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Congress May Be About to Pass a Bill That Will Address America's Incarceration Nightmare

October 2, 2015 in Blogs

By Phillip Smith, AlterNet

What is arguably the most comprehensive effort yet to tackle mass incarceration at the federal level rolled out with bipartisan support Thursday.


A bipartisan group of senators including heavyweights like Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin rolled out comprehensive legislation Thursday aimed at reducing prison sentences for some drug offenders and seeking to curb recidivism by bolstering re-entry programs for prisoners. The legislation would, however, also expand mandatory minimum sentences in some for some non-drug offenses.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is also cosponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

It is arguably the most sweeping legislation to roll back drug war excesses yet, and it represents “small government” conservatives cooperating with liberals and civil rights advocates—a remarkable step in this era of poisoned partisan relations in Washington. If passed, it would free some currently serving prisoners, as well as cut sentences for future offenders.

The bill narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening ways defendants with minimal non-felony criminal histories can avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences. The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums, providing judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences, and preserves “cooperation incentives” to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins. 

In addition to reducing prison terms for certain offenders through sentencing reform, qualifying inmates can earn reduced sentences through recidivism reduction programs outlined in the CORRECTIONS Act introduced by Cornyn and Whitehouse. The bill also makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act and certain statutory reforms that address inequities in drug sentences.

According to a summary provided by Sen. Grassley's office, the bill:

· Reforms and Targets Enhanced Mandatory Minimums for Prior Drug Felons: The bill reduces the enhanced penalties that apply to repeat drug offenders and eliminates the three-strike mandatory life provision, but it allows those enhanced penalties to be applied to offenders with prior convictions for serious violent and serious drug felonies.

· Broadens the Existing …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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New Home Price Data: Asset Inflation Growth Continues Unabated, But Hits a Plateau

October 2, 2015 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken

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New Home Price Data: Asset Inflation Growth Continues Unabated, But Hits a Plateau

Earlier today, I reported on the latest job numbers which are disappointing and worrisome. If you read that and thought “there they go again, those perma-bear Austrians,” I'll point you to this weeks housing data. After all, just because the job market points toward stagnation doesn't mean that news is bad everywhere. If you're well-positioned to benefit from asset-price inflation, things are looking good.

This week, Case-Shiller released new numbers for its July home price index, and for its 20-city composite index, home values were up, year-over-year for the 38th month in a row. for July, the composite index was up 4.9 percent:

That increase is down from 2013's peak growth levels when YOY increases were coming in around 12 or 13 percent, month after month. Increases now have plateaued around 5 percent for the past six months. Weakness in the job market probably is pushing down on demand, which has brought home price inflation down to more mundane levels.

Nevertheless, if you're a property owner it's boom times for you. After all, as home prices move upward, rental housing becomes the only option for many households, driving up rents and benefiting current owners. Thanks to high home prices and low inventory, rental vacancies are at a 20-year low, which means high rents. If you're a REIT or in commercial real estate, things are looking good:

(Source: US Census Bureau)

We shouldn't be surprised when we see some indicators moving up, while some are moving down. As Brendan Brown has often noted in his articles, the economy is more complex than we give it credit for, and it acts in unpredictable ways when we interfere in the price mechanism via central banks and via fiscal policy.

Certainly, current monetary policy continues to favor the real estate sector in many metro areas. And, of course, the trends are also affected by demographic trends, local government restrictions …read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE

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New Job Numbers Disappoint, Labor Force Shrinks, the Fed Has No Strategy

October 2, 2015 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken

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New Job Numbers Disappoint, Labor Force Shrinks, the Fed Has No Strategy

The media today is reporting that markets are volatile today because new employment data from the BLS has come in below levels forecasted. Basically, when we play the expectations game, the employment numbers disappointed.

But if we ignore the expectations, do the numbers look good?

Not really.

According to the new payroll data for September, total payrolls were up, year over year, by 1.9 percent. That’s the smallest YOY increase since May 2014. Also, the year-over-year change in payroll employment has gone down for six of the last seven months:

Overall, growth rates are still fairly robust (compared to the 2002-2008 expansion), but we haven’t seen this many drops in the YOY growth since 2007-2008. The trend is not robust.

This was coupled with lackluster numbers in average weekly earnings. September’s Year-over-year growth was the second-lowest rate measured this year, behind only June’s number:

The number is not terrible, but it’s clear that the markets were expecting some signs of real growth. All they got, though, was just more of the same within an overall trend that’s drifting down.

On top of this, we find that the labor force participation rates do not point toward a particularly encouraging job market either. According to the latest data for September, the total of potential workers not in the labor force hit a new high of 94 million. With so many out of the labor force, we’d expect an increased scarcity of workers to be pushing wages up. But that doesn’t appear to be happening.

(The number of people not in the labor force is calculated by comparing the number of people working to the total population over the age of 16.)

These new highs in out-of-labor-force numbers translate into a labor force participation rate of 62.4 percent. You’d have to go back …read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE

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Monsanto's Migraine: Big Fiascoes Facing the World's Biggest Seed Company

October 2, 2015 in Blogs

By Reynard Loki, AlterNet

The problems are piling up at the company's front door.


Monsanto has been reeling from a number of setbacks around the globe. Here's a look at some of the main reasons that 2015 has been a giant headache for the biotech giant. But that headache could find some reilef if the U.S. Senate hands them a legislative victory that would keep American consumers in the dark about what's in their food.

Roundup Probably Causes Cancer

In March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization's cancer arm, said that the controversial herbicide glyphosate — the main ingredient in Monsanto's popular weedkiller Roundup — is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” IARC noted, “Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada, and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides.” Used by home gardeners, public park gardeners and farmers, and applied to more than 150 food and non-food crops, Roundup is the Monsantot's leading product and the world's most-produced weedkiller.

In June, France banned Roundup. French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal said, “France must be on the offensive with regards to the banning of pesticides.” She added, “I have asked garden centers to stop putting Monsanto's Roundup on sale” in self-service aisles. And earlier this month, California issued a notice of intent to list glyphosate as a carcinogen. “As far as I’m aware, this is the first regulatory agency in the U.S. to determine that glyphosate is a carcinogen,” said Dr. Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “So this is a very big deal.”

In April, U.S. citizens filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto, claiming that the company is guilty of false advertising by claiming that glyphosate targets an enzyme only found in plants and not in humans or animals. The plaintiffs argue that the targeted enzyme, EPSP synthase, is found in the microbiota that reside in human …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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America Is Not Japan, and 'Common Sense' Won't End Mass Shootings

October 2, 2015 in Economics

By Trevor Burrus

Trevor Burrus

Yesterday, another horrendous and tragic shooting occurred on an American college campus. I will hold off conjecturing about the shooter, how he obtained his weapons, and whether he was able to evade existing restrictions to acquire his guns and ammunition.

Such decorum, however, is not the modus operandi for President Obama and others who never tire of using these horrible occasions to call for “commonsense” gun regulations. Our Conscience-in-Chief believes “common-sense gun safety laws” can stop these tragedies, and his strategy is once again to essentially blame such acts on people who oppose his “common sense” and, in particular, on the NRA. Few shibboleths are as vacuous as the call for “common sense.” The implication is that such things are easy to stop and that, if Obama were king for a day, with no dullards standing in his way, then he could stop it.

Similar piffle is posted on social media, as the self-styled caring class takes the opportunity to sanctimoniously post the Onion article headlined “ ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens,” or to link to a YouTube video of a comedian riffing on America’s love affair with the Second Amendment. People will claim that this doesn’t happen elsewhere (it does), or ask a “commonsense” question like “How can you need a license to drive a car but not to own a gun?” (Actually, gun-rights advocates would be pretty okay with regulating guns like cars.)

Our conversations about guns in America are imbued with sanctimony and indictment, and you’re certain to lose a few friends on Facebook if you post something sufficiently provocative. You might even lose friends by posting this article.

Start with the fact that there are more than 300 million guns in the United States.”

So let’s have a serious conversation about how to stop these tragedies. First, understand that there are more than 300 million guns in America, and that’s not changing anytime soon. You can bemoan this fact as an indication of America’s barbarism, you can be disgusted by anyone who owns a gun, or you can talk about the excellent policies they have in Japan, where gun ownership is almost non-existent. Fine.

But all of that is just policymaking in fantasy land until you accept that there are 300 million guns in America. And, in case you haven’t noticed, America …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Mass Shootings Aren’t Natural Disasters: The Twisted Logic of 'Gun Control' in America

October 2, 2015 in Blogs

By Heather Digby Parton, Salon

Yet another man has used a deadly weapon to commit a monstrosity. Sooner or later, we have to actually do something.


It’s hurricane season and all along the east coast residents are girding themselves for major weather. Every once in a while a major storm makes landfall and property is destroyed and lives are lost. One hopes that doesn’t happen this year. But natural disasters are a fact of life people just learn to live with. Tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, major floods and fires are considered to be acts of God and while we try to mitigate the damage everyone knows that we cannot stop them.  It’s just the way it is.

In America, gun violence is just another natural disaster. Like an earthquake for which you can never really be prepared, most people have come to see a mass killing like that which happened in Oregon yesterday as being unpreventable. We might as well try to stop the sun from coming up in the morning. All we can do is try to comfort the survivors and help people cope with the aftermath. On any given day we could personally be the victims of gun violence or turn on our TVs and computers and witness some kind of mass shooting, horrifying domestic dispute that ends in carnage, accidents or criminal activity. And that’s normal.

To the rest of the world, this is simply insane. Elsewhere they treat gun violence like a public health threat and limit the public’s exposure to it through strict gun regulation. Different cultures have slightly different approaches but there is no other developed country in the world that treats gun violence as if it were a simple fact of life they must live with.

But the fact that Americans accept this, doesn’t mean they want it to be this way. The polling shows that majorities of Americans support common sense gun regulations of the kind which are proven to work in other countries. The problem is that the political system is corrupted by the pro-gun lobbying groups which not only insist that society has no right to regulate …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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College Athletics: Public Institutions Are the Real Sham

October 2, 2015 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken

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College Athletics: Public Institutions Are the Real Sham

October 2, 2015

Auburn University has made headlines at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and, recently, Mises.org for reversing the elimination of the public administration major because of pressure from the athletics department. Athletics covertly moved to save it because a disproportionate number of student-athletes were stacked in the major, apparently for the easier courses so they could focus on their sport with less academic distraction.

Most view this as a corrupt move, and an indictment against university administration for prioritizing athletics over academics. Others take a contrarian stance, arguing that college athletes should be able to focus on their sport, especially for potential employment at the professional level, even if “sham majors” like public administration at Auburn is how that happens.

This contrarian stance was taken by Matthew Doarnberger in his Mises Daily article, “College Athletes Embrace the Division of Labor.” I agree with many of Mr. Doarnberger’s points —college athletes should be able to focus on their sport while in school, and in an ideal world, universities and amateur athletics would be more clearly separated so that issues like sham majors and joke classes don’t arise in the first place.

Unfortunately, the issue at Auburn University with the public administration major (and I assume elsewhere with other majors) is more complicated than “sham majors are ok because it helps athletes focus on their game and increase their chances to gain professional employment.”

The public administration major at Auburn was deemed inadequate from a purely academic standpoint. The official curriculum review committee decided this without any regard to the extra-curricular activities of the students enrolled in that major. The curriculum is not the same thing as the students, and it was the curriculum that was on trial. The committee made this decision in their role as quasi-entrepreneurs guessing that Auburn students demand a valuable degree that reflects hard work and actual learning.

It was only after this decision that the athletics department starting pushing people around and waving large amounts of money in front of bureaucrats’ faces to save the program.

So the issue isn’t whether or not we should have sham …read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE

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The Myth of Dynastic Wealth

October 2, 2015 in Economics

One of the primary flaws in Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that wealthy families will grow ever richer over future generations, leading to a society dominated by unearned, hereditary wealth.  However, in the new issue of Cato Journal, Robert Arnott, William Bernstein, and Lillian Wu argue that dynastic wealth accumulation is simply a myth. Also in this issue, Robert C. Jones explains how Piketty’s theory of capital confuses cause and effect, and asserts that his policy prescriptions would likely prove counter-productive.

…read more

Source: CATO HEADLINES

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Krugman: GOP Presidential Candidates Tax-Cut Plans Are "Top-Down Class Warfare"

October 2, 2015 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

Once again, the GOP hawks tax cuts to make the rich richer.


In Washington, Republicans have been threatening to shut down the government over spending they don’t like and the federal debt. But on the 2016 campaign trail, the leading GOP presidential candidates are hawking tax cuts for the wealthy, which would blow up the federal debt.

“You might think there was a defensible economic case for the obsession with cutting taxes on the rich,” writes Paul Krugman in his latest New York Times column. “That is, you might think that if you’d spent the past 20 years in a cave (or a conservative think tank. Otherwise, you’d be aware that tax-cut enthusiasts have a remarkable track record: They’ve been wrong about everything, year after year.”

What’s going on behind the tax cut obsession, Krugman explains, is a mix of voodoo economics, caveman-like ignorance of what tax cuts and tax hikes have wrought, and above all a desire to do anything that will make rich people richer.

Krugman points out that candidates Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are all making absurd claims about what their tax cut plans would do for domestic economic growth. Bush has said that his plan would double it. Trump, not to be outdone, says his cuts would triple it.

“The interesting question is why every Republican candidate feels compelled to go down this path,” Krugman asks, then reciting what happened to the economy in the past 20 years every time federal taxes were raised  or cut.

Under the tax increases (Bill Clinton in 1993, George W. Bush’s tax cuts expiring in 2013, Calfornia under Gov. Jerry Brown) the economy grew. Under the tax cuts (By George W. Bush and more recently by Kansas Republicans), the economy faltered. Those are the facts, Krugman said, despite propaganda from “self-proclaimed economic experts claiming to find overall evidence that low tax rates spur economic growth, but such experts invariably turn out to be on the payroll of right-wing pressure groups (and have an interesting habit of getting their numbers wrong).”

According to the Gallup poll, only 13 percent of Americans believe …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Dept Says Cop Followed Procedure When He Mistook a 70-Yo Man’s Stroke for DUI and Beat Him

October 2, 2015 in Blogs

By Andrew Emett, The Free Thought Project

“He had my arm twisted behind my back. I said it was hurting and he said, ‘I’ll break your arm.'”


Marshall, MO — Police refuse to investigate an off-duty officer of using excessive force after mistaking an elderly stroke victim for a drunk driver. Immediately after throwing a 70-year-old man out of his truck, the cop restrained him on the ground by pressing his knee into a blocked artery on the side of the elderly man’s neck. Although he repeatedly informed the officer that he was suffering from a stroke, the enraged cop continued to manhandle him until other officers finally arrived.

While driving to Walmart around 6 p.m. on Sunday, 70-year-old James Miller began feeling dizzy and ill before veering off the road and accidentally hitting a house with his pick-up truck. Instead of correctly reading the situation, off-duty Columbia police Sgt. Scott Hedrick ran out of the house and immediately pulled Miller out of the vehicle. After slamming the elderly man to the ground, Hedrick pressed his knee into a blocked artery on the right side of Miller’s neck.

“He had my arm twisted behind my back. I said it was hurting and he said, ‘I’ll break your arm,’” Miller told FOX 4.

Although Miller repeatedly asked Sgt. Hedrick to remove his knee because Miller believed that he was having a stroke, the off-duty cop ignored his pleas and accused him of being drunk without even bothering to smell his breath. A Marshall police officer later arrived at the scene and found Hedrick restraining the compliant elderly man on the ground. After placing the 70-year-old in handcuffs, the officer gave Miller a sobriety test and verified he was sober.

On Monday, Miller’s doctor confirmed that he had suffered a mini-stroke when he lost control of his truck. Due to a pre-existing blocked artery in his neck, Miller suspected that he had been showing signs of a stroke but was unable to pull over in time.

According to a police report, Hedrick’s wife had been standing near the area where Miller’s vehicle hit the house. Instead of rationally assessing the situation, Hedrick lost …read more

Source: ALTERNET