Showing posts from 2015

Star Wars and the Death of American Cinema

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[If you look on IMDB, the gap between the media reviews and the public reviews is apparently the largest ever recorded there. Giving pretty good evidence for just how bought-and-sold the mainstream media is today. Check out a few of the public reviews. *RON*]

by John Wight, Counterpunch, 30 December 2015

‘Star Wars’ is a simple story, simply told, of good versus evil, light versus darkness, and freedom versus tyranny. In other words it is the story of America’s struggle to preserve democracy and civilization in a world beset by evil and ‘evildoers’.

Movies and political propaganda have long walked hand in hand. Indeed if ever a medium was suited to propaganda it is the medium of cinema. And if ever an industry could be credited with creating an alternate reality so pervasive it has managed to convince generations of Americans and others around the world that up is down, black is white, and left is right, that industry is Hollywood.

George Lucas, the…

UK draws line under ‘banker bashing’ after scrapping assessment

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[Banksters at play: "...reflects a more positive tone towards the City of London following the Conservative party’s election victory." *RON*]

Emma Dunkley, Financial Times, 30 December 2015

A review of Britain’s banking culture has been ditched by the UK’s financial watchdog only months after its launch, in the latest sign that the years of “banker bashing” are coming to an end.

The Financial Conduct Authority has abandoned its assessment of culture at retail and wholesale banks operating in the UK, saying each company is unique and cannot be easily compared, according to people familiar with the situation.

The move to scrap the review comes after Martin Wheatley, the watchdog’s chief executive, was defenestrated by the Treasury in the summer and reflects a more positive tone towards the City of London following the Conservative party’s election victory.

Banking culture has come under fire since the financial crisis over foreign exchange a…

Return to Zaatari: A lost generation of Syrians in the making

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[And in this way we continue to manufacture the next generation of jihadists and bomb fodder. In a refugee camp housing the growing exodus from Syria, teenagers are being put out to work or married off as parents struggle to make ends meet. *RON*]

Mark MacKinnon, Globe and Mail, 30 December 2015
The first time I met Halim Mahameed, he told me of how he’d been tortured for two straight days by Syrian security forces. Almost robotically, the then-14-year-old recounted how he’d been tied up by Bashar al-Assad’s men the previous year and whipped with electric cables because he’d been seen helping to carry the wounded away from an anti-regime demonstration in the early days of Syria’s conflict.

Things should have gotten better for Halim after we met in the fall of 2013. He was then in a Unicef-run school in Jordan’s sprawling Zaatari refugee camp. And while some were already warning of a traumatized “Zaatari generation” growing up angry among the four …

Federal judge: Drinking tea, shopping at a gardening store is probable cause for a SWAT raid on your home

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[The farce that is the US War On Drugs. "The Hartes are also a white, financially sound couple who both happened to have worked for the CIA. Most people on the receiving end of these raids aren’t white, aren’t middle-class, didn’t once work for a federal intelligence agency and don’t have $25,000 to fund a fight in court. If even those advantages can’t help the Hartes win some accountability, you can imagine the long odds faced by the typical victim of a botched raid." *RON*]

By Radley Balko, Washington Post, 28 December 2015
In April 2012, a Kansas SWAT team raided the home of Robert and Addie Harte, their 7-year-old daughter and their 13-year-old son. The couple, both former CIA analysts, awoke to pounding at the door. When Robert Harte answered, SWAT agents flooded the home. He was told to lie on the floor. When Addie Harte came out to see what was going on, she saw her husband on his stomach as SWAT cop stood over him with a gun. Th…

In the Year of Trump, the Joke Was On Us

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[Hard to believe that this is the other main contender for the presidency. *RON*]
By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, 29 December 2015

It started out as a joke: Donald Trump running for president! What better way to spoof the thinness of the Republican field than to shove a bombastic reality star with orange hair, a sixth-grade vocabulary and no behavioral filter onto the debate stage with the likes of Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Scott Walker and Lindsey Graham? The only thing more perfect would have been to add a head of lettuce and Koko the signing gorilla to round out the candidate slate.

Trump seemed like a perfect foil in particular for Jeb Bush, a hesitating, gelatinous aristocrat who lacked the cocksure brainlessness the previous Bush used to sell himself as a "regular guy." In an era when Republican voters were more distrustful than ever of the Same Old Politics, stiff, birthright-bearing Jeb was exactly the wrong candidate for the party…

Hillary Clinton’s Baffling Foreign-Policy Problem

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[The New Yorker asks: if Hillary is the only Democratic candidate with real foreign policy experience, why do her positions in the debates simply sound vacuously hawkish? "So where we are today is not where we were." Because there is no there, there: that's why. *RON*]
By Jeffrey Frank, New Yorker, 30 December 2015

Some suspect that the Democratic National Committee, which has sponsored three Presidential debates in 2015, is out to render Hillary Clinton’s two remaining opponents—the former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and the socialist New England senator Bernie Sanders—hors de combat. O’Malley and Sanders seem to think so. After all, the past two debates were scheduled on Saturday nights—including the Saturday before Christmas—and it was no surprise that they drew about a third as many viewers as the Republicans, who have had five debates. Clinton’s sparring partners have had fewer chances to embarrass her by bringing up her …

Those Demanding Free Speech Limits to Fight ISIS Pose a Greater Threat to U.S. Than ISIS

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[The right-wing invariably jumps to totalitarian solutions. Terrorists using the Internet? Burn the constitution. Only Newt has a right to free speech. "Above all, this has been the core lesson of the War on Terror: The greatest threats to Western countries have come from those seeking to limit rights in the name of fighting terrorism, not the terrorists themselves. There is no more compelling example than those who now explicitly advocate Newt Gingrich’s 2006 idea of formally restricting the First Amendment." *RON*]
Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, 29 December 2015

In 2006 — years before ISIS replaced al Qaeda as the New and Unprecedentedly Evil Villain — Newt Gingrich gave a speech in New Hampshire in which, as he put it afterward, he “called for a serious debate about the First Amendment and how terrorists are abusing our rights — using them as they once used passenger jets — to threaten and kill Americans.” In that speech, Gingrich a…

Conservatives vow to block electoral reform without referendum

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[Conservatives vow to block meaningful democracy by any means possible, while pretending they want to 'leave it to the people.' By the way, these Senate blockaders are the ones who recently claimed the Senate isn't a partisan institution that toes to the Party line. *RON*]

John Ibbitson, The Globe and Mail, 30 December 2015

The Conservative Party is vowing to use any means necessary, including a Senate blockade, to keep the Liberal government from forcing through electoral-reform legislation without first holding a referendum.

“The entire Conservative caucus, both in the House and the Senate, will be opposing any radical changes to the electoral system without a referendum” Don Plett, the Conservative Whip in the Senate, said in an interview Wednesday.

“We would look at all avenues” to stop such a bill, interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said. “My hope is that the Liberals will come to their senses.”

The Conservatives are up in arm…

RCMP chief’s comments about racism fuel tense relations with officers

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[A typical response for a police association, which like to think of themselves as worlds unto themselves. *RON*]

Gloria Galloway, Globe and Mail, 28 December 2015

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is making life more difficult for rank-and-file officers by stating publicly that there are racists on the force who he would like to remove from duty, the association that represents the force’s members says. In a strongly worded statement, it said the commissioner’s response earlier this month to questions about racism against indigenous people was rife with sweeping generalizations and puts officers in harm’s way, both legally and personally.
“How is the public supposed to respect officers now, after their own commissioner throws them under the bus?” asked Rob Creasser, a retired Mountie and spokesman for the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada.

The association’s backlash comes on the heels of prolonged tensions between officers and the comm…

El Nino weather: Worries grow over humanitarian impact

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[It cannot possibly be a good thing that basically everything in our world has become 'unprecedented' and 'extreme.' *RON*]
By Matt McGrath, BBC News, 30 December 2015

The strongest El Nino weather cycle on record is likely to increase the threat of hunger and disease for millions of people in 2016, aid agencies say.

The weather phenomenon is set to exacerbate droughts in some areas, while increasing flooding in others.

Some of the worst impacts are likely in Africa with food shortages expected to peak in February.

Regions including the Caribbean, Central and South America will also be hit in the next six months.

The year market economists failed to see coming

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[On the effectiveness of constant cheerleading by the Confidence Fairies. *RON*]
Malcolm Maiden, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 December 2015

Market seers did not cover themselves with glory in 2015.

In fact, Goldman Sachs says in a research note that US economic forecasters basically got everything wrong.

They expected that by March Federal Reserve chairman Janet Yellen would have announced the first US interest rate hike since 2006, and the first of three in 2015. The first and so far only rate rise came on December 16.

For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions

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[On the plutocratic income-defense industry in the US. *RON*]

By Noam Scheiber and Patricia Cohen, New York Times, 29 December 2015

WASHINGTON — The hedge fund magnates Daniel S. Loeb, Louis Moore Bacon and Steven A. Cohen have much in common. They have managed billions of dollars in capital, earning vast fortunes. They have invested large sums in art — and millions more in political candidates.

Moreover, each has exploited an esoteric tax loophole that saved them millions in taxes. The trick? Route the money to Bermuda and back.

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax …

Only 8% of Leaders Are Good at Both Strategy and Execution

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[In my experience this is perfectly true - there are ideas-people and people-people. Is it surprising or not that one in three top leaders are bad at both developing and executing strategy? *RON*]

Paul LeinwandCesare Mainardi & Art Kleiner, Harvard Business Review, 30 December 2015

In a 2013 survey of nearly 700 executives across a variety of industries, our firm asked respondents to rate the effectiveness of the top leaders of their companies. How many excelled at strategy? How many excelled at execution? The results are shown in the chart below. These responses are sobering: Only 16% of top leaders were rated very effective at either strategy or execution. Only 8% were very effective at both, while 63% were rated neutral or worse on at least one dimension.

5 Resolutions B.C. MLAs Should Ponder For The New Year

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[The crapification of democracy. Be sure to hold your breath while waiting for these things to go away. *RON*]
Dermod Travis, Executive Director, IntegrityBC, Huffington Post, 29 December 2015

It's that time of year when many of us consider making a few resolutions for self-improvement. In the spirit of the season, it only seems fitting to suggest five resolutions for the province's MLAs.

1. Buy a thesaurus

An online search in the B.C. government's newsroom turned up 148 results for "highly respected," 361 for "strong economy" and a mind-boggling 1,610 for "world-class."

B.C. is home to world-class infrastructure, world-class safety protocols, destinations for world-class sporting events, world-class wineries, and a world-class isotopes research tunnel.

It's as though there's a control function on the keypads of government flacks for the term or a prize to see how many times it can be worked into…

Austerity is their best weapon: How the rich and powerful sold inequality to the masses

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[Whose interests are actually served by austerity? If you don't know yet, read on. A budget approach cloaked in technical jargon has become a tool of oppression, explains economist Orsola Costantini. *RON*]

Lynn Stuart Parramore, AlterNet / Salon, 30 December 2015

Orsola Costantini, Senior Economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, is the author of a new paper which exposes the disturbing history of how a budget approach cloaked in scientific and technical jargon became a tool to manipulate public opinion and serve the interests of the powerful. In the following conversation, she reveals how austerity has been sold to the public through a process that hurts the people, consolidates knowledge and power at the top, and compromises democracy. As economic inequality reaches new heights and austerity programs are debated around the world (most recently, in Spain and Portugal), learn how a lie becomes a political and economic “truth.” *T…

Year in review: Does Canada need the Conservative Party?

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[The Globe and Mail editors ask where all this new-found support within the Conservative Party for a "sunnier and more optimistic" conservatism was was hiding for the last decade. Of course they see no humor at all in the fact that the same question must be asked of the Editors of the Globe and Mail. *RON*]
Editors, Globe and Mail, 30 December 2015
One of the more surprising aftermaths of the election of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals was seeing the speed with which former Conservative cabinet ministers distanced themselves from Stephen Harper and his style of government.

“Clearly we’ve got to turn a page, and we’ve got to reattach Conservative values and principles to the hopes and aspirations of Canadians,” Tony Clement, the former president of the Treasury Board, said the night the Tories handed their solid majority in Parliament to the Liberals.

“We need a conservatism that is sunnier and more optimistic than what we have sometimes …

One Little Tweet From Bernie Sanders Sums Up Everything Wrong with Big Banks and Government

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[No additional comment required. *RON*]

By geebeebeeDaily Kos, 28 December 2015

Rubin, Summers, Paulson….think of what those names have done for the American economy, and two of them worked under Democrats. Is this the path we want to continue on -- Former Goldman Sachs employees running our banking and treasury system?

Watch Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson, who were big contributors to our 2007 meltdown, laughing it up over income inequality:

Forbes Welcome

Click here to view The Nothingness That Is Forbes.

I was going to post a story here called What The NRA’s Wayne Lapierre Gets Paid To Defend Guns.

But when I got to the Forbes web site it would not let me read the story without turning off my ad blocker.

Which I would not do, so welcome to the nothingness that is Forbes.

Private planes delay flights to West Palm Beach

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[You can hear the sound of guillotine blades being hauled up. See also: "Affluenza" Teen Detained Near Mexican Beach Town With His Mother. *RON*]

By Ian Mohr, Page Six, 27 December 2015
Upper crust New Yorkers who didn’t have the luxury of flying private to Palm Beach, Fla., over the weekend were delayed because of their more extravagant counterparts.

Spies getting on a La Guardia Jet Blue flight to West Palm Beach on Christmas Day told Page Six, “Listen to this one! The flight was supposed to leave at 2:47 p.m. Now they are saying we are going to take off at 6:45 p.m. or later because there are too many private planes in West Palm trying to land.”

Our spy sniffed.

“Since when do private planes get priority over big commercial carriers? They are making a huge group of people wait four hours because the ultra rich have to land their private planes. This is outrageous!”

Michael Burry, Real-Life Market Genius From The Big Short, Thinks Another Financial Crisis Is Looming

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["It seems the world is headed toward negative real interest rates on a global scale. This is toxic. Interest rates are used to price risk, and so in the current environment, the risk-pricing mechanism is broken. That is not healthy for an economy." *RON*]

By Jessica Pressler, New York Magazine, 28 December 2015
If The Big Short, Adam McKay’s adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book about the 2008 financial crisis and the subject of last month’s Vulture cover story, got you all worked up over the holidays, you’re probably wondering what Michael Burry, the economic soothsayer portrayed by Christian Bale who’s always just a few steps ahead of everyone else, is up to these days. In an email, which readers of the book will recognize as his preferred method of communication, the real-life head of Scion Asset Management answered some of our panicked questions about the state of the financial system, his ominous-sounding water trade, and what, if a…

These are the 11 countries with the safest banks in the world

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[An older article I'd put away and promptly forgot about. Canada came in #1. Luxembourg looks like a nice place! *RON*]
Ben Moshinsky, Business Insider, 8 October 2015

The World Economic Forum's recently-released Global Competitiveness Survey offers a bundle of indicators to show the health of a country's institutions.

One of those is the perceived safeness of banks.

WEF used its executive opinion survey to ask "in general, how do you perceive the soundness of banks?"

Obama signs ban on microbead pollution

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[In its usual "me too" fashion, Canada had introduced a bipartisan bill, also scheduled to take microbeads off the shelf by 2018. I'm not sure what the fate of the bill was because of the election. *RON*]
By Garret Ellison, Michigan Live, 28 December 2015

Say goodbye to the beads.

On Monday, Dec. 28, President Barack Obama signed into law a ban on tiny plastic particles used in personal cosmetic products that scientists say are polluting U.S. lakes, rivers and the oceans.

The bipartisan "Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015," (H.R. 1321), passed by the U.S. House on Dec. 7, "prohibits the manufacture and introduction into interstate commerce of rinse-off cosmetics containing intentionally-added plastic microbeads."

The tiny plastic beads, about the size of a pen-tip, have been shown to filter through municipal wastewater treatment plants after consumers rinse them down the drain while using soaps, toothpaste and oth…

Is Assortative Mating Responsible for Rising Income Inequality?

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[George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen suggests that it might be. Evolutionary psychology skirts close to Social Darwinism. *RON*]
Ronald Bailey, Reason, 28 December 2015

Income inequality in the United States has been rising. Various explanations have been proposed ranging from the hollowing out of the middle class as middle-skilled jobs are automated away to tax policies that favor the already rich. In his Sunday New York Timesarticle, "The Marriages of Power Couples Reinforce Income Inequality," George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen suggests that rising income inequality is being exacerbated by the fact that highly educated people are increasingly likely to marry one another. As evidence, Cowen cites an interesting study published in 2014 that looked what would have happened to income inequality if marriage matches were still being made across the educational and income levels as they stood in 1960. From the Cowen'…

Saudis unveil radical austerity program

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[Maybe the princes won't be able to afford that third Bentley! Actually, if they're hurting, can you imagine how Russia is doing? Or Venezuela? What will the geopolitical fallout look like? *RON*]
Simeon Kerr, CNBC News, 29 December 2015

Saudi Arabia on Monday unveiled spending cuts in its 2016 budget, subsidy reforms and a call for privatizations to rein in a yawning deficit caused by the prolonged period of low oil prices.

The Gulf kingdom has kept oil production at high levels in an attempt to force out higher-cost producers, such as shale, and retain its market share. But this year's deficit ballooned to 367 billion Saudi riyals ($97.9 billion,) or 15 per cent of gross domestic product, as oil revenues fell 23 per cent to Sr444.5 billion.

Seeking to ward off future fiscal crises, the ministry of finance confirmed wide-ranging economic reforms, including plans to "privatize a range of sectors and economic activities".


It's official — benefits and high taxes make us all richer, while inequality takes a hammer to a country's growth

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[Take a bow from beyond the grave, Maggie and Ronnie. *RON*]

Lee Williams, The Independent, 10 December 2015

The sickening theory of laissez-faire capitalism finally died with the recent report from one of the West’s leading think tanks. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found that income inequality actually hampers economic growth in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, while the redistribution of wealth via taxes and benefits doesn't.

In a nutshell: the reality of what creates and reverses growth is the exact opposite of what the current right-wing, neo-liberal agenda has been espousing ever since its rise to power under Thatcher and Reagan in the eighties. Perhaps worst of all, the report showed evidence that the UK would have been 20 per cent better off if the gap between the rich and poor hadn’t widened since the eighties.

To those of us who have only just survived the credit crunch and recession, t…

How drug companies are gaming an old law for greater profits

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[What gets passed off as 'creativity' and 'ingenuity' on the part of corporations would be called what it really is - despicable cheating - if it was tried by, say, welfare recipients. "In the 1980s, a law was passed to persuade pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs for small populations, but now that rule is being used to reclaim old "orphaned" drugs in order to raise prices and profits." *RON*]
Gwen Ifill and Sabrina Tavernise, PBS News Hour, 25 December 2015

GWEN IFILL: We now turn to a story that continues to worry and to anger consumers, soaring drug prices, even sometimes for new versions of old drugs.

The latest case involves a drug that helps treat a rare autoimmune disorder. Until recently, its manufacturer often offered it at minimal or no cost at all. But now another pharmaceutical company, Catalyst, says it wants the FDA to approve a modified, and likely more expensive, version of the drug.

I recor…

How 19 Big-Name Corporations Plan to Make Money Off the Climate Crisis

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[The horsemen of the corporatocalypse. According to some of the world's biggest companies, future disasters could also present lucrative business opportunities. Nestlé says that the end of the world could boost sales of "refreshing products such as ice creams and bottled water." *RON*]
Mother Jones, Huffington Post, 22 December 2015

This story originally appeared on Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Climate change will have some pretty terrifying consequences. Experts have predicted everything from deadly heat waves and devastating floods to falling crop production and even increased political instability and violence. But according to some of the world's biggest companies, these future disasters could also present lucrative business opportunities.

In a remarkable series of documents submitted to a London-based nonprofit called CDP, big-name corporations describe global warming as a chan…

Clinton, Sanders, and the “Progressive Give-Up” Formula (with Clinton’s Warning of a “Grand Bargain” to Come)

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[And yet, however hopeful Beinart is in his piece on Why America Is Moving Left, I still find myself agreeing more strongly with Lambert Strether, who argues that (however much she has been forced to add a left-wise spin to her political pitch) Clinton still channels Wall Street and GHW Bush's "Read my lips: No new taxes." *RON*]
By Lambert Strether  of Corrente, posted on Naked Capitalism, 28 December 2015

This will be a short post, with the point essentially made in the headline. Let’s start by quoting Clinton from the last Democratic debate, the one that nobody saw because the DNC’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz scheduled iton the weekend before Christmas, when everybody was either partying, watching football, or both.[1] Not that, in this case, The Wasserman Schultz’s machinations matter all that much, as we shall see. Back to Clinton in debate; here’s how she frames her response to the Sanders single payer heatlh care proposal:


Why America Is Moving Left

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[Beinart basically argues that centrists succeed after periods of extremism. So, according to Beinart, Obama succeeded in creating a centrist-left shift that was equivalent to the centrist-right shift created by Reagan in the 1980s. Obama was a big disappointment to me, but this narrative contains elements of truth. Now, for example, "the Occupy-Warren-Sanders axis [and Black Lives Matter, and Millennials] influenced Clinton’s own economic agenda, which is significantly further left than the one she ran on in 2008." *RON*]
Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2016 Iussue
Over roughly the past 18 months, the following events have transfixed the nation.

In July 2014, Eric Garner, an African American man reportedly selling loose cigarettes illegally, was choked to death by a New York City policeman.

That August, a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed an African American teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. For …

Why Big Oil Should Kill Itself

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["...managements of leading energy companies must face economic reality and abandon their wasteful obsession with finding new oil... This has been one of the greatest misallocations of capital in history... For Western oil companies,the rational strategy will be to stop oil exploration and seek profits by providing equipment, geological know-how, and new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to oil-producing countries. But their ultimate goal should be to sell their existing oil reserves as quickly as possible and distribute the resulting tsunami of cash to their shareholders until all of their low-cost oilfields run dry." *RON*]
Anatole Kaletsky, Project Syndicate, 23 December 2015

LONDON – Now that oil prices have settled into a long-term range of $30-50 per barrel (as described here a year ago), energy users everywhere are enjoying an annual income boost worth more than $2 trillion. The net result will almost certainly

'Bad' inequality on the rise, Stanford scholar says

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["It is important to distinguish between 'good' and 'bad' inequality, with good inequality arising from fair and open competition, and bad inequality arising from market failure in the form of corruption and sweetheart deals that benefit those at the top, and various labor market bottlenecks at the bottom that prevent poor children from fairly pursuing opportunities... inequality-generating institutions have come to be codified in law and practice and then represented – through an ingenious sleight of hand – as laissez-faire capitalism." *RON*]

By Clifton B,. Parker, Stanford Report, 26 December 2015

Rising inequality is primarily driven by market and institutional forces, not tax policy, Stanford sociologist David Grusky says. He suggests that changes in areas like education and labor markets can produce fair and open competition, thus reducing income and wealth inequality.

In the United States, income and wealth inequali…

A major investment bank just broke down the world's astonishing, warped distribution of wealth

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[0.7% of people own 45.2% of the world's wealth. Half of the world's ultra-wealthy (>USD $50m) are from the US. *RON*]

Ben Moshinsky, Business Insider, 13 December 2015

The distribution of global wealth is getting more unequal every year, according to a huge study by Credit Suisse.

The bank has compiled statistics to show that just 0.7% of the world's adult population owns almost half of the world's wealth, while the bottom 71% have less than $10,000 (£6,500) each.

That poorest two-thirds of the population own a 3% sliver of the world's wealth, and inequality is rising, according to the analysts at Credit Suisse.

Here's what they had to say (emphasis ours):

This year, the number of High Net Worth individuals fell for the first time since 2008. However, the share of wealth owned by HNW individuals continued to rise as it has done every year since 2002, except for the setback in 2007–2008.

And here's what that wealth …

The Cannibalized Company: How the cult of shareholder value has reshaped corporate America

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[The same basic story keeps getting re-written in slightly different form, but little enough happens in response. Buybacks fueled by cheap credit leave workers out of the equation. *RON*]

By Karen Brettell and Timothy Aeppel, Reuters, 23 December 2015

The story of two Iowa cousins - one a retired teacher, the other a laid-off Deere & Co worker - shows who benefits, and who doesn't, in the vast money-go-round powered by the chase for higher investment yields.

Michael Moore Just Exploded the Right's Biggest Lie

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[I'm not all that sure what the story title refers to. The article is about Michael Moore's latest documentary, which lays out a political agenda for the US by looking around the world for its best policy ideas. If followed, this would permit progressive to actually vote for something, instead of just voting against the right. *RON*]
By Sophia A. McClennenSalon / AlterNet, 26 December 2015

Michael Moore’s new film, “Where to Invade Next,” is sure to generate Oscar buzz. It is already on the short list of 15 documentaries from which the final five nominations will be announced on Jan. 14. But rather than wonder whether Moore will score a second Oscar (his first was for “Bowling for Columbine” in 2002), the question to ask is whether this film can spark a political revolution just in time for the 2016 election.

“Where to Invade Next” has a wide release set for Feb. 12, which is also Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and the week of the New Hamps…

Dutch city plans to pay citizens a ‘basic income’, and Greens say it could work in the UK

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[Thomas Paine has his day. Utrecht takes step towards paying people a salary whether they work or not. *RON*]
Daniel Boffey, The Guardian, 26 December 2015
It’s an idea whose adherents over the centuries have ranged from socialists to libertarians to far-right mavericks. It was first proposed by Thomas Paine in his 1797 pamphlet, Agrarian Justice, as a system in which at the “age of majority” everyone would receive an equal capital grant, a “basic income” handed over by the state to each and all, no questions asked, to do with what they wanted.

It might be thought that, in these austere times, no idea could be more politically toxic: literally, a policy of the state handing over something for nothing. But in Utrecht, one of the largest cities in the Netherlands, and 19 other Dutch municipalities, a tentative step towards realising the dream of many a marginal and disappointed political theorist is being made.

Looking back at 2015 through Vancouver Observer's top stories

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[The Vancouver Observer's choice for their stories of the year. *RON*]
Vancouver Observer, 26 December 2015

The year 2015 has been scary, exciting and rewarding, filled with soaring highs and abysmal lows. Below is a list of our top stories of the year, those that attracted the most traffic, and those that provoked thought and reflection. The stories are local, national, and global in scope and all worth reading twice over the holidays.

Alabama Governor Uses BP Spill Money To Fix Up A Second Mansion For Himself

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[From the You Can't Make This Stuff Up Department. Politics and venality: he can't be accused of not knowing his priorities. Governor "says the move has no connection to the fact that he recently lost two beachfront properties in a messy divorce." *RON*]
By Alice Ollstein, Think Progress, 27 December 2015

As storms once again battered the state of Alabama over Christmas, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley moved to divert funding from the 2010 BP oil spill recovery effort to finance the renovation of a second Governor’s mansion on the Gulf Coast.

Yet that beachside mansion, which Alabama governors beginning with famed segregationist George Wallace have enjoyed, was not damaged by the BP oil spill. It was damaged more than two decades earlier by Hurricane Danny, and has sat empty ever since.

Searching for Steele

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["An investigation into the role played by a retired US colonel in Iraq's US-funded sectarian interrogation units." You can click on the link above to view the entire 47 minute video. *RON*]

Source: Al Jazeera, 27 Dec 2015

Sparked by Wikileaks' release of classified US military documents, this investigation uncovers how the Pentagon sent James Steele, a US veteran of the "dirty wars" in Central America, to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from fighters.

Composed of violent Shia militias, these commandos evolved into death squads and eventually numbered over 17,000 men.

General David Petraeus is also implicated in the chain of command in this abuse of human rights. Colonel James Coffman, another special forces veteran drafted in to oversee the operation, describes himself as Petraeus' "eyes and ears out on the ground" in Iraq.


Poor and uneducated are biologically different to affluent, UCL finds

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["Scientists at University College London have found that hormone levels of the 'haves' and 'have-nots' are significantly different which could explain health inequalities." At best this is a mechanism, not an explanation. In order to have given any insight into the meaning of these findings, this article should have spent most of its space explaining the difference between correlation and causation. *RON*]

By Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph, 25 Dec 2015

Poor and uneducated people could be ageing faster, and more vulnerable to disease, because their hormones are out of balance, a new study suggests.

Scientists have known for some time that the most underprivileged members of society die earlier and are ‘biologically older’ than the rich, with those in the most affluent areas expected to live around eight years longer than those in the poorest regions.

Now researchers at University College London believe they have found a poss…

Smyth: B.C. Liberals deny unions an exclusive deal for Site C megaproject

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[For Site C, B.C. Hydro has opted for an "open-shop" contracting model, meaning union and non-union companies are free to bid. If the unions and the NDP together can raise the alarm that BC workers are getting shafted in this deal, this could create big political problems for the Liberals in the next election. The problem is that the NDP has, so far, been useless to the point of seeming to be non-existent. *RON*]

By Michael Smyth, The Province, 24 December 2015

The NDP and the construction unions say jobs will be going to workers from Alberta and Saskatchewan. B.C. Hydro and Energy Minister Bill Bennett say there will be tonnes of jobs for British Columbians and the complaints are ridiculous.

The way the Christy Clark government sees it, giving British Columbia’s construction unions an exclusive deal to build the Site C dam would send the cost of the megaproject into the stratosphere.

Make that higher into the stratosphere, actually, as th…

Guns top Christmas wish lists and the industry seems to be booming

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[Combine the fact that most gun deaths are suicides with the rise in holiday depression and you get a very Merry Christmas indeed. Celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace with a glock! *RON*]
Jana Kasperkevic, The Guardian, 24 December 2015
This year, among the socks and sweaters, bottles of wine, a large number of Americans will find another present: guns.

Gun shop owners across the US have reported a marked increase in interest in their products over the holidays. In November, the FBI ran more than 2.2m gun background checks, a 24% increase from last year. Gun background checks hit a new record on Black Friday, when 185,345 were processed by the FBI.

Why it took 36 years to compensate Iran hostage victims

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[The background on this seemingly weird decision and process. In 1979, the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overrun by militant Iranian students who took 53 people captive for 444 days. The ordeal left a long-lasting toll and no chance of Iranian compensation. Now Congress has changed that under the new massive spending legislation: Survivors or their families will get up to $4.4 million each. *RON*]

Gwen Ifill, David Herszenhorn, PBS News Hour, 24 December 2015


GWEN IFILL: The Iran hostage crisis was one of the defining moments of the 1970s, and it fractured a relationship between two nations that has never healed.

Now, 36 years after it began, the former hostages are finally getting compensation. It was November 4, 1979. The U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overrun by militant Iranian students. Eventually, 53 American hostages, many of them diplomats, were held. Some were paraded around, exposed to mock firing squads and beatings. Some were pla…

17 of the Worst Corporate Crimes of 2015

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[And the beat goes on... The ongoing corporate crime wave shows no signs of abating. *RON*]
By Phil MatteraDirt Diggers Digest / AlterNet, 18 December 2015

The ongoing corporate crime wave showed no signs of abating in 2015. BP paid a record $20 billion to settle the remaining civil charges relating to the Deepwater Horizon disaster (on top of the $4 billion in previous criminal penalties), and Volkswagen is facing perhaps even greater liability in connection with its scheme to evade emission standards.

Other automakers and suppliers were hit with large penalties for safety violations, including a $900 million fine (and deferred criminal prosecution) for General Motors, a record civil penalty of $200 million for Japanese airbag maker Takata, penalties of $105 million and $70 million for Fiat Chrysler, and $70 million for Honda.

The Terrible Things That Happen When Santa Claus Visits CEOs

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["One CEO was off the charts. McKesson CEO John Hammergren pocketed $112 million in fully deductible "performance pay" in 2014. This included more than $60 million in stock options and more than $50 million in stock and bonuses tied to performance criteria. That translates into a $39 million taxpayer subsidy for the pharmaceutical company, assuming a 35 percent corporate tax rate." *RON*]
By Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger, AlterNet, 24 December 2015
This week marks the 20th anniversary of an epic boondoggle in US policy-making history. On Dec. 20, 1995, a tax rule went into effect that was supposed to rein in CEO pay. Boy, did it backfire.

That year, the gap between pay for large company CEOs and average workers ran 180 to 1. Today, it stands at 373 to 1.

How did this reform go so very, very wrong? The idea was to put a $1 million cap on corporate tax deductions for executive pay, with the idea that boards might be loath to …

ISIS document sanctions human organ harvesting

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[Gosh - they've been taken over by market fundamentalists!! A U.S. raid found ISIS document sanctioning the harvesting of human organs, raising concerns that group may be trafficking in body parts. *RON*]
By Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay and Phil Stewart, Reuters / Al Arabiya, 25 December 2015
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has sanctioned the harvesting of human organs in a previously undisclosed ruling by the group’s Islamic scholars, raising concerns that the violent extremist group may be trafficking in body parts.

The ruling, contained in a January 31, 2015 document reviewed by Reuters, says taking organs from a living captive to save a Muslim’s life, even if it is fatal for the captive, is permissible.

For a U.S. government translation of the document, click here.

Reuters couldn’t independently confirm the authenticity of the document. U.S. officials say it was among a trove of data and other information obtained by U.S. speci…

NBA stars appear in anti-gun violence advertisement

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[Good for the NBA - their players influence many young people. Now let's see who airs these ads. *RON*]

BBC World News, 25 December 2015 US gun debate
US gun violence in numbers
Obama 'most frustrated' by gun laws
Why Obama is powerless to reform gun laws
US state to allow armed teachers

Stars from the US National Basketball Association (NBA) are speaking out against gun violence in advertisements being aired from Christmas Day.

The first features players and gun violence victims calling on Americans to back efforts to end shootings.

The advertisements are sponsored by campaigners Everytown for Gun Safety.

How acid rivers are corroding South Africa's landscape – in pictures

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[This should ring a few bells for British Columbians, home to the world's greatest number of lovingly protected mining corporations. In a new book photographer Eva-Lotta Jansson documents the mining industry's environmental destruction. *RON*]

Eva-Lotta Jansson, The Guardian, 25 December 2015

The flow of polluted water from past and present mines is  a chronic problem in South Africa, and large volumes of water carrying toxic sulphates and metals such as lead, zinc, copper and radioactive uranium are tainting community water supplies.

An aerial view of the Witbank township of Hlalanikahle (which means ‘stay well’ in Zulu), on the banks of the Bruigspruit, which carries a large load of acid mine drainage from the decanting coal fields across the stream