percenter class rage:

In a recent report by the Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, 26 of 30 Fortune 500 companies examined had negative income tax rates on profits made in the U.S. between 2008 and 2011 (h/t Think Progress).

And about that "non-competitive" and "punitive" 35 percent corporate tax rate that poor little U.S. firms must pay?

... the actual tax rate corporations pay, called the "effective" tax rate, is at 12.1 percent of profits, the lowest level it's been since 1972, Think Progress reports.  Likewise, tax revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product is at lows not seen since the 1940s, according to CTJ.

Meanwhile, the GOP's House budget guy Paul Ryan wants to lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent and close unspecified "special interest loopholes" later.  Probably much later.  As in next century.  (Does anybody believe he'll do it?  Not with our pay-to-play Congress.  Throw them a bit of campaign cash and they'll give you a huge ROI for your lobbying dollars via the IRS.)

By Harry Bradford
April 9, 2012 | Huffington Post 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Public-sector employment has shrunk under Obama

For those of you who think Obama has inflated the public sector during his presidency, here's the truth:

Since February 2010, the nation's private employers have added more than 3.9 million jobs, or roughly 164,000 per month.  Over the same period, however, some 485,000 government jobs were lost.

But Obama is still throwing bones to the teachers' unions, right?  Wrong:  "The per-capita employment rate in public education, by far the largest sector of government hiring, is at the lowest level since 1999."  In fact: 

... the recession caused 41 states to raise state-college tuition and lay off university staff; 30 cut funding for local school districts; 25 cut funding for seniors and people with disabilities; and 30 states cut the availability of health care services.  Teachers have been one of the hardest-hit professions in the public sector.  Seventy-one percent of school districts reported cuts in state and local funding from last year's budget, 68 percent eliminated positions this year, and 65 percent expect to do so again next year, according to a new survey by the American Association of School Administrators.

And in California, in particular, poorer and majority-minority schools are losing teachers 30 and 60 percent faster than richer and majority-white schools, respectively.  As usual, in hard times it's the poor and minorities who suffer more.

By Tony Pugh
April 4, 2012 | McClatchy Newspapers

Report: Real causes of U.S. college tuition hikes

For all those who believe that an abundance of overpaid, tenured professors is to blame for skyrocketing U.S. college tuition costs, check it out:

In the past decade at public two-year colleges ... published tuition and fees, excluding scholarship aid and adjusted for inflation, have increased by 44.8 percent.  Faculty salaries, meanwhile, have decreased by 2.5 percent, according to the [American Association of University Professors] report.
Over the past decade at public four-year colleges and universities, tuition and fees have increased by 72 percent, the association said.

The cost of higher education continues to soar, rising 8.3 percent at four-year public colleges in the fall, the College Board reported.

So what is the real cause of college tuition hikes?

Tuition prices have been rising, in part, because state funding is providing a smaller proportion of revenues, and institutions have shifted more of the burden to students and their families, Curtis said.  At the same time, financial aid awards have not kept pace, and have been converted primarily into loans rather than grants, thereby increasing the student debt burden.

By Susanna Kim
April 9, 2012 | ABC News

Saturday, April 7, 2012

BBC: U.S. kids eat rats & ketchup soup

This is obviously Obama's fault!  If only he would take away their health care, WIC, food stamps, make Bush's tax cuts permanent, abolish the EPA, and lower the corporate tax rate, the resulting wealth would trickle down to these hungry kids and fill their rumbling tummies.

DC Johnston: Eliminate 100 million tax returns

Finally, something Republicans and Democrats can agree on?

By David Cay Johnston
April 6, 2012 | Reuters

On March 28, the U.S. Justice Department sought to close a nationwide chain of income tax preparation shops it accuses of fraud. The action underscores the potential for abusive business practices that taxpayers face because Congress has failed to embrace technology that would eliminate most tax returns.

The Justice Department wants a federal judge to shut down Instant Tax Service, whose sole owner is Fesum Ogbazion of Dayton, Ohio, saying he is responsible for "extensive and pervasive tax fraud." It also sued four of his 276 franchisees. The company has not responded to the lawsuit.

Congress could easily eliminate fraud by abusive tax preparers, as is alleged in the Ogbazion case, and save taxpayers billions of dollars annually, by simply ending mandatory filing of tax returns for most taxpayers.

About 100 million taxpayers -- those whose income is entirely from wages and retirement funds, and who do not itemize deductions -- should not have to file returns. The government already has the information it needs to calculate the taxes these people owe, once they supply their marital status and number of dependents. It would not take much to automate their income tax payments, as many other modern countries do.

I put the chances of Congress taking such a sensible course at one in 84,000. That's about the same as the odds of being indicted for a tax crime in 2011, based on an analysis of official data by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Congress will not act because individual income tax returns, which for most people are make-work that creates a drag on the economy, provide tidy revenues for Intuit, the maker of TurboTax software, H&R Block and other legitimate corporations that profit from preparing tax returns.  These companies have considerable resources at their disposal to spend on lobbying politicians to keep the tax filing requirement. One sign of their determination: Intuit in 2006 donated $1 million in support of an unsuccessful candidate for California state controller who opposed optional state-prepared returns in California. Intuit has said there are serious problems with the program, which remains in operation, but in my view none of Intuit's criticisms stands up to scrutiny.


Intuit, H&R Block and other tax firms say that they help people pay the least tax and avoid costly mistakes. But these concerns would be easily addressed by simplifying the tax code. In my view, any business that depends on government-induced inefficiency should be swept into the dustbin of history.

Another reason reform is unlikely is that politicians have learned from Republican pollster Frank Luntz over the years that riling up voters against the Internal Revenue Service attracts votes and campaign donations.  Actually fixing the problem by ending tax filing for the vast majority would require politicians to come up with other ways to get donors to open their checkbooks. Republican politicians who follow Luntz's advice seem not to realize they are attacking law enforcement, a strategy that would offend many of their donors if applied to the FBI or street cops.

Short of ending tax filing for most Americans, Congress could license tax preparers -- instead of only requiring that they identify themselves with a unique number. We don't trust amateurs to inspect elevators or audit charities, so why do we let just anyone charge for preparing tax returns? This is especially true given that U.S. Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson has thoroughly documented false and fraudulent reporting by tax preparers who are exempt from IRS professional conduct rules because they are not accountants, enrolled agents or lawyers.

The case of Instant Tax Service appears to be particularly egregious. The Justice Department alleges that the company charges its customers, who are mostly poor and unsophisticated, as much as $1,000 for 15 minutes of tax preparation. It "encourages its franchisees to lie to the IRS about anything," the department said in court papers.

The government's complaint quoted Ogbazion, the company's owner, as saying that "every tax return being done is pretty much fraudulent" at a franchise in Los Angeles. Ogbazion did not revoke the franchise, but did sue it for royalties, the department said. According to the Justice Department, Ogbazion said he did not pay attention to customer complaints because, if he did, he "wouldn't be able to sleep at night."

Ogbazion's business and personal phones are disconnected. At the one listed number that was answered a woman said he was no longer reachable there. Ogbazion also did not respond to messages to his work and home email addresses.


The Justice Department brings a high-profile tax case pretty much every year as the mid-April tax deadline approaches. But this misses the much bigger picture: More than 100 million unnecessary tax returns are filed each year, costing billions of dollars in software or preparation.

Meanwhile, the way Congress has written tax laws, and the way courts interpret them, makes it hard to pursue tax cheats. The average time for each criminal tax prosecution the Justice Department completed last year was 740 days, more than double the 345 days in 1992.  Last year, the Justice Department completed only 3,656 criminal cases in which tax was the main charge, the analysis by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse shows. No wonder the odds of a criminal tax indictment, while still minute, were 75 percent higher two decades ago.

The Justice Department relies on a law enforcement theory known as general deterrence. The strategy is to bring widely publicized cases to keep people in line. But the IRS criminal division website lists just 79 criminal cases in 2011. Figuring the others requires perusing 90 websites run by local U.S. Attorneys. Many convictions get little or no news coverage, which means zero general deterrence.

Canada, with a ninth of the U.S. population, listed all 204 tax convictions last year at the Canada Revenue Agency's website.  Claude St-Pierre, Canada's director general for tax enforcement and disclosures, told me that posting all convictions is both a deterrence strategy and an effort to educate Canadians so they do not get lured into tax scams.

Congress should fund more prosecutions, many more, so the Justice Department does not have to reject 40 to 50 percent of criminal referrals by the IRS.  Following Ottawa's lead, the IRS should prominently post every criminal conviction and every request for a civil injunction (a much less expensive law enforcement strategy than prosecution) at its website.

The real solution, though, is to get rid of the archaic, frustrating make-work for 100 million taxpayers whose only benefit is profits for tax preparation firms.

2012 elections offer 'two visions of America'

I believe we're in it together.  Once you accept that, most policies fall into place.

By Jared Bernstein
April 4, 2012 | Rolling Stone

Friday, April 6, 2012

Recovered history: Rural Brits forced from their land and into factories

Take everything you thought you knew about Adam Smith and his contemporaries and capitalism and throw it in the crapper.  

According to Yasha Levine, the new book by Prof. Michale Perelmen, The Invention of Capitalism, shows what these Enlightened Ones really thought about industrialization and the poor, working class -- simply by quoting them!  (Gee, whoda thoughta doin' dat?!)

Now I'm not saying let's throw over the West to Marxism -- the likely throw-away retort of my would-be antagonists.  No.  But I am saying, once again:  there never was a golden age.  Our predecessors were almost always worse than we were, if not in words and refined manners then in thoughts and deeds.  (Think four-year-olds in factories; slavery; debtors' prisons; woman as second-class citizens, etc.)  And this is why conservatism is fundamentally wrong: there is not much good in history to harken back to.  The past is darkness illuminated only by occasional stars.  There is only forward, forward, to a perfection of human society.  

And that is why Progressivism is where it's at:  reining in capitalism's abuses and taming the corporations who have no allegiance to humanity, only the bottom line, because -- unlike our friend Mitt maintains -- they are not people.  We are the people.  And if we want corporations to act more like people, then we need government to force them.  That is the undeniable vector of political economy over the past 200 years, and that's where history is inevitably taking us further, whether Tea Parties like it or not.  

But to perfect ourselves we have to acknowledge our ugly qualities -- many of them inherited from even uglier forbears -- in the mirror.  So read this and get yerselves edumacated, folks.

By Yasha Levine
April 5, 2012 | The Exiled

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

You're not fooling anybody with your preaching the Gospel, you Muslim!


Mexico's President to U.S.: Stop sending your guns

Poor Mexico.  We are ruining their country with our insatiable appetite for illegal drugs and our oversupply of legal firearms that enter their country without any impediments.

Meanwhile, Obama and the Democrats don't have the balls to take on the NRA and reinstate President Clinton's 1994 ban on assault-type weapons.

By Kathleen Hennessey
April 2, 2012 | McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday pushed for a revival of a ban on assault weapons in the U.S., arguing that the ban's expiration has led to the spread of guns across the border and a spike in violence in Mexico.

"The expiring of the assault weapons ban in the year 2004 coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the harshest - the harshest - period of violence we've ever seen," Calderon said, through an interpreter, at a White House news conference on Monday. The Mexican leader was in Washington to meet with President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for summit on economic cooperation and trade between the three countries. But the ongoing drug war in Mexico largely overshadowed those conversations.

In remarks to reporters in the Rose Garden, Calderon urged the U.S. to do more to tamp down on gun trafficking and emphasized that the drug cartels that crime organizations are operating on both sides of the border. He claimed a direct connection between the weakening of gun laws in the U.S. and deaths in his country.

"I know that if we don't stop the traffic of weapons into Mexico, if we don't have mechanisms to forbid the sale of weapons such as we had in the '90s, or for registry of guns, at least for assault weapons, then we are never going to be able to stop the violence in Mexico or stop a future turning of those guns upon the U.S.," he said.

Obama, whose administration has not pushed to reinstate the ban, did not respond to the Mexican president's statement directly. Democrats largely have called a truce when it comes to advancing new gun control legislation, a political calculation based on the party's attempts to appeal to more rural and Western voters.

The president promised to "keep on partnering" with Mexico on security issues.

"We recognize that we have a responsibility to reduce demand for drugs, that we have a responsibility to make sure that not only guns, but also bulk cash isn't flowing into Mexico," Obama said. "Obviously, President Calderon takes very seriously his responsibilities to apply effective law enforcement within Mexico. And I think he's taken courageous steps to do that."

Obama added that "innocent families and women and children being gunned down in the streets, that should be everybody's problem, not just their (Mexico's) problem."

Putin the greatest leader of our time?

Never let it be said I do not entertain contrarian views!  (There is a strong anti-Jewish sentiment running through this piece, which I don't condone.)

I haven't checked Bilzerian's economic stats, but if they are correct then they are indeed impressive.  I guess the question is, did all this economic growth happen in spite of Putin, or because of him?  And is Russia's petro-economy diversified and equitable enough to be sustainable?  

By Adam Bilzerian
March 25, 2012 | The Bilzerian Report

Many Westerners have a negative view of Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, because of the unjust portrayal he receives in the Western media. If one were to believe everything they saw in the American media, they would probably think Putin to be a ruthless dictator who was anointed by birth rather than a politician born into a working class family with approval ratings higher than all of his Western counterparts.

Under Putin's eight-year reign the Russian economy grew every single year, with an overall GDP increase of more than 70%.  During the same period, investments rose 125%, industry grew by 76%, and poverty decreased 50%.  The average monthly salaries in Russia increased from $80 to $640, and the middle class grew from 8 million people to 55 million.

Analysts have credited these impressive economic achievements to strong macro-management, capital inflows, fiscal policy reform, and rising energy prices (Russia is a large exporter of oil and gas). Putin wisely reintroduced nuclear power and positioned Russia as an energy super power that Europe has come to rely on. He also invested heavily in Russian infrastructure, including pipelines. Among Putin's accomplishments was the introduction of a 13% flat tax and the reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35% to 24%. As a result, Putin has maintained extraordinarily high approval ratings from the Russian people, winning his second Presidency with 71% of the vote.

Putin's accomplishments are even more impressive when one realizes that he has had to deal with one of the fiercest mafias in the world. The Jewish Russian mafia led by notorious billionaire gangsters like Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Khordokovsky, and Vladimir Gusinsky are responsible for sex slavery, weapons trafficking, drug running, and the rampant corruption that has plagued Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin has consistently risked his life to challenge these gangsters and eventually saw charges brought against all of the above listed oligarchs. Regardless of these challenges, Putin's administration has consistently maintained a lower incarceration rate than the United States.

The US media routinely questions the integrity of the Russian election process and even mocked Russia for calling the last presidential election with only 25% of vote in; all while CNN and Fox have been calling Republican Primary elections with only 1% of the vote being counted. There is little to no proof that Putin has ever committed election fraud, [ That's because he has people who do that for him - J ] but there is significant evidence that the American Republican Party has committed more documented cases of voter fraud against Ron Paul than Russia could dream of, as the following article proves:  [  I'm sure that's true; but I can't imagine why Russia would want to commit voter fraud against Ron Paul. - J ]

While Obama was winning a Nobel Peace Prize and perpetrating undeclared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Putin was using every piece of his influence to oppose unjust and internationally illegal wars. In 2003, Western powers used their political influence to invade Iraq, with no credible intelligence of weapons of mass destruction. The war eventually lead to higher oil prices and the murder of one million innocent civilians. Cooler heads in the United Nations like Vladimir's Russia staunchly opposed the war and doubted the dubious intelligence from his rival leaders. Putin tried to prevent the disastrous Iraq war by vetoing resolutions in the UN, but the powerful Israeli-American lobby, AIPAC, forced America into war without UN backing.

Just as in Iraq, Putin staunchly opposed the intervention in Libya, which has also turned out to be a humanitarian disaster. Libya went from an internationally law-abiding country to a fractionalized nation that is being controlled by radical elements. The country's infrastructure was seriously damaged, and far greater human rights abuses are being perpetrated now than ever took place under Gaddafi.

Now the American-Israeli lobby and Jewish American groups in the US, like the mainstream media, are pushing for more undeclared wars in Syria and Iran. Both of which would increase the price of oil tremendously and likely lead to the downfall of the already frail world economy. Even though such an event would increase the price of Russia's main export, oil, Putin seems to care more about the humanitarian implications of such an intervention than the financial benefits for his nation. As such, Putin used Russia's seat on the UN security council to veto US backed resolutions on Syria.  The blood thirsty American media immediately condemned Putin as being obstructionist and starting a second cold war, but Putin remained above the petty warmongering and simply instructed the Americans to stop attempting to indulge in their "bellicose itch" to start more wars.

Putin's business acumen, just foreign policy decisions, and humanitarian leadership should be congratulated throughout the world. If only American Presidents could respect freedom and other nations' sovereignty like Vladimir Putin, the planet would be a lot more peaceful.

The truth about U.S. Postal Service

Hear, hear!  Our grandchildren won't forgive us if we let Republicans in Congress make the USPS go broke to achieve their radical "privatize-everything" agenda.

Hightower also could have mentioned that, even though the USPS doesn't take a dime of our tax dollars, it is still micro-managed by Republicans in Congress, who dictate, for example, the price of stamps and what services post offices may or may not provide to their customers.  Does Congress tell FedEx how much to charge its customers?  Does Congress forbid UPS from providing additional services to its clients?  Does that sound like a "free market" to you?

By Jim Hightower
March 28, 2012 | Creators Syndicate
What does 50 cents buy these days? Not a cuppa joe, a pack of gum or a newspaper. But you can get a steal of deal for a 50-cent piece: a first-class stamp. Plus a nickel in change.

Each day, six days a week, letter carriers traverse 4 million miles toting an average of 563 million pieces of mail, reaching the very doorsteps of our individual homes and workplaces in every single community in America. From the gated enclaves and penthouses of the uber-wealthy to the inner-city ghettos and rural colonias of America's poorest families, the U.S. Postal Service literally delivers. All for 45 cents. The USPS is an unmatched bargain, a civic treasure, a genuine public good that links all people and communities into one nation.

So, naturally, it must be destroyed.

For the past several months, the laissez-fairyland blogosphere, assorted corporate front groups, a howling pack of congressional right-wingers and a bunch of lazy mass media sources have been pounding out a steadily rising drumbeat to warn that our postal service faces impending doom. It's "broke," they exclaim; USPS "nears collapse"; it's "a full-blown financial crisis!"

These gloomsayers claim the national mail agency is bogged down with too many overpaid workers and costly brick-and-mortar facilities, so it can't keep up with the instant messaging of Internet services and such nimble corporate competitors as FedEx. Thus, say these contrivers of their own conventional wisdom, the Postal Service is unprofitable and is costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year in losses. Wrong.

Since 1971, the postal service has not taken a dime from taxpayers.  All of its operations — including the remarkable convenience of 32,000 local post offices — are paid for by peddling stamps and other products.

The privatizers squawk that USPS has gone some $13 billion in the hole during the past four years — a private corporation would go broke with that record! (Actually, private corporations tend to go to Washington rather than go broke, getting taxpayer bailouts to cover their losses.) The Postal Service is NOT broke. Indeed, in those four years of loudly deplored "losses," the service actually produced a $700 million operational profit (despite the worst economy since the Great Depression).

What's going on here? Right-wing sabotage of USPS financing, that's what. In 2006, the Bush White House and Congress whacked the post office with the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act — an incredible piece of ugliness requiring the agency to PRE-PAY the health care benefits not only of current employees, but also of all employees who'll retire during the next 75 years.  Yes, that includes employees who're not yet born!

No other agency and no corporation has to do this. Worse, this ridiculous law demands that USPS fully fund this seven-decade burden by 2016. Imagine the shrieks of outrage if Congress tried to slap FedEx or other private firms with such an onerous requirement.

This politically motivated mandate is costing the Postal Service $5.5 billion a year — money taken right out of postage revenue that could be going to services. That's the real source of the "financial crisis" squeezing America's post offices.

In addition, due to a 40-year-old accounting error, the federal Office of Personnel Management has overcharged the post office by as much as $80 billion for payments into the Civil Service Retirement System. This means that USPS has had billions of its sales dollars erroneously diverted into the treasury. Restore the agency's access to its own postage money, and the impending "collapse" goes away.

The post office is more than a bunch of buildings — it's a community center and, for many towns, an essential part of the local identity, as well as a tangible link to the rest of the nation. As former Sen. Jennings Randolph poignantly observed, "When the local post office is closed, the flag comes down." The corporatizer crowd doesn't grasp that going after this particular government program is messing with the human connection and genuine affection that it engenders.

America's postal service is a true public service, a grassroots people's asset that has even more potential than we're presently tapping to serve the democratic ideal of the common good. Why the hell would we let an elite of small-minded profiteers, ranting ideologues and their political hirelings drop-kick this jewel through the goal posts of corporate greed? This is not a fight merely to save 32,000 post offices and the middle-class jobs they provide — but to advance the BIG IDEA of America itself, the bold, historic notion that "yes, we can" create a society in which we're all in it together.