ALEC calls for penalties on ‘freerider’ homeowners in assault on clean energy

From The Guardian UK:

Documents reveal conservative group’s anti-green agenda
• Strategy to charge people who install their own solar panels
• Environmentalists accuse Alec of protecting utility firms’ profitsALEC facing funding crisis after exodus of big donors

in Washington and in New York, Wednesday 4 December 2013

An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilising to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as “freeriders” – in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned.

Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action.

Details of Alec’s strategy to block clean energy development at every stage – from the individual rooftop to the White House – are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.

About 800 state legislators and business leaders are due to attend the three-day event, which begins on Wednesday with appearances by the Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson and the Republican budget guru and fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan.

Other Alec speakers will be a leading figure behind the recent government shutdown, US senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and the governors of Indiana and Wyoming, Mike Pence and Matt Mead.

For 2014, Alec plans to promote a suite of model bills and resolutions aimed at blocking Barack Obama from cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and state governments from promoting the expansion of wind and solar power through regulations known as Renewable Portfolio Standards.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show the core elements of its strategy began to take shape at the previous board meeting in Chicago in August, with meetings of its energy, environment and agriculture subcommittees.

Further details of Alec’s strategy were provided by John Eick, the legislative analyst for Alec’s energy, environment and agriculture program.

Eick told the Guardian the group would be looking closely in the coming year at how individual homeowners with solar panels are compensated for feeding surplus electricity back into the grid.

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Ohio mom accuses other parents of bullying her transgender daughter

From Raw Story:

By Travis Gettys
Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A central Ohio woman says other parents are using social media to harass her and her transgender child.

Emily LeVan said she legally changed her daughter’s name last week from Keaten to Keat to reflect her identification with the female gender and announced the move on Facebook.

“I was celebrating it because it was a big step for us, and a couple of people took it upon themselves to berate me for it,” LeVan said.

LeVan said parents of some of Keat’s classmates at Highland Elementary School in Morrow County wrote negative or derogatory messages about her daughter.

“I am terribly ticked that the parents are allowed to send their boy to school as a girl and put him in this embarrassing situation,” wrote one parent, and another called her actions child abuse.

The transgender girl said she was teased by other children as she started her transition last year, saying that she was a boy the year before.

“I said, ‘I was a girl, and it’s none of your business,’” said 9-year-old Keat.

School officials said they addressed the harassment immediately and have a zero tolerance policy for that type of behavior.

“It’s disgusting,” said Highland Local Schools District Superintendent Bill Dodds. “We don’t accept it, and we won’t accept it.”

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Transgender People Aren’t As Valuable As ‘Higher End’ People, Argues Attorney

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Corporations…pay a living wage or get the death penalty!

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Are the Bankers Now Setting Up the Crash of 2016?

From Alternet:

Conservative lawmakers overreact to progressive American changes—pushing the economy toward another crash.

By Thom Hartmann
December 3, 2013

This article was first published on Truthoutand any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthoutas the original site of publication.

As the great Yogi Berra once said, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”

Right now, millions of Americans are still struggling to recover from the 2008 financial collapse.

That collapse was fueled by the housing crisis, when Wall Street banksters were running around betting on risky mortgage-backed securities that they could sell to investors and make billions from.

They were able to do that because the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act and the Commodities Futures Modernization Act had blown up rational banking regulations, and, as a result, we saw things like the so-called mortgage “liar loans”.

Banksters were able to turn billions of dollars in risky mortgages into trillions of dollars in derivatives.

And then everything went to hell.

Fast forward to today, and because of Dodd-Frank there are no more “liar loans.”

Banksters can’t run the same scam as they did during the housing crisis.

So, they’ve found a new way to come up with real-estate-backed securities that can be turned into derivatives, worth billions in profits.

How? They’ve become landlords.

As Marilyn Volan points out over at TomDispatch, in the past year and a half, banksters in Wall Street hedge funds, big banks and private equity firms have purchased hundreds of thousands of mostly-foreclosed houses across the country.

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How Inequality Became as American as Apple Pie

From The Nation:

Jessica Weisberg
on December 9, 2013

Last week, five days after Black Friday’s Walmart strike and the day before a nationwide fast-food workers strike, President Obama delivered a speech at the Center for American Progress about economic disparity and low wages. The president didn’t mention the strikers, but his talking points weren’t so different from their rallying cries—he called for a higher minimum wage and supported the right to organize. His speech was too sweeping, too ambitious to focus on the week’s news. He spoke about Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, education and the tax code; he provided statistic after statistic about the severity of inequality in the United States. The thread that tied all these points together was “economic mobility.” (“President Speaks on Economic Mobility,” the banner of the White House website read.) The president may have been speaking to a room full of liberals, but his focus on mobility rather than inequality seemed especially marketed to conservatives. It was Obama at his campaign finest, recasting himself as the great uniter between the two parties. “The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough,” the president said, “But the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty because she lacks a decent education or healt care, or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us and it should compel us to action.” Poverty, in other words, is a sad but inevitable consequence of a competitive economy—it’s “heartbreaking,” but so it goes—while mobility is essential to the American mission. Children, we can all agree, should at least be given the bootstraps by which they can pull themselves up.

The word “inequality” makes conservatives uncomfortable, as if it invokes class struggle, the 99 percent versus the 1. They much prefer “mobility,” which connotes a purely aspirational relationship to wealth and the wealthy. As Representative Paul Ryan writes on the Budget Committee’s website, “The question for policymakers is not how best to redistribute a shrinking economic pie. The focus ought to be on increasing living standards, expanding the pie of economic opportunity, and promoting upward mobility for all.” (Italics his) “Our job here is not to divide the American people,” Speaker John Boehner has said. “It’s to help every American have a fair shot at the American dream.”

The day of the president’s speech, Pew released a study, “Mobility and the Metropolis,” comparing rates of social mobility in different cities. New York City fared terribly, with a social mobility rate below that of Chicago, Los Angeles and even Newark. New York was also found to be the most economically segregated of the thirty-four cities studied (a dynamic illustrated by this map). The authors of the study argue that geographically concentrated poverty is more likely to reproduce itself and that heightened segregation is preventing upward mobility for most urban residents.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has promised to reverse economic segregation by requiring developers to create below-market housing. When de Blasio talks about mandatory inclusionary zoning, or any of the tenets of his “tale of two cities” campaign, he talks about poverty reduction rather than “mobility” and it’s this minor rhetorical difference that renders Obama a friend and de Blasio a foe in the eyes of some conservatives. In his speech last week, President Obama expressed his support for early childhood education. “I’ve also embraced an idea that I know all of you at the Center for American Progress have championed—and, by the way, Republican governors in a couple of states have championed—and that’s making high-quality preschool available to every child in America,” he said. De Blasio has promised to create an early childhood education program and to fund it by raising the income tax on families making more than $500,000 by one half of one percent. In President Obama’s telling, such programs have bipartisan appeal, but de Blasio is said to be driving wealthy New Yorkers to leave the city. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently invited the wealthiest New Yorkers to move south and evade de Blasio’s tax hikes; Tom Foley, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Connecticut, invited them north.

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The Facts Are In: Austerity Politics Doesn’t Work

From Yes Magazine:

From England’s double-dip recession to Portugal’s spiking unemployment, there is now conclusive evidence of the complete failure of austerity.

Dec 03, 2013

The idea that rational thinking should govern political decision making in America dates back to our very founding. “Facts are stubborn things,” John Adams said, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Oh, John Adams, where are you when we need you? Facts have been buried in a political era in which partisan ideology overrides reason. And while the Republican Party has embraced fact-free governance as its personal brand, Democrats are not entirely innocent either.

Take the case of “austerity politics.” Persistent, despite the facts. There is now conclusive evidence, both practical and theoretical, of the complete failure of austerity politics.

First was the United Kingdom, the practical test case for austerity. In 2010, faced with a recession similar to those gripping most other industrialized nations, Britain’s conservative government instituted a series of austerity measures to dramatically cut spending and taxes. Parts of the U.K. government were slashed by upwards of 30 percent.

The result? Utter and unquestionable failure. The deficit remained high while the country suffered through a double-dip recession. Austerity shaved 6 percent from the country’s GDP over the last three years. Major credit agencies downgraded Britain’s AAA rating for the first time in generations. The Fitch ratings agency blamed weak growth performance, “partly due to … public sector deleveraging.”

In other words: austerity. The International Monetary Fund has been pressuring the United Kingdom to back off austerity for its own good and the good of the global economy—which is funny because it was the International Monetary Fund that pressed for austerity measures in the first place.

Take another example, Portugal—which was forced to slash spending drastically in order to qualify for an IMF and EU bailout. The result? The Portuguese economy worsened, with the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio going up not because its deficit increased but because the economy contracted. The nation’s already-painful 13 percent unemployment rate grew to more than 16 percent. And there are similar examples of austerity’s failures from Ireland to Italy to Spain.

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The Ayn Rand-Worshipping Sears CEO That Blew Up His Multibillion Dollar Empire

From Alternet:

The invisible hand waves goodbye to America’s most delusional CEO.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore
December 9, 2013

Once upon a time, hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert was living a Wall Street fairy tale. His fairy godmother was Ayn Rand, the dashing diva of free-market ideology whose quirky economic notions would transform him into a glamorous business hero.

For a while, it seemed to work like a charm. Pundits called him the “ Steve Jobs of the investment world.” The new Warren Buffett. By 2006 he was flying high, the richest man in Connecticut, managing over $15 billion thorough his hedge fund, ESL Investments.

Stoked by his Wall Street success, Lampert plunged headlong into the retail world. Undaunted by his lack of industry experience and hailed a genius, Lampert boldly pushed to merge Kmart and Sears with a layoff and cost-cutting strategy that would, he promised, send profits into the stratosphere. Meanwhile the hotshot threw cash around like an oil sheik, buying a $40 million pad in Florida’s Biscayne Bay, a record even for that star-studded county.

Fast-forward to 2013: The fairy tale has become a nightmare.

Lampert is now known as one of the worst CEOs in America — the man who flushed Sears down the toilet with his demented management style and harebrained approach to retail. Sears stock is tanking. His hedge fun is down 40 percent, and the business press has turned from praising Lampert’s genius to watching gleefully as his ship sinks. Investors are running from “Crazy Eddie” like the plague.

That’s what happens when Ayn Rand is the basis for your business plan.

Crazy Eddie has been one of America’s most vocal advocates of discredited free-market economics, so obsessed with Ayn Rand he could rattle off memorized passages of her novels. As Mina Kimes explained in a fascinating profile in Bloomberg Businessweek, Lampert took the myth that humans perform best when acting selfishly as gospel, pitting Sears company managers against each other in a kind of Lord of the Flies death match. This, he believed, would cause them to act rationally and boost performance.

If you think that sounds batshit crazy, congratulations. You understand more than most of America’s business school graduates.

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Rand Paul’s patronizing excuse for screwing the poor

From Salon:

Paul claims that public benefits are “encouraging unemployment.” An expert tells Salon why that’s insane

Tuesday, Dec 10, 2013

With only days remaining for Congress to avert the year-end expiration of extended unemployment benefits, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., made news by telling Fox News Sunday that extending benefits would be “a disservice” to the more than a million Americans about to be cut off. The same morning, Paul’s colleague Dick Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos his party so far wasn’t taking a “take it or leave it” approach to including unemployment extension in talks over a short-term budget deal. “I have to say, it sounds like the spirit of Nelson Mandela is taking hold,” Stephanopoulos concluded after asking Durbin and Senate Republican Rob Portman about those budget talks. “This is a very reasonable discussion this morning. Sounds like we’re going to reach a deal this week.”

For a different take on the impact and importance of unemployment benefits, Salon called up Rebecca Dixon, a policy analyst for the progressive National Employment Law Project. A condensed version of our conversation follows.

Rand Paul this weekend said he’s against further unemployment extension because it would be “a disservice to these workers,” in that “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.” What does your research suggest about that kind of claim?

Well, we do know that people have a harder time finding work the longer they’ve been unemployed, particularly when they’ve hit their six-month mark. Benefits aren’t 99 weeks anymore. But in this recession, when we had record job loss, and record long-term unemployment, and the numbers were up to six unemployed workers for every job opening … you’re not going to not look for work because you’re getting a check that averages $300 a week. I mean, nobody can really live on that, you know.

So these benefits are not super-generous. They’re not something that’s going to put a family on easy street. They’re really just sort of barely enough to cover basic needs. And you saw in our research brief what the average family spends; these don’t even come close to covering that.

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Pathetic Centrists

From The New York Times:

Paul Krugman
December 6, 2013

So progressive Democrats have seized on an op-ed by the group Third Way — an op-ed attacking Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio for their terrible, horrible economic populism — as a way to start reclaiming the party from the “centrists”. And it’s working: the centrists are very much on the run.

Why? Part of the answer is that the Democratic party has become more progressive. But I would argue that the centrists are also suffering from their own intellectual bankruptcy.

I mean, going after Warren and de Blasio for not being willing to cut Social Security and their “staunch refusal to address the coming Medicare crisis” ??? Even aside from the question of exactly what the mayor of New York has to do with Medicare, this sounds as if they have been living in a cave for years, maybe reading an occasional screed from the Pete Peterson complex.

On Social Security, they’re still in the camp insisting that because the system might possibly have to pay lower benefits in the future, we must move now to cut future benefits. Oh, kay.

But anyway, they declare that Medicare is the bigger issue. So what’s this about “staunch refusal” to address Medicare? The Affordable Care Act contains lots of measures to limit Medicare costs and health care more generally — it’s Republicans, not progressive Democrats, who have been screaming against cost-saving measures (death panels!). And health cost growth has slowed dramatically, feeding into much better Medicare projections. Here’s how the CBO projections have changed since Obama took office:

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Let’s get this straight: AIG execs got bailout bonuses, but pensioners get cuts

From The Guardian UK:

No one has accused city workers in Chicago or Detroit of bringing down the economy, but they could face pension cuts, Monday 9 December 2013

As we passed the fifth anniversary of the peak of the financial crisis this fall, the giant insurance company AIG was prominently featured in the retrospectives. AIG had issued hundreds of billions of dollars of credit default swaps (CDS) on subprime mortgage backed securities. When these mortgage-backed securities failed en masse, AIG didn’t have the money to back them up.

This would have forced AIG into bankruptcy. However Lehman had declared bankruptcy the day before and the world was still engulfed in the aftershocks. The Bush administration and the Federal Reserve board decided that they would stop the cascade of failing financial institutions and bail out AIG. As a result, the government agreed to honor all the CDS issued by AIG and effectively became the owner of the company.

Chicago has been in the news recently because its mayor, Rahm Emanuel, seems intent on cutting the pensions that its current and retired employees have earned. Emanuel insists that the city can’t afford these pensions and therefore workers and retirees will simply have to accept reduced benefits.

If the connection with AIG isn’t immediately apparent, then you have to look a bit deeper. Folks may recall that AIG paid out $170m in bonuses to its employees in March 2009 with its top executives receiving bonuses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

These were people who not only shared responsibility for driving the company into bankruptcy; they also had been at the center of the financial web that propelled the housing bubble into ever more dangerous territory. In other words, the bonus beneficiaries were among the leading villains in the economic disaster that is still inflicting pain across the country.

The prospect of executives of a bailed out company drawing huge bonuses at a time when the economy was shedding 600,000 jobs a month provoked outrage across the country. President Obama spoke on the issue and said that unfortunately no one in his administration was smart enough to find a way that could keep the bonuses from being paid. The problem according to Larry Summers, then the head of President Obama’s National Economic Council, was that the bonuses were contractual obligations and they had to be honored.

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Tropfest’s Bamboozled: trans people’s bodies should not be punch lines

From The Guardian UK:

Trans people are affected by the unchecked spread of stereotypes about their physical appearance and behaviour, but the award-winning film Bamboozled doesn’t care who it hurts, Monday 9 December 2013

If there’s one thing that never ceases to annoy me as both a journalist and a trans woman, it’s when people take it upon themselves to determine what should and shouldn’t be considered as being offensive to me as a person – especially when it impacts on my life, and not theirs. Between “free speech” this and “my religious rights” that, sometimes I just wish they would let me live my life in peace, just as I let them live theirs.

Take the Tropfest short film festival which took place in Sydney this week-end, where Bamboozled, a blatantly transphobic film, won the premier award. Director and co-star Matt Hardie attempted to utilise trans and gay people as a “nice punch”.

Bamboozled starts with Peter being tapped on the shoulder out of the blue by his former partner Harry, who has medically transitioned genders from female to male since they last met 11 years previously. Back then, “Harry” was “Helen”. Startled at first, Pete then proceeds to catch up with his former flame, while progressively getting drunk and eventually ending up in bed with Harry later that night. The next morning it quickly becomes apparent that Pete regrets having sex with Harry – however there’s still one twist left to come. Namely, that Harry isn’t really transgender, and that he’s been play-acting for the real Helen, who wants revenge and has contacted a reality TV show to organise the deception.

Given that trans characters have often been portrayed as murderers, sexual deviants and manipulators in similar productions – often with catastrophic repercussions for the trans community which has to fight stereotyping– I was therefore flabbergasted to find out that TropFest’s judges thought that such an abhorrent film was worthy of being showcased.

In the face of criticism, Hardie said that “If we’re always worried about who we’re offending, we’re never going to make anything decent … Everything’s going to be watered down and bland”. I therefore assume that him and his supporters do not care who Bamboozled hurts.

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How GOP Oligarchs and the Christian Right Are Hiding Behind the 1st Amendment to Ram Through Their Political Agenda

Any Health Insurance policy that denies women contraception should also deny treatment of erectile problems in men. After all if god wanted these men to get erections he wouldn’t have cursed them with impotency. Perhaps they should pray to get their boners back instead of expecting the rest of us to cover the problem god cursed them with.

From Alternet:

The Tea Party is turning the Constitution’s most fundamental protections into a refuge for scoundrels and billionaires.

By Steven Rosenfeld
November 30, 2013

Once again, the First Amendment has become the latest refuge for America’s scoundrels and oligarchs: Republicans who only want to follow rules they like are declaring that their speech and religious freedoms are being violated unless they get their way.

This fraudulent flag-waving is unfolding in two high-profile fights. The first is the latest front in the ongoing  war on Obamacare, where the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would  hear two suits brought by Christian business owners who don’t want to include birth control in employee health plans.

The second is the GOP’s  effort to block anti-corruption campaign finance laws. The GOP is screaming censorship after Obama’s Treasury Department proposed new rules that might deter political operators like Karl Rove from using non-profit charities as front groups for attacks on specific candidates—which goes beyond promoting issues.

In both instances, the scoundrels contend that the First Amendment lets them do what they want, and any contrary view—such as new laws or regulations from the Obama administration—is an affront to their fundamental freedom to do as they please.

The Obamacare challenge came out of dozens of suits filed soon after the Affordable Care Act became law. The Christian Right objected to including birth control options in health plans. The administration’s response was to issue rules noting that the minimum coverage standards for businesses, which included a full range of reproductive care, differed from houses of worship—which were given more latitude on including birth control.

However, the Christian-owned businesses whose challenges are coming to the Supreme Court argue that corporations share the same religious rights as citizens under the First Amendment. This is the latest effort by the Right to treat corporations as people with a complete complement of constitutional rights.

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