I guess the corporate guy in the The Gradate was right...the future is plastics.
By Mark Anthony Browne
Ask most people about the problem of waste plastics in the environment and they will talk about plastic bags caught in trees and the vast slicks of plastic trash found in remote areas of the Atlantic and Pacific. But the most menacing plastic waste problem is less visible and not so well publicized.
It's the tiny fibers, less than one millimeter wide, that come from our clothes when we launder them. These fibers make their way into the world's rivers and seas through the sewage and drainage systems of our cities. The pollution is worst near urban areas, but it is global and has increased by more than 450 percent since the 1960s.
These minute strands of plastic -- virtually invisible to the human eye -- are made from a variety of natural (animal and plant) and artificial polymers. You can't see them when you walk along the seashore at low tide, but they're there, by the ton.
In the samples my team and I recovered on shorelines from the poles to the Equator between 2004 and 2007, they were often over six times more abundant by number than larger plastic debris like bottles, bags and wrappers.
The presence of such fibers in the environment is particularly problematic not only because they sneak their way into the food chain, but also because they can damage the lungs of humans and animals. It's not just plastics; natural fibers, including those from cotton and flax, can also harm lung function and cause scarring.
Tiny fiber-size synthetic polymers migrate from the lungs and guts into the bloodstream, potentially circulating for months. In extreme cases in the past, research established a link between textiles containing fibers of chrysotile (a type of asbestos) and cancer and death in humans.
At the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in California, my colleagues and I reviewed numerous medical, toxicological and ecological studies about the links between micro- and nano-size debris and disease and mortality in humans and wildlife. Medical studies showed, for example, that injecting hamsters with plastic particles caused blood cells to form clots. Other research found that plastics can cause damage by increasing concentrations of metal and protein in cells. This damages DNA, and kills cells and causes tissue inflammation.
It's not just ingestion of microscopic synthetic polymers that's a problem for humans and wildlife. These microplastic fibers (including natural fibers) are often infused with harmful chemicals, including dyes that can cause skin rashes in humans, surfactants often used in detergents that are known to compromise the immune system, and antimicrobials like triclosan, which can kill wildlife.
The federal government's collection of bulk data from the telephone calls of virtually every American will stop at midnight Saturday, ending a raging controversy that began with disclosures about the secret program by Edward Snowden.
Beginning Sunday, if the government wants to check on a specific phone number in a potential terrorism case, a request must be made to the relevant telephone company for a check of its own data. The government will no longer retain the information.
The federal government's collection of bulk data from the telephone calls of virtually every American will stop at midnight Saturday, ending a raging controversy that began with disclosures about the secret program by Edward Snowden.
Beginning Sunday, if the government wants to check on a specific phone number in a potential terrorism case, a request must be made to the relevant telephone company for a check of its own data. The government will no longer retain the information.
President Obama said in January that the bulk data collection would end, and Congress in June formally banned it but allowed for a six-month transition period that ends Saturday.
Under the program, the government collected information about calls made, including their duration and the phone numbers involved. But the content of the calls was not monitored, recorded, or collected.
A statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence defended the revised program.
"There is still a need to be able to identify communications between terrorists abroad and individuals with whom they are in contact in the United States," the statement said.
Under the revision, the government will present a specific phone number or cell phone identifier to the phone companies to seek the relevant call data. Except in emergencies, the records can be obtained only with an individual order from a special federal intelligence court.
For now, the National Security Agency, which ran the massive government data collection program, will retain access to the data it collected before the program was ended.
The NSA says it will check that database only to test the new program and to conform to court orders in civil cases challenging the program's constitutionality
By the fall of 1915, Albert Einstein was a bit grumpy.
He was living alone. A friend, Janos Plesch, once said, "He sleeps until he is awakened; he stays awake until he is told to go to bed; he will go hungry until he is given something to eat; and then he eats until he is stopped."
Worse, he had discovered a fatal flaw in his new theory of gravity, propounded with great fanfare only a couple of years before. And now he no longer had the field to himself. The German mathematician David Hilbert was breathing down his neck.
So Einstein went back to the blackboard. And on Nov. 25, 1915, he set down the equation that rules the universe. As compact and mysterious as a Viking rune, it describes space-time as a kind of sagging mattress where matter and energy, like a heavy sleeper, distort the geometry of the cosmos to produce the effect we call gravity, obliging light beams as well as marbles and falling apples to follow curved paths through space.
This is the general theory of relativity. It's a standard trope in science writing to say that some theory or experiment transformed our understanding of space and time. General relativity really did.
Since the dawn of the scientific revolution and the days of Isaac Newton, the discoverer of gravity, scientists and philosophers had thought of space-time as a kind of stage on which we actors, matter and energy, strode and strutted.
With general relativity, the stage itself sprang into action. Space-time could curve, fold, wrap itself up around a dead star and disappear into a black hole. It could jiggle like Santa Claus's belly, radiating waves of gravitational compression, or whirl like dough in a Mixmaster. It could even rip or tear. It could stretch and grow, or it could collapse into a speck of infinite density at the end or beginning of time.
Scientists have been lighting birthday candles for general relativity all year, including here at the Institute for Advanced Study, where Einstein spent the last 22 years of his life, and where they gathered in November to review a century of gravity and to attend performances by Brian Greene, the Columbia University physicist and World Science Festival impresario, and the violinist Joshua Bell. Even nature, it seems, has been doing its bit. Last spring, astronomers said they had discovered an "Einstein cross," in which the gravity of a distant cluster of galaxies had split the light from a supernova beyond them into separate beams in which telescopes could watch the star exploding again and again, in a cosmic version of the movie "Groundhog Day."
The ultimate paradox for the Republican contenders is that they are running for an office they are running against.
Like millions of people, I've been obsessively following the news from Paris, putting aside other things to focus on the horror. It's the natural human reaction. But let's be clear: it's also the reaction the terrorists want. And that's something not everyone seems to understand.
Take, for example, Jeb Bush's declaration that "this is an organized attempt to destroy Western civilization." No, it isn't. It's an organized attempt to sow panic, which isn't at all the same thing. And remarks like that, which blur that distinction and make terrorists seem more powerful than they are, just help the jihadists' cause.
Think, for a moment, about what France is and what it represents. It has its problems -- what nation doesn't? -- but it's a robust democracy with a deep well of popular legitimacy. Its defense budget is small compared with ours, but it nonetheless retains a powerful military, and has the resources to make that military much stronger if it chooses. (France's economy is around 20 times the size of Syria's.) France is not going to be conquered by ISIS, now or ever. Destroy Western civilization? Not a chance.
So what was Friday's attack about? Killing random people in restaurants and at concerts is a strategy that reflects its perpetrators' fundamental weakness. It isn't going to establish a caliphate in Paris. What it can do, however, is inspire fear -- which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn't dignify it with the name of war.
The point is not to minimize the horror. It is, instead, to emphasize that the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire. And it's crucial to realize that there are multiple ways the response can go wrong.
It would certainly be a very bad thing if France or other democracies responded to terrorism with appeasement -- if, for example, the French were to withdraw from the international effort against ISIS in the vain hope that jihadists would leave them alone. And I won't say that there are no would-be appeasers out there; there are indeed some people determined to believe that Western imperialism is the root of all evil, and all would be well if we stopped meddling.
But real-world examples of mainstream politicians, let alone governments, knuckling under to terrorist demands are hard to find. Most accusations of appeasement in America seem to be aimed at liberals who don't use what conservatives consider tough enough language.
A much bigger risk, in practice, is that the targets of terrorism will try to achieve perfect security by eliminating every conceivable threat -- a response that inevitably makes things worse, because it's a big, complicated world, and even superpowers can't set everything right. On 9/11 Donald Rumsfeld told his aides: "Sweep it up. Related and not," and immediately suggested using the attack as an excuse to invade Iraq. The result was a disastrous war that actually empowered terrorists, and set the stage for the rise of ISIS.
And let's be clear: this wasn't just a matter of bad judgment. Yes, Virginia, people can and do exploit terrorism for political gain, including using it to justify what they imagine will be a splendid, politically beneficial little war.
Oh, and whatever people like Ted Cruz may imagine, ending our reluctance to kill innocent civilians wouldn't remove the limits to American power. It would, however, do wonders for terrorist recruitment.
Finally, terrorism is just one of many dangers in the world, and shouldn't be allowed to divert our attention from other issues. Sorry, conservatives: when President Obama describes climate change as the greatest threat we face, he's exactly right. Terrorism can't and won't destroy our civilization, but global warming could and might.
So what can we say about how to respond to terrorism? Before the atrocities in Paris, the West's general response involved a mix of policing, precaution, and military action. All involved difficult tradeoffs: surveillance versus privacy, protection versus freedom of movement, denying terrorists safe havens versus the costs and dangers of waging war abroad. And it was always obvious that sometimes a terrorist attack would slip through.
Paris may have changed that calculus a bit, especially when it comes to Europe's handling of refugees, an agonizing issue that has now gotten even more fraught. And there will have to be a post-mortem on why such an elaborate plot wasn't spotted. But do you remember all the pronouncements that 9/11 would change everything? Well, it didn't -- and neither will this atrocity.
Again, the goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that's all they're capable of. And the most important thing our societies can do in response is to refuse to give in to fear.
A couple of weeks ago President Obama mocked Republicans who are "down on America," and reinforced his message by doing a pretty good Grumpy Cat impression. He had a point: With job growth at rates not seen since the 1990s, with the percentage of Americans covered by health insurance hitting record highs, the doom-and-gloom predictions of his political enemies look ever more at odds with reality.
Yet there is a darkness spreading over part of our society. And we don't really understand why.
There has been a lot of comment, and rightly so, over a new paper by the economists Angus Deaton (who just won a Nobel) and Anne Case, showing that mortality among middle-aged white Americans has been rising since 1999. This deterioration took place while death rates were falling steadily both in other countries and among other groups in our own nation.
Even more striking are the proximate causes of rising mortality. Basically, white Americans are, in increasing numbers, killing themselves, directly or indirectly. Suicide is way up, and so are deaths from drug poisoning and the chronic liver disease that excessive drinking can cause. We've seen this kind of thing in other times and places - for example, in the plunging life expectancy that afflicted Russia after the fall of Communism. But it's a shock to see it, even in an attenuated form, in America.
Yet the Deaton-Case findings fit into a well-established pattern. There have been a number of studies showing that life expectancy for less-educated whites is falling across much of the nation. Rising suicides and overuse of opioids are known problems. And while popular culture may focus more on meth than on prescription painkillers or good old alcohol, it's not really news that there's a drug problem in the heartland.
But what's causing this epidemic of self-destructive behavior?
If you believe the usual suspects on the right, it's all the fault of liberals. Generous social programs, they insist, have created a culture of dependency and despair, while secular humanists have undermined traditional values. But (surprise!) this view is very much at odds with the evidence.
For one thing, rising mortality is a uniquely American phenomenon - yet America has both a much weaker welfare state and a much stronger role for traditional religion and values than any other advanced country. Sweden gives its poor far more aid than we do, and a majority of Swedish children are now born out of wedlock, yet Sweden's middle-aged mortality rate is only half of white America's.
You see a somewhat similar pattern across regions within the United States. Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest. Meanwhile, low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.
What about a materialist explanation? Is rising mortality a consequence of rising inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class?
Well, it's not that simple. We are, after all, talking about the consequences of behavior, and culture clearly matters a great deal. Most notably, Hispanic Americans are considerably poorer than whites, but have much lower mortality. It's probably worth noting, in this context, that international comparisons consistently find that Latin Americans have higher subjective well-being than you would expect, given their incomes.
So what is going on? In a recent interview Mr. Deaton suggested that middle-aged whites have "lost the narrative of their lives." That is, their economic setbacks have hit hard because they expected better. Or to put it a bit differently, we're looking at people who were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true.
That sounds like a plausible hypothesis to me, but the truth is that we don't really know why despair appears to be spreading across Middle America. But it clearly is, with troubling consequences for our society as a whole.
In particular, I know I'm not the only observer who sees a link between the despair reflected in those mortality numbers and the volatility of right-wing politics. Some people who feel left behind by the American story turn self-destructive; others turn on the elites they feel have betrayed them. No, deporting immigrants and wearing baseball caps bearing slogans won't solve their problems, but neither will cutting taxes on capital gains. So you can understand why some voters have rallied around politicians who at least seem to feel their pain.
At this point you probably expect me to offer a solution. But while universal health care, higher minimum wages, aid to education, and so on would do a lot to help Americans in trouble, I'm not sure whether they're enough to cure existential despair.
gemli is a trusted commenter Boston 8 hours ago
Maybe it's just a coincidence that the decline and despair of the white middle class began at the start of W's Reign of Error, but there's something tragically poetic about the sinking of the ordinary Joe while the conservatives rose to power. The two trends may not be causally connected, but I don't think it's a coincidence that the destruction of the economy, the endless war, the devaluation of intellect and the resurgence of religious fundamentalism accompanied the rise of despair.
Douthat often blames everything on the decline of morals and religion, but during this time religion was in the driver's seat, validating W's rush to war, lashing out against the long-overdue rise of gay rights and attacking long-legalized abortion.
When Obama became president, conservatives doubled down on attacks against progressive advances that were the hallmark of the 20th century. Affordable health care was treated as an abomination. Older people would have to work until 70 to receive Social Security benefits. Trickle-down economics made a resurgence, as funds were begrudged to those in need in order to support so-called "job creators," who created nothing.
No one needs transfer payments if we have good jobs that earn a living wage. This is what creates hope, ensures a future and keeps families together. We need a return to democratic governance, not a reliance on conservative paternalism and religious nonsense. Let the rich feel a little despair for a change.
taopraxis is a trusted commenter nyc 3 hours ago
Allow me to explain bigotry.
I'll keep it simple because I want people to get it.
You see someone do something stupid or despicable.
If that person is the same color as you, you say they did it because they're stupid or despicable.
If the person is a different color and you're a racist, you say they did it because they're black or whatever.
When economic crisis struck in 2008, policy makers by and large did the right thing. The Federal Reserve and other central banks realized that supporting the financial system took priority over conventional notions of monetary prudence. The Obama administration and its counterparts realized that in a slumping economy budget deficits were helpful, not harmful. And the money-printing and borrowing worked: A repeat of the Great Depression, which seemed all too possible at the time, was avoided.
Then it all went wrong. And the consequences of the wrong turn we took look worse now than the harshest critics of conventional wisdom ever imagined.
For those who don't remember (it's hard to believe how long this has gone on): In 2010, more or less suddenly, the policy elite on both sides of the Atlantic decided to stop worrying about unemployment and start worrying about budget deficits instead.
This shift wasn't driven by evidence or careful analysis. In fact, it was very much at odds with basic economics. Yet ominous talk about the dangers of deficits became something everyone said because everyone else was saying it, and dissenters were no longer considered respectable -- which is why I began describing those parroting the orthodoxy of the moment as Very Serious People.
Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.
Some of us tried in vain to point out that deficit fetishism was both wrongheaded and destructive, that there was no good evidence that government debt was a problem for major economies, while there was plenty of evidence that cutting spending in a depressed economy would deepen the depression.
And we were vindicated by events. More than four and a half years have passed since Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles warned of a fiscal crisis within two years; U.S. borrowing costs remain at historic lows. Meanwhile, the austerity policies that were put into place in 2010 and after had exactly the depressing effects textbook economics predicted; the confidence fairy never did put in an appearance.
Yet there's growing evidence that we critics actually underestimated just how destructive the turn to austerity would be. Specifically, it now looks as if austerity policies didn't just impose short-term losses of jobs and output, but they also crippled long-run growth.
The idea that policies that depress the economy in the short run also inflict lasting damage is generally referred to as "hysteresis." It's an idea with an impressive pedigree: The case for hysteresis was made in a well-known 1986 paper by Olivier Blanchard, who later became the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, and Lawrence Summers, who served as a top official in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations. But I think everyone was hesitant to apply the idea to the Great Recession, for fear of seeming excessively alarmist.
At this point, however, the evidence practically screams hysteresis. Even countries that seem to have largely recovered from the crisis, like the United States, are far poorer than precrisis projections suggested they would be at this point. And a new paper by Mr. Summers and Antonio Fatás, in addition to supporting other economists' conclusion that the crisis seems to have done enormous long-run damage, shows that the downgrading of nations' long-run prospects is strongly correlated with the amount of austerity they imposed.
What this suggests is that the turn to austerity had truly catastrophic effects, going far beyond the jobs and income lost in the first few years. In fact, the long-run damage suggested by the Fatás-Summers estimates is easily big enough to make austerity a self-defeating policy even in purely fiscal terms: Governments that slashed spending in the face of depression hurt their economies, and hence their future tax receipts, so much that even their debt will end up higher than it would have been without the cuts.
And the bitter irony of the story is that this catastrophic policy was undertaken in the name of long-run responsibility, that those who protested against the wrong turn were dismissed as feckless.
There are a few obvious lessons from this debacle. "All the important people say so" is not, it turns out, a good way to decide on policy; groupthink is no substitute for clear analysis. Also, calling for sacrifice (by other people, of course) doesn't mean you're tough-minded.
But will these lessons sink in? Past economic troubles, like the stagflation of the 1970s, led to widespread reconsideration of economic orthodoxy. But one striking aspect of the past few years has been how few people are willing to admit having been wrong about anything. It seems all too possible that the Very Serious People who cheered on disastrous policies will learn nothing from the experience. And that is, in its own way, as scary as the economic outlook.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes put it,
"The chief work of civilization is just that it makes the means of living more complex. Because more complex and intense intellectual efforts mean a fuller and richer life. That means more life. Life is an end to itself and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it."
Walmart is an environmental disaster, despite its claim to be moving toward renewable energy. But Walmart's majority stockholders, the Walton family, are going above and beyond, actively working against rooftop solar power, according to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
The Waltons' anti-solar efforts fall into two categories. Since 2010, they've given at least $4.5 million in donations to organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity that are trying to weaken clean energy policies at the state level. These donations are part of a widespread corporate attack on policies that allow homeowners to use rooftop solar panels not just to power their own houses, but to sell excess solar power to utility companies. These utility companies might not be against solar power, but they're definitely against losing business to household-level solar. The logic is a familiar one:
... beneath the [Walton] family's public embrace of environmentalism lies a deeper agenda: furthering the highly concentrated corporate economic model that has generated so much wealth for so few, often at extraordinary cost to both the environment and working people. The Waltons' environmentalism is best understood not as a curious counterpoint to this imperative, but rather as a tool in service to it.
They put that into very direct action with a solar company, First Solar. Yes, the Walmart Waltons own a solar company. But! First Solar doesn't build solar for households. It builds utility-scale solar arrays, which means its interests are fully aligned with utility companies. Really aligned:
In June 2013, Walton-owned First Solar sent shockwaves through the solar
industry when its CEO, James Hughes, published an op-ed in the Arizona Republic endorsing a proposal by the state's biggest utility to impose a new fee on households with rooftop solar. Averaging about $50 to $100 a month, the proposed fee would be large enough to completely destroy the economics of household energy production, halting the spread of residential rooftop solar in Arizona. As the rest of the solar industry closed ranks and joined with environmental and consumer groups in opposing the plan, First Solar backed the utility, insisting that it was right to maximize its financial position. Bryan Miller, a vice president at Sunrun and president of the Alliance for Solar Choice, put First Solar's actions in perspective: "No solar company has publicly advocated against solar until First Solar."
The fee eventually imposed was much smaller than the proposed $50 to $100 a month, but nonetheless, it had its intended effect:
Residential installations have since declined by 40 percent, protecting APS, which produces most of its electricity from coal, nuclear, and gas, from competition. Arizona, once a leader in solar job creation, is now one of only five states in the country
where the number of solar jobs is actually declining.
The organizations the Waltons contributed that $4.5 million to are working to push similar policies in states across the country.
Geneticist Jennifer Doudna co-invented a groundbreaking new technology for editing genes, called CRISPR-Cas9. The tool allows scientists to make precise edits to DNA strands, which could lead to treatments for genetic diseases ... but could also be used to create so-called "designer babies." Doudna reviews how CRISPR-Cas9 works -- and asks the scientific community to pause and discuss the ethics of this new tool.
Hurray!.. Finally the god-awful Harper led Conservative government's ten year reign will be ended. Like conservatives parties everywhere on the planet,
Here is the standing as of 10:00pm EST
Now the best part is that the eldest son of former Prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin Trudeau, will be Prime Minister. Too cool.
Canada's Liberal leader Justin Trudeau rode a late campaign surge to a stunning election victory on Monday, toppling Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives with a promise of change and returning a touch of glamor, youth and charisma to Ottawa.
The Liberals' win marks a swing toward a more multilateral approach in global politics by the Canadian government, which has distanced itself from the United Nations in recent years.
The former teacher took charge of the party just two years ago and guided it out of the political wilderness with a pledge of economic stimulus and stirring appeals for a return to social liberalism.
Investigative journalist Will Potter is the only reporter who has been inside a Communications Management Unit, or CMU, within a US prison. These units were opened secretly, and radically alter how prisoners are treated -- even preventing them from hugging their children. Potter, a TED Fellow, shows us who is imprisoned here, and how the government is trying to keep them hidden. "The message was clear," he says. "Don't talk about this place." Find sources for this talk at willpotter.com/cmu
Except for that austerity thingy...
Something Not Rotten in Denmark
No doubt surprising many of the people watching the Democratic presidential debate, Bernie Sanders cited Denmark as a role model for how to help working people. Hillary Clinton demurred slightly, declaring that "we are not Denmark," but agreed that Denmark is an inspiring example.
Such an exchange would have been inconceivable among Republicans, who don't seem able to talk about European welfare states without adding the word "collapsing." Basically, on Planet G.O.P. all of Europe is just a bigger version of Greece. But how great are the Danes, really?
The answer is that the Danes get a lot of things right, and in so doing refute just about everything U.S. conservatives say about economics. And we can also learn a lot from the things Denmark has gotten wrong.
Denmark maintains a welfare state -- a set of government programs designed to provide economic security -- that is beyond the wildest dreams of American liberals. Denmark provides universal health care; college education is free, and students receive a stipend; day care is heavily subsidized. Overall, working-age families receive more than three times as much aid, as a share of G.D.P., as their U.S. counterparts.
To pay for these programs, Denmark collects a lot of taxes. The top income tax rate is 60.3 percent; there's also a 25 percent national sales tax. Overall, Denmark's tax take is almost half of national income, compared with 25 percent in the United States.
Describe these policies to any American conservative, and he would predict ruin. Surely those generous benefits must destroy the incentive to work, while those high taxes drive job creators into hiding or exile.
Strange to say, however, Denmark doesn't look like a set from "Mad Max." On the contrary, it's a prosperous nation that does quite well on job creation. In fact, adults in their prime working years are substantially more likely to be employed in Denmark than they are in America. Labor productivity in Denmark is roughly the same as it is here, although G.D.P. per capita is lower, mainly because the Danes take a lot more vacation.
Nor are the Danes melancholy: Denmark ranks at or near the top on international comparisons of "life satisfaction."
It's hard to imagine a better refutation of anti-tax, anti-government economic doctrine, which insists that a system like Denmark's would be completely unworkable.
But would Denmark's model be impossible to reproduce in other countries? Consider France, another country that is much bigger and more diverse than Denmark, but also maintains a highly generous welfare state paid for with high taxes. You might not know this from the extremely bad press France gets, but the French, too, roughly match U.S. productivity, and are more likely than Americans to be employed during their prime working years. Taxes and benefits just aren't the job killers right-wing legend asserts.
Going back to Denmark, is everything copacetic in Copenhagen? Actually, no. Denmark is very rich, but its economy has taken a hit in recent years, because its recovery from the global financial crisis has been slow and incomplete. In fact, Denmark's 5.5 percent decline in real G.D.P. per capita since 2007 is comparable to the declines in debt-crisis countries like Portugal or Spain, even though Denmark has never lost the confidence of investors.
What explains this poor recent performance? The answer, mainly, is bad monetary and fiscal policy. Denmark hasn't adopted the euro, but it manages its currency as if it had, which means that it has shared the consequences of monetary mistakes like the European Central Bank's 2011 interest rate hike. And while the country has faced no market pressure to slash spending -- Denmark can borrow long-term at an interest rate of only 0.84 percent -- it has adopted fiscal austerity anyway.
The result is a sharp contrast with neighboring Sweden, which doesn't shadow the euro (although it has made some mistakes on its own), hasn't done much austerity, and has seen real G.D.P. per capita rise while Denmark's falls.
But Denmark's monetary and fiscal errors don't say anything about the sustainability of a strong welfare state. In fact, people who denounce things like universal health coverage and subsidized child care tend also to be people who demand higher interest rates and spending cuts in a depressed economy. (Remember all the talk about "debasing" the dollar?) That is, U.S. conservatives actually approve of some Danish policies -- but only the ones that have proved to be badly misguided.
So yes, we can learn a lot from Denmark, both its successes and its failures. And let me say that it was both a pleasure and a relief to hear people who might become president talk seriously about how we can learn from the experience of other countries, as opposed to just chanting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"
The Three Reasons Republican Deficit Hawks Are Wrong
Posted on Oct 16, 2015
By Robert Reich
This post originally appeared on Robert Reich's website.
Congress is heading into another big brawl over the federal budget deficit, the national debt, and the debt ceiling.
Republicans are already talking about holding Social Security and Medicare "hostage" during negotiations--hell-bent on getting cuts in exchange for a debt limit hike.
Days ago, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew asked whether our nation would "muster the political will to avoid the self-inflicted wounds that come from a political stalemate."
It's a fair question. And there's only one economically sound answer: Congress must raise the debt ceiling, end the sequester, put more people to work, and increase our investment in education and infrastructure.
Here are the three reasons why Republican deficit hawks are wrong. (Please watch and share our attached video.)
FIRST: Deficit and debt numbers are meaningless on their own. They have to be viewed as a percent of the national economy.
That ratio is critical. As long as the yearly deficit continues to drop as a percent of the national economy, as it's been doing for several years now, we can more easily pay what we owe.
SECOND: America needs to run larger deficits when lots of people are unemployed or underemployed - as they still are today, when millions remain too discouraged to look for jobs and millions more are in part-time jobs and need full-time work.
As we've known for years - in every economic downturn and in every struggling recovery - more government spending helps create jobs - teachers, fire fighters, police officers, social workers, people to rebuild roads and bridges and parks. And the people in these jobs create far more jobs when they spend their paychecks.
This kind of spending thereby grows the economy - thereby increasing tax revenues and allowing the deficit to shrink in proportion.
Doing the opposite - cutting back spending when a lot of people are still out of work - as Congress has done with the sequester, as much of Europe has done - causes economies to slow or even shrink, which makes the deficit larger in proportion.
This is why austerity economics is a recipe for disaster, as it's been in Greece. Creditors and institutions worried about Greece's debt forced it to cut spending, the spending cuts led to a huge economic recession, which reduced tax revenues, and made the debt crisis there worse.
THIRD AND FINALLY: Deficit spending on investments like education and infrastructure is different than other forms of spending, because this spending builds productivity and future economic growth.
It's like a family borrowing money to send a kid to college or start a business. If the likely return on the investment exceeds the borrowing costs, it should be done.
Keep these three principles in mind and you won't be fooled by scare tactics of the deficit hawks.
And you'll understand why we have to raise the debt ceiling, end the sequester, put more people to work, and increase rather than decrease spending on vital public investments like education and infrastructure.
One of the side benefits of a well-watched national political debate is the exposure it brings to something obscure and forgotten -- like Denmark. Who doesn't love a country that gave us a dish of frikadeller and rugbrod to go with paid parental leave and universal health care?
"I love Denmark," said Hillary Clinton during Tuesday's debate, by way of dismissing a quasi-socialist nation of 5.7 million mostly white people as not the best place to look for solving the problems of a multiethnic democracy of 322 million.
But in fact, the United States may be closer to Denmark than many think. In the reddest of red states -- say, Idaho -- you can find the kind of socialism, through publicly owned utilities or the federal dam that farmers rely on for their water, that would be right at home among aquavit-sipping Danes.
Once you label something socialist, it brings to mind dour Soviet types trotting out dreary worker clothing for the spring fashion line. Or, here at home, those insufferable parlor room Marxists who think it would be utopia if only we nationalized every Starbucks. In that sense, the worst thing about socialism is the socialists.
Free of the label, a hybrid economy where health care, education and pensions for the elderly are provided, side-by-side-by-side with creative capitalism, works pretty well in the Nordic countries, Britain and Canada. And most of the tenets of what is considered democratic socialism have majority support in the United States.
But "socialism" as a word is poison in this country, except among the young, in large part because it's associated with failed authoritarian Marxist states. A recent Gallup poll found that half of Americans would not vote for a socialist. More people said they could accept an atheist as president than someone with the scarlet S.
So we don't like "them." But we do like many of their ideas. We can thank Senator Bernie Sanders, self-proclaimed democratic socialist, for this healthy debate. This week, Donald Trump called him a "communist." If so, you can find broad public support for most of the things advocated by the commie from Brooklyn.
A majority of Americans feel "money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed," according to a CBS News/New York Times poll. Sanders wants to raise the minimum wage; so do 71 percent of Americans. Sanders believes corporations have too much influence on politics, as do 74 percent of Americans. And one of the biggest socialist programs -- the single payer Medicare system that is a lifeline to more than 50 million people -- is also one of the most popular.
Nearly one in four people in this country gets electricity from a consumer-owned or co-op utility -- socialism throughout the heartland. And when President Obama considered privatizing a big government utility and dam operator, the Tennessee Valley Authority, he was met with squawks of protest from some of the most conservative precincts in America.
Obama is no socialist. A socialist would have nationalized General Motors, instead of returning it to capitalistic solvency. A socialist would not have presided over a doubling of the stock market, without adding significant new taxes to Wall Street's biggest beneficiaries.
For true socialism in action, look to the billionaire Trump. As a developer, he's tried to use eminent domain -- "state-sanctioned thievery," in the words of National Review Online -- to get other people's property. There's your communist. He has no problem taking from others to serve the public "good."
Capitalism at its best gives us iPhones and 400 kinds of ice cream and rewards enterprise and innovation. The free market has no small amount of magic. At its worst, capitalism produces pharmaceutical companies that gouge for lifesaving drugs, insurance companies that drop people once they get sick, and a system where secretaries pay a higher percentage of their earnings in taxes than billionaires who do nothing.
Socialism at its best can run an army, a health care system and provide quality education for those who otherwise couldn't afford one. Libraries and fire departments are socialist institutions. So is the Interstate System of highways created under President Eisenhower. Ditto the nation's most popular cultural enterprise, the National Football League, which shares its television billions with losers among the teams. At its worst, socialism is grim and stifling, a dead-end for creativity.
The key is to find a balance, as Hillary Clinton said in Tuesday's debate. "Our job is to rein in the excesses of capitalism so it doesn't run amok," she said. In that sentiment, you could hear the historical echo of two great progressive presidents, Teddy Roosevelt and his cousin Franklin, both of whom sought to save capitalism from itself.
She also said, "We are not Denmark." Nope. Not by any stretch. Denmark has a slightly higher tax load on its citizens than the United States. But it also has budget surpluses, universal health care, shorter working hours, and was recently rated by Forbes magazine as the best country in the world for business.
99% taxation after $100 million
The top 1 percent of households "account for half of all assets in the world," according to a new report from Credit Suisse, a leading multinational bank.
The bank's "Global Wealth Report 2015" reveals worldwide wealth inequality to have soared to a level "possibly not seen for almost a century." As the number of "ultra-wealthy" people continues to climb, the research informs us that the poorest half of the world's population owns just 1 percent of its assets.
As Mark Goldring, Oxfam Great Britain's chief executive, told The Guardian, "This is the latest evidence that extreme inequality is out of control. Are we really happy to live in a world where the top 1 percent own half the wealth and the poorest half own just 1 percent?"
From The Guardian:
The middle classes have been squeezed at the expense of the very rich, according to research by Credit Suisse, which also finds that for the first time, there are more individuals in the middle classes in China - 109m - than the 92m in the US.
Tidjane Thiam, the chief executive of Credit Suisse, said: "Middle class wealth has grown at a slower pace than wealth at the top end. This has reversed the pre-crisis trend which saw the share of middle-class wealth remaining fairly stable over time."
The report shows that a person needs only $3,210 (£2,100) to be in the wealthiest 50% of world citizens. About $68,800 secures a place in the top 10%, while the top 1% have more than $759,900. The report defines wealth as the value of assets including property and stock market investments, but excludes debt.
About 3.4 bn people - just over 70% of the global adult population - have wealth of less than $10,000. A further 1bn - a fifth of the world's population - are in the $10,000-$100,000 range.
Each of the remaining 383m adults - 8% of the population - has wealth of more than $100,000. This number includes about 34m US dollar millionaires. About 123,800 individuals of these have more than $50m, and nearly 45,000 have more than $100m. The UK has the third-highest number of these "ultra-high net worth" individuals.
This year's report focuses on the middle classes, as defined by personal wealth rather than profession. It says 14% of adults worldwide are middle class, with $50,000-$500,000 of assets.
But Markus Stierli, of the Credit Suisse Research Institute, said: "From 2008 onwards, wealth growth has not allowed middle-class numbers to keep pace with population growth in the developing world. Furthermore, the distribution of wealth gains has shifted in favour of those at higher wealth levels. These two factors have combined to produce a decline in the share of middle-class wealth."
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How Pro-Israel Fanatics Have Teamed up with Right-Wing Operatives to Crush Free Speech on Campus
A McCarthyite 'underground operation' to silence speech critical of Israel has a wider anti-progressive agenda.
By Max Blumenthal, Julia Carmel
This is part four of a four-part investigation.
At a Texas Retreat convened last June by long-time neoconservative agitator David Horowitz, a baby-faced operative named Charlie Kirk outlined an "undercover, underground plan" to "control student funding," "censor professors" and "get rid of free speech zones." His plan focused on channeling right-wing money into a full-bore attack on the grassroots movement to boycott, sanction, and divest from Israel as a means to pressure the country into respecting Palestinian human rights, known as BDS. The BDS movement has spread across US campuses and European capitals since it was devised by Palestinian civil society groups in 2005.
Described by the National Journal as "the future of the conservative movement," the 21-year-old Kirk is rapidly emerging as one the most influential right-wing campus organizers. Speaking before an audience of hundreds of conservative activists in a hotel ballroom in Dallas, Kirk laid out a strikingly authoritarian vision to systematically eradicate progressive political culture from American universities.
"What we're doing in states like California, Massachusetts and New York, is we're starting...a rather undercover, underground operation that is designed for one purpose only," Kirk explained. "And that is to run -- and win -- Student Government Association races the same way we look at Congressional campaigns. If we can successfully retake the student governments...on these really, really far left campuses such as UC-Irvine, UCLA, and we run the student government association races with the same money, time, energy and resources [as] we do a Congressional campaign, then we can start to see...an effective, neutralizing factor on these campuses. You can control student funding, you can censor professors, you can get rid of free speech zones, you can then balance the curriculum, you then can use your student government post as a bully pulpit."
Kirk pointed to BDS as a key target of his surreptitious takeover plan. "Who here has heard of BDS?" Kirk asked his audience, prompting a chorus of groans. "Every BDS resolution is passed because of student governments...They use student government associations to push this radical agenda on to these campuses...The only vulnerability there is, the only opening, is student government associations races and elections, and we're investing a lot of time and energy and money in it. And you'd be amazed. If you spend $5,000 on a [student government] race, you can win. You could retake a whole college or university -- we did it at Arizona State University."
(Video of Kirk's appearance was mysteriously removed from David Horowitz Freedom Center's Vimeo account. The authors of this article had previously downloaded the video, which has been re-uploaded above or here.)