INDEX (stories follow)
By PAUL KRUGMAN
- Pakistan Military Threatens to Review U.S. Ties
- 8 Killed in U.S. Drone Attack in Pakistan
- U.S.: Bin Laden Plotted Rail Attack on 9/11 Anniversary
- Obama Visits Ground Zero, Firefighters
- U.N.: Libyan Food System Faces Collapse
- International Loans Approved for Libyan Rebels
- Syrian Forces Fire on Protesters After Mass Arrests
- Vermont House Approves Single-Payer Healthcare Bill
- N.H. Lawmakers Advance Anti-Union Bill
- House OKs Resumption of Offshore Drilling Leases
- SEC Subpoenas JPMorgan in Mortgage Probe
- Obama Urges Activism on Immigration Reform
- Mexicans Stage Marches to Protest Drug War
- Scientists Detail Global Warming Dangers to Sea Levels
- Arizona School Board Postpones Ethnic Studies Vote
- CUNY Trustees Deny Honorary Degree to Playwright over Israel-Palestine Views
The Liberal Democrats have paid a heavy electoral price for their decision to form a coalition with the Conservatives last year. Party sources have described the results as “fairly disastrous” and “a bloodbath”. The party has already lost almost 200 seats, and well over half the English council seats have still to be counted. The BBC is saying that, on the basis of its current estimated national share of the vote (see 4.40am), the Lib Dems would have just 21 seats in the Commons if there were a general election now and people voted as they did yesterday. The same figures suggest Labour would have 340 Commons seats – a narrow majority – and the Conservatives 264.
In all fairness, it is what they voted for. Anyone who voted Republican, and didn’t think they were putting the abortion police into office, is an idiot.
In 2005 a similar Republican Party effort – with full control of all three branches of government – was again staved off by labor and democratic push back.
And it looks as though Republicans are again signalling they are caving on the Medicare issue. Will they ever learn?
This political issue isn’t dead, and working-class people will have to continue to stand up to the Republicans and the corporate forces behind them that want to end Medicare. As long as Republicans win majorities in Congress, for them, slashing Medicare will always be on the table.
But here is more information to use in the push back against the GOP demand to slash Medicare. It’s from the Alliance for Retired Americans:
Under 55-Year-Olds Need an Extra $182,000 to Pay for Republican Medicare Plan
A 54-year-old today will have to save an additional $182,000 in their IRA or 401(k) before he or she retires to pay for the House Republican plan to dismantle Medicare, an analysis released Thursday by U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) found. The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) estimated that individuals born in 1957 would need $182,000 by the time they retire at 65 to pay the additional costs imposed by the Republican plan if they live to 84. The analysis was included in a letter to Rep. Miller. “Under the Republican plan, seniors will go into debt. They will be forced to sell their homes that they spent a lifetime paying off. And they will have to rely on their children just to pay for basic medical care,” said Miller. Last month, House Republicans voted to end the guaranteed benefits of Medicare, and replace them with a plan that would force seniors to find private insurance with the assistance of a voucher. Since the voucher‟s value relative to health care costs would decrease over time, and private insurance costs are higher than traditional Medicare, seniors retiring in 2022 under the Republican plan would be forced to pay much higher costs than under current law. As a result, CEPR found that the average senior beginning in 2022 would have to save $182,000 to cover these additional costs. The data assumes a return of 3% in real interest during the retirement years. To view the letter from CEPR to Rep. Miller, go to http://bit.ly/jQpFVN.
In addition, the White House released state-by-state data today on how much in new benefits Medicare recipients will receive as a result of health reform passed in 2009:
It’s been a little more than a year since the Affordable Care Act became law, but seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare are already reaping its benefits. Thanks to the new law, seniors have access to free preventive care and a free annual wellness visit. People who hit the Medicare prescription drug donut hole are getting a 50 percent discount on their prescription drugs. We have protected and expanded guaranteed benefits for all 47 million Americans on Medicare. And estimates indicate that the new benefits and services provided to seniors by the Affordable Care Act will save the typical senior over $3,500 over the next decade.
So, for example in Michigan alone:
Last year more than 90,000 Medicare recipients in the state of Michigan got a rebate check for $250 to help cover the cost of Rx drugs. This year they got a discount of 50 percent when they hit the “donut hole.”
1.7 million Michigan Medicare recipients were eligible this year for free preventive care like cancer screenings, mammograms and annual wellness check-ups.
Medicare recipients in Michigan paid altogether almost $100 million less for Part B premiums than they likely would have without health reform.
Republicans want to take this away to pay for more tax cuts for the rich.
Robert Thomson, tech editor-in-chief of Dow Jones and managing editor of the Journal, said in a statement on Thursday: “The Wall Street Journal is the world’s most trusted source of news, and SafeHouse will enable the collection of information and documents that could be used in the generation of trustworthy news stories.”
SafeHouse opened for submissions on Thursday. Whistleblowers can choose whether to send their contact details or to remain anonymous. Users can also request to “become a confidential source” of the paper, though this requires contact details.
However, the site’s terms and conditions – which users must agree to before uploading material – could prove controversial. They state that the Journal “reserve[s] the right to disclose any information about you to law enforcement authorities or to a requesting third party, without notice, in order to comply with any applicable laws and/or requests under legal process […]”.
Native American Activist, Author Winona LaDuke on “The Militarization of Indian Country” and Obama Admin’s “Lip Service” to Indigenous Rights
Native American Activist Winona LaDuke on Use of “Geronimo” as Code for Osama bin Laden: “The Continuation of the Wars Against Indigenous People”
What does it take to make the food speculators at Goldman Sachs look like they’re playing for lunch money? A secretive Swiss-based company, and one of the world’s largest commodity trading firms, knows. With its initial public offering announced on Thursday, Glencore – a multibillion-dollar mining, energy and food trader that will soon list in London and Hong Kong – is the envy of Wall Street. When Goldman Sachs was floated, the then CEO Hank Paulson made off with $219m. Glencore’s chief executive, Ivan Glasenberg, has already earned the moniker “The Ten Billion Dollar Man” for his share of the bonanza.
Glencore will be the first company in 25 years to make the FTSE 100 on its first day of trading, with an estimated valuation of about $60bn. The company has had an average return on equity of 38% (compared to Goldman Sachs’s 12%). Its base in the Swiss town of Baar has freed it of even the minimal regulation US-based companies entertain. Not by accident does Glencore find itself in Switzerland. Like the mining and oil trading company Trafigura, Glencore is a descendant of the Marc Rich group. Rich fled the US in 1983 after being indicted by a federal prosecutor, Rudolph Giuliani, for tax evasion and trading with Iran (though he was pardoned by Bill Clinton). As Marcia Vickers reported in a Businessweek exposé: “Rich’s philosophy is that no law applies to him.”
In exchange for going public and raising money for further acquisitions, Glencore will now have to submit to the bared gums of UK regulators – whose rules are far less onerous than their US counterparts. With the funds from its flotation, the company looks set to dominate the fields in which it chooses to operate. Although primarily a mining and energy company, it has substantial interests in food – controlling around a quarter of the global market for barley, sunflower and rape seed, and 10% of the world’s wheat market.
In the weeks before flotation, Glencore allowed us a glimpse of the kind of power it wields. Last year Russia, the world’s third largest wheat exporter, experienced a drought the like of which had never been recorded; fires damaged tens of thousands of acres of cereal.
Glencore has now revealed its traders placed bets that the price of wheat would go up. On 2 August Glencore’s head of Russian grain trading called on Russia’s government to ban wheat exports. Three days later, that’s what it did. The price of wheat went up by 15% in two days. Of course, just because a senior executive at one of the world’s most powerful companies suggested a course of action that a country chose to follow doesn’t mean Glencore made it happen. But happen it did, and the consequences rippled round the world.
At the time, Mozambique experienced a massive uprising in response to increased food and fuel prices. Protests were organised via text messages and, in actions that foreshadowed those of governments in the Arab spring, the Mozambican state responded by shutting down text capability for pre-paid phones and sweeping up hundreds of protesters. Over a dozen people died, many were injured, and millions of dollars of damage was caused. It’s safe to say that tens of thousands were pushed further towards hunger as a result of the higher wheat prices.
According to the Financial Times, Glencore’s speculation didn’t necessarily bring riches to the company. Although the bets on the future price of wheat paid off, Glencore is so big that other parts of the company were tripped up. Its wheat customers in the Middle East had contracts that needed to be fulfilled, and the company was left scrambling after its Russian supplies were walled away.
But Glencore itself admits to prodding the boundaries of how markets ought to work – its flotation prospectusreveals that its Belgian agricultural subsidiary is embroiled in charges of corruption, allegedly involving inside information on European export subsidies.
This story may help economists who are having a hard time understanding how speculation works. In its recent thoughts on the global food market, the Economist defended speculators because “trading cannot drive prices up in the long term since for every buy, there is a sell”. By definition, for every smart or lucky trader who comes out with a yacht, some other trader loses their shirt. It’s all very nicely confined to the paddling pool of the futures exchange, and the yellow water needn’t taint the rest of the market, where the real demand is.
While the economic world ought to work this way in theory, it doesn’t in practice. Goldman Sachs has an investment structure that is only about buying food futures. Despite what the theorists say, speculators have profited from hunger. And there’s now mounting evidence from some economists that the rush of money into commodity funds is indeed driving prices higher.
But even these kinds of analysis assume that there are rational moves made by actors within the market’s confines. When financial powerhouses like Glencore are able to control and engineer the terms on which they are governed, economics has painfully little to say. Rather than being “price takers”, today’s financial behemoths are price makers. To understand the power at play, we’re better served by the insight of the French historian Fernand Braudel – that capitalism is, at its pinnacle, not about the facilitation of free exchange, but about its destruction.
By PAUL KRUGMAN
From G.D.P. to private-sector payrolls, from business surveys to new claims for unemployment insurance, key economic indicators suggest that the recovery may be sputtering.
And it wasn’t much of a recovery to start with. Employment has risen from its low point, but it has grown no faster than the adult population. And the plight of the unemployed continues to worsen: more than six million Americans have been out of work for six months or longer, and more than four million have been jobless for more than a year.
It would be nice if someone in Washington actually cared.
It’s not as if our political class is feeling complacent. On the contrary, D.C. economic discourse is saturated with fear: fear of a debt crisis, of runaway inflation, of a disastrous plunge in the dollar. Scare stories are very much on politicians’ minds.
Yet none of these scare stories reflect anything that is actually happening, or is likely to happen. And while the threats are imaginary, fear of these imaginary threats has real consequences: an absence of any action to deal with the real crisis, the suffering now being experienced by millions of jobless Americans and their families.
What does Washington currently fear? Topping the list is fear that budget deficits will cause a fiscal crisis any day now. In fact, a number of people — like Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairmen of President Obama’s debt commission — have settled on a specific time frame: terrible things will happen within two years unless we make drastic spending cuts.
I have no idea where that two-year deadline comes from. After all, what we do in the next couple of years hardly matters at all for U.S. solvency, which mainly depends on what we’ll do in the long run about Medicare and taxes. And, for what it’s worth, actual investors — people putting real money on the line — are notably unworried about any near-term fiscal crisis: the Treasury Department continues to have no trouble selling debt and remains able to borrow very cheaply, indicating high confidence on the part of investors that debts will be repaid in full.
Do the scare-mongers even believe their own stories? Maybe not. As Jonathan Chait of The New Republic notes, the politicians most given to apocalyptic rhetoric about the deficit are also utterly opposed to any tax increase; they argue that debt is destroying America, but they’d rather let that happen than accept even a dime of higher taxes. Yet the inconsistency and probable insincerity of their fear-mongering hasn’t stopped it from having a huge effect on policy debate.
The deficit isn’t the only unfounded fear. I’ve written before about misguided inflation fear, but, for now, let me focus on a new issue that has suddenly begun to loom large in opinion pieces and remarks on talk shows: fear of a disastrous plunge in the dollar. (Who sends out the memos telling people what to worry about, and why don’t I get them?)
What you would never know from all the agitated dollar discussion is that the recent dollar slide is actually tiny compared with big drops in the past, notably under the administration of George W. Bush and during Ronald Reagan’s second term. And you’d also never know that those earlier dollar slides, far from hurting the economy, were beneficial, because they helped U.S. manufacturing compete on world markets.
Which brings me back to the destructive effect of focusing on invisible monsters. For the clear and present danger to the American economy isn’t what some people imagine might happen one of these days, it’s what is actually happening now.
Unemployment isn’t just blighting the lives of millions, it’s undermining America’s future. The longer this goes on, the more workers will find it impossible ever to return to employment, the more young people will find their prospects destroyed because they can’t find a decent starting job. It may not create excited chatter on cable TV, but the unemployment crisis is real, and it’s eating away at our society.
Yet any action to help the unemployed is vetoed by the fear-mongers. Should we spend modest sums on job creation? No way, say the deficit hawks, who threaten us with the purely hypothetical wrath of financial markets, and, in fact, demand that we slash spending now now now — which might well send us back into recession. Should the Federal Reserve do more to promote expansion? No, say the inflation and dollar hawks, who have been wrong again and again but insist that this time their dire warnings about runaway prices and a plunging dollar really will be vindicated.
So we’re paying a heavy price for Washington’s obsession with phantom menaces. By looking for trouble in all the wrong places, our political class is preventing us from dealing with the real crisis: the millions of American men and women who can’t find work.
All over Capitol Hill Republicans and Democrats are debating spending caps and automatic triggers, and whether to begin them before or after Election Day.
But if you don’t mind my asking, what about the economy? I’m not talking about the economy five or ten years from now, when projections show the federal budget wildly out of control or when foreigners might start dumping dollars.
I’m talking about the here and now economy – the one Americans are living in day to day.
The Labor Department reported today that unemployment for April was 9 percent, up from 8.8 percent in March. And that doesn’t people working part-time who’d rather have full-time jobs.
Yes, 244,000 jobs were added in March — but that’s chicken feed. We’d need 350,000 a month, every month for the next three years, simply to get back to where we were before the Great Recession.
And the percent of working-age Americans actually working – 64.2 percent – hasn’t improved. It’s almost as low as it was in the depths of the recession. 13.7 million people remain out of work.
Even for Americans with jobs, wages are going nowhere. Basically, the only employers hiring are paying peanuts. McDonalds just announced it would start hiring big time.
In fact, there’s reason to worry we’re heading back toward recession. The Labor Department also reports new claims for unemployment insurance soared to 474,000 last week.
In the first quarter of this year the U.S. economy slowed to a crawl — a measly 1.8 percent annualized growth — down from over 3 percent last fall. Higher gas and food prices are putting even more squeeze on American households.
And housing prices continue to drop.
Washington is fighting over how much to cut spending over the next ten or twelve years.
But right now we need more public spending to get people back to work, stronger safety nets to help those who have lost their jobs or can’t find new ones, lower payroll taxes on average workers, and a requirement that Wall Street banks renegotiate mortgage loans so Americans can keep their homes.
Why isn’t Washington paying attention to what most Americans need in the here-and-now economy?
Because the White House and congressional Democrats don’t dare admit how bad the economy continues to be for so many people. They’re holding their breath, hoping the recovery catches fire next year before Election Day.
Republicans don’t dare admit how bad the economy is because they don’t want to increase public spending or strengthen safety nets. And their patrons on Wall Street don’t want to modify mortgages. Republicans would rather Americans believe their big lie that taming the deficit will create jobs and restore the economy.
So Washington would rather fight over the long-term budget, spending caps, taxes, and trigger mechanisms than do something about the pain most Americans are experiencing today.
But the here-and-now economy the most important thing on Americans’ minds.
Ironically, Washington’s disregard for what’s happening right now is also worsening the long-term budget problem. That problem is not the debt per se; it’s the ratio of debt to the overall economy. If the economy sputters or continues to grow at a snail’s pace, that ratio becomes worse and worse.
In other words, attending to the here-and-now economy is also good for the future.
Earth to Washington: Listen to America.
May 06, 2011
Building on renewed job growth in the past several months, our economy added a surprising 244,000 new jobs in April, including 268,000 in the private sector, even as the unemployment rate rose back to 9.0 percent. The monthly job growth is welcome news, but the economic recovery and job market remain fragile. Proposed deep federal budget cuts and continuing job losses in state and local government could jeopardize prospects for sustained job growth, given ongoing weakness in the housing market and record foreclosures, high levels of consumer debt, and weak income growth for the middle class.
For the 13.7 million Americans still officially unemployed and the 11 million more underemployed, any job growth provides a sense of relief. However, this news is clouded by a slowing of economic growth in the first quarter and rising levels of new claims for unemployment insurance over the past few weeks. Unless our government acts soon to boost job creation through investments in infrastructure, state and local aid, and easing of credit for small businesses, we will likely face several years of unacceptably high levels of unemployment.
Just yesterday, we saw a startling example of how high profits do not automatically translate into a better economy for all. Fortune 500 companies saw their profits rise by 81 percent, while weekly unemployment claims jumped by 10 percent. This juxtaposition reminded us of the continued and growing dramatic imbalance in our economy.
But too many in Washington have shifted the debate prematurely to austerity, political posturing and misguided fears of the deficit. As a result, Wall Street continues business as usual, wages stagnate and economic growth remains woefully inadequate to create jobs for the almost 25 million Americans who need jobs.
Above all, we must renew our focus on job creation, including by ensuring that state and local governments have the support they need to maintain vital services. Successful job creation is the key to deficit reduction over the medium term. We must commit to the sizeable and sustained level of public investment needed to rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges and schools and prepare our country for the next generation. From technology to education, investments today will make responsible fiscal balance achievable and — most important — create good jobs for America’s workers and help us win the future.
Also at Ted, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group gave a helpfully concise summary of how the Farm Bill works.
Finally – and not before time – Antipodean food activist extraordinaire Christine Dann has started a blog, The Dead End Diet, which joins the blogroll.
April 21, 2011
The Japanese Communist Party Fukushima Prefectural Committee and JCP members’ group of the Fukushima Prefectural assembly on April 20 made representation to Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) Vice president Tsuzumi Norio to demand that TEPCO pay full compensation for the damage being caused by the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant accident.
The petitioners said that in 2005 and again in 2007 they had warned about the possible danger of a severe accident following a major quake and tsunami that may destroy the cooling system of the Fukushima nuclear reactors.
They pressed TEPCO to admit its responsibility for the accident, directly apologize to the prefectural people for the accident, and promise that the company will provide full compensation for any damage.