Populism Rising?

From Truth Out:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/20882-populism-rising

By Robert Borosage, Campaign for America’s Future
Friday, 27 December 2013

The Beltway crowd has discovered populism. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s surging popularity from her aggressive defense of Social Security and demand for Wall Street accountability has triggered talk of a populist challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Bill De Blasio indicted New York’s gilded age inequality in his stunning victory in the New York Mayoral race. This month, President Obama returned to his campaign themes, delivering a speech calling inequality “the defining challenge of our time.”Republicans, preoccupied with their Tea Party zealots, mostly have avoided joining the debate, but the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party raised the alarm. In an incoherent article appropriately placed in the Wall Street Journal, the New Democrats at the Third Way scorned Warren for defending Social Security and Medicare and peddling a “dead end” “we can have it all fantasy.” They beat a hasty retreat when they were slapped down by Neera Tanden, head of the Obama New Dem Center for American Progress, who then labored to paint Bill Clinton – Bill Clinton – as a populist. Gaseous Bill Keller of the New York Times weighed in for what he called the “center-left” against the “left-left” of Warren et al with arguments immediately dismembered by economist Dean Baker.

These are but the opening skirmishes of what is likely to be a fierce battle inside and outside the Democratic Party. Populism, by definition, doesn’t trickle down from the top. It spreads as a bottom up movement that chooses and elevates its own leaders. It doesn’t spread because Elizabeth Warren is espousing politically toxic and unpopular ideas, as the Third Wayers charged. Rather Warren is threatening because she champions attitudes and ideas that enjoy widespread popularity outside the beltway, but are slighted inside of it.

Populist movements grow out of popular discontent. For over thirty years, inequality has been growing. Profits and productivity and CEO salaries have risen, but workers haven’t shared in the growth. But hard times, as Lawrence Goodwyn, the great historian of the Populist Movement notes, do not generate democratic movements. Times have been “hard” for most people for a long time. When families lose ground, people tend to believe that they are at fault, that their luck has been bad, that they made the wrong choices. They work harder; they take on debt; they get by. Resignation and deference are normal. Movements start only when reality – and organizers – begin to open people’s eyes.

The economy hasn’t worked for working people for a long time. Wall Street’s excesses then led to the Great Recession. Yet the banks were bailed out; banker bonuses were paid, while homeowners were abandoned. The wealthy recovered, while most Americans struggle to stay afloat. Occupy Wall Street helped crystallize people’s sense about the 1%. They rig the rules, as Elizabeth Warren put it, to benefit themselves. Running for re-election in a lousy economy, the president was wise enough to embrace populist themes. And Mitt Romney, with his money summering in Cayman Island tax havens, proved the perfect foil.

Continue reading at:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/20882-populism-rising

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The “middle class” myth: Here’s why wages are really so low today

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2013/12/30/the_middle_class_myth_heres_why_wages_are_really_so_low_today/

Want to understand the failures of the “free market” and the key to getting a decent wage? Here’s the real story


Monday, Dec 30, 2013

Let me tell you the story of an “unskilled” worker in America who lived better than most of today’s college graduates. In the winter of 1965, Rob Stanley graduated from Chicago Vocational High School, on the city’s Far South Side. Pay rent, his father told him, or get out of the house. So Stanley walked over to Interlake Steel, where he was immediately hired to shovel taconite into the blast furnace on the midnight shift. It was the crummiest job in the mill, mindless grunt work, but it paid $2.32 an hour — enough for an apartment and a car. That was enough for Stanley, whose main ambition was playing football with the local sandlot all-stars, the Bonivirs.

Stanley’s wages would be the equivalent of $17.17 today — more than the “Fight For 15” movement is demanding for fast-food workers. Stanley’s job was more difficult, more dangerous and more unpleasant than working the fryer at KFC (the blast furnace could heat up to 2,000 degrees). According to the laws of the free market, though, none of that is supposed to matter. All that is supposed to matter is how many people are capable of doing your job. And anyone with two arms could shovel taconite. It required even less skill than preparing dozens of finger lickin’ good menu items, or keeping straight the orders of 10 customers waiting at the counter. Shovelers didn’t need to speak English. In the early days of the steel industry, the job was often assigned to immigrants off the boat from Poland or Bohemia.

“You’d just sort of go on automatic pilot, shoveling ore balls all night,” is how Stanley remembers the work.

Stanley’s ore-shoveling gig was also considered an entry-level position. After a year in Vietnam, he came home to Chicago and enrolled in a pipefitters’ apprenticeship program at Wisconsin Steel.

So why did Rob Stanley, an unskilled high school graduate, live so much better than someone with similar qualifications could even dream of today? Because the workers at Interlake Steel were represented by the United Steelworkers of America, who demanded a decent salary for all jobs. The workers at KFC are represented by nobody but themselves, so they have to accept a wage a few cents above what Congress has decided is criminal.

The argument given against paying a living wage in fast-food restaurants is that workers are paid according to their skills, and if the teenager cleaning the grease trap wants more money, he should get an education. Like most conservative arguments, it makes sense logically, but has little connection to economic reality. Workers are not simply paid according to their skills, they’re paid according to what they can negotiate with their employers. And in an era when only 6 percent of private-sector workers belong to a union, and when going on strike is almost certain to result in losing your job, low-skill workers have no negotiating power whatsoever.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2013/12/30/the_middle_class_myth_heres_why_wages_are_really_so_low_today/

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Right-wing biblical illiterates would be shocked by Jesus’ teachings …if they ever picked up a Bible

From Raw Story:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/29/right-wing-biblical-illiterates-would-be-shocked-by-jesus-teachings-if-they-ever-picked-up-a-bible/

By CJ Werleman, Alternet
Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly defended the Republican Party’s spending cuts for SNAP by effectively declaring Jesus would not support food stamps for the poor because most them are drug addicts. If his insensitive remark is inconsistent with Scripture, which it is, then the question becomes why do talking heads on the right get away with proclaiming what Jesus would or wouldn’t support?

The answer is simple: Conservatives have not read the Bible.

The Right has successfully rebranded the brown-skinned liberal Jew, who gave away free healthcare and was pro-redistributing wealth, into a white-skinned, trickledown, union-busting conservative, for the very fact that an overwhelming number of Americans are astonishingly illiterate when it comes to understanding the Bible. On hot-button social issues, from same-sex marriage to abortion, biblical passages are invoked without any real understanding of the context or true meaning. It’s surprising how little Christians know of what is still the most popular book to ever grace the American continent.

More than 95 percent of U.S. households own at least one copy of the Bible. So how much do Americans know of the book that one-third of the country believes to be literally true? Apparently, very little, according to data from the Barna Research group. Surveys show that 60 percent can’t name more than five of the Ten Commandments; 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife; and nearly 50 percent of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible, while roughly 82 percent believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse.

So, if Americans get an F in the basic fundamentals of the Bible, what hope do they have in knowing what Jesus would say about labor unions, taxes on the rich, universal healthcare, and food stamps? It becomes easy to spread a lie when no one knows what the truth is.

The truth, whether Republicans like it or not, is not only that Jesus a meek and mild liberal Jew who spoke softly in parables and metaphors, but conservatives were the ones who had him killed. American conservatives, however, have morphed Jesus into a muscular masculine warrior, in much the same way the Nazis did, as a means of combating what they see as the modernization of society.

Author Thom Hartmann writes, “A significant impetus behind the assault on women and modernity was the feeling that women had encroached upon traditional male spheres like the workplace and colleges. Furthermore, women’s leadership in the churches had harmed Christianity by creating an effeminate clergy and a weak sense of self. All of this was associated with liberalism, feminism, women, and modernity.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/29/right-wing-biblical-illiterates-would-be-shocked-by-jesus-teachings-if-they-ever-picked-up-a-bible/

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Crowds line up to buy legal pot in Colorado.

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Elizabeth Warren: Every American Has the Right to Retire with Dignity—Why We Must Expand Social Security

From  Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/elizabeth-warren-its-right-every-american-retire-dignity-why-we-must-expand-social-security

“The national debate about social security is starting in the wrong place.”

By Elizabeth Warren
December 29, 2013

For a generation now, working families have been squeezed by stagnant wages and rising costs for housing, health care, and college. Even as families have cut back on expenses for things like food, clothing, furniture, and appliances, it hasn’t always been enough; many have been forced to take on more and more debt just to pay for necessities.

One major consequence of these increasing pressures on working people is that the dream of a secure retirement is slowly slipping away. Families haven’t been able to save as much as they used to, and only 18 percent of private-sector workers have defined benefit pensions today compared with 35 percent two decades ago. Forty-four million workers have no workplace retirement savings plan.

With less savings and weaker private retirement protection, retirees depend more than ever on the safety and reliability of Social Security. Social Security also protects retirees’ spouses and children, disabled workers, and family members who survive the death of the family’s earner. Whenever I visit senior centers in places like Malden and Medford, I hear from retirees about how much they rely on Social Security benefits to make ends meet. Here in Middlesex County alone, 236,275 people receive Social Security benefits.

Social Security works; no one runs out of benefits and the guaranteed payments don’t rise and fall with the stock market. Two-thirds of seniors rely on it for the majority of their income in retirement, and for 14 million seniors, this is the safety net that keeps them out of poverty. And yet, instead of taking on the retirement crisis, instead of strengthening Social Security, some in Washington are actually fighting to cut benefits.

The most recent discussion about cutting benefits has focused on something called the chained CPI. Supporters of the chained CPI say that it’s a more accurate way of measuring cost of living increases for seniors. That statement is simply not true. Chained CPI falls short of the actual increases in costs that seniors face, pure and simple. Chained CPI is just a fancy way of saying “cut benefits.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has developed a measure of the real impact of inflation on seniors, called the CPI-E. If we adopted CPI-E today, it would generally increase benefits for our retirees, not cut them.

This is just one example of how the national debate about Social Security is starting in the wrong place. The fact is that today, Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus. If we do nothing, Social Security will be safe for the next 20 years and even after that will continue to pay most benefits through the end of the century. With some modest adjustments, we can keep the system solvent for many more years, and could even increase benefits.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/elizabeth-warren-its-right-every-american-retire-dignity-why-we-must-expand-social-security

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Planet likely to warm by 4C by 2100, scientists warn

From The Guardian UK: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/dec/31/planet-will-warm-4c-2100-climate

New climate model taking greater account of cloud changes indicates heating will be at higher end of expectations


The Guardian, Tuesday 31 December 2013

Temperature rises resulting from unchecked climate change will be at the severe end of those projected, according to a new scientific study.

The scientist leading the research said that unless emissions of greenhouse gases were cut, the planet would heat up by a minimum of 4C by 2100, twice the level the world’s governments deem dangerous.

The research indicates that fewer clouds form as the planet warms, meaning less sunlight is reflected back into space, driving temperatures up further still. The way clouds affect global warming has been the biggest mystery surrounding future climate change.

Professor Steven Sherwood, at the University of New South Wales, in Australia, who led the new work, said: “This study breaks new ground twice: first by identifying what is controlling the cloud changes and second by strongly discounting the lowest estimates of future global warming in favour of the higher and more damaging estimates.”

“4C would likely be catastrophic rather than simply dangerous,” Sherwood told the Guardian. “For example, it would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much of the tropics, and would guarantee the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and some of the Antarctic ice sheet“, with sea levels rising by many metres as a result.

The research is a “big advance” that halves the uncertainty about how much warming is caused by rises in carbon emissions, according to scientists commenting on the study, published in the journal Nature. Hideo Shiogama and Tomoo Ogura, at Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies, said the explanation of how fewer clouds form as the world warms was “convincing”, and agreed this indicated future climate would be greater than expected. But they said more challenges lay ahead to narrow down further the projections of future temperatures.

Scientists measure the sensitivity of the Earth’s climate to greenhouse gases by estimating the temperature rise that would be caused by a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere compared with pre-industrial levels – as is likely to happen within 50 years, on current trends. For two decades, those estimates have run from 1.5C to 5C, a wide range; the new research narrowed that range to between 3C and 5C, by closely examining the biggest cause of uncertainty: clouds.

The key was to ensure that the way clouds form in the real world was accurately represented in computer climate models, which are the only tool researchers have to predict future temperatures. When water evaporates from the oceans, the vapour can rise over nine miles to form rain clouds that reflect sunlight; or it may rise just a few miles and drift back down without forming clouds. In reality, both processes occur, and climate models encompassing this complexity predicted significantly higher future temperatures than those only including the nine-mile-high clouds.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/dec/31/planet-will-warm-4c-2100-climate

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Benjamin Bratton: New perspectives: What’s Wrong with TED Talks? at TEDxSanDiego 2013 – Re:Think

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