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Updated: 1 hour 56 min ago

Why Jesus Was REALLY Killed: Challenging the Money Changers

4 hours 25 min ago

Modern interpretation of Christ driving the money changers from the temple by Anthony Freda/Daniel Zollinger

Why Jesus Was Killed

Preface: If you are an atheist and believe that religion is crazy, please remember that some 85% of the American population identifies itself as Christian and millions more identify themselves as Jewish. Very few Americans are atheists … and the majority don’t trust atheists. Therefore, knowing a few bible verses might be helpful for atheists speaking to people of faith.

Reverend Howard Bess notes:

Jesus did not go to the temple to cleanse. He came to the temple to announce the destruction of a whole way of life. Those who operated the temple had no power to silence Jesus and put him to death. Those powers were held by the Roman retainers.

The charges that were leveled against him can be summed up as insurrection. There were three specific charges: encouraging non-payment of taxes, threatening to destroy property (the temple), and claiming to be a king. It was the temple incident that took Jesus from being an irritating, but harmless country rebel from the rural north to a nuisance in a city that controlled the great tradition. Rome’s retainers killed him on a cross.

In other words, Jesus wasn’t sentenced to death until he challenged the money changers.

What Does it Mean to Do God’s Work?

The head of Goldman Sachs said he’s doing “God’s work” with his banking activities.

The head of Barclays also told his congregation that banking as practiced by his company was not antithetical to Christian principles.

Are they right? Is big banking as practiced by the giant banks in harmony with Christian principles?

Do Justice

Initially, the Bible does not counsel us to ignore the breaking of laws by the the powerful.

In fact, the Bible mentions justice over 200 times — more than just about any other topic. The Bible asks us to do justice and to stand up to ANYONE — including the rich or powerful — who do injustice or oppress the people.

Indeed, one of the first things God asks of us is to do justice:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

While many churches and synagogues have become obsessed with other issues, many have arguably ignored this most important of God’s demands of us. As pointed out by a leading Christian ministry, which rescues underage girls trapped as sex slaves in third world countries:

In Scripture there is a constant call to seek justice. Jesus got upset at the Pharisees because they neglected the weightier matters of the law, which He defined as justice and the love of God . . . Isaiah 58 complains about the fact that while the people of God are praying and praying and praying, they are not doing anything about the injustice.

Should Christians just pray for justice and leave the rest to God?

That’s not what the Bible asks us to do. Instead, Hebrews 11:33 tells us that we are God’s hands for dispensing justice, and God uses us to “administer justice.”

We have to “walk our talk” and put our prayers into action.

God demands that we do everything in our power to act as “God’s hands” in bringing justice. And as Saint Augustine reminds us, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”

Indeed:

The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene. (Isaiah 59:15-16)

This is the only place in the Bible where the word “appalled” is used for the way God feels — in other words, the only thing which we know God is appalled by is if people are not doing justice.

There are hundreds of other references to justice in the Bible, including:

  • Blessed are they who maintain justice . . . . (Psalm 106:3)
  • This is what the LORD says: Maintain justice and do what is right . . . . (Isiah 56:1)
  • This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. (Jeremiah 22:3,13-17)
  • Follow justice and justice alone. (Deuteronomy 16:19, 20)
  • For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice . . . . (Job 11:5,7)
  • Learn to do right! Seek justice . . . . (Isaiah 1:17)

So if the powerful players in the giant banks broke the laws, they must be held to account.

Fraud and Manipulation of Money

The big banks have engaged in systemic, continuous ongoing criminal fraud.

Allowing the banks to commit crime with impunity is not what Jesus would do. What would Jesus do? Turn over the tables of the money-changers. (economists agree.)

Moreover, the giant banks manipulate currency through the use of schemes such as manipulating interest rates (gaming interest rates in different regions – Libor, Eurobor, etc. – can in turn drive their currencies up or down), high frequency trading and artificially suppressing gold prices (which artificially inflates the value of fiat money) .

As Ron Paul notes, the Bible forbids altering the quality of money (which, at the time and place, was entirely in the form of coins):

Even the Bible is clear that altering the quality of money is an immoral act. We are instructed to follow the rules of “just weights and measures.” “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin” (Leviticus 19:35-36). “Diverse weights are an abomination to the LORD, and a false balance is not good” (Proverbs 20:23). The general principle can be summed as “You shall not steal.”

Proverbs 11:1 also provides:

Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight.

So to the extent that the giant banks have engaged in any dishonest acts or the manipulation of currencies, they are violating scripture.

Oppression of the Poor

The Bible condemns oppression of the poor for the benefit of the affluent:

He that oppresses the poor to increase his riches, and he that gives to the rich, shall surely come to want. (Proverbs 22:16)

To the extent that the giant banks have oppressed the poor to increase their riches, they are violating scripture.

Due to their looting, inequality is now worse in American than in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, most Latin American banana republics … and ancient Rome.

Waging War

Bankers are often the driving force behind war. “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9), and Jesus would not have taken kindly to waging wars for profit based upon false pretenses.

Resurrection: Christ’s Ministry

Christ – and his ministry – lives to the extent that we act as God’s hands to confront the big banks which are warping our economy and our world.

Postscript: Not all bankers are bad people. For example, many bankers at smaller banks and credit unions are good people who are trying to help their communities. Each must be judged by his own acts.

Why Jesus Was REALLY Killed: Challenging the Money Changers was originally published on Washington's Blog

Bankers Love War Because It Creates Massive Profits

Sat, 04/19/2014 - 13:36
War Makes Banks Rich

Bankers are often the driving force behind war.

After all, the banking system is founded upon the counter-intuitive but indisputable fact that banks create loans first, and then create deposits later.

In other words, virtually all money is actually created as debt. For example, in a hearing held on September 30, 1941 in the House Committee on Banking and Currency, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve (Mariner S. Eccles) said:

That is what our money system is. If there were no debts in our money system, there wouldn’t be any money.

And Robert H. Hemphill, Credit Manager of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said:

If all the bank loans were paid, no one could have a bank deposit, and there would not be a dollar of coin or currency in circulation. This is a staggering thought. We are completely dependent on the commercial Banks. Someone has to borrow every dollar we have in circulation, cash or credit. If the Banks create ample synthetic money we are prosperous; if not, we starve. We are absolutely without a permanent money system. When one gets a complete grasp of the picture, the tragic absurdity of our hopeless position is almost incredible, but there it is. It is the most important subject intelligent persons can investigate and reflect upon. It is so important that our present civilization may collapse unless it becomes widely understood and the defects remedied very soon.

Debt (from the borrower’s perspective) owed to banks is profit and income from the bank’s perspective. In other words, banks are in the business of creating more debt … i.e. finding more people who want to borrow larger sums.

Debt is so central to our banking system. Indeed, Federal Reserve chairman Greenspan was so worried that the U.S. would pay off it’s debt, that he suggested tax cuts for the wealthy to increase the debt.

What does this have to do with war?

War is the most efficient debt-creation machine. For starters, wars are very expensive.

For example, Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated in 2008 that the Iraq war could cost America up to $5 trillion dollars. A study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies says the Iraq war costs could exceed $6 trillion, when interest payments to the banks are taken into account.

This is nothing new … but has been going on for thousands of years. As a Cambridge University Press treatise on ancient Athens notes:

Financing wars is expensive business, and the scope for initiative was regularly extended by borrowing.

So wars have been a huge – and regular – way for banks to create debt for kings and presidents who want to try to expand their empires.

Major General Smedley Butler – the most decorated Marine in American history – was right when he said:

Let us not forget the bankers who financed the great war. If anyone had the cream of the profits it was the bankers.

War is also good for banks because a lot of material, equipment, buildings and infrastructure get destroyed in war. So countries go into massive debt to finance war, and then borrow a ton more to rebuild.

The advent of central banks hasn’t changed this formula. Specifically, the big banks (“primary dealers”) loan money to the Fed, and charge interest for the loan.

So when a nation like the U.S. gets into a war, the Fed pumps out money for the war effort based upon loans from the primary dealers, who make a killing in interest payments from the Fed.

Bankers Love War Because It Creates Massive Profits was originally published on Washington's Blog

Obama’s First-Amendment Defense of Political Liars

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 18:30

By Eric Zuesse

President Obama, through his U.S. Solicitor General, arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court, has now stated that lying in political campaigns isn’t merely protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, but that it is an especially protected form of speech, which must not be hindered by any state government, such as by the state of Ohio. Ohio has outlawed such intentional deception of voters, and has established heavy criminal penalties against it, when it can be proven. The idea behind this law is that any democracy in which lying in political campaigns isn’t penalized by severe penalties, won’t remain a democracy much longer, but will instead descend into a kleptocracy: theft of elections themselves (via lies), so that they become just nominal “elections,” which are controlled by whatever aristocrats can put up the most money, to lie the most effectively, to the biggest number of voters: lying-contests.

It’s an important Supreme Court case. As Constitutional lawyer Lyle Denniston has noted, in his “Argument preview: Attack ads and the First Amendment”: “In all of the history of the First Amendment, the Court has never ruled that false statements are totally without protection under the Constitution.” However, this Supreme Court will have an opportunity to do that here, in the case SBA List v. Dreihaus; or else, to do the exact opposite — to open wide (even wider than they now are) the floodgates to political lies.

Public opinion (e.g., this), and the President of the United States (via his Solicitor General, to be discussed here below), seem to favor opening the floodgates. If that were to happen, then the recently unleashed outpouring of sheer corporate and billionaire cash (via the Citizens United decision, and the more recent McCutcheon decision) into political contests, will become even more unrestrained by (and disconnected from) any consideration of the truthfulness (or not) of this “free speech,” so that the U.S. public will naturally be inundated by torrents, not only of aristocratic money pouring over public opinions, but of outright and provable lies financed by the richest aristocrats, polluting and poisoning those torrents, which will drench voters’ minds, and will thus poison political outcomes (which is why that money is spent — to do precisely this).

U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli Jr., in this case, SBA List v. Dreihauswrote to the U.S. Supreme Court, defending political liars’ rights:

This case does not require the Court to determine precisely when an alleged chilling of speech [by the threat of being prosecuted for lying in a political campaign] constitutes hardship [being suffered by that liar], because it presents that issue in a unique election-related context that makes the hardship to petitioners [the liars] particularly clear. Petitioners [the liars] have sufficiently alleged that a credible threat of prosecution will chill them from engaging in [deceptive] speech relating to elections for public office, the very type of speech to which the First Amendment ‘has its fullest and most urgent application.’ Eu v. San Francisco Cnty. Democratic Cent. Comm., 489 U.S. 214, 223 (1989) (quoting Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, 401 U.S. 265, 272 (1971)). As petitioners explain (Br. 40), under Ohio law, candidates who are the subject of such [lying] speech can try to silence it by complaining to the [Electoral] Commission and thereby tying up the speaker [the liar] in administrative litigation during the short window of time in which the electoral speech [that person’s lie] would be most effective [at deceiving voters].4

The court of appeals largely disregarded these considerations in favor of focusing on evidence suggesting that the Commission proceedings [the investigation into the lie] did not actually deter [the liar] SBA List from disseminating its message [its lie]. Pet. App. 17a-18a. The court correctly recognized that evidence of how agency action [the investigation into that alleged lie] has affected a plaintiff’s conduct is an important factor in the hardship analysis. In this case, however, SBA List’s particular reaction to the Commission proceedings during the 2010 election cycle does not eliminate the objectively credible threat of prosecution that petitioners [SBA List] face if they engage in similar [lying] speech in future election cycles.

When Obama’s mouthpiece there, Verilli, quoted the phrase that’s quoted in “the First Amendment ‘has its fullest and most urgent application’,” in relation to this particular case and context, he was actually quoting from a case in which the court was saying in regard to “California’s prohibition on primary [party] endorsements by the official governing bodies of political parties,” that (as that ruling said), “Indeed, the First Amendment ‘has its fullest and most urgent application’ to speech uttered during a campaign for political office.” That statement didn’t refer at all to lying in political campaigns. However, this is the type of cheap shot that the President’s lawyer must take, in order to argue that lying is “the very type of speech to which the First Amendment ‘has its fullest and most urgent application.’’” He must lie in order to defend political lying as being protected by the U.S. Constitution.

I have earlier argued that President Obama lied with exceptional skill in order to win the White House – and I say this as a Democrat who is opposed to conservatives (supporters of lies) of all parties, including the Democratic Party. [Note from Washington's Blog: This seems like a huge oversimplification to us.  Some of the most consistently honest people we know are conservatives, and some of the most dishonest are Democrats. So we don't buy into any such stereotypes.]  So: Obama is really defending here his own practices, which won him the White House. This conservative “Democrat” is so gifted a politician that he could probably have won it with no lies at all, but he took the easy path, and now he is defending it as a matter of alleged Constitutional principle.

He’s on the same side in this as the overt Republicans are. For example, the friend-of-court brief on behalf of the Koch brothers’ Cato Institute and their comedian P.J. O’Rourke, argued in this case that, “No one should be concerned that false political statements won’t be subjected to careful examination” (perhaps by historians, after the liar has been elected and long-since collected his reward, and the honest politician has sunk into obscurity). It’s a race to the bottom they want, and conservative Democrats want it just as much as Republicans do. Cato/O’Rourke then went on to say: “A prohibition on lying devalues the truth. ‘How can you develop a reputation as a straight shooter if lying is not an option?’” In other words: We must allow deception of voters, because otherwise all politics would be honest — and that would be bad (for crooks like them, because politics then wouldn’t continue to be a lying-contest: the type where any real ‘straight shooter’ can’t have even any realistic chance at all of winning). Champion liars want to continue maintaining their advantage, not to yield it; and any law that’s enforced against political liars will remove their existing huge political advantage. Conservatives would still have most aristocratic money on their side, but no longer an unrestrained freedom to spread lies financed by that cash-advantage that they naturally enjoy.

With Obama arguing on the Republican side, and the Republicans arguing on the Republican side, how will the Republican U.S. Supreme Court rule on this matter? Let’s guess.

It could be the final nail in the coffin of democracy in America: the official full implementation of aristocracy, plutocracy, oligarchy, crony capitalism, or whatever else one would call it. Maybe “fake democracy”? Oh, I forgot: we’re already there. But this would take us much farther there.

If the reader wants to know how deeply the public has already been duped, just check out, for starters (besides that piece where I earlier argued that President Obama lied with exceptional skill in order to win the White House), these:

Ukraine: Is Obama Channeling Cheney?

The Nazis Even Hitler Was Afraid Of

Ukrainian Neo-Nazis Declare that Power Comes Out of the Barrels of their Guns

Privatization Is A Ramp For Corruption, and Insouciance Is a Ramp for War

And the Ukraine matter is just the tip of the lying iceberg here, several other portions of which I’ve covered extensively at Huffington Post and elsewhere.

Lying in politics is toxic to democracy. It’s destroying not only this country, but the entire world. Obama wants to protect it, just like he protected the banksters from prosecution.

———-

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010,  and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

Obama’s First-Amendment Defense of Political Liars was originally published on Washington's Blog

War Is Good for Us, Dumb New Book Claims

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 15:34

Ian Morris has stuck his dog’s ear in his mouth, snapped a selfie, and proclaimed “Man Bites Dog.” His new book War: What Is It Good For? Conflict and Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots is intended to prove that war is good for children and other living things.  It actually proves that defenders of war are growing desperate for arguments.

Morris maintains that the only way to make peace is to make large societies, and the only way to make large societies is through war. Ultimately, he believes, the only way to protect peace is through a single global policeman.  Once you’ve made peace, he believes, prosperity follows.  And from that prosperity flows happiness.  Therefore, war creates happiness.  But the one thing you must never stop engaging in if you hope to have peace, prosperity, and joy is — you guessed it — war.

This thesis becomes an excuse for hundreds of pages of a sort of Monty Python history of the technologies of war, not to mention the evolution of chimpanzees, and various even less relevant excursions.  These pages are packed with bad history and guesswork, and I’m greatly tempted to get caught up in the details.  But none of it has much impact on the book’s conclusions.  All of Morris’s history, accurate and otherwise, is put to mythological use.  He’s telling a simplistic story about where safety and happiness originated, and advocating highly destructive misery-inducing behavior as a result.

When small, medium, and large societies have been and are peaceful, Morris ignores them.  There are lots of ways to define peaceful, but none of them put the leading war maker at the top, and none of them place at the top only nations that could be imagined to fall under a Pax Americana.

When societies have been enlarged peacefully, as in the formation of the European Union, Morris applauds (he thinks the E.U. earned its peace prize, and no doubt all the more so for its extensive war making as deputy globocop) but he just skips over the fact that war wasn’t used in the E.U.’s formation.  (He avoids the United Nations entirely.)

When the globocop brings death and destruction and disorder to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, or Yemen, Morris sticks his fingers in his ears and hums.  “Interstate wars” he informs us (like most of his other claims, without any footnotes) have “almost disappeared.”  Well isn’t that great news?!  (Morris grotesquely minimizes Iraqi deaths from the recent [nonexistent?] war, and of course supplies no footnote.)

In a culture that has long waged wars, it has been possible to say that wars bring courage, wars bring heroism, wars bring slaves, wars bring cultural exchange. One could have asserted at various points that wars were the only way to a great many ends, not just large societies that reduce small-scale murders.  Barely a century ago William James was worried there was no way to build character without war, and defenders of war were advertising it as good for its participants in a much more direct way than Morris has been reduced to.  Has war been the means of building empires and nations? Sure, but that neither means that empires are the only way to peace, nor that war was the only nation-building tool available, nor that we must keep waging wars in an age in which we aren’t forming empires or nations any longer.  That ancient pyramids may have been built by slaves hardly makes slavery the best or only way to preserve the pyramids.

Tying something good, such as ending slavery in the United States, to a war, such as the U.S. Civil War, doesn’t make war the only way to end slavery.  In fact, most nations that ended slavery did so without a war.  Much less is continuing to wage wars the only possible way (or even a useful way at all) to hold off the restoration of slavery or to complete its eradication.  And, by the way, a great many societies that Morris credits with making progress through war also had slavery, monarchy, women-as-property, environmental destruction, and worship of religions now defunct.  Were those institutions also necessary for peace and prosperity, or are they irrelevant to it, or did we overcome some of them through peaceful means?  Morris, at one point, acknowledges that slavery (not just war) generated European wealth, later crediting the industrial revolution as well — the godfather of which, in his mind, was no doubt peace created by war.  (What did you expect, the Spanish Inquisition?)

The tools of nonviolence that have achieved so much in the past century are never encountered in Morris’ book, so no comparison with war is offered.  Nonviolent revolutions have tended to dismember empires or alter the leadership of a nation that remains the same size, so Morris must not view them as useful tools, even when they produce more free and prosperous societies.  But it’s not clear Morris can recognize those when he sees them.  Morris claims that in the past 30 years “we” (he seems to mean in the United States, but could mean the world, it’s not totally clear) have become “safer and richer than ever.”

Morris brags about U.S. murder rates falling, and yet dozens of nations from every continent have lower murder rates than the U.S.  Nor do larger nations tend to have lower murder rates than smaller nations.  Morris holds up Denmark as a model, but never looks at Denmark’s society, its distribution of wealth, its social supports.  Morris claims the whole world is growing more equal in wealth.

Back here in reality, historians of the Middle Ages say that our age has the greater disparities — disparities that are growing within the United States in particular, but globally as well.  Oxfam reports that the richest 85 people in the world have more money than the poorest 3.5 billion.  That is the peace that Morris swears is not a wasteland.  The United States ranks third in average wealth but 27th in median wealth.  Yet, somehow Morris believes the United States can lead the way to “Denmark” and that Denmark itself can only be Denmark because of how many people the United States kills in “productive wars” (even though they have “almost disappeared”).  Morris writes these scraps of wisdom from Silicon Valley, where he says he sees nothing but wealth, yet where people with nowhere to sleep but in a car may soon be banned from doing so.

We’re also safer, Morris thinks, because he sees no climate emergency worth worrying about.  He’s quite openly in favor of wars for oil, yet never notices oil’s effects until the end of the book when he takes a moment to brush such concerns aside.

We’re also safer, Morris tells us, because there are no longer enough nukes in the world to kill us all.  Has he never heard of nuclear famine?  Does he not understand the growing risks of proliferating nuclear weapons and energy?  Two nations have thousands of nukes ready to launch in an instant, every one of them many times more powerful than the two nuclear bombs dropped thus far; and one of those nations is prodding the other one with a stick in Ukraine, resulting in more, not less, violence in the beneficiary of such expansionism.  Meanwhile the officials overseeing U.S. nukes keep getting caught cheating on tests or shipping nukes across the country unguarded, and generally view nuclear weapons oversight as the lowest most dead-end career track.  This makes us safer?

Morris hypes lies about Iran pursuing nuclear weapons.  He opens the book with a tale of a near nuclear holocaust (one of many he could have chosen). And yet, somehow disarmament isn’t on the agenda, at least not with the priority given to maintaining or increasing war spending.  Not to worry, he assures us, “missile defense” actually works, or might someday, so that’ll protect us — although he parenthetically admits it won’t.  The point is it’s warlike, and war is good, because war spreads peace.  That’s the role the U.S. must play for the good of all: policeman of the world.  Morris, while clearly a huge fan of Barack Obama, believes that all recent U.S. presidents should have a Nobel Peace Prize.  Never does Morris comment on the fact that the rest of the world sees the United States as the greatest threat to world peace.

Morris admits that the United States is encircling China with weapons, but he describes in sinister tones China’s response of building weaponry that will only serve a function near China’s own shores, not as defensive or unimperialistic, but at “asymmetrical” — and we all know what that means: unfair!  China might make it hard for the globocop to wage war on and around China.  This Morris sees as the looming danger.  The solution, he thinks, is for the United States to keep its militaristic edge (never mind that its military makes China’s look like a child’s toy).  More drone killing is not only good but also (and this sort of nonsense always makes you wonder why its advocate bothers advocating) inevitable.  Of course, the United States won’t start a war against China, says Morris, because launching wars hurts a nation’s reputation so severely.  (You can see how badly the U.S. reputation has suffered in Morris’ eyes following its latest string of wars.)

And yet, what lies on the horizon, almost inevitably, Morris contends, is World War III.

There’s nothing you can do about it.  Don’t bother working for peace, Morris says.  But a solution may arrive nonetheless.  If we can go on dumping our money into wars for just one more century, or maybe more, proliferating weapons, destroying the environment, losing our liberties in the model land of the free, then — if we’re really lucky — the computer programmers of Silicon Valley will save us, or some of us, or something, by . . . wait for it . . . hooking us up to computers so that our minds all meld together.

Morris may be more confident than I that the result of this computerized rapture will be worldwide empathy rather than revulsion.  But then, he’s had longer to get used to living with the way he thinks.

War Is Good for Us, Dumb New Book Claims was originally published on Washington's Blog

Insect Population Dwindling in Louisiana Marshlands Four Years After BP Deepwater Horizon

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 11:50

Preface by Washington’s Blog:  The BP oil spill is still decimating all of the Gulf wildilife four years later.

By Julie Dermansky. First Published on DeSmogBlog.

Louisiana State University entomologist Linda Hooper-Bui has been studying the impact of the BP oil spill on insects and spiders for almost four years. She started her study shortly after the Macondo well blew out on April 20, 2010, before any oil washed up on shore. Her work documents the dwindling of the insect population in areas directly hit with the oil.

On April 9th, she returned to Bay Jimmy and Bay Baptiste, areas that were heavily impacted by the oil spill in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

“Insects are the basis of the food chain. They are like nature’s Twinkies,” Hooper-Bui says.

Her studies also monitor fish and birds, since they eat insects. She sweeps areas designated for her study by walking back and forth waving a net, catching whatever insects are present.  She then empties the net into alcohol, preserving the insects for testing. She takes note of the wind speed and temperature at each location and collects a sample of sediment to be tested for hydrocarbons.


Weathered oil found coating the surface of the marsh in Bay Baptiste, Louisiana on April 9, 2014. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Back in the lab, Hooper-Bui sorts insects by species. She sends some out for testing and stores the rest so other scientists can study them. The results of the test reveal the nutrients found in them, including carbon, nitrogen and sulfur. Knowing what the insects are eating helps her evaluate changes in the environment. She compares the data from sites that were oiled to those that were not.


Linda Hooper-Bui holds a bag containing insects collected in Bay Jimmy, one of the areas hardest hit by the BP oil spill. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Hooper-Bui makes it clear that she is an independent scientist collaborating with other scientists at other institutions. Her work is not part of any government studies or studies subsidized by BP. Funding for her work has come from competitive grants from the National Science Foundation, the Northern Gulf Institute, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and two grants from LSU. She believes being a scientist is a civic duty, and will not allow her work to be compromised.

Hooper-Bui’s first peer-reviewed reports should be available by this summer, but she has been sharing her observations with interested parties all along. She hopes her work will be utilized by those who have to deal with future spills and by those making policy decisions that involve the oil industry as well as locals who are still dealing directly with the aftermath of this disaster.

Since there are fewer insects and spiders for birds and fish to eat, she is seeing a decrease in other species’ success.

“This is what happens when the ecosystem seems to be disrupted,” Hooper-Bui says.  Her studies show that not only does oil remain in the marsh in Plaquemines Parish, it is still emitting volatile aromatics. Preliminary results indicate the volatiles naphthalene and methylnaphthalene remain in the oil contaminated parts of the marsh, and could be responsible for the dramatic decline in insect population. Naphthalene is an insecticide, according to Hooper-Bui.

While standing on weathered oil on the shore of Bay Jimmy, Hooper-Bui told DeSmogBlog, “I am looking at how an environment rebuilds itself after a catastrophic disturbance. It is a chronic situation in the marsh, not an acute one because the oil is still here,” she notes. “The oil gets remobilized when storms hit, and when the tide is low and the temperature heats up, volatile compounds emit from the exposed weathered oil coating the surface.”


Weathered oil coats the surface on the marsh in Bay Jimmy, one of the areas hardest hit by the BP oil spill. ©2014 Julie Dermansky 

Hurricanes affect insects too, so weather factors into Hooper-Bui’s data as well. She has been involved with research about storm effects on insect populations since 2009. Her earlier work gave her benchmark data on how insect populations are affected by storms.

“A healthy environment will rebuild itself after a storm,” Hooper-Bui says. “We know that from Isaac – a compromised eco-system is of concern. The plants might look o.k. but the insects are constantly fumigated when the water is not on the marsh (due to north wind or low tides) and the temperatures are high  – when sediment is exposed – the volatile compounds come off the marsh and fumigate the insects and they die – we have results for three years to show that, in the field and in the lab.”

Critics of her studies claim there are no volatiles coming off the marsh. But Hooper-Bui stands by her findings.

“We put cages with insects in them where the only interactions the caged insects had with the environment were with the air in the marsh – and they were dying in oiled areas and surviving in non-oiled areas. When the marsh’s sediment is exposed and the temperature gets above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the oil is being biologically degraded, the oil is releasing volatiles and is killing the insects.”

A report released by The National Wildlife Federation before the fourth anniversary of the BP disaster deals with 14 species higher up in the food chain than insects. On dolphins, the report cites the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report that states, “NOAA researchers found strong evidence that the ill health of the dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay was related to oil exposure.”

And on tuna, “20% of larval fish could have been exposed to oil, with a potential reduction in future populations of about 4%. For a species already in peril, reductions in reproductive success and lower populations can be major impediments to recovery.”

The report goes on to cite a study co-authored by John Incardona, research toxicologist at NOAA. From the NWF report:

“A more recent study shows that a chemical in oil from the spill can cause irregular heartbeats in bluefin and yellowfin tuna that can lead to heart attacks, or even death. The effects are believed to be particularly problematic for fish embryos and larvae, as heartbeat changes could affect development of other organs. The researchers suggest that other vertebrate species in the Gulf of Mexico could have been similarly affected.”

BP refutes the report. BP spokesman Jason Ryan told UPI, “The National Wildlife Federation report is a piece of political advocacy, not science,” he said. “It cherry picks reports to support the organization’s agenda, often ignoring caveats in those reports or mischaracterizing their findings.”

However, BP has been criticized for claiming the company will make things right in their advertisements. BP’s ads stress they are committed to the Gulf and committed to America and that business is back to normal, yet BP continually objects to a claims settlement the company already signed off on. They have also been accused of acting as trolls on internet sites and spreading misinformation.


Linda Hooper-Bui checking sediment in Bay Jimmy, some of it mixed with weathered oil. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Hooper-Bui explains, “Insects are important to study because they are the basis of the food chain – and because people don’t care about them, I can manipulate them for my studies without upsetting anyone. Insects are like a canary in a coal mine,” she says. “There is a big problem when they start dying.”

To anyone who thinks the oil isn’t still out there, Hooper-Bui says, “Come out here and I’ll show you. It wasn’t cleaned up.”

This story is © 2014 Julie Dermansky and may not be re-posted without permission.

Insect Population Dwindling in Louisiana Marshlands Four Years After BP Deepwater Horizon was originally published on Washington's Blog

It’s Time to Retire Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a Measure of Prosperity

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 10:53

What if we used wellness (Gross Domestic Happiness) as a metric for prosperity rather than GDP?

Distilling an economy’s success in delivering “prosperity” to a single number has outlived its purpose. Zachary Karabell describes the birth of GDP in far less complex times in (Mis)leading Indicators: Why Our Economic Numbers Distort Reality (Foreign Affairs):

A GDP that is growing in sync with expectations can enhance a country’s reputation and thus its strength and power. A GDP that is contracting or failing to meet expectations, on the other hand, can lead to disaster. Yet a hundred years ago, the concept of GDP did not exist; history unfolded without it. The United States, for example, managed to win its independence, fight a civil war, and conquer a continent without any measure of national income.GDP’s origins lie in the 1930s, when economists and policymakers in the United States and the United Kingdom struggled to understand and respond to the Great Depression.

It is not terribly surprising that economists and policymakers came to favor a statistical technique that helped the United States survive a depression and win a war. But not even the economists who invented this metric imagined that GDP would become so central to every state in the world within a few short decades.

The problem is this radical reductionism at the heart of any single measure is irrevocably flawed:

Leading indicators were invented to measure the economies of the industrial nation-states of the mid-twentieth century. In their time, they did so brilliantly. The twenty-first century, however, is proving more challenging to measure. Industrial nation-states have given way to developed economies rich in services and to emerging industrial economies exporting goods made by multinational companies. The statistics of the 20th century were not designed for such a reality, and despite the assiduous efforts of statisticians, they cannot keep up.These shifts have created a temptation to find new formulas, better indicators, and new statistics. But the belief that a few simple numbers or basic averages can capture today’s multifaceted national and global economic systems is a myth that should be abandoned. Rather than seeking new simple numbers to replace old simple numbers, economists need to tap into the power of the information age to figure out which questions need to be answered and to embrace new ways of answering them.

The limitations of GDP are so severe that the number is at best misleading. Karabell identifies three intrinsic flaws in any single-number scheme to measure GDP:

1. GDP does not include vast swaths of economic output and value

2. GDP is useless in measuring real-world trade

3. GDP counts digging a hole and filling it but not conservation of energy or resources.

If a steel mill produces pollution that then requires a cleanup, both the initial output (the steel) and the cost of addressing its byproduct (the cleanup) add to GDP. So, too, would the cost of health care for any workers or residents injured or sickened by the pollution. Conversely, if a company replaces its conventional light bulbs with long-lasting LED bulbs and, as a result, spends less on lighting and electricity, the efficiency gains would detract from GDP. Yet few would argue that the pollution example represents a positive development or that the lighting example constitutes a negative one.

The simplistic assignment of “import” and “export” completely misses the reality of modern manufacture and trade, where parts come from multiple nations. As Karabell explains:

If trade numbers more accurately accounted for how products are made, it is possible that the United States would not have any trade deficit at all with China. The problem, in short, is that trade figures are currently calculated based on the assumption that each product has a single country of origin and that the declared value of that product goes to that country. Thus, every time an iPhone or an iPad rolls off the factory floors of Foxconn (Apple’s main contractor in China) and travels to the port of Long Beach, California, it is counted as an import from China.A more reasonable standard, of course, would recognize that iPhones and iPads do not have a single country of origin. More than a dozen companies from at least five countries supply parts for them. Infineon Technologies, in Germany, makes the wireless chip; Toshiba, in Japan, manufactures the touchscreen; and Broadcom, in the United States, makes the Bluetooth chips that let the devices connect to wireless headsets or keyboards.

Taking these facts into account would leave China, the supposed country of origin, with a paltry piece of the pie. Analysts estimate that as little as $10 of the value of every iPhone or iPad actually ends up in the Chinese economy, in the form of income paid directly to Foxconn or other contractors.

I have addressed this issue for years, for example: Trade War with China: Who Benefits? (April 11, 2007)

Trade and “Trade War” with China: Who Benefits? (October 5, 2010)

No single number, regardless of the inputs, can possibly reflect the real economy.Karabell concludes:

How entrepreneurs run effective businesses; how individuals buy homes, pay for college, or retire — none of those decisions should be based on the leading indicators of the last century. Old attachments to those indicators, and to the myth that there is something called “the economy” that affects all people equally, poses a major obstacle to progress.

Karabell also discusses what I call the propaganda value of GDP:

These measurements were not invented to serve as absolute markers of national success or failure or to indicate whether some governments were visionary and others destructive. But the transformation of these numbers from statistics into markers of national success happened so quickly over the course of a few decades that no one quite noticed what was happening.

I tend to think political authorities knew exactly what was happening: they realized that their own credibility could be boosted by a rigged GDP number. Thus we have the central government of China issuing blatantly bogus claims of 7+% annual GDP, as anything less will severely erode their claim of managerial brilliance.

In our own propaganda-dependent state, GDP is almost always positive, much like corporate earnings always beat expectations by a penny.

But we should be paying attention to an even deeper critique of GDP: that prosperity no longer depends of the “growth” of consumption, financialization, etc. but on the Degrowth of narcissistic consumerism and more efficient use of resources and capital.

What if we used Bhutan’s guiding national policy of Gross Domestic Happiness, as a metric for prosperity?

A second-generation GNH concept, treating happiness as a socioeconomic development metric, was proposed in 2006 by Med Jones, the President of International Institute of Management. The metric measures socioeconomic development by tracking seven development areas including the nation’s mental and emotional health.GNH value is proposed to be an index function of the total average per capita of the following measures:1. Economic Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution

2. Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic

3. Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illnesses

4. Mental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients

5. Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits

6. Social Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of social metrics such as discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates

7. Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.

Here in the U.S., we give lip-service to all these values, but ask yourself: where do we spend most of our time? Serving our masters in the State/crony-cartel economy, creating GDP.

Yes, we all still need to earn a livelihood, but imagine a society constructed around generating Gross Domestic Happiness instead of GDP. The power structure would collapse because none of these activities generate enough profits or taxes to keep the Machine operational.

It is a sad statement that we often only awaken to real value and meaning when we’ve run out of time to change the way we “invest” our time.

Want to give an enduringly practical graduation gift? Then give my new book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy, a mere $9.95 for the Kindle ebook edition and $17.76 for the print edition.

It’s Time to Retire Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a Measure of Prosperity was originally published on Washington's Blog

BP Manager In Charge of Cleaning Up the Gulf Oil Spill – Instead of Actually Cleaning Up – Committed Insider Trading and Sold $1 Million of BP Stock Before the Extent of the Spill Became Public Knowledge

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 01:56
The Head of BP Also Sold Shares After Problems With the Well Were Apparent to Insiders

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced today:

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a former 20-year employee of BP p.l.c. and a senior responder during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill with insider trading in BP securities based on confidential information about the magnitude of the disaster.  The price of BP securities fell significantly after the April 20, 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, and the subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, resulted in an extensive clean-up effort.

According to the SEC’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, BP tasked Keith A. Seilhan with coordinating BP’s oil collection and clean-up operations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the coast.  Seilhan, an experienced crisis manager, directed BP’s oil skimming operations and its efforts to contain the expansion of the oil spill.  The complaint alleges that within days, Seilhan received nonpublic information on the extent of the evolving disaster, including oil flow estimates and data on the volume of oil floating on the surface of the Gulf.

Seilhan sold his family’s BP securities after he received confidential information about the severity of the spill that the public didn’t know,” said Daniel M. Hawke, chief of the Division of Enforcement’s Market Abuse Unit.

***

The complaint alleges that by April 29, 2010, in filings to the SEC, BP estimated that the flow rate of the spill was up to 5,000 barrels of oil per day (bopd).  The company’s public estimate was significantly less than the actual flow rate, which was estimated later to be between 52,700 and 62,200 bopd.  The information that Seilhan obtained indicated that the magnitude of the oil spill and thus, BP’s potential liability and financial exposure, was likely to be greater than had been publicly disclosed.

According to the complaint, while in possession of this material, nonpublic information, and in breach of duties owed to BP and its shareholders, Seilhan directed the sale of his family’s entire $1 million portfolio of BP securities over the course of two days in late April 2010.  The trades allowed Seilhan to avoid losses and reap unjust profits ….

Interestingly, the head of BP – Tony Hayward – sold 1.4 million pounds worth of BP shares a few weeks before the start of the Gulf oil spill.  While – at first glance – this sound like it could not possibly have been connected to the Gulf spill, BP actually had major problems with the Gulf well months before the spill. In other words, the spill hadn’t yet happened … but it should have been obvious to knowledgeable insiders that the well was highly dangerous and unstable.

Sadly, Mr. Seilhan, Mr. Hayward and the rest of the BP team made normal oil-skimming procedures impossible because they sunk the oil with Corexit dispersant … so the oil skimmers couldn’t get to it.

And it is beyond doubt that BP and the government blatantly low-balled the amount of oil spilled.

Indeed, most people still don’t understand that – while the well was “capped” in 2010 – top experts say that the oil spill could have increased  the amount of oil flowing form natural seeps in the area … so that more oil continues to leak into the Gulf for years.   Indeed,  large oil slicks have flowed for years after the BP well was capped (and BP’s explanation for this phenomenon doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.)

Postscript:  Some BP personnel were criminally indicted for manslaughter and lying to federal investigators.

But the U.S. has let BP back into the Gulf.  And BP is going to drill even deeper … with an even greater potential for disaster (and see this).

BP Manager In Charge of Cleaning Up the Gulf Oil Spill – Instead of Actually Cleaning Up – Committed Insider Trading and Sold $1 Million of BP Stock Before the Extent of the Spill Became Public Knowledge was originally published on Washington's Blog

Bankers are Behind the Wars

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 00:24
Image by Terry Robinson All Wars Are Bankers’ Wars

Former managing director of Goldman Sachs – and head of the international analytics group at Bear Stearns in London (Nomi Prins) -  notes:

Throughout the century that I examined, which began with the Panic of 1907 … what I found by accessing the archives of each president is that through many events and periods, particular bankers were in constant communication [with the White House] — not just about financial and economic policy, and by extension trade policy, but also about aspects of World War I, or World War II, or the Cold War, in terms of the expansion that America was undergoing as a superpower in the world, politically, buoyed by the financial expansion of the banking community.

***

In the beginning of World War I, Woodrow Wilson had adopted initially a policy of neutrality. But the Morgan Bank, which was the most powerful bank at the time, and which wound up funding over 75 percent of the financing for the allied forces during World War I … pushed Wilson out of neutrality sooner than he might have done, because of their desire to be involved on one side of the war.

Now, on the other side of that war, for example, was the National City Bank, which, though they worked with Morgan in financing the French and the British, they also didn’t have a problem working with financing some things on the German side, as did Chase

When Eisenhower became president … the U.S. was undergoing this expansion by providing, under his doctrine, military aid and support to countries [under] the so-called threat of being taken over by communism … What bankers did was they opened up hubs, in areas such as Cuba, in areas such as Beirut and Lebanon, where the U.S. also wanted to gain a stronghold in their Cold War fight against the Soviet Union. And so the juxtaposition of finance and foreign policy were very much aligned.

So in the ‘70s, it became less aligned, because though America was pursuing foreign policy initiatives in terms of expansion, the bankers found oil, and they made an extreme effort to activate relationships in the Middle East, that then the U.S. government followed. For example, in Saudi Arabia and so forth, they get access to oil money, and then recycle it into Latin American debt and other forms of lending throughout the globe. So that situation led the U.S. government.

Indeed, JP Morgan also purchased control over America’s leading 25 newspapers in order to propagandize US public opinion in favor of US entry into World War 1.

And many big banks did, in fact, fund the Nazis.

The BBC reported in 1998:

Barclays Bank has agreed to pay $3.6m to Jews whose assets were seized from French branches of the British-based bank during World War II.

***

Chase Manhattan Bank, which has acknowledged seizing about 100 accounts held by Jews in its Paris branch during World War II ….”Recently unclassified reports from the US Treasury about the activities of Chase in Paris in the 1940s indicate that the local branch worked “in close collaboration with the German authorities” in freezing Jewish assets.

The New York Daily News noted the same year:

The relationship between Chase and the Nazis apparently was so cozy that Carlos Niedermann, the Chase branch chief in Paris, wrote his supervisor in Manhattan that the bank enjoyed “very special esteem” with top German officials and “a rapid expansion of deposits,” according to Newsweek.

Niedermann’s letter was written in May 1942 five months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. also went to war with Germany.

The BBC reported in 1999:

A French government commission, investigating the seizure of Jewish bank accounts during the Second World War, says five American banks Chase Manhattan, J.P Morgan, Guaranty Trust Co. of New York, Bank of the City of New York and American Express had taken part.

It says their Paris branches handed over to the Nazi occupiers about one-hundred such accounts.

One of Britain’s main newspapers – the Guardian – reported in 2004:

George Bush’s grandfather [and George H.W. Bush's father], the late US senator Prescott Bush, was a director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany.

The Guardian has obtained confirmation from newly discovered files in the US National Archives that a firm of which Prescott Bush was a director was involved with the financial architects of Nazism.

His business dealings … continued until his company’s assets were seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act

***

The documents reveal that the firm he worked for, Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH), acted as a US base for the German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen, who helped finance Hitler in the 1930s before falling out with him at the end of the decade. The Guardian has seen evidence that shows Bush was the director of the New York-based Union Banking Corporation (UBC) that represented Thyssen’s US interests and he continued to work for the bank after America entered the war.

***

Bush was a founding member of the bank [UBC] … The bank was set up by Harriman and Bush’s father-in-law to provide a US bank for the Thyssens, Germany’s most powerful industrial family.

***

By the late 1930s, Brown Brothers Harriman, which claimed to be the world’s largest private investment bank, and UBC had bought and shipped millions of dollars of gold, fuel, steel, coal and US treasury bonds to Germany, both feeding and financing Hitler’s build-up to war.

Between 1931 and 1933 UBC bought more than $8m worth of gold, of which $3m was shipped abroad. According to documents seen by the Guardian, after UBC was set up it transferred $2m to BBH accounts and between 1924 and 1940 the assets of UBC hovered around $3m, dropping to $1m only on a few occasions.

***

UBC was caught red-handed operating a American shell company for the Thyssen family eight months after America had entered the war and that this was the bank that had partly financed Hitler’s rise to power.

Indeed, banks often finance both sides of wars:


(The San Francisco Chronicle also documents that leading financiers Rockefeller, Carnegie and Harriman also funded Nazi eugenics programs … but that’s a story for another day.)

The Federal Reserve and other central banks also help to start wars by financing them .

The most decorated American military man in history said that war is a racket, and noted:

Let us not forget the bankers who financed the great war. If anyone had the cream of the profits it was the bankers.

The big banks have also been laundering money for terrorists. The big bank employee who blew the whistle on the banks’ money laundering for terrorists and drug cartels says that the giant bank is still aiding terrorists, saying:

The public needs to know that money is still being funneled through HSBC to directly buy guns and bullets to kill our soldiers …. Banks financing … terrorists affects every single American.

He also said:

It is disgusting that our banks are STILL financing terror on 9/11 2013.

And see this.

According to the BBC and other sources, Prescott Bush, JP Morgan and other leading financiers also funded a coup against President Franklin Roosevelt in an attempt – basically – to implement fascism in the U.S. See this, this, this and this.

Kevin Zeese writes:

Americans are recognizing the link between the military-industrial complex and the Wall Street oligarchs—a connection that goes back to the beginning of the modern U.S. empire. Banks have always profited from war because the debt created by banks results in ongoing war profit for big finance; and because wars have been used to open countries to U.S. corporate and banking interests. Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan wrote: “the large banking interests were deeply interested in the world war because of the wide opportunities for large profits.”

Many historians now recognize that a hidden history for U.S. entry into World War I was to protect U.S. investors. U.S. commercial interests had invested heavily in European allies before the war: “By 1915, American neutrality was being criticized as bankers and merchants began to loan money and offer credits to the warring parties, although the Central Powers received far less. Between 1915 and April 1917, the Allies received 85 times the amount loaned to Germany.” The total dollars loaned to all Allied borrowers during this period was $2,581,300,000. The bankers saw that if Germany won, their loans to European allies would not be repaid. The leading U.S. banker of the era, J.P. Morgan and his associates did everything they could to push the United States into the war on the side of England and France. Morgan said: “We agreed that we should do all that was lawfully in our power to help the Allies win the war as soon as possible.” President Woodrow Wilson, who campaigned saying he would keep the United States out of war, seems to have entered the war to protect U.S. banks’ investments in Europe.

The most decorated Marine in history, Smedley Butler, described fighting for U.S. banks in many of the wars he fought in. He said: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins describes how World Bank and IMF loans are used to generate profits for U.S. business and saddle countries with huge debts that allow the United States to control them. It is not surprising that former civilian military leaders like Robert McNamara and Paul Wolfowitz went on to head the World Bank. These nations’ debt to international banks ensures they are controlled by the United States, which pressures them into joining the “coalition of the willing” that helped invade Iraq or allowing U.S. military bases on their land. If countries refuse to “honor” their debts, the CIA or Department of Defense enforces U.S. political will through coups or military action.

***

More and more people are indeed seeing the connection between corporate banksterism and militarism ….

Indeed, all wars are bankers’ wars.

Bankers are Behind the Wars was originally published on Washington's Blog

It’s Time to Ditch the Consumer Price Index (CPI)

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 11:16

So why does the government maintain such a transparently inaccurate and misleading metric? For three reasons.

That the official rate of inflation doesn’t reflect reality is obvious to anyone paying college tuition and healthcare out of pocket. The debate over the accuracy of the official consumer price index (CPI) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE–the so-called core rate of inflation) has raged for years, with no resolution in sight.

The CPI calculates inflation based on the prices of a basket of goods and services that are adjusted by hedonics, i.e. improvements that are not reflected in the price of the goods. Housing costs are largely calculated on equivalent rent, i.e. what homeowners reckon they would pay if they were renting their house.

The CPI attempts to measure the relative weight of each component:

Many argue that these weightings skew the CPI lower, as do hedonic adjustments. The motivation for this skew is transparent: since the government increases Social Security benefits and Federal employees’ pay annually to keep up with inflation (the cost of living allowance or COLA), a low rate of inflation keeps these increases modest.

Over time, an artificially low CPI/COLA lowers government expenditures (and deficits, provided tax revenues rise at rates above official inflation).

Those claiming the weighting is accurate face a blizzard of legitimate questions. For example, if healthcare is 18% of the U.S. GDP, i.e. 18 cents of every dollar goes to healthcare, then how can a mere 7% wedge of the CPI devoted to healthcare be remotely accurate?

In my analysis, the debate over inflation is intrinsically flawed. What really matters is not the overall rate of inflation, which can be endlessly debated, but the purchasing power of earned income, i.e. wages and the exposure to real-world costs.

In other words, those households with zero exposure to college tuition and the full costs of daycare, medical care and healthcare insurance may well experience low inflation, while the household paying the full costs of daycare, college tuition and healthcare insurance will experience soaring inflation.

Here’s one example of how CPI fails to capture real-world inflation/loss of purchasing power. Let’s say an employee works for a company or agency that pays his/her healthcare insurance. The monthly cost has risen from $1,000/month to $1,500/month. The employee’s wage has remained stagnant but the total compensation costs paid by the employer have gone up by $500/month.

Now the employer shifts that $500/month to the employee as their share of the healthcare insurance cost. Since the average full-time worker earns around $40,000 a year, and pays around 18% in taxes, their take-home pay is around $33,000 annually.

The employee’s co-pay of $6,000 a year ($500/month) represents 18% of their take-home wage. This is an 18% reduction in earnings, or the equivalent of 18% inflation (i.e. a reduction in purchasing power).

This shifting of the skyrocketing burden of healthcare costs acts the same as 20% inflation, yet it doesn’t even register in the current CPI.

The geography of inflation doesn’t register, either. Soaring rents in Brooklyn, NY and the San Francisco Bay Area have a profound effect on those exposed to these rapidly rising costs, yet these impacts are massaged to zero by national CPI calculations.

So once again we have a bifurcated society: those protected by the state from rising costs and those exposed to real-world reductions in purchasing power. Households that receive government subsidies and direct payments have little exposure to real-world healthcare costs, since they are covered by Medicaid, and modest exposure to housing if they receive Section 8 benefits (Section 8 recipients pay 30% of their income for rent, regardless of the market price of the rental). Retirees on Medicare also have limited exposure to the real-world costs of their care paid by the government.

If we analyze inflation by these two metrics, we find the middle class is increasingly exposed to skyrocketing real-world prices. Pundits in the top 5% have the luxury of pontificating on the accuracy of the CPI while those protected by government subsidies and coverage have the luxury of wondering what all the fuss is about. Only those 100% exposed to the real costs experience the full fury of actual inflation.

So why does the government maintain such a transparently inaccurate and misleading metric? For three reasons: 1) it is useful propaganda; 2) it suppresses the state’s cost-of-living increases and 3) it lowers the government’s cost of borrowing. The benefits of reducing COLA adjustments are self-evident, as is the benefit of borrowing money at low rates of interest, but the propaganda benefits are more subtle.

The key to enabling the endless printing of money that enriches the banks and the top .1% is low inflation. Asset bubbles can be inflated, ballooning the wealth of the owners of the assets, as long as inflation is near-zero.

Indeed, the Federal Reserve claims it must print money to counter low inflation.

Meanwhile, in the real economy, those exposed to the real costs of college tuition, healthcare, childcare, etc. are seeing their purchasing power evaporate like a puddle of water in Death Valley. The Fed needs low inflation to justify its continuing enrichment of the financial elite, and the Federal government needs low inflation to keep its COLAs and borrowing costs low.

There are two ways to mask real-world reductions of purchasing power: 1) skew the CPI by distorting the component percentages, hedonics and how costs are measured, and 2) protect enough of the populace from real-world increases so they no longer care. Seniors, who famously vote in droves, have no idea what their Medicare benefits actually cost. As a result, they have no experience of healthcare inflation /reduction of purchasing power.

This works in all sorts of industries. As I have often mentioned here, the F-35 Lightning fighter aircraft costs in excess of $200 million each, roughly four times the cost of the F-18F it replaces. This extraordinary inflation is not experienced directly by the taxpayer who is paying for the boondoggle, as the Federal government borrows trillions of dollars to pay for such boondoggles, effectively passing the inflated costs on to future generations.

These costs are hidden by the low cost of borrowing trillions to pay for boondoggles. If real-world inflation is (say) 5%, then interest rates would typically adjust to a few points above that rate, to compensate capital for the erosion of purchasing power. If the Treasury had to pay 7% to borrow money, the interest cost would soon cripple Federal spending. People would be forced to focus on how all those trillions of dollars are being spent, and to whose benefit.

But with borrowing costs so low, nobody cares.

The solution? One, abolish the Fed and let the market discover interest rates, and two, abandon the simplistic notion that one number of inflation has any meaning in a complex economy with numerous subsets of exposure to market costs and the loss or gain of purchasing power.

Will we muster the will to look past failed models and metrics? Sadly, the answer is no. Why?

As I noted yesterday in What’s the Difference Between Fascism, Communism and Crony-Capitalism? Nothinga system set up to enrich political and financial elites is incapable of reform. the only way the CPI will ever be replaced is when the Status Quo collapses in a heap of lies and insolvency. Until then, propaganda and gaming the system to protect vested interests will rule.

It’s Time to Ditch the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was originally published on Washington's Blog

World War O

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 01:37
Painting by Anthony Freda: www.AnthonyFreda.com

 

When George W. Bush unleashed unnecessary wars of aggression on Iraq and elsewhere, many writers dubbed it “World War W“.

Now, Obama is close to intentionally or unintentionally unleashing “World War O”.

Bush’s lying his way into an Iraq war and then using torture to try to justify it were war crimes.

But Iraq was a third-rate army … while Russia has nuclear weapons.   Even if such weapons of mass destruction are not unleashed, there could still be an unintentional nuclear catastrophe.

And China may not sit idly by while its close ally – and economic partner – is challenged.

World War O would be bad indeed.

Postscript: Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.    But the Neocons are back (they never actually left), and the powers-that-be are desperate for a war to distract the population.  And the American media is banging on the war drums as loudly as it can.

World War O was originally published on Washington's Blog

Is U.S. Media Coverage of Ukraine and Syria Even WORSE than Its Coverage of Iraq?

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 01:12

Unprecedented Propaganda Blitz

Over the last year, we’ve documented that – despite all of the mea culpas for horrible Iraq coverage – the U.S. media’s coverage of Ukraine and Syria is just as biased, superficial and pro-war.

Former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter Robert Parry – who broke several of the biggest stories regarding Iran-Contra, and recipient of the George Polk Award for National Reporting in 1984 -  writes of U.S. media coverage of the conflict in Ukraine is even worse than Iraq:

In my four-plus decades in journalism, I have never seen a more thoroughly biased and misleading performance by the major U.S. news media. Even during the days of Ronald Reagan – when much of the government’s modern propaganda structure was created – there was more independence in major news outlets. There were media stampedes off the reality cliff during George H.W. Bush’s Persian Gulf War and George W. Bush’s Iraq War, both of which were marked by demonstrably false claims that were readily swallowed by the big U.S. news outlets.

But there is something utterly Orwellian in the current coverage of the Ukraine crisis, including accusing others of “propaganda” when their accounts – though surely not perfect – are much more honest and more accurate than what the U.S. press corps has been producing.

There’s also the added risk that this latest failure by the U.S. press corps is occurring on the border of Russia, a nuclear-armed state that – along with the United States – could exterminate all life on the planet. The biased U.S. news coverage is now feeding into political demands to send U.S. military aid to Ukraine’s coup regime.

The casualness of this propaganda – as it spreads across the U.S. media spectrum from Fox News to MSNBC, from the Washington Post to the New York Times – is not just wretched journalism but it is reckless malfeasance jeopardizing the lives of many Ukrainians and the future of the planet.

Media coverage of Syria is also  arguably worse than of Iraq.

After all, the American media trumpeted false claims about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.  But – with Syria – the American media is studiously ignoring the fact that:

Of course, the corporate media is always pro-war and pro-empire.  But now the large “alternative” media outlets – such as Drudge and Huffington Post – are also beating the war drums as loudly as they can.

So you’ll hear scary stories that terrorists in Syria are a threat to the U.S.  … but you won’t hear that the U.S. has been planning regime change in Syria for 20 years straight (and see this), or that the U.S. and its allies are the ones who pumped up those terrorists in the first place.

You’ll be told that Russia will start World War 3 if we don’t launch a military campaign in Ukraine … but you won’t hear that that the U.S. has planned on taking control of Ukraine since 1997, or that the former Ukrainian Security Chief alleges that the new neo-Nazi government was behind the sniper attacks which turned the West against the old regime in the first place.

You won’t hear any of that when the media is trying to sell a war …

Painting by Anthony Freda: www.AnthonyFreda.com

Is U.S. Media Coverage of Ukraine and Syria Even WORSE than Its Coverage of Iraq? was originally published on Washington's Blog

Bundy land context: US ‘leaders’ steal land with MERS bankster fraud & War Crimes, hoard CAFR & off-shore trillions

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 01:00

The Bundy land conflict evokes Americans to a local venue to protest crimes of a psychopathic US “leadership” immersed in “Big Lie” crimes centering in war, money, and media (also in ~100 other crucial areas).

Perhaps the easiest of these crimes to explain, document, and prove is the history of unlawful US Wars of Aggression all on easily-proved lies known to be false as they were told.

Because all of our families sacrificed through two world wars, the damning facts of US “leadership” lies to send US military to commit unlawful Wars of Aggression is enough to demand arrests of those political and media “leaders.”

And that said, let’s look at four areas of damning facts of US “leadership” crimes in context of the Bundy spark to patriot actions:

  1. US “leaders” steal Americans’ homes through MERS bankster mortgage fraud.
  2. The US claims to own over 80% of Nevada from lie-started, treaty-violating, unlawful war on Mexico.
  3. US “leaders” lie to hoard CAFR trillions in taxpayer assets while demanding our austerity.
  4. US “leaders” hoard ~$30 trillion in tax-free foreign banks.
  1. US “leaders” steal Americans’ homes through MERS bankster mortgage fraud: Washington’s Blog reported:

“A prominent economist said about the 2008 financial crisis:

“At the root of the crisis we find the largest financial swindle in world history”, where “counterfeit” mortgages were “laundered” by the banks.

The Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems – MERS – was one of the main ways the swindle was done, and the main way in which counterfeit mortgages were laundered by the banks.

MERS is a shell company with no employees, owned by the giant banks.

MERS threw out centuries of well-established law about how real estate is transferred – and cheated governments out of many tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in recording fees.”

In addition, the rigging of interest rates was/is known by The Federal Reserve and encouraged, this fraud is now conservative and admitted fact, trillions in bank bailouts and bail-ins are thrust upon the public, and known solutions worth literally ~$100 trillion are deliberately left out from public consideration by these lying sacks-of-spin asset-hole criminal “leaders.”

2. The US claims to own over 80% of Nevada from lie-started, treaty-violating, unlawful war on Mexico: US federal government claims to “own” over 80% of Nevada. US land claims (and here) in Nevada and throughout the US Southwest originate in a lie-started, treaty-violating, unlawful invasive war on Mexico.

If the land in question was stolen by the US federal government, and used US military to do so only with unlawful orders and lies to our trusting soldiers and families, then we have strong arguments that all ensuing claims of the federal government are void because anything passed as so-called “law” in obvious violation to the US Constitution is void with zero legal force.

US land claims on this stolen land are closer to the argument, “All land is the King’s land” than comprehensively truthful public consideration of what is and is not in the public’s best interests under a representative democratic republic of limited government under the US Constitution. US key policies are also far closer to fascism than a republic limited under law.

3. US “leaders” lie to hoard CAFR trillions in taxpayer assets while demanding our austerity: Government Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) reveal trillions in held taxpayer assets. For example, California’s 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report with the state’s 12 million households (22-minute television interview to explain this data here) reveal:

Several models (and here) of cost-free government are known, beginning with Benjamin Franklin’s pamphlet on colonial Pennsylvania operating its government without taxes to Thomas Edison explaining debt-free money with Henry Ford in a 1921 summer media tour. As good as these breakthroughs are, resource-based economics is our predictable future just beyond these three reforms.

4. US “leaders” hoard ~$30 trillion in tax-free foreign banks: 1% oligarch/leaders in the US and “developed” nations hoard ~$30 trillion in off-shore tax-free shell banks (much of which may have been gained through criminal fraud). Related, the Federal Reserve reports the US top seven banks have over $10 trillion in assets recorded in over 14,000 created “subsidiaries” to avoid taxes.

Our “leaders” hide more than total annual economic output of the US and Japan combined. This is also 7 to 32 times the $1 to $3 trillion estimated to end global poverty (here, here). Importantly, the 1% in US government have reneged on their promise to end poverty since the 1990 World Summit for Children, and even reject full support of microcredit to end poverty while earning a profit.

Global poverty kills a million children every month. Since the seven US banks created the last 10,000 of their tax haven subsidiaries since 1991, more human beings have died from preventable poverty than from all wars, murders, and violent deaths of any kind in all human history. As you may know, ending poverty reduces population growth rate in every historical case.

To understand the 1%, please read the last two paragraphs again, and then consider the “emperor has no clothes” obvious unlawful wars and full spectrum of economic parasitism that Americans may not have factual command to articulate, but feel strongly to correct.

In conclusion: The Bundy land case, at this point, seems to require much more research in order to explain and document as clearly as the related issues above.

As always, my recommendation is to use the OBVIOUS crimes of US oligarchs to cause their surrender, then we can end all of their crimes, employ existing solutions, and begin creating the civilization that our beautiful planet deserves.

Bundy land context: US ‘leaders’ steal land with MERS bankster fraud & War Crimes, hoard CAFR & off-shore trillions was originally published on Washington's Blog

After we win: 3 education policy proposals: Truth/facts, Love/community, Lifelong virtue

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 18:42

Education builds the future, and as you who read alternative media know so well, is a lifelong upgrade in virtue.

Alternative media is engaged in an education contest. We educate the public that US “leadership” is an oligarchy immersed in “Big Lie” crimes centering in war, money, and media (also in ~100 other crucial areas). The oligarchy “educates” through “leaders” that their actions are legal, wise, and in the public’s best interest. The oligarchy’s media controls textbooks, and are a major source of their propaganda.

To be clear: the above links (among work of hundreds in alternative media) easily explain, document, and prove a “1%” criminal oligarchy engage in psychopathic crimes that annually kill millions, harm billions, and loot trillions. The education contest is not about what the objective facts are, but the art and science of communication for public recognition of those facts.

The irony is that this battle has been fought and won before: “Enlightenment” ideals of objective and independently verifiable data is where all educated people claim to stand, and apply in all areas of competence. When these academic and professional standards are applied in this contest, “official” stories are easily and quickly exposed as propaganda surviving with normalcy bias, “Big Lies,” and appeal to authority (to stop at just three factors).

When we win, the field of education for our children will become quite different from how it looks today. Among the changes, these three seem essential:

  1. Truth/facts.
  2. Love/community.
  3. Lifelong virtue.

1. Truth/facts: This “top 3 list” is a context; the upgrade of what’s necessary in detail is lengthy and goes beyond the limited work I’ve done in history, government, and economics (full archive here) to explain, document, and prove official lies centering in wars and what we use for money.

The good news is that this shift will be relatively easy after media control is ended. The bad news is that the struggle to discern fact from spin today is the best education I can imagine.

2. Love/community: The unspoken context of education today is education of one’s self as an individual. This is important, and just one of several essential contexts that include how to successfully relate to:

  • one other person,
  • family,
  • teams/organizations,
  • communities from city, state, national to global.

This shift is one of connectedness to others, or an expression of love. Humans hold the ideal of love in high regard; it’s time to translate this ideal into real-world applications with the kind of attention that anyone really wanting to be educated in anything exercises.

Intended outcomes of this shift are human success and happiness with friends, family, groups, and communities of all sizes.

3. Lifelong virtue: Another unspoken context of today’s education is that it exists in schools, and generally comes to an end outside of work and hobby interests.

Education really means to learn how to experience and express virtue on one’s own terms at ever-higher levels. This means that with experience, as with any area, we become more proficient in feeling and contributing what we each see as what is good in Life. Obviously, this outcome produces human beings who find Life better and better with practice. This contrasts today with human beings who generally become less alive with experience, less enthusiastic, and overall less virtuous in what they experience and express.

How do we get from here to victory? Nobody I work with knows with any certainty how the endgame will play out.

The public rises in the 2014 Worldwide Wave of Action (and here) that began on the April 4 anniversary of Martin King’s assassination by the US government (civil court trial verdict, Martin’ 2-minute plea to you), and emerges unpredictably such as the Bundy land case.

In this present contest of real-world education versus propaganda, I offer my advice here.

After we win: 3 education policy proposals: Truth/facts, Love/community, Lifelong virtue was originally published on Washington's Blog

“Hands Down” Bush Was Tougher on Corporate America than Obama

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:59
Obama Is Even Worse than Bush

Matt Taibbi says:

“Hands down” Bush was tougher on corporate America than Obama.

That is fact, not opinion.

Taibbi explains that – as bad as the Bush administration was – they at least prosecuted the heads of Enron, Worldcom and some other white collar crooks.

In contrast, Obama hasn’t prosecuted even one high-level Wall Street executive.

Obama has prosecuted fewer financial crimes than President Reagan, Clinton or either of the Bush presidents. Indeed, Obama’s chief law enforcement officer – the Attorney General of the United States – has publicly stated that he won’t go after big banks.

On the other hand, Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.  Obama – even more than Bush – is protecting criminal activity by prosecuting and harassing whistleblowers. Indeed, the Obama administration is are literally treating whistleblowers as terrorists.

Obama is even worse than Bush in redistributing wealth from the American people to a handful of fatcats and spying on Americans.

While everyone knows about the $700 billion “Tarp” bailout which started under Bush, a top banking analyst puts the current bailouts under Obama at more than $780 billion each year. (Background here.)

Crony capitalism has gotten even worse under Obama.  And Obama is worse than Bush in appointing cronies to powerful government positions.

And – because of the above-described policies – income inequality has increased more under Obama than under Bush.

Bush was a total disaster … Obama – the least popular president in 4 decades – is even worse.

“Hands Down” Bush Was Tougher on Corporate America than Obama was originally published on Washington's Blog

What’s the Difference Between Fascism, Communism and Crony-Capitalism? Nothing

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 11:08

The essence of crony-capitalism is the merger of state and corporate power–the definition of fascism.

When it comes to the real world, the difference between fascism, communism and crony-capitalism is semantic. Let’s start with everyone’s favorite hot-word, fascism, which Italian dictator Benito Mussolini defined as “the merger of state and corporate power.” In other words, the state and corporate cartels are one system.

Real-world communism, for example as practiced in the People’s Republic of China, boils down to protecting a thoroughly corrupt elite and state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The state prohibits anything that threatens the profits (and bribes) of SOEs–for example, taxi-apps that enable consumers to bypass the SOE cab companies.

What A Ban On Taxi Apps In Shanghai Says About China’s Economy

The Chinese mega-city of Shanghai has been cracking down on popular taxi-booking apps, banning their use during rush hour. Until the apps came along, the taxi companies, which are government owned, set the real price for fares and collected about 33 cents each time someone called for a cab. That can add up in a city the size of Shanghai. Wang says the apps bypassed the old system and cut into company revenues.Much has been made of China’s embrace of capitalism, but — along with transportation — the government still dominates key sectors, including energy, telecommunications and banking. Wang says vested government interests won’t give them up easily.

How else to describe this other than the merger of state and corporate power? Any company the state doesn’t own operates at the whim of the state.

Now let’s turn to the crony-capitalist model of the U.S., Japan, the European Union and various kleptocracies around the globe. For PR purposes, the economies of these nations claim to be capitalist, as in free-market capitalism.

Nothing could be further from the truth: these economies are crony-capitalist systems that protect and enrich elites, insiders and vested interests who the state shields from competition and the law.

The essence of crony-capitalism is of course the merger of state and corporate power. There are two sets of laws, one for the non-elites and one for cronies, and two kinds of capitalism: the free-market variety for small businesses that are unprotected by the state and the crony variety for corporations, cartels and state fiefdoms protected by the state.

Since crony-capitalism is set up to benefit parasitic politicos and their private-sector cartel benefactors, reform is impossible. Even the most obviously beneficial variety of reform–for example, simplifying the 4 million-word U.S. tax code–is politically impossible, regardless of who wins the electoral equivalent of a game show (i.e. Demopublicans vs. Republicrats).

The annual cost of navigating the tax code comes to about $170 billion:

Since 2001, Congress has enacted about one new change to the tax law per day. Pathetic, isn’t it? This tax code is a burden and a fiasco and deeply unpatriotic. As Olson’s Taxpayer Advocate Service notes, this code helps tax evaders; hurts ordinary, honest taxpayers; and corrodes trust in our system.

Here’s why the tax code will never be simplified: tax breaks are what the parastic politicos auction off to their crony-capitalist benefactors. Simplify the tax code and you take away the the intrinsically corrupt politicos’ primary source of revenue: accepting enormous bribes in exchange for tax breaks for the super-wealthy.

You would also eliminate the livelihood of an entire industry that feeds off the complexities of the tax code. Tax attorneys don’t just vote–they constitute a powerful lobby for the Status Quo, even if that Status Quo is rigged, unjust, wasteful, absurd, etc.

It’s not that hard to design a simple and fair tax code. Setting aside the thousands of quibbles that benefit one industry or another, it’s clear that a consumption-based tax is easier to collect and it promotes production rather than consumption: two good things.

As for a consumption tax being regressive, i.e. punishing low-income households, the solution is very straightforward: exempt real-food groceries (but not snacks, packaged or prepared foods such as fast-food), rent, utilities and local public transportation–the major expenses of low-income households.

1. A 10% consumption tax on everything else would raise about $1.1 trillion, or almost 2/3 of total income tax revenues, not counting payroll taxes (15.3% of all payroll/earned income up to around $113,000 annually, paid half-half by employees and employers), which generate about one-third of all Federal tax revenues and fund the majority of Social Security and a chunk of Medicare.

As for the claim that a 10% consumption tax would kill business–the typical sales tax in California is 9+%, and that hasn’t wiped out consumption.

2. The balance could be raised by a progressive tax on unearned income, collected at the source. Most of the income of the super-wealthy is unearned, i.e. dividends, investment income, interest, capital gains, stock options, etc. As a result, a tax on unearned income (above, say, $10,000 annually to enable non-wealthy households to accrue some tax-free investment income) will be a tax on the super-wealthy who collect the vast majority of dividends, interest, capital gains and investment income.

A rough estimate would be 20% of all unearned income.

This would “tax the rich” while leaving all earned income untaxed, other than the payroll tax, which is based on the idea that everyone should pay into a system that secures the income of all workers. This would incentivize productive labor and de-incentivize speculation, rentier skimming, etc.

The corporate tax would be eliminated for several reasons:

1. It is heavily gamed, rewarding the scammers and punishing the honest

2. All income from enterprises is eventually distributed to individuals, who would pay the tax on all unearned investment income.

But such common-sense reform is politically impossible. That’s why the answer to the question, what’s the the difference between fascism, communism and crony-capitalism is nothing.

What’s the Difference Between Fascism, Communism and Crony-Capitalism? Nothing was originally published on Washington's Blog

It’s Official: America is an Oligarchy and NOT a Democracy

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 23:23
Scientific Study Shows that the U.S. Is an Oligarchy

We noted last year:

American democracy – once a glorious thing – has devolved into an oligarchy, according to two leading IMF officials, the former Vice President of the Dallas Federal Reserve,  the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Moody’s chief economist and many others.

But don’t take their word for it …

A new quantitative study by Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page finds that America is not a democracy … but is an oligarchy.

Here’s a quick visual overview from the study:

In other words, when the fatcats want something, it will probably happen.  But when the little guys want something … not so much.

Highlights from the study:

A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.

***

Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

***

Very few studies have offered quantitative evidence concerning the impact of interest groups based on a number of different public policies.

***

Prior to the availability of the data set that we analyze here, no one we are aware of has succeeded at assessing interest group influence over a comprehensive set of issues, while taking into account the impact of either the public at large or economic elites – let alone analyzing all three types of potential influences simultaneously.

***

The chief predictions of pure theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy can be decisively rejected. Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.

By contrast, economic elites are estimated to have a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy.

***

These results suggest that reality is best captured by mixed theories in which both individual economic elites and organized interest groups (including corporations, largely owned and controlled by wealthy elites) play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.

***

When a majority – even a very large majority – of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants.  In our 1,779 policy cases, narrow pro-change majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted only about 30% of the time. More strikingly, even overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80% of the public favoring a policy change, got that change only about 43% of the time.

***

Our findings probably understate the political influence of elites.

***

What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

***

If policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

No wonder the chairman of the Department of Economics at George Mason University said that politicians are not prostitutes, they are pimpspimping out their services to the highest bidder.

The Supreme Court is not much better: their allowance of unlimited campaign spending allows the oligarchs to purchase politicians more directly than ever.

Moreover, there are two systems of justice in Americaone for the big banks and other fatcats, and one for everyone else.

And not only do we not have democracy, but we also no longer have a free market economy.  Instead, we have fascism, communist style socialism, kleptocracybanana republic style corruption, or – yes – “oligarchy“.

It’s Official: America is an Oligarchy and NOT a Democracy was originally published on Washington's Blog

The Climate Is Invading the Earth

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 16:08

If an alien invader with a face were attacking the earth, the difficulties that governments have getting populations to support wars on other humans would be multiplied a thousand fold.  The most common response to officials calling some petty foreign despot “a new Hitler” would shift from “yeah, right” to “who cares?” The people of the world would unite in common defense against the hostile alien.

If only it had a face.  And what’s a face anyway?  Doctors can create faces now.  You’d still love your loved ones if they lost their faces.  And I hear there’s a movie in which a guy falls in love with his faceless computer.

The point is that there is an alien invader attacking the earth.  Its name is climate change.  And Uncle Sam wants YOU to fight it, as does Uncle Boris and Aunt Hannah and Cousin Juan and Brother Feng.  The whole family is in agreement on this one, and we are a family now all of a sudden.

Climate change breathes fire on our land and roasts it, killing crops, drying up water supplies, breeding dangerous diseases and infestations.  Climate change circles over the oceans and blows tidal waves toward our coasts.  It melts the icebergs in its evil claws and sinks our beach resorts beneath the sea.

How do we fight back?  We organize quickly, as only humans can.  We grab the $2 trillion that we spend on wars among ourselves each year, plus a few trillion more from some multi-billionaires who suddenly realize they don’t have another planet to spend it on.  We start coating the rooftops with solar panels, aimed right at the face of the monster.  We put up windmills that will turn his nasty breath against himself.

And we hit him where it really hurts, we cut off his supplies with crippling sanctions: we stop buying and making and consuming and discarding such incredible piles of crap every day.  Consumerism becomes rapidly understood as planetary treason, support for the Evil One.  We put a stop to its worst excesses and begin reining it in systematically — working together as we never have before.

Ah, but the dark lord of the heat is subtle.  He has cells of loyalists among us.  They push fossil fuels on us and tell us comforting lies.  No longer!  We will drag them before the House UnEarthly Activities Committee.  “Are you now or have you ever been a promoter of oil, gas, or coal consumption?”  They’ll crumble under the pressure.

Imagine how we could unite for this battle, what wits and courage and self-sacrifice we could put into it, what inspiring acts of bravery, what stunning creations of intellect!

Ah, but climate change is not a person, so forget the whole thing.  Did you ever notice what a funny grin Vladimir Putin has?  It’s beginning to get on my nerves.

The Climate Is Invading the Earth was originally published on Washington's Blog

Why You’re Paying Too Much In Taxes Today: Because Everyone from the Ultra-Rich to Illegal Immigrants Pay Nothing … Or Get Tax Refunds

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 15:46
Giant Corporations Scam Tax Refunds

Economics professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich notes:

Many millionaires pay a lower federal tax rate than many middle-class Americans.

Some don’t pay any federal taxes at all.

***

Some also take advantage of tax loopholes that let them park some of their earnings in offshore tax havens like the Bahamas or the Netherlands Antilles.

***

Put these all together and you see why Warren Buffet, the second richest person in America, pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, as he readily admits.

State and local taxes are even more regressive. The poorest fifth of Americans pay an average state and local tax rate of over 11 percent, while the richest fifth pay only 5.6 percent. This isn’t small change. State and local taxes account for about 40 percent of all government revenues.

Pulitzer prize winning reporter David Cay Johnston reports that – in 16 states – giant companies pocket your “state income taxes”.

This includes foreign corporations.

Workers are never informed that their “state income taxes” are being pocketed. And states often refuse to make this information public, claiming that it is “proprietary information”.


In addition, big companies use a variety of international scams to avoid taxes:

The Washington Post notes:

About two-thirds of corporations operating in the United States did not pay taxes annually from 1998 to 2005, according to a new report scheduled to be made public today from the U.S. Government Accountability Office…

In 2005, about 28 percent of large corporations paid no taxes…

Dorgan and Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) requested the report out of concern that some corporations were using “transfer pricing” to reduce their tax bills. The practice allows multi-national companies to transfer goods and assets between internal divisions so they can record income in a jurisdiction with low tax rates…

[Senator] Levin said: “This report makes clear that too many corporations are using tax trickery to send their profits overseas and avoid paying their fair share in the United States.”

Indeed, as … Johnston documents, American multinationals pay much less in taxes than they should because they use a widespread variety of tax-avoidance scams and schemes, including:

  • Selling valuable assets of the American companies to foreign subsidiaries based in tax havens for next to nothing, so that those valuable assets can be taxed at much lower foreign rates
  • Pretending that costs were spent in the United States, so that the companies can count them as costs or deductions in the U.S. and pay less taxes to the American government
  • Booking profits as if they occurred in the subsidiary’s tax haven countries, so that taxes paid on profits are at the much lower safe haven rate
  • Working out sweetheart deals with certain foreign governments, so that the companies can pretend they paid more in foreign taxes than they actually did, to obtain higher U.S. tax credits than are warranted
  • Pretending they are headquartered in tax havens like Bermuda, the Cayman Islands or Panama, so that they can enjoy all of the benefits of actually being based in America (including the use of American law and the court system, listing on the Dow, etc.), with the tax benefits associated with having a principal address in a sunny tax haven.
  • And myriad other scams

And see this.

Indeed, some of the world’s biggest companies not only dodge all taxes, they actually enjoy a negative tax rate … where they are paid money by the U.S. government, just like the illegal immigrants discussed above.

The World’s Richest Hide $31 Trillion Dollars to Avoid Taxes

A new report from the former chief economist at the prestigious McKinsey firm – an expert on tax havens – concludes that

The Guardian notes:

A global super-rich elite has exploited gaps in cross-border tax rules to hide an extraordinary £13 trillion ($21tn) of wealth offshore – as much as the American and Japanese GDPs put together ….

James Henry, former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens, has compiled the most detailed estimates yet of the size of the offshore economy in a new report, The Price of Offshore Revisited, released exclusively to the Observer.

He shows that at least £13tn – perhaps up to £20tn [i.e. $31 trillion dollars] – has leaked out of scores of countries into secretive jurisdictions such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands with the help of private banks, which vie to attract the assets of so-called high net-worth individuals. Their wealth is, as Henry puts it, “protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy”.

***

The detailed analysis in the report, compiled using data from a range of sources, including the Bank of International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund, suggests that for many developing countries the cumulative value of the capital that has flowed out of their economies since the 1970s would be more than enough to pay off their debts to the rest of the world.

***

“The problem here is that the assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments,” the report says.

The sheer size of the cash pile sitting out of reach of tax authorities is so great that it suggests standard measures of inequality radically underestimate the true gap between rich and poor. According to Henry’s calculations, £6.3tn of assets is owned by only 92,000 people, or 0.001% of the world’s population – a tiny class of the mega-rich who have more in common with each other than those at the bottom of the income scale in their own societies.

“These estimates reveal a staggering failure: inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people,” said John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network. “People on the street have no illusions about how unfair the situation has become.” [Remember that rampant inequality destroys economies. And conservatives or liberals are both offended by it.]

Al Jazeera reports:

Rich individuals and their families have as much as $32 trillion of hidden financial assets in offshore tax havens, representing up to $280bn in lost income tax revenues, according to research published on Sunday.

The study estimating the extent of global private financial wealth held in offshore accounts – excluding non-financial assets such as real estate, gold, yachts and racehorses – puts the sum at between $21 and $32 trillion.

***

John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network told Al Jazeera that he was shocked by “the sheer scale of the figures”.

“What’s shocking is that some of the world’s biggest banks are up to their eyeballs in helping their clients evade taxes and shift their wealth offshore,” said Christensen.

“We’re talking about very big, well-known brands – HSBC, Citigroup, Bank of America, UBS, Credit Suisse – some of the world’s biggest banks are involved… and they do it knowing fully well that their clients, more often than not, are evading and avoiding taxes.”

Much of this activity, Christensen added, was illegal.

***

The research estimates that since the 1970s, the richest citizens of these 139 countries had amassed $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of “unrecorded offshore wealth” by 2010.

Private wealth held offshore represents “a huge black hole in the world economy,” Henry said in a statement.

Either Eliminate Taxes – Or Tax Fairly – But Don’t Allow Fraud to Rob the Middle Class Blind

Some say that we could eliminate all taxes if we take away from the big banks the monopoly power to create credit, so that the government doesn’t have to pay trillions on interest for that credit.

Some say that income taxes are illegal, because they were never ratified by the states.

Some say that – since more than half of all government discretionary spending goes to imperial wars of adventure and most of the rest is thrown at the big banks so they can keep ripping us off – paying taxes is just propping up a destructive system.

Others – including some leading conservatives – say that the problem is that the wealthiest haven’t been forced to pay their fair share of taxes.

We’re not weighing in one way or the other. But one thing is for sure: either no one should pay taxes, or we should all – illegal immigrants, giant corporations and the super-rich – be subject to the same rules and pay our fair share.

Soaking the middle class is unfair, unjust … and unAmerican. Indeed, while the Boston Tea Party was a revolt against taxation without representation, it largely centered on the British government’s disproportionate tax breaks towards the East India Company, the giant company which dominated the tea market and hurt small American business.

Illegal Aliens Scam Tax Refunds

For years, American taxpayers have been shelling out $4.2 billion dollars per year to pay for a scam.

A report by the Inspector General found that some 2 million illegal immigrants have been receiving large tax refunds by pretending that numerous dependents live with them … when, in fact, most of the dependents live in Mexico and have never lived in the United States.

Once whistleblowers called attention to this problem, their IRS bosses told them to ignore the fraud and look the other way:


WND notes:

The problem was not a revelation to the Northern California IRS field-office worker who viewed the report: “The fraud has been going on for years,” he told WND. “Business as usual.”

“As the video indicates the Service does nothing,” he said, asking WND not use his name to avoid reprisal.

(The Federal Reserve has been bailing out foreign banks for years; but we assume that this is not a backdoor bailout for foreign nationals.)

Why You’re Paying Too Much In Taxes Today: Because Everyone from the Ultra-Rich to Illegal Immigrants Pay Nothing … Or Get Tax Refunds was originally published on Washington's Blog

3 policy proposals after we win: Unfu*k the world, Employ existing solutions, Explore breakthroughs

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 12:49

Leaders, such as you paying attention to alternative media, act intelligently in the present, and plan for a brighter future. Earth’s successful future seems to demand inclusion of these three policy goals:

  1. Unfu*k the world.
  2. Employ existing solutions.
  3. Explore potential breakthroughs.

The present is dominated in tragic-comic chaos from an oligarchy immersed in “Big Lie” crimes centering in in warmoney, and media (also in ~100 other crucial areas). The public rises in the 2014 Worldwide Wave of Action (and here) that began on the April 4 anniversary of Martin King’s assassination by the US government (civil court trial verdict, Martin’ 2-minute plea to you), and emerges unpredictably such as the Bundy land case.

Nobody I work with knows with any certainty how the endgame will play out. We assume the oligarchy has many factions on the public’s side. There seems to be three general outcomes:

  1. The oligarchy wins by controlling opposition and moving forward with their policy agenda. This may ensue from successful false-flag attack (such as shooting BLM agents at Bundy Ranch, blaming patriots, then mass arrests).
  2. The contest continues between the oligarchy spinning and scheming, and an awakening public without critical mass to affect policies.
  3. The public sufficiently awakens, cause oligarch surrender, and we have a clear playing field for truth, justice, and cooperation.

To be clear: the above links (among work of hundreds in alternative media) easily explain, document, and prove a “1%” criminal oligarchy engage in psychopathic crimes that annually kill millions, harm billions, and loot trillions. The battle seems to not be about what the facts are, but the art and science of causing communication for critical mass public recognition.

One area of important communication in this contest is the enormously brighter future we all have from truth, justice, and freedom. The following seem to be essential policy proposals:

1. Unfu*k the world: A first obvious step is to expose and end existing crimes of our current oligarchy centering in warmoney, and media (also in ~100 other crucial areas). This will be realized by causing surrender through arrests or Truth & Reconciliation of these psychopathic criminals who joke about killing millions, harming billions, and looting trillions. When enough of the 99% demand surrender, US military and law enforcement will stop being the 1%’s minions, and end their power relatively quickly.

This goal also creates safety for thousands of whistle-blowers to reveal the truth of how badly Earth has been dominated. Stopping these “Big Lie” crimes is an obvious first goal.

2. Employ existing solutions: Among ~100 areas of tremendous value, here are three:

3. Explore potential breakthroughs: Healthfree energy, and even extraterrestrial disclosure are among these tantalizing possibilities. While it’s relatively easy for anyone with a small degree of intellectual integrity and moral courage to see the crimes, propaganda, and existing solutions of 2014 Earth, we would love to see what an unleashed planet is capable of creating.

This topic will be the most fun, exciting, and joyful of all.

What policy proposals do you most want to see realized? Your engagement in both the facts of oligarch crimes, and the brighter future we all want will help win this contest for literal Truth, Justice, and Freedom (superhero-esque, yes, but the most accurate I see to call it).

 

3 policy proposals after we win: Unfu*k the world, Employ existing solutions, Explore breakthroughs was originally published on Washington's Blog

The Alienation of Work

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 12:45

The emerging economy is opening up new ways to reconnect workers to their work and the profits from their work.

One of the most striking blind spots in our collective angst over the lack of jobs is our apparent disinterest in the nature of work and how work creates value. This disinterest is reflected in a number of conventional assumptions.

One is the constant shedding of tears over the loss of mind-numbing manufacturing jobs. I doubt a single one of the innumerable pundits decrying the loss of “good manufacturing jobs” spent even one shift in an actual assembly line. There is a reason Henry Ford had to pay the then-astronomical salary of $5 per day to his assembly-line workers: the work was so physically demanding and boring that workers quit after a single shift. The only incentive that would keep people doing such hellish work day in, day out, was a big paycheck.

Henry Ford’s $5-a-Day Revolution

After the success of the moving assembly line, Henry Ford had another transformative idea: in January 1914, he startled the world by announcing that Ford Motor Company would pay $5 a day to its workers. The pay increase would also be accompanied by a shorter workday (from nine to eight hours). While this rate didn’t automatically apply to every worker, it more than doubled the average autoworker’s wage.While Henry’s primary objective was to reduce worker attrition–labor turnover from monotonous assembly line work was high–newspapers from all over the world reported the story as an extraordinary gesture of goodwill.

Another is the confusion over what constitutes the means of production in a knowledge economy. The term means of production has its origins in Marx’s analysis of capitalism, but the means of production change along with the processes of creating value.

As a result, Peter Drucker identified the worker’s knowledge (human capital) as themeans of production in a knowledge economy in his book Post-Capitalist Society.

Many readers have misunderstood Drucker’s point; their objections include 1) the software workers use is essentially owned by Microsoft and other corporations; 2) only corporations have the means to use workers’ knowledge and 3) means of production is an outdated Marxist term that is being mis-used by Drucker.

These objections miss the point. A skilled knowledge-worker can create $100,000 of value with a $500 PC and $300 of software. What percentage does the software represent of the output ($100,000)? Not even 1%.

As for corporations being the only owners of capital who can deploy workers’ knowledge, millions of self-employed people suggest that this blanket statement is not entirely true. Yes, enterprises that deploy billions of dollars in material capital (oil drilling rigs, shipyards, etc.) cannot be replaced by the self-employed, but what percentage of the economy requires billions of dollars in capital to operate? In a service-dominated economy, capital-intensive industries are a shrinking slice of the pie.

Rather than focus on employment, why don’t we examine the nature of work? Why don’t we ask how work creates value in a knowledge economy that is commoditizing/automating whatever labor can be commoditized/automated? How about asking if work can be re-shaped to become meaningful beyond the paycheck being earned?

Let’s review the idea that work that isn’t controlled and owned by the workers is inherently alienating.

In Marx’s view, workers were alienated from the product of their work because they did not own the product or control the means of production. Marx argued that the absence of ownership and control was also an absence of agency (control of one’s destiny) and meaning. Workers were estranged from the product of their work, from other workers and from themselves, as the natural order of the product of work belonging to the one who produced it was upended by capitalism.

Marx characterized this separation of work from ownership of the work and its output as social alienation from human nature. Capitalism, in his view, did not just reorder production into enterprises whose sole goal was profit and accumulating more capital; it destroyed the natural connection between the worker, the processes of work and the product of his work.

Marx was thus one of the first to analyze work not just in terms of economic output but in social and psychological terms.

This tradition was carried on by writers such as Eric Hoffer, who saw work as the source of life’s meaning, and Christopher Lasch, who saw the rise of consumerism as the basis of meaning and the rootless cosmopolitanism of the modern economy as the source of a culture of narcissism. For Lasch, the relentless commoditization of life disrupted the natural social relations of family, social reciprocity and the workplace, depriving individuals of these sources of meaning and replacing them with an empty consumerism that worshipped fame and celebrity.

Lasch explained these dynamics in his landmark book The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations.

The marketplace’s commoditization of everyday life–both parents working all day for corporations so they could afford corporate childcare, for example–created two alienating dynamics: a narcissistic personality crippled by a fragile sense of self that sought solace in consumerist identifiers ( wearing the right brands, etc.) and a therapeutic mindset that saw alienation not as the consequence of large-scale, centralized commoditization and financialization but as individual issues to be addressed with self-help and pop psychology.

In Lasch’s view, both of these dynamics ignored the loss of authenticity that resulted from the commoditization not just of production but of every aspect of everyday life. In this sense, Lasch’s social analysis is an extension of Marx’s original insight into the alienating dynamics of commoditized wage-work, in which workers and their work were both interchangeable.

Lasch’s analysis brings us to the source of modern alienation: it’s not just employees who are interchangeable–employers are equally interchangeable. The interchangeability of work, employees, employers, products and services is the key characteristic of commoditization.

What is the takeaway for those seeking a job or career? There are several takeaways.

One is that the sources of value creation are linked to the level of agency (control of one’s work) and ownership of the work: work that is not process-based (i.e. that cannot be commoditized) and that is experientially sensitive to mastery enables a higher level of agency and ownership because the worker owns the means of production–his human and social capital.

The second is that the dramatic lowering of barriers to education and the ownership of tools powered by the Internet has greatly expanded the opportunities to escape an alienating dependence on the state and cartels for employment and on superficial consumerism for meaning.

If we trust networks rather than states or corporations for our security, we automatically gain agency (control of our work and lives) and an authentic sense of self gained from owning our work and the results of our work.

It is important to understand that corporations exist to make a profit and accumulate capital, for if they do not make a profit and accumulate capital they will bleed capital and disappear. To believe that organizations dedicated to making a profit could magically organize society in ways that benefit every participant is nonsense. Corporations organize labor and capital to accumulate capital. It is absurd to expect that such organized self-interest magically optimizes the social order.

This is not to blame all the ills of society on corporations; it is simply to note that corporations are limited by their limited purpose. Their purpose is not to organize a healthy, sustainable economy; it is to organize labor and capital in such a way that the corporation can accumulate capital in a marketplace controlled by supply and demand.

Corporations have profited greatly from the alienation of work and the social order, as narcissistic debt-based consumerism is a highly profitable economic order, even if it is socially dysfunctional, unsustainable and destructive to individual agency and meaning.

The expansion of decentralized, distributed networks, the near-zero cost of knowledge and the declining cost of the means of production (digital memory and processors, software, 3-D fabrication machines, robotics and tools) offer newfound opportunities for workers to reclaim their agency and ownership of their work and output.

Rather than rely on centralized states and corporations to organize labor and capital, collaborative networks can do so without alienating workers from their work and disrupting the sources of meaning.

The emerging economy is opening up new ways to reconnect workers to their work and the profits from their work. These include traditional models such as self-employment and worker-owned cooperatives and new models of collaborative project-based work.

How do we change a dysfunctional, unsustainable and alienating system? By investing in new ways of creating value and alternative models of cooperative work and ownership.

This essay was excerpted from my new book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy which is on sale through Tuesday evening (Pacific Standard time) at a 20% discount for my regular readers ($7.95 for the Kindle edition, 20% off of the list price of $9.95. The print edition is $20).

You can read the introduction and first section of the book here.

The Alienation of Work was originally published on Washington's Blog

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