Amazon’s Monopsony Is Not O.K.

From The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/opinion/paul-krugman-amazons-monopsony-is-not-ok.html

Amazon.com, the giant online retailer, has too much power, and it uses that power in ways that hurt America.

O.K., I know that was kind of abrupt. But I wanted to get the central point out there right away, because discussions of Amazon tend, all too often, to get lost in side issues.

For example, critics of the company sometimes portray it as a monster about to take over the whole economy. Such claims are over the top — Amazon doesn’t dominate overall online sales, let alone retailing as a whole, and probably never will. But so what? Amazon is still playing a troubling role.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s defenders often digress into paeans to online bookselling, which has indeed been a good thing for many Americans, or testimonials to Amazon customer service — and in case you’re wondering, yes, I have Amazon Prime and use it a lot. But again, so what? The desirability of new technology, or even Amazon’s effective use of that technology, is not the issue. After all, John D. Rockefeller and his associates were pretty good at the oil business, too — but Standard Oil nonetheless had too much power, and public action to curb that power was essential.

And the same is true of Amazon today.

If you haven’t been following the recent Amazon news: Back in May a dispute between Amazon and Hachette, a major publishing house, broke out into open commercial warfare. Amazon had been demanding a larger cut of the price of Hachette books it sells; when Hachette balked, Amazon began disrupting the publisher’s sales. Hachette books weren’t banned outright from Amazon’s site, but Amazon began delaying their delivery, raising their prices, and/or steering customers to other publishers.

You might be tempted to say that this is just business — no different from Standard Oil, back in the days before it was broken up, refusing to ship oil via railroads that refused to grant it special discounts. But that is, of course, the point: The robber baron era ended when we as a nation decided that some business tactics were out of line. And the question is whether we want to go back on that decision.

Continue reading at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/opinion/paul-krugman-amazons-monopsony-is-not-ok.html

Does Amazon really have robber-baron-type market power? When it comes to books, definitely. Amazon overwhelmingly dominates online book sales, with a market share comparable to Standard Oil’s share of the refined oil market when it was broken up in 1911. Even if you look at total book sales, Amazon is by far the largest player.

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Pentagon: Global Warming Poses ‘Immediate Risk’ To National Security

From Think Progress:  http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/10/14/3579338/pentagon-global-warming-national-security/

Posted on October 14, 2014

In terms of U.S. defense strategy, climate change is a “threat multiplier” that can worsen national security problems such as terrorism and infectious disease spread, according to a new Pentagon report released Monday.

 The 20-page “2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap” said the U.S. Department of Defense is “already beginning to see” some of the impacts of sea level rise, changing precipitation patterns, rising global temperatures, and increased extreme weather — four key symptoms of global warming. These symptoms have the potential to “intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict” and will likely lead to “food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe,” the report said.

Because of uncertainty surrounding just how bad these problems will be in the future, the report calls for a proactive defense strategy — one which will require “thinking ahead and planning for a wide range of contingencies.”

“Climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” the report reads. “Weather has always affected military operations, and as the climate changes, the way we execute operations may be altered or constrained.”

The report in its entirety can be found here.

Monday’s report is far from the first time the U.S. Department of Defense has warned of the risks climate change poses to national security. The military has long shown that it understands the realities of climate change, releasing reports warning of altered natural disaster response and drought leading to conflicts over food and water. The Pentagon has also released an entire report solely on its strategy to address Arctic melting, which is allowing ships to access more of the Arctic Ocean.

Continue reading at:  http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/10/14/3579338/pentagon-global-warming-national-security/

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The Age of Vulnerability

From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-e-stiglitz/the-age-of-vulnerability_b_5978122.html

10/13/2014

NEW YORK — Two new studies show, once again, the magnitude of the inequality problem plaguing the United States. The first, the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual income and poverty report, shows that, despite the economy’s supposed recovery from the Great Recession, ordinary Americans’ incomes continue to stagnate. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, remains below its level a quarter century ago.

It used to be thought that America’s greatest strength was not its military power, but an economic system that was the envy of the world. But why would others seek to emulate an economic model by which a large proportion — even a majority — of the population has seen their income stagnate while incomes at the top have soared?

A second study, the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report 2014, corroborates these findings. Every year, the UNDP publishes a ranking of countries by their Human Development Index HDI, which incorporates other dimensions of well-being besides income, including health and education.

America ranks fifth according to HDI, below Norway, Australia, Switzerland and the Netherlands. But when its score is adjusted for inequality, it drops 23 spots — among the largest such declines for any highly developed country. Indeed, the U.S. falls below Greece and Slovakia, countries that people do not typically regard as role models or as competitors with the U.S. at the top of the league tables.

The UNDP report emphasizes another aspect of societal performance: vulnerability. It points out that while many countries succeeded in moving people out of poverty, the lives of many are still precarious. A small event — say, an illness in the family — can push them back into destitution. Downward mobility is a real threat, while upward mobility is limited.

In the U.S., upward mobility is more myth than reality, whereas downward mobility and vulnerability is a widely shared experience. This is partly because of America’s healthcare system, which still leaves poor Americans in a precarious position, despite President Barack Obama’s reforms.

Those at the bottom are only a short step away from bankruptcy with all that that entails. Illness, divorce, or the loss of a job often is enough to push them over the brink.

The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”) was intended to ameliorate these threats — and there are strong indications that it is on its way to significantly reducing the number of uninsured Americans. But, partly owing to a Supreme Court decision and the obduracy of Republican governors and legislators, who in two dozen U.S. states have refused to expand Medicaid (insurance for the poor) — even though the federal government pays almost the entire tab — 41 million Americans remain uninsured. When economic inequality translates into political inequality — as it has in large parts of the U.S. — governments pay little attention to the needs of those at the bottom.

Continue reading at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-e-stiglitz/the-age-of-vulnerability_b_5978122.html

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Millions of Gen Xers Will Be Homeless Before You Know It

From Ted Rall:  http://rall.com/2014/10/13/syndicated-column-millions-of-gen-xers-will-be-homeless-before-you-know-it

Ted Rall
Oct 13, 2014

Forget terrorism, Ebola or even climate change — the most dangerous threat to this country is an epic retirement crisis.

We will soon see tens of millions of Americans reduced to poverty, bringing an end to the United States as an economic superpower.

Unlike attacks and pandemics, this crisis is an absolute certainty, one with a clear, near start date. But the media is hardly mentioning the imminent retirement crisis. So politicians haven’t even begun to think about it, much less take it seriously.

Actually, “retirement crisis” is a misnomer. The problem isn’t that people won’t be able to retire or will be living on a shoestring, though those things are true. We’re staring down the barrel of an epic old age crisis. For the average American, to be elderly will mean not mere belt-tightening, but real, grinding poverty: homelessness and hunger.

Throughout the last few decades, vulnerable people living from payday to payday have gotten battered by the shredding of the government safety net, a lack of accumulated savings caused by the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism, and a lackluster real estate market.

Now members of the poor and lower middle class in their 50s and 60s are heading into a retirement crisis created by a perfect superstorm.

Traditional defined-benefit pension plans have been replaced by stingy 401(k)s and similar programs which employers no longer pay into, cap how much you can contribute (assuming you can afford it), take a beating during downturns in the stock market, and allow workers to tap when they’re laid off or run into financial trouble. After years of sketchy raids and outright theft, workers with old-fashioned corporate and government pensions can’t be sure their money will be there when they need it. The first Generation Xers — many of whom never had the opportunity to accumulate wealth due to several long recessions that impacted them particularly hard — will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 in the year 2024.

The facts are brutal:

Continue reading at:  http://rall.com/2014/10/13/syndicated-column-millions-of-gen-xers-will-be-homeless-before-you-know-it

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Women don’t owe you anything

From Raw Story:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/10/women-dont-owe-you-anything/

Amanda Marcotte
Oct. 10, 2014

There’s been a lot of great writing in recent weeks about the concept of affirmative consent. Sadly, there’s also been a lot of gross, distasteful writing defending the status quo, where women are expected to be available to men—sexually, emotionally, etc.—unless we say otherwise. I want to recommend this excellent piece by Amanda Taub at Vox explaining why she believes we really do need a shift from consent being an “opt-out” culture to an “opt-in” one. (As I’ve said before, putting women’s bodies on the same level we put houses and wallets, where you are assumed not welcome unless explicitly invited.) Part of the problem is that by telling women we are assumed to be consenting unless we say otherwise, the “say otherwise” is always up for debate by a man who believe our “no” is not good enough.

That burden isn’t just annoying for women. It’s dangerous. By exempting sexual aggressors from the responsibility of figuring out whether their partners are “eager and ready to sleep with them,” we’re asking their targets to either give in to sexual activity they don’t want, or to run the risk that a firm, assertive, continued rejection will end in violence.

This week, a Detroit man murdered a 27-year-old mother of three named Mary Spears after she rejected him in a bar. Right now, a woman is in critical condition in a New York City hospital because a man slashed her throat on the street after she declined to go on a date with him. In April, a Connecticut teenager was murdered by her 16-year-old classmate after she turned down his invitation to prom. Stories like these (and there are others) should remind us that women have a lot of reasons to fear the consequences of saying “no.” That’s all the more reason why silence shouldn’t be presumed to be consent.

The violence that erupts when a man decides that a woman hasn’t worked hard enough to opt out of her supposed obligation to please him seems shocking, but it’s entirely predictable in a society such as ours. Take, for instance, my post yesterday where I made fun of a man who wanted me to get off my bike, take off my headphones and engage me in a lengthy conversation about my body and his opinions on it. Many people in comments were upset, arguing that I did, in fact, have an obligation, merely by being a woman in the world, to drop what I was doing and give this man what he wanted because he wanted it. That my “no” was not good enough. That in order to opt out of the presumption of consent, I had to come up with more reasons that fuck-you-I’m-not-a-toy.

Continue reading at:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/10/women-dont-owe-you-anything/

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California Drought Might “Persist or Intensify” During Warm Winter: NOAA

From NBC LA:  http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/California-Drought-Winter-Forecast-Warm-Weather-El-Nino-279435912.html

The winter forecast brings few signs of recovery for drought-stricken California after a summer of record heat that took a toll on the state’s already low reservoirs

By Jonathan Lloyd
Saturday, Oct 18, 2014

Drought conditions are likely to “persist or intensify” during what forecasters expect to be a warm winter in California, where water scarcity led to critically low reservoir levels and calls to conserve during the state’s third consecutive dry year.

The dire winter outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration comes after a summer of punishing heat and disappointing 2013 rain season that was part of California’s driest year on record.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor update has all of California in some type of drought category, just as the government-issued report has shown for the last three months. More than 58 percent of the state is considered in “exceptional drought,” the most severe category assigned in the weekly report.

Some regions might see slight improvement this winter, but Californians hoping for significant and widespread relief, especially in the parched Central Valley region, are unlikely to find it during the coming months. California historically sees most of its rain for the year from November through February and early spring months.

Continue reading at:  http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/California-Drought-Winter-Forecast-Warm-Weather-El-Nino-279435912.html

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How to be a female pop star in 2014

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