Sunday, December 29, 2013

WTF?! NSA Actually Intercepted Packages to Put Backdoors in Electronics

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The NSA Actually Intercepted Packages to Put Backdoors in Electronics

The NSA revelations keep on coming, and if you're feeling desensitized to the whole thing it's time to refocus and get your game face on for 2014. Because shit continues to get real.

SPIEGEL published two pieces this morning about the NSA's Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division, aka premier hacking ninja squad. According to Snowden documents, TAO has a catalog of all the commercial equipment that carries NSA backdoors. And it's a who's who of a list. Storage products from Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung have backdoors in their firmware, firewalls from Juniper Networks have been compromised, plus networking equipment from Cisco and Huawei, and even unspecified products from Dell. TAO actually intercepts online orders of these and other electronics to bug them.

SPIEGEL notes that the documents do not provide any evidence that the manufacturers mentioned had any idea about this NSA activity. Every company spokesperson contacted by Spiegel reporters denied having any knowledge of the situation, though Dell officials said instead that the company "respects and complies with the laws of all countries in which it operates."

TAO uses software hacking in things like Windows bug reports to get the information and device control they need, of course. But if that's not enough, they even have a special group of hardware hackers who create modified equipment for TAO specialists to try and plant. A monitor cable that allows "TAO personnel to see what is displayed on the targeted monitor," costs $30. An "active GSM base station" for monitoring cellphone calls costs $40,000, and converted flashdrives that plant bugs and can also transmit and receive data with hidden radio signals come in 50-packs for more than $1 million. The NSA octopus spreads its tentacles even further. [SPIEGEL, SPIEGEL]"


Saturday, December 28, 2013

No Qaeda Link Seen in Benghazi Attack; Contrary to claims by some members of Congress, Militia and Insults to Islam Fueled Assault


"the September 2012 attack on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans was led by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO's extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was accelerated in part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.
A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both challenges now hang over the American involvement in Syria's civil conflict.
The attack also suggests that, as the threats from local militants around the region have multiplied, an intensive focus on combating Al Qaeda may distract from safeguarding American interests."

Further proof the Justice Department is protecting JP Morgan from criminal prosecution

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"In what may be the least surprising article of 2013, we find out from Newsweek that the Department of Justice is going out of its way to protect the poor little babies at JP Morgan from criminal prosecution in the Bernie Madoff case. While we know all too well about the institutionalized practice of "Too Big to Jail" that dominates the current fraud system of so called "justice" in America, it is still of the utmost importance that we spread these stories far and wide. Amazingly, in this instance the DOJ is actively blocking the Treasury Inspector General from doing his job in order to protect the mega-bank.

From Newsweek:

Bernard Madoff's principal bank, JPMorgan Chase, has for years obstructed federal bank examiners trying to ascertain what it knew about his gigantic Ponzi scheme, an official document obtained by Newsweek shows.

The Justice Department refused in September to back up Treasury inspector general staff who wanted a  court order to enforce a subpoena, in effect shielding JPMorgan from law enforcement, the October 8 document shows.

The Justice Department told the Treasury Inspector General "that they were denying the request for enforcement of the subpoena," which means officials "could not undertake further actions regarding this matter," wrote Jason J. Metrick, the inspector general special-agent-in-charge.

The memo revealing that Justice protected JPMorgan from an obstruction complaint raises anew questions about how much the Obama administration has done to protect the big banks, whose lies about mortgage securities and other investments they sold sank the economy in 2008."


"Workers in Nevada, California, Illinois, Georgia, and New Jersey will get hit hardest when jobless benefits expire [today]."

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On Dec. 28, roughly 1.3 million out-of-work Americans will lose their unemployment insurance. That's because Congress declined to renew an emergency aid program for the jobless that's set to expire that day.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This could still change: Senate Democrats have said they'll come back in early January and try to renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program for another year, which would cost roughly $25.2 billion. But if that effort fails, the nation's safety net for the unemployed will shrink significantly in 2014.

So, here's our primer on what this emergency unemployment program is and why it's shrinking, as well as the arguments for and against renewing it.

What is the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program? The unemployment insurance program, which dates to 1935, provides laid-off workers with a fraction of their old salary for a fixed period of time while they search for a new job. In 2008, Congress expanded this program to deal with the recession. That expansion is what's at issue.

To get more specific: In normal times, the states and federal government work together to fund up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. (The precise number varies from state to state — North Carolina only provides up to 19 weeks, Michigan 20 weeks.) When unemployment is particularly high, states can usually get some federal funding to provide an extra 13 or 20 weeks of "extended benefits."

But starting in 2008, Congress expanded this program significantly. First, the federal government promised to pick up the entire tab for those "extended benefits" and made it easier for states to receive this money. Second, Congress created the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program to provide additional aid to workers when their state benefits ran out.

This additional financing has shrunk somewhat from its peak — currently only about one-third of the 4.1 million long-term unemployed receive benefits, and budget cuts have pared back benefit levels. Even so, at the moment, many states still offer up to 63 or even 73 weeks of unemployment aid, and benefits average around $300 a week.

What will change when this program expires on Dec. 28? This is best shown in map form. Again, most states currently offer jobless benefits for up to 63 or 73 weeks:

But come Dec. 28, the maximum length of time that states can offer jobless benefits will suddenly drop to 26 weeks or less:

That means anyone who was on, say, his 36th week of benefits will suddenly get cut off.

How many people will be affected by this change? Starting at the end of the year, some 1.3 million people who have been out of work and receiving benefits for longer than 26 weeks (or less, in some states) will lose those benefits immediately.

Then, over the course of the year, other unemployed workers will fall out of the program once they hit 26 weeks (or less). All told, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 4.9 million people will get less unemployment aid than they would under an extension:

Or: The Wall Street Journal has a nice interactive map showing where the workers likely to be affected all live. Nevada, California, Illinois, Georgia, and New Jersey are among those states that get hit hardest:

extended benefits map

Can't workers who lose their unemployment benefits find jobs? In theory, sure. But this isn't as easy as it sounds. The economy is still pretty weak, and there aren't always enough jobs to go around — the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are now  about 2.9 unemployed workers for every job opening. That's worse than the ratio at any point during the 2001 recession.

What's more, the long-term unemployed — those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more — face additional challenges. Studies have found that most companies will barely even consider their résumés. Employers seem to assume that if these workers have been unemployed for so long, there must be something wrong with them. Most of the 1.3 million workers who are seeing their benefits cut off are in this category.

If they can't find work, what will happen to people who lose their benefits? That's not entirely clear, since there are few studies that track these workers.

One possibility is that they'll try to get on disability insurance. But a recent NBER working paper by Andreas Mueller, Jesse Rothstein and Till M. von Wachter found that in the past, by and large, American workers have not been going on disability after their unemployment benefits have lapsed. After all, it's not easy to qualify for disability.

Another possibility is that they'll simply drop out of the labor force entirely. That was the conclusion of a recent research note from JP Morgan chief economist Michael Feroli, who argued that many of those 1.3 million workers may simply give up looking for jobs once their benefits lapse. Many of those workers were only continuing their search in order to qualify for benefits. Once the aid is gone, they'll stop looking.

(It's worth noting that North Carolina recently slashed its state unemployment benefits, so that's one place to look for a possible answer here. So far, the evidence is a bit ambiguous — Evan Soltas and Kevin Erdmann bother offer good analysis.)

Will the expiration have a broader economic impact? Yes, possibly. First, if workers who get cut off stop looking for jobs, they won't count in the "official" unemployment rate. JP Morgan's Feroli estimates that this rate could drop from 0.25 to 0.5 percentage points. But that lower rate won't be a sign that the economy is getting any better.

The lapse in benefits could also exert some drag on the U.S. economy, since those jobless workers will have less money to spend. Feroli estimates that the expiration of benefits will shave about 0.4 percentage points from first-quarter economic growth next year. The Economic Policy Institute recently estimated that the lapse will cut GDP by about 0.2 percent and cost 310,000 jobs.

This is an emergency program. Isn't the emergency over? That's one argument for letting the extended benefits lapse. The program was never supposed to last forever. So why not end it now?

One counterargument comes from economist Chad Stone of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, notes that that, technically, we're still facing a jobs "emergency." That's particularly true for workers who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more — the people most likely to be affected by the cut-off in benefits:

In each of the previous three recessions, Stone notes, federal aid for the unemployed didn't end until the long-term unemployment rate had dropped to around 1.3 percent. Right now, the nation's long-term unemployment rate is falling, but it's still at 2.6 percent, roughly as high as it's been at any point since World War II.

Is Congress going to do anything to offer more aid? Possibly, though that's not certain. Lawmakers could have folded a one-year extension of the emergency program into their end-of-the-year budget deal, which would have cost $25.2 billion. But that didn't happen.

Senate Democrats are planning to push for a one-year extension when they get back to work in January. That extension would apply retroactively to the 1.3 million people who see their benefits end on Dec. 28.

"It's a good bill, and it deserves a vote, and I hope my Republican colleagues will work with us to schedule a vote in a very timely fashion," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this week. And at least some Senate Republicans have signaled that they'd be open to an extension.

Are there opponents of an extension? Other Republicans object to the idea, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). "I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they're paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers," Paul said this month. "When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy."

Still other conservatives don't want to spend $25.2 billion to extend the program unless it's offset by cuts elsewhere. "What is it coupled with? How is it paid for? Are there reforms in how it's being administered?," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told National Journal.

Is this the only way to help the long-term unemployed? No. Far from it. Michael R. Strain is a conservative economist at the American Enterprise Institute who has done a lot of work on the long-term unemployed. He thinks the emergency aid program should be extended. But he also thinks that it's insufficient, and that Congress should be doing far, far more to help 4.1 million long-term unemployed get back to work.

Some ideas: Strain has proposed that policymakers try everything from job-relocation assistance to reducing the minimum wage for some of the long-term unemployed (and adding wage subsidies). His AEI colleague Kevin Hassett has proposed that the government directly hire workers who can't find work elsewhere. On the liberal side, Dean Baker of the Center on Economic and Policy Research has proposed a variety of ideas, such as incentives for employers to hire or "worksharing" programs.

"The role of government is to help the most vulnerable in society, and helping the long-term unemployed should be at the top of that agenda," Strain told me. "And anything we can do to help within reason should at least be discussed."

Further reading:

-- CBPP has a more detailed primer on the history of the unemployment insurance program.

-- Michael Strain explains why we should worry much more about long-term unemployment. Dean Baker offers further thoughts here.

-- Here's a closer look (pdf) at the demographics of the long-term unemployed from the Urban Institute.

Toby Keith Fans ENRAGED by Gun Ban at Country Star’s Restaurant

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"Country music star Toby Keith seems to have lost his "good ol' boy" standing with throngs of Second Amendment worshipers all across America over the sacrilegious (to them) "no guns permitted" sign posted on the door of his newest restaurant in gun-friendly Virginia.

Fresh off the uproar over the Phil Robertson suspension from every redneck's favorite show, Duck Dynasty, the gun ban at Keith's newest restaurant promises to push those folk's collective blood pressure into downright dangerous territory. And if some of the messages being seen on Facebook and other social media is any indication, these people are every bit as angry as they were over the Duck Dynasty quackery.

And of course, all of these pissed off people completely miss this little detail: Toby Keith himself did not make the decision to ban guns from this particular restaurant in Woodbridge, Virginia. The restaurant is a privately-owned franchise, and those owners made that decision. Other Toby Keith restaurants allow open carry at those locations.

But no matter. These gun-toting folks need a target. Even if it's not the right one. Hopefully this isn't a metaphor for how skilled they are at identifying and shooting their targets with their beloved guns.

One other small detail… In the state of Virginia, you may open carry into any restaurant or bar that allows it, and while the law is vague on drinking while open carrying, if you drink and have a concealed weapon on you, then you're breaking the law.

Here is just a sampling of some of the posts on the Facebook page of the Toby Keith restaurant with the offending message, as well as the Toby Keith Facebook page.

And of course, in addition to the above mentioned-ignorance, you'll see the obligatory "that vermin is violatin' the consitushion!" theme in some of these messages…

FB Keith 1

Keith is fake and hates guns so much that he titled one of his albums "Bullets in the Gun". And besides, it wasn't Keith who decided to not permit guns in this particular restaurant."

Unemployment benefits expired on Saturday for those who have been out of work for six months or more

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"On Saturday, federal unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed will expire, leaving 1.3 million people without the support they've been relying on as they have searched for new work for about six months or longer.

The federal program kicked in for those who exhausted their state-level benefits, which usually run out at around 26 weeks. But Congress failed to reauthorize the program before the end of the year, as it has 11 times since it was first enacted in June 2008 under President George W. Bush, so those benefits have run out. Another 850,000 workers who will exhaust their state benefits and would have turned to the federal program in the next three months will also be left without support. In total, more than 4 million people have been out of a job for more than 27 weeks, making up nearly 40 percent of all the unemployed.

The lapse in benefits leaves people like Lillian Humphrey, who has relied on the benefits since May to pay her bills after osteoporosis left her unable to do the heavy lifting required by her job, facing choices like tapping into Social Security early to get by. People like Alan may have to give up on pursuing training for a new and more promising career. And those like John De Marchi, who spent six years training and three years working to get into the field of 3-D design, will have to take whatever job they can and derail their current careers.

Research backs up their stories, as it shows that those who receive unemployment benefits work harder to find a new job than those who don't. On the other hand, a failure to get benefits means that the typical family will see its income drop by about 16 percent and it will spend 22 percent less on food. The program also benefits the economy broadly beyond the individual impacts. With Saturday's lapse, GDP growth could drop by 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points and the economy could lose out on as many as 240,000 jobs. The government will also likely have to spend more on social safety net programs like food stamps or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (formerly known as welfare) when families turn to them after their benefits run out.

President Obama called for Congress to pass an emergency extension of the program from his vacation on Friday, but Congress is in recess so any action will have to wait for the new year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said an extension will be the top issue for his chamber when Congress returns on January 6 and other Democrats have made a noisy push for reauthorizing the program. Yet Republicans have indicated they may not support extending it despite the fact that many used to be in favor of the long-term benefits."


13 most underreported news stories of 2013

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From Aaron Swartz to Assange, Monsanto to Manning, fracking fears, Iraq carnage and more, here are RT's "Top 13 of 2013." These vastly underreported stories are some of the biggest ones to fly under the mainstream media's radar this year.

The persecution and death of Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz (Reuters / Noah Berger)

The visionary cofounder of Reddit and open access advocate who played a key role in how we navigate the web today, Aaron Swartz was young, precocious and determined to change the world. But with "the trial" looming large over his head, the tech genius succumbed to the pressure on January 11, hanging himself with his own belt in the Brooklyn apartment he shared with his girlfriend.


Gitmo hunger strike

In February, many of the men being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility launched a hunger strike against camp conditions. It was sparked by a disrespectful treatment of Quran. One month into the strike, attorneys for the men, many housed at the facilities infamous Camp 6, said the number refusing food had already reached 100.

Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the surveillence of US military police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (AFP Photo / Shane T. Mccoy)


Mayflower Oil Spill

On March 29, ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline burst near the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, flooding the town with the equivalent of over 10,000 barrels of crude oil. Nearly two dozen homes were evacuated following the accident, which the US Environmental Protection Agency categorized as a "major spill".


'Million Mask March'

'Remember, remember the Fifth of November', when protesters donning white-faced Guy Fawkes masks gathered in an estimated 450 locations worldwide to protest corporate greed, corrupt governance, and the ever expanding surveillance state.

The event, dubbed the "Million Mask March," was associated with the hacktivist collective Anonymous and the horizontally organized Occupy movement. Originally growing out of the image board 4chan, Anonymous became increasingly political following the 2011 Arab Spring, targeting governments and corporations like the internet's answer to white blood cells.

Reuters / Kai Pfaffenbach


No Fracking way!

On October 19, Fracktivists' from over 26 countries organized the Global Frackdown protest to demand an end to "dangerous" shale gas drilling.

A natural gas well is drilled near Canton, in Bradford County, Pennsylvania (Reuters / Les Stone)


FBI kills Todashev, friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect

FBI agents shot an unarmed Chechen man in the head during questioning over his suspected ties to the Boston Marathon bombings of May 2013. The FBI has since aimed to sweep the incident under the rug, blocking the release of Ibragim Todashev's autopsy and intimidating those associated with him.

A member of the FBI enters the apartment of Ibragim Todashev, 27, in Orlando, Florida, May 22, 2013. (Reuters / Phelan Ebenehack)


The world marches against Monsanto and GMO

Public anger against GMO food products and GMO giant, Monsanto, erupted in massive global protests in May and October against the company's stranglehold on global food production. Millions went out in 50 countries, with signs reading 'Hell no GMO'.

People hold signs during one of many worldwide "March Against Monsanto" protests against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and agro-chemicals, in Los Angeles, California October 12, 2013. (Reuters / Lucy Nicholson)


War on Anonymous

This year was a busy one for hacktivist group Anonymous, as well as for attorneys representing alleged members of the collective.

Online operations waged over the past year by the internationally-dispersed band of hackers and activists attracted the attention of people across the globe. But it wasn't just ordinary citizens keeping an eye on the group; governments and prosecutors were doing the same. In fact, 2013 witnessed numerous global efforts aimed at taking the group down.

AFP Photo / Marco Bertorello


The Trial of Chelsea Manning

If you're looking for proof that the mainstream media failed Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, look no further than statements made by the imprisoned WikiLeaks source herself.

Not only was the three-month military court martial of Manning largely ignored by established media outlets, but the former private first class said while on the stand that her own efforts to attract the attention of the press years earlier - before she turned to anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks - were ignored as well.

Fort Meade : US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning arrives alongside military officials at a US military court facility to hear his sentence in his trial at Fort Meade, Maryland on August 21, 2013. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)


WikiLeaks victories as Assange incarceration in Ecuador embassy reaches 3rd anniversary

WikiLeaks won a court case in April that landed Visa with million-dollar fines for its financial blockade of the site. Julian Assange, still holed up in Ecuador's London Embassy, said it was a victory over Washington's attempt to silence WikiLeaks.

December 7 marked the third year of his detention, despite no charges being filed against him in the country. Assange remains under threat of extradition to Sweden, with the journalist being wanted for questioning in connection with a sexual misconduct investigation, which he labels as politically motivated. He believes Sweden will, in turn, extradite him to the US, where he could face espionage charges, which could carry the death penalty.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (Reuters / Chris Helgren)


Syrian Christians persecuted and forced to flee Maaloula

Maaloula, an ancient Christian town where the locals speak western Aramaic - a language spoken by Christ - has seen some of the fiercest fighting in the Syrian civil war, with attacks on Christians who were eventually forced to make desperate escapes.

Christians and Muslims used to coexist in Maaloula peacefully and despite the civil war raging around them had agreed that their town must remain one of peace. But when Maaloula was taken over in early September by the Islamist fighters from jabat al-Nusra, a group with links to Al-Qaeda, not one of the town's 5,000 Christian residents or virtually a single member of the 2,000 strong Muslim community remained. All have now fled, fearing for their lives. Maaloula has become a ghost town.

A Syrian army tank is seen in the Christian town of Maalula on September 11, 2013. (AFP Photo)


Libya mired in spiral of violence and ongoing chaos

Two years after the NATO-backed deposition of Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, the country is in chaos. 2013 has witnessed the siege of Libya's Foreign ministry, the Russian embassy falling under attack, high-ranking officials kidnapped, as well as repeated and deadly clashes between the Libyan army and Islamist militia.

In April, Libya's foreign ministry was besieged by some 200 men armed with AK-47 assault guns and sniper rifles. Demands were made to sack key foreign service officers in Libya's embassies and consulates abroad. Intense negotiations followed.

FILE PHOTO. Sabha, Libya. (AFP Photo)


Iraq 2013: A year of carnage

Iraq has been embroiled in a bloodbath this year, with over 9,000 killed in total, according to Iraq Body Count - making it the most violent year the country has seen since 2008. RT's timeline of the annihilation was set up to keep track of its escalation.

Nearly two years after US troops withdrew from Iraq, security forces are struggling to combat the violence. Iraq has been plunging deeper into inter-ethnic violence, prompted by ever-growing tensions mostly between the country's majority Shiite community and the Sunni minority.

Iraqis gather around a burning car at the scene of an explosion in the Shiite Muslim Al-Amin district of Baghdad on December 8, 2013. (AFP Photo)


1.3 Million Americans Lose Unemployment Benefits Today. Here's Who to Blame.


Source: The Washington Post

The news: Approximately 1.3 million Americans are set to lose their unemployment benefits on Saturday. Why? As usual, because Congress messed up.

Congress failed to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation – unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed – which means everyone unemployed for longer than 26 weeks is going to see their benefits dry up. 

Unemployment insurance is typically good for 26 weeks. But because of that whole economic collapse and Great Recession, Congress passed the EUC and extended benefits for up to 73 weeks, giving those struggling to find a job more time and relieving the stress of being jobless. That's a pretty big deal. But now, thanks to Congress' ineptitude once again, that extension is expiring. Meaning benefits are going back to a 26-week limit – leaving anyone who has been without a job for longer than that S.O.L.

How we got here: Remember the budget drawn up by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray that just passed Congress with bipartisan support? Everyone cheered that it maybe, hopefully meant that Congress was able to pass something again. Well there was one thing missing in the budget deal: an extension of unemployed benefits. 

A few key Republicans have come out vocally against extending unemployment benefits, like Rand Paul who called an extension a "disservice" and said that benefits for the long-term unemployed are "causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy." Though Democrats in Congress hope to pass a bill early in 2014 to reinstate long-term benefits, this year has been surrendered.

And it's a big deal. This hangs 1.3 million unemployed Americans out to dry. By June 2014, that number more than doubles. And through the end of next year, almost five million Americans will see their unemployment insurance come to an end because Congress couldn't pass this extension.

Roughly 35% of the long-term unemployed live in households below the poverty line. More than 13% are single parents. According to the Urban Institute, "blacks, relative to other groups, are disproportionately represented among long-term unemployed and discouraged workers," at almost 23%. The groups hit hardest by this expiration are the ones already at the margins. And now Congress is making it even harder for them. Nice work, guys.

The longer you're out of work, the harder it is to find a job. For those unemployed for longer than 26 weeks, the chance of finding a job is only 12% per month. The expiration of the EUC is taking away benefits from exactly the people who need them most.

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wall street: $91 Billion in Bonuses, $83 Billion in Government Subsidies/year.

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"Earlier this year, Bloomberg calculated that the top 10 U.S. banks receive a $83 billion a year in subsidies from the government, due to their cheap cost of funding & the preferential treatment creditors give them because they assume the government sees them as TBTF.

In November, a NYT analysis of a Johnson Associates survey found that the top eight U.S. banks set aside $91.44 billion for bonuses in 2013.


This absurd amount in bonuses, given the subsidy banks get, is even MORE absurd when you think through all the OTHER ways they profited this year do to criminal activities. (See my roundup of SOME of the 2013 bank crimes, and my top three worst offenses). And the fact that 10 million people were displaced from their homes during the foreclosure crisis—as many as live in the entire state of Michigan!"

rest at

Banks got estimated subsidy from taxpayers of $83 billion a year; some of this may be paid out to banksters as bonuses

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"For the past 40 years, corporate America has spent untold millions convincing lawmakers and the wider public that government intervention in the private sector results in painful unintended consequences that harm us all. At the same time, corporate-backed think tanks and media outlets have advanced the narrative that public benefits create a culture of dependency, and by doing so ultimately do their recipients more harm than good.

The hypocrisy of these claims is becoming increasingly evident as low-wage employers — notably retailers and the fast-food industry — enjoy profits subsidized by their workers' reliance on public benefits. These firms are the real "welfare queens" in today's economy.

And that also appears to be the case higher up on the economic ladder — much higher up. This week, Alexis Goldstein noticed a similarity between two headline-grabbing numbers. She writes:

Earlier this year, Bloomberg calculated that the top 10 US banks receive $83 billion a year in subsidies from the government, due to their cheap cost of funding and the preferential treatment creditors give them because they assume the government sees them as TBTF.

In November, a NYT analysis of a Johnson Associates survey found that the top eight US banks set aside $91.44 billion for bonuses in 2013.

You can read more of her research at the Because Finance is Boring Tumbler."

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.@SenRandPaul Rand Paul, on gov't paid vacation blocked unemployment insurance payment extension #p2 #tcot

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"WASHINGTON — An emergency federal program that acts as a lifeline for 1.3 million jobless workers will end on Saturday, drastically curtailing government support for the long-term unemployed and setting the stage for a major political fight in the new year.

The program, in place since the recession started in 2008, provides up to 47 weeks of supplemental unemployment insurance payments to jobless people looking for work. Its expiration is expected to have far-reaching ramifications for the economy, cutting job growth by about 300,000 positions next year and pushing hundreds of thousands of households below the poverty line.

An extension of the unemployment program did not make it into the two-year budget deal that was passed just before Congress left on its winter recess. When the federal program expires, just one in four unemployed Americans will receive jobless benefits — the smallest proportion in half a century.

"I really depend on unemployment," said David Davis of Chantilly, Va., adding that the $1,600 a month he receives is helping keep him afloat while he interviews for new positions. "I've got a résumé that knocks your socks off. The reason for this long period of unemployment is that the work just isn't there."

At one point, Mr. Davis, 68, made more than $100,000 a year as an information technology expert and web designer. He is now living on ramen noodles and $140 he counted out from his change jar. Since being laid off over the summer, he has missed mortgage payments, forcing him to take out a reverse mortgage on his home. He sold his car and got a late-1990s model Ford Taurus, and is looking to cut his utility and cellphone bills. Soon, he might start taking Social Security.

"It's very stressful," Mr. Davis said. "At least I've had the ability to maneuver my finances so I don't wind up homeless. That's one goal, to avoid living on the street or in my car."

Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing for an extension of the program, though the constrained fiscal environment makes its reinstatement somewhat less likely, aides said. Members of the Republican leadership have indicated that they might be willing to extend the benefits, but only if Democrats offset the new spending with other cuts.

On Friday morning, President Obama called Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, to extend his support for their proposal to extend emergency unemployment benefits for three months.

"The president said his administration would, as it has for several weeks now, push Congress to act promptly and in bipartisan fashion to address this urgent economic priority," said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman.

As the last payments are distributed, Democrats have initiated a campaign aimed at shaming Republicans — particularly those in leadership and in swing districts — for letting the program expire over the holiday season.

"I don't know if our colleagues who have opposed passing the unemployment-insurance legislation know or care about the impact on families," said Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader. "The impact is very, very strong. It hurts the dignity of a family, of a worker."

Americans United for Change, a liberal group, is running an advertisement on cable television stations. "You know who had a Merry Christmas? The richest 1 percent, that's who. Republicans in Congress made sure of that, protecting billions in taxpayer giveaways," it says. "For those facing tough times? Republicans stripped 1.3 million Americans of jobless benefits — folks who want to work, but cannot find a job — kicking them to the curb during Christmas."

Republican aides said they remained willing to negotiate. "Why didn't they offer a plan that met the speaker's requirements — fiscally responsible, with something to create jobs — or any plan, for that matter, before they left for the holidays?" asked Michael Steel, a spokesman for John A. Boehner of Ohio, the speaker of the House.

Some Democrats have suggested that continuing the program for three months, with the estimated $6 billion in spending offsets coming from agricultural subsidies in the farm bill.

But some conservatives have shown stauncher opposition.

"I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they're paid for," said Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky on Fox News. "If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers. When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.""


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Flint Michigan: America's Most Apocalyptic, Violent City..."murdertown, USA" ..."synonymous with faded American and industrial power."

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"We all know about Detroit. We've heard the sad story of this dwindling midwestern city's deterioration into desperate insolvency. We know how they filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, with debt estimated at $18-20 billion following the collapse of the auto industry. The city, which was No. 1 on Forbes' "most miserable cities" list, has 78,000 vacant buildings; 40% of the streetlights do not work, and more than half of the city's parks have closed since 2008. It takes an average of one hour for the police to respond to any call. 

But this story is not about Detroit. It's about Detroit's failing and forsaken neighbor, 66 miles to the northwest. It's a story about Flint, Michigan.

Flint was the birthplace of General Motors (GM) in 1908. According to journalist and Flint native Gordon Young, 47, the city flourished on a strong economy built around the auto industry. By the 1960s, it's per capita income for a city of its size was one of the highest in the world, Young says. "That is really hard for people to even fathom now."

Before the Great Recession and at peak employment, there were 80,000 jobs from GM alone. In addition, there was a satellite system of part suppliers for GM, who sprung up around the factories, supplying thousands of more jobs."

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100% of U.S. power capacity added in November was from renewables, according to a new report from FERC

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"All of the additional electricity-generating capacity added by the U.S. last month came from renewable energy sources, according to a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Solar, biomass, wind, geothermal, and hydropower projects provided 394 megawatts — 100 percent — of all new electricity generation that went on line in November. No new capacity was added from fossil fuels or nuclear power, FERC reported. Renewable energy sources also provided 99 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity in October. Although natural gas has been the biggest player in added capacity so far this year (52 percent), solar also made gains. It alone has made up roughly 21 percent of new power capacity so far in 2013, two-thirds more than its year-to-date total in 2012. Renewable sources now account for 15.9 percent of total U.S. generating capacity, which is more than nuclear (9.2 percent) and oil (4.05 percent) combined."


Friday, December 20, 2013

.@gop 5 Times George W. Bush Extended Unemployment Insurance Benefits #p2 #tcot

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"In his December 14, 2002 weekly radio address, President George W. Bush reminded Congress that "no final bill was sent to me extending unemployment benefits for about 750,000 Americans whose benefits will expire on December 28th."

He went on, "These Americans rely on their unemployment benefits to pay for the mortgage or rent, food, and other critical bills. They need our assistance in these difficult times, and we cannot let them down."

What was the unemployment rate in December 2002?

It had just risen to 6.0 percent.

The unemployment rate today is 7.0 percent and at the end of this year 1.3 million Americans — including 20,000 veterans — who have been out of work for more than six months will have their unemployment insurance benefits cut off. Republicans in Congress have refused to extend these benefits, though the Congressional Budget Office predicts failing to do so will cost the economy 200,000 jobs.

The Republican Congress heeded George W. Bush's call to extend unemployment insurance as they had the March before. They passed a bill and he signed it.

In 2003, the American economy was still dealing with the residue of the dot-com bust and economic shock of the 9/11 attacks — but it was still considerably stronger than the America that lived through the Great Recession and continues to see its growth hindered by government austerity.

The extended unemployment benefits Congress is about to let expire actually began under George W. Bush, long after his 2003 extension expired as unemployment dipped below 5 percent again. In 2008, as the financial crisis began to rock the economy, President Bush signed an extension of 13 weeks, 39 weeks total in most states, for anyone living in a state with unemployment over 6.0 percent. He also signed unemployment extensions that specifically helped the victims of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

All five times Bush extended unemployment benefits, he did so with the majority of Republicans in Congress supporting him.

At the peak of the crisis, when unemployment was around 10 percent, Congress and President Obama extended benefits to 99 weeks. The current maximum is 73 weeks."

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2011 IRS data shows Who Pays the Taxes and Gets the Benefits

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The I.R.S. data are for shares of federal income taxes and income by percentiles and include new figures for 2011. The wealthy pay the vast bulk of federal income taxes. But as one can see, there has been a sharp reduction in the share paid by those in the top 1 percent of taxpayers ranked by adjusted gross income, since 2007.

Internal Revenue Service

Indeed, there was a significant reduction just between 2010 and 2011. If those in the top 1 percent had borne the same share of federal income taxes in 2011 as they did in 2010, they would have paid $24 billion more.

Conservatives always point out, correctly, that the share of taxes paid by the wealthy greatly exceeds their share of aggregate income. In 2011, the top 1 percent earned 18.7 of all adjusted gross income and the top 5 percent earned 34 percent.

That is because we have graduated tax rates that rise with income and a tax system that largely exempts the poor from paying income taxes. The top 1 percent paid an average federal income tax rate of 25.5 percent in 2011 and the top 5 percent paid a rate of 20.9 percent. Both percentages are up very slightly from 2010.

But keep in mind a couple of points. Adjusted gross income excludes a number of important sources of income for the wealthy, including unrealized capital gains and interest on state and local government bonds. There are also a number of deductions from gross income to derive adjusted gross income, including contributions to retirement plans, alimony paid and others. Thus, adjusted gross income is considerably lower than what economists would call economic income — the total increase in someone's ability to command resources during a year.

And of course the data are only for the federal income tax and exclude other taxes that those with low incomes pay, such as the payroll tax, federal excise taxes like the gasoline tax, and state and local government taxes.

The C.B.O. data include all federal taxes paid through 2010. They tell the same story: Effective tax rates on the rich have fallen despite inclusion of the corporate income tax, which the agency estimates is largely paid by those with high incomes – 80 percent is paid by those in the top 20 percent of households.

The C.B.O. report also has data on the receipt of government transfers. They show that the tax and transfer system has a powerful redistributive effect, raising the share of post-tax and transfer income for those at the bottom and reducing it for those at the top.

Those in the bottom 20 percent of households had 2.3 percent of all market income, such as wages and private pensions, but received more than a third of all Social Security and Medicare benefits and almost half of other transfers like Medicaid and unemployment compensation. The effect of these programs is to quadruple the share of post-tax and transfer income going to those in the lowest quintile.

Congressional Budget Office

New data from the Census Bureau show that a rising share of Americans benefit from government transfer programs. Between the fourth quarter of 2008 and the fourth quarter of 2011, the percentage of Americans participating in transfer programs rose to 49.2 percent from 45.3 percent. Key drivers were a 40 percent increase in the number of people receiving food stamps in what is now called the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, and a 14 percent increase in those receiving Medicaid, a health program for the poor.

Totals do not add up to 100 percent because of participation in multiple programs.Census Bureau. Totals do not add up to 100 percent because of participation in multiple programs.

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, there has been a decline over the last 25 years in support for programs that aid those who cannot care for themselves. In 1987, 71 percent of people supported such programs; in 2012, that percentage fell to just 59 percent. Most of the decline is accounted for by Republicans, whose support has fallen to 40 percent from 62 percent. But Democrats and independents are also slightly less willing to support government programs that aid the poor than they used to be.

Still, I don't think very many Americans would want to live in a survival-of-the-fittest economy in which those who can't work are left to starve. In fact, even some conservatives now believe that the shredding of the social safety net in the name of deficit reduction has gone too far.

Arthur Brooks, president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, recently said, "The social safety net is one of the greatest achievements in our society, and we have to fight for it."

DING and NING strategies illustrate how tax lawyers can exploit gaps in state and federal laws to avoid state taxes

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"Wealthy Americans looking to avoid state income taxes are moving billions of dollars in assets to trusts in no-tax states such as Delaware, Nevada and Alaska.

The maneuvers are getting fresh scrutiny from officials in states including New York, which is losing an estimated $150 million a year through such tax avoidance. As fewer Americans pay the estate tax and top earners in New York and California owe more state income taxes, wealth planners say their clients are looking for new ways to escape those levies.

The asset shifts mirror steps corporations such as Google Inc. (GOOG) have taken across national borders to lower the taxes they pay. Within the U.S., some individuals who want to sell companies that they built move shares from home states to out-of-state trusts so the gains won't be subject to state income taxes.

"I can't sit with a client who has a substantial portfolio or is contemplating selling his business without putting the strategy on the table," said William Lipkind, a New Jersey lawyer who said he's been involved in 20 to 25 such transactions in the past year.

Related: Accidental Tax Break Saves Wealthiest Americans $100B

Lipkind said he's moved as little as $700,000 and as much as $500 million. "You scratch your head and say, 'Why pay if we don't have to?'"

States including Delaware and Nevada have waged a decades-long fight for wealthy Americans' trusts, competing to write laws that make it easier to pass property across generations and protect assets from creditors. Nevada has no state income tax and Delaware's tax doesn't apply to out-of-state beneficiaries.

'Planning Opportunities'

"The way that states go about taxing trusts is, shall we say, all over the map," said Dick Nenno, managing director and trust counsel at Wilmington Trust, a Delaware-based subsidiary of M&T Bank Corp. (MTB) "And that creates some real planning opportunities."

Using a Delaware Incomplete Non-Grantor Trust, or DING, wealthy residents of high-tax states take advantage of vague or conflicting definitions in state and federal laws. They can move assets just far enough out of their control so they aren't liable for state income taxes without moving them far enough to trigger a 40 percent gift tax.

Because the trusts are private, there is no comprehensive data on how much money has moved across state borders in recent years or how much revenue the high-tax states are losing. Nevada figures show that trusts there hold $18 billion in assets, up from $8 billion in 2008.

Stemming Flow

Some high-tax states, such as New York, are seeking ways to stem the flow of money. A state tax commission, led by former Democratic Comptroller Carl McCall and investment banker Peter Solomon, last month recommended laws to limit the use of out-of-state trusts.

The New York Department of Taxation and Finance estimates that the proposed change would generate $150 million a year, or about a 0.4 percent increase in personal income tax collections. Those figures suggest annual income in out-of-state trusts of more than $1 billion and assets much bigger than that.

The use of out-of-state trusts isn't a new strategy, especially for estate planning and asset protection. What's changed in recent years is that wealth planners have become more focused on state income taxes.

'Huge Issue'

"The state income taxes have become a huge issue," said Lisa Featherngill, managing director of planning at Abbot Downing, the wealth-management subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Co.

Congress significantly narrowed the federal estate tax, making the per-person exemption higher, permanent and linked to inflation. Those changes make some more eager to minimize annual state taxes than focus on one-time estate tax savings.

The $5.34 million exemption in place for 2014 means that 1 in 726 people in the U.S. who die will owe federal estate taxes, compared with the 1 in 390 that would have paid taxes if Congress had set the exemption at $3.5 million, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in Washington.

At the same time, marginal state income tax rates have risen, particularly for top earners. For 2013, California applies a 13.3 percent tax rate on taxable income exceeding $1 million. The top state-and-local combined rate in New York City this year is 12.7 percent for income exceeding $1 million for individuals and $2.1 million for married couples.

Also, the federal government blessed the maneuvers in a ruling requested for a client by Lipkind, an attorney at Lampf, Lipkind, Prupis & Petigrow, P.C. in West Orange, New Jersey. The private letter ruling, released this year, ended a six-year hiatus on such decisions and ratified the Nevada counterpart of the DING, known as a NING.

'Avoiding' Taxes

"The only purpose of setting up these trusts, near as far as we can tell, is avoiding state tax," said James Wetzler, a former New York state tax commissioner and a member of the state's tax commission who criticizes the Internal Revenue Service. "I'm literally at a loss to understand why they would issue these rulings."

That IRS ruling for a man with four sons, none of whom were named publicly, "resurrected this transaction from the ashes," said Charles A. "Clary" Redd, a partner at Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP in St. Louis.

Steve Oshins, an attorney at Oshins & Associates LLC in Las Vegas, said he has moved billions of dollars in assets to Nevada, including some through NING trusts.

Exploiting Gaps

The DING and NING strategies illustrate how tax lawyers can exploit gaps in state and federal laws.

Trusts created by people before death typically come in two forms -- grantor trusts and non-grantor trusts.

The income generated by grantor trusts that isn't distributed to beneficiaries is typically considered taxable income to the person who put the assets into the trust. The initial contribution of assets is, in many cases, considered a gift for estate tax purposes.

For example, records released during the 2012 presidential campaign showed that Mitt Romney used a grantor trust to pass wealth to his children, moving some assets before they rose in value and paying annual income taxes on trust earnings as a way of making an additional tax-free gift.

A non-grantor trust works the other way. The trust pays income taxes on any gains, with the top federal income tax bracket of 39.6 percent starting at $12,150 of income in 2014.

The NING and DING are hybrids, structured so the individual retains enough control to avoid gift tax and cedes enough control to avoid income tax.

Getting 'Both'

"That's like threading a needle being able to get both of those things at once," Redd said.

The gift is considered incomplete, meaning that it hasn't fully passed to heirs and isn't subject to the U.S. gift tax. That's because the person establishing the trust retains some ability to decide who gets how much money.

In the IRS ruling involving Lipkind's client, the man with four sons has the sole power to use the money for the health, education or support of his children.

For income tax purposes, however, the trust is considered a non-grantor trust and pays its own taxes on undistributed income. That's because the person establishing the trust gives up the ability to get money back from it without the agreement of a committee of family members.

The crucial fact is that the income tax liability belongs to the trust, not the individual.

That's where state law comes in.

Nevada, Delaware

Nevada has no state income tax and Delaware doesn't tax trusts unless the beneficiaries live in the state. New York's tax law can't touch the trusts if the trustees, tangible property and real estate are out of state and they receive no New York-sourced income.

The DING and NING don't necessarily resolve estate planning challenges, because the money remains in the wealthy person's estate. In the meantime, though, it can save significant state income taxes.

People considering these transactions have to weigh the potential federal tax costs of having the trust receive income instead of sending it to beneficiaries who may pay lower marginal tax rates. There are other limits, including taxes for residents of Connecticut and some other states, the loss of complete control over the assets and restrictions on how soon the assets can be sold after they're transferred to the trust.

A study by two law professors examining data through 2003 found that about $100 billion had moved to states with the most generous laws for passing assets to heirs. States with an income tax on trust earnings didn't see a significant increase in funds after changing other trust laws, the study found.

States such as Delaware, South Dakota, Nevada, and Alaska have become hubs for lawyers specializing in trusts and estates.

'Initial Payoff'

"It's lobbying by local bankers and lawyers who are trying to attract business," said Robert Sitkoff, a Harvard Law School professor and co-author of the study. "The initial payoff for the legislators is you've made happy an interest group, with all that entails."

After that, he said, even without taxing the assets, the states have set up a "clean industry" of lawyers and related offices and the indirect revenues they bring, with few if any costs to the states.

Those lawyers and bankers then lure out-of-staters. Nenno sells Delaware's century of trust-friendly law -- and lack of income taxes on non-residents.

A New York City resident with $1 million in capital gains would face a home-state bill topping $100,000, he said.

"If the trust is set up in Delaware, you avoid that $100,000-plus tax altogether," Nenno said. "Perfectly legal."

To contact the reporter on this story: Richard Rubin in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at"

Warren Buffett: wind is cheaper than coal; If Congress removed all subsidies from every energy source, wind could compete on its own

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"Legendary US investor Warren Buffett hit the headlines this week when his MidAmerican Energy subsidiary made the biggest ever order for onshore wind turbines – a $1 billion order that will gladden executives of German wind turbine maker Siemens.

The turbines are part of Buffett's previously announced plans to invest $2 billion of wind energy investments into the state of Iowa, which will soon source 50 per cent of its electricity needs from wind energy, and begin exporting that capacity to neighbouring coal states.

wind energyMore importantly, however, it underlines how the cost of wind energy has fallen so dramatically in the US, and elsewhere, to the point that it is now demonstrably cheaper than new coal-fired plants, and new gas-fired generation, and is even challenging existing coal-fired generation on costs.

Recent contracts for wind energy in Texas have been written as cheaply as $25/MWh. Granted, that includes a tax credit, but it still represents wind energy at a levellised cost well below $50/MWh. This is similar to prices struck in Brazil, where 2.3GW of wind energy was recently allocated in an auction at an average price of $47/MWh. These prices have undercut coal and gas fired generation by such a margin that Brazillian authorities had to create a separate auction mechanism for those fuels, although there is no doubt whether they will bother.

Wind energy may have been around for several decades, but it is still enjoying significant cost decreases. Bloomberg estimates turbine prices have fallen 26 per cent in the last two years, and new structures and mechanisms, not to mention the interest of Buffett and other mainstream investors, are bringing down financing costs as well.

Bloomberg estimates that wind power is now within 5.5 per cent of the cost of electricity from existing coal assets, and the American Wind Energy Association says that wind farms are now profitable without subsidies – which is just as well because in many states they don't get any, apart from mandates for renewables to be constructed – laws which are being vigorously fought by incumbent fossil fuel generators and their lobbyists.

"If Congress were to remove all the subsidies from every energy source, the wind industry can compete on its own," AWEA's Tom Kiernan said at a press conference at a Siemens factory in Fort Madison, Iowa, this week.

MidAmerican Energy CEO Bill Fehrman said wind farms were being used by its customers as "a hedge" in an era of reduced fossil fuel generation. MidAmerican expects to close some of its own coal-fired generation in 2015 as the cost of wind power continues to slide.

"Those coal retirements do require us to have some excess capacity or an increase in capacity," Adam Wright, vice president of wind generation and development for MidAmerican's Iowa utility.told Bloomberg in an interview. "If you strip away everything from all generation resources, I think wind is more competitive."

Bloomberg says that power from coal costs about $78.30 a megawatt-hour to produce and gas costs $69.71, compared with $82.61 for onshore wind farms.

Iowa governor Terry Branstad said MidAmerican's wind project is the state's largest economic development effort in history, bringing needed jobs.  (The blades are manufactured in the state).

"As a leader in wind generation, we welcome the opportunity to expand renewable energy," Branstad told a press conference. "The cost of generating through wind continues to go down. The cost of generating by coal has become very expensive and more difficult. So we continue to see an opportunity in the future for wind energy.""


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Edward Snowden: “These Programs Were Never About Terrorism: They’re About Economic Spying, Social Control, and Diplomatic Manipulation. They’re About Power”

It’s Not OK That Your Employees Can’t Afford to Eat - Harvard Business Review

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"A longstanding principle in all developed countries including the U.S. is that labor is not like a commodity where taking advantage of the market to squeeze down prices is a fact of life. Employees have human rights that do not disappear when they enter the workplace. Even in business law, principles like the "mechanic's lien" say that employees should be paid before other creditors because they are more vulnerable than businesses and do not get profits to compensate them for risks.

One of the things that I find surprising is how many companies that pay poverty-level wages or thereabouts to their employees spend a good deal of effort to be good corporate citizens in other areas. They try to make their operations "green," lessening their impact on the environment, some even sponsor anti-poverty programs in Africa, and so forth. They just don't seem very interested in the poverty among their own workforces."

Fired for Being LGBT in 2013 @speakerboehner still thinks there's 'no basis or need' for federal employment nondiscrimination protections

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"Despite what some Republican leaders claim, employment discrimination is very real for LGBT people, even in 2013. While House Speaker John Boehner said he sees "no basis or need" for the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, these 11 LGBT people who were fired could have had their livelihoods spared if it was illegal nationally to fire someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA would not extend to individuals employed by religious institutions. But a national standard declaring it unacceptable to fire an employee on the basis of his or her sexual orientation or gender expression could readily have a ripple effect, even on those employers. 

Currently, in 29 states — including some where the people featured on the following pages were employed — it's perfectly legal to fire someone because an employer thinks they might be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. In 33 states, someone can be fired for being transgender, and those employees have no legal recourse to contest their dismissal. Here is a look at just a handful of the reported firings of LGBT people, based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Bev Kearney, track coach at the University of Texas until January:

Bev Kearney, a six-time NCAA championship-winning track coach at the University of Texas, was forced out of her position for having had a relationship with a female athlete in 2002. Kearney, a black lesbian, was put on leave at the end of 2012, but decided to leave her position officially in January after news surfaced about her relationship with the female athlete (who, at the time, was of age). In March, Kearney filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, contending that the school treated her differently than it did a former assistant football coach, Major Applewhite, who had an inappropriate relationship with a student trainer during a bowl trip in 2008. Applewhite was reprimanded by the athletic director, and his pay was frozen for a year. 

"We think there is a double standard at the University of Texas, giving men the opportunity to engage in inappropriate relationships without fear of being caught or punished," Kearney's attorney Derek Howard told the Dallas Voice in March.

Her case has yet to reach a conclusion, though the Dallas Voice notes that Texas law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."


rich Kid Ethan Couch getting sued by families of his victims. He was aquited of murder sue to 'Affluenza'

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"The victims of Ethan Couch's "affluenza" are now suing the teen for damages.

Couch was sentenced to time at a posh rehab center and 10 years of probation in a decision that shocked the families of the six people who Couch killed or injured when he crashed the pickup truck his father owned.

Couch was speeding down a Fort Worth, Texas, highway with a blood alcohol level three times the adult legal limit, as well as Valium and THC in his system, when he struck a car that was stopped at the side of the road.

"There's four or five," a woman told police from the scene of the crash. "There's another child in the ditch! They're gone!"

KFOR reported that three of the families of victims who were killed have filed lawsuits, and two of the injured victims' families.

Sergio Molina, 16, was thrown from Couch's truck and left paralyzed from the resulting brain injury. His family is seeking $20 million in damages to cover Molina's medical expenses. Molina cannot move or speak; his only way of communicating is through blinking.

Molina's brother, Alex Lemus, told the Dallas Morning News, "That kid killed four people and crippled my little brother and doesn't even have to serve one year?  If he were poor like us, he would've gotten 10 years, I bet."

Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were killed when they stopped to help Breanna Mitchell, whose care broke down on the side of the road, is suing for more than $1 million, according to KFOR.

Youth pastor Brian Jennings, who had also stopped to help, and Mitchell herself were killed. Jennings' wife and Mitchell's mother are suing for unspecified damages.

A psychologist on Couch's defense team argued that the 16-year-old's recklessness was due to "affluenza," a condition caused by too much privilege. He claimed that Couch should not be imprisoned because he had never learned to consider the consequences of his actions.

Robin S. Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist, wrote in a column on Slate that "affluenza" is not a diagnosis or mental illness, but rather a clever "fabrication" on the part of Couch's defense team.

"Made-up psychological mumbo jumbo to mitigate responsibility reflects poorly on the mental health profession," Rosenberg wrote. "Let's hope affluenza goes the way of the Twinkie defense.""