Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Sunday Reads

Senator Elizabeth Warren introduces bill to stop credit checks in job application process
A bad credit rating is far more often the result of unexpected medical costs, unemployment, economic downturns, or other bad breaks than it is a reflection on an individual’s character or abilities,Senator Warren said. “Families have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and too many Americans are still searching for jobs. This is about basic fairness — let people compete on the merits, not on whether they already have enough money to pay all their bills.” Hat Tip Crooks and Liars

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows us the frugal reality of life on the social safety net.
“This month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics compared yearly spending between families that use public assistance programs, such as food stamps and Medicaid, and families that don’t. Surprise, surprise, households that rely on the safety net lead some pretty frugal lifestyles. On average, they spend $30,582 in a year, compared to $66,525 for families not on public assistance. Meanwhile, they spend a third less on food, half as much on housing, and 60 percent less on entertainment.” Hat Tip Atlantic Magazine

Annual Spending

You Don’t Have the Right to Remain Silent
“On Monday, in a case called Salinas v. Texas that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, the Supreme Court held that you remain silent at your peril. The court said that this is true even before you’re arrested, when the police are just informally asking questions. The court’s move to cut off the right to remain silent is wrong and also dangerous—because it encourages the kind of high-pressure questioning that can elicit false confessions. Hat Tip Slate Magazine”

Who said the appointment of Federal Judges do not have much importance? A judge’s life time appointment sways the legal course of the nation for decades to come until SCOTUS again finds time enough to rule on cases impacting people and not big business.

Land of The Free?
25% of the world prison population resides in US prisons and jails at an ~ cost exceeding $22,000 annually. As I had written in “One In 31 Adults”, ~50% of those incarcerated have been convicted of nonviolent crimes. Maybe it is time to review sentencing guidelines. Hat Tip Crooks and Liars

The Death of The American Dream in a Single Chart
Upward Mobility in America has become increasingly difficult. Whether black or white, “Children from low-income families have only a 1 percent chance of reaching the top 5 percent of the income distribution.” The odds of advancing up a rung increase when racial background is included. Understanding Mobility in America Hat Tip David Atkins At Hullabaloo

Gatsby Curve

Wealth inequality is even more disturbing than income inequality

Distribution of Income by Source

“Democrats are often afraid to talk in these terms because it sounds positively Marxist to do so. But while I don’t consider myself a Marxist, I’ve been writing for a long time now that it’s important to recognize that we have an asset class and a wage-earner class–and their interests don’t align at all.” Hat Tip David Atkins Hullabaloo

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Trans Pacific Partnership

Trans Pacific Partnership is Not Especially Important

Paul Krugman argues that the Trans Pacific Partnership is no big deal:

I’ve been getting a fair bit of correspondence wondering why I haven’t written about the negotiations for a Trans Pacific Partnership

The answer is that I’ve been having a hard time figuring out why this deal is especially important. …

The big talk about TPP isn’t that silly. But my starting point for things like this is that most conventional barriers to trade — tariffs, import quotas, and so on — are already quite low, so that it’s hard to get big effects out of lowering them still further. …

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Political centrism and journalism

Brendan Nyhan at Columbia Journalism Review reminds us to be careful about debating budget priorities:

How should the United States choose among the difficult tradeoffs it faces in setting the federal budget? There’s no one correct answer, but you wouldn’t know it from coverage of the budget deal between Senator Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan, which passed the Senate last night and will soon be signed into law.

Under the norm of objectivity that dominates mainstream political journalism in the United States, reporters are supposed to avoid endorsing competing political viewpoints or proposals. In practice, however, journalists often treat centrist policy priorities—especially on fiscal policy—as value-neutral. That’s wrong. While it’s widely accepted that the federal government faces limits on what it can borrow in the financial markets, there is significant disagreement, including among experts, over the priority that should be given to reducing current deficit and debt levels relative to other possible policy objectives. It is, in other words, a political issue.

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Bezos and the CIA

Via Alternet comes this reminder:

News media should illuminate conflicts of interest, not embody them. But the owner of the  Washington Post is now doing big business with the Central Intelligence Agency, while readers of the newspaper’s CIA coverage are left in the dark.

The Post’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon — which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. But the  Post’s articles about the CIA are not disclosing that the newspaper’s sole owner is the main owner of CIA business partner Amazon.

Even for a multi-billionaire like Bezos, a $600 million contract is a big deal. That’s more than twice as much as Bezos paid to buy the  Post four months ago.

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Accurate reporting

Lifted from an e-mail from reader Jack (http://angrybearblog.com/2013/12/20391.html#comments):
(attribution corrected…irony comes to mind)

Compare Fujita’s conclusion from the Fed paper, here  http://philadelphiafed.org/research-and-data/publications/research-rap/2013/on-the-causes-of-declines-in-the-labor-force-participation-rate.pdf#page=7, with da Costa’s description in the WSJ. da Costa, “Philly Fed economist Shigeru Fujita argues that the shrinking of the U.S. workforce over the past year and half was “entirely due to retirement” of baby boomers.” http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/12/09/work-force-is-shrinking-because-of-retiring-boomers-philly-fed-paper-argues/

Apparently what Fujita concludes has gotten lost in da Costa’s translation, and both writings are in English. The WSJ staff don’t concern themselves with that. A word, phrase or sentence left out here and there can significantly change the originals author’s meaning and the details presented in the body of the original report are wholly misrepresented. That’s what slanted media can do to the public’s understanding of issues, especially when the data being presented is complex and a bit arcane in a layman’s vernacular.

Fujita’s conclusion:

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Sunday Reading

Emerging Strategy for the DEMS; Karoli at Crooks and Liars, Dems Strategy on Extending Unemployment Insurance  Dems will leverage their votes to pass the Farm Bill for an extension of Unemployment . “Now that Congress is set to leave town even as unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans are set to expire just after Christmas, is there any chance that Democrats can still prevail on Republicans to agree to extend them? Dems who are pushing for an extension have hatched a new plan to do just that: Once Congress returns, they will refuse to support the reauthorization of the farm bill — which will almost certainly need Dem support to pass the House — unless Republicans agree to restart unemployment benefits with the farm bill’s savings.”  I guess two can play that game.

She Did It for the Kids. “Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Friday lashed out at critics who she said had accused her and Fox News of being racist because she insisted that Santa Claus and Jesus Christ had to be white men. For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white,” Kelly said at the time. “But this person is just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa. But Santa is what he is.

Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change, you know?” she added. “I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa — I just want the kids watching to know that.” So is the verifiable fact both Jesus and Santa Claus are white men or historical figures? Megyn Kelly won’t back down   David’s Feed

PPACA Website Adventures: Next stop, the call center. I got the power cord to my phone, plugged it in along with my headphones so I could be hands-free, and started dialing. First try, I got the “call back later, we’re too busy” recording. So I waited awhile and tried again. Big mistake. I should have just kept dialing.

It took a total of nine tries to get into the queue, but I did finally hit the magic “Press 1 for English” message. I did so, and settled into the wait, hoping against all hope that I wouldn’t get dumped from the queue like I had on two other occasions.

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Who are these missing workers?

From author Heidi Shierholz at Economic Policy Institute:

A blog post by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa in the Wall Street Journal highlights findings from a paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia that much of the shrinking of the U.S. workforce has been due to workers retiring early…

I’ve looked at the breakdown by age of the 5.6 million “missing workers”—potential workers who, because of weak job opportunities in the aftermath of the Great Recession, are neither employed nor actively seeking work. More than three-quarters of missing workers are under age 55 and are therefore unlikely to be early retirees…

(Chart below the fold)

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‘Socialism’ is a rough proxy for interventionist government? REALLY, Thomas Edsall?

Obama argues that government action is required to redress the growing disparity between rich and poor, diminished opportunities for upward mobility and economic stagnation. Public opinion, at least according to the Stimson analysis, is moving in precisely the opposite direction. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey gives us a glimpse of some of the headwinds Obama faces. Pew found that among all voters, capitalism (a rough proxy for deregulated markets) is viewed favorably by a 50-40 margin and socialism (a rough proxy for interventionist government) negatively by 60-31.

Does Rising Inequality Make Us Hardhearted?, Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times, today

Wow, whata surprise.  By a 50-40 margin, Americans polled by the Pew Research Center in 2011 preferred capitalism to socialism.

Excuse me, but, so what?

Folks, I’m really, really liberal on economics issues, but I am not nor have I ever been a Socialist or a supporter of actual socialism.  (I swear, Sen. McCarthy!)  My best guess is that that’s also true of a majority of, say, Swedes, Canadians and Germans.  As is reflected in their government’s policies. They hold liberal views on economic and fiscal policy.  They are not socialists.

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Five Hundred Writers Call for A Bill of Digital Rights

From Tom Stoppard to Eva Manasse writers around the world have called for an end of Internet spying. Following is their petition to the United Nations.

In recent months, the extent of mass surveillance has become common knowledge. With a few clicks of the mouse the state can access your mobile device, your email, your social networking and internet searches. It can follow your political leanings and activities and, in partnership with internet corporations, it collects and stores your data, and thus can predict your consumption and behaviour.

The basic pillar of democracy is the inviolable integrity of the individual. Human integrity extends beyond the physical body. In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested.

This fundamental human right has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations for mass surveillance purposes.

A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space.

* Surveillance violates the private sphere and compromises freedom of thought and opinion.

* Mass surveillance treats every citizen as a potential suspect. It overturns one of our historical triumphs, the presumption of innocence.

* Surveillance makes the individual transparent, while the state and the corporation operate in secret. As we have seen, this power is being systemically abused.

* Surveillance is theft. This data is not public property: it belongs to us. When it is used to predict our behaviour, we are robbed of something else: the principle of free will crucial to democratic liberty.

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The Third Way summary

It’s critical to understand that Third Way presents itself as “centrist” and a think tank:

thirdway
Third Way

Via Huffington Post Bill Black summarizes the profiles of the trustees:

Twenty of the twenty-nine trustees come from finance (counting the lawyer whose specialty is representing private equity firms). Their most common background is Mitt Romney’s — private equity — and hedge funds. The nine non-finance members include:

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