Saturday, December 8, 2012

Friday’s Job Numbers Show Why Job-Creation Must Take Precedence Over Deficit Reduction

Friday, December 7, 2012 by
by Robert Reich

Friday’s jobs report shows an economy that’s still moving in the right direction but way too slowly, which is why Washington’s continuing obsession with the federal budget deficit is insane. Jobs and growth must come first.

The cost of borrowing is so low — the yield on the ten-year Treasury is near historic lows — and the need for more jobs and better wages so high, and our infrastructure so neglected, that a reasonable government would borrow more to put more Americans to work rebuilding the nation.

Yes, unemployment is down slightly and 146,000 new jobs were created in November. That’s some progress. But don’t be overwhelmed by the hype coming out of Wall Street and the White House, both of which would like the public to believe things are going quite well.

The fact is some 350,000 more people stopped looking for jobs in November, and the percent of the working-age population currently employed continues to drop — now at 63.6%, almost the lowest in 30 years. Meanwhile, the average workweek is stuck at 34.4 hours.

The slowness of the jobs recovery isn’t because of Hurricane Sandy, which it turns out had very little impact on November’s job numbers (the hurricane’s negative effects were more than offset by a Thanksgiving earlier than normal, and an early start to the Christmas buying season). And it’s not because of any uncertainty over the looming “fiscal cliff.” Most consumers in November remained oblivious about any pending cliff.

The reason the economy is still under-performing is overall demand is inadequate. Businesses won’t create more jobs without enough customers. But consumers can’t and won’t spend because they don’t have the money. Unless or until the private sector — businesses and consumers — are able to boost the economy, government must be the spender of last resort.

But the nation has bought into the Republican frame of thinking that we have to “get our fiscal house in order” before the economy can get back on track. Although Barack Obama was reelected and Democrats gained seats in the House and Senate, that frame is still dominating debate.

And even though we’re near a fiscal cliff that illustrates how dangerous deficit reduction can be when so many people are still unemployed, the White House and the Democrats seem incapable of changing the frame of debate.

But remember: Jobs must come first. Job creation must be our first priority.

Older, Eager, and Unemployed: When Even Santa Can’t Get a Job

by Greg Kaufmann

In May 2012, Richard Crowe was laid off when the steel mill where he had worked for thirty-four years was shut down. He’d worked there since graduating from high school. New ownership filed for bankruptcy.

“The judge threw the workers’ contract out, the owners walked away with $20 million, and we got nothing,” says Crowe, who is 54, and lives in eastern Ohio.

Seven months later, Crowe is one of 5 million “long-term” unemployed workers in the US who have been looking for work for more than six months. They are disproportionately older (over 50), women, and minorities, and according to Friday’s jobs report, their employment prospects haven’t much improved.

If Congress doesn’t extend the unemployment insurance program by the end of this year, 2 million of these workers will lose their benefits between Christmas and New Years Day; another 1 million by April 2013; and over 5 million people will be without benefits by the end of 2013, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP). This would occur at a moment when there are still 12 million people unemployed, and there are approximately 3.4 unemployed applicants for every available job opening. (it's more than 12 million unemployed and more than 5 million long-term unemployed but his heart is in the right place--jef)

“The jobs are still not there,” says Edith Harrison, 59, who lives in Colorado Springs and was laid off from her job at a senior assisted living facility in August. “How can you cut unemployment benefits off, and blame someone for not being able to get a job, when they didn’t create the situation?”

“I worked all my life. I paid into unemployment, I paid into Social Security, I paid into everything. I want off this unemployment, I want a job.”

The antipoverty effect of unemployment insurance is significant and undeniable. In 2010, the program lifted 3.2 million people above the poverty line (less than $18,000 for a family of three). In 2011, it lifted 2.3 million people above the line, including 620,000 children. (The program had less of a poverty reducing effect last year in part because a provision in the Recovery Act that paid an additional $25 per week in benefits was allowed to expire.) The average benefit is just $291 per week and it covers approximately 40 percent of a typical family’s food, housing, and transportation costs.

What is most egregious to both Harrison and Crowe is the stereotype—voiced by people who want to cut the program or drug test benefit recipients—that unemployed people are lazy and would rather collect modest benefits than work.

“It’s funny, but it’s pathetic—a lot of people think you’re out here for a handout,” says Crowe. “I worked all my life. I paid into unemployment, I paid into Social Security, I paid into everything. I want off this unemployment, I want a job.”

In fact, Crowe has applied for 157 jobs. He and his wife are willing to relocate—they put their son through college and he is now living independently. Crowe has applied for jobs in Nevada and South Carolina—in the steel industry and in new lines of work.

“In the steel industry, companies are hiring 20 year olds that have never even been in a mill before, and passing on people like me—an experienced operator and maintenance technician,” says Crowe. “Then you go look at other jobs and they say ‘you don’t have no experience.’”

He recalls applying for a job delivering packages for UPS. The interviewer looked over his resume and asked, “Pretty much you worked in the mill all your life?”

“Yeah,” Richard told her.

“Have you ever had any experience delivering packages?”

“I felt like telling her, ‘Yeah, once a year, I play Santa Claus,’” he tells me, laughing. “This is the stuff you go through.”

Harrison says she gets up early every morning—“ just like I’m going to work”—drinks her coffee, and gets on the computer to search for jobs. (this is what nearly all unemployed people do. They want jobs so they treat their job search like a job--jef)

“Retail, restaurants and customer service—most of the jobs out there—they say they want people who are ‘high energy’ for a ‘fast-paced environment’,” she says. “I’m not saying I can’t do it, but I’m 59, and if they have a choice they’re going to take the person who’s younger.”

Crowe also thinks his age is making it difficult for him to land a new opportunity. He has applied for many jobs knowing that he’s overqualified, including warehouse work. Often, he doesn’t even receive a reply, and sees the jobs still being posted months later.

“It’s my age holding me back. I can’t prove that, but I’m getting that feeling after going through all this,” he says. “If they see a 5 or 6 in front of your age—I’m just visualizing when people look at that they just laugh and throw your application off to the side.”

Unemployment benefits are a lifeline for Harrison and Crowe. In 2002, Harrison was laid off from her job as a secretary for the local school district. (She had also previously worked as a secretary in Detroit Public Schools for nineteen years, and as a case manager and skills development specialist for Goodwill Industries.) She ended up homeless, and sleeping on couches in the homes of families and friends. She fears it could happen again.

“I don’t want to go through that again,” she says. “How can you find a job if you don’t have anyplace to stay? When you’re out there, your life is just all up in the air. It takes a long time to come back from that.”

Harrison says her $227 per week benefit helps her “keep the lights on” and pay the rent.

Crowe receives $382 per week and says it covers his utilities and his car payment. He and his wife are also using their retirement savings “just to survive.”

“If they don’t renew these benefits, I won’t have any income,” says Crowe. “I’ll lose my house, I’ll lose everything.”

Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for NELP, says she is “cautiously optimistic” that unemployment insurance will be reauthorized for 2013—either as part of any “grand bargain” or a more limited package of cuts and revenues prior to January 1. She notes that the $30 billion program was included in President Obama’s initial offer to Republicans to avert the fiscal cliff. She also says NELP has had lengthy and productive conversations with Democratic leadership, staff members for most of the Democratic Senate Caucus, and many House members as well.

“All of them really do understand how important and crucial this program is right now,” says Conti.

On the other hand, conservatives continue to demand that any reauthorization of unemployment insurance must be paid for, but Conti says that that shouldn’t be difficult to achieve through any bill that includes significant cuts and savings.

“We’re not really seeing the same kind of pushback we have seen in previous years,” says Conti, “where Representatives have wanted to change the nature of the program, or beat up on the unemployed as lazy.”

It also can’t hurt that Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s, estimates that every $1 in unemployment benefits generates $1.61 in economic activity—since those benefits are spent so quickly. Also, the Congressional Budget Office found that reauthorizing the program for 2013 would create 300,000 jobs.

While she waits to see how this plays out in Congress, Harrison is doing her best to keep her spirits up.

“I used to stay on that computer from the beginning of the day to nighttime looking for work,” she said. “I would have a headache, wouldn’t even eat—had to make myself eat. Now I try to keep balance—get up early in the morning, get on that computer—and after so long and so many resumes, I stop. You don’t want to make yourself sick. I just stay prayerful.”

As for Crowe, he says the ordeal has taken a toll on his family—especially his wife, who he says “worries every day” as they try to cobble together enough money through unemployment benefits, her low-wage work, and their retirement savings.

I’m doing everything in my power that I can, but I can’t make someone hire me,” he says.

Read more of this post, including relevant numbers and additional resources, here.

An Invented Crisis Threatens the Forgotten Millions

Friday, December 7, 2012 by The New York Times
by Paul Krugman

Let’s get one thing straight: America is not facing a fiscal crisis. It is, however, still very much experiencing a job crisis.

It’s easy to get confused about the fiscal thing, since everyone’s talking about the “fiscal cliff.” Indeed, one recent poll suggests that a large plurality of the public believes that the budget deficit will go up if we go off that cliff.

In fact, of course, it’s just the opposite: The danger is that the deficit will come down too much, too fast. And the reasons that might happen are purely political; we may be about to slash spending and raise taxes not because markets demand it, but because Republicans have been using blackmail as a bargaining strategy, and the president seems ready to enter into the notorious 'grand bargain.'

Moreover, despite years of warnings from the usual suspects about the dangers of deficits and debt, our government can borrow at incredibly low interest rates — interest rates on inflation-protected U.S. bonds are actually negative, so investors are paying our government to make use of their money. And don’t tell me that markets may suddenly turn on us. Remember, the U.S. government can’t run out of cash (it prints the stuff), so the worst that could happen would be a fall in the dollar, which wouldn’t be a terrible thing and might actually help the economy.

Let’s get one thing straight: America is not facing a fiscal crisis.

Yet there is a whole industry built around the promotion of deficit panic. Lavishly funded corporate groups keep hyping the danger of government debt and the urgency of deficit reduction now now now — except that these same groups are suddenly warning against too much deficit reduction. No wonder the public is confused.

Meanwhile, there is almost no organized pressure to deal with the terrible thing that is actually happening right now — namely, mass unemployment. Yes, we’ve made progress over the past year. But long-term unemployment remains at levels not seen since the Great Depression: as of October, 4.9 million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months, and 3.6 million had been out of work for more than a year.

When you see numbers like those, bear in mind that we’re looking at millions of human tragedies: at individuals and families whose lives are falling apart because they can’t find work, at savings consumed, homes lost and dreams destroyed. And the longer this goes on, the bigger the tragedy.

There are also huge dollars-and-cents costs to our unmet jobs crisis. When willing workers endure forced idleness, society as a whole suffers from the waste of their efforts and talents. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that what we are actually producing falls short of what we could and should be producing by around 6 percent of G.D.P., or $900 billion a year.

Worse yet, there are good reasons to believe that high unemployment is undermining our future growth as well, as the long-term unemployed come to be considered unemployable, as investment falters in the face of inadequate sales.

So what can be done? The panic over the fiscal cliff has been revelatory. It shows that even the deficit scolds are closet Keynesians. That is, they believe that right now spending cuts and tax hikes would destroy jobs; it’s impossible to make that claim while denying that temporary spending increases and tax cuts would create jobs. Yes, our still-depressed economy needs more fiscal stimulus.

And, to his credit, President Obama did include a modest amount of stimulus in his initial budget offer; the White House, at least, hasn’t completely forgotten about the unemployed. Unfortunately, almost nobody expects those stimulus plans to be included in whatever deal is eventually reached.

So why aren’t we helping the unemployed? It’s not because we can’t afford it. Given those ultralow borrowing costs, plus the damage unemployment is doing to our economy and hence to the tax base, you can make a pretty good case that spending more to create jobs now would actually improve our long-run fiscal position.

Nor, I think, is it really ideology. Even Republicans, when opposing cuts in defense spending, immediately start talking about how such cuts would destroy jobs — and I’m sorry, but weaponized Keynesianism, the assertion that government spending creates jobs, but only if it goes to the military, doesn’t make sense.

No, in the end it’s hard to avoid concluding that it’s about class. Influential people in Washington aren’t worried about losing their jobs; by and large they don’t even know anyone who’s unemployed. The plight of the unemployed simply doesn’t loom large in their minds — and, of course, the unemployed don’t hire lobbyists or make big campaign contributions.

So the unemployment crisis goes on and on, even though we have both the knowledge and the means to solve it. It’s a vast tragedy — and it’s also an outrage.

Corporate Push for GMO Food Puts Independent Science in Jeopardy

Friday, December 7, 2012 by The Asian Age
by Vandana Shiva

Science is considered science when it is independent, when it has integrity and when it speaks the truth about its search. It was the integrity, independence and sovereignty of science that drew me and propelled me to study physics.

Today, independent science is threatened with extinction. While this is true in every field, it is the field of food and agriculture that I am most concerned about.

At the heart of the food and agriculture debate are genetically modified organisms, also referred to as GMOs. The agrochemical industry’s new avatar is as the GMO industry. According to the industry, GMOs are necessary to remove hunger and are safe.

But evidence from all independent scientists has established that GMOs do not contribute to food security. The UN-sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report — written by 400 scientists after a research of three to four years — concluded that there is no evidence that GMOs increase food security. The Union of Concerned scientists concluded in its report, “A Failure to Yield”, that in the US, genetic engineering had not increased the yield. “The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes” — a Global Citizens’ report on the state of GMOs based on field research across the world — also found that genetic engineering has not increased yields. Yet, the propaganda continues that GMOs are the only solution to hunger because GMOs increase yields.

The Supreme Court of India appointed an independent Technical Expert Committee (TEC) to advise it on issues of biosafety. The committee has some of India’s most eminent scientists, including Dr Imran Siddiqui, director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, and Dr P.S. Ramakrishnan, India’s leading biodiversity expert and professor emeritus at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

One would have expected the government to accept the recommendations of this eminent panel and to throw its weight behind the integrity and independence of science.

The most effective road to reducing hunger and malnutrition is to intensify land use in terms of biodiversity and ecological processes of renewal of soil fertility. Biodiverse ecological farms increase food and nutrition output per acre.

Instead, the government is throwing its weight behind the industry and its fraudulent claims. The Centre has joined the industry in opposing the expert committee’s report recommending moratorium on open field trial of GM crops for 10 years. Responding to a direct query from a bench presided over by Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice S.J. Mukhopadaya, Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati, appearing for the Centre, said that the Centre does not accept the recommendations of the TEC. With the industry also filing objections to the report, the court directed the expert committee to give a final report after considering objections by various parties.

Stressing on the need to introduce GM crops, the Centre has said it would not be able to meet the first millennium development goal (MDG) of cutting the number of hungry people by half without such technologies. A moratorium of 10 years would take the country 20 years back in scientific research, it added.

These are fallacious arguments. Only two per cent of the GMO soy in the US is eaten by humans. The rest is used as biofuel to run cars and as animal feed. More GMOs do not mean more food.

The most effective road to reducing hunger and malnutrition is to intensify land use in terms of biodiversity and ecological processes of renewal of soil fertility. Biodiverse ecological farms increase food and nutrition output per acre.

The real scientific need for India and the world is to do research on agroecology, on how biodiversity and agro-ecosystems can produce more food while using lesser resources.

In the chemical industrial paradigm, seed and soil are empty containers to add toxic chemicals and genes to, and water is limitless. Industrial agriculture is destroying the natural capital on which food security depends.

The industrial agriculture and GMO paradigm has no understanding of the millions of soil organisms that produce soil fertility, the thousands of crop species that feed us, the amazing work of pollinators like bees and butterflies. And because ecological interactions that produce food are a black hole in the GMO paradigm, the impact of the release of GMOs in the environment is also a black hole. Independent science is vital to fill the gaps in knowledge about the ecology of food production and the ecology of biosafety. This is the knowledge gap that the TEC and independent scientists everywhere are trying to fill.

All independent research on safety indicates that GMOs have serious biosafety issues. This is why we have a UN biosafety protocol.

Beginning with Hungarian-born biochemist and nutritionist Dr Arpad Putzai and continuing with French scientist Dr Seralini, the GMO industry and its lobbyists assault every independent scientist whose research shows that GMOs have risks. Dr Putzai’s research, commissioned by the UK government, showed that rats fed with GMO potatoes had shrunken brains, enlarged pancreas and damaged immunity. Dr Putzai was hounded out of his lab and a gag order was put on him.

The publication of a paper in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology “Long Term Toxicity of a Roundup Herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant GM Maize” by Dr Seralini et al (2012) has generated intense debate on the safety or otherwise of Monsanto the devil’s GM maize NK603.

The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) welcomes Dr Seralini’s study. I joined 120 scientists to sign a letter — Seralini and Science: An Open Letter — supporting Dr Seralini’s study.

Independent science is vital to fill the gaps in knowledge about the ecology of food production and the ecology of biosafety.

Russia and Kazakhstan have since halted imports of NK603 maize and, more recently, the Kenyan Cabinet has issued a directive to stop the import of GM foods due to inadequate research done on GMOs and lack of scientific evidence to prove the safety of the food.

This precautionary approach is what India’s Supreme Court-appointed TEC is calling for.

Citizens of California had put up Proposition 37 in the recent elections for something as simple as the “Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food” by having a label on GMO foods. This is recognised as a citizen’s right in Europe and now in India. But the California vote was defeated by industry spending — big food industry players are paying big bucks to battle California’s GMO labelling initiative. According to reports, they are spending as much as $1 million a day on false and misleading advertising.

If citizens don’t have the right to know and scientists don’t have the freedom to speak the truth, we are creating societies that are dangerous — both in terms of loss of democratic freedom and in terms of risking biosafety.

Independent scientists, along with the bees and biodiversity of our plants and seeds, could well become a species threatened with extinction if we do not stop the GMO drone.

Corporate Media Gives Up on Factchecking

How even a Time magazine cover story on factchecking can't find a way to tell the truth

by Peter Hart
Time's October 15, 2012 cover story: "The Fact Wars"In October, the inevitable was announced: Struggling Newsweek magazine would be finished as a print publication as of the end of the year. But the last mass newsweekly left, Time, also made an announcement of sorts: It was out of the factchecking business.

“Who Is Telling the Truth? The Fact Wars,” read Time’s October 15 cover. With a setup like that, one might have hoped for a bold break from the campaign pack, an acknowledgment that facts matter, and that politicians who run on a record of resisting reality should be exposed.

Instead Time told a more familiar story, one in which both major parties commit comparable “factual recklessness,” because accuracy—and reality—are less important than the appearance of evenhandedness. In the article, and a subsequent response to critics, the magazine essentially waved the white flag in the journalistic war against political deception.

The cover story by Michael Scherer kicked off with some anecdotes meant to be representative. On the one hand, Obama complained about Romney’s repeated, highly publicized claims that the White House is doing away with work requirements under welfare. This was, at certain moments, a central part of the Republican campaign strategy. Scherer correctly noted Romney’s claims were false.

But then, hewing to the idea that one must find political lying in equal measure, he pivoted to a claim from the Obama camp—a campaign strategist’s offhand remark that, if Romney had misrepresented himself to securities regulators, that would be “a felony”—“a conditional accusation, but an accusation nonetheless,” Sherer explains, and justification enough for Romney’s team to “take its turn playing truth-teller.”

The two issues, though juxtaposed, are not remotely equivalent, illustrating one of the most common problems with media factchecking: the need to always be balanced, no matter how unbalanced reality might be. The losers in the Fact Wars, ironically, are the facts themselves.

Indeed, an entire sidebar piece by Alex Altman (“Who Lies More? Yet Another Close Contest”) seemed inspired by the same notion about perfectly symmetrical political lying. The feature chose 10 statements from each side to evaluate. It made for unusual comparisons, considering that one Romney claim was the hyperbolic “We are only inches away from no longer being a free economy.” Not to worry, Altman rated that “highly misleading.”

The equivalent Obama claim—“We do not need an outsourcing pioneer in the Oval office”—was a “distortion,” in Time’s judgment, because while Bain “invested in companies that outsourced jobs, it was not the first to do so,” and Romney was not “directly responsible” when this occurred. Altman got this wrong, actually—Romney was actively running Bain when it “owned companies that were pioneers in the practice of shipping work from the United States to overseas call centers and factories making computer components,” as the Washington Post (6/21/12) reported—but in any case, it’s hardly the same as declaring that the U.S. is on the verge of socialism.

Confronted by the obvious evidence that Romney’s lies and exaggerations were of a different order, Altman came up with a novel explanation:
Compared with the Obama campaign’s, the Romney operation’s misstatements are frequently more brazen. But sometimes the most effective lie is the one that is closest to the truth, and Obama’s team has often outdone Romney’s in the dark art of subtle distortion.
So, to summarize: Romney lies more, and bigger. But Obama tells the more effective kind of lies: the ones that are more accurate. (No, Obama's lies are more sinister. Praising whistleblowers as heroes, then prosecuting more of them than ALL the presidents before him combined. Saying that marijuana legalization is a states' right, and that state law trumps federal law, then working on a way to overturn the recent Washington and Colorado elections which legalized marijuana use. It's one thing to report on the lack of factchecking, but saying both parties don't lie in similar ways to the same ends is being willfully ignorant.--jef)

This kind of analysis allows Scherer to confidently and categorically equate the two campaigns when it comes to reckless disregard for the truth:
Both of the men now running for the presidency claim that their opponent has a weak grasp of the facts and a demonstrated willingness to mislead voters. Both profess an abiding personal commitment to honesty and fair play. And both run campaigns that have repeatedly and willfully played the American people for fools, though their respective violations vary in scope and severity.
In the last phrase, actually, Scherer acknowledges that one side may specialize in lying more than the other—but nowhere in the piece does he give any indication which side that might be. It’s an exercise for the reader, apparently.

Scherer does seem troubled by the sheer volume of political lying he detected in the campaign, and thinks he knows who’s to blame: the people. He wrote:
So what explains the factual reck-lessness of the campaigns? The most obvious answer can be found in the penalties, or lack thereof, for wander-ing astray. Voters just show less and less interest in punishing those who deceive. (because they are only allowed to vote for candidates from just 2 political parties, and they are both corrupt. So we the voters only get to decide from corrupt candidate A or corrupt candidate B. How does change presume to begin when its champions from which we are limited to choose are both corrupt to begin with?--jef)
Scherer concludes that “until the voting public demands something else, not just from the politicians they oppose but also from the ones they support, there is little reason to suspect that will change.”

Blaming a lazy or partisan public for politicians’ lies seems more than a little odd, especially since there are people whose job it is to hold politicians accountable: Those people are called “journalists.” And if they do not make politicians pay a price for lying, those politicians are not likely to stop any time soon.

To hear Scherer tell it, though, that’s exactly what journalists have been doing. Unlike in previous campaign seasons, the press “has largely embraced the cause of correcting politicians when they run astray.” This year’s campaign “witnessed a historic increase in fact-checking efforts by the media, with dozens of reporters now focused full time on sniffing out falsehood.”
Some of that sniffing has been partisan, though, so Scherer offers this bizarre advice:
The pundits on MSNBC, the Huffington Post and the editorial page of the New York Times do a fine job of calling out the deceptions of Romney, but if you want to hear where Obama is going wrong, you might be better served on the Drudge Report, Fox News or the Wall Street Journal editorial page.
Sure—if you want some factchecking of Barack Obama, watch an hour of Sean Hannity. It’s bizarre, but it’s what you’re left with once you buy the premise that it’s impossible to discern fact from fiction and the only option is to read coverage equally skewed in opposite directions.

The problem, Scherer explains, is that voters doesn’t want to hear the “other side’s” factchecking: “Instead the public increasingly takes issue with those who deliver the facts.”

Ironically, he quotes former Al Gore press secretary Chris Lehane making the exact opposite point: “In the past, the press effectively played the role of umpire.... Now they are effectively in the bleachers.”

So maybe the real problem isn’t that the public has no love for “those who deliver the facts.” It might be—as Lehane says—that they don’t think journalists actually do that.

Reporters appear to be wedded to a set of “rules” that say they are not allowed to convey reality to their readers and viewers. On the Time Swampland blog (10/9/12), Scherer wrote in response to complaints about his cover story:
I would love to be able to tell you that Mitt Romney is misleading more than Barack Obama or vice versa.... The problem is that there is no existing mechanism for carrying this sacred duty out in real time.... There are just too many subjective judgements that have to be made to come to any conclusion.
This point of view, as Extra! editor Jim Naureckas responded (FAIR Blog, 10/9/12), should not be called impartiality or objectivity. It’s really “radical post-modernism—a denial that anything can ever really be known about the world, that all we really can do is report various claims about the world.”

For Scherer, the biggest fear seems to be that the facts might pile up on one side. He approvingly quotes Brooks Jackson of, who explains that truth-evaluating operations like his are only pretending to try to set firm standards by which political dishonesty can be measured:
Even if we could come up with a scholarly and factual way to say that one candidate is being more deceptive than another, I think we probably wouldn’t just because it would look like we were endorsing the other candidate.
So long as the fear of being seen as unfair defines the corporate media’s approach to factchecking, they will not be “those who deliver the facts.” Rather, they are people who carefully arrange each chip in an effort to create the illusion that they let the chips fall where they may.

A Sign That Obama Will Repeat Economic Mistakes

Friday, December 7, 2012 by
by Robert Scheer

Please don’t tell me that these reports in the business press touting Sallie Krawcheck as a front-runner for chairman of the SEC or even a possible candidate to be the next Treasury secretary are true. Who is she? Oh, just another former Citigroup CFO, and therefore a prime participant in the great banking hustle that has savaged the world’s economy. Krawcheck was paid $11 million in 2005 while her bank contributed to the toxic mortgage crisis that would cost millions their jobs and homes. Sallie Krawcheck.

Not that you would know that sordid history from reading the recent glowing references to Krawcheck in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News that stress her pioneering role as a leading female banker—a working mother no less—but manage to avoid her role in a bank that led the way in destroying the lives of so many women, men and their children. Nor did her financial finagling end with Citigroup, as Krawcheck added a troubling stint in the leadership at Merrill Lynch and Bank of America to her résumé.

A woman who would be an excellent choice as the most experienced as well as principled candidate to head the SEC or Treasury is Sheila Bair, former head of the FDIC, who labored to protect consumers rather than undermine them. Indeed, her outstanding book “Bull by the Horns,” chronicling her fight in the last two administrations to hold the banksters accountable, should be required reading for the president and those who are advising him on selecting his new economic team.

The SEC is supposed to supervise the banks rather than abet them in their chicanery. And although the Treasury Department has been a captive of Wall Street lobbyists for most of the modern era, one would expect something better from the second coming of Barack Obama. Those are key appointments in determining whether the president can turn around the still-moribund economy by channeling the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Or will he continue to plod along on the course set by George W. Bush, bailing out the banks while ignoring beleaguered homeowners and the many other victims of this banking-engineered crisis?

Obama was given a pass on the economy by voters only because Mitt Romney was an even more craven enabler of Wall Street greed. But the outlines of the Bush Wall Street payoff remain in place, with the Federal Reserve continuing to bail out the banks with virtually free money and the purchase of $40 billion in toxic mortgage-based bonds every month to add to the more than trillion dollars in that junk that the Fed previously had taken off the banks’ books.

The money printing by the Fed is at the heart of the massive debt crisis. But it has been great for the bankers, with compensation at the 32 largest banks slated to hit an all-time high of $207 billion this year, according to a Wall Street Journal estimate. This reward for ripping off the public is almost three times the amount the federal government spends on education. Once again the bankers are blessed for their failures, receiving such wildly excessive compensation despite the fact that banking revenue is down 7.2 percent over the last two years.

A prime example is Krawcheck’s old bank, Citigroup, whose new CEO this week announced that the company has been forced to engage in a major retrenchment, eliminating 11,000 jobs and closing 84 branches. The bank has been deeply troubled ever since the housing meltdown it helped trigger first began, and it was saved from bankruptcy only by a direct infusion of $45 billion in taxpayer money and a commitment of an additional $300 billion in underwriting of Citigroup’s bad paper.

The ugly tale of America’s Great Recession is inextricably entwined with the deplorable practices of Citigroup, the too-big-to-fail bank made legal by Bill Clinton’s signing off on reversing the Glass-Steagall law that prevented the merger of investment and commercial banks. The first beneficiary of the revised law was the newly created Citigroup, saved from bankruptcy a decade later by the taxpayers.

I shouldn’t be surprised that Krawcheck would be considered a viable nominee for a central position in managing our economy. After all, her colleague in the top ranks at Citigroup during the years of financial depravity, Robert Rubin, is considered a significant adviser to the Obama administration, and his protégés, led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, are still directing policy. It was Rubin who pushed through the reversal of Glass-Steagall, an act of betrayal of the public interest that was rewarded with obscene amounts of money when he ultimately took the job of leading the bank he made legal.

The very fact that these folks remain influential, as witnessed by Krawcheck being considered to head the SEC rather than being the subject of one of its much-needed investigations, gives further evidence of the enduring but ultimately terminal illness of crony capitalism.

The US Military Approves Bombing Children

Robert Dreyfuss on December 4, 2012

In October, I blogged about an incident in Afghanistan in which three small children were killed in a US airstrike.

In that one small incident, which drew little attention at the time and since, three children aged 12, 10 and 8 were blown to smithereens in a NATO bombing while they were out gathering dung for fuel.

Now, in a despicable article in Military Times, the US military says that children are legitimate targets in the war in Afghanistan because sometimes the Taliban and other insurgents use kids.

In the original incident, which I cited in October, The New York Times reported it this way:
The…case of three children allegedly killed in a coalition strike was reported by local officials in Helmand Province’s Nawa district. The officials said that the children were killed in a NATO strike on Sunday afternoon as they were gathering dung to burn as fuel, a common practice in the desert reaches of southern Afghanistan where there are few trees.

“When we reached the area I saw the three bodies of children, two boys and one girl, ages 8 to 12 years old. They were from the same family,” said Haji Hayatullah, a member of the tribal council in the Nawa district. Their family is in the livestock business and raises goats and sheep on government land, he said.

Mr. Hayatullah added: “They had been collecting the animal dung and were heading home. I saw a sack of dung and another sack that was contaminated with their blood, and I saw three to four holes in the area. It seems the insurgents were digging them to plant mines, but I did not see any men’s bodies.”

The children were identified as Borjan, 12; Sardar Wali, 10; and Khan Bibi, 8, said Haji Abdul Manaf Khan, the governor of the neighboring Marja district. The deaths occurred near the border of the Marja and Nawa districts.

The Marja governor said that NATO forces watched as improvised explosive devices were being planted, and targeted the insurgents planting them. “As a result two I.E.D. planters were killed and the shrapnel killed the three children who were wandering nearby,” he said. Other reports said that three insurgents had been killed.

A spokesman for the international forces, Maj. Adam Wojack, said that the coalition forces were aware of the allegations and that the episode was being investigated. “I.S.A.F. did conduct a precision airstrike on three insurgents in Nawa district, and the strike killed all three insurgents,” he said.

“None of our reporting shows any civilian casualties or any children.”
But on December 3 Gannett, which owns Military Times, ran an article headlined: “Some Afghan Kids Aren’t Bystanders.” It said:
When Marines in Helmand province sized up shadowy figures that appeared to be emplacing an improvised explosive device, it looked like a straightforward mission. They got clearance for an airstrike, a Marine official said, and took out the targets.

It wasn’t that simple, however. Three individuals hit were 12, 10 and 8 years old, leading the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul to say it may have “accidentally killed three innocent Afghan civilians.”

But a Marine official here raised questions about whether the children were “innocent.” Before calling for the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System mission in mid-October, Marines observed the children digging a hole in a dirt road in Nawa district, the official said, and the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission.
Shockingly, the article quotes a senior officer saying that the military isn’t just out to bomb “military age males,” anymore, but kids, too:
“It kind of opens our aperture,” said Army Lt. Col. Marion “Ced” Carrington, whose unit, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was assisting the Afghan police. “In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent.”
“Opens our aperture,” indeed.

The article:

 Some Afghan kids aren’t bystanders
By Dan Lamothe and Joe Gould - Staff writers
Monday Dec 3, 2012

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — When Marines in Helmand province sized up shadowy figures that appeared to be emplacing an improvised explosive device, it looked like a straightforward mission. They got clearance for an airstrike, a Marine official said, and took out the targets.

It wasn’t that simple, however. Three individuals hit were 12, 10 and 8 years old, leading the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul to say it may have “accidentally killed three innocent Afghan civilians.”

But a Marine official here raised questions about whether the children were “innocent.” Before calling for the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System mission in mid-October, Marines observed the children digging a hole in a dirt road in Nawa district, the official said, and the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission.

The incident underscores a continuing problem across Afghanistan. The use of children by the Taliban — through recruitment and as human shields — complicates coalition forces’ efforts to eliminate enemy fighters from the battlefield without angering civilians.

The New York Times reported that the dead children’s family members said they had been sent to gather dung, which farmers use for fuel. Taliban fighters were laying the bombs near the children, who were mistakenly killed, they said.

Regardless, it’s one of many times the children have been involved in the war. In a case this year, Afghan National Police in Kandahar province’s Zharay district found two boys, ages 9 and 11, with a male 18-year-old carrying 1-liter soda bottles full of enough potassium chlorate to kill coalition forces on a foot patrol.

“It kind of opens our aperture,” said Army Lt. Col. Marion “Ced” Carrington, whose unit, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was assisting the Afghan police. “In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent.”

There were 316 documented cases of underage recruitment in the war last year, most of them attributed to the Taliban and other armed groups like the Haqqani network, according to a U.N. report released in April. Eleven children, including an 8-year-old girl, were killed in Afghanistan last year carrying out suicide attacks, the report said.

Marines in Helmand say the Taliban regularly recruit children to serve as spotters, letting armed insurgents know when U.S. or Afghan forces reach designated points on a patrol so they can prepare an ambush.

An ISAF spokesman, Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, said insurgents continue to use children as suicide bombers and IED emplacers, even though Taliban leader Mullah Omar has ordered them to stop harming civilians.

But isn't the point to be less evil than the people we are fighting? If they use children to carry out their goals, does that mean we now have carte blanche in killing children? Does this not seem evil to anybody?

Obama administration considering ways to overturn marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado

"States' rights trump federal rights every time." ~ Barack Obama, before he was president, when he just wanted the job and said anything to get elected.

Published: 07 December, 2012

New legislation in Washington state went into effect this week that legalizes for the first time in ages the possession of marijuana. Federal law still says otherwise, though, setting up the Justice Department to make some serious determinations.

Even as smoking up became protected by state law in Washington starting Thursday, coast-to-coast prohibition as provided by a long-standing federal ruling remains on the books. For marijuana advocates in the Pacific Northwest, the lifting of the ban is a pretty big victory. That doesn’t mean that the Justice Department has ruled out an intervention, though.

Since voters in Washington and Colorado opted on Election Day to legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, the Department of Justice has been relatively quiet over how it will handle what is likely to become a heated debate regarding states’ rights. In an article published by The New York Times this week, reporter Charlie Savage says senior White House and Justice Department officials are already attempting to tackle how to handle the new marijuana laws, and are amid deliberations right now that will determine when, where and how national law enforcement can intervene.

Savage cites anonymous sources familiar with the discussions in DC, whom he says are considering plans for legal action against the states of Colorado and Washington. Meanwhile this week the Obama administration once again chimed in on the topic, but as with earlier abbreviated statements, the only words out of the nation’s capital forecast an ominous battle likely to brew for some time.

When the results of the legislations up for vote in both states trickled through on the evening of Election Day, the Justice Department dispatched a short statement clarifying the federal classification of marijuana as an illegal substance. This week, the United States attorney for Seattle, WA once again warned that federal law is still on the books.

“In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance,” state attorney Jenny A. Durkan announced in a statement. “Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6 in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”

Additionally, the New York Times quotes Durkan as saying the Justice Department maintains that its "responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," meaning federal law enforcement isn’t necessarily interested in adhering to local rules.

A similar legislation approved during last month’s Election Day is expected to go on the books in Colorado in the coming weeks. Even before becoming official, however, some important state institutions have announced that they won’t be cooperating with the end of prohibition.

"In order not to lose federal funds, we need to comply with federal law," University of Colorado at Boulder spokeswoman Malinda Hiller-Huey told The Denver Post.

Speaking to NBC, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper acknowledged even before the new law was approved that it would be an uphill battle for local marijuana advocates given the feds’ insistence in playing by their own rules.

"It's probably going to pass, but it's still illegal on a federal basis. If we can't make it legal here because of federal laws, we certainly want to decriminalize it,” he said.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes tells NPR station KUOW that in his state, residents should be thankful that local law enforcement won’t be tasked with what is largely considered not just a non-issue, but an expensive endeavor. Whereas schools and universities in Colorado aren’t considering the new law for the sake of saving money, Holmes says the legislation in Washington will actually save the state bundles.

"I think that they should acknowledge this newfound right," he says to KUOW. "I think they should celebrate in the privacy of their homes if they choose to do so. And be thankful that we’re no longer arresting some 10,000 Washingtonians a year in the state of Washington and spending well over $100 million in law enforcement resources on that."

Meanwhile, more liberal minded lawmakers in the District are hoping to iron out a way to ensure that state laws are protected before federal agents can have their way. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) introduced a bipartisan legislation before Congress that will amend the US Controlled Substances Act to provide that federal law shall not preempt state marijuana laws.

"I am proud to join with colleagues from both sides of the aisle on the 'Respect States' and Citizens' Rights Act' to protect states' rights and immediately resolve any conflict with the federal government," Rep. DeGette said upon introducing House Bill 6606. "In Colorado we've witnessed the aggressive policies of the federal government in their treatment of legal medicinal marijuana providers. My constituents have spoken and I don't want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens."

According to a recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, nearly six out of ten Americans want marijuana legalization on a widespread scale. In a separate Angus Reid Public Opinion poll published last week, over 60 percent of Americans surveyed said they expect marijuana to be federally permitted within the next decade.

The Plutocrats and the Placeholder President

*Sigh* Yes, the Democrats suck just as hard ads the Republicans do. Obama will bend over for the Republicans' bullshit 'the sky is falling' austerity and cut deep gouges out of social security and other important programs even though it's unnecessary. (Hint) just let the Bush tax cuts expire, end the wars, bring the troops home, and cut the military budget. A conventional military is outdated and unneeded in this age of warfare. Problem solved.--jef


Austerity, Obama-Style

In Quentin Tarantino’s movie ‘Jackie Brown’ the illegal arms dealer played by Samuel L. Jackson laughs as he recounts the sales slogan used by the manufacturer of the ‘Tech Nine’ semi-automatic weapon—“the most popular gun in American crime, like they proud of that shit.” Mere weeks after Barack Obama was re-elected, farce is added to tragedy with his supporters complaining that while the Republican proposal to cut Federal government spending and social insurance programs is all bluster and misdirection, their guy (Mr. Obama) has a real plan to do so—like they’re proud of that shit. Thanks just the same folks, but I’ll take the fake plan.

The moment when the New Deal as we knew it became history by bi-partisan consensus was a long time coming. A trans-generational core of inherited wealth and right-wing cranks has been trying to undo the New Deal since Social Security became fact in 1935. Ronald Reagan echoed anti-New Deal cries of ‘socialism,’ first as a paid spokesperson of the AMA (American Medical Association) against the implementation of Medicare and Medicaid, and later through his racist caricature of the ‘welfare queen’ living fat on public largesse. Despite the fact that Social Security is an insurance program paid for by its participants, much the same as private insurance but without the executive looting, the charge has always been of an undeserving public sucking on “a milk cow with 310 million tits.”

Democrats first joined the effort in earnest with Bill Clinton’s plan to partially privatize Social Security. The idea was to let our good friends on Wall Street manage a bit of the money for us, for a fee of course. That proposal faltered when Mr. Clinton was impeached. As was the fashion in European Central Bank circles in 2009, Mr. Obama took up the torch of fiscal austerity of his own initiative by creating his very own deficit commission. This should have come as no surprise to anyone paying attention—Mr. Obama publicly stated his intention to ‘fix’ Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid when he allied himself with the Wall Street friendly ‘Hamilton Project’ in 2006.

(In Between Democrats Clinton and Obama came Republican George W. Bush who also tried to partially privatize Social Security. Mr. Bush quickly retreated when he saw the depth of political opposition to the effort. As the saying goes, it takes a Democrat to gut the New Deal).

For the uninitiated, the Hamilton Project is the demon spawn of the Clintonite contingent of the Democratic Party led by former Treasury Secretary and disgraced Citicorp Board member Robert Rubin. The kindest take on the Wall Street lootocracy populating the organization is that they don’t know how money is created (the U.S. has a fiat currency), making them morons. The less kind take is that their greed has no limits. Whichever is more applicable (neither is mutually exclusive), if one group of Wall Street politicos bears responsibility for the economic catastrophe that an unregulated Wall Street has visited upon the world in recent years, the Hamilton Project is it.

Never one to let the wish list of the entrenched plutocracy go unfulfilled, Barack Obama chose Democrat, inheritance baby and Wall Street ‘welfare queen’ Erskine Bowles, to co-head his (Mr. Obama’s) very own ‘deficit commission.’ Of course Mr. Obama knew nothing of Mr. Bowles experience leading the earlier effort to (partially) privatize Social Security when he appointed him to the position. In his speech welcoming the Hamilton Project into existence (link above), Mr. Obama additionally described himself as an enthusiastic ‘free trader’ committed to globalization. And of current relevance, he ascribed fiscal ‘discipline’ as the proximate cause of the Clinton economic ‘boom,’ deftly ignoring the greatest stock market bubble (as measured by price / earnings ratio—twice that of 1929) in human history.

One could be forgiven for believing that Mr. Obama, or any other placeholder Democrat for that matter, has something of a point regarding ‘entitlement’ spending if his words are the only that are listened to. People in the U.S. are living longer and a strapped citizenry simply cannot afford the lavish promises made in an earlier age of plenty goes the toxic bullshit. By leaving out class divisions this formulation simply furthers the shift in social resources upward from poor to rich. As economist Paul Krugman has effectively argued, the rich are living longer and the working class and poor are not. Additionally, unless those in the ‘gap’ years between the old and new eligibility ages for Medicare simply forgo health care, the change will force them to purchase private health insurance under whatever terms the ‘market’ will bear. But of course, private insurance companies always act in the public interest when people’s backs are to the wall.

At the end of the day this charade is a struggle over social resources. The ‘too-big-to-fail’ guarantee of the banks, which is the only reason why insolvent, predatory Wall Street remains in business, is an entitlement program for connected bankers—for which they pay nothing. The bloated, murderous, military industry that lobbies the U.S. into unnecessary wars for their own benefit and that of corporate welfare receiving multi-national corporations is an entitlement program. And the aforementioned corporate welfare that perpetuates the puffy, gray corporate executives behind the ‘Fix the Debt’ campaign for whom official Washington now apparently works is an entitlement program. So if we want to have a public ‘discussion’ of entitlement spending, by all means let’s do so.

And as far as entitlement programs go, government guarantees and redistribution schemes are only a starting point. As economist Dean Baker has argued, America’s professional class retains monopoly pricing power for their labor through trade restrictions while the working class has been thrown to the wolves. The Federal Reserve has spent upwards of four trillion dollars to entitle the fortunes of the investor class since 2008, returning the already rich to their former wealth. And corporate executives have entitled themselves to robber-baron sized paychecks through the combination of trade policies that have so reduced the fortunes of the working class, tax abatements that have bled the public weal for some forty years, and through the financialization of the economy that has favored, along with Federal Reserve policies, the financial wealth that executives pay themselves with. All of these and more are entitlement programs that have redistributed ever more social wealth from the working class and poor up to the Washington establishment’s beloved plutocrats.

But the trillions of dollars in health care expenditures that we deadbeats intend to sponge off of the blessedly deserving rich is the really big money, right? When Erskine Bowles wakes with night terrors, it is my herniated disk and your gall bladder operation that will sink the country, right? The U.S. pays 30% – 50% more per person than other first world nations for health care that is of substantially lower quality because we have a largely private health care system. Were the system totally public—Medicare for all, we would realize some material proportion of these savings and most likely vastly improve the health of the citizenry. Were the monopoly entitlements of doctors and pharmaceutical companies reduced or eliminated, further cost reductions would be realized. So quickly, who are the main beneficiaries of America’s ‘bloated’ entitlement programs?

As Mr. Obama will offer, his proposals include reducing payments to health care providers and negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs. However, the private health care system in America is the global leader in shifting costs to those with the least social power. Cuts in public payments to private providers have a long history of popping up elsewhere, as health insurer profits will attest. For instance, Mr. Obama’s health care ‘reform’ program, the ACA (Affordable Care Act), requires insurance companies to spend fixed percentages of their revenues providing health care or to rebate the difference to their customers. As corporations constitute the majority of their ‘customers,’ corporations apparently now have an incentive to shop around for health insurers that provide the lowest proportion of health care to their employees to maximize the rebates. (The central business of insurers was already to provide the appearance of coverage without providing actual coverage). And health insurance providers can gain market share, if at lower margins, by doing exactly this. Welcome to America.

Last, any honest discussion of ‘entitlements’ would be to the benefit of America’s poor and working classes. The globetrotting plutocrats behind current ‘discussions’ see working class product as their due. This is the very definition of entitlement. We can either disabuse them of this notion or roll over and play dead. Or better yet, roll over and vote Democrat.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tamoxifen Makes Women Live Longer (Says Pfizer, AstraZeneca)

 The medical establishment, guided by the corrupt profiteering of Big Pharma, makes sick people sicker and kills more people than the diseases they "attempt" (profit from) to cure.--jef


Pfizer’s Elixir of Youth?

It was a great moment in Pharma funded physician “education.” At a symposium at the American Psychiatric Association’s 2010 meeting called “Mood, Memory and Myths: What Really Happens at Menopause,” two Wyeth/Pfizer funded speakers tried to resurrect the benefits of cancer-linked hormone therapy. But the mostly-female audience was having none of it: what can we do about our “tamoxifen brain” from the cancer we already have, they wanted to know.

Women are to be forgiven if they are cynical about this week’s news about the cancer drug tamoxifen saving lives. Since the 1940s women were told they needed to be on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for the rest of their lives only to find in 2002 it was causing breast cancer, heart disease, strokes and blood clots. Studies that looked as solid as this week’s tamoxifen study assured women that lifelong HRT would prevent heart disease, dementia and other blights –when it turned out to be just the opposite.

The harm from HRT, recommended by the medical mainstream for decades, was so dramatic, when women quit HRT in 2002, the incidence of US breast cancer fell 15 percent among women with estrogen-fed cancer. Fourteen thousand women who were expected to get breast cancer didn’t because they eliminated the source, said news reports. Rather than a “cure” for breast cancer, this was a literal “cause.” Unfortunately, women, their clinicians and the medical press have already forgotten this man-made cause of cancer and HRT is making a comeback.

Why should women be cynical about this week’s study in the Lancet that finds women who stay on the blockerbuster cancer drug Nolvadex/tamoxifen for 10 years instead of the usual five years are less likely to die and have cancer recur? (Inspiring some to already suggest women should stay on tamoxifen, “for life.”)

The first reason is because the study was partially funded by AstraZeneca who makes Nolvadex or tamoxifen. AstraZeneca, formerly Zeneca, co-founded National Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a “public relations scam” says the Center for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch, even as its parent company, ICI Pharmaceuticals/Imperial Chemicals Industries, manufactured pesticides and organophosphates linked to breast cancer. Some accused the drug giant of literally playing both sides of the street, especially since tamoxifen shares some chemical properties with endocrine disrupting pesticides.

The second reason for cynicism is: tamoxifen carries its own risks which are not such a great trade off (unless you are Big Pharma). “Treatment with 5 years of tamoxifen can cause side-effects such as endometrial cancer and thromboembolic disease and continuing tamoxifen for an additional 5 years is likely to increase these side-effects,” says the Lancet article. 3.1 percent of women undergoing the extra 5 years of tamoxifen therapy got endometrial cancer in the study versus 1.6 percent who did have extra years of the drug.

There is an increasing backlash among women breast cancer survivors against tamoxifen and such trade-offs. “My cancer had a one percent chance or recurring and I was told tamoxifen would cut my chances in half,” says Kay, a Chicago fitness instructor who underwent surgery and radiation for ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) at the age of 50. “That means if I exposed myself to the risks and side effects of tamoxifen, my chance of recurrence would be .5 percent. No thinking women would agree to that.”

And there is a another source of cynicism for women beyond the downside of tamoxifen and the external causes of cancer, including prescribed hormones, being ignored. In November the New England Journal of Medicine published a study estimating that mammograms have caused more than a million American women to be diagnosed with early stage breast cancers, in the last three decades, that would not have proved fatal if left undetected and untreated. The millions, perhaps billions, spent in health care dollars because of such overdiagnosis and overtreatment and the suffering of women have yet to be fully quantified.

“There is more money in treating breast cancer than preventing it,” declares Kay who says she studied profiteering on the disease or what she calls “Breast Cancer Inc” since her own diagnosis. “That is why they call DCIS which is stage 0, precancer–’cancer.‘ There is more money in treating it.”

The Obscenely Rich Men Bent on Shredding the Safety Net

They want to cut social security and medicare to line their own pockets, not to address the budget deficit/national debt.--jef

By Lynn Stuart Parramore | AlterNet
New York magazine calls it a “Mass Movement for Millionaires.” The New York Times' Paul Krugman sums up the idea: “Hey, sacrifice is for the little people.”

The Campaign to Fix the Debt is a huge, and growing, coalition of powerful CEOs, politicians and policy makers on a mission to lower taxes for the rich and to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid under the cover of concern about the national debt. The group was spawned in July 2012 by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, architects of a misguided deficit reduction scheme in Washington back in 2010. By now, the "fixers" have collected a war chest of $43 million. Private equity billionaire Peter G. Peterson, longtime enemy of the social safety net, is a major supporter.

This new Wall Street movement, which includes Republicans and plenty of Democrats, is hitting the airwaves, hosting roundtables, gathering at lavish fundraising fêtes, hiring public relations experts, and traveling around the country to push its agenda. The group aims to seize the moment of the so-called "fiscal cliff" debate to pressure President Obama to concede to House Republicans and continue the Bush income tax cuts for the rich while shredding the social safety net. The group includes Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, Honeywell’s David Cote, Aetna’s Mark Bertolini, Delta Airlines’ Richard Anderson, Boeing’s W. James McNerney, and over 100 other influential business honchos and their supporters.

Corporations represented by the fixers have collected massive bailouts from taxpayers and gigantic subsidies from the government, and they enjoy tax loopholes that in many cases bring their tax bills down to zero. Sometimes their creative accountants even manage to get money back from Uncle Sam. For instance, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, Boeing has paid a negative 6.5 percent tax rate for the last decade, even though it was profitable every year from 2002 through 2011.

These CEOs talk about shared sacrifice, but it seems that they don’t intend to share anything but your retirement money with their wealthy friends. As New York mag reports:
“Most on-the-record comments are a mishmash of platitudes about shared sacrifice and working together for the good of the country. But interviews with a number of organizers and CEO council members point to a massive networking effort among one-percenters — one that relies on strategically exploiting existing business relationships and appealing to patriotic and economic instincts."
As the Fix the Debt gang moves around the country spreading their message, they are starting to attract public protests. On November 27, they were greeted in North Carolina with a rally  from NC Progress, which called for an end to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent and told the group to keep its hands off the middle-class wallet. The fixers are often vague about their mission, and they tend to speak in coded language that conceals their actual goals. Let’s have some blunt talk about what the fixers want to do and why they want to do it – talk you're unlikely to hear in mainstream media supported by corporate advertising.

1. “Fix” means cut: When they say “fix” Social Security, they mean cut Social Security. Fixers want to convince the public that a well-managed, hugely popular program that does not add to the deficit (it’s self-funded) is somehow in crisis and requires intervention in the form of various cutting schemes. They seek this because many of the rich do not want to pay taxes for Social Security, and financiers want very much to move toward privatization of retirement accounts so they can collect fees on such accounts.

2. “Reform” means rob. When the say “reform” the tax code, they mean “make taxes even lower for the rich.” The wealthy do not pay their fair share of taxes in the United States, which is a major reason there is a large deficit in the first place. When the very wealthy pay lower tax rates than ordinary working people, the result is an increasing redistribution of income upward that puts the U.S. in the top 30 percent in income inequality out of 140 nations, according to the Central Intelligence Agency [7]. We’re a shameful #42. Income inequality is not only unfair, it’s dangerous and makes society unstable.

3.“Bipartisan” means all of the rich. Fix the Debt is a pro-business ideological movement pretending to be a bipartisan group of concerned citizens. But the group is really just a coalition for the greedy, unpatriotic rich. There are plenty of financiers and other 1 percenters in the Democratic Party, and some of them have decided to join forces with their GOP counterparts to work toward a goal that means a great deal to all of them: Making the rich even richer.

4. “Concern” means covet. There was a time, a couple of generations ago, when business leaders would not dare to go public with their desire to increase income inequality and stick it to hard-working Americans. When Owen D. Young, CEO of General Electric in the '20s and '40s, spoke to an audience at Harvard Business School in 1927, he emphasized that the purpose of a corporation was to provide a good life not only to owners, but also to employees. Corporations, he said, were meant to serve the larger goals of the nation:
“Here in America, we have raised the standard of political equality. Shall we be able to add to that, full equality of economic opportunity? No man is wholly free unless he is both politically and economically free.”
Fast forward to 2012: Jeffrey Immelt, the current CEO of GE, is a member of the Fix the Debt Campaign, which is designed to lower the expectations of hard-working Americans. Goldman Sachs honcho Lloyd Blankfein explained this recently in a CBS interview:
 “You’re going to have to do something, undoubtedly, to lower people’s expectations of what they’re going to get, the entitlements, and what people think they’re going to get, because you’re not going to get it.” ~ Goldman Sachs CEOLloyd Blankfein

5. “Fiscal conservative” means economically confused. Longtime Wall Street executive Steve Rattner, one of Obama’s auto bailout czars, has been using his influence to attract tycoons from the financial industry to the Fix the Debt movement. Over the last year, Rattner has been on a crusade to convince Americans that they should put aside their worries about real crises like unemployment to focus on the deficit. Rattner, like many of his cohorts, poses as a moderate whose thinking is needed to counter the advice of respected economists like Nobel Prize-winners Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, who have long been warning that defict hysteria is not only counterproductive, but based on a lack of understanding of how the economy actually works.

Political economist Thomas Ferguson, who teaches at UMass Boston and is a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, described the dubious policies the fixers defend:
“Talk about the audacity of hope! The people who brought you the Great Recession by pushing deregulation and financial leverage to insane dimensions are back. Now they propose to ‘fix the debt’ by throwing average Americans who generously bailed them out in 2008-09 over the fiscal cliff.
One trusts that even in our money-driven political system, their transparently self-interested nonsense will be firmly rejected. There is no reason why anyone needs to do anything at all about Social Security for a long time; as even Peter Orszag admits in the fine print. It just isn't a driver of the deficit.
The U.S. does need to reduce its spending on defense and it certainly needs to aggressively contain medical costs. But you do both of those the old fashioned way. In the case of defense, you stop plunging into wars and attend carefully to what actually is needed to defend America. In the case of medical spending, you end ‘fee for service’ schemes that reward endless tests and procedures and you vigorously pursue anti-trust and regulatory remedies. You don't simply cut Americans off from health care. It's ridiculous that we have ‘single payer’ for ailing banks, but not citizens. If you are worried about the deficit, just let tax rates rise back to the levels of the Clinton era, when growth ran far ahead of today's economy, and tax dividends, carried interest, and capital gains at the rates working Americans pay. And don't, absolutely don't, let American companies escape taxation by stashing their money abroad.”
6. "Strip-mining is not leadership." Fixers present themselves as magnanimous, responsible leaders doing what they believe is best for the country. But that’s a tough sell when you’re advocating policies that mainly benefit…yourself.

Economist Rob Johnson, director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking and also a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, shared his view of the Campaign to Fix the Debt in an email. As he memorably put it, "strip-mining is not leadership":
“I believe that a convincing argument depends upon the demonstrated self-sacrifice of the leader offering a vision. This group does not appear to be doing something for the nation. They are doing something for their own self-interest (tax liability). There is confusion between: 1) what is good for business and therefore jobs, something we all should be concerned about; and 2) the personal benefit of CEOs based on who bears the burden of the debt reduction plan. This group does not seem to gain the credibility that comes from generous contribution through self sacrifice. As a result they will arouse great suspicion rather than inspire us as 'leaders' who are guiding the design of a just, productive and coherent society.  
With all of the suspicion of leadership in America,  business, media, scholars and politicians have to lead in a credible way. This just looks like guys defending their self-interest in a dysfunctional period of our nation's history because elites take so much for themselves.”

It's no secret that the wealthy have done extremely well over the last several decades, even since the Wall Street-driven financial crash that devastated millions of Americans. In 2010, the top 1 percent of U.S. families raked in as much as 93 percent of the country’s income growth, according to Emmanuel Saez, a UC Berkeley economist who looked at IRS data.

Which raises several important questions for Bowles, Simpson, Blankfein, Rattner & Co.: How much is enough? How far are you willing to tip the balance of income in the country toward the wealthy? What concern do you really have about the deficit, or for that matter, the future of America? Inquiring minds want to know. 

America's Staggering Wealth Divide

Inequality in America is even worse than it seems, with personal debt papering over the true state of affairs.
December 3, 2012  |  AlterNet  |  By Paul Bucheit
Most people associate inequality with the income gap. As distorted as the distribution of income may be, our wealth distribution is even more extreme. Americans are beginning to realize that years of preferential tax treatment for the rich, under the guise of "supply-side job creation" nonsense, have bloated the fortunes of the super-rich to a level that would make Rockefeller and Carnegie envious.

1. We're close to being the most unequal country in the world.

Among countries with at least a quarter-million adults, only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon are more unequal, according to the most recent figures ] from Credit Suisse Research .

An earlier report  by the same research team had indicated that Denmark and Switzerland were more unequal than the United States. While Switzerland is still high in the new data listing, ranking 18th, Denmark is actually rather equal relative to other countries, and received its dubious earlier position due to its own accurate reporting of household debt, as will be noted in Fact 5 below.

2. Wealth accumulation has been rigged for the rich.

The richest quintile of Americans owns 93% of non-home wealth. For Americans with incomes over $10 million, nearly half of their income comes from capital gains and dividends, on most of which they pay only a 15% tax. From 2002 to 2007, two-thirds  of all income went to the richest 1%. Then, in the first year after the recession, a startling 93% of all new income went to the richest 1%.

Massive wealth holdings have accumulated for the richest Americans not only because of their appropriation of income, but also because of their manipulation of the tax code. The 15% capital gains tax is their proudest accomplishment. Other ploys include carried interestperformance-related paystock options, and deferred compensation.

The imaginary 'work' of financial gain gets taxed at a much lower rate than real work. Through the years, as the rich have fattened up on stocks and other financial assets, the stock market has grown three times faster than the GDP. Yet American workers have not benefited from their own productivity. Their wages have flatlined  while the fruits of their labor have gone to investors.

3. As tax rates have gone down, income for the rich has gone up.

A Business Insider chart depicts the remarkable - yet reasonable - negative correlation between tax rates and the wealth of the super-rich. Over the past hundred years, every time tax rates have been decreased, the income percentage of the richest .01% has increased, and vice versa. Other  sources  confirm that changes in the tax rate have little to do with economic growth, and that the top tax rate can - and should - be much higher, up to 83%.

The Reagan-era myth of "higher taxes, less revenue" has been debunked. It's enough to convince any thinking American outside of Congress that our budget problems are rooted in an extraordinary degree of tax avoidance at the top.

4. "We should all cheer for the stock market" is a big scam.

The mainstream media would have us believe that the whole country depends on a rising stock market. But the lowest-earning three-fifths of Americans -- 60% of the population -- own just .2%  (one-fifth of one percent) of all wealth outside the home.

The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute claim that wealth inequality has remained steady over the past century, even in the last 30 years. Both organizations cite a paper by Kopczuk and Saez , which shows that the share of wealth owned by the top 1% has decreased from the early 1900s to the early 2000s, possibly because the "democratization of stock spreads stock market gains and losses much more widely than in the past."

While it's true that the percentages of net worth and financial wealth for the top 1% barely budged from 1983 to 2007, the percentages for the rest of the richest 5% increased by almost 20%. And the percentages for the poorest 80% of the population DECREASED by almost 20%.

In other words, the share of wealth owned by the top 1% leveled off because the "democratization of stock ownership" spread the wealth among just 5% of the population, those earning an average of $500,000 per year. A few people -- 5 out of 100 -- got very rich, but everyone else lost ground.

5. Debt has masked wealth inequality for 30 years

The authors of the Global Wealth Report  state: "Rising household debt...began around 1975. Before this date, the ratio of household debt to annual disposable income within countries remained fairly stable over time and rarely rose above 75%." Today, Americans are burdened with over $11 trillion  in consumer debt, including mortgages, student loans, and credit card liabilities. As the very rich have accumulated income and wealth, the middle class has kept up appearances by taking out loans.

However, that's only half the story. Private debt appears to be more manageable when public debt is low. Denmark has the highest household debt to wealth ratio in the world, but its government debt amounts to just 3% of the financial wealth of Danish households. The U.S. is at 32%. And our government debt as a percentage of GDP is 103%, one of the highest percentages in the world.

Conclusion: Where is all the wealth coming from?

According to the authors of the Global Wealth Report , the world's wealth has doubled in ten years, from $113 trillion to $223 trillion, and is expected to reach $330 trillion by 2017.

The UN definition of wealth  includes (1) natural capital: land, forests, fossil fuels, and minerals; (2) physical capital: buildings and infrastructure; and (3) human capital: the population's education and skills.

We need to add a 4th category: the magical creation of wealth by the financial industry.